Miller’s Noshing

Posted on February 18, 2009 – 8:31 PM | by beckler
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The biggest benefit in writing about food is that it occasionally leads me to some similarly food-obsessed individual who will share his or her treasured stash of food secrets with me.  I recently bumped into local musician (The Alkali Flats) and nineteenth century architecture fan (he owns an 1860’s era house) Mark Miller and a discussion about Lalo’s (which he had not yet visited) led to him dropping some food knowledge.  In fact, he laid so much lore on me in such a short visit that I knew we had to eat together at some point.  The idea percolated feverishly in my brain until I decided that I would like to write about it.  I called him up a few weeks later to propose the idea and he confided that he had been eating at Lalo’s about three times a week since he first tried it.  He particularly likes the huitlacoche quesadilla and said that the owner had assured him that they source it fresh, which is exceedingly rare.  I had to tap his braintrust for more, and luckily he agreed. 

Mark MillerIt started, as most things do, in West Sac.  We passed Vince’s and we both agreed that although Vince’s and Espanol are similar (mediocre food, elderly clientele), Espanol is tolerable whereas Vince’s is not.  I told him that for years I have harbored a fear that I have contracted (so far) latent mad cow from a single ingestion of Vince’s meat sauce.  He held me while I cried.  We pressed on, towards Taqueria Maya’s, a taco truck on a desolate stretch of West Capitol.  It’s in the parking lot of a pink building that Mark had on good authority used to be a strip club, across from the former West Capitol Speedway.  We placed our orders for a ceviche tostada and an al pastor taco on his recommendation and waited for our food alongside a continuous trickle of working folk. 

The al pastor was quite good, but I have been spoiled by Lalo’s al pastor and find all others lacking.  The ceviche tostada, however, will draw me back for sure when the weather is warm.  It was mixta, with the fish on the bottom and plump pink shrimp on the top.  The portion was large and they had gladly given us an extra tostada disc for free, so it was a crazy good deal at $2.50.  My only quibble is that they laced ketchup all over the top without asking, so next time I’ll ask them to hold it.

Next, we headed towards Europa Foods Market (3049 West Capitol Ave). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s depressing inside.  Not all of the shelves are well stocked, ingestion of the entire produce section would not be able to prevent you from getting rickets or beriberi, and in general, the ambiance leads you to feel that you may be ordered to wait in a five hour bread line by someone who will refer to you as “comrade”.  However, there is good stuff here, most of it at the deli counter.  I’ve had (and enjoyed) their meat-stuffed cabbage rolls, and Mark said he buys kefir there.  Today we were there in search of one thing only, one of the most glamorous, celebrated foods in the world; piscine star of song and poem, mighty king of the sea: the herring.  OK, well the herring might not get much respect in America, but is a staple foodstuff in much of the world, and the Russians know how to do it right.  Mark asked for the selyodka (the Russian word for herring), and the women behind the counter pulled out four whole fish for us, at two bucks a pop.  They are delivered Thursday, and it’s best to get them fresh.

Later, we convened at Mark’s ladyfriend Eva’s house to prepare the selyodka.  The herring we had purchased was not cooked, only brined, but could be eaten as is.  Eva showed me how to pull away the membranous scales in a single sheet.  Then, she slit open the belly, dumping the guts and washing the inside of the fish in the tap.  We saved the large, rather handsome swim bladders to sample.  They tasted like fresh liver that had been soaking in the sea.  Eva carefully removed the bones by hand, which went quite quickly.  The smallest bones can be left in for crunching.  Mark had prepared the marinade (see sidebar-you can purchase the onions and dill at Europa when you buy the herring) and mixed it with the fish.  It’s optimal to leave selyodka for at least a few hours for the flavors to penetrate the fish, but we tasted it on toasted baguette right away.  The pink meat is salty, fresh, and tender.  The combination with the marinade and onion renders it a snack of the gods.  And cats will find you irresistible!

A few days later I tried another of Mark’s favorite taco trucks, Tacos Del Oro.  It is on Folsom Boulevard, right at the split with highway 16 to Jackson.  I ordered three tacos: lengua, asada, and al pastor.  The lengua was soft, gristle free, and well-seasoned.  The asada was lean, salty, and relatively tender.  The al pastor had a savory thick sauce.  All three meats seemed high quality, especially considering the price: one buck a taco!  I’ll hit this place up again next time I’m buying upskirt pantycams at Fox’s Spy Outlet (that’s a joke for you College Greens denizens).

When the morning dawned for my last sojourn with my new culinary bro, I was in the grips of a hangover. On a scale of one to ten, with one being “I dodged a bullet,” and ten being “Jesus please kill me now,” it was a five.  What is it exactly that they put in their beer at Luigi’s?  Alcohol?  And did I, me, Becky, really consume multiple glasses of two buck chuck?  I groaningly dragged myself out of bed and over to the pink Catholic Church across from Southside Park.  On this Sunday morning at ten, they had a booth set up outside selling tacos.  As I waited for Mark and Eva, trying not to jostle my head unnecessarily, I asked the cook what the “light meat” was on the grill.  Big mistake.  He replied “stomach”, picked up the enormous rubbery slab with tongs, sliced off a goodly chunk, and kindly plated me a free sample.  As he urged me to squeeze some lime on it and try it, I smiled weakly and did as the nice man said.  I enjoy many challenging foods, but tripe is my kryptonite.  I keep trying, and I keep not liking.  I fought back nausea and headed into the church atrium. 

A passel of adorable children were clutching churros, and I decided that churros and chocolate might go down easy.  The chocolate was of the cinnamon-y Mexican chocolate variety, and the warm liquid was halfway between pudding and beverage.  The churro was fresh and warm.  As I consumed the vast amounts of sugar I began to revive.  Mark and Eva arrived and we went into the bright yellow cafeteria, which serves food every Sunday even when the tents are not set up outside.  Today, they had no pozole, only menudo, but they had a variety of tamales.  We were lucky to place our orders just prior to the post-service rush, because a line quickly formed.  I sampled the pork and the chili and cheese.  The masa was dark and dense, and the tamales were very hearty and healthy-seeming.  I needed a lot of delicious salsa to moisten them up.  I also ordered birria and bistec tacos.  They were tasty, but I could only manage a bite of each in service of the article.  As we strolled around Southside Park après taco, Mark clued me in to an all-you-can-eat “liver feed” in Locke in February.  I’m so there!

MarinadeSelyodka marinade

bone and filet selyodka, chop into pieces
make marinade:
1/3 c red wine vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
t tbl fresh dill
1 white onion thinly sliced
mix together and add to fish
refrigerate for 4-6 hours, even better the next day

  1. One Response to “Miller’s Noshing”

  2. avatar

    By Marina on Sep 22, 2011 | Reply

    I just came across your website. I am looking for a recipe for herring. I live in a small town in Mexico and certainly can’t find herring/selyodka. I would love to make my own, russian/jewish style selyodka that does not have too much of vinegar. I would really appreciate if you would either email the recipe to me or direct me to where I can get the recipe.

    Thank you, Marina.

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