Showing posts with label eagle rock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label eagle rock. Show all posts

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Croquer: Polka

And this my friends is why we love LA.
If you drive a sleepy stretch of Verdugo in Glassell Park, an unassuming strip mall (aren't they always?) houses one of Eagle Rock's best kept treasures, the inculpably provincial Polka. Guarded by a wall of living and plastic potted flowers, wind chimes, and assorted bric-a-brac, the heavily lace-curtained storefront boasts "Nutritious Delicious Polish Dishes". Opening the door is like entering the rabbit hole or passing behind a fortune teller's curtain. The one-room scrapbook of a restaurant is packed tightly with plastic doilied tables, old world ephemera, more curiosities, gewgaws, trifles, and trinkets.
We are led past a Thomas the Tank Engine spouting water vapor "smoke" to our corner table, a matchbox-sized booth under a mirror painted with a pegasus flying over a rainbow. Empathetically, I too feel somewhere over the rainbow.
Polka's menu is laid out in 3 columns, tiered by price: Daily Entrées, Special Entrées, and Royal Entrées. Every meal includes potatoes & veggies, "usually: carrots, corn and green peas." My favorite aspect of the meniu is easily to tidbits of wisdom stuck in among the country food, reminding me that "happiness is not to be sought but to be understood". So pork then?
I had been prepared that Polka was a BYOB establishment, and within minutes of seating, before I had digested the menu's advice or entrée offerings, a waitress was setting steaming mugs of fragrant soup before us and opening the bottle of wine beside me that I had brought. Service! [Note: corkage at Polka is $4.95..!] The soup was rich and shockingly tasty for a spinach and starch vegetable soup. My dinner date's eyes met mine with an according eyebrow raise.
A petite dinner salad was swapped out for our licked-clean soups mugs. Less inspired than the soup, the course was still a charming Midwest staple (in adorable melamine bowls).
It was so hard to choose an entrée, but ultimately with the waitress' help (and a craving for dumplings) I ordered the Gulasz, a beef stew with potato dumplings and steamed vegetables. The meat fell apart at the fork's touch and the dumplings -similar but still quite different from my family's Czech potato dumplings- were hand-formed comfort. Warming and delicious.
Dwayne had the Royal Entrée Pieczen, roast pork in "rich, juicy" homemade gravy. Like Sunday night supper at a friend's house, the taste brought a satisfied murmur to audibility, followed by a smile. Which I could already tell is, in essence, what Polka is all about.
Full, happy, and the last folks in the restaurant, we finished our wine expecting the check. A mustached man in shorts and an undershirt, trussed by suspenders, instead dropped two dainty pudding desserts dusted with nutmeg. A true rocket age implementation of commercial gelatin, Reddi Wip, and canned Maraschino cherry, this dessert exemplified the proper closure to a real European [middle-]American dining experience. A detail that in no other way can be described than as a quintessential cherry on top.

4112 Verdugo Rd. Glassell Park; 323.255.7887
Polka Polish Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 11, 2010

Croquer: Cacao Mexicatessen

In a nearby mysterious land known as Eagle Rock, cool things can soar under the radar for ages, effortlessly being cool and raking in passing raves like underground legends. Take The Oinkster, Fatty's, Auntie Em's or Colorado Wine Co., all incredible, yet casually accessible whenever you make the trek out to meet them. Add a new neighborhood hero to the list, Cacao Mexicatessen.Part taco shop, part Mexican deli, part gourmet Latin food purveyor, Cacao modestly shares a Spanish duplex with a flower shop, and quietly serves the most incredibly inventive and authentic tacos this side of the border. They make and sell all their own salsas, hot sauces and moles. Their cooler case also features an interesting selection of Mexican cheeses, shelves adorned with imported candies, condiments, high-end Mexican cocoa tablets, piloncillo cones, and tamarind coated apples.After taking it all in, we ordered at the counter and sat outside on the quaint patio. Their thin and crisp restaurant style chips (which are bizarrely rare in LA) and spicy puréed salsa already had most of the city beat within minutes of sitting. To drink I decided to start with their signature - How can you come to a place called Cacao and not try their Mexican hot cocoa? As it was a weekend morning, I opted for coffee with mine and got the Azteca Mocha Latte. This divine (massive!) mug was a rich frothy treat with cinnamon, almond, chile de arbol, and chipotle notes. The spice awoke my senses before the caffeine had an opportunity. I'd certainly come back for this alone.Little did I know, the best was yet to come... Cat and I ordered a sampling of their more interesting taco options (there are many) which came out on a large platter with radishes and fresh lime wedges.First bite was the Camarones Enchipotlados - shrimp in chipotle with citrus. Tangy, spicy and wet, it was a satisfying start. Cacao's homemade tortillas are larger and thicker than most local joints, with that much more space to fill with the good stuff! Next was a bite of the Flor De Calabaza - squash blossoms, poblano strips, queso fresco. Delicate and lovely! I always appreciate the use of squash blossoms - who said vegetarian has to be boring?The next bite may have been my favorite - the Tocino Enchocolatado - supple bacon, Salsa de Cacao, avocado, and crema mexicana. This spicy sweet choco-bacon goodness has to be tried!
Unfortunately after that the Hongo De Portobello (Portobello mushroom, spinach, onion, queso fresco) was less than memorable.My interest was piqued again with the next two, first the Carnitas De Pato, or duck confit (listed with avocado, vinegar, onion, radishes, chile oil... But mine came with just the duck meat - that aside, it was the most succulent yet crispy duck! Very tasty on its own!). And lastly, the Cochinita Pibil reminded me why I wake up in the morning, a moist robust roasted pork in achiote with citrus and pickled onions. The most satisfying three bites of food anyone could ask for. After wiping my brow, and thanking everyone back inside, only a matchbox chocolate tamale stood between me and the sublime.

1576 Colorado Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90041; 323.478.2791