Coocoo for Cacao Mexicatessen.

Cacao Mexicatessen
1576 Colorado Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90041

Just go.

Get in your car, head to the Colorado exit in Eagle Rock and go directly to Cacao Mexicatessen.  NOW.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner – the selection is unparalleled for any Mexican establishment this side of Huanusco, Zacatecas, and the quality is insane. The taste is ridiculously amazing. Don’t believe otf? Check out Jon Gold’s outstanding, drool-inducing review. In fact, check out the El Taquero Maya plate, featuring Duck Confit (duck carnitas, if you will), Wild Boar, Turkey and Duck SKIN tacos, all made in accordance with the legitimate Mexican preparation methodology (and handmade tortillas).

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Not sold? How about the Mexican Corn on the Cob, replete with mayonaisa, parmesan, hot sauce & lime?

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And how about this picture from inside the pasilla en la casita de me abuelitas? (okay fine, this is actually the adjoining flower shop, also family owned by the good folks from Cacao) Que autentico!

Seriously, though – I have NEVER seen a menu like this. In addition to the previous quadrant of mind-blowing Mexican dishes, we tried the Tacos Don Marcos (habanero/serrano carne asada), which STILL has my mouth on fire delciously, as well as my personal favorite – Corn Truffle, aka Corn SMUT, aka Huitlacoche, which wasn’t even legal in the United States until last decade despite it’s status as a culinary rockstar in upper-class Mexico. Also of note: the ceboillitas are incredibly flavorful, but despite the ‘ita’ this is NOT a small platter. These olive oil/lime marinated green onions tasted so savory, so delicious that we did end up finishing the dozen or so LARGE seboillas on the plate.

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corn smut taco

The only drawbacks?
1) Too far from where I live.
2) There are SO many good things that I didn’t even get to half of my personal tasting menu – in addition to the unique items above, I’d like to try their Hibiscus Flower taco, their nopales (cactus), the squash blossom taco, as well as the Mole Fries (yes, MOLE fries).
3) We haven’t even discussed breakfast yet. Blue Corn pancakes, anyone?

In short, this was honestly my favorite dining experience of 2011. I WILL be going to back to Cacao, and soon. This time, for desayuno.


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Filed under dine.o.saurus, eastside

One Guy Takes On Five Guys

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24201 W. Valencia Blvd., 3672
Valencia, CA 91355

20700 Avalon Blvd
Carson, CA 90746

I’d been hearing just a little too much about this new hamburger chain that migrated from the east coast (Chicago?). With a seemingly never-ending stream of praise and being touted as the In-N-Out contender, I decided it would behoove me to inspect more closely. I’m skeptical these days; this newer generation of patrons (that can’t exist without wires and circuit boards connected to their heads) often has no idea what they’re talking about.

To boot, it seems they somehow have the power to convert folks in my age group. Regardless, I took this stint seriously as I don’t like to revisit my reviews and pick out obvious bias. So, is this east coast Double-Double the real deal?  I cleared my mind and palate, ate, and here’s the resulting synopsis of my Five Guys experience:

  

Despite the cookie-cutter exterior and insanely braggadocios and cliché interior (nearly every wall placard illustrates their own greatness in some way), there was some comfort found inside. Why? I have no clue. It could have been the familiar red and white scheme that’s so coincidentally similar to In-N-Out. Maybe it was the actual zit-faced teenagers behind the counter instead of the standard Los Angeles tired-of-life 48 year old mother of 3 fry cook. Or, quite possibly, it could have been the two barrels of peanuts inviting you for a snack before you get your food. Who knows? Either way, it was clean, open and relatively pleasant to be there.

I ordered a few different things at Five Guys to get a true feel for the food. You can’t make a decision about a restaurant based on one dish from one cook on one day. The beauty of fast food is that it’s usually pretty consistent, so ordering up a grease gauntlet should lead me to a pretty accurate assessment. Starting off, I ordered their double bacon cheese burger with everything on it. Ordering everything on your burger is a wonderful window into the burger maker’s soul. From this, you can determine where they draw the line with toppings. When is enough, enough? What makes a good burger? In some test kitchen somewhere, this burger with all its adornments, stands as their finished product and their own interpretation of what a good burger is. In this case, everything means: Mayo, Pickles, Lettuce, Tomato, Mushrooms, Onions and BBQ sauce. They have a host of other toppings such as A-1 and jalapenos that are optional, but I wasn’t interested. I know what all that tastes like. I wanted to see what their burger was made of, literally.

   

The good: The ingredients were fresh.

The ‘Eh’: As a whole, the burger was bland. The meat didn’t have much of an identity and the texture was lumpy and soft. The toppings, while each good in their own right, came together as a tasteless amalgam that didn’t benefit the overall burger. While I enjoy the umami-laden, earthy notes a delicious bunch of mushrooms typically deliver, these seemed leached by some form of marination. I wouldn’t be surprised to find they’re canned. The bacon was good in flavor however certain parts seemed determined to break a molar with its travertine-like texture. The bun was decent to good, but lacked the ability to keep the burger together; it was quickly overcome by juices and began disintegration early on. The bottom bun broke through on my 4th bite.

Fries – thick but not Fatburger thick. Great natural potato taste and good amount of salt however they were overcooked. Yet, at the same time they were limp, soggy, and had an overpowering burnt oil taste to them. I later ordered their Cajun-style fries hoping for something different but received the same fries with seasoned salt on them. Eh…

The Bad: As I write this, the BBQ sauce is becoming more and more intolerable, just as it did while I was eating. I typically love a good sweet BBQ sauce, however this sauce had a particular sweetness that some part of my brain associates with rancid dumpster. The meat was (burger fail [dammit this pod generation has me saying fail] in my eyes) drastically too small for the bun.

I was happy enough with the pretty burger façade to finish it but was left with unsatiated wont. The decision was quickly made to order a burger without any toppings at all, just meat and cheese. I needed to taste this burger for what it was without all the white space between the buns. Without all hoopla, this burger had much more of a solid burger flavor. Even still, I wasn’t ready to call this the In-N-Out beater. It’s not bad, but not great either. The bad proportions and odd flavor profiles make these burgers too odd to give a solid thumbs up to. Again, the meat was just too small for the bun.

After a moderately disappointing burger meal, I ordered a hot dog. The dog was actually surprisingly good. I didn’t have the stomach space to order a full-blown dog, so I’ll have to admit my review on the hotdog isn’t fully formed. I ordered only cheese on the dog so I could appreciate the flavor and cooking style. Also, out of fairness I need to add that I’m not a huge hotdog fan but I’ve had my fair share and admittedly, I was pleasantly surprised. The dog was frenched and grilled perfectly. It was crispy, juicy, meaty, tasty … everything a good dog should be. Maybe a TAD bit greasy. The only other criticism I really had was that the bun was so-so. It almost seemed microwaved as by my 3-4th bite, it was already becoming hard and flaky. I’ll revisit this next time for toppings.

Overall

Establishment: 4.0 of 5. Clean, friendly, good ambiance. Tacky self-promotion and standard design.

Burger: 3.0 of 5. Pretty looking and fresh. Good quality however lacking in flavor and design.

Fries: 2.5 of 5. Cut potatos thrown in burnt oil, covered with salt.

Hot Dog: 3.5 of 5. Could be 4 with addition of toppings and fresh bun.

Result: Not an In-N-Out beater. Not a first-rate burger. Skepticism confirmed: this is a magnificent burger for teens, early twenties, indiscriminate eaters, and know-it-alls.

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Not Exactly Rockin’ at Röckenwagner.

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311 Arizona Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401-1305

On this most gorgeous Sunday, we decided to make a trek to Santa Monica to enjoy three wonders of L.A.:  the sun, the traffic, the eccentricities. Each was out en masse, and since we decided to use non-English English phrases like ‘en masse,’ we figured why not keep with the theme of foreign words and visit Röckenwagner Bakery, a highly toted spot on the Westside.

After spending the greater part of an hour looking for parking (most of this was spent climbing the TEN levels within the 3rd Street parking), we walked right past the Promenade, greatly awaiting a Euro-cafe.

Instead, we entered a world of decor seemingly taken directly from Pinkberry, with a bit of Jamba Juice influence mied in. This confused, Über-modern, wannabe-sleek, pastel-colored setup immediately make us want to reconsider our choice, but since the register arrow was so narrow that we couldn’t even move (pic below), we decided to make the best of our trek.

http://media2.ct.yelpcdn.com/bphoto/5m2IeOx-NeryWbpWpRiTFg/l<—note the ‘line’ of people one person-width deep. VERY long, and not conducive to much, specifically ‘efficient business.’ But I digress. image courtesy of Yelp.

Noting a menu bereft of much aside from typical coffee preparations and some ‘premade sandwiches,’ my disappointment reached a crescendo, seriously an impetus to opt-out and head somewhere else. That said, the absolutely wonderful Julius Meinl coffee was tasty, strong (in the good way) and quite unique – sourced in Austria, and distributed only there and Chicago.  Assuaged by the coffee, we decided to give the sandwiches a shot. . .

And we were extremely glad we did. At $3.25/pop, these mini-sandwiches – squished way over to the side in the (again) obnoxiously laid out interior, almost enough so that they were forgotten, because they surely were not easy to spot upon walk’in – were clearly artisanal. Taken straight from the menu, we had the Tuna on brioche (avocado, tomato, mayo and red onions) as well as  Salami on pretzel roll (parmesan, tomato, arugula and mustard), both of which were fresh, delicious and craftsman-worthy. Take a look:

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image courtesy of L.A. Weekly

Now to say that I was impressed by Röckenwagner would be an extreme overstatement.  In fact, I’d be surprised to see this particular location succeed as the ‘hey come in, we’re a modern ice cream shop’ vibe really isn’t conducive to what they’re trying to sell (I hear the Mar Vista one is tolerable, though). That said, I would DEFINITELY grab those mini-sandwiches whenever I happen to be on or around 3rd Street, and in fact would highly recommend grabbing a dozen or two to bring to the office, the classroom, or to the family. Super delicious, and here’s hoping that they come to their senses and refine the aesthetic so as not to mislead and drive off all hungrily interested consumers.

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Portuguese in the Valley? Uh Huh. Natas.

13317 Ventura Boulevard
CA 91423-6212

I’ve passed this (literal) hole-in-the-wall Bakery countless times without giving it second thought; buried in the back corner bottom floor of one of those countless mini-malls lining Ventura Blvd., Nata’s Pastries seemed very esoteric – I mean, do I really need pastries?

Okay, the answer is YES, but I’m not going to go out of my way, hassle with parking, deal with a mini-mall, just to get some run of the mill stuff. So for five years, I looked at the place quizzically like I guess it’s good, I mean it’s still in business.  Flash forward to the car wash across the street, who one day featured free samples of some of the pastries. Delicious, and I made a mental note to check the place out one day.

A year later, I made good on that note – finally stopping in because my wife wanted ‘some cake,’ we parked in one of the eight (!) parking spaces, expecting a bakery. And being that the spot was Portuguese, it fell in line with our love of new experience, namely with ethnic foods.

Once we went in, we were surprised at the joy and wonders a 300-square foot retail location could offer:

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selection from the bakery, supplied by LAIst

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interior sit-down,  courtesy of my daily find

In short the good were wonderfully diverse, featuring dozens of selections from their Bakery. We had to try the Portuguese classic Nata, which was cooked to perfection with a crisp, light outside with a soft, perfectly-textured interior.

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The Classic Nata

Not wanting to limit ourselves, especially when experiencing the authentically tiled & accoutred environ – I swear to you, I thought we were in Europe – we tried a few of the hot foods, though unfortunately  no entrees (yet), so the spinach puff pastry and crab/shrimp rissois fit our need. . .and boy were they delcious. Again, cooked to perfection. Meals this delicate and sensitive can easily be over- and under-cooked, but these were ideal.  Take a look:

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Spinach Feta Puff Roll

We will most certainly be back, and this time we’ll really dive in. In sort, though, GO now. Beautiful place, great employees and delicious food.

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Rez-piration for the L.A. Marathon

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So my friend decided to run his first Marathon this year:
a) In a driving rainstorm (5.71 inches in 24 hours in Northridge)
b) a year after having ACL surgery
c) with stomach issues hindering his first three miles.
In short, dude finished in sub-5 hours in his first attempt (not quite Markos Geneti, but still impressive).

In short,  this is a proposition to all those interested:
I am looking to run the Marathon in 2012, and I started ‘training’ yesterday.
I am also looking for training partners at various points.

Now obviously real ‘training’ is something like the legendary Hal Higdon’s Guide to Running 26 miles, 385 yards, and many great runners have run utilizing various training schedules, most of which begin four months prior to the race.

That said, I HATE running – as does my beautiful wife – and I started yesterday for this very purpose: I wanted to see where I was, both from a mental and cardiovascular standpoint: my first effort garnered a 10:57 first mile, then I hit the ‘walk’ button at the 16:50 mark, or 1.6 miles into the run.

Pretty lame, right? Exactly. My point is – all of you are probably ready to compete on that level (or better), and the truth is, I’m not going to ‘train train’ until November (four months prior to race). In the meantime, I plan on running a couple 5k’s, a 10k’s and ideally the Pasadena Half, which falls perfectly in line with the ‘real’ training.

For me, the Dixie Canyon Course is a VERY good cross-country trail that spans 3.5 (somewhat demanding) miles, and generally takes us about 55 minutes. We like to do this on (dry) Saturdays, though not necessarily every week.

I guess the point here is – who’s with me? If you’re not with me, you’re against me – and that really sucks. J/K. Seriously, though, looking for partners so hit me up.

 

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5 Reasons St. Patrick’s Day Sucks In Los Angeles

With all due respect to the proud Irish Americans who helped build this nation and now call our fair city home, St. Patrick’s Day in L.A. kinda sucks. When you look at East Coast cities like Chicago or Boston, where the entire city seems to shut down for the festivities, our version seems even more pathetic. It’s not like we don’t know how to do a big drinking holiday – look at Halloween. We’re just not a St-Patty’s-Day-friendly town. Here’s why:
5. It’s Amateur Hour: While it’s true that this comes into play on every drinking holiday, there’s something about St. Patty’s Day that transcends even the amateur level of, say, a New Year’s Eve. Maybe it’s the quirky appeal of green beer, or the irresistible 3-for-1 specials, or good old fashioned peer pressure, but the rookies come out in droves. It’s kind of a bad time to dabble, as whiskey and Guinness are not for beginners. You have a lot of kids out there slamming Irish Car Bombs for the very first time. This is not good for anyone.
4. The Drive Factor: In pedestrian friendly cities like Chicago, New York, and even San Francisco, people can wander the streets arm-in-arm, stumbling amiably from bar to bar getting progressively drunker until they walk themselves home in a stupor and harmlessly pass out. In Los Angeles, unless you live within walking distance of a bar, somebody has to drive. The sheer increase of people on the road plus the aforementioned amateur factor makes for some seriously dumbass driving. On the other hand, at least every cop in town will be out as well, either on the prowl or manning a DUI checkpoint, which is either a plus or minus depending on your perspective. On a night where the cops and the drunks will be battling all night long, it just seems like tempting fate to throw yourself into the middle of the war.

3. No Iconic Irish Community: East Coast cities are known for their gritty, urban toughness and large Irish populations. Boston has made a cottage industry out of its hardcore Irish-ness recently in films with imposing titles like The Departed, The Town, and The Fighter. New York has a long and colorful Irish history that dates back to the mid 19th century. If there is an Irish population in Los Angeles, I haven’t seen it. If it exists at all, it’s probably spread out all over the city. We don’t have a hardscrabble Irish enclave like Southie or the Five Points or an identifiable figure like John F. Kennedy or Bill the Butcher. The closest most of us can get to an authentic Irish experience is going to a bar with an O’ in the name, which may or may not be owned by real Irish. Which brings me to my next point:

2. All the Irish Bars Here Suck: There, I said it. With a couple of notable exceptions (Molly Malone’s on Fairfax comes to mind) most of the Irish bars in L.A. are irredeemable shitholes. I realize that’s part of the appeal, but what’s worse is that they all feel like the exact same shithole. Some of them even have the same name (I’m talking to you, O’Briens!) These shitholes are all over town and include Casey’s, Brennans, O’Grady’s, O’Haras (formerly Maloney’s) Cock N’Bull, Sonny McLeans, McG’s, and Finn McCool’s (you can’t just add “Mc-” to any word you want and call yourself Irish.) Every single one of them has the same cheesedick Guinness posters, depressing dartboards, and the same smell, like someone freshly spilled a beer the moment before you walked in. Maybe I’m still bitter that they shut Dublin’s down three years ago, but that place at least knew how to go big or go home. And finally,
1. People Like This:



and this:
And this (actually this one’s not so bad):
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Solution for the Lent Food Blues

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210 East Grand Avenue
El Segundo, CA 90245-3827

So I was literally – yes, literally – dragged out of the office today for the dreaded ‘off-site’ meeting with colleagues who may or may not be friends, but feel like acting like such during work hours. Fine. I DO like these people, at least from 8am – 5pm, so why not. At least we can get away from our phones, computers, desks and Facebook.

But where to eat?  Fish, you say?

Yes, I love seafood, but I’m not into having some mahi mahi tacos at Baja Fresh and considering that a meal del mar.

Well how about a place that has decor like this:

Seems moderate – I’m not sure about the ‘cabin’ feel, but hey – the swordfish on the wall can’t be misleading, can it?  And is that a full sauce/salsa bar I see back there?  It is – everything from classic tabasco to tartar sauce to ranch (!) to my favorite, Valentina. And of course malt vinegar – you can’t serve a good fish n’ chips without that elixir.

Well let’s order, shall we?  While salivating over their VERY expansive and fresh menu, my coworkers went for the safe fish tacos – some blackened ahi, some baja shrimp, some crispy cod. All delicious and all, but I need to judge a fish place by it’s pure, natural pescado. I opted for the wild-caught Ahi (okay, sue me PETA), lightly seared and served with sauteed spinach (it took all of my willpower not to order their goldencrisp, beautifully salted fries) and ginger, with a side of soy ginger sauce with garlic chunks:

In the time it took to receive our food – a good 15 minutes, without a crowd, which incidentally is a hallmark of freshness and good preparation, eg if you want fast food go get a Filet O’ Fish – we were provided all you can eat peanuts, just to whet our appetites. And once it arrived, all I can say is. . .NOM NOM NOM. Absolutely gorgeous, delicious and teeming with freshness.

And to think – I didn’t want to go off-site? I guess I could get used to these monthly meetings. . .did somebody say weekly?  YUM.

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