Saturday, July 31, 2010

Los Angeles: LA Street Food Festival

Street food. Some might call it a ritual of the less evolved. An uncivilized relic.

Whatever the appeal - perhaps convenience, or thrift; or maybe it’s the Mexican blood in my clogging Mexican arteries - there’s an unconscious instinct to seek satisfaction in the presence of sizzle. A desire to marinate shirt threads in the smell of pork belly smoke. An urge to savor the traces of corn on my fingers long after the tacos are gone.

And while its current popularity actually lies in its modernist aesthetics: food for food’s sake - neglectful of linen napkins, devoid of both silverware and reservations - that street food still exists reveals something important about our primitive nature: that when it comes to food, how we choose to eat it remains largely unchanged.

After all, eating on your feet in close proximity of the prey is primal. Minus the killing that you took no part in.

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Six thousand fans of primitive eating took to the Pasadena Rose Bowl for the Los Angeles Street Food Festival on July 24. A sold out event, the festival featured over sixty vendors, representing all culinary walks of life.

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(Upper right: Komodo’s miso beef skewer)

While all-inclusive general admission tickets were sold for $45, and extra $20 got you VIP status, granting you an hour’s early entry and first dibs through shorter lines and a closer parking space. Unfortunately, there were too many VIP tickets sold and lines to enter were still massive enough to cut into the “early entry.”

Food trucks were absent from the event in order to minimize lines.

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Notable dishes include Chef Susan Feniger’s Green Corn Tamale from Border Grill (above), which while not as first as the usual tamale, was sweet and fresh with bits of cooked kernels present in the masa.

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Cupcakes-a-Gogo’s tiny red velvets were a popular vanishing act - a rich and moist bite(top). Singha (center, bottom) was on-site with unlimited servings of its Thai beer to pair with such notables as Tamales Elena’s Strawberry Tamale (left, bottom).

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Above:The Dim Sum truck set up two stands - one for dumplings, the other for other dim sum delights which included vegan sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf.

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The event included a cook-off judged by various celebrities, including Top Chef Master contestant Susan Feniger, former Church & State Chef Walter Manzke (top center).

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Above: Malo’s fried taco with chips was an uneventful combination unaccustomed to their usual fare. Bottom right: The Vegan Joint’s thai curry and papaya salad was both a generous and tasty serving, which made it one of the event’s highlights.

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Below, top right: Fresh Fries’ sweet potatoes fries with nutella and peanut butter were unexpectedly crispy for this type of event.

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Above: The event included an ice cream social which featured Coolhaus’ ice cream sandwiches, as well as the Natura Juice bar and organic Strawberry Mint juice bars from Pop Art’s popsicle stand.

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Dogzilla’s Japanese hotdogs were also among the long line show stoppers (above). Below: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announces the winners of the event.

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Above: Mochica’s tiny bites were among the best tasting dishes - the lack of obvious signage on their part, meant that those who knew, enjoyed various servings. Bottom right: The Mandoline Grill’s Banh Mi proved to be a good serving of vinegary Vietnamese and well seasoned beef.

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Above: Along with Chef Feniger and Mayor Villaraigosa, Grey’s Anatomy’s Jesse Williams and Street Gourmet LA blogger Bill Esparza were among the event’s judges.

While it is far-fetched to suppose that one truly gets their seventy dollar’s worth at an event like the LA Street Food Festival, knowing that some of the money went to charity more than justifies the experience. In the end, the chance to congregate in the name of good food is worthwhile. The chance to celebrate food’s persistence on the street, legendary.

http://lastreetfoodfest.com/

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kous Kous, Hillcrest

Finding parking space is the only occasion in which most people head south on upper 4th Ave. in Hillcrest. After all, aside from hair salons and the popular bakery Bread and Cie, there isn’t much there for most of us.

For this reason, it is easy not to notice the 1980’s Miami motif white building with equally white railing that downstairs houses the Moroccan enclave known as Kous Kous.

Inside you’ll enter a world unlike the rest of Hillcrest - a collection of hanging tapestries and stained glass light fixtures which, like the downtempo world music being played, float above dining tables and chairs flanked by couches and cushions, reflecting a world with a wider color palette than our own.

Visually, Kous Kous is a getaway.

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Specializing in tagines, Kous Kous’ Moroccan cuisine serves a variety of slow cooked stews, including seafood, beef and vegetarian options. While wine is served, Moroccan mint tea seemed apropos.

For starters, (not pictured) the B’stila roll was a flavorful chicken stuffed phyllo pastry. Light and flaky, the roll offered a good combination of savory and sweet, covered in honey cinnamon almonds.

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The lamb shank tagine also captures Kous Kous’ efforts to blend the sweet and the savory, served as a hearty dish bathed in caramelized fruit and honey sauce. Entrees include the choice of cous cous or garlic mashed potatoes.

In addition to tagines, Kous Kous offers grilled entrees. The ahi tuna brochettes with garlic mashed potatoes were mostly moist and clean tasting, served on a bed of small cut of cucumbers and other vegetables. Overall, the light tastes of the tuna worked well with the peppery taste of the garlic potatoes.

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Lunch is cheap at Kous Kous with most plates under $10. At dinner, pictured above, entrees cost twice as much.

But even at $16-$20, Kous Kous not only offers a flavorful combination of sweet and savory spices, it also offers an unlikely escape into another world. And it’s only downstairs.

Kous Kous Moroccan Bistro

3940 4th Avenue

San Diego, CA 92103

(619) 295-5560

http://kouskousrestaurant.com/

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Los Angeles: Malo (Brunch edition)

Certainly, it takes some kind of confidence to decide to name your restaurant Malo - it’s an all too easy self-set trap into a perhaps all-too-predictable pun. It’s someone really asking for it.
Lucky for them, Malo doesn’t live up to its namesake. It’s not great - service, even when business is slow, can be sluggish.
Where Malo does thrive is in its edginess. Dark and sparsely decorated, Malo forgoes the stereotypes of what it means to be a Mexican restaurant. Its menu also reflects a whimsical point of view with such dishes as the Gavacho’s breakfast and the “Buttermilk and Queso Fresco pancakes.” Unexpected touches make Malo worthy of one’s attention.
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Above, right: Coffee drinks include the iced tres leches coffee and the dulce de leche cappucino.
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Brunch dishes can be hard to choose if you’re looking to try something different - bacon and cheddar pancakes and the mango and queso fresco pancakes look promising. The mango and banana French toast (pictured above) are made with bolillo rolls daisy chained together. While simple, the dish was both light and sweet (8).
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If you’re looking for comfort food, Malo’s pozole poached eggs is the cure for both hunger and hangover. A the bottom of the skillet you’ll find a layer of cheese and tortillas in pozole broth topped with chicken, hominy and poached eggs (7).
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In the Silverlake area, Malo abides by LA standards, offering a vegan option and soy-rizo to boot. Prices for brunch are reasonable with no dish over 11 dollars, which is ideal considering portions are on the light side.
Malo Restaurant
4326 W Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles Ca 90029
http://malorestaurant.com/