Thursday, June 30, 2011

Los Angeles Magazine Pupu Throwdown: Neal Fraser vs. Mark Gold-Let's Get Ready to Pupu!!!

Last night I was invited by the Steve Valentine Group to attend Los Angeles Magazine's pupu throwdown at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica.Eric Greenspan of the Foundry and Brendan Collins of Waterloo and City had been handled by chefs Brendan Fraser of Grace/BLD and Mark Gold of Eva in previous match-ups. The challenge was to plate your best pupu--appetizers in the local lingo of the Hawaiian islands.

Despite the requisite Hawaiian leis when we arrived, there were no tired jokes about getting leid, that was a release...I mean relief.

All guests proudly wore their leis, even at the valet station on the way out. Taking things up a notch was eco-stylist and organic cookbook author Ani Phyo, wearing an edible dress.To quote Pitbull,"como?"

Ok, it was a dress made of organic materials, and edible. Ani practices what she preaches.She's here to help us reduce our carbon footprint, and to bring sexy back to vegan living. Edible dress!!!I can't believe I asked her,"what do you mean by edible dress...could you repeat that,Ani?" She did clarify. I love blogging.

Chef Haru Kishi has been making the scene these days. He's having a great year over at Chaya Brasserie and was taking in the competition on this perfect light and breezy beachside evening. It's Wednesday night in LA!

The crowd was having fun drinking mosquitos, a Hawaiian themed mojito, Hawaiian beers, and wine while chasing down the chefs' pupus.It was fun watching the servers try to fill up their trays and make it out of the cooking stations. Sorry guys, but smile, it's less work to have people attack your tray like animals than have to stroll around with such a burden.

Just for fun, chef Ray Garcia of Fig, the host of the evening, roasted a whole pig for his signature pork tacos.

A crispy, and juicy pig-skin rug

The pork tacos were excellent in this tacorazzo's opinion, I went back for several and grabbed some of chicharrones torn from the carcass.

Chef Neal Fraser was loose and ready for battle.

His spam banh mi was full of Hawaiian funk and flavor.

His other bite was a Hawaiian tuna poke,with wasabi Tobiko, and sambal crème fraiche, clean and balanced, the tuna shone bright.

Very pupu-like, Mark Gold's kumamoto oyster with pineapple, toasted buckwheat, and "espama" was a bold and aggressive dish. The "espama" was canned food funky in the nose, but tasted better than it smelled. Strange but creative.

The roasted foie gras with sushi rice, tea smoked plum and grated yuzu by Mark Gold also showed an edge in construction, and was a hit with the crowd.

1...2..Freddy's cooking for you..3...4...better ask for more

At the judges table, no one was snickering nor making pupu jokes, it was all about the business for Los Angeles magazine dine editor Lesley Bargar Suter, Roy Yamaguchi of Roy’s Restaurants, and Ed Kenney of Town Kaimuki restaurant in Honolulu.

When the event came to a close, it was Mark Gold who triumphed and will live to pupu another day.I was a little frightened by Mark's hat and stripped apron, if he had been holding some knives I would have ran....chef Freddy krueger.

Congrats to the winner, chef Mark Gold of Eva, and to chef Neal Fraser for a good show. Chef Ray Garcia, you make a mean taco, and LA Magazine always knows how to party. Big thanks to Steve Valentine for the invite.

Los Angeles Magazine Pupu Throwdown
Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows
June 29,2011

Saturday, June 18, 2011

El Cuadrilatero, Mexico City:El Gladiador, El Super Astro's Ultimate Torta Throwdown

I have no idea how we ended up at a torteria made famous by a giant sandwich developed by a luchador(wrestler) after two weeks of relentless, gluttony, but there we were.My plan was to stroll Mexico City and look around, and possibly grab a nibble somewhere. I had stayed another day just to recuperate from Aromas y Sabores, a 2-week long stretch of eating through 5 states in Mexico with 90 others. The trip was led by famous Mexican chef and dear friend, Patricia Quintana.

Colombian Chef Pablo Aya, a new friend I made on the trip wanted to check out a market, maybe the Merced? I couldn't believe how indecisive I was that day, wait, THAT'S how I ended up face to face with 1.3 kilos of sandwich,it was a moment of weakness!So much for a light salad and a stroll. We started at the Mercado Mercado Medellin to check out the produce and food stalls before heading off to Cafeteria El Cuadrilatero Jr.(the wrestling ring), a sandwich battleground.

The signature item here is El Gladiador(Gladiator), a recipe from a Lucha Libre wrestler from Tijuana called el Super Astro.

