Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010-It was a Very Good Year, Indeed

Kicking back at El Corazon Del Maguey mezcal bar in Coyoacan, Mexico City in the year of the bicentennial.What a time is was?

There are many things to be thankful this year.I've traveled to my beloved Colombia, about 25-30 trips to Mexico lindo, at least five trips have been to Mexico City, and including new states:Hidalgo, and San Luis Potosi. To date, I've traveled extensively through 24 states in Mexico, and hope to see all 31 by the end of 2012.

It was a little slow for music but I did get to work with the legendary Wailers maan, and got to perform in my family's hometown Aguascalientes, at the largest fair in Mexico.The year was full of adventures throughout Mexico. The low light of course was backing up Nguyen of Starry Kitchen at Test Kitchen playing the viral internet hit, the Rapist song.But, I love Nguyen and Thi, I'd do it again.

I've met even more amazing people in the food community, and have enjoyed night after night of adventure, laughter, cuisine, wine and spirits, revelry, and cheer.2011 will be even better, but let me just share some of the highlights of 2010.

LA Street Food Fest
The first big break of the year came after meeting Shawna Dawson of Artisanal LA for lunch at Saap's Coffee Shop.We got off famously and then it was off for a personal snapshot of the Los Angeles street food scene, our city is truly amazing if you just veer off the beaten paths.

I was recruited to bring some of the traditional street vendors we visited to the first LA Street Food Fest, which turned out to be perhaps the largest food event LA has ever seen.This was in February. I was promoted to judge on the follow up Summer Tasting Event at the Rose Bowl with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa,Walter Manzke,Susan Feniger,Rene Lynch,and actor Jesse Williams, but more importantly, Shawna has become one of the most important people in my life.

Culinary Ambassador
In early May I led John Sedlar of Rivera Restaurant,the great Barbara Hansen, my friends Tomoko and Brian on a Great Chefs of Baja Tour I had arranged with the chefs. Between Tijuana, the Valle de Guadalupe, and Ensenada, we feasted on extraordinary cuisine. Out of this trip came inspiration for Rivera's new menus that would be realized later in the year, and more inspiration for the new Playa Rivera restaurant set to open soon in the former Grace location. While we were there, I delivered invitations to baja vintners to attend the 2010 East LA Meets Napa, which was a success. Some of the top Baja wines made it to the event.And, I introduced Javier Plascencia on this and some previous trips to Test Kitchen, in which Javier Plascencia's run would turn out to be the finest performance at the star studded pop-up restaurant. One of my missions is to share the culinary treasures of Mexico and Latin America with friends, 2010 provided many opportunities, 2011 will be even greater.

The Source
Upon dropping John off, I received a call a bit later in which he informed me that I was mentioned in Travel and Leisure. It was on his porch when we got back.It turns out that the writer Peter J. Lindberg had been devouring my Baja blog posts and old Chowhound posts which he used to snag locations for his article.Ever the gentleman, Peter mentioned me in the article, and even suggested Baja put me on retainer. Uh, not going to happen, but a novel proposition.

The cast of Top Chef Masters, Season 2,Episode 6-Scary Surf and Turf

Top Chef Masters
My television debut came, well, at the TOP.Where do you go from here? On May 12th, I appeared on Top Chef Masters, Season 2, Episode 6 Scary Surf and Turf with Andrew Zimmern, with my blood brother from a Taiwanese mother, Eddie Lin of Deep End Dining.I had taken Eddie to Baja on that infamous media trip back in 2009, so he returned the favor and dropped my name in the hat for this show, and.......I got the call.In case you missed us, there is a video clip extra where Andrew discusses the strangest thing he's ever eaten. I think my contribution to this bit was drinking wine! Well, if you can find the actual episode somewhere on the net you'll see that Eddie and I held our own with the big boys. We had a fabulous evening viewing the episode while close friends and supporters watched with us at the Edison. Huge thanks to Dan Cox for that one.

I even scored a date with fellow judge, Gael Greene, who has referred to me as the guru of street food. Not bad,eh?

I was a judge on the first LA Vendy Awards, where I met my great friend Evan Kleiman, and Vinny and Jon of Animal. From of this event, Evan and I went on to start Street Food Mondays, a street food pop-up with the goal of bringing street food culture to the West Side. Vinny and Jon, the chefs of the hit restaurant Animal, also hit me up for a street food crawl, but, we upped the stakes and the boys joined me on another epic Baja journey of the senses. It was a a great time eating and drinking with those guys. All I can say is....Dirty Chicken!!

Marcela Valladolid
In between all this madness, in early June, I was invited by my dear brothers, Jaime and Ramiro of top LA Mexican restaurant La Casita, to attend a cooking demo by Marcela Valladolid, who has become another special person in my life. Marcela is the only latina on the Food Network, and is a Baja native. Keep an eye out for her, and for Mexican Made Easy on Saturday mornings on the Food Network.

Tintin and Patricia, the LA Boobs.

Boobs 4 Food
On June 6, completely giddy knowing my Bizarre Foods episode was coming up, I had to keep busy, or would have gone nuts. My girls, yes they are my girls, at Boobs 4 Food had sent me an invite to volunteer for an event that turned out to be the Taste of the Nation.Really?I didn't realize that's what I was doing 'til I saw the tweets. Anyways, myself and others kicked ass that day at Wine Bingo, completely selling out.Boobs 4 Food is a volunteer organization based in Los Angeles and San Francisco dedicated to fighting hunger, I love these girls.I don't know why they've taken a liking to me, but I guess I'm just lucky that way.

I recently volunteered with Boobs 4 Food to prepare meals for the West Hollywood Angel Food Project, which delivers meals to those homebound or disabled by HIV/AIDS or other illnesses.

