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Showing is Telling

November 15, 2013

My plan for today was to write about not getting yourself into a panic about Thanksgiving. For those who need a little hands on instruction, my pal Deanna Fox of Silly Goose Farm is teaching a class in Albany tonight that sounds very good and thorough. It’s not too late to get in on it. All the details are here.

But sometimes the best laid plans have to get put aside.

A few of you have suggested that perhaps the best way to close the case of “lettucegate” is to simply ask Bryan Fitzgerald for his pictures of the tacos he was served at La Mexicana. So that’s what I did. Yesterday, I sent an email which among other things asked, “Is there any chance that you would be willing to share that picture with me and my readers?” And to my surprise later that same day he sent me the following snapshots.

As a quick reminder, let’s peek back at Bryan’s review of La Mexicana and specifically his praise for their authentic tacos. He wrote, “The shells are laid flat and topped with about a quarter cup each of fresh lettuce, onion, a choice of meat and two thin radish slices.”

The only problem is that their tacos come with onion and cilantro. Neither I nor anyone else I’ve spoken with who has tried the tacos at La Mexicana has ever been served one with lettuce.

Steve Barnes on his Table Hopping blog responded to my criticism by writing, ““No. Daniel is wrong. Fitzgerald took a photo with his phone. It’s very clearly shredded iceberg lettuce.”

Well, lets look at the photo.

Actually, there are two pictures here. Let me tell you what we are looking at, because the first picture is mighty blurry. Don’t fret, the second picture is a close up and you’ll be able to see all of this much better.

La Mexicana put two sopes and the two tacos on the same plate. The sopes are in the background. They are topped with meat, lettuce, crumbled cheese and avocado slices. The tacos are in the bottom of the frame (and appear to be chorizo on the left and carnitas on the right) topped with their usual build of meat, onions and cilantro.

Bryan's sopes and tacos

How, even in this blurry picture, can I tell that the tacos are made with cilantro and not lettuce? The shredded iceberg on the sopes is a uniform pale green. There are no dark green spots in the background. Now look at the tacos in the foreground and notice the deep dark green accents of cilantro.

You will see it much clearer in the vertical close up of what appears to be the carnitas taco.

Taco close up

It’s painfully obvious what happened here. Given the close proximity of the two antojitos on the plate, a few strands of the lettuce from the sope spilled onto the taco. You can see a few errant bits of the sope’s crumbled cheese on the taco meat too.

But you cannot ignore the prominent use of cilantro on the taco and not the sope. Again, notice the difference in color and the knife work on the cilantro versus the sope’s lettuce. Also note the presence of stems.

Did a little bit of lettuce stray onto Bryan’s taco? Sure. So did a little bit of cheese. But it is wrong to say that La Mexicana’s tacos come with a quarter cup of lettuce. They don’t. And suggesting otherwise (while ignoring the cilantro) is doing the restaurant a disservice. Onions and cilantro are essential to a traditional street style taco. This authenticity is what fans of La Mexicana prize and what compels them to drive thirty minutes out of their way for these tacos.

My work here is done.

Now the rest is on you. Please feel free to contact Bryan directly. Apparently part of his job is fielding calls from readers who would like clarifications to stories he has written. His phone number is 518-454-5414 or you can email him at bfitzgerald@timesunion.com if you prefer. Ask him about the cilantro. Maybe he’ll tell you that he didn’t taste any in his tacos. But cilantro is pretty distinctive stuff, it was clearly present in the tacos he was served, and it was notably absent from his review.

Were it the Times Union’s policy to visit a restaurant more than once, I suspect this confusion would have cleared itself up on its own.

Now, it would seem prudent for the paper to print a retraction. And to this end, you might want to contact its editor Rex Smith at rsmith@timesunion.com and mention the factual errors in the story.

Look, people make mistakes. I just think it’s important to own up to them and move on. I’m just glad to finally clear the air.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Eric Scheirer Stott permalink
    November 15, 2013 1:52 pm

    Must try.

  2. November 15, 2013 2:01 pm

    While you’re writing a complaint, one might also mention that we’d like to have learned something substantial about the food at Dave & Buster’s, rather than just that the place has lots of loud, blinky games.

  3. November 15, 2013 2:07 pm

    CSI – Mexicana

    “We have the photo, enhance! Enhance! Sir, we found lettuce. It appears to be from the Sopes.”
    “I see the dark green of cilantro…

    •_•)
    ( •_•)>⌐■-■
    (⌐■_■)

    “…better lettuce request a printed retraction!”
    YEEEEEAAAAAAHHHHH!

    But seriously, it is taking a lot of restraint to resist the urge to bombard Mr. Fitzgerald’s email with pictures of lettuce and various facts about lettuce. Not because I care so much about lettucegate, but because it would be funny.

    Alas, I will confine myself to a few lettuce puns on the twitters…

    • Bob W. permalink
      November 15, 2013 3:54 pm

      mr. dave, I love you. Please don’t ever change.

      • November 15, 2013 4:38 pm

        Don’t worry. I fear change.

      • Doug permalink
        November 16, 2013 11:15 am

        Change is not our friend.

  4. Jessica R permalink
    November 15, 2013 5:56 pm

    Based on the photo I do not see a need for a retraction or that there was any false information given. He said his taco has lettuce on it. The picture shows the taco had lettuce on it. Should he have mentioned that it also had cilantro on it to be more factually accurate…sure, but the fact is that it DID have lettuce on it.

    You suggested in a post that whenever you don’t feel educated on a subject you make sure to seek out the information. I feel is asking too much that for each item he eats he needs to verify that it is the exact authentic representation of the art form.

    This is a place you have often suggested needs to be on more people’s radar – I would expect you to be happy that the TU finally went there and reviewed the place. It is obvious from the review that Bryan feels La Mexicana is the most authentic taqueria in the region. I’m sure that in itself is going to get people interested in going there. I agree with you that he spent a lot of money there, but he did put the individual prices down, so any sane person should be able to realize you don’t need to spend $65 for a good meal.

    I have been so over Lettucegate from day 1.

    • November 16, 2013 1:35 am

      I like this perspective. I also don’t think a retraction is appropriate or actually that the request should be taken seriously. The world has more serious problems.

      • DEN permalink
        November 18, 2013 3:25 pm

        Second.

    • November 16, 2013 2:29 am

      This ongoing saga has saddened me so much. I love hearing about food stuff, I love reading about how the TU top restaurants is slanted towards chains and we need to band together. I love reading about how Dante’s spoons don’t work right. I love that Daniel and some of his readers are curmudgeonly (excuse me, Fussy). I love reading about whose new place we should visit and who deserves some chops. But I am so saddened about this misguided crusade that seems to have as its goal personally attacking people who seemed to have no ill intent when they wrote what they wrote and made a simple easily understandable error (which wasn’t even really an error). We should all contact Brian en-masse to get him to print a retraction about what condiment was on his Taco??? Are you kidding me? Wow.

      • Stevo permalink
        November 16, 2013 9:40 am

        I feel compelled to respond.

        Daniel is “personally attacking” no one. And for you to suggest so, is either ignorant, or a personal attack in itself.

        WORDS MATTER! It’s why the President is in so much trouble right now. And Daniel is right to care about such things.

        The issue may seem trivial, it’s only lettuce after all. But I get why Daniel has devoted so much time and energy to it, and it’s not really about lettuce, and it’s certainly not trivial.

  5. Habibi permalink
    November 21, 2013 8:52 pm

    Constructive criticism is generally looked upon as becoming politically incorrect.

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