Thursday, October 29, 2009

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park - $3 Echo Park Happy Meal

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

I was driving back home on my normal route through Echo Park into Silver Lake, and my taco radar went off. My eyes dilated the way they did in Requiem For A Dream, which by the way, is one of the most depressing movies ever. Through my peripheral vision, I spotted the Home Depot clamp lamps that I've grown all too familiar with. Home Depot clamp lamps = good street food. I parked and to my surprise, they had quite a small setup, not the usual 1-2 griddle tables, but rather a large pot and a steaming lid. I looked closely at the sign... barbacoa. Even better. What a relief it was to find someone selling something other than the usual suspect tacos.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

I asked the taquero to lift the lid and it big mushroom steam cloud of 'lamb bomb' hit all of us.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Along with your taco is an offering of a consome, also known as consomme in French, or simply... broth. Like Asian cooking, bones are not discarded after the meat has been removed. They are reserved to provide further sustenance, usually in soup form. Depending on the state in Mexico, they may offer different types of broth. I've had it at Highland Park's My Taco and East LA's Breed Street, which offer consome de chivo, a goat broth which is even better than the taste of lamb in my opinion. But Barbacoa Hidalgo does a consome de borrego... so you've got a lamb soup to go with your lamb taco. Which I'm calling the $3 Echo Park happy meal. Sorry no toy included.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Taco de Borrego (Lamb Taco)
For $1.50, it seems like I got 2-3 tacos worth. They piled the meat high and with a smile. The meat was moist and pretty tasty. The hot sauce offered was quite spicy. Never worry, there's always a bucket of Mexican sodas or water.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Consome de Borrego (Lamb Broth)
For $1.50, you also get this. A lamb broth with onions and chickpeas. I always pile in a ton of onions, cilantro and 1-2 squeezes of lime. No need for hot sauce, this has a nice kick already. The soup was a bit on the salty side but it's important to note that some people will eat this almost like a French Dip. They'll dip their taco in the broth for a flavor kick, and it's tasty.

Barbacoa Hidalgo sets up shop every night from 7-11 pm in Echo Park off Sunset/Echo Park Avenue. Thanks for reading.
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake - A New Noodle Addition on the Eastside

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Los Angeles is a city with over 4 million people, and it's a surprise that this massive tally still lends itself to many it's-a-small-world occurrences.  Cut back 10+ years to high school.  I was much different then, as most people are.  I actually did really well in school, I was a soccer jock and I spent a good part of my days practicing how to do windmills, flares and headspins only to have my parents scream at me about studying for SAT's.  Like most high school groups, you had your own territory somewhere on campus.  For that 10 mins between every class, my friends and I would report back to basecamp, which was a tree that probably heard way more than it should have.  Not surprisingly, being in San Gabriel Valley, my group was entirely Asian except for this token white guy named Willie Wood, which we later knighted as Willie Woo.   Behind us was a nice mix of girls that were really into SKA & punk music that we would say hi too.  One of the girls, was this really quiet and sweet half Thai/half Caucasian girl that wore short hair, dressed in black and carried a lunchbox tattered with band stickers.  

And then forward 10+ years later at a dinner put together by TonyC of Sinosoul, I find myself sitting at the table staring at this girl.  I told J, I think that girl went to my high school.  She told me to find out if it was her.

Me: "Anjali?!"
Anjali: "Dylan?!"

I waved her over to sit with us, and it was truly a weird experience because we were never close.  But it's always cool to see where people are a few years down the line.   

Me: "Dude you like food?!"
Anjali: "Yeah! I write Delicious Coma."

J fell in love with her and they hung out a few times.  A few nights ago, we met up w/ her and her man to check out the new Umami Burger on Hollywood/Vermont, which was very good. I love that they have a good supply of Hitachino beers, a fine brew from Japan with a dope logo of an owl.  Anyway, Anjali mentioned this Thai noodle place that she had just checked out and one that I've seen on the way back home in Silver Lake.  

My noodle alarm woke me up at  7:30 am, thirsty and hungry.  The noodle alarm clock usually happens when I've had a little too much to imbibe.  The body needs liquids and solid food.  And I immediately thought about Wat Dong Moon Lek (WDML).  

