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'.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Everybody Quang Trung Tonight

"I know this is a dream for you, to be the only white guy in a Vietnamese strip mall, but c'mon, we have an appointment to keep." These are the words that I, Solo Basura, received from Kimbap after stepping from the car in Little Saigon. The meeting, which was food related, only served to increase our already intensified hungers. We promptly crossed the street to Pho Quang Trung where the little Buddhist shrine inside the front door was getting a thorough cleaning by an industrious kitchen worker. Kimbap, who is under the weather, ordered a classic bowl of Pho Tai and I had Bun Bo Xao (rice vermicelli with stir-fried beef) which was sabroso enough to incite Quang Trung himself to start The Tay Son Rebellion. Also, we were given a soupy black bean dessert (which had an artificial grape candy flavor) on the house. I only wish I had seen the papaya beef jerky appetizer before looking at the to-go menu to write this entry, next time. All in all, estaba delicioso. On the way out, Kimbap noticed that The Buddha had a fresh cup of coffee as we walked through the chiming doorway into the OC sun.