Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve

This is how I welcomed the New Year. Sitting in a chair in a side room while the rest of the world counted down in the other.

I've never been a big New Year's celebrator. While most people on the planet celebrate the change, I think it's time for personal reflection. Where I've been and where I hope to go. Did I live as best as I could live in the past year? Did I live or just merely exist? What do I hope to achieve in the coming year?

Many people make resolutions. I'm not one of those people. Life is about development, discovery and continual self-improvement. That's what I try to follow and it's been an amazing journey so far. I'm looking forward to what life has to bring in 2008.

But I do resolve to visit Mexico more often this year...

Friday, December 28, 2007

I Am What I Eat?

I was sent this quiz by a fellow Firefly - Serenity fan and just couldn't resist trying. Those of you familiar with the show will remember many of the answers to the questions to be directly from the show. It's fun.

It's interesting and while I am sexy, sensual and skilled - with a serious deficiency in the expressing my emotions department, I do not "swing both ways."

Which Firefly character are you?

You are Inara, the registerred Companion. you are sexy, sensual and skilled, yet have trouble admitting to your emotions. You swing both ways.
Take this quiz!

So give it a try and see who you come up as. Of course, if you're not a fan, or know the show, this will be meaningless.

And while it would have been nice to have the piloting chops of Wash, the weapons and killing skills of Jayne, the mechanical genius of Kaylee, the faux-granite disposition of Mal, the reverence of Book, the medical skills of Simon or the psychosis of River, my favorite has always been Inara.

But, I do not "swing both ways."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

El Patron

Chile Rellenos.

I've been wanting to check out the new El Patron Restaurant in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood for a few months now. It's in the old Tony Cheng's Szechuan space and has a commanding position on Charles Street - oh, how I wish I could have landed that spot.

Finally, Cecilia had some time and off we went. The restaurant occupies what at one point in time was a very expansive mansion. We were able to tour the facility and the detail work is amazing - even though it's covered by years and multiple layers of careless painting. Visions of gutting and restoring the place into my own proper residence danced in my head.

But like I said, it used to be a chinese restaurant and the new owners really haven't done much to change that. The main dining room has been given a blue wash that's reminiscent of Frida Kahlo's house in Coyoacan, but that's about it. Everything still reeks of "chinese restaurant" of which even large, mural-sized prints of Pacho Villa cannot hide.

Mole Poblano.

But I'm not here to worry about the decor. I'm here to sample the food. It's the food that's important. Never mind that the decor is disjointed and discombobulated, or that there's only one guy working multiple roles of host, bartenter, waiter and runner. He's a nice enough guy but he's the only one and that's a bit odd.

Of course, there's someone working the kitchen which means that there's a total of two people running this entire place. Granted it's not a huge night. There's myself and Cecilia. A table of four and a table of fourteen that's celebrating their office Christmas. Maybe twenty people on this Wednesday night. The large group has been here for awhile so hopefully that means the kitchen can focus on our meals appropriately.

Tamales with red and green salsa.

I'd been here waiting for Cecilia for about twenty minutes and availed myself of the bar during that time. Being in Mexican restaurant, one should properly imbibe himself of tequila - and I don't want to be a heretic. A few shots of Herradura, an oddly-sized sixteen ounce serving of something passing itself off as sangrita but tasted more like salsa, a basket of thin tortilla chips and I could have waited another twenty minutes.

Once seated, we were off. At first, the menu scared me. Many of things you think are "Mexican" that you find at places like Applebee's are on the menu: burritos, fajitas, and other miscellany that I don't care to remember. I'm guessing those are there to satiate the masses that think they know what they like. Continue to the back of the menu and you find the "traditional dishes.' It's on that brief listing that I'm warmed by the likes of Pollo Culichi, Enchiladas, Pasta Poblana and Pollo Ranchero.

Since there's only two of us, I can't go off and order in the usual manner (everything in sight). Restraint must be the rule of the day and we ordered: Chile Rellenos, Mole Poblano, Tamales and Flan for dessert.


The food was good. Very good. The tamales were two: one in salsa rojo and the other covered in salsa verde. A nice strong corn flavor and just the right amount of spice and heat. Cecilia's family is from Monterrey, Mexico and she found the flavors to be very authentic.

For the main courses, the Chile Relleno was wonderful. Very lightly battered, the pepper was just slightly on the hot side and just delicious. The Mole Poblano was everything I hoped it to be. Sweet, deep, complex and dark. It was just a bit on the thin side, but I really wanted to tear into it harder. Delicate and nuanced. I loved it.

It's hard for me to judge Flan because my mom is a killer Flan baker. Compared to my mom's, this one was thicker. The flavor was good. Light and smooth. But the texture was thick and rich, quite a bit different than the light and delicate, while being very rich, that my mom achieves. It's good. Just different than what I think is the hallmark.

All in all, El Patron is a good place to check out. The food was good. It was authentic. And if you can get past the oddly decorated space, I think you'll enjoy the food.

El Patron
807 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21201
El Patron

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Let it never be said that I don't know how to wrap.

Let's face it, I'm terrible at giving gifts. I never remember birthdays. I hate holidays. As Christmas approaches, I'd rather be in some far-off place than at home where I'm constantly bombarded with Christmas Carols, Jack Frost supposedly nipping at my nose and sleigh bells jingling. Bah! There's no snow here to begin with anyway.

