Sunday, February 21, 2010

Turtles and Massage Towels

There is something so awesome(ly bad) about this photo: turtles and massage towels, conveniently for sale together? Gotta love Chinatown and all the odd juxtapositions.

Lady Fish Paste, and Other Delectable Chinatown Treats

We went to Chinatown today (as you know by now, from all the other blog entries) and I couldn't help but be entertained by some of the food offerings.

Why do I NOT want to eat "Lady Fish Paste"? And I love that when I google the term, it returns no "hits" referring to the company or what the heck LFP is. No, the only results for "Lady Fish Paste" are internet references to people like me who saw the sign in Chinatown did a double take.

This is a sign that I've seen frequently. I'm pretty sure it's for ginseng or something, but there's something obviously phallic about the image. And the bird- what's that supposed to symbolize? Perhaps it's a sign for a Chinese herbal Viagra or something.

Then there is the ubiquitous Boba. If you have been living under a rock (or in Binghamton, NY), you might not know that Boba is a wildly popular drink with tapioca balls at the bottom. These you suck up with an over-sized straw until they lodge in your throat. As much as I want to dislike this over-priced gimmick, I do confess to longing for a cold boba on a hot day downtown. It might have replaced horchata as my fave DT thirst quencher.
But which flavor? Red Bean? Jello in Syrup? Perhaps, Mung Bean?? I'll be a gringo and go for the mocha, thanks. Yummy.

At the LA Street Food Fest last weekend, we discovered Banh Mi, which is just a Vietnamese baguette sandwich (sometimes called a "Saigon Sub"). But banh mi can be filled with all sorts of fun treats. However, I don't think I'd like to sign up for the "pork & skin slices sandwich." Although I bet it is really tasty.

And, finally, because I apparently suffer from a fourth grade sense of humor, on our next visit we may actually get some banh mi from the My Dung cafe. Just cuz it's awesome.

Dead Pet Return Policy?

We were in Chinatown today, walking past a "pet store," when I had to stick my head in. We'd seen so many funky animals for sale, as food, that I was curious what qualified as a "pet" in this community.

I came upon the shopkeeper talking SO FREAKING LOUD to this very old woman. She was gesticulating at one of the glass cages, one full of baby chicks for sale for $2.50.

Apparently the older woman had purchased two chicks (not sure if these were meant to be snuggled with, or raised for eating?) and one of them was now dead(ish).

Loud Lady was explaining to Old Lady something about the wings being too cold. Or too hot? Something about how it was Old Lady's fault the bird was dead(ish) because she let it get too cold (hot?) But Old Lady kept saying that Other Bird was fine, and wanted to return Dead(ish) Bird. It was all creepy, though, and I was glad we weren't heading to lunch.

Superior Poultry, Chinatown

I've often driven by this great storefront in Chinatown, with the big chicken top, and I'd heard that Superior Poultry was THE place to get the freshest chicken in LA. So today I decided to stop in and see what the deal was.

Upon entering the place, you are immediately struck by the fact that it is just a cavernous room with a cement floor, conveniently fitted with a floor drain and a huge hose. And lots of crates stacked against one wall. Why no pics, you ask? Because the Chinese lady working the window went crazy and started barking at me when she saw me taking photos. Then she sent out a burly Latina woman to tell me, in English, that photos weren't allowed. OK . . .

So basically these are the freshest birds in town because . . . if you are a chicken and you see this doorway before you, that is a BAD sign. You see, the birds at Superior Poultry in Chinatown are pretty much slaughtered-to-order.
As we walked outside we heard a distinct cacophony of quackery coming from the adjacent loading area. So weird to think of all that livestock (do chickens count as "livestock"?) hanging out in the middle of urban Chinatown.

The menu (written in English and Spanish- the clientele at Superior was amazingly diverse. I guess everyone loves chicken, right?) had interesting offerings: white chickens, ducks, squabs, brown chickens(?), chukars(?), rabbits, bone, old chickens(?), quail, silkies(?), white meat, B chickens(?) and Vietnamese chickens.

Given that I had pissed off Burly Latina Lady AND Barking Chinese Lady, I didn't get a lot of questions in. However, I did find out that a "silky" is a chicken with white feathers and black skin, that looks like this. So cute! So cute, in fact, that I doubt I would be able to pick one for slaughter when they led me in the back to pick out my dinner.

What about a chukar? Also too fluffy and sweet to feel good about dining on. Somehow I'd feel better about dining on "B chicken" or, better yet, "old chicken." Scratch that, how about just "bones"!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

1st Annual L.A. Street Food Fest!

