Thursday, December 31, 2009

Imperial Beach Blues

What better place to ring out a dismal decade and ponder on the potential mishaps of the next than isolated Imperial Beach. Situated between the Tijuana estuary to the south and the Silver Strand to Coronado on the north, IB maintains a certain ragtag charm not wholly unlike a few other nostalgic San Diego beach enclaves. During the holiday festivities I accompanied El Guapo (who was a teenage resident here), K, and Swan to Ye Olde Plank Inn (daily 6AM-2AM) located directly across from the expansive playa. The Plank doesn't serve food so we all settled into pints at the "most south-westerly bar in the United States." Built in 1882 as a stable, and operated as a watering hole for the past 50 years, this is a place where we witnessed the barkeep phoning to have a regular (who had a passing resemblance to the late Capt. Lou) get picked up dead pissed shortly after our arrival at noon. Stepping back into the sunshine, we hit the next stop on our itinerary: the celestial and time-warped Stardust Donut Shop. Commanding a busy corner of CA 75 and 7th st. for the past 42 years is a spacewalk when you make the most asombroso (yet donut sized) cinnamon rolls in the known galaxy. The two gruff and gray haired hermanos (who I have dubbed team gemini) that run this stand may look a lot alike but can easily be told apart by a discerning eye. The 'short-order cook' looking gentleman (in this case Pollux) seems to manage the register and the tedious demands of human folk, while the more introverted and 'prog-rock' appearing fellow (in this case Castor) tends to the vats and overall quantum mechanics. As always, muchas gracias for your attention and to find out where we finally had our tasty almuerzo tune in next year to Comida Con Basura....(bzzzt).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Saturday Nite Sichuan

After wading through some murky traffic, K and I made it to our scheduled rendezvous point (Chung King in San Gabriel) alive and on time. We were quickly identified by our contact (having never met) and warmly invited to sit and partake in an epic family-style meal. Sichuan cuisine is one the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese cooking and, being relatively unschooled on the subject as a whole, I would rank it number two only to leave room at the top for the other cinco traditions I have yet to taste. Our host, Senor Eye, took care of the ordering logistics for the abundant and spicy carousal: cerveza, sliced meats plate, veggie appetizer plate, mapo tofu, lamb chunks with leek, boiled pescado in hot sauce, sauteed string bean, fried camarones with hot peppers, bean curd sheets and greens, Chinese bacon with garlic sprouts, the famous 'ants climbing a tree' dish, steamed rice, and to finish an enormous bowl of soft tofu and bok choy broth. The conversation proved equally as interesting with a wide array of topics such as: books, post-apocalyptic human nature, budget cuts, 3D movies, a 'what if' take on the Victorian Era and Penthouse Forum, and a candid look at the intricate, delicious, and sometimes humorous qualities of roast duck heads (also on the table). Stuffed and elated, I received a surprise Neil Hamburger disc from Mr. Miles (our conduit to this soiree) which kept me thinking on the sojourn home--"cancel it!, I'm going back to Sichuan town".

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Por Supuesto Quiero Tacos

Still in need of a few items for the upcoming Navidad, and with temperatures quickly dropping from 78 to 74, I decided to beat the rush and bolt out early to soleada Santa Monica. Shopping for fifteen minutes can really drum up an appetite, so afterward I impulsively cruised on over to the corner of 14th and Olympic, locale of Tacos Por Favor. The only thing more awesome than the name of this taqueria is that they regularly feature cemitas poblanas and toasty huaraches. Today, I went straight for the classic dos tacos plato (carne asada, rice, frijoles) and it truly hit the spot. The welcome mat inside the front door says it all: "We make healthy Mexican food that just taste (typo intended) great!!" The only catch here is that despite autentico weekend fare like birria and menudo, you are more likely to see a disheveled movie star dashing in and out than a vaquero quietly sipping on soup. I stopped by the counter one more time before I hit the road and scored a milanesa torta (which had a nice chipotle spice to it) for K back at the ranch. Ah, until we meet again: Gracias, Por Favor.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Supermarket Sushi

