Monday, January 31, 2011
The first time I ever heard about Cacao Mexicatessen was from reading an article somewhere about their duck carnitas tacos. Those tacos sounded so delicious that I filed the name of the restaurant in the back of my mind as a place to hit up when I got a chance. A year later, I finally got a taste of those Duck Carnitas Tacos (duck confit, avocado, vinegar, onion, radishes and chile oil) at the 2010 East LA Meets Napa Event and in the process also sampled their Wild Boar Chorizo Verde Taco (ground boar, Mexican spices, avocado and pico de gallo) as well. Wow! They were absolutely delicious and I loved the thickness of the handmade tortillas. I can't believe I waited a year to try their food.
A month later, I finally made a trip Cacao Mexicatessen's actual restaurant in Eagle Rock and in fact, I went there 3 times within a month and a half. That's pretty unusual for me because generally, it'll take me months before I re-visit a restaurant, let alone weeks. Walking into Cacao, I could see it really was also a working deli. Available for purchase were prepared foods, cheeses, tortillas and various other Mexican foods.
Ordering at Cacao means perusing a menu near the counter before placing your order. Since I already tried the duck carnitas and wild boar tacos, I opted to order 3 other tacos from their menu along with a couple of other items. One of those items was a Cucumber Agua Fresca. It was just a tad sweet, but still very refreshing and I loved the added touch of the fresh cucumber slices added to the drink.
The other item was their Mexican Corn on the Cob (grilled white corn, queso cotija, lime aioli and powdered chili). The sweetness of the corn and the tart, spicy, salty flavors of the condiments really made this corn sing on my palate. If you're planning on eating the whole corn, I'd limit myself to just one or two tacos because it's quite filling.
Now let's talk tacos. The three I ordered all came on one plate. I took a bite out of the Tocino en Chocolatado Taco first. Made with house cured bacon, salsa de cacao, creme, bean puree and Serrano chilies, I thought these ingredients made this a more unique taco. The salsa de cacao had a slight bitter and sweet taste to it which went well with a little bit of heat from the Serrano chilies, but then the creme did a good job of softening all the flavors together.
Second to receive my undivided attention was the Chicarron de Pato (fried duck skin, cabbage, radish, onion, cilantro and salsa verde). The funny thing about this taco is that if I hadn't known ahead of time, I may not necessarily have identified the skin as fried duck skin. The skin didn't taste "ducky" per se, but regardless, crunchy skin, crunchy cabbage, radish and everything else made for a delicious taco.
Third but not least was the Venison a la Yucateca (shredded venison, achiote, habanero, red onion and cilantro) The ingredients were quite complimentary to the venison with the achiote providing a hint of earthiness, the habanero with a bit of heat, the cilantro adding some pepperiness and finally, the red onion with just a hint of sweetness.
For my second visit to Cacao, my drink of choice was the Strawberry Agua Fresca. and fresh strawberry slices topped the drink.
Again, I tried 3 different tacos, but for this meal, we also shared some sides. One was the Mole Fries. I wish the fries themselves were a little thinner and a little crispier, but the tasty mole sauce still kept me coming back for more.
One of the board specials that night was the shoestring onions with red mole sauce and chopped green onions. I liked the dish overall, but found it to be a bit greasy and that definitely took away some of the enjoyment from eating it.
The first taco that I tried after both sides was the Cochinita Pibil Taco (smoked pork in achiote, citrus and yucatan spices topped with pickled red onions and cilantro). I was just a tad disappointed in this taco primarily because of the pork which was a little chewier than I would have liked plus it tasted just a little bland. It needed more of the citrus for added flavor. The pickled red onions though were a great touch.
Of the six vegetarian tacos on the menu, I tried the Flor de Jamaica Taco (hibiscus flower with melted cheese, guacamole and pico de gallo). I would have never thought of hibiscus flower as a taco ingredient, but it definitely worked for me. The fact that they used milder-flavored ingredients to frame the strong tartness of the hibiscus was well thought out. Other ingredients may have ended up being too competitive which would have contributed to jumbled flavors.
