Friday, October 30, 2009

Philly's Best: Philly Pizza Steak

Back in June, I was unable to watch two of the NBA Finals games because, for some reason that was never made clear to me, ABC did not come in for the duration of the games. That was the only channel that failed to, and when my friend called to inquire about it, she was told by Time Warner that they had no idea why that was happening. 

The other night I was looking forward to watching the first Lakers game of the season, as well as seeing the team get their championship rings before the game. (The fact that Adam Morrison now has a ring and Chris Webber does not makes me happy in a way I cannot describe.) But we lost all electricity in the windstorm (and also water later in the night) so instead of cooking anything I just went to McDonald's. We ate it by candlelight, a truly bizarre thing, although not as bizarre as the fact that, for the first time in more than 20 years, I ordered a Filet-O-Fish sandwich. 

I am not sure why. Maybe because I had the Wendy's fish sandwich a few months ago and it was great. At any rate, the Filet-O-Fish was horrible. Absolutely disgusting. Like a cheap fish stick slathered with mayonnaise and cheese. I thought to myself 'This will make and interesting blog post.' But looking at the pictures of it... I just don't want to post them. 

Last night we went up to Stats to look at their Halloween displays. After debating for half an hour about whether or not we should buy an $1100 concrete skeleton display to put in the yard (actually, it was more like half a second, and it really wasn't much of a debate) we decided to go to Philly's Best and get cheesesteaks. This excited me for two reasons: 1) it's always fun for me to try something new there and then get mad at myself that I didn't just get the standard cheese and pepper steak, and 2) the Philly's-Yankees World Series game would be playing on the flatscreen TV. This appealed to me very much; I loved the idea of watching some of the game with dozens of other crazed, displaced Philadelphians was exciting.

Of course, there was only one other guy in the place, and he seemed drunk or possibly just deranged. Yes, he was watching the game, but he may have thought it was The Price is Right for all I know. There was a sign in the window advertising the Philly Meatball Sandwich, so that's what I ordered. "We're all out of meatballs," I was told. I decided to try one of the few things I have never had there - the Philly Pizza Steak. (After I got my cup and was filling my drink, I saw a sign in the corner, well below eye level, advertising the Buffalo Chicken sandwich, which I definitely would have tried. What is the point of an ad if it's just going to be shoved in the corner, out of sight until after you have ordered?)

The pizza steak was basically a cheesesteak sandwich with grilled onions and Cheez Wiz and pizza sauce served on the side. The sandwich looked great when it was served and I considered just eating it plain, but then again, that wouldn't really have been a pizza steak. So I put some sauce and cheese (er, Cheez) on it. 

It was definitely the messiest sandwich I have ever eaten. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't anything special, and not something I will ever order again. I would rather have had the meatball or Buffalo sandwiches.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fatburger

364 days ago, Elizabeth and our friend Tracie went downtown for a concert - Jenny Lewis at the Orpheum. The next night I was having a couple beers with my friend Bryce, one of the best friends I have made in my adult life, and he was asking if Elizabeth would be coming out. 

"Probably not," I said. "She was at a concert downtown last night and didn't get back until after 1."
"What concert," he asked.
"Jenny Lewis."
"No way, Amy and I were there."

About a month ago, Elizabeth and I were trying to decide if we wanted to get tickets to see Regina Spektor at the Greek Theater. In the end we decided not to; I don't have the energy for midweek concerts that I did years ago, and I knew it would be the same night as game 1 of the World Series, and I had a better feeling that the Angels would be in the World Series this year than I have in years.

I was thinking about Bryce and his wife, Amy, on Monday night. Amy was due to give birth to their first child on November 9th and for some reason I thought to myself 'Wow, she could really have the baby any day now; I bet it will be sooner than the 9th.' So it was with very little surprise the next day that I got a text from Bryce about 11:30 in the morning reading "I'm a dad now." I responded with the only text appropriate for the occasion ("Damn, does that mean you're going to miss the Lakers season opener tonight?") and went on with my day.

