Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Authentic Cuisine Debate is Dead--Long Live the Authentic Cuisine Debate in 2013!

Claudio Azevedo of Escola da Samba Vai Vai with the drum line, São Paulo, Brasil

There is a reluctance out there to discuss authentic cuisine--mostly out of self-interest. Many thriving restaurateurs that want to capitalize on the rise of Latin-American and Asian cuisines want to throw a wrench into the engine of debate to insulate themselves from this discussion. Lazy journalists, too--I'm talking the whole lot: bloggers, writers, or whatever they prefer to call themselves. Titles don't matter, it's what you know. I learned this as a young musician coming to L.A.--it doesn't matter who you've played with when the band leader kicks off Cherokee, or All The Things You Are, or even Pick up the Pieces. You stand on your abilities in the world of music, and you will be judged, by critics, by the audience, and mostly by other musicians--it's an extreme form of social criticism. It's this type of criticism that keeps even the best tenor men from recording Coletrane's, A Love Supreme--you just don't do that.

Even big name writers out there play the "oh what's authentic anyway", again just to cover up their own inexperience. I do support what Eddie Huang is saying--even if it's from the perspective of 30-somethings that grew up on Jackass, base hip-hop culture, and hyper-exposure to porn--that only people from within the culture should be the voices of that cuisine, or tradition--or they should have at least been out in the field. Eddie is an authentic voice. Andrew Zimmern is about the most credible individual I know, who has put a tremendous amount of time on the ground, and truly wants to get to the essence of a people. His knowledge and experience are unrivaled--right behind him is Anthony Bourdain. I would listen to either of these guys talk about Latin America. There is such thing as authentic cuisine, as there is authentic jazz--Kenny G is not jazz--or authentic samba.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Street Gourmet L.A. About Town: Latino Holiday Spirits, Where to Get Your Tamales For the Holidays, Tlacoyos, and Santa Rosalia

Volcan de Mi Tierra tequila añejo

Check out my latest stories around L.A. and the O.C. covering the Latin beat!

Los Angeles Magazine

I lay down an expert's guide to Latin American spirits in 7 Delicious Latin-American Spirits that Won't Break the Bank on the Los Angeles Magazine Digest. 

Tamales Vallecaucanos at Sabor Colombiano

Tamales, tamales, tamales--get you tamales here for the holidays in Vitamina T: Tamales for the Holidays, where I tell you where to score and introduce a few lesser known tamale traditions from Central and South America.    

Tlacoyos at the Mercado Olympic

All Hail the mighty tlacoyo, Mexico's OG antojitos for a taste of the empire in Vitamina T: Tlacoyos(aka, the Mother of all Antojitos) at the Mercado Olympic.  

OC Weekly

El Boleo, Santa Rosalia, Baja California Sur 

Get out of the cold as we head south to Santa Rosalia, Baja California Sur for some soul warming fish tacos and pan dulce from El Boleo in my latest column for Tijuana Si!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Refinery 29's 60 Best Mexican Restaurants Gets Dipped into a Vat of Nacho Cheese in My Latest in L.A. Magazine's Digest

Refinery 29 on Mexican cuisine

Refinery 29, the Fashion Empire, takes us to the dark side...

In case you missed it, I took a machete to Refinery 29's ridiculous list of the 60 Best Mexican Restaurants in L.A, in L.A. Magazine's Digest yesterday. I'm recommending their list as a where NOT to eat Mexican food in L.A., from an e-commerce Fashion site that doesn't seem to know MacArthur Park from Huntington Park.

 This is Los Angeles, Califorrrrrrrrrrrrrnia, cabronas! We know better.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Art of Guerrilla Taco War in L.A. Magazine's Digest

Chef Wes Avila, Guerrilla Tacos

For this week's installment of Vitamina T, I go deep into the urban jungle of DTLA to search for the comandante--Chef Wes Avila's Guerrilla Tacos--to get of a taste of high pocho cuisine. This is the most promising taco concept in Los Angeles by a non-traditional taquero to date. Viva la revolucion del taco!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Street Gourmet LA in LA Magazine's Digest: Cantinho Brasileiro

Cantinho Brasileiro at the Camaguey Meat Market

Good news for Culver City residents; the Camaguey Meat Market has a new vendor, the Cantinho Brasileiro, serving up traditional Brazilian lanchonete fare. Go for the legit coxinha with catupiry, pasteis, kibbis, and the prato feito, a main dish with rice and beans in my latest for Los Angeles Magazine's Digest.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blogging For Los Angeles Magazine, and My Latest Article For the OC Weekly's Tijuana SI!

In case you missed the great news--I've joined Los Angeles Magazine's new blogger team, where I'll be covering all things Latino. There will be a Tuesday feature called Vitamina T in which I champion those Mexican comfort foods the begin with the letter T: tacos, tortas, and tamales. I will also do reviews and events around town from the Spanish, Kriol, Native-American, Garifuna, and Portuguese speaking worlds.

Links to my latest stories on L.A Magazine's blog:

Vitamina T
Rabbi-on-Board. Authentic Mexican tacos fit for a rabbi at the new Mexikosher taco truck.

Sweaty tacos at the El Faro Plaza in Vernon from El Atoron.  


L.A.'s best Cuban restaurant just got new digs--La Caridad got its mojo working, mang!