Bizarre Foods
In June 13th I appeared on Bizarre Foods Baja, an episode in which I also was a location scout, fixer, and the primary source of the show's content.Working with Andrew was inspirational, a great guy who is a consummate pro, in every sense of the word. His production company, director, and location crew are all people that I'll never forget.You'll never know how much I fought to keep Tijuana in this show, combating all the negative press and misconceptions about Tijuana, but in the end, all things fell into place, and the Bizarre Foods people consider it one of the best episodes of the season. This was the highest of honors to participate in the making of this show.

Our Jo.Jo Stougaard of My Last Bite,the sole owner of a Street Gourmet LA dot com t-shirt.She had it made for the Bizarre Foods Baja viewing party. So far, only chef Ludovic Lefebvre and I have earned this privilege. I love you,Jo.What do I do to deserve such wonderful people like you? Greater than any award or recognition are the people we love, and who love us back.

I wrote about this incredible experience in a three part series. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. We had a blowout viewing party at Guelaguetza restaurant in Koreatown in which around 100 friends and members of the food loving community showed up to eat grasshoppers, drink mezcal, and.....occasionally watch the broadcast. You can read about this soiree on It's More Than Just Eating, by another new and special friend from 2010, Oanh Nguyen.

The Last Samba
Well, the year had been amazing to this point, and I decided to help Rio Brazil Cafe, the little restaurant that ALMOST could, throw an Anniversary party. Friends came out for a special night of music, samba dancers, and carioca cuisine. Well, owner Luciene Peck probably didn't have the heart to tell me that evening, but after a year of struggling, she would close the restaurant shortly after this party. So, it ended up being a farewell party. I'm so thankful to all that came out that day, and for the Camarena tequila guys for supplying the booze.

Like Matt Kang of Scoops Westside, Sam Kim, Fiona Chandra, and other members of the food lover community in the area, I was really looking forward to the Rio Brazil Cafe for dinner, and Scoops for dessert combo.Oh well. We love our restaurants, but it's not a business for everyone, not in these times.Here is a little cheer from that day.

Sambistas Camila and Soraiya tantalize the twitterati.

Patricia, Allan, Maya, and Sam Kim grabbing the last orders taken at Rio Brazil, and surrounded by Camarena Tequila. It was caipitequila time!Yes it's a real drink.

Justin and Mist O. relaxin' carioca style.

Tina of Boobs for Food with her Camarena tequila swag. They wrapped the gifts like burritos.

It's Carnaval at Rio Brazil Cafe with Camila and Soraiya.

Boyz Nite Out and La Descarga
Around mid-July a little gathering of cigar smokers and spirit aficionados I started with just Brian Saltsburg and Ben Bailly present, blew up in the twitterverse and moved into La Descarga and opened Test Kitchen.La Descarga just happens to be my favorite watering hole in the States, so it was amazing to move this event into their bar, which I first fell in love with earlier in the year.This is a regular stop for me, Steve Livigni(manager) and Pablo Moix(mixologist)of La Descarga have become great friends one shot of rum and one puff of a cigar at a time. There is no greater bar in town, or outta town.

Burger King - Rick Bayless - (2003) 0:30 (USA)

I'd rather eat this Southwest chicken sandwich by Rick Bayless from Burger King than go back to Red O.

In August I experienced my worst meal of 2010, and felt justified in lighting up a false representative of Mexican cuisine, Mr. Rick Bayless, since he offended the latino chefs and restaurateurs in Los Angeles by claiming to be bringing authentic Mexican to Los Angeles. This post about Red O would be the first spark in a national media frenzy that was set off because Jonathan Gold was quoted poking fun at Rick Bayless's outrageous assumption by Gustavo Arellano, the Food Editor for the OC Weekly, and author of the Ask a Mexican column, at a Latino Journalists event Jonathan Gold was addressing.

Rick attacked Jonathan Gold on twitter, and the OC Weekly's piece went viral. Jonathan Gold and Rick Bayless kissed and made up, and Jonathan Gold did a, well....mixed review of Red O the following month. See what Jonathan Gold has to say about Red O, Rick Bayless, and yours truly in his review titled Back to Bayless.

I'm happy to say that Rick has been a little more humble in his public speaking as of recent and when his chef left Red O recently, a Latino chef took his place. I'm calling this the Street Gourmet LA effect.I even hear he's looking to Baja now for inspiration,hmmm.Think he's been reading the blog?

The latest with Red O? GQ Magazine's Alan Richman just called Red O the most annoying restaurant of 2010, and said that Rick should be placed under "hacienda arrest", for crimes against Mexican cuisine.

I'd still like to see an apology to the talented latino chefs of LA for the comments made on the Feast interview, and for Rick to spend a little time getting to know the authentic Mexican restaurants and chefs of Los Angeles.What do you say Mr. Bayless?A New Year's resolution?

Los Angeles Magazine
After running around Los Angeles with Lesley Barger Suter, the Food Editor of Los Angeles Magazine, and a couple of brainstorming sessions, the Ultimate Guide to Mexican Food in LA was revealed in the November 2010 issue of Los Angeles Magazine. Here I was featured in a taco crawl with Lesley, fun, and was the sole consultant for the Mexican Food in LA feature. This was such a pleasure. I loved working with Los Angeles Magazine, and Lesley is amazing. I think this is their best Mexican food edition ever!

The Quest
My greatest single dining experience of 2010 was having barbacoa in Tezontepec, Hidalgo. It was dream like, an outer body experience. I can recall every sensorial experience that day. Put this on the list of things to do before you die.

I look forward to dining with you in 2011, and sharing. Let's dine, raise our glasses, but please, let's talk about something other than food! It's a bore to talk about where you've been eating, or to weigh in on the meal...while you're EATING.Enjoy the meal and let me do the same. It's like making love to a woman while talking about your ex.And please, don't shut your eyes and tell me the flavors you're getting, it's ridiculous. Here are some topics:music,politics, sports, modern dance, travel, tequila(I like this one), your favorite samba school, or even some juicy gossip.Oh, this was for CERTAIN bloggers, by the way.This is supposed to be fun, not an academic exercise my young friends!!

