Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Ubiquitous Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog Lady in Los Angeles

Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog Lady, Los Angeles

On Monday night, I saw a band at the Silver Lake Lounge. Once the show was over, I headed for the door. But as many of us Angelenos know, around the bar and club areas, there's always something in the air. Before you even step out into the sidewalk, you've been hit with that fabulous aroma of something salty, something being crisped up, some type of animal being immolated – luring you, whoring itself for a mere $3. And then there's that sound that appears to be like one hundred snakes hissing in unison.

Enter the Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog Lady.

This definitely isn't a new thing here, but it is an integral part of Los Angeles' food culture like taco stands and trucks. I had forgotten about this snack long after my college days because I nearly overdosed on a whopping 8 smaller bacon-dogs while in Mexico. I have not eaten one in nearly a decade.

I got it out of my system.

But every now and then, I'll shamelessly stop in front of a lady and ask her how much one dog would cost. Even though I know exactly what they cost, I am really just buying some sniffing time. A cheap high that any midnight civilian would take up, even vegans and vegetarians.

Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog Lady, Los Angeles

Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog Lady, Los Angeles

For me, a danger dog represents something of the past. I'm much older and my tastes have changed, but it doesn't mean I don't appreciate its divine simplicity. It is what it is. A long slab of bacon wrapped around some unknown hot dog and sloppily topped with greasy onions and condiments. It's what Gallagher would eat.

Last year on a trip to New York, I met a friend at the Please Don't Tell bar. A simple call from a phone booth in the neighboring Crif Dogs, reveals a "secret door", and you're transplanted in a dark, timeless bar in the East Village. The drinks, they say, are the main attraction, but I think it's really the various hot dogs customized by New York's top chefs that put them in the lead.

Please Don't Tell, New York

Please Don't Tell, New York - Menu

Please Don't Tell, New York - David Chang Kimchi Bacon Dog

I ordered a Wylie Dufresne, being a fan of WD-50. And of course, David Chang's Kimchi Bacon Dog. I had to order the Chang special – I'm from Los Angeles and I adore Korean food. It tasted fine - chopped up Kimchi relish on top of a neatly wrapped bacon hot dog. But it didn't look right... it was too clean. There was no oil on the bun from the Danger Dog Lady's fingers. No half charred onions. No special aioli created from the mayo & grease.

I may not eat one of these again because of its threat to my health, but I hope these ladies continue to serve their street delicacies. I'd be very sad if the health department ever deleted them from Los Angeles' food scene – it'd be a true loss of culture.

Do YOU crave the Danger Dog? Thanks for reading.
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chicago, 2008 - The Tasty, Windy City Part One

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Passionate Eater of San Francisco, and for a short while of New Orleans, recently went to Chicago on an exhaustive hunt for Chicago's favorite foods: hot dogs, deep dish pizza and Italian beef dip sandwiches. I recommended a few places to her that I had tried out myself. She reminded me that I was long overdue on my posting as well – one year ago! During that time, I was overwhelmed with work and how I was going to propose to my then-girlfriend-now-wife, Jeni, and just never got around to it. And I also owe the tasty experience to a Chicago-based eating-machine from the future named Erik M. – he runs a site called LTH Forum.

So in May, after scouring the streets of New York for good food within two days, I was on my way to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. With nothing more than a laptop, duffle bag and a well-endowed list of Chicago's finest eateries, I headed in town with freshly cracked knuckles and an empty stomach. I was in Chicago for a shoot and had a few hours to spare before meeting up with my colleagues. 3 hours... hmm. I think I can do 3 places. I headed out by foot towards some places that Erik had listed near my hotel on the North Side of town.

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As I walked around, the first thing I thought of was how clean and quiet Chicago was. Streets were swept and even the buildings looked like they just had their Brazilian waxings. It was 11 am and the people had to be tucked into their cubicles. I barely saw any taxis go by! I couldn't complain though because just one week before, it was an offspring-terminating 40 something degrees. According to the people at the hotel, it was a blessing to wear cargo shorts and be oot and aboot.

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First on the list was one of three favorite eats of Chicago – pizza. New York pizza vs. Chicago pizza... a constant feud that will go on till the day we die. To be honest with you, the thought of a deep dish pizza PADDED with god knows how many ounces of cheese stops me in my tracks. But it's Chicago, I HAD to try it. Since it was in the area, I went to try Lou Malnati's, a family-owned chain restaurant. I walked in to find quite a few people on their lunch break – most of them at the bar putting down beers. I didn't know what to get so I had the bartender suggest a pizza. Sausage pizza it is! Twenty minutes later, I was still drinking my beer and I didn't have any food. 10 minutes later, I ordered another beer still with no food. Man, this thing better be delicious! I felt like I could run some errands and the pizza would STILL not be ready.