A couple hours later I got another text from Bryce, mentioning that he had great tickets to see Regina Spektor that he obviously wouldn't be using now. I laughed and called him. "We were thinking about going but decided not to, but I will take them now," I said. "How much are they?" 

"They are on the baby," he said.
Even better.

So last night Elizabeth and I headed over to Los Feliz. We considered going somewhere a little on the fancy side for dinner, but in the end Fatburger sounded great to us. I wrote about Fatburger once before; I absolutely love it. I took better pictures this time and had something I've never ordered before, so I'm writing about it again.

This Fatburger, on Vermont, just south of Hollywood, is one of the smallest ones I have been to. It reminded me of the first time I ever ate at Fatburger, when I was still in high school, at the now-gone location on La Cienega. There was nobody in line when we walked in and we were able to order immediately. (5 minutes later there were ten people in line.)

Elizabeth ordered the Fatburger with everything. For the last decade I have only eaten one thing at Fatburger - the turkey burger. It's probably my favorite turkey burger around. But they also have a spicy chicken sandwich that I have been thinking about trying for a while. Knowing that we were going to be parking on Los Feliz and walking a mile uphill, I figured I could consume some extra calories for dinner no problem.

There is a drive-through at this location and there was a constant stream of cars the whole time we were there. It took about 15 minutes to get our food. And, of course, the food was great. The spicy chicken sandwich was indeed spicy; it reminded me of my favorite spicy chicken sandwich of all time - the Atomic Chicken Sandwich at the Dark Horse in Boulder, Colorado. It could have used more lettuce, but that's not a huge deal. We got one order of skinny fries and one of fat fries. The skinny fries were much better than the fat; the fat were undercooked and over-salted.

Elizabeth's Fatburger was great. She'd eaten a late lunch and couldn't finish it so she gave me a couple bites. They were my first bites of a Fatburger in years. Damn, I'd forgotten how great they are. The turkey burgers are good; the Fatburgers are much better. I think I might go back to eating them from now on.

We had a great time at the concert. I considered going back by Fatburger after the show, but in the end I decided not to.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kabuki Japanese Restaurant

Sunday, I had nothing on my schedule until the Angels-Yankees game at 5. Elizabeth said she needed to buy some new socks, so, it being a gorgeous 85 degree day, I suggested we go for a drive, eventually ending up at the Target in Burbank. We took surface streets the whole way, listening to Lucinda Williams and the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack. 

We decided to walk around Burbank Village a bit and eat somewhere. I saw that Buffalo Wild Wings is open; I haven't eaten at one in years and some spicy garlic boneless wings sounded really good to me. Of course, the fact that it was an October Sunday slipped my mind until we walked inside: the place was packed with people in football jerseys, watching NFL games that blasted on all the TVs, drinking beer and cheering loudly. I have no problem with any of this. I love football and God knows I have spent countless Sundays over the last decade in places similar to this. But I was enjoying the relaxing vibe of our day and I had a bit of a cold; the idea of eating here was no longer appealing.

We walked down the street a little bit and came across a Fuddruckers. I hadn't thought about that place in years. When I was a kid there was one a few blocks from my parents house and - although I didn't love it - I certainly ate there quite a few times. It closed about 5 years ago and was torn down. I guess I assumed they'd all closed in the area, but here was one open and, judging from the people walking in, doing well.

"I wouldn't mind one last meal at Fuddruckers," I said. 
"Sure," Elizabeth said.

We walked in. It was packed. There were maybe 35 people in line waiting to place their order and one flustered girl taking the orders. We stood in line for a few minutes, didn't move at all, and I suggested we go somewhere else. 

Just down the street we came to Kabuki. Elizabeth said sushi sounded good to her and I agreed. I don't remember the last time I ate at Kabuki. There was also one of those close to my parents' when I was young and my brother loved it, but back then I was a completely picky eater and the only thing I would eat at a Japanese place was chicken teriyaki. There has been a Kabuki in Old Town Pasadena for years but I have never eaten there. 