Still got nothing to talk about at dinner?Let me share a little Meaning of Life clip with you from the brilliant Monty Python players, about dinner conversation.Maybe you need........conversation cards?

The other big change in 2011? If your going to suggest we drop a C Note to try SOME chef doing SOMETHING different, out of his/her element, you can count me out.I'm talking pop-ups, restaurants, special tastings, or whatever the venue.This was the year I found countless blissful bites under $10, almost everytime I spent $100 on dinner I was left disappointed.It had better be worth it. I don't just want to like a few dishes, I want to be wowed.I'm sick and tired of chefs who can't get it up for $100.No more, we're in a recession my friends.

And, the ordering everything on the menu? STOP already. How about, as Frank the Tank said in Old School..."how about we get together for a whole meal of food sometime?" An appetizer, a main, a dessert is okay every now and then, isn't it? Am I the only one that thinks it's weird to eat the whole menu? It's OCD dining.

Another resolution. I promise to stop leaving a mess on the table after every frickin' meal, demonios! I hate it!! Your area is spotless, and mine is a mess. No more, not a drop in 2011.

Happy New Year to All.And,Love and success to all types of food writers, food lovers, bon vivants, chefs, restaurateurs, bartenders, valets, cooks,organizations, waiters, hosts/hostesses, and all the other passionate people that support dining out, living the good life, and great cuisine in the New Year.

Special thanks to Josh Lurie, Jo Stougaard,Eddie Lin, John Sedlar,Evan Kleiman,Shawna Dawson,Tomoko Kurokawa,Barbara Hansen,Harriet Ells,Javier Plascenica, Benito Molina,Miguel Angel Guerrero,Andrew Zimmern,Andre Guerrero, Julie Wolfson,Nastassia Johnson,Sarah Gebeke,Gael Greene,Ricardo Zarate,Stephane Bombet,Esther Tseng,Zach Brooks,Rodrigo Oliveira,Cathy Danh,Nguyen and Thi Tran,Chuy Tovar, Josie Mora,Steve Livigni, Pablo Moix,Jaime Martin del Campo,Ramiro Arvizu,Abby Abanes, Fiona Chandra,Matthew Kang, Pat Saperstein,David Lieberman,Julian Cox,Connie Cossio,David Haskell,Boobs 4 Food,Jahdiel Vargas,Bill Chait, Brian Saltsburg, Bricia Lopez,Dan Cox, Javier Cabral, and the cooks, chefs,and people of Baja California,Mexico,Latin America and Los Angeles for your friendship, sustenance, and support in 2010.

Thanks to you all in the over 100 countries and territories who stopped by the blog in 2010!

Happy New Year!!! May 2011 bring joy and deliciousness to all of your dining tables.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Today's Double Feature:Jackass, The Restaurant and Red Medicine, The Wrath of Kahn

"Ah, Kirk, my old friend. Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? ... It is very cold in space."
Khan Noonien Singh

Hello, this is Noah Ellis......and welcome to Jackass

By now, you all know the story about the Red Medicine team of Jordan Kahn(chef/partner),Noah Ellis(managing partner), and Adam Fleischman(partner) refusing to allow Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila to dine at their restaurant. It first broke in the media on LA Weekly and then a story ran on LA Time's blog with quotes from the humiliated critic.

Noah Ellis, the apparent enforcer of Red Medicine's non-friendly writer's policy, booted her and here party, snapped a candid photo, and then posted the picture on Red Medicine's website, outing the critic's anonymity. On the same post he stated Red Medicine's reason for taking this rash action, judging from the overwhelmingly negative response in respect to Red Medicine's behavior on most of the discussion threads throughout LA and beyond.

Tonight, in the middle of a particularly hairy service, Irene Virbila arrived for her reservation (4 people under the name "Fred Snow" with a phone number of 310-999-9959), and because we had guests lingering, were not able to sit immediately.

She was recognized, and at while standing by the door, I was able to take this photo of her. At this point, I asked her and her party to leave, as we don't care for her or her reviews.

This has since been taken down from their website.

Our purpose for posting this is so that all restaurants can have a picture of her and make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her. We find that some her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational, and that they have caused hard-working people in this industry to lose their jobs -- we don't feel that they should be blind-sided by someone with no understanding of what it takes to run or work in a restaurant.

Upon asking her to leave, her husband and dining companions were quite upset, and made mention that this may be illegal and was cruel and unfair. Obviously, she was not discriminated against as part of any protected class, but rather because she is someone we choose not to serve here.

We're writing this to make everyone aware that she was unable to dine here, and as such, any retribution by her or on her behalf via a review cannot be considered to be unbiased.

We hope that those of you in the industry will support us by coming by for a late-snack or drink (the story is told much better in person), and will use this recent picture to your benefit.

Since the initial reporting by the LA Weekly the story has gone international, a PR coup?

Writer Miles Clements suggested a motive for Red Medicine's actions, an unfavorable review by S. Irene Virbila of XIV, while Jordan was then the pastry chef at Michael Mina's XIV.It had been rumored during Red Medicine's run at Test Kitchen, that the chef and team weren't interested in any form of feedback in respect to their cuisine, period. Is this wise? In defense of anonymous criticism, Patric Kuh of Los Angeles Magazine pointed out that critics are willing to say things that restaurant front and back of house, and customers are unwilling to say, things that can be helpful to restaurant and consumer. I mean, this is the job you've chosen. Clearly, there is a history between Red Medicine and S. Irene Virbila.

