Food Network Magazine’s Cinco de Mayo Celebration

Let's get this party started

Last week, Husband and I, along with a couple of other friends got to attend the Cinco De Mayo celebration hosted by Food Network Magazine at The Spanish Kitchen.  Chef Aaron Sanchez (Chefs vs. City, Chopped, The Best Thing I Ever Ate) was on hand and free margaritas and food flowed.

Since we got there a little early, we crossed the street to have a drink at The Belmont.  When 7pm rolled around, we headed back.

The  Spanish Kitchen was a cute space, decorated with a lot of rod iron and tile.  The split level floor plan nicely separated the bar area from the dining room and there was a small patio with tables as well.

Time to get drinking!

First up, margaritas.  There were several offerings: Palomino, passionfruit, pineapple-chili and jalapeño.  Since there were four of us, we each got a different one.  I opted for the Passionfruit.  Not bad…  I tried the pineapple-chili as well.  I liked this one better.  The sweet with the spicy coupled with the acidity of the fruit made for a nice combination.

Freshly made guacamole

We grabbed a table and helped ourselves to the chips and salsa bar.  There was also guacamole so I took a heaping spoonful since I LOOOOVE the stuff.  Fresh, chunky, really good!  Appetizers were also being passed around by waiters.  We tried a shrimp with green sauce, fried artichoke and this potato-olive thing.  The shrimp was perfectly good but I wish I could taste the sauce more.  The fried artichoke was nice, lightly breaded, not overly greasy.  The potato hors d’oeuvre was okay but very briny.  Not a fan, though.

Barbacoa slider, tacos, tamale, chile rellano (clockwise from top)

Chef Aaron Sanchez took the mike and welcomed everyone and then the buffet opened.  Chile rellanos, tamales, beef tacos and barbacoa sliders were on the menu.  I didn’t think the rellanos were that great.  I liked the tamales which were on the sweet side, though the rest of my group were so-so about it.  The beef tacos weren’t disappointing but they weren’t mind-blowing either.  The sliders were really good though.  Moist, great flavor and served with a slaw for crunch, we all went back for more of these (except Husband who ended up eating chips for most of the night since all the food was “tainted” by vegetables).  I think we were also fairly drunk at this point, too, thanks to the free margaritas.  Oy!

Tres Leches cake

Dessert came around, served by waiters.  There was a cup with a chocolate and vanilla pudding mix, topped with Chambord and served with a chocolate-dipped cookie.  Everyone else at the table loved this but I thought it was just okay.  I really fell in love with the other dessert, the tres leches cake.  It was dense, super-moist and just sooooo yummy.  I couldn’t stop eating it even though I was about to burst.

Chef Sanchez chatting with D

Chef Sanchez was going around saying hi to the guests and stopped at our table and chatted with us for a bit.  We all exchanged stories about how we met our significant others.  He was a really cool guy, funny and amiable.  🙂  Later, when I read a wiki to find out more about him and his culinary history, I found out that he competed on Iron Chef Season 2 against Chef Morimoto and TIED.  Massive kudos as I think Morimoto is the supreme Iron Chef and always seems to blow his competition out of the water.

When we left, we were handed goodie bags that included a copy of May’s issue of Food Network Magazine.  Turns out, all the food and margaritas were recipes featured in the magazine!  I can make those sliders and that tres leches cake at home!!

You can find more pictures on my Facebook page.

I love Tito’s Tacos…no I don’t

I’m still on what is turning into a never-ending quest to find a good Mexican place in LA near me.  My latest attempt landed me at Tito’s Tacos.  Some people, including LA natives, swear Tito’s is the place to go.  And they have this wonderful commercial:

When I got there, the building looked sufficiently “hole-in-the-wall”-ish and there was a line.  The set up was like a large taco stand.  You went up to a window, placed your order and sat at one of the few picnic style tables outside.  Promising…  I looked around for the menu which turned out to be a large board behind the counter with only a few listings.  Hrm…  I see “burrito” and the only options were beans, meat w/ beans and…that’s it?  What sort of meat?  Shredded beef?  No carne asada?!?!?!  Well, damn…there goes my hopes and dreams.

I ordered a meat burrito but without the beans; I’m a believer in the carne asada + guacamole + cheese + pico de gallo burrito.  None of that rice n’ beans filler stuff.  I want MEAT!   I also ordered 2 tacos for my husband, plain with just meat n’ cheese.  Since they only accept cash at Tito’s Tacos, I had to make use of the atm machine on the side of the building.   I waited for about 5 minutes before my order was called.  I paid ($9 + change) and got my food which was packaged in a box (think In-n-Out) with a cover.

Tito's Tacos

Tito's Tacos

Tito's Tacos - Inside of their meat burrito sans beans

Tito's Tacos - Inside of their meat burrito sans beans

When I got home and opened up the box, I saw a fairly plump burrito, two very sad looking tacos, chips and a cup of salsa.

I didn’t try the tacos but the husband said they weren’t very good and that he would be fine if he never ate them again.  Taco Bell is better.

As for the burrito, it was stuffed full of shredded beef and some cheese but it was bland.  I kept throwing more and more Tapatio just to get some flavor.  It really was unappetizing and I had to force myself to finish it (“Thou shalt not waste food…”).  The amount of meat in it was…heavy, almost bordering on too much.  It is a filling burrito and if there was something for my taste buds to latch on to, it would have been okay.

I guess the best part of the meal were the chips which were a little stale and the very mild salsa.  I should have dumped the salsa into the burrito…

I don’t understand how people think Tito’s Tacos is great.  What am I missing?  This was probably the worst Mexican food I’ve ever had and I doubt I will return. The fact that I dished out almost $10 for it just adds salt to the wound.

For the first time ever, the Catty Critic gives out a hairball rating.

Now to convince the husband that, no, we really should move back to San Diego, if only so I can get GOOD Mexican food…

Tito’s Tacos
11222 Washington Pl
Culver City, CA 90230
(310) 391-5780
http://www.titostacos.com

Tito's Tacos on Urbanspoon

The hunt continues…

While running some errands this evening, I decided I would pick up some Dinah’s fried chicken for dinner since the husband sounded like he needed some comfort food.  I’ve never had it despite driving past the restaurant many times.  Anyways, we’ll save that review for later, after I’ve eaten some.

In the same center is a Viva Fresh…yet another Mexican restaurant chain.  We’ve been to one before, the location off the corner of Manchester and Lincoln.  We were so underwhelmed by what we got that we made a conscious decision to never go back there.  But this was a different location so maybe this time would be better?

I walked in and looked at the menu.  It was a lot…shorter than I recalled.  Hrm.  I decided to get an order of rolled tacos (3) w/ shredded beef and a fish taco w/ guacamole (option of either white sauce or guacamole) which came out to a whopping $9.12 after tax.

The rolled tacos with shredded beef weren’t bad.  They were a little thicker than what I normally see.  The beef was a little dry but overall, it was tasty.  Good crunch.  Okay, I’d probably order these again and maybe ask for some cheese as well.

Normally, in San Diego, when you order a fish taco/burrito, the fish is breaded and fried.  Viva Fresh grills their fish which is healthier but does not do much on the “want comfort-y food”.  This taco consisted of 2 small white corn tortillas serving as the shell, a good helping of white fish, lettuce and a whole lot of guacamole.  I put on some of their hot salsa and took a bite.  The first flavor to really hit me was a sharp sour note…lime.  Either they marinade their fish in lime juice or someone was using a lime as a stress relief ball.  Anyways, as I continued to eat, I caught hints of a fishy flavor here and there…a sign that the fish isn’t fresh and was probably frozen.  Maybe that’s why they put so much lime…and guacamole.  It was a bit of a mess to eat.

Sadly, this Viva Fresh turned out to be a disappointment as well.  I’ll probably just hit up Chile Verde since it is closer.  A friend, another San Diegan, informed me of a place in Burbank that satisfied her cravings.  However, Burbank is quite a bit aways.  😦  Maybe one day, if we venture there…

2 1/2 NOMs for Viva Fresh.

Viva Fresh Mexican Grill
6515 S Sepulveda Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90045
(310) 338-9153
www.vivafreshmexicangrill.com
Viva Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Edit: I noticed on Yelp that this place got pretty good reviews.  You Los Angeleans are deprived.  I’m sorry but really, you are.  On your next trip to San Diego, stop at a Roberto’s or a Santana’s or El Cotixan and taste what I’m talking about.

So where’s the good Mexican food in LA?

The Mexican places in LA that I’ve been to so far have nothing on what you can find in San Diego. I miss my *bertos…

I went in, ordered a bean n’ cheese burrito for the husband and a Burrito Especial (meat, cheese, guac, pico de gallo) for myself….none of this rice n’ beans filler crap. I had the option of steak or chicken and went with steak. They got it wrong and put chicken in.

I was curious as to why my order was in a styrofoam container vs. being wrapped in paper like most other burritos. The reason – this was a wet mess. It literally fell apart when I picked it up and I ended up using a fork n’ knife. Um, drain the pico de gallo next time before throwing it in, m’kay? They didn’t skimp on the filling, obviously, since the tortilla barely wrapped around it but I don’t think there was a lot of chicken. At least not that I could taste due to the overpowering pico n’ guac.

It wasn’t bad but damn, I do miss my carne asada burritos from Roberto’s. And don’t even get me started on breakfast burritos. I don’t know what Chile Verde is thinking putting beans in theirs but from where I come from, it’s bacon, egg, cheese and shredded hash browns. And a whole lot of hot sauce….

Also, where’s the fish burrito on the menu? Do I really have to go to Rubio’s for that?

Would I go back? Probably…though I might stick with rolled tacos next time or get a bean n’ cheese burrito since that looked okay and the husband didn’t complain. Besides, it’s not like I have many options, atm…

P.S. I pronounced “Especial” the Spanish way and the Hispanic guy behind the counter looked at me funny and asked “What”? Is my accent really that bad?? So I had to repeat it, this time pronouncing it “Eh-speh-shawl”.

Chile Verde earns 2 1/2 NOMs.

Chile Verde
630 N Sepulveda Blvd
El Segundo, CA 90245
(310) 640-7666
Chile Verde Mexican Food on Urbanspoon