And in my latest Tijuana Si Column for the OC Weekly, I take you on a San Ysidro border crossing food crawl--tips to survive the Copacalypse.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Mexican Invasion at Test Kitchen, November 1-4: Molina, Salas, Téllez, and Plascencia

(Clock wise from top left) 
Chef Pablo Salas (Amaranta/Toluca), Chef Benito Molina (Manzanilla/Ensenada), Chef Javier Plascencia (Mision 19/Tijuana), and Chef Jair Téllez (MeroToro/Mexico City)

To celebrate Day of the Dead in high fashion, I've curated 4 unprecedented nights at Test Kitchen for a Test Kitchen Latino series that will feature more chefs from around Latin America in the future. This first series highlights 4 major heavyweight chefs that represent the au courant of modern cuisine--a Mexican chef event of this caliber is a first in Los Angeles.

Mexican cuisine was designated as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2010, at a time when a next wave global fascination with Mexican gastronomy and Latin-American cuisines was beginning its surge.

Come to Test Kitchen for this special series and find out why the world is buzzing about the vanguard chefs of Mexico--this is an event not to be missed.

About the chefs:

Chef Benito Molina, Thursday, November 1 at Test Kitchen
Molina is a pioneer of the Baja culinary movement ever since he relocated from Mexico City to Ensenada where he took full advantage of the high quality seafood items that weren't be used by the locals(all their best products were exclusively shipped to Japan at the time), and created a minimalist cuisine that lets the products speak for themselves. Molina is star of the hit food television series, Benito y Solange, has cooked all over the world--even for Arzak by special request--and is a top chef in Mexico. Look for creative uses of exquisite Baja ingredients presented with an international flare, yet 100% Ensenada.      

Chef Pablo Salas, Friday, November 2 at Test Kitchen
Salas is part of the next generation of Mexican chefs, and is the leading figure as representative of the State of Mexico, which has an extraordinary cuisine. Salas has worked in the best kitchens in Mexico, with the best chefs, and follows the new breed of Mexican chef in favoring a study of national techniques and cuisine over the European experience of the previous generation of Mexican chefs. This Toluca native will be elevating the dishes of the State of Mexico on this night, maybe if we're lucky, his hometown's green chorizo will find its way on the menu.         

Chef Jair Téllez, Saturday, November 3 at Test Kitchen
Téllez set up his now legendary country restaurant--Laja--in the Valle de Guadalupe at a time when the only cuisine was huevos rancheros paired with a scoop of Nescafe in hot water. He grew his own vegetables because he couldn't afford to buy produce that could go to waste if no one showed up. Farm to table wasn't a pretense, it was a means for survival. Now that the Valle has grown into Téllez's vision, he's moved on to open one of the hottest restaurants in Mexico City: MeroToro. Téllez has impeccable technique and precision while always bringing exciting flavors to the table. His seafood cocktail with gooseneck barnacles and sea urchin is one of the best things I ever ate.  

Chef Javier Plascencia, Sunday, November 4 at Test Kitchen
Hot off the heels of winning Best New Restaurant from Travel and Leisure Mexico, Plascencia's star continues to rise on both sides of the border. Plascencia is leading Tijuana's charge into the international theater with his advocacy and singular Mision--Mision 19 that is. Plascencia is a champion of Mexico's northern cuisines: Baja California, Sinaloa, and Sonora. Regardless of innovation, Plascencia consistently brings hearty flavors to delicate plates. His night at Test Kitchen is sure to blend a bit of northern land and sea cuisines.       

Test Kitchen Latino, November 1-4, 2012
Test Kitchen 2012 at Bestia
2121 E. 7th Place
Los Angeles, CA 90021
For reservations, click here


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Baja Culinary Fest 2012: Judging the Ultimate Batalla Culinaria

Tomorrow begins the second annual Baja Culinary Fest with the Night of Stars and goes all day and night until Sunday, October 14th. You can check out this Mexperts guide to the Fest in LA Magazine's Digest, and also find out where to get Baja cuisine right here in LA.

I will be arriving the BCCF on Friday night, diving right into the action, and on Saturday morning I'm proud to announce that I'll be among an esteemed panel of judges for the Batalla Culinaria in a cross border showdown between Baja chefs and their northern counterparts hosted by Baja's ingénue, Chef Marcela Valladolid and Zam Zien. Just look at that line-up!--it's an all-star cast of chefs.  

The Iron Chef-style competition begins at 9AM in the Gran Hotel Tijuana, and wraps up about 2PM. May the best Californio win!

Baja Culinary Fest 2012
Batalla Culinaria, October 13, 2012
9AM at the Gran Hotel Tijuana
Admission is $25 per person

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My First Story For Dine LA--A Ceviche Lover's Guide to Los Angeles

Aguachile at Coniseafood

I have been on a ceviche terror this past summer from, devouring raw seafood from Ensenada's finest practitioners,  to the stands at Popotla; to the trucks, carts, and gastronomic palaces of Tijuana, to the streets and casual restaurants right here in Los Angeles. While we don't have the access to the fine seafood products of Baja California--especially at those prices--but LA has the most diverse Latino dining scene in the US, and that is good news for fans of ceviche.

