Archive for January, 2009

a Faboulous Fab’s Chili Dogs in Reseda

January 26, 2009

The propiertor of Fab’s must have had faboulous in mind when naming his Lillupitian hot dog stand barely a year ago.  But also Fab’s is a stand in for his last name, Fabrocini.

Ultimately, who cares when the hot dogs are so delicious and the chili is an utter thing of beauty.

The small shoppe is houses barely three tables and a teensy, makeshift counter with all of two stools to sit at.  If you are planning to eat there, do get there early or at an off-hour.  The hot dog to get here is an all-beef hot dog, steamed (of course), topped with homemade ground beef chili (laden with choice spices and a hint of cinnamon) along with chopped onions and shredded fresh cheddar cheese.  The hot dog it almost goes without saying is imported by Mr. Fabrocini from a secret purveyor in New Jersey as our the Polish sausages and bratwursts.  He has truly put some thought and effort into his distinctive, gourmet hot dog stand.  The chili dog is better know as a Coney dog (not to be confused with a Coney Island dog) and its garlicky juices fill you mouth upon biting into the snappy, natural casing.  The almost gourmet chili seems to be a work of utter veneration and single handedly puts all mass market chili recipes to shame.  A trio of these dogs would make a hefty though all too delicous lunch, especially when washed down by a few Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray sodas.

It must be said that Fab’s also serves a deep fried hot dog unique to New Jersey known as a Ripper.  This hot dog is a heavy seller and essentially put Fab’s on the map.  Mr. Fabrocini and his wife have put a great deal of effort in to making this not just any old run-of-the-maill hot dog stand.  They live up to the fitting appelation of Pride of Ownership.

Remember to save me a seat when you go there, or else this review were all for naught.

The Pink’s Allure

January 26, 2009

Pink’s Hot Dog stand has always been an integral part of the Hollywood food scene.  Hard by the corner of Melrose and LaBrea, the small stand with plenty of outdoor, patio seating does brisk business at all times of the day or night.  Legend has it that a portly Orson Welles would drop by a regular basis albeit via a chaffeured limo and devour close to two dozen hot dogs in a single seating.  Welles may not only be one of the most famous filmmakers ever to live, but also a certified trencherman of the highest order who may even make two-fisted Diamond Jim Brady blush.

Though tourists, office workers, studio technicians, actors, and other cross sections of Los Angles visit Pink’s in large crowds, sadly, the hot dogs are not all that special.  The dogs do snap when you bite into them but they don’t quite have the requisite garlic and spices worthy of an amazing hot dog.  The chili is a gloppy mess, possibly a small step up from the corntarch-laden chili at the Wolrd-Famous Original Tommy’s and Tommy’s knockoffs scattered about town.  But somehow despite the quality people seem to still come here in droves.  Perhaps Welles himself preferred quantity over quality.

The Oscar Nominations

January 24, 2009

There’s nothing quite like waking up before the crack of dawn before even most Starbucks locations have opened for the day just to turn on the set and watch the nominations.  For diehard film buff, reporters, pundits, and journalists, this is de regieur at right about this time of year, towards the end of January.

Like every year in the past, a few suprises show up coupled with the classic, Hollywood stalwarts tackling the same style and thematic elements that seem to also show up year in and year out.

Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor” was a healthy surprise, not due to the quality of the performance, but becasue Hollywood never seems to recognize character actors and Mr. Jenkins has been pigeonholed as such for the better part of three decades.  His performance as a closed-off, introverted, economics professor who spreads his sea legs upon bumping into a pair of poor immigrants is beyond masterul.  His character arc develops fitfully throughout the course of the film and his dynamic portrayal of a possibly mundane situation is deserving of academic study.

