Roy prevailed upon me to go to a Mexican restaurant in a nearby town, appealing to their production of a blood orange margarita. Which was tasty, yes, but had only slightly more alcohol content than tap water. I wasn’t pleased that the drinks were weak, “weak” being the Understatement of the Year. Then we ordered chips and tres salsas at $4.50 the order (yes) and some Kitchen Flunky (not our waitress) brings out three pots of salsa, each of which contain exactly 2 tablespoons of salsa. Four dips of a chip exhausted the supply of salsa in a bowl. I had thought I was annoyed about the expensive yet feeble drinks, but as it turned out, the depths of my disapproval had barely been plumbed.
So there we are, with weak drinks, expensive chips and salsa, a TRULY pinche hand with the helpings of salsa, and a 45-minute wait for a table. The combination was sufficient to bring on a low-volume barrage of non-profane invective regarding the entire situation. Those of you who are long-term friends of mine will be able to imagine this perfectly, I think.
Roy, looking for some kind of Silver Lining, says “Well, the chips are good at least.”
“The chips are out of a BAG” I said. “Probably a PLASTIC BAG.”
A random employee was cleaning the table next to ours and stopped to say “They’re not out of a bag. They’re homemade.”
I cocked an eyebrow at her and dished up my Most Incredulous Look. After 10+ years teaching college, my Incredulous Looks can peel paint off a wall.
“They are,” she said with a sneer. “They’re made at home by a woman in San Francisco and flown in every other day.”
This unlocked a hidden achievement: Ultimately Incredulous Look. I didn’t even know I HAD one of those because I do not believe anyone has ever rolled out such an implausible and blatant lie to my face and actually expected me to believe it. I’ve been told a lot of flaming whoppers by students wanting to get out of an exam/an assignment/a poor grade/a whole class/the consequence of some action that were clearly spelled out in the syllabus. I’ve told flaming whoppers myself – I was young once and had to learn that no one buys the “dog ate my homework” excuse just like every other kid. But I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone tell me a flaming whopper on a scale like this. I was already highly offended by the drinks and the cheap helpings of salsa and getting charged almost five bucks for chips and salsa. Having someone drop a load of steaming hot bullshit on my table and tell me it’s truffle pate was One Thing Too Many. I poured every scrap of irritation, annoyance, and outrage into that Ultimately Incredulous Look, and it started to actually flay the skin right off her face, and she fled.
Then I was left trying to explain to Roy 1) why this flaming whopper was so thoroughly objectionable and 2) how I knew it was a flaming whopper in the first place.
I hardly knew where to start. Was it with the fact that freshly made tortilla chips are completely impossible to mistake for the ones out of the bag? If you’ve had fresh tortilla chips – and if you haven’t, you should – you will never look at the ones in the bag the same way. Yes, it’s common for restaurants serving food at the low end of the cost/flavor spectrum to serve chips out of the bag. No, I don’t actually object to getting chips out of the bag. I object to paying five bucks for a basket of chips that came out of a bag, but that’s a different matter. I’ve eaten enough tortilla chips in my time to fill the cargo holds of a Navy Destroyer, both bag chips and fresh chips, and they all have their time and place, but even my Pet Rock can tell the difference between the two.
Was it with the fact that any Mexican restaurant that wants to serve fresh or homemade chips can turn them out at extremely low cost by the vat-load? For Pete’s Sake. All you need are big stacks of corn tortillas, the kind (also out of the bag) they had sackfuls of in the kitchen and were using to wrap all of the tacos, and a whacking huge pan of very hot oil, the kind they had in the kitchen and were using to fry the fish for the fish tacos which were then wrapped in the corn tortillas. To make “fresh” tortilla chips you stack up the tortillas, cut them into 6 or 8 wedges, or if you’re feeling really generous and making a name for yourself on this, into quarters. Drop them into the vat of hot oil. Wait one minute. Pull a utensil through the vat to stir the chips. Wait another minute, fish out, and put into a basket to drain. Dump in the next batch. It’s easier than making McDonald’s french fries. There is no reason for a Mexican restaurant that wants to promote themselves as serving fresh tortilla chips to outsource them to anyone.
Was it their suspicious uniformity? Real fresh or homemade tortilla chips are notoriously easy to break up. That’s part of what makes them so delicious. They shatter in your mouth with a heavenly blast of hot corn and oil. Tortilla chips out of the bag, on the other hand, do not break up and that’s why they can be sold by the bag. You don’t transport fresh tortilla chips because they will turn to dust. This is because they aren’t loaded up with binders and preservatives and stuff like that. These chips on our table had the minimal flavor, leathery consistency, and suspicious uniformity of size and shape that I associate with cheap bagged chips. The kind I don’t even buy for the house. Not even Green Mountain Gringo chips. We’re talking…Tostitos. Or worse. Generic Store Brand Tortialla Chips. That kind of thing.
No. Any of those would have done the trick for me, but I think what really made my brain spin was the prospect of anyone flying in tortilla chips in to New England from California three times a week.
Still, where do you even start with this?
The whole thing settled several questions for me, such as “Will I ever patronize this restaurant again?” and “Have I reached my Absolute Absurdity Limit for the year?” while leaving me with the more Burning Issue unsatisfied.
Was this chick just being a total low-rent smartass? Or did she believe this rubbish about the little old lady in San Francisco turning out homogenized tortilla chips in her house and shipping them via air cargo to New England three times a week? Has someone actually hoaxed this restaurant into a scam?
I’d like to think that it’s the first, and that this is someone who is just on the fast track out of the Service Industry. But I know this area, and the possibility that it is truly the second cannot be discounted. Roy’s impression – as a seasoned recipient of flaming whoppers for thirty years – was actually the latter.
And that, kids, raises an even more pressing question for me. If someone is actually sending this restaurant repackaged Tostitos and has persuaded them that they’re some kind of Artisanal Chip being shipped in from the West Coast…would it be possible for me to start my own Cottage Industry in Tortilla “Manufacturing” and undercut the competition? I could definitely carve off the “shipping” costs. Depending on what kind of prices they’re paying for the “homemade” chips, I might even be able to retire on the proceeds.