Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Salt and Pepper

North America is like a cul-de-sac with only three houses on it.  With no more than two "neighbours", you would think everyone would know each other really well, have close friendships, share stuff and all of that.  Instead, we treat Mexico like the third child in a family of boys; the first two sons naturally have a sibling rivalry, but they still agree on one thing: picking on the third son.

True story: my parents started their family with three boys, and I was the oldest.  (Jeff was the second oldest but has since passed me.  See, the rivalry continues!)  Once, when I was about eight, I was at a neighbour's house with Brent, the unfortunate third son in our family.  We were outside playing with two neighbourhood girls who were about the same ages we were.  (Brent is three years younger than me.)  As is not uncommon for kids that age, we were curious about the differences between boys and girls.  This led me to utter the classic phrase, "If you show me yours....

...Brent will show you his."

I know, it makes me sound like "Pimpy", a rejected character from the Little Rascals.

Well, she did show hers, and Brent did show his, and the other girl with us ran off and told her mother.  And, even though I hadn't shown anybody anything, I got in the most trouble.  And Brent?  After being turned into the Kindergarten Flasher, and, on other occasions being conned out of candy, toys, and even money, did he stop wanting to hang out with his older brothers?  Of course not. He kept coming back for more.

Mexico is kind of like that; his siblings constantly take advantage of him, but he never seems to hold a grudge and continues to share with his brothers, particularly his food.  But you wouldn't know it to look at Calgary's restaurant scene.  Sure, you can find a Taco Bell franchisee just as easily as you would a Dairy Queen, and every food court seems to be required by some Calgary bylaw to have a Taco Time.  Julio's Barrio is okay, but really good Mexican (like the much-missed Baja Bistro) just can't seem to survive in this city.

The exception to this rule is Salt and Pepper.

We first ate at Salt and Pepper when they had a location in Cochrane (a community close to the north end of Calgary).  They recently closed that restaurant but still have two Calgary locations: their flagship in Bowness and a new restaurant in historic Inglewood.  (I think it is also a Calgary bylaw that Inglewood must always be referred to as historic Inglewood.)

When my parents came to visit us for a week in early August, we decided to take them to the Bowness Salt and Pepper.  My dad is a foodie, and we knew he would enjoy the unique (for Calgary) menu.  My mom?  Well, she usually values a restaurant, not by its selection of entrees, but by its selection of coupons.  However, in spite of a complete absence of BOGOs, I think she still enjoyed her meal.

I had forgotten to call the restaurant to make a reservation, so I dropped by in person while running errands to see if they could slide us in for the same evening.  The tall, young man who greeted me at the door said it wouldn't be a problem.

"What time will that be for?"


"And for how many?"

"Six people."

"Okay, we'll see you then."

"Uh, don't you need my name or something?"

"No, Darin, I've got it."

Whoa! I did not give him my name.  This guy must be psychic and is reading my mind.  I've always worried about meeting a bona-fide mind-reader, not because I carry any state secrets or anything else important (he can have my PIN number; the account only ever has about $7.43 in it), but because I might think something embarrassing.  That's all right, I'm prepared for this.  Clear my mind.  Clear my mind.  Don't think about "boobies".  Dammit, I thought about boobies!  Dammit, I did it again!  Quick, start humming!

I was about halfway through the first verse of God Save the Queen (just shows you how panicked I was; I can't stand the Queen) when Kyle reminded me that we used to work for the same company, and I had trained him.  Oh yeah, right.  In all fairness to me, I train hundreds of people a year, and context can be everything, but I did remember him as soon as he mentioned First Calgary.

When we arrived later that evening, we were taken to sit in a special waiting "alcove" in the back of the restaurant before being led out to our table on the patio.  We ordered some chips & salsa and drinks to consume while we looked over the menus.  (My mom was horrified that we had to pay for the chips. Sigh.)

Deciding what to eat was really a no brainer.  Most of us ordered the same thing: the Combination Poblana.  This includes the two best things Salt and Pepper offers, a chile relleno and an enchilada with mole sauce, among other items.

Chile rellenos can be really good or really bad.  Really good ones, like those served at Salt and Pepper, have a crispy breading, a soft tender Poblano pepper, and lots of hot melted cheese.  A bad chile relleno too often has the consistency of stewed old rhubarb, stringy and slimy at the same time.

As for the enchilada, it is really just a vehicle for the mole sauce.  Mole (if you haven't had it before) is a dark Mexican sauce made with roasted chili peppers and, get this,...chocolate!  (If you just said "yuck", let me direct you to the nearest Taco Bell so you can fill your pie-hole with chalupas.)  The owner of Salt and Pepper, Silvio, is from the Oaxaca region of Mexico, which is famous for its variety of mole sauce.  Even though I could have found this out by simply reading his bio inside the cover of the menu, I didn't need to, because my dad was already having a conversation with him at our table like they were old friends. 

My dad is always doing that, striking up conversations with complete strangers on buses, in checkout lines, at museums, pretty much anywhere and with anyone.  Sure, we've all encountered people who suddenly invade your private space to espouse their unique version of reality.  They usually smell funny and wear at least one sure sign of a two-finger grip on sanity, like a tin-foil hat or a "Vote Michele Bachmann" button.

But my dad doesn't come across that way at all.  Quite the opposite.  People love talking to my dad.  He and Silvio were comparing the merits of Mexican restaurants in Calgary and Utah, and when our desserts were taken off the bill, I'm sure it had something to do with that conversation.  It's a real talent.

We had a great meal, the service was very good (thank you, Kyle), and I'm looking forward to trying out their newer historic Inglewood location.




  1. I had a similar experience at Moochies (Moochies by the way, is a great sandwich place two blocks from my house in Salt Lake. They have amazing philly cheesesteaks (the jalapeno sauce really puts it over the top) and meatball sandwiches. Their greatness has been verified by Guy Fieri (but don't hold that against them). comments have to be food related, right? so, last time I went to get some lunch and the guy ringing me up said 'that's for Ryan, right?'
    'yeah, that's right.....hey wait, did I tell you my name?'
    'nope, i just have a really good memory'
    He hadn't helped me more than once, and I hadn't been in for over a month. impressive!
    anyway, nice blog Darin.

  2. So, I have YOU to blame for Brent's "showing his" with reckless abandon. Awesome . . .

    Love the blog!


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