Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Meals by Genet

Genet was gracious enough to open up for us on a Tuesday night to taste her gourmet Ethiopian cuisine.We were able sample so many of her divine wats, tibs, and the succulent kitfo.All devoured with injeera bread from Rosalind's across the street.

A little Tej and some Ethiopian beer and I felt like I was in Addis Abbaba.This was a fantastic banquet.I hope to return soon to this master of the celebrated cuisine of Ethiopia. That kitfo and doro wat are killin'.

Meals by Genet
1053 S. Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 938-9304

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Passport #5 Havana Nights-La Bodeguita de Pico

Havana is truly an amazing city.It's timelocked state is unique in this disposable world of fast food and short attention spans.Adults play dominos in the street at midnight under a functioning streetlight.Groups of revelers sing sweet songs on the malecon to the hypnotic clave, and children race down the pavement in homemade scooters crafted from crates and spare parts.La Rampa, La Habana Vieja,Miramar, Parque Central, Central, all sizzle with the rythyms, joy, and animated lives of the fiery and infectious Cuban people. At night tourists and Cubans frolic in the carnavalesque atmosphere of the night clubs.Mojitos, Cristal, Bucanero, Havana Club, puros, Cuba Libres, Pina Coladas,salsa, La Casa de Musica,dancing in the steets..........

For food you have amazing Paladares(privately owned restaurants in homes)serving up Lomo Ahumado with moros y cristianos and incredible homecooking if you are lucky enough to be invited to someone's house for arroz con pollo!State run restaurants are not always as exciting, but there is an excepion, El Aljibe. This restaurant serves up a special roast chicken marinated in seville oranges, garlic, and secret spices cooked to fall off the bone perfection. I have dreams about this restaurant and this dish.

Last Tuesday, 25 members of my Passport class, including current and former students and their friends, met at La Bodeguita de Pico, a little bit of Havana in Los Angeles. I arranged this dinner due to the presence of the El Aljibe chicken, which is the name of the recipe as well as the restaurant in Havana. We ordered the Gran Plato del Chef appetizer plate which included the delicious pappa rellena(my favorite),platanos fritos,chicharrones, y platanos fritos rellenos de camaron y carne molida.A few mojitos later were served the El Aljibe chicken with frijoles negros and arroz blanco, cuban style.The chicken was delicious and quite a genenrous portion.It was not as great as the chicken at El Aljibe in Havana, but was also different.The manager said that the recipe comes from La Bodeguita del Medio, the restaurant/bar in Cuba made famous by Hemingway and the hordes of tourists that now frequent the place. These two restaurants have a relationship in recipes and things including the La Bodeguita de Pico mojitos which are assembled with ritualistic authenticity down to the way they are muddled. La Bodeguita has a fabulous menu including many classic Cban dishes not found at other Cuban restaurants in LA. The outstanding EL Aljibe feast was well received by all.I hope to return to this restaurant to sample their other offerings, but I may not make it past the El Aljibe chicken, whose flavor and aroma are what sultry Havana nights are made of, without the humidity, of course.

La Bodegita de Pico
5047 West Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 937-2822
Open Wednesday through Sunday
Cigar club 1st and 3rd Tuesday each month

Monday, October 8, 2007

Passport Class #3 Tacos Baja Ensenada

East Los's finest!

These chiles gueros are quite amazing.

TBE's taco de pescado.

Last Tuesday, there were 14 of us in attendance for the world famous fish tacos, Ensenada style.What there to say that hasn't been said about Tacos Baja Ensenada?As Jonathan Gold said it best,"entire religions have been founded on miracles less profound than the Ensenada fish taco." The stock value of some local restaurants here in LA are entirely driven by people's hunger for this wonderful food.

A double fried battered fish wrapped in a warm flour tortilla, dressed with cabbage, pico de gallo, pickled onions, crema mexicana, a squirt of lime, and some salsa or hot sauce to finish.This is the ultimate stret food in Ensenada and throughout Baja California.

