Roy Choi’s POT at The Line Hotel

Roger Wants Moore Octopussy at POT at The Line Hotel

POT at The Line Hotel is the most Korean of Korean-American chef, pioneer, and entrepreneur Roy Choi‘s restaurants.  I’ve been a few times when they first opened, and I loved how bold yet accessible their dishes are, but I hadn’t been back recently.  A few weeks ago, when my sister’s family was in town, we needed a dinner spot that could fit our large party, and on short notice, as my brother-in-law had attend an event back at their hotel later in the evening.

We were all craving Korean, but lines at the popular Koreatown places can run long, and many don’t take reservations.  Remembering that POT recently partnered with Reserve, I requested a table, and with a little lead time, the concierge app was able to get us a table at POT that night!

We started off with some banchan, complimentary house appetizers, which consisted of three different kimchi vegetables: garlic chives, bean sprouts, sliced daikon radish.  The latter two are fairly ubiquitous, but I don’t see much of the former, but the aromatic and verdant buchu made very good kimchi!  Keeping it light and cool (for the time being), we also ordered a Poke Me (yellow fin tuna, edamame, sea beans, maui onions, smoked sesame, shoyu vinaigrette).  There’s a lot going on in this dish, and I did like the sea beans, but the fish kinda got lost a little in the mix.

Banchan at POT at The Line Hotel

Banchan at POT at The Line Hotel

 

Poke Me at POT at The Line Hotel

Poke Me at POT at The Line Hotel

 

Ramping up a bit in intensity, but not in temperature, we got the You OK, Guey? (beef tartare, pears, pine nuts, egg, rice chips) and a salad with the snicker-inducing moniker Roger Wants Moore Octopussy (charred baby octopus, celery, mizuna).  As with the poke, the beef tartare had a lot going on, but this time the beef remained center stage, even after all the ingredients were mixed together.  Really enjoyed the pine nuts in the tartare.  The salad was also delicious, with generous amounts of baby octopus, and a sweet spicy dressing.  I’m a sucker for mizuna, so I really enjoyed this dish!

You OK, Guey? at POT at The Line Hotel

You OK, Guey? at POT at The Line Hotel

 

Roger Wants Moore Octopussy at POT at The Line Hotel

Roger Wants Moore Octopussy at POT at The Line Hotel

 

Moving into hot and heavy territory, we got the Noodle of the Day, a spicy ramyeon, the Korean version of Japanese instant ramen, with pork belly and a poached egg.  I grew up eating all kinds of instant noodles, including Nongshim ramyeon, and I’ve definitely thrown some pork belly and eggs into the pot, so this was very nostalgic for me.  We also got the BBQ Galbi, a very generous portion of thick, delicious, bone-in short ribs, sizzling on a cast iron plate.  With it came some shears to cut our meat, so we still had some KBBQish action even without grills on the tables.

Noodle of the Day, Spicy Ramyeon w/Pork Belly & Poached Egg, at POT at The Line Hotel

Noodle of the Day, Spicy Ramyeon w/Pork Belly & Poached Egg, at POT at The Line Hotel

 

BBQ Galbi at POT at The Line Hotel

BBQ Galbi at POT at The Line Hotel

 

Speaking of what’s on the table, our last dish of the meal utilized the induction burners at the center of each table in the place, used to heat the eponymous pots that POT serves.  After some debate, we decided on the Old School (marinated ribeye bulgogi, noodles, kimchi, scallion, sesame), opting for the “medium” price tier for our table.  The pot was replete with tender shaved steak and glass noodles.  The bright red color, not always an indication of spiciness, did in this case signify a good level of heat!

Old School at POT at The Line Hotel

Old School at POT at The Line Hotel

 

We did not realize how full we had gotten from our previous dishes, nor did we anticipate how large even a “medium” was, so we actually took most of this home.  Yay, leftovers!  We were so full, in fact, that we had to cancel our plan to walk over to nearby Honeymee for dessert, to the chagrin of the kids at the table.

Pro Tip:  If only having one or two starters/sides, a “medium” should be good for 3-4 people.  Ordering more dishes with it, and the “medium” could easily feed 6+ people! [Update:  The new menu only lists one size for the pots, and based on pricing, it’s probably equivalent to the “medium” from the previous menu, so my advice is unchanged.  A party of two should probably be fairly hungry if they want to have anything other than a pot.]

