...the only type of marathon I will ever run.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Everyone Loves Surprises

This post lead me to an idea. Remember at summer camp when you would get a care package of your favorite snacks from your parents? Said snacks then became camp currency, bartering top bunks for a tin of Pringles. There's an element of surprise- first at 'mail call' everyday to see if you got a package, then further to see what salt and sugar-filled treats waited inside.
So my idea is to assemble a group of people and do a 'secret Santa' style drawing every week or two, where you get a name and address of one of the other group members, to which you mail a surprise edible gift. They could be homemade or store bought- baked goods, gourmet marshmallows, foreign potato chips, novelty gummy t-bone steaks, a bottle of Belize's national hot sauce or any other food that you'd like to share with the lucky recipient. It's an excuse to try new things, and makes the food blogging community a more tangible experience. At the least it'll be worthy of a blog post...
With fears of anthrax and other terrorist activity, it might be best to start with packaged items, before moving into the homemade department. But how nice would it be to get home from work, to find a box of French macarons or an assorted six pack of specialty sodas instead of bills and junk mail.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More Walking-Distance Restaurants

Bread Bar, Third Stop, Cuvee, Newsroom, The Ivy, Orso, Locanda Veneta... these restaurants are literally a nine iron from my apartment. So just chalk it up to gluttony that I want more.
Le Pain Quotidien just opened even closer to my apartment than Bread Bar. And although there is one .58 miles north and another 1.52 miles west, I still prefer the walking-distance location. I guess it proves that Los Angeleno's desire for bread is insatiable.

With a signature communal table running down the center, and two-tops along the walls, the small (and probably expensive) Robertson Blvd space is used very well. The outdoor tables with a view of the famous roller dancer, will come only second to the patio at the Ivy in terms of visual entertainment in the form of awe-struck mocking.
The soup of the day was white bean which was flavorful and filling. The special salad was a beet with raspberries, goat cheese and pine nuts. The salad dressing was bland but the rest was good.
Mint lemonade and tea to drink.
No major opening-week kinks except the manual notation of the check and credit card.
So until the newly expanded Joan's on Third opens, I guess you'll find me at Le Pain.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Table for Twelve

Big dinners are a pet peeve of mine, because there are so few restaurants that can easily handle a table of twelve. Ordering is a stressful chore, busboys can't keep up with requests for sauces, water, forks, etc. and long tables often separate diners and cause room volume to increase.
So I'm glad to tell you that Genghis Cohen far surpassed my expectations in serving a dinner for twelve on a Friday night at 7pm.
For starters the round table allows everyone to speak to each other easily. The waiter wasn't fazed by the size of the group or the disorganization of the order. Most importantly, the food came very quickly, piping hot and not sacrificing flavor. The busboys cleared plates and refilled waters often, always being polite in reaching over shoulders to the Lazy Susan (just out of reach) at the center of the table.
Although most Chinese restaurants serving family style meals probably would yield similar results, I wanted to give high marks to Genghis Cohen.
NOTE: This review isn't about the food. The food is fine. It's not the best by any means, but there aren't a lot of good Chinese restaurants near Fairfax and Melrose. I much prefer Yang Chow for non-SGV Chinese food.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Fast Food From Famima

Famima is like the Fast and the Furious of mini marts; on the surface it's slick, with Japanese roots and a little extra kick in the food department, but ultimately it's just a souped-up 7-11.It took three trips to actually buy anything there. Most of the food didn't look good and the fancy water, chips and soda never peaked my interest. Almost all of the prepared food looked days old, despite 'sell by' dates claiming otherwise. Yesterday I was in a hurry and had been craving dim sum, so I grabbed their Dim Sum Combo A. The bao at the checkout counter look quite good, but I skipped them figuring there will be other chances. At the register the employee offered to microwave my food for me, as well as give me chopsticks and soy sauce. It's a nice added human touch, but again only a tiny step above Apu at the Kwik-E-Mart (that's a Simpsons reference, not racism fyi).
The combo's contents were Char Siu Bao (Panfried Pork Bun), two Pork Siu Mai, two Shrimp Dumplings and two Shrimp Potstickers. It looked appetizing enough until I flipped the packaged to find an ingredient list longer than the National Do Not Call Registry. I realize that for prepared food to last long enough to turn profit there must be additives. I also believe that after years of eating Doritos and Taco Bell I've built up a strong tolerance to chemicals in my food. So I returned to my office to eat.
Overall the food is packed with seasoning, so it's flavorful (albeit salty). The consistency was pretty good for a reheated meal. Compared to a sandwich from Subway, it's a good alternative, but I don't know that I'd rush back.
I fear that Famima's other heatable lunches (chicken teriyaki bowls, spaghetti puttanesca, yakisoba, pad thai, paninis and chicken korma) will fair the same way- unhealty, rating higher than airplane food, but not as good as a freshly-prepared lunch.
I'll still try the bao from the checkout counter, and I'll still try the sushi, as in a future post I'll compare and contrast supermarket sushi.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Joe, Lawry and Tradition: Final Vegas Post

