eating nonfood keeps them mean

I've been to California before.  San Jose and San Fransisco.  Never southern California - until last weekend when I flew out for a few days to meet Kris who was working from his company's Newport Beach office.  It was a nice opportunity to spend a few days without flannel pajamas in a paid-for hotel room.  Mostly, I wanted to try to find a Kogi truck.  A completely sane reason to fly halfway across the country, right?  Right.  Straight from the airport, famished, we got lost and stumbled upon the garish Trinity Broadcasting Network headquarters as well as several restaurants about to close.  It was only 10:00 on a Friday night, but I was glad to settle into a moon over my hammy at Denny's rather than spend any more time driving.  Apparently that's what LA and its surrounding expensive beachy communities are all about: creeping along in epic traffic, blind curves, slamming on one's brakes, exiting at dangerous speeds at the last possible second barely avoiding slamming the median head on, and leisurely traipsing into the roadway if you happen to be a pedestrian.  The greasy sandwich was awesome, the entire high school drama department that was eating at a nearby table was less than awesome.    

Saturday morning, we planned to get up early and head to LA in search of my taco truck.  We slept in.  Actually, I woke up at 7:00, read 40 pages from my book club selection, and went back to sleep.  Even palm trees and sun can't inspire me out of a king-sized bed with crisp sheets and a fluffy down comforter.  So I napped before noon.  We finally got ready, but then were in no way willing to wait an hour before eating.  So we hit up a drive-thru for some burgers on our way to get tacos.  It has been nine years since my last, but In-N-Out burgers are still great.  Not the best burger ever, but still a hell of a deal for a couple of bucks.  It was a bigger appetizer than necessary.  They gave us a thoughtful little "lap mat" to catch the dripping grease and ketchup which was a blessing because we were driving the boss' boss' boss' car and I'm a messy eater.  At every meal I use a pile of napkins, while Kris rarely needs one at all.

In-N-Out Burger
cheeseburger all the way
cheeseburger just ketchup & mustard
vanilla milkshake

We started on our journey toward LA with less empty stomachs, but tacos were still on my mind.  Kogi has several trucks that set up around the city, with locations updated on their website and via twitter.  Kris found a truck that would allow us to take a meandering trip down the Sunset Strip, through Beverly Hills, and Bel-Air.  We drove to Silver Lake, parked, and headed to the truck.  The guy who sold us our tacos was really helpful, incredibly nice, and gave us some restaurant recommendations we should have listened to more carefully.  He seemed genuinely happy to be working and was excited that we'd heard about what they're doing all the way in Chicago.  By far, the best service experience we had in the city.  Definitely the best food we ate too.  Well seasoned, deep but clean flavors, awesome texture, super colorful.  Dude.

All of the tacos are served on double corn tortillas with meat and:
  • sesame-chili salsa roja
  • julienne romaine lettuce and cabbage tossed in Korean chili-soy vinaigrette
  • cilantro-green onion-lime relish
  • crushed sesame seeds
  • sea salt
  • lime wedges
The quesadilla had caramelized onions, cheddar and jack cheese, spicy pork, and was bathed in salsa verde and sesame seeds.  Sitting on the wall in front of an elementary school, for $14 we had a ridiculously delicious meal with the least annoying strangers on the trip.  A guy nearby actually apologized for taking pictures of his tacos to put on facebook.  I admitted that I had already done the same and thought "these are my people!"  Sitting outside, having tracked down fresh simple food, eating with my hands.  Perfect.

Kogi Korean BBQ Tacos
spicy pork tacos
short rib tacos
black jack quesadillas

We walked off our fast-food eating marathon at the Getty.  I love art museums, but the exhibitions were totally overshadowed by the extended views, whimsical gardens, and the fun interactive architecture.  I picked up some postcards, we moseyed through the buildings, and I took way too many pictures of cacti.  At every turn we ran into the same obnoxious families.  It is free, so if I didn't believe in family planning, I suppose I'd drag my five misbehaving offspring and shopping bag-laden super stroller too.  We weren't especially hungry, so we headed to Hollywood and checked out the silliness.  A combination of homeless teenagers and black-tie clad power couples peppered the walk of fame.  Mann's Chinese Theater is underwhelming - not at all as grandiose as on television.  We thought about getting out of the car, but didn't.

Though I'd have loved to try Providence or Campanile, and should have chosen Animal or (the Kogi taco guy recommended) Hungry Cat, I picked a small wine bar with a simple menu.  Nestled into a "classy strip mall" between a laundromat and massage parlor, LOU seemed a lot better on paper (or screen) than in reality. Once inside, the decor is snazzy enough to make you forget you are probably eating in a recently closed Game Stop.  Having my favorite wallpaper doesn't exactly make up for weird service or mediocre wine...at a wine bar.  We were seated a safe distance from the few other diners and ordered pig candy (bacon brushed with sugar and cooked until caramelized, then quick frozen and served cold).  If it was warm or even room temperature, it might have been enjoyable.