Although it may appear that I can be overly obsessed with noodles and slow-roasted pollo (both true), I must confess that my real amorio is raw fish. This small addiction can become quite costly (as all sushi fans are aware), however in a fortunate stroke of luck I found a way to make my habit both cheap and adventurous. With K set to skillet up some katsu, I had a perfect reason to meander downtown to Little Tokyo Market Place to pick up a few bodega style cut rolls. For me, the preference for this grocery over several others lies not only in the well-planned Japanese/Korean crossover, but more importantly in the abundance of food stalls. The list includes: Japanese seafood and chirashi guy, bakery, Korean catering lady, Kimbap stand, a 'cash only' spicy pork island, and the friendly Japanese sushi chef (who really does make a damn good spicy scallop roll) . Look, I may never get to grub at Urasawa (at least not in this human form), and I may yearn for my own favorite spot, but sometimes it can be truly satisfying to stick to fundamentals. On the way out, as chance would have it, I passed by the udon/ramen/soba cafe and ordered miso ramen with fried dumplings. The soup was basic and the dumplings a bit bland, but is this case it was just perfecto.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Green Cedar of Alhambra

In a predominately Asian city located in the San Gabriel Valley, one restaurant in particular stands out like the ruins of old Tripoli. Senor Wahib's Lebanese cuisine is a cavernous establishment with a huge dining room, even bigger banquet hall, and an oversized back porch (evidently reserved for hitting the hookah). On a delightful and rainy Viernes, I saddled up and headed East in hopes of hot soup and roasted pollo. I must admit that I knew they recently added a Beirut influenced buffet, and I really did intend to order from the menu, but I'm just too much of a glutton to resist (one trip was more than enough). The luncheon feast consisted of: (main plate) arroz, spicy chicken and vegetables, saucy lamb with okra, fried pescado, grape leaf and cabbage dolmas, marinated roast chicken, and fries. (salad plate) tobouleh, yogurt with cucumber, hummus, baba ghanoush, and green salad. (sides) lentil soup and pita. I realize it's bad taste to talk about dinero but I must say that to indulge in this spread is less than 10 clams, incredible really. While I tried not get overly full, I certainly am glad that I didn't have to dodge any bullets, speak publicly, or briskly run in place upon taking my leave. All told, if you happen to be in the area, and for some reason are tired of all the excepcional Asian eats, this is your Mediterranean oasis.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Golden Bowl

Having had the fortuitous opportunity to travel in and out of the Kingdom of Thailand on several occasions (including an extended stint in Chiang Mai and Mae Sai), I often want to kick myself for not indulging more into what has since become my go-to plato. Khao Soi, the famoso and distinctive noodle splendor of the North, is prepared in multitudes of local varieties and I, Solo Basura, am loathe to admit that I may have overlooked almost all of them---damn, c'est la vie. Well, what doesn't kill you only makes you hungry so on this cloudy and fresca LA afternoon I invited K to join me at Spicy BBQ on Santa Monica and Normandie. This tiny restaurant is mainly known (if known at all) for its attention to Northern Thai cuisine. I came expressly for my fix of the Chinese-Muslim goodness (see short history here), but K had other intentions and ordered Khanom Jeen Nam Ngiaw which led our friendly waitress to ask: "Where are you from?" After a quick ethnic background check, she concurred that K might indeed find the dish palatable: vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, dried camerones, shredded cabbage, pickled greens, cilantro, green onions, fresh limon, and dried chiles are served on a plate and then mixed with a picante tomato based curry (coconut milk-free) with ground pork, blood sausage, and shrimp paste. With everything synthesized and ready to roll, we eagerly set to slurping until finally slowing down with a good case of the "spicy sniffles". Wow, I know the Thai military has long since wrested power away from the drug lords of The Golden Triangle, but I wonder if they missed something even more addictive than refined poppy. I shall have to revisit Khao Soi soon on Comida Con Basura, at least before the withdrawals set in.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

