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Archive for February, 2011

The Beverly Grillbillies!

February 18, 2011 3 comments

When you’re from “The 909”, it’s quite the undertaking to make a trek into the big city.  Making sure one’s wife-beater-tank-top is freshly pressed is just the tip of the iceberg.  The cow must be milked, the meth lab shut down, and the pick up truck taken off the cinder blocks.  So when The Fun Couple finally made it to Fogo de Chao in Beverly Hills, it’s understandable that we turned a few heads.  I’m sure all those West L.A. socialites were just jealous of my sweet mullet.

Okay, despite the bad rap my area code gets (the snooty folks in Orange County call the region “the valley of the dirt people”), I’ve never personally been featured on COPS, nor do I live on a farm (and I don’t have a mullet).  And even though The 909 (a.ka. The Inland Empire) is a bit of a culinary wasteland, we can definitely appreciate fine dining.  My dream restaurant has been Fogo de Chao, the upscale Brazilian BBQ chain that actually finds its roots in Brazil!  At over $60 per person, I assumed that it would be an elusive fantasy just beyond reach.  But thanks to Dine L.A.’s “Restaurant Week“, Fogo de Chao became a reality!

A quick tip for my fellow 909-ers who dare venture into such uppity places: THERE’S NO NEED TO GET INTO YOUR FORMAL WEAR!  You won’t fool anyone into thinking that you’re a “local” (the flannel shirt under your corduroy suitcoat will be a dead giveaway).  You’ll feel more than comfortable in respectable casual wear (meaning jeans and a nice shirt not shorts and a WWF tank top).

Fogo de Chao is a buffet fit for royalty.  You are encouraged to start with their salad bar, which is so much more than a salad bar.  Get Sizzler or Hometown out of your head!  It features all manner of fresh veggies, expertly prepared salads, fine deli meats (including prosciutto and smoked salmon), imported cheeses, and high-end oils and vinegars.  The highlight for the two of us was the Balsamic vinegar.  It was amazingly rich, sweet and complex.  We put it on everything!

You are given a coaster which gives the servers (gauchos) in their M.C. Hammer pants the cue to get the meat party started.  The red side means, “We need a break!”, the green side means, “It’s on like King Kong!”  When we decided to “go green”, the most beautiful parade I had ever seen got going.  Bacon-wrapped filet mignon.  Bacon-wrapped chicken.  Ribeye.  Sausage.  Garlic beef.  Lamb chops.  Parmesan encrusted pork tenderloin.  I tried everything that came my way, at least ten different meats.  I got seconds (maybe even thirds, it’s really none of your business, though) of the garlic beef, ribeye, and — surprisingly — the bottom sirloin.  Bottom sirloin can be chewy and livery, but it was tender, juicy and unbelievably tasty!  Simply seasoned and cooked to perfection using real wood, the premium quality of their meats really shine.  Wowzers, if only human evolution had taken the route of cattle … a couple extra stomachs would’ve been nice!

As if the salad bar and meat parade aren’t enough to make one spontaneously combust from “happy, happy, joy, joy” overload, you’re brought a trio of scrumptious side dishes: mashed potatoes, fried polenta, and fried banana.  They’re all very good, though I would prefer to have my fried banana topped with vanilla ice cream.  As soon as a dish is empty, they’ll bring you more.  The servers are very attentive without being annoying.  Service all around was excellent!

Commoners, peasants, and lowly 909’ers … Dine L.A. is your chance to experience the royal treatment!

I took a bunch of pictures, but they’re really lame.  Maybe I was trembling with excitement.  But here’s a taste of Fogo de Chao:

From the salad bar ... gettin' the party started right!

Terrible picture, I know. I guess I just have to go back to get a decent one!