"He tasks me! He tasks me, and I shall have him! I'll chase him round the Moons of Nibia, and round the Antares Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up! Prepare to alter course!"
Khan Noonien Singh

It has come to my attention that Red Medicine has decided that they will only interested in criticism that is to their liking. Adam and Jordan are readers and supporters of Eater LA and Kevin Eats,and Kevin Eats appears to have unlimited access, although Jordan Kahn did write a snooty note to Kevin about his picture taking and meticulous note taking during his dinner when he signed Kevin's menu.You can view this on Kevin's Red Medicine post. Kevin Eats is somewhat of a fine dining and celebrity chef fan boy, and tends to spin positively even when he might have some reservations about his dining experience. There's nothing wrong with that, Kevin is an enthusiastic supporter of fine dining, but is this the only style of commentary you desire? Noah on the other hand seems to have a general disdain for camera toting types, so diner beware.

As a professional musician, I don't get this. We get reviewed, booed, praised, mistreated, unappreciated, respected, celebrated, by critics,fans, and other musicians. Countless jam sessions with older musicians where you learn by getting your head cut(shown up). It doesn't matter, you're a pro and dedicated to your art, you keep on playing and keep your head up. In this world we rate art, music, restaurants, books, consumer products, cars, even a damn toaster gets critiqued.

But, it is clear that S. Irene Virbila is not welcome and was given the treatment.Rude behavior, immature antics, and mean-spirited vengeance from a young and impulsive crew. Did I need to hear why from Noah, per his open invitation to buy food and drinks at Red Medicine in exchange for his side of the story? Not really. I mean, "are you nuts?",to quote Michael Mina. I also understand that Jonathan Gold is regarded with indifference, but Frank Bruni is a favorite of Red Medicine. He did refer to Jordan Kahn as to be creating desserts that would have pleased Jackson Pollock. Well, Red Medicine likes that, Frank Bruni gets Jordan Kahn, or at least he did while the chef made desserts at Varietal, so Frank Bruni gets most favored nation status.

I wonder if any Los Angeles critics are truly welcome, S. Irene Virbila, Jonathan Gold, Patric Kuh, other LA Weekly and LA Times writers. Did you guys open in the wrong city?

It's no secret that Jordan has been the talk of the industry here in LA this past year, from his stint at XIV, reception at Star Chefs, to his partnering with Umami Burger magnate, Adam Fleischman. There has been so much anticipation for this restaurant and even a giddy fan base of foodie sycophants ready to make Red Medicine the hot spot.The world's at your finger tips guys, but guess that's not enough? Adam's participation in this saga is a bit surprising here with such a mainstream hit as Umami Burger. You'd think that he wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole.

James T. Kirk: Khan. Khan, you've got Genesis. But you don't have me! You were going to kill me, Khan. You're going to have to come down here. You're going to have to come down here.

Khan Noonien Singh: I've done far worse than kill you. I've hurt you. And I wish to go on... hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her. Marooned for all eternity, in the center of a dead planet... buried alive. Buried alive.

Certainly, S. Irene Virbila is an easy target, her reviews have been mostly softballs as of recent, more friendly to mainstream restaurants in these tough economic times, averaging 2 stars for most places. And, she doesn't connect with young Los Angeles and the new dining scene. What? Because she's elderly it's OK, because she may not be in line with the times? It's JACKASS, make fun of our elders, because.....they're old. No man, respect for your elders and well behaved diners.

Her three star review of Red O was way off, but I have to say that without S. Irene Virbila's review of Rick Bayless's flawed restaurant, my post might not have had the steam that it did. To that I say, thanks Irene. Discourse is what makes our scene better. This Jackass mentality, that somehow, crassness, bullying, and saying fuck everybody is no way for a corporate restaurant based in Beverly Hills to act.This self-serving rebellion is as jive as Kurt Cobain posing for the Rolling Stone cover thinking he's keeping it real because his t-shirt says,"I Still Think Corporate Magazines Suck!" It's the ultimate hypocrisy. You guys think you're punk?More like Green Day.Beverly Hills punk? You wanna be punk, come up to Panorama City, Van Nuys, or set up in Westminster.

Perhaps S. Irene Virbila's review of Animal, which is inconsequential, could be the culprit in your trepidations. Animal is brilliant, Jon and Vinny proudly stand in rebellion as a counter-culture restaurant, and as breakout leaders of the new guard. I know you love 'em, and so do I. Despite Irene's flailing about their restaurant, it's packed and killing every night. There are million ways you could counter a negative review, but success is the sweetest revenge, young pâtissier.

The Los Angeles Times will review your place, one way or another, and so will the lot of us.

This Manifesto indicates a lack of faith in the average person's intellect. Do I need to know you're not Vietnamese, or that your food isn't traditional Vietnamese? I'm looking at you guys and I'm thinking, nope, not one of them is Vietnamese. I believe the original logo you had with Ho Chi Minh's picture indicates a complete ignorance of Vietnamese culture, but you guys did remove the offensive picture, very wise.Hey, let's open a Cuban restaurant in Miami and call it Che Guevara, what do you think? Our expectations of your food is that it's great, but you can't call your sandwich banh mi and beg us not compare it to a great banh mi. Why all the disclaimers? Your food shouldn't require explanation, it should speak for itself.If you're having to tell us some story, or are just trying to abolish any frame of reference, then something's not happening on the plate. I don't care what your manifesto says, I'm getting my banh mi from a banh mi shop, and I'm not Vietnamese either, nor is anyone in my family. You made phở at Test Kitchen with a poor broth, completely missing the point of phở, no, scratch that unlawful comparison, the point of SOUP.

In general, the Red, Manifesto, and Ho Chi Minh nonsense is troubling. This is cute? I wonder how the Vietnamese community would feel about all this? Certainly, the highly assimilated Vietnamese-Americans in the LA food scene find this offensive, but how about older restaurateurs down in Westminster, people who had real experiences with these symbols you find so cool? I grew up in Stockton,CA, where a huge population of Cambodians, Laotians, Hmong, Vietnamese, and ethnic Chinese from Southeast Asia arrived in the 70's, many from re-education camps. A kid from my graduating class lost his mother and father in a mine field, as he watched. Is this arrogance or ignorance? This folly with your Red Medicine metaphor is really a separate issue, but what I want to point out here is a pattern of carelessness that you might want to address. Maybe Irene could put your pictures up in the Vietnamese restaurants you go for inspiration, with that logo with Ho Chi Minh's face? Then maybe they could decide you are unsound, and not interested in a good time.

