What’s in season @ the Larchmont Farmers Market…

One of the things I love about living in Los Angeles is how we have farmers markets all-year-round. In my neighborhood, I usually walk or ride my bike to the Larchmont farmers market on Sundays. This gives me a chance to load up on fresh fruits I can take to work and some fresh veggies for Sunday dinner.

Compared to the other farmers markets in Los Angeles, this one is small but that’s why I like it. You see the same vendors each week and they know their products which makes me feel confident when I buy from them. Plus, you get to know your community.

From the photo below, you can see that it’s the season for peaches, nectarines, and apricots. Yum!

For veggies, squash is in season. I know radish is usually a spring vegetable but I loved the colors in this summer squash/radish display at one of the vegetable stalls.

But it’s more than just fruits and vegetables in this intimate farmers market. There’s the guy selling Himalayan sea salt, the woman at the balsamic vinegar stand, the cheese truck, and of course the boulangerie. And when you head back into the corner of the farmers market, you see the prepared food stalls. I just spotted this tea and scones stall for the first time. Loved the freshly brewed “Fiona” tea infused with strawberries.

I picked up some tasty olives, baba ghanoush, and feta cheese at the Mediterranean food stall too. It was super fresh and I ended up bringing the items to a picnic that evening. Unfortunately, there weren’t any leftovers.

Oh! I can’t end this entry without showing you the lunch I had from the farmers market – chicken tamales! There wasn’t a place to sit and eat so I decided to get the tamales to-go. You can see it steaming as it was being packed up. When I got home, I immediately opened the box and the tamales were still hot thanks to the corn husks that it was wrapped in. I poured the green chile sauce all over the tamale and gorged.

If you want to find out what’s in season, Epicurious has a great map where you find out what’s in season month-to-month wherever in the US you are. Just click the month at the top and then select your state to see what’s in season in your area.

Lastly, here’s an awesome LA Times interactive map where you can find your neighborhood farmers market with days and hours they operate in Los Angeles.

A must: The Not Unhappy Hour at Spitz

It was lunch time and I found myself in Little Tokyo but not having a craving for Japanese food. This rarely happens. I wanted something savory and hearty and when I looked down the street, nothing appealed to me. Then I remembered Spitz.

The official name on their website says Spitz Restaurant – Home of the Döner Kebab. The place opened up in 2009 by a couple guys who went to Occidental College – apparently one of them discovered the tasty döner kebab while studying abroad in Spain.

Located in the heart of Little Tokyo, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Can this place actually be good?” I walked in and it was happy hour (Weekdays it’s 3p-7p and all day Saturday and Sunday). Actually, they call their happy hour “The Not Unhappy Hour.” I figured I’d partake in it and ordered the rose sangria that has mint, lime, and apple.

The flavor of the rose sangria was crisp and light – perfect for a summer day. It was paired well with the beef and lamb kebab wrap I got with feta, pepperonicinis, and hummus. There’s a nice warm flavor from the pepperoncini – they definitely don’t skimp on the fillings. The ratio of meat to veggies and sauces had the right balance. The best part of this place was how their portions are realistic. Right when I felt full, I had taken my last bite.

The combos come with either a wrap or sandwich with a side. Here’s the beef and lamb wrap with tzatziki and chili sauce and skinny fries that my dining companion had. The plain fries were surprisingly good… really good.

The fries had a great crunch and was seasoned perfectly – I was sad when I reached for one more and they were all gone. But I guess with all good things… you gotta leave wanting a little more so you know to come back. Next time, I’m coming back for the falafel sandwich and street cart fries!

Locations: Little Tokyo / downtown LA and Eagle Rock

5 seconds of fame on Cooking Channel’s Eat St.

Tonight, a friend wrote on my Facebook wall that she saw me on Cooking Channel’s Eat St. Apparently, this is the episode but I don’t have cable so I didn’t see it. If you know where the episode is streaming, please share.

The segment was shot a little over a year ago in downtown Los Angeles. My boss and co-worker had a craving for a Coolhaus ice cream sandwich – not just any ice cream sandwich… gourmet ice cream sandwiches. We checked twitter and found out they would be down the street! We ended up being the first people in line. Some camera guys were filming the truck and also some of the customers in line (like me!). I’m not sure what footage they got of me but most likely I’m scarfing down an ice cream sandwich and getting it all over myself. Ha! Um, perhaps it is a good thing I haven’t seen this episode.

Anyhow, here are some photos from that day.

