10.29.2009

14. Fishlips Sushi Truck

10/28/09



Well, you all knew I had to do it eventually. I have been postponing this for far too long. And to be honest, I would have pushed it to yet another day had there been any other truck nearby that I had not yet hit. Not the case. So it was me and the Fishlips staring each other down.
 



The menu is mostly in “sets” of rolls and a few sushi items. On the suggestion of the man taking my order I selected the “Crunchy Set” with a couple of pieces of Unagi ($8.35). As you can see, quantity-wise it was a gracious plenty.



A couple of things here: Number one, I have already expressed my diffidence with regards to consuming raw fish served from a moving vehicle. Second, it is somewhat difficult to eat sushi “on the go”. I found myself sitting on a cement block, in the sunshine and wind, trying to work with mixing the soy sauce, from packets, with the wasabi in a corner of the plastic tray, chopsticks, etc. It reminded me of the day I realized that peanuts are actually a really bad idea for road trip snacks. You end up getting peanut skins and crumblies all over your front, they require two hands, and leave a big pile of shells to deal with. Then all the salt makes you thirsty, so you drink a ton of water, and have to pull over 23 times to pee. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. Such was the situation with the sushi on the sidewalk. I did, however, enjoy staring at this billboard while I ate.



The actual food was not that bad, and certainly not scary. I will say that it was superior to that which would be purchased at, say, Ralph’s, but about on par with the sushi served at Bristol Farms. The pieces of sushi were in ball shapes instead of the little rectangles. That was kind of fun. The fish was fresh enough, and the flavors were there, but there is something that happens to the rice in the refrigeration part of everything. That fish needs to hit the rice and jump into my hands, seamlessly, or it just isn’t going to be right.

There is a certain place in the world for sushi available in stores. We have all done it before, and will probably end up doing it again one day. So, as far as that route goes, you will do just fine with Fishlips. And you can say that you lived to tell the tale.




Hey, guess what, y'all? Only eleven more trucks to go! (until I never get into my skinny jeans again)


10.28.2009

13. The Grilled Cheese Truck

10/27/09

 By 8:30pm

Yesterday was really windy. It was scary, beautiful windy. It was American Beauty, plastic bags windy. It was also the night The Grilled Cheese Truck FINALLY took it to the streets. After two months of incessant Tweeting (even I was getting crabby about them), they opened their order-here and pick-up-here windows last night at The Brig in Venice. The plan was for them to have a short and sweet maiden voyage, from 8:30-10:15pm, and then make way for Kogi.

The firsts in line (note the avid reader and her PARKA (wind))

I arrived at 8pm (I was supposed to get there at 7:30, but that darned wind knocked out a bunch of traffic and streetlights). It was fun to drive across town at rush hour and encounter the intersection of Sepulveda and Venice without a traffic light (sarcasm). So the leisurely glass of wine with friends before grilled cheese times was cut short. I really hate being late.


About 9:30pm. (Hi Zack!)

Turns out I could have been as late as I wanted. The truck's grill was down and their opening was postponed about an hour and a half, until a part was delivered to get it up and running again. Did I mention the wind? So a very long line formed around the parking lot, people were reading, texting, chatting, their dogs were even co-mingling. Hair was blowing. Some folks got into the communal spirit of the affair. Some people were irritated and left. The line shortened a bit. Chef Dave Danhi’s (of Water Grill fame) partner, Michele Grant helped to placate the hungry hundreds with samples of their tomato and pumpkin soups, tater tots, and caprese grilled cheese sandwich bites. All very tasty and ideal snackables for the brisk evening.

And then, at 10pm, the line began to move and the melting was a go.

Note the "ahhh, our grill is fucked!" scurrying going on in the truck.

 Michele Grant's scramble for happy-time samples for everyone.

At one point, I walked to the non-serving-food side of the truck and bumped into The Brig’s owner, also named Dave. He and chef Dave are buddies. He was getting his complimentary Cheesy Mac and Rib: macaroni and cheese with sharp cheddar, bbq pork and caramelized onions ($7). Wanna hear something cool? He gave me half! I guess I looked all professional with my camera and tripod. Oh, that reminds me, I know I said I was going to solely use my camera phone for this project – being consistent with the whole mobile theme – but this was a night shoot, and I needed to break out the fancy stuff. I digress…

Dog and hair

The menu

The Brig's Dave holding The GCT's Cheesy Mac and Rib.