But since it's Christmastime and I'm not usually such a Scrooge and there's one person who I didn't forget, I thought I would get her a present. Something nice. Something thoughtful. Hopefully, something she'll like. But one can only guess. It could be one of those magical moments that make the impression of a lifetime together in blissful happiness. Or, it could be one of those moments that show her I really have no sensibilities about myself, that we're really not in-tune with each other and a symbol of disharmony and discontent because I really wasn't paying attention to her needs and wants afterall.

Sheesh, so much riding on a simple, little gift. It's exasperating. It's nerve-wrecking. It's a wonder man gives woman a gift at all in today's world.

Finding the right gift is quite difficult. You want to say a lot without saying too much. You want to encourage without being pushy. One step too far and you're off to exile. One step too short and you're banished to "The Friend Zone." And you know which step is worse.

Of course, you don't want to go with the lace and zippered crotch panties with matching toy set at such an early juncture. That would be too far. And for the cynics of this blog: No, I did not go with anything like that. Not even Victoria's or La Perla.

However, I will not be disclosing to you, gentle readers, what's in the box. That's for me to know and for her to find out. None of this "I'll see it on the blog and decide if I'm going to banish him" pre-emptive kind of activity, no sir-ee. I will tell you that it is tasteful and (hopefully to her) thoughtful. It certainly took a lot of gnashing of the teeth on my part to figure out. Not to mention a bit of driving around to find just the right one and the right packaging (gift wrap) for it. And then there was the pre-planning to get it there in time for Christmas.

But I'll just leave you with the mental image of me wandering around the aisles at Michael's Arts & Crafts store comparing tubes of gift wrap and rolls of ribbon - looking for just the right thickness, width, sheen and whether I wanted something wire-supported or not...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hammered Textured Damascus

This photo does not do justice.

During my recent trip to New York, I finally got to visit Korin - the specialty purveyor of all things Japanese Cooking. Need that weird pan to cook your pork for donburi? They've got 'em. Need a sushi case in stainless steel that's better than a Hoshizaki? They've got those too. How about those fake, frilly grasses in the front of the sushi case? No problem.

But the true reason to visit Korin is for the knives. Gorgeous, incredible and amazing knives made in the tradition of Japanese sword makers. Steel hammered by master craftsmen and honed to a razor sharp finish that one cut throats but now are delicate enough to slice paper thin layers of tuna.

My main reason for visiting Korin was to purchase some sharpening stones for the Aritsugu Yanagi knife I bought in Tokyo this past summer. Great knife, inept chef (me). After chatting with Jackie, the attractive Chinese girl from New York who spent the past several years teaching English in Japan as part of the JET Program, I decided on the 1000, 5000 and 8000 grit sharpening stones and the basic sharpening DVD (since the master whom I came to see was on his day off).

As I wandered around pondering plate, sushi cases, lotus flower molds and whether that nicely shaped cappuccino cup was indeed 5.5 ounces, I spied the knife displays and locked on the Togiharu Hammered Textured Damascus steel Petty knive. It's absolutely gorgeous. Hammered steel that has those layers and a rich, wood handle. Sexy. Never thought I'd say that about a knife but gosh is it sexy!

Next to it was the matching santoku. Oh, temptation. Craftsmanship this gorgeous makes me quiver in the knees and beg for redemption. It's almost as bad as chasing women. And like the woman, one false or careless move and sliiiice! Your blood is everywhere.

But I was here for a reason and that was to buy sharpening stones for the other knife. With those in hand, I couldn't stop staring at the knives. Then I remembered: it's the holiday season and all knives are 15% off. With prices slashed so low, it would be irresponsible of me not to avail myself of the savings!

You know, I like to posit myself as the stoic, cold-hearted, never fearing, manly man that's as hard as a rock. Never wavering under temptation. But it's a lie. Present a twenty-something girl from Mexico City or sexy Japanese knives in front of me and I turn to mushy goo. I can't say no. I don't want to say no. It would be irresponsible of me to refuse.

Within a few short minutes and a swipe of the black card (the MasterCard, not the Centurion card), I was strolling down Chambers Street with a very heavy plastic bag laden with three sharpening stones and both Togiharu knives...

It would be irresponsible of me otherwise.


About six months ago, one of the hard drives in my Mac started to get wonky. Fearing that I might lose my priceless collection of rare and exotic porn (did I just say that?), I decided to forego the commoners' approach to data storage by replacing that weary drive with two mirror-RAIDed hard drives. What did this mean? It meant that with two drives writing identical data to each, I would not have to worry about losing my precious porn, erm, work files...

Fast forward to present day where I've downloaded hundreds of pictures from my trips to Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. It's a photo documentary of some great eating at places like Metro in Vancouver, in Seattle and Mozza in L.A. Wherever I ate that I didn't shoot with the trusty iPhone, I shot with the Canon 350D. Beautiful images of wonderful food.

The piece de resistance was my trip last week to New York City and the famed per se and Babbo. Glorious images of my triumphant victories.

Until a directory error has removed the files from the RAID drives...

So now, I'm stuck. No photos. No files. But the RAID keeps whirring. It happened a few weeks ago when a folder disappeared and I thought it had been deleted. Suddenly, it reappeared on Sunday night as the photos disappeared. So I'm thinking they're somewhere on the hard drive, I just have to find them.

Fear not, gentle readers. I am determined to recover the files and present to you some of the most exquisite eating I've done all year.

It will be a little while though...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

On The Edge

It's been a long 48 hours.