His ex-wife, Guadalupe runs the place now, with over 30 years in the business, el Super Astro is still jumpin' off the top rope in Tijuana,"Lucha Libre por la vida." I thought to talk the guys into a regular torta, another new friend Hernan had joined us, but the regular tortas are as big as the telera roll being held in Guadalupe's hand.Sheesh,there's no easy out here, it's go big or go home.

"We might as well share the Gladiador",said Pablo,"I mean...we're here." Makes sense to me.So much for the post-2 week feeding frenzy detox!

El Super Astro's son is definitely not up for the challenge,but was a good sport when mom made him put on the mask

The challenge, eat the Gladiador in 15 minutes or less and it's on the house. You also get your name added to the list of only 99 other mortals who've achieved this extreme eating feat. "About 2 try each week",teased Guadalaupe,"but only 99 have finished the torta in the 20 years we've been in business, the last one was in February." Oh yeah, 100 is up for grabs. You'll get a Cuadrilatero torta in addition to getting your Gladiador comped for being the 100th to eat this behemoth within 15 minutes,plus bragging rights.

On the walls are photos and memorabilia from el Super Astro's still relevant career.

He even keeps a vigilant watch, Juan Ramirez, Luchador and master tortero,El Super Astro.This is his arena, his recipe, think you can pin this torta?

A wrestling ring of 8 eggs with fistfuls of chorizo piled on. It's then cut into rectangular omelettes to fit on the subway-style telera roll.

Bacon sizzles, and wennies roast; a bed of ham for the egg-chorizo omelettes to rest upon is made.

Oaxacan cheese, practically a whole ball of it to make this torta seems to be plenty, but wait, there's more. There are avocadoes too, and some other vegetable hidden in the mound of ingredients.

Thin slices of chicken and steak are the final ingredients, delicately stacked on top along with the hotdogs.

In a triumphant double spautula hold, this seasoned tortero, 5 years with El Cuadrilatero, casually lifts the torta for us to snap a few pictures.Be sure to drop a bowl of their superb chipotle salsa on the sandwich, it's to die for.

The torta itself is delicious, nothing magical here, just a lot of greasy goodness under one roof.You really get to taste all the ingredients, there's so much of everything, you're sure not to miss any element.

Even dividing the torta into thirds, we still had a whole plate of food leftover. I can't even imagine that a person could finish this. My 1/3 Gladiador kicked my ass.

We sure tried, but El Super Astro, you're too much even for this tag team.

Here's Pablo demonstrating the power of the mighty Gladiador. It took us each a moment to figure out how to go about eating this beast.

Pablo and Hernan ponder the size of the Gladiador

1.3 kilos of uber-rich torta in 15 minutes,or, bring some friends and put your heads together, we think this can feed four, easily. It costs about $17 for the Gladiador.There are other tortas and food items on the menu, and even a Gladiador Jr.,(half a Gladiador) but you're in El Super Astro's house and he's calling you out. Think you got the stomach for this?

Cafeteria El Cuadrilatero
Luis Moya 73
Mexico City, Mexico
7am-8pm Mon-Sat

Monday, June 13, 2011

Guatemalan Street Food,MacArthur Park,LA-Locals Hoof it on Over After Work for the $3.50 Special

Most street food on LA is Mexican, and Mexican-American, even with all the new trucks, but MacArthur Park is where Central-Americans hustle.Everything from clothes, to cell phone gear, to shady malls hidden from the casual pedestrian, to fake ID's, to street eats.

On 8th and Alvarado there's always a cluster of people huddled around a couple of shopping carts, that are actually mobile kitchens featuring Guatemalan cuisine. There are sometimes 3 vendors after 5:30PM during the week only, this is for the Central-American blue collar crowd, a bite before catching the bus homeward.

The plates go for $3.50, all-inclusive. The carne guisada, a stewed beef with squash, beans, carrots, and a tomato broth is a steal, store-bought corn tortillas and a side of rice are included.

It's a good version of a rather simple plate, hearty and well-seasoned.

Even better is the pacaya rellena, egg-battered bamboo shoots covered with a tomato sauce, accompanied by beans and rice with ample tortillas thrown in. This is the Guatemalan version of the chile relleno without that Mexican heat; they also offer ejotes rellenos, egg-battered green beans.

But the real prize here is the sopa de pata, beef hoof soup. It is $3.50 as well as all plates here, packed with green beans, carrots, cilantro, chayotes, cabbage and a flavorful beef broth made silky by fatty oils.

