12.29.2009

2009: The Year of the Food Truck.



Everyone’s got one. So it seems only appropriate that my best of 2009 list be my top 5 favorite food trucks that hit the streets this year. I sampled 25 different trucks within the last quarter of the year, including those making their debut as the quarter progressed. To be fair I must say that I only ate at each one once. Whether I found the fare to be amazing or amazingly icky, I do feel that a second visit should always be in order. Plans for seconds are on my 2010 list. After a tiny, little diet. And mayhap a dollop of exercise.

This was a more daunting task than I anticipated. I didn’t realize that so many of the trucks would be so wonderful. The biggest challenge was that they are almost all terrific for very different reasons. So, I have set up certain rules for this evaluation keeping these parameters in mind: quality of food, quantity of food, price point, creativity, service, timeliness of food ordering and delivery, the messy factor, and how unobtrusive they were on Twitter. 

Let’s start with number five and climb our way to number one, shall we? 

I love Indian food and I eat a lot of it. And I must say that the food here was very, very good. I appreciate that this is ambitious fare to serve from a truck; the menu was reverent, simple and well thought out. It crossed a perfect line with street food and table food, was served cleanly and easy to eat on the go. I dug that the owner was on site, friendly, helpful and served up the food lightning fast and piping hot. And come on, the truck name alone gets big ups. 

I admire the fact that this truck is paying homage to the original taco truck concept in their actual cuisine and manage to give it a bit of a creative and fancified twist. Also, I loooved that they were at the Melrose Trading Post. The menu is concise, the prices are right, and the food is filled with fresh, seasonal ingredients. And, for the most part, it was a fairly tidy affair. And we all know these ladies can cook.

First of all, I love southern food, and Mattie’s gets props for thinking to serve it from a truck. Not only do I think they’ve got it right, but I have been hard pressed to find authentic southern food in too many real restaurants in town. Conjuring memories of mountains of napkins and greasy fingers, you’d think that this would be one of the more difficult types of food to eat on the street. Not the case. The food was portioned generously; enough that I finished my portion for dinner later on that night. Additionally, the food came out at a clip and Chris, the owner, was on site and was quite the southern gentleman. 

This was difficult. It was almost a tie. The Gastrobus is fantastic 8 ways to Sunday. They not only support farmers markets but station themselves at the Los Feliz market every week and purchase all of their produce from the growers. As a result their menu and specials change weekly. If I were to have my own truck, this is the food I would make. They are wildly creative yet impeccably simple. The food is ideal to eat on the go with steamy, scrumptious soups, big, beautiful sandwiches and all at very good prices. The people are sweethearts and their bus is extremely cute.  

What can I say. This truck blew my mind. I would never have thought anything this elaborate and of this caliber would be served to me from the window of a truck. Admittedly, they are the newest on the list and have had time to learn from other’s mistakes, but holy wowsers. They achieved the fusion concept the most successfully, maintained an exceptional degree of creativity, and served up the most beautiful and most delicious food I have yet dined on – from a truck. The prices were surprisingly low, the food is perfectly retrofitted to eat on the go, the chef was on site and the staff was as pleasant as could be.  

I would like to reiterate that I had a heck of a time with this decision and that Lomo Arigato, The Dosa Truck and The Grilled Cheese Truck should not go without – at the very least – an honorable mention. They are all three fabulous and deserve return visits and much success. 

In the past couple of months I have gotten all dolled up and dropped hundreds (upon hundreds) of dollars dining in the newest, fanciest restaurants in Los Angeles. I have eaten the most ornate, decadent foods served up by world-renowned celebrity chefs. But I will tell you this, dear readers, more often than not I would rather stand on the sidewalk, leaning against a wall (or sitting in the grass), in my jeans and sneaks with a posse of strangers eating the likes of anything from tacos to wild mushroom soup with basil oil and even pork belly. I relish discovering these treasures on wheels that could literally pop up anywhere, at anytime. Few things bring people together like food. It's truly exhilarating to feel and revel in the sense of community the food trucks provide in this big, beautiful city of ours. So you can bet I will continue to encourage, support and embrace all of the new trucks continuing to hit the streets in 2010 and beyond. I also hope this movement, this culture, continues to grow and morph and expand to cities all across the globe.