Just about 48 hours ago, I jumped on the Amtrak to New York City for a 24 hour nearly non-stop food and eating tour. Prior to boarding the 1:47pm train to New York, I grabbed a ham and cheese sandwich at the train station, chips, diet Pepsi (ugh) and a package of Tastykake Chocolate Cupcakes. Once in New York, there would be a Sabrett hot dog just outside of Pennsylvania Station, a cup of Red Mountain Papua New Guinea coffee at Cafe Grumpy, an exquisite dinner Thomas Keller's per se, a lox and cream cheese toasted everything bagel at Ruthie's, espresso and an americano at Ninth Street Espresso, sharpening stones and knives at Korin, a baked char siu bao at Mei Lai Wah and then an early dinner at Mario Batali's Babbo before jumping on the train back to Baltimore.

Once back in Baltimore it was another late night at Woodberry Kitchen filled with more char siu bao and some peking duck I had brought back with me before heading home at 3am. Up at 8am to open The Spro and I'm just completely exhausted...

Friday, December 14, 2007


Scenes from the window seat on the 8:20pm Acela Express train from New York to Baltimore. A nice trip. Not too crowded but I should have known the "Quiet Car" was in the front (and not the back like on the regional trains.).

Next time: Acela First Class...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Chug Chugging Along

An okay ham and cheese sandwich with a not okay diet Pepsi on the regional train to New York.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Legally Closed

"The Berlin" and the three types of calamari: Regular, Rhode Island and Thai styles.

Baltimore's Legal Sea Foods will be closing.

That's the word from Nikki about the famous Boston restaurant's Baltimore outpost. They lost their lease and they're going to be out. Soon.

Perhaps it's a good thing then that we ventured to this national chain restaurant (or perhaps not). Legal Sea Foods has an interesting foot note in my life history. Back in 2003, while visiting Boston, I asked a bunch of locals where to go for great "New England Clam Chowder." I wanted the definitive experience. Everyone kept saying "go to Legal." Hmmm.

Here's my problem: I have a hard time going to a chain restaurant at home. Much more when visiting a different city. If I wanted to go to Legal Seafood, I would go to the one at home. It would be like going to Bangkok and only eating at the Cheesecake Factory there. Lame. I don't care that Legal started in Boston. There's got to be some small joint making fabulous chowder and I intended to find it. Which led us to a whole different adventure that I won't go into here.

On Nikki's recommendation: my sample platter of wild salmon, mahi mahi and tuna, topped with scallops.

"The Berlin" was in town on business and after a few terse moments considering Phillips at Harborplace (I am not a fan) and not wanting to leave the downtown area, I suggested Legal or McCormick & Schmick's as options and off to Legal we went.

It's been years since I had been to Legal Sea Foods and it wasn't bad. Not too inspired, but not bad. The three tastes of calamari were pretty tasty, the chowder was just okay and my sampling platter of mahi mahi, tuna and wild salmon was very tasty. Not to the point that I'm dreaming of returning, just good food nicely done.

It was a nice time with an old friend, some good food, interesting chatter, and Nikki even gave me her phone number.

When it rains, it pours...

"The Berlin's" Signature Crab Cake dinner.

Legal Sea Foods - Baltimore (CLOSED)
100 East Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Postcards From Croatia

At the Wing East complex, Shinagawa Prince Hotel, Shinagawa, Tokyo, Japan
From left to right: Salvador, Ana, Francis (in back), Yours Truly, John (just the hand), Nik and John.

Received a bunch of photos over the weekend from Croatian Barista Champion Nik Orosi from our trip to Tokyo this summer. Well, they were mostly photos of Ana and me - okay, they were only of Ana and me, which was very cool. It's interesting to see pictures of yourselves together that you haven't seen before. Reminds me of certain things that happened and brings back the best memories.

While I won't be sharing any of those with you, the Gentle Readers, I thought I would share this group shot on our last night together in Japan. This was taken before the World Barista Championship Barista Party (I can tell because everyone looks sober). We had spent the last five days together and formed new friendships. By morning, everyone would be getting ready to leave Japan and would be heading back to our lives.

There's a special bond of camaraderie that comes from waging war for a common goal. Each barista champion (and their coaches) wanted to win the title and each of them worked very hard in their attempt. None of them came home with the world crown but I thnk we came away with something more: friendships.

Viewing this photo is a bit melancholy for me because chances are that all of us will never be together as a group ever again in our lives. It was just this one moment in time that we would share as a group of friends.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Service Included

In anticipation of this weeks' dinner at Thomas Keller's Per Se in New York City, I stopped by Borders yesterday and picked up Phoebe Damrosch's Service Included, a 226 page tome detailing her year working for one of America's top restaurants.

For me, it's an interesting book. A glimpse into the world of Per Se and The French Laundry. How they do things. The way they think. What makes them "the best." So enthralled I was to read this book that I powered through it and finished it just a few minutes ago. For those interested in the inner-workings of a fine dining restaurant, this book offers that insight and that's where it's strength lies.

However, the latter portion of the book details her burgeoning relationship with Andre the sommelier. At first, it's little details but by the last two chapters, it's entirely about their relationship, their trip to Vermont, their time in a Central Park West diner and the weight of being given a key to his apartment - mostly topics that only hardcore New Yorkers care about and a complete diversion from the core of the book.

Prior to that, it's chock full of insight and stories from Per Se. The training leading to the opening. The trials of the "Friends and Family" dinners. Problematic and quirky customers. The burning down of the house during its' first week of service. For those interested in service, these early chapters are worth the book alone.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tortilleria Sinaloa

Tamal de Pollo y Carne Asada Taco for Spike.

