…in which we learn of the gut-rumbling effect of Taco Bell caliber “Mexican food” in Rota 66, one of Rio de Janeiro’s f-i-n-e-s-t Latin-esque eateries.
December 26, 2014 – 8 PM
I’m forcing Maria to eat – what else? – Mexican food tonight at the Rota 66, just around the corner from our crib. I’ve been threatening the staff for nearly a year that my Ciudad Juarez-dwelling wife would descend upon their humble establishment, like a locust to a summer crop, to take their Pepsi Challenge. Now verily mayeth we discern if a Juarense finds their wares worthy of carrying Pancho Villa’s lineage… And the hour is upon us. We’re taking a small vial of Tabasco sauce, since it’s highly doubtful they’ll have anything spicy enough for my beloved hot tamale’s palate.
December 27, 2014 – 9:30 AM
The reviews are in about last night’s Rota 66 experience. In Maria’s words, when asked a moment ago with the benefit of 12 hours of hindsight and a steaming Saturday morning coffee molding her assessment, “Um, me gusta y tiene buen sabor.” This she spoke decidedly and dead-pan, after precisely two seconds of pondrance, with the hint of a smirk and in the same manner a Foreign Service Officer prompted to comment on the competency of a colleague might reply, “Well, he’s just a really nice person…” In other words, mighty diplomatic of my wife. When I tried to put it another light and asked that she rank it on the 1-10 scale, she chuckled me out of the room, roundly refusing to acquiesce to my silly whims. This is why I married her: seldom does one encounter such benevolence in a partner. (She also tells me I’m guapo and that she can’t even see my head spots.)
Now, before you go thinking Maria’s vagueness is an implicit denunciation of the eatery, let me “esclarecer as duvidas” as they’d say in Brazil. Caveat the first: Maria and I ain’t foodies. I eat for function, fuel. Occasionally I gorge if it’s my momma’s cookin’, probably the one time I do eat for the sheer oomph of it. Maria, for her part, eats for at least some degree of pleasure, but bear in mind that Ciudad Juarez, for all which it is known contemporarily, isn’t recognized as a gastronomic capital of any ranking. Caveat the second: I’m also the cheapest SOB you’ll ever meet, not apt to go out for dinner given the cost of most places in Rio. To quote former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, when asked why he didn’t order room service much, “I got plans for those millions, and it ain’t for sandwiches.” Hell, I could take you back to my first real job, from 1992-1995 doing 2.5 years’ hard time at the McDonalds in Quantico, Virginia. I distinctly recall preparing Frankenstein-ish sandwiches combining breaded fish and chicken patties plus Big Mac meat and literally stacks of pickles, my adolescent notion of gourmet. The goal post hasn’t moved far since.
So at the Rota 66, then, I had the chimichanga, and Maria had the 3 taco combo. We both drank Swiss lemonades, which tasted neither like Lemonade nor anything Swiss, at least not per my recollection of my trip to Basel in 2007, though keep in mind that all I know are three Swiss products: cheese, chocolate, and Swiss enchiladas (this last item may be an invention of rich Mexicans trying to seem worldly, admittedly). Were I to offer a highlight of our meal, it’d be the the Nacho Imperial, of the Taco Bell variety, which we ordered at the outset. These served as the opening salvo launched ‘cross the bow of my sinking gut. The nachos were delivered unto us as a confection of plain Doritos, refried beans, melted cheese doubtless squeezed from a Brazilian moo cow’s teat that very afternoon, diced green chiles, and something special. I know not what ’twas, this mystery ingredient. I asked the waiter and yet he, too, found himself confounded in its identification. Thus only can I imagine that in the kitchen, when someone orders the Nacho Imperial, they call over Cleberson the Chef, who likely hails from the interior of Minas Gerais state: “Oi, Cleberson, it’s TIME!!!!” And voila: Cleberson makes the magic happen.
Personally, I loved the whole ensemble. But then you must remember my standard for gourmet. I could see her countenance of doubt across the table, and part of me was prompted to proclaim defiantly, “Woman, you NEVER had it so GOOD!” But the prudent part of me – admittedly still in its early stages of development – filtered all this down and opted for keeping the proverbial trap shut. Dutifully, Maria partook of these Mexi-morsels and cleaned her plate to all but one taco, which she kindly offered to her husband, knowing full well that I’m a Dirt Devil in human form. As for Zuli, slumbered did she the entire eve, waking only hours later to kick her old man in the ribs whilst I tried to slough off the coma induced by the redonkulous amount of faux-Mexi ingested at the Rota 66.