Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tacos Arandas, East Los Angeles,CA: Real Taquero Tradition from the Highlands of Jalisco

The city of Arandas,located in the highlands of the state of Jalisco, is famous for several things. Its beautiful, tall, and fair-skinned women are legendary in Mexico. When you mention to a man in Mexico that you are heading to los altos de Jalisco(highlands of Jalisco), you are guaranteed to get your back slapped , a mile wide grin, and a long and devious "aiiiiiiii!!!"

Arandas is also the most important tequila producing city in the highlands of Jalisco. If the highlands of Jalisco would be considered the Bordeaux of tequila, then Arandas would be the village of Pauillac.

The cooking of the highlands of Jalisco is also revered, for its artisinal traditions, unique dishes, and for having some of the best tacos in the state of Jalisco.

Tacos Arandas in East Los Angeles is doing tacos the way they should, with a real team of taqueros, and a proper street food tradition. In tacoing, more taqueros means better tacos, a line kitchen approach, and a separate money handler.

There are no taco trucks in Mexico, and taqueros cook in very departmentalized conventions. Carne asada, al pastor, barbacoa, birria and fritanga(offal,sausages and lesser cuts) are all separate disciplines, like Japanese yakitori(grilled chicken) and yakiniku(grilled beef). The typical Mexican-American style food truck in Los Angeles with 7-10 different grilled meats, including chicken? Doesn't exist in Mexico.Grilled chicken....

This young man on the end is the keeper of the trompo(spit). He prepares the pork in an chile and citrus marinade, loads the trompo, roasts, and then griddles the sliced al pastor before serving. True al pastor as it is done in the Yucatan, Puebla, and Mexico City is thin-sliced from perfect rows directly onto the tortilla from the trompo, and always comes with pineapple. In northern Mexico, the meat is cut and griddled before serving as these are here at Tacos Arandas. In the north it's called adobada, and isn't always accompanied by pineapple, although sometimes it is. Often times the adobada style vendors call their adobada, al pastor. This varies all over Mexico.

The other taquero tends to the true friend of the taco, the comal de acero, or stainless steel disc. These are all the fun parts and goodies:chorizo, suadero(brisket),buche(pig's upper intestine), tripa(tripe), and even asada(steak). This is not a Mexican carne asada of note, but just a lesser cut that is fried in the oil inside the disc along with the other meats. Lips, ears,kidneys,and sometimes a steam table with eyes, brains, tongue, and sweetbreads can be a part of this style of tacoing.

Upon closer inspection, new potatoes and whole onions that will slowly steam and soak up the essences of the array of meats, are what reels you in. Cruising through East LA with Shawna Dawson looking for some street food love, I pointed out the potatoes and onions to which we both flashed a collective heeeeeeellloooooo!

I that wasn't convincing enough, the salsas and condiments were farmer's market fresh, and ready for a magazine photo shoot. Simple, colorful, and deeply flavored salsa roja with chile de arbol, an avocado sauce, and a tomatillo and serrano chile salsa.

Lightly pickled purple onion with thin rings of jalapeno and habanero bring a cool, stinging heat. The pico de gallo is a summer rancho picnic with a perfect breeze.

Voluptuous jalapenos are blistered on the grill to amplify their scoville ranking, as vibrant green flesh morphs into a wrinkled black and olive drab fire bomb.

The asada taco is solid, and heads and shoulders above most of the trucks around town, but this is the least interesting taco at Tacos Arandas.The toppings available complete the dish, and when the salsas and condiments are this good, you really get to indulge your inner taquero.

Shawna and I then ordered up suadero, tripas, buche, and chorizo. The suadero was nice, and the chorizo was of a higher quality than the usual. The industrial chorizos imported from Mexico have lost their color and flavor by the time they reach the markets and the consumer here. It's often dry flavorless and looks like burnt ground beef. The chorizo at this stand was above average. We really could use a skilled Tolucan(from Toluca) sausage stuffer here in LA.