Jeni, my friend Tyson and I showed up on a Saturday morning to this quaint place tucked inside of a strip mall.  Its turquoise/teal walls and colorful chalkboard really gave a nice vibe that attracted young people.  On the chalkboard, the menu was drawn with different colors along with photos.  I love places with chalkboard menus.  If we have money for it someday, we'd have some installed in the kitchen/dining area to write up menus for dinner parties.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Being a noodle shop, we went for the soup noodles.  This place, like Ord and Thaitown Noodles in Hollywood, offers miniature and regular-sized portions for a few of the dishes.  We decided to do halfers so we could try more food.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Wat Dong Moon Lek Beef Noodle Soup
This was first on their noodle category so I assumed it was their signature dish.  The broth was very light and delicate and I almost wished it had some beef blood in it to really thicken that broth.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Wat Dong Moon Lek Pork Noodle Soup
This was the pork sibling of the previous dish.  Again, same broth with different meat.  I was hoping for some pork offals.    

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Tom Yum Pork Noodle Soup
I have seen tom yum style soup noodles, but never anything orange colored like this.  It almost looked like a prude, Catholic school girl version of Vietnam's punch-in-the-face pork lemongrass soup noodles known as bun bo hue.   The usage of udon in Thai cuisine was new to me and probably  just a homemade creation.  I would order this again and a lot of chili sauce.

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Hainan Chicken Rice
This is a dish the Hainan Chinese brought all over Southeast Asia.  You can find this pretty easily in a Thai restaurant.  The chicken was pretty moist but the hoisin & peanut butter sauce was different than the sweet, ginger-garlic sauce that is traditionally served.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Ham Hock Rice
I think I favored this dish the most out of everything.  It's also a take on a popular Chinese dish that includes five-spiced braised pork, pickled mustard greens, a five-spice boiled egg and a tasty sauce.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

The food was on the lighter side here as I'm pretty used to straight-forward, bold flavors from Thai food.  But I think we've completely missed the point here.  I forgot that Anjali had recommended the Rambutan salad, which consists of a lychee-like fruit, shrimp and coconut milk and some type of spicy mussel dish that a lot of patrons had ordered.  I'll be back here again to try those dishes out.  The service is great, the people are cool and it's a nice break from the limited parking in Thai Town.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

I highly recommend trying the soup noodles over at Ord and Thai Town Noodles as well. Thanks for reading and to Anjali, Jeni and I had a great time with you and R.  Ready for part two.
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Animal, Los Angeles - The Bold & The Beautiful... Food

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Jeni and I finally got around to eating at Animal. I know, late right? I think when I first heard about their decadent food, I got a little turned off. Foie gras loco moco? Whoa. Prior to this, I was scarred by this peanut butter, jelly & foie gras sandwich I had eaten in San Francisco and I guess I steered clear of overly decadent food for a while. If it weren't for an invitation from an old school blogger in Hawaii called Ono Kine Grindz and from the queen bee of LA food blogging, Daily Gluttony, I might not have known that Animal would become a favorite of mine.

Ever since I started writing this blog, there have been numerous first time meetups with people we had been reading. Before this, I had experienced a blind date that I wish never happened but stuck through it to be nice. This was different though because we actually knew the writers themselves even before forming a visual of the personality, and food was the common goal. And that made things a little easier for both parties. This included meeting my now wife, Jeni.

On a Saturday night, we drove down to Fairfax to meet Reid of Ono Kine Grindz and Pam of Daily Gluttony. Problem was, we didn't know what Reid looked like. Or at least I think I did.

J: "What do you think he looks like?"
Me: "He's a skinny white guy. I've seen his photo."
J: "You sure? I didn't see his photo on his site."
Me: "I have. He's white"
J: "Ok."

As we're walking to Animal, we don't see a skinny white guy and we kind of stand there. We see Pam talking to an Asian gentleman. We look at each other.

Guy: "Dylan?"
Me: "Reid?"
Guy: "Yeah."
Me: "I thought you were white haha."

