Thursday, October 8, 2009

The MTA Dining Car: D/M/N/R to 36th

Last month, the MTA Dining Car -- a monthly eating club devoted to good food, good company, and outer borough trekking -- headed to Bay Ridge for Palestinian food, filling every seat at Tanoreen. The procession of courses was endless. Surely, everyone longed for relaxed-fit pants. And the same was true of the previous month's Thai feast at Sripraphai in Woodside, Queens (0f note: it is not an exaggeration to say that the red snapper changed us all).

This month, in lieu of our usual sit-down, family-style $20 prix fixe meal, we opted for a more freeform, el cheapo (~ $10/person) approach: the taco tour. Diners met at Brooklyn's Sunset Park on a warm and breezy Sunday afternoon and then headed south on 5th ave.

First stop: Tacos Xochimilco at 45th st. There was much disagreement as to the best taco--some said chorizo, others argued for carne asada, and I think one person even made a case for lengua. But everyone concurred that the staff, seemingly unperturbed by the (normally frowned upon) big group/small order combo, was kind of saintly.

By the end of taco round #1, the MTA Dining Car numbers had swelled with latecomers; concerned that the taco tourists might seem an obnoxious hoard, an executive decision was made to send out smaller scouting parties with food orders para llevar and then regroup in Sunset Park, whereupon the taco tour would morph into a taco (and assorted taqueria fare) pass-around. One group headed across the street to Tacos Matamoros, another headed down to 51st to Ricos Tacos, and a third group picked up a sampling of desserts at Ines 24-hour Bakery on 4th ave and 36th. (Plans to hit up two 4th ave taco trucks were quickly abandoned: evidently the 36th st truck is only there evenings, and--make of it what you will--no one volunteered to journey to the truck at 60th.)

When you take a bite of the carne asada torta from Matamoros, you know: this is no mass produced beef patty but rather a
slab of grilled beef. Something that once lived and breathed. Something that had a mother.

The carne asada taco from Matamoros: lightly sprinkled with cilantro and onion, and a perfect texture-flavor union of charred, salty, and crunchy.

One diner double-fisted a carne asada torta and a Ricos carnitas taco, as if unable to choose between the two. (Ricos tacos were a group favorite. Look at that wrapper bleed-through!)

With French cuisine, you eat sorbet to cleanse the palate; Indian food uses raita; and with Central American food, might I recommend flan? It's slightly sweet yet balanced by the understated savory of egg--cool and refreshing to a tongue that's spent the last few hours awash in the meat juices of enough animals to comprise a barnyard. Plus, after all that tiresome work of flesh gnawing and tearing, a gelatinous course proves restorative.

Behold the towering decadence of Tres Leches cake. With each successive dessert pass, one diner--as if performing a public service--would instruct the new Tres Leches cake holder, "Eat from below!" And the advice was sound: moistened with condensed milk, the bottom layer is, indeed, the most gooey and delicious--and a bit of a spoiler for all cakes you'll eat henceforth in that they'll seem a dry disappointment. Sorry.

And so, as the afternoon faded into evening, we concluded the taco tour in Sunset Park at the eponymous hour, looking out over a pink hued Brooklyn and lower Manhattan; in the distance, the Statue of Liberty rose out of the water. Sighing with contentment, we descended the park steps and headed for the subway, bound for our respective homes, where we would nap.

-Kiera Feldman (with photos by Jen Ball)