Fogo de Chao on Urbanspoon

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SGV Food Truck Fest

February 7, 2011 2 comments

The inventive offerings of L.A.’s gourmet food trucks have proven to be too much for The Fun Foodie to resist.  The evolution from “roach coach” to regional specialty has now spawned a type of “foodie Disneyland”: TRUCK FESTIVALS!  My wife surprised me for my birthday and took me to the San Gabriel Valley Food Fest at Speed Zone in City of Industry.  There’s a five buck cover charge for this monthly event (held every first Friday).  Many complain about this, but I think it’s a decent deal since you get access to 15 or so trucks, professional security, seating, heat lamps, and a five dollar voucher for a game card!  So if you’re going to complain, go ahead and put five bucks worth of gas in your car and see how many trucks you can chase down around L.A.!

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that more than 2,000 people attend this event.  I’d say about half of them were in line at Grill ‘Em All Truck when we got there.  No surprise that the winners of Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race” were the main event.  My wife, being the incredible human being that she is, stood in line as I meandered through the festival.  I felt like the “daddy eagle” gathering food to bring back to the nest.  In the hour and ten minutes it took to wait in line, order and receive our burger from Grill ‘Em All, I was able to hit up four other trucks!

The Grill 'Em All line.

WHITE RABBIT (see my original review here):  The line was about 10-12 deep, and they were all Filipinos (maybe a couple non-filipino Asians).  Too bad, I’m really hoping Filipino food will become more mainstream.  We’re the second largest asian population in California, but our food popularity lags waaaaay behind Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.  The White Rabbit Truck fuses traditional Filipino flavors with classic Mexican preparations.  The Tocino taco was as good as my first visit, vibrant flavor and nice texture.  Had to try the Beef Steak taco, which is pretty much exactly what you’d get at a Filipino potluck (sans the corn tortillas).  It was tender and juicy, with just the right amount of tanginess.  We both absolutely loved these tacos!

White Rabbit's Filipino tacos.

BUTTERMILK TRUCK:  This was probably the second most popular truck, the line 20-25 people deep.  Everyone — and I mean everyone — who visited Buttermilk left with Red Velvet Chocolate Chip pancakes.  There’s pancake syrup available for self-service but something told me to pass.  The pancakes come with a dollop of cream cheese frosting and dusting of powdered sugar and that’s all it needs.  They are divine, almost a flattened version of Red Velvet cupcakes.  The chocolate chips are a great addition, a texture and flavor surprise that doesn’t detract from the unique Red Velvet profile.  This was easily my wife’s favorite dish of the night.  We also got the Hawaiian Bread Breakfast Sliders, which has Portuguese sausage, sauteed onions, and shoyu scrambled eggs.  Not bad, but nothing worth ordering again.  Shoulda just had a second helping of the pancakes!

Red Velvet Chocolate Chip pancakes. Just don't ruin them with pancake syrup!

Hawaiian Bread Breakfast Sliders.

TAPA BOY:  The line was 8-10 deep and, once again, all Filipino (c’mon, folks, give us a try!).  Tapa Boy specializes in Filipino breakfast, a delicacy known as Silogs which pair savory meats with garlic fried rice and a fried egg.  Not wanting to fill up too quickly, I passed on breakfast and opted for a few tiny dessert bites called turon.  “Turon Old School” is the classic recipe, banana rolled in brown sugar, a sliver of jackfruit, deep-fried in an egg roll wrapper.  It’s great, just like “lola” used to make!  “Turon New School” replaces the brown sugar and jackfuit with Nutella.  It’s even better than it sounds.  Pure genius!  Then there’s “Flan B”, a bold move to deep fry creamy, decadent Flan in an egg roll wrapper.  A great concept, but they need to work on their Flan recipe.  A bit too eggy for my wife, non-descript for me.

Tapa Boy's Turon trio.