Happy New Year! 

12.17.2009

25. The Flying Pig Truck



It started with a bacon-wrapped hot dog from a cart and it ends with tamarind duck from a truck.

Well, dear readers, I have done it. There were moments it seemed daunting and moments it felt like a walk in the park. And so many new trucks have popped up during the span of my mission that I considered adding more to my list. But I stuck to the original plan and, now, here we are. 25 food trucks in 3 months. Done.

I have learned a lot about this new culture throughout the journey. I have made new friends, traveled to parts of town I don’t often visit, and eaten a lot of food. While I am, admittedly, glad it’s over, I will continue to check out – and maybe write about – the new trucks that I am curious about. All at my own pace, of course.

I have been intrigued by the concept of the Flying Pig Truck for a while. They rolled out in early October but have maintained a somewhat low profile in the Twittersphere (which I really appreciate, actually). They also seem to stay downtown or on the West side almost entirely. Until this past Tuesday, that is.

I had come up with a plan, a few weeks ago, to make my 25th truck one of the original, real deal, taco trucks. It seemed appropriate and reverent. So when I saw the Flying Pig Truck on Miracle Mile I figured I’d check it out but probably not write about it. Until I ate the food – which I will say right now, was spectacular.

The Flying Pig Truck is run by two chefs who recently graduated from the California School of Culinary Arts and the Cordon Bleu program in Pasadena. Flying Pig markets itself as high-end street food with "Asian and Pacific Rim flavors with French technique”. Interestingly, one of the owners, Joe Kim, says that he came up with the idea not just to capitalize on the recent food truck trend, but rather to use the truck as a testing ground for the restaurant he'll be opening up early next year. I, for one, am eagerly anticipate those doors opening.

I arrived at the truck on the later side of lunch time, and got a parking spot directly behind it (you can even see a bit of my trash-heap of a car in the pictures!). There was little to no line and after perusing the beautiful, and synoptic, menu, I was confident of my order. I still asked if there were any specials or recommends, but the perky woman taking my order said I was spot on in my choices. I had the braised pork belly bun served with red onion, escabeche, sesame-cucumber ($3), the tamarind duck taco served with toasted almond and a pickled beet salad ($2.50), and the crab balls served with a cilantro-lime chimichurri ($2). I handed the woman $9 and, rather than fishing around for the 75 cents, she handed me a buck back. That went directly into the tip jar, of course.



There were one or two orders ahead of mine, and it was seeming like it was taking a while. But then I peered in the truck and could see the care being put into “plating”. This eased the wait tremendously. Even when one of the chefs handed me the container of food (Styrofoam. Bummer.) she was wiping off a little smudge of sauce on its exterior. I do love attention to detail.

I ambled on over to a spot in the sunshine, opened the lid, and looked down at some of the most beautifully presented food truck fare I have seen to date. I was seriously dazzled. I began with the one I was the most excited about – the pork belly. I mean, pork belly from a truck?! Hello? Awesome? And this was. The bun was bao-like and subtly sweet, which was a perfect compliment to the belly. The escabeche, and cucumber added the perfect piquancy and brought lightness to the pork. I found it to be an entirely inspired take on the traditional bao.



Next I chomped down on a crab ball. It was very delicately fried and had an ephemeral quality to it. The cilantro-lime chimichurri was the perfect accompaniment. I ate about half of the crab balls before diving into the tamarind duck taco. This, folks, was sublime. The actual duck was cooked perfectly, tender and moist. The complexity and layers of the flavors was like a  festival in my mouth. The marriage of the textures: the mandarin and the toasted almonds, was nothing short of brilliant. I actually tried to eat it as slowly as possible to make it last as long as I could, and made a point to pick up each errant scrap of ingredients to savor all of the elements happening. I even enjoyed sucking the parts stuck in my teeth, afterward. I might add that this food also, very successfully, achieved a true, and innovative, fusion of cuisines.

I then, happily finished up the crab balls and promptly marched back over to the truck to tell the chef that this was, simply, spectacular.

You know when your eating potato chips or peanuts and every once in a while you get that perfectly curled chip, or the yummiest, roastiest peanut, and you know you should stop right there and end the binge with that perfect bite? Well, I knew while I was eating my Asian-French lunch from a truck that this was the way to go out. The fat lady has sung and pigs really can fly.

