Things I’ve Written This Week - An Illustrated History of Ramen [First We Feast] Delicious Meats On Sticks In Los Angeles [KCET] Best Taco Joints in Los Angeles [Food Network]
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
If you've ever watched variety shows, gossip shows,talk shows, or sketch comedy on Mexican television before, Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron will put a grin on your face. The menu oozes of Mexican pop culture symbols and comedic representations of the curvaceous latinas from El Gordo y La Flaca, Escandalo TV, Sabado Gigante, Siempre en Domingo, or the catwalk of Muevete.
Pal Cabron specializes in cemitas, the distinguished sandwich from the state of Puebla,and clayudas, the pizzaesque, thin, crispy tortilla covered with various toppings, a typical food of Oaxaca.
The restaurant has more than two dozen cemitas, the most classic being the cemita de milanesa(breaded chicken), known as La Tetanic.
The buxom caricature of La Tetanic on Pal Cabron's wall is a likeness of the real Tetanic, Roxanna Martinez,the bodylicious blonde in this video from La Hora Pico.All her components:pounded thin milanesa,house baked bread, firm avocado, Oaxacan string cheese bikini, perky papalo, and sensual,smoky chipotle.
Other cemitas include La cachonda(nasty girl), the kind of girl you don't take home to meet "la abuela", made with pickled leg of steer,and La Tuya(yo' momma), served any way you like.
I attended the opening of Cemitas y Clayudas owned by young entrepreneurs,siblings Bricia and Fernando Lopez, heirs the Guelaguetza restaurant empire, and proud Oaxaquenos.On that evening we got to try every cemita on their menu, and some savory clayudas.This was a blogger event. I had just met Bricia a short time before, but was completely struck by her passion for culture and drive to make the best cemita on the planet.
Everyday detail and menu item is given its due consideration.Even the micheladas, the Mexican beer cocktails, have a punch of hometown Oaxacan style. Gusano de maguey(the agave caterpillars) is ground up in the mix along with the common Worcestershire, salt, lime, and edgy chile piquin.It's the classic michelada turned up to eleven!So, Salud!And, let's go check out these girls.
Pal Cabron's walls are decorated with the the single "leidys". You already saw La Tetanic(Teta+Titanic),here she is with La Bronca, spicy shredded pork loin.
La Brava, is a cemita of marinated pork, La Chirris(the cherry),fine Oaxacan pork chorizo, and La Mas Cabrona(dumb blonde)is stacked with beef milanesa, head cheese, and a chingo de aguacate(a whole lotta f%$#@ing avocado,vato).
And, Las Reinas,owner Bricia Lopez with Zocalo's Dulce Vasquez on opening night.
Cemitas are popular in Los Angeles, and Angelinos, as folks all over Mexico, know to get their cemitas from genuine Poblanos(people from Puebla),but every now and then there are exceptions to the rule.Most foodies have their favorite cemitas truck, stand, or restaurant already well staked out.Mi compa, Javier Cabral and I were not completely sold on these cemitas when the place first opened, eventhough we had become close friends with the Lopez family.We thought there were some kinks to be worked out, but I had the feeling that Bricia and Fernando weren't going to rest until they had the sandwich they wanted.
I happened to have my first euphoric cemita experience at a market in Puebla this past August, which gave me a new appreciation for this regal sandwich.
Bricia had sent her baker to Puebla to study bread making before the restaurant opened, and tracked down quality, authentic ingredients, a talent that runs in the family.She even donned an apron and experimented with the bread making herself.Recently,Bricia's restless quest found her back in Puebla on a cemita reconaissance mission. Let me tell you, don't let the slender frame fool you, Bricia can put a food crawling blogger to shame by her metabolic prowess.
I was able to check in on her progress last month, after Bricia's genuine efforts to improve her cemitas, and it was obvious when the Pueblan prize arrived at our table that a transformation had occured. I was seeing the presentation and form I had experienced in Puebla. An improved sesame seed bun, offerings of quesillo(Oaxacan string cheese) or panela, chipotle or pickled red jalapeno on the side, and a tasty, thin milanesa, formed by the domestic violence of a heavy rolling pin.