State of Infusion

Public opinion is always quick to portray the great state of California as being in the worst of economic hardships. I can fairly attest that public opinion in this instance is indeed cierto and we all may run amok to less desirable climes in the very near future. Today, however, three broke-ass Californians boldly threw frugality and caution to the Santa Ana winds and opted for high tea at The Huntington Library. The buffet spread at the The Rose Tea Room is picturesque, scrumptious, and worthy of the 4th Earl of Sandwich (albeit a finger version) himself. They started us out with a choice of teas (English Breakfast or Orange Pekoe flavored with Raspberry) and fresh scones (blueberry and cranberry) with butter and cream. Then, upon our charming servers' gracious request, K, B and I took to our morning potlatch: quesos, salads, tarts, caviar, frutas, sandwiches, noodles, salmon, and more scones (which really are a highlight). Don't worry about having to keister a few a these little wonders for later; just ask for another round and you even get handed a bag with gilded edges to take them home in---muchas florituras. Afterwards, while having a stroll in the vast gardens, I pondered the future of California and realized that while the state may be crumbling I still most certainly need to check out the Cambodian fare in Long Beach: Eureka!

Friday, November 13, 2009

On The Links

With a day off and plenty of sunshine, I achieved what thousands of people chained to their desks were fruitlessly daydreaming of and that is playing a round of golf. After morning coffee and a life changing article about water on the moon, I meandered up the historica Pasadena Freeway just over the border from Highland Park to the Arroyo Seco Golf Course. This 18 hole par 3 pitch and putt has been voted top ten in the Los Angeles area for years, but still remains relatively unnoticed. Many of you who know me realize that I'm not one to back down from a challenge, unless it's too hard in which case I'll take a more simplified route. So instead of using two clubs on the grueling par 3, I stripped it down to only uno (the refined putter) and played the adjacent 9 hole mini golf course instead. While I would love to go into detail about this legitimately retro landmark, let's just say that I'm glad I aced the dastardly "Ant Hill" hole, held my ground at "Big Three", and finished strong at the legendary "Wagon Wheel". Elated with a dos under par total, I took my victory march to the 19th (or 10th in this case) hole and ordered what one always feels compelled to eat at any racquet/pool/country club: grilled cheese on sourdough con papas fritas. Chased with a cerveza and the LPGA live on the tube from Guadalajara , I wondered if life could be any sweeter. Probably, but who's really keeping score?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Straight Outta Gujarat

The Radjhani Express is the finest passenger train service that rupees can buy and remains a reliable source that quickly connects the traveler from New Delhi to various Indian state capitals. Likewise, Radjhani restaurant in Artesia aims to serve a direct beeline of Gujarati thali to as many hungry heads as possible from abierto to cerrado. While the elaborate spread here may bring to mind the hokey banquet scene from 'Temple of Doom', there are a few things to remember about eating thali. It is typically vegetarian, it's sometimes served on a banana leaf, and most importantly: it never stops. Indeed, there is always a smiling face nearby eagerly waiting to refill the tiny stainless bowls or tong over another layer of chapati. Tonight the thali consisted of several types of dal, a lemony curry, mango sauce, puri, onions, peppers, papadam, pico de gallo (oddly enough), chapati, rice (after you've gorged on the breads), and Chaas. If you have never had this last little item, I'll give a brief summary. Chaas (often called 'buttermilk' in the states) is a beverage by-product of making butter. Salt, cumin, and sometimes diced green chiles are added to the usually ice cold bebida to enhance the flavor. I'm not actually sure what to make of this lactose laden concoction. It maybe that it reminds me of drinking milk with every dinner as a young lad. Would you have a nice plate of spaghetti nowadays and wash it down with leche?: not gonna happen. My suggestion is to go like the wind and find your neighborhood thali spot. If you don't have one, perhaps try dining at any Indian place and ask nicely if they will bring the food out by the ladleful. Never mind the strange looks, you have the makings of a thali!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Georgia On My Mind

