2013 Favorites: Aga Taiwanese Bistro, Artesia, CA
Yah, I eat in the burbs. I eat the heck out of the burbs and I don’t give a hoot.
Having soft opened on November 15, Aga is relatively new in Artesia, CA. Everyone considers this stip of Pioneer to be Cerritos anyway, and the clientele they serve mainly live in Cerritos. Artesia is a much smaller town, with a relatively horrendous city government, but the city taxes, licensing, and commercial property rent are all cheaper. It’s always been Cerritos’s little bitch when it comes to being whored out for cheap land. The restaurant density in Artesia is so much higher than Cerritos even though Cerritos has a much higher percentage of the target clienteles, especially because the city’s median income is so much higher than Artesia. I rant, I know.
Back to the food.
So, Aga is relatively new, and it’s being operated by a bundle of Taiwanese twenty-somethings fluent in both Taiwanese and English. At least it feels like a place being operated by a bunch fo twenty-somethings. The seats are uncomfortable, the accoustic is a tad lousy, and the incredibly long bar, with its scant seats, in a restaurant that serves tea, makes zilch sense. The interior design is some sort of horrible, as there is so much dead space simply being wasted between the bar and the wall bench. But whatever, Aga is paying the retail strip mall rent, not I.
Still, Aga is the real deal. It’s helmed by a third generation Taiwanese restauranteur who blubbers on video, but who has also managed to recreate dish his family is known for since 1958. This chain is not a shanzai knock-off like the current Yung-Ho disaster in the SGV. It’s bona fide; I’ve seen Mr. Guo himself bouncing in and out of the kitchen:
The menu at Aga is terse, just like it is in Chiayi city, Taiwan. There are only a handful of “entrees”, which arrive at the table looking basically like this:
That is the signature dark meat turkey rice. The rice is salted and steamed with turkey soup stock. It tastes nothing of Thanksgiving. This is how I grew up eating turkey. This is the reason why I can’t stand “American” turkey and sliced turkey from a dlei. This dish reminds me how I truly despise “American” food 49% of the time. At $8, it’s not the cheapest meal in Artesia, it’s not even the cheapest, nor the biggest, Taiwanese rice dish along Pioneer Blvd, but I don’t care. I’ll pay an extra US$ for the Aga name, another $0.50 for some weak display of interior design. After all, the cliche goes something like: well it’s cheaper than an airplane ticket.
Another popular entree is the black Taiwanese sausage. It’s black because there are no nitrates nor food coloring. The sausage is rather dry, and lean. But more important, it tastes like Kaoliang wine. Specifically, it tastes like a highly proofed Kaoling wine. There is no other sausage in America, Chinese, Taiwanese, Italian, French or otherwise, that tastes like this. This is also only $7. Note the casual vegetable sides come room temp, and if the weather is a bit cool, the vegetables are cold. It’s a style and homage thing. Just eat it.
The other dishes arrive looking rather plain. These snacks, as sold in Taiwan, typically costs $0.75 to $1, so there is no plating to speak of what-so-ever. Aga attempts to mask the humble origins of the food by using some crotchety aged modernism bowls more suited for pasta and western soups. How I wish they’d stop. Thankfully, the lousy ceramic ware doesn’t translate to lousy food. The deep fried sticky rice pork “pie” (or dumpling), is a thing only a native would love. It’s crazy, it’s incomparable, and it’s actually texturally unpleasant. But it’s wonderfully tasty:
Aga, we salute you for not sticking to the same damned pork chop rice and shaved ice. Currently, entrees orders receive get a free tea drink during lunch. The teas are flavored in the current popular Taiwanese way: no fruity syrups, just brewed fruit and tea.
Aga Taiwanese Bistro
Pioneer Blvd, Artesia, CA
2013 Favorites: Fortune No. 1, Monterey Park
El Coraloense was just an amazing find. I wish more people would go down there and check out the Curie family. They’re doing great simple things that LA deserves, and they’re doing it consistently. The Bellflower branch is open until 3:00 A.M., so they’re also contrarians because Mexicans apparently don’t dig seafood after sun set. I like culinary contrarians.