 
A close-up of the Cheesy Mac and Rib (photo courtesy of the Grilled Cheese Truck)

So here’s the deal. That is a mean grilled cheese! Perfectly grilled, crispety crunchety toastedy bread, and hot gooey beauty inside. The bbq pork was savory yet slightly sweet, and devilishly good. It’s hard not to have a joker-esque smile whilst eating this steaming delight, in a cold parking lot, with a hundred other happy folks (and wind), at 10pm. Watch out LA food truckers, because the GCT is takin’ it to the streets. Danhi has taken his honed chef skills and found a creative and delicious way to share it with the people. And what better cuisine than the cheesy, goodness (and little slices of Americana and nostalgia) of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Kudos!

10.25.2009

Plucky Breeda Lumple



My mother has a way with words. She boasts an impressive vocabulary and an imposing grasp of syntax. More interestingly, my mom has an entire vernacular that she has created over the decades. I hear that this property actually originated with my grandmother. She used to refer to anything that was small or delicate as Breeda.


My mom and her best friend of almost 30 years both refer to one another as Breeda. At Christmas time there were gifts under the tree that were labeled “To Breeda, From Breeda.” My friends sometimes thought they were calling each other “Burrito.” To this day, and forever more, they are The Breedas.

My mom calls me Tweeters, which is fine. Occasionally I become Tweetette. People probably think it has something to do with the whole Twitter thing, but I have been Tweeters for as long as I can remember. When I slouch, she says to me, “Tweeters… SHODLERS.” This is her endearing (and sometimes nerve-racking) way of telling me to hold my SHOULDERS up. When there was lint in my belly button, she called it Miss Belinda. Sleepy crusties in my eye were referred to as yuckadoonies, and whenever I was blue, she called it the nannybooskies. Every night when she tucked me into bed she would say to me, "I love you bigger than the sky."


Instead of swearing in exasperation, she would say things like, “Oh, for garden seed!” or “Mother of Pearl!” If they don’t make sense, just say them out loud in a frustrated way – like if you just stubbed your toe.


My mom also used to name everything we owned. We had an old thrift store couch, upholstered in red velveteen, that she lovingly called John Glenn. She thought it felt like John Glenn’s hair probably did. He always had that perfect crew cut. She had a blue pick-up truck named John John the Nissan, named because the truck’s shade of blue was identical to that of JFK Jr.’s jumper at his father’s funeral.


When she ran her beautiful little café in Richmond, she did all of the cooking and baking. She served scotch eggs, wonderful delicate sweet onion tea sandwiches, café breads, soups and pastries -- to name just a few items. Her food followers were loyal. One day she was making up a batch of scones for the café. Something went terribly awry. They ended up looking like sad, lumpy dough globs. She was literally in the process of walking them to the trash to dump them, when her business partner suggested she go ahead and serve them anyway.


Well whaddaya know, these little foster children of pastry turned out to be a roaring success, and not only in the café: They were named one of Richmond Magazine’s favorite little desserts. She sold out every day.

She called them Lumples.

Mom’s Lumples are simple, classy, subtly sweet and downright adorable. They have an ever so slightly harder exterior and a delicate, crumbly, comforting, forgiving interior. They are warm, nurturing, and, dare I say, a bit maternal. I feel compelled to hold my shodlers up when I eat one.


My favorite of her Lumple varieties, and the one I am sharing with you here, is the Lavender Lumple. We recently prepared a batch of them with one beautiful ripe blackberry inside, and one on top. They are topped with a Meyer lemon glaze.


It’s funny, when I was a littley, I thought her language was charming, funny and normal. Then, from my teens through college, it was, like, so dumb. But not only do I love her for her quirky, plucky little patois, I have inherited it. I still have the nannybooskies when I'm blue. If something is put together poorly, it's chooch. When I stub my toe, I call it Toelio. If my knee hurts, I have Kneasles. I refer to my car as The Storm Trooper (it’s all white and imposing). And everyday, around 6pm, it is wine o’clock.


Lumples

My mom prefers using King Arthur flour, raw milk, raw or cultured butter.  Not necessary but she does insist on whole milk; skim or reduced fat milk will make for a "weaker lumple," she says.

