Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I'd Title This Post "Hidden Gems" But That'd Be Really Lame

A quick showcase of a few great spots in LA that you should, nay, must, visit on a regular basis:

1. Bacaro. I don't know why the LA food press isn't giving this place more love. Great food. Great wine. Simple stylish space. And fucking amazing prices. Each "small" plate is $7 or 3 for $19. And from 5-7PM each plate is $5. They've also started doing a stellar brunch on Sundays. www.bacarolosangeles.com

2. Allston Yacht Club. Another great little spot off the beaten path. Or rather, off the path where people are beaten. That path being Sunset Blvd. in Echo Park. But they're usually beaten well after the restaurants are closed. Just kidding. Nobody gets beaten in Echo Park. I don't think. But another great wine-oriented eatery with inexpensive small plates and a small eclectic wine list. www.allstonyachtclub.com

3. Wurstkuche. So this place isn't really a hidden gem, but it's out of the way and awesome. Sausages, beers, and fries in a friendly industrial Arts District space. I just had the Austin Blues sausage, which was fucking great--made from smoked pork it tasted like some Texas barbecue in sausage form. www.wurstkucherestaurant.com

4. CitySip. Not the cheapest wine bar in town, but it easily has the best selection (40+ wines by the glass) and a slowly expanding food menu. And as great as the wines are, the draft beer selection just might be the best small selection of California craft brews around. www.citysipla.com

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Oven

In our push for bigger, better, and more complicated experiences, certain commonplace pleasures get pushed aside and we forget about them in favor of their flashier, smoother, and tighter counterparts: four door sedans; potatoes; pornography with vaginal sex and pubic hair.

But you know what? Sometimes those simple gifts really are the best gifts, especially when styled into a photorealistic likeness of Mickey Mouse.

Naturally, what I'm referring to is using the oven to cook.

In our excitement over enamelware, grills, pressure cookers, and All-Clad frying pans, we forget that just roasting something in the oven is a beautiful thing.

Sure it takes longer than stove top cooking, but it's largely unattended work. For instance, I took out a roasting pan, poured in some frozen vegetables and a couple chicken breasts and poured a can of tomato soup over it all. It's now in the oven at 400 degrees and will be my dinner for a couple days.

Yeah it's going to take a good hour plus to cook (because all the components are frozen), but I'm sitting on my ass drinking wine, watching the Oscars (which were so fucking tame and lame--maybe next year there'll be burlesque shows), and writing this while it cooks. A tiny bit of advanced planning means dinner is cooked while I do whatever the fuck I want. It's like having a 1950's housewife without the closet lesbianism.

So don't neglect your oven. It's there and waiting for you. Just keep tabs on what's cooking so it doesn't dry out and serve whatever you're cooking with whole wheat couscous.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Permit Maze

Good article in the LA Times today about Los Angeles' notoriously complicated permitting process for restaurants.

Nobody's denying that regulations are crucial for public health and safety but when a restaurant can be told to move forward and then be told they shouldn't've moved forward by a different city agency that didn't talk to the first city agency, that's lame. That's lame and it holds up hundreds of potential new jobs for restaurant workers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Latin America in LA: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As pan-ethnic as the Bay Area is, Los Angeles is indisputably the epicenter of of Latin-American, Hispanic, and (especially) Chicano life in California and (maybe) the country. From eastside taco trucks, tamale carts, and traffic island fruit salesmen, to the scores of taquerias and that indisputed king of fusion cuisine, the Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog, LA is home to a wide variety of authentic regional Hispanic cuisine and contemporary Cal/Mex dining.

So it's surprising that the Nuevo Latino dining movement that took hold on the east coast (primarily in Miami and New York) never really reached California in any major way. There're a handful of places in the Bay Area: Fonda, Limon, and Platanos jump to mind immediately, but none of these restaurants really developed the reputation of some of the powerhouses in New York.

But with the recent openings of Rivera, Casa, and Provecho in downtown Los Angeles, as well as the lone Nuevo Latino attempt from the late 90's, Ciudad, still hangint around. are we finally seeing Nuevo Latino in LA?

The answer is.... Not really.

The Good:
Rivera, the new restaurant from pioneering American Southwestern chef John Sedlar, is pretty freakin' great. Stellar, impeccably prepared food (the highlight was a piece of black cod that was one of the freshest pieces of fish I've ever had), innovative wine list featuring selections solely from Spain, Portugal, and Latin-America, and cool cocktail selections at reasonable (for LA) prices. We went soon after the restaurant opened and they were being conservative with their menu, so it wasn't taking the risks that I think I think the restaurant intends too, but Rivera will grow with the neighborhood and the talented kitchen and knowledgeable service staff will grow too. The best meal I've had in LA so far.

The Bad:
Ciudad's food felt as dated as the space: a holdover from an era before there was a Chevy's on every block and mango salsa with corn was a novelty. The concept is cool enough, bringing signature cuisine from all over the Spanish-speaking world to one location, but the execution was less than great. The empanada tasted like something one might buy frozen from Costco and reheat at home; not bad, just boring. My fish entree was nicely done but the tres leches dessert was just a pile of sugar-loaded sponge cake with sugar on top and some sugar on the side. Service was very friendly and knowledgeable but the wine and cocktail list was unremarkably mainstream, and the general vibe that of an expense-account lunch/happy hour cash cow. Which I suppose is fine if that's what they're going for, but with the pedigree of their chef-owners I would think they'd be looking for something a bit more cutting-edge.

The Ugly:
Did lunch at Casa, the new place downtown helmed (until recently) by Kris Morningstar. Didn't do their dinner fare (where the place turns a bit more chic) and instead had the taqueria-style lunch. Once again, a pretty cool concept: pick your vehicle (taco, burrito, huarache, ensalada) and pick your meat (pollo asado, pulled chicken, carne asada, chile colorado, al pastor, cochinita pibil, Baja fish, or veggie) and then tweak your accompaniments as desired. Receive your food. Pay. Simple in theory, but with lines out the door and time-consuming freshly prepared food, there are massive backups in more than one location, and lots of things are forgotten, so don't count on your special requests being fufilled. Once you get your food, there's often nowhere to sit, the box your food is in is difficult to eat from, and additional condiments are hard to come by, including the offered "additional salsa on the side" which never came with any plate I saw come out of the kitchen. They really need to tighten up the ship on the service/logistics end because the food is really fucking good. My cochinita pibil burrito was rockstar and pretty authentic to my gringo palate. But although fairly-priced for the quality of ingredients offered, Casa is still close to double what you'd pay for in a taqueria or taco truck, and if you're not offering any extra amenities (prompt service, easy seating), then there's a lot of competition out there.

Didn't do Provecho yet. I'm intrigued and I'll let you know when I do.