El Caserio

Originally uploaded by illewminator.
right near picholine (at that weird intersection of temple, beverly, first and virgil) is a little corner mini-mall that has two of my favorite eateries in LA: Don Felix and El Caserio (i think i've already done an entry on don felix).

el caserio is labeled as an ecuadorian and italian restaurant on its sign, but i don't quite get the italian part, as it seems pretty ecuadorian to me.

when you sit down, they bring you some crusty bread and a little gravy boat filled with what looks like salsa. i made the mistake of thinking it was that italian tomato-basil stuff you usually put on bruschetta and paid for it when it burned the hell out of my lips and tongue. be careful -- this is really hot stuff.

the best thing i've had so far is pictured above -- the chuchucara is meant to be split by two people, but it's probably enough food for three. it's grilled (or fried) chunks of garlicky pork, fried (sweet) plaintains, and a whole lot of boiled white hominy, topped with even more crunchy fried hominy (kind of like corn nuts).

other specialties are these potato pancakes that are like the delicious comfort food your ecuadorian grandma used to make. there's a good bit of seafood on the menu, and lots of grilled/fried meat items, many of them served with rice and black beans.

the fresh juices are also nice -- there's a drink called quaker (like the oats) because it's made from oatmeal and blended up with sugar and some other spices. it's not bad, but it's kind of an unfamiliar flavor. there's also passionfruit and some other fruit juices -- all of these are good.

my ecuadorian friend even confirmed that the food tastes very authentic here, so that's a good sign. if you've never had ecuadorian food before, it seems kind of similar to cuban and peruvian food. lots of grilled meats, lots of seafood, plaintains, and black beans. with the exception of that salsa-like stuff, nothing i've had on the menu is too spicy.

prices are also quite reasonable. the chuchucara plate for two is only $16; most other items on the menu are in the $10-15 price ranges. el caserio is located on the NW corner of virgil and temple, right next to don felix.



Originally uploaded by illewminator.
who would ever expect to find a lovely little french cafe and gourmet chocolatier in the middle of gritty, urban LA? picholine is an unexpected find in the very non-pedestrian-friendly area near the weird intersection west of downtown where temple, beverly, first and virgil all sort of converge while the 101 freeway roars overhead.

picholine is a casual french lunch spot that offers freshly made sandwiches with quality ingredients. we shared the smoked salmon sandwich, the grilled vegetable with cheese, and the chicken salad -- all of which were excellent. along with your sandwich, you get a choice of green salad, pasta salad, or a curried couscous salad (pictured above). i also had a lovely sparkling lemonade that seemed a perfect accompaniment to my lunch, which came out somewhere in the neighborhood of $10.

but the BEST part is stepping next door after your meal for some beautiful and deliciously fresh, handmade chocolates with interesting, but very subtle, flavor infusions. everything is sold by the weight, so you just select whatever individual pieces strike your fancy and the very friendly, very french shop owner/chocolate maker will put your selections on a tiny scale and ring you up. he also proudly tells you how everything is handmade and that he uses a different process to prepare the chocolate -- one that uses less sugar and thus imparts a more pure chocolate flavor. i sampled 3 pieces: a lavender infused chocolate, a jasmine tea infused number, and an espresso truffle. yum, yum, and YUM! just heavenly. and not too extravagantly priced, either -- my total was less than $3... an affordable luxury that everyone should indulge in once in awhile.

picholine is only open for lunch, M-F. it's located on first, just west of virgil. i think the chocolate place next door is open as long as the cafe is open, since it's the same people who run both places. check it out the next time you're feeling like treating yourself.


Dave's Chillin-N-Grillin

Based on a recommendation on Chowhound we went to Dave's Chillin-n-Grillin. It's a sandwich and smoothie shop in Eagle Rock. It's a couple of storefronts off of the corner of Colorado and Eagle Rock Blvd. There's a Swork* coffee shop on the corner.

On the menu they have hot sandwiches, grilled sandwiches, cold sandwiches and a variety of smoothies and shakes. The hot sandwich selection is meatballs, sausage, pastrami and French Dip. The grilled sandwiches are ham and cheese, tuna melt, turkey melt, tomato and cheese and something else I can't remember. I remember even less of the cold sandwich selection. There are also weekly specials. There's a king crab melt that I really wanted to get, but he didn't have the crab this week. For $7 you get king crab mixed with a bit of Best Foods mayo, provolone all grilled on sourdough or wheat bread. There's also the Pilgrim which is turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and the all important condiment, gravy. I'm so in.

We had the 6" meatball sub for and the tuna melt. Both were great sandwiches. The meatball is made in-house with a blend of veal, beef and pork. It's on french bread with sauce and provolone. The bread was what really made the sandwich. It was a good combo of chewy and crusty. We also had the tuna melt. I usually don't get tuna because they always ruin it by putting in celery. They don't have celery in this version. It's just tuna, Best Foods mayo and celery salt. I'm good with that. It's all on sourdough bread with cheese and tomato and grilled up. He also had this jalpeno hot and spicy relish that he puts on there too. It's like the giardiniera that you put on Chicago Italian beef sandwiches. It was the best tuna melt that I've ever had.

The Dave is quite a character. Typical Boston guy. He talked to us the whole time we were there. He went on with how he buys expensive albacore tuna to make the tuna melt, and how he has to have the no water added turkey or else he won't carry the sandwich that day if he can't get the 0% turkey, and how fresh his bread is and on and on.

I'm not proud to admit that I know this, but he has another person working there that looks just like Miranda from Lizzie McGuire.

Dave’s Chllin-N-Grillin
2152 Colorado Blvd.
Eagle Rock, CA 90041


New Concept

Originally uploaded by illewminator.
New Concept is supposedly named for its innovative approach to dim sum. It's a chain of 28 restaurants in China and 1 here in Monterey Park, home to every Chinese person in the US (ok, that's a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture).

Wanting to try out this supposed "new concept" in dim sum after reading about it in the LA Times, two friends and I decided to give it a try one Sunday morning. First off, you'd better go with someone who speaks Chinese, as the hostess will give you a little piece of paper with your number on it (written in English), but only calls out the numbers in Chinese. We waited about half and hour for our table, so clearly, this place is pretty popular with the locals -- a good sign (I was fearing hoardes of white people who might have also read about it in the Times).

The dim sum is ordered from a menu, kind of like a sushi menu (no carts clamoring for your attention). You look at the list and check off the items you want. Not entirely trusting the one Chinese-reading person in our group, I asked for an English menu and received a laminated version which I checked against the Chinese menu and it appeared to be exactly the same -- another good sign.

We ordered about 5-6 items from the printed menu, which was a good move, because we ended up also getting several of the off-menu "specials" carried around by the waiters.

As you can see from the photo, the dim sum is very attractively presented. I think the green wrapped one has a crab and shark fin filling. Everything was delicately prepared and presented, delicious and fresh-tasting. This also means that the portions of the non-dumpling items like noodles or veggies are considerably smaller than what you might get at your standard dim sum restaurants.

The desserts also looked to be innovative and attractive. The only item we managed to fit in were these lightly fried green tea mochi balls filled with that ground-up black sesame seed filling (I call it black sand). I wanted to try the pumpkin filled dumplings, but we were too full. Next time...

Overall review: definitely worth a try. It's more expensive than standard dim sum (I think we spent close to $20 ea.), but it's a nice deviation from the usual.

New Concept is on Atlantic Blvd, about halfway between the 10 and the 60 freeways -- it's a few blocks south of Garvey on the east side of the street.

Tito's Tacos

titos tacos
Originally uploaded by illewminator.
it's no la taquiza (meaning it's not exactly authentic mexican cuisine), but oh, how i love tito's tacos!!!

to tito's non-enthusiasts, it's hard to explain how the hard shell tacos with shredded beef and cheese (for $.35 extra -- who doesn't get cheese on their taco??!!), the extra-crunchy chips of the kind you have to be careful while eating lest you rip open your gums, and the semi-watery blended tomato salsa can be so highly addictive.

there's not much choice on the menu. you're pretty much restricted to the tacos mentioned above, a burrito filled with either chunks of beef and beans or ALL beef or ALL beans (again, cheese is $.35 extra), tostadas that are pretty much like a flattened taco, with the added benefit of a layer of refried beans serving as the glue to which the toppings stick, tamales (that seem straight out of the Xochitl freezer pack), and enchiladas, which i've only tried once and don't remember as being very spectacular. Sides are the basics: rice, beans, guacamole, and, i think, chili con carne (your guess is as good as mine).

all i can say is that every time i fly back home via LAX, i look forward to stopping at tito's. nothing says i'm home quite like 2 tacos w/ cheese, chips and salsa, and a large root beer (always in a to-go box -- you get more chips that way!).

tito's is located on Washington PLACE (one block north of Washington Blvd.) just west of Sepulveda in Culver City, literally right next to and beneath the 405 fwy).