Thursday, July 29, 2010

Carnish Culture: Inside Insides

Like a 2.0 Tron version of Scanwiches, InsidesInsides' magnetic dissection of everyday produce is scientifically psychedelic and oddly scintillating.
The charmingly nerdy blog posts animated GIFs of fruit and vegetable MRIs, a scanning cross section that rotates, expands, and seems to bloom... Broccoli twinkles like fireworks, and an artichoke eye-poppingly kaleidoscopes, trumping your media player's trippy visualizer.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Croquer: Lazy Ox Canteen

Little Tokyo isn't just for ramen, mochi, and shabu-shabu anymore. With neighbors like Wurstküche, Señor Fish and now Lazy Ox Canteen, there's a rather pleasant culinary turf war that has downtown dwellers close-lippedly reaping their patient reward.
A small box in the ground floor of a contemporary loft building (just down the street from the fish market), Lazy Ox is a modestly calculated tavern by chef Josef Centeno and business partner Michael Cardenas.
With an interior that says 'Downtown Denver' or maybe 'North Portland', Lazy Ox is woodsy and cozy. Fresh cabinetry houses the wine list, massive chalkboards on the wall are scrawled with the day's fifty-or-so specials. This is what has people talking - Not the number of items on the ever-changing menu, but how good each and every one seems to be.
Completely overwhelmed while deliberating over the small plates options, Michael and I each ordered a St. Bernardus Triple Belgian ale to 'help us focus' as a small ramekin of toasted Cancha kernels was set before us.
Because it sounded delicious and jumped out on the printed menu, we started with the Bellwether Farms ricotta fritters with saffron honey - and not a bad gamble. The perfectly crisp fritters crumbled into molten cheese at the bite, a texture-lovers' heaven. The flavors were subtle, but a nice delicate starter.
The vegetable side of caramelized cauliflower with chile and pine nuts came out next, and may have been the boldest and tastiest flavor of the night. Lightly browned on all sides, each succulent piece of cauliflower was loaded with a smokey chile zest. I easily could have gone for another order...
The braised veal breast was quite the looker. Silky flesh sitting atop chunky potato salad, dripping with a complex, sweet jus. The veal was like butter, and I found myself scraping the sauce, sweet onions, and potato salad remnants into postscript bites until the plate was white. 
I haven't been ordering tons of mussels lately (due to a causatum that... needs not be shared on a food blog), but I couldn't deny the preparation on Lazy Ox's menu. Their mussels are "brick roasted" with basil, white wine, house-made sriracha & French feta... Served as any proud kitchen should, topped with charred bread for sopping up the remaining divine broth. And boy was it! Harmoniously spicy and cheesey, I pined for more toast to make this cast iron pan as clean as the veal plate.
We wavered on ordering another dish after the mussel shells left the table, our palates fully awake and excited. Our eloquent server, who had pointed us in the right direction all night mentioned that we had missed her favorite, and with a wink we knew we must trust her. Better than dessert, we savored every tender bite of the dashi-marinated yellowtail with avocado, hash brown & tonburi (a seed sometimes called "land caviar"). The fish was remarkably fresh and luscious, the avocado offering the suggestion of tartare without the pretense. I appreciated the gentle crunch from strategically placed sprouts and minuscule rice crackers. A meticulously geometric "hash brown" sat on the edge of the plate without obvious purpose, but was a nice little interval to remind me how much I had enjoyed my meal but that, alas, it was time to be done.

241 S San Pedro; Downtown LA (Little Tokyo) 213.626.5299
Lazy Ox Canteen in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Lazy Ox Canteen on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 26, 2010

