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What to say about a Tijuana restaurant

Chiki-Jai at 7th and Revolucion

Sometimes the hawkers who wander through get on my nerves, but that’s my problem.
Sometimes the hawkers who wander through get on my nerves, but that’s my problem.

"Well, it would go something like this: ’Their main menu is a wonderful list of dinner entrees ranging from about two to three dollars, perhaps 20-25 items, some that are repeated daily and some special ones that appear as the food is available or as the cook chooses, like Spanish quail. ’Which, by the way, is stewed quail in a burgundy wine sauce, very sloppy and tasty — quail meat looks like chicken-in-a-dark-room, and is rich. And I’d go on: 'The dinner starts with a plateful of a rather strange bleu cheese and hot Mexican rolls (and I stuffed myself on that, with some beer — the place has a great little bar in the corner, peopled by short men, usually with berets— I think the place has “atmosphere”, but we’ll get to that later)...’which is followed by a soup of the day’... (and most days it is a very funny and very vile hot “vegetable soup” made with canned vegetables —pale carrots floating in state— but sometimes they serve a wonderful pea soup, not like the rich California hippie stuff, but a thin pea broth) ‘...and then is served a salad which varies from bad to worse,..."

'Is served'? Jesus."

“...mainly lettuce, a sliver of ham. and some cold red beets, those same carrots, perhaps some avocado... (but, and I know this is strange, I push away the carrots to the side of the plate, salt and pepper the thing a little too heavily, soak it in the good oil they have on the table, and eat it like it was the best thing on earth. Beer is wonderful. And then I eat the carrots, slowly, with a kind of perverse pleasure in their blandness...)”

“Now wait. You’re doing what you usually do. There’s too much description of food, but not really enough of flavor and...”

“O.K., add ‘a hint of onion and white pepper’ to the pea soup if it’ll make you feel any better. And?”

"And your prose is turning purple. Shouldn't you leave the pyrotechnics for description — which you don’t have yet—of, uh, atmosphere? You know, like ‘And if you look carefully outside the greasy windows you can see one sailor, and then another, go from a taxi (which is always hovering) into a doorway you can’t quite see...’. Hey, that’s pretty slick.”

“Well, if I'm going to paint the atmosphere it will be the atmosphere of my own pleasure, about the man who ‘walked in, well-dressed, holding an incredibly bold cardboard flat of corsage orchids which at first view were pretty tatty but slowly revealed two black sleek individuals, gorgeous flowers, sitting in real elegance amid their showy fellows."

"Jesus.”

“You wanted atmosphere.”

Also, the people who come into play guitar for 'couples’ are sometimes good, certainly better than the drunken clientele who sing along. The whole place feels comfortable; it's small, a really pleasant room in which to sit and talk and eat. Sometimes the hawkers who wander through get on my nerves, but that’s my problem. The "murals on the wall — Mediterranean pastels — have multiple vanishing points. What more could you want? Some of the entrees are fabulous; they serve whole shrimps in garlic sauce, clams in a green pea sauce which is probably not as good as it could be. but still is better than anything like it I’ve had in San Diego — a whole mess of them, and the bread is perfect for soaking up the sauce, if you can fit it in. And an all right paella, and wonderful totuava, filet mignon for S3, a, great bean soup (not on the menu) and sometimes stuff in Basque style— like codfish— which is very salty, too salty for me.

“Hey, how do you know what Basque style is? You know, actually I’m curious about how you think you know anything about any kind of food at all.”

“I know what I, like. It’s a restaurant in which I just don't mind getting something mediocre now and then because it’s all so various. The menu changes every day. Every day! That went out years ago in most places. They do real cooking, so you can always say 'the cook got drunk and the cat fell in the stew’ or something. Oh, and when you go, notice that the prices have— to me, anyway— little or nothing to do with the cost of the material: a few broiled mushrooms are priced just as much — or as little, rather—as the ‘cuttlefish, in its own ink’ which, ’I hear, is awful. And they serve—and duly note on the menu — canned eels.

"When I go? You assume a lot."

“They have a Mexican and lunch menu too. with 50c sandwiches if I remember correctly. And their fried potatoes are real potatoes, really fried.”

“In oil that tastes different each time because of what was fried before?’’

“Yep."

“And the potatoes can taste like..."

“Yup."

“Where is it?"

“7th and Revolution, across the street from the Jai Alai palace, on the corner."

“And it’s called?"

“Chiki Jai."

