Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day #6 (Friday 11/4)- (Food) Truckin' it

We had our first rainy day today- high of 60 degrees and it was cloudy. I guess LA needs to get some rain...

Darin was going to be able to get out around lunchtime (and I was feeling pretty wiped out), so I opted to stay home and blog, relax, take a shower. We've been on the go this whole week, it felt great to finally just relax in the PJs.

I started looking through today's agenda and had written down "First Fridays at Venice Beach"- food trucks congregate at Venice Beach on the first Friday of every month. We had heard this was a hugely popular event, but with today's rainy forecast, trying to find parking and then walking around (when we didn't bring any umbrellas) was hardly what I'd call fun. I remember reading that food trucks are really popular here, and people follow them wherever they go. So much so, all of them have Twitter accounts and tweet where you can find them... or, just follow them on the Food Truck Map!

I typed in my current hotel address, and you can select by those food trucks near you that are either opened now, opening later, or opening tomorrow. It even shows you the traffic so you know what kind of delays there could be, and shows you the tweets by each food truck.

Score! With creative names like "Shrimp Pimp", "The Greasy Wiener", "ZZ Truck", it's no wonder these are have become so popular and have an incredible following. You can also find all food trucks' tweets here.

I was thrilled to see Grill Em All's food truck would be close by our hotel during lunch. This particular food truck was Food Network's Season 1 "Great Food Truck Race". I jumped on LA's Yelp and read many positive reviews, but people also mentioned the incredibly long wait time. Many people wait for an hour. These sandwiches better be that good.

I absolutely loved this truck's concept- they have an awesome design and a rock-n-roll themed menu with some heavy metal playing as you wait for your food. This food is all about attitude. Luckily, we got there right as they were opening so we only had a handful of people in front of us before we placed our order.

They have about 8 burgers to choose from and a choice of 2 different fries options. 
The truck is literally just hanging out in a parking lot blaring music

Here is their signature logo- I love their kickback to Metallica

You don't get a following like they have without doing something right. We ordered (2) burgers, a side of their tater tots (supposed to be legendary), and the total bill came to be $26 (cash only). I guess food from food trucks don't necessarily mean cheap. We waited for a bit and hopped back into the car and drove back to the hotel to eat our food.

Each burger is 7-oz so it's a mighty big meal. I ordered the Witte burger ($8) which had cream cheese, deep fried bacon, beer/Srirarcha onion, and malt vinegar aioli. It was huge and delicious!
They didn't put some flimsy bacon in there either- you can taste every single ingredient.

Darin ordered the Behemoth burger ($12), which is a burger in between 2 grilled cheese sandwiches as buns, cheddar, bacon, beer-soaked onions, pickles, and Mosh Pit BBQ sauce. It was ginormous.

We also ordered a side of their legandary tater tots, which are rolled with Pepperjack and Cheddar Cheese. It came with (6) large tater tots for $6- and they were worth every bit the $1/tot. They were awesome. I can only imagine they would have been even better if we had eaten it fresh. Oh my sweet Lord, they were sinful. They are now the holy grail of tater tots for me. They grate the boiled russet potatoes, add salt, pepper, garlic powder, pepper jack cheese, cheddar cheese, and paprika, and then coated with panko breadcrumbs. Worth every penny. You get to choose 1 sauce per fries or tots order, but our gal threw in 2 sauces- chipotle ketchup and garlic aioli.

Both burgers had massive flavor. I wasn't hungry for lunch, yet I managed to almost eat the entire thing.
Yep, that's me eating the Behemoth- Darin had already eaten 1/2 of it and I was trying to take another bite...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day #5 (Thursday 11/3)- Hollywood!

Today was another 70 degree day and sunny- I had originally wanted to just take a nap but since it was supposed to rain tomorrow and be nice today, I decided to head out to Little Tokyo and do some shopping.

I was really surprised to see how big Little Tokyo was- it was more than just a galleria- it was actually a neighborhood! I decided to shop at the Little Tokyo shopping center.

There were only a few stores open at 8:30am but I found this large store that sold a bunch of odds & ends. The Japanese love their Hello Kitty:

I have to say, I actually contemplated buying this:

It was a vast area with kitchenware too:

Ohh, how the Japanese try to write proper English yet fail so terribly at times:

Aren't these cute? They're vegetable washing brushes in the shape of a carrot:

After being in Japan, these prices were incredibly inflated.