K and I took a short holiday recently where we found ourselves in the lovely ciudad of Savannah. Best known for its historical architecture, vibrant squares, and drooping spanish moss; 'the hostess city of the south' is also an excellent locale to walk up an appetite. Working on a tip from Mr. Miles, a savvy, food-minded colleague of mine, I decided to seek out the elusive Angel's BBQ. Actually, even though this pulled pork haven is nestled in a back alley, I could smell the wafts of succulent carne from a full city block away. After following my nose, our little posse arrived at the olfactory epicenter. What Angel's lacks in dining space it more than makes up in flavor. I got served a sandwich plate (pulled carne de puerco, greens with peanut sauce, mac & queso), The Food Whores and Tito opted for the Angel's Special (BBQ pork sandwich con slaw on top), and K kept it real with an order of overflowing BBQ brisket on a bun. As an added perk, most of the table hot sauces appear to be home made. My favorite was a heavenly (you knew that was coming) habanero sauce which is tangy and thick (almost relish like) with an amazing radioactive yellow color. I give Angel's a five 'set of wings' rating, which happens to be the max score on the local Paula Deen hairdo scale. Having briefly lived in Athens myself, it seems appropriate that the first remote broadcast of Comida Con Basura comes to you from The Peach State. Now, if you'll excuse, I reckon I'll go fetch me some more sweet tea.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Temple Of Noodles

'Pao Tio' is a Thai term that roughly translates to: taking a stroll, socializing, and checking out the food stalls. While we don't have a word for this in English, the lack of semantics doesn't prevent this activity from being a choice way to spend your time. Today, while having mi carro serviced near Sunset Junction, I set this phenomenon in motion. I sauntered across Fountain Ave, talked with the garden center guy, and then stumbled right into Wat Dong Moon Lek Noodle. Evidently named for a Krung Thep noodle shop next to a muy old wat (temple) of the same name, the LA version doesn't stray too far from its roots. I ordered a chica bowl of the house beef noodles (rice noodles, bean sprouts, rare beef, meatball) and a small plate of jamon hock rice (braised ham hock, arroz, pickled mustard greens, sliced egg, chili garlic sauce). During my quick feast, I definitely felt like I was in the other city of angels (without being so sweaty) sitting on a plastic stool on the side of a busy street. Make sure to mark este lugar on your map. This time an English phrase is comparable : Hella Good, or as the Thai say: Aloi Mak!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hooray, Leftovers!

While I realize this doesn't sound at all exciting, you can rest assured that in this case I was faced with some damn fine reheatables. With K busy after work, I intended to go out in search of worthy comida to spiel about aqui on CCB. However, after checking the fridge (and my cash levels) I discovered the trove of Mrs. C's leftovers from a birthday bash for Mr. C last Sabado noche. Ah, perfecto! Beef stew, sigumchi, meat patties, kimchi, and bindaeduk. I settled in amidst the savory aromas, put on a favored podcast, and dined like it was 1999. The only downside, being depleted of proper arroz, I was forced to use some Uncle Ben's instant rice. I know the long grain variety of this brand has been heralded, but this stuff should be removed from the shelf. Well, eating at home can be truly rewarding sometimes. I saved ten bucks, listened to good tunes, and as a bonus got to mildly criticize a household name. Estoy satisfecho.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Yu Ga What?

They got dumplings, that's what. Huge, boat-shaped wang mandu (beef and leek, pork and leek, or kimchi) to be precise. While attempting to escape gridlock on Western, I routinely seem to pass this converted taco stand turned dumpling house (apparently called Yu Ga Ne) on Irolo and 7th. More than enticed by the colorful photos and the promise of "authentic Korean dumplings", K and I decided to have a closer look. I opted for the spicy pollo and king dumplings served with salad, arroz, and a small bowl of picante seafood soup. The main specialty here is Jajangmyeon, a fantastically black noodle dish that can easily rival King Diamond in evil appearances: thick sauce made of black soybean paste con diced carne and vegetables poured over noodles sprinkled with a few green peas. K quickly ordered her own ebony bowlful (which is always served with danmuji and kimchi) and we went to work. One part Blade Runner, Three parts B sanitation grade, and six parts of fun equal a perfect ten for tasty convenience. As an interesting side note, the cramped Korean strip mall also contains a store marketed for repairing cowboy boots, chaps, saddles, and leathers---proving once again that anything is possible in the city of angels.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

