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.

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My first Yelp party

Yelp Elemental party @ J Lounge

Recently, I was invited to become a Yelp Elite member. Shortly after being inducted, I got notice of Yelp’s March party – Elemental at the J Lounge in Downtown LA. I decided that would make a nice break from moving and decided to take Husband along as my guest.

Food trucks to whet our appetite

When we got there at 7pm for the Elite hour, there was already a line out the door waiting for entrance.  Fortunately, Yelp had hired several food trucks to keep us occupied – Flying Pig Truck, Fresser’s and Buttermilk.  I grabbed a pastrami sandwich bite and some ube (sweet purple potato) and red velvet pancake bites from the latter two trucks.

Lounge area in the patio

J Lounge is a swanky two-story space with an outdoor patio.  Kitchen 12000 had set up the patio to look like an airport/airplane; girls dressed up as stewardesses wandered around and some passed out little boxes with short ribs, mashed potatoes and green beans.  Kitchen 12000 also set up Pho King, Killer Kabob and Coffee Clinic booths around the area for food samples.

Chicken kabob from Killer Kabob

Husband and I grabbed a box of the short ribs early on and some Killer Kabob samples later on in the evening.  The short ribs box was a little cold.  My rib barely had any meat on it.  Overall, it was okay but nothing great.  The chicken kabob, served with rice and tzatziki sauce, were a bit more flavorful.  Husband wasn’t keen on his beef one but he didn’t have it with the tzatziki.  I tried it sans sauce and he was right; it was a little bland.  Still, I thought this was better than the short rib box.

Picture time!

Coffee Clinic

Dollhouse Bake Shoppe mini cupcakes

There was a photo booth set up where attendees could put on silly hats, glasses, etc and get their picture taken.  While in line, I picked up some goodies from the Coffee Clinic people – an espresso brownie and a coffee flavored rice krispie treat.  Both were really good.  I’m not a coffee drinker but I do like coffee flavors in sweet things so this was awesome.  I wanted more of the rice krispie treat…  The bitterness cut back on what is normally an overly sweet dessert.

Since it was a little cold, Husband and I decided to explore the inside of the building.  Waitresses from J Lounge were passing around goodies like bacon wrapped dates (YUM!) and other vendors were set up around the venue.

We visited the Dollhouse Bake Shoppe table.  They were serving up samples of their adorable and deliciously moist bite-sized cupcakes, cookies and other dessert items.

Flying Pig Truck - smoked chicken and spicy pork tacos

There were a few palm readers/psychics around.  There was also a swag table.  Grabbed a bag and a couple of shot glasses with the Yelp logo on them for our collection.

We also got to play with the Miracle Fruit.  After rolling around the fruit on our tongues for at least two minutes, we sampled lemons (tasted like lemonade) and apple cider vinegar (tasted like apple juice with a little bit of tanginess).

Still hungry, we visited the Flying Pig Truck.  They were all out of their pork belly buns, sadly, but they still had some smoked chicken and spicy pork tacos left.  I got one of each and have to say, these were pretty darn good.  The spicy pork actually packed some heat!

Feeling satiated, Husband and I headed back in and explored the upstairs of J Lounge.  A dance floor with a DJ had been set up and we found a couple more vendors as well as a hookah and cigar lounge. There was also an extensive bar taking up one of the long walls, bringing the total number of bars I saw to 3.  One thing you can be sure of, you’ll always be able to get a drink somewhere in J Lounge…

Plush Puff marshmallow

Plush Puffs had samples of their flavored marshmallows on skewers and little fires going for toasting them.  I adored the lemon flavored toasted marshmallow.  They also do gigantic marshmallows!  A perfect gift for the marshmallow lover in your life…  Apparently, they also do catering, a great idea for a special occasion party or wedding reception dessert stand.

L'artisan du Chocolat chocolates

Out on the upstairs patio, there was a chocolatier that I absolutely fell in love with – L’artisan du Chocolat.  French-trained, Whajung and Christian combine chocolate and various flavors like mango wasabi, Aztec chili, Korean garlic and anis honey to create exotic and delicious morsels of melty heaven.  I sampled the bacon which was amazing, one of the best versions I’ve had so far, and the Korean garlic, a strange yet yummy combination.

For entertainment throughout the evening, Yelp had performers from Zen Arts LA out on the patio.  Aerialists, belly dancers, burlesque and vaudeville performers and Capoeira demonstrations oohed and aahed the crowd.

Overall, this was a pretty fun event and totally made me want to attend more.  Husband was quite adamant that he get to come with me.

Thank you, Yelp!

You can see more pictures on the Catty Critic facebook page.

First Annual LA Street Food Fest

LA Street Food Fest

VIP Patio

Saturday, we hit up the LA Street Food Fest.  When we arrived, there was a line that wrapped around the block.  Fortunately, we had snagged pre-sold VIP tickets but even then, there was a 1/2hr+ wait to get in because they were checking names off a list.  I appreciate the effort to be green and not have people print out anything but it would be faster and still eco-friendly to have VIP attendees print out tickets, collect them at the door, and then recycle the paper.  Looking for each person’s name on a list really backs up a line…

The VIP lounge was okay.  The free drinks, swag bag, and use of indoor restrooms did make the $30 price worth it, in my opinion, but I was disappointed by the lack of exclusive VIP vendors.  Only 3 were present on the patio – Dim Sum Truck, The Fry Girl and T Salon.  A few more would have made the VIP lounge feel more…VIP-y.

Dim Sum Truck stand

Roast Duck taco sample from Dim Sum Truck

Dim Sum Truck was fantastic and I look forward to finding them on the street.  They were giving out samples of their roast duck taco and shu mai dumplings.  The roast duck was delicious; they left the crispy skin on the duck!  The shu mai was moist, plump and had good flavor though I found the soy sauce dressing they put on it a little on the salty side.

Making Doughnuts Fry Girl style

Cinnamon Sugar Mini Doughnuts from The Fry Girl

The Fry Girl (mini fresh doughnuts) was my husband’s favorite.  For a guy who’s not big on sweet things, the fact that he went back for seconds was a big deal.  They offered up two toppings – powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar.  We went with the cinnamon.  Lightly fried and sweet, these were wonderful.  I now want the mini doughnut making machine that they used in my house…

The teas were actually quite good.  They were giving out samples of a berry one and a chocolate-vanilla.  I enjoyed the berry one more.

We headed down to the main area to hit up some of the big-name trucks.  First on my list was the Grilled Cheese Truck except the wait was already at 2+ hours.  Um….eek?  It would have been a great perk for VIP attendees to get a few “fast passes”.  Wandering around, it seemed that most of the trucks had at least a 1 hr wait.  The more popular ones like Ludo Bites, Komodo, Fry Smith and Buttermilk were around 2hrs.  *sigh*  Looking around, Coolhaus (gourmet ice cream sandwiches) barely had a line (that changed quickly as the day got hotter) so we rushed them.

Brown Butter Bacon Chocolate Chip and Strawberry with Chocolate Brownie from Coolhaus

Coolhaus was doing 2-flavor sample bags for $3 or 4 flavors for $5.  We went for the 4 flavors – brown butter bacon ice cream with chocolate chip, ginger snap with wasabi ice cream, chocolate with mint ice cream and strawberry ice cream with chocolate brownie.  The brown butter bacon was good – rich ice cream with bacon bits.  The ginger snap with wasabi was disappointing as I didn’t taste wasabi at all.  The strawberry with chocolate brownies was a familiar and comforting combination.  I’m not a mint fan so I didn’t try that one at all.  Husband chowed down on that and had no complaints.  These were the perfect size for consuming neatly and quickly in 2-3 bites.  I hope they actually add mini-sandwiches to the Coolhaus menu.

Next, up was Mama Koh’s chicken (Korean-style chicken wings) which was an actual stand vs. a truck.  The LA Food Fest marked their debut to the public.  They had almost no wait whatsoever.  All the chicken had been prepared beforehand so all you had to do was pay and then grab a dish.  Quick and efficient but the chicken wings lost their crispiness.  They were covered in a deliciously sweet n’ spicy glaze though.  I enjoyed these and hope to see them popping up around LA soon.

A not so tasty thing from Sabor da Bahia

Another stand nearby, Sabor da Bahia was serving up Brazilian food.  They were out of their chicken appetizer samples so I tried a black eyed pea fritter with some sort of shrimp paste on it.   This was…not good eats to me.  The paste was good but the fritter part was salty and extremely fishy tasting.  I ended up tossing this.

Dogzilla

Dogzilla LA Food Fest menu

Dogzilla was present and I was quite enamored with their take on the hotdog.  Regular franks become Japanese-fused oddities with toppings like yakisoba noodles, furikake, nori strips and teriyaki sauce.  I didn’t get to try any due to the 2hr+ wait but I am now keeping my eye out for a chance to try these.  And hopefully get a shirt, one day.  A  hot-dog eating Godzilla?!?!?  Brilliant…

At this point, a couple of friends finally arrived (gotta love the LA traffic) and we ran around looking for something they wanted that didn’t have a crazy wait.  We tried to brave Louks‘ line but ended up eating at Fresser’s as that line went quicker.  The pastrami they served up was quite good – tender and very peppery.  My friend said their pot roast was delicious.  The caprese sandwich I had was mediocre.

After our friends had their bite, we decided the crowd and heat were just too much to deal with and left to go to Wurstküche which ended up having a crazy line out the door.  I was later informed that the Food Fest had started turning people away and that many more attendee-hopefuls didn’t even bother waiting in the long line.  Those who didn’t get in flooded the nearby restaurants.

I don’t know much about the organizers of the Street Food Fest but I wonder if they had ever put together an event of this size.  The venue they chose was fine and accommodating for the size of the event but there was a lot they could have done to improve the experience for their patrons.  The first thing they could have done was limit the number of people.  They announced they were expecting around 10,000 attendees.  Frankly, I think that was too much for food trucks to handle.  With only 2-3 people able to work in the space, cooking food “made-to-order” for those numbers without creating an enormous backup wasn’t feasible.  On top of limiting numbers, spreading the food festival over a weekend instead of just one day would help mitigate the crowd issue as well (though there are costs associated with this, I know).  Also, the organizers only released VIP tickets for presale and then later released a small number of regular tickets.  Releasing all the tickets for pre-sale and selling whatever remained at the door may be a better choice for next year; it certainly would have help reduce the wait at the door.  As for the lines, it was confusing trying to find the end and various trucks had lines that collided with each other.  After my years at Comic-con, I know there are many creative ways to try and keep things orderly, one of which are End of Line signs.  And worst case scenario, if it’s too long to manage, cut it off and ask people to come back in a half-hour.

While I didn’t really get to try most of the trucks I was hoping to, I didn’t think the Food Fest was an absolute failure.  It’s a great concept that was wasn’t executed as well as it could have been but it is the first year so kinks are to be expected.  If they do it again, will I return?  Absolutely.  Though I fully plan on getting VIP tickets again and being there well ahead of opening…  In the meantime, I’ll be hunting the various trucks I didn’t get to try on the streets.

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

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