Saturday, February 13, 2010

Special Foodventures #153: Urban Hike and Eating Off Streets!

Who knew being indecisive would lead to one of my most exhilarating foodventures yet?

It all started with the buzz about the L.A. Street Food Fest, where I contemplated dropping $30 for the VIP ticket. But wishy-washy, procrastinating me hemmed and hawed for days on whether to buy now or later and lo and behold, they sold out. But instead of thinking like a rational person and just go for the general admission $5 ticket instead, a bug in my head went "What if...?"
And that's exactly the path I chose, deciding on spending $40 (or less) and have a traveling foodventure for the day -- hike along the streets, admiring the city sights and stopping at eateries as I please. No lines, no crowds, no rush -- and me being no stranger to multi-food stops, long hikes, or even a combination of the two... no problem! (yes, I realize my budget is exactly the same as Rachael Ray's show -- I have no intentions of trying to one-up her... I simply figured two Jacksons is probably how much I'd blow on food and drinks at the festival anyways, if not more!) -- and indeed, that's only $35 in the photo... I was banking on at least one place to take plastic even for small sales.
Before I embarked on the Metro to Union Station to start my hike, I decided some hearty nourishment is in order if I'm going to do a 20-mile stroll to the ocean. Thanks to FoodGPS' intel, I found out that Tip Top's Sandwiches, raved by him, Mattatouille (and oh yeah, the LA Times) as one of the best banh mis shops in SoCal, has a new location in Rosemead that opens at 5 a.m. -- plenty of time for me to grab a bite and hop on the rail.
I got the BBQ Pork sandwich for $3.45+tax and it was pretty good stuff, I'm particularly impressed by the baguette's quality (a light crisp, with a chewy-tender-spongy interior) and the buttery mayo spread, well worth the extra premium in price. On the other hand, this sandwich was just too meaty. One of the things I love about a good banh mi is its perfectly balanced ensemble of savory meat, sweet-and-sour pickled veggies, creamy spread, aromatic cilantro and the occasional spicy bite of pepper. In this sandwich, the meat is the definitive diva with all the other ingredients relegated to supporting, even cameo, roles. But hey, if you're one to think banh mis are skimpy on the meat, this may be the place to go. Nonetheless, I'm already envisioning the perfect banh mi with Tip Top's bread and spread and Banh Mi My Tho's proportion of ingredients.
After getting off Union Station away on a hike I went, starting through Olvera Street, then working my way onto C├ęsar Chavez until it turned into Sunset (2008 GreatLAWalkers may remember this route!) I was actually surprised by my stride and pace as I passed through Chinatown, Echo Park and Silver Lake in an hour. Not that I had any stops, most places were not opened yet and I'm still full from the banh mi. But great to finally know where the likes of Park Restaurant and Two Boots Pizza are.
Since I'm too full to eat, I detoured my way off Sunset onto Silver Lake and into La Mill for a cup of Guatemala La Flor de Cafe for $4 + tax/tip, a rich, earthy, slightly chocolaty brew that hits the spot.
I also noticed an installed rack with wine glasses, and found out that today was their first day of serving beer/wine/sake (unfortunately in the afternoon, too late for me!) -- but I made a note to return in the near future to check out their alchy offerings, especially after the hostess said it'll be totally unique with a lot of coffee- and tea-infused concoctions!
Jubiliant (or maybe jittery) from the joe, I continued down the familiar GreatLAWalk trail until I hit my next stop, Falafel Arax on corner Santa Monica and Melrose, which I've never been but remembered reading good reviews about (esp. as a cheap eat,) not to mention some egging on by a graffiti I saw earlier on the hike.
So in I went and I got a falafel to snack on now, and a falafel pita sandwich for later ($5 plus tax for the two.) That freshly-fried falafel was amazing! Zingy with herb flavors, a texture of loose ground meat, and a freaking crisp, not-so-greasy exterior. Now I kinda wish I backtracked and ordered another one (dozen...) of those 50-cent suckers. But, onward I went.
Remembering the bleh-ness of Santa Monica Blvd. until West Hollywood, I decided to diverge from the GreatLAWalk trail for now and went down Normandie onto Melrose. Unfortunately for my tastebuds (but probably better for the wallet) I wound up being too early for the likes of Scoops and Mozza2Go and kicking myself that I forgot to bring my Larchmont Larder Groupon. But at least now I have a better idea of where restaurants are in the nebulous "Mid-City."
My next stop wound up being at DomaineLA, which was actually open before noon! Owner Jill Bernheimer, who I met at a Ludobites dinner a while back (and was in charge of the fun winelist at its latest pop-up in Royal/T) was an absolute doll, talking to me about various wines (including, obviously, great bubblies for Valentine's,) letting me refill my water bottle (and a little floor mopping when I made a mess pouring-Oops!) and chit-chatting about various eats and drinks topics.