'Ono, MikoMiko

This morning K and I slid down the Harbor Freeway to King's Hawaiian in the illustrious ciudad of Torrance where we had an appointment to taste cake varieties for a future shindig. While this was a truly delectable experience, I would rather address the brunch that followed and, since we're on the subject, Hawaiian grub in general. Today, I went for a classic Loco Moco plate with a potato macaroni salad side. This favorite is served at King's in "American diner" fashion rather than the more chaotic (yet way better) "plate lunch" format of The Islands, but still managed to holds its own. K started with some tasty Portuguese Bean soup chased by char siu fried rice and eggs. In the future, I will make sure to take advantage of the Mahi Mahi breakfast: broiled pescado, fried huevos, rice, and miso soup. Hawaii, being at the crossroads of The Pacific, maintains a cuisine like no other. It's a place where indigenous Polynesian cooking smashes into the culinary influences of Asia, Europa, and The Americas. From spam musubi to high grade sashimi, Hawaiian grind is da kine. As a personal example, I can fairly say that I could easily live on Ahi poke with an occasional bowl of saimin and die a happy man. On your next trip out, especially if traveling through Oahu, be sure to check out The Tasty Island for some good-eatin' tips---Mahalo!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day For Henry Chinaski

I had originally planned on having a Hong Kong desayuno before going to bet on the ponies, but I remembered that there is something slightly awkward about eating dim sum alone. It's not being wedged in with a table of strangers so much as the lack of dumpling diversity that you get when in a group. Subsequently, I took another approach and decided to invoke the spirit of Senor Chinaski, alter ego of Charles Bukowski and transgressive fiction antihero. I swung by Billy's Deli and ordered up a No. 1 triple decker (sliced turkey, pastrami, swiss, dressing, served hot on rye). Accompanied with potato salad and fresh pickles, I stayed true to Chinaski's character and only ate half of the colossal sandwich in order to save room for cerveza at the track. While I refrained from smoking, listening to opera, and insulting people; I did manage to lose money, something our ill-fated friend knew well. For those of you who have never been to Santa Anita, I will be so bold as to say that it's truly a wonder of the world (albeit a bankrupt one). I would place it somewhere between the temples of Angkor Wat and Space Tourism on a must-do list. Pretty extreme I know, but I get a lot of mileage from that monotone British voice (which seems to be the same at every track) echoing over the loudspeaker: "The horses are at the gate---and awaaay they go!"

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Z Marks The Spot

Perhaps Zankou is an overly obvious selection for Comida con Basura, but I knew I wanted to include this LA landmark at one point or another. So, when I woke up esta manana thinkin' chicken; I instantly understood that "today is the day." Originally founded in Beirut in 1962, Zankou came to Sunset and Normandie in 1983 and has been serving hungry Angelenos savory, casual, and fast Middle-Eastern cuisine ever since. Both immortalized in song by Beck Hansen and forever stamped into notoriety by a sordid double-murder suicide scandal, Zankou remains prosperous and now has around diez locations. Today, I went up to Glendale to score my succulent Tarna plate: sliced, marinated pollo, hummus, salad, pickled turnips, peppers, sesame sauce, pita, and garlic spread. I often recreate this dish at Casa de Solo, but there is something about the real deal that's truly heavenly. In fact, if I am to be sent into the afterworld on an ice drift; I would hope my loved ones will make sure I am equipped with a styrofoam tray (when empty can serve as a flotation device) filled with this stuff. I will leave you with another popular allusion to Zankou which I unabashedly lifted from the interweb: In the episode of Charmed, Charmageddon, Phoebe makes a reference to the restaurant by saying to the demon Zankou, "What's the matter Zankou, chicken?"

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Warsaw Pact

After K and I decided to bail on a perfectly arranged visit to the always pleasant Huntington Library Tea Room, we took the next logical step and went for Polish food. While LA does have an abundance of Russian gastronoms, our fair ciudad is almost devoid of Polski cuisine except for the appropriately named "Polka" in Glassell Park. I'm not sure this review can match the insightful energy of a recent visit from a certain TV host, but I can say I will make the attempt without cameras, cologne, or sun glasses on the back of my head. The cozy, kitsch filled dining room here creates an inviting setup for the hearty homestyle menu. I ordered Klopsy (mixed meat steaks with gravy) and Kimbap wisely chose Golabki (stuffed cabbage loaded with seasoned pork, pollo, and onion.) During our meal, I couldn't help but reminisce about running wild as a young man through the dismal streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Was the food in vinyl-sided "Little Poland" really better than what I'm eating now?--definitely. Would I trade hundreds of angry Krakowites in NYC for one sweet ray of Warsaw sunshine in LA?--maybe, but for now let's just say "Na zdrowie!"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Try And Focus, Please

