Some people have a sweet tooth, and some people prefer to snack on more salty snacks. While I enjoy an ice cream sundae as much as the next person, I count myself amongst the latter.
Give me salty, meaty, fatty goodness over simple carbs anyday and twice on Sunday. Or, in the case of a recent trip to Los Arrieros restaurant, twice on Wednesday.
After a previous aborted visit (they were closed due to mechanical difficulties) I started with low expectations - I was pretty pleased just to make it in the door.
A gruff greeting from the Pop of this Mom & Pop operation, and we sat down to examine the menus. They may be more of a historic list of possible dishes and charming mispellings (who ordered the grilled pork lions?) than a current menu of what's available on the night, as we hit on a couple of 'out ofs'.
Charming Mispelling Interlude
I'm prone to the occasional fit of pedantry, but I make an exception for restaurant menus.
One of the things I look for when searching out good ethnic restaurants is a few mispellings and mistranslations on the menu. Perfect English isn't necessarily a bad sign - they might have had it proofread - but a few charming errors of spelling or Engrish is almost a guarantee that the people you're dealing with are, at minimum, not Canadian, which increases the odds that the food you're about to receive is their daily bread, and not a recipe they ripped off from Rick Bayless.
First up was the Big Pork Candy Mountain (listed on the menu as Picada Colombiana). This $16 appetizer was a heaping platter of meat in various forms, with some starches thrown in for balance. The chicharron was separated into handy bite sized morsels, just right for snacking on. The platter almost marked the first appearance of the Potatoes of Fantasticness.
Potatoes of Fantasticness Interlude
Potatoes are not gourmet. They're a staple on every dinner table. They're plain. They're simple. And sometimes, they're fantastic.
Very often, potato fantasticness is a fraud - the result of smothering, dressing and spicing them, costuming them in other sources of deliciousness. The best kind of potato fantasticness comes from treating them as a worthy food unto themselves - using great potatoes and letting them form the basis for the flavour.
Our hard won entrees (we had to smash through a language barrier just to convince our host that we wanted something other than the Big Pork Candy Mountain) arrived and we reluctantly stopped mining our appetizer. I had ordered the Lengua Criolla which, for those of you who don't speak Spanish, (or, don't speak Portuguese and thus pretend to be able to read a variety of Romance languages) is tongue.
I've long lived by my Uncle Dennis's rule of never tasting anything that can taste you back, but I decided that having tried raw, oysters, sweet breads, foie gras, hearts, kidneys, livers, feet, brains and assorted other body parts, I could probably face up to the tongue. Still, it's one thing to be brave while looking at a menu, and quite another thing to be brave while looking at taste buds on a plate.
I poked at the slabs and decided to start with the cassava and potatoes on the side. Everything was smothered in a dense tomato sauce with so much compressed flavour that a mere drizzle would have been sufficient. I left most of the sauce on the plate to avoid overpowering everything else (especially phase two of Potatoes of Fantasticness) but then had to resist the urge to gobble it up with a spoon.
After putting it off for as long as I reasonably could, I finally tried a tiny sliver of the tongue (making an exception and drowing it in the sauce, just in case). It was soft. Tender. Beefy.
Not entirely unlike pot roast, really, and certainly nothing to be afraid of. I worked my way through two slices of tongue before the sheer volume of food caught up with me and I was forced to concede.
Los Arrierros Restaurant
752 Wilson Ave
Toronto ON M3K 1E2
Phone: 416 636 2318
Site: losarrierosrestaurante.com (watch for sound)