Sunday, October 28, 2007

weekend lunch in san pedro.


sunny weekends in los angeles are wonderful, but sometimes the heat can be a little more than one can take. one of my favourite weekend day escape is lunch on the waterfront in san pedro, at the ports o'call village, near the cruise ship terminal. as far as waterfronts go, the area isn't the most glamorous, but it's far from being rough and tumble. it is rustic, charming, and easygoing, despite its proximity to the shipping docks.

san pedro crowd

during the week, the plaza of restaurants on the north end of the village is pretty sleepy, catering to few locals and day fishermen; however, the weekends see it filled with families, packed onto the outdoor decks, enjoying a meal amongst roaming mariachi bands, bewildered tourists on their way to day cruises, and hungry seagulls. the ocean breezes and convivial atmosphere make the crowds bearable; waiting for a table to free up can take time. there are several restaurants to choose from--the majority of them serve inexpensive fresh seafood, cooked in a number of ways: steamed, grilled, and fried making up the majority of the dishes, but with a good variety; a few of the restaurants even have little markets where you can pick out your fish of choice, before sending it off to be cooked.

fajitas on the grill

walk around to get an idea of what you want--everyone's tables seem to hold something tasty and delicious. one of the most popular items is a family-sized portion of fajitas, made with shrimp still in the shell or filleted fish (or a combination of both); the seafood is cooked on a large grill with onions, garlic, green peppers, and potatoes. the fajitas are heaped up onto a plastic school lunch tray, garnished with cut fresh lemons, a container of salsa, and served with a choice of either flour tortillas or large loaves of garlic bread. depending on your party's appetite, this can either serve a family of six, or three very hungry people. along with some beer or mexican sodas, this could be enough to fill you up for the rest of the day, but there are so many other dishes you could try instead, or heck, along side it.

siete mares soup

i recently tried the restaurant called alaska seafood, which offers not only the standard grilled and fried items, but also a number of asian/korean-style dishes including hot and spicy soups, tempura, and even galbi and bulgogi. the sopa de siete mares--seven seafood soup--has a clear, spicy broth, accented with tomatoes, cilantro and cucumbers, and of course, the eponymous ingredients: squid, octopus, crab, mussels, and several types of firm fleshed fish. the soup was very good, due to the fresh seafood that makes up the stock along with what was added in; only the octopus seemed ever so slightly overcooked, mainly because the soup arrived scalding hot, and by the time it was cool enough to eat, the tentacles had been cooking for awhile. everything else was tender, with very clean flavours. alaska also does what they call oyster tempura, but is really breaded in panko bread crumbs and deep-fried. the oysters are freshly shucked though, quite large but still sweet and tender. i don't recall if they are served with a sauce, but they didn't really need it. they too have the ubiquitous fajitas, either just with shrimp, or a combination of seafood. their fajitas differ in that they are somewhat wet from an unknown strangely pinkish sauce and the addition of fresh tomatoes. i can't really say i care for their version, but they probably have the best cooked seafood in their fajitas; most of the other versions around the pier that i've tried tend to have overcooked their fish and/or prawns. unfortunately for alaska, the seasoning is a little off on theirs; it lacks the nice, piquant spiciness of its dryer counterparts. still, there are so many other items on the menu, you could give their version a pass.

tub o tilapia

i think my current favourite restaurant of the lot is the one my friends dave and bekki turned me on to, the crusty crab (isn't that a character on "the simpsons"?). it has an extensive fish market, with large iced vats of whole, gargantuan fish, shellfish, and a long refrigerated case of various filleted items. you pick out your seafood of choice, pay for it, then bring it to a grilling or frying station outside, where it will be cooked accordingly. i have yet to try anything deep-fried as i am addicted to the crazy delicious citrus and herb marinade that is used by the grilling guys. it's light, spicy, and zesty, complementing the vast slabs o' flaky, fresh fish grilled to perfection.