Check out a recent story I did for Dine LA--it's a 10-stop pan-Latino tour through the tasty world of ceviches, aguachiles, and seafood cocktails. Here are 10 cool and refreshing reasons to come and visit Los Angeles.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Popotla and El Poblano on Tijuana Si in the OC Weekly

Spider crabs a plenty in Popotla

Check out my recent posts in the OC Weekly on one of my latest obsessions--the seafood paradise that us Popotla. It's what Puerto Nuevo used to be, a place where your every seafood whim is just a fisherman or a cocktailer away.

Carne asada taco from El Poblano, Tijuana

And, in case you missed it, I shared the story of the famous taqueros from Puebla that have carved themselves a slice of Baja culture in the form of carne asada tacos that are 100% Tijuanense, yet inseparable from the Poblanos that prepare them. Read Tacos El Poblano in the OC Weekly

Friday, September 21, 2012

Chef Benito Molina at Playa: September 23-25

Fried abalone, Manzanilla style

The Baja series continues at Playa with the original Ensenada flavors of Chef Benito Molina. Molina will be in the kitchen at Chef John Sedlar's Playa restaurant from Sunday, September 23rd through Tuesday, September 25th serving up the finest Baja products in dishes like his clever fried abalone, Manzanilla style, which shall become your ultimate version of fish and chips.

Molina is internationally renowned for his minimalist cooking style, in which the superior Baja products define the dish. A mind blowing 12-course tasting at Manzanilla just a few months back is still fresh on my palate, so prepare yourself for another iconic taste of Baja hosted by America's leading high Baja cuisine supporter: Chef John Sedlar.

Benito Molina at Playa
September 23-25, dinner service
7360 Beverly Bl.

Monday, September 17, 2012

La Guerrerense at Playa, 9/16-9-18: Baja Series of Chefs With Chef John Sedlar

Sabina Gonzalez and her daughter Mariana Oviedo at Playa's ceviche station last night

Last night, Sabina Gonzalez and her daughter Mariana of the famed La Guerrerense  seafood cart in Ensenada set up shop on Beverly Bl. to kick off a series of guest chefs from Baja California at Playa. This collaboration with Chef John Sedlar, who's making a lean towards the Baja kitchen at both Rivera and Playa, will run into October.

The packed house at Playa was buzzing about what I've called the best street cart in the world--Anthony Bourdain(La Guerrerense was featured on No Reservation Baja) agrees, and he would be in a good position to know. A diner arriving for her much anticipated meal by La Guerrerense squealed, "I can't wait for this, I've been wanting to try them forever."

Tostadas of sea urchin, cod, pate de pescado, tuna, and sea snail by La Guerrerense

There's still a chance to catch La Guerrerense tonight, and Tuesday before she heads back to Ensenada, and even if you went last night, expect the menu to be a little different as Sedlar will add his touches to the collaboration. Sedlar was mesmerized by the speed and efficiency of the pair of street food veterans as he ran into the kitchen to tell his chefs--"you guys could learn something here about moving your hands, that's all you gotta do." " These two are faster than my chefs." He also couldn't get them off the line--"they like to work."

Legendary homemade salsas by La Guerrerense at Playa

Coctel campechana with pismo clam, tuna, octopus, scallop, and shrimp

Chef John Sedlar with La Guerrerense

Come out and experience an amazing Mexican seafood tasting from the streets of Ensenada, a place that Newsweek just included in their 101 best places to eat on Earth. I for one am dining there every night, because I'd be a fool not to take advantage of this special occasion. See you there.  

7360 Beverly Boulevard  Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 933-5300

Chef John Sedlar with La Guerrerense, 9/16-9/18, 6pm-9pm

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Reverse Coyote Strikes Again: Chefs Michael Voltaggio and Jon Shook to Cook at Valle de Guadalupe's Corazon de Tierra This Wednesday, August 22

Things are busy at the safe house these days. I've got Mexican chefs heading north to cook in Los Angeles, writers and bloggers heading south to experience Baja, rum being delivered to Tijuana, and chiles from the Mercado Hidalgo to Beverly Bl. No sleep for the Reverse Coyote! Owuuuuuuuuuu!!!!

This Wednesday I'll be delivering Chef Michael Voltaggio (Ink, Ink Sack), and Jon Shook (Animal, Son of a Gun) to the Valle de Guadalupe as part of a series of dinners hosted by Chef Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra to celebrate one year at the Villa del Valle bed and breakfast.

Other special dinners include the likes of Chefs Enrique Olvera(Pujol), Benito Molina(Manzanilla), Pablo Salas (Amaranta), and Arturo Fernandez.

This will be a night of the Californias, where there are no borders, just chefs, exquisite products, and free flowing wine. Felicidades, Corazon de Tierra!

Corazon de Tierra presents Diego Hernandez, Michael Voltaggio, and Jon Shook
Wednesday, August 22
At the Villa del Valle property
For reservations 646-156-8030

Friday, August 3, 2012

Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America: The Travel Channel's Own Earl of Sandwich on Professional Eating and Food Celebrity

Adam Richman at the Four Seasons, Beverly Hills

Adam Richman is on a quest to find the best sandwich in America. The season finale of his 11-episode series, Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America on the Travel Channel airs August 15th. After his success in the Man vs. Food series, 30 sandwiches in 27 cities are as easy as making a PP and J.

