By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 18, 2013
Then: Hope for government cafeterias (2005)
Again: Mass appeal (with a view)
The pit stop on the ground floor of the National Museum of the American Indian has me at the chickpeas. They're found at Mitsitam Cafe, where visitors can sample the cooking of Indians from South America, and they're one of my favorite meatless dishes on the Mall. A scoop of those sauteed chickpeas, biting with aji pepper, could fuel me for an afternoon of sightseeing, although I'm glad to have crowded my tray with the soft and soothing red potato cake and the chicken-swollen tamal drizzled with peanut sauce.
Quality varies from food station to food station. Pork and corn tacos, a shout out to Mesoamerica, aren't worth standing in line for, but I finished every shred of a side of the sassy red cabbage "salsa." The next person to visit me will be my excuse to trek to the Northern Woodlands, where red bean and alligator soup and maple-brined turkey await. No doubt a concession to fussy museum-goers, the buffalo burgers are thin, dry and sad to see in this otherwise educational mix. Did Indians, any of them, really bake brownies? A more genuine finish than that head-scratcher is Mitsitam's not-too-sweet pine nut tart representing the Great Plains. Seasonal agua frescas are welcome alternatives to commercial sodas.
Shots of tribes making tortillas and planting crops dress up the walls of the prairie-size dining room, but the image that calls to me most is very real water splashing over rocks outside the picture window.