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Restaurants AA Gill Will Never Visit: El Jardin

The following is intended as satire. For those of you who have no interest in any of that, and just want to read a restaurant review, go right ahead. But if you want to know what I’m really getting at, I heartily suggest reading one or two examples of AA Gill’s truly unparalleled food reviews here.

108 W. Morgan Street, Meridian, Texas, 76665.

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Five Diamonds London Calling Four Diamonds The Clash Three Diamonds Sandinista Two Diamonds Combat Rock One Diamond Cut the Crap

Painting may well be the most brilliantly cathartic job that anyone can make a living at. Legally, anyway.  I don’t mean the kind you do at a class with a bunch of little old ladies, while looking at a bowl of fruit. I mean the sort of painting that makes something a completely different colour than it was before.  Walls, bookshelves, dressers.  It is a process of change, sudden, brilliant change. There is something enormously satisfying about using colour, something that one enjoys in a way that is almost primal.  Try for yourself sometime: find a wall that’s been the same color since Asquith was in Number 10, and then change it.  It doesn’t matter to what. What matters is that it be different. That you make it different.  Roll it on, use a big brush, paint it however you like, and time will catch up to you. The world will have changed, then. And you will have done it.

The thing of it is colour. It’s emotion, perhaps at its most glossed, its most enjoyable, without any of the weight and heft of reality.  It brings thoughts and memories; of childhood, of school, of different times when people used different colours. Or it is the striking modernity, the shock of today, that agonizingly brief shade of tomorrow.

Food, of course, is important for its colour.  There’d be no point to bell peppers, or strawberries, or bananas. Don’t bother making any sort of sandwich. No use in even warming a soup from a can. And there’s definitely no roasting marshmallows.

I rather liked this collection of pictures – national flags made of national dishes.  Brazil is limes, with a spot of good cheese and a grape.  I couldn’t have put it better myself. Japan is the knock out – a bright red roundel of raw tuna on a stunningly whit plate. India is halfway there already – “saffron” is one of its national colors.  And of course, according to old Italian tradition, both pizza and spaghetti were originally patriotic dishes, splashes of red, white and green on a plate.

But the problem is that there are an awful lot of red, white and blue countries. And there’s not much we can do that is red, white and blue, besides some sort of garishly decorated cake.  In fact, America would have to represented by a pie, if anything, and the colour of it would be terrifying. And the Russians have even less to work with. They’d have to make some awful stew. But I suppose its at this point that we can all agree, its much worse to be German in this situation.

If Texas has a national dish, you can have it at El Jardin. Its menu is a nearly complete listing of what people from the rest of the world think of as Mexican food, but is actually extraordinarily Texan. The ingredients may be Mexican, but the mixing pot is just further north, over the Rio Grande.   And its never more Texan than lunchtime, which is when I went. Or a little after, actually.  The place was nearly empty, at any rate. The interior is that terribly uniform farce of walls painted extravagantly with murals of the Latin world.  I’m not sure a good Mexican restaurant can afford to be without them.  I sat next to a rather impressively large bullfight, which I’m fairly certain is Spanish.  But that’s the point, I think, to the ubiquitous restaurant mural: its a fantasy world, a culture taken to its visual extreme.

For a restaurant named “the garden”, its salsa was a slight disappointment. That’s the real test of a restaurant: its salsa. There’s not much else that deserves any worry or care.  The rice and the beans will always be good – impossible to mess with those.  The tortillas? Tortillas are always tortillas.  But the salsa is proof of care, of freshness, of taste.  And they can vary so widely, at the salsa maker’s whim.  This one was more a paste; I can’t prove it was out of a can, but it certainly looked like it.

But I don’t think I’ve had better tamales anywhere.  That’s my vote for our state dish. Fresh tamales, with a little chili over them. Its a social food that can still be enjoyed alone, a utilitarian corn flour that can be filled with whatever suits your taste.  The Mexicans almost uniformly prefer a mixture of meats that you or I don’t normally eat from the pig.  Quite a lot of Texans prefer it with beef or chicken.  Vegetarians can have it with beans.  That last one might actually be my favorite of them all – pity they don’t show up on menus.

Of course, the practical upshot of all this is that its 50 miles from the civilization of the Metroplex, so if you find yourself out here for lunch, El Jardin would certainly not be a bad choice.


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