The Lopez family restaurants boast the only legal quesillo in town and Cemitas y Clayudas has house made chipotles in adobo. They are served on the side just like they are in Puebla, but do indulge, it's not everyday that you get to have the real deal. The actual chile flavor is much more pronounced, and complex.
It wouldn't be proper for a Lopez to forget Oaxaca, so along with Puebla's cemitas you get the ultimate Oaxacan party platter, the clayuda. The cluyudas are smeared with asiento(pork lard), and traditionally adorned with black beans,cabbage, quesillo, queso fresco, and the Oaxacan power trio of tasajo(cured beef), cecina enchilada(chile rubbed pork), and plump Oaxacan pork chorizo.Have one, two, or heap all three on to your clayuda.
A purple corn clayuda was available on my last visit, with deep,dark corn flavors. There seems to be a surprize on every visit.
I've watched this restaurant grow up in front of my very eyes since it opened this past summer.The cemitas here are excellent, and the dedication to excellence at Cemitas y Clayudas permeates every aspect of the restaurant. It'a little bit Puebla and a little bit Oaxaca. It's a theme restaurant like you'd find in Mexico City, full of racy humor, but also a nod to Mexican-American culture.
The spirit of Pal Cabron is plastered on the walls and in the teasing bathroom characters, but beind the counter and at the cemita station is a serious restaurant committed to bringing authentic Mexican food to Los Angeles.
Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron
2560 East Gage Avenue
Huntington Park, CA 90255
323 277 9899
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Bert Boyce has been the master brewer at Samuel Adams for the past two years, and seems rather young and at ease for someone who's worked at four different breweries and two wineries before Sam Adams.He made it all sound so easy, but what they're doing these days at Sam Adams is serious business.I attended a blogger event at Animal on November 17th to unveil the Samuel Adams Utopias, at 27% ABV, the strongest beer in the world.While this is a tremendous technical achievement not lost on me, at all, the end result is pure deliciousness without need for explanation.
Utopias are a beer unlike any you've ever tasted. Many commented that it reminded them of a sherry or a brandy, but it has its own signature flavor.
Utopias are aged in various casks:sherry, port, muscatel,bourbon and scotch.Bert couldn't reveal all of their secrets, but he did share some of the trials that led to sleepless nights to produce this fine beer. The yeasts are fed and then die in regular beer making process, but instead of feeding them all at once, they are given a ration of food and oxygen to keep the yeasts alive to achieve the 27% ABV. Bert described the Utopias result as a product of perfect fermentation.
In the glass, it's a marriage of malts, wood, and sweet essence, a "spirited" expression of beer.
I came late from another event and walked into a hushed crowd at Animal, while Bert talked about beer making and Samuel Adam's selection of beers.
Bert and the Animal staff got me up to speed, and although I missed the food pairings, the beer selections from the seasonal brews to Utopias was impressive.
The Triple Bock, a predecessor to Utopias, and a component, was another revelation. It's maple syrup, chocolate, and soy sauce notes with lush mouthfeel makes a brilliant apertif.
Coming as the rest were going I made short order fo the seasonal beers available to taste. Sam Adam's Coastal Wheat(wheat ale) was made for summer. Its crisp, refreshing manner and sharp lemon peel flavor really hot the spot in this extended summer weather. This is the kind of every day drinker I plan to stock up on in the Spring. Ceviche and other Mexican seafoods would pair nicely with the Coastal Wheat.
I also sample the famous Boston lager, no surprise here, as I've been drinking this since my early 20's. It tastes as great as ever, one of the most balanced beers I've ever known. The perfect beer for sitting at the bar and checking out some Blues or Soul.
The Cranberry Lambic(lambic),Old Fezziweg(ale), and Holiday Porter(porter) are all well crafted beers. All of the beers at Sam Adams are brewed with greatness in mind, and there is something here for all palates.
Utopias are available in a limited release every two years. You can find them at your local Bevmo's.