Without a doubt, Chengdu Taste was my go-to for dinner since opening. I’ve written on it plenty of times, and the Eater piece was a good guide for n00bs. Unfortunately, Eater.com doesn’t do food porn, so for dish photos, click to the previous posts.
One of the restaurants that I really really fell in love with this year, even though it opened a few years ago, was Fortune No. 1. This place, run by the Lin sisters (but mostly just one sister) flip-flopped pretty hard during opening, but they found their stride by ditching the congee morning menu. The current carb driven menu isn’t just another rendition of the dumpling shop everyone has come to expect, and detest, in the SGV. It’s really all about the bao here.
I wrote about the restaurant for Eater as well, but couldn’t provide photos, so here they are:
Per the post on Chow.com, the chive pockets are just literal bargains at $3 for two. And per eater.com, this place can still be an absolute clusterfuck in the way a only a mom and pop shop in SGV can be. Just the other day, they “forgot” my oder by letting another take-out customer “steal” my food. I didn’t pay for it, but I also left hungry after standing around for 10 minutes. I really wish they’d “care” a bit more, but they just don’t give a fuck. And I kinda love them for it, despite being really annoyed several times this year.
Fortune No. 1
Monterey Park, CA somewhere.
Next up: Aga, Cerritos
6 Hours in New York: Gimme! Coffee, Little Brown Chocolate, Marea
No one will ever be on this same itinerary, but if one had to spent all morning in Manhattan, and fly by the same (early) afternoon, this was a great eating itinerary, assuming you’re conducting business above 57th street.
I really enjoy their espresso blends. In fact, the stuff that “works” (by works, I mean stuff I’m able to extract, with my lowly espresso pulling skills) on my machinet are all out of towners: Grumpy and Verve. Of course a visit to a cafe was needed.
The location of Gimme is truly something I enjoy about Manhattan’s ludicrous zoning laws: it’s located in the middle of a serene (for Lower East Side), small 1 way street, full of mixed use walk-ups. Yes, I know Gimme! isn’t actually from New York, NY, but it’s from NY, and that’s close enough for this need. Of note, my espresso machine really enjoye working with Gimme! beans. I don’t know why this stubborn affection, but let’s just say the Pasquini has a mind of its own. Since then, I’ve been able to find Gimme! Coffee regularly at Broome Street General Store in LA’s Silver Lake area. It’s a extremely narrowly “curated” gift & sandwich shop with insame prices to boot. However, when it comes to coffee beans, the Gimme! is priced at $12/12 oz bag which makes it about 33% more affordable than anything coming out of Handsome or other premium roasters. So yes, I drink espresso roasted in Itasca, because I can.
Little Brown Chocolate was a quick snack in between meetings that day. The hot chocolate was seriously delicious. Since 2011, Little Brown Chocolate, a really overpriced hot chocolate and brownie and cakes kind of joint, was apparently bought and sold to Koffeecakes Korner. It surely isn’t the same as the old hot chocolate based store, but Manhattan isn’t lacking in the random dessert/pastries shop department.
Marea.. O Marea.. I don’t know.. I had a miss connection with a fellow foodiot at Marea. She looked at me, I looked at her, we smiled, she ate her noodles, I ate my fish… she was solo, I was due for a flight in 3 hours… We could’ve shared a dessert at Marea. Instead, I was left wondering: what the hell is this chick’s story? Solo dining at Marea lunch prix fixe on a Thursday while completely under dressed, clearly from Columbia? OK, then.
Beyond that little platonic interlude, the lunch prix fixe at Marea was just not as interestiing as the previous ones I’ve had at Jean George, or Bouley’s, but it was probably my own fault, since there are signature dishes that the staff pushed for, and I had either had an similar ingredients that week, or some of the dishes simply didn’t sound outright interesting. The granchio of blue crab bordered bland, but the pairing of a yogurt with crab morsels and dehydrated speck was interesting. Nonetheless, a nice little meal to say good bye to the city with, and to get back on the airplane with those lil chocolate bites.
