Category Archives: food

Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, Naaan Hut!

One of the things I miss the most about SF is its variety of good, cheap eats. There is always some place tucked away on a busy street, selling a fantastically yummy meal for under $10.

I know such places exist in LA, but such is the urban planning of southern California that they’re almost impossible to stumble across because this is not a pedestrian friendly town (more on this later). Good ethnic food are hidden in a myriad of identical seeming strip malls, clustered in their own counties, requiring a drive and an infuriating search for parking.

So when I was exploring my new neighborhood last year ON FOOT, I was happy to come across the Naan Hut, its nondescript storefront, tucked in between a frozen yogurt shop and a swiss bakery.

Naan Hut doesn’t actually make naan, the Indian bread most of us are familiar with. What it specializes in, is sangak, a crispy, chewy flatbread, speckled with sesame seeds. You can get a generous scarf sized piece of this bread for only $3. And you have to wait for it, because the oven is on the premises and they prefer to give it to you fresh, wrapped in brown paper. Like an awesome present of bread!

The first time I went into the shop, I passed by a woman who was smiling ear to ear, arms full of bread. I bought the same bread that day, and then returned a few more times when I realized that they also used the bread to make a uniquely delicious pizza.

At the time, they only opened for lunch and served the aforementioned pizza as well as a few wraps. All delicious and inexpensive. There were a few rickety tables and a television bolted to a corner, so the ambiance was somewhat lacking.

But a few weeks ago, I discovered that it was now open for dinner. Not only were aesthetic and gustatory improvements made, it is also open late, for those craving a late night meal that isn’t diner food.

Its owners have installed a large refrigerator case that houses all kinds of treats, both prepackaged and homemade. I spent a good deal of time googling the names, and everything sounded delicious, (as well as unpronounceable.) Among its shelves, there were saffron puddings, eggplant stews, and hummus, all neatly stacked and labeled. The rickety tables have been replaced with comfortable cafe style tables and chairs and I spotted a samovar bubbling away in the back; must come back for tea!

I’ve been back twice for dinner already, and the host was extremely hospitable and enthusiastic. I don’t know if he’s the owner, but if he isn’t, he should get a raise because he is clearly delighted and proud of what the establishment offers.

Anyway, if you find yourself in L.A. and on the Westside, pop into the Naan Hut!

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(This is some kind of tomatoe-y, eggplant stew thing that is so good, and has a lot of garlic. So only eat it with someone who loves you already, or someone you don’t care if they love you or not.)

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When Junk Food Doesn’t Count

A friend of mine has a grandmother who keeps kosher except when on vacation.

I’m not sure what the logic is in that. Is holiness so much higher away from home that non-kosher food is automatically ok? Or can supernatural beings only see you when you’re at home?

Whatever it is, I feel an affinity for her, because that’s exactly the same kind of logic I use when on road trips.

Have you noticed that whenever you stop at a gas station, the shops always have junk food that you never see anywhere else? While I haven’t seen “Bugles” at any grocery store near me for at least ten years; they’re at every gas station from LA to SF.

And I didn’t even know there were “TGIF” branded snack chips. But there are, and some are bacon flavored!

I don’t usually buy this stuff since losing the metabolism of a teenager (let me know if you guys find it, okay?) But put me on a three plus hour car ride, and it’s bring on the “Bugles”!

Perhaps it’s the weird, “in a bubble” feeling of being in a car by yourself for a long time. How many times have you seen someone swear, pick their nose, or otherwise behave in a manner that is inconsistent with how they would behave, even in their own home? How many times has that person been you?

So, it is in the same spirit of “cussing in the car doesn’t count” that “eating crap food in the car doesn’t count” has evolved.

I have not yet let myself descend to “Slim Jims” but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been tempted.

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OMG! Pie!

I have no desire to get into the hugely controversial pie vs. cake debate. For one, why must there be a debate? Forcing people to choose is just cruelty, and one of the many casualties in this current climate of polarization!

Anyway, pie and cake. Both good, and  the fact that I recently visited two places that focus on pie, is not indicative of me taking a side on this issue. #foodpolitician

The first place I visited Atticus Creamery and Pies, located in West L.A..

So the name instantly makes me think of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, but as far as I can tell, there is no egregious miscarriage of justice requiring the services of a good, noble man, taking a doomed stand against the racism emblematic of his time.

The second part of the name is accurate and not mysterious; you can get ice cream and pie. There are clever, somewhat hipster foodie combinations like lemon lavender and salted caramel popcorn.  But there are also plenty of options for people who complain “What’s wrong with just chocolate and banana cream!?!”

The pies themselves are more like tarts; small, single crust confections, with cold fillings; think coconut cream rather than apple pies. Atticus offers free samples of both their pie and ice cream options, which is a really nice touch.

It’s located across from the Landmark theater, so it’s easy to drop by before or after a movie. However, seating is limited and not really designed for socializing, so don’t plan on hanging out with there. I did smuggle some of my pie into the theater with me though.

For those whose pie in the sky dreams run more towards meat pies (cue: Sweeney Todd music), Aussie Pie Kitchen in Santa Monica is the place for you.

Now, I knew I was predisposed to liking this place because I have more of a salty than sweet tooth, and I was not disappointed. In addition to flakey, buttery crusts surrounding chicken, beef, and lamb fillings (with a vegetarian one for you joyless souls out there) they also offer what are essentially sausage rolls, but with croissant pastry, bacon, and cheese!  SWOON! I am coming back for you, bacon roll!

You can order said pies plain, or with any combination of mashed potatoes, minted peas, or creamy thyme gravy. For those who are unsure about the sides, the staff happily makes up little sample cups. I went for all of it, and it was delicious. The coffee was good too.

The pies are solidly into meal time, rather than snack time, territory, especially with the sides. Seating indoors is limited, but comfortable, and if you swing by slightly before or after lunch, it’s not a problem to snag a seat.

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Tea at the Getty Villa

I’m more of a tea person than a coffee person. I especially love high tea.

Now before you start imagining me as some “Downton Abby” snob, let me explain.

I have made some of my best friends over an invitation for high tea. Nothing is a better antidote to a disproportionately testosterone laden job (most of us work in tech) than tiny sandwiches, delicate pastries, all served on pretty porcelain plates.

After living years in San Francisco, I had gathered a nice little list of places for all moods. It’s been more difficult to find similar places in L.A., simply because everything is more spread out here.

But one recent discovery is the Getty Villa, which has high tea on Thursdays and Saturdays. It’s served upstairs from the cafe, in a room that is frankly, a little sterile (the downstairs patio for the cafe is much more idyllic). But the food is wonderful, and the kitchen very accommodating in that L.A. way that I find both comical and endearing. Gluten free? No problem! Pescatarian? Of course!

Even if you have no interest in tea, the Getty Villa is worth a visit. The locale is amazing, and it’s a fun contrast to its sister museum, the Getty Center. The Center is like a futuristic fortress for a vaguely European millionaire/supervillian; all clean modern lines and epic vistas. It was used as the setting for the Federation in the last “Star Trek” movie!

But the Villa is like an Alma Tadema or Maxfield Parrish painting; a “cosy” roman villa, complete with gardens and fountains. All that’s needed are flowers for your hair. As for its bit of Hollywood history, it was used for scenes in Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra”.

If you go, be sure to call and make reservations, even if you’re just visiting the museum. There’s no entrance fee, but it’s fifteen dollars for the parking and spaces are limited.

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I caught a little bug…and ate it?

There’s a restaurant in Santa Monica that serves bugs.

I don’t mean that families of cockroaches hang out, ordering drinks. I mean that bugs are on the menu.

Specifically, scorpions, crickets, ants, and pupae.

I know.

Gaaaaahhhhhh.

Recently, NPR did a story about “cricket flour” which is exactly what it sounds like: flour made from crickets. The creators of the product extol its virtues: high in protein, low cost, and gluten free! Although I guess not vegan or vegetarian friendly, since it’s made from crickets. You can even buy it on Amazon.

I’m hippie enough to understand, appreciate, and even respect all these pro “eat bugs” arguments. I also understand that the “ick’ factor of foods are largely cultural, and that there is nothing more inherently icky about eating crickets than say, eating shrimp, which are pretty much the insects of the sea.

But knowing something logically fares poorly when pitted again decades of cultural conditioning. I did not grow up eating bugs, so insects viscerally read to me as unsanitary. A few years ago, I had found a cockroach in my dish at a Thai restaurant, and my response had not been:

“If only they had put EXTRA cockroach!”

