Friday, August 22, 2008

Pete's Cafe & Bar

Bleu Cheese Fries

Back in L.A. for the weekend after a whirlwind trip to Hawaii. My flight arrived sometime after 9:30pm and after waiting around for the baggage and going back to my brothers house, it was already pushing 11pm. And we were hungry.

Luckily, there's the Internet and after a barrage of surfing, we decided to ride into L.A. from Hermosa Beach to check out Pete's Cafe and Bar on Main Street. I find it rather odd that a major metropolis would actually have a street called Main. It seems that Main Street should be limited to those quaint and quiet quintessential American small towns rather than the hustle, bustle and grime that is downtown L.A.

On a weekend night, the traffic along the 110 Freeway is happily light and free flowing. It's a testament to the possibility that L.A. would actually be a great place to live - if you could get around this easily. Void of the traffic and congestion, it's amazing that you can cover the distance in less than half an hour.

Located in the heart of the real, downtown Los Angeles, Pete's is a bustling bar with outdoor seating and valet parking (this is L.A. afterall). Once the valet rockets away with Polly's BMW we're whisked away to our corner table and await DJ Un-G's arrival. Across from our table, the ruckus of a Friday night is taking off as the group of girls start to get louder with each passing beverage. Of course, there's a pretty fine looking Filipina girl and I'm enjoying the view.

Fried Calamari Strips

According to the Internet, Pete's is known for their fries. Specifically, their bleu cheese fries. Take some freshly fried fries and pile on some mayonnaise (aioli in Hawaii), fresh herbs and lots of blue cheese and you kinda get the idea. Darn good, I say. Give me more, I say. Please don't stop, I say again.

DJ Un-G arrives and he's ready to drink. His estate in Silver Lake isn't that far from here and it only takes him a few minutes to get here - which explains why he's late. It's one of those things where you live close enough that you don't have to worry about being late, so you hang out and relax and end up late anyway. At least there's good beer on tap.

Next comes the fried calamari strips. They're kind of like calamari french fries. Lightly battered, fried and offered with cocktail dipping sauce. It's basic, simple and tasty.

Mac & Cheese - Vermont sharp white cheddar, asiago, and goat chese with tarragon and a side of mixed baby greens.

Polly's Mac & Cheese arrives and we start to dig in. This is good stuff. It's not the wet and drippy kind of mac and cheese you find at other places. This one is dry and almost crumbly on the inside. The cheese sticks to the macaroni and you dig and dig to your heart's content. I think I need more.

There's a side salad and I wonder why they even bother. Perhaps there's a percentage of the population that actually eats the salad. Perhaps the remaining populace merely looks at it and uses it as a crutch to feel good about themselves eating something so sinful and delectably delightful as mac and cheese.

Lamb Bolognese - pappardelle pasta, braised lamb, tomatoes, garlic and cream.

My Lamb Bolognese arrives and I wonder why I ordered it. I'm already full. But it looks so inviting. Pieces of shredded lamb - delightful. Al dente pasta in a not too heavy sauce - just right. I want to eat it all, but can't.

We continue at Pete's until around 2am. The girls get drunker and louder. They start to dance. It's jiggle me this and juggle me that. Un-G and I are delighted.

Pete's Cafe & Bar
400 South Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013

United 82

The First Class Cabin on United 82.

I'm back on the way to Los Angeles and have scored an upgrade to first class. It's slightly disappointing because I'm traveling alone once again and the food is the exact same meal that we had on the flight out here. Boring.

Since it's the same, there's really not much to write except that United needs to bring back the ice cream cart. Now, dammit!

Salad with ranch dressing and mango cheesecake - again.

More mai tais to smooth the way to L.A.

The filet with asparagus and potatoes.

Starbucks Coffee and mango cheesecake

Helena's Hawaiian Food

The Porn King

All this time, I had been thinking that I wasn't going to be able to eat at my favorite: Helena's Hawaiian Food. When asked about "the" place to go for Hawaiian food, most tourists and locals name Ono's as the place. Not me. Ever since Aunty Helen Kwock had her old joint on North King Street across from the old halau studio, I've been going to Helena's and have never looked back.