Fete accompli!

12.16.2009

Babe


Here we are. Again. The holidays. We are at the countdown part. My tree is up and decorated, my shopping is pretty much done (in record time this year!), and my annual holiday party is this Friday night. The other thing that happens around now time is the tornado of memories, nostalgia and emotions that get all stirred up in our hearts and minds. Well, at least in mine.

Prior to moving to Los Angeles I returned to Virginia every year for Christmas. And, with the exception of my social life varying greatly from age 3 to age 30, every year was the same thing. On Christmas Eve my dad and I drove to Roanoke to have Christmas Eve dinner with the family, which was served at 6pm sharp at Aunt Babe’s house. With the catching up chatter prior to the meal, grace (where I stared at the carpet), the meal itself, heavily spiked eggnog and dessert, and the goodbyes, Dad & I would still be back at Aunt Connie and Uncle Joe’s house by 8:30pm, which is where we stayed. And it was there on Christmas morning where we exchanged gifts and had the big Christmas brunch with such earthly delights as cheese grits and mimosas. Directly after brunch Dad and I would drive back to Richmond – with a brief stop at Moore’s Country Store for a couple of chili dogs, aka “lip burners”. Once home I spent the remainder of the day and Christmas night with my mom. After dinner I would race out to my favorite bar, Hole in the Wall, to meet all my friends and reminisce and drink until the wee hours.

But Aunt Babe’s Christmas Eve dinner is what I miss the most. I can recall the meal - each and every dish - vividly. Remember the tomato aspic? I also remember almost every year, watching the subtle changes within my family. This is my dad’s side of the family. Almost all of them live in Roanoke and most are pretty conservative, both politically and socially, yet – as with all families – there are all sorts of secrets and intrigue within. But I still always thought of my dad and myself as the black sheep. The rest of the family were also seemingly normal - family types. I was the only child of divorced parents with a dad that often had a different woman in tow for the holiday celebration. And of course there were the various hair colors and piercing phases I went through. Oy.

One tradition in our family is that the kids no longer receive gifts from the extended family after graduating from high school. But as a child I remember the year I got the game Mousetrap (so cool!). I remember my cousin Noel giving me 1 beautiful Christmas ornament each year (which all currently adorn my tree). I remember a matching turquoise sweat suit with embroidered deer on it from Aunt Babe, which I believe she made. I even think I wore it. Oy.

Aunt Babe is currently the matriarch of the family and has been as such for as long as I’ve been alive. She is the sister of my dad’s mom, Janie, who passed right before I was born. She is called Babe because she was the youngest of the siblings. She is truly special. She is so gentle, kind, diplomatic, and loves her family. I stayed with her a couple of times for a few days here and there during summer breaks as a kid. One day she taught me all about our family tree. I learned that we have a Civil War hero, Francis Marion (“The Swamp Fox”), in our history. Aunt Babe has the softest, most delicate skin. I love her hands. She always smells so fresh and baby powdery. Man, I just adore her. I flew home for her 90th birthday a few years ago and was so happy to see her again. It’s funny, she looks exactly the same to me now as she did from my earliest memories of her.

That's Babe on the left. What a babe! And that's Janie in the center. Such beauty.
Sadly, a couple of years after moving to LA and starting my business, I found it impossible to return home for the holidays. While it certainly does dishearten me, I have learned to find family and community in my friends and my own, new traditions. But I miss Aunt Babe and all of my Roanoke family more than words can express.

Well, I just got off the phone with Aunt Babe to find out exactly what is involved in her Christmas Eve mashed potato dish. I was going to email her for the recipe, but she doesn’t own a computer. And I’m so glad. Because it warmed my heart to hear her voice and to have her beautiful southern accent share the wonderful recipe with me. It also made me long for her soothing presence, the familiar smell of her home, and her infinite patience and wisdom. Needless to say, directly after speaking with her, I immediately called my dad and PROMISED I’d come home next year, even if for just 36 hours.

Aunt Babe and yours truly at her 90th Birthday.