fish on the grill

it does take a chunk of time before your fish will be ready, depending on its size and the crowds--45 minutes seems to be the minimum. so what do you do in the meantime? drink more beer, eat a little ceviche, and those fajitas make an excellent, albeit substantial starter. or, watch the boats out in the bay, count the thousands of shipping containers across the way, and enjoy your day.


alaska seafood

ports o'call, berth 79
1112 nagoya way
san pedro 90731

crusty crab
ports o'call, berth 79
1146 nagoya way
san pedro 90731

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007


everything's burning, a horrible thing has happened in my manila neighbourhood, a long ago friend has passed; i am unspeakably sad today. i wish for anyone who passes through here to be well, happy, and safe; please take care of yourselves and the ones you love.

Friday, October 19, 2007

the refresher.

the refresher

i'm ashamed to say i don't frequent the refresher in the farmers market all that much. it is one of the few stalls i clearly remember from my childhood that is still in the market, and one of the least changed. it only sells drinks--and soft drinks at that--and a few of the frozen confections that are house-made at the owners' other stall, bennett's ice cream. despite its quaint exterior, though, it does have a rather remarkable selection of sodas from hard-to-find brands (cactus cooler, anyone?) to bottled microbrews--in fact, at some point the bennetts had their own branded soda--a tasty root beer, an interesting lemon cola, and i think there was even a habañero cola. don't know if that still exists. i might just have to stop by to find out.

eam bars

the refresher
stall # 622 at the farmers market
6333 w. 3rd street (x-street fairfax)
los angeles 90036.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

the fun starts here: la county fair.

the fun starts here

oh, the los angeles county fair. it's over, but you know, you can always plan for next year. i loved the ad campaign, which poked fun at la stereotypes, but god knows everyone i know has their own preconceived notions about the fair. i haven't been in some time now (we're talkin' twenty years, probably), so i was a little sad to see the fair more commercialized, and standardized (one company seems to run all the county fairs these days). the midway was no longer in the muddy fields, but on sterile concrete--it was actually clean and bright. i remember it being dark, somewhat sinister, and filled with drunk carnies and shady games that were virtually impossible to win--wait, those are still there. whew! at least some things don't change.

racers town

bottle game


it used to be that the great innovation/novelty of fair fare was that it was on a stick--hot dog on a stick, corn dogs, cheese on a stick, cotton candy, lollipops, popsicles, strawberries and cream on a stick....nowadays there's not that much being skewered, maybe because of lawsuits from punctured people? an environmental effort to save the trees or at least bamboo? i did see a pork chop on a stick at the rattlesnake chili kiosk, but the most interesting thing on sticks was the eggroll on a stick, which means not very interesting at all. i guess there was a glut of chopsticks at the chinese place.

chicken charlies

the draw now is deep-fried everything--chicken charlie's seemed to be ground zero for the more unusual items: frog's legs, peanut butter banana and honey sandwiches, whole vegetables, s'mores, avocados, soda (yes, deep-fried cola), cookies and cakes. and the talk o' the town: the fried chicken filet smothered with raspberry jelly, and sandwiched between two warm glazed krispy kreme donuts, and served with a packet of honey.

krispy kreme khicken sandwich

sadly, i've no photo of the real thing for you. i was sick from eating most of a very large doughnut and my companion refused to touch the thing. i asked several people in line if they were going to order it, but no one said yes. i offered to pay for the sarnie ($6.50!), then pay for someone to actually take a bite of it to let me know how it was, but even then there were refusals all around. sheesh. i guess you can only go so far (i also couldn't find anyone ordering a fried cola).

pile o smoked turkey legs

actually, i had read that the most sellable food item at the fair was the smoked barbequed turkey legs--positively healthy compared to the alternatives, even at such gargantuan proportions. i myself opted to go for the freshly roasted corn, which really was fresh as, sugar sweet, smoky, and crisp.

corn guys

'course, you could always opt for as many pats of butter as you could possible want, or why not dress it up with something from the condiments bar? shaker cheese? two kinds of hot sauce? lime? a giant vat o' mayonnaise?

