Monday, September 5, 2011

Gourmand quick tour of Los Angeles

Returned from a Los Angeles movable feast fatter, but content. Here are the elements of my contentment... Our first meal after arrival was Langer's, at 7th and Alvarado, where we groveled at the altar of the great pastrami god. Thick-sliced meat so tender and flavorful piled high (but not too high) on thick double-baked rye. Many people order it with cole slaw on the sandwich, but we are purists and the cole slaw has bell pepper in it, shame, shame. Had a refreshing egg cream with extra soda water for a fully traditional experience. BTW, the rye comes from Fred's Bakery on Robertson. I called before we left and brought home a couple of excellent loaves. A sick friend changed our plans some for the evening, but we still had an excellent meal at Yujean Kang in Pasadena. It's kind of a fusion Chinese and yet it's not! Make sense? They create variations on classic Chinese dishes but very Chinese. Highlights were the veal with matchstick yams, the Chinese polenta with shrimp and mushrooms, and silk squash Beijing style. Combination of flavors and texture were great and unusual. The tiny dumplings were nothing special. They're famous for their beef tenderloin but amazingly they were out of beef on a Thursday evening.

The next day allowed us to explore Italian headliners. Lunch at Pizzeria Mozza could not have been better. Fried squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta, arugula salad, pizza margherita (simple is best) and butterscotch budino left us plenty satisfied but able to have a great dinner that night at Campanile. Friday nights is wine pairing night, where 3 tapas-sized dishes are paired with 3 glasses of wine for $38. Grilled shrimp and sweet potato was paired with a Sancerre, Grilled pork belly paired with a Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, and lobster mushroom with bigoli pasta and kale was paired with a really wonderful 2001 Barbaresco. We had another glass of that. We finished with an excellent cheese cake and a highly recommended but not ethereal peach tarte tatin. Campanile does not rest on its laurels and has different theme nights during the week so one can always try something new.

Saturday was international day. Breakfast was at Nickel Diner, a perfect new downtown LA institution. Pulled pork hash was meaty, nicely spicy, mixed with perfectly cooked potatoes and topped with 2 perfect eggs. I had my Zocor the night before. Two eggs baked on polenta with spinach and garlic topped with parmesan made a defining breakfast, everything cooked to perfection and balanced. A shared maple bacon doughnut, housemade with brioche dough put the diner on our must return list. Food friends picked us up at our hotel to share a few favorites. We began with great Peruvian ceviches and causa (potato salad) from Mo-chica and added interesting panuchos (a Yucatan papusa) from Chichen-Itza. I prefer papusas, but the ceviches were first-rate. A driving tour of the San Gabriel Valley Chinese cornucopia made a stop at 101 Noodle Express, a totally nondescript place in a mini-mall in Alhambra, for perfect dumplings and an incredible beef roll, kind of like a Chinese quesadilla with thinly sliced beef, hoisin suace, ciliantro, and onion. No description equals the eating pleasure of it. Wow. And then onto dinner at Park's BBQ in Koreatown, where we could not quite finish exquisite marinated galbi (short ribs), prime ribeye, and assorted mushrooms accompanied by classic renderings of Korean banchan. Go with the marinade. The servers stay in charge of the BBQ, but got a little sidetracked and did some overcooking, but still very tasty. And valet parking in another mini-mall lets you know it's an in-spot. By this point, even I had had enough and my Zocor was calling me back to the hotel.

Before our plane left the next morning we stopped at an old favorite, the Apple Pan, with its excellent hickory burger and apple pie. Thinking of what I ate the day before, I passed on the fries. The place is so wonderfully consistent and charming and you feel you're in on great insider information eating there. An excellent wrap up to good LA eats.

Below are a few of my favorites for your dining pleasure.

Sancho's, 491 Lytton Ave. Sancho's has the best fish taco and their other food is good too. The fish taco is $3.95 which seems like a lot but one taco with the free chips is enough for lunch. They will soon open another location in Midtown next to CVS.

Whole Foods Market-I've been able to do the salad/hot dish bar for $5-6. I go for heavier food that by itself would cost more than the $7.99 lb, so salad toppings like salmon, teriyaki chicken. I don't add plain salad or if I do I get it from the fresh veggies area where it's $6/lb. I'm cheap but thoughtful.