The last taco of the evening was also a board special and it was the Taco de Vampiro de Chicarron de Pato which was basically a layered taco. The bottom layer had Mexican cheese and cebollitas and the top layer had fried duck skin, guacamole, radish, pico de gallo, cotija cheese and salsa. I couldn't get into this particular taco. There just seemed to be an overkill of ingredients and everything just seemed a bit messy.
For my third visit, I went with their Horchata, which didn't do much for me at all. It had a grainy texture that was unappealing plus it was a bit watered down. It's not a drink I'd order again.
Other than sharing Chips and Salsa, the food focus for this meal was definitely just on the tacos and again, I ordered 3 different ones.
First up was the Filet Mignon Taco (tender diced filet mignon topped with caramelized onions, cilantro, Serrano peppers and chili oil). This was simply a good tasting taco. Nothing special, but I ate it up. My one complaint was that there was just too many onions.
Next was the Camarones Enchipotlados Taco (tiger shrimp in chipotle citrus garlic-sauce topped with cilantro-lime cremolato). Of everything on this taco, I fell in love with the cilantro-lime cremolato. The tart-peppery notes made my taste buds happy and I could see myself putting that cremolato as a condiment on other dishes as well, maybe, even on bread.
The last taco of this post is the Guajolote Taco (turkey, green pipian sauce, pumpkin seeds, cotija cheese, onion and cilantro). I have to say that I was surprised that I enjoyed it as much I did. The turkey meat was tender and moist and the pumpkin seeds and green pipian sauce added a nutty sweetness to the taco that was on the mark.
Overall, I really have to give high marks to Cacao Mexicatassen. The fact that they have so many tacos to choose from with unique ingredients really speaks well of their creativity and considering that most of the ones I tried were absolutely delicious speaks to their cooking skills. I think there's still about 11 more on the menu that I still need to check out and that doesn't count their weekly taco special which is only available for one week before it's gone. Cacao is a place I'd be more than happy to recommend to others and one of the few places that I'd consider visiting several times a year.
1576 Colorado Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90041-1441
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Last year, I went to my first and so far, only tweatup with Filipino twitterers who I only knew before via scrolling text on my screen. Of course, what better way to break bread than over a late lunch at a Filipino restaurant called Jeepney Asian Grill in Cerritos. Jeepney, by the way, refers to the very colorfully painted modes of public transportation that you'd see in the Philippines. Basically, jeepneys are like buses with a lot of bling. See example below.
At this late lunch, I met up with @Limer35 on his own, @carolineadobo, @malou_nievera and @nerissas with their families as well as a couple of other Filipino food lovers who are Chowhounders, but are not into the whole social media scene. We started off with a round of Filipino beverages with me opting for a Calamansi drink. Calamansi is a small kumquat-shaped fruit with flesh that is sour but with a peel that's a little sweet. It's a citrus that's used in Filipino cooking as well as a condiment for Filipino dishes. Sometimes calamansi drinks can have a little too much sugar to counteract the fruit's tartness, but this one had a nice balance of sweet and sour.
After drinks came appetizers. Of course, everyone is familiar with lumpia which are eggrolls filled with ground pork and vegetables served with sweet chili sauce. The lumpia had a nice golden crispness to its wrapper and the filling was tasty.
Our second appetizer was Okoy. Interestingly enough, the first time I ever had Okoy was at the soft opening of Jeepney Asian Grill that I went to around February 2009. I enjoyed it then and I enjoyed it again a year later. Okoy are basically shrimp and vegetables fried together and at Jeepney Asian Grill, they were served with a special ginger-garlic sauce.
Soon main entrees started hitting our table with the first one being Stir Fried Pancit Canton which were sauteed egg noodles topped with vegetables and crispy pork. One interesting thing about Jeepney Asian Grill to me is how they add crispy pork to dishes that in my experience doesn't usually have that as an ingredient. When my Mom makes this dish, the pork is stir-fried with the vegetables and noodles and not deep-fried. Considering that I'm more of a rice noodle person myself, this pancit canton was fine, although I just picked at the pork more than anything else.
