Friday, April 30, 2010

Fast Food - Animal Protein

When we first headed West, it was to Northern California, home of amazing burritos, farm fresh produce, killer Burmese, and some pretty fantastic burgers - you'll recall my love of the Monk's Kettle turkey burger par example.

However, I purposely put off trying that king of the California burger - the In-N-Out because I wanted to wait to try it in on its home turf in SoCal. Even after arriving in LA, I put off trying it because I wanted to be in a full-on burger craving mood.

Well there's nothing like a little rock-N-roll, a wee bit of vodka (not to worry parental types, not enough to make it unsafe to drive,) and the witching hour to make a girl (and a bearded fellow) crave a burger. Big time. So after hearing our friends' band The Lincoln Bedroom play in Hollywood, we headed to that fast food icon for a midnight snack- er meal.

(Before I descend into burger bliss, I have to give a quick shout out to The Lincoln Bedroom. They were so, so good. Seriously. This is coming from a person who goes into most live music performances -- especially those at bars -- with a big dose of skepticism and a sense of foreboding. But I couldn't stop smiling the whole time they were playing.)

And that smile just extended to the In-N-Out experience. I loved the bright, bright lights of the joint. Even at 12:30 AM, the branch on Sunset was a hopping, festive (if slightly seedy) place to be. I loved the paper hats that the folks at the counter wore (the guy who took our order reminded us of Smash from Friday Night Lights.)

Having put off a visit to In-N-Out for so long, I'd done a lot of thinking about what to get. I'd practiced using the proper lingo for the various off-menu preparations and when we got to the counter I was ready to go.

Here's what we ordered...

Fries, Animal Style (meaning with fried onions, melted cheese, and "spread")
The verdict: Sinful, decadent, everything else you can imagine. Although, while I kind of liked that the cheese wasn't completely melted, it was a bit too solid to coat a large portion of the fries. This did, however, allow Daniel to eat some of them post-burger.

Daniel got his burger Animal Style (topped with fried onions, pickles, and "spread")
The verdict: At 12:45 or whenever it was that we finally got our order (this isn't fast fast food), he had no complaints. The next day he did say that perhaps because he didn't grow up eating In-N-Out, this did not surpass his greasy fast food standard-bearer, the Whopper. Although he also tried to maintain that his burger was a healthy choice because he didn't get a "Double Double," so clearly the boy has a skewed perspective.

Speaking of healthy, I went for Protein Style (served sans-bun in a lettuce wrap; with ketchup, mustard, and raw onions, no spread)-
The verdict: Man, that was a lot of lettuce. But I like lettuce. And I like burger. So, what's not to like? In fact, in my defense for making such a girly carb conscious choice, as a child on the occasional trip to McDonalds, I often removed the bun from my Happy Meal burger, choosing instead to focus on the skinny patty, diced onion, and pickle slices. So I was hanging it Protein Style waaaay back.

Seriously though, it was a pretty fine burger. Especially when topped with some Animal Style fries. I think this is what they mean by animal proteins.

Monday, April 12, 2010

LA Challah and Hummus Hunt Part I

So Daniel and I are on day seven of our two month trial run at being LA citizens. A few key observations thus far:

1) What they say about traffic is true.

2) What they say about it being all Hollywood is true. You literally can't go into a restaurant or coffee shop without hearing something along the lines of "I'm trying to figure out how to add an element of racial tension into Act III" or "Yeah, I'd be happy to work for free as long as I get a credit." Welcome to Hollywood, baby.

3) What they say about the weather is (mainly) true. Our first few days here were glorious. Then last night it rained so loudly, I kept making Daniel pause the episode of Project Runway we were watching to see if we needed to build an arc. Here's Daniel in Malibu, dancing for joy.

But I digress. Clearly, a key element of our decision to take or leave LA is the food. And one of the things that we look for in any city is a place to buy good challah and hummus. We love them separately (after all, what's a turkey sandwich without a good schmear of hummus?) But we REALLY love them in concert.

For all of its amazing food attributes, during our time in the Bay Area, we never found challah and hummus that could live up to the New York Pantheon of Zomicks and Damascus. But we're hoping LA may prove a little more robust in this department.

And so last Friday, we began our hunt for great C&H LA-style.

Based on a Chowhound search, I decided that we'd start with Schwartz' challah.

Located on a stretch of Pico that has an embarrassment of Kosher establishments, this 50-odd year old bakery and deli won raves from the Hounds. Because of traffic (see above) and some address confusion (see bearded man above), we arrived around 1:30 and were worried that they this late on a Friday afternoon, they might have run out of the great braided bread. But we were in luck, and the counters were stocked with it.

Being the picky texture connoisseurs that we are, we gave the challot some good squeezes, and were initially disappointed by what we felt. The bread felt too crusty, without the good soft give that our standard-bearer Zomicks offers. Not wanting to give up too soon, I kept squeezing, and strangely after testing about five loaves, I found one with precisely the right consistency.

Here's a picture of the little fellow that we took home:

He was just right. Soft squishy,

And with the perfect tear. Mmm. Look at that doughy goodness. The taste was also pretty fantastic. A little sweet. Nicely chewy. We were thoroughly impressed, although I for one still think that Zomick's has a leg up -- it's a little more eggy, which I like. This though was nothing to sneeze at and may well become our go-to LA challah (although I am slightly concerned/perplexed by the fact that there was such a range in textures of the challot on display)

From there we headed to try out some hummus. I'd read good things about a sit down Lebanese place in Westwood called Sunin, and after seeing a picture of their hummus on their website (creamy and smooth looking,) it seemed as good a place as any to begin our hunt for the second step in the one-two punch that is C&H.

The hummus that arrived at our table lived up to the picture.

It was indeed smooth and creamy, a truly perfect texture. My one complaint is that I felt it had a bit too much tahini. Sadly, I've found that this is often the case with the smoother varieties, so that you end up having to choose between a slightly overpowering sesame taste in favor of texture or a slightly grainy texture in favor of a more balanced flavor. Really, a girl shouldn't have to make such a decision.

That said, the hummus was still quite good (we definitely finished it all.) And, almost equally importantly, Sunin had the best lentil soup that I've had since my beloved Carrol Gardens Zaytoons fix. AND they have pickled turnips. So all told, a good find indeed.