Friday night means……

10 Dec

Sabor Latino night! “What,” you may ask, “is Sabor Latino Night?”

Well, that’s a bit of a story. For the last several years – we’re not real sure how many years because nobody can remember quite when or how the tradition started – Missy and I, along with the Amazing Daughter Duo, have been having dinner on Friday nights (almost every Friday night) with a group of friends – numbering at any given time between 2 and 14 – at a local Mexican/Latin restaurant called “Sabor Latino.”

The deal is this: if we are in Homewood, Alabama on Friday night and there is no pressing special event (football game, child’s concert, vacation, etc.), we got Sabor Latino at 6:00 p.m., and whomever else in the group is in Homewood on Friday night does the same. There are no engraved invitations, E-Vites or Outlook Meeting Requests sent, and if you happen to come as a first-timer, don’t expect an invitation to come back – once you come, that’s all the invitation you need to come back. The owner, Linda (who owns the restaurant with husband Manuel) greets the first to arrive at the door and asks “How Many?” The answer generally is “I don’t know – maybe 12?” Linda asks: “Usual table?” Answer: “Yep, that’s fine.”

Whichever of the wait staff draws our table for the night already knows the drink order of each of the supper club members and generally just confirms the drink without really asking. The requisite tortillas and salsa are delivered, along with each the group’s member’s favored appetizer – cheese dip, bean dip, guacamole, or whatever. The scene is repeated as each group member arrives. The seating is men and sons on one end of the long table (talking sports, guns, computers and gardening); women and daughters at the other end of the table (talking about – well, the men don’t know what the women are talking about because the impose a virtual curtain between the tables). At times, the teenagers and college kids leave the table and commandeer a nearby table, far enough away that they can converse without adult ears hearing the scoop, but not so far away that the waiter can’t get kid’s order at the same time the parent’s orders are taken, ensuring that the children’s food is on the parent’s tab.

After two, three or more drinks, cheese dips, bowls of salsa, or whatever, the waiter will wander over and wait for the sign from somebody that its time for orders to be taken. We’ve all been to Sabor Latino, or “Sabor” for short, so many times that menus are optional and, like the drinks, the wait staff, more often or not, can predict our order before we ever speak. We all are so familiar with the menu, in fact, that we instantly notice if there is any change to the restaurant’s offerings. I noticed a change several months ago when I picked up a menu to decide between the six or so dishes I generally rotate between when I spotted a new addition: Peruvian Roasted Chicken.

Now, normally, I’m not going to get too excited about a roast chicken dish. After all, I’ve got a pretty good arsenal of roasted, smoked and grilled chicken dishes of my own, and I seldom find anything coming out of a commercial kitchen that can match  what my collection of Webers, Big Green Eggs/Kamado Joe/Primos, Traegers  and cast iron skillets and Dutch Ovens can produce. Still, there was something curious about the dish so I decided to give it a whirl.

The chicken is served with a salad and a garlic and lime dipping sauce/dressing and fries.  The first time I ordered the dish, I was served a leg/thigh quarter – which is fine with me since that’s what I prefer to cook and eat – and the first bite of the chicken thigh I tasted, dipped in the accompanying sauce, lit up my taste buds like fireworks on the 4th of July. Wow! I judge competition BBQ and cook some pretty fair meat but this stuff was, in every way, outstanding. The skin was tender and bite through. The meat was flavored all the way to the bone and had a slightly smoky taste and the dipping sauce added a touch of citrus tartness and a pungent bite from the garlic. This chicken was, pretty much, the best chicken I could recall ever eating. And in my neighborhood Mexican/Latin restaurant, no less!

I immediately found Linda and began to rave about the chicken. After all, who would have thought that what many people think of as the “khaki chicken” dish on the menu would turn out to be the star attraction of the restaurant! I was certain that, as long-time and frequent customers of the restaurant, Linda would share at least the rudiments of the recipe. I was wrong about that! Instead of offering up the dish on the dish, Linda just smiled and said “you like?” Yeah, I like! I finally got out of her that the chicken was brined (Natch) and that one of the flavors was a Peruvian herb that she grew in her garden at home. Beyond that, I was on my own!

I kept ordering the chicken week after week, always requesting the dark meat, and kept working on figuring out the flavor profile. In the meantime, the chicken kept coming out the same every time: moist, tender and flavorful with a slightly smoky taste and thin, pliable bite-through skin that any KCBS competitor would give up his BBQ Guru to replicate. One night, the waiter accidentally brought me a breast quarter instead. He realized his mistake and started to take the breast back, but I stopped him and told him “no” – the breast was fine. I decided to see if the normally drier, less flavorful breast benefited from the Peruvian treatment. The breast was served “airline” style – with the wing still attached. I carved up a few pieces of the breast and could instantly tell that the skin was just as tender and the breast meat just as moist and tender as the leg quarter. The taste was fantastic as well, and since then, I’ve not specified what “color” chicken to bring me – I just let the kitchen surprise me and scarf down whatever comes out.

All of this to report that tonight, we made our weekly appearance at Sabor Latino, and it was, in my individual meal rotation, the night for roast chicken. I was NOT disappointed. You won’t be either. If you happen to be in Homewood, Alabama on Friday night, come by – we’ll be at the big table in the back. If you’re not there on Friday night, stop in whenever you can – tell Linda and Manuel, or daughter Lilliana or son-in-law Gustavo that the Friday night crew sent you. Then order the roast chicken….. you won’t be disappointed!

Daughter Number 1 of the Amazing Daughter Duo comes in from The Loveliest Village on the Plains (Auburn) tomorrow, so it’s time to think about what I’m going to cook. I’ll let you know what I decide……

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