Outside LA: Top Dog Coffee Bar

Morro Bay's first food truck! Topdog Coffee delivery

The fairy of Good Fortune smiled upon me recently, and – lo and behold – I found myself visiting beautiful Paso Robles. I was wined. I was dined. I was taken on a guided tour of the quiet little village of Morro Bay. I was happy.

On the Morro Bay day, as I stepped off the bus and into the chill of a foggy morning, I met a friendly dude with a happy yellow bicycle trailer full of treats. Coffee, pastries. Thank you, Good Fortune Fairy!

The friendly dude is the delivery man for Morro Bay’s Top Dog Coffee Bar, Patrick Bietz and Suzanne Maury’s roaster and brick-and-mortar coffee shop at 857 Main Street. For almost four years, they’ve been brewing and baking and – as a service to small, local businesses – delivering, too. Everything they serve in the store – from scones to breakfast burritos – gets loaded onto the bike and delivered from 9am ’til noon.

I didn’t get a chance to try their famous cranberry-orange scones, but I did giddily indulge in a large drip coffee. More mellow than the high-octane stuff we’ve been acclimated to from the popular coffee chains, this coffee is nutty, rich and less acidic, too. Even better, it’s all roasted in-house, every other day.

A great cup of coffee, from a business that knows its neighbors and supports its own. Friendly people and freshly baked goodies. Sustainable delivery, keeping local businesses caffeinated. Also, the perfect thing on a chilly morning; something to sip while contemplating a day of adventure on the beautiful central California coast.

We Like to Move It: Blogger Prom 2010

 

 

Steppin' out

 

While I – unsurprisingly – tend to focus on food trucks here at Food Truck Times, there are actually all kinds of things to eat in LA. In fact, after years of derision, this city is actually beginning to make a name for itself on the food front.

Los Angeles is a big place, and so many edible wonders hitting such a large city in such a brief amount of time can seem a bit overwhelming if one is left to discover the deliciousness on her own. Luckily, we never have to consider that scenario; this place is positively brimming with very capable food guides. They’re bloggers who giddily snack, slurp, suck and sip all over town and then report back on their findings.

Yes, I proudly consider myself one of many. And on Wednesday, September 22, I was honored to join them for their second annual celebration – Blogger Prom!

Yamashiro, the classic Hollywood cocktail spot, was re-purposed as a 1940′s nightclub. Men and women pulled out their vintage threads – and all the stops – to make it a night for the ages. And, as luck would have it, I found myself totally in my element! And not even because of the people – most of the event’s treats were at least partially mobile!

To start, Yamashiro began hosting a Thursday night farmer’s market in March. Fresh produce trucked in and out to satisfy LA’s appetite for local. And if marketers want something a little more meaty? For that, Yamashiro offers tacos! The same tacos Chef Brock Kleweno cooks up on farmer’s market nights are the tacos he served at Prom (with the addition of an event-only, Kleweno Farm’s Smoked Sausage with Maple-Black Pepper Aioli special).

 

 

 

Dessert was provided by none other than the Coolhaus truck and attendees took home coupons for cupcakes from the Sprinkles truck and the Manila Machine.

A 40′s ball without booze would be unthinkable! So The Beer Chicks had Eagle Rock Brewery‘s best on tap. There were wines from Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market and additional libations courtesy of Cabana Cachaça, Zaya Rum and Casa Noble Tequila. But what made it home in every blogger’s gift bag were samples of The Dalmore and – from the event sponsor – small bottles of Pinky Vodka.

 

Think Pink!

 

No prom night is complete without some sort of afterparty (if you know what I’m sayin’…). Blogger Prom 2010 indulged their particular cravings at a place called Test Kitchen. Coincidentally, this brand-spankin’-new restaurant showcases a revolving door of chefs and mixologists for gastro-ific one night stands. After their featured night, it’s time to return to their home restaurant/bar or move onto the next great adventure.

 

Off we go, into the wild, blue yonder! There is always something new to try, to taste, to see, to do. There’s always another food truck to chase. What escapes me, my fellow LA bloggers are sure to catch. And I hope to meet up with them again next year, for Blogger Prom 2011.

 

 

 

photo courtesy http://www.uncouthgourmands.com (From L to R: Me, Minty Shawna from TheMinty, Manila Machines’s own LetMeEatCake, Josie from UncouthGourmands, SauceLA's Shawna Dawson, and Elliott from FforFood)

 

Food Fight: If You Can’t Stand The Heat, Don’t Talk About What’s Coming Out of The Kitchen

 

 

Chris "CJ" Jacobson, Exec Chef at The Yard in Santa Monica. Photo by Ryan Tanaka

 

Well, I’ll be. Turns out it isn’t just food trucks that are causing a stir on the food scene. The people who talk about, photograph, write about and eat food are – simultaneously – labeled as responsible for culinary art reaching heights never before seen in our lifetimes…and also ruining the experience for everybody.

