Showing posts with label echo park. Show all posts
Showing posts with label echo park. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park - $3 Echo Park Happy Meal

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

I was driving back home on my normal route through Echo Park into Silver Lake, and my taco radar went off. My eyes dilated the way they did in Requiem For A Dream, which by the way, is one of the most depressing movies ever. Through my peripheral vision, I spotted the Home Depot clamp lamps that I've grown all too familiar with. Home Depot clamp lamps = good street food. I parked and to my surprise, they had quite a small setup, not the usual 1-2 griddle tables, but rather a large pot and a steaming lid. I looked closely at the sign... barbacoa. Even better. What a relief it was to find someone selling something other than the usual suspect tacos.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

I asked the taquero to lift the lid and it big mushroom steam cloud of 'lamb bomb' hit all of us.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Along with your taco is an offering of a consome, also known as consomme in French, or simply... broth. Like Asian cooking, bones are not discarded after the meat has been removed. They are reserved to provide further sustenance, usually in soup form. Depending on the state in Mexico, they may offer different types of broth. I've had it at Highland Park's My Taco and East LA's Breed Street, which offer consome de chivo, a goat broth which is even better than the taste of lamb in my opinion. But Barbacoa Hidalgo does a consome de borrego... so you've got a lamb soup to go with your lamb taco. Which I'm calling the $3 Echo Park happy meal. Sorry no toy included.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Taco de Borrego (Lamb Taco)
For $1.50, it seems like I got 2-3 tacos worth. They piled the meat high and with a smile. The meat was moist and pretty tasty. The hot sauce offered was quite spicy. Never worry, there's always a bucket of Mexican sodas or water.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Consome de Borrego (Lamb Broth)
For $1.50, you also get this. A lamb broth with onions and chickpeas. I always pile in a ton of onions, cilantro and 1-2 squeezes of lime. No need for hot sauce, this has a nice kick already. The soup was a bit on the salty side but it's important to note that some people will eat this almost like a French Dip. They'll dip their taco in the broth for a flavor kick, and it's tasty.

Barbacoa Hidalgo sets up shop every night from 7-11 pm in Echo Park off Sunset/Echo Park Avenue. Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Cookbook, Echo Park - A Unique Concept for a Quaint Neighborhood Grocery Shop

Cookbook Echo Park

The Echo Park I first stepped into during the 1980s was very different from what you see now. I remember sitting in my mom's 2-door Toyota Corolla sans A/C (just to give you an old-school reference), slowly crawling up the steep hills to visit her great uncle. The streets were cracked, walls were tagged up and teenagers "kicked it" out by their cars with loud, bassy music. I'm not going to lie, it wasn't the most ideal neighborhood. In fact, our visits there were short and fueled with a purpose. We often urged our mom to drive through the streets a bit faster. To some people in the neighborhood, this Chinese family really had no business hanging out in their area. A friend of mine who grew up here as a teen recalled it a tough and cautious time in Echo Park – he is Chicano.

Echo Park was once the center of the film industry before it moved to Hollywood before WWI. But in the 1970s and 1980s, it became a largely Latino and Chicano neighborhood with a few sprinkles of Chinese, Filipinos and Vietnamese. With a large population of immigrants in an impoverished area, there's bound to be a large presence of gang and drug activity. Echo Park had quickly earned its name as a gang city.

But things changed after 2000, as a lot of musicians and artists started moving into Echo Park because Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Atwater Village were experiencing a high demand and increased real estate value. As a result, the rent in Echo Park began to increase as well. This is both a fortunate and unfortunate situation for the people of Echo Park. Although the gang and drug violence decreased substantially, this movement also affected hard-working Latino families, hippies, blue-collar workers, musicians and artists that had nothing to do with violence. Some have lived in the same residence for decades and were now forced to pack up their bags and move South towards the Rampart area and even East LA. Naturally, there is resentment for the gentrification. To this day, there are still signs of the "old" Echo Park, with the occasional shooting and "homeboy" meeting outside a liquor store. If you've been to the Echo Park grocery store on Echo Park/Duane or Chango on Echo Park/Delta, you're standing on what was once a big gangster hangout.

Before moving to Silver Lake, I had checked out a few places in Echo Park as I was one of the many that wanted to move into Silver Lake, but could not afford it. Jeni had moved there and I was getting tired of driving all the way from West LA to see her. I love Echo Park though. It feels rich in diversity and has a lot of character to it. Even with the tagged up walls and pot-hole ridden streets, it is a real icon of what urban Los Angeles "is". What's interesting is that Echo Park still maintains a very neighborhood-like vibe. With exception to a Walgreens, three or four fast food chains, American Apparel and an Autozone, the area is still dominated by mom and pop shops along Sunset Blvd. – old antique and furniture stores, bargain stores, boutiques, eateries and small grocery stores. A lot of the residents are of Latino heritage and many rely on their feet, bicycles and buses to get around.

On Echo Park Avenue, the once gang-ridden area has become sort of its own hipster street with a salon, coffee shop, pet store and various boutiques. I've driven by so many times with Jeni and asked her why there weren't more small businesses. The area was obviously very chill and low-key – it really just needed a restaurant or bar. We had even dreamed of running a noodle joint in the area but that quickly dissipated. I knew someday something interesting would be opened up on the block of Echo Park Avenue and Delta.

And then that's when we heard about Cookbook, a unique concept by Marta Teegen and Robert Stelzner. Every small neighborhood has a grocery store, but Teegen and Stelzner's offers responsibly grown organic produce and even offers food cooked fresh daily. The food itself comes with purpose. As you may get a hint from the name, Cookbook offers dishes each week from a different featured cookbook. For the hipsters that live off Echo Park Avenue, finally... a place to pick up quality goods and even a bite to eat when they want a break from writing their screenplays or figuring out that one song that will grant them a beeline to the Echoplex stage.

A lot of good things happened last year for the residents of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village and Echo Park. Especially if you're one that adores food. You've got McCall's - a husband and wife-run meat and fish shop that has everything you'll need. You've got the Spice Station - an amazing shop that basically bridges you to spices from every possible country. Even herbs and spices from Space! You've got Jason Kim's Forage - the hip cafeteria that serves comfort food and side dishes for a great price. And now you've got Cookbook, your everyday grocery store that carries great butter, milk, cheese and bread. You can easily plan your whole dinner for the evening without having to ride your "fixie bike" more than 2 miles.

The idea for Cookbook didn't happen overnight. It's actually been 'baking' for quite a while. Rewind back some 12 years. Marta Teegen finds herself leaving a PhD program in Art History to study Politics. That eventually fell through after 7 years and she remembered what it was she always enjoyed being around: food. Growing up on a farm was one thing she knew well and for some time, her father's family had supplied tomatoes to the Campbell's soup people. She then enrolled at the New School of Cooking in Culver City for the chefs training program and mixed both her love for cooking and farming into a business that offered kitchen and garden design, known as Homegrown LA. And if this story couldn't get any better, Teegen published her first book in April 2010, titled Homegrown A Growing Guide for Creating a Cook's Garden. And here we are at her latest venture, Cookbook LA, which took them nearly 3 years of waiting to secure. Hang on, let's all download that information slowly.

Cookbook, Echo Park

Jeni and I dropped by on an early Saturday morning to check out Cookbook. We were stoked to see a food-related boutique on that street finally. We immediately felt as though we were in San Francisco. Big windows, wooden benches and a slightly weathered look – it was all very welcoming. Those that have a love for Tartine Bakery know what I mean.

Cookbook, Echo Park

Cookbook, Echo Park

Cookbook, Echo Park

Cookbook, Echo Park

Right when you walk in, you're flanked with today's farmer's market vegetables that Marta and Robert sometimes handpick. To the right, you can hear the buzzing from the fridge that holds some of the best milk I've tasted. It's straight up cream! The butter and cheese are very nice as well. To the left, you've got your dried goods including pasta and my favorite roasted piquillo peppers. And straight ahead, you've got the food from the featured cookbook.

Cookbook, Echo Park

Cookbook, Echo Park

Cookbook, Echo Park

This isn't just your standard bread. This is called "Amazing" bread and its baked by a place called Bread Lounge in Downtown LA. Teegen is a woman with patience, as this bread took her nearly 5 months to find. We tried the olive bread out and it is some of the best I've eaten in Los Angeles. Baked beautifully but still moist, almost damp, inside. The olives are not too salty either. I think we ended up taking home 4 pieces of bread.

We came to Cookbook the week they were featuring a 5-book series called Canal House Cooking, which I had never heard of. But we took at the food in the display case and knew it was totally our style of food we liked to eat – much like Forage. Teegen is also good friends with Chef Erin Eastland of Cube (aka Divine Pasta Co.) on La Brea and prepares a lot of the food freshly in their kitchen.

Cookbook Echo Park

Roasted Vegetable Medley

Cookbook Echo Park

Cabbage Slaw with Bacon and Red Wine

Cookbook Echo Park

Pesto Pasta with Pecans and Parsley

Cookbook Echo Park

Beef & Pork Meatballs

Cookbook Echo Park

Cookbook Roast Chicken

Cookbook Echo Park

Sauteed Zuccini and Feta Cheese

Cookbook Echo Park

Roast Garlic with Balsamic Vinegar

Cookbook, Echo Park

This was just one week of food. Cookbook has been open since September and I feel as though I should walk in weekly just to see what they're featuring. I love that they keep things interesting with a different cookbook each time. I believe the week after we had photographed the store, they were going to try out some Asian food which I'd be interesting in trying.

Teegen and Stelzner's story is yet another story of people that followed their passion for food and we wish them the best luck. We are truly stoked to see a food-related boutique on that street finally. That block on Echo Park Avenue and Delta Street for some reason, feels more complete. The amount of skinny hipsters have not decreased since Cookbook's debut, but at least they can't complain about being so stylishly anorexic. Now, if only there was a place to grab a beer or cocktail. Thanks for reading.

*Note: Cookbook is in the process of developing a range of food-related classes, tastings, and readings, including kitchen garden basics, still life painting, ikebana, food history, backyard baking, and more!

Cookbook LA
1549 Echo Park Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 250-1900

Eat Drink Style The Echo Park Noodle Mama - A Bowl of Soul

EchoPark NoodleMama01

Last year was a great year for me and J. We traveled to Asia, Central America, Canada and Europe. We photographed some beautiful weddings and contributed some work to notable food and travel publications. I re-ignited my love for cooking because of a butcher shop owned by a husband and wife. We earned our scuba diving certification. I moved on from a painful layoff and discovered the joys of being a freelancer. Jeni left her hell-hole school and found her love for teaching at another institution. But most importantly, we started some friendships with people we would otherwise never meet, simply through the writing of food. I could write a whole posting, and I will one day, on the important people in our lives that continue to inspire us to write our blogs. But for this posting, I'm introducing you to a gentleman known as JD. Some of you may know him through his Twitter handle as Tricerapops – yes, he is a proud father of three adorable triplet girls. Completely decked out in Hello Kitty mafia gear. And he enjoys ranting about football and wine, wine and more wine.

Knowing how much J and I love noodles, we received an email from Tricerapops one day, inviting us to come over to his mom's house for some Vietnamese soup noodles. We didn't know him really nor have we met him in person and due to some conflicting schedules, we ended up postponing. But he continued to send us emails over a few months and finally one day, I gave him a call.

Me: "So your mom makes Vietnamese soup noodles?"
JD: "Yeah, she does it every few months and just opens up her house to anyone."
Me: "Anyone?"
JD: "Yeah, she's been doing this for a long time?"
Me: "For no charge?"
JD: "None. This is what she enjoys doing. And today she has pho."
Me: "We're in there like swimwear."

So on a summer Saturday, J and I headed out to Echo Park to finally meet Tricerapops and eat some soup noodles. Not knowing what his mom likes, we stopped at a Vietnamese bakery and grabbed whatever looked tasty as a pre-thank you. I thought about durian since it's basically a Vietnamese narcotic, but my car would reek. We showed up to the house and we were greeted by JD. From his comments on past postings, we had a pretty good idea of his personality and character and, at that moment, it all came together. Jeni and I knew he was a good guy. Course he is. Who else would invite complete strangers to eat soup noodles at his own mom's place?

For me, there are two categories of pho. The first being the pho most of us will have – which is in a restaurant. We all have our favorite places and pretty much have a set drill on the customization of the perfect bowl of pho. The second being the pho I actually cherish the most – in a kitchen cooked by the hands of a Vietnamese woman. The pho will never taste the same from these categories as expected. At the commercial level, I've seen some kitchens with at least a dozen 3' x 2' stock pots that can serve a good 250-300 bowls. When you're boiling hundreds of pounds of beef bones for 8-10 hours overnight, you're extracting a deeper flavor unachievable at home. I've made pho before a few times and it is a long and arduous process that can still cost around $50-60 for a mere 6-8 bowls. Cough up the $5 elsewhere – it's not worth it if you're going for restaurant quality. But more importantly, the commercial pho will never be as "good" as the home-cooked pho because it misses the one ingredient that varies in every household: a mother's soul.

Growing up, my mom would make soups for us. The most popular being a borscht. Go to any Hong Kong-style cafe and you're likely to be served a watery, tepid version of the Eastern European staple favorite. But my mom added oxtail to it and it was homey. We of course ate it so often it was a staple. But I had a childhood friend that would ask for it every time he came over to our house. My mom never thought twice about making it. I then realized that he had also grown up with no father nor mother – raised only by his old grandma. He saw my mom as his. The last time I talked to him was in high school nearly 15 years ago and he asked if he could have a bowl of my mom's oxtail soup. He left for the Marines and I never heard from him again.


From the doorway, I could see JD's mom in the background peacefully gliding across the kitchen with her own "moves". Every cook has his "moves". Mine happens to involve crashing, bumping and possible injuries if you get too close to the stove and cutting board. And JD was right about this being a dining room turned cafeteria. The table had settings for eight, wine glasses that commemorated JD's numerous wine tastings and a mound of fresh bean sprouts and herbs. And of course, the usual suspects: Sriracha, hoisin sauce and chili sauce. This was basically a pho restaurant without the restaurant. No bean sprouts garnishing the floor, balled-up napkins or bad Karaoke videos blaring in the background. Which I actually like.

We greeted JD's mom and within a few seconds she did what most Asian mothers do - politely cut out the chit chatting, tell you to sit down and get ready to eat. JD poured us some wine. I looked over at Jeni and whispered to my wife: "J, she's the Noodle Mama!"

Indeed she is. Noodle Mama is Mrs. Dang and she grew up in Saigon cooking soup noodles for family and friends whenever she could. Her mother came from Hanoi and handed down the pho legacy. When she moved to Echo Park with her family, she continued to do her thing. On any given weekend, you would find friends, family, family friends, co-workers and even neighbors. At one point, she had be-friended a few people from the local Dream Center, which houses up to 500 people in need of rehabilitation, counseling and protection from the mean streets. JD told me she once blocked out a whole Saturday for his co-workers and had them make reservations anywhere from 9 am - 6 pm. Ha! I asked her if she wanted me to buy her one of those $150 neon pho signs to place in her window, in which she declined with a laugh. I actually thought about buying one to put in my front window just to see how many people would knock on my door. Jeni killed that dream pretty quickly.

EchoPark NoodleMama10

I loved everything about the way Noodle Mama ran her "shop". She had her cilantro and onions chopped up nicely and stored in one of those Asian cookie buckets.

EchoPark NoodleMama04

A take-out box filled with some beef meatballs (bo vien). One of my fave pho toppings.

EchoPark NoodleMama03

A container of sliced beef brisket and shank (nam and chin) she made from hours of boiling – my go-to pho toppings.

EchoPark NoodleMama09

EchoPark NoodleMama05

I believe she had two large pots of beef broth going, enough to serve a good 18-24 bowls. Look at the color of the broth from nicely roasted bones and yellow onions.

EchoPark NoodleMama07

Versus using a pot of hot water, she dipped the noodles in a separate pot of beef broth for that extra shot of beefiness.

EchoPark NoodleMama06

And the final touch, a large scoop of soulful broth. I loved how she used a clear Pyrex microwave bowl. Made me feel like I was at the underground viewing level of Sea World, face and hands pressed tightly against the window for a closer look. You could see everything happening in the bowl. Jeni, look at the piece of rare beef being cooked – awesome!

EchoPark NoodleMama08

Then she started to compile a bowl in this huge mixing bowl. I looked at the dining table. Okay, JD, JD's dad, JD's brother and sister all have one. Jeni has one. Except for me.

Me: "Mrs. Dang, that's not for me is it?"
Noodle Mama: "Yes! You eat!"
Me: "JD, she's kidding me right?"
JD: "Naw bro, that's all you. It's your first time here. Welcome to our house."

All of a sudden, I'm taken back to a posting I had written on the ridiculous pho challenge up in San Francisco, by a restaurant called Pho Garden. Read if you dare as I get nauseous just looking at the photos. I could wash my face in this mixing bowl if I wanted to. I sat down and Noodle Mama put the finishing touches and carefully walked the bowl over. She set it down and everyone laughed.

EchoPark NoodleMama02

And how was it? Very tasty and homey, exactly the way I imagined it to be. There was no skimping going on as some pho restaurants will do. If you wanted more meat, you knew you could very well help yourself to it. All the fixings were there at your disposal. You know the food is good when everyone around you is busy eating and not saying a word. I had barely dented my noodles when Noodle Mama, as any mother would say, reminded me that I had to eat a second bowl. Jesus. This may be the place I lay to rest. In gluttonous happiness.

EchoPark NoodleMama11

I've been to Noodle Mama's three times and have tried her pho and JD's favorite, bun rieu. She also makes bun bo hue, hu tieu and according to JD, a mean bowl of banh canh. Unfortunately, J and I may be seeing Noodle Mama less now that she is moving elsewhere and closing down her Echo Park "shop". Thank you to JD and Noodle Mama for the warm hospitality, noodles and friendship. It means a lot to us. It's my turn next to offer you a bowl of Chinese beef noodle soup.

Question: What is that one dish that you can't refuse when offered by your mom, aunt or grandma?