Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Always Get the Special

How do you judge the quality of a cuisine you've never had before? It seems like the one thing professional critics excel at is knowing how a variety of foods are supposed to taste, measuring their authenticity almost. While that's sort of the thing I'm trying to stay away from, I do feel a bit at a loss discussing today's restaurant Cool Runnings - a local Jamaican place. 

I'm not familiar with Jamaican food and I've only been to Cool Runnings twice but both times I was blown away by the food.  The first meal there was lunch with Wes and Dan. The guys ordered jerk pork while I decided to be adventurous and get the curried goat.  The jerk pork was fantastic - spicy with a rich sweet sauce without loosing any of the flavor of the meat. Accompanied  by crisp sauteed veggies and fluffy rice it was a great introduction to Jamaican foods.  

The pork was good, but the goat left me speechless.  I didn't know what Jamaican curries were supposed to taste like and I had no concept of the flavors in goat meat.  It was so rich and gamey. Sort of  like lamb if the lamb had spent his time knocking over convenience stores Even though I had no frame of reference, I knew that this was the way goat was supposed to taste. Almost like tasting the culinary history of the dish. Combined with the curry and rice it was just about the perfect meal. 

Which brings us to today, Dan and I returned to Cool Runnings for what I thought would be a second helping of goat, but my #1 restaurant rule is  "always order the special" and today's special was BBQ Ribs.  

I used to be a rib fiend. My dad would make them for me every Sunday pretty much all summer long, I would seek them out at restaurants. Dry, wet, pork, beef, didn't matter. I could eat some ribs.  When I moved to Phoenix it got hard to find good ribs, I stopped eating out so much, and my beloved ribs were forgotten. 

So, do Jamaican BBQ ribs live up to the home-cooked ribs I remembered? Well, does anything live up to our favorite childhood recipes? Yeah, sometimes it does.  The ribs were hot and sweet, messy and tender, fall-off-the-bone good.  I lost track of the spices in the sauce other than cumin and some kind of sugar.  I think I went through a couple stacks of napkins, always a good sign for ribs.  

The older I get the more I looks for those foods that take me back to the best parts of childhood.  There's nothing quite like the joy of being covered in BBQ sauce and not caring and as an adult there are so few opportunities to experience that.  Sadly BBQ ribs aren't on the menu at Cool Runnings, but every time they're on special I'll be getting them. So if you see me walking around with a huge grin and a swipe of sauce on my cheek, don't say anything, most likely I'm just too happy to care.

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