We've instated a few traditions in Las Vegas over the years. The March Madness trip itself (which also coincides with St Patrick's Day, Peter's birthday and my birthday) has been going on for almost a decade.
When we were younger Vegas trips happened numerous times per year, but with age it's
been cut down to an annual trip (although bachelor parties seem to be bumping the number up lately). Standing in the sports book this year, it hit me that it's just the only way to watch the NCAA tournament- on 4 giant screens and 8 smaller screens, surrounded by point-taking or giving sports fans, hanging on every last shot and second on the clock.
Two food traditions that have emerged are Joe's Stone Crab for lunch and Lawry's for dinner. Joe's is the perfect vegas meal, light but decadent and something that can't easily be found in LA. Their hash browns alone are worth the trip, but throw in powerfully flavorful oysters Rockefeller and thick, fresh crab legs and you have the perfect midday Vegas meal.
The Lawry's tradition is one that doesn't really make sense, as we have one in LA. It's definitely not the fanciest restaurant in Vegas. It's not new or trendy or even on the strip. I think the reasons are that the service (especially for a large, rowdy group of eight to ten guys) is always spot on. The limited menu makes ordering easy and keeps the price reasonable (versus Bouchon or Guy Savoy where some of the pickier eaters might be upset about choices and cost). It's hearty and satisfying, with nuclear horseradish and artery-clogging creamed corn and spinach. Although they never have the table ready when we arrive, that's the only qualm we've ever had with Lawry's.
My final point is that I will definitely hit Lotus of Siam in June. I missed it this time but it won't happen again.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gigi and Rao: Vegas Part 2

Upon arrival I wanted a quick bite to hold me over until our 9:15p reservation at Rao's (pronounced ray-ohs). I sat at the bar at The Palm and had a Gigi Salad (chopped shrimp, string beans, tomato, onion and bacon tossed in a vinaigrette). I realize it's a chain, but it's conveniently located in the Forum Shops.
Later that night our party of eight was actually on time for our Rao's reservation. At this point, after a few drinks, everyone was excited to get the trip started (read: to start gambling) so enthusiasm for the meal wasn't overwhelming. Regardless, our table wasn't ready yet so we grabbed drinks at the bar. We chatted with a caricature of a mafioso New Yorker who served as the maitre d'. We asked him for pointers on the menu and he offered the lemon chicken, any of the veal dishes, the peppers, the mozzarella and of course, the meatballs.
About twenty minutes later we were seated at a round table in one of the '10-table rooms' decorated to look like the original East Harlem location. They were out of our first two wine choices (which we thought might have been a ruse to get us to spend more on a more expensive bottle, but they suggested an even cheaper bottle). The wine wasn't good. Starting off on the wrong foot...
We ordered family style: spaghetti with meatballs, veal parmesan, osso bucco and lemon chicken. The meatballs were delicious but the sauce was watery, cutting the flavor in half.
The veal parm was outstanding. I think we each could have eaten our own order and been completely satisfied. The lemon chicken was abundant with flavor but very dry and the osso bucco left a lot to be desired in flavor and texture. For dessert we ordered something, maybe tiramisu- I honestly don't remember because by this point I was drunk.There is a gift shop set up to the left of the entrance AND there is a table display of items for sale in the restaurant by the bar.
Other ambiance enhancing decor included signed photos from superstars like Meadow Soprano and Chuck Zito.
Overall the service was less than stellar. The waiter didn't seem to want us there, possibly pegging us a difficult table because of the large size and loud volume. Regardless, in Vegas I expected more. Rao's felt like a storefront masquerading as a restaurant, however I'll give them another shot some day with a smaller party.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lindo Las Vegas

