Friday, May 28, 2010

Idol Worship

I make no attempt to think that this blog, this quest, is an original pursuit. As I have said here and to people I talk to, even the press, my spiritual guide and inspiration in food writing is the one and only:

Anthony Bourdain

Without spiraling out of control and gushing like an out-of-control groupie...let me say that to me he embodies the ethos of the thoughtful rebel as he travels the world looking for unique food experiences, using them to learn more about the people and places he visits. I appreciate that he seeks out his fellow rebels and misfits from the culinary, literary and artistic worlds, inviting them to share their foods and the places they call home. Whether it be eating Voodoo Donuts in Portland with Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk (I will say I maybe had Anthony beat here because I did the same with a beautiful woman as my guide), eating sausage in Cleveland with comic book artist Harvey Pekar, drinking hawaiian cocktails in a tiki bar with David Johansen of the New York Dolls or sharing a meal of fresh fish with Spanish food revolutionary Ferran Adria; Bourdain uses food as a way to tell deeper stories about what it's like to live or grow up in the places he visits.

I've tried to take the same approach- using the experience of sharing a meal at an out of the way place to tell a story about Sacramento or some of the interesting experiences I or people I know have had living and growing up here. It may not be as good, or as cool as the things that Bourdain does, but it's certainly fun for me and the people I con into going with me and, hopefully, for you, the reader, as well. I know have, and will probably continue to, take little non-food detours as well, but if he can do it, so will I.

So why am I gushing about Mr. Bourdain today?


Yes, you read it correctly:


I had to pass this on, because if you read this blog, you either already are or aren't yet a fan of his and would certainly want to have an evening listening to him talk about food and travel.

He will be appearing at the Memorial Auditorium on Friday, September 17th at 8pm.

I am going to be there, and if you are a fan of food, street food, travel, or all of the above, you ought to be there too!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Love Letters

Who is Ketty Lester?

Quick!'s a hint:

Hm...stumped? Or maybe just disturbed by the hint?

Uh...ok...then here's Ketty Lester:
(You get a star next to your name if you already knew and a smiley face if you needed the hint)

See, you knew who Ketty Lester is!

[If you're still scratching your head, then I don't know what to tell you...]

She sang the song Love Letters, which is one of the most beautiful, seductive, and longing ballads I know. The song was recorded in 1961, originally done by singer Dick Haymes in 1945, and was actually released as a b-side. It went on to sell over a million copies as radio djs preferred it to the a-side (I'm a Fool to Want You for those who like useless facts). Most of you, or us, or at least me, remember it from the soundtrack to the movie Blue Velvet, by David Lynch.

The movie came out in 1986 and I was WAY to young to watch such a disturbing movie. However, a revival of the movie in the early 90s due to the popularity of Lynch's epically disturbing and provocative TV series Twin Peaks brought it back to the big screen in Sacramento to the Crest Theater for midnight viewings. That is where I first saw it, the summer between my junior and senior year (or was it the summer after I graduated from high school? It's all such a blur now) with my circle of friends- a group of artsy misfits (outcasts would be too strong a word) who appreciated things just outside of the mainstream. I don't even remember how it was that we all exactly became friends. Some of us were varsity athletes. Some of us were artists. Some of us were writers. Some of us were nerds. Some of us were all of the above. What is most amazing is that nearly 20 years after first finding each other, the core of us remain close; in spite of times apart, successes, failures, rehab, marriage, divorce, kids, etc. The older I get, the more I value these friendships because I know I can always count on and trust my boys (and one girl) from Christian Brothers. And strange as it is, whenever we get together, I still feel like I'm back in high school, borrowing the parents' car, already thinking of the excuse for staying out past curfew, trying not to get into too much trouble.

Now that we're all, for the most part, back living in Sac, we have started a new semi-tradition of the Gentleman's Breakfast- once a month on a saturday, just the guys. It's good to reconnect, stay in touch, grounded. We've kind of slipped on that the last month or so and put together a Gentleman's Dinner.

"I am not going to be in your fucking blog!"

And I love you too Jacques...
[*For some reason he didn't want his "real" name used here, so I'll call him Jacques, which is what I use to address him when I call him on the phone]

"But this whole journey is your idea," I argued...It really was.

