How to Eat Somewhere New
When a new place opens, the common wisdom is that you should try it in a couple of months when it's worked out the kinks. Are you made of stone? There's a whole unexplored menu to peruse and sample. What if there's something you've never eaten before? Once you finally break down and pull up a squeaky, new chair, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Save it for when you're not on a tight schedule and keep your group smallish. The servers may still be finding their feet and managers might not have figured out how many hands they need on deck at different times. You'll never feel so benevolent-god-like as when you raise your palm to a sweating, apologetic waiter and say, "no problem."
The whole menu might not be available — relax. Ask your server what his or her favorite thing is and get that. (Asking what's good will nearly always get you an optimistic but unhelpful, "It's all good.") At Taste of Bim, the Caribbean place that's taken up residence in Avalon's former kitchen space (613 Third St., Eureka) our waitress steered us to cod fish and chips ($9). Unlike the UK version, the chunks of fresh cod beside the little potato wedges are marinated with garlic and herbs before frying in a light and bubbly batter. Do you really need the cup of mild tartar sauce? There's so much flavor to the flaky, pleasantly briny fish that you might not.
Another tip: Stick to basics and save the experimental items for later. Bim's half-dozen jerk chicken wings ($7) show up lightly blackened and the overnight-marinated meat is nicely spiced, but by no means hot. Must wings always be a test of manhood? Really? No. Here they are a way to enjoy the dark, fatty meat and tasty skin — chilis and earthy allspice and cinnamon enhance rather than mask their flavor. There is a side of creamy sauce not unlike the savory filling of a fancy, paprika-sprinkled deviled egg — again, not really necessary, but you can always dip your finger if you're among friends. Get the wings. And the plantains ($5). If you are a person who enjoys the not-too-sweet, firm and lemony fruit, these crisp-edged, piping hot slices are not to be missed.
Corner Burger Joint
Is there a limit to how many burger places Humboldt can support? Will the day come when we crumple our ketchup-stained napkins, cast them to the floor and say enough? Yeah, no.
Sixth and E Neighborhood Eatery has opened up in Eureka (603 E St.) with a small army of burgers and tricked-out fries. The modestly named Good Burger is a -pound of grassfed beef with lettuce, tomato, mayo, pickle and cheddar cheese, criss-crossed with peppery bacon on a soft, slightly chewy grilled bun ($11.99).
The schmear of avocado spread is creamy and has the advantage of not sliding off your burger the way a slab of avocado does, challenging you to rearrange your burger for proper topping distribution while pretending you are still listening to your lunch companions. The meat is none too tightly packed and has a juicy bite. (Nothing sadder than seeing perfectly good meat kneaded into an angry, gray lump.) Beside your burger in the cake tin that serves as your plate, you have the option of barbecue rub-dusted wedge-cut fries with skins or a nest of skinny, crispy onion rings in golden batter. See, we do have room for one more.
The newly opened Greene Lily (307 Second St., Eureka) has trundled away the vinyl chairs and grim lighting of the former Mekong Cafe, swapping in a bright copper ceiling and white padded banquettes. It's quite a makeover. With all the distraction of shiny newness, facing the laminated gleam of an unfamiliar menu could be daunting. Or not — because if someone is back in the kitchen pouring waffle batter over a hot iron with a layer of bacon inside, then get that. The bacon Belgian waffle ($8.95) appears at first as plain as a Kardashian without her contouring makeup, or Channing Tatum in lots of loose clothing. But cutting into the browned exterior is the brunch equivalent of a glasses-off-hair-shaken-out movie transformation. Inside is a layer of brick-red bacon that's been fried to a crisp edge but not crunchy. See, your mother was right — it's what's inside that counts. As long as there's salty pig fat inside.
Sure, you could drizzle syrup from your little cup if you're up for sweet and salty. Or you could double down on the savory and order up a side of the bacon gravy ($2.95) that normally comes with the biscuits. The gravy isn't particularly salty, and the barely sweet flavor of the waffle still comes through. Besides, enough of the creamy, bacon-flecked stuff will show up that you can afford to be generous and let companions dip a fry or two. And that's an attractive quality.