Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008



Can you really objectively write about a place you visit as much out of some sort of largely baseless love for the owner as much as you visit for the food? Soumarello is such a place. You casually mention to the owner that you’ve heard good things about the soup. Five minutes later there is soup on your table. You spy a large plate that looks interesting heading for a table of five who appear to know how to order. “It’s not on the menu but I can make it for you…right now,” he says. In the end, though, the owner could be a complete monster and Soumarello would still be worth the visit. What do they serve at Soumarello? Whole chickens, as delicate as snowflakes, waiting to be deconstructed and dipped into tiny cups of potent garlic paste. Fragrant rice. Sandwiches filled with crisp falafel and just the right amount of taziki sauce, pickled vegetables and lettuce. Steamy, perfectly savory, chickpea soup. Everything is nice. I will say that I still prefer the mutabal at Zankou.

Boyle Heights

Ciro’s appears as I suspect it looked twenty, maybe thirty years ago: wood-paneled walls with generic beer signs placed with no philosophy for design. Comfortable wrap-around booths, perhaps meant for a post burrito slumber, sit next to square tables. A jukebox with East LA favorites rests in a corner. It feels somewhat like a cross between your friend’s basement and a bar from a dive from a Peckinpah film that hasn’t yet been made. Everyone loves the tight, cylindrical flautas, not too oily, dipped liberally in sour cream and fresh guacamole. The tacos, equally lacking in grease, are topped with a virtual mound of shredded chicken, but somehow seem to hold together on the trip to one’s mouth. What I really love, aside from the entrees, are the condiments: bowls of the freshest guacamole I’ve ever found, chunks of avocado that seem to have just been cut, swimming with cilantro and onion and, secondly, the salsa, darker than most tomato based concoctions, fiery in taste, dominated by bits of black chilies and chunks of green ones.

Hacienda Heights

Akasaka can be found on the same lonely stretch of road that contains one of the best lunch spots in the world, Foo Foo Tei. When you first make your way into the restaurant you’re greeted with the sound of water from a bubbling fountain just as you duck your head under the hanging piece of stenciled fabric that marks the way to the main door inside. There’s a small outdoor seating area, but I can’t ever resist the pleasure of sitting inside. Upon entrance you may run into someone, or push the door against their back, as there will likely be a cramped line filling the tiny foyer that you first encounter. If you have a reservation, you’re good. If not, you may be in for a wait. The restaurant is about the size of a master bedroom (at the most) and is divided between the main area and two semi-private side areas (one more private than the other). Signed photos of stars that probably don’t even know they’re stars vie for space with what appear to be family pictures and computer printouts of the roll offerings. There are no windows and no visible doors beside the one you enter through. It’s all a bit cozy to say the least. And in the center of it all, at least spiritually, is the sushi chef, the owner's daughter, handling the customers at the bar and the fish with equal ease.

What about the fish? Everything at Akasaka seems big and bloated. The Rainbow Roll, a plump specimen that as much in common with the Hollenbeck burrito at El Tepeyac as with a Rainbow Roll at any fru-fru LA sushi joint, is worth every bit of the $25 it costs. The Salmon Skin Salad, a not too salty marriage of large amounts of crisp salmon skin, avocado and daikon radish sprouts, is sometimes more salmon than salad, but consistently good. There’s a great seafood udon bowl containing (you guessed it) a pile of sea-going creatures swimming in a briny broth that reminds you of where they came from. And then there are combination platters that combine decent teriyaki with sashimi. The only downer I’ve ever really had here is the $65 platter combo, sort of the combination “boat” of Akasaka. It seemed a little long on fried chicken and tempura in comparison to the other stuff. Not so much my thing. Returning to their strengths, though, I followed it up, on my next visit, with the Chirashi Sushi bowl I spied on a neighboring table on my previous visit. The dish contains 20-25 pieces of sashimi- salmon, shrimp, yellowtail, tuna, liver, uni, scallop, squid and more, sitting simply and unadorned, the way I like it most- neatly arranged atop a bowl of sweetly seasoned rice topped with tempura flakes. You even get the shrimp head, deep-fried as an appetizer.

