Monday, November 30, 2009

The Molar of the Story

I spent Thanksgiving in bed this year, sidelined by a bad tooth. Accompanied by a bottle of pain killers and a remote control, I faded in and out of three hours of parade coverage and six hours of football. I’ve had tooth infections before, but this one really got out of hand. After two trips to the Emergency Room, a visit to my dentist, an oral surgeon, and an endodontist, and almost a week of bed rest, I was finally able to stop eating through a straw. I could hardly speak though, because the swelling had pretty much pinned my tongue to the roof of my mouth.

Philip made me a delicious holiday lunch of mashed potatoes and gravy which, combined with two hits of Vicadin, gave me the same post Thanksgiving meal drowsiness that everyone else was enjoying. I was well into a near coma-like sleep when my cell phone went off. It was my mother.

I tried to explain to her that I was heavily medicated and barely able to speak, but it never actually registered with her, so I just gave in and listened. This is what I think I heard: “Your dad and I are going to Aunt Darlene and Uncle Lee’s for Thanksgiving dinner. They called us yesterday to tell us that turkeys went on sale at Walmart for forty cents a pound. Well we got in the truck and went right over. You never see turkey for forty cents a pound. But that was for the ten to twelve pounders. By the time we got there all that was left was the twenty pounders, so they put them on sale too. We ended up with four turkeys in our freezer. That’s eighty pounds of turkey. I hope you’re feeling better hon.”

This whole tooth ordeal started a week and a half ago during my last lunch date with Stephanie. It was our final get together before the holiday and I wanted to go out with a bang. I had high hopes that the place I chose would be at least as good as El Especial the week before. As it turned out, Nuevo Vallarta on South Saginaw Street in Grand Blanc did not disappoint. In fact, I thought it was better, overall, than most of the places we’d already been to.

At first glance, the inside looks a lot like El Cozumel with the bright colored, high back chairs and over the top wall colors. With lots of windows and a not-too-expansive dining area, the atmosphere at Nuevo Vallarta was quite pleasant and inviting. Our waiter, on the other hand, scared the hell out of me. He was six and a half feet tall and close to three hundred pounds, and he spoke mostly in one and two syllable grunts. It was hard for me to tell if he even spoke English. His helper, who brought us a basket of chips and a bowl of salsa, did not.

Not realizing there was an impenetrable language barrier between us, I blathered on to the meek young helper, asking him for a hotter salsa, some more water, blah blah blah (which is, I’m sure, all he heard). Stephanie, who is much smarter and quicker than I am, leaned over the table and broke the news to me. “I don’t think he speaks English.” Oh. I turned back to him to revise the conversation plan, but he was already hightailing toward our grumpy waiter. In a matter of seconds, the waiter was back.

“Um, sorry to bother you, but do you have a hotter salsa to go with our chips? And we’d like to order the Chorizo con Queso.” He nodded his head, gave a one syllable grunt—which had a short u sound it, but that’s all I could decipher—and disappeared into the kitchen. If he was annoyed with us, he kept it to himself. A chatty Cathy, he was not. Just then my cell phone went off. It was my mother, arguably the chattiest Cathy who ever lived. Ignore the call, I thought. She’ll call back later.

The waiter returned a few minutes later with not one, but two hotter salsas. They were both extremely good, one with a great smoky, chipotle taste backed up with a boat load of heat, and the other a taco-salad-dressing-looking mixture that was actually jammed with hot and slightly sweet flavors. It was about the third chip I bit into that I first felt the pain in my tooth. The chips, which were mega-crispy, must have jarred something loose because I felt the pain all the way into my jaw.

This little mishap was not going to ruin what was shaping up to be a great lunch. A few short minutes later, the helper slid a nice sized bowl of crumbled sausage, a rich white cheese sauce, and finely chopped tomatoes in front of us. Great Lady of Guadalupe! This queso was by far the best I’d ever tasted. The spicy kick to the sausage paired so well with the mild creamy cheese sauce. The more I ate, the less I thought about my throbbing tooth. My phone went off a second time. My mother. I tucked my phone in my pocket and let it go to voicemail.

The menu is loaded with good choices, including all of the traditional items like burritos, tacos, enchiladas and tostadas. This menu even had a good variety of vegetarian choices, six to be exact. What I found a little amusing about the vegetarian choices was not the entre selections themselves, but the names of each entrée. They were listed as Veggie Plate A, B, C, D, E, and F. All of them were combination plates with two, three, or four items and beans and rice on the side.

Stephanie and I went back to the basics and ordered our usual. She had the Enchilada Ranchero Trio, and I had the Spicy Beef Chimichanga. And guess what? They both came with cheese, sour cream, and guacamole. FOR FREE!!!!!!! Our plates were overflowing with delicious smelling, delicious looking food. Stephanie’s cheese, chicken, and bean enchiladas were well seasoned and cheesy with a great little spicy sauce that pulled the whole dish together. Her chicken was pretty dry, but other than that, it was a spectacular meal.

My chimi plate consisted of two mini sized tortillas stuffed with chunks of well soaked beef and lots of gooey cheese. They were perfectly and sinfully deep fried. The cheese and spicy sauce was buried under a mountain of lettuce, tomato, sour cream, and guacamole topping. How they found room for the beans and rice is still a mystery.

Aside from the scary waiter, this was one of the very best lunches we’ve had since embarking on the Mexican Tour. The food was consistently good, the prices were quite affordable, and that Chorizo con Queso is now the very strong frontrunner in the TTC Award competition. It’ll take something pretty spectacular to top it.

The throbbing in my tooth began to pick up as we hit the cool November air outside the restaurant, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I was distracted by my cell phone, vibrating again in my pocket. It was my mother. Not now, I said to myself, Not now. She’s probably got some wild ass story to tell m, but it’ll just have to wait for a better time.


  1. I am surprised that the chicken was dry; I have found the do the bird better than most. As for the tooth, if your mouth had been consistently moistened by the very generous-sized Dos Equis served at this establishment, then this travesty wouldn't have happened (maybe).

  2. Dude, I think about having beer with lunch every week, but my fear is that I'd fall asleep at my desk in the middle of the afternoon and get drool all over my paperwork. That would be sad.

  3. Especially with the new window. What about a relatively unknown back-up office?

  4. Are you suggesting there is something else that can be done with a ringing phone other than let it go to voicemail? All this time I thought that device I've been lugging around in my pocket was a "voicemail alerter."

  5. I have a phobia about talking on the phone, so voice mail alerter sounds like a great use for me. Thanks. I never answer unless I know who's calling, and even then it's not a given that I'll pick up.

  6. I hope you are feeling much better now! There's nothing worse than a toothache, esp during a holiday.

  7. Are you sick again? It is like you haven't eaten for a week.

  8. Still full from the mashed potatoes and vicadin. It's the end of the semester and I'm so busy I'm struggling to find time to write. But for you, Steves, I'll grind through it and keep the posts coming.

  9. This place also has the BEST and STRONGEST margaritas in the county. One-Nice buzz, two-Don't drive, three-keep your singing QUIET-as not to disturb the other diners. Serious note-The Frozen margaritas ARE STRONGER! just ask the bartender. I love this place.

  10. Hey Steve, over the holdiday I plan to take my designated driver out to dinner and try the frozen marqaritas. I'll let you know how they were.