Finally, after 50 minutes, I received my first Chicago-style deep dish pizza. The bartender brought out a steaming black pan with some tongs and set it down. I was taken aback - dough rising on the sides with a chunky, molten-lava tomato sauce. But where was the sausage? Where was the cheese? There seemed to be some hide & seek going on because I didn't see any sausage or cheese. Like a surgeon, I took my knife and started to cut my own slice when I finally saw a piece of sausage. But the weird thing was that it wasn't just a lump, I noticed that it was a LAYER OF SAUSAGE. Whoa. I proceeded with the operation and unveiled cheese underneath the meat. I had no idea that the layers were completely rearranged. I think the best way to describe deep dish pizza is a confused pizza that sort of confused me. I really didn't get it because it was just too much of everything. Too much sauce, too much cheese, too much sausage, too much time. Everything tasted fine and all, but I just couldn't handle more than one slice. Give me chapulines and huitlacoche from Oaxaca, horse sashimi from Japan or snake alcohol from Taiwan instead. I looked over at a man and woman on their third slice and asked for the check. I'm glad I tried it though.

Next, it was time for the second Chicago-favorite, Italian Beef Dip sandwiches. If you're a pedestrian in another city, I suggest reducing the amount of Mapquesting you do because you're bound to attract attention. No one was there to tell me that, as I befriended a young man. Not by choice. I was headed to Mr. Beef for some sandwiches and he decided to join me without an Evite.

Friend: "Hey man, where you going?"
Me: "Mr. Beef."
Friend: "Oh yeah, you should try Portillo's, it's better."
Me: "Okay, I'll do that next."
Friend: "I'll take you there. I'm going that way too."
Me: "Uh okay, sure."
Friend: "Hey, you born here?"
Me: "Yes, why?"
Friend: "Your English is pretty good."
Me: "Thank you."

Normally, I'd be offended, but the ball was in this guy's court. I'm a stranger to the streets of Chicago and walking with my new 6'2" friend. So he goes on and on about how he knows Chicago and pointed out buildings to the left and to the right... blah blah blah. After about 10 minutes of walking, I started to see Mr. Beef at the end of the street. Ok, almost there. Just keep tuning him out. Right when we got to Mr. Beef, his whole demeanor changed. He was no longer the jovial tour guide of Chicago. He told me he had just gotten out of jail not too long ago and was in need of money to get a driver's license. His new threads and jewelry definitely didn't say that though. But I thought I'd help him out anyway.

Friend: "C'mon man. Just a few bucks."
Me: "I have no cash.
Friend: "How you going to eat then?"
Me: "Oh I have enough money to eat. I came here to Chicago just to eat."
Friend: "There's an ATM inside."
Me: "Nope, I can give you half of my Mr. Beef sandwich?"

You should've seen the look on his face – sheer disappointment. He turned around and started walking away. The only thing I could feel was relief but at the same time, concern. Wait a minute... does that mean Mr. Beef sucks???

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According to any Chicagoan, there's only one way you should order an IBDS... with hot & sweet peppers and a dip in the pool of au jus. I watched the cook grab a loaf of bread and pull the beef out of a steaming pan. He then carefully tossed in a few chili peppers and wrapped up my sandwich. I unraveled the hot sandwich... smell of sweet bell peppers and beef. And... it wasn't bad... just a bit dry and sparse on the meat. I asked the cook for a small cup of juice and dumped it on the sandwich liberally. There we go. Now it was tasty.

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One slice of pizza and a somewhat tasty sandwich, still some room in the oven. So I went to try the other IBDS place that was recommended, Al's #1 Italian Beef. From the outside you wouldn't think much of it but the constant in & out of customers is promising. I was greeted by a nice young man and looking at me, he knew I wasn't from here. At least he wasn't so blunt.

Al's: "You visiting from out of town?"
Me: "Yeah. Here to try what I hear is one of Chicago's best."
Al's: "Well welcome to Chicago. You're in the right place."
Me: "What do I get?"
Al's: "Beef with sweet & hot peppers, dipped."
Me: "There we go."
Al's: "You'll need some fries, too."
Me: "Sounds good."