And yes there is actually some beautiful hoof to be had, you can chew the soft meat from the coarse bone with devious delight.

Monday through Friday, you can enjoy delicious meals out within the most tight of budgets, not an easy feet these days.

Guatemalan Street Food
evenings after 5:30PM Mon-Fri.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Street Gourmet LA:2011 LA Weekly Web Awards-Best Food Blog

Last night at Bardot in Hollywood, I received my award for Best Food Blog in LA for LA Weekly's Web Awards, and partied the night away with fellow winners, Nguyen and Thi of Starry Kitchen(Best Restaurant Site,Maximalist),Daniel Djang of Thirsty in LA(Best Cocktail Blog), and the girl who always has a winning smile, Josie of Uncouth Gourmands. It was a very informal awards ceremony, LA Weekly style, the liquor flowed and there were plenty of nibbles to keep us from having any Sharon Stone moments.It was a Hollywood club party complete with assorted characters although fellow winners Perez Hilton and Alyssa Milano were no where to be found, that would have completed our victorious evening. Are you picturing Perez, Alyssa, and Nguyen in his banana suit posing with their awards?

I found out that my blog had been named Best Food Blog by LA Weekly just a few days before, as I was returning from 2 weeks on the road with Patrica Quintana's Aromas y Sabores tour to learn more about Mexican gastronomy and culture; it's been a great month!LA Weekly is a publication I fell in love with when I first moved to Los Angeles in '95, I always knew where the nearest stash of Weekly's would be every Thursday, and even had my spots that would get them first as well as where I could still find one on a Sunday night. I poured over Jonathan Gold's reviews in the food section, and enjoyed the fascinating feature stories, the one on former Tijuana mayor Hank Rhon is still a favorite.

There are many best food blog awards out there these days, but I'm overjoyed that this honor would come from the LA Weekly, host to the only Pulitzer Prize winning food writer in Jonathan Gold. It's meaningful-it has given me a moment to think about my evolving role in the food world, and my ever sharpening focus on Latin-American cuisine. It's a mere accident that has become good fortune.My sincerest thanks to the LA Weekly for recognizing my blog.

I started my blog in 2007, just 6 posts that year, about the same time I came on chowhound.The purpose was to keep track of the restaurants I found and keep notes for an adult ethnic dining class I was teaching at the time.The choice to specialize in Latin-American cuisine came as a natural result of my travels for work as a musician, and my family traditions from Aguascalientes, Mexico.It also allowed me to set myself apart from the vast bandwidth of blogs out there. Coincidently, I came into this as Latin-American cuisine has taken a greater place in the hearts and stomachs here in the US and globally, and Mexico's gastronomy has recently been deemed an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.It's a fortuitous occasion to be writing about Latin-American cuisine.

What this award means to me is that my efforts to find outstanding eateries, and educate people about traditional Latin-American food,chefs, and cooking are validated.The majority of what I cover here are meals and travel expenses paid for from my own pocket, with a sparse amount of media events, only those that I am comfortable supporting in an effort to preserve the integrity of the content on Street Gourmet LA.Countless hours spent exploring on foot, or by taxi, car, subway, bus, rent-a-car, or by any means necessary are invested to bring forth new finds and treasured eats.

Why street food?Because it's profoundly delicious when you arrive at the right place, and it's the most common dining experience we share among humans. Street food is the first restaurant experience of organized societies.

Aromas y Sabores 2011, journalist

But really, I'm just a zealous messenger. I'm happy to share the delights and pleasures of a rapturous afternoon at Ensenada's La Guerrerense, a random Argentine parrilla that will blow your mind, one of the best night's of my life at a Brazilian temple of north-eastern cuisine right next to a favela,or coming across perhaps one of the best tacos LA has ever tasted.

Michael Moore moment

At the same time, it means to me that with each accolade and achievement, I can continue to call a burro a burro with a notoriety that can't be completely ignored. I only have three soul-shredding posts, the mediocre and bad restaurants lie on the cutting room floor because they are easy targets, and bore, but let us not forget to smear a badge of shame with fresh paint when it must be said.To quote Bill the Butcher Cutting in Gangs of New York,"He ain't earned a death! He ain't earned a death at my hands! No, he'll walk amongst you marked with shame, a freak worthy of Barnum's Museum of Wonders. God's only man, spared by the Butcher." Just ask Rick Bayless!

Readers, friends, strangers, critics,and the people I meet in all of the Latin-American kitchens, I thank you for stopping by and sharing your passions; cheers, salud, saude, and all your meals be communal, memorable, and rich. Let's eat!!