7 to 8 lumples

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg (slightly beaten)
3/4 cup milk
6 to 7 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375

Sift flour, salt, baking powder and sugar together

Cut butter into small pieces and blend (you may use a pastry blender or fork, but Mom uses her hands) into above mixture until consistency of cornmeal (if you are using lavender buds, this is the time to mix in 1 1/2 teaspoons of the buds)

Add egg and milk; mix quickly with fork until just blended

Add blackberries, raspberries, blueberries or strawberries if you want a berry lumple.  My mom usually makes lavender, blueberry lumples and adds only 3 or 4 blueberries to each lumple; she puts in the berries after the lumples are formed and on the cookie sheet)

Bake 15-20 minutes

Meyer lemon glaze:

1/3 cup confectioner's sugar (sifted well)
3 tablespoons of butter at room temperature
juice of a little less than 1/2 of a Meyer lemon

Mix well until smooth-if mixture is too thick add another tablespoon of softened butter.  As soon as lumples come out of oven, put a heaping teaspoon of the glaze on each lumple.  It will self-drizzle because of the heat and meld beautifully with the lumples. 


10.24.2009

12. Let's Be Frank

10/23/09


I woke up with a hankering for a hot dog yesterday. I have been reading and hearing so much about Let’s Be Frank, from so many different sources, for so long, that my path was clear. All the way to Culver City I went. I’m not sure what was going on in the world, but, my lord, every way I turned, and every lane I chose seemed to be a bad idea. Friday. LA. I wasn’t in a hurry, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. Plus, I could use this jaunt as an excuse to zip into, my Heaven-on-Earth, Surfas, which is super close by, to pick up some rendered duck fat!


Let’s Be Frank opened, in 2005 under Sue Moore and Larry Bain, in San Francisco. They expanded to Los Angeles in the fall of 2007. The currently have a truck set up, weekdays, in Culver City, and a cart parked in front of Sliverlake Wine, on Thursday nights, during their wine tastings.

Previously, Moore was the meat forager for Chez Panisse. They serve only pasture-based livestock free from hormones, steroids, nitrates and nitrites – and all from local producers. These are earth-friendly hot dogs.


I ordered the Frank Dog ($5) with grilled onions and their homemade bread & butter pickles. The woman working, who was a bit frazzled, but as sweet as can be, told me that I MUST try the Devil Sauce as well. Clearly, I did. I really enjoyed my dog. It was substantial and fresh and snappy. The meat was thoughtful, with robust flavor and dimension. The Devil Sauce was thick, smoky and spicy, and almost chili-like. This dog also completely filled me up.


Actually, while I was eating my Let’s Be Frank frank, I overheard a father and son talking about how much they liked their dogs, but (father to son) “your mom wouldn’t like these. She hates the snap. We won’t tell her.” This reminded me that in this world, there are two types of people: pro-snap in their dog and anti-snap in their dog. What causes the snap is the meat’s natural casing (in this case, lamb). Kosher hot dogs are all beef and made under rabbinical supervision. They are skinless or stuffed into collagen casings, because natural casings are not permitted.

At the end of the day, I’m really not a snapper. I still think a Dodger Dog is my personal favorite. I don’t need homemade, gourmet condiments – just the standards: ketchup, mustard, onions and relish (or chili and slaw if I can find a good Carolina dog). I appreciate everything that Let’s Be Frank is doing and will support them by returning, but frankly, I prefer a different breed of dog.


Let's Be Frank - Hotdog Stand in Los Angeles

10.22.2009

11. The South Philly Experience

10/20/09



While I was standing in line to get a free pass to a Flaming Lips show last week, I overheard the guy in front of me talking about food trucks with his friend - specifically the cheesesteak truck, called The South Philly Experience. I had been waiting to see them along my route that week and was excited to try them out. You see, I know nothing about that which is the cheesesteak. I like steak. I like cheese. I like bread. Sounds like a great equation to me.

So a few days ago, when I saw them in my world, I went to get my cheesesteak on.

Just hitting the streets last month, SPE is run by, recently-transplanted, cousins who worked together in an Italian restaurant back in South Jersey (right across the river from South Philly). To create an authentic product their sandwiches are made on bread that is shipped from the popular Amoroso’s Baking Co. in Philadelphia.