TBE would not be out of place stashed behind the tourist hoards that clog the first three streets parralel to the malecon in Ensenada.Once you get to fifth street in Ensenada you are in Mexico, where the best fish taco stands are frequented by the locals.With the famous Tacos El Fenix and La Floresta. No barkers or bad versions of the Mexican Hat Dance to blow your fish taco high. But thanks to TBE these sublime creations are right around the corner in here in East LA.

Some class members were surprized by this choice of cuisine. Fish tacos?Is that all?But, it was soon love at first bite. The fish tacos at TBE are crisp and crunchy on the outside with a delicious seasoned batter that accented the yummy pollock inside.The shrimp tacos, interminably second fiddle to the fish tacos, were excellent offerings as well.The only thing I missed at TBE is the ritual of assembling the fish taco myself as you do at the fish taco stands in Ensenada, and all the choices of salsas. But, they have some wonderful chiles gueros. These chiles pack a medium heat but are the most flavorful of all the fresh chiles in my presumption. I also enjoyed the campechana, a perennial favorite at seafood joints all over mexico. This is the mother of all "cocteles".

This night wouldn't have been complete without Herman's generous donation of beers to further the cause.I surreptitiously poured rounds for Dennis, Herman, and myself on the advice of the owner of TBE, who doesn't have a liqour license.

Tacos Baja Ensenada is one of the best Mexican food experiences to be had in Los Angeles. Its authenticity tranports you to one of those little stands in Baja California where time stands still and it's just you, the fish taco, a cold cerveza, and the warm embrace of a Mexican sunset.

Tacos Baja Ensenada
5385 Whittier Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90022
(323) 887-1980



Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Passport class #2 - Elena's Greek Armenian Cuisine

Elena is a very generous woman.According to her employees, Elena takes care of neighbors and just about anyone she can back in Greece with the proceeds from her modest restaurant located in Glendale. The name of the restaurant is somewhat misleading.Many a blogger and food critic have been thrown off its suggestive title.GREEK-ARMENIAN CUISINE!!! I recently read someone trying to compare Elena's to a Greek restaurant.Well, all they had to do was ask.

Elena is Armenian and is from Greece, part of the Armenian diaspora. She came to the US and opened an Armenian restaurant with some Greek marinades and Armenian marinades, and Greek-Armenian marinades.Maybe it should be called Elena's Greek and Armenian marinades cuisine so that everyone could just stop this madness!!

For the price, Elena's offers Armenian grilled meats such as Lulu(ground beef), Shish kebob(filet mignon), quail, lamb, salmon, and chicken that can't be beat.The Lulu kebob plate at $7.50 is amazing. Add the popular lentil soup with a wonderful lemony flavor and you will have the full experience. Everyone around me generously let me try their meats. I loved the quail and salmon. Eighteen of nineteen students were in attendance last night for this evening in Elena's converted patio dining room.

Elena's doesn't have all the frills of such Glendale institutions like Carousel.They only offer a couple of mezze, Hummos and Mutabal, and a selction of salads.There are grape leaves and a stuffed eggplant.Plenty of lavash(bread) was on hand and some of us capped this dinner with a homemade baklava not drenched in syrup, but flavored by the some of its fresh ingredients. This was accompanied by a high octane Armenian coffee substantial enough to be a ride at Magic Mountain.

If you want a great Armenian meal for under $10, Elena's is unrivaled for Armenian homecooking at a premium.If they can just get a darn liquor license so I can enjoy a cold Kotayk(Armenian beer) with my Lulu plate, Elena's Greek-Armenian Cuisine would be even better.

Elena's Greek Armenian Cuisine
1000 S Glendale Ave
Glendale, CA 91205
(818) 241-5730

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Breed St.-The Mexican food street scene in Los Angeles

Quesadilla preparada of corn fungus

Nina and her crew taking orders

The pambazo with a salsa of seeds

cochinta, huevo con chorizo, and guisado de chicharron from la veracruzana

Nina(on the far right), and her family

In November of 2007 while wandering through Boyle Heights and East L.A, as I often do browsing the rich food scene for something new, I came across a scene straight out of Mexico.A street food scene just like the kinds that erect themselves all over Mexico in and outside "Ferias"(fairs)and the many "glorietas"(public squares) celebrating the heroes of Mexico.We have street food in L.A., but it usually consists of cloying tacos and uninspired bacon-wrapped hotdogs.No matter what city you find yourself throughout Mexico, the nights bring forth a panoply of lucious street foods.