With the stratospheric popularity of absolutely everything Food Network, Cooking Channel and celebrity chef cook-offs, there are fans. Lots of them. And some are well-behaved and grateful for the exposure to a type of artistry that goes in their belly. Some are a little less…reserved: taking their new-found knowledge/obsession and loudly pontificating about produce; stalking certain restaurateurs as if they were rockstars; and occasionally…well…just generally making an ass out of themselves.

In the best of cases, the obsession with ingestion has to do with serious food politics: Big Agra, US school lunches, fast food – these things are Bad. Working to make a difference in the system so that people across all socio-economic systems have affordable access to healthy food is Good. But blindly spouting off about Jamie Oliver to the guy who’s working the grill at your neighborhood block party is Annoying.

In the worst of cases, there’s an unapologetic snobbery that feels more like playground bullying than breaking bread. Not everyone can afford a jar of artisan elderflower honey cultivated by monks in Tibet, and – for most of us – a dollop of Sue Bee will do just fine. Sometimes you just have to get over it. Like Grandma always says, that’s the way the Scottish shortbread cookie, crafted exquisitely of  stone-ground wheat flour and creamy Irish butter, cradling a soupçon of ruby-hued English strawberry preserves crumbles.

But these days everyone seems to have a camera and an opinion, and – often – an attitude of entitlement that’s a little hard to swallow. And the general irritation within the food writing world seems to be at a boiling point. There has been a recent blaze of “friendly” fire (or, perhaps, flambe?) directed at the very culture which feeds the most voracious of the eater/complainers. Food bloggers are fed up with foodies.

This war of words is happening everywhere. From the always entertaining Shut Up Foodies folks in New York, to Katharine Shilcutt’s rage-inciting article on Houston Press Blogs, “Has the ‘Foodie’ Backlash Begun?” In LA, there’s Amy Scattergood and her two-part SquidInk post, the “Top10 Foodie Words We Hate: Starting With Foodie”; and Heather John, who wrote in the September issue of Bon Appetit: “Somewhere along the revolutionary road, honest artisans who used to be known as bartenders became loftily titled ‘mixologists,’ and alchemy gave way to the absurd.” A lot of people are pretty fired up over the way we talk about food.

Given the heated political and social atmosphere in the food world, it’s not always easy to tell which words are going to set someone off. So, in an effort to carefully navigate the minefield of spicy hot emotion and avoid getting myself into some sort of linguistic pickle, I’m writing today’s Food Truck Times post without using any word, phrase or description that might incite food people to anger.

Here goes:

The end.

Sharing is Caring: Cart for a Cause Truck

 

 

Joe Miller and Cart for a Cause

 

With all of the indulgent food happenings in and around LA, it’s easy to forget that there are many people for whom eating even one meal a day is a luxury.

Enter Cart For A Cause, the LA chapter of St Vincents national Meals on Wheels program, and some of LA’s top chefs. Traveling through the city every Tuesday through the fall, Cart For A Cause supplies one meal to seniors for every meal that’s sold from the truck. With this kind of ratio, everybody wins!

Each movable feast is $10, and includes a lunch/snack/drink/dessert combo, often “delivered” (at least through the pick-up window), by the chef who prepared it. Such luminaries have included (so far): Joe Miller (Joe’s, Bar Pintxo), Sal Marino (Il Grano), Jean Francois (La Cachette Bistro), Susan Feniger (Street), Josef Centeno (Lazy Ox Canteen), Eric Greenspan (The Foundry), Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook (Animal), David Myers and Dong Choi (Comme Ca) and Alex Becker (Nobu W. Hollywood). And there are many more to go until the truck [possibly] slows its roll in November.

I visited the cart on July 20th and was treated to Joe Miller’s chicken, spinach and ricotta raviolis, dressed with cherry tomato, arugula and Parmesan cheese. This was in addition to my choice of POM drink and cookie.

 

 

Joe's raviolis and heirloom tomato & burrata salad

 

My partner in repast, John, sampled the roasted pork banh mi sandwich. This Vietnamese/French hybrid was topped with sliced mortadella, cilantro, slightly pickled cucumber, jalapeno slices, daikon radish & carrot salad.

As if these weren’t treat enough, our meal also included a burrata, heirloom tomato and grilled melon salad.