My Taco
Highland Park

I would eat at My Taco once, maybe twice, a year. Or maybe more, depending on whether I find something other than the house specials, Barbacoa and Carne Asada Fries (both pictured above). Don’t get me wrong, both are delicious. The Carne Asada fries is a generous portion of potatoes topped with delicate chunks of beef, cheese and a healthy dollop of guacamole. The large order of ever so slightly charred Barbacoa drips with something I’ll call “flavor,” and is accompanied with small tortillas, chopped onion, cilantro and a cup of liquid fat meant for dipping, dressing or submersion. It’s all very wonderful, paired with chipotle salsa, pureed avocado and charred jalapenos, and could probably satisfy a family of four or an NFL lineman. My hesitation to head back anytime soon lies solely with the burden of an increasingly health-focused conscience that holds a particular aversion to foods in which I can actually feel the fat running down my throat. You can take that as an endorsement.

Asohka the Great

Time and place, I guess, affects one’s experience in a restaurant as much as it does one’s experience with a movie, or an album. I could cite endless examples from watching 2001 at an actual theatre to seeing an old Kurasawa with the rain beating on your window to listening to a Merle Haggard record while driving in the deep South. And then there’s Artesia’s Asohka the Great on Christmas Eve, full of Indian-Americans, young and old, some with turbans, some without. Time interacts with place and with food. You have the feeling that everyone else is somewhere ordinary, eating turkey, drinking sparkling grape juice, and you’re doing something that at least seems a bit more extraordinary. I take a cheap pleasure out of the fact that I may be the only native Alabamian in the restaurant. There’s an aural hum that combines with a chilly night, the sight of large Indian families enjoying their meals, and rushing waiters, to offer a feeling that at least seems unique.

We paired Chicken Vindaloo with Palak Paneer, as we often do, and found that, aside from the ambience, one may not have to drive all the way to Artesia for good Indian food, if Asohka does, in fact, produce good Indian food. What we had was great, especially the Potato Paratha, but nothing I haven’t previously found in Pasadena (where I live) at places like Sitar and Mezbaan. This being said, when Christmas Eve arrives again in about 10 months, I think I would be up a reunion visit to Asohka.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

More eats

Ord Noodle (Thai Town)
Somewhere in a cave in northern Thailand, or maybe in some monastery, or maybe in a Bangkok prostitute's suitcase is a secret box containing the recipes for the first two noodle dishes at Ord Noodle. At least that's how I imagine it. "Number one dry, and number two wet." Or maybe it's the other way around. That's the way I order when I don't mistakenly order the less transcendent sukiyaki instead. Medium spice, which is usually more than enough. Taken apart the dishes are micro-repositories of complex spices, sensation-inducers and flavors that might be allowed to speak for a country if an ambassador was busy. Together, they're pretty much the Thai version of McCartney and Lennon. Order a Thai iced tea, sit back in the Eames chairs, and wander around the collage of pictures on the wall. Don't worry about taking it all in the first time as you'll probably be back.

Wahoo's (Everywhere)
Where I head when I don't really want to make a decision. Nothing really brilliant, just clean tasting fish burritos and tacos with a rice and white bean option you should definitely exercise. I'm guessing the skatecore/polaroid design scheme would have been nice when I was 12. Now it's kind of whatever.

El Parian (Los Angeles)
I can be kind of a pussy when it comes to certain foods. I'll try congealed blood cubes. Or grasshoppers. Probably even cow testicles if the opportunity arose. But there's something about dishes that seem to cross way past the far frontiers of heart healthy that pushes me away. The birria at El Parian, cuts of goat drowning in a large bowl of liquid, artery clogging, fat droppings, is one of those. I opted instead for the goat tacos, a seemingly healthy alternative of kid laid out with cilantro and onion on perfectly crafted tortillas with radish on the side. Maybe I saved a few minutes off my life. Maybe not. Was it worth it? Maybe I should ask my friend Will, who actually had the balls to try the real stuff.