The search for the Best Sandwich in America is really a show about American culture--our regional sandwiches that have been influenced and outright transplanted by the multi-cultural fabric of the United States are featured in each episode.

I caught up with Richman at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills last week where we both agreed that we might have found America's best Bloody Mary. Over this stellar cocktail we discussed the perils of professional eating, the food celebrity explosion, the challenges of picking a sandwich that represents each region, his new book coming out in the Fall of 2013 titled Quest for the Best, and much more. Here's what he had to say.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tequila of the Month: Tapatio Blanco

Tequila Tapatio Blanco, Arandas, Jalisco

Ever since my initial foray into the world of blogging and food media I've watched the odd fascination with mediocre drink from both the foodists and bartenders alike. Every brand ambassador that peddles their wares is treated as some sort of  prophet of things to come. Never mind that any tequila or spirit with a brand ambassador is a dead giveaway for corporate swill. The 76 trombones never arrive!! What has arrived is a false calibration of the consumer's taste for non-traditional tequilas marketed straight to the US market. Some of these are good drinks, but they don't honor the true nature of the agave, and of Mexican tequila conventions.

I care not for stories, nor production traditions when it comes to spirits--one of my favorite tequilas is cooked in an autoclave, and the agaves are crushed by a machine. I find magic in both artisan and semi-artisan productions of tequila, so spare me your jackass-drawn-stone-grinder brochure, because it's what's in the bottle. Taste first and ask questions later is what we say here at the T.I.T(Tequila Institute of Technology). There are only two members right now--myself and fellow tequilero Chuy Tovar. We've drunk it all and are constantly vetting my 70+ bottle collection, and when  not doing that we drink tequilas we haven't tried.

I first discovered Tequila Tapatio at a lonely hotel bar somewhere in the highlands of Jalisco--it was one of 7 tequila bottles on the shelf. It was love at first sip. There are drinks in your life(if you be a romantic)that take over your senses, both playing rhapsodic melodies to your pleasure centers while transporting you to another place. Tapatio Blanco's flavors dance all over your mouth with earthiness, light smoke, and the natural sugars of the agave--you need keep it in your mouth and enjoy the changing sensations as the temperature of the drink warms on your tongue. I sat at that bar and drank two double shots of Tapatio blanco's over the course of an hour without a care in the world.

I didn't need to research or hear a pitchman's dull tales to know that this was a special tequila. I've had a bottle on me ever since. I looked at a bottle on the shelf a few months back and noticed a newer labeling on its blanco that had me somewhat concerned. What's up? I thought to look at the label, but was too afraid to face the possibility--corporate acquisition!

My Facebook rant got picked up by the LA Weekly when I discovered that Tapatio was coming to the US, and all the same bartenders that had embraced every other tale about every other beverage were now celebrating the arrival of a tequila that most of them never heard of, but this time their enthusiasms would be justified.

A cantina is Arandas, where Tapatio is a local hero

I even spoke to  Susan Karakasevic of Charbay on the phone who assured me that master distiller Carlos Camarena would make the same beverage that Tapatio has always made, and that their distribution would stay small and manageable. 

That's great news for us two guys who really enjoy tequila as a lifestyle. For the bartenders and food media--yes, this is for real and after one sip you're all gonna be connoisseurs. Let Tapatio's bonafide tequila tradition re-calibrate your taste. This is the only tequila tradition I respect--that of tequila TASTE.  But, Tapatio is a semi-artisanal production(all tequila production has some industrialization)--the agaves are cooked in a brick oven, and crushed by a tahona(stone wheel). The fermentation takes place in wooden barrels at Arandas' famous La Altena distillery. 

Tequila Tapatio blanco is now available in the U.S--taste the flavor of old Mexico slowly one sip at atime in a cognac snifter, which is the only way to appreciate all this drink has to offer. Bienvenidos old friend.        

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tacos Lalo Los Originales in The OC Weekly's Tijuana Si

Tacos al vapor at Tacos Lalo in La Rumorosa

Read about the famous tacos al vapor in La Rumorosa from Tacos Lalo--even 007 would risk his life to have one of these memorable tastes of Baja California. Check it out in my latest Tijuana Si post in the OC Weekly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Everything's Comin' up Street Food: Bizarre Foods San Diego, East LA Meets Napa, and LA Street Food Fest's 3rd Annual Summer Tasting Event

Enchiladas placeras in Patzcuaro, Michoacan

Was it fate that I began a food blog focused on street food back in 2007? Was it great strategy? Nope--it's just a delicious string of luck that has transformed my calorie intake into something more. While I'm first and foremost a saxophone player, I sometimes think I endured a rather stressful decade-long gig touring Mexico so that I could eat my way through mi tierra--towards the end of that run, it was only about the food, the culture and the place.

The food truck explosion, the proliferation street food shows, Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Gold, and the global rise of Latin cuisine--Mexican food conquers America.  Everything is coming up street food.

This week, after a selection process that lasted a couple of weeks and involved many great candidates, I have been chosen to host the Los Angeles episode of a New Show on the Travel Channel. I will wrap three days of filming later today, and will be able to share more about the show as it's gets closer to the air date--I've also contributed locations for the episode.

