Taqueria El Tapatio in Glendale

Restaurant Review:  Taqueria El Tapatio in Glendale

Sure this is a place you would drive by without a second thought, it’s in the seedier part of Glendale just north of the gates to Forrest Lawn on Glendale Avenue.  It is on a corner in what I think was originally a hot dog stand. I must confess that this is one of the real ethnic places a close friend accuses me of dragging him to for lunch and putting his health and safety at grave risk.  

Yet this very muy authentico Mexican place comes with fulsome recommendation of  some savvy Armenian American 30 somethings with MBA’s.  It is their go to place after a night on the town or when they want a quick savory lunch.  Harut and Hagop  love the place as any Glendale native would.  It is a treasure.  Got it?  It’s very real Mexican and very hip multicultural in the most  Armenian town this side of the Atlantic.

The menu is based on great street tacos like you find in Mexico.  They are served on a pair of warm corn tortillas about six inches across. The meat and garnishes are more than enough to put half on one and half on the other.  They offer a dozen meat items as filling:  carne asada, al pastor (spiced pork), carnitas (braised pulled pork),  spicy chorizo, braised lingua (beef tongue), chicken,  and others.  All come with chopped onion and cilantro, crumbles of panela cheese (Mexico’s Feta) and red or green sauces.   Savory, vibrant not Taco Bell by a hundred kilometers.  They also make burritos and Torta (Mexico’s hero sandwiches on French rolls).  They are served with pickled jalapenos and carrots, rounds of fresh radishes and as much salsa as you might like.  In the mornings, they make huevos rancheros and chilaquillas and other breakfast items.  And all this is served with a choice of  Orchata, Jamaica and Tamarendo aquas frescas and hecho in Mexico bottles of Coca-Cola and other sodas.

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You can also order a plate of refritros and arroz to share with your party.   But for me the greatest thing on the menu are real vibrant tostadas. They are worth the drive to Glendale if you live near by. My big favorite is the chorizo toastada and it is off the chart.  But the carne asada and pollo (chicken) ones are dynamite too.

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The clientel is very mixed, most are from Mexico but there are always a variety of Glendale residents:  Anglos and Armenians and Asians and Filipinos too.  Everybody knows this is the place for the real stuff.  You sit on sturdy chairs at stainless steel topped tables in the covered dinning area. Glendale PD and LAPD stop in a lot too.

Now the other great virtue of the place is the truly low cost of this satisfying Mexican cooking.  Tostadas are $3.50, tacos are $1.50 each and everything else falls in line.   They don’t take plastic, cash only but you couldn’t hit $20 bucks for two or even three people.

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You’ve got to try it, it is a wonderful and the chorizo tostada is work of art.

Taqueria El Tapatia
1266 S. Glendale Avenue
Glendale, CA

The sign on the building says “Taqueria No. 2” which was a previous name.

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Fat Sal’s

Restaurant review. A classy and authentic place.

Over the weekend, I visited a very authentic  place at the corner of Highland and Fountain in Hollywood.  Owned in part by Jerry Ferrara, the New York born actor who played the role of  Turtle in the series Entourage,  the restaurant is a serious attempt to bring a bit of New York to California.  You might call it Italian American fast food, although not that fast.

The place is called Fat Sal’s.  The motto on the wall set in wall tiles is:  “Hey, we’re making sandwiches over here.”  It is nice but spartan with tall tables and stools. The French doors were open which makes the small space seem larger.   First thing I got to say is it smells right, smells like a serious Italian American sandwich joint should near the banks of the Hudson River.  

They make very authentic Hero Sandwiches, both hot and cold, they make Hamburgers, Salads, some raps and huge extra wide hero’s on specially baked  bread.  Mara and I split a foot long Classic Italian on a baguette and their Italian Chef’s Salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing.  Good Stuff!! And it was the real thing.  They also have Cheese Steak, Italian Sausage & Peppers in marinara sauce, meat ball and roast beef in Marinara.  Buono.  

The big name sandwiches are extravaganzas with six to ten ingredients.  And they will add or subtract them as you might prefer.

Here is a link to FAT SAL’shttp://fatsalsdeli.com/

All I can say is, When you’se want to eat real good authentic New York Italian sandwiches or burgers,  dis is the joint for you’se.  Capish?