But what stunned me was when she gracious sold me a half-bottle of Minetto Prosecco for a penny (a technicality since law/license/permit wouldn't allow her to give wine!) So many thanks for that unexpected pleasant surprise!
Continuing down Melrose, I actually did a little bit of fun windowshopping at the numerous vintage and designer stores -- and then spotted a mini gathering of food trucks (Lee's Philly Gogi, iKimchi21 and Bullkogi.) Were they not invited LA Street Food Fest? Did they politely decline? Or did other vendors already there not appreciate the competition in similar category? Who knows. Alas, I passed up on food truck nosh since I still have the falafel wrap in my backpack, and I was actually in the mood for something chilly in the high noon heat . . .
. . . which I found in the form of Scoops Guava Yuzu Sorbet ($2) at The Golden State.
Sufficiently chilled but still craving sweets, I decided to check out LA bakery institution Sweet Lady Jane, a place I haven't been in *years* since I had the impression they had atrocious service and an uncomfortable vibe. However, the staff is fairly friendly today, so maybe I was just there on an off-day in the past. The space, on the other hand, is still fairly cramped and stuffy, so I opted for a cherry scone to go for $2.50. Prosecco, pastry, sandwich -- it'll be a perfect picnic lunch!
Or perhaps not . . . turns out my original locale for lunching (the West Hollywood park across from Pacific Design Center) is fenced off and undergoing some major construction work - so I hiked another 20 minutes to the Beverly Hills greenbelt. Then, I found out the prosecco is not twist-top (and I'm sans bottle opener); oh well, no risk of public drunkeness citation then! And lastly, the wrap left me so full I didn't get a chance to taste the scone.
As for the wrap itself, it wasn't bad -- the falafel is obviously soggy by now, and I could've done with less yogurt dressing, but it was flavorful and filling.
Definitely not looking presentable by Beverly Hills standards (though not as atrocious as the above silver dung sculpture), I decided to stay on Big Santa Monica Blvd's greenbelt until I reached Century City, where I got a favorite treat from a favorite place...
Ginger Limeade from Clementine for $2.50 -- score! (and yes, I was tempted by their pastry case too, but I still have the scone in my backpack so managed to resist picking up more -- even the nanaimo bar!)
The final 6-8 miles crossing was an alternating mix of boredom (strip malls, mechanics and auto lots *yawn*) and indecision (should I detour to Diddy Riese? Or maybe something from Crepe Nazi?) But in the end, I wound up just gawking and photoing places I haven't had a chance to try yet (e.g. Il Grano, Echigo Sushi)
And around 4:30 p.m. -- I've reached the pier! My goal was to get there before sunset, so seeing the sun still high and shining definitely brightened my mood!
My body, on the other hand, is having enough of all the meat, dairy and baked carbs that I ate so far today -- it's practically screaming "GIMME SOME FRUIT OR I'LL SHUT DOWN!!!" So, I obliged - instead of Happy Hour snacking at The Yard, Bar Pintxo or FIG, I wound up going to Real Food Daily, where I got the priciest item of the day, an antioxidant smoothie at $5.95 + tax/tip. A pretty penny even for smoothie standards, but I do appreciate that it's non-dairy (bananas and ice were primary thickener, along with mixed berry juice, raspberries, blueberries and acai) and that it's not-too-sweet.
Sufficiently satisfied with finally getting the daily fruit allowance, I paid a visit to my favorite Santa Monica bar Copa d'Oro -- where I enjoyed chatting with mixologist Vincenzo and checking out their $5 happy hour cocktail menu. Feeling I need something potent for the ride home, I got the Affinity - scotch mixed with extra dry and sweet vermouths, dash of orange bitters and orange peel. So basically, a perfect scotch manhattan on the rocks, which did the trick in mellowing me out on the bus ride home . . .
. . . along with some indie pop tunes on my mp3 player (especially the Idyllists, who had a fun album release party and performance last night) and some quirky, intriguing articles in the latest New Yorker (especially the ones about mules in military and how culture is tied to alcoholism.) I'm surprised I stayed awake the whole ride back!
After a comparatively speedy one-hour bus trip to get back to Union Station, I hopped on the Gold Line and made one final budget-friendly stop, the Metro special offered by Pasadena's La Grande Orange (right at the Del Mar stop.) Just show your stub and you only pay $1 for your choice of draft beer, house red/white wine or their housemade white sangria (w fruit chunks and I believe peach brandy.) I saw they had the very quaffable and refreshing Eagle Rock Brewery's Manifesto Witbier on tap, so that's what I got. A great way to wrap things up for the day.
Oh yes, the Sweet Lady Jane cherry scone! Finally had it when I got home -- love the fresh-tasting cherries, and the scone's flaky butteryness, but could be a tad more sweet. Definitely will be back for other sweets (especially the berry cake Jill recommended!)

Now, let's do it Rachael Ray style and break down the money spent (except without the creative accounting or stiffing on gratuity)

Banh mi @ Tip Top's + tax: $3.77
Coffee @ La Mill + tax/tip: $5
Falafel & Falafel Sandwich @ Falafel Arax + tax: $5.49
Sorbet @ Golden State (no tax): $2
Scone @ Sweet Lady Jane (no tax): $2.5
Ginger Limeade @Clementine (no tax): $2.5
Smoothie @ Real Food Daily + tax/tip: $7.53
Cocktail @ Copa d'Oro + tip: $6
Beer @ La Grande Orange + tip: $2
Total Spent on Food/Drink: $36.79 (woohoo!)

Too bad the $3.21 isn't enough change to get my feet a much needed massage even in the SGV!

Nonetheless, today was just a delight, from checking out new places, to revisiting familiar ones, even just wishful thinking fantasies of places I wish I could go (Mmm, Providence, Osteria Mozza, the new Hatfield's...) And the 8-hour hike was just blissful therapy for the body and mind (not to mention some serious calorie burn to offset my indulgences today.)

Finally, and not meaning to get all award showy here, while I did hike solo -- this foodventure and blogpost was collectively inspired by quite a few muses, so thanks to:

*Of course, the LA Street Food Fest for planting that seed in my head; SauceLA & UniqueLA, props to corraling all those trucks into one spot, hope it was a success and that there's a bigger & better next rendition!
*GreatLAWalk, started by Franklin Avenue, for nurturing my love of urban hikes and discovering Los Angeles on foot!
*The rockstar of multi-stop eating Food Marathon, obviously!
*LA Weekly's J Gold and SinoSoul for their "eating through an entire street" projects -- something I can only dream of and look up to.
*workout-vigilant bloggers (particularly Diana Takes a Bite, Active Foodie and Gastronomer) for showing me that a love of food and staying in shape aren't mutually exclusive; in fact, it can even be done together!
*The folks who supported me today via twitter replies, DMs and text messages; you know who you are!
*Last but not least, my alma mater -- whose four years have shown a fast-paced, harried, usually-caffeinated, urbanite me the pleasures of slowing down, soaking in the senses and savoring every bit of it!

Full flickr set of today's urban hike and eat foodventures here (photo descriptions to be added soon) -- I'm already excited about doing another one in March. Perhaps less than 21 miles & 8 hours next time . . .
And to all the tasty food trucks and food pals I missed seeing today, hope to see you around town in the near future. Maybe you'll see me doing another crazy urban hike n eat!


Gastronomer said...

What a kick @$$ day, H.C. Holla at me the next time you embark on an urban hike. I'd totally be down!

Anonymous said...

This was fantastic! I felt like I was with you the whole way and I didn't have to even walk a block!

sean said...

sounds great! i almost want to join you next time!

Food GPS said...

This was a fun idea for a Street Food Fest alternative. This further reinforces your reputation as an indomitable food blogger.

Next time you're at the corner of Santa Monica & Normandie, try the pork patties at Spicy BBQ, or the Armenian flatbreads at Sasoun.

Food, she thought. said...

This may be my favorite post of yours ever!!!! I love taking the bus around town for fooding and boozing, but I never considered a walk all the way to the ocean. I am SOO feeling this!!!

BTW, the joy of banh mi (imo) is in the small amount of meat balanced by the veg.

What a beautiful day!

Jess said...

Looks like a grand way to enjoy a beautiful February day in L.A.! The grand total seems like a relative bargain, too, given the amount of amusement and good eats; the calorie count on the other hand... ;)

H. C. said...

@Gastronomer & @Sean, my next one is tentatively scheduled for March 14 - keep your eyes peeled and calendars marked ;)

@JustJENN, thanks!

@FoodGPS, haha--replace "indomitable" with "insane" please. I spotted the Spicy BBQ place during the hike, will take note for next time.

@Food she thought, thanks! hopefully you'll be inspired to do an on-foot hike and eat too!

@Jess, I figured I burned about a 100 calories per mile... so def. not feeling bad about all that I snarfed up that day. And I could've done way worse if not for bad timing/planning (Larchmont Larder, Mozza2Go, Scoops!)

Esi said...

I;m super impressed. I hope I get an invite to the next time!

Diana said...

8 hours? That's crazy impressive! Let me know if you ever want to meet up for a berry cake date at Sweet Lady Jane - I live less than 3 blocks away and have been dying to try it as well!

And thank you for the shoutout!

Nooshin said...

Your $30 was far better invested in this wonderful adventure than the LA Street Food Fest. How did you come up with your agenda anyways? I would have jumped on a good drink by the time you made it to La Mill perfect time of day and no driving to get in the way. Let us know what you go back for the "alchy offerings". I still haven't been able to make it out to try their "Black & Black" that I keep reading about online. You HAD to end with the picture of that scone, huh? Now you have me slobbering and craving a cherry scone. PFFT! Thanks for your detailed writeup. It was really a mouthwatering adventure that I was glad to be a part of.

Kung Food Panda said...

Just amazing HC.....I don't know if I could do this!

Jill said...

Thanks for stopping by HC! Can't believe you made it so far so quickly, all on foot. Amazing!

bagnatic said...

oh i love this! walking is my first love, even before food. i'm like forrest gump but at a slower pace. great job and loved this post.


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