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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

LA County Fair - Pomona

This is one of few occasions I can honestly say, I'm not just here for the food. Three years in a row I've come to see Karen perform, and every year Venardo's Circus doesn't disappoint. They always dazzle with the tried-and-true, but each year they astonish with something new.

Karen combines the elegance of hoop and T-bar for an Alice in Wonderland theme. Her performance is mesmerizing, and I watch her with bated breath as my hoop of Fried Pineapple rotisseries around a solid stick. Cooking softens the acid, and a moderate coat of batter tempers the tang.

Sweet awakens a craving for salt, and I found a gem of a pickles-in-every-way vendor. I couldn't bring myself to try pickles stuffed with nutella, but the Pickle Chips are a non-gross mini-adventure. Think salt n' vinegar chips with a little more juice and just as much crunch.

I never leave without my deep fried Oreos, but the Fried Klondike beckons just as hard. Not the best batter: ice cream ratio, but there's potential in everything fried.

Comparing fried food with the strength and artistry of an aerialist would be a stretch, but everyone goes to the fair for a reason. I go for the show, but just like everyone, I have cheat days too, and I can't think of a better place to feast.

HopSaint Brewing - Torrance

Breweries are breeding like rabbits in Torrance, and Hopsaint sits on top of a growing South Bay bucket list.

Tried all 6 beers on tap at the time, but there's so much turnover that half are probably obsolete by now. My flight covers all the bases; a light, sweet wheat; a hearty porter; some sort of stout; and a couple of bold IPAs.

Beer goes with all food, IMHO, but few pairings are better than Wood Roasted Olives. Malodorous garlic cloves lose their signature scent and turn sweet with the heat, and the olives roast smoky, into a less briny, more hearty and juicy version of themselves.

Add Deviled Eggs topped with shreds of smoked pork, and you have the fanciest picnic basket in town.

It's all gastropub grub today, and nothing hits the spot like the Pulled Pork Poutine. The potatoes soak up all the beer, and a creamy beernaise ties it all together, though it could use a little more sauce.

The Burnt End Chili is the Sunday special, and I imagine it's best consumed with football. The chili is heartburn-hearty, thick with steak tips and beans. It's practically stew, and the best part is the soft, crumbly side of cornbread.

Best of both worlds at Hopsaint, food and beer, booze and binge. Can you think of a better way to end a sleepy Sunday? Because I sure as heck still can't.
HopSaint Brewing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ju Ju Shine - Torrance

Cash n' carry is the way to go at this too-cool, too-casual, too-cute cafe.

You better be in the mood for garlic if you order the Hainan Chicken. Go garlic or go home as the thin, pungent sauce engulfs a soft-boiled chicken leg. 

Even the rice is garlicky fried, but it's some of the best rice I've had.

No guts, no glory with the garlic, but there are much gentler Taiwanese staples for those who have to return to work and breathe on their boss. They've got pork chops a-plenty, and dishes like the Minced Braised Pork Rice bowl cover all the bases. Chunks of sweet soy pork lend their sauce to the rice, and it only gets better when you mix it all together.

I love Ju Ju Shine. They have something for everyone, and they have all the best qualities attributed with the term family-owned. Whether I'm poring over a take-out pork chop on night shift or getting to know a friend over a tray of rice and soup, Ju Ju Shine makes any moment just a little more special and sweet.
Ju Ju Shine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mashawi Grill - Torrance

Rolling Hills Plaza is the no man's land of hidden gems. Dwarfed by a big Bed Bath and Beyond, in the shadow of the AMC, beyond the gaudy greens of Whole Foods, lies all the affordable good stuff... If you know where to look.

Look no farther than Mashawi, where their signature Tri-tip Shawarma Plate is meaty and messy in the best way possible. Use a generous amount of garlic sauce as this roasted cut gets heavy, and don't neglect the sides. I've never had a Yogurt like this fresh cuke-y concoction, and the silky char on the Babaganoush is a luxury.

The Chicken Shawarma Plate is flavorful and fresh, a much lighter option than the steak-on-a-spit. The Hummus here is a perfect grainy-smooth texture, sliding yet lingering.

That makes me three-for-three in the search for hidden gems in Rolling Hills. Hopefully they'll keep 'em coming.
mashawi grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, September 5, 2016

Rebel Republic Social House - Redondo Beach

I am wary of the recent Riviera gentrification project that seems to be underway, but Rebel Republic is so undeniably cool! Outdoor patio, casual inside tavern-esque bar with a modest menu of bar bites that blow my mind. Impressive beer selection but they make a decent old fashioned as well.

The brainchild of H.T. Grill's Nael Taki and Hennesey's Paul, the menu appears deceptively simple yet brings out sensations most complex.

I've had pork, I've had cheek, and I've had tacos, but I've never had these Pork Cheek Tacos. The pork is impossibly tender and shreddy-soft, as it floats beneath avocado burnt by poblano. Radish-onion salsa anchors the pillows of pork as the queso fresco enriches the mix.