Contrary to Mr. Beef, there was actually action here. Big sandwich, big fries and big drink – Chicago people going to town without going out of town. I watched the Chicago sandwich routine in action once more. But this time, the guy took it to the next level. After adding the meat and hot & sweet peppers, he grabbed the sandwich with a pair of tongs and baptized my very own sandwich in the holy goodness that is beef juice. It was a beautiful ritual that only a pig like me would appreciate. My sandwich was drenched. I unraveled the parchment paper and grabbed that soggy sandwich. One bite in, and I now understood why Chicagoans stood so proudly behind that juicy sandwich. I don't care much for The Hat or Philipe's and easily put Al's ahead of them all. Next time I go back, I'll definitely do a comparison like Passionate Eater, who passionately gobbled through hot dogs, IBDS and pizza. Finishing the sandwich off, I looked at my wet hands sprinkled with chili seeds and beef crumbs. The guy that took my order looked at me and didn't need to ask whether I enjoyed it or not. He knew.

I walked back and twice I did U-turns back towards Al's but changed my mind because my hotel room didn't have a fridge to store IBDS. Damn. I promised my stomach that I would treat him once more to a tasty IBDS before I left. He said 'you better'.

Thanks for reading. Part Two coming next.

Check out Passionate Eater's posting on Italian Beef Dip Sandwiches, deep dish pizzas and also an old school posting on the first time meeting her and her husband.
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Monday, April 27, 2009

The Gift of Gluttony


Before you start salivating over the chicken drumsticks and braised pork belly, know that this is unfortunately, inedible. Give the gift that says "You're a computer dork and you're a pig" at the same time. I'd pick the pork belly one because of the current Swine Flu. Until it's safe to eat pork again, I'll enjoy the taste of plastic. You can find these strange products here.




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Monday, April 20, 2009

Leaving for Las Vegas

MGM Grand, Las Vegas

Mexico City
June 8th, 2008

I woke up in the morning and saw Jeni next to me staring at her hand. As she turned her palm, shiny rays of light reflected off of it, and I could see her smile fluctuating from small to big. Last night, was a very special and emotional moment for us. It was her birthday, and also the day I got down on one knee, hands out and head up... asking for her hand in marriage. In a matter of 2.5 years, we went from strangers, food blog acquaintances, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend to fiance/fiancee. When we got back to Los Angeles, we experienced a total high that could only be felt when you know you've found the one for yourself. But then, we were faced with the daunting task of planning our wedding. I prayed for this day for a long time, but I dreaded the emotional/physical aspect of it. I did not want to see how Bridezilla she could get, nor did she want to see Groomzilla.

We decided that we would not be puppeteered by our parents. My mom being very traditional Chinese, and Jeni's mom being very traditional Vietnamese, we were worried that we would have to celebrate our union at some Chinese banquet restaurant. We did not want to see the red walls, dragon decor or hear the tinkering of chopsticks against the glasses on our special night. It just wasn't us. We definitely wanted to celebrate with our friends and family but we didn't want to start our life together with a 5-digit debt - that's ludicrous. We started looking at galleries in Chinatown and they were just too small. Then we checked out this place North of Chinatown called The Marvimon House, which was simply awesome. It had a New York feel to it, large enough to hold our party and great ambiance. Problem was, the package did not include catering, bartending, valet nor DJ. The thought of the costs was getting to be nauseating and this is exactly what makes/breaks a marriage before it even happens. But we reminded each other that we had to be true to ourselves and make the best out of what we could afford.

On the drive back home, we were quiet. It was obvious that we were depressed and that we would have to give in to a place like Marvimon and spend a good decade of our lives paying off something society has MADE you believe is the right thing to do. Everytime you're at the market, you're stuck in front of a magazine rack of bridal magazines. It was at that moment in the car when things would turn around for us.

Me: "J?"
Jeni: "Yes."

Me: "Let's not do it this way."

Jeni: "What are we going to do?"
I paused, ready for her to turn away in dissatisfaction.
Me: "Vegas. Come on. Just us and our family. And we'll have a small reception with our friends when we get back."

Jeni: "Our friends will be bummed."

Me: "No they won't, it's what we want."


Instead of getting high-fived on the face, Jeni's face glowed with a smile and I knew it was meant to be. Hey, her mom did it that way, no way she could contest. We told our parents the same night and they were stoked for us, especially for not having to fork out mass amounts of money for a 10-hour day.