While I had been to POT before, it was the first time for my family and my sister’s family, and we all left satiated and impressed with our meal.  My kids were already talking about coming back for more BBQ Galbi!

My thanks to Reserve for getting us our table that night.  I’ve mentioned Reserve before, most recently when they partnered with another Roy Choi restaurant, A-Frame, to do a “BeerBowl” event on Father’s Day.  If you’re in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Boston, or Chicago, and you like dining at amazing restaurants, check them out!  Use promo code E18KGX for a $20 credit!

POT has actually been closed all this week, with few details until yesterday, when Roy tweeted some the changes coming to the restaurant, including a raw bar, soju bar, and a new barbecue duck dish.  Sounds like a whole new menu is coming, but I hope they keep a few things on the menu, especially the Roger Wants Moore Octopussy!  ;-)  I guess we’ll see—looking forward to trying the new items in the future!

Update:  The new menu is up on their website!  Looks like most of what we had are still available, with the exception of the BBQ Galbi and the Roger Wants Moore Octopussy.  :-(  The You OK, Guey? has been renamed to just Beef Tartare.  A quasi-replacement for the galbi is a new Braised Beef Short Rib Ssam dish.  There is indeed a raw bar, but the number of eponymous pots have been reduced to two choices.  Still, the menu has enough variety to satisfy most people!

POT at The Line Hotel
3515 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
213-368-3030
http://www.eatatpot.com/

03 July 2015 by The Offalo
Categories: Beef, Hot Pot, Korean, Seafood | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Paninoteca by Scarpetta

Porchetta Sandwich at Paninoteca

Despite being relatively close to Bay Cities Italian Deli, the Godmother of Italian sandwich shops on the Westside, I was still disappointed when Santa Monica’s Ciboteca, from the folks behind Piccolo and Hostaria del Piccolo, closed last winter after opening just earlier that year.  Coincidentally, another Italian sandwich shop backed by a higher-end Italian restaurant, in this case Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in Beverly Hills, had also opened last year, though a little bit out of what I’d consider the Westside.  Named Paninoteca, this takeout counter quickly gained popularity with surrounding businesses and visiting tourists with their well-constructed sandwiches made from high quality ingredients.

[If you’re curious, the suffix -teca in this context means a shop that specializes in a particular item (like the Japanese -ya in sushi-ya and ramen-ya), in this case panino, or “sandwich” in Italian.  Cibo means “food” in Italian, which makes sense since Ciboteca was to also function as a market for imported Italian grocery items.]

A few weeks ago, I was invited to try Paninoteca’s lunch offerings.  I brought my kids, as well as my sister and my nephew, who were in town visiting.  We dined al fresco, in the courtyard shared by the Montage Beverly Hills hotel, of which Scarpetta and Paninoteca are a part, and the Bouchon restaurant and bakery, among other businesses.

We started off with some drinks that were probably best described as agua fresca, the refreshing, non-carbonated soft drinks that are often fruit-based but not as sweet as full-on juices.  (Is there’s an equivalent to agua fresca in Italian cuisine?)  Paninoteca has some interesting but delicious flavor combinations, including Kale & Apple, Pineapple & Basil, and Blood Orange & Tarragon.

Kale & Apple, Pineapple & Basil, Blood Orange & Tarragon 'Agua Fresca' at Scarpetta

Kale & Apple, Pineapple & Basil, Blood Orange & Tarragon 'Agua Fresca' at Scarpetta

 

The menu at Paninoteca has a decent variety of sandwiches, a handful of salads, and some simple sides.  There’s probably something for everyone, including pescatarians and vegetarians, but vegans may have a little difficulty.  Since we wanted to get a good idea of their range, we sampled four different sandwiches.  Despite the what most Americans think of when they hear “panino” (or, more likely, “panini”), and unlike the sandwiches at Ciboteca, the ones at Paninoteca are not grilled in a press.  Rather, it’s just a traditional sandwich, with the “filling” in between the two halves of a cut loaf of great, rustic Italian bread.

My sister ordered the Grilled Eggplant with buffalo mozarella, basil pesto, and tomato purée.  While not my particular cup of tea, it’s a great choice for vegetarians.  My older daughter ordered the Chicken “Parmigiano” with burrata and smoked tomatoes, which was a little disappointing.  The breading around the cutlet was a little on the thick side, while the chicken was a tad dry. We didn’t really care for the smoked tomato sauce either.

Grilled Eggplant Sandwich at Scarpetta

Grilled Eggplant Sandwich at Scarpetta

 

Chicken 'Parmigiano' Sandwich at Scarpetta

Chicken 'Parmigiano' Sandwich at Scarpetta

 

I ordered the Padrino Hero for my younger daughter, the prosciutto fiend.  In addition to the rich Italian ham, the sandwich came with mortadella, salami, provolone, Italian vinaigrette.  Basically  the archetypal “Italian combo” sandwich, except that the “cold cuts” were probably higher quality—they tasted so—and presumably imported from Italy.  I really enjoyed the bites I was able to steal away from my daughter.

Padrino Hero Sandwich at Scarpetta

Padrino Hero Sandwich at Scarpetta

 

I couldn’t pass up the Porchetta for myself, with its spiced pork belly, broccoli rabe pesto, and a fried hen egg.  I try not to be too hyperbolic in my reviews here, so I hope I’m not “crying wolf” when I say this was probably the best sandwich I’ve had in a long time.  The pork was moist and tender, and the flavors of all of the ingredients played off each other.  I didn’t even mind the lack of a runny yolk in the fried egg.  The only fault I could find with it was that one fried egg didn’t provide enough “coverage” for a sandwich at was at least 14″ long.

Porchetta Sandwich at Scarpetta

Porchetta Sandwich at Scarpetta

 

Each sandwich came with a decent portion of house-made chips, dressed simply with some sea salt and some basil or sage leaves that were fried with the chips.  As an additional side, we ordered the Farro & Root Vegetables, with oven dried tomatoes, artichokes & cauliflower.  I actually didn’t get a chance to try this, but others seemed to like it.

Potato Chips at Scarpetta

Potato Chips at Scarpetta

 

Farro & Root Vegetables at Scarpetta

Farro & Root Vegetables at Scarpetta

 

Of course, we couldn’t skip desserts, so we had two of their Cannoli, with a Nutella and ricotta filling, and hazelnuts, except we ordered one without hazelnuts for my younger daughter—yes, she did know Nutella is made with it, she just didn’t want it sprinkled on.  Again, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, and with full admission that I am not a cannolo aficionado, it was probably the best cannoli I’ve had, with thick yet crisp shells, and an extremely smooth, creamy filling.

Cannoli at Scarpetta

Cannoli at Scarpetta

 

While I was 50/50 on the sandwiches we tried at Paninoteca, the two I did like I really liked!  Unfortunately, Paninoteca is too far out of the way to make it on my regular lunch rotation.  However, if I were in the area when they’re open—only 11 AM to 3 PM, and only on weekdays—I would not hesitate to grab a porchetta sandwich to-go!

Disclosure:  As mentioned above, I was invited to try Paninoteca, and our meal was hosted.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

Paninoteca by Scarpetta
225 N Cañon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 860-5832
http://www.montagehotels.com/beverlyhills/dining/paninoteca/

26 June 2015 by The Offalo
Categories: Italian, Lunch, Sandwich | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

BeerBowl Ticket Giveaway

Update:  Congrats to Kelly K. for winning the first giveaway on my blog. If you didn’t win, you can still use Promo Code offalogiveaway to get $20 off BeerBowl at A-Frame tonight, and it works even for existing Reserve users!

To celebrate LA Beer Week, Reserve & A-Frame are throwing their first ever BeerBowl this Father’s Day! Taste 12 craft beers on tap, and then have a pint of your favorite, while snacking on A-Frame’s Chili Rice Cakes. Continue Reading →

20 June 2015 by The Offalo
Categories: Beer, Contests and Giveaways, Events and Festivals | Leave a comment

Cassia by Bryant Ng (Opening Night)

Smoked Salmon Belly at Cassia

Cassia*, the highly anticipated Singaporean/Vietnamese/Southeast Asian brasserie from acclaimed chef Bryant Ng, his wife Kim Luu-Ng, and partners Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan of Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Milo & Olive, and Sweet Rose Creamery fame, finally opened this weekend!  To recap, Ng’s The Spice Table closed at the end of 2013 due to the MTA’s plans to run a Metro rail line through Little Tokyo.  Cassia was to open last year, but the Art Deco building that houses it needed to undergo seismic retrofitting first, putting the restaurant’s plans into a holding pattern.

*Not sure how to pronounce Cassia?  I say KAH-see-ah, but staff says kuh-SEE-ah.  Let’s call the whole thing off delicious!

Suddenly, a flurry of press came out last month on the restaurant, and anticipation spiked among friends and food enthusiasts alike.  I’ve only seen this much excitement over an opening a handful of times recently, with Evan Funke’s Bucato, Kris Yenbamroong’s Night+Market Song, and Wes Avila’s Guerrilla Tacos taking over Katsuji Tanabe’s Mexikosher space.  (Just seeing if you were paying attention on that last one, which is not true!)

Having waited a year and a half, and after seeing some of the dishes on Instagram from the private preview nights last week, I knew I had to go on opening night!  With friends Natalie and Nick, and with my nine-year-old daughter in tow, I arrived at Cassia 15 minutes before they opened and ended up being one of the first paying customers to walk into the space.

And what a gorgeous space it is, with an expansive bar to your right as you enter, a separate raw bar backlit by tall, bright windows, and a chef’s counter underneath rustic birdcages, in front of a large wood-burning grill by the kitchen.  The exposed loft-height ceilings throughout made me feel like I was in the Arts District rather than in Santa Monica.

The Raw Bar at Cassia

The Raw Bar at Cassia

 

We started off with drinks.  Cassia’s wine program is curated by Kathryn Weil Coker of Rustic Canyon.  She and her husband Tug, with Loeb/Nathan, will be opening Esters across the lobby from Cassia in August.  It’s a wine bar/shop that’ll also serve small bites from Rustic Canyon chef Jeremy Fox.  Not being an oenophile, I did not partake in wine (Nick had a glass of red later in the meal and really seemed to enjoy the Sean Thackrey he ordered).  Instead we ordered some cocktails.

Not sure who the mixologist of the house is, but the drinks we had were all superb!  Nick said his Lava Flow, a Hawaiian take on piña colada that involves strawberries—here, a strawberry-basil syrup—was almost too easy to drink.  My Galangal Mule was tart and spicy, with a heady combination of banana-infused gin and galangal/ginger/lemongrass syrup.  Natalie’s Cassia Dirty Martini was probably the “dirtiest” I’ve tasted, with smokey-buttery notes from the housemade olive brine.

[Update:  The restaurant informed me that Kenny Arbuckle is their bartender.  He’s previously worked at Bestia, La Descarga, Doheny, etc.]

Lava Flow & Galangal Mule at Cassia

Lava Flow & Galangal Mule at Cassia

 

Cassia Dirty Martini at Cassia (Photo Credit: My Nine-Year-Old Daughter)

Cassia Dirty Martini at Cassia (Photo Credit: My Nine-Year-Old Daughter)

 

For food, we started off with a bright Smoked Salmon Belly from the raw bar.  [Pro Tip: Get the Seafood Platter! Even a Small appeared to have a full portion of the salmon belly, as well as the Vietnamese “Sunbathing” Prawns, and a few king crab legs and raw oysters, for less than ordering a la carte!]  We also tried the Chopped Escargot, with some delicious, fresh-baked/grilled flatbread to sop up the gastropods swimming in garlicky lemongrass butter!

Smoked Salmon Belly at Cassia

Smoked Salmon Belly at Cassia

 

Chopped Escargot at Cassia

Chopped Escargot at Cassia

 

I had heard chef Ng was curing his own Asian salumi, so we couldn’t pass up the Charcuterie Platter.  From the spicy/sweet baconesque Singaporean Grilled Candied Pork, to the pepperoni-like Smoked Red Sausage, to Ng’s rhyming Sichuan Lamb Ham—a sheepish take on bresaola, each cured meat had its own character, and all were fantastic.  Per Natalie, the Vietnamese Meatloaf was like the chả trứng that comes with cơm tấm, Vietnamese broken rice dishes.  Accompanying everything was the house Cabbage Relish.  The Salted Pork with Grilled Bread was served separately; that whipped pork fat, with a little bit of chicharron crumble, gives the lardo in B.S. Taqueria‘s clam taco a run for its money!

Charcuterie Platter at Cassia

Charcuterie Platter at Cassia

 

Salted Pork with Grilled Bread at Cassia

Salted Pork with Grilled Bread at Cassia

 

For her main course, Natalie opted for the Jellyfish Salad, which was more shredded (organic) chicken than jellies, but it’s Santa Monica, so we “get” it.  And it was a very tasty chicken salad!  ;-)  Nick ordered the Grilled Creekstone Farms Steak Frites, with an interesting Phú Quốc island fish sauce au poivre.  The fries were pretty great too!

Jellyfish Salad at Cassia (Photo Credit: Natalie Schottler)

Jellyfish Salad at Cassia (Photo Credit: Natalie Schottler)

 

Grilled Creekstone Farms Steak Frites at Cassia

Grilled Creekstone Farms Steak Frites at Cassia

 

I remembered seeing an Instagram post from chef Ng, around the time he announced the closure of The Spice Table, over a year and a half ago, showing the mise en place for Charcuterie Fried Rice.  For whatever reason, that really stuck with me.  So when I saw the dish on the menu, I knew I had to order it for my main, and it definitely lived up to expectations!

Charcuterie Fried Rice Mise en Place (Photo Credit: Bryant Ng)

Charcuterie Fried Rice Mise en Place (Photo Credit: Bryant Ng)

 

The rice had quite a bit of kick from the Thai chiles.  The Chinese bacon and lap cheong gave the dish some meaty oomph.  But the best part was the salted fish, which I had expected to be broken up chunks of salt cod or similar, but instead were shirasu, salted baby sardines, whole, with beady eyes that my daughter thought were staring at her, to the extent that she wouldn’t try the dish!  That’s okay, more for me!

Charcuterie Fried Rice at Cassia

Charcuterie Fried Rice at Cassia

 

For dessert, Nick and Natalie had the Deep Fried Paris-Brest, a choux pastry shell that is apparently fried rather than (or in addition to) being baked.  It was so light and crisp and filled with a tangy lemongrass ice cream I had initially assumed was from Sweet Rose Creamery but is actually made in-house!  My daughter and I shared the Summer Fruit Floating Islands, with fresh peaches, apricots, and raspberries, presumably from the Santa Monica farmers market.  The passion fruit crème anglaise was so smooth and tart!  Rather than a traditional meringue, the “island” was a perfectly roasted/toasted marshmallow!  Apparently, Cassia has three pastry chefs making the desserts, including Zoe Nathan herself.  Not sure who was responsible for our desserts, but both were amazingly good.

Deep Fried Paris-Brest at Cassia

Deep Fried Paris-Brest at Cassia

 

Summer Fruit Floating Islands at Cassia

Summer Fruit Floating Islands at Cassia

 

It’s never fair to review a restaurant on opening night, but Cassia had probably the smoothest first night of service that I’ve seen!  If there were any issues, they were invisible to us.  The restaurant was not mobbed right at open.  Rather, a steady stream of customers kept the bar and dining areas fairly busy the entire time we were there.  Waitstaff were all on-the-ball, answering questions, filling waters, parsing out courses, and clearing plates.  Chef Ng was busy expediting in the kitchen and did not work the room, at least not during our meal, but Josh Loeb and Kathryn Coker made the rounds to ensure diners were enjoying themselves.  Everyone around us seemed to be having a good time–we certainly were!

The only part of our meal that gave us pause was the portion size of the Charcuterie Platter.  We opted for the Medium, which, at $27, was supposed to feed 3-4 people, but it really seemed portioned for 1-2.  We were served just two slices of each type of charcuterie, and the salted pork came with two pieces of toast too.  I even asked the server who brought out the platter, and he confirmed it was a Medium.  We were all wondering how much, or how little, the $18 Small would have been.

[Update:   The restaurant informed me that the Charcuterie Platter we received was indeed a Small and not the Medium we ordered and paid for.  They apologized for the confusion and mistake.]

(I’d love for Bryant Ng and Jeremy Fox to have a charcuterie-off.  Josh Loeb, please make this happen!)

With everyone in the party on a shoestring budget, we did not partake in any of the larger dishes (except for Nick’s steak), so I don’t presume to have a good handle on chef Ng’s vision for the restaurant after our meal.  However, all the dishes I had at Cassia were excellent, so I have full faith in the rest of the menu!  Tops on my must-try list are those sunbathing prawns from the raw bar, the Vietnamese Pot Au Feu, and the market-priced Whole Singaporean White Pepper Crab—$60 on opening night.

I’ll definitely be back! So, Cassia soon!  (Sorry.)

Cassia's Business Card

Cassia's Business Card

Cassia
1314 7th St
Santa Monica, CA 90401
310-393-6699
http://www.cassiala.com/

15 June 2015 by The Offalo
Categories: Brasserie, Charcuterie, Chinese, French, Singaporean, Southeast Asian, Vietnamese | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 comment

Tacolandia 2015

Taco Maria's Taco de Calamares at Tacolandia 2015

LA Weekly‘s and Bill “Street Gourmet LA” Esparza’s third annual Tacolandia food festival took place this past Saturday, June 6, 2015, at El Pueblo de Los Angeles, same location as last year, adjacent to historic Olvera Street.  This year, the number of participants ballooned to 80+ while the number of attendees increased 60%, from 2,500 last year to 4,000!  VIP tickets for Tacolandia sold out in the first couple of weeks, and general admission tickets sold out a month and a half before the event!

Past Tacolandia events haven’t been without their issues, and at the end of my Tacolandia 2014 report, I recapped three areas for improvement:  speeding up entrance times, giving VIP ticket holders more benefits, having better access to drinks.  But before I get into whether the event improved on those issues this year, let’s get to the food!

With so many participants, I really felt like I needed to plan ahead.  I prioritized chefs from outside the greater L.A. area, especially the ones coming from Mexico, and then I added in some of my favorite local chefs and establishments, particularly those I knew would be serving something not from their regular menus.  I tried to stick to my list and did so for the most part.  In the end I sampled 25 different dishes and only missed a handful that I had really wanted to try.

This year, Bill invited twice as many chefs and restaurants from Mexico as previous years, and they all brought their A-game:

Duck Pate Taco:  Chef Diego Hernandez-Baquedano​ and his restaurant, Corazon de Tierra, in Valle de Guadalupe, Baja, Mexico, produced a subtle taco that I thought was vegetarian at first.  The pate was very smooth and acted almost as support for the carrots and goat cheese, rather than the headliner.  The crumpled tortilla chips added some playful texture.  The shiso, a Japanese touch, really added something different into the mix.

Corazon de Tierra's Duck Pate Taco at Tacolandia 2015

Corazon de Tierra's Duck Pate Taco at Tacolandia 2015

 

Sudado de Carne y Chile Colorado y Chicha:  Chef Eloy Aluri Taller from Sonora, Mexico, created this mouthful of a name dish, which roughly translates to “stewed meat in red sauce with pork rinds” (I think).  The contrast between the tender meat and crunchy chicharron was great, as was the creamy guacamole.

Eloy Aluri Taller's Sudado de Carne y Chile Colorado y Chicha at Tacolandia 2015

Eloy Aluri Taller's Sudado de Carne y Chile Colorado y Chicha at Tacolandia 2015

 

Kraken Taco:  Tacos Kokopelli has made this taco every Tacolandia.  Served with a pesto sauce that perfectly compliments the smokiness and brininess of just char-grilled octopus, it is a crowd favorite and ran out quickly, as did their other two dishes.

Tacos Kokopelli's Kraken Taco at Tacolandia 2015

Tacos Kokopelli's Kraken Taco at Tacolandia 2015

 

Polvora Taco:  Ambitiously, Tacos Kokopelli  always serves 2-3 different dishes at Tacolandia.  The lox dish ran out before I had a chance to try it, though it seemed very similar to a dish they served last year.  The Polvora this year was a little different than its equivalent last year, in that the salmon was grilled this year, and the chilmole served on it had blackberries in it.  The squid, or probably octopus, ink was a great touch.  The entire dish was just incredibly salmon-y, in the best way.

Tacos Kokopelli's Polvora Taco at Tacolandia 2015

Tacos Kokopelli's Polvora Taco at Tacolandia 2015

 

Grilled Squid Taco:  Chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris, and their restaurant in Ensenada, Mexico, Manzanilla, served up some fantastic, charred yet tender, grilled squid.  Only thing I didn’t like about it was that each serving was only half a taco.  I wanted a whole one!

Manzanilla's Grilled Squid Taco at Tacolandia 2015

Manzanilla's Grilled Squid Taco at Tacolandia 2015

 

Seafood Tostada:  Sabina Bandera‘s revered mariscos stand in Ensenada, La Guerrerense, has been a fixture at Tacolandia since the beginning.  In the past, they’ve always been one of the last ones to run out  (last year they still had seafood at the end of the event but no more tostadas to serve them on), so it was a bit surprising to see them cleaning up a few hours into this year’s event.  Their placement near the main entrance meant their demand was front-loaded, and though they brought more food this year, they ran out faster than before.

La Guerrerense's Seafood Tostada at Tacolandia 2015

La Guerrerense's Seafood Tostada at Tacolandia 2015

 

Taco de Cabrito:  Chef Guillermo Gonzalez Beristain of Pangea and La Embajada in in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, served a baby goat taco that was out of this world.  The preparation was similar to the baby goat he had at a pre-Tacolandia Night of Modern Mexican Cuisine dinner at Broken Spanish.  The grassy-gaminess of the goat was unmistakable yet subtle.  The meat was tender but not mushy.  One of my favorites of the show!

La Embajada's Taco de Cabrito at Tacolandia 2015

La Embajada's Taco de Cabrito at Tacolandia 2015

 

Of course, the SoCal-based chefs were no slouches either.  Here were some of my favorites:

Octopus Tostada:  Chef Laurent Quenioux of Bistro LQ was not present at the event, but his octopus tostada stood on its own.  The octopus was quite tender, but still retained a nice, snappy chew.

Bistro LQ's Octopus Tostada at Tacolandia 2015

Bistro LQ's Octopus Tostada at Tacolandia 2015

 

Scallop Aguachile Tostada:  What can I say about chef Wes Avila that I haven’t already said in my one or two posts on Guerrilla Tacos?  Those who missed the aforementioned pre-Tacolandia Night of Modern Mexican Cuisine dinner at Broken Spanish, had a second chance to try it at Tacolandia.  The scallops were incredibly clean tasting, while the chile de valle had a great kick!

Guerrilla Tacos' Scallop Aguachile Tostada at Tacolandia 2015

Guerrilla Tacos' Scallop Aguachile Tostada at Tacolandia 2015

 

Taco Dorado de Papas:  This rolled taco, which is on the regular menu at chef Fabian Gallardo‘s Petty Cash Taqueria, was excellent, really light and crisply fried tortilla and great sweet/savory ingredients!   When I finally go to PCT–I haven’t been, yet–I’ll be ordering this for sure.  Amusingly, walking around the event I overheard multiple people asking about potato tacos, and I made sure to direct them here!

Petty Cash Taqueria's Taco Dorado de Papas at Tacolandia 2015

Petty Cash Taqueria's Taco Dorado de Papas at Tacolandia 2015

 

Sweetbreads Taco:  After being absent from last year’s event, chefs Josh Gil and Daniel Snukal of Tacos Punta Cabras killed it with their dish this year!  Served on a foie gras tortilla (?!) and topped with a great artichoke salsa, this was probably my second favorite preparation of sweetbreads ever!  (The first was by chef Wes Avila at Guerrilla Tacos a few months ago.  Shh.)  The sweetbreads were creamy, a little nutty, not overcooked or bland.  To be honest, I couldn’t specifically pick out the foie gras in the taste of the tortilla, but it did taste different, and was delicious; TPC’s tortillas are always made fresh and top notch!

Tacos Punta Cabras' Sweetbreads Taco on Foie Gras Tortilla at Tacolandia 2015

Tacos Punta Cabras' Sweetbreads Taco on Foie Gras Tortilla at Tacolandia 2015

 

Taco de Calabasita:  This on-menu item from chef Ray Garcia‘s new casual eatery, B.S. Taqueria, gets my vote for best vegetarian taco.  The dish was quite hearty and “meaty” for being all veggies, and had a bright, citrus-y pop thanks to a splash of lime juice.  Even if you’re not vegetarian, which I am most certainly not, you’ll enjoy this taco!

B.S. Taqueria's Taco de Calabasita at Tacolandia 2015

B.S. Taqueria's Taco de Calabasita at Tacolandia 2015

 

Taco de Calamares:  Last of my favorites, but certainly not least, is Taco Maria chef Carlos Salgado‘s Monterey squid taco, served on a charcoal-black blue corn and squid ink tortilla, with roasted peanuts and perslane.  The squid was incredibly tender and flavorful, and the tortilla was just unreal to look at, it was so black it was shiny!

Taco Maria's Taco de Calamares at Tacolandia 2015

Taco Maria's Taco de Calamares at Tacolandia 2015

 

As for the ones that got away, I really regret missing Corazon y Miel‘s carnitas taco, with heritage pork cooked by the experts at Carnitas El Momo, and aromatics and other ingredients cooked in foie gras fat!  The dish was featured on Food GPS‘s “Dose of Vitamin P” series this week.

Tacolandia remains one of my favorite food festivals, and I look forward to the next year’s as soon as the current one is over.  From what I hear, they’re going to go bigger!  As strange as it is for me to say, I actually hope they don’t.  Having so many vendors meant it was likely literally impossible to sample everything, which meant cutting participants that I love, like Carnitas El Momo or Ricky’s Fish Tacos, from my list, because they’re likely serving dishes available on their regular menu.  It’s human nature to regret what one might have missed out on, so I felt kind of bad I couldn’t try everything.  While all of Bill’s selections are thoughtfully made, I think I’d prefer a more tightly curated list of 40 participants.  I’ll live, though, if that doesn’t happen.

I don’t really have any real, new criticisms for this year besides it being a little too big.  One minor criticism I have was that many of the participants did not have description of their dishes on display at their stations.  Some did, but most did not, it seemed.  If that could be a requirement, it would be a great help not just to food bloggers and Instagrammers like myself, but to everyone.  Other than that, I thought Tacolandia 2015 was as well run as a food festival of its scale could hope for!

Oh, so how did Tacolandia do on entrance lines, VIP benefits, and drink access this year?

Entrance Lines:  Being stuck in outside last year was quite motivating for my group of friends, and we all arrived an hour before the event started this year, so they all got in fairly quickly, even with GA tickets (I bought a VIP ticket).  If you arrived just as the event was starting, you probably still had to wait a while, but it did not seem to take as long as last year.  The organizers set up Disneyland-like cordoning for the GA line to allow the thousands of attendees to queue up without blocking foot traffic for Olvera Street visitors, so that was good.  Even if you were stuck for a while outside, the event was extended from four hours to five hours in duration, so you didn’t miss too much, though of course many participants ran out of food before 8 PM.

VIP Benefits:  Unlike LA Weekly’s The Essentials in March or its upcoming Burgers & Beer event in August, VIP ticketholders for Tacolandia still did not get early entry.  Unlike the GA line, the VIP line did not have a well organized cordons, so a crowd of people amassed along Main Street.  This year’s “swag” came in a reusable canvas bag, which was a big improvement from the Amoeba Music plastic bag, no offense to them.  The contents were still an assortment of coupons and a package of organic tortillas from La Tortilla Factory, and, new this year, tickets to the OC Fair!  VIP also included drink tickets, which were not actually redeemable for any beverages available for purchase, unfortunately, but rather for drink samples in the VIP area.  Thing was, the vendors handing out samples weren’t collecting tickets, so you could get as many samples as you wanted.

(New this year, in both the GA and VIP entrance lines: increased security presence, bag checks, and frisking!)

Drink Access:  This year, drinks were so much more accessible compared to last year, with at least a dozen drink booths selling alcoholic beverages as well as bottled water.  Jarritos was on hand again, giving out free sodas and mineral waters to anyone who wanted one, and they were stationed right by the main entrance, so no one could miss them!  On the downside, security did not allow people to bring their own water bottles.  When the event is outdoors and in the summer, we should be allowed to bring our own water.

Jarritos' Grapefruit/Toronja Soda at Tacolandia 2015

Jarritos' Grapefruit/Toronja Soda at Tacolandia 2015

 

So, two improvements out of three ain’t bad.  Next year I’ll likely forgo the VIP ticket, unless they make significant changes to its benefits, and just plan to arrive early to the event!  Ironically, since the VIP entrance was on the other side of the event space from the main entrance, while some of the more popular booths (Bistro LQ, Corazon de Tierra, Guerrilla Tacos, La Guerrerense, Soho Taco, etc.) were near the main entrance,  my friends with GA tickets actually got into those lines ahead of me!

Please visit my Instagram feed to check out the remaining dozen or so dishes and shots from Tacolandia 2015!  Thanks Bill and LA Weekly for throwing such a great shindig!  Can’t wait for Tacolandia 2016!

11 June 2015 by The Offalo
Categories: Events and Festivals, Mexican, Tacos | Tags: , , | 1 comment

← Older posts