Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Gut Check: Empanadas & Buns

My wife has been asking me to blog on a weekly basis ever since this blog began. She finally convinced me that it would be fun, especially if I write "food blogs". So, without further ado, brem bloggy blog brings you "Gut Check".

I travel for work about one night per week in which I find myself in Sacramento, Reno, or Santa Rosa. If I'm really going for it, I will make it to Portland, OR and the Seattle/Tacoma area. I really do not like being away from my family. I just like them too much to find ways to avoid them. But work-related trips are unavoidable so I try to make the most of it. Since my mind doesn't immediately race to going on a solo adventures like hiking or base jumping, I tend to channel all of my maverick energies into eating. I'm not talking about competitive eating - I'd rather live to see 40. No, the eating adventures I pursue are more of the "what can I eat that I've never had before?" persuasion. Or, to be really honest, "what sounds good to me that my wife and kids would put the kibosh on instantly"? Going with this conventional wisdom, I frequently visit www.yelp.com, which usually lands me in a strip mall where I get sucked into the Asian food tractor beam. Tonight was different, though. Tonight I'm in Roseville, which should be called "Wewantyoutostayhereforeverville" because it literally has every kind of store and restaurant. If I lived here I may only leave to go see a SF Giants game. And tonight's culinary adventure is another reason to keep me here...if I did actually live here.

I went to "Empanadas & Buns". The name alone should spike your curiosity, as it did mine. I read a few yelp reviews in my hotel room and said, out loud, "I'm goin' for it." You see, that's really the only fun thing about traveling alone is that I have all the freedom in the world to declare aloud that I'm going to eat dinner at a place called "Empanadas & Buns" and no one can stop me. Before I take you on a wordsmithed voyage to my gastro-destination, I should mention that in order to be successful and efficient at eating adventures, one needs a few necessary tools:
1. yelp.com - it will uncover food empires of untold riches for you in a fraction of the time it would take you to drive all over town looking for something
2. GPS - taking the address found on said "yelp", letting the Garmin guide you is the next best thing to having a chauffeur drive you around
3. car - that's because you don't have a chauffeur

I took the elevator down three flights, said "peace out" to the dude working the front desk, and jumped into my car, Dave. Trekking through the hustle and bustle of folks making their way home, who never realized the gem laid just off their beaten paths, I found "Empanadas and Buns". I walked in and was one of two patrons. The other was a woman named Alicia who, without knowing, really showed me the ropes on the casual and friendly atmosphere of E&B. The owner, Joe, was in mid-conversation with Alicia when he welcomed me to his establishment. I said loudly (probably because I was still in my "declaring aloud stuff" mindset), "I hear this is the place to eat! I read about it on yelp." Joe was glad to have, yet another, piece of business led to him by the internet. I stood in front of the cash register like a stumped spelling bee contestant staring at the chalkboard of choices while muttering things like "Uh..." and "Hmm..." and finally asking Joe, "What do you recommend?" (As a word of advice, when you are researching restaurants on yelp, try to have an idea what you want to order before you get there in order to avoid looking like an idiot.)

Joe, a Spanish man, knows English, Spanish, Italian, and Filipino. Apparently, working for Pan-Am back in the day had some residual benefits. His menu has a little Filipino, a little Spanish, and a little Italian sprinkled around. But what they really are known for are their empanadas. They had quite a few to pick from. Joe recommended the beef and chicken. I said, "Whatever you say, Joe." As I sat down waiting for my food, Joe proceeded to introduce me to Alicia. Then Thor came in (not the comic book guy, an actual guy named Thor). Joe introduced me to him. Then Vanessa came in to pick up her to go order and Joe introduced me to her. I have never had that happen before. It was like the fried pastry version of Cheers and I was the out-of-towner being made to feel right at home. You can't help but learn everyone's name in a place like that. The restaurant was not heated well but the warmth coming from this kind man who took pride in his food and welcomed everyone he met heated up the place. In the back was Norma. She is a little Filipino woman who loves cooking and co-creates all the menu items with Joe. Alicia, Thor, and Vanessa left and it was just me, Joe, and Norma. Joe brought out my order which didn't look like much. However, I decided right then, to savor every bite. It wasn't because the food was delicious. It was because of the company of my new friends. They stood behind their counter talking to me as I nibbled away at my food. Oh, right...the food. Well, the empanada dough was flaky and buttery and awesome. The chicken inside was shredded and tossed with mole sauce that Norma made from scratch. I know, she's Filipino making mole. Who cares, it was amazing. But even better than that was the beef empanada. It had ground beef seasoned with Argentinian spices, green olives, and raisins. Sound weird? Not even. It was incredible and the Thai chili sauce it was served with took it over the edge. I kept wondering if my wife and kids would like it. I'm not sure, but I loved it. And I savored it. And I savored the company and conversation. And I'm really full right now. And happy.

After E&B, I think I might seek out restaurants with a different goal in mind. From now on, rather than trying to find a vacation for my taste buds, I might also try to find a place where everyone, who if they don't know your name at first, will know your name by the time you leave, and you'll be sure to know theirs too.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty sure you should be a food writer. Glad you finally gave into Patty's demands :) Nick also loves weird food (though I think we'd both go to E&B).

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