The legendary chef answers the question…What did you eat today, Jeremiah Tower?
“Should I take a stand or just jump in with the rest of the world and eat what the ocean gives before it all runs out?”
After a surfeit of oysters, white truffles, buttered tagliarini, Wagyu beef and bowls of grilled Dungeness crab, it was time to pull back. Way back. Switching from Batard-Montrachet to beer was not my idea (it’s just that there isn’t any Batard-Montrachet in the Yucatan). But gearing down from rich lunches to fish tacos in a local hole in the wall was my idea. Hard to give up eating as one does in a great eating town like San Francisco, but I was ready for a few days of Santiago market’s La Lupita with its fresh carrot and orange juice washing down a couple of beef escabeche and radish salad tacos. The great thing about these breakfast tacos is that two to three hours later one is ready for more, the head saying ‘how could you’ and the appetite saying ‘a few more would not hurt.’ So putting my head aside, I walked four blocks to the east along calle 57 to the legendary hole, El Cangrejito. Not more crab, thank god, but cold beer (fresh chilies on the earlier salty tacos creating a now raging thirst) and a selection of platters piled high with a couple of ‘salsas.’ One of radish, cucumber, cilantro, lime juice, tomato and cilantro, the other just radish and cilantro with lots of habanero. The latter is for the venado or braised and pulled-apart venison leg. If for nothing other than the tacos de venado I would haunt this joint, since I never know when they will have them and they are my favorite. Except for the cerna.
Every once in a while I give up eating octopus. Usually after I meet one under water along the reefs of Cozumel and always if it has caressed my face and made me promise. Then, after two weeks out of water, I am back at the pulpo restaurant on the Gulf of Mexico restaurant in Chuburna feeling guilty, but not as guilty as I feel when eating cerna or grouper. I try to console myself that the daily huge platter of poached grouper at Cangrejito and all the other seafood taquerias in Merida could not really be serving grouper – the supply would have run out years ago. And that is the crux of my guilt. Seeing them underwater makes my mouth water (though not as much as seeing a boqinette or hogfish) and my stomach turn both with anticipation and disgust that I would even begin to think of participating in the worldwide demise of this glorious family of fishes. Should I take a stand or just jump in with the rest of the world and eat what the ocean gives before it all runs out? When my stomach growled I had just let it decide so ended up in this little joint that scares the hell out of all the tourists who flock to it, guidebooks in hand, take a look, the flock right out again. Some of my American friends who are cooks and in the eating business also turned a bit green when I took them in, but stayed at my word that they would love the grouper. They did, while also conjuring up aloud what was going to happen to their lower bodies in a few hours. It didn’t, so they reported, and doesn’t. Not unless you take those sliced fresh green and gold habaneros and pile them on top of the taco. I err reluctantly on the side of caution and just dip the fork into the chili-infused fresh lime juice and let those heavenly juices slide down and into the fish, avocado, tomato, cilantro and a few other secret things. All the flavor but not the body blow of raw habanero. I ordered two tacos. “Dos de cerna, por favor,” and a cold one–the little bottles of Sol, easily downed before the beer warms up. Then two more tacos. Another Sol. Then two venison and another beer. All for seven dollars. Not bad for a late and second breakfast. // Jeremiah Tower
Habaneros with Lime Juice