Establishing Rapport at El Rinconcito

My partner Rachael Horn and I, Mark Paternostro, will be conducting research on three restaurants in the Mid City neighborhood of New Orleans. All three of our restaurants are located on N. Carrollton Ave. between Bienville Ave. and Toulouse St. (refer to the map on the left or here for a larger view).

We chose to carry out research and conduct interviews with three (extra credit, Dr. Beriss?) very different restaurants that happen to be either next to or across the street from one another: a restaurant cluster within a restaurant row, if you will. They are El Rinconcito (218 N. Carrollton), WOW Café and Wingery (231 N. Carrolton #C) and KJeans (236 North Carrollton).

One of the goals of the Restaurant Row Recovery Project (RRRP) is to understand why there are so many restaurants clustered together in this one area. In class, we also noted that, within the Restaurant Row, all of these restaurants collectively seem to be serving a continuum of cuisines that would make the United Nations proud.

On the Row, one can dine at New Orleans’ institutions like Mandina’s, Venezia’s, and Angelo Brocato’s or mix it up at fusion restaurants like Café Minh or Canal St. Bistro or try out some of the newcomers like Yummy Yummy and El Rinconcito (neither of these have websites, sorry bloggers!).

We hope to find through our research if the sheer volume and variety of restaurants on the Row are representative of those who live in the surrounding neighborhood and/or of any demographic changes in the city as a whole.

By researching the history of the area and conducting interviews with the owners of these restaurants, we hope to find out what role they play to the surrounding community and New Orleans as a whole. We also hope to find out in what direction this already dynamic neighborhood is headed with regards to the near-future construction of both the Mid-City Market and the Lafitte Corridor.

February 15, 2012 – Establishing Rapport at El Rinconcito

Rachael and I, Mark, had made plans a couple of days prior to have lunch at El Rinconcito. I arrived first and, in some ways, this was probably for the better because our server, Rosalba, did not speak English and I was able to use my intermediate Spanish to order my food and later ask a few questions.

At first, I just took in the atmosphere of the place itself. There is a sign that lets customers know that to get into the restaurant area it is easier for one to enter in on the side of the building and that’s just what I did. When I entered, a group of Latino men were playing pool to the right of me and there was a very large dining area that was on the left. One of the men that was sitting down handed me a menu and I decided to seat myself.

A few moments later, Rosalba came to ask me what I would like to drink. I asked for horchata but it was not ready so I took a Coke instead. She gave me time to look over the menu and it was during that time I took in some of the material culture found around the restaurant. There were sombreros hanging from a large pillar in the dining area, an outstretched flag that said “Colombia” above the bathrooms, and a few Mardi Gras decorations to be found hanging from the walls and fans. The menu was also a mixture of different types of Latin American foods. The whole menu was in Spanish and I saw everything from huevos rancheros to enchiladas to quesadillas to carne asada and then some.

I decided to go with the Carne Asada (literally translated as “grilled steak”) which also included corn tortillas, lettuce, tomato, queso blanco (I don’t want to call it cheese because that word conjures up a particular image to most Americans. It is literally translated as “white cheese” but its texture and taste are much different than say Cheddar or American. I think it is made from goat milk.), beans, and rice (I list them separately because they were separate from one another unlike the local variety of “red beans and rice”. They also had a much different texture and taste than that New Orleans’ favorite.)

Throughout the meal I had asked a couple of questions of Rosalba. I mentioned to her that I’m a student who is interested in El Rinconcito and the surrounding restaurants and neighborhood. She told me she was new to the restaurant and was from Honduras. She also told me that many of the clients were from many different Latin American countries. I wanted to know if there was someone I could talk to about the history of El Rinconcito in English. She said yes and, later, this became helpful.

As I was thoroughly enjoying a meal that was larger than I had imagined, Rachael and her boyfriend came in to join me on the dining experience. One of the men opened the door for them and they came and sat down next to me. I had told Rosalba that I had two friends on their way earlier and soon enough she came by to get their orders.

Rachael mentioned to me that she liked the relaxed almost homely atmosphere of the place. I wholeheartedly agreed with her. There is something about the light pastel colored walls in each of the dining rooms, our friendly server, the Spanish music coming from the bar, and the group of Latino men playing pool and drinking that seemed to separate us from the busy traffic found right outside the front of the building. After Rachael’s observation, I began to appreciate the fact that the dining area was located in the back and lent itself to this homely environment.

While Rachael and Mac were working on their meals, another lady approached us. She began to ask us in English if we had any questions about the meal or service. I told her that we were students who were researching the restaurants in this area including El Rinconcito. She was very kind and helpful. She told us she would give us the boss’s number and that he would most likely be happy to give us an interview.

After we had finished our meals, Rosalba came back and handed us an El Rinconcito keychain. The keychain has two numbers: one to reach the owner and another for the restaurant. It also says this about El Rinconcito: “No somos los mejores del mundo pero si los mejores del rumbo”.

Before we paid, I had to ask Rosalba one more question. I had no idea what the word “rumbo” meant so I asked Rosalba. She mentioned it’s a Latin American word that is hard to translate to English. I asked her if it meant like the aesthetics of the place or a certain feeling of a place and she said she yes.

Later, we decided to look up the word for ourselves. “Rumbo” actually has many different meanings, but I think the best loose translation would be this: “We’re not the best in the world, but we are the life of the party.”

More to come on WOW Cafe and Wingery and Kjeans… until next time!

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