Mexico has many regional foods available during the day, but at night along the "malecones"(seawalls), "plazas", streets,parks:tacos,sopes,huaraches,tortas,hot dogs wrapped in bacon, tortas, tacos al vapor, tacos dorados, carne asada(best in Sonora) , pozole, nopales, pollo asado,pambazos,members of the sopes family,vampiros, gringas,etc.I remember arriving late one night to Campeche asking around for mariscos only to strike out as all the stands were closed.That's right, certain foods like the seafood,barbacoa, and birria start at the crack of dawn and head home in the afternoon.The grill and comfort food "puestos"(stands) come out at night and fill the air with their smoky, mouthwatering scents wafting throughout the streets of Mexico.

When I arrived at the corner of Cesar Chavez and Breed where the Big Buy Foods market lies in Boyle Heights all my longings had been fulfilled. Nina's catering,located in the Bank of America parking lot , with their sopes, huaraches, gorditas, quesadillas preparadas, tostadas, flautas, and pambazos.Classic fillings cooked to perfection such as hongos(mushrooms), papa con chorizo(potato with chorizo), tinga, carne asada,flor de calabaza(squash blossoms),huitlacoche(corn fungus),and pollo.This stand has the best salsas on the street including a salsa de semillas consisting of pumpkin seeds, peanuts, sesame seeds,chile de arbol, and a little bit of peanut oil.Que rico!! With some free nopales and pickled red onions with habaneros on the side, Nina's can't be outdone.on the sidewalk opposite Nina's a quiet woman from Veracruz serves the kind of tacos you would find in homes in Mexico and from street vendors in Mexico City selling tacos de guisado(tacos of stews): cochinita, huevo con arroz(rice and hard boiled egg),bistec con papas(steak and potatoes), guisado de chicharrones(pork skin in a green sauce), or whatever she feels like bringing that day.She also has a tender cecina, but that rice with hard-boiled egg taco is a hug from grandma.

Next to la veracruzana under a blue umbrella as you head south on Breed St., is the delicious pozole stand, with the red and white varieties.They also serve up a formidable tostada of cueritos(pig skin).Pure heaven!!The chef assembles her pozole, the stock with hominy and chicken, then the meats-"que quieres de carne, mijo"(what meats do you want, son), oh, a little of everything please.Carnitas, cueritos,patas,etc.If you ordered white she executes the handoff,if you ordered the red she adds the red sauce flavored by mild and delectable California Chiles. Now, it's your turn! A little cabbage, lime, diced onion, crumbled chile de arbol, radishes, salsa and you are ready to go.This pozole may be the best in the city! Next a simple taco stand, an out of place pupusa vendor, some candies and botanas(snacks) along with the ubiquitous pirate DVD guys.The competing sopes and more stand to Nina's on the other side of the street flanked by a mariscos truck that packs up earlier than the rest.On a recent visit I had a caramel crepe from a newcomer to Breed St. and also a tamale vendor with pork, chicken and cheese tamales to go with a homemade champurrado.

Not far away near the churros heading north on Breed is a Hidalgo style barbacoa cart. These gentlemen pit roast the lamb in their backyards. The regular barbacoa is among the best you'll find here in LA. I would pass on the pancita, it's not easy to make this properly, and it's not their srongest skill.Have some lamb consome to dip your tacos of barbacoa, it's on the house.

You never know what you will find on Breed St, it's a living entity constantly moving and changing.I still keep hoping for that one lady to show up who was selling her original churros filled with flan.The crepe stand also does ricos hotcakes(street pancakes), another late night option you'll find in Mexico.Breed St. is a Los Angeles treasure, where the spirit of Mexico has found a place in our own backyard. The traditions of family and great food will fill you with comfort and indulgence.A great way to pass an evening in Los Angeles.

