Cocina Poblano. Regional Mexican cuisine complete with a live tortilla bar and a wide selection of high-end tequilas comes to Jack London Square. 499 Embarcadero West (at Washington), Oakland; (510) 451-4700. Lunch, dinner daily; weekend brunch.
—San Francisco Chronicle
I don't have the budget or time to travel the world seeking dining adventures like Tom Parker Bowles ("The Year of Eating Dangerously"), Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio ("Man Eating Bugs"), or Anthony Bourdain, so I saw the "live tortilla bar" as a chance to follow in their 'food steps' and be daring with my dining. So last week a friend and I paid a visit to Cocina Poblano.
I had no idea that Mexican food in the U.S. could be so adventurous. Behind the bar there was a container of the tortillas, wriggling furiously. Every now and then the chef grabbed one with her bare hands (!), doused it in a thin brick-red sauce, sprinkled on a bit of cheese and passed it to the pick-up station.
I ordered a plate and within a minute one was sitting in front of me.
The tortilla was still warm, still full of life. Waves rolled across its sauce-covered body as it convulsed lightly. I could tell it was a little woozy from one of the potent tequila-fortified salsas that the chef had created specially for their live tortilla offerings. My dining companion, a committed vegetarian, would have none of it — she actually had to step away when I took my first bite.
It was a surreal experience, one that I could not…
"Hey Marc, it's Bonnie. Just wanted to see if you needed a ride to the book signing ..."
"The signing? Give me a second to wake up. I must have dozed off while reading that new report on food-safety regulations." So it was all a dream… just a dream.
Well, the part about me eating a wriggling tortilla was. But what the heck is a "live tortilla bar"? I checked with the Chronicle food department and they said that the restaurant would be featuring tortillas made on the spot by a real live human. That sounds a lot better than my dream, as a fresh corn tortilla made with good masa is truly a thing of beauty, something that makes me want to write another installment of In Defense of Corn.
Inspired in part by This American Life's 2007 Poultry Slam, in which Jonathon Gold eats a live prawn at the Living Fish Center restaurant in Los Angeles. Photo of tortillas from karindalziel's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License. Cross posted at Mental Masala.