Upon my usual request for suggestions, the man in the truck simply said, “cheesesteak”. I quickly learned that cheesesteak consumption has its own etiquette. When ordering, there are two critical questions to answer: First, what kind of cheese do you want? (Whiz (yes, Cheese Whiz)? Provolone? American?) Second, do you want onions? (“Whiz wit?”) The correct way to respond is “Wit” for “Yes, I would like Whiz and onions,” or “Widout” for “No, just the cheese.” Then, ask for any other toppings or condiments you desire.

I ordered a “Prov wit”.



The sandwich (am I allowed to called it a sandwich?) was pretty good – and very huge (which is a good thing as it clocked in at $9.30!!). The bread was a nice combination between soft and hard (insert joke here), the onions were lightly grilled, and the meat was frizzled to perfection. The provolone was sharp and tangy. I only would have liked a bit more of it on there. It was not as prominent an element as I would have thought a cheesesteak would have. I mean, it is the first word, out of two, in the sandwich's namesake. Oh, breaking news! This was not messy, at all! Impressive. 

All in all, I enjoyed my South Philly Experience. But, I’m sorry guys, $9 and change for a sandwich, no matter the size, simply does not cut it for me.



The darndest thing happened while I was in line to order. Remember the guy that was in front of me, in that Flaming Lips line, talking about food trucks? Well, he was right behind me in the SPE line! What are the chances? He's actually the second guy in line in the first picture. We had a laugh, chatted briefly about the show, and went our separate, cheesesteak, ways. Don’t you just love it when that happens in this big, metropolis of ours?

The truck also sells a little nostalgia: Philly’s own, Tastykakes, Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes, and Butterscotch Krimpets for deserts.

For an educational cheesesteak experience, I suggest watching Bobby Flay throw down "wit" Philly’s famous, Tony Luke.
 

10.20.2009

Two Intrepid Travelers and One Pizzeria Bianco


It isn’t about the pizza, here. 
Well, it is. 
But see if you can follow me here…it…isn’t.


Last weekend, beginning Saturday morning, in a span of 36 hours, about 14 of which were spent in the car, I clocked over 800 miles, crossed state borders, and sat on countless truck stop toilet seats (yes, with the covers!) before crawling into my bed on Sunday night. For what, you ask, dear readers? For food, of course.

My tolerant and curious friend, Heather (whom I have known for 20 years), and I went on this kamikaze mission for... pizza. To be specific, we traveled from LA to Phoenix to experience The Pizza; Pizzeria Bianco. Well, Heather probably went more for the spirit of adventure and BFF times, but so what – at least she went with me. Hard to believe, but it’s not easy to get someone geeked about driving six hours merely to arrive at dinner. Let’s not even go into the awareness that we would, more than likely, have a multiple hour wait. But it’s all about the excitement, the journey! Right? 

Hello, is this thing on?


Heather is great with travel escapades as she excels in departments that I don’t even consider. Directions, hotel accommodations, reservations, hotel and restaurant proximity (directions), car stuff, and directions (although we almost had a situation en route to Bianco’s from our hotel. See more below.). She doesn’t care as much about the meals as long as they exist and that she have a nice place to stay and a cocktail upon arrival. Me, I would have driven my car, which would have broken down (no dinner for me), gotten lost (no dinner for me), and stayed in the scariest hotel ever (think Norman Bates) no dinner for me)). I mean, we were already in the car and on the way before I asked if she had dealt with maps and directions. It had not even occurred to me. Don’t worry, she had it covered.

After a Chick-Fil-A stop (who knew they had any SoCal locations?!), a couple of gas ups, some curious signage and driver switcharoos, we arrived at our hotel around 4pm. I had called the restaurant to inquire as to the ideal time to show up to ensure a seating. They do not take reservations, you see. I was told that it would be best if I showed up after 9pm. Good news. This meant Heather and I could lounge by the pool and enjoy a few libations and explore the hotel before heading to dinner. Everything was smooth like butter.