No no no, not in a casino with a singing Elvis and red carpet. Let me tell you how easy this was. We looked around a few casinos and found MGM to offer the best packages and was highly regarded on The Knot, a site for bridezillas of all shapes and sizes. Ok done. Where do we eat? Well, MGM has some of the most gourmet restaurants on the Strip including Joel Robuchon. Not surprisingly, this was the toughest part of our decision to get married in Vegas. We settled on Craft Steak since we had heard a lot of good things about it – plus we're fans of Collicchio's simple and homey style of cooking. And within a week, everything was set. We did all of this without getting into a single argument.

On Thanksgiving, instead of heading over to my aunt's for the 25th consecutive gravy fest, we were driving on the I-15 towards Las Vegas. My mom rode with us, Jeni's family in another car and my dad/sister/nephew in another car. This would also be the first time our parents would meet one another, so there was a bit of nervousness. But everything went smoothly and a few hours later, we found ourselves filling out forms in a sterile courthouse in Nevada. Good 'ol MGM included a limo driver that would take us to apply for the marriage certificate. What was funny was that there were NO PENS, only pencils with erasers on them. I guess people do realize things as their filling out the forms... like how drunk they really are. But we didn't use the eraser once.

Las Vegas Courthouse

Las Vegas Courthouse

This lady behind the counter was NOT happy about working on Gravy Day. We paid our $50 and we were out of there... halfway married. We hugged our parents and headed back to the casino for dinner. We didn't end up staying too late because tomorrow would be the big day.

Las Vegas Courthouse

Breakfast at Bouchon, Las Vegas

Besides the fact that this was our wedding day, Las Vegas is always an excuse to do things you wouldn't normally do. Drink till 8 am, hit on a 20 in Black Jack, or like spend $100+ on BREAKFAST. Only one thing came to mind for breakfast, the lovely Bouchon by Thomas Keller. I've eaten here at least 3 times and have never been unsatisfied. Cheers. I started with some white wine and a mimosa for Jeni.

Bouchon, Las Vegas

Oysters - Bouchon, Las Vegas

Various Oysters
Cheers. I started with some white wine and a mimosa for Jeni. By the time these guys came out, I think we were already happy due to zero food in our stomach. But nothing a few Malpeques and Kumamotos couldn't do for you.

Seared Scallops with Mornay Sauce

Seared Scallops with Mornay Sauce
I wish seared scallops would just grow on trees. It'd make life a lot easier for me if I could simply pluck these tasty bastards and place them in a bucket for later consumption. These were served with a mornay sauce which is made of heavy cream, gruyere cheese and parmesan cheese. This is fabulous.

Bacon - Bouchon, Las Vegas

Thomas Keller's Bacon
Most places when you ask for a side of bacon will give you 3 measly pieces. Not Mr. Keller though. At $5-6 you're going to get what you're paying for... a plate of crisp pieces. These were fried beautifully but flat on taste. That's ok Mr. Keller, no need to flog yourself.

Sourdough Waffles & Bananas - Bouchon, Las Vegas

Sourdough Pancakes
Oh my. Sourdough + Pancakes = one happy, buzzed bride. I don't know what else to say but these are just done perfectly.

We staggered out of Bouchon with a nice buzz and jolly belly. While Jeni went to get ready at the salon downstairs, I went down to the tables and played some tables. When I gamble, there's no point in thinking about how I would play a hand... I might as well just walk up to the tables, give them mymoney and say "Thank you, that was a lot of fun." And walk away.

Our Announcement

It was now 3 pm, with under two hours before our ceremony would take place downstairs. There was one thing we didn't do before leaving for Las Vegas... informing our friends. As a surprise, we sent everyone announcement cards a day before we left. We laughed at the various reactions people would have but again, this is what we wanted to do. And they would be more than happy for us. And slowly, the texts and facebook comments started rolling in haha.

"Very sneaky."
"So you guys, to do this."
"Bastards."
"I would so be there in Vegas right now."

Jeni Dress

Jeni Veil

Its customary for the groom to not see the bride all day, but someone had to photograph her getting ready. I could tell she was excited yet relaxed – we were both very happy. 4:30 pm, we headed down to meet our families.

My Nephew & Me

And here is my second love of my life, standing in at 3' something and 40+ pounds, my nephew Taylor. He was dressed adorably in a shirt, vest and pants. He had no idea what we were doing and seemed to be more involved with his pack of chocolate Pocky.