This beer is an achievement rooted in Revolutionary ideals, the culmination of 2000 years of brewing technology and artisanship.With Bert Boyce as master brewer, Samuel Adams promises to remain a formidable producer for years to come. This is the holiday gift you're going to want to get for yourself this year.
I'd like to thank Tina Clabber form Devries PR for the invitation to this event, and the fine staff at Animal.
More on Samuel Adams
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Due to the strict letter grading system implemented this past year for trucks, La Abuelita closed in 2011 and will reopen when they are able to acquire a brick and mortar.
You may have noticed the food trailer parked on Vineland in North Hollywood in the last couple of months or so.This part of Vineland lies a few blocks south of Victory Bl., more related to the sketchy credit car dealerships that never seem to be open, and shoddy looking automotive enterprises of the the area surrounding the west side of the Burbank Airport.
In a mini strip mall across from buzzing power lines are three shops, a sign store, a party supply store, and a beauty salon. The owners, a family from Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl(fasting coyote in the nahautl language), a city in the state of Mexico, just outside Mexico City.It's referred to by locals simply as Ciudad Neza.
Neza has a bad reputation in the news, but its reputation of rampant crime is sensationalized much in the same way parts of East Los Angeles and South Central are portrayed. But, saying you're from Neza carries the same sense of pride that an Angelino might have coming from Compton or South Gate.These are great communities that have their challenges, but those who make it may feel an extra sense of accomplishment.
Antojitos de la Abuelita is run by a husband and wife team, along with family members, including la abuelita. They do the cuisine of Mexico City, so many seem to be popping up in recent years, but there's something else going on here.
They set up a tent and tables in the parking lot of their businesses providing the type of weekend mobile service you find in Mexico City. An outdoor sit down food truck, or rather a trailer.Their menu has the usual DF style snacks:pambazos, huaraches, and sopes, but their menu also includes other genuine DF street food items that make this restaurant a contender for the best DF style restaurant in town.
They offer different aguas frescas each day, chilled in jars at the condiment table.Horchata, jamaica, tamarindo, watermelon, or whatever is fresh that day.
Their tacos are excellent even though they are overshadowed by other menu offerings. The cooking of meats here are deft in flavor and texture. On weekends they do barbacoa cooked in maguey spines, moist and elegant flavors of mutton. You can get it with consome, but the taco by itself is a stand alone food.
The cilantro and onions cut fresh to your order by the three women working in the kitchen, tangy tomatillo salsa pairs brilliantly with gamey mutton.
The guajillo chile dipped and fried roll stuffed with chorizo and potatoes known as the pambazo is one of the best in the city.It's not quite the edgy version done by Nina's from Breed St., but neither does it shy away from the messy street food sandwich that it is.
This is also another kitchen within a kitchen of street soups. They serve menudo, which is mostly eaten from street stands on benches in Mexico, red pozole, and caldo de gallina.
All soups are made from scratch and from quality ingredients.The pozole has nice flavor, and can be had with chicken, pork,or both. This was the least interesting of the three, only because it was a little too salty, but still a solid pozole.
The real stars here are the menudo and caldo de gallina(hen soup).The menudo comes with a nice pata(foot), a prized item for the menudo lover.
This is a sublime menudo served in a genuine curbside setting. On some days they hang some pinatas from the party supplies store for additional ambiance.
Caldo de gallina the most common soup served all over Mexico City, in fondas, street stands, moslty by specialists. This is a rarely served soup in LA, which is odd considering the increasing number of DF style establishments.
But of course, this place is called Antojitos de la Abuelita, and the antojitos are worth the trip alone. This is where most DF, of Chilango restaurants start and end here in town.
Typical guisados(stews or fillings)are delivered in the grilled quesadillas, huitlacoche(corn smut), flor de calabaza(squash blossom)with cheese,mushrooms with cheese. The huitlacoche here is outstanding.
Huaraches, the large sandal shaped sopes(masa boats) come with traditional asada, or lengua. These are among the best in town, I like the black bean filling of the huaraches at Don Huarache, but the meat is superior here at Antojitos. All meats are tender, juicy, and flavorful.
