Pura Vida

IMG_1214

Typical Costa Rican breakfast for a typical great day.

A month ago, sitting alone in front of a breakfast plate of rice and beans and a couple of fried eggs, staring out on to a mostly deserted Costa Rican beach, I thought of Kanye.

“Yea, sometimes I romance the thought of leaving it all behind…” he says on the song Gone from the genius Late Registration. (I don’t care what you say, that album is everything.)

:: Sigh :: Me too, ‘Ye. Me freakin’ too.

I have so little to complain about: a healthy body that puts up with the masochism of marathon training, a cute apartment in a neighborhood I love, the best roommate I could ever ask for, a handsome beau who — gasp! Wait for it — actually seems to like me, a job that affords me trips to sit on deserted beaches and contemplate Kanye lyrics. I have it pretty good, I know.

But yet sometimes, maybe because the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket these days, I really do romance the thought of leaving it all behind.

You know? Forget the midtown office job, the astronomical rent, the moronic subway riders, the bitching, worrying, complaining, hustling, stressing. To hell with all of it.

Just give me a quiet beach tucked away from the world and a desayuno typico, cause at the end of the day your girl’s still Costa Rican and can always go for a plate of gallo pinto (rice and beans mixed together). Well and maybe some company, too, so  people stop asking me why I’m alone and wondering what’s wrong with me.

Maybe chalk it up to me being a Libra — if you believe in that sort of thing — but I always crave balance. I want the madness of New York city but then also the peace and stillness of a place like Costa Rica. I want the whole entire world’s cuisines available for my breakfast options but sometimes I also just want gallo pinto, a fried egg and some tangy Salsa Lizano.

In Costa Rica, there’s a Hakuna Matata-like catch-all phrase people use for greetings, toasts, and thanks among other things: Pura vida. Translated literally it means pure life, but more than that it means enjoying the simple things, being stress free and happy, and appreciating what you have.

I gotta tell you, pura vida sounds as delicious as that beach side breakfast.

Mission: perfect burrito

I’m not sure how I’m ever supposed to eat burritos again, not after the absolute-perfection-in-burrito-form I had for lunch today.

All other burritos will live in the shadow of the delicious one I had at Danny Bowien’s California style taqueria, Mission Cantina, in the Lower East Side, not far from his short-lived (but hopefully soon to be resurrected) Mission Chinese Food.

write something here

Mission Cantina’s carne asada burrito

Before bringing his restaurants to New York, Danny Bowien was a big deal in San Francisco, where phenomenal tacos and burritos are easy to find, and clearly he picked up a thing or two and brought it to the east coast, cause the burrito I had today was a 10 clear across the board.

write something here

So much awesome in just one handful

For starters, instead of being filled with tons of gut-filling rice, sad wilted lettuce and mushy tomatoes, this bad boy (easily shareable between two people if you don’t have a the bottomless pit of a stomach that I do) was stuffed, generously and evenly throughout, with  carne asada, beans, guacamole, crema, queso blanco and salsa fresca. The carne asada, which I went with on the server’s recommendation (other choices were lamb, carnitas, fried skate, veggie, chicken and al pastor) was oh-so-soft and juicy, tender and full of flavor. The guacamole lent a creamy freshness to balance the hearty, rich beans, and the cheese did what it always does, made everything better. It was a wonderfully messy, saucy affair with juices running down my hands and my cloth napkin working overtime, and I loved every minute of it.

write something here

Even the chips are delicious!

The tortilla which let’s be honest, no one ever cares about was more than just a vessel for burrito goodness. Tortillas are made in house, and it shows, because instead of being bland and rubbery, this one actually tasted like something you’d want to finish, or to use as a sponge for all of the burrito juice run off. And to really push itself into the realm of greatness, the tortilla had a slight golden crisp to it, from where the burrito had been lightly seared for a perfect finish.The burrito alone was enough to make me an instant fan but Mission Cantina really sealed the deal with its accompanying tortilla chips. Usually an afterthought or distraction, these were anything but. Each one was thick and crunchy, fried in house and dusted in a punchy, colorful blend of spices that made it impossible not to each every last crumb of them. Two salsas, a tangy, avocado filled green sauce and a thicker, smoky red one were served with them, but almost not necessary because of how good they were on their own.

Burritos of New York, I’m not sure things will ever be the between us. Mission Cantina, I’m all yours.

Mission Cantina on Urbanspoon

Classic cuisine from the De Angelis kitchen

Growing up, having dinner at my best friend’s house pretty much guaranteed a big, juicy steak and a side of potatoes. That’s just the kind of family they were: one of those wholesome, all-American families that ate meat and potatoes at least once a week, every week, always.

The equivalent of that meal in my house, where my Costa Rican mom did the cooking, was a plate of black beans and white rice, with a fried egg on top, cooked just enough so that when you punctured the middle with a fork, the runny, orange yolk oozed out and mixed into the beans and rice.

A throwback to meals past.

My mom made this constantly. On nights when she was tired and wanted to make something easy. On nights when my sister and I didn’t want to eat what she and my dad were having. On nights when we asked for it. On nights when we didn’t. On all sorts of nights. Like being dysfunctional, it was just part of our family.

Now, a note about my mom’s cooking: there’s not much that she ever made (or still makes) that I will bother recreating in my own kitchen. I’ve never been that much of a fan of her cooking. She knows it and I know it. But when it comes to rice and beans, well, like 18 years worth of nutty-family memories, I still carry that with me, from the moment I left the nest after high school. The only time I didn’t make this was during my stint in Italy and only because I could never find black beans.

So I dedicate this entry to a culinary staple of my childhood, a reliable standby edible, a satisfying eat of the past in the present, and a testament to  memorable family moments centered around food: the good ol’ plate of rice and beans. (This particular one from a very recent dinner at home with Flaneur, who made the egg.)