Dirty dogs for dinner?

Although, we Filipinos are supposedly known for eating canines back home. I love my babies too much to even fathom the idea. So for me, not tonight, not tomorrow, or not in this lifetime. I’m talking about the famous Mexican-style street cart staple, of course. Bacon-wrapped hotdogs for dinner.

I have no idea if these things should come with a disclaimer or a warning on the side. Tiny cart with no sink anywhere to wash his hands, nothing to cover the hotdogs and toppings from the fuel emission, and a vendor that had no intentions of upgrading his popular means of living. But if the swarm of people do not care, then sure as hell I don’t either. I certainly believe that I grew up eating street food that not only compares well to this cart, but so bizarre that I have grown a stomach that can rival Mr. Andrew Zimmern anytime.  But first, let’s talk dirty dogs here.

This dirty dog is as good as I remember. We used to sell them for fundraisers but there’s something that makes this one so much better. Maybe the thought of eating from the source, I can pretend all day long that I make good ones, but nothing beats the goodness of a really “dirty” dog. A generic hotdog wrapped in a thin slice of bacon cooked, not on any grill or griddle or flat-top, but just a regular, make-shift sheet pan. Hotdogs and jalapenos on one side, onions and peppers on the other. Give the man your $2.50 and he’ll place it in the middle of the tray to heat up, toss around the onions and peppers, place the bun alongside, and you’re almost set. He takes the bun, the hotdog, drizzles ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, and then places the onions and peppers on top. Done. Did not even take him more than 2min to do it.

It was simple and absolutely, satisfyingly delicious. The hotdogs were juicy inside, the bacon added saltiness (and everything’s good with bacon anyway), the ketchup was sweet, the mustard gave it that extra kick, the mayonnaise was generous and creamy, the onions and peppers were so overly cooked down to a sweet, almost caramelized finish. Nothing wrong with this picture. Only err to this event was getting just one. Never overestimate when it comes to dirty dogs, who says one is more than enough. NEVER again.

So do I really care about that little piece of paper that displays the letters of the alphabet, preferably the A? Do I really care that this cart violates every good sense of  clean cooking? The empty foil in my trash says no, I don’t. Sometimes you have to live a little to enjoy the better things in life. In this case, a dirty dog for dinner.

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Filed under American Food, Hotdog, Mexican Food, Street-food

Octopus, Glendale 

For the sushi lovers out there. Here’s a little delicious serving of Octopus in Glendale. I wanted to share one of my favorite places to go to for sushi. It’s just a laid-back, unpretentious, casual place where friends and I can have inexpensive yet fresh sushi, be served by really friendly and accommodating wait staff, and enjoy drinks and conversation ’til we finally give up. It’s not really one of those where they blow you off the water, but sometimes simple and generic, like a chain restaurant such as Octopus, is as gratifying as authentic and high-end. Here are the photos and I hope you all enjoy and salivate as much as I do whenever I get a peek at them:

KAMPAI!!!

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Filed under Clams, Dessert, Fish, Ice Cream, Japanese Food, Mixed Seafood, Sushi

Carmen’s (A deconstruction of a Torta Cubana), Los Angeles

Not even back to Ktown and I already dreamt of which places I must go to before my deadline by end of May. Having stepped inside the hold, memories flood back as I remember the many months I stayed here, including the many places I go to for my fix. I must admit, Ktown is one of my favorite places to dine in LA. It is crawling in diversity, unabashed, hole-in-the-wall locations that are just simply put: delicious. Carmen’s taco truck is one of those places.

Nestled between Kingsley and Ardmore on 8th, Carmen’s shares the usual Mexican taco truck servings, including some “acquired tastes” of meat (cabeza, lengua)

But I do not go to Carmen’s for the tacos, burritos, or quesadillas. I go for the tortas. Not all taco trucks serving tortas are made the same. Some are just rolls and whatever meats they serve their tacos or burritos with, plus some salsa on top. But here at Carmen’s you actually get more than just chopped meat and bread. Expect to stay for more than a few minutes, because made-to-order goodness comes to those who wait.