On the best picture front, “The Reader” lapped up that nomination of nominations plus as slew of prestigious ones due to the machinations and balsy marketing on the part of executive producer the film through the productions ups and downs (especially when two of the producers Anthony Mingella and Sydney Pollack passed away).   The majority of critics and audiences have not taken to this film, although a few have.  It does represent a classic decision on the part of the academy to nominate a “prestige picture” (one with tangentially related Holocaust themes and based on a best-selling novel), which ultimately might make the nominations more of a guarantee than an underdog suprise.  I have actually quite enjoyed this picture and continue to believe it is one of the best of the year, whether the academy nominated or not.

I was suprised to see a nomination for Melissa Leo, in the little film “Frozen River”, which is quite possibly the best film I saw all of last year.  A gripping melodrama any Hollywood filmmakers would envy, “Frozen River” grips you from beginning to end and takes you through orgnaically suspenseful plot points in the way no mainstream Hollywood movie ever does.  Ms. Leo’s performance builds from a position of strength to a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking complex and rivets you the whole time.

Most of the remainder of the nominations represented business as usual for better or worse.  But in the end, Hollywood is Hollywood.

A Few Quick Reviews of Cheap Eats

January 24, 2009

From time to time, I will post brief reviews on restaurants in the Los Angeles.  Here’s is a quick roundup:

1. Yuca’s Hut, for great carne asada tacos, and cochinita pibil from the Yucatan section of Mexico.  They serve the tacos and great Steak sandwiches on French rolls from a tiny shack, the size of a phone booth, it’s on Hillhurst Ave, in the Los Feliz area, a few blocks east of Hollywood Blvd.

2. Monte Alban on Santa Monica Blvd, near Barrington, for great Goat Stew (the stew is reddish in color and spicey though not extremely incendiary and you throw in some greens to cut it down, along with other vegetables) and some great goat tocas.  They also serve up pretty good Oaxacon moles (a region or rather state in Southern Mexico).

3. Babita’s Mexicuisine, on San Gabriel Blvd, in San Gabriel, just a few miles East off downtown Los Angeles right now the 10 Fwy.  Great Mexican cooking from a myriad of regions in Mexico including Sinaloa.  But no tacos or burrtios are served up here.  Dishes such as shrimp and sauteed chicken with a tequila sauce, beef cheeks stew, salmon tartare stuffed into piquillo peppers with a dry, unsweetened strawberry sauce, along with other dishes.  It’s a tiny white shack that doesn’t look like it serves such fine cuisine from the outside.  And it’s not cheap, but Babita is far more far reasonably priced than restaurants on the Westside that can’t even hold a candle to the amazing cooking of the Chef Berrelleza).  It’s also a tiny hidden place that most will pass by on their way to somewhere else.

4. The Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada on Hillhurst, a few blocks South of Yuca’s Hut, for what else freshly fried fish tacos on soft, supple corn tortillas served piping hot, fresh from the fryer.  All you need is a trio of tacos and a soda are you’re good to go.  Except for a mandatory visit to the salsa bar.  And what a salsa bar it is.  There’s an amazing radish salsa, a superhot mango salsa as well as super hot pineapple salsa (the sweetness of the fruit does cut the spicyness down, though so it is not just spicy for the sake of being spicy) as well as your garden variety pico de gallo.

5. Aturo’s Home of the Puffy Tacos, in Whittier, for what can be simply described as Tex-Mex tacos.  The namesake Puffy tacos are deep fried taco shells (similar to an Indian fry bread) stuffed with picadillo, or shredded beef, or chicken, topped with shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce, and a nondescript (read: mild) taco sauce.   But these tacos really hit the spot.  I doubt they are authentic but who really cares when they are so delicious.  They also have a bunch of other gloppy, cheesy, Tex-Mex oddities.

Hawkin’s House of Mighty Fine Burgers.

