Showing posts with label tamales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tamales. 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

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Croquer: Café Poca Cosa

Probably the first time truly stunning inventive cuisine really bowled over the young Mr. Hazard was many years ago during one of my first college break visits back to my hometown of Tucson at Suzana Davila's uniquely Tucsonan Café Poca Cosa. I was awestruck by its power, a satiating fulfillment for the hunger pangs anyone who's ever read or seen Like Water For Chocolate has endured. I discovered new taste buds at Poca Cosa.. To this day, it remains my favorite.
Originally opened in a tiny space (hence the name) downtown on Scott Street more than two decades ago by Davila and her father, Poca Cosa later expanded with another larger location adjacent in the bottom floor of the historic Santa Rita Hotel (which opened in 1904 as Tucson’s most elegant hotel - and was totally haunted). 17 years later, the hotel's closure and demolition plans forced Poca Cosa to move.
Now housed a few blocks away in a shiny new building on East Pennington Street, the dark jungley candlelit cave-like charm of the Santa Rita dining room is replaced with floor-to ceiling windows to the street outside and a streamlined modernity, but luckily keeping local artist Daniel Martin Diaz's signature artwork and Santo-VS-Diablo Mexican folk art decor.Location adjustments aside, the winning element of Poca Cosa that has never changed is the ritual. Davila believes in experience; you are not sitting down for a meal, you are patron for Davila to graciously share her passion with. Upon arrival you can expect a friendly introduction from a nicely dressed server (no uniform, aprons, order pads, or pencils behind the ear here) checking to see if it's your first time and/or welcoming you back. Next order of business is always making sure a pitcher of margaritas is in line (the only way to go) as their addictive chips and salsa are dropped. Served up and salty, pleasantly potent and chockfull of chopped citrus, Poca Cosa's are certainly of the best margaritas anywhere.By now rookies may be wondering why there is still no menu in front of them. Poca Cosa's menu changes twice daily and is scrawled in Spanish on a chalkboard that your server brings by once the table is settled, drink in hand to explain dish-by-dish in detail. Spontaneity is another crucial element of Davila's style. The last item on the menu is the Plato Poca Cosa - Davila's hand-picked selection of any three menu items arranged on one plate. You can not choose them, it is always random, and if there are several Platos ordered at the table, every one will be different.
Besides an obviously upscale and fresh take on Mexican, the specific cuisine is hard to pin down. Moving far beyond the local Sonoran flavor, with definite Oaxacan odes (she is known for having some 26 moles) Davila, like many Mexico City chefs, cooks in the alta cocina Mexicana tradition (preserved by the Conservatory of Mexican Gastronomic Culture), looking to indigenous dishes dating back to Aztec times. Sauce reigns supreme in Davila's dishes, and comprising of countless ingredients lock in her distinct talent.The Plato Poca Cosa presentation usually consists of two proteins and a Pastel de Elote ("tamale pie"), piled high with greens, tropical fruits and vegetables. A vinaigrette, warm tortillas and pinto beans are served communally. On my last visit, as is customary, our entire table ordered Platos, and I was quite happy with mine: Pollo Oaxaqueño, Carne Asada en Mesquite, and Pastel de Elote en Manzanas al Horno. The carne asada is ALWAYS good here, grilled to perfection and bursting with vibrant flavor (my very first Poca Cosa experience was just after coming out of the vegetarian closet and BOY did the carne asada reward me for the decision!). The pastels can be either savory or sweet, and mine, made with canela, baked apples and cheese was a little of both, but completely delicious. Best was the pollo in a complex Oaxacan sauce.. beyond description really. The Japanese may have coined Umami, but there was something magical here that similarly transcended.My mother enjoyed her selection of Pescado en Tomatillo con Aguacate (fish cooked in foil with a tangy tomatillo and avocado dressing), Carne Deshebrada en Salsa de Chipotle (shredded chipotle beef), and Pastel de Elote con Calabacitas Mexicana (savory tamale pie with squash, corn and cheese).My father scored my favorite dish - the Pollo en Mole Negro. In the roulette game of the Plato you can never get everything you want though, and settled for a bite. Easily the best mole I've ever tasted to date, and in large part my introduction, Poca Cosa basically set me up to fail as a mole connesuir (until I can make it to the source, that is). This dish is a must for a Poca Cosa novice.

For this last visit we did lunch, which is a more affordable way to experience Café Poca Cosa (same portions, big difference in price). But even more friendly on the pocketbook, down the street is the Little Poca Cosa (151 N. Stone Ave.) - the sister café is now run (suitably) by Davila's sisters Sandra and Marcella. This "little restaurant with a big heart" expands upons Davila's passion for her homeland and collects thousands of dollars each year to help the needy in Mexico, and decorates the restaurant's walls with pictures of children receiving food, medicine, and gifts. The vibe here is more casual, the service more lax, the music unapologetically loud, and the food is still great. Little Poca Cosa however is cash-only, open Monday through Friday for breakfast-lunch only.

Café Poca Cosa
110 East Pennington Street, Tucson, AZ; 520.622.6400‎
cafepocacosatucson.com
Café Poca Cosa on Urbanspoon