Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ricos Tacos Toluca, D.F.-The Sausage King From the Charcuterie Capital of Mexico

Just about an hour west of Mexico City lies Toluca, a city in the state of Mexico, and a center of embutidos. Embutidos are stuffed sausages, a product brought to Mexico from the Iberian peninsula. Along with pigs, the Spaniards brought their meat preservation techniques, and varieties of stuffed sausages. Fresh chorizos and longaniza sausages are the most popular throughout Mexico.

Tolucans are revered for both their industrial chorizo production and artisanal embutido craft. They've even created their own distinct chorizo in the embutido genre, green chorizo. Green chorizo isn't really available outside the state of Mexico.In other words, when in DF, don't pass up an opportunity to sample this rare treasure.

Ricos Tacos Toluca is a humble taqueria near the San Juan market in Mexico City on the gastronomic strip that is calle Lopez. Here you will find homemade head cheese, green chorizo with almonds, red chorizo, longaniza(a long red sausage), cecina(salt cured beef), cecina in adobo, and pork blood sausage. These tacos should be at the top of your list when in Mexico City, where one can indulge in fine dining for less than a dollar a taco.

Oliver Rosana is the sausage king of D.F.He makes his stuffed pork meat sausages at his home factory and brings then to the stall each day. He uses all meat in his chorizos, no parts.Oliver chooses the best flavored cuts. He weaves a basket around the head cheese, made from cooked then cooled pig lips, collagen, fat, and cheeks. Any charcuterie in France would happily display Oliver's fromage de tête in their shop.

Mexican sausages here in the US are brown, sad looking things; or crumbly, industrial produced pastes devoid of flavor. At Ricos Tacos Toluca vibrant colored chorizos are festooned from a cord in Oliver's taqueria. The window display has the macabre, alluring obispo, pork blood sausages, that could resemble obscure props in a Marilyn Manson video.

In addition to the specialties here, you must try Oliver's tacos of chorizo and lonaganiza here. The longaniza is everyhwere in Mexico City, and the version here will change your perception of Mexican sausages. Quality Spanish pimenton, (paprika) color fine cuts of minced pork with propietary spicings to achieve the pinnacle of flavor.

A pile of cecina, salt cured beef, sits next to a hand woven basket of head cheese, and a sliced open obispo, displaying its raw beauty.

Obispo(bishop)has more girth than the usual beef blood sausages of Latin America.This impressive sausage gets its name from the white cloak-like casing and hood at the end that give it the appearance of a bishop at prayer.

The first time I visited Oliver's taqueria he told me I should come a little earlier to see all his sausages on display. I took his advice and arose bright and early taking in the scenic walk from the Zocalo to Mercado San Juan to get a glimpse of the uncommon green chorizo,and paprika stained chorizos and longanizas dangling in front of hungry customers.

I always appreciate the knife and hands of real taqueros.Observing the ritual of a taco prepared by a master taquero is a sensorial delight. Fresh and superior meats, stews, and condiments; quick and deft knife work;the craft of a seasoned cook; plating that is fast but stylized. There is always a tableside experience when eating tacos from stands and taquerias.

Mexican charcuterie is not like your typical charcuterie experience where you purchase the goods to prepare and serve at home. Here the sausage maker grills his wares right before your covetous eyes, the scent of meats and spices provoke your palate.

Chorizo verde(green chorizo) is made with serrano chiles, spinach, pine nuts, and almonds. The more spicy expression of chorizo at Ricos Tacos Toluca reveals a complex flavor, a flavor one can only experience from chorizo at its peak. The industrial type are heavy on the vinegar and are far from their youth. Here you taste pork, properly seasoned and matched with green vegetal notes.

The Obispo taco is another taco you must have at Ricos Tacos Toluca. The obispo is made right after the pig is slaughtered to incorporate pig's blood. These sausages are more meat, fat and spices than blood, much firmer in their texture. Luscious pork fat seeps into your tortilla and blends with the salsa. This is a pork lovers playground.