In regards to S. Irene Virbila? Don't worry about that, because we also are able to discriminate from reviews that have meaning, or are more on the money, as in the case of Rivera and Wolfgang's Steakhouse, to useless reviews of places in which we disagree with Irene's assessment like as in the case of Animal. We don't care what she says about Animal, neither do the dudes. I really don't think the people who go to Animal, or Red Medicine are really the S. Irene Virbila crowd anyway, which leads me to believe this might be purely a PR stunt, or better, a Jackass style prank, albeit I'll conceived.

I like Adam, and hell, we're friends on FACEBOOK for crying out loud, he's always been a gentleman.I thought Noah was very professional and likable when I previewed Red Medicine's menu at Test Kitchen, twice. I also tried Jordan's cuisine at Star Chef's, the brilliant and delicious cube, and at the Umami burger dinner with the fantastic wine pairings by David Haskell. Jordan made a great burger that night, and a good dessert to the best of my recollection.

I found my Red Medicine preview dinner at Test Kitchen mostly unimpressive, and I've been uninterested in rushing out to the restaurant. Because I had lacked anything positive to say, I'd even trashed my picture set. It's my practice to highlight great eateries. No doubt, Jordan has the ability and talent to improve the menu, but presently the word on the street is that the food is overpriced for what you're getting.This is what I experienced at Test Kitchen for Jordan Kahn's tasting menu.Lot's of mixed reviews, but my conversations with others who've gone to the restaurant have been lukewarm at best. Kevin Roderick suggested that Red Medicine just shut up and make their restaurant better, sage advice.

No need to discuss what your rights are, we all know you can toss whomever, but great cooking, a sense of value, and polished service are the keys to your survival, nothing more. I personally don't want to patronize a restaurant that treats a person, someone's grandmother with such disdain, that photographs a woman in an unflattering way without permission. That's just the old-fashioned guy in me. I don't care if it's an anonymous writer, Yelper, obnoxious blogger, no one should be thrown out unless they've been unruly.Yes you're within your rights, but we have the right to cry foul, and keep our distance. Resistance is futile, oh, wrong Star Trek movie. Open your doors to all and be judged, fearless, and with conviction, OR start a private club for yes men and fawning flatterers.

So, you guys wouldn't banh mi...... would ya? Noah said that this isn't a war on all forms of journalism, but I'm not convinced.The pomposity that has accompanied your collective actions from the Ho Chi Minh logo to your vendetta with S. Irene Virbila and her friends speaks otherwise, and without the cuisine to back it up. Think this requires more than an invite to buy a drink or a bite at the bar to hear base justifications. It seems you are attempting let things quiet down, but there's so much more to do when you've done a wrong.There are many of us, and we won't patronize a restaurant that is inhospitable, set to lash out at any perceived enemies. I find Red Medicine's handling of S. Irene Virbila to be unnecessarily cruel and irrational, and, I don't you think you guys know how to run a restaurant.

Kirk out............Kaaaaaaaaahn!

Red Medicine
8400 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Open until 2 am ***
***Have a Plan B bloggers, Yelpers, writers,Twitterers,journalists,etc.In case you're not interested in a good time, as defined by Noah Ellis.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tacos Carmelita: Mexico City Rising,Tacos de Guisado Have Arrived

For the past four years, right under our very noses, a brilliant Mexico City style tacos de guisado shop has been sitting right next door to Langer's, hidden in plain sight. No, it's not some entrepreneur that has family from Mexico, or traveled to Mexico City to research tacos de guisado, but a real cook from Mexico's capitol.

Located at the Westlake Mall in MacArthur Park, Tacos Carmelita is the only food option next to lingerie, clothing,and electronics stalls. The neglected theater sign reminds that the Weslake neighborhood, now home to mostly Mexican and Central-American swap meet malls and stores,check cashing,and fake ID's pushers,was once upscale. This area still has a bit of a rep, but has really mellowed in recent years.

Wrapping up a shoot with Squid Ink's Elina Shatkin, we had decided on either the food truck row on Wilshire, or MacArthur Park. As fortune would have it, the camera man was stuck in traffic, so we headed to MacArthur Park since one by one the Wilshire trucks were pulling away.

When we got to 7th and Alvarado, I thought, wait, there's nothing here. MacArthur Park has its share of uninteresting trucks in the evenings, but mid-afternoon is a taco dead zone in the Latin-American neighborhoods of the globe. There are also some comidas corridas, and Good Salvadorean and Guatemalan, but tacos? I decided to take a walk."If I don't find anything down the street,let's just use the park."

I saw Tacos Carmelita and looked around a bit more in the Westlake Mall, and thought the taco shop would work fine until I looked at the warming trays and saw the guisados . I asked,"You have tacos de guisado?" Isabel, who has cooked there for four years smiled and nodded.

Isabel comes from the Basilica de Guadalupe neighborhood of Mexico City, just north of the Centro Historico. This is the center of worship for Mexico's beloved Virgen de Guadalupe. She's been cooking professionally for about 17 years, and even had her own restaurant at one point.

Tacos de guisado, tacos of stews, are the most prevalent form of the street taco in Mexico City, and Mexico. They are the home cooked stews of Mexican moms and grandmothers lovingly placed in a tortilla.

You can get beans and rice on your tacos, the rice is the glue that keeps the sauce on the taco, and the beans complete the meal. It's a whole meal in a taco. I take these beans on the side, they are stand alone good.

