Forget the taco salad. And remember the salad taco.

The year is 1999. Federal courts declare Microsoft a monopoly. George “double-yah” rises as the top Republican hopeful. Brittnay Spears is still a child and not having children. And Bud Light captures our attention with Real Men of Genius on the radio.

Grilled red fish lettuce wraps

Grilled red fish lettuce wraps

In that advertising campaign, agency DDB Worldwide to took careful aim to lampoon our obsession with indulgence. In this radio spot they expose irony of a 1200 calorie taco salad. Complete with an edible, deep-fried tortilla shell. The music overlay just as dramatic as any eighties rock.

Tyler Perry, eat your heart out. Or at least experience a double bypass.

Along the way, we lost what it meas to taco as a verb. To honor the working men hungry for a hand meal before descending back in the mine. To wrap deliciousness in a soft shell.

Instead we take the cloying definition of a crispy shell filled with ground meat, cheese and garnish to an obscene level. Given it’s sedentary size and scarcity of vegetables, it is neither a taco nor a salad.

It needs an intervention.

The whole plate

The whole plate

Enter Dominique Labeaud from 11 Plates. Dominique returns us to authenticity with grilled red fish lettuce wraps. He slaps P. F. Chang across the face with a culinary glove in the process. This is not factory made lettuce wraps engineered with emotion.

Rather a sculptor’s interpretation of rainfall. Weighty fish chiseled with smoke land on a chaise lounge of butter lettuce. Punctuated with aioli and roast grape tomatoes. Hidden by baby greens. Flavor explodes on every bite. It’s a bonfire lit with kerosene in a moonlit meadow.

Broken Arrow Ranch Axis Larb by Paul Qui

Broken Arrow Ranch Axis Larb by Paul Qui

Travel to Austin’s East Side and find Paul Qui mixing it up with wild game. Electrified with aromatic vegetables. And yet pillowed by a tender Romaine. As if David Carradine played a Thai monk, and not Chinese. Armed with deadly Kung Fu skills and kind heart who wandered into a Colorado mining town. Enjoy Broken Arrow Ranch Larb. And watch out for the roundhouse kick. Ka pow!

The Elizabeth Street Cafe puffs expectations with a yam and shrimp fritter. Nuggets of fried batter studded with salty shellfish and mellow root vegetables form the basis of this dish.  It’s served with freshly plucked mint and bibb lettuce leaves. After careful assembly into a taco then dipped into fish sauce, this appetizer steals desire for anything else.

Shrimp and yam fritters at Elizabeth Street Cafe

Shrimp and yam fritters at Elizabeth Street Cafe

It is a dish perfectly conceived and executed. A balance of crunch with tender leaves. Dull and doughy with sharp accents from salt and chili. Mellowed by the cool breeze of mint.

Let these examples serve as inspiration for your next meal. Tame the heady entree by floating it on romaine boats.

Or perhaps chop seasonal vegetables. Dress them sharply with oil, vinegar and herbs. Maybe a chili for heat. Fill an iceberg cup.

Regardless of whether’s meat-oriented, veggie-bound or a wrapper for fried dough, give a thought to putting wheels on it. Give your diner a wrapper and send them on a culinary adventure.

They might just sing your praises as the next Real Chefs of Genius.

<click on the image to see the video>

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