Follow the culinary adventures and misadventures of the Cooking Agents (Ray and Katie). Watch as we eat/cook our way into adulthood.
To know me is to know the fish taco. A bold sentence that barely scratches the surface of my intense love for this tasty gem.
In 2008, I began my love affair of a lifetime. It happened during senior week, when emotions and my fast metabolic appetite ran high. I arrived back to BU after being up all night at Mohegan Sun, only to be shuffled onto another bus and off to Martha’s Vineyard. I was exhausted. I still remember clear as day, Krissie telling me I was passed out the entire bus ride to the ferry. Of course by passed out, she was nicely telling me that I was snoring
lightly with my giant trap wide open for all bus occupants to see and hear. I’m sure I was greatly appreciated.
This picture summarized our trip. We threw rocks… lots of them. Mind you, this was early June, MV’s off season. The other portion of the day was spent on a 4+ hour adventure, biking around all parts of Martha’s Vineyard. We got lost, mostly because we deviated to find a bathroom, which was conveniently located at a Stop and Shop very off course.
The day was wrapped up in a hard shell. That’s right! A fish taco and a nice cold Corona brought my long day to a close. By far, Martha’s Vineyard was the most fun I’d had doing any sort of physical activity for a long time. 4 hours of exercise = not having to feel bad about skipping the gym for my entire senior year. Mind you, my logic hasn’t changed over the past 3+ years.
I’m not sure if it was the fact that I was famished or whether it truly was the greatest meal I’d ever had, but that grossly unauthentic fish taco was the most superb piece of food I ever put in my mouth. Thankfully, Yelp has since guided me to some of the “holy grails” of fish tacos in the greater Boston area — El Pelon Taqueria (which subsequently closed due to fire), Dorado Tacos, La Verdad, etc. Oh yes. You savory little morsels will be mine!
Wah! No longer available!
On Ray and my recent trip to the west coast, it shouldn’t come as a shocker that the ultimate San Diego fish taco was on our list. After a very long day at Mission Beach and a few rides on the Giant Dipper, we found ourselves at El Zarape in University Heights. I went for the classic fish tacos – one grilled and one fried. The grilled was a nice flavorful piece of mahi mahi and the fried was your average piece of white fish encased by a very light fried shell. The fish taco is humble served in a warm corn tortilla with tomatoes, shredded cabbage or lettuce, and a healthy squirt of white sauce. Add a very cold Corona and you are transported to flavor town.
Between the Corona and Ray, I’d choose the Corona (Sorry Ray!)
Grilled and Fried Fish Taco from El Zarape // my specialty, seared tuna fish tacos
Fish Taco and Carne Asada Taco from Lolita’s in San Diego
Random fish taco pic from Hawaii (circa 2008) I found on my phone
Now I want to go run to Whole Foods and make my own. Yes, the pescado taco de la casa!!!! Arrriiiiiiiba! I know, I get very excited.
Having a good 2 months to try and plan a weeks worth of eats was no easy task, especially with all the available burger options in southern California. I started narrowing down my search by categorizing burgers into classic and gourmet. I wound up with Father’s Office and Umami Burger for gourmet, Hodad’s and In N Out Burger for classic. Sadly, we decided to be responsible and only ended up eating at Father’s Office and In N Out.
Oasis and Cool Down
During our beach day in Santa Monica, we decided to take a 2 mile hike from the pier to Father’s Office to “earn” our burger. After worrying about getting seats, we were able to easily grab a table as it was already 2pm. The lunch crowd trickled down, while still holding enough patrons to keep it from being completely barren. Another perk of Father’s Office is that you have to be 21 to enter so no kids or teens.
We ordered 3 office burgers, a basket of sweet potato fries and beer. The burger was served on an elongated sub like bread and topped with a arugula, Gruyere, Maytag blue cheese and a caramelized onion and bacon compote that was something out of a dream I had a few years ago when I decided that I did in fact love onions. We weren’t able to choose how we wanted the burger cooked, but it came out about between a medium and medium well. It was so juicy that I didn’t even care. The burger was delicious and was more filling than I thought. Sadly, the meat patty took a backseat to the compote though I’m sure that it would have been great by itself. Be sure not to skip the sweet potato fries that were crispy and hot without being overcooked, which is what I run into too frequently with sweet potato fries. The fries also came with a garlic aoli that could kill any vampire within breathing distance so have mints or gum handy. Although I won’t say that Father’s Office had the best burger I’ve ever eaten, I will say that the Office Burger was among the top 3 gourmet burgers I’ve tried and would highly recommend it to others visiting LA or Santa Monica.
Artists at Work
Pour Some In N Out On Me!
On the final leg of our trip back in LA, we hit up a few different bars for cocktails before heading back home when Katie decided to be a complete genius and use the late night dining chip on In N Out before we headed back to my friend’s place for the night. This marked my second visit to In N Out ever and the first time armed with knowledge of the secret menu. I ordered a double double animal style and another t-shirt, which I’m still deciding whether or not to wear to work tomorrow. I passed on the fries since I remembered not liking them that much on the first go around. However, after stealing a few from my friend’s, In N Out fries are back in my good graces and will be an option on my next visit. They were crisp, hot and had plenty of fluffy potato goodness in them. The burger itself was a lot greasier than I remembered. The wrapping it came in was turning translucent as Katie was busy snapping pictures, but oh man did that grease translate well into flavor. I’ve never met a juicier thin patty burger and writing these words are making me visibly angry that there are 45 states in this great country that do not have access to a fresh In N Out burger. If a presidential candidate wants the fatty vote, here’s an idea: RUN ON THE IN N OUT FOR ALL STATES party.
Ramen. Just typing those five letters brings me back to late college nights, where fears of getting cancer or permanent brain damage from microwaving food in Styrofoam went completely out the window. I’m not proud of myself, no.
I was first introduced to this stuff by my younger cousin, Laura. I recall being at my grandparents’ house and seeing little Laura probably no more than 10, eating out of the ubiquitous styrofoam cup. I had a very limited scope of exposure to ramen before college. I knew Nissin’s Cup of Noodles from Laura and one “weird” girl from high school used to munch on uncooked ramen. I don’t know how she stored it, but it was as if her left blazer pocket was a bottomless pit of broken noodles (GAG).
I went into college having a pretty negative outlook on these seemingly innocuous noodles. Well, you know what they say about college… it’s your time to “experiment”. Hit the books, hit the bottle, hit the ramen block (the shin ramyun block to be exact). Somehow by the grace of God, I managed to evade the freshman 15 and other heinous weight gains in college. Don’t worry, I’m expecting that to catch up to me soon (starting with this trip’s terrible eating decisions). Since graduation in 2008, I’ve succumbed to the ramen monster maybe three times? Not too shabby, if you ask me!
Well, this past attack was a full fledged blow. It wasn’t the normal moment of weakness I experience. This was premeditated. Ivy, Ray, and I headed into the heart of Little Tokyo and we waited. Yes, we waited 45 WHOLE MINUTES … for ramen!
Heading into Little Tokyo Plaza
Enjoying some red bean treat while we wait // A very appropriate neon noodle sign!
Long ass line at Daikokuya Ramen
After some toying with hearts – there were three “Ray” parties on the wait list, we were finally called into the temple of noodledom. Because we had ample time to decide what we wanted, we ordered immediately. One tuna sashimi appetizer and three daikoku ramen combos – one tonkatsu, one shredded pork, and one teriyaki eel (not pictured).
Ramen packed with noodles, boiled egg, scallions, bean sprouts, and sliced pork
NOT tuna sashimi // closeup on that fatty sliced pork (Chashu
tonkatsu and shredded pork
The verdict? The tonkotsu, not to be confused with tonkatsu, soup base was so rich. TonkAtsu – pork cutlet; TonkOstu – very creamy, pork bone based broth. I know, very confusing. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Taking that quote completely out of context, the broth managed to have a profound and very rich flavor while still being subtle. After eating half of the delightfully thin, springy noodles in my bowl and a few bites of my pork cutlet and Ivy’s shredded pork, I realized that yet again my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I woefully admitted defeat and couldn’t even bring myself to eat the boiled egg, which Ray said was delicious.
Ray and I both agreed we liked the noodles best and regretted getting combos, as I would have easily given up my pork cutlet to make more room for the noodles. Ivy’s shredded pork was by far the best rice bowl. Sweet, thick sauce on pieces of pork belly really can’t be beat.
While Daikokuya may not broken my vow of less ramen, it did show me if you can’t beat the ramen monster, EAT the ramen monster (in moderation, of course).
With recommendations from friends, Yelp, TV shows and food blogs, our eating itinerary began to fill itself with fried chicken, hot dogs, tacos and burgers. After eating said foods in LA Saturday through Monday, we decided we had to slow down for the sake of our health and well being. We arrived in San Diego Monday night and proceeded to skip dinner, giving ourselves some time to rest and cleanse a bit. The following day, the original plan for BBQ was set aside for something close to the hotel, cheap and somewhat “healthier”. Normally, this leads to a shitty salad or mediocre sandwich with a side greens, but The Kebob Shop had other plans.
The Kebob Shop received glowing reviews on Yelp and was only a block away from our hotel. The store was clean, brightly lit and had friendly employees. Katie ordered the falafel and I ordered the lamb döner kebab. After hearing our names called, we headed to the counter and our eyes met the best falafel and lamb wraps we’ve ever had.
Both were neatly wrapped in warm, thin flatbreads. The feeling of unwrapping presents near the holidays came to mind. Meat and fixings (greens, garlicky yogurt, and a side of hot sauce) were evenly distributed and conveniently wrapped, enabling us to enjoy the first half of the meal without having to unravel the wax paper and foil. The shaved lamb meat was tender and juicy, well seasoned with some crunchy lettuce, cucumbers, onions and tomatoes to complement.
Lamb döner kebab in yo face!
Alternating each bite with a little kebob, I was quickly dreading the moment when I would finish the meal. “I think I’ll be sad when this is over,” I admitted to Katie. The meal consisted of sighs and disbelief of how delicious and consistent each bite was able to deliver. As I took my last bite, I felt as if I had lost a dear friend.
So far, of the meals I’ve had on this trip, The Kebab Shop would be the one I would have the hardest time passing up for a second visit when there is still so much to eat.
Katie, Ivy, and Ray — three very full traveling companions, at the famous Chinese Theatre
Guess what? We’re alive and posting from California!
This trip has been a long time in the making. After finally passing my last CPA exam this past February, I was able to make the executive decision to inject more fun into my life. Why not round out my first summer of freedom with a foodie fueled west coast adventure with old college friends I haven’t seen for years. Yes, you read that correctly. YEARS.
Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. By a stroke of luck neither Ray nor I typically experience, we were able to fly safely out of Logan Airport Saturday morning right before Irene hit Boston. We were greeted by a very friendly and familiar face, Ivy who flew into LAX from Palo Alto.
Once we got our big bear hugs out of the way, we headed out to Roscoe’s for some rib sticking chicken and waffles. Having never experienced this before, I was more than ready to fill my quota of true “soul” food.
We each ordered southern style fried chicken (dark meat obviously!) with waffles. In a total gratuitous act of fatness, we ordered a large plate of chicken chili cheese fries. Let it be known, we’ve made a lot of decisions like this one since the first day.
What arrived was a plate full of crispy fried chicken (disappointingly, a breast and a drumstick — seriously, white meat puts the BOO in boob), two golden waffles, a heaping ice cream scoop of butter and a small cup of syrup. Whether or not it was pure maple was debatable.
After I took it all in, I found myself in a conundrum. Is this finger food/knife and fork food/a mixture of both? My comrades took different approaches as Ivy started eating her drumstick with her fingers (a girl after my own heart) and Ray went in with his utensils. I did some kind of unassertive mix of both. Am I supposed to have a bite of waffle and then a separate bite of chicken? Do I put the chicken on the waffle and let some of the grease fill up the nooks and crannies? Should I sandwich the chicken between the two waffles and risk exposing my true barbaric eating habits to the regular patrons? Am I supposed to be this boggled by soul food?
Once I decided to stick to utensils and take a bite of everything all at once, the myriad of flavors exploded in my mouth. This reminded me of one of my staple favorites, bacon doused in maple syrup and not just drizzled, but poured with a very heavy hand. Savory and sweet, not battling, but dancing together in frenetic excitement.
The chicken chili cheese fries were a sad plate of not surprisingly very soggy french fries. Though the additional pieces of chicken thigh dotting the dish were fun, I have nothing further to say about these.
This was my first experience with chicken and waffles and though I’m sure this particular experience is not going to set the golden standard for me, it certainly was eye opening. I think of all of the food out there that has not crossed my path and realize the new experiences are really endless. I’m just lucky that I have food companions that are more than willing to take on the new adventures with me.