However, if you’re the kind of person who does have that response when finding an unexpected, exotic protein on your plate, then I highly recommend going to Typhoon in Santa Monica, CA.

My more adventurous friend ordered a plate of the fried crickets and I was impressed when he actually FINISHED it. He described the flavor as slightly grassy and reminiscent of something else, but he couldn’t pinpoint what.

The apocalypse, perhaps? I don’t know. I didn’t have the guts to try. Although I did like, in true gourmet fashion, the menu lists the provenance of the insects. Were I a connoisseur, I would have been able to debate the merits of Taiwanese crickets over say, those from Vietnam.

Instead my reaction was a pretty solid…ewwwww. Ew ew ew ew ew!

Typhoon is located at the Santa Monica airport and does serve a lot of other dishes. So even if you’re not inclined to eat bugs, you can order a drink, some non creepy crawlers, and watch the planes fly in, feeling rather continental.

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Lay on the Meat Chips!

One of my favorite things about traveling is exploring the local cuisine.
By which I mean the junk food that you get at the grocery store.

You can learn a lot about a place by what the local citizenry consider an acceptable snack food flavoring.

For example, go into any Asian grocery, and you will find prawn/shrimp flavored chips. In England, you can get “lamb and mint”, “roast chicken and thyme”, “roast beef”, as well as “prawn cocktail” chip flavors. While in France, there exists both ham AND bacon flavored chips. They are all delicious and equally bad for you.

What’s interesting is many of these chips are from the U.S. based brand, Frito Lay, makers of Lays potato chips; they simply adjust to the tastes of their consumers. So clearly the international market is not only WAY more adventurous, but considers various meats as valid flavor options.

I have no idea why this isn’t the case in the U.S., and it makes me sad. There must be something in our psyche that flinches from the idea of meat as a seasoning, because we clearly do not object to eating meat in general. Do we think there’s a slippery “meat” slope, and if we accept meat flavored potato chips, we will suddenly be awash in meaty milkshakes and steaming cups of beefy tea*?

There is also this tendency for Americans to prefer sweet over savory, so even our salty items tend to be spiked with a bit more sugar than would be found in other countries.

However, this may be changing! Americans have started to enjoy spicy much more in recent years, there’s been an uptick in hot-sauce flavored potato chips, such as Tapitio, Sriacha, as well as the continued popularity of Flaming Hot Cheetos.

Could this be the precursor to a meatier snacking future!?

Maybe! Last year, Lays introduced this:

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And while it did not win their new potato chip flavor contest, it is currently available for now.

The question, does it taste like chicken and waffles?

Well…it tastes like something kind of chicken-y. The truth is, I could do without the waffle part, but this validates my dual theories of “fear of unadulterated meat flavor” and “savory also needs to be sweet.”

They can’t hold a candle to the “Roast Chicken and Thyme” chips I had in England a few years back. I had brought a bag home to share with friends, and it’s something we still reminisce about.

(Not in a weird way…but over explaining never makes anything less odd, does it?)

*a real thing, called Bovril. For close readers and fans of Roald Dahl, Matilda in his book “Matilda” actually makes herself a cup.

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The New(ish) Hotness!

In California, the hot sauces of choice are Tabasco, Sriracha, and Tapatio. I’m guessing the provenance of sauces are something like Tex-Mex, Vietnamese-American, and Mexican…but in the last five years or so, you can basically find them in most restaurants, regardless of ethnicity. They’ve become like ketchup; ubiquitous, and really good with fries.I really didn’t like hot sauces until a few years ago, and now every time I eat something, I think “This could be a little bit spicier.”

But in a recent trip to Israel, I discovered this:

Schug

This is schug, and is pronounced  like “Zhoog”, which sounds like you’re referring to a hostile alien overlord.

But despite this, it’s delicious! I had some in a nondescript bottle at a schwarma place in Tel Aviv, and then wondered how I could get some in the States. So thrilled when I found it at an Israeli market in North Hollywood.

Anyway, I’ve put it on eggs, tuna, pretty much everything. If you want  spicy, and want to try something different, try a little “hostile alien overlord” sauce!

 

 

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