October 26, 2006

“¡Cena de Cumpleaños!”

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One of the best things about birthdays, besides cake and presents and lots of attention, is the birthday dinner. On this very special day, not only do you have the sole power in choosing the restaurant in which to dine, but you also get treated to a free meal! It’s definitely a win-win situation. However, even when it’s not your birthday, attending someone else’s birthday dinner is a great time, especially when great food is involved. Luckily, I was invited to celebrate the twenty-third birthday of my neighbor, David, at “Viva Taqueria & Cantina,” a sit-down and take-out Mexican restaurant situated on the Commons, at the corner of State Street and Aurora Street.
I have attempted to eat at “Viva Taqueria & Cantina” in the past, but have never succeeded due to annoyingly long wait times. Fortunately, because this birthday dinner took place on a Tuesday night, our party of eight was seated at a table at the back of the restaurant immediately. While walking through the restaurant, I was immediately taken with the restaurant’s décor. The walls were painted bright colors and featured festive decorations that looked as if they originated from a small souvenir shop in Mexico. They definitely helped in making the restaurant seem genuinely Mexican, instead of an American adaptation of Mexican food.
Before visiting the restaurant, I had received mixed reviews of it from various sources. One friend exclaimed that the burrito she had ordered on her first visit reminded her of a generic, uninteresting burrito similar to one found in a high school cafeteria. On the other hand, another friend sang praises about the chicken taco salad. After looking over the menu and considering my friends’ comments, I decided to be safe and order the Chicken Taco Salad with lime vinaigrette dressing. Other orders included the Hard Shell Taco Plate, the Chicken Mole Burrito, the Enchiladas Tomatillo, and a pitcher of Sangria for the birthday boy himself. After only about ten minutes, our food arrived and we dug in.
My first impression of my taco salad was not very positive. It looked like an average, unexciting salad and didn’t even come in one of those fun taco shell bowls you can get at the Ivy Room. But once I actually tried the salad, I was not disappointed. The chicken was perfectly cooked and seasoned nicely with the right amount of spiciness, and the lime vinaigrette’s tanginess provided a good balance to the crisp flavors of the vegetables. And while there was no taco shell bowl, the salad did include some tasty taco-shell-inspired crisps. However, a sprinkling of cheese would have made the salad a hundred times better and some guacamole or salsa mixed throughout would have been wonderful. Overall, the salad wasn’t horrendous, but it wasn’t excellent either.
The rest of the table seemed more pleased with their meals. My friend who had had the previous bad experience with the burrito was extremely happy with the hard shell tacos she ordered and David was very happy with his quesadillas. It wasn’t long until the plates were cleaned and cleared away and talk of dessert began.
Now, no birthday dinner is complete without the infamous restaurant-wait-staff-sung version of Happy Birthday accompanied by some kind of dessert that usually features a celebratory candle. However, when we told our waiter that it was David’s birthday, he curtly responded that the restaurant does not celebrate birthdays because it orders its desserts from an outside source and would therefore be too much of an economic loss to give one dessert away in honor of our celebration. We were all pretty disappointed at this unenthusiastic reaction to our request, especially since the restaurant boasts such a fun and cheerful environment and seems like the perfect place to have birthday festivities.
Although I left Viva Taqueria & Cantina feeling slightly perturbed, I still think the dinner was a success. It just goes to show that no matter how unimpressive the food might be and how strange the restaurant responds to simple requests, as long as you’ve got good company, no dinner can go wrong. Of course a little sangria never hurts either.