 

We were too busy eating that we forgot to take any photos.

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EL Caserio in Silverlake

ALTADOS, CEVICHES  y CHAULAFAN DE CAMARONES

This weekend I discovered a new restaurant near by that I have driven past for decades.  On an oddly shaped piece of urban real estate where Silver Lake Blvd. meets the Hollywood Freeway sits El Caserio,  a romantic Spanish Revival building with a large open garden well planted with palms and tall banana plants and walls draped with sprays of Bougainvillea.  The name means The Hamlet.  It is an Ecuadorian place, not Mexican.  The cuisine reflects the Andean nation but with heavy Asian (Japanese in this case) and Italian influences.  The place is comfortable and club like, with soccer on the TV in the Bar.  The patrons appeared to favor Chile over Argentina in the day’s Copa de Americas final game. They serve wine, beer and cocktails with a very good Pisco Sour — made with Pisco, grappa like grape brandy that is the dominant Andean liquor in Ecuador , Peru and Chile.  It is a cross between a Margarita and a Ramos Fizz made with Pisco, lime juice and a bit of whipped egg white.

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They have a large list of first courses, a dozen kinds of ceviche plus other Andean specialties include Humitas which is a sweet corn and meat cousin of a Tamale,  a number of potato items and a variety of empanadas.

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The Asian influence shows in main courses.  They have Andean dishes, then a section call El WOK of Asian adapted dishes and another of Pastas reflecting Italian specialties and Italo-Andean hybrids.  It is an unexpected blend of three schools of cooking that works.  

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The most popular main dish are the Saltados,  stir fry of steak, chicken, shrimp or fish.  Much like the familiar Fajitas which was created by Chinese cooks in Mexico, the Saltado was created by immigrant Japanese cooks in Ecuador and Peru and tastes a bit more Asian.  The one big difference is that is topped at the end of cooking with a mass of great French fries and tossed and then plated.  They use a heavy soy sauce and more garlic  that provides a kick.  The Andean nations serve it with a large mound of white rice, giving you two big helpings of both rice and potatoes.  El Caserio also offers a selections of CHAULAFAN with a selection of ingredients.  This a very Asian Andean fusion platter of fried rice and a lot of other ingredients including chilies.

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Mara and I enjoyed our early dinner very much and recommend the club like ethnic place if you want something exotic, but not too exotic.  As the Argentines know how to deliver good steaks, the Peruvian and Ecuadorians deliver great sea food, and pretty good steaks too.  Like the Argentines and the Australians they like them al caballo, (on horseback) meaning topped with a sunny side up fried egg.

 

El Caserio Restaurant
401 Silverlake Blvd.
Los Angeles CA, 90026
(213) 273 8945

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Blue Apron, meal in a box

A friend of my daughter Mara’s is quite a fan of Blue Apron, the meal in a box provider and she gave Mara a coupon for two free meals.  They arrived yesterday and we made the first and will make the second tonight.

At ten to five yesterday a large box arrived at my front door. Impressive very professional carton and it weighed about thirty-five pounds.  Half that weight was the four ice packs that keep the contents chilled.  I schlepped it into the kitchen and unpacked it.  The white special ice packs filled one of two sides of the dual sink.  Then I broke it down.  There were a few promotional fliers and two clear well illustrated instruction sheets.  I broke the ingredients into the two meals: one was Boston style salmon rolls with thick rounds of  Chesapeake style oven roasted potatoes, the other was a savory chicken sauté with garlicky smashed golf ball size new potatoes, nice long green beans and a few extras.  There were two plastic tubs of salmon filets and skinless boneless chicken thighs, a plastic bag of green beans, a clove of garlic,  three large russet potatoes and a packed of new potatoes and the supporting cast of chives, a cup of vinegar, a half cup of mayo, seasoning packets and literally everything you needed except salt, pepper and olive oil (which we had on hand as most people would). 