Imagine a world without music: pretty lonely, right? Now, imagine a world without music or okonomiyaki: uninhabitable. Fortunately for us all, Salon De Cafe Focus in Little Tokyo has both. Nestled in the bottom of the austere Japanese Plaza parking structure, Focus proves to be a relajante retreat from the usual bustle of the area. Actually, I found I was the only customer on a Sabado afternoon after walking past the karaoke rooms and into the cafe atrium. I ordered okonomi (which means "what you want") yaki (meaning "grilled") and stared at the skyscrapers while listening to the same three ambient Radiohead songs repeat over the house speakers. When the savory pancake arrived, I quickly snapped to attention and dug in as the bonito flakes danced the samba. The Focus version is basic but solid: batter, eggs, grated yam, cabbage, pickled ginger, camarones, onion, bacon, katsuobushi, sauce, and Japanese mayo (muy excelente). While the focus of Focus may be karaoke, just knowing that this culinary hideout exists is truly music to the ears.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Great One

Richmond, VA is home to a specialty sandwich that has long been christened "The Sailor". This seafaring splendor is: butterflied knockwurst on pastrami con melted swiss, sauerkraut, deli mustard, all served on rye. So, after a colleague mentioned an LA burger that seemed strangely akin to this East Coast creation, I decided to investigate the connection. My findings led me to the industrial outskirts of the city to Mike's Sandwich Shop; donde the "Hockey Burger" is, according to the signage, "made from old pucks". Gretzky, who loved to set up behind the net and wait for the wrap-around, would most certainly show tactical patience when ordering from this Armenian influenced diner menu. I, on the other hand, body-checked right into the HB special: tres "finger hot dogs" on a thin cheeseburger with fixin's, papas fritas, and RC cola. The report: Similarities between the two sandwiches are uncanny. The "link" being that the knockwurst and hot dogs taste the same. But wait a minute, knockwurst is a sausage and a hot dog is not. This is where I must make a recommendation (a first on Comida con Basura) for a Hockey Burger powerplay. Either change the description to reflect its "sausageness" or, seeing as the city of Vernon is a mere block away, skate on over to the Farmer John plant and pick up some proper hot dogs. Well, I for one think the latter option would prove more delightful than scoring a short handed goal.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Run For The Roses

We all know that "two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do." This adage certainly rings true with the weekend taco stand on Bellevue at Laveta, porque three left turns are the exact directions (GPS verified) from my front door to that basura can (shown below) in front of the aromatic and perfectly catalogued grill. I have named this holy place, and for that matter any place that has a temporary taco stand that's not a truck: "La Autopista". Here, the meat choices are usually: carne asada, pork stomach, carnitas, and cabeza. This afternoon, however, Senor threw us a screwball and started boiling up some chili verde (a personal favorite) in a stainless steel bin. While I would have loved to wait, proper tomatillo pork chunks take hours, and by this point I was starving como Marvin. I ordered three carnes, hit the fixin's, calculated the Garmin, and headed on home. At this juncture, I would like to address the marinated orange peppers pictured on the plate. They are hotter than the core of The Station Fire itself, and have even edged out Thai rat-shit peppers in sheer spicy intensity. Next weekend, I intend to inquire about the varietal of said peppers for I haven't seen my pupils that dilated since a Butthole Surfers show circa November '89.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ladies Of Mahjong

Beside the obvious influence of the always insightful Pete LaCock, the numero uno inspiration for me, Solo Basura, is good ol' home cookin'. This afternoon, K and I took a ride over Cahuenga to Sherman Oaks, home of The Brady Bunch, and the locale of Chez Gassia. Let's just say that Alice doesn't work around these parts. I once attended a dinner party here in which G single-handedly made a complete Lebanese Meze for 20. Today, with temps topping over 100 and half the county on fire, the fare was cool and precise: nicoise salad, roasted pepper and walnut hummus, cold lentil salad, beets, 4 cheese macaroni bake (served warm), and fresh pita chips. After losing a few rounds with the tiles, I settled into the dessert spread and washed it down with a poquito Armenian coffee. Then, it was decided, the next game would be a unique double set eight person standoff, which I also came nowhere near winning. Oh well, looks like I need to find a shady gambling den to hone my skills if I'm ever going to yell "Mahjong!" with this crowd.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Casita de Fruta