But the top honors at Tacos Arandas go to the earthy tripas, and the delectable buche. Order a quartet like we did and paint them delicous with spice, vegetable, and citrus flair.

This is the type of place you should be eating tacos. It's not that ridiculous chain, the mega grilled meats truck, those dull and chewy bits covered by sad salsas.

This is real street food, bona fide taco form, and a real team of taqueros that take pride in their cooking. These are Mexican tacos from Arandas in the highlands of Jalisco, the land of tequila, beauty queens, and a rich culinary heritage.

Tacos Arandas
7 days a weeks, evenings after 6pm
located on the north-east corner of Gage and Dozier
East Los Angeles, CA

Monday, June 28, 2010

Alta Med's Fundraiser: East LA Meets Napa 2010-Wine, Dine, and Conga Line.

Picking up right where we left off last year, the best food and wine event in Los Angeles approaches. This isn't a sip and swirl kind of event. When the food is gone and the wine bottles are empty, it's time to dance the salsa, merengue, the cumbia. This is a Latin-American event, but the crowd is pure Los Angeles. This is the food Angelinos have grown-up with, Latino cuisine, from the East LA flavors of El Tepeyec, the haute fonda cuisine of La Casita, to the modern Latin stylings of Rivera. The latin wine makers and vineyard owners have an idea what to pair with this food. East LA Meets Napa is the only wine event in the US that qualifies as a rumba!

Alta Med has delivered quality care to the underserved communities of Southern California for more than 40 years! The proceeds of this event go towards helping those without proper health care, which is even more important during these tough economic times. Not only will you be attending the best party in town, you'll be indulging for a worthy cause. For more information on Alta Med go to their website.

I was invited by Castulo de la Rocha, President and CEO of Alta Med, pictured second from the right, to attend a preview of the 2010 East LA Meets Napa restaurants and wineries.

The event was held at Phlight restaurant in Whittier, one of my favorite bites at the 2009 event.

Here are the featured vintners for the 2010 East LA Meets Napa:
Alex Sotelo Cellars, Black Coyote Chateau, Bodegas San Raphael, Cejas Vineyards(my fave from last year),Chateau de Vie,El Centauro Del Norte,Elements of Sonoma,Encanto Vineyards,Fria Family Vineyard,Gustavo Thrace Wines,L Lohr,Karl Lawrence Cellars,Madrigal Vineyards,Maritas Vineyards,Mi Sueno,Renteria Wines,Riverbend Cellars,Robledo Vineyards,San ANtonio Winery,Sequoia Grove Vineyards,V. Sattui Winery, and Veramonte.And, I'm very proud to announce the participation of Adobe Guadalupe,Cavas Valmar, L.A. Cetto, and the cowboy wine maker J.C. Bravo from the Valle de Guadalupe. On a recent trip to Mexico's premier wine country I recruited these wineries to be a part of East LA Meets Napa.

Some of the East LA spectrum of Latino cuisine:
Birrieria Chalio,Cacao Mexicatessen,Cobras & Matadors,Cook’s Tortas, El Tepeyac Cafe, Esquela, Homegirl Café, La Casita Mexicana, La Parrilla Restaurant
La Serenata de Garibaldi,Phlight Restaurant,Porto’s Bakery & Café,Rivera Restaurant,Setá,Taco’s Baja,Tamayo Restaurant,Teresitas,Tila’s Kitchen

Three chefs that will be at the event gave us a glimpse of what you are in store for at the 2010 East LA Meets Napa. First up was Hugo Molina of Seta in Whittier, just around the corner from Phlight.

Seta is not Latin cuisine exactly, but serves food in a Latin American steakhouse aesthetic. Hugo is a Guatemalan chef who studied in Mexico among other places, but his emphasis is on Italian cooking.

