Thursday, November 22, 2012

Big Man Bakes Cupcakes

Been having a wicked cupcake craving since October that hasn't been satisfied yet.  Walking to my car last night after dinner at Baco Mercat, I saw a very unglamorous storefront with a fat display of cupcakes.  I was so full that even dessert didn't look appealing to me, so I only bought one.  Under normal circumstances  I would have purchased like six of them. minimum.

Triple Berry

 Each bite you take contains a generous amount of plump blueberries, and as if that wasn't enough, the moist tender cake gives off an intense berry aroma to flood your mouth with fruit.  The icing is also very noteworthy--thicker, richer, and less sweet than fancy cupcakeries'.  My only complaint is that the crumb is not fine and delicate enough.  No one asked for my opinion, but I think they should dry out the blueberries a bit more so the 'stronger' crumb isn't required to give the cupcake sufficient structure when the berries start to bleed during baking.  9/10 in the taste department, though.

In retrospect, I should have splurged for more cupcakes.  Next time perhaps.  Can grab a bite at Baco while I'm there too.  It's just across the street.  Love it when good food is located so close together.  At $3.25 a pop for an XL cupcake, you might as well skip dessert at Baco and come here.

Big Man Bakes Cupcakes
413 Main St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Baco Mercat

So Charlie mentioned that he hadn't been to Baco Mercat during a kickass dinner at Starry Kitchen Nights @ the Tiara Cafe and I just had to beat him to the punch. Yes! Finally the one time I'm not playing catch-up!

I did not bring a tripod to dinner, so this is a photo-less post that is more for my reference than it is for foodporn browsing during business hours on a slow day.  Rest assured, a second trip is planned.  Just skip the rest of the post if you haven't already.  Text blows.  Anyone actually still reading this?

Arrived at 6pm w/ a party of three on Wed. night to find all tables inside Baco already reserved.  Outside seating was available, and actually preferable.  I found the interior to be a bit too cramped and dark.

Ordered way too much food.  Server raised his eyebrows.

3 Bacos (flatbread sandwich)
All Bacos are made with a very tender yet sturdy flatbread that's good enough to eat by itself.
1. OG- pork/beef carnitas, salbitxada
Pretty sure the pork cut is from the belly.  Meats are crispy outside but still tender on the inside despite being dry.  I'm not making any sense, I know.  But that's what it's like.  The Chinese have a similar way of cooking meat.  Beef cubes were much leaner and this was a major problem if you didnt get a hunk of the pork belly along with it in the bit you just took.  Beef-only bites were pretty dry and took some jaw-work.  Bites w/ the pork belly were juicy, creamy bliss.  So very rich.  The salbitxada spread plays a huge role in the OG's flavor, but that's okay because of its depth and complexity.

2. Beef tongue schnitzel-harissa, smoked aioli, pickle
Tender tongue that still had enough chewiness.  Accompanying spread and sauce brought an awesome combo of sweet, spicy, and light acidity to make all the ingredients and spices come alive in your mouth.  Best of the three.  Absolutely brilliant balancing of flavors.

3. Toron-oxtail hash, pickle, cheddar, tater, horseradish
Think: med.rare oxtail burger+crispy breakfast tater+yogurty sauce w/ pickles and arugula.  Meat was cooked perfectly but needed more salt/seasoning.  Everything else about it was fine.  Could have been a lot better if Baco used lamb.  Tastes good, but not as interesting as the other two.

2 Coca (crispy flatbread aka fancy pizza)
1. El Cordero- merguez, harissa, feta
Fantastic combo of flavors.  The harissa and spicy sausage went so well together with feta giving a light pungent aroma at the back of your palate.  Served with arugula and cheese on top of the pizza.

2. El Starts w/ a "B" but I Forgot the Name- three cheese, spicy peppers, sausage
Loved the use of Thai basil here.  It provided a fresh 'bite' to counter the heaviness of the sausage and cheeses.

Soujouk Pork Belly Ragu- ricotta cavatelli, pecorino, tomato
Small portion, and appropriately so.  Super dense and hearty dish.  Thick and creamy.  I would not suggest you solo this one.  Very heavy on the soujouk sausage seasoning.  I think this is a really good dish, but I'm not sure.  Was so full at this point that it only tasted "good" but I'm sure under hungrier circumstances it would have tasted amazing.