Croquer: LA Street Food Fest Tasting Event

I was nervous. Following my failed attempt just getting into their first event, naturally I was wary about the even more ambitious LA Street Food Fest Summer Tasting Event at the Rose Bowl this past Saturday. It was clear the game had changed, with a very different set up and plan of attack. Giving the benefit of the doubt and with my expectations in check, I can say I had an enjoyable time Saturday, and tasted a belly full of delightful offerings from the myriad of vendors.
I will say straight-away that this is largely dependent on the fact that I was lucky to gain entry an hour and a half before general admission during the VIP and media preview, alongside my friends -and blogger heavyweights- Food Marathon and My Shimoda. With our strategic game plan, we descended onto the finely manicured field to eat the $#!% out of the LASFF!
First stop was the impossible-to-miss booth from downtown start up sweethearts Starry Kitchen. Co-owner Nguyen wore a banana suit and thanked attendees for trying his [tofu] balls (winning him Best Showmanship from the judges, a category they added just for him).
The crispy green tofu balls (coated in a natural green colored rice flake from northern Vietnam) were drizzled with a spicy aioli and tied for the People's Choice Award.
"It's actually the most laborious dish we make," Nguyen said, as volunteers behind him rushed tray after tray from the 4 deep fryers under the stadium. "We've been rolling tofu balls all week!"
Moving down the line, we began snagging samples as quickly as possible and eating them while waiting for the next. An early favorite was a polenta cake with crab, aioli and sprouts from Mo-chica Contemporary Peruvian. Fresh a delicious! The Manila Machine (LA’s First Filipino food truck) presented a tasty Pork Belly and Pineapple Adobo, which was runner up for the fest's Best Nouveau offering. The Huitlacoche (corn smut - a fungus more affectionately refered to as "the Mexican Corn Truffle") taco, above, from Antojitos de la Abuelita had good flavor, but was probably the limpest taco I've ever had!
Tiara Cafe wrapped their brisket in rice noodles, with a nod to post-punk icons DEVO.
LAsian Kitchen represented the exotic cuisines of Indonesia and Malaysia with a 20 spice Sumatra Beef Rendang Roti Roll w/ Sambal.
Our first long wait came at the far end of the first row at Monsieur Egg. The meaty, eggy sandwich was hard to eat and undercooked, but still nicely balanced in flavor thanks to some unexpected sweet onion.
We took a quick break to wait in line for a Singha to quench our thirsts, then jumped back in line for more food!
Sedthee Thai Eatery won me over with their clever corn husk boats holding spicy duck curry (above) and Thai pork sparerib (which took first place for Best Nouveau dish).
Fresh Fries' "peanut butter cup" sweet potato fries.
One truck I had been curious about was Nana Queen's Puddin' and Wings, serving just that - a sauce-slathered wing with a cup of banana pudding with Nilla wafers!
Ever since they opened, I've been dying to get out to Cemitas Y Clayudas Pal Cabron - a Oaxacan sandwich shop from the brilliant folk behind Guelaguetza. The cemita "sliders" and mole tamales were top-notch!
A scrumptious first bite that required noshing down to the finger-licking came in the form of a crispy shrimp taco from Mariscos Jalisco (who won Best in Show and tied with Starry Kitchen for People's Choice).
But I think my favorite savory of the day was actually the Ecuadorean Shrimp Ceviche from the Gastrobus. The levity of popcorn topping crunchy shrimp and onion with tart citrus dressing was just rather.. stunning.
We were getting full, so decided to break from the field and nab a refreshment in the outdoor cocktail lounge. Camarena Tequila had a line growing for their hand shaken spicy strawberry margaritas using Névé luxury ice. We sampled tastes of Camarena shaken with normal ice then with Névé (gourmet barman's ice made from pure mountain glaciers) while we waited, and the flavor difference was actually quite noticeable.
Once the general admission queue began filing in, it was only a matter of time before the field would become fully engorged with hungry diners. We sampled some other tequilas on the upper deck of the stadium and observed the growing crowd as we digested our first round. (Note: Shockingly, while tequila was ever-present, the all-inclusive event did not provide water, so trips to the drinking fountains near the bathrooms outside of the field were required for hydration).
Before I knew it, I was actually growing hungry again - a deceptive hunger based not on need, but from mentally creating "room" for more gluttony! We descended once again from the stands for round two...
A small VIP seating area on the field catered to some familiar faces, among them Mayor Villaraigosa and Border Grill and Street owner (and recent Top Chef Masters favorite) Susan Feniger.
The longest lines seemed to be for Antojitos Carmen and Dogzilla. It became clear we would not be getting to try those two, along with many others.. So we started our second round instead devoted to the sweeter side, beginning with the Mighty Boba Truck's booth.
We made a second stop at Starry Kitchen for their dessert course of Pandan Flan, with a sweet nutty flavor reminiscent of pistachio. Mmm...
Malo's dessert course was a bite-size Tres Leches cakelette.
Not unlike leaving Fantasyland through Cinderella's Castle, we exited the congested field through the central tunnel and wound to the right into Ice Cream Land! Matthew “Mattatouille” Kang greeted us at Scoops Westside booth (where he is managing partner) with a taste of each flavor, the Thai Iced Tea being my favorite.
The most unexpected delight was from Natura, a Oaxacan juice bar and heladeria (also from the Guelaguetza clan, next door to the restaurant’s location on 8th Street). The bold flavors included a pleasing Nuez (walnut), tart Tuna (a cactus fruit I grew up eating!), and the challenging Leche Quemada ("burnt milk").
The creamiest ice cream was easily Sweet Lucie's, with a deluxe Pistachio I will certainly be seeking out again. Their Mint Lemonade sorbet was also very refreshing. An all natural Orange Rosewater popsicle from Pop Art Pops provided a nice mellow break from the more cloying treats.
Possibly my favorite sweet was the rainbow streaked trademark from The Original Hawaiin Style Tropical Shave Ice, air-light snowflakes melting on your tongue with remarkably fresh fruity flavors, not at all syrupy as the bright colors may mislead.
And then of course there's Coolhaus - the cool kids ice cream sandwich truck debuting some highly anticipated new flavor creations just for the fest. The Peanut Butter and Bacon with chocolate chip cookies was relatively tame, subtle in both PB and bacon-inity. The Strawberry and Candied Jalapeno ice cream sandwich was more curious, but left me wishing I had tried the more straight forward Root Beer sandwich.
We missed it, but the winner of the Sweet Tooth award went to the Munchie Machine's S'More sandwich. Not that I could have fit another bite in my belly!
All in all, I did leave full and happy, the beautiful day mellowing into a perfect cool summer evening.