Friday, November 30, 2007
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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. 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.
1815 W 213th St # 235
Torrance, CA 90501
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
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.
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
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.
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.
12217 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Monday, November 26, 2007
Whenever I hit L.A., I always ring up my old movie buddy Jay Video. Like myself, Jay does video assist for motion pictures. Unlike me, he's still working in "The Biz."
Usually, he's working on some movie or another and I'll typically visit with him on the set for a couple of hours. But Jay's a big blues fan and on most weekends you'll find him at Cozy's in Sherman Oaks. We caught up tonight during Cozy's Open Mic night. A collection of blues musicians of different skill levels and ages who jump on stage and jam for a song or two. It's a good time and an interesting tour of those cats who really have their chops down and those kids that think they know how to play the blues, but are really just a hairs' breadth away from rock.
14058 Ventura Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
L.A.'s Home of the Blues
After the madness of splitting the Fat Deal at Fatburger, pizza and much more at Pizzeria Mozza and coffee at Intelligentsia, we decided to check out that most suspicious of ice cream parlors known as Scoops in the Wilshire Center neighborhood.
Suspicious because I've been hearing so much about it. Not just from the ever-sleuthing-for-tasty-places-to-eat Polly, but also from other food industry friends who say it's a "must visit" place while in L.A. Located in what seems to be a pseudo-hipster slash industrial slash blue collar neighborhood, with a lot of construction going on, Scoops is a little place that's bathed in baby pink, a remnant couch and a few kinda modern-ish cafe tables. Tucked away in a corner are some stereo speakers and a collection of DVDs from a failed neighborhood exchange experiment and there's a pull-down projector screen on the back wall that looks it came straight out of an elementary school classroom.
Peter, the guy behind the bar, is a friendly and affable chap who's enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the product. In this surly world of unhappy counter people, it's nice to find someone friendly and more than eager to give you a sample of everything in the case. Luckily, we arrived around dinner time - a traditionally slow time in the frozen dessert world, and we were able to chat, relax, sample, eat, chill, eat more and hang out for a couple hours.
The ice cream selection here changes on a daily basis according the owners' whims. Happily for us, the owner had some nice whims that week. We heard rumors of a bacon flavored ice cream that used bacon fat, as well as a foie gras ice cream that tantalized the mind. Things weren't that wild today but they were good. The Brown Bread was an instant favorite: vanilla ice cream filled with Grape Nuts - deelish.
712 North Heliotrope
Los Angeles,CA 90029
Perhaps burgers are on my mind lately. Or perhaps I'm just on a mission for the Los Angeles Tri-Fecta of burgers. It's probably the latter.
After a brief shopping trip to my old haunt, Location Sound in North Hollywood, Polly and I made our way to the Fatburger in Studio City for a pre-lunch snack. This particular location is of peculiar interest because it was the first and only Fatburger in which I've ever eaten. Once upon a time, I was seriously impressed with their burger and thought it gave the rest a run for their money. I wanted to see if it was more of the same or if those were just romanticized memories of a rose-coloured time in my life.
Since we were due to eat at Pizzeria Mozza in a short time, we opted to split a Fat Deal meal combo of a 1/3 pound Fatburger, thick cut french fries and Dr. Pepper.
I gotta say, it was good. The burger was thick and had good flavor. It took a while to recieve our order but you could tell it was freshly made and the patty itself was hot and the veggies cold. Just look at the tomato - it's pretty darn thick for a fast food joint. The fries were standard frozen fare but they crisped nicely and were a good accompaniment - as long as you had lots of salt and maybe some ketchup. And of course, Dr. Pepper washes it all down nicely.
And it was just as good as I remember - and these aren't rose coloured days...
Fatburger Studio City
10600 1/2 Ventura Boulevard
Studio City, CA 91604
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Whenever I arrive on the west coast, one of my first stops is usually at the local In-N-Out Burger. For years I've held out that In-N-Out is the best burger in America. That it trumps all comers like Sonic, Five Guys, Tommy's Original and Fatburger (even though Fatburger had always given In-N-Out a tough run for the money). Anywhere in California and Nevada, I would make the trek to In-N-Out, no matter how inconvenient or how odd it seemed - like it must have when I visited my old friend Aaron at the Vacaville In-N-Out years ago.
I arrived at the Redondo Beach In-N-Out expected the usual great miracle of freshly ground beef and fantasized about ordering a "Four By Four" - that's four beef patties and four slices cheese: just pure, unadulterated gluttony.
But in reality, I knew that the Double Double was more than enough for me. However my brother Al, with his seemingly unsatiable ability to consume mass quantities of food without my penchant for adding to the waistline, talked non-stop about how the Double Double and Single Single would pair beautifully together. And while I may be a strong man when it comes to pursuing quality, I'm weak when confronted with an In-N-Out pairing. A Double Double and Single Single it would be for me too.
There's something beautifully gracious about an In-N-Out Burger location. Everyone is dressed in sharp whites with red aprons kept neat with large safety pins. Everyone seems happy and friendly. And, most importantly, everyone is busting their butts because the pace is relentless. I'm continually impressed with the workspace and the workflow. Dozens of young people just pounding out burger after burger, fries after fries in a never-ending stream of orders from both the triple registers on the front counter and the incessantly long line in drive-thru. It's amazing and bewildering, all at the same time.
Of course, for most people, it just looks like a bunch of people working. But to me, it's a symphony of workflow. I can't get enough. I want to watch them all day long.
But we're here to eat and our order finally comes up. Three Double Doubles (two "Animal Style" off the secret menu), two Single cheeseburges (one "Animal Style"), three orders of french fries, three sodas and a chocolate milkshake (okay, I couldn't help myself). It was our paean to In-N-Out and cost just over twenty-three dollars.
I don't know if it's just me or my changing tastebuds, but I was a bit disappointed. Making no excuses, the burger patties were on the cold side. The lettuce, pickles, tomatoes and onions were cold but so too were the patties. Bummer.
Then there were the fries, cooked as they always were. Idaho potatoes cut fresh on the fry line then fried until done. Problem with this is that they don't crisp. They're just slightly golden, but limp. There's no contrast in textures. No carmelization of the sugars. No real flavor to jump out at you. Compared to the quick fries we did up on Thanksgiving, these were just that: limp.
The milkshake was okay. The standard Taylor milkshake machine fare you get at most fast food joints. I wasn't expecting more so I wasn't disappointed. I just wish there was a fast food way to make really good milkshakes.
It pains me to write this. It really does because I've been in love with In-N-Out for such a long time. But I can't help but to be disappointed. I wonder how much more the experience would be enhanced if they took the extra time to blanche the fries at low temp before finishing the fries. I long for the patties to be hot. I yearn for the In-N-Out experience of my youth that left me dazed, in wonder and with a burning in my belly to fly out west and gorge at the first In-N-Out on the horizon.
I feel as if that's all changed now, but I hope not. I want to go back and be dazzled and amazed.
Well, at least they had Dr. Pepper...
3801 Inglewood Avenue
Redondo Beach, CA 90278
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Consuming mass quantities seems to be de riguer for this trip to Southern California. Since I arrived, it's been a non-stop cooking and/or eating frenzy that piles meal upon meal and then another meal upon those meals. But in the world of travel, limited time and endless choices, these are the sacrifices that one must make in the interest of widening ones' culinary vocabulary and bringing you, the casual reader, the latest in blog thought and theory.
Tonight we found ourselves at Gardena, California's Sanuki No Sato, a Japanese eatery famous for their soba and udon. It's a traditional-looking place where the staff shouts out an enthusiastic: "Irasshai-mase!" to all comers. For the traditionally-inclined, there are private rooms with tatami mats for traditional floor seating. Not particularly my cup of tea, so we jammed ourselves into a six person booth.
The menu is wide and varied, filled with all sorts of soba and udon concoctions, most of which I am unfamiliar. The menu is so large, it actually takes two of them plus a separate sheet for daily specials. The second menu is filled with dishes that are meant to be shared as a precursor to the noodle dishes. Not wanting to offend their Japanese sensibilities, we happily obliged their flow of eating and started out with some first round dishes.
First up was the very special, but not as expensive as the $150 sea urchin special, o-toro sashimi for $40. Seven slices of delicious, fatty heaven. When viewed up-close and personal, you could see the fat ripples in the strands of tuna flesh. Marvelous. I wanted a full order for myself.
The Lobster Tempura was tasty. The problem with tempura is that you need just the right balance of batter and just the right frying temperature to keep it light, crisp and not soaked with oil. These guys know how to do it right.
We kept things up with sliced Ribeye steak and Piri Fried Chicken, both of which were very tasty. One of the problems with their menu is that so many of the items seemed super tasty and you just wanted to sample them all.
To be honest, I went with what sounded "safe" to me: Tonkatsu Soba. A hot broth soba noodle soup with a side of pork katsu. It was good but I couldn't help but to envy what Polly, Anna and Christian had orderd: Hiyashi Kaisen Soba, a cold soba dish chock full of salmon roe, tuna, yellowfin and other raw sashimi. Even though I wanted a hot soup, I secretly envied their dishes. They chose wisely.
Al went with the Ten-Don, a bowl of hot udon soup, accompanied with tempura, rice and a warm custard that tasted kinda odd to me. Not bad, just odd. Or maybe I'm just not too keen on warm custards.
It was a good night of eating with friends and family. I could write more, but why? The food was tasty and delicious and rather than bore you with more verbage, I'll let the food speak for itself.
Sanuki No Sato
18206 South Western Avenue
Gardena, CA 90248
Before making chilaquiles for our merry band of happy eaters, I needed some last minute ingredients and decided to head to the Torrance Farmers Market.
Like most farmers markets, there are a lot of farmers selling all sorts of wares, but unlike the markets back in Baltimore, it seems like the growing season here never ends. There's California strawberries, tomatoes and just about everything under the sun. All sorts of Japanese vegetables, Chinese vegetables and who-knows-what vegetables - all ready to eat. Dates, prunes, in-season persimmons the size of softballs, apples and more stuff than I even know how to understand.
Of course, we're in California, which is home to many agri-business farms so part of me is a bit skeptical about these November Strawberries, but the rest just looks so fresh. Sheesh, I wish I was here until january so I would have enough time to explore all these ingredients.
On the other end of the farmers market is the side that's really busy: the food court. Here, you'll find the typical market fare of coffee, juices and bread, but you'll also find unique twists, like the tamales vendor or the pupusa lady. There's even roasted corn and savory crepes if you feel in the mood.
In the end, I walked away with some fresh Japanese tomatoes, a bundle of red swiss chard, two cuts of bison ribeye and a dozen eggs.
I wish I had more time in Southern California...
Torrance Farmers Market
Charles H. Wilson Park
2200 Crenshaw Boulevard
Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8am to 1pm
Friday, November 23, 2007
If there's anywhere in the United States that has to have good Mexican food, it's here in Los Angeles. With just over half the people in California of Mexican/Hispanic ethnicity, there's got to be some authentic food because these people have to eat and I cannot imagine that Taco Bell and Del Taco will suffice for that crowd.
With that in mind and a sense of adventure, we made our way to West Los Angeles to check out Restaurante Monte Alban in the citys' "Little Oaxaca" - a strip of Oaxacan style joints on Santa Monica Boulevard just west of the 405 Freeway. The interior is pretty simple. Nothing fancy. Nothing about the interior design really struck a chord. Although the case of pan dulce greeting you as you enter warmed my heart because I felt good things were about to come.
The nice thing about being here in L.A. is that my friends here love to eat. No food is "too exotic" for them. If it's edible, they'll put it in their mouths and who can fault anyone for that? Besides myself, it was Al and Polly. Anna and Christian brought Ian in tow down from Woodland Hills. DJ Un-G and Christine came down from Silver Lake and we had a full table.
The chips and salsa landed on our table right away. These were proper tortilla chips. Thick and freshly fried as they should be. The salsa was a bit thin and runny but had decent flavor.
Since my visit to Mexico City where Senora Garcia had introduced me to the custom of pan dulce before the meal, I've been hooked and was excited to start off with a couple conchas and a pretzel shaped bread with a cup of chocolate con leche. Ah, muy delicioso!
From there, we went right into the first courses of empanada con queso y pollo and a large clayuda, both of which were just delicious.
Main courses different for everyone. I had the Mole Negro, the house specialty and the supposed heart of Oaxacan cuisine. This was the reason I had traveled to West L.A.. The dish is a chicken breast smothered with the mole and served with rice. The sauce was thinner than the mole negro served at Fiesta Mexicana in Baltimore, but the flavor was rich, complex and beautifully balanced. Unfortunately, the chicken breast was over cooked and a bit on the dry side. Luckily, these was enough mole to help cover the dryness up.
While I liked my mole Anna, on the other hand with her Mole Amarillo came to the conclusion tht she really doesn't find mole appealing. I got to sample a bite of her mole and found it to be a bit flat on the flavor. There was richness but nothing about the flavor popped. Perhaps a nice application of salt would help.
Christine ordered the Chilaquiles, which is a favorite dish of mine (and hers as well). These chilaquiles were far different than what we're used to. This one was definitely more brothy and lacked the textural contrast that I prefer in chilaquiles.
Overall, I think everyone enjoyed their first foray in Oaxacan cuisine. Personally, I think it's going to take a few more trips to Oaxacan restaurants before I can develop an understanding and proper appreciation for the cuisine, but so far so good.
Our meal decided for us that I would make chilaquiles the next afternoon for a late lunch and since we missed the opportunity to use the turkey fryer to fry some fresh tortillas, I ended up buying a couple of bags of Monte Alban's very tasty tortilla chips. If only these kinds of chips were easier to source...
Restaurante Monte Alban
11929 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Los Angeles, CA 90025