Queso de puerco(head cheese) is usually consumed in Mexico in commercial form as tedious lunchmeat. Oliver slices the head cheese to entice his clients with its attractive pattern of layered fat, pork lips, and cheeks.

I'm always careful to put just a minimal amount of guacamole and salsa on the head cheese taco. All of Oliver's tacos are celestial.

Near the area where he fries longanizas there are pork fat flavored beans, grilled onions, and french fries. If you ask for your tacos "con todo", with everything, you will get french fries cooked in the same oil at the longanizas. His customers always oblige, but I was skeptical of this adulteration of my pristine taco. Oliver may be a taco smith, but he's also practical. The french fries pair fantastically with his sausages, and a drop of beans in their broth only add to the party in your mouth.

And, the salsa is lava red from the roasted tomatoes, the guacamole is vibrant and of the criollo variety. The criollo avocado can be eaten whole, skin and all, it is so delicious. They're the kind of condiments that any food stylist would be proud to have in their shot. No dressing up necessary. Come experience the art of sausage making, the gastronomy of Toluca, and the finest Mexican charcuterie in D.F.

Ricos Tacos Toluca
mornings and afternoons
Calle Lopez at Puente Paredo
Near the Mercado San Juan
Mexico City

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tamal de Camaron-Nayarit

This is the first entry into La Tamalera-Diaries of a Tamale Hound. As many Mexican-Americans, my first tamale came from home, at Christmas time when our family gatherings counted around 30 guests and the food spread covered several large tables. Each year my grandmother made several hundred tamales that were divided by eager hands tugging at bags of pork, chile, and cheese tamales as the opened freezer door initiated the tamale bargaining session after Christmas dinner. Some family members even tried to undermine the other, trying to earn my grandmother's favor. "But grandma, she just gives them to her friends, I promise to eat every one of them",  I whined.  My devious plan worked and for the rest my life until now I've always been given extra tamales by my grandmother. "Just don't tell your sister, or your father,OK", she'd say with a    wink and a playful grin.

My father became a tamale subcontractor during the holiday season, promising his coworkers bags of ten from my grandma's bounty. He's start taking requests each year around October from the guys at the Tri Valley Growers canning plant in Fremont, CA, which finally closed its doors a few years before he passed away back in 2002. Of course, only the friends of my Dad's that she really liked would receive a care package--kind of her own "naughty or nice" list. "Mmmba, pos este, no tamales for este hombre mugroso!"

I remember a time when my grandmother had reached factory output levels, tirelessly working for several days. She accepted no help, and the one time I tried to learn, she let me make a few and then sent me packing giving no reason for my dismissal. It was her way of ensuring that I would be indebted to her forever--a tamale junky, forced to come home each Christmas if I wanted my fix, brought with her from Aguascalientes.

I would sit and talk with her for hours with ulterior motives--I wanted to absorb some tamale technique. During these sessions she's tell me how she was tricked into coming to America by my dearly departed grandfather, who had convinced her he was doing real well in the States. Told 500 times, the tale gained a detail or two each year.

In recent years, we measured my grandmothers age by the tamale count. In her 70's they numbered in the 300's, her mid 80's barely above 200. Christmas of 2008 was the last bunch, just a little over a hundred, and I must say that the 2007 vintage lacked her usual flavor and power, but the small batch of tamales in 2008 were the best ever. It was one last display of vitality by our family's matriarch. The tamales were moist, scented with chiles and herbs,  and the flavor--it set the hairs on the back of your neck to tingle only nanoseconds after teeth breached steaming masa.

Health problems this holiday season have canceled tamale production for the first time in perhaps 80 years. --she began making tortillas, stews, staples, and tamales as a young girl in Mexico working alongside the women in her family. It appears for now that she will never again knead her masa by hand until it magically floats in water, nor will I have the privilege to marvel at her while she assembles tamales with dizzying speed and precision.

Watching my abuelita stack a tamale pot with the loving hands that nurtured my father and uncle, cared for my grandfather, and tended to us grandchildren conjures up ancient tribal ritual, thousands of years in the blood.The hands, heart, and soul of our grandmothers exist to hold us, spoil us, and..... to feed us. The nixtamalization of corn for tortilla production is the foundation of our culture and la familia mexicana.  