The pan seared, bacon-wrapped diver scallops with a creamy mushroom risotto and bits of blood oranges was a texture and flavor "Dream Team." This was my favorite dish of the tasting.

Chef Molina also served an interesting cool,and mildly tart Golden gazpacho with poached shrimp and Israeli couscous. Going to make it out to Seta,and soon.

Daniel Salcido did an excellent job as home chef at the East LA Meet Napa preview.

He started with a Mexican cheese stuffed, tempura-battered squash blossom, atop a consume of hibiscus and orange blossom.This was a superb first bite of our tasting.

Daniel's "torito", a crab and asparagus stuffed chile guero in a chipotle cream sauce. This member of the chile relleno family is a prized indulgence of mine, and Phlight's interpretation was very nice.

Steven Arroyo, the restauranteur formerly of Church and State, and current owner of Cobras and Matadors and Potato Chips spilled the beans on his new venture, Esquela.

Steve would plans to explore timless premise of the taco, that "everything tastes better with a tortilla wrapped around it". The first taco off the line in the yet to be opened Esquela was a pork chop taco. At East LA Meets Napa you can get a sneak preview of his new restaurant.

Come and join the fanciest rumba(party)in LA. Don't forget to bring your dancing shoes!

East LA Meets Napa
Friday, July 9, 2010
6:00pm – 9:00pm
Union Station
800 Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Individual Tickets
$125 Pre-sale before June 25
$150 After June 25

For more information call 323-622-2405 today!

Purchase your tickets today

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ta Bom! A Model Food Truck

LA's first Brazilian food truck was just a few months old when I first came across them. I eagerly dashed over to Wilshire Bl. one afternoon to check them out. When I saw pastel and coxinha(pronounced co-sheen-ya) on the menu my heart skipped a beat.

Coxinha(a chicken croquette in the shape of a chicken thigh) is't done very well by the Brazilian restaurants here in LA. The best ones,at Woodspoon and Rio Brazil Cafe, are the mini-sized ones you get for birthday parties in Brazil.These are great but don't have the usual moisture. There's just something about that hefty coxinha you get from the many lanchonetes in Brazil.The only full-sized one in town is at Bossa Nova, which is tainted by a coarse, KFC flavored breading. The flavor and texture are all wrong.

A pastel, the flaky skinned savory pastry? Only came across one, at Cafe Brazil, which is more like a baby rattle with its paltry filling.Again, other restaurants do them, but they are the mini-sized variety and look more like baby empanadas.

Ta Bom was started at the prompting of Ilse Marques' Brazilian-Korean daughters, Jaqueline and Juliana Kim.

Ilse comes from Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, a southern state in Brazil, where super models are plentiful. A top designer could show up at the Iguatemi mall in Florianopolis and hold an impromtu fashion show.Ilse came to Sao Paulo where she graced the catwalks of the professional modeling scene and even did some television and film.

When here daughters were born she left her modeling career behind to focus on her family, which ultimately led Ilse to move with her husband to the US where she believed her daughters would have a better future.

Ilse was always a great cook, and had a catering company for a while, but the slowing economy left her without work. She had been out of work for a year when Jaqueline and Juliana convinced her to move her operations to a food truck, with the two girls as her assistants. The girls take orders, prep, slave over coxinhas, and are the face of Ta Bom.

Ilse, Cesar Coutino, Juliana, and Jaqueline.

They hired Cesar Coutino, a cook from Chiapas, Mexico to round out their crew and hit the streets of LA.

The new food trucks can be hit and miss. At times there is much more business going on than great cooking, but Ta Bom is a mom and daughter operation that cares about the food and the quality of their ingredients. All their beef comes from La Estancia, which they proudly display on their window.

As for the coxinha? Well, that's what I'm here for. I am a coxinha addict. I fly to Brazil and ritualistically down a a coxinha when I arrive to Brazil, and it's the last thing I taste before I board the plane.