We walked in and the place was nowhere near as busy as the previous two. Still, the hostess, who did not greet us nor even smile at us, said it would be "two minutes." We sat down and waited about ten minutes before she showed us to our table. Our waitress, however, was the opposite of the hostess: she was very friendly, helpful, and just in general did not seem like a miserable human being. 

We ordered four things: gyoza dumplings and spicy tuna on crispy rice as an appetizer, and a cucumber roll and an "Aladdin Roll" as the entrees. Elizabeth snacked on edmame while we waited for the first dish to arrive. Despite my love for almost all Asian cuisines, I don't like edamame one bit. It tastes like cardboard to me. I ate a couple pieces of ginger. It was fantastic: fresh and spicy. Sometimes you can tell that the ginger they give you has been sitting in the fridge for a while. This was fresh. 

First up were the appetizers, obviously. The gyoza are the same fried gyoza you get at 99% of Asian restaurants from the beach to the desert: quite good as long as they are cooked well. The only real difference is the sauce you are served. Sometimes it's just soy sauce, sometimes it's a little bit more. This was the latter, a sweet and spicy sauce that, after the gyoza was done, I ate with the greens and shredded carrots that had been perched atop the gyoza. 

The spicy tuna on crispy rice was one of the best appetizers I have ever had at an Asian restaurant. I sometimes cry myself to sleep at night remembering the puteri rolls at Kuala Lumpur in Old Town (actually, that's a lie, but they were damn good) but these were better. The spicy tuna was about as spicy as I have ever had - even without the jalapeno or hot sauce on top - and the crispy rice was the perfect platform for it. 

We got our entrees after a brief wait. The cucumber roll was good but no different than most I have had. The only way this can be screwed up is with stale rice or cucumber (I have had both) and this was neither. The Aladdin Roll consisted of "spicy albacore and lightly battered shrimp tempura." It was good - just not as good as I was hoping for. There wasn't much tempura, and the albacore didn't really seem spicy compared to the spicy tuna I had just eaten.

On the way out I looked at the hostess. She did not say anything and looked down at the cell phone in her hand. I was not surprised. 

I will certainly go to Kabuki again, especially for happy hour, but I will try different entrees. I'm sure everyone has had a meal where the appetizers were spectacular and then when the food came it was just... average. It doesn't spoil the meal but it makes you wish you had only ordered lots of appetizers. (Now that I think about it, this describes every meal I have ever had at McCormick & Schmick's, Bar Celona, Cameron's Seafood, and a handful of other places around town.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fast Food Review: Popeyes Crawfish Tackle Box

Thrice I suffered shipwreck. A couple weeks ago I saw an ad online for Popeyes crawfish. I love Popeyes and I love crawfish - once, in New Orleans for JazzFest, I ate five orders of fried crawfish for lunch -  so I immediately put trying their "tackle box" at the top of my list. The next day I was in Riverside and I went to my favorite of the many Popeyes in the area. They had a little pop-up ad on the counter saying "Crawfish Coming Soon." I asked if they had them and was told no. 

A couple days later I went to the Popeyes in Alhambra, which had a big sign in the window advertising crawfish. "I want the crawfish!" I said triumphantly. 

"We don't have them yet," I was told.
"But you have the sign up!"
"We were supposed to get them last week."
"When will you get them?"
"We have no idea."

This was upsetting. When I'd seen the sign advertising crawfish, I'd foolishly assumed that they would actually have crawfish and I'd texted my friend Jim - who went to law school at Tulane in New Orleans and is as big a Popeyes fan as I am - that Popeyes had crawfish and that I was about to eat them. When I found out they didn't have any I sent him another text asking if this was a breach of contract on their part and I could burn the place down and get away with it. He said probably not.

(Speaking of people named Jim who went to Tulane Law School, I saw a interesting documentary on Jim Garrison over the weekend. His name was "Earling" until he was in his 40s, when he changed it to Jim, and, unlike the honest crusader that Kevin Costner portrayed him as in JFK, he was supposedly a mean-spirited, corrupt bully. This has nothing to do with anything, I just found it interesting and I like this blog to contain some actual useful information every once in a while.)