The guisados are available during the week, from 10AM-5PM, on the weekends, just like in DF, they switch to the comfort dishes.

Fideos are always on the menu, the Mexican style pasta soup in a chicken and tomato broth. These are happily greasy and slurp to the last drop good.

They had the fideos with alphabet pasta the first time I went, this will bring many a Latino back to their grandmother's kitchen.

The red pozole, only available on the weekends is done DF style, with pork trotters. This comes with quite a bit of meat. It's among the best pozoles in the city.

In addition to these killer tacos, there are tortas and quesadillas available with the various stews.

The carnitas are of the home style variety, not cooked low and slow in a copper pot, but very much like the usual carnitas you encounter in our LA restaurants. The difference, these are better, with a nice saltiness, and good texture. I really prefer carnitas from a specialist, but carnita lovers should check these out, but these are a weekend only taco.

Everything is coming up tinga this year, well, tinga has always been a standard guisado in Mexico. This simple, spicy chicken recipe is a reality check for the tinga cheerleaders around town.This is what it should taste like! Its snappy gusto is balanced by the rice and torilla, an excellent guisado.

The pipian rojo, as Isabel's other chicken guisados, comes with a drumstick. Isabel has her sauce technique together. This sauce is a made with pumpkin seeds, dry chiles and spices.

She changes the guisados daily, so there's always something new to try.

Pollo en adobo is a magnificent taco, full of dark, dried chile essence, and hints of sweetness and spice.

The chicharron verde is awesome,tangy, and luscious. It will have you moaning for more.

The albondigas enchipotladas, meatballs in chipotle come with a surprise, they're filled with hard-boiled eggs. Yes, these are for making your own tacos. The heat is sensual and shows restraint in using the charismatic chipotle.

Picadillo, comes in a plate or taco. This is seriously good.Isabel starts cooking at a commisary kitchen at 4AM, slowly cooking stews that arrive with color, depth, and substance.

On another day, cerdo en salsa verde (pork in green sauce) and pollo en crema de chipotle(chicken in cream of chipotle). The pork is tender and infused with green flavors, the cream of chipotle, subtlely heated,and finger-licking good.

All the guisados are rocking, but the bistec en pasilla(steak is pasilla chili sauce) is ablaze. A dark chile pasilla sauce with sublime flavor will have you asking for more tortillas should a drop have escaped your mouth.

This is a game changing taco stand in Los Angeles. This isn't just the presence of a tacos de guisado specialist, but a bonifide Mexico City kitchen.I haven't seen anything like it, in terms of variety and quality. Mexico City cuisine is coming up.

Tacos Carmelita
Inside the Westlake Mall
710 Alvarado St, at 7th
Los Angeles, CA
Mon-Sunday 10AM-5PM(closed Wednesday)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tacos de Guisado La Tapatia,Mexico City: A Stone's Throw From Terminal 2 in Nearby Pantitlan,These Tacos Will Have You Praying for a Flight Delay

While my comrades in arms grumble and moan about a layover in Mexico City returning from the reaches of Mexico, I have taken these opportunites to execute various sorties into the city. With five hours, I can hit a major restaurant in Polanco or Condesa, fours hours and perhaps I'll hit a fonda in the city center, with three, the Mercado Merced, but give me a mere two hour stop and I'll treat you to some true street gourmet.

Tacos de guisado, or tacos of stews, are the most common type of street tacos in Mexico City.They range from the traditional stands with a soulful few stews like hard boiled egg and rice,blood sausage,chicharrones in green sauce,picadillo, to complex sauces and moles . They can even have chopped up hotdogs, sauteed with vegetables, quite common, or even such bold fillings as chiles en nogada or creamed spinach, like at a spot run by a woman named Paty in Condesa, where her creative stews draw in street connoisseurs that frequent her popular taco de guisado stand. I even witnessed an elderly gentleman order up a taco of french fries at some street stand in the centro historico.

Most tacos of guisados stands have around six to eight guisados, but I've seen some carry over twenty-five selections, the the place outside the Mercado Merced, near the flower market. These are the tacos of mom's home cooking. Something delicious your abuelita has on the stove. "No time to eat,son?" "I'll make you a taquito to go." The mouth-watering stew are bonded to the tortilla with rice. Throw in some beans, and you've got a comida economica in a taco.

While exploring options in the vicinity of Terminal 2, where Aeromexico is located, I stumbled across Taco de Guisado La Tapatia. The matriarch of the family hails from Guadalajara, but this kitchen is pure chilango.

As in many tacos de guisado stands, the home crafted stews are kept warm in cazuelas on a heated surface. Some use the more modern steam trays, but you know, we love it when we see these casserole dishes all laid out and stacked.

La Tapatia sets out around twelve stews each day from a repertory of the thirty or more they have listed,or whatever else they feel like cooking. The guisados change each day.

Tacos de guisado are early morning to early afternoon tacos, or until they run out.They're made for the working class during the week.On weekends, they are either closed, or they switch to more comfort style dishes.On the weekends in Mexico City, everyone is chasing down menudo, birria, or barbacoa, but it will be back to those guisados on Monday morning.

Before you squeeze throught the narrow entry way into their tiny fonda, you see a menu posted on either side of the entrance. A list of guisados was probably compiled when they opened, but hardly worth a second glance, just ask what they have today.

I have a feeling they never bothered measuring the taco cart parked in the entryway to their restaurant, but it does provide quite a spectacle, watching everyone slide into the seating area.You can also sit outside on a couple of plastic chairs, but I enjoy in their dining room and kitchen. Watching the salsas being made while your eyes smart from the grinding of capsaicin, or the little stack of dirty dishes in the sink that you can practically reach from the center table of the restaurant.It brings back memories of dining in my grandmother's kitchen to be close to aromas, the clanging of pots and pans, the sounds of running water,boiling stews, and sizzling meats.