My other holiday trip.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

PCH: Ragged Point to Monterey

Mostly awesome shit from the trip:
1. View from Ragged Point.
2. Heated floors, oatmeal soap and generally awesome aesthetic at Glen Oaks Inn, Big Sur.
3. View of Point Sur.
4. 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, Carmel by the Sea
5. Monterey Bay Aquarium
6. Fish Tacos and Enchiladas at Big Sur Roadhouse
7. Walking in the rain with the redwoods at Big Sur National Park
8. Iron Maiden Pub-picture of Vince Neil on the wall
9. Elephant seals near Hearst Castle

Less than awesome shit from the trip:
1. Cannery Row-While the neighborhood above is kinda charming and affords a nice view of the bay, the old Steinbeck haunt is basically what you would expect: Bubba Gump Shrimp, Starbucks, mini-malls.
2. Most of the food I ate
3. Carmel by the Sea-Kind of like a Thomas Kinkade painting that threw up and became a town. Thomas Kinkade has some sort of national archive in neighboring Monterey. Honest.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


1.The Stranger on the full aural experience that is Tokyo.

2.The NYTimes on food markets.

3.NG takes you around the world in 80 books.

4.One of the greatest travel films ever (I know because I saw it) c/o Werner Herzog

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Food in LA

Foo Foo Tei (Hacienda Heights)
Foo Foo Tei is located on a cold palisade of concrete walls and sparse vegetation. It's one of the ugliest streets I've seen since my day stranded in Needles, CA. Somehow it just happens to contain two of my favorite restaurants in LA. If you get to Foo Foo Tei a bit early you might beat the crowds. If not, get ready to wait awhile. Inside, florescent lights and wooden paddles displaying the ramen selections function partially as ambiance, but the real aesthetic is provided by the parade of Japanese Americans-businesspeople and families on weekdays, baseball players, families, and couples on the weekends-huddled over giant steaming bowls of ramen. Aside from the noodles they come for simple dishes of grilled salmon, mackerel and squid, bowls of rice and eel, fried tofu, all waiting to be dressed with massive amounts of the chopped garlic that sits on each table.

Wa (Hollywood)
Started by Matsuhisa expats from what I’ve read, Wa seems to take inspiration from the same Tokyo/Lima pipeline. Wear black, bring an I-phone and acquire a few friends in the industry if you want to blend in. The sushi is fine, though nothing that really gets me excited for the price I paid. Of course, this likely says more about my bank account at the time than it does about the quality of the fish here. I really enjoyed the ceviche, soaked in a savory, cilantro touched pool, served in a martini glass.

Pinkberry (Everywhere)
Pinkberry encapsulates the experience of the sleek and pristine Tokyo healthy yogurt emporium—from the trademark scent that greets you to the minimalist design to the overpriced trinkets that line the shelves—as well as anything I’ve seen outside of Tokyo. Needless to say (I guess), they also seem intent on mimicking the prices. I’m one of those who buy into the scam completely.

Euro Pane (Pasadena)
I’m fairly confident I’ll never see a more effective horror film than The Exorcist. I doubt I’ll ever read a better book than Moby Dick. And I doubt I’ll ever see a better drummer than
Hamid Drake. I’m also pretty sure I’ll never enjoy an order of French Toast more than the offering at Pasadena’s Euro Pane. It’s really hard to describe what it is that makes it what it is, although I think it comes down to its texture: grainy in a way and simultaneously delicate, moist but not at all damp. Each piece dissolves in your mouth. What else is there to eat? Flaky croissants with suitably strong coffee, frittata’s and the pear pastries that I order every once in awhile when the French Toast is sold out.

Palm Thai Restaurant (Hollywood)
Not the first place I would go to get Thai food but definitely the first I would go on a Friday night at 10ish to get papaya salad and steamed fish while being serenaded by a Thai Elvis.