The photo above is me trying to look poised after my first bite of one of the best gourmet ice cream sandwiches in town. If you want to see a close up of the ice cream sandwich, check out my original post on Coolhaus here.

Oh boy! Po’ Boy!

A friend of mine has been looking for a quality Cajun restaurant since his last visit to New Orleans. He can tell you that it’s hard to find quality Cajun food here in LA. (If you have a favorite, please comment and let me know.)

He invited a bunch of his friends (including me) to check out his latest find, Bayou Grille in Inglewood. We were the first ones there on Sunday – right before the church rush. It’s a cute mom and pop shop started by someone who moved to LA from New Orleans.

Now let’s get to the food. Here’s the rundown from my order:

Tiger Shrimp Po’Boy – This was my favorite dish of the day. The shrimp is battered and fried but it’s not overly greasy. The shrimp has a nice crunch when you bite into it and it’s not overcooked which is always a plus. The shrimp is nestled in with some tomatoes, pickles, mayonnaise and lettuce then served inside a New Orleans style French bread. However, someone in our group said the bread in New Orleans is more airy than what we ate. Overall, I thought it was worth the trip to Bayou Grille just for this.

Red Beans and Rice – A traditional New Orleans dish. For those who don’t know, don’t be fooled by the simple bame because it’s not JUST red beans and rice. There’s actually a lot of time devoted in making red beans and rice. First off, you start with the “holy trinity” and then you add in such things like bacon fat, ham, sausage, and spices to get the flavor just right. Just by the ingredients I’ve listed, you can imagine the savory and warm flavors that come out in a successful bowl of red beans and rice.Alas, the red beans and rice at Bayou Grille was average. The rice was a little too mushy and the red beans could have used a bit more smokey flavor and more spice.

Beignets – This fried dough goodness engulfed in powdered sugar was served right out of the fryer – just the way you want it. You don’t want these babies to get cold. I like how they make it to order however I found the dough to be a little too dense and I could have used more powdered sugar on top.

If you’re looking for an introduction to New Orleans and Cajun food on a budget, Bayou Grille is worth checking out. The prices are decent and the staff is friendly. But if you want something authentic, you might have to go all the way to New Orleans, unless you have a suggestion for me.

Note: I just visited NOLA and I’ll have a post coming up about my favorite meals I had there.

Eating up your time at Mo-Chica

I sometimes wonder how long I would wait for a good meal. 10 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour? I was certainly put to this test when I met my friends at the Peruvian restaurant Mo-Chica. I figured we would be seated within 20 to 30 minutes. That seemed reasonable on a Saturday night for a place that’s out of the way. Mo-Chica located in the Mercado La Paloma which is closer to a food court than an intimate restaurant. It’s not close to a strip of restaurants where foodies flock to on the weekends but the foodies will trek here for the good eats. By the way, if this place sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s been generously reviewed by  Jonathan Gold in the past.

Since we waited over an hour, we decided to order three different appetizers to share. We started with the ceviche which was my favorite of the three. They serve the fish of the day with seaweed, hominy, toasted corn nuts. The creamy texture and the warm heat from the spice paired well with the cool fish and hominy.

Here’s the Papa a La Huancaina that’s basically boiled potatoes drenched in aji amarillo sauce. It’s a simple dish but really tasty thanks to the sauce.

The Causa del Dia was probably my least favorite of the three appetizers. It’s basically a crab meat and potatoes. I liked the presentation but it was under-seasoned.

On to the main dishes… I made the mistake of ordering the Arroz con Mariscos. I saw the dish coming out for someone else and was immediately taken by the color. It looked like paella so I was easily swayed to order the dish. Unfortunately, the rice was mushy, shrimp was rubbery, and the seafood didn’t taste too fresh – it had a very fishy smell. At least the photo looks nice…

My friends had the common sense not to order what I did. A few of them ordered the tastiest dish of the night: Oxtail Risotto. The meat just fell off the bone and the creamy risotto wasn’t mushy – it had flavor and complimented the meat. I would have been a happy customer if this was the only option they gave for a main dish.

We did order the tres leches cake three separate times but to no avail. The wait staff had a hard time fulfilling everyone’s order in a timely matter (we asked for our water to be filled three times too!). In the end, we were tired of waiting for dessert and waiting for our water to be refilled and asked for our check. Including the time we had to wait for our table, the wait for our food, the wait for our dessert that never came, and our bill, we spent over 3 hours at Mo-Chica.

Was it worth it? Not quite but I’d be willing to give it a try again – perhaps on a weekday at a more obscure hour and an order of the Oxtail Risotto.