corn essentials

i have to say, i sort of miss the old days, with the travelling salesmen setting up shop, the overwhelming smell of farm animals no matter where you went, the student art and the 4-H competitions. but the people still remain friendly, the fair-goers are excited to be there, and the giant stuffed toy prizes on the midway are still as cheap and as suspect as ever.

midway tent

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

somewhere under the rainbow: rufus wainwright at the hollywood bowl.

rufus over the rainbow

rufus wainwright at the hollywood bowl, recreating judy garland's 1961 concert at the carnegie hall. september 23, 2007. was he up for the task? "recreation" would be too strong a word; perhaps channeling judy would be more appropriate. despite his inability to reach certain notes, or even remember the words, he was a consummate showman. this was less about garland than it was about him, despite lorna luft (and her independently operated shocking pink gown) being there. the best moments were with his mother and sister, who could have easily stolen the show on their own; imho, though, they were at their best when they were interacting with rufus. when is the wainwright-mcgarrigle cabaret hour going to be produced?

rufus family orchestra bowl

Thursday, October 04, 2007

a lotta ludo love: ludobites at breadbar.

the succinct, intelligent, beautifully photographed, voice-of-reason review is here. the following is sheer indulgence. you have been warned.



"oh. my. god. there he is. he is so. cute."
i peer over my companion's shoulder into the restaurant. whowha? him? the scruffy guy? that's the chef? er. okay.


i met some of my favourite bloggers, susan and bramble, along with some friends at breadbar on third street last week; breadbar is one of my favourite bakeries, and when i heard that it was hosting an ongoing event called ludobites prepared by chef ludovic lefebvre--he of the bare-chested fishing and orange nehi-spritzing--i thought, well alrighty then. i wasn't exactly sure it was my thing as it was a small plates menu with heavy emphasis on cheese (the venture is sponsored by the cheese store of beverly hills); i'm not completely stupid about cheese, but my comprehension of it only extends from knowing that in 1847 the uruguayan navy won a battle by using balls of edam as cannonballs, to thinking that cheddar is probably *not* what you want to use for a cheesecake. oh well. despite my wariness, i knew it would be a good event for a group of people to attend, and if anything, there was always the fantastic breadbar bread to fall back upon. everything about the venture sort of spelled disaster, though, as indecision and tepid reception sort of reigned, right up until we sat down; things only really sort of got going when susan took charge and decided that we were to sit front and center, smack up against the glass separating our table from Himself. (this was, in fact, the first night that they had placed the tables right up against the prep area; if the idea was to get maximum interaction with the chef, well....)

it still took a while for things to go smoothly: as breadbar does not have a liquor license, it was a BYOB event (graciously without a corkage fee)--i'm worse with wine than i am with cheese, so we sent the men in our party down to the neighbourhood liquor store, which is decent enough. after a noticeable wait, they returned empty-handed, as the shop had been busted for selling liquor to a minor. nice! there was so much activity going on at the prep area, that immediately susan and i had become transfixed, almost completely ignoring the rest of our party. the chef hand-carved all the cheeses in front of us, as his sous-chef worked on salads, terrines, cured meats. susan looked at me. "i could watch him carve cheese all night," she declared. i nodded. the rest of the world started falling away. the menu, with 50 items listed--from one daily entrée to the staggering cheese and tantalizing condiments sections--wasn't ignored but found to be a little mind-boggling. almost everything was too, too appealing. our server introduced himself as marshall, and kindly let us fumble through for far too long, until he could take it no longer and basically told us (kindly) he would bring our drinks and some bread baskets. the bite-sized chunks of bread arrived with hand-hewn shingles of beurre echire, a french butter so rich it could have been one of the cheeses on offer. (funnily enough, i had spent the afternoon with tiana, another companion, at surfas, which is our equivalent of the pleasure chest; we had just been drooling over the refrigerated butter case hours earlier and dreaming of this very scenario.) marshall™ was instantly recognized as a star, and became the evening's liaison between our party and the refills station.