I never photographed my grandmother's tamales, and if she ever gets inspired for one more go, I probably would snap a thousand pictures that I'd  keep for myself, but I might share a tamal or two with a dear friend or family member.

So, let me share some of the other amazing regional tamales I come across in my travels, and wanders around Latin America, and Los Angeles to remember my grandmother's tradition from Mexico, Aztlan, Los Caxcánes, Tenochtitlan and the metate (volcanic stone grinder).

Oh, and the tamales in this series are ones I will personally have eaten! I had these ones the other day.

Tamales de Camaron(shrimp tamales), Nayarit,Mexico

These tamales were made by another special abuelita, Magdalena Garcia, owner of Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista. They're not on the menu, but they should be!

The tamal is made with corn masa,and a tomato based sauce with a blend of ancho, and fresh chiles. Magdalena cooks hers with lard, and my oh my are these rich and tender. It is tied at the ends in a corn husk wrapper.

The "Cracker Jack Box" moment occurs when you take a bite and discover two whole flavorful Pacific shrimp, with shell and head-on, packed inside oceanic tinged masa. We eat these whole--shell and all.

These come from the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit, known for its exceptional seafood gastronomy. In LA, you might find these in the homes of Sinaloans and Nayaritans during the holidays. In the Sinaloan town of Escuinapa they're called tamales barbones.

There's a universe of tamale traditions throughout Latin America, and there are non-Latino countries that have--especially in Asia--that have something similar to a tamale. In Mexico, all 32 states have distinct tamale traditions--in some cases a practice is relegated to a town.

Long live the tamaleras!

Monday, February 15, 2010

LA Street Food Fest 2010-Build it an They Will Come

The freshman effort of Shawna Dawson and Sonja Rasula came together this past weekend as possibly the largest food festival ever in Los Angeles.It was a smashing debut, not without its hiccups, but have no fear. These very intelligent and and savvy young ladies will be back, and have already digested the lessons of the 1st Annual LA Street Food Fest.

I was recruited by Shawna to bring some traditional street vendors to the festival. After an initial meeting to brainstorm possible vendors, we met up several weeks before the festival to scout street foods from Watts to Panorama City. In one day we had 10 or so, very solid commitments and credible stands.Former Wat Thai vendors now housed in King's Seafood market in Panorama City, the two titans of Breed St, Antojito's Carmen and Nina's, plus a few of their friends,newcomer Antojito's de la Abuelita, my favorite baianas from Sabor da Bahia, a tamale truck, the magical shrimp tacos of Mariscos Jalisco, and a few possible leads for other eats.

Combined with the highly mobilized and professional trucks from the new breed of LA street truck, and a Ludovic Lefebvre "urban assault vehicle" serving up his 3.0 fried chicken, this was looking like a little something for everyone.

It was another perfect day, as Randy Newman once said. I arrived around eight to greet 2 of the 3 vendors I was able to wrangle for this event. Many had dropped out beforehand, in a pattern that would rear its ugly head the morning of the event.

All these stands are traditional families with non-traditional kids handling their PR and translations. I would be handling the spanish and portuguese speakers, but we were reliant on a very shy youg man for the Wat Thai vendors.I made trips back and forth from the Valley to East LA tracking these stands down during the weeks leading up to the festival, as a result of a complete lack of follow through by the respective familes. The children of these families were unmotivated and unreliable for the most part, except for Abraham from Antojitos Carmen, who had come to the vendor meeting and had been the most professional of the street vendors.

Antojito's Carmen's Abraham, had stopped answering his phone the day before and was a no-show, leaving us with no Breed St. presence, Nina had dropped out the week before, and now Shawna had to send someone to Home Depot to get the canopies Carmen's son Abraham had volunteered to bring so the present street vendors could participate in the festival. Instead of a relaxed morning I was on the phone trying to reach Carmen, a friend of Shawna's ran to buy the canopies,and I was wondering how the hell this all happened.This all went down 30 minutes before the festival opened!

Outside the LA Center Studios, the first customers for the day's street food crawl had staked their claim. Little did they know how strategic their early arrival would be. The line at this time was only a couple of hundred of people, I thought, well, at least there will be some people here when it opens!

The only truck representing an LA Mexican lonchera, still the most common type of truck in the lonchera genre found parked in the streets of Los Angeles, Antojitos de la Abuelita had been on time and would later be just a mobbed as every other stand at the festival. I stopped by to see them the night before to make sure they knew where to be and they had read all their details. When the festival exploded later that day, la Abuelita looked at me like, "Are you trying to kill us?"

I was also happy Sabor da Bahia showed up, yes, we almost lost them too, but they really came through in flavor and spirit. Renni was out of town so Ilma had her sister from Bahia here to help that day.They had operated without power for most of the day due to an overtaxed circuit breaker, and I had to bring Ilma up to the VIP lounge with her blender so she could prepare some onions in order to keep cranking out the acaraje.

A gentleman from Uncle Lau's saw me trying to put together a canopy by myself and helped me put two together for Sabor da Bahia. There was a great spirit among all the trucks, and I definitely started to see the new trucks in a different light that day. I didn't get to try Uncle Lau's food, but those guys are down.Go visit them soon.

The dazzle of the new trucks was impressive on festival day. I even started to have a contest in my head of which truck had the most bling.The teamwork among everyone and professionalism made me realize how these businesses have gotten where they are today. Ludo was busy getting ready with his crack unit of fried chicken vendors, and team Komodo was cooly running the game plan in their heads.

Ludo's lonchera!

Inside Ludo's truck, Kristine, Ludo's wife, Matt Kang, and other team Ludo members prepared the 3.0 fried chicken that would become worth its weight in gold a few hours later. Thigh meat was brined for a couple of days,enveloped in a hearty and flavorful batter, and seasoned with a rosemary lean.

I wandered over to Kristine while anxious festival goers peered through the fence with envy. I squinted in the LA winter sun, grinned, and asked rather sheepishly, " uh, are you ready to serve?" Ludo gave the nod and I was served up the FIRST order of the day. I won't tell you what Jo of MyLastBite told me when she found out.

It was a luscious rosemary bomb, and the ready to bottle piquillo pepper sauce was suprisingly simple, in the most perfect way.A subtle complement to the chicken, direct enough to be inducted into the Hall of Dipping Sauces, along side honey-mustard, ranch and barbeque.

Kristine tweeted my response, unjaded by any 2 hour waits in the mid-day sun. It was delicious. I was glad to have grabbed it then, as I wouldn't be able to stand in any lines that day.

Besides our frenzied organizers trying to take care of all the last minute details, and my scrambling to make sure Mama Koh's, Dogzilla, Abuelita, and Sabor had everything they needed, all of the truck crews were relaxed and smiling,like this guy here from the Del's truck having his own tailgate party. Only hours later.....

All the trucks were slammed and you had to slalom through snaking lines. The line to get in was unending,and the attendees were splitting up to cover more ground.

The team Dogzilla stand was a fine tuned machine, from set up until close. Positive, and energetic throughout the day serving up their own brand of Japanese street dogs.

Dogzilla and Mama Koh's were both self-sufficient, and I really didn't have to do much for them, but the Mama Koh's ladies made me feel like a member of their family. I had a crack at their full flavored, garlicky Korean fried chicken just as the attendees were filtering into LA Center Studios.

Sabor da Bahia forged on without power the entire day, introducing Los Angeles foodies to a genuine street food from Salvador da Bahia, Brasil, acaraje. Acaraje is like Brazilian falafel, a black-eyed pea fritter fried in palm oil, and stuffed with shrimp paste.

The lines were unrelenting, but the mood inside was exciting. I saw so many of friends from the LA foodie universe, and it was a decidedly younger crowd which bodes well for the future. There were Yelpers, Chowhounders, bloggers, journalists,and reporters all scrambling to get as many bites in as possible. Blogger Djjewelz captured the truest sentiment of the day in a tweet," Lines aside, @lafoodfest was a fun place to eat some food, hang out with other Angelenos, enjoy DTLA and soak in the AWESOME weather."

