Skip to content

Archive for

Rat On!

I’ve never eaten at a Qdoba even though they have begun invading Manhattan, but I am a sucker for quizzes so when I read about the What’s Your Q-dentity personality test this morning I couldn’t ignore the silly time-waster. It’s the best fast food advergame since White Castle’s Craverscope (um, five of the seven Google hits for that keyword are from me).

The thing is that the questions are ridiculous, the results dubious, but it’s not wholly made up like horoscopes. There is actual methodology given, which isn’t to say that Dr. Hirsch isn’t a quack.

As it turns out I’m a walking talking quesadilla. “A dependable and true friend, those who prefer quesadillas are content being one of the crowd; they are loyal followers more than leaders. At work they are the foot soldiers, task-oriented, functioning ideally in a group. They don’t require individual praise, but share their successes with those around them. They toil behind the scenes for others at work or in their family.” You know, like Bill Murray in What About Bob and Talia Shire as Adrianne in Rocky.

I don’t like that one bit. Foot soldier? Nuh-uh.

Instead, I’m claiming my rat-ness and today is my day. Pardon, this is my year. Rats aren’t followers and they don’t toil behind the scenes. Rats get shit done. I’ve waited over a decade for this moment.

Looking back, I guess 1996 must’ve been lame and un-ratty because I can’t remember a thing about it. I know that I was 24, dating someone twenty years my senior, shelved books part time for a living, went out and drank a lot, fell down stairs and broke my tail bone and that’s about it. I don’t understand urbane go-getter twenty-somethings who own real estate and have prestigious job titles, and I don’t care to.

But I do recall ’84 because one of the eighth graders in my English class (which I got to take as a sixth grader and got picked on a lot mostly because I was a teacher’s pet and kind of because I wore crap like purple polka dot knee highs and jellies and had bleached eye-covering waver bangs) who I’m pretty sure turned out gay, had a yellow sweatshirt that said in brushy calligraphy script, “Year of the Rat” superimposed over a red Japanese-looking orb even though it was referencing the Chinese zodiac.

In college, I brushed past this sweatshirt kid on the sidewalk downtown Portland during a rainstorm and he huffed, “Get some umbrella control!” That’s when I was like oh, he’s gay now because what kind of straight guy would say something bitchy like that and think it’s witty?

So, here’s to a more memorable 2008. The KFC rodents had their fun last year, now it’s time for the human rats to shine.

In rat news, I do appreciate that yesterday’s Wall Street Journal didn’t simply publish a gross-out story about Vietnamese rat eating (which has nothing to do with the Chinese new year). They actually give recipes…and rat steamed with lemongrass doesn’t sound half bad.

Jose Tejas

I was under the impression that this nutty Tex-Mex Cajun restaurant along Route 1 was a rare independent venue. Maybe it didn’t look glossy enough or maybe I was won over by the enormous blue and white sign visible from a distance that simply reads EAT. But I was wrong; it is a chain and one that more commonly goes by Border Café. Actually, I wasn’t acquainted with Border Café either but now I know.

I can’t figure out why the receipt I received says Iselin yet their website says both Iselin and Woodbridge. New Jersey is annoying like that, every mile practically puts you in a different township and makes my pull down menu look like I’ve been all over the state when really I travel in a close radius around Middlesex and Union counties.

Speaking of the neighborhood, not too long ago a friend started dating a guy who lives about ten minutes from Jose Tejas. This is a very exciting development because New Jersey chain dining has always been a solitary activity. I mean, another and myself are involved but it’s not like we ever have company along (for good reason, certainly). Can you imagine anything sexier than a double date at Bonefish Grill? Unfortunately, I suspect a Valentine’s reservation has already been made somewhere and not likely in the garden state.

It hasn’t taken much for me to conclude that there just aren’t enough giant chain restaurants to satisfy the tri-state population (and what’s this I hear about the Cheesecake Factory being a freaking hotspot in Hartford, CT?). No matter where and when you go it’s a madhouse. And the unusually cheap prices at Jose Tejas—my $8.97 enchiladas were one of the more expensive items—certainly contribute to the popularity. But I cannot allow human obstacles to get in the way of my chain discovery missions.


We went between lunch and dinner on a Saturday and were quoted a 35-minute wait. Normally, I would’ve left but trying to get on the correct side of the highway and then finding parking had already wasted twenty minutes and I couldn’t fathom a plan B. Even the large bar area was jam-packed, and a nasty old lady tried picking a fight with us for blocking her way. I have zero patience with the nice elderly so I had to restrain myself from knocking her block off.

I don’t trust margaritas from machines, not so much out of hygiene or authenticity issues but because I fear a light hand with the alcohol. A bottle of Dos Equis and a requisite basket of corn chips with salsa suited me fine while waiting. And immediately two stools opened up. It was as if the hand of god, or possibly the ghost of Jose Tejas (assuming he's a real human being and that he's no longer living), reached down and cleared a space for us.