So I left and went to the other Popeyes in Alhambra, the one I went to a year ago where the owner decided he would talk to my friend and me the whole time we ate, asking us our entire life story. They didn't have a sign up but I was there so I went in. 

"Do you guys have the crawfish?" I inquired.
"No."
"Are you going to get them in?"
"No."
"Um, okay. Thanks." 
 
I gave up on the crawfish for about a week. But one day I dropped something off to my mom at her work just off of Lake Ave. and I drove by the Popeyes a couple blocks away. They had several signs advertising the crawfish; I was hungry so I figured why not give it a try. 

"Do you have the crawfish?" I asked the woman over the drive-through speaker.
"We sure do," she said.

I got the tackle box and, in case it wasn't good, I got an order of their nuggets, which I have always loved. As it turns out, the crawfish were fantastic. Perhaps the best thing I have ever had from Popeyes, and that's saying a lot. They are served with a horseradish sauce that is actually spicy and I devoured it. I had also requested some of their Delta sauce, which cost me a quarter but was well worth it. The Delta sauce goes very well with the crawfish and I recommend trying it.

I don't know how long these will be around, but hopefully quite a while. 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Burrata & Prosciutto with Persian Lime Olive Oil

The other evening I went into Beyond the Olive, the new store in Old Town selling nothing but oils and vinegars. I liked it much more than I expected to; I have been in many specialty stores like this but never been impressed. Such stores, which I won't name, often have a selection of "specialty oils" similar in quality to what you can get at Trader Joe's, differing only in their 500% price markup. Beyond the Olive's selection is reasonably priced, and almost everything is from California. As silly as I find a lot of the ideas behind the "local food" movement, the idea of a store showcasing California olive oil, which has long been underrated, is appealing.

I sampled a few things, something Beyond the Olive not only allows, they encourage, and decided on some Cabernet vinegar. I wasn't thinking about getting any oil - I still have a little bit left of each of my own olive oils - but the Persian lime olive oil was unique - it was a little bit fruity, but with the unmistakable tang of lime. The label suggested serving it with grilled seafood, one of my favorite foods, so I bought the bottle.

A couple nights later I put out some appetizers of crostini with burrata, prosciutto and fresh basil. I was considering drizzling some Sicilian chili oil over it but then thought why not try the new lime oil? As it turns out, it was a very good match. I put a couple drops of balsamic vinegar on two of the pieces, to see if that blended well with the oil, but it wasn't necessary: the oil is fine by itself.

Soon I will grill up some seafood and feature this Persian lime oil.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trader Joe's BBQ Brisket

Although pork is my favorite kind of barbecue, I also love a nicely smoked brisket. The best I've ever had was at Gates BBQ in Kansas City (although as my friend Zach, a brisket devotee, reminds me, I've never been to Austin.) Elizabeth is also a big fan of brisket, so when we were shopping at Trader Joe's the other day and saw their BBQ brisket, we figured we should give it a try. 

After the epic extra-innings Angels-Yankees game Monday, I was emotionally spent and not in the mood to make anything fancy. (It was nice of the Angels to just completely roll over yesterday so that I didn't have to go through that again.) We had three rolls left over from the weekend's lobster sliders so I decided to make brisket sandwiches and fries. 

While the oil was heating in the deep fryer for the french fries, I sauteed some red onions in the wok. I love red onions and I have always enjoyed them with brisket. The instructions for the brisket were simple: empty it out of the bag, microwave it for a couple minutes, and serve. I have to be honest: I was not expecting much.

It was surprisingly good. There weren't any large pieces of fat, which I'd been expecting, and the sauce wasn't too sweet. If I had been served this at a barbecue restaurant it would have been acceptable, but coming out of a vacuum-sealed bag it was very, very good. My one complaint is that it was too salty. Some of the bites tasted more like beef jerky than brisket. But the sweetness of the red onions and the Hawaiian roll certainly tempered the saltiness.

