As anyone who dines frequently in authentic ethnic restaurants knows, a language barrier is not uncommon -- nor is it limited to spoken conversation. I've seen "lab" curries and kebabs many times, but I've always known the family pets were safe at home and the only one suffering was Mary, missing her little lamb.
But when I saw the flor de calabaza quesadilla on the menu at El Palmar on Summer, I wasn't sure if I was getting a pumpkin flower quesadilla or a quesadilla in a tortilla made from pumpkin flour.
It was the former, it was delicious, and I'm craving one just writing about it.
I liked all the food, with one small quibble which I'll get to in a moment. First a little history on the flor de calabaza quesadilla. I've eaten a lot of food; when I find something that's completely new to me, I have to find out more about it.
From what I've picked up in books and by way of Google, the flor de calabaza was a popular item at El Bodegon de Guillermo in Tijuana, which burned to the ground in the 1970s. Sammy Davis Jr. loved 'em.
And while the recipes I found call for squash blossoms, one of my favorite reference books, "The Food Encyclopedia" by Jacques L. Rolland and Carol Sherman (Robert Rose Inc., $50), says that a calabaza can be one of many varieties of winter squash. So was I eating fresh blossoms from a winter squash or canned squash blossoms from summer squash?
The answer is that I don't know, but I will surely be eating them again. The tortilla is overstuffed with the blossoms, cheese, sauteed peppers and onions. The flavor of the squash comes through, but it's the gentle heat from the peppers that dominates.
El Palmar might have the largest menu of any restaurant in town. There are 122 selections, many of them pictured on the menu, plus items such as quesadillas and huaraches that aren't numbered. There was no way to go through even a respectable representation of the full menu. But El Palmar does a good job with shrimp; we ate every plump camarones a la diabla and put the remaining fiery sauce over the rice to finish it. (The rice, by the way, is a huge cut above the norm, full of both corn and peas.)
The meat in the lengua, or tongue, taco is the most tender and flavorful I've tasted. Tongue is so beefy and rich, anyway, but at El Palmar, it very nearly melts in your mouth.
The restaurant's weakness is the chips it serves with its salsa. Three salsas, a very spicy version, a salsa verde and a tomato version (that one peculiarly served warm), come to the table with a basket of chips that are hard and tasteless. Yes, it's a shame, but it certainly won't keep me from eating there.
I was delighted to find that the michelada was served in a frosty glass with plenty of lime. I'm on a quest for the best michelada in town, and I liked this version. The refreshing Mexican drink can be made one of several ways. At El Palmar, it's a mix of Clamato, hot sauce and lime juice. It comes to the table with the mix in the mug and you add the cold beer yourself. Drink it as is or spice it up with one of the hot sauces on the table. Either way, it's delicias.
-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223
Address: 4069 Summer
Telephone: (901) 323-9700
Hours: Monday through Thursday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday through Sunday 9 a.m.-11 p.m.
Handicapped access: Yes
Alcoholic beverages: Beer
Don't miss: The flor de calabaza (pumpkin flower quesadilla; $4.50); camarones a la diabla ($11.50); lengua taco ($2.10)
What's hot: The michelada