In the meantime, I have three big events to share with you: I will appear on Bizarre Foods San Diego this coming Monday, 7/16; Alta Med's East LA Meets Napa is back at Union Station on 7/20; and LA Street Food Fests 3rd Annual Summer Tasting is at the Rose Bowl on 7/21, featuring 2 legendary Baja chefs, an iconic seafood stand, Tijuana's most popular taqueria, and a breakout new street stand in Baja.  

Bizarre Foods San Diego with Andrew Zimmern airs on Monday, 7/16

In Bizarre Foods San Diego with Andrew Zimmern, I take Andrew to see my favorite barbacoa man--Paco Perez at Aqui es Texcoco--they we have an old school Texcoco style barbeque in Paco's backyard. We also stopped at maybe the best torta ahogada place on the planet where all the ingredients including the bread are house made. El Gallito is a Chula Vista institution. There's also a delicious crawl through San Diego's superb Filipino restaurants. Here's a clip from our barbacoa segment.

Bizarre Foods San Diego airs Monday. 7/16 @ 9/8c on the Travel Channel

East LA Meets Napa on Friday, 7/20

I attended a preview of Alta Med's annual fund raiser, East LA Meets Napa hosted at Playa by Chef John Sedlar. The tasting was supported by 2 of LA's best Latino chefs, Rocio Camacho of Rocio's Moles de los Dioses, and Chef Hugo Molina of Seta. Wines were poured from Gustavo Thrace, Alex Sotelo by none other than Alex himself, and Vanessa Robledo's Black Coyote

The event is a fund raiser to help provide affordable medical care for families in need, and is exactly what it advertises--distinguished mom and pops, chef driven restaurants, and taquerias from East LA and the surrounding communities are paired with Latino owned or Latino made wines from Napa.

It's the best Latino food and wine event in LA that brings dance, great wines from Napa and Mexico,and pairs them with tacos, sopes, empanadas, birria, moles, ceviche, and more. It's a mixed crowd but the body movement, and spice are extracted from LA's upwardly mobile Latin community.  I never miss this party--tacos and wine All Night Long. Check out my ELAMN post from 2010  titled wine, dine, and the conga line. Less than 300 ticket remain, click here to purchase now.

East LA Meets Napa 2012, Friday, July 20th @ 6PM
Union Station
$100 per person

La Street Food Fest on 7/21 at the Rose Bowl.

From upper left going clockwise: Chef Javier Plascencia's Mision 19 (kumamoto oyster with chicharron) , Chef Benito Molina's Manzanilla (sorpresa marina of Ensenada seafood ceviches), La Guerrerense ( tostada de erizo con almeja pismo), Tacos Kokopelli (gringos en vacaciones taco), and Mariscos El Mazateno (camaron enchilado) 

Another event I've never missed is the original LA Street Food Fest and there annual summer tastings. For only $45 you can sample street food the best chefs, Gourmet Food trucks, traditional loncheros in LA; and I'm bringing 5 of my baddass chefs, street food carts, stands, and taquerias  from Baja into the mix.  $65 dollars gets you an early entry and VIP experience. Each year this event has delivered great food, in abundance.

There are more than 75 restaurants, trucks, carts, and chefs. There's plenty to drink at the beer garden, a tequila tasting tent, and cocktails all around to beat the heat.

It's worth your money just to experience Ensenada's La Guerrerense, considered one of the best seafood carts in the world; or Tacos Kokopelli, who've been injecting fresh blood into the Baja street food revolution. Chef's Javier Plascencia and Benito Molina are known all over the world for their respective style of Baja cuisine. Mariscos El Mazateno serves up perhaps the best shrimp taco ever made.    

This day is a celebration of street food in Los Angeles, and we even have LA's own Kogi in attendance. The greatest street food tradition in the US meets the gala street food experience. Come by and say hello, and be sure to get a taste of Baja.

LA Street Food Fest 3rd Annual Summer Tasting Event
Saturday, July 21st
Pasadena ROse Bowl
$65 for VIP (3:30-4:30)
$45 for general admission (5-9pm)
Click here to purchase tickets.      

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Taco Tuesday: Tamales Elena in Watts is a Beef Head of the Game

I guess it never occurred to me that I should order tacos from Tamales Elena, but now that I think about it I'm feeling a little dumb. I wrote about Tamales Elena some years ago while running around in Watts and the surrounding neighborhoods and thought their tamales were nice. They make typical corn husk tamales for $1 a pop that are geared towards locals--when not ordering tamales folks are grabbing carne asada burritos. That's kind of how it goes for this talented Guerreran family. Did I mention that this is the best family of Mexican cooks in town? They are--unless someone can show me better. I will get into that on a later date, on how a birthday party pozole and mole spread was one of the best traditional Mexican meals I've ever had. 

Their real tamales are large, flat, rectangular packages of southern Mexican comfort, but they'd never fly on Wilmington and 110th St., where their truck is parked. There was practically a riot when they decided to ask regulars to pay the full $12 for a dozen tamales--so, skinny, corn husk tamales it shall remain. There's no market here for the real cooking this family can do. 

On a recent visit, Elena's daughter Teresa informed me that they were out of tamales, but I wasn't about to have a carne asada burrito--no mames! I went with the tacos and I'm still kicking myself for not having known about the best lip, tongue, and cheek tacos in LA.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tonight:Tijuana's 1st Gastronomic Forum

I'm honored and overjoyed to be participating in Tijuana's 1st Gastronomic forum with evening at the Cecut in the Zona Rio. The theme is "Tijuana cooks for the world".