Jacques moved back to Sac recently after living in the Bay Area for years. He is a fellow gastronome, though his tastes lean more toward Asian food. As of late, he's been on a Korean food kick- on an ongoing quest for good Korean chicken. Knowing my quest for Hood Food, he'd been telling me about a Korean chicken place he'd heard about in Rancho Cordova. It was his idea to have the Gentleman's Dinner out there.

So with Jacques driving and Larry riding shotgun we headed to East Sac to go pick up our friend Carey and head out Highway 50 to Bradshaw Road. Rancho Cordova. The Hood.

As we talked about marriage and kids, the 3 married and kids guys and me the divorced one, we made our way further and further away from the comfort zone of the grid.

"What's this place called?"

"Pizza and Chicken Love Letter," answered Jacques.

Larry, Carey and I weren't sure whether to be very stoked or very afraid.

Yes, those are fuel tanks in the background

What font is that?

Can you read Korean?
(also, I'd like to think Club Silk Too is the Korean, Rancho Cordova version of the Mexican, Franklin Boulevard, Club La Pantera)

The grocery next door where they don't sell batteries

We arrived at the weed surrounded strip mall near the old drive-in theater, a place that had certainly seen better days. The parking lot was empty, save for a smattering of cars, which was not unexpected on a Monday evening. I actually went into the market here because the batteries in my camera died. I did get a little kick out of the fact that in spite of this being a predominantly Asian hood, it was Latinos carrying boxes in to and stocking the place. Gotta love California's diversity...They didn't have batteries and if they did, I wouldn't have known where to look because everything in the place was Asian with all signs and products bearing Asian script. Luckily I had some in my jacket...

I would really like to come back on a Friday night around midnight...just because

Ok, this is the second Asian restaurant I've been to with a waterfall in the entryway

I'm now starting to think as paintings of churches are to Mexican restaurants, so are waterfall murals to Asian restaurants. I like it though. It gives a place a kind of funky, downhome feel to it. We were greeted and seated by another Latino...ah the irony. It reminded me of a reverse situation where I found a little Mexican joint in Manhattan that was completely run by Asians. God bless America!

We sat in a cozy wooden booth surrounded by posters of very hot Asian women doing their best to entice men to buy certain brands of beers.

One of their booths

Yes, I think I would buy a beer from her...and I don't drink anymore
(I'd give it to Jacques though...)

This is what illiteracy looks like

The four of us settled in and looked at our menus, deciding what to get. Let me assure you, the name is no lie. There are only two things to get here...literally: Pizza and Chicken.



This made me happy. As I've said before, citing my food guru/idol Anthony Bourdain, you have to love a place that only has a few things on the menu. Better to do a few items well, than to do a bunch of items mediocre. Even more so, I was loving the fact that this was a Korean joint that was doing just pizza and chicken. It was a bit surreal, but in a good way.

We decided to just order a bunch of food and share it family style.

Our Order:
Bulgogi Pizza
Fried Chicken
Sweet & Mild Chicken
Hot & Spicy Chicken

Bulgogi is Korean-style barbecued beef, marinated in soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil and sugar. We all thought this was an interesting thing to put on a pizza. I was curious about the sweet potato pizza on the menu, but alas, I was overruled.

After we ordered, our server brought us some daikon radish in a pool of vinegar and dill, along with some spicy cabbage as an appetizer.

Love the name on the case you forget where you are

I have to be honest. I'd never had daikon before. Being Mexican, it reminded my of jicama, the cool, refreshing root that my people eat, though with lime and salt. I also enjoyed the spiced up cabbage with the thousand island-ish dressing. It didn't take long for out feast to arrive, with us being the only people there.

Hot & Spicy Chicken

Fried Chicken

Sweet & Mild Chicken

Bulgogi Pizza and Hite Beer (For Larry & Jacques)

2-Liter of Coke for Carey and Aaron

With a pile of napkins to go along with our feast, we dug in. From the start, we realized that the napkins would be of no use to us. So much sauce. We gave up on trying to wipe our dirty little hands as we ate and just kept on eating.

Dexter after a kill, or Carey demolishing chicken?

The spicy chicken was definitely spicy, in an Asian chili pepper way, as opposed to a more Mexican jalapeño way. It had pleasant undertone of citrus sweetness that tempered the heat. Even though it was drowned in sauce, the chicken skin stayed nicely crispy, as was the case with the sweet & mild chicken. The fried chicken was nice in that it wasn't greasy, just light and crispy.

We were all impressed with the quality of the chicken and the way it was cooked. It wasn't dry, like you sometimes get at restaurants of ill repute. Also, there was a lot of meat on the bone. I mean, don't you hate it when you order chicken and it's all bone & gristle? This definitely was not the case here. There was plenty of meat in each bite. We surmised that the chicken orders were literally whole chickens that were artfully cleavered and not pre-cut. We even did the math on the "whole" chicken order of the sweet & mild chicken (as opposed to the half orders of fried chicken and hot & spicy chicken). There was indeed two of everything.

The bulgogi pizza wasn't half bad either. I mean, pizza is pizza. You have to be an utter and complete moron to eff it up. I liked the novelty of the bulgogi topping and it was plenty cheesy, which is never bad, because I do love cheese. The crust wasn't flaccid and paper thin. It was almost like a Boboli style crust. Hm...Bulgogi Boboli...Say that 5 times really fast.

As you can see below, there was major chicken carnage:

Jacques' wreckage

Larry's dirty little hands

Jacques was so excited, he got his shirt dirty!

A sheet over the corpse...this chicken did not die in vain

This is all that remained...

Sufficiently filled with chicken, the young latino who was our waiter and server came by with the bill and offered us with a parting gift...

Would we like a Korean beer model poster calendar?

Uh...Yes, please. I mean, how could I say now? And what a surreal cherry to top the surreal eating experience.

Wow! I look like a letch...

There are worse love letters to get. You could always get a love letter from Frank Booth (if you've seen Blue Velvet, you'll know what that is). So while I wait for a real love letter, Kitty Lester-style...I'll take a Pizza & Chicken Love Letter.

Pizza & Chicken Love Letter is located at:
2990 Bradshaw Road
Sacramento, CA 95827
(916) 369-2009

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Get a Rope!

(Part II of the Parkway Jaunt)

I love the way the universe works, with it's irony and the unexpected it's always giving us. One of my favorite historical quotations is from Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India:

Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.

I realize this notion has been articulated by many over the centuries, but this particular version appeals to the sick, degenerate (though not so much without all of the free radicals flowing through my veins) poker player in me. This was one of those days where, in poker parlance, the hand just played itself...a no-brainer. It was as if I was dealt pocket aces and the flop came A-A-K, with my opponent holding pocket kings. Perfection and serendipity (god I love that word and what it means). I mean, how awesome is it that what starts out as a trip to shop for all things Stacy Adams becomes an all out Mariscos Fest? The Clothing Broker was my pocket aces and La Soga was my dream A-A-K flop.

Two things before I continue:
1- Mariscos- This is Spanish for seafood; specifically, seafood of the invertebrate kind- shrimp, squid, crab, etc.
2- Soga- This is Spanish for rope (this will make sense later).

You may recall my happiness at the diversity on display at the corner of Florin Road and East Parkway, with a pimp clothing store, Asian grocery store and a taqueria standing side by side- really summing up what South Sac is really all about. Having grown up there, I can attest to the diversity of the place and I think you'll find that generally people who grow up there, or neighborhoods like it, just expect diversity, tolerance, and cross-cultural experiences as a matter of fact. I love the fact that I grew up there and I love the fact that this is there:

Don't let the unassuming 70s era exterior fool you.

Note the western style furniture...
(I need to learn how to take better pics)

Note how La Soga is written in ropey cursive

I was hungry after getting my shop on. It really takes a lot out of you to shop for the real pimp gear. And, well, I hadn't eaten yet. When Roni and I walked in, I had honestly planned on only getting a couple of street tacos...maybe some cabeza, a little lengua with some Sidral to wash it down. In and out. Simple and quick, Right? Wrong. How could I settle for simple street tacos when I am smacked in the face with this?

Fresh shrimp!

I know it's hard to tell with the ice, but yes, fresh squid


Fresh, ripe avocados, limes, carrots and oranges
(more on the carrots & oranges in a bit)

There was no way, in good conscience, I could just order tacos with all of this freshness staring me right in the eye. Even Roni was amazed at what he saw. Who would have ever thought that there would be an icy fresh Mexican seafood joint? I certainly didn't...and I grew up a couple of miles away in Valley Hi. With Fortuna smiling down upon me, I reassessed my game plan and went for nothing but seafood. I went with a shrimp cocktail, tostada de ceviche, and to cap it all off jugo de zanahoria y naranja.

The two girls behind the counter sensed my being so stoked as I took pics of all the freshness on display and began talking about my dad's shrimp cocktail. They put it together right in front of me- ketchup, lime juice, shrimp, cilantro, minced jalapeños. A few minutes later, here's what arrived at my table:


Massive Shrimp Cocktail!