Fried Chicken & Biscuits
Shut up.  I was curious so I ordered it.  Baco Mercat continues their theme of slightly spicy, a little bit sweet, and a touch of acidity.  Pretty good take on fried chicken, which they sandwich between huge biscuit halves. At $13 I would say not worth it except to satisfy your curiosity.  Plan Check (post coming soon) does chicken a lot better and around the same price.  If your a biscuit fan and don't mind shelling out dough for this dish, then you're gonna love it.  Excellent biscuit that's light and flaky yet sturdy enough to soak up juices and hold the chicken.  Especially liked the buttermilk twang and sugar to round out the flavor.  Light sugar glaze on top was a nice touch.(I do the same when I make 'em!)

Upside-down Caramel Cake
$10 disappointment.  Way too sweet and the crumb was not tender enough.  Menu said it is served with apples so I hoped at least some acid would cut through the sugar...but no.  Apples were super sweet too.  Baco Mercat should consider a lighter cake, holding back the sugar, and some acid or tartness.  This sugar bomb is just not appealing to me.

Yes, it wasn't a perfect experience, but what I failed to describe is the bright complex flavors of each dish that are brilliantly balanced.  It's something you have to taste for yourself because words just aren't up for the task.  I can't remember the last time I had this much fun eating.  Okay Starry Kitchen was pretty good, but Baco Mercat impressed me a lot more with combinations of textures and flavors that I've never experienced.

Note: Parking next to meters is free after 6pm.  Plenty of parking on Main St. or the alleys.

Baco Mercat
408 Main St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tacos Mexico

Another one of those places where you drive by almost all your life and never even notice its existence.  Behold, Tacos Mexico and its $.075 taco Tuesday/Wednesdays:

Six asada tacos spread on a plate.  Photo taken w/ friend's iPhone.

Typically when I want to satisfy my after-dinner Mexican fast-food cravings, I go to Taco Del Rio on Azuza in La Puente.  $6 gets you a monster burrito with all the fixings.  Their tacos are also generously portioned and priced at just over a buck.  What we ate as UCSD students can't even compare to TDR.

...fucking Sergios, Cotixan, Robertos, Rigobertos....ugggh I'm not gonna continue listing them.

Then I was told about Tacos Mexico in Hacienda Hts who are open 24/7.  $0.99 gets you a taco that tastes just like a street taco.  So effin' satisfying.  To hell with my East LA taco crawls.  I'll save myself the drive and just come here.  You'll finish a taco in 3-5 bites (2 if you're a pig) so order a lot of 'em at once if you're hungry.

They serve other stuff too like sopes, gordidas, and breakfast items.  Combo plates also available.  I think I'll keep it simple and just stick with the tacos.  Their meats are pretty decent--well seasoned and juicy.  But, Taco Del Rio meats taste better.  You'll just have to decide whether you want  a street taco from Tacos Mexico or a more meat-oriented Taco Del Rio.

I've read the Yelp reviews on this place and I have to disagree with some of them.  Jason K and Neil's reviews are pretty spot on though.  Yes, this won't be a mind-blowing, life-altering gastronomic experience, but at these prices and their 24/7 business hours, the value is pretty goddamn good for what you get.  The place is clean, tacos aren't soggy with oil, & the meat tastes good. Just make sure you come early enough while it's still freshly cooked.  I'd say a 3 star rating.  My second choice after TDR, which closes at 10:30ish.

Tacos Mexico
1133 Hacienda Blvd
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fresh Donuts

No this is not a post about my home cooking adventures.  The donut shop is called Fresh Donuts.  In my opinion, three of their donuts are wickedly good.  The best in their category that I've had to date.

So uh...I actually planned on higher stacks of donuts for the photo-shoot, but I ate too many on the drive back home...

From the top: Devil's Food, Honey Oat, Blueberry.  

What sets Fresh Donuts apart from other shops is that their donuts feel light and clean on the palate because they are less sweet and oily than most.  It also tastes like they change the frying oil frequently.  (Fry enough donuts at home and you'll know what I mean.) Crumb structure is also pretty good, although I've had some inconsistencies with the traditional buttermilk in the past.

The Devil's Food has a strong cocoa presence and doesn't feel bogged down by oil and sugar when its in your mouth.  It is very common to see this type of donut suck up mindblowing amounts of oil as it cooks.  Another common mistake is to overload it with sugar like all creations from Krispy Kreme.  BTW, KK makes bad donuts.  Sorry if you're a fan, but it's true.

