Monday, January 25, 2010

Grand Opening: Antojitos Carmen, a Piece of Breed St. Finds a Permanent Home in Boyle Heights

Back in 2007 I came across the gathering at Breed and Cesar Chavez that became a regular Los Angeles institution.Back then the vendors were about a dozen or so, lined up on either side of Breed St., just north of Cesar Chavez.

It would be a while before others would discover the magic of Breed St.,but all throughout the rising profile of this street fair I was a regular attendee on Sunday nights.

When Gloria Molina started her heinous crackdown on the trucks some of the vendors were chased away, and the remaining hold outs started to gather in the Bank of America parking, where many more vendors joined in due to the popularity of the street fair and the spaciousness of the parking lot.

Antojitos Carmen was one of the originals,though.The recent demise of the Breed St. Fair due to pressures from local restaurants ended an era.

But I say, be careful what you wish for.Any of you restauranteurs that might have made one of those phone calls to break up that rowdy street fair stealing all your business? Now you've done it. Antojitos Carmen is here to stay, better get your ass back in the test kitchen, compa!

On Sunday, January 10, 2010, I attended the opening of Antojitos Carmen's new restaurant, just down the street where they once battled it out with three dozen other stands.While others are still scrambling for places to sell their food, Antojitos Carmen has taken it to the next level.

The kitchen was well staffed that day, and hustling to keep up with the packed restaurant and the new challenges of a brick and mortar.

Carmen, who had become so well known amongst the Los Angeles food scene through blogs and local press was on fire. Cooking, directing, and squeezing in between family members in the narrow cook's corridor.

The small restaurant was packed on opening day as a steady stream of Carmen's well documented DF style "little whims", called antojitos, glided from kitchen to already worn earthy-red booths.

The familiar salsa of dried red chiles all to myself, part of me enjoyed the exclusivity, and the other part missed the hordes crowding around condiments, vying for the space to finish dressing their sopes or huaraches. "Permiso." "Pase"

Ah pozole, the benefit of stoves and counter space means that Antojitos Carmen has a few more items on their restaurant menu.

Flautas for the gentleman in the hat, gorditas for table number two.No numbers to call out and no cops to chase you away, just the nice officers sitting at table number three asking for that "flat thing with the green sauce."

The extended family of sopes is what Carmen is known for, though. Masa shapes:sopes, huaraches, gorditas,and quesadillas filled with home cooking fillings of huitlacoche, squash blossoms, tinga(spicy meat),picadillo,potato and chorizo,chicharron,carne desebrada(shredded meat), and mushrooms. Enchiladas,fried tacos, or dorados,round out a solid offering of supper time favorites.

There was a seamless rotation at the tortilla station, a serious task for an organization molded from a mound of masa.

Abraham, Carmen's son, carefully prepares to deliver a sope and a tostada, assisted by an intent East Los beauty. An OG picks up another order and grabs a bottle of Jarritos.

Menudo debuts at straight out of Carmen's home kitchen, along with seven different tortas,migas(egg, cheese, and tortilla bits),stewed chicharrones, ribs in salsa,barbacoa,eggs any way you like,

Two elderly gentlemen wearing their Sunday best, blast ballads on a karaoke machine, a little bit of Joan Sebastian for your tia(aunt), and some Don Chente los abuelitos(grandparents).

When I stopped by the other night, their new sign had just been installed and lit.Opening day has now passed, the cops can't bother you any more, you can all take a deep breath and sit back and enjoy this a bit.This was 20 years in the making!!And for me? It's a little strange adjusting to being able to sit down, but I'll manage.

Congratulations to Carmen, her family, and all their loyal customers, who will always be a part of Breed St. long after that day when the comals and fryers went dark.

Antojitos Carmen
8:30AM-10PM Mon-Thurs.,8:30AM-midnight Fri.-Sun.
2510 E. Cesar Chavez
Boyle Heights, CA

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dine LA Pre-View: Rivera's New Sangre Menu

Dine LA 2010 Restaurant Week is back, and it all starts tonight!The dates are Jan 24 – 29 and Jan 31 – Feb 5, 2010. It's time to get out and try some restaurants that've been on your to dine list.

Last week I attended a Dine LA Pre-View dinner at Rivera arranged by great friend and Pleasure Palate organizer, Brian.

