Let me take this first post in almost one month to deliver some pertinent upcoming event news. It’s now summer and thus, event season, here in sunny Southern California. Now that I’ve somewhat psychologically recovered from a huge picture-data dump from spilling a homemade cocktail all over my non-backed-up laptop, I’m finally ready to move into this crazy part of the year.
So here’s a rebirth of sorts; it’s an intentional start to the summer by tallying up the essential food events continuing into the fall (L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade is in September). One focuses on cocktails. One focuses on tacos. One focuses on ribs. Three are on the same day; thus, yes – I do wish that these were spread out, more. But practically all of them feature world-class chefs. So without further adieu, here’s where you need to be this summer:
You might be acquainted with Coni’Seafood, and maybe even Chef Sergio Penuelas’ former affiliation with Mariscos Chente. You probably have had their pescado zarandeado (grilled snook), and most certainly their raw preparations such as the Shrimp aguachiles. If you were ever aware of the need for one, it has become your go-to spot for Sinaloan specialties – right in Inglewood.
If the former Playa Rivera, as it stood on Beverly Boulevard, offered a somewhat intimidating Mexi-China concept for the price point at which it met its clientele, then perhaps Petty Cash Taqueria will benefit from all the lessons learnt. The menu is streamlined straight toward Baja, peppered with a beverage selection fit to satisfy the fussiest drinkers in LA. While quality ingredients are in the picture, that doesn’t begin to describe how well the tacos and flavor combinations are executed.
After all, who else would show the people of Hancock Park that a charred octopus taco is always what they’ve wanted?
The food festival circuit is a doozy, these days. And with how exhausting each event is, it’s easy to fatigue early on. There’s dealing with the line wait in front of the popular stands, but there’s also the prioritizing that goes on to ensure you’re getting the good stuff before you get full. The sold-out Tacolandia stood to be no different.
I remember the anticipation we all felt when the Baja chefs came to Street Food Fest at the Rose Bowl in the summer of 2011. It was just the ingredient needed to take the festival to a new level. Not only would we be having access to some of the best street food in LA at one place, we’d also be experiencing the best of Baja.
Thanks to Reverse Coyote Bill Esparza, there’s been quite a bit of sharing going on across the California-Mexico border. We Angelenos get to reap the benefits at Playa, the playground of Sedlar’s latest experimentation. As he is currently changing the menus here, we’ll get to go straight to the sources of his inspiration thanks to this series.
Cue the installment going on now, starting with Sabina Bandera Gonzales of La Guerrerense, who will be cooking with Chef Sedlar now until tomorrow, Tuesday, September 18th – though the menus for each installment will actually be available all week long. Sabina brings dishes her top seafood stand seasoned with a variety of unique salsas. A la carte menu items are $5-$18 and include:
With my 9 to 5 located west of Miracle Mile, I’ve had more than my fair share of lunch option challenges. Though many scoff at the food truck phenomenon that seems to never run out of steam, it’s actually been the first silver liningÂ I’ve had since I’ve resigned to witnessing the vast majority of my coworkers with Trimana sandwichesÂ at their desks around noontime.
Thanks to Pat of Eating LA for the tip-off on Tinga on La Brea and thanks to Blackboard Eats for offering their dine-in only lunch 30%-off code last week. Well, I’ve still yet to use it, since I’ve been theÂ take-awayÂ supplier to a coupleÂ coworkersÂ weaning themselves off tuna salad.Â (Proof that Blackboard Eats PR works?)
However, the memory of a particular taco plate compostable cardboard box ($7-9 for two tacos and chips) will forever be a chapter in my book of office follies, and the Cochinita Pibil tacos are to blame. Or thank. The advice I can offer here is to, upon finishing both theseÂ tacos, go to the bathroom and wash your hands five times. Do not rub your nose with your cross-contaminated, salsa-stained forehand. Do notÂ wipeÂ your forehead, either. Do not pass Go. Not quite sure where that salsa is? A tingling sensation (dubbed: The Tinga Tingle)Â on any given extremity will tell you for sure. But like I said, best wash your hands in case your curiosity does not feel the need to be satiated. Put it in your stomach, instead.
My upper lip and the skin lining my nostrilsÂ burned til 4 o’clock.
The ego behind my heat-bearing palate became even more defeated when, after doing a search, I found Jonathan Gold made no mention of this salsa when he mentioned these very tacos in his write-up back in September. No matter. Egos aside, deliciousness typically transcends pure heat. I take that back:Â Bearable heat, anyway, because that burning sensation on my face for the duration of the afternoon sure was distracting.
But I digress I’m beating the dead horse. The other favorite pork dish on their menu was definitely the Grilled Cumin & Garlic Rubbed Pork Loin Tacos ($6.50), served with pepper jack cheese, pasillas and salsa. The Flat Iron Steak Tacos ($8.50) came in chipotle tortillas and topped with tomato avocado relish, “dog snout” salsa, pickled red onions, queso fresco and lime chipotle Escabeche. The strips of steak were really the best cuts I’ve had of anyÂ fresh mex in memory.
And the quesadilla was amazingly still crisp by the time it got to our destination. The goat cheese melted with chorizo in a quesadilla is perhaps blasphemous to the most diehard of diehards but a nonetheless a brilliant combination. Though I’ve yet to try many of the sides, the Arroz Con Crema ($5) came deliciously roasted and coveredÂ with a not-too-sweet cream. Lime juice is to thank for its twist and tang.
Next up: The Dirty Horchata, or horchata with a shot of espresso in it. I’m guessing it’ll be the refreshment to accompany my first dine-in experience at Tinga. There are plenty of other menu selections I’m dying to try, so I’m certainly looking forward to the next adventure a glass of that stuff will be washing down.
Though I’m loath to call Tinga “Fresh Mex,” I think I’m already too late. I apologize for the Baja Fresh associations, because Tinga is so much, much more than that. Their food is creative, colorful and best of all, absolutely delicious. It’s a welcome departure from the $1 tacos of York and Breed Street because they’re not even in the same class. Contemporary decor, check. Compostable wares, check. This is Fresh Mex worth appreciating.
All taco plates come with 2 tacos and chips.
Tinga 142 S. La Brea Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90036 323.954.9566
I have to say, I’m burnt out on Halloween. I buckle under the pressure of coming up with The Most Original Costume in the World. It stresses me out. My most original and relevant costume to date (an underaged Chinese gymnast) is two years old and even survived my recent move as a souvenir of brilliance, but alas, its 2008 Olympics relevance hasÂ ceded long ago. It’s not a costume you can “raise from the dead,”Â or the confines of myÂ closet.
Costume stressesÂ areÂ cause to look at a different holiday to celebrate – one, perhaps, that entails one theme. DÃa de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday that occurs on November 2nd every year, the day after Day of the Innocents. Look at it this way:Â There are less grueling (i.e. not dressing up as a sexy something) ways to celebrate the end of October while honoring our ancestors – and do how Mexicans and Mexican Americans do.
And after you emerge from those pages with a new “To Eat” memoÂ in your BlackBerry, you may as well add to that a “To Attend” memo with these DÃa de los Muertos events happening around town over the weekend and thereafter. Dress code? Calaca, if you dare. (See – I need these things decided for me.)Â
Novenario Processions (Night Processions)on Olvera Street – Nightly, now through Tuesday, November 2, 2010: 7 PM
Catch the nightly, sightly pre-ColumbianÂ parade starting at Olvera Street Gallery entrance. After each procession,Â free Pan du Muerto (bread of the dead) and Champurrado (warm, thickÂ chocolate drink with masa) will be served. Free. Metro stop: Union Station. Website
DÃa de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever CemeteryÂ – Saturday, October 30, 2010: 12 PM – 2 AM
Enjoy altar exhibits, processionals, Aztec Dancers, art, BalletÂ Folklorico performances, live music and more in the most appropriate site for a celebration honoring the dead.Â Guelaguetza will be on-site with their awesome Oaxacan food. La Monarca Bakery will be selling their specialty Pan du MuertoÂ Metro as well as organic Oaxacan coffee, Mexican cookies, and bunuelos (Spanish fritters). $10 admission. MetroÂ stop: Red Line – Hollywood/Vine. Website
Street Food Monday is back. And for tonight’s installment, it has relocated to Test Kitchen in West LA. This one is especially exciting because contemporary Sinaloan and Nayaritan cuisine from Mariscos Chente’s will be served in anticipation of the opening of a future location. Sergio Penuelas, who was born in Los Mochis, Sinaloa has over 15 years experience cooking Nayaritan cuisine.
