Friday, July 1, 2011

Eating Ecuadorian

The universe has been offering up the best kind of little surprises to me over the past month, all of which continue to encourage the hopeless optimist in me.

But enough about that. Walking over to Ghostprint Gallery for their preview of Catherine Brooks' "To Blave," I ran into a friend from the Camel on the street.

I was going from whence he'd just come and he warned me, "It's an amazing show."

Brooks' stunning works, many of them oil on Masonite, were remarkable for their visual clarity, mythological references and recurring motifs (brambles, keys, clouds).

The first two pieces in the show were of a striking-looking woman and only after the artist was pointed out to me did I realize that they were self-portraits. Talent and beauty; must be nice.

A couple of pieces used old books (an H.G. Wells and a "Rudiments of Arithmetic") to showcase jewelry and figures in oil, acrylic and collage.

As one who loves to buy local art (Brooks went from Richmond to L.A., but she's back), I was thrilled to see limited edition unframed prints available for a mere $45. That's affordable local art.

The most visually stunning piece in the show was a mixed media piece called "Isis and Nemo" and was done as a kind of a large-scale jigsaw puzzle.

Smaller pieces of the puzzle were separate and trailing off to one side, while the major part of the piece had interlocking faces, hands and a skull.

"That should be in the Virginia Museum," one woman noted to me and I couldn't argue. It had real presence and would make quite a statement in the 21st century gallery.

Leaving the crowded gallery after running into several friends and chatting, I strolled down to Bistro 27 for a dinner rendezvous.

Tonight I had been invited to share an Ecuadorian meal with the Brazilian chef.

A recent conversation about our shared love of offal had reminded him of a memorable meal a friend from Ecuador had made for him.

"Come back Thursday and I'll make it. We'll eat it together," he'd promised. I felt lucky to have been asked, but maybe he just doesn't know another tripe lover. Whatever the reason, I wasn't missing it.

When I arrived, the dining room was completely full, so I spent time drinking Vinho Verde and chatting with the bartender, which led to some curious topics ("I can't wait to see how you write THAT up in the blog," he laughed) on subjects which needn't be shared.

Meanwhile, the chef kept telling me, "It's almost ready" from the kitchen. Fine, I read a magazine; I read the Post food section. I talked to strangers and was happily occupied.

By the time the kitchen had slowed enough for the chef to join me, we were both starving.

The dish, guatita, is a beef tripe stew with potato peanut sauce and served with white rice. It is considered an excellent hangover cure, not that we needed it for that.

No, it was the four-plus hours that the stew had simmered that made it so distinctive.

The small pieces of tripe were melt-in-your-mouth tender and the rich peanut sauce got a kick from a few dashes of Matouk's Salsa Calypso, a very hot sauce.

With both chunks of potato and rice, there was plenty of starch to set off the richness and heat of the dish.

The unique flavor was addictive and I kept eating until there was nothing but rice left on my plate. Even the Chef's rice disappeared, but then, he's a guy and had just finished a fourteen-hour shift.

Three guys sitting near us were offered a taste. One took it and said he was repulsed by the peanut butter taste. The other two made faces and wouldn't touch it.

And yet, if they'd tasted it, I can say with certainty that they'd never have known, much less cared, that it was beef tripe. In any case, the loss was theirs.

They redeemed themselves only slightly when a group of women came in and asked for an escort to their car. All three were quick to walk the skittish women the short distance to the lot.

As the chef and I discussed then, food and how adventurous people are about food can be a major factor when it comes to the laws of attraction.

I can't imagine being attracted to a timid eater type any more than I can imagine being attracted to a couch potato.

I'll take my potatoes in my guatita, thank you very much.

And I can walk myself to my car, no matter where it's parked. Maybe tripe makes you brave.

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