Being and Munchingness
Chow, Baby’s father used to play a mind game he called Argentina. He’d begin it with “Name a country that starts with A.” His prey would answer, “Okay, Argentina.” “No, that’s not it.” “Austria.” “Nope.” Angola, Afghanistan, Australia? Nope, nope, nope. When the victim had named all but one of the A countries, Dad would say, “No, dummy, it’s Andorra,” or whichever one was left, while rolling his eyes at the other person’s dim-wittedness.
Chow, Baby was never clear on whether this game had some kind of existential point or whether, with all due respect, Dad was just being a dick. (This question came up a lot during Chow, Baby’s teen years.) Either way, Chow, Baby got in the habit of questioning its place in the world, and that’s why it had trouble last week finding the … Paraguayan Café? Panamanian Café? No, dummy, it’s the Portuguese Café (8545 Boat Club Rd.) – and it’s definitely A-list.
Start with the most gracious Latin host since Al Cavazos at La Familia. Inside a strip-mall storefront in far, far northwest Fort Worth, Joaquim (“Call me Kim”) Gameiro explains the menu of Iberian standards and, if you wish, the culinary history of Portugal back to Vasco da Gama’s 1497 spice run to India. Then Kim sets out sauce-and-rice samples: a light but rich whipping cream/onion bath for chicken, a dish known as peitos de frango (everything Chow, Baby tried is $9 lunch, $11 dinner); a bit of feijoda, the traditional Portuguese bean, pork, and chicken stew; and a taste of Mozambique-style curry, perfect with grilled shrimp. Since they’re all fantastic, this taste-testing actually makes choosing more difficult, particularly given the other delicious-sounding menu items like African charcoaled chicken. There are also “American favorites” – hamburger, chicken-fried steak – but who cares? More to the point is the section of specialties like salt-dried codfish and “hunter’s rabbit” that need to be ordered a day in advance. Which is why Portuguese Café’s number is now in Chow, Baby’s personal phone book, under A for Ambrosial.
Our Sartre of Place
On the topic of handsome, charming Latin hosts who not only serve amazing meals inside nondescript storefronts but also are happy to sit down and chat with their customers about the nuances of their country’s cuisine – meet Francisco Chicas at La Campiña Salvadoreña (1115 E. Pioneer Pkwy., Arlington). Seriously, go meet him; he’s great. The Salvadoran dishes on La Campiña’s mostly Mexican menu are also great, but few. This makes it easy: Just order all of them. While you’re waiting, roam the small grocery store – you’re sitting in the middle of it – for cashew-juice concentrate, plantain chips, banana-flavored soft drinks, and other Central American treats.
We began with a plato typico Salvadoreño (“typical Salvadoran platter,” $6.99) overflowing with goodies: a pupusa, a queso-stuffed corn tortilla that was so good we ordered more ($1.25 each); fist-sized pieces of lightly fried yucca; double-refried beans; grilled sweet plantains with delectable sour cream; and an amazing chicken tamal, so good we ordered another (a Chow, Baby Best Buy at $1.25). Francisco actually tried to warn us off the chicken sandwich ($4.99) – he’s right, it’s “different,” a chicken salad made with a mild salsa and dressed with cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, and hard-boiled eggs. It’s also marvelous. No problem with existential mapping here: This is one of Chow, Baby’s places in the world.
Contact Chow, Baby at firstname.lastname@example.org.