Tlayudas, the so called Oaxacan pizzas found at our many Oaxacan restaurants in LA, are brought to a new sensation at this restaurant. I've always found the meats to be less than delicate.The cecina, thin chile marinated pork leg, and tasajo, salted beef round, are supposed to be supple and full flavored. The chubby Oaxacan pork chorizo is sometimes quite ordinary,pourly sourced by uninspired owners.
Here at Antojitos del la Abuela you will find arguably the most satisfying tlayuda, also spelled clayuda, in Los Angeles. The cecina, tasajo, and chorizo are delicious, their presence are revelatory as flvor components rather than filler.These are big enough to share, so grab one to go and pick up a six-pack of chelas(beers)for the perfect party snack.
The family isn't comfortable with pictures, they are very quiet and pleasant,but were concerned about why I was taking pictures. I had to get most of these items to go and photograph them at home or in my car, but this place is too good to keep a secret.
All their food is made to order, three reserved women with serious execution assembling street food master works.
This is the most serious Mexican kitchen in the Valley, and one of the deepest trucks in LA.
Antojitos de la Abuelita
6135 Vineland Ave.(parked in front of Party Supply)
North Hollywood, CA
Wednesdays through Friday around 5PM 'til 9PM
Saturdays and Sundays 8AM to 10PM
barbacoa, caldo de gallina, menudo,and pozole are weekends only.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Between the obnoxious Cabo San Lucas and the classic Mexican beach town of Loreto lies La Paz in Southern Baja California.
La Paz boasts a healthy local economy fueled by eco-tourism, fishing, silver mining, agriculture, and pearls.Although much larger than Cabo, it retains a local character but is just as tourist friendly. As a UNESCO World Heritage Bio-Reserves site it is a paradise for scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking.
The malecon(sea walk)is a beautiful attraction, and the city center has many colonial buildings typical of Southern Baja.
Each year La Paz hosts one of the 6 Carnaval celebrations held in Mexico. This year it was held from the 19th through the 24th of February.
The Carnaval celebration in La Paz is sort of a mix of the two largest in the world, Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans' Mardi Gras respectively. A little parade watching, and imbibing next to the Sea of Cortez. It all takes place on the malecon.
There are many stages across the span of the malecon featuring traditional Mexican styles of music like banda and norteña.
During the day families walk the malecon playing games, eating delicious foods to fatten up before the fasting on Ash Wednesday.
I was in town for a show, and for me that means taking in some regional food and culture.
El Dorado is a seafood restaurant along the malecon exhibiting the freshest local catch.
The restaurant has a palapa(thatch roof)inside and a comfortable setting overlooking the sea. Not a bad place to enjoy the flavors of La Paz.
La Paz and nearby Loreto are where you will find the finest chocolata clams, named for the color of their shells.The flavor and texture of these clams will turn the staunchest oyster snob into a believer. You can get these throughout Baja, but in La Paz they are considered the best.
Bright orange,tan, and white flesh begin to writhe as you squirt a bit of lime. The dozen chocolatas I had were still alive when they were shucked. It doesn't get fresher than that. These should be enjoyed au natural, with a drop of lime and dab of hot sauce.
Pescado relleno is done a thousand different ways, but El Dorado's stuffed fish is a whole other level. Local shrimp and vegetables are stuffed between two filets of locally caught parrot fish, wrapped in bacon, and smothered in a bechamel mushroom sauce.The combination of flavors will bring tears of joy.
Every bite is layered in opulence, but never too heavy.El Dorado may look like every other restaurant on the malecon, but it is far from routine.
After my show I headed down to catch the end of the parade and have a late night snack. This is when all the cocktail stands and food stalls fire up. Have one of the racy cocktails customary at all fairs and festivals:mamada(blow job),semen de burro(bull's semen), or the orgasmo(orgasm).For some reason "Sex on the Beach" is not translated, must be the Cabo/Cancun syndrome.
With drink in hand it's time to pick a stall for noshing. Wherever you choose, the people watching from your table on the malecon is worthwhile, the cowboys, groups of beautiful women, and post-Carnaval leftovers all for the price of a couple of tacos.