Are the Los Angeles Fruta con Chile vendors living so large that they have their own bouncers now? Probably, but I happen to know that this particular enforcer works at the CVS drug store behind him. After watching him walk away with a juicy bag of tricks, I made a move for the casita. At this point I should say that I have dubbed these carts, "casitas de fruta", after their grande brother "Casa de Fruta", the roadside wonderland and Ren Faire grounds (by the way, "Barbarian Days" was last month) up North on the Pacheco Pass. Even with the economy in ruins, there are no foreclosures with these mobile casitas. They are abundant, and spring to life on almost every corner during a heatwave. With that said, I also must add that I take my "Fruta con Chile" gringo style (all the fruits, squeeze of lime, that's it). Disappointing, I know, but for those who haven't had this treat with "everything" I'll explain. The casita guy deftly cuts the fruits (mango, coconut, pineapple, papaya, cucumber, watermelon, cantaloupe, and sometimes jicama). After being slightly hypnotized watching this act under the shady umbrella, he will scoop about half into a bag, add salt and fruit chile, then the remaining fruit, more salt, more fruit chile, hot sauce, and fresh lime juice. The result is liquidy, colorful, and the saltiest edible thing on Earth. So, after once having an almost fatal spike in blood pressure, I have resigned myself to the more tranquilo version. Ah, muy refrescante!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Marination Stations

Around five years back, Rackics and I were piloting a wounded Freightliner when we pulled over to assess the situation about two shops down from El Siete Mares on Sunset. I had no idea then that this mariscos stand would be in my neighborhood of now, so after work I decided to have a small siesta at 7M to figure this all out. Actually, it seems, it was really ceviche that I had on the brain because I unconsciously ordered one ceviche (pescado variety) tostada, grabbed the hot sauce, and dove on in. This taco joint, complete with a full "family restaurant" next door, has all the usuals with an emphasis on fish/shrimp tacos, seafood cocteles, and ceviche (fish, shrimp, pulpo or mixed). It's also a local chain, however one that's more than adequate, and will serve nicely as a vehicle here. Ceviche: distinctive, versatile, and sometimes dangerous; remains one of those rare gems that can instantly renew faith in humanity. Someone, somewhere "cooked" fish with citrus, added regional ingredients, and served it with a grin. Astounding, the next time you slip into "I highly dislike people right now" mode try using "ceviche" as a mantra, it's bound to help. I once had a secret romance in which I owned a house in every Latin and South American country. Not one like the mighty cartel, or one like the eager expat, but something more ethereal. Nowadays, I think these hypothetical haciendas would be perfect outposts for savoring the multitudes of localized ceviche. Loco?---perhaps, but you're invited too.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Queen Of The Adriatic

Luis Barzini, writing in The New York Times, described Venice as "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man". Similarly, The Venice Room, described here by Solo Basura, is "undoubtedly the most beautiful 'cook-your-own steak cocktail lounge just north of the Pomona Freeway' built by man". And, like it's Italian counterpart, The VR seems to avoid the Hun-like invasions that can quickly put a damper on such grilling festivities. Kimbap and I triangulated with Chigae and El Guapo along with Jook and Chuck Puri at 8:30 on a Sabado night, only to find the dining room empty except for the stylish, built-in grill just beckoning for action. While enjoying a round of libations, a food runner brought out six plates each containing the entire house menu: New York Strip (raw, of course), baked papa, bread, butter, and crema. There is also a stainless steel cart that contains a stripped-down salad (iceberg and dressing) to boot. At this point, rub, squirt, or sprinkle what you need from the ample seasoning station and let it fly. We have all grilled meat before so I don't need details here, but there is a certain surrealism to doing so in a bar. Maybe,"It's so wrong it's got to be right" is a sufficient description. After a fine meal, complete with a thoughtful discussion about the psychologies of wearing "white pants", K and I set sail for LA. During our drive, I lapsed into a daydream: the elaborate freeway interchanges were canals crisscrossing through the wonders of Venice, and I could almost see The Ponte dei Sospiri when another thought came to mind, "Man, I just ate a lot of meat".