They may make the best meat in the Riviera if the Short Rib Double Dipped is any indication. Short rib is so easily bland and tough, yet the slivers that slip out of this crusty baguette are almost as soft as the pork cheek and almost dynamic enough to stand alone. Add an au jus with enough elements to be a brothy soup, and you have a sandwich that rivals Phillippe.

Rebel Republic. Wow. You have to a set of brass ones to come up with a name like that, and your food better make a punch-me-in-the-face kind of impression. Bold and innovative it is not, but the meat did make one heck of a lasting memory. Delicious favorites in a fun-in-the-sun-and-shade kind of bar is hardly a rebellious concept, but they do add a spunky spin on all the things that go with beer. And damn, it does go well.
Rebel Republic Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Naples Rib Company - Long Beach

It's wedding season, and I just got back from my first this year. It was beautiful, stunning in luxury and scale, a production of epic proportions. One down, three to go.

I love the people getting married, but I will admit to a love-hate relationship with the wedding itself. The cost becomes prohibitive, especially if you earn a coveted spot next to the bride or groom, and flights can be hell. (I am writing this post from my economy-class seat next to the world's most vocal baby and a very popular bathroom.) But the list of cons ends here. More than anything, weddings are a rare opportunity to witness true love, to watch two fabulous people pooling their better qualities to add up to a sum greater than its parts.

Next year I'll have my turn. My wedding will be simple. A requisite ceremony and a reception that rocks. No tuxedoed waiters or splendid chandeliers, just a garden in the open air and a generous barbecue buffet.

They say that planning isn't easy, and I know I will agonize over every detail. I'm already finding that interracial bride and groom cake toppers do not exist. But the big decisions have been easy, and it was only a matter of minutes before I chose Naples Rib Company's Dave Ursini. I am all about his professional, yet caring demeanor, and his methodical, efficient nature leaves me no doubt about his competence.

He had me at his "appetizers", intended warm-ups that double as a meal. The steamy Spinach and Artichoke Dip is great for guests, creamy yet thick with artichoke chunks.

A basket of pulled pork and beef brisket Sliders are so filling they could be an entree of their own.

It was love at first bite for the Slow Roasted Tri Tip, a juicy chunk of beefy-got-back.

I never like chicken, but a dark meat leg of Bone-In BBQ Chicken is impossibly tender, and that smoky grill goes clear to the bone. The Sausage has a spicy kick, and the BBQ Baby Back Ribs are a classic.

The regular ribs are good, but the Luau Style Baby Back Ribs are unforgettable. That sweet and tangy pineapple paradise sauce is aptly named, and all those sides...yum! The Baked Beans are reminiscent of Boston, the Garlic Mashed Potatoes are a bite that nibbles back with a good pinch of garlic but not so much that you can't speak to the other guests, and the hearty Mac n' Cheese is as all-American as Henry Ford.

Barbecue specialists don't always make vegetables well, but their Roasted Vegetables will change your mind. They're even better in the Pasta Primavera, tossed with white wine garlic sauce and farfalle, a vegetarian option that doesn't feel like a settle.

I've never been to a tasting before, but this one was clearly too generous. There's a lot I didn't even talk about, and we were so busy eating I forgot to snap photos. Not pictured: two full-sized, well-balanced salads; a soaked-through slab of big Brisket; a clean white breast of boneless Teriyaki Chicken Breast; a Cole Slaw so good, that this slaw-hater ate the entire scoop; crumbly Cornbread loaves with honey butter; and a fire-blasted Grilled Artichoke sweet enough to be dessert.

Choosing the food you want to eat and reconciling that with what your guests want can be quite the moral quandary, but they say you don't have time to eat at your wedding anyway. I really hope that's not the case because I really don't want to miss out on Naples. Naples Rib Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pie Pie Pie - Redondo Beach

I used to love a terrible pepperoni pizza. Domino's would put a smile on my face, and Papa John's would light my night. I got older and my tastes got wiser, and I said bye bye bye to cheap delivery pie.

I moved to NYC, where the streets will make you feel brand new and the lights will inspire you... And you can get a floppy, foldable slice of no-frills, all-thrills New York pizza on every corner of every street. I never thought I'd find that kind of comfort in Cali, but Pie Pie Pie is along those lines. Their White Pizza blends three cheeses on thin-crust, and it pans out quite nicely with a zest of garlic and just enough grease to be believable. Not quite New York, but an enjoyable New York style with a little less street.

The pizza hits the spot, but they sell more savory pies than pizza pies. The Beef Pie is crusty, full of well-seasoned ground beef, packed dense but lightened by onions and shrooms. The chicken curry looks great too, but that'll have to wait til next time.

Nowadays, I rarely go out for pizza, and I can't stand the smell of a chain. Pie Pie Pie is so much more than that, and their pizza is so much better. A family-owned vibe with good food, individuality, and unique savory pies... Yes yes yes!
Pie Pie Pie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato