Monday, September 30, 2013

You Say Caipirinha And I Say…Actually I Have No Idea (But I’m Not The Only One)

I had a quick trip to LA last (last) week to visit D(aughter). I ate at some amazing places AND went on a really cool ride.

Border Grill was one of our stops. Does anybody remember Two Hot Tamales from the early days of the Food Network? Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken have become super-successful restaurateurs, cookbook authors and occasional television chefs. That’s all well and good, but what I cared about was the food on my plate, not all their other projects. And, lucky for me, it was fabulous!

I loved our hostess, who looked like she was a Project Runway prospect (as a designer…although she could have been a model too.) I loved our waiter who had a thick Spanish accent and a heavy duty pompadour with lots of jewelry on every possible digit. But the tacos! THE TACOS!

Maybe if you live in Los Angeles, you just accept first class tacos as a right and not a privilege, but for this East Coaster they were pretty close to perfect.  

I ordered the Tacos De Camarón, which were 3 baby (maybe toddler-size, actually) freshly made, perfectly crisp (and not oily) tacos, filled with heavily grilled shrimp. I could really taste the wood they were grilled over. They were topped with avocados, pickled onions and a little aioli sumpin’ sumpin’. The menu says there was Mango Slaw, which I have no memory of, but I bet it was good! The beans and rice (TWO kinds) would have been good enough on their own.

Tacos De Camarón

Tacos De Camarón
All in all, it was a pretty great lunch outside in the Los Angeles sunshine, where thankfully their 90 degree heat wave had passed.

D and I went to Wokcano for a great dinner one night. We had a cozy booth and a lovely server. Does living in that (mostly) perfect climate make everyone nicer or are they just happy when they see me applauding the cocktail list? Speaking of which, we had DEE-LICIOUS Pear Martini. SO GOOD! 

Pear Martinis
We ordered a lot, because I wanted D to take it home.

The Peking Duck Wrap SOUNDED so good. It turned out to be an unattractively chubby roll with lots of not terribly tasty duck inside. It should have been moister and a shmeer of hoisin sauce on the inside (it WAS served separately) would have gone a long way in helping the situation. But it was just too big and pudgy. 

D loves Shisito Peppers, so they were all hers.

                    Shisito Peppers
The Honey Walnut Shrimp was divine. Tender shrimp, crisp walnuts and a not-too-anything (salty…sweet or gloppy) sauce. It was just right. 

Honey Walnut Shrimp
The Black Pearl Roll is my favorite kind of garbage sushi. I say that with affection. Anytime you can stick something deep-fried in a rice and seaweed roll, I’m all for it. Actually this Salmon, Tuna, Yellowtail AND Cream Cheese Roll, which was DEEP-FRIED in a tempura batter and then topped with black sesame and garlic BUTTER, may have been a bit much even for me. But the good news is you can eat one or two pieces and then take the rest home.

Black Pearl Roll
The Red Dragon Roll was bit more restrained, but still completely delicious. It was a Spicy Tuna Roll topped with Fresh Tuna and a Tempura Crunch, which not overwhelmingly heavy.  

Red Dragon Roll
Wokcano’s Ginger Crème Brûlée was an excellent rendition. The ginger provided a nice accent flavor after the heavy duty sushi. I did think the foil cup packed inside the white mini soufflé dish was a bit odd. I don’t think I’ve EVER seen that in a restaurant, much less a pretty pricey one

Ginger Crème Brûlée
We had a great time at The Edendale with D’s S(ignificant) O(ther). I stuck with an appetizer for dinner - New Mexico Green Chile Stew. Oh my, it was so complex and flavorful and just the right amount of spicy. I’m not sure I really appreciated the “real High-Mountain Velarde Green Chiles” (as opposed to fake ones?). But, apparently, that’s an enchanting place in New Mexico.

The menu mentioned that the stew was cooked in a carrot/potato/onion stock. That’s noteworthy because it shows that they took the time to make a flavorful stock of just vegetables. (There was meat in the dish, but I guess they didn’t want to overpower those amazing chiles with a meat stock.) Interestingly, vegetable stock is the ONLY stock that you would add potatoes to and salt too for that matter (at the beginning of the cooking). You can skip the potatoes, but they really give it body. So think about throwing in a chopped potato or two, scrubbed skin and all, the next time you make vegetable stock.

The fried bread quelque chose that came with the stew was crisp, warm and good! I was told that the Green Tea Tataki (seared sesame-ginger crusted ahi with green tea soba noodles in a shitake-soy broth) was fresh and light. (It looked a little too green for me.)

Green Tea Tataki
Please don’t ask me what these dishes were, because I can’t remember, but they look darned good.  

I want to get to the fun, which came with the cocktails. Not the drinking…but the ordering. D and SO ordered regular, whatever-they-were drinks. I ordered a Caipirinha. But tell me the truth, don’t you always feel a little insecure ordering that? Not because you’re not sure what’s IN it, but because you’re not sure how to SAY it.

Anyhoo, I told the gentleman taking the drink orders that I wanted a Caipirinha and asked if he had any guidance on how to pronounce it. He didn’t have any advice, but said he would make inquiries. 