Eating lightly would’ve been smart in preparation for the next day’s inescapable Super Bowl gluttony. But how does one even accomplish such a thing at a restaurant with salads that come in those ‘80s fried tortilla bowls? No, we went all out and shared the chorizo flambado, which is essentially a shitload of melted cheese dotted with chorizo. I swear the chorizo was actually ground beef or Italian sausage but the grease and fat effect was still achieved. You eat this concoction with warm flour tortillas, creating scoopable quesadillas.

I wasn’t touching the Cajun side of the menu. That cuisine is hard to pull off properly even in its own element but in NYC it always tastes like dry, spiced mud. Actually, we joked that dirt might be a secret ingredient while in New Orleans a few years ago; the food all has this earthy flavor that seems to go beyond cumin and cayenne.


I usually order seafood burritos or enchiladas in these types of places, which doesn’t seem intuitive. It’s just that the chicken is always dry, the beef is ground (I don’t like ground beef outside of hamburgers) and pork is rarely on the menu period. I’m also not crazy about fish tacos because battered fried seafood makes me hurl (however, battered fried candy is A-OK). And my crawfish and shrimp stuffed tortillas came sauced to the nines. At least I diligently ate half of everything and saved the rest for a late night dinner. Since this was my first meal of the day, I didn’t feel so bad about the caloric value being spread out over twelve hours.

Jose Tejas * 700 Rt. 1 N., Iselin, NJ

Sunday Night Special: Super Bowl Edition

Despite having next to no interest in sports whatsoever (I blame it on a Portland upbringing—the Trailblazers were the only pro team we had) our Super Bowl party always ends up being bigger than expected. Even with a healthy-sized apartment, thirty-plus guests can be a challenge.


The problem with hosting parties is that there’s little downtime; keeping the food non-fancy still ends up being a time suck. Buffalo wings have to be cooked in steady batches and even hands-off treats can be a distraction. But then, I’m easily distracted. I didn’t see much of the game or many of the commercials (I did watch the half-time show and was fully expecting "Don't Come Around Here no More") and only ate three measly wings (this was rectified last night when we fried up leftover chicken parts).

I’ve used the same tablecloth and dishware numerous times so if I was to compare Super Bowl parties past there would be uncanny similarities. Life is repetitive that way.


Nearly a quarter of the attendees were vegetarian so I couldn’t let them starve. Spanish-influenced empanadas with Manchego, spinach, almonds and raisins seemed un-boring.


We’ve been overwhelmed with dried goods after James ordered a Rancho Gordo sampler that arrived too late for his father’s Christmas present. I used the included cannellini beans for a healthy-ish bean dip that I livened up with white truffle oil and the recommended balsamic vinegar. I also added chopped sun-dried tomatoes even though the recipe only called for their oil, which apparently is very Mark Bittman. Carrot sticks, red pepper strips and these cheap bruschetta toasts I found at Western Beef went along with the mashed beans.


I’m generally biased against Food Network recipes but for something like hot jalapeno crab dip they seem right on. Do you want a highbrow crab dip?


Buying only two jars of dill pickles was a big mistake because the pickle chips disappeared within seconds. I never understood Costco’s giant condiment jars but now their purpose is perfectly clear. I used another Food TV recipe for the batter and Deann brought buttermilk dressing for dipping.

Cadbury Egg close up

Smooshed Kit Kat

Impromptu candy-frying erupted. That’s been known to happen when the deep fryer makes an appearance. Kit Kats, Snickers and crowd favorite Cadbury Eggs all got the hot oil treatment. We regretted not having cheesecake on hand since it makes a particularly decadent battered, fried treat. I think last year someone tried deep-frying a whole blackout cake, which is proof that drinking and frying are a dangerous combination.


After a handful of drinks, scary fratty cocktails start sounding good. James loves concocting an old ‘90s Baltimore classic, Surfing on Acid. Jagermeister, Malibu and pineapple sound absolutely wretched, though I have to admit the combo is more pleasing than the sum of the parts. Someone cracked open my blue wildberry cherries, and next thing I knew gummy bears were being added as garnish. These were my kind of people—no prompting from me was needed for such garish flourishes. And I wonder why I felt like death the next morning.


I thought this was a chocolate mousse cake and that it had been decimated. I got a tasty surprise last night when I found 3/4 of it in my freezer.  Oh, and it's a chocolate banana tart.


I can't forget the store-bought goodies. Football themed cakes are a must. 

Roll With It


I don’t know O’Charley’s, a seemingly Midwestern chain, firsthand but their promotional site features a heartwarming tale about a stellar roll that’s kind of the anti-Kogepan crossed with the Zoloft blob.

Now I’m craving warm bread.

Roll with It


I don’t know O’Charley’s, a seemingly Midwestern chain, firsthand but their promotional site features a heartwarming tale about a stellar roll that’s kind of the anti-Kogepan crossed with the Zoloft blob.

Now I’m craving warm bread.