January 24, 2009

The place to go once you are in Pasadena when the craving for a big, greasy fast-food burger hits is Hawkin’s House of Burgers, situated a couple miles north of the Old Town Pasadena district along Fair Oaks Avenue. It is a tiny storefront sandwiched between two much larger shops with a solo table outside with a Coca-Cola umbrella providing some shade. Suffice to say, most of their business is take-out. One has to wait since the slow food movement is more their speed than their fast-food atmosphere would lead you to believe. The homemade and well-spiced burgers are just the thing to get here. The chili cheese King burger is the go to order. A thick half pound of ground beef topped with their homemade chili, cheese, and lettuce and tomato. Perhaps, a couples slices of pastrami or a fried egg to gild the lily. They also offer a burger worthy of a Brobdingnagian trencherman. A gargantuan burger composed of a laundry list of hefty items including three full pound handmade beef patties, a few ounces of pastrami, three slices of cheese, a couple fried eggs, a couple hot links butter flied, lettuce, tomato, mustard, and oodles of homemade beef chili, a truly a sight to see. It arrives with a large order of French fries and a super size soda. Let’s talk if you happen to devour the whole burger in only sitting by yourself.

$3 a pop, but what a Beautiful Gourmet Donut

January 24, 2009


Stan’s Donut Shoppe (yes, the spelling of shoppe is correct) is no stranger to the donut business. He’s been around since Kareem was still known as Lew Al Cindor on UCLA’s championship basketball team. Nowadays the hungry, cash-starved students will patronize Didee Reese for cookies served up cheaply at 35 cents a pop (up from a quarter) or cheap filling ice cream sandwiched between two cookies. The queue here can border on the ridiculous at times. You can pay a student in cookies to wait for you in line or you can cross the street. There you will find Stan’s and his bountiful donut creations. We prefer his Peanut Butter and Banana donuts or Reese’s Peanut Butter Pockets (both studded with chocolate chips) over the more traditional chocolate iced or raised glazed. The peanut butter and banana number would make the King keel over appreciation were he still alive. These donuts are full of calories and full of flavors. One will do for at least one if not two people. Stan’s also offers a grab bag of donuts right at the closing hour where you pay a set price for a bag filled to the brim. The greasy cure to the munchies. You should make sure to bring even cash since the famed donuts go for two dollars each. A small price to pay for sugary, filling goodness.

A classicist, paradigmatic Sushi Chef resurfaces in Costa Mesa

January 24, 2009

A few years back the original owner of Shibucho (the downtown LA Yaohan plaza location) came back out of retirement to the U.S. to open up a new sushi parlor with his son in a mini-mall on 19th St in Costa Mesa (next door to an In N Out burger). His sushi has always been traditional, but he’s far from being fanatical about. You can order by the piece or the traditional omakase. Whichever way you decide to go you’ll still end up winning. Not all of his sushi melts on the mouth. In fact, one of the unique characteristics about sushi is the texture in addition of course to flavor. Some pieces are chewy and some not to much. Shibutani-san usually serves up a piece of cooked fish as an amuse-bouche before the onslaught of great raw fish. His wife will place a cup of piping hot green tea in a homemade pottery mug and refill it before you even realized you needed it. The service speaks in subtleties rather than being overbearing. The sushi bar reveals itself as a beautiful family operation. Trust Shibutani-san and he won’t steer you wrong. He also enjoys transfers his artistry to his customers and educate about the different varieties of fish out there. His unique homemade soy sauce, ponzu, and yuzu sauce only help to reinforce the lengths he goes to for his devoted customers. Dinner is quite reasonable at Shibucho. There are usually free tidbits thrown in on the house whether you are a regular or just becoming one.