Our hotel was in Scottsdale, “15 minutes from our restaurant in Phoenix”. Maybe it was the tired factor, maybe it was the booze, let’s blame it the iPhone’s GPS, but - bless her heart - Heather was having a time finding our restaurant in this new landscape. I did get to see Chase Stadium; home of the Diamondbacks, though. Twice. I would have been having a small anxiety attack but we stumbled across the most amazing, old school, hip hop, radio station that saved the day and distracted me from acting like a ball of neurosis in front of poor Heather (they played Lords of the Underground's "Chief Rocka", for Christ's sake!). Hindsight being 20/20, we were fine all along and could have gotten even more lost, if we wanted.

And then there it was, beautifully illuminated with a cluster of happy-wine-glass-holding-people outside, on a bewitchingly, temperate evening. For me, it was like seeing one of the great wonders of the world because I had TRAVELED and RESEARCHED and PLANNED for this. The hostess told us we’d have about an hour wait – no problem. We just sauntered over to Bar Bianco next door to have a glass or two of wine during our dally. The bar shares a lot with the Pizzeria and was established for the extreme wait that most of the pizzeria’s loyal customers endure. There are benches outside where we sat, enjoyed our wine and watched the goings on. It was a beautiful environment, and I could have sat there for a few hours and sipped my wine before dinner. I actually had a glass of Muscato that that blew my mind which I need to call and inquire about. Come to think of it, I also had a glass of Zinfandel I wanted to find again. I believe it was from the Green & Red Vineyards.

It was right about an hour when the hostess asked if we would like the two available seats at the bar or if we wanted to wait a hair longer for a table. Well you guys know I usually prefer to dine at the bar. Heather wasn’t as thrilled about it but she conceded knowing this was my special time. At the bar I feel closer to the energy of the restaurant, I can interact with the people that work there, the people around me, things seem paced more leisurely, and it’s all a bit less formal. It’s about the recreation of the food, the wine, and the atmosphere.

The menu is tiny, and we ordered about half of the things on it, on the suggestions of the staff. We also ordered a bottle of the Titus Old Vine Zinfandel, 2006 (Napa Valley) ($36). Food wise, here we go:

Small Plates:
Antipasto – Wood Roasted Vegetables, Soppressata, Bite of Cheese … $13
Spiedini – Italian Fontina wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma, served warm … $9

Pizza:
Margherita – Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil … $12
Sonny Boy – Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Salami, Gaeta Olives … $14.00
Biancoverde – Fresh Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta, Arugula … $15
Wiseguy – Wood Roasted Onion, House Smoked Mozzarella, Fennel Sausage … $15

Even the staff thought this was a bit of an obscene amount of food for us to order. But-I-drove-six-hours-for-it-and-planned-it-for-weeks-so-lay-off!! I will add that as perfect and delicious as it was (actually BECAUSE of that), I really over ate. Think two Thanksgivings in one day. My stomach is still a little distended.


Seriously, this food was celestial – down to the baby arugula upon which the Spiedini rested. Without giving a bite by bite play of the meal (or you will have computer butt), I will just say that upon tasting that first bite (and every bite following) of that margherita pie, every mile driven, every hour in the car, every minute waiting outside, and every second anticipating was more than worth it. I can say essentially the same for everything I tasted, but I think it’s all very clear at this point.

Brooklyn-born Chris Bianco hand makes every pizza that comes out of his kitchen. Maybe I should repeat that. Chris Bianco makes every pizza that comes out of his kitchen. Once that has sunk in, also know that he makes his own mozzarella cheese and grows his basil and other herbs on the grounds surrounding the restaurant. They do not take reservations and they do not offer delivery or carry out service. This is all to preserve the integrity of each pie. I suppose when you are the namesake behind the establishment and responsible for each and every pizza being produced, you had better make sure you don’t let any external element affect your product. Maybe that’s why the New York Times and Vogue (to name a few) have named his pizza “among the world’s best”. Respect.

For the last 30-45 minutes of the meal, Heather found herself so much in the throes of a food coma (read, "over-served") that she went to “get some air” (read, sleep in the car). This was perfectly fine with me as I was able to sip my Zin, finish off the margherita, and chat with the staff as they closed down the front of the house. In fact, the woman I spoke with on the phone remembered me (I was “that girl on her way in from LA for pizza”), and gave me a great brunch recommendation for the next day.