TA BOM:  This Brazilian truck was quite busy for most of the night, but there were only two customers ahead of me when I finally got to them.  I thought it was a strange stroke of luck until it was my time to order and I realized that they were sold out of most of their menu.  I was able to get one of their last Pastels, which is a deep-fried crispy pastry filled with seasoned ground beef.  It was great, kind of like a large won-ton with latin flare.  We also tried the Coxhinas, croquettes filled with chicken and cream cheese.  It was pleasantly spicy with a nice crisp exterior, but there was a vinegar tartness that didn’t seem to fit.  Ta Bom definitely fries their food with lard, which adds nice flavor, but may freak some people out.  But, chill out, folks!  Lard won’t kill you … right away, at least.

Ta Bom is da bomb!

GRILL ‘EM ALL:  We somehow still had room in our bellies.  But barely enough for the gargantuan “Behemoth” that we split.  We saw this thing on “The Great Food Truck Race” and it was the one item we were dead set on trying.  The patty itself is huge, I’m guessing a half pound.  It was cooked “well done” with not a hint of pink — I like my burgers medium well, but they didn’t give the option.  Amazingly, it was still very juicy!  It is sandwiched between two full grilled cheese sandwiches (buns can be soooooo boring), and topped with smoked cheddar and bacon.  We agreed, an excellent burger, but not quite worthy of another hour plus wait.  But I would definitely try to get to the festival earlier to beat the crowds and try some of their other burgers.

The Behemoth! Such a fitting name.

Speed Zone and festival organizers, thank you so much for bringing some of L.A.’s very best food trucks closer to our stomping grounds!  We’ll see you again soon!

Buttermilk Truck on Urbanspoon

Grill 'Em All (food truck) on Urbanspoon

Culinary Clash #4: Red Velvet Cupcakes

February 1, 2011 1 comment

Bless the south!  Fried chicken.  BBQ.  Biscuits and Gravy.  I could almost hoist the confederate flag outside of my house.  Almost.  If it had a cast iron skillet on it instead of the blue X, then it would be very possible.  Yeah, I loves me some southern food.

Rooted in southern tradition, the Red Velvet cupcake has become the darling of the cupcake craze.  Invented in the early 1900s, its red hue was originally the product of a chemical reaction between natural cocoa powder and buttermilk.  Somewhere along the way, bakers started adding food coloring to the batter to create a more stunning red.  Nowadays, it’s too easy to waste money on a sorry imitation that is simply a red dyed yellow or white cake.  It may catch the eye, but there’s no distinctive Red Velvet flavor and texture.

I think its “flavor charm” comes from a little bit of sensory trickery.  Our eyes see the red and signals are sent to the taste buds to expect a fruity flavor.  Then we actually partake and the flavor profile is so unique.  It’s that surprise (almost confusion) that is part of the pleasure.  A real Red Velvet cupcake will have a slight hint of cocoa, without being chocolatey.  Add to that a gentle tanginess from the buttermilk and flavor compounds not generally found in nature are created!  It should be moist without being oily and have a delicate crumb that still feels substantial in the mouth.  These final two characteristics are also a chemical reaction attained by using natural cocoa powder, not dutch processed.  Lastly, the cream cheese frosting better not be too sweet!

Upscale cupcakeries dot the southland with their cutesy names and decor.  Among the most popular are Sprinkles, the Beverly Hills hero that started it all, and SusieCakes, the retro bakery that also happens to be one of Martha Stewart’s favorites.  And so we clash….

Red Velvet from SusieCakes.

I really dig the dollop of frosting in the middle of the cupcake, a SusieCakes signature.

Red Velvet by Sprinkles.

As you can see, there’s a big difference in color.  SusieCakes’s is an almost neon red, no brownish tinge, meaning not enough cocoa powder (if any).  It’s very moist, and the frosting surprise in the middle is nice, but the flavor just wasn’t there.  I walked into Sprinkles a bit of a skeptic.  But it lives up to the hype.  The cupcakes are presented beautifully and the service is excellent.  Despite my blurry picture, you can see that it definitely has sufficient cocoa powder.  It’s everything a Red Velvet cupcake should be.  Maybe more.

Throw the towel in!  Sprinkles wins this clash in an easy first round knock out.

Sprinkles Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Susiecakes on Urbanspoon