Thanking Factory Kitchen for Quiet Cannoli
Factory Kitchen does not publicize its architecture firm. Compared to the other Downtown restaurant, Stocking Frame, that recently opened, Factory Kitchen’s interior is rather muted. It’s like Bestia, but not as reclaimy, not as woodsy, not as rustic glam. More importantly, however, it’s also not nearly as loud.
Granted, Bestia has far higher ceilings, but Factory Kitchen intentionally lined the entire ceiling with acoustic tiles. Can we get a (quiet) hallelujah??!? And a (whispered) A-men? I don’t want DTLA lofted restaurants to be as quiet as Patina or Providence. That’s not the point. But Baco Mercat is insanely loud, as is Bottega Louie, as is Bestia. Enough is enough. I know no one needs to actually talk to their hot dates across the table, but I would like to here myself chew, and hear the waiter announce today’s specials.
For that, I thank you Factory Kitchen. Thank you for using some wood panels on the wall, to absorb the sound bouncing off the concrete floor. Also, thank for hiring Latino staff not wearing $100 aprons. $8 for 3 cannoli isn’t exactly affordable, but it’s market rate even compared to Frumento and Eagle Rock Italian Deli. Piece for piece, these might the second most banging dessert deals in LA after Maccheroni’s giant apple tart.
The only minor issue with the service is the massive amount of silverware supplied during the meal. There’s absolutely no reason to replenish forks and knives before every single course. For a 5 plate dinner, this is what ended up on the table. Trimming the cutlery would reduce cost just as effectively as not dropping benjamins on designer denin aprons:
Tacos al vapor at Tacos Estilo Guadalajara, In the Middle of nowhere, Lynwood, Downey
A friend who cruised the 5/60/10 junctions lamented the demise of Breed Street’s al vapor cart for nearly a year after the whole thing shut down thanks to annoying gaggle of food bloggers who insisted on “discovery” shit which fed innumerable Mexican families. Reality check: Breed St ran well and fine unless us fucktards hit it with a fag of SLRs.
Luckily, there were al vapor restaurants before the Breed Street scene, and there are al vapor restaurants after the Breed Street scene died. Tacos estilo Guadalajara happens to be a small outfit with two solid operations, the older of which is in Lynwood. Yes, THAT Lynwood. As corrupt as this city’s corrupt is, it’s difficult to believe Tacos estilo Guadalajara is still serving tacos, no matter how small, for one dollar and ten cents. They used to be a dollar when the second branch opened. The tacos have never been large, but I can always count on doing a flight of beefy head parts for < $4 out the door.
There are a couple of al vapor joints in the (323) an (562) area codes, but Tacos estila Guadalajara has a killer habanero salsa that’s fit for a pepper eating contest. Usually, I like to go with the combination of cabeza cachete and labio. Sometimes, when I’m feeling rich, I’d go all out and spend an extra extra for a lengua taco. A couple of neighbors tell me they enjoy the labio the least, since it has almost zilch flavor. I tend to agree. Three “con todo” tacos here make me feel very obese, even if the corn tortillas are merely 4″ in diameter. No matter how I try, al vapor is just not my platonic ideal of eating beef. Everything comes out a bit mushy, all the parts comingle in flavor after three tacos.
Still, if and when one feels like a chopped taco steamed beef taco, Tacos Estilo Guadalajara, especially the newer Downey branch, is a clean, quick, and rather comforting offer. Unless you accidentally drown your place in the habanero salsa. Then you might hurt for hours. At least the signage in the salsa bar clearly warns you in plain English.
Also, check out the awesome bathroom keychain holder… Pretty sure Church and Key needs that.
Tacos Estilo Guadalajara
13121 Lakewood Blvd
Downey, CA 90242
Patina’s Paleo Menu
Patina’s “Paleo” menu is clearly a great interpretation of the three key points of Warinner Ted talk regarding the take-out of her paleo diet research: “eat a variety of species”, “eat fresh [seasonal] food”, “eat whole foods”.
Witness the Patina’s bread basket and nevermind the fact bread isn’t tolerated in the modern, trendy “paleo diet”: whole grains. Check.
Witness the the duck breast with duck chicharroes in the bottom right frame — “variety of species”, check.