Down on Eastern Avenue, immediately east of Broadway, is Tortilleria Sinaloa, an authentic Mexican tortilla shop where the tortillas are made fresh and a place that I trek to at least once every two weeks for my stock of fresh corn tortillas and freshly fried tortilla chips.

Today, Spike and I also made it our lunch stop and it was as tasty as always. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

My Tacos de Carnitas and Tacos de Cabra.

The Pozole.

Balto Moco?

After braving the first snowstorm of the year by making kettle korn, we headed back to Woodberry Kitchen where I promptly ordered this "Baltimore Style Loco Moco."

If you're unfamiliar with Loco Moco, it's a Hawaii favorite that consists of steamed white rice, a hamburger patty and a fried egg, all covered in brown gravy. It's delicious if not nutritious and I was in the mood for one.

Of course, restaurants here aren't really equipped to make Loco Moco on the fly but I'm desperate and open to improvise. One order of the pan fried rice (hold the fried egg), one order of hamburger patty cooked medium, stack the patty on the rice and top with the egg. No gravy? Oh well, salt will have to do and what I ate is what you see above. Yum.

Counting In Fives

Something strange in numbers of 5 are happening at The Spro...


While I enjoy spending my time reading, researching and eating good food, sometimes "good food" means something a little more "down home." A little more like you ate when you were young. Today was one of those mornings.

Not too far from my house in Cockeysville is the Ashland Cafe. It's a greasy spoon kinda place that serves breakfast all day, has daily specials no more than ten bucks, keeps tasty fried chicken in a warming cabinet, offers Lotto tickets and the ubiquitous "Greek Specialties" that all East Coast diners seem to have. It's been there for years and if you're not seated by 8am Sunday morning, it's going to be a long wait as the place is packed on weekends.

This morning I was in the mood for some American breakfast so off to Ashland I went. They've upgraded the place over the years and while the environs are warm country, it's just a simple eatery with a suspended train track running the perimeter of the small dining room. This past summer, they did some work on part of the exterior and I believe they created outdoor seating in the vacant lot next door, but I haven't eaten in that part.

The coffee here is the typical weak dreck you find in most diners but it's oddly comforting. Add some sugar and a good helping of cream and it's passable - as long as there's a pancake to go with it. My breakfast this morning consisted of their Ham & Cheese Omelet, one pancake, side order of french fries (for texture, of course) and an order of toast (that came with the omelette).

If I was in some sort of "nice" restaurant, I would probably be aghast as the omelette but here, it's perfect. The scrambled egg (most probably from a box) were rudimentary but pan burned brown, the ham was nothing special and the cheese was those yellow American cheese slices that are found in almost every refrigerator. It was decidedly low-brow and blue collar, but damn was it good. Seems that everything tastes good with a serious helping of American cheese on top. Slather some hot sauce over the omelette and it's just brilliant.

The fries were frozen shoestring and done to a nice crisp. Nothing fancy. The toast was a deep brown just as I like it and slathered with butter (again, as I like it). That's a point of note: it's such a treat when the kitchen has taken the time to pre-slather your bread with butter and it comes out melted and dripping. Lovely. None of this messing with cold pats of butter and trying haphazardly to spread it on - especially after it's had a few moments to cool on the trip from the kitchen to your table.

The pancake was nicely done. Soft, airy, fluffy and chewy. Layer on some butter and pour the imitation maple syrup on heavy and you're good to go.

It wasn't "fine dining" but it certainly was soul dining.

The Ashland Cafe
10810 York Road
Cockeysville, MD 21030

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

More Fiesta Mexicana

Totopos - nicely done with "real" tortilla chips. Gracias a Dios.

Carne de Res y Queso Quesadilla

My favorite: the Enchilada de Mole.

I Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny

Freshly shucked Rappahannock Oysters at the ready.

If anyone asks me about this in person or outside of this posting, I will deny, deny, deny and my answer will be:

"I have no recollection."

Perhaps I too can become President of the Unted States...

Someone I know came up to someone else I know to ask if this person knew anything about a secret gathering of professionals cooking for each other in some sort of culinary free-for-all. I don't know anything about something like that.

I can neither confirm or deny...

But somehow, I remember having this dream about meeting a few people who worked a big kitchen and made some really fun and interesting dishes. It was a dream that lasted until four in the morning.

Can't really recall the details but I woke up the next morning exhausted and with the sudden knowledge that I now knew how to shuck oysters.

Fresh Ogo flown in from Hawaii.

Rappahannock Oyster with aPonzu Ginger granita topped with Ogo.

Rappahannock Oyster with Portuguese Sausage and smothered in an 'Inamona (Kukui Nut) Cream reduction.

Australian Blue Shrimp with pomegranites, carrots and more.

Ahi Tuna Skewers

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Eating Not So Well In Cockeysville

The heavily fried pasteles

I had been hearing rumors about a new Latin market called La Favorita in Cockeysville for some time. Even though I live in the area, my usual path of travel doesn't take me to that part of Cockeysville so I hardly venture there. Anna (of the Library fame not of Mexico fame) recently told me that there was also a new restaurant a couple of doors down and I knew I had to check it out.

I try to favor and patronize small, independent restaurants. It's important to me to support the local businesses and Maria de Los Angeles is definitely small and local. The interior is typical "I've only got a microscopic buget so let's see what we can do" kind of decor. It's just a bunch of stuff gathered together. Nothing matches but there's a large jukebox and television running Univision non-stop.

