Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CLOSED. Pal Cabron- Your Friendly Neighborhood Mexican Coke Dealer

This restaurant closed in 2011.

I've been a diner at Pal Cabron pretty much since its inception. Not only am I a supporter of this restaurant, but owner Bricia Lopez is a dear friend. She is the hostess with the mostess. I love bringing friends down here and recently came with new friend, Pepe Ruiz, who in all his years, new had a cemita or a clayuda.

Of course, our lunch was great, we had a fine afternoon with Bricia over Pueblan and Oaxacan fare, and Pepe is a new fan of the cemita.But, on my way out something caught my attention.

Now, I occasionally see threads on boards like the LA Chowhound boards about Mexican Coke. Where can you find it? Well, us latinos know you can get it in any of the latino markets, as well of most of the Mexican restaurants.So,it wasn't a surprise that Bricia had Mexican Coke, and Pepsi. Jarritos and Squirt. Check.

Mexican Squirt,Fresca and Yoli? Hmmmm.I don't see Yoli just anywhere, the lemon-lime soda out of Acapulco which is similar to sprite or 7-Up, but not as sweet.

Sidral's Mundet apple soda on the far right has been around since 1902, better than any apple soda on the market. This is getting serious.

Then I saw Boing, a non-carbonated fruit beverage that is very popular in various Latin-American communities.

It's not enough that Pal Cabron has become a Mexican soft drink theme park, but in addition to the usual Mexican beers she has Red Stripe,Newcastle, Guiness, and Heineken.

My self-serving streak started to tingle."Hey, can you get that soda that's from Puebla?", "It's only available there." "You mean O-Key", Bricia mused."I'll check it out." I told her if she did that, Pal Cabron could become a destination for Mexican Coke and soda fiends. I had tried O-Key on a recent trip to Puebla, and was bummed I couldn't find it anywhere else in Mexico, or the US. I'm usually drinking adult beverages, but for O-Key, I'll get on the wagon for a turn.

.......the next day..."It's here!" That was the text I got. Self-serving mission accomplished. Pal Cabron, your destination for Mexican Coke and beyond. The last bottle of O-Key on the shelf is mine, though!

Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron Closed
2560 East Gage Avenue
Huntington Park, CA 90255
323 277 9899

Mariscos El Teto's,Sun Valley, CA-Baja Cuisine Beyond the Fish Taco

For the past year, one of the most audacious food trucks has been parked 7 days a week near the northern tip of Lankershim Bl. in Sun Valley. This desolate strip of Boulevard proudly hails from the well-heeled Weddington Park neighborhood south of Ventura Bl. to its northern bitter end of no-tell motels near the Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, where Lankershim diverts into San Fernando.

There are some good street food options to be found in this industrial patch, but today that turned into a brilliant flash of Baja cuisine unprecedented in Los Angeles.

Teto is from Ensenada, but there are two women who run his truck, or trailer. The menu has seafood, and also meat options. These cooks have originality combined with many traditional foods found from the taquerias and stands from Tijuana to Ensenada.

A table sits on the curb with the necessary hot sauces and tostadas for your marisco needs. There are no sodas here, pure aguas frescas:jamaica, pineapple, horchata, and lemonade. As the warmer weather is upon us, I think many an afternoon shall be spent at this table. A day at the beach in Sun Valley awaits.

A salsa concierge keeps delightful salsas and extras cool on ice in the radiated, asphalt plains of the San Fernando Valley.

Roasted jalapenos, pickled onions, lemons, and wafer thin-sliced radishes awaken your inner taquero. Hmmm, what to do with all these goodies?

A stinging salsa habanero,chunky jalapeno salsa, pickled jalapenos, and a cool nopales salad give this trailer true Ensenada street cred.

Cahuamanta, a traditional soup from Sonora and Sinaloa, brought to Baja by these two migrant groups, where it has become a staple at seafood restaurants, stands, and the odd truck in Baja, more so in Tijuana. The soup used to be made from tortoise(Caguama), which is currently on the endangered species list, so someone started preparing the soup with manta ray(Mantarraya).Hence the name, caguamanta, the tortoise soup made with manta ray.

This truck has its own take on these foods. The caguamanta comes with baby octopus, black olives, cilantro, and onions. It was not as good as the incredible versions I've had in about a dozen places in Tijuana,and in the state of Sonora, but it's still a solid offering. Manta ray has a strong fish flavor if you've never tried it, making it a treat for those who love their seafood to taste like seafood.