Tonight’s guests will get to enjoy his Pescado Zarandeado. Snook is butterflied and cooked over a mesquite grill. It’s a deliciously tender preparation incorporating chile and garlic. And here’s the full menu of what you can be expecting tonight – all for $35:
Tostaditas(3): Ceviche de Camaron, Pate de Marlin, Aguachile Rojo
Albondigas de Camaron: Soup with shrimp balls
Taco Gobernador: Shrimp taco with cheese
Mignon de Camaron: Grilled shrimpfillet
Pescado Zarandeado: Grilled whole fish served family style
Capirotada: Mexican bread pudding
So be sure to make your online reservation ASAP. Tonight is a great chance to get a real taste of Sinaloan and Nayaritan food. I had a visit recently to their Inglewood location, which is owned by Connie Cossio and which I can’t sing enough praises about. I would definitely attend tonight if I weren’t out of town right now!
In celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day tomorrow, Malo in Silver Lake will be featuring specials both at the bar and for dinner. The limited edition menu is a great occasion to celebrate Mexico’s independence with some unique cocktails – or, if you prefer, beer and tequila and special dishes created just for the night.
If are vegetarian or have vegetarian friends, this is also a great spot. Get the chewy or regular chips to dip in all of their delicious salsas and their special-to-tomorrow “Ghost Chile” salsaÂ to startÂ – great for everyone. Then finish off with some refried bean tostadas or braised beef with chile and cotija cheese. The crabmeat dish also sounds rather divine!
Check below for the full menu:
El Valiente Can of Tecate with a shot of Milagro Silver $6
El Grito de Delores (The Battle) Strawberry Mint Margarita $11
La Guerra (The Figther) Cactus Prickly Pear Margarita $12
â€˜Ghost Chileâ€™ Salsa and chips. Made from the Bhut Jolokia, (the hottest pepper in the world) with Grilled Tomatoes and Roast Garlic. $4
Mini Refried Black Bean Tostadas with Pico de Gallo and Tomatillo Crema (2) $5
Vegetarian Mashed Black Beans on Crispy Corn Tortilla Shells. $5
Beef Machaca Hard Shell Tacos with Salsa de Chile Chipotle Morita (2). $7
Braised Beef Cooked with Chile and Spices, then Shredded. With Cotija Cheese. $7
Red Chile Crab Salpicon on Cucumber Cups with Fresh Habanero Salsa (4). $10
Crabmeat mixed with chopped Chile, Cilantro, Lime Juice, and Escabeche Carrot. $10
Recently, I had the privilege of attending a blogger dinner held at Rivera in Downtown LA to preview the new menu, a new concept that combines three categories of Chef John Sedlar’s interpretations of Latin cuisines. Sangre encompasses dishes inspired by the Iberian roots of Latin cooking, Samba is comprised of those with South American, Central American, and Caribbean influences and the Playa Bar menu incorporates seafood-themed cuisine inspired by Mexico. Each of them are served in specific dining rooms in Rivera and come complete with “sound bites,” or the explanations and history behindÂ each dish.Â The Conexiones menu is the main menu that is served throughout the restaurant and, overall, emphasizes the connection between those Latin roots and our city. Local Californian ingredients are used, giving each dish its unique flair and that fresh, home-grown touch.
In an interactive spin that’s brand new at Rivera (and probably anywhere), diners who want to know more about particular dishes are directed by the menus to call 1-310-464-6884 and follow the prompts to hear Angeleno Magazine’s 2009 Chef of the Year Chef Sedlar personally explain the history and preparation of each selected dish.
There was a seemingly endless stream of dishes that came in threes this night, and while Chef Sedlar’s cooking is always exciting, I’ll prioritize detailing dishes that topped my list and save you the 15 dish-long play-by-play.
My first and secondÂ favorites hail from the small plates menu.Â I’ve always been a fan of gazpacho, and if this is “traditional” then perhaps I’ve been missing the execution in so many others. I loved that it made with golden tomatoes, decidedly sweeter than any orange variety I’ve had.Â I really enjoyed this cold butÂ indulgentÂ soup. It was interesting to recall the colors as I learned later (through the press release, but diners will learn by calling the number) that before Columbus, gazpacho was white, not red, because it did not yet contain the fruits of the New World: Tomatoes and peppers. The Flan de Elote ($11)Â was another elegantly simple – and sweet – dish, with a light corn custard topped by black quinoa and dressed with squash blossom sauce.