Unlike what Anna had thought, it's not a "Mexican restaurant" but rather an El Salvadorean restaurant. The menu is simple and basic and the cooking is, well, home-y. Home-y as in the food was like your hapless uncle cooked it kind of home-y and not of the "this reminds me of grandma's cooking" kind.

For my meal, I ordered the pastele which is something I thought was Puerto Rican in origin but is sort of an empanada kind of creation but instead of using masa as the "breading", it uses ground plantains. The Puerto Rican version is steamed in banana leaves while this version is deep fried and served with a tangy cabbage salad. All in all, it's kinda salty and not very well executed. It was definitely fried with a heavy hand.

More heavily fried pork chops. A shame.

Being unfamiliar with El Salvadorean food, I admit that I went for the "safe" item by ordering the fried pork chops. I mean, I like pork and I like stuff that's fried. Pretty safe stuff, I thought.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. It's been a long time since I've been dissatisfied with a fried pork chop but this was definitely one of them. Again, the chops were fried with a heavy hand. Seems to me that these were the same thin cut, cheap chops one finds at the local Shoppers Food Warehouse for sixteen cents a pound. Small and fried to a crisp and just a bit more than salty, they were served with liquid-y beans, perfunctory rice and corn tortillas. Actually, the tortillas were the highlight of the meal, they were pretty darn good.

Maria de Los Angeles
558 Cranbrook Road
Cockeysville, MD 21030

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Jane, Stop This Crazy Thing!!!

There's nothing like eating meat. It can be deep, savory, complex and delicious. It has a texture that no vegetable can ever match - no matter how much tofu you add. I'm not afraid to stand up and be counted amongst the meat eaters of the world.

It was Vanessa's birthday and the decision was made to celebrate her 31st at the new Fogo de Chao Brazilian Churrascaria in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. I had been to the Atlanta Fogo de Chao back in 2004 to celebrate Bronwen Serna's victory at the United States Barista Championship and remember it with fond memories. Now it was time to see if today's reality matches yesterday's memories.

The Clan had gathered once again, occupying a table 16 strong. Most restaurants might balk at such a large party, but no Fogo. They can seat 300 in their dining room and one of the servers told me tonight they would seat about 1200 guests. At $48 a person, that's a minimum revenue just shy of $60,000. For one night.

Not a bad business to be in.

Of course, tonight was a little bit different. The Army-Navy Game was in town at Ravens Stadium which mean absolute pandemonium. I typically hate going out to eat on a Friday or Saturday night and as I pulled up to the valet (or tried to), I remembered exactly why I hate eating out on Friday and Saturday nights. Everyone, their mother, their grandparents, and their sister's best friend's cousin's uncle is out on the town eating as well. Crap.

But I try to be an affable chap and decided to go with the flow. So after a fifteen minute wait for a valet attendant to attend to my chariot, into the restaurant I went.

Inside was also pandemonium. To say the place was packed would be an understatement. Packed and loud. People were everywhere. It was a mad house. I wanted to run. I thought about leaving. But the sign by the door that read: "Please allow our valet attendants 20 minutes to retrieve your car" meant that I was staying.

Besides, I was hungry.

One thing about Fogo is that you should never leave hungry. It is consuming mass quantities of food on a whole new level. Turn your green/red marker over to green and the chefs swarm over you with their swords of meat. For the uninitiated, it's an impressive sight. Hot, glistening meat on large, metal skewers arrive at your table in a continuous wave. Eat as much as you want because there's always more.

There's a decent salad bar in the middle of the main dining room and we headed over to investigate. Unfortunately, so was half the restaurant, which meant a very long line. I hate lines. Oh well, screw the salad, I'm going green!

Back at the table, with my marker set to green, the meat started flowing. At first a trickle. Nice. I can keep up with this. Then, suddenly, a wave. I'm swimming. Hard. The meat is piling. I can't swim fast enough.

I turn the marker back to red, but sitting next to me is Rod, who has his marker still set to green, so the meat still keeps landing on my plate. I have to wave the red side at the people and wave them off of me. I need to slow down. I need to rest. Marissa and them haven't returned from the salad bar and I'm already in danger of being full. And we've only been here for ten minutes.

Fogo de Chao offers fifteen types of meat. Mostly beef, but there's pork and chicken available as well. Much of the meat is just okay. Not enough salt or seasoning, so by the time the chef cuts into the meat for your portion, it just tastes kinda bland. Kinda gray. What you want are the outer cuts that have been seared by the fire. That's where the flavor is.

The standout meats were the sausage and the bacon wrapped filet and bacon wrapped chicken. Seems that anything wrapped in bacon is going to taste better. The chicken legs always came out searingly hot, which is a plus, and had good flavor. The rest of the beef was kinda benign and uninspired. None of the main beef cuts really stood out for me.

If you don't attack the salad bar (which is just filler anyway), they drop on the table platefuls of mashed potatoes, fried dough balls and a polenta-like thing. All of them are pretty good, although I thought the fried dough was a bit oily.

In spite of the place being packed, loud and generally very loud (I know I said that already, but it was LOUD). I had a good time. It's really hard not to have a good time when The Clan has gathered. What's the latest gossip? Who's the biggest fuckup? Who's serious about moving to Barcelona? Is Tilly really going to start her sex toy-related business? Who's next for a pregnancy? Some stuff I can relate to, other stuff I can't.