Rivera's Dine LA menu for this session of Dine LA consists of three starters:gaspacho blanco(white gaspacho),caracoles("petit gris" snails), and ensalada flamenca(Sevilla style beet salad);3 entrees:scallops arabasque( a moorish treatment of scallops),gitano(rib eye in a suace of pimenton with potatoes), and the horse latitudes(snapper in saffron); and 3 desserts:quesos espagnolas(spanish cheeses),zaragoza olive oil cake(strawberry sorbet in Pedro Jimenez vinegar), and estudio en flan(three degrees of flan).

The menu offerings are taken from Rivera's new Sangre menu, featuring the culinary influences of Spain prior to the conquest of the Americas. This is the first part of a series of studies in the development of Latin-American cuisine.

Rivera just celebrated its one year anniversary and is going strong as ever, since bursting onto the Los Angeles dining scene gathering accolades from newspapers, magazines and the blogosphere that made Rivera the place to be this last year. It's the only Modern Latin Cuisine restaurant in Los Angeles of its kind, introducing Angelinos to a level of alta cocina(high cuisine) seen in places like Barcelona, Mexico City,Buenos Aires,Sao Paulo, or Sevilla.

So, if you haven't been, Dine LA is a chance to sample the stylings and flavors of Chef John Sedlar, a legend in the LA dining scene long before Rivera ever opened.

The caracoles, or escargot, is arguably one of the best escargot dishes I've ever tasted. The caracoles are so tender, played against the flavors of "crafty" little mushrooms, and an herbal infused sauce just elevates the dish to ecstatic plains.

The night before I had sampled the arabasque. The soulful texture and subtle charms of perfectly cooked scallops with a "moorish"(southern Spain)bed of eggplant, preserved lemon, and ras el hanout(head of the shop), a Moroccan blend of choice spices. This is a dish that has a wonderful marriage of seafood with Moroccan sensibilities, the kind of dish that will have you deciding how best to proportion your bites with scallop, eggplant and sauce for maximum pleasure.

At the pre-view dinner it would be the gitano, a plate to get in touch with your inner gypsy, a bit of macho latino on your plate.

The gitano is a hearty spanish dish of delicious rib eye, with potatoes and onions, accented by a simple yet seductive pimenton sauce.Pimentons are traditionally roasted for 15 days to achieve their sultry essences.

The estudio en flan takes you on a toothsome tour of the dish served in countries across Latin America. The trio of flans increase in sweetness and go through subtle changes in texture. It's a a playful dessert with a sauce to match each flan, but you can cheat if you want, constructing your own combinations. Which one is YOUR favorite?

The quesos espagnoles were my dessert choice at the Rivera Dine LA preview.The cheeses varied from diner to diner giving each of us our own customized cheese plate.I had a nice fresh goat cheese, and two other medium flavored cheeses, all three were very nice, and a savory end to a great dinner.

There are many reasons to go to Rivera, the cutting edge cuisine of John Sedlar, the sleek setting,stirring Angelinos at play, the the creative mixology of Julian Cox, and the pulse of the new Downtown LA.

1050 S. Flower St. #102
Los Angeles, CA 90015

P 213 749 1460
F 213 749 7359

Get your table here at the
Dine LA website

Monday, January 4, 2010

La Rumba in Bogota, Colombia: Andres Carne de Res, Where the Hips Don't Lie

You were not really in Colombia unless you went to a rumba. A rumba is a party, Colombian style, where there's food, drink, and dancing.The food should be ample fuel for the cumbia and salsa spins and twirls, the aguardiente to loosen your morals, and the place to be on fire.

Andres Carne de Res is famous for its bawdy, frenetic rumba. Located about 45 minutes out of town in Chia, is by all counts well worth the drive. Recently, they opened one right in the Zona Rosa neighborhood in Bogota, across from the Andino Mall.

The Bogota Andres Carne de Res is less rustic than its Chia branch, but packs the same punch. Convinced by my great friend Patricia, and another Bogotano that accompanied us that night, we would do just fine to rumba right here in Bogota.

Andre Carne de Res is an adult theme park of booze, food, and dance. The restaurants website states that Andres Carne de Res isn't a restaurant, bar, nor a dance hall, it's a deluded journey into insanity.

The restaurant has four themed floors, the top being Heaven. Heaven(cielo) is a quite place for families with children to preserve their innocence.The third floor is purgatory(purgatorio), for those still capable fo redemption. Below is Earth(tierra)where diners are laid to rest before the party begins. Lastly, Hell(infierno), where the hips shake, bodies writhe in seductive ambulation, the bacchanalia unfolds, and the flirtations are dead serious.

The huge kitchen on the third floor is amply staffed to feed the hungry rumberos(partiers) with traditional Colombian plates.

We were seated next to the dance floor a few minutes after arriving thanks to my gift of gab. There were circus-like characters dancing around the restaurant, on a stage or just about anywhere they can find a little room to wiggle.

It's a good idea to take a walk around this massive restaurant, my tour of all floors lasted about 15 minutes. The wait staff shows you the fire exits once you are seated and puts your jackets and purses in a pad-locked bag that only you have the key to, so you can dance uninhibited.A wild ride indeed.

WHether in Chia or this Bogota outpost, the tables are always packed and the conversation just oozes out of each booth.

There's so much energy and stimulation that I barely noticed a loud birthday parade across the other side of the dance floor, musicians and sparklers sizzling amidst the chaos.The restaurant may remind you of being in a four story House of Blues rearranged for efficiency, where food, music, and dance collide.

But the dancing has begun and we haven't ordered yet, oh and the drinks!

Tender coconut and sliced oranges are served to whet your appetite.These are a new obsession, why doesn't everybody have coconut and orange slices?

Classic empanadas de carne from Andres' kitchen are filled with well seasoned ground beef with firm yet giving fried batter. Colombian aji(spicy dipping sauce), the standard empanada dance partner was as delicious as everything we had that night. I think everything tastes better inside this wild, party palace.

Arepas(white corn patty)of all styles, shapes, and sizes are ubiquitous in Colombia, not just the usual semi-firm discs we find in LA. It was time to try the arepa with fried cheese. Here it comes with a Colombian gathering of mouth-watering toppings. Hogao(like a Colombian sofrito), ground beef, cheese from the Colombian state of Antioquia,guacamole,aji,chicharrones,and beans.

I adorned this arepa with all the typical condiments at our disposal.Each one of them were great. This place has an extensive menu, and does a fantastic job of making quality food in respect to the tremendous output of the kitchen.

Sobrebarriga, the Colombian creole standard looked like a nice way to round out the dining protion of our evening.It gets its name from the cut of meat that lies just above the stomach of the steer.The sauce is tomato based with a lot of cumin giving it its yellow color. This dish gets its flavor and supple texture from long cooking over low heat.

The only drawback with the Bogota Andres Carne de Res is they have fewer menu items, but the offerings here are still formidable. The grilled meats are famous here, but I had reached the meat threshold the day before, so we three shared these dishes and saved some room for dancing!!

The frozen mandarina(mandarin orange)drink is highly recommended here. It has a fun hollowed out coconut shell for a cup, every detail at Andres Carne de Res has been orchestrated and given its due attention. The mandarin flavor is intensely fresh, so good it goes down like water.

A shot of Colombian Santa Fe rum, we became well acquainted over this short trip, arrived with a glass of ice, but this one goes does just fine, neat.Though,Colombians prefer these rums with a glass of ice and some coke, and for the cheaper rums, I can't say I blame them.

Another worthy attraction in Colombia is definitely the beautiful women, who surely know how to work it on the floor.Colombians, like Brazilians, are natural dancers.We met these lovely Rolas(girls from Bogota),Jenny and Sandra as they were slamming shots at the table next to us.

The dance floor, once the first couples got up, stayed full until long after we departed.

The music had everything from local rythyms, cumbia and Colombian salsa, to reggaeton, to Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson.Patricia can tear up the dance floor, although I couldn't quite hang on the Colombian salsa tunes, we were doing just fine on Pit Bull's "I Know You Want Me".

After about seven straight songs, I finally got to have a bottle of Poker beer. It was my last night and I had mostly come across Club Colombia, Aguila, and Costena during my trip.The restaurant puts little wings on the bottle, so that they can fly into your mouth. Another added touch that makes Andres Carne de Res a fun place to spend an evening, and the perfect last hurrah in Bogota.

The table next to us had the right idea for a proper rumba. Get a bottle of aguardiente, plunge it in a bucket of ice, and continuously fill shot glasses.A bottle of water should be on the table to mix with the anise-flavored aguardiente. This ritual is practiced in the restaurants, bars, homes, and on the streets of Bogota. Millions passing around shots of aguardiente in a hands across the nation manner.We shared a little rumba with these viviacious Bogotanos.

As a final thought from the mind of Senor Andres de Res, a Mastercard logo shaped box arrives with your check.Fastened to the box, a mini-flashlight, magnifying glass, and a pen to assist you in paying the check.

I too plan to go to Chia someday to experience the original, but check out the Bogota branch, you won't be missing a thing. Classic Colombian comfort food and grilled meats, lovely Rolas(Bogota women)dancing with coquetish smiles, the intense energy of Bogota and its spirited people,la rumba, aguardiente, and the wild abandonment of Andres Carne de Res.This is required partying when in Bogota.

Andres Carne de Res
Calle 82 # 11 - 57
82 y Calle T
Bogota, Colombia
12:00 m a 3:00 a.m.

also in Chia
calle 3 No. 11A-56
Chia, Colombia, El Mundo
(57)863 7880

Tacos Cuernavaca, Not Just Another Pretty Face

The taco truck has etched itself in the fabric of Los Angeles,hitting a Kogi Truck is something you do while in town like going to see the stars on Hollywood Bl.

The countless new "culinary" trucks have given the aging, sagging "roach coach" a face lift and some implants. New foods, flashy paint, cute mascots, and an easy on the eyes customer representative.

We've moved from Whittier Bl. to Wilshire Bl. It's a great time to get out and take a chance on grub.

Well, Montebello's Tacos Cuernavaca seems to have rolled out of the same yard as the beautiful trucks with another proposition. What about the food? I mistook this truck the other night heading west from Pico Rivera on Whittier Bl. for, I don't know which truck? What's this one, Swedish tacos?Are you lost? This is the land of outlaw stands and roach coaches.

With a happy little torta as a mascot, a newish paint job, and a rather "urban assault vehicle-like" detail, a regional truck from the state if Morelos, Mexico has shown up.

The menu has 16 different tacos including cecina(cured beef), a specialty of Morelos.The chorizo is another sure way to go, reddish-orange, the color of deliciousness.There are six types of tortas, sincronizadas(ham and cheese in a flour tortilla),gringas(a substantial meat and cheese quesadilla),and mulitas, like a taco sandwich.

Dark roasted chile de arbol and a cooked on site salsa verde that stays fresh. I watched as one of the taqueros manned a pot, boiling tomatillos,onions, and whole chiles, that were then splashed in a blender.

The pickled vegetables and chiles are Bugs Bunny garden huge, reminding you of the virtues of a thoughtful condiment selection.Natural flavors of the home kitchen brought to the pavement.

The huaraches, although associated with Mexico City, are just as popular in the city of the "eternal spring", Cuernavaca, a short drive from Mexico City.

All elements come together to make a handsome and savory huarache that make this a destination for aficionados.

Tacos Cuernavaca serves three types of alambres, the alambre ilegal(pictured, the mixto, and the choriqueso. Alambres are are served at street stand in Cuernavaca as in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico often from tacos de guisado stands. They are the perfect tacos for a late night street party. Bacon, meat, cheese, peppers, onions, and other goodies are fried together and served with tortillas so you can make your own tacos. It's greasy, cheesy, and feels like you just mainlined succulence.

There are many tacos at this truck, the best is the cecina(Mexican jerked beef), but you might want to ask for the taco acorazado. The battleship taco, a specialty of Cuernavaca lives up to its title. A bed of rich Mexican rice is topped with stewed meat, other meats can be used too, and a finish of crema mexicana rests its substantial mass on two staggered corn tortillas.

Although I had been in Cuernavaca for a gig last year, I had missed this street treat.It was actually through a conversation with Gustavo Arrellano about some of his OC finds were I first heard of the taco acorazado.

I couldn't believe I had missed that when I was there, in Cuernavaca. So, on a recent visit to Tacos Cuernavaca I asked for one and the cashier nodded coolly alright. I asked him to verify if he heard me correctly, and he nodded slowly with crossed arms.

But the real treat here is the picadita, a relatively unknown antojito in Los Angeles. It's a huarache with a spread of beans,salsa, crema mexicana, and cotija cheese, unadorned by the familiar baroque layers of a huarache.

The picadita is also done in nearby Vera Cruz, but in Cuernavaca, a juicy side of cecina is a feather in the cap.This is reason for the drive alone, and a tasty change of pace.

There were four taqueros here in a fancy truck with a satellite dish, keenly aware of their unique cuisine, and ready for prime time. They seemed to be in the know. "Yeah, sure, take our picture."

There's an ad on the side of the truck that reads "Picaditas.....MMMmmm!!!!" It has a coke, and a pidadita crashing into a slice of cecina traveling at warp speed, as if it some super-hyped national campaign.But don't let that fool you, the team of pros here are serious cooks. You might be drawn by the truck's wiles, but you'll stay for the food, without regrets, and experience one of LA's best street food experiences.

Tacos Cuernavaca
Whittier Bl. at Eastmont
bordering Montebello and East LA.