The quesillo torta. First of all, the bread. They actually use a telera or a soft round bread, commonly used in tortas in Mexico. They grill the bread to a nice crust, with treasures of burnt parts on the outside. Whilst slightly crunchy on the outside, the inside is a soft, somewhat thin layer of bread that holds well against the heavy pounding of other ingredients. Lettuce, slices of a half of an avocado, and real queso oaxaca. Oaxacan cheese is similar to string cheese but sold in balls and very much used in a lot of Mexican dishes; with a very light taste such as mozzarella and even melts into an almost same consistency. Only $4, you really can’t go wrong with this torta if you’re looking for something simple and (almost) light to the belly.

But if your need is for weight and gain, then go for gusto and get the Torta Cubana.

There are no words big enough to describe this colossal monstrosity. It is MEAT in a sandwich, VS just a sandwich with meat, plain and simple. Five layers of one meat after another plus the addition of lettuce, quesillo, and half of an avocado.

This is only half of the torta (the rest lay peacefully inside my expanding stomach). Let’s have a closer look (from  LEFT clockwise):

-Salchicha: sausages. A whole sausage cut right down the middle and placed down on the grill to get those burnt, grill marks. It excretes necessary oils onto the grill to mingle with the rest of the meats. I don’t mind that their sausage is generic, I’ve had worse.

-Jamon: HAMMMM. Yes, let’s add pork to the equation. Salty, cured pork.

-Cecina: a type of jerky but not as salty as the one’s we’re used to here, comparable to Thai beef jerky or the Filipino tapa. It’s hard on the teeth and stringy, nevertheless one slice is NOT enough Carmen’s. Please make note of.

-Tasajo: a type of preparation of beef. It’s usually marinated in achiote which gives it that reddish or orange color, then it’s seared on the grill to an almost chewy consistency. But do not be deceived, it’s not one tough cookie.

-Milanesa: a breaded steak filet (think wiener schnitzel). Now this slice was the least on my list. It was a too thin that it almost had a mushy consistency. It would probably be a good thing compared to its chewy compadres, but it was a little off-putting.

Like any doubtful Thomas, I tried them individually. They actually tasted common; sausage and ham from any local supermarket. Two slices of hard, salted, and jerked beef. A mushy piece of breaded something. Combined, these slices of protein sing a song so dear to my heart (and my arteries). One bite gets the most out of everything. And with the bread as an envelope, the cheese as a coagulant, and the avocado as a salt buffer, they all make a wonderful, simple, and inexpensive symphony of flavors.

How can you go wrong??? Tell me. I dare you to tell me. You may have had better meats, a better Torta Cubana somewhere else; but given the location, the circumstances, and the SOURCE? A taco truck in Ktown? This is indeed the pinnacle, the culmination, if I may exaggerate. This is the best taco truck torta in LA. And now that I have had a chance to almost finish it, I am off to my next mission in Ktown. Manna Bakery? Mr Pizza Factory? Korean BBQ? Beverly Soon Tofu House? Bonchon? I can go on and on and on, but I will not. I’ll let you dream with me for now.

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Filed under Beef, Bread, Cheese, Mexican Food, Pork, Sandwich, Sausages, Street-food

Absolutely Phobulous, Los Angeles

Coming from the many twists and turns of X2, Tatsu, and the Riddler (AKA Six Flags), we all decided we needed something to soothe our stomachs. And so we came to a conclusion to go ahead and eat pho. But with the proliferation of many Vietnamese places serving this staple, it might be hard for the wandering tongue to pick and choose a place. Where to? Where to pho?  Someone said Absolutely Phobulous, I thought it was joke. Only until we parked, did I realize it was not. It is called Absolutely Phobulous. So  then by all means I should take the road less traveled and be enticed by a name that says gimmick written all over it.

Small space with very confused decor strewn all over the wall, with busy wait staff that will unfortunately not wait for you. Look long and hard, decide without doubt and swiftly or you will be passed by without any regret. Fact: he passed by many times without regret.

The menu has more items than the usual Vietnamese pho places. With appetizers, salads, vermicelli and even baguettes and dessert. Fresh spring rolls, vegetarian vermicelli (rice noodles served cold), pho beef combo, baguette sandwich, and Thai iced tea for everyone. Done.