I really had a blast meeting new people, hanging out with friends new and old, and my pal, Cathy Danh, stopped by with yutjangsah, Jonathan Gold, and Sarah Gim.

We started a food crawl from Sabor da Bahia to Antojitos de la Abuelita, the generous Mr. Gold treated us to a Mexican street feast. We also managed to get another hit of Ludo's chicken as we closed the festival down.

Baby's Badass Burger's.

The Buttermilk girls.

This was an incredible effort by Shawna and Sonja, a lead off home run that will even be bigger and better next time around. I can't wait to see everyone out in Downtown Los Angeles showing what a great eating city we are.

Cathy, Djjewelz, Jonathan Gold, and everyone else I saw came to have a great time, and they did.

This was a unique experience that hasn't happened here. Yes, you can catch these trucks anytime thoughout the city, and there's Artwalk, and there are clusters of trucks around town, but this was a celebration of LA culture. It's about the human interactions and the fun, not how fast you can get through a line, or any other pragmatics.

There's still much to do to bring the other street vendors into the mix, though. Talk to you favorite stands and encourage them to get involved.

Sr. Villaraigosa! We need some fair and simple regulation to legitimize our movement, our LA style of eating.Make street food legal, let us eat!

To my people: In Latin America, we often depart with these words,"Si dios quiere", which means, "if god wants it so." "See you at the festival, ok?" "Si dios quiere". If you've ever been left with these words from a latino, that means that if we flake, all is forgiven. There are no calls to explain, texts, voicemails, nada........just radio silence.

If you want the kind of business that the Grilled Cheese truck gets, you better tweet, get online,return phone calls and e-mails, and show up! "Si dios quiere?" No, see you tomorrow is the new business model. You are great cooks and I love you, but........por favor, no manches.

Let's do it again.See you at the next LA Street Food Festival.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

First Annual LA Street Food Fest: Gentleman Start Your Engines!

The 1st Annual LA Street Food Fest this Saturday in Downtown LA.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Tiara Cafe for the LA Street Food Fest vendor's meeting. The gracious host Fred Eric, Tiara Cafe's tireless chef/owner, fed us and then left the room to Shawna Dawson of Sauce LA, and Sonja Rasula of Unique LA.They are the dynamic duo behind this very timely, 1st Annual LA Street Food Fest.

Shauna and Sonja have put together an impressive fleet of the über-fashionable food trucks that have swept LA by storm and some stars of the LA street food landscape.

Gathered around tables with notebooks and pens at the ready were Don Chow, team Nomnom,QzillaBBQ, Buttermilk, Fresser's,Antojito's Carmen, and Sabor da Bahia.

With the popularity of these trucks I would have expected a group of fans to mob the street truck chefs and empresarios for their autographs. This pre-game rally had the feeling of a Food Truck fan fest with all the stars in attendance.

The festival will give the attendees a bit of time to reflect on the tremendous leap into LA street food culture in the past year. It's the year that Kogi changed our world. It's been a couple of years since the traditional street vendor in LA ducked for cover because of the authorities, amrks the end of an era when makeshift grills and fryers on Breed St. were silenced.

More than ever, the lonchera, or food truck, has become a symbol of Los Angeles food culture. Where rap from Compton and Long Beach became mainstream in the late 80's, the new fangled food trucks of 2010 are a little bit of East LA and San Fernando for everyone. LA has its very own melting pot........and it resides in a mobile kitchen. The majority of LA's food trucks are still predominantly Mexican, but the concept has moved into the nucleus of the Los Angeles dining scene.

At the festival you can get your crack at all these places in one convenient location. The city of Los Angeles hasn't quite caught up to the public, and as a result we have found our trucks and stands shooed away or hassled by the authorities at times. Street food is the ultimate form of democracy. Good stands and trucks draw hordes and the bad ones collect dust. This is Be Delicious, or die! And, Angelenos want food trucks and street food. We want tacos from a lonchera after we leave the club at 2AM. We want a banh mi from that cute girl in the Nomnom truck on our lunch break. We want to wait 45 minutes for a grilled cheese sandwich in the cold. We want to eat a bacon-wrapped hot dog from a stand near an abandoned warehouse.Street food is and will always be a part of Los Angeles.

