Wednesday, November 24, 2010

PSA: Tangled Is Much Better Than You Think It Will Be

Ok, full disclosure - I work for the Walt Disney Company. That said, I work in television, and how a film does at the box office has little or no bearing on my job. I am an unabashed fan of Disney, but I don't blindly love everything they put out (I haven't enjoyed a CGI Disney animated film that wasn't made by Pixar, for example). There. That's out of the way.

I'll start with my point - Go see Tangled. Seriously.

Now the details. Melissa and I got the chance to see a preview screening of the movie last weekend. Neither one of us was all that interested in the movie based on the trailers. I was sure it was another attempt to feel "hip" and "young," the exact kind of thing I hate in cartoons. There is no surer way to make a bad movie than to try and make something specifically for kids. Look at Pixar - kids love their movies, but they are truly aimed at adults (except maybe Cars; I don't know many people over the age of 10 who got much out of that one). Kids may enjoy a hip, loud, "in your face" movie in the moment, but like everyone else, it's emotion and character that they really connect with. From what I'd been shown, Tangled looked like a movie that kids would forget five minutes after they left the theater. I am here to tell you I was wrong.

Tangled feels so much like a classic Disney musical that it's hard not to love every minute of it. When I first learned it would be a CGI project, I was bummed out because the hand drawn concept art had been so damn gorgeous. Well, it turns out CG (and even 3D) are used downright beautifully and I never found myself wishing it was a traditionally animated movie. The main characters are rich and lovable and the villain is a masterpiece of passive-aggression that evolves into true aggression. The two animal "sidekicks" effectively steal the show (in the best way possible). The story is a nice twist on a classic fairy tale and engaging throughout. And the songs! I enjoyed The Princess and the Frog, but Randy Newman's lackluster music held it back from being a great movie. Alan Menken is in classic form. Melissa and I recently saw his adaptation of Leap of Faith at the Ahmanson and were mostly disappointed. Clearly his creative efforts went into this movie. I left the theater dazzled and enchanted.

So, if you've been watching the commercials and writing Tangled off as another Shrek clone that will make you cringe with every attempt to cram a catchphrase down your throat, trust me - you couldn't be further from the truth. Tangled is a kind of movie that I haven't seen from Disney (again, excluding Pixar) in a long time - Magical. Go see it. Now.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Keep On Truckin' (Yeah, That's the Best I Got)

If your city is anything like LA (and if you live in LA, it is very much like LA), then it has recently become infested with gourmet food trucks. I follow about a dozen trucks on Twitter, and if any of them are near somewhere I'm planning to be, I'll go check it out. And if you're here, you're curious what I think about them, so buckle up!

The Flying Pig Truck:
This was the first truck to catch my attention, largely because they serve pork belly sandwiches. Pork belly is what they use to make bacon, so I support it fully. After several false starts when they were supposed to be at my office (leading me to fruitlessly scour the neighborhood), I caught up with them at the Unique LA arts & crafts fair. Unfortunately, being an indoor event, the truck wasn't there, just a table. The truck and I crossed paths at the fantastic Meltdown Comics in West Hollywood.

On the left is the aforementioned Pork Belly Bun sandwich. The flatbread is a very nice touch, and I highly recommend anything you find that uses braised pork belly. To your right is the duck taco. The flavors are somewhat Asian inspired, with a hint of Mexican fusion. In short - delicious. They use something that they call Death Sauce and I want to put it on everything I eat for the rest of my life. It's not as spicy as its name would imply, but it bursts with flavor and really compliments the food. I have been to several trucks since the Flying Pig and it remains in my top two or three. Rating - Always Visit When Nearby.

The Grilled Cheese Truck:
This is almost certainly the most popular truck I've encountered. I've been twice and both times waited nearly an hour in line to order (Melissa went once with her sister and apparently the line wasn't as bad, but that was a weekday). Once they were part of a food truck event on the Disney Lot where their line was twice as long as everyone else's. The second time was at the anniversary party for Noho Scooters, which is literally two blocks from my apartment (and has vintage arcade machines including Tron, and I NEVER KNEW! How does that happen?), making it the closest one of these things has ever come to home. Somehow, I've managed to avoid taking a picture of the truck itself, but here's my sandwich of choice, the Cheesy Mac and Rib:
That's a grilled cheese, with mac & cheese and barbecue pork ribs. I posted this to Facebook at the time saying, "I waited an hour and a half for this, it better be the best sandwich I've ever got lucky." That pretty much sums it up. It's like this truck took everything good in food and put it in one sandwich. It's greasy and probably terrible for me, but I love it. Their dessert grilled sandwich (banana and Nutella) is worth ordering, as well. Find them. Wait in line. Eat it. You're welcome. Rating - Will Go Out of My Way to Eat There

The Slice Truck:
The Slice Truck is a pizza truck. I ate there when they came by the office as a thank you for Camp Rock 2 doing well or something. I had a good slice of pepperoni and an excellent thick slice of kind of a white pizza white heirloom tomatoes. Very good, not much to write home about. Rating - If I see them 20 feet away and was hungry, I'd go again.


I've been following Frysmith for quite a while, and I ran into them at the Farmer's Market at the Americana in Glendale completely by accident. As you can see, it's cool that they run their truck on their own fry oil, which seems like both good for the environment AND good business. Good for them. I had the special, which was a Canadian specialty called a poutine. I think a poutine is basically fries and gravy with cheese curds. This one had a burgundy wine gravy and bacon in addition to the cheese.
If that doesn't sound and look delicious to you, you are wrong. You should probably just find another blog to read. I think there's another one or two out on the internet. I can't speak for the rest of the Frysmith menu, but this was one hell of a dish. Rating: Would like to try again.

Border Grill Truck:
See the previous post. It was great, but I don't feel like talking about it again. Rating - Would Go To Some Length to Hunt Them Down.
The Greasy Wiener:
Man, these guys love the pun in their name and they play it up. I found them down by Warner Brothers one day at lunch. You guys know I love hot dogs and I'm incredibly picky about them. The dog here was pretty good, but I buried it in a heart attack of toppings. I had the chili cheese bomb - a hot dog wrapped in bacon, covered in chili, and essentially dipped in melted cheese. Hard to argue with that. The highlight, though, was actually the sliders, which they called Iggys.

I've had plenty of sliders in my time, and these were very high quality. No White Castle paper thin cardboard patty here. These reminded me of tiny In N Out burgers, nice and thick and very flavorful. Rating - Oh, Are They Nearby? I Guess I Could Go For That.

KO Taco:
I saw KO Taco once at Meltdown. I tried three or four different things. They were essentially just tacos and taquitos. Meh. Rating - Don't Care If I See Them Again.

So you can get an idea of some of the variety of truck that's out there. And in a city like LA, many of them (like the Border Grill Truck) are run by actual gourmet chefs. I know it's kinda hipstery and lame to follow a food truck, but the food is really worth it. It's a little pricey for fast food ($10/person on average) but that's damn cheap for true gourmet. So check it out sometime; try something new and different without breaking the bank. That's all I've got. I'm out 'til next time.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Susan Feniger Fiesta

Ok, I'm done with catching up with my cooking. I do have a bunch of other food pictures on my computer waiting to be uploaded, but it's not gonna happen. Waiting to upload these is just another excuse to not update the blog. So, I'm moving forward. Highlights that I won't be covering - a beautiful cold avocado and cucumber soup served in a red bowl with sour cream and hot sauce (probably the prettiest picture I've taken, and I loved the flavor, too) and Tom Colicchio's sirloin steak (which is a pretty picture, but that's because you can't tell I overcooked it by trusting cooking times in the recipe more than my sense of touch). So let's just put it all behind us and enjoy reading my blog again.

I mentioned in my last post (when was that, 1996?) that Melissa and I have been going to a lot of fancy-type restaurants. Well, I may have found a favorite local chef (my favorite chef overall is Rick Bayless. The meal I had at Frontera Grill in Chicago was life-changingly good, and his Red O here in LA is a favorite, as well). Susan Feniger (who you may know from Top Chef Masters or Too Hot Tamales) has several restaurants in LA, and I can now say I've been to all of them. Each was a delightful experience in its own way.

The first we tried (also really the start of the whole fancy-type restaurant thing for us) was Ciudad. Ciudad doesn't exist anymore. Just last month it transformed into a new Border Grill location (more on BG (Border Grill, not Battlestar Galactica (that parenthetical defeats the purpose of abbreviating)) below). But while it existed, Ciudad was a fun, quirky place to try some unique, modern Mexican-inspired dishes. We went on a Sunday, which was tapas night. Basically the menu was reduced down to tasting plates. The memorable dishes for me were my first ceviche (later eclipsed by the divine ceviche at Frontera Grill) and the local farmer's market salad. The salad was watermelon and mozzarella with balsamic vinegar and some kind of green. I wouldn't have expected the flavors to go together, but it was fresh and sweet and wonderful. Honestly this dinner was long enough ago that I couldn't tell you much more about it, other than that I enjoyed it.

Much more recently, we tried Street. Street is Feniger's tribute to world-wide street food. It has an eclectic menu of dishes you'll probably never see anywhere else in this country. The menu changes quite a bit, but when we were there we had a great spicy sashimi and a Thai coconut soup that I liked a lot. The restaurant's signature dish, and easily my favorite, is the Kaya Toast. This is toast spread with coconut jam (kaya, a Pacific island staple, if I'm not mistaken - no, I'm not going to look it up), then dipped into egg yolk and soy sauce. It's impossible to describe how good this is. Find it somewhere and try it. Trust me. I also discovered my new favorite drink - The Sazerac. This is a New Orleans classic and a favorite of several authors from the turn of the 20th Century. Because it's made with absinthe, it was hard to come by until recently. Essentially, it's the same as a Manhattan, but with absinthe instead of vermouth. Rye/bourbon, absinthe, and bitters - it's smooth, it's sweet, and it feels damn classy. I ordered three (which was expensive, and I didn't care). Speaking of expensive, like Bazaar, Street focuses on small plates. We ordered WAY too many of them. Everything on the menu looked good, so we just kept ordering. I was overstuffed and broke by the time I left. Still, this was my favorite Feniger experience and I will go back frequently.

Our next stop was the Feniger Flagship - Border Grill (or as I like to call it, Battlestar Galactica (if you don't get that joke, you should probably read this more carefully). Honestly, it was my least favorite of the three. Not that it was bad, by any means, but it was the one I tried most recently, and nothing about the meal really stands out in my head. Everything was good, but I guess it wasn't as unique as I had hoped. It should be noted that we visited for DineLA week and were ordering from a limited Prix Fixe menu, so we may not have had the best the restaurant could offer. I'll try it again, probably at the downtown location that used to be Ciudad sometime before I see a show at the Ahmanson or the Disney Concert Hall. If nothing else, the atmosphere was fun and festive.

Finally, just this past weekend, I finally got to experience the Border Grill Truck. Cashing in on the food truck craze in LA (more in a future post. Possibly...TOMORROW???), this is a scaled-down version of the Border Grill that travels around the city. Oddly enough, I liked it WAY more than the actual restaurant. I had a cone of ceviche (the cone was crunchy tortilla) for $5 and an avocado taco (don't know what spice it was covering the avocado, but I loved it). Melissa had a poblano quesadilla and I take her word for it that it was delicious. The ceviche was very flavorful and served with black bean dip. It's hard to remember that ceviche, fancy fare in the states, is actually a street food in most parts of the world. But if you need a real reason to hunt down this truck, I give you two words: Churro Tots. That's right, little tater tot shaped churros. And they're filled with dulce de leche. And with fresh whipped cream for dipping. And coated in cinnamon. And they're all chewy in the middle, instead of crunchy like you usually get (this is either Spanish or Mexican style, I think, I don't know which is which). Delicious. I also had a mango soda, one of those Mexican sodas that you always see and never drink. You should drink them. They're good.

And that's all the time I have for today. I'll be back (...TOMORROW??? Maybe).