Tuesday, June 06, 2006

From: Dining With Monkeys

Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana
1215 S. Germantown Parkway

My friend Chip is crazy about Mexican food like I am crazy about Asian food. We went to lunch one day (at Bluefin) and did nothing but talk about food. In addition to convincing me to finally try Edo, he got me really excited about a little place called Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana in Germantown. (Trust me, it is not easy to get me excited about anything outside the ten mile radius of my house.)

When I asked my sister if she had ever tried Las Tortugas, she was decidedly less enthusiastic than Chip. “It’s totally overpriced and has the ambiance of Subway,” she said. “And they won’t have anything the kids will want to eat.”

“Chip says it’s really fresh and the owner goes out and buys the days ingredients each morning before opening,” I countered.

She mulled this information over a bit. “Yeah, it is fresh,” she said. “But it is still overpriced.”

I had my mind made up though. Warren and I took the kids on Friday night after swimming at the Germantown Center for a few hours. “Are you sure it’s open?” Warren asked me as we drove down Germantown Road.

“It better be. I mean, it’s only 8:00pm on a Friday night!” I said exasperated. We had tried eating at Las Tortugas a few weeks earlier, but it was on a Sunday and they were closed. (Chip, I know you warned me, but I had to find out for myself!)

Thankfully, they were open and we shuffled in the door as fast as we could. A very nice (and pretty dreamy) man sat patiently at the register while we quickly scanned the menu. I have to say that the menu featured many things I had never heard of and I was a bit stumped. And there was no children’s menu.

“Do you have anything that kids like to eat?” I asked Senor Dreamy as the monkeys tried to crawl on the counter.

“We have lots of things that kids like to eat,” he purred. As he started to list the items, I tried to remember them, but I got stuck staring into his smiling eyes.

Warren interrupted my reverie and said, “I’ll have the De Carnitas Mexico City (Mexican Pork Barbeque Shoulder).”

Senor Dreamy asked, “Sandwich or tacos?”

“Sandwich,” Warren said.

I scanned the menu some more and found the word Tilapia. (Apparently I had a choice of getting several items either on a sandwich or in a taco. I opted for the fish tacos, one of my all time favorite things to eat. (On my first trip to San Francisco in 1997 to meet my future in-laws, Warren took me to a Mexican restaurant on Haight Street. When he ordered fish tacos, I gave him the same “yuck face” I gave Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club when she busted out her sushi lunch during detention.)

Then I ordered a deep fried chicken flauta and a Mango Agua Fresca for the boys to split. Our total was a mildly alarming $28.30. As I looked around the restaurant to find us a place to sit, I noticed that we could watch our food being prepared right behind a glass window next to the register. The monkeys each pulled up a chair and watched as an older gentleman (the owner, I presume) gently grilled my Tilapia. I gathered napkins, plastic forks, and waters for everyone and put them on our table. The mango shake was ready almost immediately and I lured the monkeys away from the grill with it.

The shake, excuse me, agua fresca, was 24 ounces and big enough for all of us to share—especially when the monkeys shunned their portions after one sip. It was plenty yummy, just not sugary like they had hoped. I bought them a bottled lime drink imported from Mexico instead and that satisfied them. By the time I finished this second transaction, our food was ready. Warren and I were quite pleased with our orders and couldn’t wait to dig in.

Satchel, however, pushed his plate aside and said, “I don’t like that green stuff.” His flauta was covered in shredded lettuce and dotted with chipotle sauce. Warren and I gave each other the no, you do it face before I finally broke down and wiped the flauta clean of the icky lettuce and “ketchup.” I cut it up into pieces hoping I could interest Jiro in it, but he was quite content to eat chips and drink his limeade.

My grilled tilapia was wrapped in four separate corn tortillas and dressed with fresh avocado and salsa tayde (a yummy avocado based spicy green sauce). The tacos were served with a small serving of crisp cucumber salad, chips, and a crazy fresh salsa mexicana. I was overcome by how fresh and delicious everything was and really wished the portions were twice as big. Warren gave me a bite of his Mexican Pork Barbeque Shoulder sandwich which was also tasty. (The owner explained to him that the sandwiches were made to look like little turtles, hence the name Las Tortugas.) The pork was thinly sliced and dressed with Mexican cheese, avocado, shredded lettuce, and the salsa tayde.

Once Satchel gobbled up his flauta, he wanted more. “More!” he said over and over again. I quickly glanced at the menu Senor Dreamy had given me to take home and tried to find something else to order. I decided on the Molletes con Pollo (toasted Tortuga bread with chicken, beans, and melted cheese.) When I got to the counter, no one was there. I looked around and noticed the owner standing at the front door chatting with some other patrons. I craned my neck to see if the rest of the staff had snuck out for a smoke break, but I didn’t see anyone. My happy dining experience was threatening to come to an end. Finally the owner noticed me and came over.

“We need more food, “ I said with a smile.

“Oh no,” he said very sadly, “We closed at 8:00pm. All the girls have gone home. What do you want? Maybe it is something I can make by myself.”

“The Molletes,” I said.

“Oh, I need the girls for that,” he said. “How about a…or a…” He started listing several things but I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I realized at that moment he must be Senor Dreamy’s dad.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Thanks anyway. We’ll try to come earlier next time.” Apparently we had been lucky to get in at all.

I had to break the news to Satchel who was not happy. “I want more food!” he whined. Jiro had run over to the counter and was pointing at the pile of mangos behind the glass. “Apple! Apple!” he demanded.

“What should we do?” I asked Warren.

“Go to McDonald’s?” he said.

“I hate to go to McDonalds after we just spent $30 on fresh and delicious food,” I said.

“Come on guys,” I said to the monkeys. “We can get some more food at home.”

“But I want restaurant food!” Satchel moaned.

I looked at Warren. “We can’t go to another restaurant,” I said.

“Wanna go to McDonald’s?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah!” Satchel said, suddenly elated.

On the way home Satchel ate two hamburgers and Jiro ate two bags of “apple dippers”. They both had chocolate milk. Warren and I had a good laugh at the current state of the Happy Meal and studied the menu for our next trip to Las Tortugas.

posted by Stacey Greenberg @ 1:48 PM

No comments: