Friday, November 28, 2008
Los Angeles: 26 Beach
Chicken Curry Pasta - Thai Red Curry simmered with chicken breast, peas and linguini.
It shouldn't surprise me, but it does. Every time I visit Los Angeles I'm continually amazed by the breadth of food this metropolis has to offer. Maybe I'm "too mainstream" but when I think of "L.A." the "hip" places come to mind. Places like Providence, Mozza and Spago. Luckily, Al, Polly and my friends live here so I get to experience an L.A. removed from the hype.
With Mom in tow, we're cruising around Venice Beach visiting more pastry shops, like Jin Patisserie, and seeing just what else L.A. has to offer. It's about 11:30am, which means it's time to each lunch.
Me? I would have gone to places that I know about. Places like Father's Office in Santa Monica or Lilly's on Abbott-Kinney. I never would have thought about the place Polly took us: 26 Beach in Marina Del Rey.
Located on Washington Boulevard, getting into 26 Beach's parking lot can be a bit tricky. As you're approaching the restaurant (by car, with the restaurant to your right), the entrance to the back lot is immediately to the right of the restaurant - which means for us, it's NOW. A hard and quick turn to the right and you squeeze your car down a very narrow lane to a small parking lot in the back. Don't come in too fast because some fool might try to come out the way they came in (wrong), or some L.A. soccer mom is sitting in the middle of lane just because, and you don't want to hit any of the kitchen help as they schlep bags back and forth from the dumpster.
Squeeze into a space and you're good to go. Walk around to the front entrance and all is good.
Polly's Ginger Salmon Salad - Fresh Sauteed Salmon with asparagus, mushrooms in a soy dressing on a bed of greens and cilantro.
The restaurant is divided into two main sections, the sort-of outside part and the inside. The sort-of outside part features ceiling height walls with overhead coverage but is otherwise open-air. The set up and decor is eclectic and funky. To the right is the inside part of the restaurant. It's much more chic looking with supple fabrics, wood furniture, soft lighting and a small bar. Surprisingly, Mom chose to sit in the pseudo outside part of the restaurant.
With a name like 26 Beach, you'd think the name has something to do with the restaurant. Maybe it's on the beach? No. Maybe the address is 26? Nope. I checked their website, but there's nothing there either, but it does state that they're celebrating their 26th year in business. Maybe in 2009 the restaurant will be called "27 Beach."
Once seated, service starts out a bit on the rocky side. Where's our waitress? Maybe a drink order? Who knows what's going on but we sit for at least ten minutes before our waitress comes to greet us and take a drink order. Normally, I'd be a bit perturbed but I'm technically on vacation and I supposedly work in foodservice - I really don't want to get worked up unless something really egregious happens. Plus, I'm with my Mom and I just don't want to make an issue of it. But certainly ten minutes is beyond reasonable.
Finally, our waitress comes and she's nice. I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and guess that perhaps they didn't assign her to our table but she did greet and take the order of the two ladies seated next to and after us before getting to us.
Mom and PB&J Burger - Creamy Skippy peanut butter & Knott's Strawberry Jam.
The menu, like the setting, is eclectic. On the menu are eggs, burgers, salads, Asian noodles and chilaquiles. God knows I would never begrudge a restaurant for offering chilaquiles but to my East Coast eyes, it's kinda odd. But the word is that the food is good so I'm game.
As we look over the menu, Mom surprises me asking about the chilaquiles. I know I have to have them but the only small order of chilaquiles they offer is the sinister sounding "Chilaquiles Diablo" where the menu states: "...if you are afraid of heat, stay away!"
My Mom isn't one to tolerate much in the way of spicy foods. Even black pepper can be too powerful for her. With such a message about the chilaquiles, I'm not worried about her handling it as much as I'm worried about whether or not I can handle it. I decide to go for it anyway and if it's too much, we can order the other chilaquiles that's not as hot.
When it comes, I tentatively give it a taste. It's good. The Diablo Salsa is light and delicious, but there's no heat. I'm sitting there waiting for the late onslaught of heat, pain and endorphins but it never arrives.
Years ago, during one of our paintball trips to win the Canadian National Stockgun Championship, we ate at a Mexican restaurant where we mindlessly ordered the Camarones Diablo. The heat was so intense and searing that I couldn't finish one shrimp. The pain was excruciating and the shame lives with me until today.
I was expecting that level of fire and pain from the chilaquiles but it just wasn't there. I asked Polly to try it. Nothing. Even my Mom, who cringes at the sight of Tabasco from a distance tasted it. Nothing. In fact, she really liked it. It wasn't just me. If my Mom could chow it down, there was no heat in this Diablo Salsa.
We asked our waitress if this indeed was the right order. She assured us it was. Stumped, I reflected back to a dinner we had in the summer at Thai Landing in Baltimore. We ordered some dishes "Thai Hot" just to prove we could but the owner stated up front that he doubted they could deliver because the chiles they had in stock just didn't have the heat. Their kitchen loaded up our dishes with the chiles but in the end, the heat never rose to uncomfortable levels. Tabasco would have been hotter that day.
And I suspect that's what happened with the Diablo Salsa on that day. Devoid of the fatal heat, the flavor was delicious. Mom loved it. It surprised me because I had made chilaquiles on a number of occasions and she never liked it before. Maybe it was too hot. Whatever the case, these chilaquiles were truly delicious with the right amount of crisp offset by the permeation of the salsa.
Moving onto our main courses, Polly had campaigned hard for me to try the Chicken Curry Pasta and I'm glad she did because it was damn good. And I do mean damn good. Rich, nutty tasting red curry on top of pasta with chicken - who would've thought? Oh, it was good. So good. It's thick. It's rich. Oh, heavenly. But there's never enough curry sauce. I had to ask for more. Some to finish the dish and the rest to drizzle over my body and absorb the tasty goodness through as many senses as possible.
Chilaquiles Diablo - tortilla chips pan sauteed in Diablo Salsa with queso seco, mozzarella, red onion, cilantro, guacamole and sour cream.
Polly went for the Ginger Salmon Salad, of which I had a bite (or two). It was good but I've been a bit fatigued with salmon over the past year so I find it hard to get enthusiastic about it.
Mom, swayed by my "suggestion", went with the Peanut Butter and Jelly Burger. It sounds odd. It sounds weird. It even sounds nasty but it's quite unbelievable. Peanut butter, strawberry jelly and a hamburger patty. You need to try it for yourself. Words fail. Sweet? Yes. Savory? Yes. Tasty? Oh yeah, baby.
The rest of our time at 26 Beach went by nicely. Our waitress took care of things and there were no more glitches in service. Sometimes you'd wonder just where she was - especially when I needed a side of the curry sauce, but it wasn't too long before she'd reappear.
Back out onto the parking lot, we were on our way to check out the bakeries of Abbott-Kinney and beyond.
26 Beach Restaurant
3100 Washington Boulevard