Side dish becomes spotlight dish at Tinga Buena

The tacos I crave are simple… carne asada, cilantro, onions on a corn tortilla and some salsa verde. It’s hardly what Tinga Buena in Los Angeles serves up. But you know what? It’s fine with me because the complex flavors and unique sides gave my palette an adventure.

Located on La Brea Blvd., this understated taco shop has a contemporary vibe on the inside. Look up and you’ll see a mega-size outlet where dozens of cables hang above the long communal table. This place isn’t pretentious at all and tries to embrace a sustainable restaurant model by recycling and using biodegradable products. However, I’m curious where the banana leaf plates come from because if it’s imported, that’s not sustainable. If you know, please comment. OK, back to the food…

Here’s a rundown of what my friends and I consumed…

This is the Flat Iron Steak Taco. The green dollop is a tomato avocado relish that has a refreshing flavor and cools down the heat of the salsa. The meat was well marinated and the savory flavor worked well with the sweetness of the onions.

This is the 48 Short Rib taco. I had high expectations but it didn’t quite live up to them. I liked the texture and the look of this taco. Look at it. Don’t you want to eat it? But I admit I wanted a little bit more salt. The flavors kind of dulled after the third bite. I added some hot sauce which helped but I wanted salt, not spice.

But I think my favorite taco was my friend’s Papas Bravas taco. The potatoes were well season and cooked perfectly and topped with poblano rajas (poblano chiles, onion, garlic, and herbs).

You would think the tacos were the highlight of this meal but for me, it was the side dishes. Here’s the Arroz Con Crema – it’s a creamy rice with salsa verde and pickled onions on top. It’s the best when you take a bite of this after a salsa induced tacos. A bite of this will cool your palette for the next fiery taco.

This is the Elote Especial, a grilled sweet corn topped with crema, lime, and poblano purée. I admit I was tempted to get a second order right after I took my first bite. This is fresh corn off the cob and the flavors of each ingredient come through. It’s light and flavorful – the lime really highlights the freshness of this dish. This was my favorite dish of the night by far.

My final thoughts on Tinga Buena… I’d go back for the vegetarian menu and leave the meat off. The veggie dishes had more flavor and surprises. Here’s their menu if you want to check it out.

Checking in at Border Grill – Downtown LA

I had some out-of-town guests who were on a tight schedule to see me. They said they would be in downtown LA in a couple hours and that they were hungry – they wanted something very Los Angeles. I was racking my brain! Then I asked “Have you had tacos?” They said no and that they would love tacos but there would have to be a vegetarian option. I knew exactly where I wanted to take them.

Since my day job is in downtown, I knew I didn’t have to go far for some authentic Southern Californian cuisine because Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s modern Mexican restaurant was just down the street. No, I’m not talking about Ciudad – that closed in the summer of 2010. I’m talking about Border Grill (which took Ciudad’s place).

This isn’t the first Border Grill to open but it was my first time at a Border Grill restaurant. I haven’t even tried their food truck. When we got there, the place was pretty loud because it was during Happy Hour. I ordered up some roasted lamb tacos… check out how moist the lamb was and the fresh manchego.

One of my friends ordered the vegetarian tacos. I think her tacos were better than my order. The vegetarian options were filling and flavorful. Here’s the potato taco…

Also, here’s the other vegetarian taco that is a poblano corn taco with guacamole and corn.

We couldn’t finish our meal without a proper dessert. Here’s a complimentary dish that the manager gave to our table. It was a great surprise to end the meal. Below you’ll see the Rainforest Macadamia Brownie which had the perfect balance of textures and flavors.

I’m looking forward to going back and checking out their mojito and margaritas for happy hour. Perhaps I’ll follow this up with another entry on their libations. I’ll keep you posted!

Pop-up Pie Shop @ The Machine Project

Last month, A colleague of mine asked if I wanted to go to the Pop-up Pie Shop at the Machine Project in Echo Park. I had been so consumed with moving into my new place and unpacking that I haven’t been going out. But I admit, when he said “pie,” I was already sold.

This one-day pie tasting was an event where proceeds went to the Los Angeles Food Bank when you purchase a put-it-together pie set. The timing was great because it was right before Thanksgiving and the temperature in LA started to drop a few degrees — it started to feel like pie season!

They served up pumpkin, apple, and lemon pies. Below is the the “pie director,” Sarah Williams. People were running fresh pies out of the oven to Sarah as I took this photo.