Afterwards came the Pansit Luglug made of rice noodles, topped with shrimp, eggs, napa cabbage in a special shrimp sauce, sprinkled with crunchy chicharron (crispy pig skin). I was a little thrown at first by this noodle dish. It had all the same ingredients of a dish that I know of as Pansit Palabok, so I didn't understand the name change. Later on, I found out that the difference is that the Pansit Luglug uses a thicker rice noodle, almost like the noodles used in udon soup. I think the flavors were all there although the shrimp sauce could have been stronger in taste, and I also didn't care for that thicker rice noodle. Pansis Palabok all the way for me.
Next came the Sinigang Soup, which is a sour soup with a broth that is usually tamarind-based. Ingredients included spinach, tomato, onions, eggplant, shrimp and salmon. This is was the first time I had Sinigang with peppers, so it had a nice heat to it that I really enjoyed. By the way, if you'd like to learn more about Sinigang, click here.
While we were enjoying the Sinigang, two sizzling plates came out. I've definitely had my share of firsts at Jeepney Asian Grills so far and more arrived in the shape of a Sizzling Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce) and Paolo's Sizzling Beef Steak aka Bistek (beef with onions cooked in 100% olive oil). I've never seen either the Adobo or Bistek served this way before. When I asked about both these dishes, I was told that they just wanted to do something fun and different as opposed to how they are usually traditionally served. I think the Adobo was more successful than the Bistek, which I thought was too greasy.
Both chicken satay and pork barbecue skewers came our way next. The chicken satay was forgettable, but the pork barbecue skewers were pretty good and had a nice char and caramelization to the meat. Oh, why the satay? Confusingly, they also had some Thai dishes on the menu.
Seafood came in the form of Boneless Baby Bangus which is milkfish marinated in garlic, vinegar and spices. and served with 2 eggs and garlic rice. The fish had a pretty presentation to it that I've never seen before when it came to bangus. This particular dish is actually more like a Filipino breakfast and would be referred to as Bangsilog.
When it comes to Filipino Breakfast, it's all about the silog. Basically, a silog is a combination of garlic-fried rice ("sinangag"), and fried egg ("itlog") plus your choice of a sweet or salty meat, all on one plate. The names of the breakfast dishes themselves are determined by which protein you pick for your silog plate. The Bangsilog is so named because Bang represents Bangus, which is the name of the fish. As for this Bangsilog dish, although there wasn't enough garlic in the rice, this is one dish I could have eaten morning, noon or night.
Still 4 more savory dishes to go and next was the Pinakbet which was a blend of vegetables (long beans, okra, eggplant and squash) sauteed in shrimp paste, topped with lechon kawali (crispy pork). Again with the crispy pork. Not that I minded, but this is the first time I've had Pinakbet with crispy pork. Although the vegetables tasted fresh and still had a nice crispness to them, I was disappointed in the sauce. It didn't have enough of that shrimp paste flavor that I look for in Pinakbet.
Another first for me was the Tilapia with Aligue which were tilapia filets topped with a thick sauce of crab paste (aligue) in tomatoes and onions served with rice. By first,I'm referring to the Aligue. I never even heard of it and when I asked what it was exactly, all the answer I really got was that it was a crab paste. Anyway, with a little research, I found out that aligue is a Fatty Preserved Crab Roe from an article on the Serious Eats blog.
Quoting the article, "Tiny, freshwater crabs—each barely two inches across—are soused with water, sprinkled with Kosher salt, and stuck live in the fridge. Hours later, they’re skillfully pressed and prodded to extract a grainy, coral paste." As for how it tasted, it had a oceany-pungent flavor to it that I enjoyed especially when eaten with the mildly tasting Tilapia and a spoonful of rice at the same time. It's not something I could necessarily eat a lot of because a little goes a long way, but I enjoyed what I did have.
Second to last before desserts was the Kare Kare. Kare Kare is oxtail and tripe in peanut sauce with steamed vegetables (bok choy, eggplant, long beans) served with bagoong (shrimp paste) and rice. This is the kind of dish that no matter how many restaurants I've tried it at, my Mom's version will always be the best. Having said that, Jeepney Asian Grill's version was still very good.