I know mashed potatoes are the simplest dish in the world to make, but hear me out folks. You have likely never tasted any potato dish even remotely as decadent, rich, supple and delectable as this. I have tried to make it in the past on taste memory and have come pretty close. I knew enough to not fear the butter. Rather, one must entirely embrace the butter. Even that version of it made Dixon squirm and adapt his own Aunt Babe potato strategy. But now I finally have it, the real deal, and you can bet your mistletoe kisses that I’ll be preparing it, with my family in my heart, this Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas, y'all!  


Aunt Babe’s Mashed Potatoes

Serves 6-8

6 Russet potatoes
1 3/4 sticks butter
½ cup canned, evaporated milk – diluted
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400

Bake potatoes for an hour to an hour and a half, or until easily pierced with a fork. Scoop out all of the insides and toss skins (or do something else creative with them).

Lower oven temperature to 350

In a mixing bowl add potato insides, 1 and ½ sticks of butter, salt & pepper. With a hand mixer, slowly add diluted milk while keeping an eye on maintaining the moisture. Aunt Babe said that the secret is the moisture.

Put mixture into a casserole dish and add “dabs” of remaining butter along the top. Bake until you see “little peaks of brown on top”, about 15-20 minutes, and serve.

Mashed Potatoes on Foodista

12.10.2009

24. Asian Soul Kitchen AKA It's Bento Baby



It's bunk oh, baby.

As you know, there are more improbably fused cuisines coming out of trucks these days than you can shake a dipstick at. Any number of said trucks could go either way and more often than not end up being pretty fantastic. The Asian Soul Kitchen (aka It’s Bento Baby) is offering up far east meets deep south: think yakisoba with a side of collards.



The creation of media/events producer Akiko Konami (who is working on a project with the original Iron Chef Japanese, Rokusaburo Michiba in Tokyo) and NYC restaurateur Richard Wright, ASK, just hit the streets last week after weeks of (unabating) tweeting. I have been pretty excited about this one and even reserved one of the final spots in my food truck tour for it. So imagine my delight to see them along Miracle Mile today. Even better, Yvonne called me out of nowhere to see if I was free for lunch. Score! Now I could try a few different menu items and FINALLY hit a truck with Yvonne. We met under the impression that we would go to tons of trucks in collusion, yet this was the first time we actually ate at one together.

Parking was a breeze and there was no line (however there was a pretty sizeable line when we were leaving). The menu, which I had read through on line previously, looks really great. I was having a hard time making up my mind until I stopped at The Sampler, which included 2 dishes, 1 side and choice of rice ($8). I settled on the Nikujaga (a stew of beef and potatoes in pork broth with konyaku noodles) over black rice, the Lollipop Chicken with a tamarind glaze, and collard greens. I also ordered an iced green tea. The food came out super fast. It sounds amazing, right? Well, upon opening the box my heart sank. It looked downright icky. See below.



And the food was supposed to look like THIS.

While it was a brisk day, the food was cold upon first bite. I liked the collards – they were acidic and spirited. And cold. My nikujaga was downright unsettling to look at and the textures that were co-mingling did not gel with me. And cold. The meat was stringy and recalled something I might find in a big bowl of mystery at Sanamluang. The glass-like noodles had a nice flavor but made no sense with the huge chunks of potatoes. All of this was served over black rice. I liked the rice but I’m not sure why noodles were served over rice.

The chicken, I imagine was intended to be reminiscent of General Tso, and the glaze had a nice piquancy but was also essentially candied, like an apple. The crispety skin tasted mostly of the oil it was cooked in and was not unlike pork rinds. I might add that the actual meat was oily and sinewy.

I very much liked my green tea, though.

Yvonne ordered the sampler as well. She went with the Salmon Korroke (croquettes), black rice, an Asian Slider and the Spicy Creamy Mac & Cheese with iced-barley tea. Her box looked good and upon first bite of the mac & cheese we were excited. It was creamy, it was spicy, and impressive. The heat was light but lingered on the palate for a while. The croquettes were fine, but unmemorable. I did appreciate their lightness considering the fry factor. The slider looked good, lotta meat. But here’s the biggie – I love rare, I love bloody in my meat - this burger was RAW. And cold. If you can imagine biting down on that texture, unaware, then you can conceptualize the coup de grace on this food truck experience. 



Now I see why our food came out so lightning fast. It was not cooked nor was it heated up.

Yvonne very much liked her barley tea, though.

An interesting note: the concept of fusion in this menu did not involve spices and flavors from the 2 food camps being married in a dish, but rather distinctly separate menu items from said camps. This is perfectly fine and, theoretically, worked.

One of my peeves in the food truck sphere is when the fine owners of the trucks don’t put out a trash can. So, we ended up hiking down the street in search of one and stumbled across a multitude of other food trucks, where Yvonne ordered a couple of pastels from the Bool truck and I a short rib taco from LA FuXion.  And there we ate our lunch. When we were done we used their trash cans to throw everything away.



Note the trash can.
 

23. The BBQ Church


Recently I stumbled across this post on one of my favorite food blogs that had me extremely curious and suddenly seriously hankering for some barbecue. So, last Saturday, I called up Ryan (I knew he’s be all over this one) and, with mimosas to go (l love that guy), we headed to Compton for some BBQ turkey necks. On the way there we kept undershooting it and pulled over to ask a local for directions. He knew exactly what we were talking about and excitedly pointed us in the right direction. That’s always encouraging.

Folks, this is no ordinary food truck (are any these days?). This truck was the brain flower of Pastor Corverster Williams Sr. of the Prayer Assembly Church of God in Christ. This truck, with its fountain of turkey necks, was established to help Pastor Williams raise enough funds to build a new church for his congregation. And by golly, in 1992, after only 2 years of slinging bbq turkey necks, he did.

So to this day the shiny, silver truck sits in the shadow of the shiny, three-story Prayer Assembly Church of God. The truck is manned by Associate Pastor Virgil Wilson, and Big Jack is on the smokers. They are only open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9am – 9pm.

Ryan and I ordered WAYTOOMUCHFOOD. Oh, so much food. By the time I got up to the window he had already hastily ordered his turkey neck extravaganza without perusing size and combo options. And we didn’t get to collaborate on ordering smartly to get the best cross section of the menu. Oh well. So he got the turkey neck dinner with mac & cheese. This came with potato salad, baked beans and a coupla slices of white bread. I ordered the beef ribs with collard greens. My food also came with potato salad and baked beans, but I also got a cornbread muffin and a couple slices of wheat bread. Why did I get wheat? I haven’t the faintest idea.
The whole enchilada, as it were.

There was one, little table by the spits in the parking lot, and we parked our operation, with our mimosas, there. Our portions of food probably weighed 2 pounds each and when we opened them up we each gasped – me in fear, and Ryan in delight – at the sheer mass of food before us.

I have to say, everything was perfect and delicious! I was scared of the turkey necks (which is one of the reasons I asked Ryan to come with. He’ll try anything) but they were wonderful. There was so much more meat on them than I would have thought, rendering them far from scary. The mesquite co-mingled delightfully with the turkey meat. The ribs were big and bold with the meat literally falling off the bone. The bbq sauce, which was used on both of our meats, was perfect – thick, smoky, tangy and a little bit sweet. The beans, collards and potato salad were all delicious as well. The mac & cheese was a little dry and not too flavorful, and the cornbread only got a tiny drop of attention, as it was also a bit dry (but, admittedly, I am not a huge cornbread fan). But seriously folks, this food was a godsend, and this is truly some of the best barbecue I have had this side of the Mississippi.

Ryan's turkey necks and Ryan's photo.

After we finished eating (I did not even make a DENT in my platter, no joke.) we poked our heads in the church. I would have liked to explore the church that BBQ built more, but there was a wedding rehearsal going on. Then we decided to explore the area and walk off the impending food coma at the Magic Johnson Park – which is quite lovely and has lots of ducks.

The women's bathroom lobby.
 
Before pulling out of our parking spot Ryan was already plotting to return on an upcoming Friday for a lunch break from work. I also plan a repeat, with more friends in tow, very soon. Our drive home was filled with comfortable silence in reverie, and as I dropped Ryan back off at home, with the 858302 pounds of leftovers and headed to a champagne tasting at Greenblatt’s, I thought to myself, what a wonderful world. 

Amen.


Prayer Assembly Church of God in Christ AKA the BBQ Church
442 E. El Segundo Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90061
Tel: 310.523.2481

12.07.2009

Grace; perhaps needs a grace period.