When he came back, he said no one knew how to pronounce it, but they COULD make it. Another server brought all the cocktails over and handed out the others first. She said, “You have the Dark and Stormy and you have the Whatever and THIS LAST ONE is for you,” putting my Caipirinha in front of me. I said, “Wait a second. Were you being tricky and doing that just so you wouldn’t have to pronounce Caipirinha?” She said YES and admitted she had no clue how to say it. The manager finally got involved and he came out with a big smile and said, “It’s Kai-peer-reen-yuh,” which IS kind of what I said at the beginning, but never mind! I still never feel confident saying it. And I dare you to pronounce the liquor it’s made from - Cachaça! Look here how to pronounce Caipirinha and Cachaça. (I know I’ll forget before I have to say either again.)

Two more lovely meals:

We took a little trip south to Newport Beach and Balboa Bay. We drove over a tiny little bridge that led to the charming main street of Balboa Island. We went a block or two (the whole island is only 3 blocks wide!) and made a right turn and followed signs to our ultimate destination – the ferry, which goes from Balboa Island to what’s called the Peninsula, where the actual beach of Newport Beach is!  

But, first, D found the last parking spot on the island and we stopped for a late breakfast at the Park Ave Cafe. D had the Huevos Rancheros and I went with the Park Ave Omelette.

Huevos Rancheros
Park Ave Omelette

The place was adorable with outside tables and several dog-loving customers (with best friends in tow). The whole island has a casual, friendly kind of Cape Cod ambiance. Nothing fancy, just easy breezy. I was surprised to learn that it has some of the most expensive real estate in the country. I guess when you have such a beautiful setting, everyone wants a piece of it.

We walked the block or two to the ferry and walked right on to a kind of floating metal platform surrounded with iron benches and with room for 2 cars (back to back) in the middle. We crossed the harbor in three minutes with a teenager collecting a dollar bill from each passenger. It was absolutely the greatest. No fuss, no waiting, no drama. I could have ridden back and forth all day and, believe me, I am the opposite of a boat person.

Plus the ferry ride really was THREE MINUTES LONG. It has GOT to be the shortest ferry ride in the world!

Over on the Peninsula, there’s a lot of boardwalk type stuff, including a giant inflatable shark you can ride (or get eaten by, I’m not sure) and a Ferris Wheel with the longest ride in the world. I think that’s probably a reason NOT to go on it…but it looks picturesque! 

By the way, I had no idea that Balboa Island figured in Arrested Development and so did their famous Frozen Bananas. We had already had ice cream by the time we came across the first Frozen Banana stand.

Then we walked about two blocks away from the harbor and, low and behold, we came to a huge pier and a huger beach, which is the official Newport Beach.  

Newport Beach
If you go to the extreme east end of Balboa Peninsula, there’s a surfing beach called The Wedge. We didn’t have time to see it, but people say it looks like Hawaii. Next time!
The Pier at Newport Beach

We returned to our ferry spot and (without waiting) got on another ferry to take us back to Balboa Island and the car. It was another great blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ride. I could have a spent a week (even a month) on Balboa Island, but it was time to go back to the big city.

We had one more extraordinary meal. Actually, the meal WAS good…but it was the surroundings which were extraordinary. El Conquistador was billed by D and SO as a gay Mexican restaurant. I’ve never had Gay Mexican food before, so I was excited to try it. ;-) I soon learned it wasn’t the FOOD that was gay, it was the atmosphere! It was extremely lively, friendly and warm. Oh, and the owners and many of the staff and customers do happen to be gay. I made friends with the Major Domo and he brought us extra Pico de Gallo, which WAS superb. 

I loved the whole thing. It was decorated…No, that’s not the right word. The decor looked as if it had evolved and come together over many decades. Is this what nightclubs in Cuba looked like in the 50’s? 



The guacamole was perfect. 

Why have I never thought to garnish it with a few olives? It was a nice combo. I had the mole with dark meat chicken - Gallina En Mole. Really good! 

SO had Camarones with a nicely spiced ranchero sauce.

D had (unphotographed) Tacos. Not sure why…about the photo, not about ordering the tacos, which was completely understandable.

The bad news is that El Conquistador, which has been in that same spot since 1973, is closing at the end of December, with one more New Year’s bash. There are new building owners, a huge increase in rent and so on. It’s a real shame. It makes me want to support local restaurants (and businesses) even more.

So LA was fun. There is a world of great food there. People always talk about the pesky natural (and not) disasters that are abundant in those parts. But the weather, when it’s not earthquaking, flooding, mudsliding or fire-ing IS amazing. And I’ve always found that a great cocktail, mole or ferry ride can take one’s mind off the risk of impending doom and gloom.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great trip -- and like your daughter won't need to buy food for weeks!

Sue said...

True, Tom! And I felt like I didn't need to EAT for weeks...although somehow that wore off...

Emily said...

Haha, Tom's right - she won't need to do any cooking! Everything looks so good. Especially the tacos/Mexican food. I watch the Two Tamale ladies on The Talk quite a bit. They're on there quite a bit.

I want to go to LA! It looks so pretty!