Saturday, January 24, 2009

When You're Alone . . . You Can Always Go-- Downtown!

Today was just one of those breezy, spontaneous Saturdays where I wound up doing (and eating... and drinking) quite a lot on the spur of the moment and on my lonesome. Having scrapped Plans A and B with friends (a Runyon Canyon hike and a snowboarding trip) due to the weather, I decided to swing by downtown and check out some of the events I blogged about yesterday.

Thankfully, I found a free-for-all-day spot on Main by 2nd; I am guessing the meter poles on that block are being replaced but in the meantime the only parking restriction was no rush-hour parking on weekdays. Woot!

Considering all the walking I'll be doing today, I invested in a hearty breakfast at one of my fave downtown spots: the Nickel Diner, a hipster-ish recently-restored restaurant on Main between 5th and 6th serving homestyle diner fare with a little twist.

I was tempted to order their weekend-only biscuits & gravy, but opted instead for my favorite: the 5th and Main
a spicy barbecue pork hash with potatoes topped with two fried eggs and toast on the side. While I would've liked more sauce and the pork was a tad on the dry side, it still evoked that delicious memory I had in my mind: the lovely combo of the sweet-tangy-spicy mixed in with the rich, runny yolks, the meaty shredded pork and the crispy-starchy pan-fried taters. It was a pretty filling meal and for $8.75, not too heavy on my wallet either.
Sufficiently filled (for the time being) I trekked a block and a half to check out the Western Regional Barista Competition that's going on all weekend long, with baristas and roasters from all over the West ready to show off their skills and brews. Oh yea, there's also the allure of free coffee and espresso drinks brewed by these top-tier roasters and cafés.
Things were still getting prepped when I arrived so I jotted some notes, took some photos and scored some free coffee, including that beautifully-made cappuccino above made by Verve Coffee Roasters from Santa Cruz, and it was every bit tasty as it appeared: pillowy-light foam atop a creamy brew ripe with caramel-chocolate aromas and a silky-smooth mouthfeel. Mmmm....
I only stuck around to see the first two competitors do their thing (including Nick Griffith from our local Intelligentsia) and it was amazing to see the things they were doing for their signature drinks, mixing up coffees with blueberries, creme anglaise, medjool dates, orange blosssom water; made me wish I was a judge. But I'm definitely glad I am not a contestant, on top of four trained tasting judges, there are also technique judges to make sure you're preparing, plating and cleaning up properly too. I can barely cook and mix stuff up with just me in the kitchen, let alone the pressure of a few pairs of eyes looking over my shoulders and under my armpits! Definite kudos for the baristas for keeping their cool! (For more detailed coverage of this event, check out FoodGPS' incredibly succinct live-blogging report; I also saw Mattatouille there too, so keep an eye out for something that way too.)
On top lots of premo-coffee, I also tasted goodies from CakeMonkey; a Burbank-based operation that's whipping up all sorts of single-serving delights from mini-layer cakes to cookie creme sandwiches and "pop pies." My sweet jaws couldn't resist, so I got their brown sugar-cinnamon pop pie...
that definitely hit the spot! Flaky, crumbly crust (like a shortbread) and a not-too-sugary icing and filling; just the perfect size and sweetness to satisfy my cravings without overdoing it.
Moving onto my next stop, the Barker Block BBQ party featuring sausage sandwiches and beer from Wurstkuche... for free! The place has been throwing some pretty fun events as of late, I still fondly remembered their late summer Sunset at Barker Block series in collaboration with Filter magazine, featuring DJed and live music, eclectic art shows and pop-up shops and gratis alchy. I arrived right at the beginning of the event to find the place pretty barren (I am guessing the morning rain was a turn-off), but hey, that means I get to be in front of the line for the sandwiches and beer. Bring it on!
They only have a limited selection of sausages but a good mix of safe to adventurous stuff. Probably for the better, since I found myself having trouble deciding with just 5-6 choices, let alone their full range of over 20.
Feeling edgy, I got their rattlesnake-rabbit/jalapeno sausage sandwich with caramelized onions and spicy pepper plus a bottle of Fraziskaner Hefe Weisse beer. I'm definitely glad I was at the front of the line by the time I got my sandwich, since the sausages take 8-10 minutes to grill and a small line had already formed by the time I picked mine up. Having exhausted my light, crisp and refreshing beer (though more appropriate for a winter heat wave than the current post-rain cloudy gloom,) I got their Chimay Red and topped off the sandwich with whole grain mustard.
I have little experience eating reptiles or bunnies, but the sausage sandwich was pretty good, the casing had a nice snap and the interior tasted meaty and fatty at the same time -- as if bacon was embedded within. The seasoning wasn't too strong, and actually I would've preferred it a bit spicier to go better with the Chimay and my tastebuds but all-in-all one of the better sausages I've had in a while (I also had a tasting of their mango-jalapeno-chicken sausage, which I think I like slightly better.)

Afterwards, I decided to check out Mitsuwa's closeout sale before they're gone for good on Monday -- boy, was it depressing seeing all those empty aisles.
Surprisingly, the second floor of the marketplace (which hasn't opened since it was Yaohan, I believe) was also being cleared out ... alas, I didn't see anything remaining that I'd like to buy, so I spent a little time wandering around Little Tokyo and wound up buying some accessories from the PopKiller store.
Final food stop, seeing if I can catch a Korean BBQ taco from Kogi's during their debut in San Gabriel Valley. Funny enough, when I exited their freeway I am two cars behind the truck!
While the truck made some turns to get to their designated spot, I found my street parking and headed to the site ... only to discover a huge line already in waiting.
Umm, yea, I decided to take a pass on trying these tacos -- esp. since I am already scoring an exclusive chance eating them at the Doheny on Monday! Hopefully lines will be more merciful there.

That pretty much wrapped up my delightful Saturday of eats, drinks and shops, after all the heavy dishes I've had, I can't wait to cook up a simple light dinner (an Asian-ized chicken noodle soup with ginger, veggies and soba noodles.)

Wurstküche on Urbanspoon

Intelligentsia Coffee on Urbanspoon

Nickel Diner on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

The Nickel Diner, the WRBC, free Wurstkuche and free parking in one day?! That's an epic downtown experience. Good to see you at the WRBC. Glad to see you caved and ate the Pop Pie. I ate three pastries from Cake Monkey today, all great. Can't wait until they get a retail location.

jepot said...

That's a lot of coverage for the day! Nice write-up, I'm definitely going to Wurstkuche. Great beer and sausage selection. That is funny, being two cars behind the Kogi truck. Literally on the tail of the hunt.

H. C. said...

@FoodGPS, I've had CakeMonkey before (forgot where) so I definitely remembered how yummy it was. The only thing that would've made the downtown trip truly epic was if I stuck around for happy hour at one of the downtown bars.

@Jepot, Yep - Wurstkuche is definitely worth checking out -- the food's not too pricey and incredible sausage, dip and beer selection!

mattatouille said...

nice coverage, and it was great to see you at WRBC. I'm loving downtown more and more.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi H.C.,

Wow, thanks for the pics on Mitsuwa; it's definitely sad to see them close up and see it all so empty! :(

And I had no idea Kogi has gotten so popular. I still haven't made it out to any of their stops yet, and now they travel to the SGV as well? Impressive.

fauxLAhipster said...

glad to hear your checked out the barker block party! sounds like you had quite the yummy and eventful day... i'm going to have to try some rattlesnake dog myself soon :)


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