Reflections on Stripmall Eating

Monday, August 28, 2006

Do You Know the Way to Secane?

Name: Hidalgo
Location: 831 Providence Road, Secane.
Personnel: Holly, Me
What We Ate: Complimentary Chips and Salsa; Sopes; Pollo Estilo Hidalgo; Chuleta a la Ranchera
Condiments: Pico de Gallo
Bill Total: $36
Observations: Up until this week, I had never heard of Secane — a bit embarrassing for a lifelong Philly resident. My first trip there was strictly business — or at least the non-deadlined, nonpaid restaurant reviewing business that is this blog. Hidalgo, which opened last year, is owned by the family who operated Xochilmico in Upper Darby. Like Zochilmico, Hidalgo is a casual, neighborhood place. I was hoping we might get serenaded as I had at Xochilmico back in the day, but no such luck. It's BYO and they will provide tequila mixes, which we unfortunately did not get to sample. Our meal started with very good sopas, flat disks of corn topped with ribbons of crisp iceberg, shredded chicken, refried beans and queso fresco. Neither of us was thrilled with our entree, however. Holly ordered chicken in the style of Hidalgo, which ought to have been a memorable dish, being tied up with the restaurant's identity and all. And yet the chicken breast was topped with a bland, almost melon-colored peanut sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds. I ordered the chuleta or pork chop with tomatillo sauce and specified spicy. When it came it had a bright, fruity flavor that was rather mild. The pork, meanwhile, was overcooked, requiring extra sawing. Sides of rice and refried beans were similarly lackluster. I came away feeling disappointed but I think I would also give this place another chance, should I end up in Secane again anytime soon.

Bellying Up

Name: Sea Swirl
Location: 30 Williams Avenue, Mystic, CT
Personnel: Susannah, Mike, Jesse, Me
What We Ate: 2 lobster rolls, 2 whole clam rolls
Condiments: Tartar Sauce
Bill Total: $32
Observations: We decided to make a lunch stop at Sea Swirl on the way to Wellfleet, meeting my sister and brother-in-law on the road. While it's not technically a stripmall eatery, I felt Sea Swirl deserved a visit after reading internet hype and getting a real-life recommendation from my friend Becky. At first I was put off when I saw that the restaurant sold bottled water labeled with its own name. Would the food not speak for itself? In fact, it did. I have to say these were some of the best seafood shack victuals I've ever tasted. The toasted rolls were buttery. The clams crisply shattered into soft, chewy, mollusky goodness with juicy bellies. Their secret, apparently, is soybean oil. And I've never seen such generous, identifiably claw meat chunks in a lobster roll. Best of all, none of it was so greasy that an additional four hours in the car seemed torturous. On the contrary. When we got to Wellfleet we were ready to tear into a pack of steamed lobsters.