La Tapatia is a serious kitchen. Chicharrones en salsa verde is full of aromatics, and whole stalks of cilantro. Brush this on your taco and you've a masterpiece, one of classical origins.

Chile relleno in a tomato sauce, with mild spice will make you a believer in this often poorly prepared dish. Chiles rellenos are difficult to master, and these are the product of greatness.It's about the balance of flavors and textures.

The taco de molito verde is a required eating. A green pumkin seed mole with depth and a wonderful mouth feel.

The taco de alambre is one of the reasons a second tortilla comes with your order. You can make a second taco. Sauteed Oaxacan cheese, ham, peppers, onions, bacon, and whatever else the cook throws in. This is Mexican hash.

Chicharron prensado, a Mexico City favorite consists of pork parts and fat pressed into a molded form. When cooked it falls apart and has a pork on steroids kind of sensation. La Tapatia's version comes spicy and sassy.

Oh, the pollo almendrado is so good. Chicken is cooked in a thick almond based sauce until it has the perfect consistency. Spicy, nutty, herbacious, and divinely seasoned.

And, the manitas de cerdo, pig's feet? Forget about it! These have pleasurable sting of spice, and the fall apart trotters bring opulence and inspiration.

This is a world class taco. There are some salsa on the table but use your discretion, many of the guisados require no additional condiment.

But there's nothing like a great moronga, or blood sausage. Another dificult dish to master. I had a blood sausage taco in San Juan de Letran one day that truly tested my resistence to bacteria and rot. You don't want to get a hold of a bad one of these!

At La Tapatia, you can also get some beans with your order, that come on these small styrofoam plates. Outside you'll get a taco, inside, a bit of guisado to make your own tacos.

I couldn't get over the scent of this moronga.When I inquired of the elegance of this taco, la abuelita showed me fresh laurel, hierbabuena(mint), and thyme wrapped in a bouquet.Her smile lit up when I questioned about ingredients, full of knowing pride at her culinary achievement.

There is no hint of off putting flavors, which I do enjoy a little bit of funk, but this taco at La Tapatia could convert the most squeamish of diners. Moronga is a delicacy and is treated as such by the cooks at this humble eatery.

So, drop that burger, ditch that line for airport carne asada and escape the culinary confines of Terminal 2 into Pantitlan.Check in you bags, and drop your carry on off at the lockers near the exit. As you head out of the airport drop-off and pick up area, follow the walkway to Eje 1 Norte and make a left.Make a left on Santos Dumont, and take the fidt right,Juan Guillermo Villasana. Just past the first street, Rolando Garros, on the right hand side of the street is Tacos de Guisado La Tapatia. It'll take about 10-15 minutes to get back inside the airport.

A stop here will change your whole travel experience, and send you home with a smile. Next time you have a layover, or a flight delay, your frown will yield to the feelings of excitement that will set your appetite to primal stimulation. I wonder what La Tapatia has today?

Tacos de Guisado La Tapatia
Located on Juan G. Villasana near Rolando Garros
Mexico City

Tijuana,BC-A Food GPS Dose of Vitamin P 911

Pig on pig action at Taqueria El Franc in Tijuana.This adobada(al pastor) is preferred by 9 out of 10 pigs.

A few weeks ago I received a message from Baja chef Javier Plascencia, of Villa Saverios, Mision 19, Caesar's Restaurant, Casa Plascencia, and Cebicheria Erizo."We have some kurobuta pork coming in from Quebec, so we're going to throw a big party to check out this pork." "Benito Molina will be there, Jair Tellez,Jay Porter from the Linkery wih his chef Max Bonacci, and a guy from San Jose del Cabo, Paul Zamudio." "I have media passes!"

I will be reporting on this event soon, but a more pressing matter is at hand.

The first people I thought of were Jo Stougaard of My Last Bite and Joshua Lurie of Food GPS, a pair of pork zealots without peers. Jo's Blog is practically a shrine to pork, and Josh has a weekly Dose of Vitamin P to document his porcine fetish.

It turned out Josh had a conflict, so he wasn't to join Jo, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, Esther of Estar LA and I for this epic porkorama. And, to top it off, Josh struck out four times this week trying to find a suitable dish for his weekly Dose of Vitamin P. He was desparate, and something had to be done. After merely taunting him with the details of our pork fest, we decided to each dedicate a dish from the dinner to fill in for the Weekly Dose of Vitamin P.

For my selection, Benito Molina's tostadita of hog maw in a tomatillo sauce. It was served along side a tostadita of abalone, cochinita pibil(pit roasted pork in achiote), and the buche, in the bottom right of this picture.

Benito had given me a sample before coming to his station, and a quickly rounded up my ladies to get in line. The buche was elegant, in away I've not encountered, fit for a king, with a light tang of tomatillo and whispers of herbs and spices.Its slightly naughty scent evoked fond memories of a prurient nature.

On this night there were enough Doses of Vitamin P to fuel Food GPS for a couple of months, perhaps. Sorry you missed this one, Josh, but may this little tostada help to assuage your pain.

EstarLA comes to the aid of Food GPS with this gem. We all loved this!

Gourmet Pigs filling in for Food GPS

My Last Bite tweets a porky picture to raise the spirits of Food GPS

Sunday, December 5, 2010

El Agave Gastro Pub, Ensenada,BC:Mezcal's Great Awakening

It seems mezcal has been on our minds these past few years. Las Perlas, LA's first mezcal and tequila bar opened, and I even attended two private events of mezcal brand ambassadors promoting their stories and spirits in 2010. Del Maguey has been leaping onto the shelves of LA's top bars, and Ilegal mezcal has been making a full court press around the Los Angeles scene. Mayahuel is all the rage in New York, and I recently visited Corazon de Maguey in the Coyoacan neighborhood of Mexico City, where I had also imbibed when it was O Mayahuel, owned by the Danzantes brand of mezcal.

