Treats and Tragedies on the Road: Salt Lake City Day 1, Part 2

Back at the hotel, we had a short discussion about what to have for dinner.  I presented a few different options, knowing full well which one would be chosen.  I was with three Mexican food fans, so we just had to go to the most famous Mexican joint in town, right?

In my previous blog entry, I talked about Oh Mai and how just because Guy Fieri has profiled a place in one of his numerous books or TV shows apparently doesn't mean the place has to turn into a circus.  A sticker or a photo is sufficient.  I don't like looking at the guy, but I understand the restaurant enjoying the exposure.  Some of them are downright annoying about it though.  Red Iguana is such a place.  They've taken that shit and run with it for all it's worth...probably more than it's worth, actually.  The first sign of trouble was the parking situation.  Not that they didn't have any, or that it's street parking.  No, they have a lot.  And valets to park your car for you.

No, I'm not kidding.

Now keep in mind that this place really isn't any bigger than, say, Chapala or Casa Mexico.  They're just kind of famous.  But rather than betray their roots by building a bigger restaurant, they opened a couple of satellite locations (including one a block away from the original) and kept the flagship at their humble old digs.  Albeit with valet parking...

...excessive wait times...

...and excessive merchandise.  Did I mention the three pictures of Guy Fieri on the homepage of their website?  So basically, the place is half quaint diner and half theme park eatery.  I think by the time we'd been waiting about half an hour, we were all wishing we had chosen somewhere else to eat.  Of course at that point we'd been waiting half a freaking hour, so we weren't giving up.  Eventually we were seated, and something amusing began to happen.  Even though this style of cuisine is much dearer to my Roommate and her kids than it is to me, I was the one most impressed with the food.

Except for the chips and salsa, none of us really liked those.

The Roommate chose the Iguana Plate (a chicken, beef or cheese enchilada, a chile relleno, a hard-shell beef taco, and most importantly NO SUBSTITUTIONS).  The Tween chose the two refried pinto bean and cheese burrito plate, and her sister picked the beef taco off the children's menu.  As for me, after spending a long time agonizing over what to order (the Sunrise Burrito did sound amazing), I settled on the Cochinita Pibil, and a beer from the "full strength" (meaning non-reduced alcohol level) section of the drink menu, because Utah.

Mmm...normal beer...

While we waited for our food, I took the younger child to the bathroom, where this was hanging across from the door:

Classy shit, eh?  Sorry, I just wasn't digging the vibe.  Still, there's more to a restaurant than the atmosphere.  Let's get back to the food.  We'll go youngest to oldest.

Kid's beef taco

Well, the menu doesn't lie.  The wee one ordered a beef taco, and that's what she got.  That's ALL that she got.  I don't think I've ever been to a Mexican joint where a kid's entree doesn't come with at least a small scoop of rice and/or beans.  So, four bucks for a taco.  Granted, it's a more substantial taco than you would get at a truck, but still a little surprising.  This also ain't one of the places where a kid's meal comes with a drink, so now we're talking $5.50 for a taco, a soda, and a couple of bites of fruit.  I expect this from an a la carte menu, but not a kiddie menu.  Speaking of the a la carte menu...

Two refried pinto bean and cheese burritos.

The bean and cheese burrito is probably the Tween's favorite Mexican food item, and that's exactly what she got here.  She wasn't overly impressed, but she didn't push away her plate after a couple of bites either.  Was it worth $7.50?  Eh...

Iguana Plate

To be honest, I don't remember my roommate's specific complaints about her meal.  I just know she didn't like it or finish eating it, but at least she got a little more bang for her buck than she did with the with the other two "meals".  She even got a plate of rice and beans on the side!

Now, Cochinita/Puerco Pibil is a dish I've wanted to try ever since I saw this scene in Once Upon a Time in Mexico:

I assure you it has nothing to do with the the violence or the plot, just the fact that a slow-roasted pork dish could be so good that a guy has to order it in every restaurant he goes to.  Surprisingly, with all of the Mexican restaurants in the Boise/Nampa area, I was unable to find a single place that makes it.  When I saw it on Red Iguana's menu, I decided I had to try it while I had the chance.

Cochinita Pibil
Of everyone at our table, I was happiest with my dish.  The menu describes it thus: Pork loin rubbed with achiote, vinegar, lime juice, orange juice, paprika and salt, slow roasted, then shredded and simmered in the roasting juices.  Served with black beans, rice of the day, and tortillas.  Let's get out of the way that I didn't like the rice of the day, which seemed to be just steamed rice with peas, corn and carrots.  Still, two out of three ain't bad.  The black beans were just fine (as were the tortillas and the roasted jalapeno), but the pork was definitely the standout item of the night for me.  A big pile of tender, juicy, flavorful, brightly colored, finely shredded pork...well, it's one of life's pleasures.  This is a dish I would get again in a heartbeat, I would just prefer to get it somewhere else.  Hell, I might even try to make it myself at some point.

So, we paid, got our car back, tipped the valet *eyeroll*, and headed back to the hotel, generally annoyed and unsatisfied.  But I had something waiting to make it all better...

You may remember that in my last entry (and if you didn't read it, shame on you), I mentioned running an unspecified errand.  When I was asking for recommendations of places to check out, one of the names that kept popping up was Les Madeleines, a pastry shop and cafe that has made a name for itself with one item above all others: Kouing Aman.  Imagine a croissant re-imagined as a bun with caramelized sugar on the outside, a crunchy shell hiding a flaky, gooey inside.  They're so popular that they are one of two items that the good people at Les Madeleines will ship to you overnight, if you're so inclined.  The website warns that the item has a tendency to sell out, so I pre-ordered a couple to pick up in-store the day we got into town, and had them and a few other items thrown into the world's cutest take-out box for dessert that night.

See, I told you the box was cute!

One Kouing Aman was for me, the other was for anyone else who wanted to try it.  The other pastries I chose were a Pain au Chocolat (chocolate-filled croissant), a cream-filled cookie sandwich that I don't recall the name of, and an eclair, because you just can't go wrong with those.

Ooh la la...

It was all delicious.  Do I even need to say that?  I mean look at that stuff.  As for the main event...

Kouing Aman x2

Yeah, same deal here.  Those are every bit as good as they look.  Better, even.  Worth forty bucks to overnight a three pack?  I've considered it...

Red Iguana
Food:  I liked my meal quite a bit, but the rest was a real mixed bag.
Value:  I repeat, four dollars for a kid's taco with no sides or drink.
Service:  They do kind of excel in this regard, I must admit.
Atmosphere:  Cheesy.  Really cheesy.
Final Grade:  C+

Les Madeleines
Food:  Amazing, and I didn't even try any of the savory options!
Value:  Probably what you'd expect for high-end pastries.
Service:  Helpful, informative, and always with a smile.
Atmosphere:  Charming.  I wish I could have sat at the outside table, munching and people-watching.
Final Grade:  A

Red Iguana on UrbanspoonLes Madeleines Patisserie on Urbanspoon

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