Sunday, November 29, 2009

Casa Bonita: Parte Uno

Casa Bonita. The words evoke a feeling of hominess, like your family will always take care of you. I wouldn't say the reality of the place quite lives up to its name, because from the odd buffet-style dining, to the amusement parkesque atmosphere of the place, Casa Bonita did not quite match my expectations. (Note: If you have not seen the South Park episode you really should prior to reading the rest of this. I believe it is Season 7 episode 10 or so. We viewed it practically en route to the restaurant.)

First off, let me remind you that Casa Bonita is first and foremost A RESTAURANT; this is confirmed by the fact that they won't let you in without buying an overpriced plate of nacho cheese with various (but surprisingly few given the number of combinations algebraically possible) portions of chicken, beef, and starch that didn't pass for a tortilla. I'm pretty sure they've cut costs by eliminating vegetables and real cheese from the menu.

But all these facts were available to me prior to visiting and yet I went. As you all may know, I am not always insistent on five-star food; I have, to my knowledge, never been within a mile of a Michelin-rated eatery. In fact, I am once in awhile willing to eat this very Tex-mex fodder that I've been describing. I once ate a taco al pastor reheated and filled with broccoli beef. My legend lives on, as so far I've never met anyone who tried this same thing.

That said, CASA BONITA IS AN UNMITIGATED FAILURE. And, moreoever, that said, thus, there is alot of science that I will write about below but you have just read the summary of my feelings on this strange place.

Here's the play-by-play. We arrived about seven PM armed with a "Survivor's Guide to Casa Bonita" provided so thoughtfully by Craig. We entered the castle-like structure to an entryway so small it may have been a bodega; we were immediately herded through turnstiles in a line of many shelters, twists and turns. I didn't realize until later that these were intended to confuse prospective diners as to their wait time.

And what you don't see until the last minute is that there are young ladies posing as hostesses who are actually waiting to take your order on a secret computer. So when you get to the front of this line and actually think you're about to be seated, you are forced to come up with an order while all the other hungry, pissed-off parents are wondering what's taking so long, not knowing that THEY TOO will be similarly confused, continuing a decades-long cycle of confusion perpetuated by the Casa Bonita MGMT.

OK. So we're still trying to order. Everything, strangely, is lined up in two columns: BEEF and CHICKEN. And the only menu is on the far wall. And alcohol is hidden behind some little kid. The "hostesas," which we'll pretend means hostesses in Spanish, seem to have the art of dodging questions down pat. Here's a sample of our convo, evidently she is communicating on a higher plane than I am:

RJK: "So do I have to order beer here or can I order from the table?"
Hostesa: "I can take your order for beer here."
RJK: "How do I get more of the all-you-can-comer platter?"
Hostesa: "You can get more of anything on your platter."
RJK: "How much are pitchers of beer?"
Hostesa: "I'm not sure, you pay your server at the end." (This was a truly great answer, as I would have without a doubt choked her if she had told me the answer which will be revealed later.)

I felt as though I might be speaking with a Fem-bot. We all sympathized with any parents in line; thoroughly frustrated as a group of reasonably intelligent twenty-somethings, we could not collectively imagine doing this with a five-year-old. Weekly.

Thoroughly mystified, we turned a corner to find that there was another line in which to wait. The end of this one held our food, though, so there was some promise of seating and sustinence ahead. Oddly, every platter being presented at the communal serving area looked to be the same even, perfectly molten, orange hue of cheap nacho cheese (we're not even talking about good nacho cheese here). Luckily, they came carefully marked by party, and on request the lady would magically discriminate YOUR plate of nacho cheese from THE TUBBY KID'S plate of nacho cheese.

Speaking of the tubby kid, I had my eye peeled for any budding Eric Cartmans. And I found one almost immediately when he slapped his brother. Attempting to get a photo with or of this child became my biggest wish for awhile. I really wanted to see this kid eat, a privilege which I was denied by the dismissive host. And yes, I know you're wondering, this kid was super-tubby.

Tomorrow, check back for the dining experience, the secrets of Blackbart's Cave, and a sweet picture of sopapillas and me.

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