You will mostly find typical antojitos(little whims)at these events: sopes, tacos, tortas, carnes, enchiladas, and even some regional items.
On this evening I chose a gringa. A gringa is a large flour tortilla wrapped around al pastor and cheese,the al pastor freshly cut from a spit. These are probably the inspiration for the American style quesadilla with meat.The difference here is the homemade tortilla from local wheat, a nice melting cheese, and savory al pastor from pure pork loin.A nice heavy bite of juicy pork with refried beans and salad before your day of fasting is a rewarding decision.
Carnaval in La Paz is a nice alternative to some of the bigger events held around the world. Great local seafood, music, a parade, and a party all day and night for the whole family.
The beautiful weather, pristine waters, scub diving, fishing, and relaxing on the Sea of Cortez add to the value of this destination in southern Baja where the dessert meets the sea.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
On October 21st, I was the guest of owner William Shin, Event coordinator Jimmy Jang and Wagstaff Worldwide's Meghan Patke for a blogger dinner at the new contemporary Korean restaurant, Gyenari.
William Shin sought to bring an approachable traditional Korean BBQ,along with Next Food Network Star Debbie Lee's "Seoulfood" bar bites menu to Culver City's lively restaurant and bar scene. It's contemporary dining for all. The team at Gyenari has achieved exactly what they set out to do, and have brought a fine addition to the restaurant and bar intensive neighborhood near Washington Bl. and Main St.
The attractive bar area features a nice selection of spirits, classicly backlit in white.
We were given a welcome cocktail upon arrival, the soju caipirinha seemed to be the popular selection. This cocktail was excellent, lime, lychee, rasberries, and soju. Gyenari has a creative selection of cocktails reflecting the current flavor in Los Angeles of fresh and natural ingredients.I think I had a couple of these.
Assorted skewers of beef, pork, and vegetables are a delightful accesory to conversation and drink.
The dukboki,a chewy rice pasta with hard boiled eggs in a sweet and spicy sauce, was enjoyed by all at our table.
We sauntered into the main dining area, or at least I did, and were served another traditional Korean appetizer of Jeon,fried mung bean, shrimp, and vegetable patties accompanied by two dipping sauces. The mung bean was the most enjoyable of the three.
One sauce, the chili soy stood out as a proper dressing for some Jeon.
Before banchan and barbeque, a few other items made there way to our table. A pumpkin porridge with pine nuts, and soju was interesting.Was this a Seoulfood item? I was greedily eyeing Debbie Lee's Korean/soulfood fusion items earlier in the evening.I will be back to try them soon.
Traditional banchan came out to signal the beginning of the Korean BBQ service. Kimchee and all the usual suspects.
But, no long dinner is complete or properly enjoyed without some alcohol.I ordered some Chamisul Fresh soju,a lite and crisp Korean soju with a lower alcohol content. Now I was ready for some Korean BBQ.
The G1, from Gyenari's New World menu includes galbee(beef short ribs),bulgogi(marinated beef),aged pork belly,flower chicken, and japchae(cellophane noodles with vegetables). The G1 goes for $75 for two.
Now Culver City diners can experience the festive communal dining of Korean BBQ, grilling meats right at your very own table.The helpful wait staff can help out if you've never done this before.
Dessert consisted of a nice creme brulee and the playful green tea beignets, another Seoul to Soul creation from the mind of Debbie Lee.
The bar bites menu created by Debbie Lee such as galbi pot pie,Korean rubbed rib-eye with bacon grits,and pan seared chicken breast with kimchee smashed potatoes definitely warrant a return visit.
Oh, and they have beer towers, too.I'm absolutely taken with these things, finally a technological advance in partying! Sitting out on the beer garden having a Hite, or indulging in the signature cocktails and martinis at Gyenari while enjoying Seoul to Soul dishes are the makings of a splendid evening.
But don't let the beer tower fool you, this is a family affair. Jimmy Jang made it a point to say that Gyenari is for everybody and they have families in mind first and foremost.After all, that's what Korean BBQ is all about, sharing an evening with friends and loved ones.
9540 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232