The next morning, Heather and I sipped mimosas and watched the Food Network in our room. We giggled with Paula Deen, y’all. We also had a blast cooking with The Neely’s. That Pat is always gettin’ at Gina’s sugar! Anyway, from there we took the Pizzeria Bianco folk’s advice and had brunch at The Orange Table before we hit the road leading back home. Brunch was great, by the way. Good Bloodys, really nice, thick sourdough toast and impressive corned beef hash. Our server was the sweeter than the sun inviting the moon over for tea. Sweet tea, of course.

With our bellies full of food and the appropriate, pre-noon, libations, Heather and I hopped back in our little car and headed back to the City of Angels. I was fecund with food, love and happiness. We even got to stop in Quartzsite, AZ for some super fresh jerky to aid us in our salt requisite for the remainder of the way home.


Around 8pm last night, I walked through my front door to find my roommate, Chris, standing in the kitchen. “I have something for you”, I chirped. He looked at me inquisitively. That’s when I handed him a pizza box, clearly labeled “Pizzeria Bianco”. “What the…” he responded. “I told you I was bringing back pizza”, I told him. He replied, “Well, yeah, but I didn’t really think you were going to bring pizza back from Arizona!” To which I smugly replied, “Told you so.” I was probably responding more to the fact that most of the people who heard tale told of this adventure, just stared at me, blinking their eyes; either thinking I was a bit nutty or simply stupid obsessed. Perhaps I am a little of both. But I tasted and experienced something amazing and I will never forget it. And, as most things, the journey was half the fun. Fete accompli!

And you know what? It's fun to get away from the camp, even if it's just for 36 hours.



P.S. I have Chris Bianco’s recipe and will be trying it out soon (jealous much?!). I will certainly keep you posted. And here are some fun tips from Chris on Jimmy Kimmel.


10.15.2009

Who They Think They Best They Was.


My friend Ryan came over for dinner last night. He has only been to my house a couple of times, and I haven’t really cooked much for him, and never in my own kitchen. Of course this meant I had to flex.

I actually toiled over the menu for a good 24 hours. It has been all rainy and blustery for the past few days, so this meal had to be chock full of seasonal, snuggly, comfort food. It had to go with the fire in the fireplace.

I ransacked my binder of food ideas and inspirato, rooted through my current food magazines, poked around on the interwebs and considered favorites of fall pasts (lest you forget, dear readers, this is fun for me). I suddenly remembered a sweet potato dish with caramelized onions that I made for friends, when I lived in Atlanta, in October, 2001. Now I just had to figure out how to build around that. But, much like getting that pesky first sentence out of the way, the menu ball was rolling. From here, I knew it would all start to come together. And it did.

These sweet potatoes that I recall so vividly were only prepared the one time in 2001. The reason I have such a strong remembrance of this recipe, and the date which it was prepared, is the same reason it had not yet been revisited. Don’t get me wrong - this is an absolutely delicious dish. As it happened, that October night, while I was caramelizing the onions to top the potatoes, I received a call informing me of the passing of my very, very dear friend, Sam.

It’s taken a long time to be able to revisit certain things that remind me of him: songs, movies, letters, places, pictures, foods, smells, and even types of clothes (he had a very specific, and colorful, way of dressing). But I now realize that all of these things celebrate his life and his memory, and that it’s time to embrace them. I need to remember Sam and not allow him to fade with each year. But some things, like these sweet potatoes, need to be able create their own, new, memories, and inhabit their own realm in my consciousness.

Fun fact: Sam ran the entire Honolulu Marathon, yes all 26 miles of it, backwards. He also rode his bicycle from Virginia to California, one summer. Pretty amazing. I remember he referred to his dad (affectionately) as Duck Butter, slapped his chest when he danced, made a bong in our high school ceramics class, absolutely adored the river, seemed perpetually tanned, and almost always "appeared" at my house, right at dinner time.


So last night I prepared the meal: oyster stew, fennel, apple and sage stuffed pork chops with a fig reduction (recipe coming soon!), sautéed rainbow chard, from my garden, and baked sweet potatoes with caramelized onions, shaved Parmesan and sautéed sage leaves. In my opinion, this was an ideal menu for the brisk, rainy night, the fireplace and, of course, to impress Ryan (and myself). In case you were wondering, he cleaned his plate.