The event is free to the public and the panelists include Tijuana chef's Javier Plascencia (Mision 19), Miguel Angel Guerrero (La Querencia); Mariano Escobedo (Cotuco),  Lic, Juan Tintos Funcke (Sec. of Tourism), Javier Gonzalez (Culinary Art School), Marco Amador (sommelier), and myself.

I will be talking about ingredients, using fresh tortillas made in house or from tortillerias using nixtamal, how to better understand US blogger culture, and encouraging young chefs to participate in the street food movement as a pathway to a brick and mortar. 

Tijuana Gastronomic Forum
May 30, 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

No Reservations Baja Airs on Monday, May 28th on the Travel Channel

 On Monday, May 28th, the much anticipated No Reservations Baja episode will air on the Travel Channel. To celebrate this monumental event, I'm heading down to Chef Javier Plascencia's Erizo Fish Market for a viewing party that will be a gathering of local food stars, Tijuanenses, San Diegans, and a few of us Angelenos. It's safe to say their will be a general fiesta atmosphere that MAY be somewhat memorable--I mean, the liquor will be flowing Tijuana style. I myself plan to give Javier a head shaker shot, Av. Revolucion style, and only drink from turned upside down bottles of cheap tequila.

Street Gourmet LA was a source for Zero Point Zero productions during their research for the Baja episode, for this I'm very proud.   

The No Reservations Baja episode is very personal to me. It's the fulfillment of a wild proposition I made as an unknown blogger back in 2009 to Jahdiel Vargas, then of Cotuco Tijuana, and Rodrigo Caballero then of the Crossborder Group. Over tamarind martinis I offered to lead a Baja FAM of LA bloggers, photographers, chefs, restaurateurs, and writers if they'd let me control the itinerary. I asked that we include places like Mazateno, Tacos Salceados, and Kentucky Fried Buches alongside Tijuana Gastronomic Zone stars like Villa Saverios, La Querencia, and La Diferencia. I insisted that we stick with Mexican cuisines, and that if they listened to me and trust me that Andrew Zimmern, Rick Bayless, and Anthony Bourdain would come.

I had no position to make this claim, but I believed so strongly in the then, TRULY undiscovered cuisine of Baja that I had been enjoying for close to a decade, that it was a guarantee. The FAM almost never happened; it was nearly cancelled 2 days before. We had many challenges during the trip and the powers that be in Tijuana were in constant doubt of my ability to do anything, but Jahdiel and Rodrigo got it right away and fought right alongside me.

Andrew Zimmern was the first to catch on, and led the way for the others to follow. Through our blogs we overcame negativity and imbalance from the local UT San Diego, that despite being right next door, completely missed the amazing cuisine right under their very noses--a handful of LA bloggers made this happen.

It's been an obsession to see this through. Why? Because I love the region, the people, and the life I've lived in Baja. And, just to see if it was even possible. Could a ripple from a small stone become a tidal wave? This is the power of the blog.

If you haven't been to Tijuana, Monday night is a great night to start. Come by and grab some local sea urchin shooters, or a chocolata clam with a cold Victoria, or a wine from the Valle de Guadalupe. Come see what Baja really is about though the wit and wisdom of Anthony Boudain--a man who gets to see it all, and has not stopped talking about Baja since he shot there earlier this year. Viva los chefs, los cocineros, y la gente Baja Californio. Salud!!

No Reservations Baja
Erizo Fish Market
north of Agua Caliente on Av. Sonora
Airtime is 6pm       

El Rey del Sur, Chef Carlos Valdez in This Week's Tijuana Si! in the OC Weekly

Read about El Rey del Sur, Chef Carlos Valdez, who's tearing up the scene in Baja California Sur, this week in Tijuana Si for the OC Weekly.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tacos Kokopelli in OC Weekly's Tijuana Si!

In case you missed my piece about the hardcore seafood street taco styling of Tijuana's Tacos Kokopelli on the OC Weekly, here's a serious dose of Taco Tuesday. Read about how a next wave Baja chef is leading the charge in the breakout Baja culinary scene.

 Gringos en vacaciones taco at Tacos Kokopelli

Sunday, May 13, 2012

La Saturnina, Aguascalientes, AGS: Flores de mi Abuela

 Whenever my grandparents would return after the posadas (9 days of religious observance before Xmas) from their hometown, Aguascalientes; the rear end of my grandfather's Cadillac El Dorado would be sagging from all the loot they brought. Ah, the good old days, before the 1 liter alcohol limit. There were perhaps 15 assorted bottles including Gusano Rojo mezcal--one of the most foul drinks ever made--Presidente brandy, Kahlua, rompope; also candies, marionettes, wooden toys; and beautiful, over-sized  paper flowers. I had assumed in my incurious youth these were a typical item found all over Mexico.