So much for the guess. Right away we walked in and it was time for straight food talk. Reid had been writing long before I started in 2005 and writes a popular blog based on Hawaii. Again, one of the best things about eating with other foodies is the willingness to try anything. We all have the Bourdain-ness in all of us – no second thoughts about trying things that are unique.

I also like the story of Chef John Shook and Vinny Dotolo, two guys that used to run a catering business before successfully opening Animal. Not many catering companies will make it to the restaurant level but as you'll see, these guys prove to be more than just catering chefs. Man, what a blessing it is to be at one of the parties they've cooked for. Anyway, here's what we had. A suggestion for eating here – go with a group. Eating here with one other person might be a little much because the dishes tend to be on the richer side. Plus when you eat in a group, you can try way more dishes. The following dishes are ONLY appetizers... we couldn't even make it down to the entrees!

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Grilled Squid & Chorizo
On my second visit, I already had three dishes in mind. This and the following two have been on my mind ever since eating here. The squid is grilled beautifully where it is still soft and not rubbery at all. The smokiness of the chorizo and the squid really melded together. And not to mention, this dish is quite light.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Smoked Trout & Crispy Trout Skin Salad
This was probably my 2nd favorite of the night. The fish was beautifully smoked and man, the skin was like a potato chip.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Amberjack & Peach Salad
I think all of us at the table wanted to engage in some bizarre, gastronomic orgy with this dish. It was light, sexy and had a very different salad personality. Again, an indication of how good these chefs are.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Crispy Pig Ears & Fried Egg
Offals and eggs? Yes, please. I love that these guys tackle the parts of the pig, the ones that always get picked last for the kickball team. I thought the pig ear was sliced a little too thin and fried a little too long. But I can tell you, the mixing of the egg yolk with the pig ears created a nice harmony.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Pig Trotter Croquettes
Another unfavorable part of the pig. This one is the trench-coat wearing guy with long greasy hair that wrote dark poems about what he would do to asshole football jocks. If you haven't had pig trotters, think of them as mini goo bombs fried beautifully. Once you take a bite, the texture inside is almost gelatinous and super tasty. This was done really well.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Duck Confit with Cherries & Farro
I think this is one of the best duck confit dishes I've eaten. Most places will braise it way too long. After a perfect braise, it's either sent to the fry-o-lator or pan friend perfectly. I loved this combination.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Crispy Veal Sweetbreads
I never ignore a sweetbread dish. I love the nutty taste and chicken-like texture. Gooooood.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Chicken Liver Pate
Pate. It was basically my peanut butter & jelly sandwich as a child. Cut to me enjoying this while other kids stare at me in awe. Three pieces are given per order.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Kimchi Pork Belly
This is one of the dishes that I had heard people talking a lot about. Although the 'kimchi' was more like a Thai slaw, this was an interesting dish. I think the sauce was a bit overpowering because of too much vinegar, but man, the pork belly was done well indeed. I was kind of confused as to whether I was eating a Korean or Thai dish. On a second visit with Portland's Guilty Carnivore, I have to say this dish was even better. Especially with a nice glass of Stone.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Oxtail Poutine
I had heard tall tales about this dish Canadians speak so highly of... poutine. What is it? It is almost like their version of chili fries only they use gravy and cheese curds over their fries. I recently got back from Nova Scotia and had a very delicious version of poutine and have fallen in love with it. What's not to like about moist shredded oxtail, a beefy au jus, cheese curds and crispy chips? This was by far the most 'manly' dish we had tonight and I think this really defines what John and Vinny are about. We loved this.

In a time where popularity relies on the amount of foam you dump on a plate or the number of scientific processes your food has been through, it's nice to know that there are these Two Dudes. The majority of the food is meat heavy, but then they also offer a nice assortment of seafood to really offer some yin & yang. Each dish I can tell comes from passion, care and the desire to make people rub their bellies in joy. I'll be back here for sure. Reid, it was great meeting you finally. Pam, always a pleasure laughing with you. Kevin, I like that you mix wine and beer without hesitation. And J, another great meal we get to share together.

Thanks for reading.