Today, eight years later, I lovingly, and vividly, remember Sam. And now, I know when I embark on preparing, eating and sharing this dish, in the future, I will also think of the rainy night in the canyon, my garden, a roaring fire, good music, a great bottle of Cotes du Rhone, and the magical company of my friends.



Baked Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Onions, Shaved Parmesan and Sautéed Sage

 Serves 4


Ingredients:

4 medium sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large, sweet onion, sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4-6 fresh sage leaves
1 ounce shaved Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450°. Rub sweet potatoes with oil and salt, poke 2-3 times with a fork, and place on baking sheet in oven. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onions, cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle sugar, sage, salt and pepper; toss to coat.

Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until onions are caramelized; about 30 minutes. Stir in vinegar and cook an additional 10 minutes.

In a separate pan, sauté whole sage leaves in oil and salt until they are crisp.

Split sweet potatoes open, and top with onions, shaved Parmesan, and crumbled sage leaves.


10.13.2009

10. LA BBQ Guy




You gotta blame it on something...

I was about to say something to the effect that – considering I hit truck #10 today in the rain – I am unstoppable. I am like the Post Office (except THEY didn’t deliver my mail on this recent, most absurd “holiday” we call Columbus Day). But, as Murphy’s Law does what it will, the power in my house just went out. I can still type as long as my laptop maintains battery power, but at some point I must concede to Mother Nature. Perhaps I can use that as an excuse to go and have a glass of wine out in the world, away from my canyon.

So there I was today, roaming the rain-slicked streets of our fair city, looking for lunch. I knew it would either be the LA FuXion truck or LA BBQ Guy (Spring Street Smokehouse). I am a little bit over the multi-cultural, food fusion thing at the moment and really wanted something hearty for my tummy on this über-autumnal day. And since I didn’t ever even SEE the fusion truck, the choice was made for me (which I always appreciate).

The young, chipper woman in the truck recommended that I order the brisket sandwich, which comes with slaw (on the sandwich), cornbread and a pickle ($7). She said the brisket had been smoked for over 18 hours and it was her favorite. She also suggested I tack on some baked beans to the whole affair ($1). I was feeling like $8 was a lot for a sandwich-lunch-from-a-truck, but when I saw the amount of food (not that I could even eat that much) it seemed to make more sense. Plus anything that requires an average of 20 hours to prepare is allowed to be a couple of bones more. So I trotted back to my car to avoid the rain, listened to Left, Right and Center and ate my lunch.



First of all, this was a majorly shambolic affair. And this reminds me; I really think it would be wise for all of the good people of the food truck-sphere, across the board, to provide its patrons with moist towelettes. But I suppose I should have known about this particular one. I mean it is bbq.

I realize that there are a few disparate bbq camps, and I seriously don’t want to alienate those who are not of mine. I was born and raised in the south and my bbq tastes remain there. I prefer the Carolina style: thin, tangy and vinegary, with a kick. Today’s sandwich was not only the opposite of that – sweet and brown sugary and very thick – but it was drowning in the stuff, to the level at which I have no idea what the actual meat was like. And that meat worked for so many hours to get itself into my hands! The slaw was actually just shredded cabbage, witch gave it little slawitude. The cornbread tasted as though it was from a mix and had been sitting under plastic wrap for the better part of a (moist) day. Actually, both the cornbread and the pickle were mostly inedible to me as they were also wading in the sauce that – more than – coated the bottom of the paper tray. The beans were also too sweet for my taste and, while not bad, were just uninspired.

I’m really sorry to have to report negatively on LA BBQ Guy. I have been really excited to try them and was even more anticipatory after I had such a yummy time at Barbie’s Q. They made me want to get my Q on this fall! I am perfectly comfortable with using the “I like a different style of bbq” line, and leaving it at that. However, the fact remains that there was far, far too much sauce, and the cornbread and beans really seemed to be treated as afterthoughts.

Perhaps we can simply blame it on the rain. We seem to do a lot of that here in LA anyway. Heck, I’ve never lived anywhere else where my power goes out each time there’s more than a hint of mist in the air and newscasters are reporting, LIVE! to deliver us the breaking news that it is in fact, raining.