Ta Bom's coxinha is excellent. The breading is as it should be, more fine than course, which comes from using Brazilian bread crumbs, and a well seasoned filling. Coxinha qualifies as one of the many Brazilian foods that costs in labor, well more than its retail value. A labor intensive snack that is gone in seconds.

Ilse serves it with a pico de gallo like salsa that is called vinagrete in Brazil. But, you can also ask for ketchup or mustard to put on it, which is how most Brailians enjoy coxinha in Brazil. Some malagueta pepper sauce, simply referred to as pimenta, will work too.

Since it is so time consuming to make, it's only fitting that I drive 45 minutes to where Ta Bom parks just to partake in 5 minutes of dining from ordering to finish.

These go fast so better get your bunda(butt)to the curb when they park and place your order.

The pastels, while appearing to be a simple food,are another labor intensive food that have to be made to order.They don't really exist in LA in this form. Ta Bom has savory pastels of cheese, pepper jack cheese, chicken, and beef.

A pastel is a street food that should be eaten with two hands, where a light and tasty crust gives way to something special inside. It should be explosive.

One of the highlights is the pepper jack, an oozing cheese filling with a mild bite of spice.

The ground beef filling is fantastic. Each pastel has a lovley flakiness, and the juicy and rich ground beef is extremely pleasurable. Stands in Brazil can have over ten fillings, these are a true Brazilian street food.

For dessert there is the decadent banana with Nutella pastel, dusted with cinnamon. This is reason alone to come to Ta Bom.

The cachorro(ca-sho-ho)quente, Brazilian hot dog will really knock you out. The formidable hot dog packs corn, stick fries, mustard, mayo, and ketchup. South American dogs are loaded with ingredients, and Jaqueline says that this is actually a minimalist version compared to the usual Brazilian hot dog. The textures and composition of flavors are what make this such a delicious bite.

The hamburgao(ham-boor-gow) takes the Brazilian concept of abundance up another level by adding a fried egg into the aforementioned gathering of toppings.

This is one serious hamburger, and a popular very item with Ta Bom's male customers.It's a must for you burger aficionados out there.

The have burritos and tacos too, no worries, there is a Mexican chef on board, too. Although I haven't tried them, I got a glimpe at another customer's plate one afternoon, and thought they looked very inviting.

About now, you're wondering how this Brazilian diet produces a looker like Gisele Bundchen. Well, Ta Bom has the Gisele wrap, a little something for the lighter side of dining.

A traditional Brazilian style chicken salad is cloaked in a spinach wrap. When I say a traditional Brazilian chicken salad, I mena to say their seasonings and little additions that make it unique. Brazilians love chicken salads, potato salads, and pasta salads, which you may have taken notice if you've ever paid attention to the salad bars at churrascarias. There's nothing dull about this cool, and well-seasoned treat.It's a fine option during this Brazilian bikini season.

The sweet obsession of Brazil, the brigadeiro, named after brigadeer, Eduardo Gomes is here too. Sweetened condensed milk, coco powder, and butter are mixed together, a simple dessert, but after one bite, a strong salute to the airman of note is in order.

Ta Bom means it's good, or everything's good in Portuguese. Many an argument and misunderstanding is resolved this way in Brazil. A thumbs up aften accompanies the phrase.

Ta Bom is what a truck should be, not a business model, but a model food delivery system.This is authentic Brazilian street food from a family that cooks together and cares about their customers. The cooking and seasoning are consistent throughout the entire menu, with the balance in flavor display the mark of a real home cook, and the the food is put together 100% Brazilian.

Give them a try and find out why everything is good at Ta Bom!

Ta Bom

Ta Bom on twitter for truck location and business hours

Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Cup 2010 World Tour in Los Angeles: ESPN, La Guelaguetza, and Gaucho's Village

On June 11, World Cup 2010 in South Africa kicked off with an early morning match between Mexico and South Africa.

After stopping by to watch Mexico and South Africa come to a draw at La Guelaguetza in Koreatown, I headed over to Hollywwod and Highland for the launch of ESPN's Los Angeles Match Truck. There's also an ESPN truck in New York.

I was invited to sample the truck's international menu designed by 2010 Best New Chef for Food and Wine magazine recipient, Roy Choi.

The menu featured regional tastes from 9 diffent World Cup participating countries. But, I was still bummed about the tie between Mexico and South Africa, and demanded a clear winner. I'm rooting for the US, Mexico, and Brazil this year, that's my country, blood, and obsession respectivley.

I thought I'd have Roy settle this match my pitting the ESPN truck's huevos rancheros, representing Mexico, against bunny chow, representing South Africa.

Roy's huevos rancheros are substantial and layered with his signature style of flavors, always leaving a hint of Asian spice.

And, the bunny chow was the lighest item on the menu, well, if you're wanting something to stick to your ribs....Mexico...but, if you're thinking you'd rather eat something more healthy..Damn, it's a tie!

While I was trying to end this frustrating match, good friend Eddie Lin was taking down the balance of the menu. From bottom left, eating clockwise: Yaki Mandoo Dumplings(Japan),lamb gyros(Greece), and seared rice balls(Italy).

The ESPN truck is a fantastic way to catch World Cup, riffing on LA's love affair with the food truck. Check their website for the truck's schedule, catch a match, and enjoy an eclectic menu by chef Roy Choi.

For all of Mexico's matches, La Guelaguetza's 150 inch screen and complimentary pozole are impossible to beat.

The red pozole, served Oaxacan style, is just what you need for those 7AM start times, and an excellent foundation for some early morning boozing. Oh, yeah, after starting the noshing, beer guzzling, and Real de Mexico tequila shooting at 5AM, we are borrachos by 6:55AM.

Watching a soccer match in the Mexican community is infectious, chanting, yelling, hugging, and jumping out of your chair.

And, there are the muchachas, all dressed up with the Mexican flag on their cheeks.

It is this very setting that attracted chef Ludo Lefebvre of Ludo Bites to watch the match between France and Mexico, where the Battle of Puebla was re-enacted.

As France was embarrassed 2-0 by Mexico, a very gracious loser, Ludo, congratulated just about every Mexican at La Guelaguetza, personally. But, as Mrs. Lopez, co-owner of the popular Oaxacan chain fed Ludo her famous Oaxacan mole negro, life wasn't too bad for the French after all.

You can check La Guelaguetza's(Koreatown)website for Mexico's match dates and times.
La Guelaguetza(Koreatown)
Los Angeles, CA
Tel. (213) 427-0608

For Brazil's matches, Little Brazil is the place to be, and Cafe Brazil,Rio Brazil Cafe, Bella Vista pizzeria, and Zabumba all will be broadcasting Brazil's matches.

But if you live in the Valley, Gaucho's Village, which always has a great Brazilian vibe, will do just fine.

First off, they do what many bars around town still can't seem to do right, and that is to make an excellent caipirinha. This tall little country gal put me down for a mid-afternoon nap shortly after Brazil handled North Korea 2-1.

Brazilians only brake from dancing to watch World Cup, so as soon as the jumping up and down was through, a samba party ensued.

I say, samba dancers make everything better. And, a win for Brazil means happy sambistas! Most of the Brazil matches around town will have sambistas to celebrate Brazil's victories Carnaval style.

Now that's what I call a victory dance!!

Gauchos Village
411 N Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91203

Check the official FIFA website for match schedules, and get out to the ESPN truck, La Guelaguetza, Gaucho's Village, and the other ethnic restaurants around Los Angeles to participate in the biggest sporting event in the world, World Cup 2010.
World Cup 2010 schedule

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mariscos Chente, Lennox,CA: Where the Best Mariscos in Los Angeles All Began

***Update: Sergio is no longer at this branch of Mariscos Chente, but the food is as good as ever with Cosio family Patriarch, "Chente" Cosio, serving up some of the best raw Nayarit-style seafood in Los Angeles, next to his original branch, the top Mexican seafood restaurant in Los Angeles, Coni'Seafood.

Back in April, I broke the news that Sergio Penuelas, the chef behind the success of Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista, had left the restaurant to come work at the other Maricos Chente in Lennox, run by his father-in-law Vincente "Chente" Cosio.

It was at the Inglewood location of Mariscos Chente that I first came across Sergio doing a crawl through Lennox/Inglewood back in August of 2008. The family was operating out of Inglewood, awaiting repairs at the Mar Vista Chente, that had a kitchen fire sometime in 2008, causing the restaurant to close.

The Mar Vista branch was up and running by January of 2009, where after months of monitoring their progress since I first met them in '08, I attended the very soft opening for about ten friends and family.

From that post in January of 2009, Mariscos Chente soon became a favorite Mexican seafood destination in Los Angeles. Its many regulars including myself were shocked to learn that Sergio had left, and that he would be in Inglewood, which might as well be the Inland Empire to many of the Westside clientele. Worse yet? No pescado zarandeado?

Vincente Cosio, the ageless patriarch of the family, and the man who trained Sergio in the ways of the Nayarit kitchen, was working at the original Mariscos Chente's on Imperial Highway, the restaurant he started with his wife Magdalena (They later divorced and Magdalena took the Cosio family recipes and Sergio to open the Mar Vista Mariscos Chente).

Vincente left Mariscos Chente's with his daughter Connie Cosio, who now is the sole proprietor of the the renamed Coni'Seafood in Inglewood, at the original location on Imperial Highway. Whew! Hard to follow?

Well, once again they are reunited like Peaches and Herb. Sergio currently works from Thursday through Sunday, but no need to worry about his days off because Vincente is the one who taught him everything--these are family recipes. Vincente is a master of raw preparations: ceviches, cocktails, and aguachiles. His flavor is a little different from Sergio, but you're just about talking style, they've the same level of excellence.

Chente doesn't do the zarandeado (He thinks he's too old to be sweating over a grill) but order away from the rest of the menu. As much as I appreciate Sergio's cooking, I have no problem AT all having the best raw seafood cocktailing in L.A. from Chente.

Pescado Zarandeado is back!!

The signature grilled, butterflied snook that is without peer in Los Angeles is just as good as ever.

Ceviche of raw shrimp can be be had two ways, Sergio's and Vincente's.

The aguachile, too. Sweet shrimp from Sinaloa flash cooked with lime, and a slightly pulpy, puree of jalapeño chiles, a minimalist ceviche featuring Mexican white shrimp.

In addition to the grill and cocktail disciplines, there are the cooked dishes like the shrimp culichi, a creamy jalapeno sauce, a favorite of mine named after the people of Culiacan, Sinaloa.

A la pimienta, peppered shrimp, one of the treasured family recipes

Deviled shrimp at Mariscos Chente is the more refined version around town. It's wickedly flavorful with a crescendoing heat, rewarding the lips with a light tingle. You can strip away the shells or eat them whole--shell on.

The drunken shrimp, camarones borrachos, displays the true craft of Sergio Penuelas, with a vibrancy, and complexity unusual in most Sinaloan/Nayaritan kitchens.

Sergio, the refined Sinaloan cocktailer, cook, and grill man is back in action just a stone's throw away in Inglewood working with his mentor. When he isn't around and even when he is, you can experience the Nayaritan tradition of Vincente Cosio, the suave and virile seafood veteran from Acaponeta, Nayarit, whose shrimp ceviche is unrivaled.

If you're a follower of Sergio's work in Mar Vista, you have found a new home in Inglewood, and you haven't lost a restaurant at all, but gained a father-in-law.

Mariscos Chente
10020 South Inglewood Ave.(at Century Bl.)
Inglewood, CA ‎
(310) 672-0226‎