Mara put on an apron and prepared the meal, the salad was ready except for dressing.  She washed and sliced the russets into silver dollar disks and seasoned them per instructions and put them on a cookie sheet and into the oven.  Then she prepared the salmon as instructed and shortly we had a meal of savory salmon hash served in four hot dog buns.  Very nice and simple.  It would serve four people so the rest of it will go on toasted sour dough with another big salad and stuff to eat while we watch the Warriors and the Cav’s got at it in Cleveland.  We’re Cav’s fans via the St. Mary’s connection with Matt Delavedova the Cav’s Australian Gael alum as back up point guard and the fact that Mara’s boss and some other people at the office are Cleveland natives,  the most dogged and loyal and long suffering breed of sports fans in the USA.

The other meal will be cooked tomorrow and looks to come together as easily and quickly as the first.  So what do I think?   The meals are all there in the box, the instructions are clear and easy to follow and the results are a good healthy meal made from just the right amount of ingredients.  They will feed four people at a cost of $35 bucks.  It feels like they are to cover a weekend because you get two meals in each box and they cost $69.99 for both.  The food is good and obviously way less than what the same would cost at a good restaurant.  The boxes save a lot of time and trouble, if you have a cramped schedule.  Salads and desserts are not included, but not that big a deal to improvise.  So I would give the idea an  OK if you want to try it.  Sure, you could buy the stuff yourself for less at the Supermarket, but most of us would be hard pressed if time was at issue.  It is like those big black plastic boxes at Whole Foods with pot roast, beef stew, etc., etc., etc. which give you all you need to load into your Crockpot in the morning and know you will have a  good meal that night when you get home.  So, when the circumstances are right, I would recommend both items.

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365 By Whole Foods in Silverlake

Hey, I visited the world’s first outlet for “365.”   This is Whole Foods new spin off meant for the younger poorer hipsters, vegans and foodies who can’t afford the real Whole Foods.  What was it like?

Well, it was in ultra cool Silver Lake in what had been a nice mid-sized Ralph’s market.  How cool and hip?  In the crowded parking lot as I waited for a car to pull out, an intense looking young woman with odd hair and long dangling ear rings cut me off and snatched the space.  She had a Bernie bumper strip on her Prius,  so she was for peace, love and vegetables on the outside but she was a greedy cut throat egomaniac who grab the space I was waiting for.  At least she wasn’t texting while she did the deed.

When you walk into the large open space it is almost Costco spartan.  Concrete floor, open rafters with wires and ducts in full view.  On the left was a very large produce area, on the back wall was meat to the left and dairy to the right.   The far wall on the right was beer and beverages.  In the center were cold and hot ready to eat items: salad bars, soup bars, Asian food tables, hip vegan and vegetarian tables and a long unit of olives and marinated veg.  However the first thing you saw was a YUGE pile of Pabst Blue Ribbon 12 can half cases — tipping you off that 365 was aiming at bright young hip people.  PBR is the brand of choice among the young in case you didn’t know.  It is like the “animal” beers were for us in the 1980’s.  (Admit it, back then we all drank cool suds like Moosehead, Elephant Malt, and other up scale brews.)  There also was a small display of blanc, rosé & rouge bottles of Le Vielle Ferme, which is very good quality mass produced French plonk favored by older wiser patrons.  The bottles have a prancing goat logo.

Looking at the ready to eat cold and hot tables I thought is was nice looking faux ethnic chow at not that bad prices.  Going over to the produce area I was pleased to see that the selection of organic fruit and vegetables was wide ranging and good looking.  It was far bigger and better than Trader Joe’s and about the same as the major supermarkets with a modest bump in price.  This area was worth it and well done.  The meat area was new to me and everything was ever so specially grown and slaughtered.   I am not familiar with the producers and their brands so I take it they well known to regular Whole Foods shoppers.  One thing that struck me as interesting were four pound boned lamb shoulders (American grass fed, not Aussie or Kiwi sheep)  that were available plain or marinated in Latin   American rubs or Greek style herb rubs.  The one product I liked on my previous visits to Whole Foods was the black plastic boxes that sold for about $20 that offered meals ready to prepare in your crock pot.  These were pot roasts, beef stew, beef goulash, and so on with the meat, vegetables, sauces and seasonings that guaranteed a good healthy and hearty  meal for two three or four when you got home.   I imagine 365 is aimed at singles or couples and not working parents who like loading the crock pot in the morning and having a good meal waiting them, their spouse and children when they get home.

