Showing posts with label susan feniger. Show all posts
Showing posts with label susan feniger. Show all posts

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.
lastreetfoodfest.com

Monday, July 19, 2010

Croquer: Red O

And then, as soon as he stole America's heart on Top Chef Masters, the humble and lovable Rick Bayless opened a flashy restaurant in West Hollywood, the first outside of his Chicago Frontera dynasty. I couldn't help but approach Red O with a touch of reticence. Could this Vegas-y monolith be from the same down-to-earth Bayless that taught me how to eat well everyday through his fresh cookbook Mexican Everyday? When I went to enter Red O, a man outside the door asked for my name to ensure I had a reservation - but he wasn't the maître d', he was actually a door man... for a restaurant? Red flags waved, but I kept calm and carried on.
The interior is dim and dinny like a hotel lobby (for some reason I expected the spray of a fountain on my face from between the potted palms). Architecturally I found it over-embellished, and over-decorated (a la Z Gallerie) - Also shockingly dated for a brand new A-list restaurant. Why is it not clean and confident, like Bayless' food? Once I got one of the host's attention she said it would probably be another 30 minutes or so for our reservation (9:15pm on a Tuesday), so we made our way to the bar for a drink.
A winding glass-walled tequila cave and ornate metalwork-encased bar express a strong alcohol prevalence at Red O. This made me look forward to the specialty margarita menu I knew I would be handed. We saddled up on bulky cream leather bar stools beside two older women sipping chardonnay bobbing in two slingy black swings, an unintentionally perverse decor concept.
I ordered the Market Margarita, fresh cucumber-honeydew melon muddled with agave nectar, Arette blanco tequila, lemon & lime juices. Michael ordered the Maceta Margarita with Herradura silver tequila, Veev Acai spirit, fresh Mexican papaya, homemade limonada, rosemary & lime. We thought we'd sample the exotic differences between the two very different sounding drinks. I sipped mine, it was a decent margarita, but the cucumber and honeydew flavors were incredibly subtle, or perhaps overpowered by the sour limonada (their homemade marg mix). I tried Michael's Maceta, expecting a sweet punch from the Acai and papaya, with rosemary nuance. I laughed, it tasted exactly the same! He sampled both, shrugged. Despite a slightly different hue, we sat and sipped our innocuous coolers while the abrasively plastic bar crowd cawed about us like ravens on Hitchcock's playground.
Our table was ready close to 10:00pm, which probably benefited us as the room began to clear and we were seated at a quieter corner table.
Our server went over the large menu, loaded with 'savory snack' starter small plates such as tamales, taquitos, and quesos fundidos. We immediately gravitated toward the Shredded Creekstone Beef Short Rib Sopes in a roasted tomato-green chile sauce. Things were looking up! The smoky delicious short rib and crispy masa sopes were a match made in heaven, married in the delicate but flavorful chili sauce and dusting of crumbled queso fresco. I could have eaten 2 more orders...
Next we tried the Slow-cooked Sonoma Duck taquitos with tomato-arbol chile sauce and arugula, per suggestion from a friend who had come a week prior. The light shells reminded me of egg rolls more than taquitos, and they were very petite. The flavors were nice, but maybe too mellow following the bold sopes.
Since it had turned into a late dinner, we decided to split an entree. We settled on the Tinga Poblana - A pork trio consisting of homemade chorizo, braised Gleason Ranch pork shoulder & belly, with roasted tomatoes, smoked chipotle, Yukon gold potatoes, avocado, queso fresco. The dish was an absolute winner. The layers of flavor and consistencies found neglected taste buds in the back of my mouth and made them sing. Warm homemade tortillas sopped up the rich broth and tender pork. The bites of avocado tamed the heat, which was just right. It was the kind of dish you could eat again and again and never tire of.
The desserts all sounded relatively expected (tropical fruit sorbets, empenadas), but the creamy goat cheese cheesecake with caramel corn and Mexican "root beer" sauce sounded just curious enough to try. Our server told us it was a Frontera staple, served at all of Bayless' restaurants. All the more reason. The cake was actually another series of bite-size pieces. The sauce is made from Hoja santa, a central Mexican herb sometimes aptly called "root beer plant". The piquant sauce had more bite than Barq's and complimented the farmy cheesecake, nutty crust and caramel corn crown ever so nicely.

While the meal overall left a pleasant impression, existing a stones throw in any direction from winning authentic Mexican food a fraction of the price, Red O's existence in LA amongst such ubiquity still seems curious. Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken have made a name for themselves over the years in LA creating "new" Mexcian cuisine, as Bayless has in Chicago. But why here, why now? I expected to be blown out of the water, which would have been my answer. But while I wasn't, I of course can't hang it all on Bayless. I learned he is not in fact the executive chef of Red O  - Michael Brown (of Patina Group and Wolfgang Puck Catering) is. Bayless does not cook in the Red O kitchen, nor does he own it - Mike Dobson and Rick Teasta (responsible for the EZ Lube oil changing chain) do. So is it really any more than Bayless' name? He developed the menu and trained the staff, but what's in it for him? These are all questions I asked myself leaving Red O, satisfied with a tasty meal but still searching for answers.

8155 Melrose Ave. 323.655.5009
redorestaurant.com
Red O in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Red O on Urbanspoon