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.