Monday, March 15, 2010

Special Foodventures #158: The La Brea Urban Hike and Eat

Still OK to Hike on this?
Well you know how the adage goes, when life hands you lemons . . . Such was the case in the unexpected curveball of my planned Urban Hike and Eat yesterday - where my attempts to go down the entirety of La Brea was cut short by lack of pedestrian paths as it winds through Baldwin Hills, but more on that later this week on my other blog.

But the day was far from a total loss, as I still got to check out a good number of incredible eats for reasonable prices (like last month, I gave myself the R. Ray challenge of doing it under $40.)
Daybreak at Hollywood & Highland
Starting at the North end of La Brea, I started hiking down the eerily serene and silent Hollywood. No tourists, no solicitors and hardly a moving vehicle.
Susina Bakery exterior
I had intentionally planned for a breakfast at Food Lab Café or M Café de Chaya - but arrived and passed by them before opening; and so, Plan C for breakfast was at Susina Bakery--one of my favorite spots for all things baked and sugary.
Turkey & Cheese Croissant
Only this time, I went for a savory, flakey and gooey warmed-up turkey and cheese croissant ($3.75) and a super-tall cup of nutty, woodsy organic gunpowder tea ($2.50).
El Nido Sandwich Board
Continuing down La Brea, I was tempted by the likes of Campanile and La Brea bakery, but ultimately chose El Nido for my mid-morning snack fix.
Even though the truly foodventurous would get the "Bull's Egg Soup" here, I had neither that sense of daring nor that degree of hunger, so I opted instead for their nacatamal ($5). The wait for my "appetizer" took a while (approx. half-hour!) but the result was worth it. Twice as large as the Mexican tamale and easily a meal on its own, this Nicaraguan/Honduran variation was just as delicious. The masa was moist and fluffy with a fine-grained, almost couscous-like texture, and it was stuffed with a myriad of different ingredients, including potatoes, tomatoes, pork, olives and raisins. Super-filling and worth ordering again, though I made note to call ahead if I'm planning a trip here.
CJ's Cafe
South of the 10 until Baldwin Hills, the eateries were a lot less noteworthy, basically a mish-mash of various fast-food chains. The only one that popped out was CJ's Cafe, which was packed with patrons--always a good sign. Alas, I was still too full from the nacatamal to want to indulge in their "South to South-of-the-Border" cooking.

It's too bad I couldn't actually hike across Baldwin Hills, since further South on La Brea were a number of promising eateries I really looked forward to trying: including the vegan Stuff I Eat (with an intriguing Carrot Un-Tuna salad) and the Indian/Pakistani Aladdin's Halal Tandoori (with some pretty crazy lunch specials.) Another time, and when I'm on wheels, I s'pose.
Waffles and Mint Lemonade
Turning around, I decided to make my way back to Hollywood again and finally had a chance to check out Food Lab, meeting nearby Sarah the Bear. Feeling like more carbs, I got their Belgian waffle ($8) and mint lemonade ($3.50). The lemonade was too sweet (yes, even for me) and I had to water it down, and it's a pity to see bruised/blackened mint leaves floating in there. As for the waffles, it was just OK for me--more like a pancake in a waffle shape since it lacked the caramelized crispy exterior I was hoping for. The accompanying maple syrup, orange marmalade and whipped cream were top notch though. So while this meal was lackluster, I am open to giving it another try--esp. after sneaking a bite of Sarah's press-grilled three cheese sandwich w whole-seed mustard and caramelized onions. Oh yeah, for all you Dean & Deluca lovers, they stock quite a few of their food items here too... so something to get your fix satisfied while waiting for their OC store to open.
Mashti Malone's signage
With the sun beating down my back, I decided to make one final food stop at a L.A. institution (that I've yet to visit until yesterday,) Mashti Malone's - the ice creamery famous for their Persian-inspired flavors. I have been warned some flavors may be too exotic, but c'mon -- I'm a total Scoops fan, and I bet it can't get any more exotic than gorgonozola-pecan-pear (my favorite of the "weird flavors" there.)
Ginger-Rosewater Ice Cream
I tasted the ginger-rosewater ice cream and it was love at first sight so I immediately got a scoop ($3). Fragrant, spicy, creamy and sweet -- it's like having a frozen sweet lassi (I know, Indian and not Persian, but that's what it reminded me of.)
Eagle Rock Brewery Libertine
And of course, my celebratory end-of-hike beer. Since I was already in Hollywood area, I decided to trek a few blocks beyond my expected endpoint (Hollywood & Highland metro stop) to Blue Palm's Brewhouse, which was totally chill. I had intended on getting something refreshing and light and quaffable, but changed my mind upon seeing the Eagle Rock Brewery's Libertine imperial amber wit on the menu. With a wonderful spicy-green apple aroma and slightly-hefty finish, it's the beer equivalent of sampling apple pie filling before it goes into the crust and oven. And the discounted $4 price (usually $6) made this drink that much more sweeter.
Hollywood-Western Metro Stop
If I had known I would wound up getting on the Metro at the Hollywood/Western stop, I would've done a little homework for some Thai Town cheap eats to check out, but alas, after 10 hours out and about my brain isn't exactly programmed for on-the-spot eatery research, nor do my legs want to log on unnecessary extra miles, and so homeward bound I went.

And despite the detour and missing out on Inglewood-area food, I'm pretty happy with this trip too--having the opportunity to check out a variety of different eats, look for new places (the coming soon Flavors of Belize!) and once again, truly soaking in LA the way I wouldn't have just zooming by in a car.

And I'm already excited about the next Urban Hike and Eat; pretty sure it'll be on Sunday, April 18, and this time with a little O.C. love thrown in! Keep your eyes peeled closer to date!

The Bill:

Croissant & Tea at Susina + tip: $7.25
Nacatamal at El Nido + tax/tip: $7
Waffle & Lemonade at Food Lab + tax/tip: $14
Ice Cream at Mashti Malone's: $3
Beer at Blue Palms + tip: $5
TOTAL: $36.25

More photos on my flickr set here


Food GPS said...

H.C., You're a maniac. Another great idea for a hike/post. Looking forward to your next report.

Anna A. said...

Wow! What a day (and so economical!!). I've been dying to hit up El Nido and have what you had. Argh! I am a Scoops fan too...I think I've been reusing the same cup for over a year.

Gastronomer said...

I am going to join you one of these days! Maybe we should hike/eat Lake Avenue ;-)

H. C. said...

@FoodGPS, Ha, I'm still a neophyte compared to y'all in discovering new eats. But glad to finally check off some wanna-tries off my list, even if I'm going to be adding a whole lot more on.

@Anna A., hope you like El Nido too - and props to your green-ness in reusing gelato cups (I usually get mine "for here" so they give me a glass bowl.)

@Gastronomer, Lake Ave. is def. one to consider - a wee bit short for a dayhike at 5 miles, but maybe we can incorporate Fair Oaks or Hill to make it a ~10 mile loop?


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