While we were living in NY, something exciting was happening in LA. Confined to Internet media and podcasts of LA public radio, I could follow the phenomena but couldn't, well, taste it: a massive proliferation of street food trucks!

This new generation of street food was not the taco trucks of the 1990s. Beloved as they are, food trucks in past couple of years- aided by technology (i.e., using Twitter to allow people to follow/find the trucks) and fueled by massive unemployment, particularly among the creative class- have come into their own. The interesting thing about this movement is that it started in the streets, with the "roach coach" of Home Depot parking lots and construction sites, and has expanded to included decidedly upscale offerings. The best example is probably Ludo Bites, the boneless fried chicken trucks started by Ludo Lefebvre, formerly Executive Chef at L'Orangerie and Bastide, and no slouch in the "fancy cooking for rich people" department.

When I caught wind of the First Annual L.A. Street Food Fest, held this Saturday downtown, I thought I'd willed it into being: a gathering of over 30 food trucks (which have been escaping me since our return to LA because I don't live in a cool place like Silver Lake where they always seem to be parked) on the grounds of Downtown's under-appreciated (Mad Men is filmed there!) Los Angeles Center Studios film production facility (former Unocal oil company headquarters).

With gorgeous weather, a mere $5 entry fee, and all-the-food-trucks-you'd-ever-want-in-one-site, I had a feeling this party was going to be ON. It went from 11-5pm, and I was determined to be there when the doors opened. Which was a good thing, because we arrived before 11 am and did not get in until after NOON! The line to enter was blocks and blocks and blocks long. At around 2 pm, the Fire Marshall arrived and was none too happy. They stopped admitting people and thousands were turned away. For those of us inside, the lines for the individual trucks were super-long, too.

However, we were with a dozen friends who we'd lured to join us, and everyone fanned out and gathered food for the group, so we ended up tasting many more things than we had to wait in line for. That said, we waited in line for those Ludo Bites for . . . ready? TWO HOURS. Then, guess what? We put in our order and had to come back . . . several times . . . for a total wait of . . . THREE HOURS FORTY FIVE MINUTES. Really, though, the day was so nice, I started referring to the "line" as a "linear party." We made friends, it wasn't like being at the DMV . . .

For anyone who wants a play-by-play of the day, and you are NOT required to care, here's how it went down, in detail:

10:40: arrive at parking lot, 4th/Boylston
10:55 arrive at end of massively long line to get into the event (which is set to start at 11 am)
12:00 finally get into gates of event (great to give us time to all meet up!)

12-1 pm: my awesome friends fan out and "gather" for the group, so we taste like 5 things quickly: e.g., Vietnamese lemongrass chicken on baguette, pulled pork sandwich (Luau something?), brisket sandwich w/kim chi, pulled pork on polenta (from Gastrobus- a yellow school bus looking truck, that was maybe the best thing we ate all day).

1pm: bellies full of all that early food, we got in the longest line, thinking "how long can it take, an HOUR?" . . . at THREE pm, 2 full hours later, we were granted the luxury of putting in our order at Ludo Bites. They were only selling fried chicken. Whatever. We were given a numbered ticket (no, Leann, it did not contain lottery numbers) and told to "come back in 45 minutes." WTF? I've been in line for TWO HOURS already? So I came back in 45 minutes. Number wasn't even close to coming up. They said "come back in 30 minutes" . . . you get the idea.

[around 2pm they stopped letting people in, and around 2:45 a guy with a bull horn went to the stalled line outside and told people to just give up and go home, the Fire Marshall was not pleased]

3:30: John orders a Croque Monsieur from an egg place and when he goes back 20 minutes later to pick it up, he is stymied by the Health Inspector who had his thermometer poked in some food. Needless to say, we were refunded our $ and didn't get the CM because they got shut down. But made sure to let John know where they'd be located that evening (hmmmmm . . . salmonella, anyone?)

4:45: We didn't get the food until 4:45. Yes, 3 hours, 45 minutes after the process started. I was prepared to hate the food but guess what? That stuff was AMAZING. Two huge pieces of super juicy chicken in some sort of rosemary crust with a side of sweet red vaguely Asian sauce. YUM. Ludo Bites was awesome, I have to admit.

During the wait for the Ludo Bites we ended up tasting amazing red velvet chocolate chip something or other from Buttermilk (also a winner, thanks Heather- that was a LONG wait!). We also paired with John's friends and waited in line for The Grilled Cheese Truck. They ended up waiting 3 hours for the grilled cheese. We barely got our order in before 5 pm and, unlike the Ludo Bites, I don't know that the Grilled Cheese was so amazing. It was very tasty, but I could probably make something similar at home. And when have you had a "bad" grilled cheese?