Over all I found 365 interesting and much of the stuff of good or very good quality and for the most part reasonably fair in price.  It is much more approachable than most Whole Foods stores where you feel you must very thin, very well to do,  casually dress in designer duds and having  parked a Tesla, BMW or just a Prius in the lot out front. I should point out that I visited 365 in mid-afternoon and half the shoppers were on Medicare like me.  Outside working hours I was told it is jammed with single 20 somethings who are looking for organic kale and goats milk yogurt and maybe hooking up with another 20 something they meet in Produce or over at the cold table with twenty kinds of olives and marinated veg.  It must be a modern day update Omar Khayyam’s promise:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou,
Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!!

In Silver Lake today, it’s an I-pad, a dozen Pabst Blue Ribbon,  a plastic tray of orzo salad and you babe.  The one thing that irritated me big time was that all the under 35 dudes and chicks were leaning against the display cases texting up a storm. In a better world I would expect them to be flirting over the organic nectarines and the four colors of organic Swiss Chard.

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Everyday Cooking

Now on to everyday things.

I take cooking seriously and since I became a widower it wasn’t a matter of choice. I am not a foodie but I am a serious California home cook and I can make some good party dishes, replicate some of the things my Grandmother made and I can follow a recipe from a good cookbook. I favor old traditional recipes and restaurants that know what they are doing and able to continue in this day and age.

Here is my list of some items every serious kitchen should have on hand and use. They make it easy to hit the mark without a lot fuss on ordinary meals.

1. Get these items and learn to use them.

A tube of tomato paste and a tube of anchovy paste. Why? Because a tablespoon of tomato paste gives a background base note and depth to any soup or sauce. Anchovy paste also provides a depth and richness to soups, salad dressings, sauces and gravy. It melts in and replaces common salt without leaving any taste of its own. A dab or two brings in a rich slight edge. One reason any attempt at most Asian dishes is not like a restaurant’s is that we westerners don’t use fish sauce as most Asian cooks do. It smells disgusting but it is a vital ingredient. A dab of anchovy paste gives that background note and savory quality to our tries at Asian cooking and works well with western dishes. Just a dab.

2. Spend a bit more than usual and get two bottles of olive oil, not too big. Get a California Extra Virgin oil for salads adding a finishing touch to something and enriching pasta sauce. Get a regular (not virgin) bottle of olive oil, Star or Safeway or any good brand and use that for cooking. Extra Virgin oil tastes of the olives and is the clear slightly green first pressing. For cooking extra virgin oil is too heavy and the heat kills its taste. In most restaurants they use a blend of olive and canola oil which has a higher temperature range but give the olive oil taste. You can buy this blend, but get it smaller quantities because canola oil has a very short shelve life before it goes off, not a problem in a restaurant but if you don’t use it often a real problem at home.

3. Even when the price is great, don’t buy stuff in large quantity unless you will use it in week or two. The big Costco jugs of salsa, tubs of sour cream, jugs of mayonnaise and oil are meant for professional cooks. At home we just don’t use them up fast enough. in the end we don’t actually save money and the go off long before we use them up. Sure it cost more, but buy stuff in quantities that make sense. I still have half a jug of teriyaki sauce from last summer. This applies to spices. None of us can actually use a Costco size two pound container of Montreal Steak rub unless we open a barbecue joint. Buy a smaller practical size that you will use before the flavors go off.

4. You should have a small jar of white pepper. Why? Because it gives a different but smoother “burn” and a mellower zip to dishes. Beside following my Grandmother’s rule that white pepper was for mashed potatoes and cream soups, it is the right pepper for many serious dishes. Except for salads, in France and Italy white pepper is the one used for almost all cooking. The same in Japan and China. Try it and you will taste the subtle difference.

5. At Vons and Safeway markets they have 24 ounce house brand jars of salsa. They are usually on special if you have a club card. Additionally they are the right size for your kitchen. They are clearly marked mild and medium. The chunky salsa and the medium salsa verde are right on point. The other varieties are up to you, mango salsa, southwest with corn kernels and a few more. Try them. Don’t buy a Costco big jug of Pace Picante or La Victoria Suprema unless your are running a Mexican restaurant. They should be used up quickly.