If you bought a pie, you got a jar of your choice of filling and a crust in a box. Put it together, then put it in the oven and before you know you it, you have your very own pie. I admit, I thought the packaging was very cute and clever… and simple!

My favorite was the pumpkin pie. The flavors were subtle – after the initial pumpkin flavor, I could taste a hint of  maple coming through. Plus, the crust was just right – flaky  and buttery.

This Pop-up Pie Shop lasted just a day but it doesn’t mean you can’t have your own pop-up dessert gathering this winter season. Myself and some colleagues are planning a bake-off at work and I plan on having a cookie baking day next week! If all works out, I’ll be posting some photos from those events soon.


How do you shabu-shabu?

On Friday, I found myself at Mizu 212 on Sawtelle in West Los Angeles with my friend. This place touts their organic shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a Japanese hotpot dish sort of like sukiyaki – but less sweet. Instead of cooking thinly sliced meat and vegetables in the hotpot WITH spices and sauces like sukiyaki, shabu-shabu is made by cooking the meat and veggies in water to make a natural broth then dipped in a sauce when you’re done. It’s a great comfort food dish! Enough background, let’s get to the food!

I love walking by Mizu 212 because I love seeing patrons of this place hovering over their hotpot from the window. Steam rises from their bowls straight into the air and you see people looking down into their bowl of comfort. Above is a photo of my shabu-shabu after I put in all the ingredients. So, what’s in my shabu-shabu?

Everyone has their way of making their shabu-shabu. Here’s what I do when presented with a bowling hotpot of water, veggies and some good fixings…

  1. Add veggies. Choose the harder ones that take more time to cook first – squash, broccolli, carrots… etc.
  2. Add tofu. Believe it or not, tofu takes some time to cook so it’s best to add this early on.
  3. Add the softer veggies next (i.e. cabbage, asparagus…)
  4. Add udon noodles. You don’t want to add the boodles too early because the noodles will get too mushy.
  5. Lastly, add the meat. This won’t take long to cook because it’s cut very thin. For my shabu-shabu, I choose a plate of the rib-eye and also black pork to split with my friend.

While your shabu-shabu is cooking, take this time to make your dipping sauce. My friend and I were lucky to have Peter be our waiter. He came by and asked us what flavors we liked and concocted a little something for each of us. It was a combination of garlic, scallions, grated daikon, ponzu, togarishi, and Thai chili oil (I opted out of this one since I’m not a big fan of the spice). It’s a light dipping sauce that I could eat by the spoonful!

And here’s the shabu-shabu before I devoured it all for dinner. I love this dish because it’s not heavy but it’s filling – no salt or processed sugar (unless you add it yourself) but in all honesty, I didn’t put any of that stuff in my shabu-shabu. Enjoy!

By the way, how do you shabu-shabu?

My current craving: KyoChon chicken wings!

If you’re my food fairy, you’ll magically bring me KyoChon soy garlic chicken wings for lunch today. Those who haven’t had the privilege of consuming these tasty Korean-style fried wings are missing out and I truly feel sorry for you. The wings are double-fried and coated with the special KyoChon secret sauces that was created by the founder in Korea – there are three different ones (soy garlic, hot & sweet, honey) but my favorite is the soy garlic.

The Korean-based chain has over 1,000 stores mostly in Korea and China but they have about 10 stores in the U.S. (the American flagship one is in NYC) and a few are right here in Los Angeles. The first shop opened in 1991 in Gumi, South Korea according the the KyoChon website. The website also says the founder and his wife are the only ones who know the secret of what’s really in their sauces. Oh yeah, and they like using seasonal vegetables and use free range chicken!

I recently went to the Culver City one and snapped these photos for you.

My friend and I ordered the bi-bim-bap rice ball and 10 soy garlic wings to split.

Next time, I’m going to skip the bi-bim-bap rice ball because it was lacking flavor for me – all I could taste was the sesame oil even though there were bits of veggies and meat in there. I realized the rice ball was poor foreplay for the main course: the chicken wings. Lesson learned.

Take a look at the crispy wings that make my salivary glands to what they do best when I think about consuming this dish… salivate!

What’s great about the Korean chicken wings is that they aren’t greasy like the ones from KFC or Popeye’s. You don’t feel guilty after eating these wings. After one bite, you’ll realize why KyoChon is the largest chicken wing chain in South Korea.

Los Angeles has plenty of chicken wing places – what’s your favorite? Why? And if you want to be my new foodie BFF, you’re more than welcome to take me to your favorite spot.