Honey Oat is something I don't see very often in donut shops.  Maybe they sell out when I get there or something.  I don't know.  Fresh Donuts achieves a perfect balance of sweetness and nuttiness that keeps me coming back every week for more.

Blueberry is also particularly noteworthy.  They don't skimp when it comes to ingredients.  Each donut contains a generous handful of berries so your mouth and nose will be filled with blueberry aroma with every bite.  Freakin' amazing.

I have a larger version of the following photo as my wallpaper.  Always brightens my spirits when I look at it.

I've also had the chance to try all their yeast-raised donuts (ie. OG glazed, sugar coated, bear claw, apple fritter, etc).  These are merely average.  There has not been a single donut shop whose yeast-raised dough can compete with mine.  I even find popular ones like Cafe Dulce's to be lackluster, if not slightly below average--especially given their high prices.

Restaurants, however, are a different story.  Mariah Swan (former pastry chef at Grace and currently at BLD) always impresses me.

Fresh Donuts  (next to Trader Joe's)
409 Avenida De Los Arboles
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ching Guang Market, Taipei

Yesssss!  Found more of my photos.  A few of these are from Ching Guang Market (晴光市場) in Taipei.  I have family who live just a five minutes walk away.  A lot of the vendors have been here for decades and super duper nice to the residents who are regulars.  They'll only be very nice to you, however.  For some reason, Taiwanese are so much more genuinely friendly and welcoming compared to Americans.  This is especially true in the South or in smaller cities.

 Chicken sausage.  Crispy skin 'cuz nothing is better than frying a sausage.

 Fried tofu.  Crispy outside, silky and delicate on the inside.  Fun contrast in your mouth.  The quality of tofu used was excellent.  Very rich.  You could actually taste the soybeans and their subtle sweetness.

My aunt loves this vendor's goose.  I don't know how to describe the taste...its yet still has enough chew.  Taiwanese don't like mushy meat.  We want some toothiness and spring to the texture.  But of course, the oh so "Q" skin is the best part.  Very lightly salted and seasoned but it'll make your mouth water all the same.

*sniff*  *sniff sniff*  HEY.  THAT SMELL.  I KNOW IT!  I WANT IT!

baboom. Fried stinky tofu.  Fried of the left, boiled in a ma-la (literally: numbingly hot) base on the right.  My favorite Taiwanese dish.  The more pungent, the better.

Some people (foreigners, usually) are put off by the smell.  But, I want to help spread the word that this is the equivalent of a "fragrant" cheese.  I think Zimmerman (Bizarre Foods) did an episode in Taiwan and was pleasantly surprised at how the smell in no way reflected the taste.  Not sure, but I think his tofu was grilled in that episode...  IMO, fried is the only way to go.  It'll taste nuttier.  Try it.  You might like it.  The fried preparations usually come with spicy picked cabbage and hot sauce.  A big plus.

On a related note, I find it funny that the Taiwanese love stinky tofu but are hesitant about trying stinky cheeses...

I'll update this post after I find and process more photos.  I don't know how my portfolio got out of sync.  In the meantime, check out Jin's post on this very same market.  Damn I miss Taiwan and its good eats...if you want comfort food, look no further than Taiwanese cuisine.  So much rich, satisfying, fried, carby goodness.

Friday, November 9, 2012


About the same time I went AWOL from food blogging and Fb, I worked in Beijing for awhile.  The experience opened my eyes and showed me how different life is across the strait.  I lived most of my childhood in Taiwan and head over there twice a year (sometimes more) since I moved back to the States.  Figured life in China wouldn't be so different from Taiwan since both countries speak Mandarin Chinese and are so geographically close that I swear you could swim from one shore to the other.

Nope.  So very very wrong.  What a culture shock.  The only thing I could reasonably relate to was Mandarin Chinese, but even then Beijing residents speak in the northeastern accent....which to me is the equivalent of Californian vs a heavy fake Cockney accent.  You know they're speaking the same language, but sometimes you just don't know wtf they're saying.

Yeah okay this isn't a travel blog.  On to the food!

Beef noodle soup is actually a pretty common dish for both Chinese and Taiwanese.  The restaurant was fairly well known for theirs, so I gave it a shot because I was curious to compare it to all the Taiwanese ones I've had.  The broth here was heartier and deeper in flavor than what I usually have.  Good stuff.