The Food Marathon in Las Vegas didn't happen. There's no valid excuse, but I'll at least give the reasons:
1. We didn't rent a car (more on the fun of Vegas cab rides later).
2. The weather was amazing (thus requiring many daytime hours spent by the pool).
3. We went to the Marquez-Barrera fight (which meant heading to Mandalay Bar early).
Although there wasn't a true food marathon, there was plenty of eating and adventure. I'll start with the highlight, Lindo Michoacan.
In ten years of Vegas vacations, this was the first time I left the strip. With almost two million people populating one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, it shouldn't be a surprise that there is good food found in the sprawling suburban neighborhoods surrounding the mega casinos on South Las Vegas Blvd.
The plan was to wake up Saturday morning, start the marathon and return in time to get to the pool before the fight. We didn't reserve a car ahead of time, so we decided we'd take cabs. The total cost wouldn't be too bad as we were staying close to the strip.
We grabbed a cab from Caesars (which is not as nice as The Hotel at Mandalay, but fun, centrally located and has a great sports book) and the tone was immediately set by the cab driver who regaled us with stories of his cab's sexual exploits. I won't get into details but our cabbie always keeps condoms in the car and he mentioned having to tame his dragon at one point. We exited the vehicle fifteen minutes later, wondering if we'd be able to eat after hearing such tales.
It didn't take long to forget, however, as we entered Lindo Michoacan (my pictures are a disgrace, there are excellent pictures here), a quintessential Mexican restaurant in an area that what we dubbed the Northride of Las Vegas (which could also be anywhere in modern day America: Phoenix, Tulsa, strip malls, Starbucks).The Michoacan (pronounced mee-cho-ah-cahn) region of Mexico is found in the southwest, extending from the Pacific Ocean about halfway inland. The interior of the restaurant looked similar to El Cholo, with a slightly more 'country' feel. Although the look of the restaurant was typical, the menu featured a variety not normally found at El Torito or Cozymels (which our cab driver claimed was the best Mexican restaurant in Vegas). Immediately the Carnitas a la Coca Cola stood out as a rare find. Other options ranged from Lengua a la Michoacan- fresh beef tongue cooked in a fresh tomato sauce and a little jalapeƱo to Pollo con Nopales- broiled fillet of chicken breast served with Mexican cactus.
We knew we'd start with the fresh guacamole made table-side,
but due to the range of choices we decided to ask our waiter for help. He pointed out a few meat, chicken and seafood choices. We chose the Camarones Abuelito Timo- large shrimps filled with cheese, wrapped in bacon and deep fried, served over rice and Pollo Chipotle- chicken breasts smothered in a smoky chipotle sauce.
As we ate our chips, salsa, guacamole and beans (which they serve in a bowl next to the salsa) we were served small bowls of tortilla soup. Shortly after, the food arrived on huge plates full of rice and beans. We each took a bacon-wrapped cheese-covered shrimp and bit into the fried goodness, alternately dipping it into the salsa, guacamole and bowl of creamy chipotle dipping sauce. They were phenomenal- one of the best bites I've had in Las Vegas since Delmonico many years earlier. The chicken was delicious as well, tender and soaked in sauce. The gluttonous meal continued, with our waiter checking in often to refill drinks and make sure everything was all right. We had no complaints, except that the restaurant is too far from the strip.
Which leads to the demise of the marathon. After the meal we ran across the street to the bank to save the $5 ATM fee in the casinos. We called a cab and waited. I won't get into the details, but 3 buses, 2 missed cabs, 1 monorail and an hour and a half later we returned to the hotel- happy that we had a good meal but disappointed that it wasn't a marathon. That said we'll be back in June, so stay tuned...
Also, Lindo Michoacan has a myspace page.
And, there's more Vegas food blogging to come, including crappy service but good food at Rao's and Joe's Stone Crab.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Indian List

