Category Archives: General

Back in the L.A. Times: Doya Doya’s Okonomiyaki

The pleasures of a late-night taco are a defining L.A. experience, a few bites of food constructed seemingly to sate whatever urge drove you to some no-name truck in the first place. But if I could replace even a handful of the city’s countless taco trucks with carts or stalls or itinerate vehicles of some kind cooking up Japanese okonomiyaki, I wouldn’t hesitate. Thankfully, there’s Doya Doya in Torrance, which caught my eye for the L.A. Times last month.

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Orange County’s Ultimate Mexican Food Guide

0213MexicanFoodCover

Apropos of Orange Coast‘s previous look at the best Asian food in Orange County is my somewhat belated recognition of the magazine’s guide to the county’s best Mexican food. Many fantastic tacos, tamales, chilaquiles and pounds of carnitas were consumed for this, but I know I (and I trust fellow writer Gretchen Kurz) would surely do it again. Read more here.

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Recap: L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade Brings Out the Culinary Stars


PHOTO by JENNIFER BASTIAN

It would’ve taken a superhuman appetite to try everything at the third-annual L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade, which packed nearly 40 chefs and even more bartenders, brewers and vintners onto the lawn of historic Culver Studios. But that didn’t stop some 1,200 attendees from trying. Between ticket sales and some luxurious auction items, over $500,000 was raised for childhood cancer research—L.A. Loves Alex’s is by far the city’s best culinary event with a conscience.


PHOTO by JENNIFER BASTIAN

Donald Link (Herbsaint and Cochon) brought with him the flavors of Louisiana: a cool black-eyed pea salad, a knob of excellent Cajun sausage and a hunk of boudin turgid with rice and pork. Whereas many of the day’s plates seemed only like festival-sized bites, Link’s felt like a fully formed dish, a complete Cajun meal downsized only to accommodate the bacchanal.  Continue reading

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L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade Returns to Culver City

L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade, the city’s finest food festival with a cause, is back September 29th from Noon to 4 p.m. at Culver Studios in Culver City. Hosted by Chef Suzanne Goin (Lucques, AOC, Tavern), business partner Caroline Styne and Chef David Lentz (The Hungry Cat), the third-annual event will once again benefit pediatric cancer research. This year’s roster of chefs, mixologists and vintners continues to impress, pulling big names not just from Los Angeles (Michael Cimarusti of Providence, Nancy Silverton of Mozza, Eric Alperin of The Varnish), but also New York (April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig), Chicago (Paul Kahan of Blackbird, avec and others) and beyond. Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka will serve as honorary co-hosts and Jimmy Kimmel will serve as emcee. Noted Jitlada fan Aziz Ansari will be present, as will his Parks & Recreation co-stars Adam Scott and Jim O’Heir. Keep your eyes peeled for stars from The Office, Girls and Criminal Minds as well.

Tickets are $175 ($100 of which is tax deductible), inclusive of all food and drink. Find more info here.

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Orange County’s Ultimate Asian Dining Guide

There could be a dozen dissertations on the various Asian cuisines of Orange County, a topic so vast that it’s all but impossible to condense it into a single magazine feature. But for this month’s issue of Orange Coast, I (along with longtime Orange Coast writer Gretchen Kurz) embarked on just that task. What resulted is, I think, a pretty impressive accomplishment–a definitive guide to old-school pho joints, rare Okinawan izakayas, Taiwanese dessert parlors and so much more. Pick one up today.

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The Sweet Life: L.A.’s Southeast Asian Dessert Diaspora


PHOTO by RICARDO DEARATANHA / L.A. TIMES

In Los Angeles, where international cuisines are examined with the rigor of sociological study, dessert is often a dish born under a foreign flag. There are those who lust after the cinnamon-dusted ridges of freshly fried churros, others who long for the ephemeral sakura-wrapped mochi available only during cherry blossom season. But whether it’s by willful avoidance or total unfamiliarity, Southeast Asian sweets have yet to earn that same admiration.

Bhan Kanom Thai, meanwhile, is a rainbow rush of colors: Fresh mango glistening the brilliant orange of a late-summer sun, glutinous rice balls glowing a radiant pandan green, tender taro cakes blooming the same piercing purple as a field of lilacs. The Hollywood favorite is a den of overstimulation, its shelves stuffed with Thai desserts alive with vivid colors, focused flavors and foreign textures. To a particular set of Los Angeles diners, the sweet shop is an essential experience. Yet even as Southeast Asian flavors move from places like Thai Town and Little Saigon and into the mainstream, the region’s diverse desserts remain largely unknown, tropical curiosities far more complex than a simple batch of banana fritters. Across greater Los Angeles, however, are countless examples of these sweets, a vast dessert diaspora as varied and unique as the ingredients and cultures that comprise each confection.

Nearly every Southeast Asian nation is represented in Los Angeles’ own sprawling geography: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. These are the very same sweets found on the streets of Bangkok and Jakarta and Manila. Here, they’re imported by former culinary school instructors and avid cooks no longer confined to borrowed kitchens, by expatriates recreating tastes of home and younger generations now carrying on those traditions.

Southeast Asian sweets have even gone upscale. At restaurants like Lukshon, Red Medicine and the Spice Table, dessert draws inspiration from the region’s honeyed heritage: pearls of palm sugar boba, dollops of avocado and coconut creams, strata of thick kaffir lime custard. It’s an evolution in Los Angeles’ appetite, one finally primed to embrace Southeast Asia’s sweet side.

Read my Southeast Asian dessert picks at the L.A. Times.

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The South By Barbecue Tour

Everyone waits in line at Franklin Barbecue: Austinites making their weekly pilgrimages, daytrippers traveling along the Texas barbecue trail, even Anthony Bourdain. It’s an inglorious task, a tortuous crawl in which you’re taunted by the scent of smoldering oak and the sight of those lucky few already sucking the meat from a set of pork spare ribs. Those at the front of the line likely arrived no later than 8 A.M.–a full three hours before Franklin opens its doors.

But there’s community in the chaos. Blankets are unfurled, lawn chairs are unfolded and stories are shared. The camaraderie of the line is overwhelming, a testament to the pacifying power of Franklin’s otherworldly barbecue.

Brisket is what you want here. At the counter, Aaron Franklin (or perhaps his barbecue partner John Louis) will offer slices of either lean or fatty brisket. There’s no wrong choice, but you’ve waited too long not to indulge in those glorious fatty cuts. This is brisket at the point of sublimation, beef so perfectly and thoroughly smoked that it barely exists in solid form. Franklin’s pork spare ribs may also be some of the best you’ve ever tasted, thick slabs of meat that peel from the bone with unimaginable ease.

Still, rigid traditionalists might point you away from Franklin, maybe to Louie Mueller in Taylor, TX or some combination of Smitty’s Market and Kreuz Market in Lockhart, TX. Smitty’s has the history–a charming old building so blackened by barbecue that you can practically scrape the smoke off the walls–but Franklin has the goods. The sausage at Smitty’s is indeed excellent, yet nothing there truly approaches the ethereal barbecue at Franklin, a place that shatters even the most outsized expectations of Texas barbecue.

Franklin Barbecue, 900 E. 11th St., Austin, TX, (512) 653-1187, franklinbarbecue.com
Smitty’s Market, 208 South Commerce, Lockhart, TX, (512) 398-9344, smittysmarket.com.

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Going local at the Food Rendezvous

Checking in on the newest platform for L.A.’s emerging food artisans for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by KATIE FALKENBERG / L.A. TIMES

Outside the old Venice jail, toddlers in tie-dyed shirts lick avocado-vanilla popsicles and graying couples aim their Leica cameras at a small-scale organic garden. Inside, wines are dispensed from behind the mahogany reception desk while curious cooks page through dog-eared recipes at a cookbook swap.

The inaugural Food Rendezvous brimmed with comestible energy, an assemblage of L.A.’s food artisans, gardeners, chefs and nonprofit organizations. The event sprang from the minds of Laurie Dill and Dominique Leveuf, two former San Franciscans who were inspired by the underground markets there. The pair had spent more than six months planning last month’s first Food Rendezvous, a populist platform designed to unite L.A.’s vast, sometimes fractured food community.

“The idea is not just to bring in new food producers and artisans that are making things from scratch, but it’s also to reconnect with the centrality of doing things from scratch,” Leveuf says. “It’s about sparking a conversation.”

Visit the Food Rendezvous tomorrow at the Abbot Kinney Festival. Read the rest of the story here.

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Neil and Phyllis Strawder: SoCal’s Two Brisketeers

Profiling Bigmista’s barbecue empire for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by GENARO MOLINA / L.A. TIMES

The Torrance farmers market is in full bloom: pluots mottled with patches of red and green, bottles of fresh-pressed pomegranate juice, eggplants as thick as tree trunks. Weekenders huddle under canopies clutching pupusas and plates of pad Thai, the electric hum of a blues man’s guitar and the distant patter of steel drums colliding in the air above. The market’s meat seekers, however, are unfazed by the clamor, eyes affixed to the brisket being carved at Bigmista’s Barbecue.

Pounds of that blackened brisket — beef massaged with a spice rub and then smoked into submission for about 12 hours — are dispensed until there’s nothing but scraps left. Some diners opt for racks of ribs and overloaded sandwiches. Regulars are drawn to one of the day’s sybaritic specials, pulled-pork nachos.

Bigmista’s is a farmers market force, propelled to the upper stratum of Los Angeles barbecue by husband-and-wife team Neil and Phyllis Strawder. They’ve earned the adulation of every local magazine, talk show and website with an appetite. In May, Bigmista’s was a finalist at the inaugural Vendy Awards, which celebrated the city’s best street and otherwise itinerant food vendors. Recently, Neil has been bouncing between TV appearances and cooking demos for Fresh & Easy markets in California, Nevada and Arizona. And now, the Strawders are making their basic cable debut on “Over Your Head,” an HGTV home improvement show.

They’ve built this burgeoning barbecue empire in just under two years, a mobile meat paradise that currently encamps at the Torrance (Saturday and Tuesday), El Segundo (Thursday) and Atwater Village (Sunday) farmers markets. It’s a business built as much on Neil’s wide smile and masterful slow smoking as Phyllis’ irresistible laugh and financial know-how.

Read the rest here.

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Mark Stambler’s Backyard Bread


PHOTO by KEVIN FERGUSON / KPCC

Mark Stambler didn’t like the bread he found in local stores and restaurants, so he built his own brick oven in the backyard of Los Feliz home. I talk to Mark over a loaf of fresh pain levain for KPCC’s Off-Ramp. Listen here.

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