Did not taste - but it looked awesome- the Dogzilla, which is "Japanese style hot dog" - but is a hot dog with bacon and then all kinds of crazy Japanese/exotic ingredients. Looked great.

5:30: we finally left the place. We shut it down, baby!

Other Fun Bits: When I placed my order at Ludo Bites, I realized that I had actually SEEN THE VAJAYJAY of the hot blonde taking my order! Yes, it was Ludo's wife, who is a lawyer in LA and competed on The Apprentice and then did Playboy. I made a point to look at the Playboy to see if she did something classy (since she was working at a reputable, large law firm in LA) or if she showed the whole enchilada. Guess what that fame-whore did? Yup. I've seen every crevice of her. I was so tempted to joke about it with her, but didn't dare mess with the woman who held the keys to my long-waited-for fried chicken!

Downtown L.A. Art Walk/Rager

When I left L.A. for NY in 2006, we had this thing Downtown called Gallery Row. And there was this sort of "art walk" thing that happened once a month. I attended in 2005 and was encouraged by the effort, but definitely not inspired to return. There seemed to be like 100 lost souls, most of whom I knew from the Downtown community, walking dazedly among a smattering of "galleries," which seemed to be pretty disorganized and not very professional/permanent.

Flash forward to 2010, and the street scene that met my eyes last Thursday literally left me stumbling around with my mouth agape: there were thousands and thousands and thousands of people (mostly very young and not looking like patrons of the art, but that's another story) enjoying Downtown's Historic Core, which I had left a nighttime ghost town just a few years ago. The Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk has definitely matured. So much so that some of the galleries get inundated and actually close early, to avoid the rowdier patrons who tend to gather in the later part of the evening. Above is the very-sketchy corner of 5th and Main, with people packed 10-deep outside the galleries (in the ground floor of some dicey residential hotels). Amazing!!

Here is the window of my favorite Skid-Row-adjacent-hipster-dive-diner, The Nickel. They are known for their pastries, and rightfully so: the bacon doughnut gets all the press, but even in a crowded field of contenders, the red velvet cake is truly to-die-for. The above shot of their window shows some mannequin heads decorated with meringue and other tasties. So artistic AND yummy. Love that place!

But you know that your LA-street-event has truly arrived when it has its own freaky-sort-of-homeless-guy-in-a-shabby-sequin-jacket-and-resident-cat-on-shoulder. The best part was that this guy had a once-fancy-but-now-similarly-shabby car to match his coat: it looked like a vintage 1940s car (a two-sweater that was all long in the front with big front fenders) that had sequined material literally glued to (and falling off of) it.

If you ever get a chance, check out the art walk. The party can't last forever, so don't put it off too long: Second Thursday of each month, based around 5th/Main but covering many blocks along Broadway, Spring and Main between 2nd and 9th. And these days, there are lots of FOOD TRUCKS to add to the fun. Such a good time!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Awesome Holiday Cards, Volume II

Once again, my parents' holiday cards are the gift that keeps on giving. Although there weren't the humdingers of years past, here are a few more to add to the "awesome" pile:

North Dakota Snowbirds
My dad is from North Dakota, so we get a lot of awesomeness from the Old Country. My favorite category is "North Dakota Folksy" because of the overly-honest stuff people write. This card, though, is a subset of that general vein. I'm calling it North Dakota Snowbird because it is filled with people who have one foot in ND and one foot in a warmer clime, usually Arizona. These are the people who write letters that usually include references to both snowstorms and motor homes, since they spend the winter months away.

I initially noticed this card because of the hilariously bad background for what would otherwise be a lovely picture. Really? You couldn't find a nicer set for your Christmas card than two folding chairs, some 1/4 inch pile industrial carpet, and a white wall??? Bonus points because the accompanying letter includes references to the following: the sun, winter, Arizona, church, Bible, swimming pool, gardening, Palm Springs, the sun (again), pool, Fargo, flooding, medical troubles, blizzard, snow, death, rain, "the lower 48," church, canning and pickling.

Pet Cards

Really needs no commentary. Just awesome. We also received what I'm calling a "companion piece" that was a photo of three Siamese cats.

Exotic Travels
While the first of these is pretty sweet . . .

. . . this second one gave me the willies. Sorry, but it looks like an ad for a "sex tourism" package to Guinea or something. [note: photo is purposely grainy, to protect the identity of what I'm sure is a very nice old doctor friend of my dad's]