Needless to say, everything was sensory perfection.

According to numbers posted on their Facebook page, Cart For A Cause has fed, to date, 2000 homebound seniors! That’s 2000 men and women who might not have had the luxury of a hot meal – or anything at all – to eat that day. It also equals 2000 sated and satisfied Angelenos (who, by-the-way, might not otherwise be able to afford the high cost of dining at one of the star chefs’ uber establishments). 4000 people, total, who – through hunger, charity and graciousness – have all shared in something universal: Food. If you subscribe to my philosophy that food and wine is love, that’s a whole lot of heart, Los Angeles. Be proud.

What Delicious Luck! – The Happy Cup Truck

Happy Cup truck/trailer

Soup, in just about any of its scrumptious incarnations, is one of my “deserted island foods” (in addition to potatoes, grapes and a hot ‘n’ tasty individual who knows how to turn these gifts of gastronomy into my favorite alcoholic libations. Mmmm…alcoholic libations…). While the theory has never been tested, someone could wake me up at 3 in the morning and ask if I want to try some chowder and I would probably say yes. I bet I’d even do it without caffeine or one of those trusty grape or potato potations mentioned above. Man, I really love vodka soup.

When my pal Shevin, of the old VirtualTourist days (and current Foodie Fridays blog), suggested we reminisce about the bygone era over bowls of Happy Cup truck ramen, I instantly remembered why he was my favorite intern.

We met by the shiny new trucks as they sat, posing prettily, in front of the swanky office buildings on Wilshire Blvd. Turning down a side street, we left behind state-of-the-art mobile restaurants covered in bright graphics and lines for nouveau cuisine. In front of us was the worn and weary Happy Cup camper-turned-kitchen, attached to a sturdy workhorse of a pick-up truck, pouring its energy into generating enough electricity for heating giant pots of broth and bubbly comfort (similar to the amount of energy I don’t need, to write really long run-on sentences).

Happy Cup Truck white board menu

Shevin ordered his favorite stand-by, the Shoyu ramen (traditional Tokyo soy sauce soup base, with a slice of pork). I got the Tonkotsu ramen, which was described as “rich pork broth, thick and white, Southern Japan style.” All instincts to edit their menu descriptions aside, I ordered this soup because I was told it’s their specialty and only available on certain days. Thick, white, warm pork broth from southern areas should be reserved for only the most special of occasions.

Happy Cup Tonkotsu Ramen

Turns out the broth wasn’t terribly thick or white. It was, however, loaded with bean sprouts, green onion, diced mushroom and loads of perfectly cooked ramen noodles. The whole thing was topped with a single slice of roasted pork. The soup base was rich, balanced with soft, unfolding flavors of salt and umami.

Shevin’s soup was very similar, although his had added garlic and a different base. He described it as “perfectly well seasoned – not too salty, bland or watery,” and said it “hits the spot on a July gloom day.”

The only issue we took with our respective repasts was that the slice of pork – a solitary bit of meat awash in a sea of noodles – was small and very fatty. The oven-roasted flavor was excellent, but we felt like the protein portion should’ve been bigger, especially since so much meat was lost to fat.

Shevin’s soup cost him $5.50, and mine was a dollar more. That’s a great price for a big bowl of soup, although I do think that – compared to some of the other authentic ramen places around – we should’ve gotten more soup for the money. But I’m not really complaining.

In fact, my noodly bowl of pork broth goodness made me very, very happy. Have I mentioned how much I love soup?

Happy Cup

La Galette Creperie. Unfortunately.

La Galette Creperie Truck

I don’t like to write negative reviews. It’s uncomfortable for me and – no doubt – distressing for the subject. I’d like to live in a world where we all can just get along.

But I have to admit to being very disappointed by the La Galette Creperie truck.

La Galette Creperie is actually a brick-and-mortar crepe shop in San Clemente, CA. According to this lovely SquidInk piece, the truck is an off-shoot of the cafe, serving the same kinds of “mostly organic and local ingredients” as the San Clemente spot. I love this! I love that it’s a family endeavor! And I love crepes!

The crepes we had, however, were not good. There just isn’t any way around it. We ordered a barbeque chicken crepe (maple barbeque chicken, caramelized onions, cilantro and cheddar cheese) (below) , a caprese crepe (fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, Dijon balsamic dressing), and the “fresh strawberries and cream” crepe. That’s a lot of crepe for two people! And both of us walked away hungry and disappointed.

To start, the crepes themselves, those delicate egg/flour/milk pancakes cooked on a circular hot plate and traditionally filled with either sweet or savoring stuffings, were completely cold. Usually golden in color with curling, crisp edges, these crepes were a uniform beige – and spongy. The fillings inside – barbeque chicken, and tomato and cheese, respectively – really just…were. The chicken was average and the tomatoes were the standard, mealy, hothouse special found in grocery stores all across America (not the red, luscious Romas promised on the menu). The cheese was cheese.

La Galette Creperie truck barbeque chicken crepe

The dessert crepe would’ve been a dream come true…if I were celebrating my ninth birthday… The strawberry-filled pancake was gasping for air from underneath enormous layers of whipped cream and a smattering of…rainbow sprinkles.

Rainbow sprinkles.

La Galette Creperie strawberries and cream crepe

Like the savory crepes, the sweet version was also completely cold,  so there was none of the sensory satisfaction of experiencing warm and cool and sweet and a little savory all in one bite. For the amount of whipped cream pillowed ontop of the pancake, there really was nothing left upon mouth entry, because the cream was so pumped full of nothingness that it immediately dissolved into barely-there-cream-flavored air. We took a few bites and ended up pushing the rest around the styrofoam container as the cream thinned to sticky sauce and the uncomfortable-seeming and now-nearly-naked pancake quietly begged to be put out of its misery of mediocrity.

Les Galette Creperies (both the cafe and the food truck) are much-beloved on Yelp! The glowing reviews speak of warmth and comfort served daily, with steaming cups of coffee and giant heaps of love. It could be that we tried the truck on a bad day. A very, very, very bad day…

If you’ve had a different experience, please share your thoughts! I’m willing to try the truck again! – Probably.

Walla Walla Tacos Tacos

…And now for something completely different! Today, Food Truck Times brings you a new segment I like to call (in the meantime, anyway), “Outside LA” – because rumor has it that some things actually exist in the beyond…

Trucking in Walla Walla. The La Monarca truck

Last week I had the great pleasure of attending the 3rd annual Wine Blogger’s Conference, in Walla Walla, Washington. Three glorious days of drinking incredible wine, meeting fabulous people and gorging on sinfully decadent food. And the thing that really grilled my burrito is that all of this rejoicing began with lunch catered by two of the area’s Mexican Taco Trucks – Tacos La Monarca and Los Taquitos. Game on.

The first truck I tried was a festive blue-and-white number, painted with Monarch butterflies (la monarca). They featured a terrific, creative menu including adobada and campechano (beef and pork sausage) tacos, milanesa tortas and something called a pombazo. I made the mistake of asking them to surprise me with their specialty and received a plate of chicken and beef tacos. A little boring, but in their defense – I didn’t tell them I’m a professional…

Tacos La Monarca

When my order was ready, I found myself staring into the hot, steamy goodness of a chicken taco, a Walla Walla chicken taco and a Walla Walla beef taco. All of these were good, but not excellent. The chicken taco was standard-issue antojito of the type found at Mexican-American restaurants all across the country: Small chunks of white meat chicken, marinated and cooked in spices, served on a double layer of corn tortilla and topped – street style – with chopped onions and cilantro. I wouldn’t kick it out of bed, but also wasn’t prepared to start a long-term relationship with it, either.

I quickly learned that when one sees the descriptor “Walla Walla” on a menu, it is to be automatically assumed that said item comes smothered in those sugar-sweet onions named after the southeastern region of Washington State from whence they come. Such was the case with the Walla Walla chicken and beef tacos. These were served – like the “regular” chicken taco – on two corn tortillas. Unlike the simpler version, the Walla Walla tacos were topped with slices of cooked Walla Walla onion, melted cheese (Monterey Jack?), and strips of creamy avocado. They were quite good (although I challenge you to name anything that isn’t improved with grilled onions, melted cheese and avocado). All three tacos were instantly elevated by a bath of smooth-hot tomatillo salsa.

Purely in the name of journalism, I sacrificed myself and wandered forth to try another taco truck (for comparison, of course). This time I ordered from the Los Taquitos truck. This time I also asked for their specialty. And this time I again received chicken tacos.

Los Taquitos chicken tacos

Similar in every way to La Monarca, except better. These tacos were a little less cheesy but a lot more flavorful. The onions were packed with a richness usually seen from slow grilling with animal protein, with sprinklings of extra love. The Los Taquitos tacos were also more greasy, which in the worst of times means stomach ache and wasted calories, but in the best of times means enhanced flavor. Thankfully, as an apropos kickoff to the conference, these tacos were the best of times – like everything else on an extraordinary weekend.

Los Taquitos truck menu