Before our addiction to spicy soup we made a calculated assault on Los Angeles' Indian restaurant list. Gate of India was first, followed by (not in this order) Anarkali, Bollywood Cafe, Bombay Cafe, Clay Pit, Curry Palace, Dhaba, East India Grill, Electric Karma, Electric Lotus, Flavor of India, India's Oven, Parus, Surya and Tandoori Nights.
Many places were very similar, with points for Paru's vegetarian menu and Bollywood Cafe's extremely spicy dishes. Electric Lotus was hands-down the worst (bad food coupled with extreme over-hype)- It's an example of location clouding people's tastebuds. Most restaurants fell in the middle with either overpriced, under-portioned dishes, or lackluster decor, food and service.
In the end we kept going back to Gate of India, not only because it was close, but because they had the best food for the price.
Not unlike past instances with divey ethnic restaurants, we had a problem at Gate of India. It's been a long time since this happened (and it seems that they changed management/owners many times since) but we found a rubber band in the sauce (the sauce found on the table at most Indian restaurants). We immediately pointed it out to the embarrassed server and left. He apologized, but we couldn't bring ourselves to eat there anymore. It was a small green rubber band, which easily could have held produce together. It also could have been holding a cook's ponytail.
None of the aforementioned restaurants are in Artesia or the surrounding Indian-populated communities. So this list is not nearly complete. This won't be the last Indian food post.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Saturday at the Bay

75 degrees on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
After years of hearing accolades from Max and Margaux (who puts it on the same level of greatness as In-N-Out), I tried Bay Cities Deli. Known for the best sandwiches in LA (why is it so hard to get a really good sandwich here), Bay Cities easily earned its title.
The place was crazy, crowded inside and out. The deli case that runs the length of one side of the building is packed full of meats, cheeses and salads (pasta, potato, chicken, etc.). There are at least eight servers behind the counter and at least triple that amount in line, hungarily awaiting their food. After taking a number, a no bullshit employee manages the line on the ordering side, sending sandwich-only orders to the fax counter/mini deli on the other side of the building. Missing the weekday orders from Sony Music, MTV, Fox Sports and countless post-production houses in the area, the fax counter is free to alleviate the line at the main counter.
A man next to me starts ordering a highly specialized sandwich from an annoyed deli clerk about five feet in front of him. Two rows of glass separate the sandwich-maker and taker, but the intricacy of the order (no mayo, extra mustard, no pickles) puts them a hundred yards apart.
As instructed, I order a large Godmother (genoa salami, mortadella
coppacola, ham, prosciutto, provolone) with the works (mayo, mustard, onions, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, Italian dressing & hot pepper salad) which arrives in seconds in its shoe-sized glory. Scrawled on top is $8, which by the size alone is well worth the price.
In line as I wait to pay the guy in front of me comments on how my sandwich is much bigger than his. I chalk it up to the ease of my order compared to the picky eater who ordered before me- I was rewarded for being quick and easy and my prize was the sandwich.
Outside under strong sunlight, I faced Lincoln Blvd watching weekend warriors on Harleys and hipsters in Hybrids. Birds fearlessly share tables with patrons, eagerly awaiting dropped crumbs. They wouldn't find many around my table.
A sandwich is only as good as its weakest part, and the Godmother is made up of the finest produced and prepared elements. The warm, crunchy, tightly-pressed bread is the anchor of the sandwich. Rich with flavor and texture, it surrounds fresh meat and well-chopped vegetables.
The shiny yellow drips of mustard/mayo/oil remind me of Giamellas, a sub place I loved as a kid. Bay Cities immediately blows it away with their delicious pickles, thin bread and unprocessed meat.
If Bay Cities Deli was three separate stores: sandwich shop, Joans-esque upscale deli/caterer and high-end supermarket, it could fill a space the size of Whole Foods and give them a run for their money. However, tightly-packed as a full service deli, Bay Cities makes a killing at its Westside location.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Bowling for Beers

I'm sure this isn't a new concept and I'm not sure why I think it's cool, but bowling alley bars carry bowling pin-shaped bottles of Bud, Bud Lite and Bud Ice.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Quick Review: Magnolia

Magnolia (from the people who brought you The Bar on Sunset and Bronson) has been around long enough that it doesn't really need a review. This actually is a post about restaurants that call themselves restaurants but in reality are just high-end bars that happen to serve food too.
Magnolia knows that their patrons are Belvedere-swilling hipsters, and the bartenders and servers were trained to effectively handle the volume and variety of drink orders. Places like Blowfish and Katana, are also bars masquerading as restaurants, but the difference is that Magnolia actually has good food, in large portions for fair prices... for a bar.
The music is always good. The location on Sunset makes it a great stop before or after a show at the Henry Fonda, Pantages, ArcLight or Paladium. The hostesses are beautiful. It's a place that can handle a partying table of eight on a Friday night and not miss a beat, keeping everyone drunk, full and happy. Many bars in LA can't claim the same.
Grilled salmon with asparagus

Lobster ravioli

Brussel sprouts

mint chip ice cream sandwich