What struck me at the core of my pleasure centers when I first walked up to the window to order was the smell of an Ensenada fish taco stand. Hot lard, crema, and fried fish.

The Ensenada fish taco here comes fully assembled. In the throes of my fish taco fervor I missed the salsa cart and just grabbed one of the hot sauces from the table and dove into this fine specimen. Guess I'll have to go back correct my foolhardiness. This is a top 2 fish taco in LA. It think it's the only true contender for Ricky's Fish Tacos.The tortillas are handmade, and the soulful taco is an afternoon stroll on Avenida Gastellum. These are made with basa, the genetic equivalent of a catfish that is imported from Vietnam.

The manta ray finds its stride here in the taco, prepared with black olives, bell peppers,tomotoes, and garnished with cilantro and onions. This is about one of the best taco experiences you'll have in LA; a stewy, tangy delight.

Conchas(shells)preparadas are seafood prepared in a shell. The most alluring of these is the sea snail(caracol). This is a rare appearance of real sea snail at a mariscos stand in the Southland, matter-of-fact. it's the ONLY Mexican seafood stand, or restaurant in LA that carries this bonne bouche . Here they prepare it on the grill, jacked up by the low grade umami of a volcanized Kraft single. Sea snail has a cheese, tinged flavor that is amplified by this party crasher, but the kind of unexpected guest that sets the party off. The Kraft single with the sea snail is like that obnoxious guy that starts the conga line. You shake your head in disgust and wonder "what the hell is this guy doing here" only moments before you take your place at the tail end, kicking it harder than all those in front of you.

This is a dynamic appetizer. It's costs in the neighborhood of $8 for one of these, but it's real sea snail you are paying for.

If the Kraft cheese is an irreconcilable ingredient, just ask for some Monterey Jack, which they used in my shrimp mulita. The mulita is a Mexican pizza made with two tortillas. The protein, cheese, tomato, cilantro, and onions are stuffed in between. They also have mulitas of chicken, steak, pork, as well as seafood. Carne asada is always a good call.

Mulita de camaron, the real Mexican pizza

But, the best way to experience this rarity, sea snail, is in a ceviche tostada. I ordered the mixed ceviche with cooked shrimp, octopus, and the sea snail. The sea snail has a firm texture but such a delicate flavor, earthy and somewhat like a salty cheese.The tostada is a heaping pile of oceanic goodness and plenty enough for two people. If you want to live large, order the sea snail, but it will drive up the cost of this plate. I think it was around $16 with the snail, but split among two or three as a starter it's not much of an indulgence. If you go full on sea snail that will of course run you a little more. Fish is also available besides the aforementioned seafood options.

Toritos are a street food item in Baja, usually a bacon wrapped chile guero(blonde), but here they use the neon green anaheim pepper. The bacon is loosely wrapped and stuffed with sautéed shrimp, well-seasoned, and the gooey Kraft single. This is not a choice of economics, but one of flavor. The torito is outrageously delicious.

Bacon fat gives the chile a vibrancy only matched by its medley of savory components. This dish has been engineered for addiction.

There are also cocktails, clamatos(street cocktail prepared with Clamato juice), mulitas, burritos, and meat tacos. They have chuleta(beef chop) on the menu. This is the very prized meat of the Baja carne asada taco, and one of the few times a carne asada taco in LA has a distinctive cut. There is still so much more to try here.

At Mariscos El Teto you can get a real taste of Ensenada style seafood, which used to mean just fish tacos here in Los Angeles. It's about time. You also might be dining at the best food truck in Los Angeles.

Mariscos El Teto
8854 Lankershim Bl.
Sun Valley, CA
7 days a week
10AM-6PM, or later if you're still buying.
12PM-6PM on Thursdays due to street cleaning

Monday, March 22, 2010

Galletto Bar and Grill, Westlake Village-where the SPECIALTIES by Santino Coccia are Overpricing, Bad Food, with a side of Rude

I had been waiting to go to Galletto Bar and Grill in Westlake Village for some time, it's been more than a year since I had planned to go. I even drove by when I was in the area one time to see where it was.

Looking at the menu online I noticed a striking resemblance to the 12 restaurant strong Sao Paulo based chain Galeto's. I went there on my first date there with my wife, so naturally I thought it was neat that there was a similar spot here in LA.

Italian food in Brazil is just as common and integrated into Brazilian cuisine as Mexican is here in the United States. Authentic Italian cuisine is better represented in Brazil than the US, and Brazilians eat risotto and pasta like we knock down tacos and enchiladas.

