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