I will definitely have this again, although, since it's Trader Joe's, who knows how much longer they will keep it around.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lobster Sliders

There is almost no food I love more than a lobster roll. On occasion I have ordered them at restaurants in California, and invariably I have been disappointed. Some of them are decent, but they almost all cost more than twenty bucks, and something gets lost in translation. Years ago I ate a $9.95 lobster roll at the Mill Wharf Pub in Scituate, Massachusetts, overlooking the ocean on the first weekend of autumn. Not surprisingly, I have been unable to recapture that moment anywhere around here. C'est la vie.

Saturday I was over at my parents' house to watch the UCLA-Cal game (although I ended up watching more of Florida-Arkansas and USC-Notre Dame, as those were better games.) Continuing in the tradition of making pseudo-gourmet bar food during football games, I had earlier in the week planned to cook some meatballs in a Guinness reduction. But that was when the weather was cool and rainy and it felt like autumn. It got hot again and I did not feel like meatballs. So I decided to make some lobster sliders.

Usually, when I feel like lobster, I just get some of the langostine from Trader Joe's. They aren't quite as good as lobster, but they're delicious and a fraction of the price. But I decided to go all-out for these, so I went to Bristol Farms and bought Maine lobster meat. (The fact that my parents paid for the food made this decision much easier.) I also picked up a container of their Chinese cole slaw.

I chopped up the lobster meat and mixed it with a bit of mayonnaise, some lemon juice, and diced celery. I had some small King's Hawaiian rolls; I brushed butter on them and toasted them in the oven for a couple minutes, just long enough to get them warm. I had some potatoes from Fresh & Easy and I thought homemade potato chips would be good, so I sliced up a couple potatoes, let them soak in water, and dried them. As the oil was heating up I grilled a few pieces of sweet Italian sausage.

I put a piece of butter lettuce on each bun and spooned the lobster into it. The sliders were fantastic; everyone loved them. If lobster were less expensive I would probably eat these two or three times a week.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lucky Boy

Like Rick's, Conrad's, Tops and In-n-Out, Lucky Boy has been a late-night option since I was in high school. Unlike the other places, however, I have never liked Lucky Boy. My high school buddies often wanted to hit up Lucky Boy for dinner. I went along some of the time, but usually I suggested Rick's and we just went there. Many of my friends were (and probably still are) passionate about Lucky Boy's chili cheese fries. 

I hadn't had Lucky Boy in a long time and I knew I should give it another shot. But every time I thought about it, I decided to go somewhere else. I absolutely love Rick's, so when I'm craving that type of food, I go there. Not long ago, however, I was walking back to my friends' house after midnight and I realized how hungry I was. So I decided to give it one more shot.

The place was very busy; obviously many other people had the same idea I did. The line moved very quickly though, and after only a couple minutes I placed my order: a corn dog, fries, and a chili burger. I waited around, observing the people. I'd had several beers, too many to drive, but I wasn't hammered. Some of the people here most definitely were. Some were having conversations with each other that bordered on screaming matches. Others were concentrating on not falling asleep. It only took about five minutes to get my food, which was impressive considering how busy they were.

I walked over to my friends' house and started eating. The corn dog was good. The only way to screw up a previously frozen corn dog is not to cook it long enough. This one was fine. The fries were actually better than I have ever had there. I have referred to them in the past as limp and undercooked, because that's all I have ever been served. But these were fresh out of the fryer. 

The burger was absolutely terrible; the worst burger I have had in as long as I can remember. The bun looked like it had been stomped on a couple times, the patty was overcooked and thinner than a McDonald's burger, and the chili was disgusting. There was no flavor to it at all, except perhaps the vague taste of something burnt. It's been a long time since I've had their chili cheese fries, and I remembered hating them. Now I remember why. 

I understand people love Lucky Boy as a breakfast place, and I've never been there for breakfast. Maybe it's much better. But I am not a fan of the place at all.