The fresh spring rolls come fat (and I do mean about 2in in diameter each). It was filled with huge shrimp and plenty of vermicelli noodles to easily become an entree vs just an appetizer. The carrots, bean sprouts, and cilantro were crisp and fresh. And instead of the peanut sauce, this time it was served with hoisin which lent it a different sweetness, much different from what you’ll get from the shrimp and vegetables.

The vegetarian vermicelli came with both crystal noodles (clear noodles) and vermicelli which for $6.75 is a big, heaping bowl of satisfaction. It comes with mushrooms, tofu, the usual vegetables, and even a vegetarian egg roll. It’s finished with peanuts on top and drizzled with their “house” sauce (which, by guess, was a mix of soy sauce, vinegar, and maybe a little hoisin). It was a delicious combination of ingredients that a lack of protein was never an issue.

The baguette sandwich was just a simpler version of banh mi. Instead of plus the pickled carrots, daikon, and a pate, this one came with spicy chicken, just the cucumbers, fresh carrots (which on the menu said marinated), slices of jalapeno, and the usual cilantro. Although the baguette was a little too hard, scraping the roof of your mouth (that kind of hard), the fillings were actually a good merry mix of fresh, spicy, and flavor. The chicken just had enough amount of spices to still taste like chicken, until that little kick comes in towards the end.

But we must not forget the purpose of this visit. Let us see if this place lives up to its name. The beef combo came with rare steak, beef meatballs, and brisket. It’s served in beef broth with vermicelli, green onions, and bean sprouts, jalapeno, and basil on the side for your mixing pleasure. The meat balls were flavorless, the brisket was hard (AKA tough), and the rare steak was huhum. The beef broth was not as resounding, meaning many of bullion in lesser time (at least that kind of taste). I was hoping for that thick flavor you get from hours and hours of boiling those lovely bones, but was disappointed. Although pho broth is not as dense as some ramen broths but at least give more love into it. A little bit of hoisin and chili sauce helped enhance the taste a little bit or a lot.

Soon we will find that perfect bowl of Vietnamese chicken noodle (not literally). For now I’ll just be satisfied at their attempt at delivering a delicious bowl; whilst failed, it was still able to provide that sigh of comfort when that warm broth started traveling from my mouth to my stomach (and the rest of the menu were not  that bad either). And that is good comfort food in my book.

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Filed under Beef, Bread, Chicken, Comfort Food, Noodles, Pho, Roll (non-bread), Uncategorized, Vegetable, Vietnamese Food

Viva Las Vegas Day Three- Carnival Buffet at the Rio

So after a night of over-indulging of many, many, many, never-ending diuretics, we definitely needed some carbs and protein in generous variety. We failed at agreeing as to where to do Sunday Brunch Buffet so with the help of friends already waiting in line we moved on to the Carnival World Buffet at the Rio.

After waiting in line for an hour we finally made it inside and didn’t even bother to warm the seats. Here comes plate #1.

I proceeded to chew. The chow mein were hard and cold, an expected disappointment. The shu mai were also hard and cold. The turkey sausage from the breakfast line was salty and cold. The har gow was a better bite as they just came off their steamers, were still hot, and filled with plump shrimp.

Seeing as my plate looked nowhere near empty, I knew I needed more than a taste here and there. So I went for plate #2. The fried catfish was actually pretty good. The batter was light and crunchy, with a touch of Cajun seasoning as well as salt and pepper. The fish inside was still warm and flaky. I also wanted eggs with my mimosa to complete the brunch’s plated environment. This was not egg. And no, I do not consider boxed, diluted eggs ideal. The pork sausage was a little too salty even for sausage standards, but had a good snap and was surprisingly still warm on the inside. But the best part of my plate was the prime rib. With a perfectly salty crust on the outside and a tender, medium rare meat. I needed no assistance from my knife as my fork did the job just fine. I thought two slices were more than enough but I was proved wrong. But there were more to come so I had to make room for plate #3.

I was really on my way for desserts but for some reason I wanted to walk around some more. I saw a friend waiting for the roasted duck that’s still sitting on the chopping board waiting for the butcher’s knife to strike. I had to try it. Feeling the plate so empty with just one piece of duck, I had to get some more carbs with it, and pasta seemed to be the untried dish of the whole vacation. The pasta was overcooked but the bolognese was well-seasoned and packed with flavor; subtle hints of thyme, garlic, basil, with a touch of spicy-most likely cayenne. The duck was unexpectedly good. It was glistening with the good oils, crispy skin, and the fat in between melted in my mouth. The meat was cooked perfectly with a balance of salty and sweet. Delicious.

I knew I had room inside my stomach for sweets. After all, their spread looked so enticing I felt my feet flying effortless towards their display. The cheesecake was sour. And it wasn’t a lime cheesecake. The gelato had to be tried. The tiramisu was actually bland, and did not taste a tiramisu at all. It had a very indescribable after-taste. The coconut gelato was actually ahead of both, although the coconut tasted like the syrup vs the fresh one, but an artificial taste more comparable to the real one. Moving on again.

But of course, I will not leave without my own version of my bread pudding. Bread pudding, topped with vanilla ice cream this time and hot chocolate fudge drizzled all around. Their pudding is less dense as the Hilton’s but with more cinnamon and vanilla flavor. And the chocolate fudge was still warm and sweet, elevating this humble plate to a masterpiece inside my mouth. Delicious indeed. I’m sorry, I really can’t help but brag about my sugar overload.

Whew. I didn’t think I would survive outside of the buffet. The mimosas were overflowing and the food was gluttony at it’s worst. But the prime rib, duck, and bread pudding were all worth coming back and waiting in line for an hour. In fact, I would get multiple servings of each, and even with only these three I would chew without regret. Ignoring the rest of the hundreds of dishes will not be a painful undertaking.

Goodbye Vegas. Until I see you again, which will be soon. After all, over-indulgence is a magnetic pull hard to resist. And everything in Vegas is evident of excess.

 

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Filed under American Food, Beef, Breakfast, Buffet, Chinese Food, Dessert, Drinks, Duck, Dumplings, Fish, Gelato, Noodles, Pasta, Sausages, Shrimp

Viva Las Vegas Day Two- Harbor Dimsum

Viva Las Vegas indeed. My henna tattoo faded as fast as I swiped my card to pay for it. And the Fat Tuesday’s big jug is still full of some potent concoctions. No hangover and tennis was a blast. So time again to eat, we decided to explore Chinatown and go for some dimsum.

A Yelp freak that I am, I decided to seek help and searched for the best places to try these bite-size delights. Cathay House, DONE. But it took us forever to find this place, it was also nearly 3pm, and we were already hungry. We saw the first neon sign for dimsum and decided to stop and take a chance. Harbor Palace, let’s go.


There were only a few carts, a big difference from my usual go-to places back in Los Angeles, so we decided to hoard from the first one that visited us.

The egg rolls were cold by the time we sunk our teeth into it, maybe because we came a little too late for lunch. The spare ribs were chewy and oily good but slightly bland. The tofu with crab meat was blah, fine for the hungry. The har gow was over-filled with shrimp but the wrapper was too chewy. The shumai was cold and hard, not worth another round. The crab claw was the highlight of the meal. Unlike the sugar cane sticks I’ve had many tastes of, this one came with actual crab claw that you can suck a fat piece of meat out of, also with fillings of crab and shrimp with a crunchy coating on the outside. We had to get some more, in fact we had 7 plates of these. But they come with a price. $7 per plate that came with only 2pcs. Ouch!

The chicken feet was tender, sweet with a little spicy finish. It was cooked just right that it was easy to chew and suck the meat off each cartilage and bone.

We also ordered crab fried rice to add a much needed carb assistance to our plates. It was fine, I mean, I really can’t say anything good nor bad about the dish. It was edible yet a little bland, but came with generous servings of crab meat (and not imitation), egg, and vegetables.

So our adventures paid off well. The food was very satisfying and came with little surprises, including a pricey bill at the end of the meal. $30 per person is steep for dimsum, especially since I know I can get better quality and more delicious servings back home. I can’t wait to go back to Alhambra and Monterey Park. The crab claws threw us off a little. But what’s done is done, and we’re on vacation so c’est la vie. And when you’re in Vegas, you either go big or go home.

SIDENOTE: We had some delicious boba after, with some very interesting flavors as well. At the next door shopping center we found a little corner that sold both boba and an array of dried fruits and seafood showcased just like a candy bar. I had the fresh taro which I would consider the best I’ve tasted so far (and believe me I’ve had MANY). It was packed with flavor and the tapioca was chewy good. Bf had black sesame which was an interesting flavor, with crunchy bits of surprises with every sip. Another had the avocado which, contrary to popular misconception, does not taste like guacamole. It was creamy and sweet. Delicious.

ANOTHER SIDENOTE: Dinner will be missing as I was too busy downing drinks and making shots to take some pics and even finish my cabeza burrito. Safe to say, we had Mexican food. Sad to say, our friend’s burrito got stolen inside the restaurant. He left it on the table for a few seconds just to grab a to-go bag. And when he was still waiting at the counter, other customers let us know some guy in a red baseball cap came and took it. Oh well, maybe he needed the meal more than we did. Hope he enjoyed it. Red-hat guy, if you get to read this, I’d love to know how it was. I might include it in my blog.



 

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Filed under Burrito, Chicken, Chinese Food, Crab, Dimsum, Drinks, Dumplings, Mexican Food, Pork, Shrimp, Tofu

Viva Las Vegas Day One- Las Vegas Hilton Buffet

Coming to Vegas,  food is always last on the priority list. But not for me. I know the calories will pile up and exercise will be a necessity after but you cannot blame a foodie for trying to enjoy the pleasures in life wherever I may be.

But first we couldn’t leave LA without a stop at Auntie Em’s Kitchen in Eagle Rock for their delicious cupcakes. Not that we weren’t full yet from the brunch I made. But this is Auntie Em’s people! The red velvet is and will always be delicious. The coconut was a little too sweet for my taste, but the shavings on top were good added sprinkles. The carrot and chocolate I had no more room for, but according to reliable sources they were both delicious. But the star of the show was the peanut butter and jelly, a new flavor. The peanut butter must have been incorporated in the batter as the taste is very assertive in a very good way.

Of course when you go to Vegas you think of the buffets. A linear presentation of gluttony at its peak. So it is but natural for us to go to the first buffet we saw after the many hours of traveling the long and winding road. We happened to have complimentary tickets to the Las Vegas Hilton buffet (also where we stayed) so we just dropped off our luggage and skipped merrily down to the buffet line.

I started with soup. I needed something hot going down my throat. The clam chowder was runny, I missed the thick soup and the generous add-ons. I had no clams and barely some potatoes, but it was not lacking of celery which I do not know if an upside or downside.


Any measure of a good buffet is a test of across the board dishes popular at any location. Meat is always a good starting point. So I went and picked my weapons of choice. The ribs were a little dry. The turkey sausage was actually not as bad as I expected, the casing had a good snap but I doubt that this was made from scratch. The bbq chicken was fine, it wasn’t too sweet nor bland. But nothing exciting to brag about. The New York steak was cooked to medium well, a little too much for my liking but very well-seasoned. The dumplings/potstickers were very oily. But star of the plate was my grilled lamb. Seasoned simply with salt and pepper, and cooked to perfection. It was very tender and needed not much effort to devour inside my mouth.

The savory showed little promise of satisfaction. So I got off my seat and moved towards the dessert section. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. The cherry crepe was too sour. I barely made it to my second bite. I went ahead and tried some more. The wafer roll was hard to bite, if you say wafer hard is the last thing to associate it with. The frosted cookie was killing my palate with sweetness. But the bread pudding was my favorite so far. It was so good that I had to get a separate plate just for my much needed happy place.

Now this is how I make my bread pudding. Top it with chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, a little bit of nuts, and drizzle with hot chocolate fudge. And it was finished to the last morsel without me even batting an eyelash. Now this was a good ending.

Maybe it was a little too much to expect in a buffet. But there is more to come and this food lover will have more chances to love Vegas once again. I’ve been to their finest restaurants with award-winning chefs at the helm of the kitchen, now its about time to really go back and explore Vegas once more. Maybe dimsum tomorrow (or is it today already)? Sounds like a plan, we shall see.

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Filed under BBQ, Beef, Buffet, Clams, Cupcakes, Dessert, Lamb, Related Article, Soup