Galletto Bar and Grill has salads, soups, pastas, grill items, "Brazilian" brochettes called xixos, pizzas, hot and cold appetizers,and a full bar. The restaurant's name and menu are so much like the Sao Paulo based Galeto's that I first thought it was a branch of the restaurant that had come to LA, but I never got a chance to talk to Santino Coccio about it, who was seated in the table across from my friend and I.

The dinner started with a decent caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil made with cachaca, lime and sugar. I proceeded to take a close shot of the cocktail when someone barked, "No pictures!" I turned around to see the man seated across from me waving his finger at me and repeating, "No pictures!" I walked over to him, at this point he hadn't introduced, nor identified himself. I asked if he was the manager, he said no, so I asked to speak to the manager. He rudely blurted out,"I'm the owner, the cook, the everything" "I want my customers to have their privacy." I explained that I was just trying to photograph the food, nothing else." He stared for a second and he shrugged, "Well...then go ahead."

I looked at my friend who had given me the if-you-want-to-leave-we-can-what-a-jerk look. I felt very bothered, I mean, I respect a restaurateurs establishment and have complied the only other time I was ever asked to refrain from taking photos. I don't let poor service nor bad attitudes affect my review, except in regard to the service, and am very forgiving of my favorite ethnic restaurants that often lack professional service.

I paused for a moment and shrugged off the rude and gruff cook/owner/everything guy and started to order.

I think my friend Brian would rather have left at that point. The club has an awful band. A guitar owner, and an arythmic bongo player/singer playing along with bad karaoke tracks blasting well above the strain of our yelling to be heard. It's a cougar dance party, and I think that is really what Galletto Bar and Grill is about.

Our appetizer arrived, the burrata cheese special with prosciutto.This was nothing special at all, but not necessarily bad food. At this point we were like a couple of bored teenagers staring at the plate, eating out of necessity and routine. The prosciutto was super market deli quality.

The camarao(shrimp) Regia Victoria, named after an amazon lily claims to be a northern Brazilian specialty. I guess if just the presence of dende oil makes it northern, but where? Brazil is pretty big. That's like saying southern barbeque, vague. It's just a coconut, dende oil paste on blackened shrimp. The vegetables were stiff, the paste was simple, but this did not come together at all. The side of pirao was about the worst version I've ever had, completely off in the consistency and flavor. It only resembled pirao in name. Pirao is made with manioc meal and has a gravy like consistency, perfect for pouring over rice. It should not feel like a mound of tortilla masa.

It' not uncommon to give a dish that uses coconut milk and dende oil a name like shrimp baiana(from Bahia), so while I have no issue with a dish with an exotic name, I do have a problem with the appearance of a delicacy that clocks in at $26.95 and only delivers a fast-food quality entree. The version at Taste of Brazil in El Sereno is half the price and a much better plate.

Brian ordered the skirt steak which was fine, but the sides of instant farofa and canned vegetables were sad. Instant farofa is fine and will give you the textural sensation without much flavor, kind of like store bought tortillas. We don't mind using it at home with some beans, but I don't want it from a restaurant, especially not at these prices.

Our total with 2 drinks, 2 mains, and 2 shared appetizers was over $100 including tax and tip. The waiter was very nice and deserved a proper tip making up for the owners lack of decorum.

There have been other reports of bad service and treatment from this restaurant from others. I did a little digging around. I found out Mr. Coccio is behind Tropicalia, another non-Brazilian, Brazilian restaurant with a bad moqueca, fish stew, that also resembles the Regia-Victoria paste from Galletto, not at all the classic fish stew from both Bahia and Espiritu Santo in Brazil.

Some reviews had lauded this place for a bold combination of Italian and Brazilian cuisines, which is kind of like jumping up and down about Chili's because of its unique blend of Southern and Southwestern cuisines. There are countless chains in Brazil like Galeto's and Viena that feature this very typical blend of Brazilian dishes with the deeply rooted traditions from the Italian immigrants in Brazil.

Santino Coccio runs a Westlake Village dance club for people who aren't concerned with food nor music. I think this is a place for his regulars, but not for someone looking for good pasta, or Brazilian food.

Mr. Coccio never once looked over to smooth out the misjudgment, nor did he say a word as we exited, he was on his cell phone the whole time, and some of his regulars came by to say goodbye, he never once stood up to see them off.

I you feel compelled to try this place, I suggest you keep driving until you hit Oxnard and dine at Moqueca, where the seafood stews there will change your life.

