It’s trendy nowadays for high-end restaurants to do expensive, fancy reinterpretations on traditionally cheap, low-end foods: grilled cheese, tacos, cupcakes, etc… “High Brow/Low Brow” compares the same dish at two different restaurants: one with a low price point, and one from a higher-end restaurant with a high price point.
Stu: Hey, Thu. What’s up? You wanna talk cheese?
Thu: I am always down to talk about cheese.
Stu: Well, one of our regular haunts is Qdoba. And when we hit up Qdoba, we always get the “Chips and Queso” – their signature spicy tex-mex cheese dip. “Velveet-o”, if you will. Why do you think that we love this gooey concoction, anyway?
Thu: I think there is something familiar about fake cheese. All things fake cheese were good as a kid: Kraft Mac and Cheese, Velveeta, Cheese whiz from a can, Lunchables…
Stu: Don’t forget government cheese. The government knows what’s up.
Thu: …and those little cracker packs with the cheese spread that you put on with the tiny red plastic stick. Boom.
Stu: There were periods as a kid where I couldn’t function without an “American” single. I was always fascinated with how they could fit a whole glass of milk into each slice.
Thu: My question is (and maybe this is my own ignorance from living in California my whole life): what’s the deal with queso? Is it different than nacho cheese? What makes queso QUESO?
Stu: I’m embarrassed to say it, but I’m in the same boat (and I actually have a teeny-tiny bit of Mexico in my blood). Whatever the origin is, Qdoba definitely does it right! I wanna know why Chipotle doesn’t get on board with this? In my opinion, Chipotle has nothing on Qdoba. Barbacoa? Is that all that you’re bringing to the table? Get the hell out of here, cabron!
Thu: Wait a second, hold the phone. I don’t want to rock the tortilla boat on this queso river, but I am quite partial to Chipotle. I will agree that queso does make Qdoba unique, but I more often get a Chipotle craving than a Qdoba craving. And in terms of ambiance, I think Chipotle wins. But perhaps this is for another conversation review.
Stu: Yeah, we should explore those Chipotle feelings some other time… because you’re trippin’. We both love the Qdoba queso, which is decidedly on the low-end of the “fancy” spectrum. We wanted to kick it up a notch and try a more refined version. Our prayers were answered by Josef Centeno’s “Bar Ama”.
Thu: Oh snap. More like Bar Ama-eat-all-this-queso! Puns aside, that was awesome.
Stu: When the waiter brought the queso and chips to our table, I thought that it looked a bit smaller than the Qdoba portion. But, then they brought a second bowl of chips when we polished the first one off (with queso to spare) – so now I’m not so sure.
Thu: I was also very impressed with all of the “stuff” in the queso at Bar Ama. And not just indiscriminate flecks of red and green colors to signify “spices” either. There were chunks of salsa and a generous topping of cotija cheese (cheese on cheese action!). Also, by the second bowl of chips, the queso cooled down and became a little stiff (which is what happens to real cheese when it gets cold, apparently). But Qdoba queso seems to stay the same consistency the whole time. So either Qdoba has engineered a cheese with perfectly uniform viscosity, or something is amiss…So Stu, what do you think? Is the highbrow truly worth it? Bar Ama Queso is 9 bucks versus Qdoba’s at $3.99?
Stu: When faced with two quesos, I always choose the cheaper of the two. Even when the more “expensive” queso is only pennies more than the lowbrow version, I still opt for the cheap-o version. My therapist tells me that, deep down inside, I feel like I don’t deserve the fancier queso. During one recent session, Dr. Cheeseman asked me to really analyze those feelings… so, I figured that it was during a cold winter’s day in 5th grade: All of the cool foreign-exchange students were enjoying string cheese packs, and all I had was generic American singles that barely tasted like cheese at all. One of the foreign kids, the French one, caught me staring at their lunch table as they were peeling the delectable cheese and started teasing me: “Oh, look at Stu… ‘Stu, Stu, he smells like le Poo’, no?” I felt my eyes swelling with tears, and when I started to cry, the French kid said, “I must apologize, Stu. Do you want to share? Le psych! You can’t have this fromage!” I’ve grown a lot since those days. But, I guess you could say that I still have a 5th-grader’s mentality. When I’m at Bar Ama, I act like I’m in the 10th grade – and I order the good stuff. Because I’m worth it.
Bar Ama is located at:
118 WEST 4TH ST.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA