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).


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