Galletto Bar and Grill
982 Westlake Boulevard
Westlake Village, CA 91361

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

CLOSED.Garibaldi en Tijuana, Tijuana,BC-Guadalajara's Karnes en su Jugo arrives to the Californias

This restaurant is now closed.

Carne en su Jugo is an inexplicably rare dish outside of Guadalajara. Despite a huge presence of Tapatios in Los Angeles and in Baja you can hardly find a restaurant that serves it. I've found a few places in LA that make it, but they're nothing worth making a special trip. Don Pacos in Tijuana claims to be a specialist, but most often you see people in the restaurant ordering other items.

Caren en su Jugo was made famous by the Guadalajara chain Karnes Garibaldi. The dish is simple, thin strips of steak in broth with bacon, chiles, and beans. They come to the table with cilantro, onions,radishes, limes, chips and salsa, and a tempting plate of refried beans mixed with corn. Karnes Garibadi is famous for its dish and also its fast service, the plate arrives to your table in Guiness World Book of Record time.

Well, Garibaldi en Tijuana is not affiliated with the iconic Guadalajara restaurant, but the owners are Tapatios who wanted to bring the authentic flavors of Jalisco to Tijuana. When I came across their bus stop bench ad, I hustled on over. They have been open for just three weeks, and on this night were feeding their families and shooting a commercial that will run on a local station.

The restaurant has a classic Mexico feel in a strip mall-like space, with brick red walls adorned with revolutionary figures and culture defining photographs. Upstairs is a smaller dining area that's available for events and conferences.

If you've ever been to El Parian in Tlaquepaque, a furniture and craft shopping district with a popular destination to hear mariachis and eat local foods. A highlight of a trip to El Parian must include a jarritos, a tequila, squirt, orange, lime and salt cocktail served in a clay jar. This is a refreshing cocktail to start your evening Tapatio style at Garibaldi en Tijuana.

Condiments for your karne en su jugo arrives along with the complimentary refried beans with corn. The deliberate misspelling of carne with karne comes from the chain Karnes Garibaldi. These refritos are pure Guadalajara soul, lard spiked beans with an accent of corn goodness.

Hand made tortillas are a good sign always.

the karne en su jugo arrives, not in record time, but fast enough. Their only goal at Garibaldi en Tijuana is to deliver the taste, not the time. The broth is slurp-up-every-last-drop delicious. Tender steak and bacon drowned in a mild spicy broth with a tang of tomato and beef stock come together like a virtuosic mariachi trio.

Garibaldi en Tijuana is a karne en su jugo specialist. The other menu offerings are to nosh on before the signature dish arrives. Queso fundido, the fondue of Mexico topped with slices of chorizo, guacamole, and other time honored fare. With an order of karne en su jugo with jarritos for a friend and I, we came out of there for about $10 USD.

Market forces at work!

Those in need of your karne en su jugo fix just need cross the border and head down to the Zona Rio. If your taxi driver doesn't know where this new place is just say it's next to Black Line. Black Line is an adult video shop that's been around for years, and everyone in town seems to know where it is. The facial distortions of confusion and ignorance turn to smiles and knowing grins."Oh, I know where THAT is."

Garibaldi en Tijuana
Jose Maria Velasco #2632
Zona Rio
a un costado de Black Line
open 7 days('til 8pm)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tamal de Pata y Oreja-Guatemala City

This entry into the tamale diaries is truly unique and rare. Each year a woman from Guatemala City come here to visit her family, a relative of Mario and Esperanza Diaz from North Hollywood, CA. What does she do while in town? Visit Disneyland? Go to Hollywood? No, she makes tamales.

This tamal is a tradition from Guatemala, a large banana leaf tamal stuffed with whole pig's foot and sliced pig ears.

Tamales from Guatemala are flavored with mild crushed peppers, green olives, raisins, and local seasonings. They're packed with flavor, and the ear and foot are so tender. It is a corn masa, and the banana leaf always renders a soft, fork tender consistency to a tamal.

In Guatemala and here in LA, Guatemalans feast on tamales during the holidays. The tamal of pig ear and foot is a hearty offering, traditionally made by women for the men in their lives, some comfort to help them through the long days of labor and toil. When these arrive, they are the best ear and foot dish in LA. I'll put these up against the decadent pied de cochon or the pig ear at Church and State.

Every year 'round November, I start to bug Esperanza about the tamales. I sort of have to start being nice to her around October though. These are my favorite tamales in the world that are NOT made by my grandmother. I've a stash of ten of these in my freezer and turn off my cell phone each time I throw one in the oven to warm up. This is a dining experience that requires your full attention.