The last savory dish was the Adobo Flakes which were shredded and fried pork adobo served with eggs and garlic rice. This was only my second time having this same kind dish. My first experience of it was at Gerry's Grill, a Filipino restaurant down the street from Jeepney, although it was called Adobo Shreds at Gerry's. Just like at Gerry's, the Adobo Flakes were chewy and reminded me of jerky and it was still something I liked.
Now it's time for dessert. One thing that makes Jeepney Asian Grill stand out from other Filipino restaurants is that they serve gelato from a Filipino company called Cara Mia Gelateria and of course, some of the flavors are Filipino-inspired. While they had mainstream flavors like vanilla, chocolate, mocha and strawberry, their arsenal also included Ube (purple yam), Mais Con Queso (cheese with corn), Buco (young coconut), Sans Rival (meringue with cashew nuts) and Mango. All the ice creams had a nice creamy texture to them and I'd go in just for a scoop of the Mais Con Queso.
Our last dessert was the Banana Tempura with Vanilla Ice Cream which are basically banana fritters drizzled with butterscotch sauce. If you come into Jeepney Asian Grill, you definitely have to order these bananas. They were so addicting. I was hard-pressed to share.
As a treat, @carolineadobo who is also the blogger/creator for When Adobo Met Feijoada brought us each a box of polverone, a Filipino milk candy, in flavors I've never had before. They included Green Tea, Ube, Strawberry and Blueberry along with a couple of traditional ones. They were definitely delicious.
To end, based on a couple of meals at Jeepney Asian Grill, I wouldn't consider it a place that serves home-style Filipino food like you'd find at Magic Wok. That's evident when it came to the Sizzling Adobo and Sizzling Bistek that I talked about earlier. There's also more care into the food presentation than I've seen at other Filipino restaurants in the past like with the arched shape of the bangus or the Adobo Flakes that were put inside a pastry "bowl." I also noticed that some of the flavors were toned down a bit like with the Pinakbet and the Pansis Luglug.
Is it bad that Jeepney Asian Grill takes a softer and prettier approach to Filipino food? For some, the answer is Yes, but for me, I think Jeepney Asian Grill is a good gateway for the Filipino food novice. It's like an introduction to a new person. After a few times hanging out with them, you might want to get to know that person and may even consider them a friend one day. So you try a few dishes and if you find yourself liking them, you may be curious enough to try more traditionally cooked dishes. While Jeepney Asian Grill didn't remind me of my Mom's cooking, I still enjoyed most of the food and I wouldn't turn down an invitation to go back. And even better? I was able to meet face to face with other Filipinos who were also food lovers. How cool is that?
Jeepney Asian Grill
11900 S St, Ste 101
Cerritos, CA 90703
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
I went on the computer 2-1/2 hours ago with every intention of answering emails and blogging, but between Facebook and Twitter, I did neither. So until I get my next blog post up, please enjoy this photo of my kitty, Sophie, doing sleep acrobatics! :)
Monday, January 24, 2011
This giveaway is now closed! Congratulations to Sara!
Last December, I was invited by Ravine Hiranand, to visit his restaurant, fresheast, in West Hollywood, where he would host a meal for me and a guest. With fresheast being new to me, I checked out their website to find out the concept behind this eatery. Simply, fresheast is a casual dining restaurant that focuses on providing high-quality, organic and sustainable Asian cuisine that incorporates the flavors of India, Korea, China, Japan and Thailand. They believe in healthy portion sizes and in eliminating butter, salt and nuts from their dishes. For those with specific dietary needs, they're also happy to customize their menu items.
Another thing to note about fresheast is that they believe in supporting the environment. That's reflected in their use of reclaimed and natural materials in the design of their space as well as their use of recyclable and eco-friendly utensils and plate ware made from bamboo leaves.
When my guest and I arrived and met up with Ravine, I asked him to just send us a selection of some his favorite dishes. What came out first was samples of some their beverages which included a Melonade (seasonal melon, lemon, palm sugar, raw sugar), a FreshEast juice (Orange, lemon, apple, cucumber, spinach, kale, red beets), a Mango Lassi (fresh mango, yogurt, palm sugar) and coconut water out of a whole coconut. If for nothing else, you should stop by just for these drinks. I loved the sweet and tart flavors of the Melonade. The FreshEast juice definitely is a great way to "drink your greens" and their Mango Lassi is definitely much better when fresh mango is used because you can really taste the fresh mango.
