Friday, January 16, 2009

Never start thinking about food late at night

I have to be hungry to attempt it, but one of my favorite meals in Athens is "El Gran Combo" at Calientito's. The place will always be known best for its "Cubano Especial," a sandwich consisting of beef, cheese, jalapenos, two scrambled eggs, some grilled slices of hot dog . . . there may be a whole other sandwich in there, somewhere, I'm not sure. Most cooking is about balancing flavor, but the Especial represents more of a juggling maneuver, where the tastes bound about in ways you didn't think possible.*

But the Gran Combo holds a unique place in my heart. It's less a "meal" and more of a "big plate of stuff."There's rice and beans (ok, conventional enough), two big thin cut pieces of steak (sounds good) both of which are hidden underneath an even larger fried egg (little weird, but I guess . . . steak and eggs are a thing, right?) with several fried plantains (WHAT.) and a slice of avocado (No.). 

And it's all delicious, the very best kind of greasy protein. But as "dinner" it's rather unassailable.

Usually, with a meal you can identify things like "the main course" and "the side dish" and "the other side dish" and you know how to manage that experience. You try a little of this one, a little of that one, then dig into the main dish before taking a drink of water and starting again.

But with the Gran Combo . . . where do you begin? I stare at the thing for a solid minute every time I order it, just trying to choose where the fork goes first. I can only compare it to trying to pick a major, or play an "open world" video game.

You are paralyzed by the options.

*It takes, on average, three visits to the restaurant before a person will order the Especial, even with strong recommendations. Once they try it, it's the only thing they get there for a least a year.

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