Tamales Make for Good Picnic Fare at Columbia Park

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Picnic spot: Columbia Park, 4721 Rainier Ave. S. COLUMBIA CITY.

Picnic supplies: Villa Victoria, 3829 S. Edmunds St., #A, 329-1717. One chile relleno, a small jicama-orange salad, a quarter pound of collard greens, and two tamales, one cheese and jalapeño and one chicken. Total cost: $16.00.

Walking it out: Ever since I belatedly saw the sign for Villa Victoria’s tamales in Columbia City, I longed for an occasion to patronize this Mexican-fusion takeout place, open since October. Take-out is not normally my thing. Mostly, I cook at home and splurge on the occasional evening out. But when the sun came out on a recent Friday, I realized that a picnic was the occasion I’d been looking for.

A friend and I gathered up our kids -- four between us -- and headed for Villa Victoria’s small, sleek deli-like space off Columbia City’s main drag. We considered our options, which were plentiful. The adobe chickens, with their blackened skins, looked beautiful. But you could only get a whole or half chicken, which seemed too messy for a picnic. So we settled on tamales and a chile relleno to split. The latter, offered only on Fridays and Saturdays, was bursting with filling, including corn and goat cheese. I also asked about the jicama-orange salad, and was treated to a long description by owner Naomi Andrade Smith. On its own, jicama is bland, she said, but it combines nicely with the tartness of the orange. We got some. And I couldn’t resist the collard greens, prepared with tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic, a dish that reflects Smith’s mixed Mexican-African American heritage.

After a pit stop at the Columbia City Bakery across the street (the kids had to have croissants), we had only a block to travel to get to our destination: the broad swath of lawn nestled between a charming row of Craftsman houses and the back end of several Columbia City institutions, including the historic library. The park becomes a neighborhood hangout every Wednesday during Columbia City’s Farmers’ Market, which takes place in an adjacent parking lot. On this Friday, it was just us and a few other families, giving the kids ample room to run from one end to the other. After they downed their croissants, they raced to a big sculpture on the northern end of the park and began to climb.

As for my friend and I, we lingered over our food, which for the most part made for great picnic fare, especially since Villa Victoria had given us some extra containers to use as plates. The one flaw was that the honey-tamarind dressing on the jicama-orange salad had leaked. No damage, except that there was less dressing to put on the salad, which nonetheless tasted fresh and tart. Of all the items, the knockout dish was the unusual chile relleno. Baked rather than fried, it was less greasy than the norm. And the goat cheese gave it a piquancy and creaminess that made our impromptu picnic seem like a gourmet affair.

 
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