I ventured off to another area of the shopping center and found a large grocery store called Woori Market. Inside it was pretty large- they sold produce, meats/seafood, grocery items, and even had a little bakery, sushi/cafe, and a Korean Catering shop.

Here is an Asian pear- it is shaped like a large apple but with the coloring and flavor of a pear:

I was excited to see these- these are large green onions. The Japanese green onions are 10x bigger than their US counterpart:

Lots of varieties of kimchi:

These are Japanese kabocha, which is Japanese squash:

I love this brand of gummi candy- the gummies are always so soft and the flavors are nice and strong. This is an Apple, Grape, and Muscat flavor pack.

Pocky in coconut flavor? Yum

Never knew Skippy had a Roasted Honey Nut in a Super Chunky texture

Bamboo Salt toothpaste? Interesting...

Mmm, some Japanese dango (Japanese dumplings that are sweet yet a hint of savory too)

Yakult- it's a pro-biotic drink that I've been drinking since I was a child:

Darin loves yakisoba so I picked this up for him

I was blown away by this- This is a Japanese Curry sauce mix that my aunt used to make for me when I was a child. I haven't seen this in forever! Nostalgia...

Some Japanese snacks in Sanrio characters:

After leaving the shopping center, I decided to drive around and see what else this neighborhood offered.

I saw this colorful billboard:

I found another shopping plaza, so I parked my car on the street (so lucky) and walked towards it.

I wanted some sweet mochi (Japanese dumplings) so I stopped in Fugetsu-Do. You can buy pre-packaged mochi for around $4, or individual mochi for $1.10 each.

They had a ton of different flavors- some were traditional with some bean paste and others were unique (chocolate, peanut butter, fruit-flavored)

Jacqui... look, a Family Mart!

The shopping plaza was really cute- it was filled with lots of small unique restaurants, cafes, grocery stores, and small boutiques.

Of course you can't have a Little Tokyo without a Sanrio store:

A Hello Kitty luggage tag:

I got really excited when I saw this since I thought it was a Hello Kitty cookie cutter but it was a silicone bracelet:
A children's Hello Kitty yukata:

A Japanese bakery- filled with curry pan, cream pan, and other Japanese baked goods:

I was planning on having lunch here at Daikokuya (featured on Food Network and Man vs. Food)... but hardly any stores (including this ramen restaurant) took credit card! So, no Daikokuya ramen for me. As I was leaving, I saw there was a line out the restaurant already (and it wasn't even open yet):

I headed back to Darin's office and decided to pick us up some Umami Burgers- There is a lot of controversy that the best LA burgers are between Umami Burger and Father's Office burgers. The closest Umami Burger near Darin's office was located in Santa Monica next to Fred Segal.

Umami Burgers are known to be gourmet burgers- as you can see in the menu above. The concept, "umami", is the 5th element in Japanese culture of food flavors (next to sweet, sour, salt, and bitter). I think the Umami logo is supposed to look like a hamburger bun but I always think it looks like poorly drawn lips.

The place was urban-chic and apparently had just opened (I overheard a patron saying she's never been in here when it wasn't packed).

I ordered a side of onion rings, a So-Cal burger, and a Port & Stilton Burger. The total came out to be $28- WOW. I hope these burgers were worth it.

The onion rings were pretty great- they were thick and the batter was amazing. It doesn't look like it in the pictures, but keep in mind I had to drive 20 minutes to get to Darin's work so they were no longer crispy. It comes with some homemade ketchup too.

Here is my Port & Stilton Burger (looks kind of gross) but definitely good. If you like Stilton cheese, then this burger is for you:

The tops of their burger buns have the "U" logo branded.

Darin had the So-Cal burger, which consists of butter lettuce, slow-roasted tomato, a house spread, homemade American cheese, and caramelized onions.

The flavors were amazing (Darin still prefers Father's Office's The Office burger), but both burgers were a bit greasy. I liked knowing where your meat is coming from (local vendors), but I wished the burger was a tad bigger since the price tag was kind of high. At least I wasn't short-changed on the flavor or overall experience.

After lunch, I managed to find a Panera (Garmin said 4 minutes but naturally it took me closer to 15 b/c of LA traffic) and blogged for only 1 hour when Darin texted and said they'd be finishing up by 3pm. I packed up my stuff, fumbled through traffic and picked up Darin. I could tell he was pretty tired but since today was supposed to be nice (and tomorrow's forecast showed 40% chance of rain), we decided to check out the infamous Hollywood sign. I had done some brief reading since Mack had told me it was a long out-of-the-way drive to get there, and someone had mentioned going to Griffith Observatory since you're so high up on the mountain.

As we headed towards the Observatory, we went through Koreatown. Again, this area was huge and filled with Korean shops, restaurants, pharmacies, churches, etc. Definitely somewhat dicey but nonetheless unique.

Once you leave Koreatown, you immediately hit Griffith Park which is gorgeous. Literally, across the street looks pretty run-down and then on the other side looks like you're hitting gated million-dollar homes.

We went through some beautiful neighborhoods:

... and then proceeded to go up hill after hill and lots of turns

... and under a mountain...

... more turns...

... and there it is!

I never realized how high the sign is located on top of the mountain.

The Hollywood sign is b/w us:

We decided to head over to the Observatory (it was free) and look around

It was beautiful inside

Here is a view of LA from the Observatory- I'm sure it would have been so beautiful to see at night with all the lights from LA

The exhibits were all about our solar system, period tables, how light is shown, meteor showers...

There was an iron statue of Albert Einstein so Darin had to sit next to him

As we were leaving the Observatory (we were there for about an hour), I smelled a strong lingering smell of rosemary only to look down and find this:

Mmm, it smelled so woodsy and heavenly with the LA breeze.

We weren't super hungry but we had dinner reservations for Pizzeria Mozza which came highly recommended to us. This is a Mario Batali-owned restaurant and had gotten rave reviews on my Chowhound board and on Yelp and Urbanspoon. Mario Batali owns 2 restaurants which are adjacent to one another- Pizzeria Mozza (casual) and Osteria Mozza (upscale).

Valet was $8.50 (wtf) but luckily we found on-street parking just a block down. We walked in and loved the ambiance. Lots of oranges and reds and browns. 
We decided to sit at the bar and really enjoyed watching the chefs create all the pizzas in front of us:

On each of our plates was this little brown packet that had our napkin and our utensils, as well as a postcard:

Mmmm, pizzas...

I ordered the Bianca Pizza- It was love at first bite. The Bianca pizza contained a variety of cheeses, which included fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere, and fresh sage. My mouth is salivating just thinking about it now.

Darin ordered the pizza with fennel sausage, panna, and caramelized red onions and scallions. His was delicious as well.

The pizzas were baked in a brick oven, and every single item tasted so fresh. The crust was phenomenal, and I thought to myself- is this what pizza is supposed to taste like? Since both pizzas were white pizzas (no red sauce), Darin asked for a side of red sauce so he could dunk his crust in.

The tomato sauce tasted pure, fresh, and with a hint of lemon. The dinner was magnificent- I wished I had been hungrier, but no worries- Darin finished off his pizza and mine too. The wait staff was attentive, the vibe was sexy, and we had a great dinner. (Total $40 before tip.)

One thing I've learned about LA dining- make reservations. Even on a weeknight, the first dinner reservation available for 2 people was 8pm. When in doubt, pick up the phone and phone in your reservation.

I wanted some ice cream after dinner, so we drove to Scoops, which was only 10 minutes away and were known to have unique flavors.

They had about 12 different gourmet flavors which ranged from ice cream to non-dairy soy ice cream to gelatos and sorbets. When LA has gourmet pizzas and gourmet burgers- why stop there? I guess they decided to create gourmet ice cream too.

REALLY unique flavors, which included Cashew & Marsala Wine, Black Sesame & Banana, Mango/Sour Cherry/Guava sorbet, and Maple Cream Toffee to name a few.
Their signature (and most popular flavor) was the Brown Bread flavor- it is a vanilla-based ice cream with Grape Nuts cereal and caramel. So naturally, Darin and I both got that. At Scoops, a "single scoop" comes with 2 flavors, so I picked Red Velvet and Darin picked Strawberry-Pomegranate.

The ice cream was incredibly creamy. You know how some ice cream, you take a bite and you instantly get the brain freeze or your teeth hurt, or... it breaks your spoon since the ice cream is so hard? Not here at Scoops- the ice cream is so creamy delicious. (2 single scoop ice cream was $6.)

I was so tired afterwards, I knocked out in the car on our way home. Darin stopped at Fry's Electronics (which he said was the coolest electronics store he's ever been to), and then we proceeded to head home and fall asleep.