Whether it was the old place on King Street or this new place on North School Street, Helena's can only be called rustic, perhaps hole in the wall. It's decidedly so. They've got the same formica tables they've had for years and the same decorations hanging on the wall, with the early 2000s addition of a James Beard Award.

Squid Lu'au

Unfortunately, Aunty Helen is gone now, having passed away last July. With the passing of the matriarch, one might worry that standards might slip, but her grandson, Craig Katsuyoshi, still mans the stove and you know all is well. Aunty Helen is just watching over from a different location now.

Helena's has been making Hawaiian food now for over sixty years. They've got to be doing something right.

We're here today because of The Porn King. It was his birthday recently and while he thought he was supposed to arrive in Honolulu yesterday, he arrived today - and hungry for Helena's. The text message was simple enough: meet at helena's at 10. I didn't need further encouragement.

Lomi Salmon

There's really nothing at Helena's that I haven't liked. It's literally "all good." Just keep the dishes coming. Today's meal is going to be a tasting meal, of sorts. Kalua Pig, Lomi Salmon (with real, honest to goodness chunks of salmon), Squid Lu'au, and my absolute favorite: pipikaula short ribs. Oh, and lots of rice.

It all arrives at once, allowing us to bite and sample to our hearts desire. The Kalua is moist and tender, with just the right amount of Hawaiian salt. The Lomi is chunky with salmon - unlike so many other places where its tomato, onion and the essence of salmon. The squid lu'au is just delicious. Tender, pink pieces of squid stewed with lu'au leaf until milky and sweet. Unreal.

Kalua Pig

But the true piece de resistance is the pipikaula short ribs. Years ago, when I had first moved to the mainland, I tried to convince Craig to take pity on me and share with me their recipe. He refused. Now I long and yearn for these ribs. They're truly something special.

To make, they take thin sliced crosscut beef ribs (like for Korean Kalbi) and marinate. Then they hang the strips from the range hood in their kitchen until dried. Once dried (or perhaps sort of dried) they cut and pan fry until done and serve. Eat the short ribs with a generous amount of chili peppah watah and Hawaiian salt and you believe that there is a God in the Universe. It's amazing. It's sublime. It's true beef perfection. I can't get enough.

Sliced Sweet Onions, Haupia and Alaea Salt.

And apparently neither can The Porn King. He's ordered three additional orders of pipikaula short ribs to take to his staff. Two for the staff and one for the ride back to work. I, on the other hand, order only one serving, but with two scoops of rice for the plane ride to Los Angeles. In my minds eye, I imagine the envious looks of other passengers as I dine on Helena's Pipikaula Short Ribs while they gnaw on some unidentified kind of meat and potatoes. Poor bastards.

The morning is growing long and I'm gonna be late for my flight back to the mainland, but I leave with a pound of shortribs in a plastic bag and the hope for a quick return to Helena's.

Pipikaula Short Ribs

Helena's Hawaiian Food
1240 North School Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817

Problems Of Paradise

I'm eight days into my stay in Honolulu and I've run into a serious problem.

Since my arrival, it's been a non-stop orgy of friends, food, fun and general mayhem. In my mind, I've compiled a list of "must eat" places - many of which I just haven't had the time (or tummy space) to visit. Places like Helena's Hawaiian Food, Curry House Coco Ichibanya, Imanas-Tei, Sorabol or You Hungry?

Meanwhile, it's been a veritable feast of places old, missed and new. Old favorites like Zippy's and Original Pancake House, missed joints like Alan Wong's and new places like Hank's Haute Dogs, Nico's at Pier 38 and Town in Kaimuki.

I've been running mostly with an iPhone, compile that with a general lack of sleep and sobriety and keeping a daily update is nearly impossible. Rest assured, once I return home and download the images, I'll provide a complete overview of the week's activities.