Besides the Armandino Batali salumi and a ten year aged cheddar, the charcuterie plate was unremarkable.  Finally the restaurant got busy, and diners hurried through their meals at a table next to us, chatting extensively about parking issues and whether Whole Foods organic powdered cheese was better than Kraft.  The six of them split a ribeye and a salad.  That's right - one steak for six people.  I took this as a dare and ordered the ribeye for myself.  When our dinner arrived, the server switched our plates, assuming the dainty scallop dish should go to the lady, the hunk of beef to the man.  The steak was cooked perfectly, Kris' scallops too.  The mussels tasted like they'd been steamed in dirty sea water.  After eating most of the day and listening to the waitress go on about a medical ailment, we skipped dessert.

bacon candy
charcuterie and cheese platter
scallops with mussels and rice
ribeye with fingerling potatoes and brussel sprouts
unremarkable red and white wine

Sunday we headed to Long Beach for chicken and waffles, the aquarium, and a haunted tour of a big old boat.  Since the only things we'd heard about the LBC were from early-90s rap songs, we were pleasantly surprised not to run into any drama there.  We were seated quickly, ordered way too much food, and were carbing up within ten minutes.  The Waffle House style small square waffles (which I prefer to the big Belgian kind) were fluffy and covered in butter.  The chicken was good, not the best I've had.  The grits were tasty.  Kris pulled apart the chicken, put it on his waffle, and smothered them both in syrup.  I kept mine separate, but liked the combination.  A hearty, unhealthy breakfast that sustained us through the day's tourism.  Kris tried out their much-hyped (waitress t-shirts, bold type on the menu) Pit Bull energy drink, which was better than red bull, but still tasted like a canned energy drink.  

Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles
2 waffles
fried chicken - dark and white mix
pit bull energy drink

Before our trip, I skimmed food blogs, asked for suggestions via twitter, read yelp, looked through hundreds of newspaper reviews and magazine write-ups.  I'm obsessive about menu scouting, keeping to an itinerary and sticking firmly to a specific driving route.  Getting lost turns me into a wreck, so a borrowed GPS prevented a complete mental breakdown.  Kris always has confidence that we'll make it to our destination, views little diversions as adventures, and will eat anything.  A good guy to have around, especially to counteract all of my high-strung lunacy.  On my next trip, I am determined to ask for and accept more local advice.  Having a rough outline of things to do seems more reasonable than an extensive agenda.  I am slowly learning to relax, but I am not ready to embrace the laid back SoCal attitude.


Matt Payton said...

Stroud's is your favorite fried chicken? Have you never been to Popeye's?

By the way, I'm listening to the album Perfect From Now On and enjoying it!

allison said...

Ha! Glad you're liking built to spill.

Lou Wine Bar said...

Sorry you thought my restaurant was so shitty.

Game Stop? You certainly have no clue as to how to read a city. On the other hand, I'd never claim that LA is that easy to read. Game Stop is far too upscale a business to appear anywhere near our south Hollywood location--this area is essentially barrio, perched on the edge of upscale Hancock Park and Larchmont. The former occupant of my space ran a Thai restaurant for many years. I'm interested in your reaction to the wines you tried. We pour some pretty darn interesting wines, but if you're a fan of big n' oaky new world wines our wines are definitely not for you.

allison said...

I don't think your restaurant is shitty. I think that some of the food was more successfully executed than other menu items. I was really disappointed in the pig candy, but based on your Yelp reviews, you're pleasing most customers on the whole. Just one opinion. The main courses were actually pretty great. I was especially pleased to see some red meat on the menu - an awesome portion, cut, and cooked perfectly. I like that you are clear about your product sourcing.

We didn't like our wine choices, but I suppose I didn't express my dissatisfaction with our server either, so it is my fault for not speaking up and asking for a different suggestion. We didn't have a great rapport with our server and though she answered specific questions when asked, she was busy chatting up the other tables about her medical maladies and seemed to be perturbed that we were taking up her table.

I respect your selections - I don't have a vast understanding of wine and assume you do since it is your line of work, but I'd also be careful about disparaging the palate of a customer. Not particularly sound or savvy to respond to a complaint with an ad-hom attack on your guest. You can't please everyone.

I think LOU certainly makes the best of a less than ideal strip mall location and the description on the website is funny, but you're right: I don't have a pulse on the neighborhood at all. We drove there and left, not really exploring the area. I appreciate the defense of your business and understand where you're coming from - I am not the most tactful or sensitive writer and didn't aim to be damaging to you, but merely to write about my experience trying to find a place to eat while traveling.

I wouldn't mind having a neighborhood wine bar like LOU (in fact, there is one that I frequent down the block here in Chicago). Truth is, the reason I love that particular restaurant and keep going back, is the remarkable service. I've had bad wines there, but also find the menu to be more descriptive and the servers to be well-versed in their product.

I am not a people person and didn't enjoy my fellow customers which is definitely my problem rather than yours. I also did not enjoy the service and that actually is your problem.