Boredaux or Burgundy with that Tuna Sashimi

January 24, 2009

Another noteworthy sushi shop, Shibucho, resides on a lonely stretch of Beverly Blvd away from the glitter of the fashionable Westside and the sushi heavy Ventura Blvd. The head chef and owner, Shige Kudo, bought the restaurant decades ago from his former employer who operated the original location of Shibucho on Alameda St on the top floor of Yoahan Plaza (now known as Mitsuwa Marketplace) in the heart of Little Tokyo back when people were merely starting to get the idea of what sushi can be. Shige serves all the usual sushi suspects in his almost hidden speakeasy bar reminiscent of bars scattered in back alleys of Tokyo. Shige has a preference for older Bordeaux and Burgundy to go with his sushi so the wine list is comprised of bottles from the 1950s and 1960s ranging in price into the hundreds of dollars. The reserve list is a fun read, which you can pour over if you’re waiting for the rest of your party to arrive. He does offer sake and beer. He only offers an omakase menu to regular customers who he has a trusted relationship with. Shige at times plays with tradition. For instance, he adds olive oil to seared albacore salad and once offered real French foie gras (imported from France) simply sautéed in a pan with pure butter, and possibly a sprinkle or two of salt. The ingredient itself, goose liver, sings without the presence of a sweet or sour sauce to disguise the true flavor of quality food. You would be hard pressed to find that at your neighborhood sushi bar unless you happen to live near the intersection of Beverly and Rampart. Italian and French desserts are offered here from a smooth, intense chocolate mousse to a restrained, light tiramisu. Sometimes a reservation is required for the bar. It’s helpful to note that Shibucho on Beverly remains open until midnight (though used to close at 3 in the morning), so you can get some albacore sushi, tiramisu, and a glass of 1961 Cheval Blanc as a coda to your late nite flick.

Brief Sushi History in Los Angeles (post-1970)

January 24, 2009

Sushi has been integral to the dissemination of exceptional food in Los Angeles. Ventura Blvd likely houses more sushi parlors per block than any piece of real estate worldwide. The San Fernando Valley, where Ventura Blvd covers a wide stretch from East to West, does not have an immense Japanese population living there. But it does have the highest concentration of sushi bars anywhere. There is the sushi restaurant where the waiters tap dance as they serve you newfangled rolls. All you can eat sushi bars make their presence known. Even the purported creator of the California roll (a concoction of snow crab, avocado, and rice wrapped into nori and cut into bite-size pieces) makes its home on the Blvd. Sushi, namely fresh fish, can be a health food pointing towards our collective fascination with the once exotic though now more commonplace association with raw fish. One need only go back to the 1970s and Little Tokyo’s Tokyo Kaikan to notice the humble beginnings of sushi restaurants in LA.

The Sushi Despot…His way or the Higway, what did think this was burger king?

January 24, 2009

A famously strict sushi bar which seems to be a rite of passage for studio execs and TV stars is firmly situated in a non-descript mini-mall. Chef and owner Kazunori Nozawa of the eponymous Sushi Nozawa on Ventura Blvd, near Universal Studios, in Studio City has been serving up sushi his way or the highway since the 1980s. Many now successful sushi chefs are acolytes of Nozawa’s now almost patented “Chef’s Choice: Trust Me” sytle of sushi. Urban legend goes that Nozawa will throw you out on your bum if you so as happen to mention a predilection for California or spicy tuna rolls. Some sashimi (almost always baby tuna), nigiri-zushi, and some simple rolls such as his to-die-for blue crab hand rolls are served up here. There is no tempura nor other cooked foods here. You’d be hard pressed to find a bowl of miso soup. A cartoonist of The Simpson’s even has a piece of cell animation depicting a traditional sushi chef (possibly Nozawa himself?) admonishing Homer for reaching over the counter and snatching a whole fish. The décor at Sushi Nozawa can be summed up as pedestrian at best. One conjures up images of a cheap Americanized Chinese takeout joint, not the epitome of fresh sushi where the bill can run upwards of a C-note person with a beer or two.

What you’ll get here is tuna over rice along with yellowtail, red snapper, scallop, shrimp, halibut, albacore, and maybe a hand roll or two from a monkfish liver roll to the famous blue crab one. All are of the utmost freshness from a chef obsessed with scouring the local fish market downtown for the only the freshest in the early morning hours. Sometimes he will allow you a couple extras that you can specifically ask for once he has finished his set omakase (literally translated as to entrust or to protect, more readily identified as chef’s choice). Sometimes there can be an arduous wait while at other times a seat opens up quickly. As a side note, Sushi Nozawa closes on the weekends. Nozawa has a pressing golf game to attend to on those days so you’ll have to make do until the business week commences anew.