The first dish to arrive was their Spicy Noodles that was made up of wheat noodles, seasonal vegetables, garlic, cilantro, sesame oil and chili garlic sauce. This was one of my favorite dishes of the whole meal. It had the heat, but not so much that it overwhelmed your taste buds. A plus for me was also the noodles that were cooked al-dente. Mushy noodles always disappoint.
Next up was the Pan-Fried Curry Noodles with wheat noodles, seasonal vegetables and curry sauce. The curry sauce itself had a nice flavor, but to me, it needed a little salt. At the very least, these noodles needed to be seasoned in such a way that I wouldn't have missed the salt.
Our first meat dish was the Curry Lamb (Rogan Gosht) with red lentil dal and cilantro. I liked that the meat was tender and I enjoyed the red lentil dal, but like the Curry Noodles, this dish felt a little under seasoned. When I had asked Ravine about this specific dish, he said that traditionally, it's cooked with ghee, which is a clarified butter, but their Curry Lamb isn't. Perhaps that's what I was missing, a little bit of fattiness.
A little seafood came our way next via their Tandoori Shrimp Salad with tandoori shrimp, baby green lettuces, tomato, cucumber, curry yogurt dressing, lentil cracker and a red curry vinaigrette. I wasn't really in the mood for a salad, but the shrimp itself had a nice chili rub to it that I liked and I remember liking the taste of the red curry vinaigrette although I can't remember what it tasted like exactly.
Next was the Grilled Miso Grilled Chicken with miso grilled Jidori Chicken, fresh wok’d vegetables, miso glaze. I have to say that this chicken was cooked perfectly. It was moist and tender. I also loved, loved that miso glaze. I don't know what was in it, but it had a sweet-salty flavor to it that worked for me. I have a feeling that it might be a good glaze for fish, too.
Before our last entree, we got to try their Vegan Red Lentil Soup. I was actually getting full already, so I only had a couple of spoonfuls. Considering that this soup was dairy free, the soup's texture was thick and hearty and was a great "winter" soup.
Our final savory dish of the night was their Korean BBQ Sandwich with beef bulgogi, cucumber, green onion and roasted garlic. By this time, I had reached my food limit, but the sandwich itself was pretty good. I would have liked a crustier bread, but the meat itself had nice flavor with a little hit of sweetness that was appealing.
Last, but not least was dessert and unfortunately, I don't have a photo of it, but it was a dairy-free Pear and Cardamom Sorbet. That sorbet was one of the best I've ever had and I've had a lot of sorbets in my life. It tasted like I was eating a fresh pear and that cardamom added all the right flavor notes. The sorbet itself is seasonal when it comes to the ingredients used and is made fresh every day. It's definitely a sweet way to end your meal.
From the sampling of food that I tried, I think fresheast is a great addition to the West Hollywood dining scene. Eating healthy doesn't mean that the food doesn't have to be delicious also. The next time you're in the mood for healthy Asian cuisine, you might want to give fresheast a try.
8951 Santa Monica Blvd. Suite G-1
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Now that you've learned a little more about Fresh East, it's time to enter for a chance to win a $50 Fresh East Gift Certificate!
Here are the ways to enter!
Mandatory 1: First, check out Fresh East's menu. Then leave a comment and tell me what dish you'd like try first if you won and why. (Please leave your email or some kind of information on how I can contact you. Spell your email address like abby at pleasurepalate dot com). If I can't find a way to get a hold of you, I'll choose another winner.
Optional 2: Tweet: Win a $50 @fresheastla $50 Gift Certificate via @pleasurepalate at http://bit.ly/hvrZNf
Optional 3: Follow Fresh East on Twitter
Optional 4: Join Fresh East on Facebook
You can have up to 4 total entries each; however, please note that you have to comment back and let me know which of the actions you took, so that I can keep track of them. This is especially true for 2 through 4. If you don’t let me know which actions you took, then I won’t count them as entries.
Contest ends Friday, January 28 at 11:59 AM, PST and one winner will be randomly chosen from all entries. Good Luck!