i wanted everything--then and there--but we started with what seemed wise: an order of the intriguingly trademarked brocamole™, heirloom tomatoes with a feta mousse, and the large cheese platter with condiments and bread. the brocamole™ --a sort of guacamole made with finely chopped broccoli, red onion, tomatoes, and herbs--was crisp, clean, with an interesting sharp edge to it, and reminiscent of a pico de gallo. tasty, but ultimately the trademark was the most remarkable thing about it. the heirloom tomatoes were gorgeous--so gargantuan, and at the absolute peak of ripeness: sweet, only mildly acidic, and juicy, dressed for the ball with tiny, jewel-like black olives (niçoise? nyon?), and translucent ribbons of red onion. the mousse was cloud-like and surprisingly delicate, discernibly feta in flavour, yet without any of the mustiness i associate with it.

if there was any doubt that cheese was the predominant element of the menu, the specially branded cheeseboards would put that to rest. (i would really like the story behind them. actually, i would really just like one.) there was a small stack of them, ready for chef to fill with the selection of his choosing: reblochon-cow's milk cheese from the alps region of savoie, moliterno-an aged sheep's milk pecorino infused with fresh truffles, fromage d'affinois-a cow's milk double crème for which the word 'unctuous' was surely made, epoisse-a strong runny thing washed in brandy....bramble has the low-down on the complete contents of the board, which was also dotted with a number of the housemade or hand-selected condiments: honeycomb with white honey (possibly hawaiian?), sweet ginger, carrot jam with orange, a lush date purée with fleur de sel, lemon purée, a tomato jam.

i had a question about an onyx-black cube that stood menacingly in the middle of the board; marshall referred us to the maître d'? manager? of the breadbar, who deferred to chef lefebvre himself. he hovered over us, animated, focused, describing everything, despite the surrounding chaos--bramble had a camera on a tripod zoomed in on butter in front of her with the maître d' giving photography tips at her side, marshall was bustling to keep everyone and everything filled and fulfilled, and the rest of us were trying to rapidly comprehend and absorb chef's quick, heavily accented recitation of the dizzying array. (the black block was eventually identified as a preserved beet--fresher and tastier than it sounds, and flavoured more like sweet molasses than a root vegetable.) we dove in.

framboise cheeseboard

the cheese board was like an artist's palette (or, given the demographic of the table, a chemistry lab) for mixing and matching ingredients. opinions and suggestions flew around the table; only one of us with a large brain remembered the names of everything, so the comments were largely "omigod, that one!" "try this one!" and a lot of grunting and mmfph-ing from the sheer luxury of texture and flavours. the general consensus was that there was only one real dud on the board (b. identified it as saint-nectaire) which was bitter and ashy. amid the dissent, i heard a voice to my right; it was chef lefebvre, behind the prep area. we let him know of the offender. he checked the wheel in the display, already with a large wedge cut out, and nodded once, knowing instantly what we meant. he held it up, like a pac-man about to devour his head. "i am very disappointed by this one," he said, gravely. the pac-man wobbled in fear. we're very disappointed *for* you, chef! i silently thanked susan again for picking this table. this was fun. this guy's fun.

by way of compensation, he handed us a small board with a generous amount of fourme d'ambert, a cow's milk blue cheese from auvergne, which he was certain we would like. we did. a little while later, another small board came over the glass, garnished with a mango-lime chutney with pine nuts, and a pink grapefruit confit. the confit was a hit. "i don't even like grapefruit!" was uttered 'round, even as people reached for another little candied nugget of peel that held all the essence of the fruit, without the bitterness. i told chef of its popularity. he shrugged offhandedly--yes, certainly!--as he continued to chop whatever he was chopping. "i think it's in my cookbook," he mused. i had never decided to spend $50 so quickly in my life. "do you want more?" i was still in the clouds, wondering if book soup would still be open when we left, so i automatically declined. "wait!" there was a tug at my sleeve. tiana wanted to know what i just said 'no' to. i snapped to, and asked chef. "um, what? grapefruit?" chef waved his magic knife, and the table erupted in a resounding "YES!" he chuckled, and more arrived over the glass.