The staff is helpful, talkative and at times, funny. Many of them are actually from Brazil, which is a nice twist.

Dessert finally came and I ordered the Strawberry ice cream. It was nothing special. Had I been dining alone, I probably would have thought it outright sucked. It was loose, melted and generally so-so. Tilly had the cheesecake - that was so-so, as well.

In the end, our bill came out just shy of fourteen hundred dollars, including tip. Certainly, not the best meal I've had for $85 but not the worst.

Fogo de Chao
600 East Pratt Street, Suite 102
Baltimore, MD 21202

Friday, November 30, 2007

Love In The Time Of Cholera

Catalina Sandino Moreno and Giovanna Mezzogiorno as the cousins Hildebranda Sanchez and Fermina Daza.

After arriving from Los Angeles today, I rushed out to the movies to see Love In The Time of Cholera, the tale of two lovers and their fifty-one year journey to be together. I had just finished Gabriel Garcia Marquez's book on the flight home so the timing was perfect. Perhaps I was a bit tired to go to the movies, but I refuse to watch movies on the weekends and since the theatre was only screening the film at 10:20pm and new movies were opening tomorrow (it was Thursday night), I figured chances were good they were going to pull the film and I wouldn't get to see it.

I arrived to an absolutely empty theater about fifteen minutes prior to the scheduled time, and it stayed empty. It was like my own private screening. It was beautiful. If I had brought a girl along with me, who knows what kind of trouble we could have gotten into. It's one thing to make out at the movies, but a private screening opens up so many more possibilities. God must know my nefarious ways and that's why he's conspired to place such distance between me and Mexico City.

It would be redundant to go into details about the film and give my "review" but I enjoyed it. It stayed relatively true to the book, even though it did take some large liberties and it was unfortunate that so much of the exposition in the book that gave so much life an texture to the story were unable to be captured in the film. Of course, there's only two hours so it's tough.

I just hope that I won't have to wait 51 years, 9 months and 4 days before I can declare my love again like Florentino Ariza...

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Fly trusty steed! Onward to my destiny with Drew Barrymore!

Here it is. November Four Niner Zero Uniform Alpha. The United Boeing 757 that was going to carry me to Eternal Glory (or at least until the end of 2009).

I was about to reach a milestone. 50,000 miles within one calendar year. Depart Los Angeles in that airplane and I would arrive in Baltimore a Premier Executive member. Exciting.

I had been a Mileage Plus Premier member for about six years back in the late 1980s to mid 1990s when I was still living in Honolulu and flying back and forth. Just three trips a year and I was guaranteed to hit the 25,000 mile mark for Premier. But I had never made the Executive Level.

For the past ten years or so, I had been flying with whomever gave me the cheapest rate. Then, in 2005, I realized again that I was wasting all those miles flown and decided to use primarily United and Star Alliance airlines to rebuild my former glory. With my travels to Africa and across the United States, I started threatening to make Premier and on the way to Tokyo in July, I made it once again. Suddenly, upgrades that were previously unavailable to me were being offered. No more paying for Economy Plus seats, they were on the house. There was a crispness to my step that wasn't there before and the cute front counter girls started giving me bigger smiles and offering me backrubs.

Since I'm not part of club, rumors abound. I was turned away from the USAirways lounge because I wasn't a "Gold Card" holder (Premier only has a silver card) and told that had I had the Gold Card, I would have been welcomed. Premier has its' perks, but only Executives were welcome here.

So what does one get when he's flown 50,000 miles over the past year?

The website says I get access to an exclusive phone number to take care of my needs. Priority check-in so I can avoid all the families and tourists loaded down with kids, luggage and too many hand carry baggages. Economy Plus seating. Waitlist priority so that I can bypass the schmoes who think they're flying standby ahead of me. And complimentary upgrades that will propel me into First Class and next to that young starlet who won't be able to keep her hands off of me and invite me to join the Mile High Club.

So maybe next time you see me it will be just a quick glimpse of me on the other side of the curtain, laughing, cavorting and spilling champagne over Drew Barrymore's shirt while she feeds me spoonfuls of osetra caviar.

I think I'm looking forward to the Executive life...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Last Supper at Versaiiles

The Spread: Puercos Fritos with fried plantains, rice, black beans and french fries.

Tonight is the last supper in Los Angeles and we're at Versailles Cuban Food in Manhattan beach with Al, Polly and Laila. In a way, I'm sad to leave family, but I'm also looking forward to this eating binge disguising itself as a working holiday. We haven't done anything except eat since I arrived - which explains so much about Mario Batali.

I'd seen Versailles during my May visit to L.A. and tonight we were in the mood. We got there kinda late (about 9:30pm) and the staff didn't look too happy to see us - especially since it was a slow night and they were probably ready to get the fuck outta there. Happily, another table of four came in a few minutes after us so, if there was any spitting going on in the kitchen, it would be on their food and not ours - I just needed to make sure our food was ordered and fired ahead of theirs.

Lomo Salteado

The food at Versailles is standard Cuban fare and while I'd like to think i've had a bit of experience with Cuban food, I have to admit it's pretty limited, and probably pretty stereotypical. Heck, I probably couldn't tell you a traditional Cuban dish beyond the sandwich.

As typical of our eating adventures, the spread was large. Polly went with the Carne Asada, Al ordered the Cuban Sandwich, Laila ordered the Lomo Salteado and I went with the Puercos Fritos. We started off with some Jamon y Queso Croquetes that were inattentively fried and came out on the dark side. The texture and flavor were perfunctory and nothing to rave about.