So, come on out to this "feria" in Boyle Heights, Thurdays through Sunday starting at 7PM and finishing up around 10 or so.You'll be glad you did.Provecho!!
Breed St.
located on Breed at Cesar Chavez in Boyle Heights, just two blocks east of La Parrilla.
7PM -10PM???
Thursday through Sunday

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Fogo de Chao

I have been traveling to Brazil for several years now and recently brought back a Paulista to be my wife.That is to say that I am enchanted with all things Brazilian.For me ethnic dining is about revisiting a favorite destination through the sights, sounds,smells, and tastes of a country.I love Thai food, but never having visited Thailand I don't have the same connection I have to Brazilian food.When I have a good caipirinha or coxinha de galinha, I can conjure up all the lively faces and places of my Brazilian experiences,like when my wife and I went to our first churrascaria together, the Fogo de Chao in Moema, near the Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo.Beautiful!!!Beleza!!!!

Tonight, my wife and I were entertaining a great friend from Japan who is no stranger to steakhouses.Japan boasts some of the most elegant and serious steakhouses in the world.We knew that for his first churrasco experience that we had to go to LA's finest, Fogo de Chao- Beverly Hills.We have been to the Fogo de Chao in Sao Paulo, Brazil before and many others when I was going back and forth from the US to Brazil during our courtship.Of course, my wife has experienced churrasco all her life and is an expert whether she likes it or not!The most striking difference between LA and Sao Paulo at first glance of course is the price. Quality meat can be had in Brazil for a lot less.

When we arrived it was straight to the sleek bar off to the side for the requisite caipirinhas.The bartender offered four different cachacas to choose from.My Paulista wife went for the "Ypioca gold" for a smoother ride, but I convinced my friend to go with "51" to experience the caipirinha of the people.They also carry "Leblon" and the regular "Ypioca".For us this set the appropriate vibe.Although Fogo seems to have more Brazilian staff than the last time I was there one year ago, it still lacks the ambiance and spirit of places like Gaucho's Village and of course the Fogo in Sao Paulo.But, would this make a difference in the churrasco?

The salad bar at a churrascaria is always a carnaval of vibrant, fresh colors.Grilled vegetables, marinated vegetables, salads,cheeses,and many dishes reflecting the multi-cultural popourri that is Brazil.Italians,Japanese,Russians,Lebanese,Germans,etc.Truly a feast for the eyes.We tried to steer our guest towards the must have Brazilian items, as we still had meat service to prepare for.Rule #1 in churrasco.Save room for the meat. We are talking palmitos,salpicao,maionese,quiejo,vinagrete, and...........where's the farofa!!!!! Oh, they bring polenta, pao de queijo,batatas, and farofa to the table.We also asked the manager for some Brazilian beans and rice(feijao e arroz).Everything was fantastic, and while this salad bar didn't have as big of a selection as most churrascarias in Brazil, the quality was on par with the Sao Paulo Fogo de Chao.The polenta was made with cornmeal, but was still crunchy and delicious. Now we were ready for the carne.

I tried the picanha(sirloin cap), alcatra(top sirloin), fraldinha(bottom sirloin),linguica,cordeiro(lamb chops), and the new ancho(rib eye).All of these meats were sublime in all their salty goodness.The ancho was my favorite, so tender and oozing with flavor. A great churrascaria really tailors the flavor and texture of every cut, and Fogo de Chao achieves this formidable task with honors.I'm only sad to not have had another stomach to get those meats that got away.My wife warns to stay away from the sausages, because in Brazil they keep bringing the linguica to fill you up and spoil your appetite for the more expensive cuts.At Fogo de Chao, this is not an issue, as this fine restaurant gives world class quality and service.It is definitely worth the coin, at $55 a head, to experience "Los Angeles' best churrascaria."

Fogo de Chao
Hours of operation:Lunch: Monday-Friday 11:30am-2pmDinner: Monday-Thursday 5pm-10pm; Friday 5pm- 10:30pm; Saturday 4:30pm-10:30pm; Sunday 4pm- 9:30pm.133 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, California 90211Phone: 310-289-7755 / Fax: 310-289-9966