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.

La Sirena Grill

On Sunday, Husband and I were running around doing errands for the new house.  Since neither of us had breakfast (bad habit), we decided to try out La Sirena Grill in El Segundo since we were in the area.

Dining area

Bar Area

Salsa

Pomegranate Margarita

When we walked in, the place was about half full.  We were quickly seated and presented with a basket of just-made tortilla chips and some spicy green salsa which I enjoyed.  The heat was enough to make my lips a little tingly by the time our meal was over.

Husband, about to face a few hours of shopping, went straight for some booze and ordered a pomegranate margarita.  Since one of us had to stay sober to drive and make wise purchases, I just stuck with my usual water.

La Sirena’s menu isn’t very extensive and lists items that sound more fusion than your classic Mexican fare.  They claim to use fresh and quality ingredients like grass-fed beef; the prices reflect the use of better quality ingredients.  There were also advertisements on the table touting happy hour specials throughout the week as well as tequila tastings.  A menu listed quite a few varieties…

On the appetizer menu, I spotted a porcini and truffle quesadilla served with a salad of baby arugula ($9).  Sold!  Asking about the size, I decided that it wouldn’t be enough for a meal so I also got the cerviche ($10).  Husband went for carne asada enchiladas with red sauce ($14-ish, carne asada was extra I think…).

Porcini and truffle quesadilla

Cerviche

The quesadilla was fantastic.  The porcini mushrooms were earthy and the chewy texture went well with the crisp tortilla.  I really enjoyed the flavor of this and would totally order this plate again.  Yes, it’s not very “Mexican” but tasty is tasty…

The cerviche was a little disappointing.  While it had a generous portion of scallops, shrimp and avocado,  I was hoping for a more tangy flavor, more acidity.  I got that when I reached the bottom of the plate but the top was just…meh.  Perhaps mixing it up to get the juices from the bottom to coat the top may help next time.  A little hard to do on such a small plate but worth a try.  I could always ask for a bowl, I suppose.

The service was great.  I never once had to ask for a refill on water; the waiter was very ninja about keeping it filled.

Overall, a positive first dining experince at La Sirena Grill.  I’m sure Husband and I will be back as the Happy Hour specials piqued our interest.

3 1/2 NOMs for La Sirena Grill!

La Sirena Grill
710-D Allied Way
El Segundo, CA 90245
(310) 640-6170
La Sirena Grill on Urbanspoon

OC 2, LA 0 – The hunt for Messican goes on

Since I started working in Huntington Beach, I’ve discovered that there’re several hole-in-the wall Mexican places nearby.  Some of the peeps at work do a taco run on Thursdays to Taqueria Mexico.  It looked really yummy so I had to give it a try.

Well, so far this place is the closest I’ve gotten to matching what I can get in San Diego at Roberto’s/Sombrero’s/Cotixan.  While the menu isn’t as extensive as what I’m used to, the fact that I can get something resembling a decent carne asada burrito makes up for that.  They offer up tacos and burritos and you get to choose the type of filling.  Tacos offer up the usual chicken, carne asada and some more adventurous choices like beef tongue and head meat.  As for burritos, you can get meat & cheese, rice, beans & cheese, beans & cheese…well, you get the idea.  And just so you know, the beans here are pinto beans, NOT refried.  The husband was a bit miffed by this.  The thing to get here, though, is the tacos.  Carne asada, onion n’ cilantro, cheese and hot sauce form inside a little tortilla to become awesomeness in your mouth.

Taqueria Mexico is open 24hrs which is great for that late night drunken munchies.  Cuz y’know, nothing goes better with drunk than some awesome Mexican food…well, that or Denny’s.

Based on a friend’s recommendation, I also tried George’s Mexican Food.  Now this was more of what I was thinking.  The menu was extensive, offering combination platters, tortas, taquitos, etc.  Once again, I discovered that the carne asada burrito included beans (what is it with the beans?!?!?!).  I had them take it out and put in guacamole.  I also ordered a bean and cheese burrito for the husband and an order of rolled tacos with just meat and cheese.

The burritos were smaller than what we usually get down in SD joints.  The carne asada burrito was decent, about on par as the one I had at Taqueria Mexico though bonus pts for George’s for having the option of guacamole.  The only issue was the tortilla which was starting to rip in places.  The husband thought his bean n’ cheese burrito was just okay.  They got the rolled taco order wrong and gave me a taco instead.  Let me just say, this taco was a heck of a lot better than the crap we got at Tito’s Tacos.

Over all, I think if I was craving street tacos, I’d go to Taqueria Mexico.  For anything else, I’d hit up George’s…which also had breakfast burritos (OMG bacon n’ egg?).  However, they only serve them in the mornings unlike Roberto’s which offers them up 24/7.  Not quite up to San Diego standards but decent enough to satiate the cravings.

Oh yeah, George’s has a drive-thru which is convenient!

Taqueria Mexico gets 3 NOMs.

George’s Mexican Food gets 3 1/2 NOMs.

Taqueria Mexico
14022 Springdale St
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 894-5850
Taqueria Mexico on Urbanspoon

George’s Mexican Food
6581 Edinger Ave
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
(714) 892-5775

George's Mexican Food on Urbanspoon

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

Playa Vista Farmer’s Market

The husband and I decided to check out the Playa Vista Farmer’s Market since it was on the way to where we were seeing “Inglourious Basterds” (or however Tarantino is mis-spelling it…). This Farmer’s Market is fairly small…only about 20-25 vendors with 1/3 of them being food vendors. The rest are either businesses or fruit and vegetable stands. We browsed around trying to figure out which food vendor we wanted to try. I stopped at the Eat booth while the husband decided on an omelette from a neighboring stand.

Eat - Turkey and Swiss on a Cranberry Scone

Eat - Turkey and Swiss on a Cranberry Scone

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Eat - Turkey and Swiss on a Cranberry scone close-up

Eat’s menu changes every week according to the lady at the booth. This week, they offered up a turkey and swiss sandwich served on a cranberry scone (a refined slider, if you will), bbq chicken sliders and regular beef sliders as well as a yogurt parfait. I couldn’t pass up on the scone sandwich (2 for $5) and ordered that. In the back was a grill that slices of turkey were placed on.  Once they were warmed up, the chef placed them with slices of swiss in between a halved cranberry scone and served it with some cranberry jelly.

These sandwiches were roughly the sized of my palm.  The scone was a bit on the dry side but did not crumble too much.  However, it did overpower the turkey and swiss a little and I didn’t taste too much cranberry.  The cranberry jelly was quite nice and had a little bit of spice to it.  I wish I had more of it to put on the sandwiches as more “wetness” would have helped.    Overall, it was an okay sandwich and it certainly got my creative juices running as to what other types of scone sandwiches could be created.

Ham and Swiss Omelette

Ham and Swiss Omelette

The omelette my husband got was a simple ham and swiss since he’s so anti-green stuff.  Still, it seems that he can’t escape the plants since the cook still put greens on his plate even though my other half asked for it to be omitted.  The omelette was quite good; the eggs were cooked to a nice fluffy consistency though I think it was slightly overdone.  There was a good amount of ham in each bite but I couldn’t quite find the swiss.  With the salt and pepper packets my husband added to the dish, the omelette ended up being quite flavorful.  As for the greens, it was a mix with tomatoes.  I didn’t taste any dressing on them.

Playa Vista Farmer's Market - Roasted Corn

Playa Vista Farmer's Market - Roasted Corn

We were still a little hungry and the tamale stand was calling to me.  The husband opted to get a huge ear of corn that we saw quite a few people walking around with.  The corn was incredible -very moist, buttered and tender.  The stand had an array of seasonings one could sprinkle on the ear, salt n’ pepper as well as lemon pepper and paprika.  The other half opted for black pepper, garlic salt and Lawry’s seasoning.

Playa Vista Farmer's Market - beef n' chile tamale

Playa Vista Farmer's Market - beef n' chile tamale

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Playa Vista Farmer's Market - tamale unwrapped

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tamale

The tamale booth seemed to be doing well given how many people I saw eating them and buying them in bulk.  The menu boasted about 6 different tamales ranging from chicken to beef to vegetarian fillings.  I chose a beef and chile filled one which cost me all of $3.50.  I decided to go with their medium salsa which had a very slight kick to it.  The tamale was nice and moist, very flavorful and had a good amount of filling.  The beef was tender.  This was a great tamale.  I would have gone back and bought some to take home if we weren’t going to be out for the rest of the day.  Maybe next week?

There were other booths that looked yummy.  A crepe booth next to Eat was serving up both sweet and savory dishes.  The usual Nutella and strawberry/banana crepes were on the menu but there was also a tomato and basil crepe that sounded positively delicious. A booth selling seafood had smoked salmon cakes that I sampled with a very spicy aoli.

This market looked like a good place to pick up local grown organic fruit.  I saw a variety of berries, nectarines, peaches, pluots and figs.  There was also a flower vendor that was doing very good business. We passed by a booth selling chocolate that was stone ground and used unrefined sugar and had some interesting flavor pairings.

It’s not as big as some of the other Farmer’s Markets around but it is new so hopefully it expands as more time passes and more people find out about it. For right now, it’s a decent place to get some eats and produce and a few other items.

There’s plenty of parking, which is nice, but not a lot of seating if you want to eat.  When we went towards the end of the hours, it wasn’t terribly crowded but there was still a steady stream of people coming in and out which was a positive sight as I rather enjoy farmer’s markets and want this one to stick around.

Playa Vista Farmer’s Market
Every Saturday 9am-2pm
Parking lot on Seabluff Drive, just south of Pacific Promenade

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