Wednesday, July 16, 2008

And for something completely different...

The transition is rough -- but isn't that what blogs are about? -- but I've been wanting to talk about some delicious things I ate in California.

The most arresting thing I ate was a stir-fry with a cake of wide noodles that were browned on the bottom and soft inside. I was already slightly discomfited by this when my dining companion, poking around with her chopsticks, unearthed a flat strip of maroon meat and exclaimed, in charmingly accented English, "Oh! Heart of the pig!" I'm no Tony Bourdain, but I tried some. It was livery and I didn't like it.

Some things I did like:

Shrimp and mango salad in Little Saigon. Cilantro, lime, thin strips of mango, fat shrimp with charred outsides and soft centers... yeah.

The lemon-ginger drink at Alegria in Echo Park. Though beloved by at least a half-dozen of my friends, I'm not the biggest fan of this place, even though they have a special "veggie" burrito on the menu that features carnitas, a combination that amuses me greatly. The food is generally good, but it doesn't excite me. This drink, however, is a different matter: It contains an insane amount of grated fresh ginger, which both moderates and is moderated by a fairly sweet lemonade. Incredibly refreshing. Bonus points: They serve it over crushed ice instead of cubes.

Mexican shrimp cocktail at Serenata de Garabaldi in East LA. Lime, cilantro, tomato juice, fat shrimp... I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this combination. The shrimp were a little overdone, and my platonic ideal of this dish includes lots of ripe avocado, but it was delicious nonetheless and inspires me to take a crack at it. EC, are you game?

Double-doubles with grilled onions and "well-done" fries. Everyone knows that In-and-Out makes a great fast-food burger, the scoop here is requesting that their normally poor fries (which give "frozen" a good name) cooked well-done. This improves their flavor and texture enormously. Asking for grilled onions is also smart.

Fish tacos from Taco Nazo in Norwalk (Sadly, this particular outpost of the family-run chain now bears the cheesy tag "Senor Baja," which I refuse to call it because their tacos are far too good for that name.) The total was eight. Short of the 50 I had hoped for, but not bad. They were all delicious.

Papaya and dried-shrimp salad from Renu Nakorn in Norwalk. The tiny, saline dried shrimp make this.

The roasted olives from Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. I could have picked any number of things -- the sea-salted butterscotch budino, the egg/guancale/radicchio pizza, even the thick wedges of bread toasted in the wood oven and drenched with new olive oil -- but the olives are probably what I'm most likely to try to duplicate at home. They emerge from the oven sizzling and surrounded by roasted garlic, herbs and fat peels of lemon. The lemon insinuates itself deliciously into the fat green olives, at once changing and highlighting their natural perfume and saltiness.

Burratta, roasted peppers and aged balsamic at Fraiche in Culver City. I was generally underwhelmed with the trendy Fraiche, but the billowy heaps of burratta -- a cousin to mozzarella with a soft, creamy-curdy center -- worked wonderfully with the peppers and vinegar.

Smoked tri-tip from Lucille's BBQ. This, maybe, was the most shockingly good thing I ate on the trip, mainly because my expectations weren't all that high and I was filching it off my mother's plate. Lucille's, a local chain, is good but not exceptional. This tri-tip, however, was exceptionally good: As meltingly tender as great brisket, a whallop of smoke, an interesting dry rub. No sauce required or welcome. I bought a tiny tri-tip from a nearby beef farm in the hopes of smoking it into something resembling this.

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