When this came to our table, Roni and I just sat in awe of it. Seriously, we just sat and admired it. And yes, it smelled as fresh as it looks. It smelled like the beach and tasted like growing up.

When I was growing up, my dad would make shrimp cocktail. It would usually be on a weekend afternoon, usually to nom on while we watched soccer on tv. It was a huge treat. We'd go to the deli counter at Raley's or Corti Brothers and my dad would buy at least a pound of shrimp that would become cocktail. The only difference between this and my dad's was that my dad used the baby shrimp, not the behemoths you see before you. Great as this shrimp cocktail was, it wasn't my dad's, which is not to say it was bad, because it wasn't...just different and great in its own way. I added some Tapatio... quite close to dad's...what does it need...I can taste it...


Fresh, minced, jalapeños

Not that they didn't put any in to begin with. I just needed more, which is funny because I remember when my dad made shrimp cocktail, he made the kid batch for my siblings and I, and he made the adult batch for him and my mom. As I grew up I began to appreciate the adult version and must have some burn. Not so bad that you can't taste everything, but enough that it enhances the flavor. Besides, I've found that, to my palate at least, spicy and briny seafood flavor just go well together. It's like that with Italian food and it's certainly like that with Asian food. As if it couldn't get better, next arrived this beautiful corn disc of fishy hawtness:

Tostada de Ceviche

[Sidebar: Ceviche is seafood that is marinated and essentially chemically cooked in citrus, generally lime. The seafood is usually, at least in Mexico, minced shrimp, octopus, squid, and tuna...or a combination, as is most often the case. The fish is mixed with cilantro, chiles, tomato, lime and onions...topped with avocado as you see here.]

Again, the ceviche smelled and tasted like the beach. The smell and look of it took Roni and I down memory lane as he recounted stories of his younger days in Santa Barbara where he would get ocean fresh ceviche...which led to stories from further back...head cheese, pistachio liverwurst, prosciutto, lardo, blood sausage, Anthony Bourdain, Daniel Boulud. It was like a Proust journey of food free-association that took us back to early childhood memories of the foods our families ate and back to the present. Food can be so very powerful. My only regret was that Roni had eaten earlier and could not share the amazing food.

Speaking of memories...or maybe I'm losing my mind...Deep in the recesses of what's left of my brain, are memories of my mom making carrot juice with oranges in the blender (Hey Mother...if you're reading this, would you either confirm this or tell my I'm nuts, because it's entirely possible that I'm nuts...actually I am this point it's just a matter of degree of nuts). It was healthy. It was refreshing. It was good. Even if it wasn't my mom who made this for me, I do remember having this somewhere in my youth. Otherwise I wouldn't have gone nuts when I saw this on the menu and ordered it instead of Sidral Mundet for the purposes of washing down my epic seafood extravaganza.

Freshly blended carrot/orange juice

Slightly cool, but not cold...just pulpy enough and not too sweet. A perfect mixture- ice, carrots, oranges...blend. That's it. Elegant in its simplicity and effective in muting the spice of the food.

I think what I loved most about this whole eating experience was that I ate nothing that was cooked. It was all fresh- slightly spiced and citrused up. Sometimes the best cooking is when you don't do any cooking at all.

The Zen of La Soga?

As you can see below...I wrecked this meal. Killed it. Owned it.

Roni with a look of awe and amusement.
What you can't see is me, just rubbing my belly, telling my stomach what a champion it is.

What a day! Stacy Adams. Ascots. Mariscos. Good conversation. Cute and friendly girls behind the counter. I was dealt a winning hand this day. Unbeatable. The hand really did play itself.

Again...Thanks Roni for turning me on to Clothing Brokers, which turned me on to Taqueria La Soga.


Taqueria La Soga is located at
7233 East Parkway (at the corner of Florin Road & East Parkway)
(916) 427-6327
Open 7 Days a week from 9am to 10pm

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pimpin' Ain't Easy

The Pimp Game just isn't what it used to be. The word is bandied about with no thought as to what it really meant to be a pimp. These days, it seems all it takes is a gaudy golden chalice, a bunch of gold chains and a bevy of beauties with breasts that go va-voom and booties that go pow [there is a bonus involved if anyone can catch the semi-obscure hip-hop reference there]. If Iceberg Slim was around, he'd lay his pimp hand down on all of these posers and assume his mantle as the King of the Playas.