Friday, August 21, 2009

Don't Hurry The Curry

Everything changes so fast these days. For example, look at the monstrous TV that cranks out Bollywood at India Sweet & Spices (ISS) on Los Feliz. Now, think how that model would integrate into your home compared to what's available right this second. Ridiculo, right? One thing that hasn't changed for centuries is the art of Indian cuisine. Sure, there are always innovations but the core "technology" has stayed the same. With that said, there are a few things to know about ISS: It's vegetarian, muy economico, and reliable as a drinkin' buddy. Today, I had a combo #2: Two daily curries (mine were curry pakora and mutter paneer), basmati rice (amarillo o blanco), chapati, papad, samosa, pickles, salad, yogurt, and soda. The menu here is actually quite extensive with specialties from North and South India along with snacks, chat, and a wide array of sweets. As an added bonus, ISS is also an Indian mercado stocked with a fragrant abundance. I sometimes buy Ayurvedic soap here that I like to use when I'm feeling "wordly." The herbal qualities of this soap always prompt a certain co-worker of mine (whom I'm fond of) to ask questions like: "Do you smell cedar in here?' or "Did you change aftershaves?" Answer: "Actually yes, I made the much labored over switch from Aqua Velva to Lectric Shave just this morning!" C'mon, who the hell wears that stuff anymore? I guess most changes are inevitable; just don't hurry the curry.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Good Morning, Stan

After a quick visit with K at her UCLA work pad, I decided to drop down to Westwood for a donut. Okay, I know that Stan's Donuts is super famous, and has been "highlighted" more times than Djibril Cisse's beard, but I had yet to have one. For 40 years, this corner shop at Broxton and Weyburn has been cranking out frito treats ranging from simple cake donuts to elaborate queso donuts with all the standards in between. I chose the "Huell Peanut Butter Chocolate" named, of course, after the fearless host of "California's Gold." My first impression was kind of a shock; almost like being served a cold-blooded dice roll. I mean, you knew it was possible but didn't think it would go down like that. As this donut's namesake would profess: "That's Amazing!" While enjoying my donut outside, I heard a distinctive: "What do you think of that?" coming from the open cocina door. Low and behold, it was Stan himself. I offered a short approval and asked which donuts he likes the best. Seeing as how he love apples, The Jimmy (apple cinnamon log) tops the list with the Raisin Buttermilk Bar in second, followed by the one I was holding in my hand. I have a hunch he included my choice to be businesslike, but he did express his deep fondness for peanut butter which, as it turns out, he first tasted only upon entering The Marine Corps. After chatting it up, I carried on towards Hollywood, thinking to myself: "Wow, what a pleasant experience, and I don't even really like donuts."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Top Ramen

Why did I drive to Monterey Park to go to Daikokuya when I could have gone downtown? My only answer: "yo no se, amigo." I had been plagued by some sort of unpleasant nostalgia since waking up, so maybe that provoked the "got to go for a ride" cliche. Regardless, this bowl of ramen is worth playing hookie for, which is exactly what I did on a fine Wednesday afternoon. The tonkatsu soup base is started at an "undisclosed location" (according to the menu) the night before it's on the table by boiling pork bones and joints in a large cauldron--muy fantasmal. This concentrated goodness is infused with soy sauce to complete the broth. Next, add chijire style egg noodles, kurobuta pork belly chashu, green onions, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, a marinated half-boiled egg, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. The result: "Move over canned ramen, it's time for business!" There is also a nice condiment caddy with garlic sauce, pickled ginger, and that red, semi-spicy, ramen powder. They say that soup is good for the soul. If that's true, the mind and soul must truly be intertwined for I had lost my strange mentality from earlier. As I stared into the empty bowl, I realized exactly why I came out to Monterey Park: no wait list and lots of free parking. Now I'm thinkin'.