This is the foodie Super Bowl of street truck dining. At the LA Street Food Fest you can enjoy street food and food trucks as they were meant to be. All your favorite street foods will be there without anyone to send them away. No jealous brick 'n mortars to spoil the fun.

Come out and sample all the great street foods and savor the potpourri of the Los Angeles craze. The trucks and street vendors will be offering small versions of their foods so you can taste many items.

There's going to be beer and wine, Unique LA's valentine's marketplace of local designers and artists for last minute shopping. Get your girlfriend a handbag while she's using the portapottie, just don't get caught!

There will be entertainment, and special guest street food gourmetChef Ludo Lefebvre will be making his now legendary fried chicken from Ludo Bites 3.0.

The event will be raising funds for the LA Regional Food Bank, so show your support for their noble cause and the cause of LA's native culinary movement. See you at the LA Street Food Fest.

What: 1st Annual LA Street Food Fest
Where: LA CENTER STUDIOS (Enter on 500 S. Beaudry Ave, LA, CA 90017)
When: Saturday, February 13th, 11am – 5pm
Admission: General Admission will be available at the door the day of the event on a first-come first-served basis.
More info at the official website

Saturday, February 6, 2010

La Descarga: The Hottest Spot West of La Habana, LA's First Rum Bar Shakes and Swizzles.

La Descarga, LA's first rum bar unloads its mystery, and lusty scent as you slowly descend into its clutches. La Descarga, the "discharge", oozes the jazz of the cabarets, bars, and clubs in La Habana, both past and present. The daiquiris at El Floridita, the mojitos from La Bodeguita del Medio, the raw undulations of the Tropicana, the rumba guaguanco(dance) of the malecon, the Afro-Cuban sounds of club La Zorra y El Cuervo, and the all night party of La Casa de La Musica.

La Descarga,a transparent speakeasy, operates on a reservation system which keeps this instant scene bar a place you want to be, where service and style are foremost. The vintage dressed beauty greets you and eases you into the bar through a secret entrance where there is a crowd, but room to drink, dance, and mingle. An attentive staff keeps an eye on everyone and even if you are not for want, the enchanting Deandra may ask you how you're doing. These people want to ensure that your time at La Descarga is special.

A quartet perched on a balcony above the main bar starts to play and a curvy babe starts to dance, "ay no ma'", yells the conga player blistering out a cumbia beat, which is Cuban for "that's the spot girl!" "Baila,mamasita!"(dance,hot mama)

At the bar, Pablo Moix makes heritage rum classic cocktails. Pablo is the portfolio mixologist for Bacardi, and has put his passion for rum and a good party into this place, along with Steve Livigni from the Doheny.

The short list of cocktails exists for know as they properly train staff these straight-forward classics. The mojito,made just as as Hemingway would have requested at La Bodeguita, is so refreshing and balanced.

A recipe for Papa's daiquiri, from La Cuna de Daiquiri(the cradle of the daiquiri), El Floridita, calls for white Bacardi rum, Maraschino Liqueur, and fresh squeezed grapefruit.

The Cuba Libre is given an added sugar rush from Mexican Coke.

We all enjoyed the Tropical Holiday, made with rhum agricole,a fresh sugar cane juice rhum exclusive to Martinique. Velvet falernum(an indispensable liqueur in rum mixology),lime, sugar, soda and bitters comprise the balance of the ingredients.

There is a house daiquiri, a favorite drink of Pablo's, and other quite reasonably priced rum cocktails, between $9 and $13.

On opening night the club was in full swing. this is a place to drink but don't forget to buy a round for the welcoming eyes across the bar, celebrate with your set, or strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger. Dolled up beauties in vintage clothing reach in their purses for a cigarette, a guy with in a bow tie knocks back a drink, and the adult amusement park that is La Descarga stirs in the rhythyms and spirit of Cuba and rum.