Last week, Yvonne and I graced Grace with our graceful selves. Actually, I am far from graceful – in fact, quite the opposite – but I do love alliteration. I have heard about Grace for years, now, but never anything specific or powerful in any direction. A couple I know had an anniversary there once and were really impressed. But it’s quite hard to gauge their food opinions since they are big fans of the Cheesecake Factory.

Anyway, Grace had sort of fallen off my radar until very recently during a particularly libatious evening at Campanile. Taylor’s friend Eduardo - who is the wine director at Grace – was among our posse at the bar. Meeting and talking with him compelled me to hurry over to get my Grace on.

Yvonne and I had an 8:15pm reservation for last Friday night. We were planning to use our Blackboard Eats coupon for a $38 prix fixe meal (if you guys don’t know about this site, you are missing out). We were seated immediately at a nice table against the wall.


The atmosphere is elegant, warm and clean. It does give off the air of an occasion restaurant. It doesn’t seem to be the roll in for a bite, or a neighborhood-y type of place. In fact, I see why the friends I mentioned had an anniversary there. It looked as though Yvonne and I were among a lot of dates – almost all two tops.


We each ordered a glass of prosecco and perused their Blackboard Eats menu, which consisted of three courses:

Kabocha Squash & Roasted Chestnut Soup
Grilled Sonoma Lamb with byaldi confit and tomato demi glace
Seared Market Pear with a buttermilk ice cream sandwich, blood orange syrup, oat praline

Unfortunately, Yvonne is not fond of lamb and I am not a big fan of hot fruit. So we actually ditched that menu and opted to both go with the tasting menu, which gives you your choice of two appetizers, two entrées, and one dessert ($65). We also went the extra mile for Eduardo’s wine pairings ($40). This way we could taste a huge cross section of the menu.

When we finally figured out all that we wanted (we had to order everything at once) we ordered this:

Appetizers
Butter Lettuce Salad with buttermilk blue cheese, cherry tomatoes, smoked bacon and blue cheese vinaigrette
Grilled Japanese Octopus with warm chickpeas, olives and charred tomatoes
Roasted Pumpkin & Sea Urchin Risotto
Sautéed La Belle Farms Foie Gras with quince, brioche, pomegranite and cocoa nibs

Entrées
Sautéed Day Boat Scallops with sunchoke celery root puree, forest mushrooms and red wine nage
Sautéed Mediterranean Branzino with leek fondue, fall squash, hazelnuts and sage
Braised Pork Shank with rapini, smoked shallot & chorizo home fries with a cider sage sauce
Grilled Tenderloin of Wild Boar with brussels sprouts, Yukon gold potato spaetzle and a violet mustard sauce

Dessert
Sticky Toffee Pudding with brûléed bananas, toffee sauce, hazelnut gelato
Doughnut Flight:
Salted Caramel with bourbon pecan ice cream
 Mascarpone with coffee ice cream
 Pumpkin with graham cracker ice cream

Before you say it, yes, we were absolutely wanton with food this evening. Unbridled, lavish ridiculous food. Looking at the list typed out is almost embarrassing. Or impressive.

Our server had a voice a la Don LaFontaine and as my back was to the restaurant, each time he approached I was pleasantly startled. He assured us he would bring out all of our dishes in the most appropriate order and promised he would bring our bread as soon as they had finished making a new batch of butter. Admirable.

Our warm roll and soft butter arrived moments later along with Eduardo and a couple of glasses of riesling. The bread was great and had good crumb, but the butter desperately needed a sprinkle of flaky sea salt on top. Yvonne asked Don for some and he promptly delivered something he promised was sea salt but was very fine. Boo-hoo, no Maldon for me.

Our salad and octopus arrived next. I very much enjoyed the salad. I love butter lettuce and the tomatoes were fresh and sweet. The buttermilk cheese and dressing was perfect and the bacon was thick, smoky and slightly soft – just the way I like it. The octopus dish was a bit of a disappointment as it was very heavy and salty. I would have liked to see something bright and fresh thrown into the dish to offset the olives -  perhaps celery leaves, fennel or maybe even a tiny bit of mint. The octopus was also fairly tough, seemingly overcooked.


Eduardo then brings us an Uruguayan gewürtztraminer/viognier/chardonnay blend to have with our next batch of food. I was surprised by this wine. I am rarely fond of any of those varietals, but I found the wine to be subtly sweet and complex. However I am not sure it worked with our dishes. The foie gras was scrumptious, but the accompaniment was very odd. The brioche was very eggy and the quince was apple. Yvonne actually was accurate when she claimed it tasted like foie gras apple pie. As you all know I am not hugely fruit friendly. So perhaps we can leave it at that. 

The risotto was so exciting at first, sea urchin is one of my all-time favoritest things in the world. The flavors immediately jumped right onto my palate in the most delectable fashion. Pumpkin and sea urchin – YUM. BUT, the risotto was a bit too al denté for me – not enough to deter me from eating the entire dish, but it would have been PERFECT otherwise – I mean, a show stopper. That kind of saddened me.


Moving into our first entrée course Eduardo brought us each a glass Beaujolais. This is, by far, one of my least favorite wines in any context. But to pair them with such powerful seafood dishes… Oy. I would have thought a more precocious red or a bold and aggressive white, myself. I would have thought a bordeaux or, dare I say, a roussanne – but never a Beaujolais.

The branzino was nice. The purees underneath were powerful and seasonal. They could have used a little more butter or oil or something to help emulsify or soften them, but the flavors were spot on. The cut of fish was done nicely, skin on top, crisped and salty rich. The scallops were cooked almost perfectly. They needed about 30 seconds longer or a higher heat at less the time. I liked the mushrooms, immensely. The puree was either absent or unmemorable, and the red wine nage was very salty. Again, this could have been helped a little bit with the wine pairing. It needed something that would have brought out the scallops and cut through the salt.

I believe, but don’t quote me on this, Eduardo poured a tempranillo for our final savory course. The braised pork shank made Yvonne happy, but I found the flavors muddled with one another. The pork was indeed divine, but the rapini was tough and the chorizo was cut like pepperoni with the potatoes. I would have preferred chunks. Much like the octopus dish, this needed something in it to cut the bite. But I will add that perhaps this dish would be perfect with the right wine instead - perhaps a zinfandel or a cabernet. The tempranillo was tannic and bitter, whereas I wanted a big, round, warm, bold wine to stand up to the meat and its flavors. A mourvédre would have been perfection.


I really liked my wild boar. It was cooked to perfection; tender, flavorful, and beautiful to look at, and the violet mustard sauce was just delightful. But the spaetzel was really, hard and had the effect of stale bread crumbs. It absorbed none of the sauce and had no give. I really wanted this meat and this sauce to have something – hell, a slice of white bread, like you’d get with barbecue, would have even worked (well, not so much in this environment – but you get the idea). Here’s the other thing – I am kind of a brussels sprout aficionado, and these were entirely uninspired. Give me some sage. Give me some hazelnuts. Give me brown butter. Give me a good sear and a soft interior. Otherwise we are working with the definition of why most kids hate brussels sprouts. Sorry, but these really bummed me out.


At this point we asked Don if we might move our operation to the bar for dessert. As you all know, I generally prefer to dine at the bar, so I wanted to clock a little time there. This is when Eduardo introduced us to Elia the bartender. We loved Elia. He was affable, attentive, fun and funny. He also paired some dessert wines, bourbon and some sparkles with our desserts that were absolutely fantastic. He even shared with us one of his buckeyes that someone sent him from Ohio. We also really enjoyed our desserts. The salted caramel doughnut was awe-inspiring.


I think that Grace is lovely. I think that Grace’s menu is even more lovely. But I think that Grace fell short in execution. Almost every dish we tasted had some element that was off. Needed salt, too much salt, over cooked, under cooked, al dente, too many bells and whistles on the plate, etc. The execution of the food seemed to lack inspiration and was far from graceful. I know they are moving to downtown LA in 2010. Perhaps that is exactly the splash of cold water on the face they need to get all bright-eyed and bushy tailed again. I will certainly visit them there and see. I’m nothing if not gracious.
Grace on Urbanspoon
Grace Restaurant in Los Angeles

12.03.2009

22. Lomo Arigato


Note the God light.

Well thank goodness. I got stuck in the Korean-Mexican fusion again recently and completely forgot I now have the option of Peruvian-Japanese fusion! Lomo Arigato’s chef, Eric Nakata serves up primarily Peruvian dishes with Japanese flavors (like soy sauce). The menu confidently boasts only 3 dishes, each at $7 (I love that). Chris met me at the truck for lunch today and we were able to order 2/3 of the menu!


Note the hood ornament.
 
I ordered their signature dish, Lomo Saltado. This is a choice of tri-tip, chicken or tofu, with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and french fries sauteed in red wine and soy sauce, and served over white rice. Aji sauce, also known on the truck as “the green sauce,” was served on the side. Chris had the Tallarin Saltado – A Peruvian style spaghetti prepared in a wok with the same meat choices, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, soy sauce and red wine. I will try the Chaufa next go ‘round. It is essentially Peruvian style fried rice with the same meats, minus red wine and plus red bell peppers, green onion and egg.

While we waited we were immensely entertained by big balls of fire from the food preparation in the truck! Well, I was pretty excited, but I do love fire. Everyone in the truck seemed accustomed to my reaction. The Vegas of food trucks! By the way, everyone working there also had their hats cocked to the side. Where do you find the hats with the bill coming out of the side? I can only find the ones with the bill coming out the front.


 Note her smile.


Note the fire.

Our wait was brief, and upon receiving our food, Chef Nakata insisted that we have little, plastic seats to sit on while we ate. SEATS! That absolutely takes the cake, folks.

So, in a sunny spot by a wall, with our little seats, Chris and I began our first Peruvian-Japanese food truck experience. 


Note the seats.

First off, the portions are a gracious plenty. My Lomo Saltado was rich, powerful, and big. The tri-tip was well seasoned and as tender as tri-tip can be, the onions grilled down nicely, the tomatoes still had a punch to them, the rice billowy and perfect. The fries were a curious element to the whole thing. They seemed redundant with rice and were pretty soggy. I didn’t mind them but I don’t know why they were there. The Aji sauce was tangy, spicy and creamy – and it was a surprising and lovely compliment to everything going on in the dish. We both thought some shiso leaf would be a really nice touch in this here.


Note the fries.

Chris’ Tallarin Saltado was also delicious. I really enjoyed the spaghetti. I felt that this one needed some salt and that the Aji sauce didn’t compliment as well as with the Lomo Saltado - but I tell you what, this was really great. It worked out well with our ordering decision as Chris preferred his to mine and I vice versa. I couldn’t finish mine, but that is no testament to the food – as I said, the portions are huge. Chris polished all of his off, though.



 Lomo Arigato, Mr. Roboto.


21. 5 Breads and 2 Fish



While driving down Fairfax to San Vicente to drop my broken-heeled boots off at Pasquale’s for repair, I thought I might as well take a tiny detour down Wilshire – just to see which trucks might be hanging around. Mattie’s: tempting, but I just can’t return yet; Fishlips: no; Bool: clearly not. Wait one second… I’ve never seen this one before: 5 Breads and 2 Fish. Kind of a mouthful, yes, but my curiosity was piqued. So I pulled over and parked.



I stared at the menu for a while and wasn’t entirely certain I was going to stay, but the truck had no other customers and the man inside seemed really eager to feed me. They had all of these ads plastered on the truck bragging about their tofu burgers. I’m not so much of a tofu kinda gal, so I tried to order the Kimchi Pork Burger ($4.99 + tax), but the man inside insisted that the burrito version was superior. I walked away with the Kimchi Pork Burrito ($4.99 + tax and a bottle of water ($1.50).



I have to say that, while the pork was actually very good: big chunks, lean and marinated well – the whole experience was pretty forgettable. The interior of the burrito was monochromatic and the kimchi had little to no zest. The cabbage was not even terribly snappy, rather wilty, actually. The tortilla was tough and had a pastiness that left little sweaters on my teeth. Honestly, I only took about as many bites as it took to get the shot below and called it a day.



 

I’m not entirely certain why 5 Breads and 2 Fish, another Korean-Mexican fusion truck, settled on such a biblical name. If five small barley loaves and two small fish, supplied by a boy, were used by Jesus to feed a multitude of 5000, why was a large truck full of food and no other customers unable to sate little old me?