Each year they made the journey to visit our family--three days by car, first, from Stockton to Blythe, then Blythe to El Paso, and finally El Paso all the way into Aguascalientes before the dawn of the fourth day. The trip was full of road side eats, bribes to clear all inspections, the Chihuahuan desert, and a perilous highway race between my truck-driver grandfather, and a motorist somewhere between Chihuahua and Aguascalientes. I was fortunate to have gone with them twice, but each time I think about the fact that I could have been going every year, I get so upset. The idiocy of adolescence. I now realize that being in Mexico with my grandparents was one of the most impressionable times in my life, and far more memorable than a thousand wasted afternoons with friends long gone.    

While playing the Feria de San Marcos, the mother of all fairs in Mexico, in the birthplace of my father, and grandmother, I came upon La Saturnina and my heart stopped--I lost my breath for a moment. I realized I never saw these paper flowers in all my trips throughout Mexico--they are a specialty of Aguascalientes. The entire time I dined at this welcoming, traditional hidrocálido (people from Aguascalientes) restaurant I was thinking of my grandmother, and how she always brought those flowers back to decorate her home. I never thought about what that meant when I was young; was it something in her childhood, or perhaps some magical afternoon in the Jardin de San Marcos? It may be the only time she was vulnerable, nostalgic, and given to daydreaming. 

It made me recall those two journeys with my grandparents driving from El Paso to Aguascalientes, Mexico; and how much things have changed in my cultural hometown, mi tierra.

The menu is a monument to the classic cooking of my grandmother's youth, in a state overlooked by mainstream Mexofiles. Aguascalientes is like the Rhode Island of Mexico is respect to size, but has a strong gastronomy, one not known well throughout Mexico, and hardly at all in the US. It does have one of the greatest carnita styles in Mexico, red pozole, flautas, tacos de lechon, chile de bola, birria (we use oregano to garnish instead of cilantro) and so many dishes, but La Saturnina is a perfect way to begin your discovery of my family's home state.  

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tijuana Si!: New Column in OC Weekly's Stick a Fork In It Kick's Off with Underground Tijuana Cooking Show

Here's my first story for the new Tijuana Si! in OC Weekly's Stick a Fork In It on Chucheman, the best traditional Mexican cooking show ever. Watch for cutting edge coverage on Tijuana and Baja from Gustavo Arellano, Dave Lieberman, and yours truly. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tacos y Mulitas Estilo Tijuana: Tijuana Style Carne Asada Arrives at the Mercado Olympic

At the beginning of the year I revealed the presence of a truly fascinating street food scene located in Downtown LA's produce district. The Mercado Olympic has continued to grow and change ever since as new vendors have joined the party.

This market is so busy I doubt I'll know all that's going on there anytime soon, but each time I try something different--this weekend I even picked a homemade queso fresco.

The stand that caught my eye on a previous visit: Taco y Mulitas estilo Tijuana, or Tijuana style, came too late in the curbside buffet for me to give it a try. I've previously written that real carne asada doesn't exist in LA, and that Mexicali Taco and Co. was the closest thing we had. The boys at Mexicali Taco and Co. roast their meat with gas, which is much better than the grammatically incorrect carne asada tacos around town cooked on flat tops. The verb asar means to roast, and you can't roast on a flat top.

Yes, I know, you've seen itinerant vendors around town cooking on mesquite. There are two basic components necessary here, first, the meat must be roasted on mesquite in order to be considered carne asada. The flavor that emerges from this process is crucial. Second, carne asada is the craft of northern taqueros, specifically: Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Baja California. Sonora is by far the greatest tradition, but I'd put Baja California in the top 3. In other words, unless the taqueros are from these states, they are weekend warriors from states that don't know how to prepare carne asada.

Our newcomer to the Mercado starts off with corn tortillas made to order--corn tortillas are the preferred choice of tijuanenses; in Mexicali as in Sonora, flour tortillas are the standard.

The meat is cooked on mesquite by a grill man who knows his business. The meat is of decent quality, but the seasoning and chopping are spot on. This is carne asada.

A young taquero has fresh onion and cilantro, the signature salsa roja (a tomato-based red salsa) of the Tijuana stands, and Tijuana style guacamole which is essentially pure avocado with some salt. He even wraps the taco into a conical shape like back home.

Of course I wish this was available in the evening, as is the tradition for carne asada--nighttime is when we crave burnt flesh. In Mexico, the grilled meat tacos come out after 6PM, but for now I will just have to live with this minor faux pas in order to enjoy what is now my favorite carne asada taco in LA.

Tacos y Mulitas Estilo Tijuana
Mercado Olympic
Sat-Sun, mornings until around 5pm

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Aromas y Sabores 2011: Chile Education in the Land of the Mennonites

Chef Patricia Quinatana in an ocean blue traditional Raramuri dress at Hacienda de Bustillos, Chihuahua.

Our previous day learning of the depth of Chihuahuan cuisine had me lost in thought as we entered the city of Chihuahua--this trip opened another portal into the wealth of Mexican cuisine. We may never now how profound this cuisine is in such a large country with so many undiscovered traditions.

We started our morning at La Casona, a 19th century mansion that was built for general Luis Terrazas. It's a splendid place in Chihuahua's capitol for a breakfast of Mexican classics. But on a tour that had each of us consuming enough calories to put a bear into hibernation, I grabbed a coffee and escaped with a few bus mates in tow for a market visit.

In Chihuahua, the local taco faves are ubre(utter), bistec(steak), and tripas(tripe). Tacos aren't the main street food here; that would the famous northern-style burritos: thin homemade flour tortillas filled with a local guisado(stew). These burritos are in the taco family--they are tacos.

