Leaving LA, and I finally start taking your advice (long)
I've been a longtime lurker on this board, and haven't posted in over a year--mostly because of sloth and poverty (I've been eating mostly stuff I cook myself.) But I've loved living vicariously through all of your adventures, and have been keeping mental notes of places and dishes I'd like to try, should the right event arise.
And now it has: I've gotten a new, and promising job that starts next month--in Gainesville, Florida. It has many virtues, but food isn't one of them (I've searched the Florida board, and the offerings there are pretty bleak.) So I've decided to spend my last month in So Cal eating my way through my checklist of things people in Florida have never heard of before moving to fast food hell. <sigh>
Here are a few brief impressions of my culinary farewell tour so far:
--Renu Nakorn, Norwalk: This was close to the top of my list. I went for lunch on a weekday to break up a trip from my place in OC to my parents' place in LA. Since I was alone, I couldn't order too much--I planned on getting three dishes and taking my parents the leftovers. One thing I had my heart set on (based on a Jonathan Gold review) was a pork-chile "dip" with vegetables and fried pork rinds on the side for dipping. The very kind server tried to talk me out of it, saying that the chiles were really hot during the summer and they couldn't control how spicy the dish would be. I assured her I was used to hot foods, and that this would be fine.
When I got it, it was tasty, but barely hot at all. Hmm. I had a sinking feeling they dumbed it down for my "benefit". Still, I ate the whole darned bowl of it by myself (along with part of a plate of green mango salad and Southern Thai "jerky", which was more like Oaxacan tasajo with a killer garlicky dipping sauce.
--Break of Dawn, Laguna Woods: My parents were heading from LA to San Diego on July 4, and wanted to meet my husband and me for brunch/lunch somewhere in south OC on their way down. BoD was the only interesting-sounding place that was open on the 4th, so we met there.
Wow. The menu is insane. I looked at it and thought "what kind of nut would combine biscuits and gravy with Vietnamese-style meatloaf??" A darned smart one--my mom ordered this, and it was terrific. Homely, if not downright ugly presentation (two huge split and stuffed biscuits covered with gravy), with a couple of fried eggs on the side. But it was freaking tasty. My DH got the "pulled pork" , which came with jalapeno cornbread and egg tempura. We were baffled by this--did it mean tempura with eggs in the batter? If so what, exactly, was being tempura-ed?
It ended up being a pair of battered and deep-fried boiled eggs. But--and this is the genius part--the eggs were still soft-boiled, with tender whites and runny yolks. THAT was a neat technical feat. And the contrast between the crispy battered outside and the tender/runny insides was terrific. The pulled pork was seasoned with star anise and other Asian flavorings, and wasn't too sweet. A really neat combination.
--Magic Wok, Artesia: I've read so many drooling posts about this Filipino hole-in-the-wall that I just had to check it out. None of the posts, however (at least as far as I can remember) mentioned that the menu was almost all in Tagalog, with no English translations. Whoa.
Luckily, from various Hound posts, I semi-remembered the names of the dishes I wanted to try. Since I was eating alone. I only ordered two things; deep-fried pork belly (lechon kalawi), and pinakbet, a vegetable/pork/shrimp stir-fry. Both were excellent: the pork was shatteringly crisp and not at all greasy, and the pinakbet turned out to be a fortunate mix of most of my favorite vegetables--Chinese long beans, eggplant, bitter melon. tiny whole okra, and cubes of sweet yellow winter squash--with shrimp and cubes of yet more pork belly mixed in, and a vaguely fishy (in a good way) sauce. Yum. It was a perfect thing to spoon over a pile of rice.
--Jitlada: I've been spending the last few days chez Mom and Dad while dealing with work-related stuff in LA, and I mentioned wanting to check out Jitlada before leaving California. "Lets have dinner there!" Mom said. So we did. I printed out Eric M's legendary report and translation of the southern Thai menu for the 'rents to check out before we set out. When we got there and Mom pulled the printout from her purse, Jazz (who really is as nice as everyone says) told us "the guy from Chicago" was there today, and was preparing for a Food Network shoot there next week.
We got the catfish salad--probably the most improbable, but amazing, thing I've ever eaten--who the hell thought to do that to a catfish?? It was reduced to a fine, crispy, faintly piscine fluff, tossed with a tangy dressing laced with raw onions, and herbs. ("Fish for people who don't like fish!:" chortled Dad as he reached for a second portion.) It didn't look like catfish. It didn't look like a salad. But darn, it was good. We also had grilled giant prawns with a sweet/sour sauce (nice seasoning, but the prawns were kind of mealy); the raw blue crab salad (a nice summer dish--kind of like a ceviche, as the acidic dressing "cooked" the crab), morning glory stems (a savory, but non-spicy dish, good over rice); and a green curry with little Thai eggplants and chicken.
All and all, a great couple of weeks of eating. And I have a few more ahead before heading out. The only problem is that I'm sure that I'll wake up somewhere in a Florida swamp six months for now lusting for crispy catfish fluff and pinakbet and the closest equivalent will be whatever is available at the nearest Panda Express. Damn.