With all due respect to Bishop Don Magic Juan and local O.G. Fillmore Slim (yes...the one from American Pimp...he's a blues man I've played with a couple of times), Iceberg Slim was and will always remain the real O.G. Young playas like Ludacris may sing about having hos in different area codes, but Iceberg Slim really did have hos in different area codes. Read his book if you want to learn about the real Pimp Game. It's a well written book. Slim talks about the Game, going all the way back to the 40s and 50s. Yes, the 1940s...and back then, their music of choice was the blues- guys like Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf.

Funny how people complain about Gangsta Rap when back in the day, Little Walter was getting into knife fights and singing about beating down his woman and Sonny Boy Williamson was singing to a woman when he performed "Your Funeral and My Trial". Those guys would have cut you...seriously, you would have likely been cut with a sharp knife if you messed with Little Walter Jacobs. And you probably wouldn't have seen it coming because nobody expects to get cut by a guy dressed to the nines in a gabardine suit and Stacy Adams. Back in the day, being a pimp was as much about being dressed in the finest of threads as it was about how many ladies you had out on the stroll.

When I immersed myself in the electric blues of the 40s and 50s, I realized I wanted to dress like my idols as much as I wanted to play their music as authentically as possible. Those guys dressed right.

Dig the cuffs on Wolf and Hubert's bow tie

Needless to say, I am always on the lookout for places to buy pimp (and I mean O.G. pimp) style clothes here in Sac. There are some great places in Oakland, but who wants to drive all the way down there when you only have to go south on 99 to:

Yes...Florin Road...The Hood...Where all things awesome can be found for much cheaper than Downtown or Midtown.

My friend Roni (who was also gracious enough to be my transport this afternoon...Thanks Roni!) had been telling me about this place in South Sac where they sold pimp clothes, Stacy Adams shoes (the only brand of dress shoes I will wear), and...ASCOTS!!!

[It's a long story about the Ascots...needless to say it has something to do with Craig Kilborn and my desire to bring back Ascots with the help of Mike Farrell]

I was excited and I knew exactly where we were going- Florin Road & East Parkway, right next to the old Southgate Plaza. I knew that corner well, as I grew up not far from there; right off of Center Parkway and Mack Road. I remember when I was in high school the little strip mall tucked behind the gas station on that corner had some kind of grocery store and drug store. However, it was now this:

This is why I love South Sac: A pimp store... to an Asian grocery store... to a Taqueria!!!
(oh yes...I'll get there...wait for it...)

Located in a space that was once a supermarket, Clothing Broker is (unless someone can turn me on to somewhere better), THE place to shop if you need all things Stacy Adams and all things pimp. The old school jams playing through the store's sound system just put me in the frame of mind to shop. The place was filled with racks of suits, hats, shirts, suits and accessories for the man with discerning taste.

Words to live by...Why pay more when you can shop in The Hood?

Nothing like a Stacy Adams poster to inspire shopping.

Roni checking out some threads in the clothes cavern of awesome!

Hey Ross Hammond! You need to get here to buy some lids!

My head is too big for hats!

Why yes, this is a pleather alligator print suit jacket!

Stacy Adams shoes? Need 'Em? Got Em!

Stacy Adams cuff links? Need 'Em? Got 'Em!

Stacy Adams ascots? Need 'Em? YES!!!

I was seriously in clothing nirvana. I actually almost bought a $400 suit for $159, but the pants were too big, but it was so sweet- grey and light...perfect for spring/summer. Fortunately for me, I got out of there at a little over $150...and what a $150 it was:

Stacy Adams shoes
Stacy Adams socks
Stacy Adams cuff links
Stacy Adams belt
Stacy Adams ASCOT!!!
A pink shirt with french cuffs

Needless to say this was an epic shopping win. I can't say enough about this place. The staff was friendly and helpful. The prices were right. How could my day get any better? Remember that taqueria you saw earlier, next to the Asian grocery, next to Clothing Broker? That's how!

But it will have to wait until the next installment, because the place warrants its own write up...It will be worth it, seriously. One word teaser: Mariscos!!!

I really do love South Sac.

Clothing Broker is located at:
7247 East Parkway (on the corner of Florin Road & East Parkway)
Sacramento, CA 95823-3131
(916) 399-9983

Go and buy some Stacy Adams!
And some Ascots!!!