Beef tongue a la plancha, above middle-right, check. Read more…
Spinning Plates Opens Nationwide Today
While Chicago’s useless city rag Redeye gave the movie a horrendous review, the movie is clearly intended to serve as a study tool for 511“>USCCA 500-level class. Why must there be some contiguous and valid comparison between the three restaurants for the film to work? Why can’t Levy simply tell three stories that bear little relevance to each other?
Each substory stands alone on its own merits, the merit of portraying restaurant ownership, or, as the new-gen instagramming kiddies would say: “#cheflife“. Three distinct restaurants are covered: La Cocina de Gabby, Breitbach’s Country Dining, and Alinea. To summarize my reactions: Heart broken by Cocina de Gabby’s story, grossed out by Breitlach and everything that kitchen stands for, and Achatz’s segment is mostly a retelling of his book with some video food porn tossed in for good measure. The food porn (including the famous dessert table plating) is seen above.
I’ve been to another Iowan restaurant similar to Breitbach’s, though I never made it to Breitbach’s itself. Country Junction in Dyersville, IA is basically a younger, less busy, less famous version of Breitbach’s. They’re only about 30 minutes apart. From a post in 2006, it seems I barely enjoyed the place, despite its own root-beer bottled on the premises, and bottomly iced tea in mason jars. Breitbach’s reminds me of Country Junction; both are feeding the obesity and big agra crisis in Midwest America. They make me sick to my stomach, and down to my rectum, these days.
Cocina de Gabby, on the other hand, is what I celebrate daily in my Los Angeles grubbings. Cocina is Arizona’s Sarape, El Coraloense, and Rocio’s. They make the tastiest food that costs hardly anything. These ethnic dives, be it Mexican, or Vietnamese, or Thai, make LA (and in turn, America) great. That’s the real take-home story of Spinning Plates, not the Alinea food porn, not the huge portions of pork served in Iowa.
Four Pictorial Reasons Travel Writers Need to Stop Quoting Saveur on Lotus of Siam.
That was 13 years ago. Pailin wasn’t famous then, Jitlada wasn’t owned by Jazz and Tui then. Cancoon was around, but it was only known to Thais.
Last year, Mr. Gold wrote another ode to LoS. I spoke of this pair of reviews when I took a cooking au pair from Bangkok to Vegas last month. She smiled, but asked why there’s is an elephant in the room when we walked in. The elephant looked something like this:
Yes sir, Lotus of Siam serves a lunch buffet. Pretty sure they didn’t catch a James Beard with the slop being dished from the steam trays:
As recently as 2008, the behemoth of a wine room below didn’t exist. But back in ’07, there was already a sizeable (for a Thai restaurant) wine menu. And as the years wore on, this became more of a thorn in Lotus of Siam’s existance as far as I’m concerned. I keep asking: Why is this necessary? Well, for one, wine makes money at almost no cost except stock and space. It’s of little comfort the clear focus since 2008 for Lotus of Siam has been growing the wine profit. The wine cum Thai food model has been so success the “sommelier” — why doe a Thai Issan restaurant need a sommelier — has gone on to open his own Thai wine bar.
Number three: a celebrity photo wall. With nary a Thai person except the owner. Now, an astute fella would recognize the same git-up at another infamously famous Thai restaurant in Los Angeles, Jitlada. I don’t have a good retort except to say, the photo frames at Jitlada are strewn about haphazardously, as if an after thought. Here at LoS, the celebrity is methodical and annoying.
Number four: the trophy wall. The praise keeps coming, and the restaurant keeps resting on the laurels. It’s a vicious, vicious cycle. There’s no need to maintain any sense of quality or old-world tastes when the US media keeps latching onto the same few sentences (and dishes) from 10 years ago. Instead of improving and bringing more Issan dishes, the nam prik ong literally tastes like pork bolognese now. It packed nearly NO heat, no taste of prik khing curry. This was a bowl of pure shame. And to quote the cooking au pair: “this doesn’t taste Thai.”.
The kaeng som was even a bigger bowl of depression. There’s hardly any tamarind, no funk from, no body. This place is a sham. Why do people keep going back?