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“It was great to be able to have some fun and have a communal type experience playing music in the sun.”
Sometimes the hawkers who wander through get on my nerves, but that’s my problem.
Sometimes the hawkers who wander through get on my nerves, but that’s my problem.

"Well, it would go something like this: ’Their main menu is a wonderful list of dinner entrees ranging from about two to three dollars, perhaps 20-25 items, some that are repeated daily and some special ones that appear as the food is available or as the cook chooses, like Spanish quail. ’Which, by the way, is stewed quail in a burgundy wine sauce, very sloppy and tasty — quail meat looks like chicken-in-a-dark-room, and is rich. And I’d go on: 'The dinner starts with a plateful of a rather strange bleu cheese and hot Mexican rolls (and I stuffed myself on that, with some beer — the place has a great little bar in the corner, peopled by short men, usually with berets— I think the place has “atmosphere”, but we’ll get to that later)...’which is followed by a soup of the day’... (and most days it is a very funny and very vile hot “vegetable soup” made with canned vegetables —pale carrots floating in state— but sometimes they serve a wonderful pea soup, not like the rich California hippie stuff, but a thin pea broth) ‘...and then is served a salad which varies from bad to worse,..."

'Is served'? Jesus."

“...mainly lettuce, a sliver of ham. and some cold red beets, those same carrots, perhaps some avocado... (but, and I know this is strange, I push away the carrots to the side of the plate, salt and pepper the thing a little too heavily, soak it in the good oil they have on the table, and eat it like it was the best thing on earth. Beer is wonderful. And then I eat the carrots, slowly, with a kind of perverse pleasure in their blandness...)”

“Now wait. You’re doing what you usually do. There’s too much description of food, but not really enough of flavor and...”

“O.K., add ‘a hint of onion and white pepper’ to the pea soup if it’ll make you feel any better. And?”

"And your prose is turning purple. Shouldn't you leave the pyrotechnics for description — which you don’t have yet—of, uh, atmosphere? You know, like ‘And if you look carefully outside the greasy windows you can see one sailor, and then another, go from a taxi (which is always hovering) into a doorway you can’t quite see...’. Hey, that’s pretty slick.”

“Well, if I'm going to paint the atmosphere it will be the atmosphere of my own pleasure, about the man who ‘walked in, well-dressed, holding an incredibly bold cardboard flat of corsage orchids which at first view were pretty tatty but slowly revealed two black sleek individuals, gorgeous flowers, sitting in real elegance amid their showy fellows."

"Jesus.”

“You wanted atmosphere.”

Also, the people who come into play guitar for 'couples’ are sometimes good, certainly better than the drunken clientele who sing along. The whole place feels comfortable; it's small, a really pleasant room in which to sit and talk and eat. Sometimes the hawkers who wander through get on my nerves, but that’s my problem. The "murals on the wall — Mediterranean pastels — have multiple vanishing points. What more could you want? Some of the entrees are fabulous; they serve whole shrimps in garlic sauce, clams in a green pea sauce which is probably not as good as it could be. but still is better than anything like it I’ve had in San Diego — a whole mess of them, and the bread is perfect for soaking up the sauce, if you can fit it in. And an all right paella, and wonderful totuava, filet mignon for S3, a, great bean soup (not on the menu) and sometimes stuff in Basque style— like codfish— which is very salty, too salty for me.

“Hey, how do you know what Basque style is? You know, actually I’m curious about how you think you know anything about any kind of food at all.”

“I know what I, like. It’s a restaurant in which I just don't mind getting something mediocre now and then because it’s all so various. The menu changes every day. Every day! That went out years ago in most places. They do real cooking, so you can always say 'the cook got drunk and the cat fell in the stew’ or something. Oh, and when you go, notice that the prices have— to me, anyway— little or nothing to do with the cost of the material: a few broiled mushrooms are priced just as much — or as little, rather—as the ‘cuttlefish, in its own ink’ which, ’I hear, is awful. And they serve—and duly note on the menu — canned eels.

"When I go? You assume a lot."

“They have a Mexican and lunch menu too. with 50c sandwiches if I remember correctly. And their fried potatoes are real potatoes, really fried.”

“In oil that tastes different each time because of what was fried before?’’

“Yep."

“And the potatoes can taste like..."

“Yup."

“Where is it?"

“7th and Revolution, across the street from the Jai Alai palace, on the corner."

“And it’s called?"

“Chiki Jai."

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