Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A note on ketchup - The Oinkster (Eagle Rock, CA)

As a kid, ketchup was quite possibly my favorite food. I could put it on pretty much anything. Spaghetti included. But any ketchup other than Heinz always tasted off. Heinz, to me then, up until now, was ketchup, plain and simple. As I grew up, and became interested in other foods and more subtle flavors, ketchup wasn't necessary anymore for eating steak or baked potatoes.

That said, I still love a great burger. And if there's ketchup on the burger, it's usually going to be Heinz. There's plenty of mustards out there, plenty of sodas, plenty of everything, but there's really only one Ketchup, Heinz. Or so goes my thinking most of the time.

But today, I found another ketchup, and it works on its own terms. I'm 31 years old, home sick with the flu. And sick of soup, I felt like a reuben and some iced tea. Too lazy to drive downtown to Langer's for the #19, I drove to the Oinkster in Eagle Rock. They have a homemade ketchup there, which I tried with my fries. Wowzers. There's vinegar in their ketchup, and the tartness complicates the flavor, adding a punch of sour to the traditional sweet&salty alchemy of regular ketchup. Most homemade ketchup stinks. You know it. It doesn't taste right, like the target's been missed. But here, it's far enough away from your expectations of what ketchup is supposed to be, that the Oinkster's ketchup stands on its own.

Anyway, go have a chicken salad sandwich or burger there and an order of fries. Don't miss the ketchup.

P.S. I'd recommend their Reuben if it were consistent but it can be a hit-or-miss in my experience, all dependent on whether the Rye bread ends up crisp or soggy when it's served to you. If the bread's soggy, it's a greasy mess (still tasty, but a fork&knife affair). If the bread's crisp, it's superb. Oinkster's pastrami is Langer's influenced, but strikes me as overly peppery in their regular sandwich. But in a reuben, coupled with other ingredients, the pastrami sings.

The Oinkster
2005 Colorado Blvd
Eagle Rock, CA 90041
(323) 255-6465
Mon-Thu 11am-10pm
Fri-Sat 11am-11pm
Sun 11am-9pm

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dumplings I miss... Noodle House (Arcadia)

Back in 2006, Jonathan Gold wrote about Noodle House's fried dumplings. For those of you outside of LA, Jonathan Gold is not just a food critic. He's a divining rod, who leads you to eye-opening food adventures. He bats about .950 with his food recommendations. Zelo Pizza in Arcadia is really the only place I can think of that he loves that I don't understand.

As soon as read about this place, I knew I had to go. PG and I both realized the greatness of Linda's pan fried bao as soon as we tried them. The dumplings arrive at your table in a connected ring. You aim your chopsticks and tear a pillowy dumpling away from its comrades. You dunk the the dumpling into the garlic/chili/scallion accented soy sauce, and then bring it to your mouth. And if pot-stickers are all you've ever known of fried dumplings, you were in for an eye-opening experience. The dumpling dough on this dumpling itself is a soft pillowy casing wrapped around dense rich pork filling. But the thing is, it's been pan fried, and that crisp edge gives it another textural dimension. Against the soy sauce, the airy angelfood-like dough is powerless and collapses into something delicate yet chewy, like moist cake dunked in milk. And then the tender minced pork stabs your tastebuds. And as flavors and textures fight for your attention, just for a moment, you have bliss. Food elevated to something beyond mere fuel, and you're tempted towards hyperbole. You close your eyes, and just try to enjoy what's going on in your mouth as you work your way through that first dumpling. And lo and behold, the 2nd dumpling was just as sublime.

Our last time there, I went with PG and JL. Linda told us they were closing the next week. Sad to hear the news, we began ordering everything we'd always been curious about and never tried. Linda threw up her hands at one point to stop us, and said, "Okay". On our way out, Linda chased after us, refusing to take a tip, and giving us bags of food treats to take home.

Anyway, Dumpling House closed last year, and reopened under the name Kingburg Kitchen, and I think I may just have to go to take a look to see if the dumplings there are anything close to as exceptional as Linda's. -

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cafe Bravo - Today's Lunch

One of my regular lunch spots in the neighborhood is Cafe Bravo on Hyperion in Silverlake. I used to frequent their original location in Glendale, but this is closer. It's been open for under a year and it's a great addition to Eastside Middle Eastern/Armenian eats. Cafe Bravo specializes in kebabs. I've had the chicken breast, regular chicken (thigh meat), and lamb, and can attest that all are superb. They grill the kebabs to order, so it can be a little bit of a wait if you're starving. But well worth it for a healthy meal under ten dollars.

Chicken breast overcooks easily when grilled, so it's a testament to their technique that every time, it arrives at the table tender and moist. Today, I ordered the vegetarian plate. I chose tabbouleh, hummus, ikra (eggplant spread), and shirazi (a diced tomato & cucumber salad). With that, I got a grilled chicken breast kebab, a grilled tomato, a grilled green pepper, and a side order of their garlic sauce (as good as Zankou's). All kebabs come with warmed pita bread. I assembled my food into one very tasty sandwich. Fair warning: the portions are quite generous, so you're likely gonna end up with leftovers.

Cafe Bravo
2662 Hyperion Ave (at Griffith Park Blvd.)
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 912-1111

1st Post - October 1st, 2009

The first of October, 2009. And I begin a journey.

The Los Angeles Metropolitan area is a mecca for lovers of cheap eats, an incredible place to live for those of us with an adventurous palate.

Some people treat food as fuel. After all, we have to eat to live. I am not one of those people. I seek out greatness in meals. And I thought I'd share my thoughts.

Hope you enjoy, Eric

P.S. As soon as I can afford it, I'll be getting a new digital camera, as out of focus photos of kickassingly wondrous eats such as the superb chile en nogada at La Casita Mexicana in Bell, CA, will not suffice.