I was able to sample a little of the Carne Asada and Lomo Salteado, again just decent cooking, nothing that blew me away. Although I was surprised to see the Lomo Salteado on the menu, having only known that as being a Peruvian dish, but that just goes to show you how much I know about Cuban cuisine.

Cuban Sandwich. Could have used more pickles.

My Puercos Fritos were actually pretty darn good. Slightly on the salty side and the vinegar based sauced only heightened the acidity and saltiness of the dish, but I quite enjoyed it. One problem with the dish, and perhaps its' really my problem is that I noticed what looked like fried fat to me hunked on the back of the plate. I figured these were extra fatty pieces of meat and reserved those for last. When, after consuming all the pork, I reached those pieces, I realized that they weren't fried fat, they were fried plantains! Crap. I tasted them. Yum. Sweet and delicious. Shit, they would have been the perfect counterbalance to the salty fried pork! And I had finished it all! Screwed.

Once again, foiled by my own ignorance.

Carne Asada.

All in all, the food was decent. Again, nothing to march the streets over, just decent cooking at a decent price. And in many ways, you really can't ask for more than that!

Now I'm ready for that flight home.

1000 North Sepulveda Boulevard
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

Chicken Katsu Curry

L&L's Chicken Katsu Curry Mini Plate with French Fries and Curry on the side where it belongs.

Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, a place in Honolulu called I Love Country Cafe quietly started serving a dish called Chicken Katsu Curry. Their version featured the ubiquitous chicken katsu (an island variation on a Japanese tradition) smothered in a brown curry sauce over two scoops of brown rice and a green salad. It was the "healthier" version of the typical Hawaiian plate lunch.

Fast forward to today and it seems that every plate lunch joint has incorporated this dish into their menu - to the point where I think a new generation has grown up in Hawaii (and elsewhere) thinking that Chicken Katsu Curry is as "Hawaiian" a plate lunch as is Kalua Pig and Lau Lau.

So, whenever I visit Honolulu (or the West Coast), I try to make a point of it to stop at a favorite plate lunch joint. Beyond all others is the now ubiquitous L&L Drive Inn, also known on the mainland as L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. Now, how "barbecue" and "plate lunch" has become synonymous with each other is only known to the mind of Eddie Flores (the owner of L&L). What was once a couple plate lunch joints on Oahu is now a multi-state franchise that reaches all the way from Hawaii to 64 Fulton Street in New York City.

I've been in L.A. now for over a week. I used to come here a lot for work, both when I worked in the movie and paintball businesses. It's nearly a second home for me. I was even invited to join The Grand Havana Room in 1995 when it first opened. Because of this, being in L.A. is really like being at home - kinda boring. What's there to do? What's there to do at home? Exactly! Nada. The only thing there really is to do of interest is eat, so off to L&L I go.

The Hawthorne branch of L&L is an average sized plate lunch place with all the usual menu items. The biggest problem with L&L is their exclusivity with Pepsi. I abhor Pepsi and refuse to drink it. But I'm here for the curry.

When visiting any L&L beware of the serving sizes. Their plate lunch is huge. I can't finish it. And if I do, I'm hating myself for it. It's a monster. Better to go with the "mini plate" that consists of less meat, one scoop of rice and one scoop of macaroni salad. It's much more manageable and still quite filling.

Everything is prepared as expected. There's no surprises here. It's fried food galore and nicely done. Good thing I got the curry sauce on the side because one bite reminds me that I hate L&L's curry sauce. It's this yellow muck that's just lame on flavor. Their tonkatsu sauce would have been the better choice. Did I say their curry sauce sucks? I did? Well, let me say it again: I hate their curry sauce. It's just nasty. Mostly coconut milk with some coloring and very little flavor to make it pop. After a few bites, I abandoned the sauce altogether and stuck with the Tabasco.

I'm a texture freak. Which means that I love all sorts of textures while eating. The crunchy batter of the katsu, the pillowy softness of the rice, the spice of the Tabasco, the chewiness of the macaroni and the crispiness of french fries. The truth is, like rice, I can eat french fries with anything. It's my addiction. It's my version of crack cocaine. The L&L version is typical Sysco-style frozen crap but it does the job.

One thing I've learned over the years is that while L&L may be everywhere, it's really just perfunctory in quality. Whether you're in Hawaii or on the West Coast, there's typically some other plate lunch joint that's doing it better. When I'm back in Honolulu, I prefer You Hungry? In Vegas, I prefer Ohana's Hawaiian Barbecue, and in L.A., I'm starting to prefer Bruddah's. Conversely, when I'm in a pinch (or in Washington state or New York City) and I need my plate lunch fix, L&L fits the bill.

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
5257 West Rosecrans Street
Hawthorne, CA 90250

Ramen, Ramen, Ramen

Ramen. Such a fighting word. Beyond the freeze-dried stuff you buy at the grocery store for fifty-nine cents that passes itself off as "ramen," there exists a world flavor, texture and delight that no amount of hot water poured into a styro cup can ever satisfy. This is the world of real ramen. That Chinese-derivative Japanese noodle soup that inspires legions, forms the basis of movies and causes brothers to battle. The line between miso and shoyu is deep and one does not cross sides lightly.

