Sound Bites at El Carajo

Love Bites is a regular column on Short Order. Find other installments here

Why is it we really don't pay much attention to what potential life partners say on the first date? Are we so wrapped up in flaunting our feathers that we become deaf to the clues they drop? These could, after all, not only tip us off to how the relationship may eventually fail, but also to what kind of rollercoaster ride we're in for. Good thing I made sure to stay sharp even as the plates of tapas came and went at El Carajo for my second date with the guy I'll call Matlock.

I didn't listen well enough during our date at Michy's. I was a little too "on" to listen for any clues back then. I kicked myself for that on the way home and vowed to be uber-present when we met again. But when Matlock pulled his car into a gas station announcing that we would be dining there for our second tête-à-tête, I feared perhaps I'd be so worried about finding nourishment in a pork rind-and-Yoo-hoo haven that I would again be distracted. And damn did I overdress.

Little did I know this service station had a little surprise tucked inside: a full-on restaurant. Though it looked legit, with its rows of wine bottles and wooden tables, I was still a little hesitant. But Matlock quickly put me at ease, assuring me that he had eaten there before and the restaurant had recently undergone an expansion to accommodate additional diners.

I put my snobbery aside and locked into full-on second-date mode. I knew the night was much too important for me to lose focus. After all, I have this theory that, if a person really pays attention, he or she can predict what's in store. Is your new gal pal talking about her ex in the present tense? She's probably still screwing him and will leave your ass in the dust. Did Mr. Wonderful say the word "mommy" repeatedly? Guess who still does his laundry and will be prying her way between the two of you in a matter of weeks?

Staying sharp, I pulled the little twine tie off the rolled parchment menu and tried to get him to commit to a few plates before we dove into conversation. He ordered a $14 pitcher of red sangria (a.k.a. truth serum) for us to split, along with a plate of grilled sardines for $13.50 (after confirming I was brave enough to try them), a $3.50 tortilla española (Spanish omelette with potatoes), and a $14 selection of cured meats with manchego. Tables started to fill up, even the long 10-seater dealie to our right, and I could hear the crowd cooing with approval. A smile crept across my face as I mentally commended all these locals for skipping the more scene-y spots and, instead, opting for a quiet, intimate eatery.

As we sat nearly knee-to-knee, nibbling and trying to avoid bones, I aimed to impress him with my fish cheek-scraping skills. Mission accomplished. Then I ate my half of the substantive tortilla with zeal before leaving him the last few bits of ham and cheese (smart move, gal). I also successfully managed to only suck down one glass of sangria, again in an effort to stay acutely aware of all the hot topics I needed to pepper into our conversation. Possibly wants kids? Check. No debt? Check. No psycho ex-wives living down the street? Check. Job secure? Check. Believes in a higher power, yet doesn't go to a house of worship more often than he brushes his teeth? Check. Loves to travel? Check. Willing to not only put up with my cats but perhaps even cuddle with them once in a while? Check. No prison record? Yay! Not a commitmentphobe? Check. And, of course, the most important topic: Will he eat nearly anything? Check. We were on like Donkey Kong.

He paid the bill and we walked out, but not before getting a café con leche and pack of gum for the road. (Listen, this was a gas station, after all -- why not take advantage of the convenience factor?)

I agreed to a Wynwood gallery hop once I was thoroughly convinced he had no red flags tucked into any orifices. Before ending the night at that point, we stopped at Sokya to indulge our sweet cravings with what I recall was a lackluster mixed berry cobbler. The truth is, I barely even remember that dessert, partially because it was so simple but also because Matlock and I were rapt in our banter. I do, however, remember closing the place down.

In 1999, when Soyka opened its doors, locals doubted it would succeed since the area was so dismal. Now we've also got a gas station near the Gables housing a tapas restaurant that just built out extra square footage to accommodate the masses. Heck, maybe it's time for the Love Bites gal to finally open her heart and let a good guy get cozy in there. In the interim, I'll just keep listening for spoiler alerts.

El Carajo/Date Rating

Food: 3/5
Hip Factor: 4/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Cost: 3/5
Date: 4/5
Overall: 3.5/5

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