Thursday, August 11, 2011

...Las Velas

I’ve missed speaking Spanish. 

Who would’ve thought that was possible?  Unless you speak more than one language and not used one or more in awhile - then used it again - could you even understand the feeling.

Not teaching Spanish for a year wasn’t weird at the time, but it’s weird to me now.  How did I go a year not speaking Spanish, not making sugar skulls for the Day of the Dead, not explaining that “Cinco de Mayo” is NOT Mexico’s Independence Day?  How did I not teach how to conjugate verbs, not talk about cognates and using context to figure out meaning, and not yell at kids for chuckling at “funny sounding” words (like “sacapuntas”)?


I will admit that I have had to do some brushing up.  I found myself reading the Spanish on an HP toner box out loud while working at Kennywood this summer to practice my accent once again – and good thing I did.  I was rusty.  I was out of practice.  I sounded so…American. 

I went to Las Velas in Market Square (downtown) tonight with my brother.  I had been there before their recent re-opening for a pre-opening party with him a few weeks ago, since I had heard so much about it from him (he plays softball with the owner, David, and goes there for lunch often since he works in the area).  In my quest for finding authentic Hispanic restaurants in the Pittsburgh area, I thought this would be a good place to start.

I love it when I’m right.

For the pre-opening party on July 16th, we started with the homemade tortilla chips, served with salsa, guacamole, and salsa verde.  The chips were perfectly fried and warm, and the salsa had the BEST cilantro content of any salsa that I have had.  I love cilantro, and I am thoroughly disappointed that my attempt at growing it in my garden this summer failed miserably.  Salsa verde was never my favorite, but tasted much better in comparison to others that I have had.  The guacamole – O.  M.  G.  I am picky about my guac – avocados are a fickle fruit, and a bad avocado can ruin the guac.  No bad avocados here.  It was – no exaggeration – THE best guac I have EVER had.  I know I have a lot more restaurants to try out, but in my experiences so far, this is the standard.

The rest of the meal was served family-style – fajitas, with homemade tortillas, chicken, beef, pico de gallo, peppers, onions, rice, and refried beans with queso fresco, a traditional Mexican cheese.  Having been to Mexico and eaten traditional foods there, this was as close as I have come to having something “authentic” in Da ‘Burgh.

I could not wait to go back and try the traditional menu.  Of course, my brother has been there for lunch on several occasions already, but the dinner menu is a bit different from the lunch menu, so he was eager to try it for dinner.  We started with the delectable chips and salsa (he doesn’t like guac – party pooper).  I honestly think that the chips were even better this time than the first, and I can’t pinpoint why, since I thought they were amazing the first time.  

Then I got to practice my Spanish again.  Briefly.  Ahhhhh.

I ordered the “Pollo en mole poblano” – which, according to the menu, is “Deliciously slow-cooked mole rojo sauce smothered on…chicken…Served with your choice of three sides: rice, beans, lettuce/pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, rajas/crema, papas Laticias, or cheese.  Corn or flour tortillas.”  Yeah, choice?  No.  It came with ALL of that – the only thing that I chose was corn tortillas.  I’m not complaining one bit – it was a lot of food, though, which just means that I brought about half of it home, and I have dinner for tomorrow, too!  

I wanted to try this because I had never had mole sauce.  I know, I know – how could this BE?  I teach about it all of the time, but had never tried it myself.  Mole is actually partially made with chocolate, but doesn’t taste like what you would pour over your ice cream or put in your milk to make chocolate milk.  It is also made with peppers (in this case, poblano peppers, which are not very hot), and it has a unique taste.  See for a simple explanation.

I loved it.  I’m so glad that I have leftovers.

My brother is also all about dessert, and he wanted to try the dessert at Las Velas, since it is not something that he would normally have with lunch. 

Not to mention that he misses Chi-Chi’s with a passion, and REALLY wanted fried ice cream.

So he ordered his fried ice cream, and I ordered the sopapillas (more Spanish!  Ahhhh…) – tortilla chips, covered with honey and served with ice cream and strawberry sauce.  Who could go wrong with that combination?  

I know I didn’t.

My brother tried my dessert, and when I asked to try his, he said, “It’s just ice cream.”  Riiiiiight.  Hoarder.

I left so, so full, and so, so happy.  I will be back, Las Velas.  I will try something different next time, although I was completely smitten with the meal that I had chosen.  I will bring friends.  I will encourage others to patronize you, even if I am not with them. 

Nos vemos pronto. (Ahhhhh…)

Las Velas
21 Market Square
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Twitter: @lasvelas

Follow me on Twitter: @senoritacibulka

Las Velas on Urbanspoon

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