The beauty of Southern California is its' pockets of life in the form of ethnic communities. While Mexican food abounds through most of Los Angeles, a visit to Gardena or Torrance reveals a strong, East Asian (namely Japanese) world. And nestled in this community is the Mitsua Marketplace - a warehouse sized building filled with a food court, shops and grocery store chock-full of Japanese foods and items. Need a book on Nobu Style? They've got it. Shiseido cosmetics? They've got it. Some weird kitchen contraption? No problem. Salty toothpaste? Yes! Pocky sticks? Of course. Tonkatsu? Hai!

Within the food court is reputedly one of Los Angeles' best ramen stands. It's a relatively simple operation that features a model menu you can point to, or a written menu in Japanese that you can also point to. Al and Polly had been here many times before and knew of my prediliction towards ramen and decided that I had to check it out before leaving.

I went with some pretty standard fare, shoyu ramen (that's a soy sauce based soup) with sliced pork, sliced fish roll and seaweed, with a hard boiled egg and a boil of rice and salmon roe. Al ordered almost the same thing, except his ramen had a different soup base and his rice bowl had pork instead of fish eggs.

It was good stuff. The noodles, which is the heart of the soup and the broth its' soul, were really reminiscent of Chinese saimin noodles: thin, squiggly but chewy. The broth was delicious, delicate and refined with just a lingering flavor of soy sauce. The salmon roe was fresh and popped in the mouth with a delicate saltiness. I'm a big fan of hard boiled egg with my ramen, so I was excited that mine came with one. This one was properly cooked but the outer skin was brown as though it had been steeped in tea for quite some time. Whatever flavoring what used turned out to be too delicate and disappeared under the flavor of the ramen.

In all, a good meal and a great place to shop. If only I lived there, I could have gone to town in the grocery store. Although I did pick up several Japanese cookbooks - including one titled: Nobu Style.

Mitsua Marketplace
1815 W 213th St # 235
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 782-6800

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


His and Hers Chili Cheese Hot Dogs at Pink's.

The very first time I went to Pink's this past May, I had to wonder what all the fuss was about. My bacon, chili and cheese hot dog was absolutely disgusting. Too much sodium and just too much crap - and when I say "crap", I mean shitty ingredients. I resigned myself not to go back. Ever.

But Laila wanted to go since she had never been and we were in the midst of a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles. Mind you, it was me, the schmoe from Baltimore, giving the tour to the girl who grew up in Southern California - an interesting and funny turn of events. We started on our tour shooting a segment on Hollywood Boulevard in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre for the video I'm shooting. From there, it was through Melrose, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Westwood and then back to Hollywood for Pink's.

Like the last time I was here, there was almost no line, so there was none of this "I waited in line for one hour" kind of nonsense that I hear from so many people about the place. Like everywhere in Los Angeles, Pink's is lined with headshots of celebrities famous, once were famous and not so famous. Good thing I didn't actually see a "celebrity", I might have puked.

Laila goes to town on her Pink's.

After my last visit, I was prepared not to order a hot dog, but Laila insisted that she didn't want to eat alone. The Chili Cheese Dog was pretty interesting. A thin hot dog that's longer than the bun with a slice of yellow American cheese, chili and onions. It wasn't too cold outside, so we found a table in the back patio and went to town. It wasn't as bad as before. Less salt and a bit more flavor. But I guess you don't eat a hot dog expecting something gourmet. It's down home street food and for that, it was pretty decent.

But I still prefer the Sabrett hot dogs in New York City.

709 North LaBrea Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Homer Simpson Loves Warm Sushi Rice

Probably the most reassuring sign in a sushi restaurant ever.

Evidently in the world of sushi restaurants, there is a division between those who serve their nigiri with warm sushi rice and those who serve it with cold sushi rice. I don't know whether this divide exists in Japan but, according to Al and Polly, it does (at least in Los Angeles).

Personally speaking, I find most of the sushi prep in Maryland to be abhorrent and the distinction between warm and cold sushi rices is something that is just not on the radar. While I prefer the rice to be warm, I guess I've subconsciously given up on it. So when they said we were going to an Edo or Old Tokyo style of sushi with the warm rice, I was ready. With Polly, Anna, Baby Ian, Al and Laila in tow, we made our way to West Los Angeles for the famed Sushi Echigo.

Perhaps they were looking to secure a cheaper rent, but Sushi Echigo is located on the second floor of a strip mall on Santa Monica Boulevard, just west of the 405 Freeway. It's kinda odd and kinda cheesy in its' location but once you walk in, there's a sign that reassures even the most jaded of souls. It reads: "No salad, soup or cooked stuff." Wonderful.

Freshly grated wasabi and pickled ginger.

For our meals, we opted for the omakase or tasting menu. Basically, we left it up to the sushi chefs to choose for us. And choose for us they did. Again, it would be a waste of verbage to write too much about this meal. Quite simply, I thought it was wonderful. The fish was fresh. The fish was tasty and some of it out of the box. That's a plus in my book.

On the wall is a board of specials. I couldn't resist ordering a round of Kumamoto oysters and sea urchin. Beautiful. The urchins were so sweet and delictable. I wanted more.

We also had a moment of star gazing when I noticed one of the guests drawing on the back of one of the servers' shirt. Turns out that Matt Groenig and his family were also enjoying sushi and gave the servers a couple of Simpsons drawings as a souvenir. I thought about asking for the same, but since I wear black shirts, it was kinda pointless.

I'll let you enjoy the photos and not the verbage.

Albacore tuna sashimi with miso sauce.






Skipjack tuna.

Black Snapper.

Matt Groenig.


Blue Fin Crab Roll.

Sea Urchin and Kumamoto Oysters.

12217 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 820-9787