A Taste of El Salvador in Reno

When I walked into El Salvador Restaurant, the first thing I saw was a sign that said “Please Seat Yourself” and a counter past the booths for take-out orders. This set the tone that El Salvador Restaurant was a place where the food, not the frills, was a priority. The restaurant quickly splits into two sections. The first had booths, dark lighting, a small television in one of the upper corners and the take-out counter. I chose to sit in the more formal section which was past some arches with faux red bricks painted around them. The dining room had chairs along with tables topped with white imitation flowers with pink tips in vases.

Immediately a waiter brought out some chips and salsa. I could not tell if the chips were freshly made or came from a bag. They were lightly salted and slightly bitter in taste. The salsa was orange, indicating habanero. The spicy salsa was flavorful, with a strong hot aftertaste. I have never met a salsa that was too hot for my taste, so I enjoyed the heat.

The two-tone room, white on the top and bright red on the bottom, was bright, clean and spacious. I visited on a Sunday afternoon and I was the only person in the dining area, exaggerating my perception of the size of the room. Pictures of El Salvador hung on the walls, looking like they came from a travel bureau. Many of them featured bright flowers, green foliage and blue skies. One said “El Salvador Colorido y Belleza” – color and beauty. More imitation flowers hung upon the walls of the dining room.

I ordered the horchata ($1.75) while I read the menu. I received an old red plastic glass, chipped on the edges, but the horchata was lightly sweetened and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla flavors, making a refreshing afternoon drink. The waiter quickly refilled my glass when it was empty.

After looking over the colorful menu, I asked the waiter what made enchiladas Salvadoreñas ($6.99) different from the Mexican variety.  He described the Salvadorian version as featuring pupusas, a small thick Salvadorian tortilla. He also said it did not feature a sauce like the well-known Mexican version. Pupusas are a common part of Salvadorian cuisine. I decided to go with the enchiladas.

My meal arrived quickly on a large plate, which, like the red cup, had chips along the edge. The food looked pleasant with two pupusas, about three inches in diameter each, topped with steak and a salad of lettuce, green bell pepper and carrot. The very top featured a garnish of a half-slice of tomato. Refried beans and rice completed the meal.

The beans had a distinct lard taste, but were pleasant once I adjusted to the taste. The rice featured peppers and onions and seemed to smooth out the strong lard taste. Unlike Mexican or Spanish rice dishes, the Salvadorian version did not feature any tomatoes. I found the lack of tomatoes to enhance some of the subtle flavors of the pepper and onion in the dish.

Since the pupusas were a bit crispy, I decided the best way to tackle the enchiladas, which looked more like tostadas than what most Americans would think of as enchiladas, was to eat them using my hands. The salad on top was marinated in light oil, which blended nicely with the moderate crunch of the pupusa. The steak in the middle was cut into very small pieces and was tender and well-seasoned. The food was not spicy. Compared to its Mexican counterpart, it was a bit bland. However, the pupusa was too salty for my taste. Was it so salty that it ruined the meal? Not really. However, it was salty enough that I would not order this item again.

After finishing my meal, I remembered something on the menu that caught my attention. It listed mango among the flavors of milkshake available. I ordered the mango milkshake ($3.25), curious how such a treat would taste. The tall glass I received had a lot of mango, but nothing that qualified as a milkshake. There was no milk or ice cream. It was just mango juice blended with ice. It was less than a smoothie and, my failed expectations aside, I did not enjoy it.

After I got my bill, I went to the counter to pay and waited for longer than I would have like to. While waiting I looked at the display counter, which featured a variety of Salvadorian souvenirs and candy for sale. It occurred to me that a visitor to this restaurant can have a Salvadorian meal and return home with a souvenir.  A visitor could be a tourist and never have to deal with all the trouble of actual travel.

I left the El Salvador Restaurant with mixed feelings. My meal was not bad, but I had problems with it. The pupusas were too salty and my mango milkshake was not a milkshake by my standards. Much of the dinnerware was chipped and old. However, the staff was friendly, helpful and it had the space and atmosphere that favors families with children.