at this point, we were fully saturated with bread and cheese. dithering over other items still occurred--the skirt steak marinated in cola and espresso looked particularly interesting--but the scallop tartare with exotic fruit salsa was not available, and i think we forgot about the daily dish. everyone seemed mostly satisfied. i was too, but i really wanted to try something other than the condiments that the chef had made, something that perhaps showed off more of his culinary skills. again, that voice over the glass. "for dessert, you must get the LUDO mousse." from his mouth to marshall's ears; two plates of chocolate mousse appeared, along with a handful of spoons. we all took a greedy bit from the perfect quenelle. susan looked thoughtful. "there's chili in there." i took a bite. the chocolate was hawaiian--dark, deep and velvety. in the back of my throat, i felt the small sparks of capsaicin, crystalline and clear. she asks what pepper was used, and chef smiled a little; ah, red jalapeño. yes, certainly! too clean to be cayenne, not spicy enough to be habañero. beyond ignition, no real heat to speak of--just something to vitalize the senses, to counteract the soporific effect of the sultry chocolate. a sparkler lit on an autumn night.

you know, there is something about a good quenelle that gets us girls going. (or at least susan and me. maybe we need to get out more.) chef was again behind the counter, taking something out of a plastic container. ooh. it was an apple tart of sorts, but it looked like paper-thin leaves of apple had been cooked down to form a solid cake (i had later read that it just might be that). however, that was immediately overshadowed when the ice cream container came out; chef took out a spoon and deftly scooped out a perfect quenelle in a single stroke. a sound that encompassed sheer admiration, wonder and envy escaped us. "we might have to order one of those to see him do that again," i muttered. he did it again. this time, he was no longer speaking to us, just handing us the plate over the glass. this one was ours. the apples were cool, melting in their own juice and the slightest of caramels. it was pudding-soft, sweet as honey. the ice cream was flavoured with mastic, a resin from an evergreen shrub, that is used in turkish ice cream and gives it its unusually white appearance and elastic texture. chef lefebvre's version was not particularly gummy, but the flavour was distinct--green, like the sap running through a young tree, or the newest leaves shooting off its branches. there was something quite thoughtful about the whole thing--the ripened fruit and green sapling, a scattering of finely crushed spanish almonds like a crumble of bark, the coolness of the cream like a breeze rustling though the leaves. a nina simone song, translated.

i realized we were all very happy; the chef was busy attending to other patrons so we broke of the spell, and the table was lively with conversation and good-natured teasing about the sheer amount of fermented dairy ingested. i heard someone threatening to hide a piece of the sanitaire in a companion's shoe, just to drive him crazy. chef walked by quickly, with a finger of warning, "don't leave," he barked, as he hustled to the kitchen. we all looked at each other. whether by osmosis or by theory you are what you eat, we had all learned some form of the gallic shrug. chef tells you not to leave, you don't leave. after awhile, he walked up with two black bowls filled with a pale green liquid. an avocado soup, he said, something he was working on. avocado, almonds, grilled bananas, and a drizzle of citrusy olive oil. he was trying to make it more avocado-ey. the shrug, again. opinions around the table, again. chef looked at me; i had nothing to say as i am allergic to avocados. upon learning this, there was a glint in his eye that made me think he enjoys films of the 28 days/weeks later variety, but i spared him the gory details of my ailment. i think he's disappointed as he moved on to other things. i instead regale the table with some hideous highlights. moments later, that hand again, over the glass. a coconut panna cotta, adorned with passion fruit pulp and basil seeds, mercifully avocado-free. the gesture was sweet, but the panna cotta was nothing short of dangerous: sultry, slippery, exotic, slightly unfamiliar, but intoxicating enough to want more, despite it all. someone at the table cryptically remarked that the avocado soup was like married sex, and the panna cotta just pure, utter sex. um. make of that as you will.