Ensenada isn't the first place one thinks of when mezcal is mentioned. Fish tacos, Hussong's Cantina, the excellent Baja cuisine,tequila shots,Senor Frog's,the cruise ship crowd, but not mezcal. But in fact, many of Ensenada's chefs are Mezcal aficionados, and are great promoters of Oaxacan food and drink, incorporating the traditions into their own Baja cuisines.Manzanilla's Chef Benito Molina always has a small but superb selection of mezcals on his shelf. Baja Winemaker Hugo D'Acosta makes the Lucifer brand of mezcal at the Adobe Guadalupe vineyard, and Jair Tellez of Laja in the Valle de Guadalupe and Mero Toro in Mexico City has also ventured into mezcal.

One of the Baja chef's favorite Oaxacan spots was run by Salvador, a mezcal enthusiast and chef from Oaxaca. He was over at the beautiful beachfront property in El Sauzal now home to El Sarmiento before having some issues with the landlord. He relocated to the tourist zone in Ensenada this past year and opened El Agave Gastro Bar. You can always count on Chef Benito Molina, an occasional chowhound poster to give us the skinny on what's happening in Ensenada, and the Valle de Guadalupe.

Just down the street from those temple of amateur drunkedness, Hussong's Cantina and Senor Frog's, El Agave Gastro Bar is a world apart.Salvador brings bottles he finds in Oaxaca to his Ensenada mezcal bar, ones he's personally tasted and likes. Right away he was offering up samples and trying to gently convert me into a mezcalero. I could sense he cares that the customer has a memorable first experience with mezcal. "No worries, I don't need to try anything", I said. "I'm here to drink."

The decor and vibe is very hip. It would fit in just fine with the Los Angeles downtown bar scene. He carries around 30 mezcals, flavored cream of mexcals(something for the ladies),some tequilas, a full bar, and some local beers.The problem with mezcal bars in Mexico is that Mexicans don't drink mezcal.In Tijuana's La Mezcalera mezcal bar, Dos Equis beer is the beverage of choice. Still, Salvador is a purist, he'll do what it takes to survive these tough times in Baja, but he's keeping it real.

A beer company hit him up to stock their product, he accepted, but refused their propaganda, and said their promotional refigerator emblazoned with the company's logo would go in the back."It's a fridge", he stated, "not a commercial."They accepted, which is rare these days.

He brought out some orange slices and worm salt out to cleanse my palate in between tastes of mezcal,a Oaxacan practice.I asked him what he thought of Del Maguey and Ilegal.He said, "what are those?" You know, I never was sold on Del Maguey, and found the Ilegal mezcal pitch to be disingenuous.These bottles pale in comparison to the mezcals I've tried in Mexico City, and in Baja. They don't elicit the same pleasure, and ultimately conflict with the inflexible position of the true mezcalero.

It occured to me that these were commercial products, and not what is drunk in Oaxaca. Oaxacans paying those high prices for Del Maguey, a mezcal company started by an American? Mezcal is still a delectation that must be sought out by us romantics, us sensualists.

Salvador even makes his own infusions. He gets a mezcal from a distiller he knows and brings it back to create interesting impressions of mezcal.

A sweet,and pink tinted mezcal made from the natural red dye of the cochineal bug, called grana cachanilla was a rose colored dream. The cochineal was recently removed as an ingredient in Campari, many lover's of the Italian apertif say it's lost its flavor. The addition of grana cachanilla definitely did dulcify and smooth out this beverage.This could be a hit!

The house made pechuga, with intense flavors being added by the presence of a chicken breast in the bottle. Normally this is done in the distillation process, but Salvador is doing his pechuga old school.

Mezcal El Diablito is a beautiful joven, or young mezcal, sexy fruit flavors, and earthen hints on the back end.

A more rare variety of the many agaves used to make mezcal, tobala, was featured in the Ollas de Barro mezcal. This is pure Oaxacan elegance.

Although mezcal is produced in other states, Salvador sticks to what he knows, the mezcals of Oaxaca.He is sure to have mezcals made from various agaves, the succulents responsible for this esteemed spirit.

Salvador, my generous host, brought out some quesillo, Oaxacan cheese to nosh on. His food is traditional with a contemporary edge. I also learned on this quiet night hanging out in El Agave that mezcal is a much more food friendly drink than tequila.

Oaxacans are as proud of their grasshoppers as they are their cheese.Some tacos of the salty chapulines are not to be missed, with a little Oaxacan string cheese, and a green salsa.

"Would you like to try my moles?", Salvador beamed. I had just finished a fish taco run earlier in the day and warned him I wasn't ready for anything heavy. He brought out his Oaxacan mole negro and mole rojo on a couple of tortillas with some string cheese. "These are great!", I yelled. When I asked about his cooking he said that he learned by the lash. His grandmother smacked him upside the head everytime he messed up. "Thwack!More salt!!" "Bam!You toasted the chilis too long!!!" He knew he had it right when he ducked and there came no blow. With a stern face, his grandmother nodded,"finally, you did something right."

Salvador and his wife are preparing great food to pair with these fine mezcals. What they are doing here might be ahead of the heavy brand influence in the mezcal bars of Mexico City and the US.

Mezcal pitch men always go on and on about the stubborn traditions of mezcal which are so much more pure than those in tequila country, yet, they are representing a corporate brand. Greater than any manufactured tale, or claims of artisinal production, you can count on Salvador to sort the wheat from the chaff.

This is the best mezcal bar I've been to in Mexico or the US. This is some of the best Oaxacan food I've encountered, and it is just as progressive as its contemporary Baja peers. So, put down that green bottle, and come experience mezcal's Great Awakening right in the center of Ensenada's tourist zone.

El Agave Gastro Bar
Av. Ruiz, 230-A(down the street from Hussong's)
Ensenada, BC
from the US 011-52(646)175-7467