10.11.2009

9. The Border Grill Truck

October 11, 2009



The Melrose Trading Post is a lot of fun. It’s nowhere near as vast as the swap meet at the Rose Bowl, but it’s close to home and most definitely has it’s own charm. There is one stand that always has wonderful, vintage kitchen things – specifically 60s-70s Pyrex bake-ware. I also love to shop for vintage cookbooks there.

I was elated to receive a Tweet informing me that celebrity chefs, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger's, Border Grill Truck would be there this Sunday, and they almost never leave the West side of town. It seemed so fortuitous that I would be able to spend my Sunday both shopping for fun kitcheny stuffs and try out the extrasolar Border Grill Truck. And even more exciting, my roommate, Chris, met me there! This way I can try more items on the menu (and enjoy his delightful company).

The woman taking my order – upon being asked for suggestions – listed about a dozen menu items that were extraordinary. And as usual, this was not really that helpful. There was a chilequiles special that looked dynamite (and was one of the woman’s suggestions), but it seemed messy and a bit ambitious for food truck fare, so I passed. I ended up ordering the Green Corn Tamal ($4), the Carne Asada Quesadilla ($5), and the Crispy Baja Fish Taco ($3). There were a lot more things I would have liked to try on the, very sharp looking, menu. But as I appear more zaftig with each passing food truck day, I stopped myself.



The food is a modern (and successful)  twist on traditional Mexican and Latin American cuisine. The tamal was served in a snow cone cup, with a fork, which I find to be an extremely clever solution to, otherwise, sloppy eatables. The sweet corn was topped with crema and salsa fresca, and it was delectable and fun to eat. 



The fish taco was the opposite of the tamal in the tidy department, but was so effing good, that it mattered not. Both Chris and I found that this myriad of flavors provided a perfect piquancy. It’s chipotle honey and creamy salsa fresca granted us with both sweetness and spice, and the pickled cabbage was a wonderful surprise. All elements worked brilliantly with the hot and crispy, fried fish. 



The carne asada quesadilla was my least favorite item, but was, by no means sub par. I found the meat could have been a bit more tender and I would have liked its marinade to stand out more. I enjoyed the carmelized onion and guajillo salsa, adding a nice essence and adornment to the carne asada. While the tortilla was cooked perfectly in its crispness, the actual quesadilla was not hot.



With thoughtful presentation and solid food, and all for $13 for two people to find themselves entirely sated, the Border Grill Truck has got it going on. I will have to say that these  “Too Hot Tamales” just can’t seem to go wrong.

8. Calbi BBQ

October 9, 2009



I had to go to Highland Park to feed some cats, yesterday. So I used that as an excuse to go as far as Korea Town for my food trucky lunch. I do realize I will soon have to venture out to the west side for my mission, but I am still trying to keep it local, and happenstance-esque, for as long as I am able.

I was Tweeted from Calbi BBQ that they were in K-Town, and I had heard from my roommate, Chris, that they were quite good. I was feeling adventurous. They were on my list. Done.



I got a parking place directly in front of the truck, parked on Serrano, right off of Wilshire, and sidled up to the order window. Zero line – score! I asked the woman taking my order for suggestions – as always – and she asked me if I like spicy. I do. So upon her suggestion, I ordered both pork and a beef taco ($2 each). I added some Sriracha, in my very decorative way (see photo), and plopped down to try everything out.



Honestly, I don’t have a world of words for this experience. Maybe I shouldn't have had Kogi first, because it has really tainted things for me. I will begin by saying that this was, by far, the messiest food truck experience to date. You know when a sandwich, or whatever, is just so messy and impossible to eat that you get kind of flabbergasted and just want to give up and walk away? Maybe it's just me, but that’s how I felt about these tacos.

Moving right along… Calbi is another Kogi wannabe, and still doesn’t rival its mentor. It’s not bad, but it’s trying so hard to be “the same” and it’s, simply, not. The tacos both had romaine, cabbage, celery, red radish, cilantro, white and green onion, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, egg, sesame seeds, and their respective meats in a flour tortilla. The pork was actually very good - tangy, sweet and spicy, but overshadowed by the volume everything else involved. The beef was, simply, not very interesting. And that’s pretty much, it.

I am so happy that there are so many Korean-Mexican food trucks in the world, and that this new food trend is exploding so beautifully, but I have yet to taste anything in this realm (being the Korean/Mexican fusion category) to rival Kogi.

Yet.