Sunday, October 03, 2010

Sabbatical Flashback 2: From Bulgogi Tacos to Avocado Salsa: A Day of Eating in LA

This sabbatical has been very refreshing, but one problem I'm finding with it is that I can't tell people about the great places I'm finding in the meantime. Okay, there's the Twitter, but how much depth can one go into in just 140 characters?

Take last night for example. I headed to Arlington to see comedian Chris "Nerdist" Hardwick, the host of G4TV's Web Soup and occasional guest on Chelsea Lately - ever engaging, never insulting, always self-deprecating, and very interactive with the audience both during and after the show (he suggested during the show that we all get pie afterwards, and he was convincing enough that I half-believed him). But before that show - which I waited almost 45 minutes to get into, and which our headliner profusely thanked us for waiting for - I stopped at Bangkok 54, an upscale-looking restaurant on one side and a Thai grocery store on the other. If ever in Arlington you should get their lime Thai iced tea ($2.50) and crispy basil squid ($13).

I actually have seen Chris once before, when I went to a taping of Web Soup this summer on a trip to LA. The food I had there wasn't sit down Thai, but of course I wrote about it anyway. For those who aren't familiar with the blog, I do these travelogues once in a while when I go out of town. It's just so hard to find the time, you know?

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From Bulgogi Tacos to Avocado Salsa: A Day of Eating in LA

(originally posted Wednesday, May 26, 2010)

In my first full day in California this time around, I hit LA, primarily to see a taping of Web Soup (the episode is on tonight; you might hear me guffawing in the studio audience). Oh that I lived closer so that I could go more often! And host Chris Hardwick is a hoot, as is his on-set producer. Before the taping I hung out at the La Brea Tar Pits, right across the street. You have to pay $7 to get in, but lots of it can be seen for free. You could even bring a picnic lunch and eat next to the Tar Pits. No worries about falling in - there's a fence, with fake mammoths in distress and everything. The gas bubbles in the tar pits themselves are a fascinating site to see.

Of course, I had to eat while I was in Los Angeles. In general the food was memorable, though some of it was more memorable than the rest:

Bite (West Hollywood) - I stopped in here, despite a recommendation for a few burger places, some of which also sold wonderful carne asada and burritos. I went into the sleek, skylight-illuminated Bite instead, since I didn't feel like walking all that way to the burger joint (also wasn't too in the mood for a burger). Bite's service is a wee bit on the slow side - even when they have just a handful of customers - but they are attentive when they do show up, even offering bread (I turned it down) and free, homemade tortilla chips (I didn't turn it down). They had a variety of small and large plates, and I opted for a few of the small plates.

The avocado salad ($5.50) had a lot less avocado than I had expected, but still had lots of chunky tomato, onion and corn that made it the best thing on the table. The tortilla chips, fresh and hot from the fryer, made for an excellent complement and I should have eaten that alone. Instead, I also ordered a turkey and cheese empanada ($3.50) which was good at first, but quickly became heavy and a little on the mystery meat side. The crust, at least, was flaky and tender. Maybe I should've ordered the beef empanada instead. The final small plate I ordered was a plate of fried calamari rings ($8), breaded not in the typical crispy and flaky breading but instead in a dark colored Italian herb coating. It was a different coating than I am used to but it was good for what it was. The chunky tomato sauce and ranch or blue cheese (?) dip that came with it went nicely with the calamari for dipping. The squid was tender though a little bland, mostly serving as a base for the breading. All the while I wished I had gotten the Greek salad, which the guy at the next table was simply raving about.

Bool BBQ Truck (various locations throughout LA; at the Miracle Mile / Comcast Studios on Wilshire Blvd yesterday - follow them on their Twitter feed for today's location) - For about a tenth of what I spent for lunch at Bite, I got a much more memorable taco in LA proper. The hook: it was from the popular Bool BBQ Truck, which makes a mixture of Korean and Korean-style Mexican food (there were also Chinese and Brazilian versions parked just a few feet away). Since I had a mere few dollars on me, I went for the one thing under $4, a $2.50 bulgogi soft taco in two small corn tortillas. This was just a fun and different way to eat both Korean and Mexican food, and I wish we had one of these in Baltimore sitting next to the Kooper's Chowhound Wagon and the Iced Gems cupcake truck. Sweet chunks of bulgogi (Korean BBQ) mixed with crunchy cabbage, not quite yet kimchi (though they have that too), onion bits and cilantro. all in two warm corn tortillas. It was a little bit of impressiveness to presage my foray into the tar pits and the G4TV studios.

The folks at G4 know about this place, yes?

BCD Tofu House (Koreatown and various locations throughout LA and the country) - After the taping I headed further through Koreatown to get to one of the local gay bars for a beer (side note: I still got it, by the way, wink wink). There was a bevy of establishments, and blocks upon blocks of buildings with signs written neither in English nor in Spanish but in Korean. Enough of them had some English that I could find my way towards the restaurants. A few looked inviting but had two or three persons seated - the employees, for the most part. But one place, in one of those IHOP-shaped buildings (only much bigger and homier) not only was not empty but was filled with Korean-American diners. If the Korean community is coming here for its Korean food, the safe assumption is that it's probably a mistake to pass it up. BCD Tofu House is not confined to Koreatown but is spread throughout the LA Basin, with additional locations in Seattle, Korea and Japan (a pre-recorded new report also suggested there was on in Manhattan but their website does not mention it). The customer base at BCD hustles and bustles almost as much as the waitstaff, enjoying its food all the while sipping little more than water. Seriously, nobody was drinking anything but water.

Like many good Korean establishments, BCD Tofu House is no-nonsense about getting you your food quickly and efficiently (Bite: take note). It gives you various choices in what to order: you can order lunch and dinner combos for between $13-$18 - it's all the same combos but just a few dollars less for lunch - or you can order a hot (to the touch) stone bowl of tofu with various ingredients, spicy or mild (and they don't kid around about the spicy part), plus a separate stone bowl of rice and various plates of panchan. My panchan included a few types of kimchi, plus a whole little fried fish that I made quick work of with gleaming stainless steel chopsticks. There was also an egg that I made little notice of, not realizing that it was raw and was meant to be cracked into the boiling bowl of tofu that was delivered to my table.

I ordered the #3, the Seafood Premium Tofu ($9), which included oysters, clams and shrimp with humongous bits of tofu in an extremely spicy broth. If I get back - and I may have to the next time I'm in town - I'll crack the egg in the tofu like I am supposed to.

Other photos -


This is as far as I got with using my camera at G4. I didn't even bother to whip it out but I should have asked Chris Hardwick for a photo. I think he would've been alright with it.

I don't think this ended well.

It's remarkable that with all the creatures that have perished in the Tar Pits, only one member of our own species suffered that same fate: a rather clumsy woman in her mid-to-late 20's from around 10,000 BC.

Lots of these little fellas fell into the Tar Pits: a wall of wolf skulls