Dot Com Dining Restaurant Reviews Click on photos (except logo) to see them full-size
DOT COM DINING A Look At San Gabriel Valley Restaurants by SanGabrielValleyMenus.com
I was invited to attend the initial Yerba Maté event at Empanadas Gourmet in Monrovia, an event billed as “Education and Maté Ceremony Traditional Style.” These “ceremonies” will be taking place at Empanadas on Wednesday afternoons at 3pm, starting Dec. 11. I had no idea what to expect, all I knew was that it was a traditional drink of Argentina.
Maté (rhymes with Latte) is a “simple, humble, daily custom in Argentina, with all the trappings of a ceremony.” There is a right way and a wrong way to do it, and according to our hostess, Alicia D’Navas, co-owner with her husband Horacio of Empanadas Gourmet, it is practiced in nearly every home in Argentina, and dates back to the 1500s. Maté is similar to tea, but is prepared from yerba, the dried leaves of an evergreen tree found in a particular region known by the South American Indians as Caa.
The “ceremony” is practiced by friends and family, and is a period of the day where everyone talks about their lives, shares jokes, and relaxes and enjoys each other while sipping the Maté with finger sandwiches, pastries and desserts. The food is served in 3 courses, as part of the ritual. The mini-Argentinian style sandwiches, pastries and desserts we enjoyed with our Maté were delicious.
Our hostess told all of us a little about the ritual, and how throughout Argentina, wherever people are, they are welcomed with an offer of Maté, which now describes not only the beverage itself, but also the vessel from which it is drunk. Originally, the gauchos of Argentina drank Maté from a gourd, and this is still done today, though there are now much fancier “gourd” vessels from which to drink. Each table is set with a “Bombilla” for each person, (similar to a straw, but made of metal, and the bottom end of the straw is enclosed but filled with holes to allow the Maté up without the person having to get a mouthful of leaves). The taste of the Maté is somewhat strong at first, but with each addition of water to the “gourd”, it softens a little. There is a specific way to prepare the Maté, a specific way that the Bombilla is placed in the gourd, and a specific way to pour the water, even so far as to how the pot is held.
The whole idea reminded me of a restaurant that I had gone to in the 70s, where they didn’t have a counter, they had what they called a “Friendship Room” which had a big table where individuals were seated. Many times, by the time people left, they had made new friends, found a new activity partner, even begun romantic acquaintances. As I related this to Alicia, she told me that that is exactly what they hope will happen with their weekly Matés, as the spirit behind the custom is to relax and enjoy oneself with family and friends, be they long time friends or new ones. If you go in alone, it is their hope that you will leave having made new friends.
Maté can also be enjoyed by all generations, from children to elders. According to Alicia, Maté is an anti-oxidant, lowers cholesterol, is an anti-depressant, a source of Vitamins, B1, B2, C, iron, magnesium, and potassium.
As we head into the American hustle and bustle of the Holiday Season, this was a well timed reminder to slow down and enjoy the important things, as is done in other societies. It was an interesting glimpse into a South American culture, and I haven't scratched the surface of all there is to learn at these Wednesday afternoon get togethers..
Empanadas Gourmet has been operating in the 175 year-old brick (former) stable at 113 E. Lemon Ave. in Monrovia since 1990, and is well known for its quality, healthy food. There are no fried foods here, and several people I spoke with raved about the empanadas. I look forward to returning and trying some of their menu items, which I have not yet done. Look for that review somewhere down the road. For the Maté, reservations are required, call 359-0946 to inquire.
Mediterranean Express - One place I have eaten, which I will tell you about now, is Mediterranean Express, also in Monrovia. Mediterranean Express bills itself as Healthy, Mediterranean Fast Food. I went with my wife and son. My wife enjoyed a beef kabob combo, which included rice pilaf, hummus, garlic sauce, pickles and pita bread. All this for just $6.99. I helped her with the lean, seasoned and marinated beef, and enjoyed it immensely. It was pleasingly tender. My wife, who normally doesn’t like hummus, said that she really enjoyed theirs. I had a chicken kabob sandwich, which is served on pita bread with garlic sauce, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. According to their menu, their “unique skinless 100% chicken breast kabob is marinated in pure lime juice, crushed garlic and spices for up to 48 hours, then delicately skewered and charbroiled to perfection.” Those of you who’ve read my reviews know that I ordered it no tomatoes, but I also asked him to leave the pickles off. I thought the sandwich was quite good, and would recommend it.
My son had a rotisserie chicken sandwich, and according to their menu, they use only Zacky Farms chickens, which are organically seasoned, marinated with fresh garlic and lemon juice, and slow roasted over an open flame. I tasted the chicken off his sandwich (yes, it’s true, we all share our food at the Coburn table), and it was delicious, tender and well seasoned. All in all, I think owner Peter Gozanyan has a good formula here. Mediterranean Express’s menu can be viewed online at sangabrielvalleymenus.com, just click on their link. While you’re there, you can download a coupon to save $1.00 off the already low $2.99 price for a chicken pita sandwich or a falafel pita sandwich. Mediterranean Express also delivers within a 3 mile radius with a $10.00 minimum order. They are located at 445 W. Foothill Blvd. in Monrovia. Their number is (626) 305-3111.
Bill Coburn is owner of SanGabrielValleyMenus.com, a restaurant website featuring dozens of restaurant’s menus, as well as downloadable coupons. He has nearly 20 years experience in the restaurant business, and has been eating for much longer than that.
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