we were sated, saturated, and there really was nowhere to go from there. thank yous to the chef and staff seemed inadequate, so marshall reaped the monetary rewards of a generous tip. i think we were all slightly disappointed it had to end, but there was great elation from knowing that we had just had a most memorable meal. i hope to have many meals with the friends and family that were there that night, and hope to have the privilege of chef lefebvre cook for us again, but i think for some of us (certainly, me) this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. our big night.


as we walked out of the restaurant, i realized for the first time in my culinary experiences, i had regrets other than the i-shouldn't-have-eaten-that kind. i regret not trying more of dishes, for not asking more questions, for not asking chef lefebvre for his recommendation, for not taking photos that did his work justice. for spending $200 on a pair of shoes and not on a meal at bastide or l'orangerie (no. wait. let's not go that far. still love my shoes).


week three menu

what made it so memorable? certainly good company. definitely the casual and convivial atmosphere of breadbar. and of course, chef lefebvre's menu, which was difficult only in choosing; the food itself was not. i have been so disappointed by meals at restaurants with "celebrity" chefs that i've shyed away from any place that issues a press release, or haven't had access to deserving fare for one reason or another. this was a learning experience--not only one for french cheeses, but also one for flavour pairings and impact, a reawakening of the senses, and renewal of enthusiasm for food.


i can't guarantee you'll have the same revelation, but you might have a very nice meal. things i would do, should i be so lucky to return: bring wine! i know insanely little about it--everything i know about good wine i've learned from lou--but whatever you bring, i'm sure someone can help with menu pairings. bring friends! the dishes are really meant to be shared and paired--not just in portion, but flavourwise. the more, the merrier. bring an open mind! i did, and i am grateful. (oh, and go on thursdays. chef's recommendation.)

ludobites@breadbar (from now through december '007)
8718 w 3rd street
la 90048

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Monday, October 01, 2007

the big freeze.


i finally had my first pinkberry experience. we were driving through the westside on one of the hottest days in a while, and needed a bit of a respite, so we thought it was about time to check out the whole fro-yo or whatever pinkberry is thing. not really knowing where one was, i called information and asked for the shop, and when asked which location, i just named the street i was on, and the operator asked which of the three locations did i want? beverly hills? again, the operator: which of the two on the same street did i want? sheesh. overexpanding much? we picked a location--which was empty and about 15 degrees warmer inside than the already boiling midday--picked out our treats, and headed for the shade of a nearby park. i ended up with green tea topped with fresh raspberries, pineapple and (canned?) lychee, my cousin picked out plain with raspberries, kiwi, and granola. we were both surprised that neither were particularly tart, considering what we had read, and the flavour of the green tea was pretty non-existent. it was a disappointment flavourwise, and it melted far too quickly, but the iciness and fruit were very refreshing on a hot day. and dammit if i'm not craving the darned stuff despite its shortcomings. crackberry, indeed.

gwa-il bingsu

i have to say though, if i'm craving an icy treat on a warm day, i'd rather head on over to olympic for the korean version of the filipino halo-halo or hawaiian shave ice. it's called gwa-il bingsu, and generally consists of a hill of finely shaved ice, preserved sweet red beans, fresh fruit, and condensed milk. cake house makes a fine version with the red beans, condensed milk, fresh berries, canned fruit cocktail, and jelly candies, but if i have the time for tea and a bit of sit down, wien's version with red beans, kiwi, watermelon, strawberries, green grapes, kinako (roasted soy flour), and ice cream instead of milk, really sort of hits the spot for me. i love the texture of the cellulosey grapes and watermelon against the snowy ice and gritty kinako, and the ice cream substitution keeps the whole thing from getting too soupy too quickly.


if you have a preference for either or, don't get confused by the similar names (wien's full name includes the phrase 'cake house'), addresses or phone numbers; cake house in on the westside, wien in koreatown to the east.

too many locations. time to thin the herd.

cake house
11301 w olympic blvd
la 90064.

google mapped!

3250 w olympic blvd
la 90006.

google mapped!