El Salvador Restaurant

517 Forest Street

Reno, NV 89509

(775) 329-3022

Hours

Monday 11-9

Tuesday 10-2 & 6-9

Wednesday – Sunday 10-10

The restaurant has a parking lot with plenty of spots and additional parking is available on Forest Street. Forest Street is a one-way southbound street. I recommend entering Forest Street from California Avenue.

Twinkies Die at Age 82. Is The Zombie Apocalypse Nearing?

Hostess Brands, the makers of such wonderful wrapped snacks as Twinkies, Ho Hos and Wonder Bread said Friday that it is shutting down operations.

I have very few vices. I don’t smoke. I rarely drink. My two biggest vices are my obsession with the cinema art of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Twinkies.

This gloomy news is proof that the end of the world is near! Maybe those damned Mayans got it right after all.

In the movie Zombieland, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) has two purposes as he tries to survive the zombie apocalypse: destroy the undead and find Twinkies. The golden cakes with creamy filling are scarce in the future and he has to risk his life to find his favorite snack.

All I’m asking is this: can zombies be too far off in our future?

Our lives are full of anxiety. The economy is recovering, slowly, and the future is still uncertain. We all have our problems: health, relationships gone badly, money woes and natural disasters.

But, as Zombieland showed, sometimes it is the little things that matter. Sometimes a song we like, a puppy running around in the park or, yes, a Twinkie can make the crap fate throws at us just a little easier to endure.

Like Tallahassee, Twinkies were my little decadent escape from the pressures of everyday life. I didn’t eat them often, but when I did, I savored every bite.

Goodbye Hostess. It was fun.

Bond Is Back! But Is He Relevant?

Daniel Craig returns as 007 in “Skyfall.” Picture © 2012 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

Skyfall, the latest James Bond film, does not start with the opening of the audience looking out of the barrel of a pistol while Bond turns and shoots the audience. Instead, it opens with a beautifully shot scene of Bond in the shadows and out of focus in the background. As he walks into the foreground, he steps into sharp focus.

And from an artistic standpoint, Skyfall has the best director, writers, cast and cinematography of any Bond film. But if that is true, why was I so dissatisfied with my experience?

After the opening shot, Bond goes on a classic pre-credit action sequence. He rides a motorcycle along Turkish roofs and drives a Caterpillar tractor on a moving train. This is great Bond stuff!

Then the whole film grinds to a glacially slow pace. There are action scenes along the way, but not many.

But the movie keeps asking the question: does the world still need James Bond? It is asked, literally, in the film. But the audience is being asked the same thing.

Didn’t they address that question in Casino Royale? They rebooted Bond in that movie, giving him a bit more backstory than he’s ever had in the films. Yet Skyfall spends so much time creating Bond’s backstory, I thought maybe it was another reboot!

Daniel Craig is the best Bond ever. He captures the toughness of the Bond in the books and does a great job bringing something resembling emotional depth to the character. He has some great moments in the film.

Judi Dench turn as M this time is the best she has been in any James Bond film. She plays M as a complex lady with emotions, albeit protected.

Javier Bardem radiates inspiration in his role as Silva, an MI6 agent gone rogue. He plays the character as outlandish and effeminate. The few scenes he has with Craig are great.

And, like Quantum of Solace (directed by Monster’s Ball director Marc Forster), the producers chose a director known for artistic ability rather than box office draw. Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road) directs a Bond film as concerned with its characters as it is for its action.

But, the film fails to explain why we need James Bond. The film’s message is clear: James Bond is not Jason Bourne and the producers are not going to try to change him (they tried that with Quantum of Solace and failed). Yet Bond seems out of touch with a society that no longer has Cold War monsters to fear.

Part of Silva’s plan is to release the identities of British operatives working undercover in Al Qaeda terrorist cells. As the names get released, agents die. That seems like a much better story, but the film only uses it as a reason for Bond to return to work.

And that’s the problem with Skyfall. A story about an agent in deep cover getting exposed and trying to survive is a great story. It would engage the audience and use real-world fear to maintain intensity. But Bond plays outside of the real danger zones. And so does Skyfall.

Review © Paul George, 2012.