There was a total of 10 people there, in a room that could hold 60. I admit, it was very plain, but nothing could be more special than having our parents and siblings there. I spoke with the officiant for a few minutes about the procedure and took my place at the front of the altar. I looked at my family, and they smiled back in approval for everything we had chosen to do. And suddenly, the music started to play. I could see two silhouettes behind the frosted doors as they opened. There was Jeni with her arm locked with her dads. She immediately turned red and started to cry as her dad kissed her on the cheek. I took her hand and wiped her tear away as we faced the offficiant.

I really can't remember what was said or what we had to repeat, but I just remembered how beautiful she looked. I do remember hearing... "you may kiss the bride". Within 15 minutes, we were done. It was easy and most importantly, special to us. We headed up back to the room with the family and popped some champagne.

Craft Steak, Las Vegas

Besides staying at the hotel we would have the ceremony in, why not make it even easier by selecting a restaurant from their fancy list of places to dine at. We choose Craft Steak because it had the best price and offered a family-style meal.

Prosciutto - Craft Steak, Las Vegas

Grilled Shrimp - Craft Steak, Las Vegas

Oven Roasted Chicken - Craft Steak, Las Vegas

Shitake Mushrooms - Craft Steak, Las Vegas

Roasted Carrots - Craft Steak, Las Vegas

Braised Beef - Craft Steak, Las Vegas

Beef Tenderloin - Craft Steak, Las Vegas

Yes, the food was simple and tasty as it looked. Everyone enjoyed the meal.

just married

To this day, I still would not change the way we did things. It was our night and we made a promise to do as we pleased. And everything went well. I can't tell you how many of my guys friends now hate me and envy an understanding wife like Jeni. Wedding in Las Vegas. The End.

Back in Los Angeles, we now had only two months to plan our wedding party because we wanted it to happen right after our Honeymoon in Brazil and Argentina. Good things happen when you let creativity flow in. With the help of Jeni's brother, Jeremy, the three of us began collaborating on our own... not with some gallery owner who got a money boner when you said the "w" word. He knew a friend who ran a small design shop in Chinatown who referred us to Remy's On Temple, a quaint gallery in Filipinotown/Echo Park. The place had everything we wanted, space, back area and an ambiance that matched our taste for an urban lifestyle. Not to mention, within our budget. Done.

Now what do we eat? The gallery space was meant for standing and walking, not sit-down tables. To stay true to what we loved, and what everyone else loved, we decided to hire a taco lady. We tried Taco Arizas, where we had our first date, the popular Taco Zone on Alvarado/Sunset and even a random taco shop. But I had remembered my coworker hiring a place in Highland Park called My Taco. We went there for a tasting and the daughter of the family was very impressive. She had printed us a folder with an estimate and had her t's crossed and i's dotted. The food, of course, was done super well. The recipes are from her parents and brother, who is now a line cook at one of our favorite restaurants in Glendale, Palate. Done.

To cut down on costs, I designed the invitations, Jeremy would DJ and Jeni would take care of any decorations. I had also finished taking some motion design classes and this came in time for creating a slideshow. Done.

For decorations, she used her invaluable skills from working at Sanrio in high school to come up with cute things I could never even conjure up. Since it was a gallery, we needed to have some art work up but at the time, the curator only had this creepy series on dolls that have undergone some Frankenstein surgery. We were creeped out. And again, we decided to showcase what Jeni and I were about... food. We simply printed out our favorites and spent a night glueing/cutting them up. Done.

Photography? No problem. I remembered that my coworker, who also has a food blog, had a great eye. Check out her posting on visiting Cuba. Done.

On the day of the wedding party, we got up early to do final decorations in the gallery. I hung up the photos, Jeremy set up his turntables and Jeni ran around like a crazy bride cussing out everyone. Just kidding, she was calm as ever. And before we knew it, it was 8 pm – time to party.

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

The After Party at Remy's on Temple

I can't tell you how fast time passes by. You have an average of 2 mins to chat with people and it's exhausting. I think I ate one taco the whole night. After the party was over, Jeni, Jeremy and I headed over to Ruen Pair in Thai Town for some noodle remedying. We were all exhausted from a long week of running around. But the three of us made things happen and its exactly what we wanted. A successful party with no debt. Done. Thanks for reading. Brazil and Argentina are coming up soon.

Read Jeni's posting on our wedding.

Remy's On Temple
2126 W. Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 484-2884
Contact: Jonathan

My Taco (Highland Park)
6300 York Blvd. Suite 4
Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 256-2698
Contact: Vanessa Read more!

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