First up, some admin stuff:
* I’ll be on ESPNEWS today at 3:40 pm EDT.
* There will be a chat this week, probably on Thursday.
* I’ve got two blog entries up at the Four-Letter, one on the top prospects from the AFLAC All-American Game and another on the top guys at the Area Code Games.
To the food…
Long Beach was definitely in the house, although I ventured out to the streets of LA for a few meals. Dessert first: Frozen yogurt is all the rage in southern California, and the most popular chain is Pinkberry, so I felt almost obligated to try it so I could make fun of all of the people who consume the stuff. I was, however, unprepared for how absolutely vile the stuff is. The flavor made me feel like I was sitting inside a bottle of white vinegar, licking the sides and inhaling the fumes. Their yogurt comes in three flavors – “original” (vinegar-flavored), green tea, and coffee. It’s all nonfat, which is about the stupidest thing I’ve seen in ages, since the fat in yogurt helps coat the taste buds and mute the yogurt’s acidity. The result of removing the fat is the need to increase the sugar to balance out the acid, and that results in a major glycemic load and a very unsatisfying product. I ate the oreos I’d ordered as a topping and tossed the gunk. Something that looks that much like ice cream shouldn’t taste that much like shit.
Moving along rapidly â€¦ I decided to revisit a restaurant I’d tried back in 2006 and didn’t love, because so many readers have told me it’s the best sushi place in this part of greater LA: Koi in Seal Beach. I admit I was wrong about Koi, having complained of bland sushi. I’m guessing it’s a maturing of my taste for sushi, since I’ve gotten to experience some high-quality sushi on my travels and now understand what incredibly fresh sushi tastes and feels like in the mouth. Koi’s is absolutely on par with the freshest sushi I’ve ever had, and the flavors, while not intense, were complex and smooth. I avoided all rolls – not only are they apparently inauthentic, but I feel like they’re a way to use sauces to cover up mediocre fish, and at a place where the fish is really good, you’re just hiding the quality under salt and sugar. I ordered salmon (I recommend it without the ponzu sauce), yellowtail, yellowtail belly (special order), and three items off of the specials board: sea bass (served with salt and lemon juice, so you eat it without any soy sauce at all), bluefin toro, and Japanese red snapper. Everything was delicious, fresh, and soft as butter. On my second visit, I asked the main sushi chef, named Taka, to “surprise me.” He hit me with albacore belly with lemon juice, sea salt, and shaved ginger, which was incredibly soft but had a very slightly fishy taste that I think came not from the fish but from the combination of flavors. It was almost like the faintest taste of a grassy cheese, although I hate to use that term because it makes the fish sound spoiled, which I’m quite sure it wasn’t. Taka surprised me again with sweet shrimp nigiri, the first time I’ve ever eaten raw shellfish. I ate both pieces, because I’m not an ingrate, but had a hard time getting past the knowledge of what I was eating. (If you missed the previous discussion, I avoid raw shellfish because the risk of food-borne illness is particularly high.) I also received the shrimps’ heads, deep-fried, but found them inedible between the tough shell and the weird goo in the middle.
My other sushi experience here, at Haru Haru on the border of Long Beach and Seal Beach, was disappointing; I went there because it was close to the stadium and next to a Trader Joes, so I could eat, get some supplies, and still get back in time for the second game. I asked if there were any special nigiri/sashimi of the day, but there weren’t, and the fish I got was bland and even a little bit tough. It’s not worth the stop so close to Koi, even if Koi is a good bit more expensive.
Tiny Thai in northern Long Beach – north of the airport just off Carson St and Lakewood – served totally nondescript Thai food, although it appears to have a devoted following. I asked the waitress for suggestions; she asked if I liked spicy food and I said not really. (Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. That night, I was not in the mood.) The first thing she suggests is a stir-fry with chicken, beef, or pork in a sauce of chili peppers and basil. The second thing is garlic beef or chicken, which isn’t so much spicy but gave me visions of waking up at 3 am as a fire-breathing member of the allium family. I ordered pad see ew instead – I had an odd craving for broccoli anyway – and it was very ordinary, and the chicken had clearly been cooked in advance, as there’s no way they could have cooked it in the time between my order and its arrival at the table.
Bouchees Bistro on Long Beach Ave is sort of a gourmet food for the masses place, and I was intrigued by the $3-5 sliders they offer, which seems to be a popular option. I went with three – the jumbo lump crab cake, the angus sirloin burger with bacon and spicy aioli (I had them omit the cheese), and the seared ahi tuna with avocado – and started with a house salad with balsamic vinaigrette. The salad was the highlight because it was flawlessly dressed – not a drop too little or too much – and the ingredients (romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomato) were ridiculously fresh. Sometimes I forget how good Californians have it when it comes to produce. Of the sliders, the crab cake was the best – they did not lie about jumbo lump – and the ahi tuna was the worst, with a seared exterior that was already cool when it reached the table and made me wonder if it had been sitting at all. One turnoff: I didn’t eat all of the tomatoes in my salad because I’m not a huge fan, but ate half of them. The waitress who took my salad bowl away said, “Next time, ask to leave the tomatoes off.” I felt like I was being scolded and pointed out to her that I ate some of them, figuring I didn’t need to point out that it was my discretion whether or not I wanted to eat every last freaking bite of my food. She backed off.
I hit two breakfast spots, nothing new. The Coffee Cup is my new favorite spot; I had chorizo and eggs, the combo ($6 for two eggs, two slices of bacon or links of sausage, and two pancakes), and the EMPT with their own honey apple sausage. Everything was good; the sausage was delicious although the casing got a little bit tough in the cooking. I appreciate that they didn’t charge me for the hot water for my tea – I brought my own bags, and some places will charge even if I don’t use their crappy Lipton bags. (The Coffee Cup uses Pickwick, a slightly better food-service option than Lipton but still not great.) The blueberry pancakes (50Â¢ extra for the berries) were good but had a strong taste of cinnamon that might turn some folks off. Their breakfast potatoes – big chunky home fries – are outstanding, but they do burn the occasional piece. I also love the whole wheat bread they use for toast, and they’re not stingy with the butter.
I had one morning where I stopped at the Long Beach CafÃ© because the Coffee Cup was out of my way and I regretted it. The food wasn’t half as good, the “biscuit” was a sorry excuse for a baked good of that name, the eggs were overcooked, and so on.
Two recs from Los Angeles: I met dak and Junior from Fire Joe Morgan at BLD, the name of which is an acronym for the three meals they serve. We were there for dinner, and started with a plate of meats and cheeses that we asked the server (clearly a budding actress) to choose for us, with only the guidance that we disliked particularly pungent cheeses. She did pretty well by all accounts; I wanted no part of the camembert, but the sheep’s milk cheese (I think it was called Midnight Moon) was like a young pecorino romano, the speck (smoked prosciutto) was outstanding, and the spiced marcona almonds, quince paste, and slices of black mission figs on the side were all addictive. For an entrÃ©e, I went with the seared cod with spicy avocado cream sauce and sliced fingerling potatoes, all of which was impeccably fresh but disappointingly low-impact in flavor. The dish was just missing its mojo. The two writers paid for dinner for some inexplicable reason, so when dak comes to Massachusetts later this summer, I’m going to reciprocate and take him to McDonald’s. (Ken Tremendous big-leagued me and said he was too busy to show.) Anyway, both dak and Junior liked what they ordered, so I’d call it a hit all around, and even if I didn’t love my dinner I can appreciate the freshness of the ingredients.
Over on S Figueroa north of USC, La Taquiza is my kind of Mexican place: small and authentic, but user-friendly for the non-native. I went with the carnitas tacos – carnitas was the special of the day – and a watermelon agua fresca, which was my reason for going in the first place, as it was mentioned in the LA Times article to which I linked about a month ago. The carnitas were delicious, although the tacos were just fresh tortillas (I watched a woman making them as I waited in line) and meat, with a modest salsa bar available. The agua fresca was good, but not up to Phoenix Ranch Market standards, with a pretty strong lemon flavor but plenty of sweetness to balance it. It was like a watermelon lemonade, shaded a little more towards the watermelon. I’m underselling the place, though – I’d go back and probably be a little more specific on the order.