Eat Drink Style Have A Great Weekend...

Hope everyone stuffs their face this weekend with food and stomachs with beer. This is one of my favorite times of the year because I can bbq EVERYDAY. Be safe and don't be one of those dumbasses that loses their fingers to fireworks. Be back next week.

Eat Drink Style Isn’t She Lovely – Sushi Karen, Culver City

Isn't she lovely...
Isn't she wonderful...
Isn't she precious...
Less than one minute old...
I never thought through love we'd be...
Making one as lovely as she...
But isn't she lovely made from love.

Stevie Wonder probably wasn’t singing about a girl named Karen, but that song comes to mind when I think about Sushi Karen in Culver City. Culver City has recently revamped their downtown area, making it a pleasant area for mid-day lunches and casual dinners. Sushi Karen is just west of the downtown Culver City and sits with a nice gray painted exterior and bright neon signs (a characteristic of many sushi restaurants) and has a romantic view of Best Buy. Named after Chef Toshi’s 3-year old daughter, it’s quite a popular sushi spot for regulars, like me. Reviews on Citysearch state that Chef Toshi also selects fish from the same purveyor for Matsuhisa and Nobu but lets you keep your arms and legs intact.

JL: “Wanna eat sushi tonight?”
Me: “Sure.”
JL: “There’s this place that serves big portions of sushi and it’s good - Sushi Karen.”
Me: “Sushi Kirin?”
JL: “No, no. Sushi Karen, like the name, Karen. Stupid.”
Me: “You’re a fob and I can’t tell the difference in your pronunciation. Let’s go.”

Sushi Karen has a nice chill atmosphere. The floor exposes concrete giving it a trendy, industrial feel. It’s somewhat dark but still intimate. I believe they play downtempo. I love any restaurant that plays downtempo. The times I’ve been there, there haven’t been many patrons, but I don’t mind an empty restaurant. I don’t have to yell over anyone else’s voice to be heard.

As JL, BR and I walked in, we were greeted warmly by the hostess and Chef Toshi himself; a very polite, humble-looking man. I wanted to sit at the bar and talk to him, but it was full. Behind the sushi bar, you can see many types of sake and Japanese beer. Has anyone ever tried Orion beer? There’s also a 6" x 8" collage of the famous Karen on the shelf. We got our menus and I could tell that Chef Toshi was eager to serve his fish to us. He asked us a few times if we were ready to order. I stayed away from the regular menu and focused on his “Specials” board.

A. Sushi Karen Menu - All for love.

B. Chef Toshi - Chef really loves what he does. You can see he's superfocused making your order. Definitely talk to him, he's quite social.

C. Sashimi Salad - For $13, you get a huge plate of greens with (I counted), at least 12 pieces of fish, including salmon, yellowtail, albacore, toro and halibut. This is lightly tossed with a delicious Sesame-Miso dressing. This is my usual order along with the Amberjack Jalapeno Kanpachi sushi.

D. Spicy Tuna Salad - My copywriter JM got this and absolutely loved this. For $8.50, he got 10-12 pieces of beautifully-seared Tuna in a spicy dressing.

E. Karen Roll - BR and JL love this roll. This huge roll contains tender-cooked salmon, cucumber and avocado, all wrapped in a soy-rice sheet. Sometimes the sheet is pink, sometimes its orange. This was really tasty and filling. $13 and well worth it.

F. Spanish Mackerel - This is one of Chef Toshi's specials listed on his board. BR loves strong-tasting fish and devoured this. It's garnished with minced garlic, ginger and green onion and served with a ponzu sauce. The garnishes really knockout the fishiness of the Spanish Mackerel. $5.50 for 2 pieces.

G. Sashimi Special - I ordered this off the "Specials" board for $20. Everything was fresh, with the Spanish Mackerel being my least favorite.

H. Amberjack Jalapeno Kanpachi - Oh man, my favorite. I get this every time I eat here along with the Sashimi salad, and I'm full. Amberjack has a similiar texture and taste to Himachi (Yellowtail). Chef Toshi adds a thin slice of jalapeno, cilantro, freshly-pressed garlic and tops it off with fresh Yuzu and soy sauce. Upon eating it, your palate will get a nice kick in the ass. My eyes enlarged in delight. 2 pieces for $5.50.

I. Tempura - Good as usual.

J. Candy Crabs - As I perused his "Specials" board, I came across Candy Crabs. I asked Chef Toshi what it was and he quickly ran into the kitchen. He came back out with a bucket of orange and black crabs. For $6, you get to send four of these guys into the deep-fry ocean for a quick bath. It's seasoned with Japanese sea salt. Chef Toshi put the crab on my plate and the crab quickly put up his dukes, faster than Daniel-San could get into the "Crane" stance. I couldn't hear him, but he was probably screaming "NOOOOOOoooOOOOooOOOO, don't even think about it. Back off b*tch!!!" We saw this guy about 5 minutes later and devoured him. It was so good. The crab meat had a subtle sweetness and the legs were crispy. I almost cut my lip with the sharp claws.

I like that Sushi Karen is small. It lets Chef Toshi interact with you and make you feel at home. I’ve been here four times already on separate occasions with JL & BR, my copywriter JM and Jeni of Oishii Eats. The Chef remembers me and always says, “Thank you for coming back.” I always tell him I’ll keep bringing more of my friends back here. The reason I keep coming back here is for the Amberjack sushi. It’s so good. I have yet to try the SuperToro, which is supposed to be extremely oily and fatty, like me. SuperToro = SuperDylan.

Me: “Chef, how long have you been open?”
Chef Toshi: “Oh, for 3 years!”
Me: “So Chef, if you have another child, are you going to name a restaurant after him?”
Chef Toshi: “Ha! It’s very hard running this restaurant. We’ll see how we do here.”

Sushi Karen is a great alternative to the Hollywood/Beverly Hills sushi spots for those that live in the Westside. Chef Toshi gives you generous portions of fish, sometimes almost TOO big. But I’m not complaining. So in the following years, if you happen to see a place like Sushi Bill or Sushi Jenny… it’s probably another work of the wonderful, Chef Toshi.

To answer Stevie Wonder's question... Yes, I think Karen is lovely, very lovely.

Thanks for reading.

Sushi Karen
10762 Washington Blvd (1 block West of Overland)
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 202-0855

Eat Drink Style What to Eat On Venice Blvd. with Only $6 and Some Pocket-Change – Larco Mar Peruvian Rotisserie

I started working in the Culver City/Palms/Mar Vista area about 4 months ago. I was stoked upon receiving the job offer because I knew I would have good eats. With places like Café Brasil, Versailles, Beacon and even Sawtelle Blvd. (for longer lunch breaks), this new job would prove beneficial to my tummy and wallet. One day, with only $6 in my pocket, I drove around seeking a low-budget haven. No problem. Some of you know that I can make the most out of nothing, at places like Souplantation. What could I get? McDonald’s? No. In & Out? No way, I’m pro-Fatburger. Wendy’s? No, something about square patties seems unfitting. After passing Overland Avenue, I caught a red & white-striped building with a banner advertising a whole rotisserie chicken for only $5.95. Nice. A roasted chicken is definitely healthier than one swimming in the Deep Fried Ocean.

Upon walking in, I noticed three different things going on. Larco Mar not only serves Peruvian rotisserie chicken, but also has Mexican food and a decked out bakery with Mexican cakes and pastries. It was dead inside though. The cashier was sitting on a chair, absorbing the overly-dramatic soap operas on Telemundo. One of the cooks leaned against the counter with a towel draped over his shoulder. This was a ghost town and of course I got stares because, well, I’m not Peruvian. And maybe it’s the fact that they haven’t seen a customer since last week. I was gonna suggest that they buy an inflatable chicken that they can stack on their roof. The large clown/gorilla floats you see at car dealerships. That should let people know that they exist.

I didn’t feel like ordering a whole chicken so I went for the ¼ chicken with two side orders combo for $4.95, which comes out to $5.36. I was safe, and still $0.64 richer. I could use that for stuff like bum donations, sticky-hand toys from the vending machines or Chiclets. In addition to the $0.64, I also had about $1 worth of change. I ordered a ham croquette and ground beef empanada, which came out to like $1.25. So actually, I was $0.11 richer.

As I waited for my food, I noticed a recognizable logo on the rotisserie ovens. Apparently, our buddies here at Larco Mar found Boston Market rotisserie ovens on Craigslist or something. Funny. At least take the logo off. Nobody wears clothing with the price tags or size stickers still on them right?

A. 1/4 Chicken with 2 Side Orders - If you're not health-conscious, definitely go for the dark meat because it's moist and flavorful. The chicken was delicious. I asked the lady for some tortillas, which she gave for free, and made little tacos with the green Peruvian hot sauce. If you've been to Mario's Peruvian & Seafood, you'll know what I'm talking about. Addictive stuff. A few weeks later, I ordered the whole roasted chicken for $6 and 1/2 of it was moist (dark meat), and other being quite dry (white meat). I recommend this meal over the whole chicken. The rice and beans were average.

B. Ham Croquette and Ground Beef Empanada - Valued at $1.25, these are fun things to try. The ham croquette looks like a mozzarella stick but isn't that tasty. What they meant by ham was really corned beef. It was mushy and just strange tasting. The empanada, on the other hand, was yum. Perfectly spiced and moist.

C. Cake City - Larco Mar is an activity center. While you're waiting for your order, you can check out their bakery and cake designs. If you're not into sweets, well you're stuck with Mexican soap operas.

D. Boston Market, I mean, Larco Mar Rotisserie Ovens - Look at those babies in the chicken carousel.

E. Boston Market, I mean, Larco Mar - The resemblance is uncanny.

Next time you're left with $6, don't give in to the fast food joints. Larco Mar is there to save you. Thanks for reading.

Larco Mar Peruvian Rotisserie
10825 Venice Blvd.
West Los Angeles, Ca. 90034
(310) 838-0375

Eat Drink Style Sergio Mendes & Café Brasil - A Brazilian Evening at the Hollywood Bowl

Last night, my friends and I started off the summer with an evening concert at the bowl. Being a huge fan of bossanova, I couldn’t miss Sergio Mendes’ 40th Anniversary show. Many of you may remember his KOST-song, “Never Gonna Let You Go”, but that doesn’t do any justice for this very-talented musician. He made a comeback recently and employed a new style of music featuring Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest), India Arie, John Legend and the super sell-outs Black Eyed Peas. If you haven't heard his CD, definitely check it out.

So to make the evening even more ‘bossanovy’, I decided to prepare a Brazilian-style meal for the eight of us. The day before, I planned my menu by looking at Café Brasil and Bossanova’s menus...

Garlic Skirt Steak
Chicken Stroganoff with Mushrooms (not pictured)
Feijoada (Pork/Black Bean Stew)
Fried Plantains
Sauteed Collard Greens
Café Brasil-style Salsa
Cheese-bread Balls
Garlic Rice

Mmmm, yes, tons of garlic. I love South American food because it’s so simple and fresh. With wine flowing and iPod bumping, I started cooking yesterday at 12:30 pm and finished at 5 pm. I really need to get a headband because when I’m cooking I’m all over the place. Here’s what I used for each dish:

Garlic Skirt Steak
I used skirt steak because it’s thin and holds marinades well. I added kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, garlic powder, meat tenderizer powder, fresh garlic, fresh onions, olive oil and a little bit of vinegar. I marinated the meat in the fridge for a good 3 hours so they definitely got to know each other well. Grill the meat and serve. Tastes good with a squeeze of lime over it.

Chicken Stroganoff with Mushrooms
Pan-fry some chicken breast until it’s 75% done. Remove and cook mushrooms and onions in the chicken fat with fresh garlic. Add as much cream as you need and throw the chicken back in once it comes to a boil. The recipe calls for sour cream, but I prefer crème fraîche which is rich and sour. Add ketchup for color. This dish should be slightly orange-pink. Serve over egg noodles or rice. This dish was awesome!

Feijoada Black Bean Stew
Traditional feijoada takes a whole day to cook and the recipe calls for stuff like pig ears, tails, hooves, snouts, lips, etc. Since I didn’t have any of that in my fridge, I decided to just use bacon. I have never cooked beans nor will I ever again. I didn’t know that I had to soak beans over night. It took nearly 3 hours to cook these little bastards. Once they were tender enough, I added a few ladels of the beans into a frying pan along with bacon, garlic, butter, olive oil, bay leaves and oregano. i mashed the beans and added them back into the main pot. This technique makes the beans ‘creamier’ and ‘mushier’. Salt and pepper to taste and eat with steak or rice.

Fried Plantains
You can make these blindfolded, with hands-tied, and tongs in the mouth. Cut up the bananas and deep fry them in canola/vegetable oil. Instant gratification.

Sauteed Collard Greens
Collard greens have a bitter, mustard-like taste, so the addition of sautéed garlic and a few squeezes of lime really counter it. Take the leaves, and roll them up. Chiffonade the collard greens so that appear thread-like. Saute with garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Another one of those I-can-do-this-blindfolded dishes.

Café Brasil-Style Salsa
This is one of the reasons I keep going back to Café Brasil. I love their salsa. Chop up tomatoes (don’t use the core of the tomato – too watery), onions, American parsley (not flat-leaf) and green onions. Add some olive oil, salt and pepper – and here are the two secret ingredients I found from a friend… Soy Sauce and Mustard (not French’s or Heinz)! This was so fresh and tasty. It’s better to prepare this near serving time because it likes to wet its pants. I had to drain these 3-4 times.

Cheese-Bread Balls
Known as “Pao de Quiejo”, these are light and cheesy. They taste like Cheetos! Freaking Café Brasil sells these for $0.85 each. Complete ripoff. Come to think of it, Café Brasil is a complete ripoff with exception to their $6.95 executive lunches, only available during the weekdays. I bought the Yoki cheese-bread mix at this Brazilian market on Venice/Overland for $2.99. I was able to make 34 of these. We gobbled these yellow breadballs up like Pac-man.

Garlic Rice
Just add 2-3 cloves of minced garlic, a little butter and salt to the water during the cooking process. Mix it around every few minutes. That’s it!

All of this goes well with a nice glass of Caipirinha (Brazilian Mojito) or a can of Guaraná, Brazil’s famous pop. I had heard that the guarana powder is also a performance enhancer. I have yet to experience that from a can of soda. And another thing, the people at Café Brasil charge $2.50 for a can of this. Go to the Brazilian market on Venice/Overland and get a 6-pack for $4.50.

We got to the Hollywood Bowl by 6 pm and I laid out the smorgasbord of Brazilian food. I made WAY too much food for the 8 of us. At one point in the show, I was so buzzed and tried to offer people the leftovers. Who would take food from a stranger? Four and a half hours of non-stop cooking sounds like a long time, but when the music is great, the wine is pouring and the friends aren’t throwing up your food in the trashcan, you can’t help but smile.

Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style The Love for Food and Jeni: How Food Brought Us Together

It's 6:30 pm on a Friday in June. Jeni stands in front of me with a bewildered look. And I just stare at her. Rewind 2 years back.

When I first started my blog nearly three years ago, my intentions were simple. I was bored and the idea of writing a blog interested me. The one thing I did know a lot about and could contribute to others was a knowledge of food. My parents had raised me on the staples of Chinese food, which was basically your on-sale vegetables, noodles and soups made with bones that would normally be fated in a trash can. But what they passed on to me, was more than a simple appreciation for food and the sustenance it provided – no matter what shape or form it took. I wanted to express my appreciation for their love and care by writing about my experiences with food. And measure how much of a pig I actually am.

Three years of writing about food. Obsession. Too much time on my hands. Sure. Both if you would. As you can probably tell, I love food and I have the pounds to prove it. Just look at my profile photo. Ugh! In four years, my weight jumped nearly 15 lbs. and you know what, please give me some more because I am nowhere near done exploring the food of all cultures. I won't be done until the day I have to be forklifted out of my bed just to go to the bathroom. *beep* *beep* *beep* Dylan coming through.

During the three years of writing, I have learned a lot about food, cultural differences, myself, friends, family and mostly, respect. I have learned to never say the terms "the best in the world". I have learned that you cannot please every one in this world – no matter how good of cook you are. I have learned that denying a culture's food because of ignorance and unfamiliarity is the most insulting thing ever. I have learned that what you may not understand may be the key to another culture's survival. I have learned that food sets the stage for everything involving social interaction. And as you'll read in a few paragraphs, I've learned that food can even change the course of two people's lives. One thing remains important, food revolves around everything we do or feel – home life, work, birthdays, dating, weddings, funerals, reunions, etc.

When I first started writing, there were no more than 10-12 Los Angeles food blogs that I was interested in reading. And maybe 3-4 outside of the area. It was much easier to keep up with everyone's eating. Even within that group, the best ones were more than reviews about food; it was those that offered storytelling which made it compelling. Writers that simply said "this was good" or "this was bad" really didn't generate solid readership. Food had been such a big part of my upbringing and I was interested in seeing what/why food was important to someone. After the first year, I developed 'friendships' with many of these bloggers. Though I had never seen their photo (anonymity is a big thing) or met them in person, I could tell a lot about someone by the way they ate.

Especially with a girl named Jeni, who ran a blog called Oishii Eats.

For a few months, I read her postings. I was attracted not only by her looks, but by the food she ate. She ate everything. Low end... high end. Hole in the wall... paintings on the wall. On the street... on sticky-elbow tables. She was in a sense like me. But what I liked most about her was her open-mindedness and respect for a culture's food. We were both from the same college and had mutual friends, but we never crossed paths once.

Less than a year later, I decided to set up a long-overdue meetup between the stomachs and minds of the LA blogosphere at Musha in Torrance – and everyone was stoked. Jeni and I had already been talking to each other over IM and in a sense, we were friends that had never met. It was an exciting day for everyone that attended because not everyone had met in person. I had met Jonah of LA Foodblogging, Pam of Daily Gluttony and Kristy of Best of LA previously (my friend's fianceé). That night, I was late due to traffic on the good ol' 405. I found my group, all 16 of us, waiting outside. I said Hi to everyone, and saved the best for last... Jeni. I was interested in her and I think we could both tell that it was a long overdue meet up. I smiled at her and she waved back. She handed me Japanese books that I needed for my trip to Japan the following week. We had decided previously that we would sit next to one another because we already 'knew' each other. Everyone had a great time. The food was good and the drinks went around. But what I wanted mostly was to talk to Jeni, but I was so busy trying to play host. At the end of the night, I said bye to everyone and hugged Jeni and told her we'd talk when we get back. We ended up talking on the phone till about 4 am that night. It was just wonderful putting a face over a voice finally.

It wasn't long after when we had our first date. I knew it was a date because I could feel it. Instead of the usual nice dinner, we decided to go to a club and get stoopid. And for dinner, we ate tacos from a taco truck in Echo Park. We sat on red crates, eating tacos and drinking Jarritos. For the first time in a while, I was comfortable on a date. I didn't worry about eating properly or keeping my volume down. I didn't worry about impressing her. I was myself – dropping cilantro and onions on the ground, using like 80 napkins for 5 tacos and even broke the Jarritos bottle. We took photos of each other stuffing our faces and it just felt very natural. It was truly good times. Very Wonder Years-like. In a sense it was somewhat of a secondary coming-of-age. Jeni let me be who I wanted to be. And I hoped that she had felt the same way.

Fast forward two years to the present. It's 6:30 pm on a Friday in June. Jeni stands in front of me with a bewildered look. And I just stare at her. With a smile.

D: "Are you ready for your birthday surprise?"
J: "Ok!"
D: "Go to your closet and look under the blanket."

She runs over and lifts up some blankets.

J: "It's my brother's traveling backpack."
D: "No, it's mine. And it's packed."
J: "..."
D: "You've got 2 hours to pack. We're going somewhere."
J: "What do I bring???"
D: "The more questions you ask, the less time you'll have. I'm going to get us some food."

I watched her run back and forth like she was on some stupid gameshow with a $200 grandprize. It was hilarious – I wish I had a camera to videotape it. I left her place and headed over to Yuca's to grab a cheeseburger and cochinita pibil for dinner. She only had two hours to pack and would probably forget to eat! I came back half an hour later and found her still running back and forth. This was great. She tried to ask me questions to narrow down the possible destinations. But I shrugged every time. She didn't know that we would be flying anywhere.

It was now 8:30 pm and time to go. I had texted her brother to meet us in the carport and surprise her. We packed the stuff in the car and Jeni naturally headed for the driver side door – only to be freaked out by her brother, who was driving us both to LAX. Jeni screamed!

The next annoying question any one can ask besides 'are we there yet' is 'where are we going?" I heard this a good 30 times by the time we arrived at LAX. She kept naming off places in the U.S. and got cold shrugs from me. I told her brother to drop us off at Terminal 6 which is where Virgin America is. She screamed, thinking we're going to New York. We said bye to her brother and walked out. I stared at her and watched her puzzled looks.

J: "Are we going to New York?!"
D: "No."
J: "Where are we going then? There's only a flight to New York at this time!"
D: "We may need these."

I reached into my pocket and pulled out our passports. She shrieked in joy. At this time, I took out my camera and started recording her on video.

J: "Where can we be going?"
D: "Look at my shirt and you may get a hint."

I watched her eyes go down to my red 'Carne Asada' shirt and her eyes grew. I then pulled out some pesos and handed it to her.

J: "We're going to Mexico City!"

Jeni & I went to Mexico City (D.F.) in December and fell in love. For months on end, we dreamed about the delicious pastor tacos sliced thinly like pork belly – not the chopped up version we get here in LA. I knew there was nothing more she wanted than to be in Mexico City again. A birthday trip out here would simply be perfect. We stayed in an area called Condesa which many people compare to the East Village/Soho area of New York City. Tree-lined streets, cafes with young couples and delicious taco vendors made this a very special place for us. D.F. was only 3.5 hours away, yet worlds apart.

We had missed so much on our previous trip. We were on a tight schedule and coming back from an exhausting and emotional stay in Tulum, Mexico. We got our lovely Nikon D70 stolen on a bus when we fell asleep. We were angry and frustrated upon arriving in D.F. – we didn't want to do anything. But nothing cheered us up more than the vibrancy of the city, warmth of the locals and of course all the delicious antojitos (small meals; snacks). This is why Mexico City is so special to us; it was a turning point in our trip. And this trip was a makeup for everything we didn't get to do – such as eating at the popular restaurant, Contramar. Contramar is regarded as the hip place for young people to eat. I could care less how hip it is, I just want the food. Our friend Tokyo Astro Girl had eaten here twice and spoke highly of it – her word was reason enough to eat here!

Contramar Mexico City




Pickled onions and peppers. I have never had such a fresh version of these. All the ones I've eaten at taco trucks or at restaurants seemed to be reserved from last year's quinceañara . It was to our advantage to come here right when they opened to ensure freshness. I could've made a meal out of all these elements – tortillas por favor! And some water to abate the spiciness.

Contramar Tostadas de Atun

Tostadas de Atún y Cangrejo
¿Que recomiendes? Tuna and crab tostadas! You can't go wrong with a server's suggestion especially if you're in another country. When we travel, we usually try things we've never tried or can't get in the U.S. Screw the safe food. The tuna tostadas are the big seller here and I know why. 1/8" slices of tuna are marinated in soy sauce and orange juice and placed on top of freshly-fried tostadas with a spicy mayo, avocado and crispy-fried whites of scallions. A simple dash of lime and PacMan-sized mouth and you're good. Mmmmm. So fresh! The crab I loved as well, but this was the wife-stealer. For all the labor involved in removing the meat from crab, this isn't a bad deal at all. $14 for 4 tostadas.

Contramar Ceviche

Ceviche de Contramar
Next we had Contramar's ceviche special. This was not what we thought it would be. I prefer ceviche in smaller chunks and less sour. All I could taste was lime juice and mushy fish.

Contramar Pastor Fish Tacos

Pastor Fish Tacos
I like fish tacos. I like pastor. Can I have both? Si señor! From afar, this really looks like al pastor meat and even smells like it! The fish was moist, flavorful and delicious. The addition of the smoked pineapple adds the much needed sweetness to this spice-ful dish. I should have eaten more of these but at this point, I was STILL thinking about those tuna tostadas.

Contramar Caldo de Camaron

Caldo de Camaron (Shrimp Soup)
I fell in love with Mexican-style shrimp soup back in Tulum at this drive-by restaurant called La Bamba Jarocha. Because some f*ckface took our camera, our only evidence of that delicious soup can be found here. Our soup arrived in a small coffee cup with 2-3 pieces of shrimp. But what I was most stoked about was the use of Maggi seasoning in the broth. Oh how I love Maggi seasoning sauce. The soup was beautiful. I saw the rays of the sun breach through the clouds above and cupids hovered above with trumpets and harps. Absolute harmony.

Full as hell, we decided to eat even more because that's what vacation is all about. While Jeni was getting her Mexican-style ice cream (helado) at Neveria Roxy, I checked out this red truck across the street. There were about 5-6 people hovering around it like vultures. Could only mean one thing: food. I remembered this truck being mentioned in the Lonely Planet: Mexico book.

Taco Truck Guy2

We all love taco trucks, except for Gloria Molina, L.A. Count Board of Supervisors... but have you seen a taco truck, literally? This guy had his truck parked up on a sidewalk with a blue tarp connected from this truck to the nearby fence creating a portable 'roof'.

Taco Truck Guy4

Here you can see that an Asian vulture has arrived at the crime scene awaiting the grisly fate of its target.

Taco Truck Guy

A cleaver, broken piece of wood, plastic plates w/ waxpaper, meat and a truck. Simple yet beautiful.

Taco Truck Guy3

And to add some extra flavor, a juice-drenched hand tattered with spices.

Taco Truck Carnitas

Some of the moistest carnitas I've had.

El Califa Mexico City

But the party doesn't stop. After we took a nap, we were out and about again in search of our favorite pastor tacos within D.F.

El Califa Pastor Taco

Tacos al pastor is a dish that originates in Puebla, Mexico, by way of Lebanese immigrants. Which is why the use of the spit seems familiar – shawerma!

El Califa Pastor Taco2

On top of all the spits sit large pineapples like a star on a x'mas tree. The rising heat from the flames and roasting of the spit meat help cook the pineapple. After the cook slices off the meat, he does a quick flick of the wrist near the pineapple and lobs it on to your taco. Awesome. The spiciness of the pork and sweetness of the pineapple make for Mexican yin yang.

El Califa Costilla Taco

I have a favorite new cut of meat and it's not your typical ranchera steak; it's called costilla and is the rib section of the cow. Thin slices of rib meat are thrown onto an extremely hot griddle and cooks within 35 seconds. I topped these tacos off w/ some fresh onions, salsa verde and a few dashes of my favorite sauce, Maggi.

In a course of 6 hours, we had eaten at one restaurant and 2-3 taco stands. Full right? No. It was time for Jeni's birthday dinner at one of D.F.'s most popular restaurants, Pujol.

Pujol Mexico City DF

We rolled up to the restaurant in a cab and the first thing Jeni said was, "beautiful". I had done my research on this place and considered places like Aguila y Sol (closed) and Izote de Patricia Quintana. But I was interested in Pujol mostly because it was headed by a chef from the Culinary Institute of America in New York – Chef Enrique Olvera. Sold.

Contrary to reviews I had read about Pujol's service, we were given excellent service. From the beginning, we didn't have to raise our hands very often. The waiters came by quite frequently and checked upon us. The Chef de Cuisine even came out a few times for some tableside service – which was awesome. You would think that because we are foreigners that we might get neglected, but this wasn't the case. It also helps if you know a little Spanish and understand that there are no such things as burritos in Mexico City.

Pujol Aguacate Ravioli

Ravioles de Aguacate (Avocado Ravioli)
I expected to see a ravioli and was actually craving one, but I forgot that at any haute cuisine, familiar names for dishes are used quite loosely. This 'ravioli' consisted of shaved shrimp that's been lightly sautéed with spicy mayonnaise and sandwiched between two thinly sliced pieces of avocado (aguacate). Wow, so delicate and delectable. J wouldn't stop talking about this dish.

Pujol Nopales

Ensalada de Nopal Curado En Sal (Salt-cured Cactus Salad)
I tried cactus for the first time in the previous trip to Mexico – in Oaxaca specifically. If you haven't had cactus, it has a sliminess that is inherent in japanese mountain yams (yamaimo) and okra. This was served with a lemon sorbet, thinly shaved cactus, tomatoes and grated Mexican cheese. This dish was nice, and if it weren't for the ice cream, you'd be left with a slimy texture on your tongue.

Pujol Chapulines

Chapulines al Sartén
This is another delicacy I tried in Oaxaca – clay-toasted grasshoppers known as chapulines. This was Chef Olveras deconstruction of a grasshopper taco. The foam on top was made from tortillas, there's guacamole, radish and the protein. This wasn't our favorite.

Pujol Lengua

Lengua de Res (Beef Tongue)
But this was my favorite. I love beef tongue. Braised beef tongue over olive tapanade and fried onion ring. J gave me hers and I couldn't be more happy.

Pujol Fish & Mushroom Broth

Trucha (Fish in Mushroom Broth)
This was J's favorite... sous vide fish swimming in a pool of rich, earthy mushroom broth. The fish was unbelievably moist and went very well w/ the consomme.

Pujol Dessert

Pie Cremoso de Limón Verde (Fresh Yogurt & Green Lime Sorbet)
This was good as well. I've never had Mexican style yogurt.

After this 3.5 hour meal, J and I sat there looking at each other with comatosed expressions. I really needed to be forklifted back to my place – this was just too much food for us, on top of 5 different wines. The servers were very nice and hailed a cab for us as we paid for the bill, and because it was raining. I thanked the servers and told them I'd be back again, for this was truly a meal worth the money and dining experience. What I liked most about Chef Olvera's dishes was that he remained true to Mexican ingredients. It's easy for any chef to take the common items found in haute cuisine like pork belly, foie gras, diver scallops, etc. and add your own twist to it. But none of that was found on the menu.

As we sat in the cab, Jeni sat back with a tired gaze and she was about to get her last birthday surprise. And she didn't know it. We got back to our place and greeted the owner of the guesthouse and said good night. We walked up the stairs to our place. But before we could head towards the room, I took off my sweater and turned to Jeni.

D: "Are you ready for your last birthday surprise?"
J: "What?! There's more? No more, D! I'm tired."
D: "It's nothing big, come on."

I handed her my sweater and did my best terrorist-style blindfolding job. It looked like she had a black turban, which actually went well with her dress. I told her to stay there as I ran into the room. I opened the door, and what I saw, took me aback. I went back to the hallway to grab my lovely hostage and led her with one hand. We walked in slowly, hearing the creaking of the hardwood floor, and I shut the door. I took one more look at Jeni and the room we were in and asked her one more time.

D: "Are you ready for your birthday surprise?"
J: "...Yes."
D: "... Take off your blindfold, Jeni."

As she unraveled her sweater-blindfold, everything turned into slo-motion. I thought back to the time we met over 2 years ago and how we grew from two single people into a couple who could never be separated. I thought about the first time we ate on crates in front of a taco truck. And how we laughed and talked into the night. I never told her that she had a piece of cilantro stuck in her teeth the whole time, but it was okay because I didn't want to kill the moment. I thought about the sporadic weekend getaways to Santa Barbara we would take. I thought about the first time I met her parents and her brother. I thought about all the fights we had had. I thought about the time we rode on a scooter DRUNK in mainland China. I thought about how she never denied any type of adventurous food I ate. I thought about everything that happened in the 2 years that we've been dating and that it all came down to this particular time of the day in a guesthouse in Mexico City.

Jeni took off the blindfold and her eyes immediatly lit up to a room lit solely with candles, ridden with flowers on the floor and a man kneeling on one knee with something shiny in both of his hands. It took her almost 2 seconds to realize that I was on my knee and before I could speak a word, she started to cry. This was more than a birthday surprise for her, it was our engagement. And the best way to tell her that I love her.

And she said, "yes".

Read Jeni's story.

Thanks for reading.


Taco Ring

Jumex Coleccion Sign

Eat Drink Style Swedish Fish Candy


Is this a good ad for the gummy Swedish Fish candy we ate as children or something else? Scary thing is that there are actually people out there who would prefer the left. Anthony Bourdain? Eddie Lin? Me? haha.

Eat Drink Style Fatttttttttttttburger

Found this off the internet while searching for images on Google. I hope to god this isn't real. Looks like two 10" buns, 5 lbs. of ground beef, 13 tomatoes, 1/2 a lettuce, 16 slices of American cheese, a whole onion and 1/2 a jar of mayonnaise.

Eat Drink Style Angelo Pietro's Raw Potato Salad

When I was in Hawaii last year, I was stoked to find out that there was an Angelo Pietro restaurant. Angelo Pietro manufactures some of the best tasting salad dressings. I'm not one for salad, not even a giant taco salad, but this dressing does wonders. For this dish, the restaurant used the Sesame-Miso flavor. Because of my high cholesterol, I felt a salad would do me some good. It's a light, quick and tasty meal.

Party Time
(1) Peel the potatoes and dunk them in some water right away. Add a little vinegar so that they don't oxidize as quickly. Chill this in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
(2) When you're ready to eat, run the potatoes throw a vegetable grater or mandolin. Put them in a bowl of ice water right away. You wanna serve this as quickly as possible or the potatoes will oxidize.
(3) Have the radish sprouts, bonito flakes, green onions, furikake and Angelo Pietro's Sesame-Miso dressing on hand. Fried garlic is optional. I had some on hand and just tossed them in for some extra flavor.
(4) Strain the grated potatoes and squeeze out as much water as possible. Add the toppings and pour the sauce all over. Enjoy.

***The Sesame-Miso is quite acidic, if you love the flavor of sesame oil, it wouldn't hurt to add a few drops to counter the acidity.

Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Noodle Whore #2: Pad Kee Mow - Thai Beef Chow Fun

My second installment of the Noodle Whore series also brings us a dish from Thailand. The Cantonese have Beef Chow Fun, and so do the Thais. Known as Pad Kee Mow, this dish is similar but calls for Thai basil, chilis, garlic, lime and raw bean sprouts as a garnish. I’ll almost always order this dish at any Thai restaurant. Pad Thai just isn’t for me. Another favorite Thai noodle dish of mine is the Thai Boat Noodle Soup. Mmmmm.

For this recipe, you’ll need beef flank steak, fresh rice flour noodles that come in sheets (Fun), dark soy sauce (aka mushroom soy sauce), Thai soy sauce (or Maggi Sauce), fish sauce, 2 eggs, Thai basil, cilantro, green onions, Thai chilis, garlic, red bell pepper, bean sprouts (garnish), sugar and lime.

Party Time:

(1) Scramble the eggs and fry in the pan. Swirl around till most of it is cooked and set aside. Chop roughly, don’t mince them.

(2) Chop up the noodles into 1.5” x 1.5” squares and separate from each other. Set aside. Make sure your pan is hot and sauté the minced garlic, minced chilis, Thai basil (10-12 leaves) and when ready, add the beef. Add the dark soy sauce (used for color, not so much taste) and stir fry for about 5 minutes. It’s okay if it’s undercooked because you’re going to throw them back in once more. Take it out and set aside.

(3) Next, sauté the onions and red bell peppers for at least 5 minutes, not sweated! Add the beef, garlic, chilis and basil back into the pan and stir fry.

(4) Add 3-4 drops of fish sauce and 8-10 dashes of Maggi sauce (to taste). Finally, use sugar to balance out salinity.

(5) Garnish with raw bean sprouts and squeeze lime over the noodles. That’s it!

Hope you enjoy this. Again, this is a rough recipe. Use your own palate to adjust the taste. I’m an eyeballer and throw in whatever I feel is right. Thanks for reading.