Friday, May 29, 2009

Torta Tasting at Cook's Tortas

Awhile back, I was checking the Rants and Craves blog and came upon a posting about Cook's Tortas in Monterey Park. The descriptions and photos really had me salivating and I knew I had to check this place out for myself so I decided to set up an informal torta tasting for my dining group. Between 8 tortas and 5 sides, my group of 8 definitely got a good sampling of what Cook's Tortas had to offer. Before I talk about the food, I want to mention that they also serve a variety of agua frescas. I went with the Celery and Limon Aqua Fresca. At first, I wasn't quite sure that celery and lime would be a good match-up, but after taking a few sips, I quite enjoyed the interesting flavor combination.

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As mentioned, we shared 5 different side dishes. While I enjoyed all 5, three of them really stood out. First, there was the Caprese Salad. With its chunks of juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, queso fresco and basil, all topped with a very light vinaigrette, this was a salad that was fresh and refreshing.

For those with a sweet tooth, the apples and raisins coated with a sweet cream is like having a light dessert with your meal.

Finally, their sweet potato fries better known as their Red Fries, which were crisp and flavored with a hint of chili pepper, were quite addictive with or without the aioli sauce they came with.

One thing to mention about the bread that is being used is that it's not traditional. Tortas are usually made with bolillos or teleras. The Cook's tortas are made with ciabatta bread, but that ciabatta was so good that the other breads weren't missed at all. The bread was crusty on the outside, soft in the inside and had a wonderful light texture. Perfecto!

Now it's time for serious business and I'm talking the torta business which started with the arrival of the Queso Fresco. Ingredients included fresh cheese, lettuce, avocado, tomato, lettuce and chipotle. I have to say that if this was a sign of what's to come, I knew great things were coming our way. They were certainly generous with their cheese, which came in thick slabs. All the vegetables were crisp and fresh and I liked how the chipotle sauce added a zing of flavor to ingredients that are generally pretty neutral on their own.

The next torta we sampled was the Bacalao with Spanish style cod, roasted red peppers, olives, garlic, parsley and potato. From the reactions, I think everyone was surprised at how much they liked this particular torta. I absolutely loved the boldness of the flavors, but I also liked how the red peppers added a hint of sweetness. I would have the Bacalao again without question.

Unfortunately, I wasn't too enthralled with our next torta, the Cubana. With ingredients like ham, chicken, bacon, cheese, garlic and onions, it would seem like it would be an automatic winner, but I found the ham a little salty. Considering that the ham was a healthy serving, it was hard to get away from it. One of my dining partners put in her Cook's Torta Yelp that the Cubana needed a sunny side egg as part of the ingredients. I couldn't agree more. The yolk would have done a good job cutting into that salt.

Next in the queue was the Mojito with roasted pork, garlic mojo and slow cooked onions. That pork was amazingly tender and juicy. Add that pork to a plate of rice and black beans and you'd have yourself a fabulous meal. The only small thing to point out is that either there needed to be more garlic mojo or the garlic mojo that was there needed to more garlicky. With more of a garlicky presence, the Mojito would have been better. As it was, it was missing something, although I'm not sure what.

The Pambaso, which arrived next, was easily the most colorful of all the tortas we ordered. With the bread dipped in a guajillo chile sauce and ingredients that included chorizo, potato, lettuce and crema, this was easily my favorite of the bunch. I can't even put into words how much flavor was in this torta. You'll just have to try it for yourself.

Following the Pambaso came the Milanesa with breaded steak, tomato, mayo and jalapeno. Hmmm...fried steak, what's not to like? Fried steak that was pretty tender with a light and crispy batter? What's not to love?

We're almost at the finish line and the second to the last of our 8 sandwiches was the Cochinita Torta with achiote pork, onion escabeche, black beans and cilantro. If I didn't say it before, I'm going to say it now, Cook's Tortas really knows how to prepare their meat. The slow cooked achiote pork was tender and juicy just like the roasted pork in the Mojito sandwich we had earlier and the spices that were used went perfectly with the pickled onions and jalapenos.

Our tasting ended with the Carne Asada Torta with skirt steak, pico de gallo, avocado and lettuce. Considering how bold in flavor most of the other tortas were, the Carne Asada was bland in comparison or perhaps, the meat just needed more seasoning. Still, the steak on its own had a nice tender chew to it that was appealing.

Overall, I was really impressed with Cook's Tortas. From my housemade agua fresca to the tasty sides and to the even tastier tortas, our meal at Cook's Tortas was stellar as was the service. When I arrived and mentioned to Owner/Cook, Richard Diaz, about our group wanting to do a torta tasting, he kindly helped us see it through.

To make sure that everyone had enough, we ordered two of each sandwich. Richard would bring one sandwich out that was intact so that we could all get our photos and then he'd bring it back to the kitchen and cut both sandwiches so that each person would have their own section to sample. He did that for all 8 sandwiches.

Along the way, we also learned some tid bits of information. Did you know that he's actually a trained sushi chef? Yes, he is. Did you know that he has 500 torta recipes? In fact, when you look at the restaurant's chalkboard wall, you can see numbers beside the various tortas to represent what order they were developed.

To get some more great info about Richard and Cook's Tortas, check out the write-up that Food GPS did by clicking this link. To end, Cook's Tortas is a great place and hopefully, you'll decide to check it out for yourself.

To see all the pics, go to:

Cook's Tortas
1944 S. Atlantic Blvd.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(323) 278-3536

Cook's Tortas on Urbanspoon



Daily Gluttony said...

Great post Abby! Now I need to go try the bacalao & cochinita after reading this.

Funny story--the last time I was at Cook's, I mentioned your dining group to Ricardo and he told me that when he first talked to you, he thought you had said "Pleasure Palace" at first...he thought you were some "adult" thing. LOL!

Thanks for the mention/link! :)

pleasurepalate said...

That is hysterical. I have to give him props because he kept a straight face the whole time. :) Believe, he's not the first to think Pleasure Palate was Pleasure Palace and he probably won't be the last.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Abby,

Nice review! Thanks for the info on this place. It's great to see specialists focusing on one type of cuisine and really putting their everything into it. :)

pleasurepalate said...

EK: I always feel that it's better for a restaurant to have a limited menu and/or focus and do it well as opposed to having a novel for a menu and just being okay. :)