Our second stop was my favorite cheese stand in the Mercado Popular del Centro. The queso menonita, or Mennonite cheese is made by the descendants of the original Dutch-Canadian Mennonites that arrived in the early 1920's by invitation of Mexican president, Alvaro Obregon. You can find commercial brands of Mennonite cheese all over Mexico and even in the US, but this is the good stuff from small ranches in nearby Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua--home to the largest Mennonite community in Chihuahua.

There are cheese here you won't find anywhere in Mexico like the cheeses of Delicias, Chihuahua, and a regional style of queso ranchero.

The queso pura leche has a light flavor of barely spoiled milk.

Queso Parral from another small town we visited on this trip is perfect for quesadillas. The regional cheeses of Mexico are alleles for the various strands of culinary DNA found all over Mexico: enchiladas, snacks made with masa, chiles rellenos, etc. What's lost in Mexican-American cuisine are these subtleties--there's no such thing as just enchiladas mexicanas. There are enchiladas chihuahuenses, oaxaquenos, poblanas, sinaloenses--it's all regional. In Chihuahua the Mennonite cheeses and other local types help define the cuisine.

Chiles are also a strand of DNA. Personally, I feel a strong attachment to these Chihuahuan chiles. They are delicious and responsible for my favorite recipe of rajas con crema. The chilaca is a long, green chile that is similar to the Anaheim but with a fuller flavor. It's simply divine in rajas con crema.

During this leg of the trip Chef Patricia Quintana gave us an impromptu lecture on Chihuahuan chiles on our bus. It had the energy of a press conference at the signing of a major peace treaty. Chile fever was in the air.

The chilaca is used extensively in its green, fresh form, but the Chihuahuans don't use the yellow form fresh; they dry the yellow chilaca to make chile de la tierra. In other states the yellow chile would be called chile güero in its fresh form.

The ripened red chilaca is also dried and called chile colorin, or chile colorado.

And the hardest working chile in Mexico, the chile pasado, gives Chihuahuan cuisine its greatest star. It's brilliant in braises, stuffed chile dishes, and stews. The fresh chilaca is roasted, peeled, then dried to make a chile pasado: it's smoky, powerful, and earthy.

These a chiles with big northern flavors that helps make Chihuahua one of the greatest traditional cuisines in Mexico.

After our brief, but informative trip to the Mercado Popular we caught up with Aromas y Sabores at the Governor's Palace for an expo of Chihuahuan food products. Here we found cheeses, beef producers, beef jerky companies, and my favorite sotol to date. Sotol Coyame has been around since 1970--sotol is the local agave distillate made from the sotol, or desert spoon--and isn't known outside Chihuahua. Until it makes it to the states, I've a bottle at home to keep me company.

I grabbed a couple of bottles of salsa Chihuiriwa from a local maker of hot sauces that is a fine brand for home use. The expo was impressive and a gave us a close and personal look at the hometown goods.

And the buffet continued at Hacienda de Bustillos in Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua for more samples of Chihuahua's dishes and food products. I enjoyed the lovely asadero cheeses that give the quesadillas of Chihuahua their much deserved fame. The chile relleno with chile pasado again showed the importance of this chile in Chihuahuan gastronomy. You better believe we had carne asada, rajas con crema, machaca, and a variety of foods made from the ranches own apple orchard. There's nothing like being outdoors on a ranch with a grill full of slabs of rugged beef cuts for carne asada, with waiting hands armed with hand rolled flour tortillas.

Before heading on into the domain of the Raramuri, we caught a glimpse of Mennonite life in Cuauhtemoc at the Mennonite house, a museum and shop. There was a Mennonite family visiting from Canada at the house that I spoke with who said that they were born in Mexico but then joined up with the Mennonites living in Canada. With them was a group of women dressed for a different time in their floor length plain dresses that only exposed their weathered faces, and coarse feet.

A more modern Mennonite woman spoke with us as Mexico City reporters climbed on top of one another to ask questions I'm sure these people are familiar with. I was taken with this woman's streak of rebellion (she spoke of her dislike for the traditional dress and roles that Mennonite women play)but noticed that although she looked like a modern woman, she had neither a manicure nor a pedicure. These women live a beauty product-free life, which seems almost impossible in the year 2012.

The level of abstinence and ascetic lifestyle of the Mennonite will forever fascinate the outsider--it gives you the chance to examine your own lifestyle. We can live without these things, I guess, but I do long for a modern beauty bathed in perfume, painted with cosmetics, with shiny skin from scented lotions, and armed with sexy, shaped nails.

Since this day, this trip, my eyes have become sharper. This pattern of a cuisine based on national foods that are regionally focused by cheeses, tortillas, and chiles, with unique local dishes can be easily translated to the casual visitor if you get out and explore a bit. Check out the markets first; do this every time you visit a new Mexican city, or town. In the markets you'll find the pulse of the local cuisine.

By nightfall we arrived in Creel, and began a beautiful journey into the culture of the Raramuri, known as the Tarahumara. I had seen the Raramuri around town in my many trips to Chihuahua, and also on this trip, but our next few days would be a gift from the gods.

Aromas y Sabores 2011