Supplemented my noodles with an order of cumin lamb skewers that were grilled over charcoal.  You'll see meat skewers at a lot of restaurants, especially during summer.  They have a big grill outside using wood charcoal to impart a wonderful smokey flavor.  They also do beef and chicken with a variety of seasonings.  I particularly like the spicy Schezwan peppercorns and crushed chiles.  Spicy even by my standards.

Here's some mediocre Zhajiang mian.  My mother makes a better sauce.  Those house noodles were terrific though.  Good tooth and flavor.  FYI, you're supposed to mix all of that together.

Okay so this is what a typical casual restaurant's decor might look like.  Pretty damn cool huh?

Now an example from fine dining:


Calamari from a stone pot @ one of the pricier restaurants.  One thing I've noticed is that many low to mid-end restaurants in Beijing will typically use a noticeably superfluous amount of oil to prepare each dish.  Nice n fancy establishments use just the right amount.

Rack of lamb Frenched and fried with chili peppers and peanuts.  Best. Freaking. Dish. EVAR!!  Dramatic presentation to match its equally impressive taste.  So many intense and complex flavors here.  Texture of the lamb was just out of this world too--crisp on the outside and oh so very very tender and juicy inside.  To mix things up a bit, you can crunch on the peppers too.  Might be hard to tell from the photo, but the ribs are pretty darn big.

Hey check out this out of place, uninspiring photo.  What gives?  Well I was too excited and eager to dig in, so I snapped one shot without any thought to composition.  One does not go to Beijing and not eat Peking Duck.  My god I ate so much duck.  From the very best at Quan Ju De (and its equivalents) to the "oh hey this is still good!" at neighborhood restaurants.  What we have in SoCal doesn't even compare.

I think it was around this time when I stopped taking food photos in Beijing.  It was a lot easier (and more enjoyable) to just sit back in a restaurant, take it all in, and enjoy the new experiences.

Oh! And for some giggles, here is a Starbucks located across from Tienanmen Square:

Cracked me up when I saw it.  It's located in a super touristy shopping attraction.  They pretty much built a whole shopping district in the historical Chinese style.  Worth a look if you're in the area.

Makes me sad to think all the good eats I had in Beijing can't be had here.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pier Burger

First, a shout-out to a certain blonde yoga-pants-wearing someone who spurred me into reviving the blog: Thanks chica, I've forgotten how fun this was.

Let me tell you...the commute from Thousand Oaks back home to LA is no fun during peak hours.  I'm usually spared this torturous experience since I leave well after traffic has died down, but today I had the luxury punishment of leaving early.  As I closed in on the 405/101 junction, my BP was perilously high so I said "fk this"and went to go hang out in Santa Monica until the freeway cleared up and I regained my sanity.

After some shopping to cheer me up, I dragged my hungry stomach over to the pier to make it even more hungry.  Found this at the pier and felt like going on a gastronomic adventure:

How many of you have passed by this place without giving it a second thought?  Come on be honest now.  Been on the pier a bazillion times and heck...I've never even seen Pier Burger until tonight. Was that hungry.

Ordered the Double Pier Burger and small fries. No photos this time, but I'll update in the near future.  "God what a terrible post. No photos? Seriously man?"  I know guys.  I'll update it, don't worry.  For now, please refer to Pete's blog for photos.

For a fast food burger, this was just tits.  Fantastic sear on the patties, which gave a slight crunch to go with the very solid oomph of beefiness--something you don't ever get or associate with fast food burgers.  Meat was perfectly seasoned to enhance the sweet mineral notes and subtle funk.  To top it off, they were incredibly juicy despite being cooked to well-done.

Equal attention was given to the buns.  Pier Burger used a springy, moist, and slightly sweet potato bun that complemented the beef quite well.  Very fragrant. Very good quality.  Meat to bun ratio was perfect.  Buns were toasted too, as they always should be.  None of that Red Robin cold bun bullshit.

The spread Pier Burger used was almost like the In-N-Out style, but thinner and a tad more sour.  I liked it.  Worked well with the beef's rich juices.

This is no rival to my #1 favorite SoCal burger (25 Degrees, Huntington Beach), but they are in different burger categories anyway.  As a fast food burger, this one's a big winner.  Better than G Burger in La Habra, I dare say, and leaves In-N-Out (which isn't that great to begin with, but is the gold standard for many people) in the dust.  Definitely coming back again.  Maybe this time with a date.  Saw too many couples on the pier.  #ForeverAlone  haha naw I kid I kid.  All Roger needs in his life are desserts.

Pier Burger
330 Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica, CA 90401