Paxti's-441 Emerson --Chicago style pizza, deep-dish. One piece for $4.99 is quite filling. Takes a while as it's made fresh, so order, do a task, and come back.

China Delight--461 Emerson-generous lunch plates with soup are $5.50-$6.00 and quite decent with a nice selection.

Rangoon--565 Bryant Street-Burmese and Chinese food with lunch specials from $5.95. Nice variety including a few Burmese specials like the coconut chicken noodle soup add an exotic touch.

Mi Pueblo--1731 East Bayshore, EPA-a great Mexican grocery with the best tortilla chips. Always some free samples. Sometimes on Fridays (I'm not sure when else), they have fresh or BBQed oysters for $1 each. 3-4 of those with a fresh tamale ($1.49) is a great $5 meal. They also have a very large prepared food counter and large burritos and tortas.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

SF, Berkeley, and San Jose misc.

I always enjoy returning to a favorite restaurant or cuisine and finding it as memorable as I remember. We recently had lunch at Kabul in Burlingame and the joys of Afghan food were happily made apparent. I love aushak, the Afghan leek ravioli with a meat mint and yogurt sauce; these were cooked like in a fine Italian restaurant, just enough give in the texture, each bite better then the last. We also had a vegetable sampler, featuring the fantastic pumpkin ( kadu) sweetly contrasting with fresh yogurt, sabsi (fresh spinach with onons, garlic, and assorted spices) and bodenjan, soft eggplant with onions, tomatoes, and herbs. All were served with challow, perfectly cooked rice, each grain independently clustered together. A combination kabab platter, with perfectly cooked chicken and lamb with an herbed pallow (browned rice) rounded out a perfect meal for Lisa who had just finished a half-marathon and craved meat. Salad with a very nice dressing and freshly made, yeasty Afghan bread accompanied.
Have the glory days of Chez Panisse passed? I'd say no. We celebrated our 32nd anniversary with lunch at the cafe of this 40 year old icon, and although not everything was perfect, some things were spectacular. We toasted each other with glasses of Agrapart et Fils Blans de Blanc Champagne and ate our first courses. The little gems salad was just OK, but the heirloom tomatoes tonnato salad was wonderful-- an herby mayonnaise whipped with tuna proved a perfect foil for tomatoes at their peak with Thai basil leaves. A main course pizza with bresaola and grilled squid with beans and Gypsy peppers was amazing and I'm not a big pepper fan, or I didn't use to be. we shared a lovely chocolate mousse for dessert, leaving Berkeleyized and content. Then we got to buy some cheese rolls and baguettes from the Cheese Board, always a treat. I remember walking by Chez Panisse in 1974 and reading the menu and drooling and thinking I'd never be able to afford the $6.95 meals, so lucky me to not pass out paying $160 for a lunch for 2.
Another notch in my fried chicken belt was made at Criolla Kitchen at 2295 Market. The 3 piece chicken wirh red beans and rice and salad for $13.95 was tasty, crispy, and cooked just right. A touch salty. A daily special of BBQed pulled pork po-boy was delicious as were the BBQed oysters to start. Very nice service, a good amount of noise, a simple well-selected wine list with all bottles I think being $27. Speaking of noise, we had a marvelous dinner at Serpentine on 3rd and 22nd in Dogpatch. It's loud but the cocktails are terrific (the best Manhattan I've had) and the food is fresh and well-executed. A beautiful little gem salad with sliced nectarines and spectacular chickpea flour-coated calamari combined with a bean stew got us off to a great start. We followed with a terrific burger and fries and a perfectly cooked and tender pork chop.
A couple of good San Jose downtown lunch spots have opened since I retired in 2009, although several others have closed. Punjab Cafe at 322 E. Santa Clara near 7th has an excellent Indian buffet for $8.95. There are about 8 choices served with a fabulous wheaty naan. All meats are very tender and each item has its own integrity, with delicious sauces good by themselves. The place is very small and sometimes you have to wait. Punjab is 2 doors from A & K Noodle House, on Santa Clara and 7th and was I excited to find it. It's run by the nephew of China Chen, my favorite downtown soup place and is just as good. Their shrimp won ton soup is spectacular, just a simple broth with beautiful whole slightly spiced prawn won tons for $5.75. It's nicer looking than its mother ship too.