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Bad Days

August 29, 2017

Bad days. We all have them. The people of Texas are going through worse days right now than I think most of us can possibly imagine. Actually, if I stop and think of the list of groups who have been having bad days recently, it’s almost a totality of the world.

My new nephew had a bad day this past weekend. I held him in my lap for his circumcision. One of the two of us will go on to forget that moment. Still, it was my honor to fulfill that role for my sister.

Food blog. Back to food.

Because yesterday, all told, was a pretty good day. At least for me and the small bubble of my existence. I woke up, did some work, had a lovely slice of avocado toast, did some more work, enjoyed some sardines with pickled onions, worked a bit more, found an unexpected bottle of Petrus aged ale with raspberries at Trader Joe’s, did even more work, and had a delicious dinner at La Mexicana with Little Miss Fussy.

It’s that last part I want to talk about, especially because I may have left out one thing.

Did I ever write about my trip to La Mexicana a few months back? Little Miss Fussy remembers it. She’s got a talent for holding onto these details. I’m glad that somebody does. But it was after the last day of Sunday school, which was likely in June.

I remember the trip, because I was excited to see on the specials board that the kitchen had made cabeza for tacos. If you’ve never had cabeza, it’s one of my favorite taco fillings. When I first came across it a million years ago in the SF Mission, my first thought about eating “head” was eating brains.

That just wasn’t my thing. But brains are sesos. Cabeza is mostly beef cheeks, and well braised beef cheeks are incredibly rich, tender, and flavorful. Mmm. Cheeks.

So naturally, I had to order La Mexicana’s cabeza taco.

It was awful. Awful. And it’s not because I don’t like cabeza. I love cabeza. I’ve had it more times than I could possibly count. I’ve had it from trucks and sit down restaurants. And never, have I experienced something so tough, gamey, and gristly. It was nearly impossible to eat, but I managed to choke down a few bites.

Bad idea. I regretted that decision for the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the cabeza that was awful. Everything was off. The carnitas that are typically marvelous, with crisp edges from cooking in their own fat, were sodden mushy lumps of flavorless pork. Even the bean and cheese burrito was off.

Bad days. We all have them. Restaurants have them too. And I’m glad to report that things at La Mexicana are back to its standard of excellence. In fact, the carnitas and lengua last night were the best I’ve ever had them at this Schenectady taqueria.

But it leaves me questioning the wisdom of making a judgement about a restaurant after one visit. I read reviews all the time, and there are some people who believe in the axiom, “one strike, and you’re out.” In a competitive field, I can certainly see how one can come to follow that code.

Fortunately, I had enough meals at La Mexicana to realize that my one bad lunch was atypical. This is part of the value of going to a place over and over again. I suppose it’s also something one can learn from reading about other people’s past experiences at a restaurant. However, that has its own challenges.

Mostly, I wanted to put this thought out there into the universe: Be careful about being too quick to damn a place based on one bad experience.

I suppose this might be part of the new wave of positivity I’ve been riding. Or maybe I’m just still full of joy from those magnificent carnitas. Whatever the case, I hope you can find a little joy in your day. Because no matter who you are, or what you are doing, there’s a lot of badness out there. My recommendation is finding a joyful moment or two and hanging onto it for all you’ve got.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2017 8:31 am

    I have always believed in giving restaurants a second chance. Good to hear trip two was better. Been a while since I’ve been to La Mexicana. Sounds like I need to add them to my roster.

  2. August 29, 2017 9:40 am

    I assume you’re talking about Yelp reviewers, since reviewers for publications typically make multiple visits before writing a review. And one of my pet peeves is how an inexperienced Yelp reviewer (typically writing their first review!) will unload with one star because they feel they were not treated with proper respect.

    That said, an experience as bad as you describe on your previous visit to La Mexicana has to be factored into future reviews even if they improve. There’s no excuse for a place charging money to ever serve the food you describe, period.

  3. August 29, 2017 10:57 am

    I’m guilty as charged. Had one of the worst pizzas of my life a few weeks ago and destroyed them on Yelp. I did end it with basically saying they may have had a bad day and I would possibly try them again. But with limited time/funds to spend on food and so much competition it’s tough to want to go back.

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