It didn't take long, but by the first weekend the dance floor began to take shape. The various cultures and flavors of Los Angeles began to swoop, twirl, and step to the sounds of son, cumbia, and rumba.

But La Descarga is first and foremost a rum bar, and if you aren't diving into the hand selected rums from Pablo and co. then you are missing something unique. The rums are from all over the world of this legendary spirit. The selection of rums will expand as Pablo carefully adds bottles, not to just litter the bar in unfamiliar booze, like other places around town, but to deliver excellence.

There are the rums for all like Ron Zacapa from Guatemala, that will charm both novice and rum fanatic. It's as sweet and smooth as Salma Hayek's curves, which were a fine addition to the smoking lounge this past weekend at La Descarga.

Ron Zaya, another charming Guatemalan will also do just fine in anyone's glass. The rhum agricole, le Favorite, from Martinique has wonderful earthern flavors and that delicate sweetness from the distillation of fresh sugar cane juice. Or, try a Pusser's rum, famed as the British Navy's daily ration of courage until the practice was abolished in 1970.

In the cigar bar, you will find only neat spirits, can bring your cocktail if you must. Here, quality hand-rolled Dominican leaf cigars for all tastes from mild to wild are provided. The presidente figurado(torpedo), is an excellent full bodied smoke, and already a favorite. The slender lancero is an elegant sight to behold, and of a medium flavor. This rum and smokes bar is part boys club and ladies den of iniquity where nymphs fashionably drag on cigarettes. A Marlene Dietrich styled blonde rattles of her keen knowledge of rhum agricoles, yes she adores Le Favorite.

I wend my way back to the bar for a more bold adventure, Trinidad and Tobago's Scarlet Ibis($16), a strong and spicy small production rum made in copper pot stills, blended with 3-5 year old vintages.

From Barbados, the 12 yr. Cockburn evokes fruit and orange peel flavors with a luscious mouth feel. The folks at the rum bar are getting to know their selection of rums, but instead leading you on, they kindly offer to give you a taste, don't mind if I do.A rum paired with a nice cigar is about as good as it gets.

The executive treatment continues as the cigar attendant cuts and attentively lights your stick.

When it's show time you are ushered into the main bar to get a glimpse of a night at the Tropicana, where Cuba's racy cabaret show became legend.Eva teases and provokes the crowd with her hot moves and long stares.

The percussionist draws nearer, trading bongo breaks for rump shakes, while the band stops time. Some "Salt Peanuts, Salt Peanuts" rings out from the skins, and the dancer obliges with pelvic thrusts.

Later she slinks down to the floor, then walks the bar to hoots and hollers from both sexes.

The show is becoming the talk of La Descarga and has a deeper vibe than the forced burlesque scenes that have come and gone in recent years around LA, LA Descarga feels like you've left the country.

A much as we admire her form, the grace and heat in her dance intrigues.

This is La Descarga,a little bit of Old Havana, New Hollywood, but all-American. A bar that celebrates the heart of Cuba in song, dance, and backdrop, but the drink, rum, is afterall the drink of the American Revolution.

La Descarga is LA's first rum bar, for both aficionados and newcomers. Explore the Caribbean's kill-devil, the pure classic rum cocktails of Pablo Moix, K-Town's modish speakeasy, in an ambiance of style and correct service.

There are other bars around town that are known for their spirits lists, but when you arrive, you feel as they never really intended for you to actually enjoy them. Tequila bars with shelves of fluff that mostly sell average margaritas, a whiskey bar that's more pool hall with the dull tone of a frat party.

Steve Livigni and Deandra Miranda of La Descarga.

The real "rum junglers", Julia and Samantha on Opening Night at La Descarga.

La Descarga is a serious bar that has as much pulse as it does substance. The cocktails around town have been fun my friends, but enough already, give us a sip of unadulterated spirit, and let's indulge in sweet vice, latin rhythym 'n heat, and consort amidst luxurious rings of smoke.

La Descarga
1159 Western Avenue
Hollywood, California 90029
(reservation strongly suggested)
(323) 466-1324 or
at their website