Animal Restaurant
435 N. Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 782-9225
www.animalrestaurant.com
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Le Club de Grub - A Concept for those Bored with Their Lunch

Le Club de Grub

Lunch time is an interesting time of the day at work. You can tell who's really into food and who's eating for the pure sake of sustenance. I know exactly what my coworkers like to eat because I see them eating the same thing almost every day. Well not every day, but enough to generate a pattern. Some are happy, some don't look happy. This person likes making gigantic salads in a large glass bowl. This person only eats sandwich and fries. This person eats a lot of last night's pasta. I'm hardly in the kitchen eating unless I've brought some home cooked food. Other than that, I'm out and about trying different things. I've decided it's time to sexy up my coworkers lunch by introducing them to places I enjoy near where we work. You can only eat so much of the downtown Culver City area I call the Culver City Corporate Cafteria.

So I started Le Club de Grub. We would try a different restaurant every four weeks and really try to educate people on food. I'd like to show them there's more to life than chicken, wraps and potato chips. Zzzzz. I'm still thinking about the induction process... maybe have them snort a fat line of wasabi? haha.

Le Club de Grub

The first place we're going to eat at is Santouka, which makes a fine bowl of ramen. 3 hours later, I am a bit overwhelmed by the response. "Santouka, do you take reservations???"

LCDG Santouka

A few of the places on the list are Mariscos Chente, a plethora of Koreatown places, Indian and Ethiopian. We're blessed with good food in our wonderful city of Los Angeles – and it's a kind gesture when you can direct people to a good meal. If I made them smile just for that few hours, then I've done my job. Thanks for reading and start up your own Grub Club! Read more!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

WonderTune: What Am I Eating in Halifax, Nova Scotia?


And yet, another compilation for those that enjoy music as much as I do. I'm being sent to Nova Scotia for a video shoot. If you know of ANYTHING tasty out there, please inform me. I'll let you know how the pho and Mexican food is up there. Hope you enjoy the WonderTune Nova Scotia mix.

Download WonderTune Nova Scotia
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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken - Delicious Pollution from Oil-Barrel BBQ Grills

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

I never knew just how much pollution there was in Los Angeles until I flew back from Portland a few months back. I've lived here all my life and have been immersed in this gray cake of smog for so long that we've all become so used to it.  It IS the norm.  Proof: there are millions of stars when you look up in a place like Santa Barbara.  But in LA, you'll see 17.  So much for making wishes.  

In addition to thousands of commuters, people that evade smog checks and freight trucks that paint our skies gray, I've recently noticed there's a new contributor to our lovely pollution, that in my opinion, isn't so bad.  But you'll have to part the nose hairs like Moses on the Red Sea to deconstruct the smog.  If you're lucky and in the right part of town, you may hit the goldmine: roadside grilled chicken.  If you read this site, you know that I love street food and wouldn't back down on this.  And I'm glad to share my food findings with you guys.

Besides the obvious preparation of the chicken, there are a few other things essential to this equation.  There's a commonality in the equipment used to produce such a succulent piece of work, that I am most interested in.  Let's cut to a random island out in the middle of nowhere.  You're in your loin cloth with one oil barrel, a soldering iron, a grill plate, matches, charcoal and a few stupid chickens clucking away.  What would YOU do to survive?  Not much probably.  But if your name was MacGuyver, things might change for the better.  How about cutting the barrel in half and soldering them on top of each other lengthwise, adding some legs and a grill plate? Voila, you've got yourself a mean-ass looking BBQ grill.  One that makes a Weber look like a puny Foreman Grill.  When J and I buy a house, I know exactly what's going in the backyard next to my Dora the Explorer jumper.  The grill itself is built to accommodate more meat but still a bad ass piece of work.

Another thing I found to be essential is the type of charcoal used: mesquite charcoal from Sonora, Mexico.  I learned that the vast majority of charcoal production happens in Sonora, Mexico and in Arizona, due to the concentration of mesquite trees.  This particular charcoal really does have a more robust, distinct smokiness that is a palate pleaser.  I've never achieved this taste because I've always used Trader Joe's charcoal mix, Kingsford briquettes and old shoes.  But now we all know how to. 

 A few things before we indulge:
(1) The chickens are usually served with rice, beans and tortillas.  Extra tortillas will cost more.

(2) Grilling takes practice, and not everyone is perfect.  So if you see pink in your chicken, ask them to grill it longer.  

(3) Never settle for the chicken that's already been grilled.  I've waited a good 25-30 mins at places like Dino's and Pollo ala Brasa for my chicken, and it's always worth it.  How do you know if that chicken's been out for an hour, slowly overcooking itself?  Aye, unacceptable.  

(4) Say no to BBQ sauce.  Latinos don't deviate too far from their common culinary rituals.  They've always got a hefty supply of red and sometimes green salsa for you to "dip your chick in."  

(5) If you want to make the most out of your meal, may I suggest this really miniscule, geeky food tip?  Because I am patient enough to wait for a chicken hot off the grill, I'm getting a really hot piece of food.  What happens though is that the food is still cooking even when you've removed it from the heating source and all the juices have not rested.  Once you get your boxed-up chicken, give it 5-7 mins before you eat and you'll find that you've basically caused a mini steam-box that allows the chicken to rest and 'sweat'. The result? A nice pool of chicken broth that tastes so good with tortillas and salsa.  Mmmmm.

(6) I don't usually like to give 'judge's score' on food because I just like eating/talking about food, and not pretend I'm a self-appointed food critic, but because the competition is FIERCE enough to be on ESPN, and within inches of each other, I had to.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $6.50 half chicken; $12 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: A+ 
Schedule: Fridays only, 9:30 am to 3 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: B+, 3rd place

I take Adams to work every day off El Diez and spotted these guys.  I missed them twice, getting there too early and getting there too late.  Finally, after a 3-week attempt, I got to try the chicken cooked by this sweet family from Colima, Mexico.  The chicken here was fantastic. Nicely charred skin, generous spicing and strong flavor.  I think the only thing was that the chicken was a bit overcooked.  The hot sauce on the other hand is really pleasant.  The day I picked up the chicken, I bought another 1/2 portion to divvy it up amongst 4 co-workers I've slowly turned on to places I enjoy.  They all came back with me 3 hours later to get their own. Everybody was happy.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $7 half chicken; $11.50 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.  
Hot Sauce: C- 
Schedule: Everyday, 9:30 am to 11 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: C+, 4th place

Amidst all the Korean BBQ places adding to the good pollution quota, this Koreatown vendor is not ashamed to cause smoke signals off Western Avenue.  This one isn't exactly a roadside griller as it is part of a Mexican restaurant.  They just choose to help paint the sky more gray. But I do love the fact that I have basically 12 hours everyday to feed my face with tasty pollo asado and the people are super nice.   The skin was excellent, with that right amount of char. The meat was cooked pretty nicely, but overall, it was a bit light in flavor.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $6 half chicken; $11 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: B+ 
Schedule: Saturday & Sunday only, 9 am to 5 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: A-, 2nd place

Did you know that good things come to those that take the wrong fucking exit on the freeway? This is how J & I found these cool roadside grillers.  J didn't know to look for smoke signals like I did.  I could see these guys from blocks away because they were lighting up the street.  The skin was very very good – thin and more on the crispy vs. charred side.  Meat was very moist, even the breast meat was good.  I hate that part, it's boring and dry.  Zzzzzzzzzzz.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $6 half chicken; $11 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: B 
Schedule: Everyday, 9 am to 9 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: A+, 1st place

This roadside griller actually belongs to the cleverly-named Mexican market, Mercado Mexico. Of the four vendors I saw today, this would be the big formidable corporate monster of the roadside grilling industry. With an impressive 4 oil barrel length and at least 40 chickens grilling at one time, these guys will have me back here again in no time.  Skin was nice, but the meat and flavoring was the best in my opinion.  Jeni and I loved it.  It's clear they are doing well when they have that many chickens grilling and a line of 4-5 people buying only grilled chicken.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

This is also proof that the roadside grillers of Mercado Mexico have been around for some time now.  I can barely read the sign on top!

The truth is, I'll take any of these places for a meal anyday.  There's something about street food that really arrests me.  The taste of the food?  The honest authenticity?  The unibrow-raising prices.  The hardworking families doing what it takes to see the next day?  Yes, but for me, I'm all about the experience.  

Enjoy. Thanks for reading. 
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