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Old California Dining is alive in Baskersfield


2. What is Noriega’s?

It is the oldest Basque Hotel with a bar and restaurant in California. Noriega’s is across the street from the old Southern Pacific depot on the east side of Bakersfield. It has been there since 1893. The current owners bought it in 1932. It also has a fronton for pelota (ball in Spanish) more commonly known as Jai Alai, Basque national game. Noriega’s is a unique restaurant that serves the simple abundant food you could have found in most ranches and in homes in many small towns a generation or two ago with a distinct Basque accent. It is a wonderful experience. This is like a big Sunday dinner at my Grandmother’s or one of my Portuguese great aunts in the 1950’s.

The Basques (Vascos in Spanish and Portuguese) are the best cooks in all of Iberia and southwest France. They have a unique language unrelated to any in Europe and the highest global apportion of the Rh- blood type (35% phenotypically, 60% genetically.) Additionally, the Basque population has virtually no B blood type, nor the related AB type. They have a high rate of O blood group but this is probably due to isolation.

Generally they are thought to be descended from neolithic farming people who lived in southwest Europe in prehistory. They may be a major source of the R1b DNA grouping common among the people of Iberia and other parts of the Mediterranean. (Not surprisingly my maternal DNA falls in this group.) In Caesar’s Gallic Wars, he refers to the Basques as Aquitanii who were the dominant people in Southwest France and over the Pyrenees into modern Spain. There were Basque settlers in California from the beginning of Spanish settlement in the 18th century. After the gold rush more immigrated here and they are  the originators of San Francisco’s unique sour dough “French” bread. Until a generation ago, Basque shepherds raised sheep in California and Nevada but after Spain joined the EU that ended and now our shepherds are highland Indians from Peru and Bolivia. There are Basque communities across Latin America and even a few in the Philippines.

3. The place received a James Beard award as one of the few landmark places in California and was featured in a long article in the New York Times food section.

4. How it works:

There is one sitting for dinner, at 7:00 pm every night but Monday when the place is closed. The dinning room is large with three very long tables and parties are seated facing on opposite side of their table. The menu is fixed for each night, with two main courses changing daily, while the basic beginning is fixed by the seasons.

The cost is listed at $27 per person plus tax and tip. It includes all the food and house red wine. The courses follow one another and the meal takes about two hours or a little longer.

When you are seated on the table waiting are:

A tureen of cabbage and vegetable soup, a large green salad, a platter of cold tongue vinaigrette, a bowl of very spicy basque salsa picante, baskets of french bread, a bowl of herb flavored cottage cheese in the basque manner, a large bowl of pinto bean stew. It is the local custom to add the stewed pinto beans and salsa picante to the soup in your plate, some people even add a splash of red wine. The herb cottage cheese is a counter to the spicy salsa picante. Although many say they don’t know or like tongue, the plate is usually renewed two or three times because most of us have never tasted basque style tongue vinaigrette. Sometimes there is an American potato salad, other times a plate of a veg and garbanzo vinaigrette. After this they serve a steamed cauliflower in a hollandaise, a large platter of pasta or a Basque style rice dish plus a slab of mild blue cheese. On Saturday night, they bring out large bowls of oxtail stew and finally a bit later platters of basque fried chicken with garlic and garlic and parsley french fries. It is addictive and you don’t have to worry about vampires for a week after.

After that ice cream is served and coffee is available at the bar in the next room. The bar serves two drinks as favorites: a Picon Punch and a Moscow Mule served in a copper mug. A full selection of good liquor is available plus a selection of authentic Spanish and Basque liqueurs from both sides of the Pyrenees. The local market prices at the bar haven’t been seen in LA this century .

5. This is a rustic bit of old rural California that is well worth the trip. Bakersfield is only 90 miles from LA City Hall, so it doesn’t mean you have to stay over in Bakersfield.

Here is a link to the Noriega’s web site:  http://www.noriegahotel.com/

You can also check it out on Yelp and some other sites that rate restaurants. Since it is not a major tourist center motels in Bakersfield are quite reasonable as you can check out on any of the reservation web site.

6. Let us know if you would like to join us for this special nostalgic experience. 

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