Thursday, September 20, 2012

On Further Review, Fuk-this-place -- Chik-fil-A

UPDATE: Turns out Chik-fil-a is just a dik-fil-a. I'm sorry I ever ate there, and retract everything I said about it except for how disgusting the ingredients are; add to the list "intolerance and oppression." I've taken down my pics of their hate-y food.

It turned out I was there on the Hollywood branch's first anniversary, so they gave me a coupon to come back for a free meal. I'm taking suggestions on how to use said coupon to creatively protest them and their whole world view. 

It's all up in the news that Chik-fil-A has re-affirmed its statement from July that it will take money from you no matter who you are or whom you think you can marry, and its perky help will smile and say "please" and "thank you"while doing so. No big news there. More significantly, there are third-hand reports that its foundation, WinShape, "will no longer give to anti-gay organizations, such as Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage." And as of today, Chik-fil-A isn't denying the report.

Ah, the intersection of politics and food, my happy place!

First the politics. It's interesting watching the Commentverse bifurcate on this announcement. Conservatives tend to say three things: One, they're angry at Chik-fil-A turning...well...

...and will now start boycotting them. Mind you, these are the same people who were saying that the liberal boycott of CFA was anti-American, an affront to freedom of speech, shameless intimidation of a private business, etc., but we'll let that go. (Oops, forgot to let it go.)

Two, the liberals won't ever back down from the boycott, because no matter how much the right gives and compromises, the left is never satisfied. (Saw that somewhere, can't find it now, trust me.) Three, why can't this just be about selling and eating chicken sandwiches, not politics?

I can't even begin to dissect the sheer hypocrisy of the first, but I'm ready to disprove the second and dive right into the third:

And I believe in rehabilitation, giving people or even corporations—(sorry, keep forgetting they're one and the same) a second chance. That goes double if said people produce yummy food. If I didn't let go of boycotts, I'd still be nixing grapes and Carl's Jr. because of Cesar Chavez and Carl Karcher, both long dead. (Please don't bring up the offensive Carl's ad campaign, especially the current lesbo sex and BBQ sauce money shot.) Nope, I'm ready to say bygones, and talk about chicken sandwiches. Because when you boycott something and the boycottee caves, you reward them by buying their stuff again. That's how boycotts work. It's dog training 101.

I, L.A. Food Crazy, hereby give up the boycott of Chik-fil-A. The protest seems to have made its point and done its job. I'm cautiously optimistic that my fast food dollars won't go to oppress any of my friends.

So, on to the food.

You might not hear it in polite circles, but Chik-fil-A makes a kickass fast food chicken sandwich. I hear you say, "Not interested, I've had a million fast food chicken sandwiches and they all suck." This isn't technically true—the aforesaid Carl's Santa Fe Chicken Sandwich is delicious—but you're right that fast food breaded chicken sandwiches all suck. Except Chik-fil-A's. They're like the In 'n' Out Burger of chicken: they do one thing, and do it well, which is why the franchise is multiplying faster than teenage girls in red states. (SORRY! I'm off the politics, on the food.)

As Chik-fil-A's ads note, they use a real, whole piece of chicken breast in their sandwich. So do several other fast food joints. The difference is in the batter and the bold flavors of the other ingredients.  What you want to order here is the Spicy Chicken Sandwich Deluxe, which comes with green leaf lettuce, sliced tomato, dill pickles, and pepper jack cheese.

The chicken is juicy, the batter is peppery and perfectly crispy, the spicy jalapeƱo/habanero cheese adds an additional measure of kick (this sandwich is really spicy for a Christian white bread organization. If you're sensitive, you might want to go with the Classic Chicken instead), the brush of buttery oil on the top of the bun is subtle, the Chik-fil-A Sauce is a  tangy addition, and the whole thing just works. Mind you, anyone of the fresh/seasonal/raw/organic ilk should steer clear. The list of ingredients reads like a mid-sixties experiment in astronaut food (impressively, monosodium glutamate appears not once but twice in the list). But the end result is undeniably tasty.

And then there are those waffle fries. What more can you say? They're really good waffle fries, and they've refrained from adding MSG to them.

Finally, there are breakfast items, chicken and pork (it's true, no cows) stuffed into various starches to make breakfast burritos, breakfast bagels, and the vaunted Chick-fil-A biscuit sandwiches.  Me, I just don't think of chicken as a breakfast food, unless it's in embryonic form. (Which just made me think: even a fertilized egg is not a chicken, just sayin'. D'oh!, politics again!) I had the bacon and cheese biscuit, and yeah, that's a damn fine biscuit.

OK, I've said my piece and hit a trending topic. I'm also tired of typing "Chik-fil-A," I'm getting an MSG headache, and to be honest, I'm feeling a little guilty about having dined there, boycott-off or no. Fortunately, I didn't order a soda, and took enough of their dipping sauces to sample that I'm pretty sure they lost money on my transaction.

But seriously, if your at all Chik-curious, it's okay to go and try it now. After all, if our dining options were limited to establishments whose CEOs didn't belong to religious groups that oppress gay people, or discriminate against women, it would be a small culinary world indeed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Funniest Thing a Waiter Ever Said

Sorry, no mouthwatering pics with this post. Just a funny story.

Last night, after taking a visiting out-of-towner to Disneyland, we found ourselves starving at Downtown Disney in Anaheim. Never a particularly good combination, but we finally settled on the midscale Uva Bar, which has pleasant outdoor seating right in the middle of the complex.

After my Better Palate and I were hit on by a handsome young hustler ("It's my birthday, do you want to buy me a drink? Or am I not sexy enough? No?... Well, I'll be at the bar if you change your mind." Saw him having similar conversations with other couples the rest of the night. Seriously, this kid works the vacationing middle aged couples at the Disneyland resort? Can you say "The Happiest Ending on Earth?" Anyway...), we took our seats. Sa ordered grilled octopus. Friend ordered a salad. I asked what the special grilled catch of the day.

"It's steelhead trout."

I don't have trout very often, but I love it, so I was pretty much onboard.

"Is it fresh?"

"Yes, of course."

"Is it good?"

"Oh, yes, it's good. It's got the texture of salmon, but it tastes like trout. It's good."

I had already made my choice, so I sort of shrugged at this last comment and took the plunge.

When our entrees arrive, the waiter says "Your trout," and sets down a plate of some lovely roasted artichoke hearts, grilled grape tomatoes and... a nicely grilled piece of salmon. Now like I say, I don't have trout that often, and it had been a long day, so I question myself for a second: I'm pretty sure it's salmon. I check with my tablemates, take a taste. Yep, that's salmon alright.( Don't get me wrong, I love salmon, but I have it at home all the time. I want trout.)

I try to flag down my waiter but he doesn't see me. A manager sees me. "Yes, sir?"

"I was told the fish of the day was trout, but this is salmon."

He looks at the salmon. "Well, I can check with the chef, but I'm sure that's trout."

"Yeah," I say, "Why don't you check with the chef?"

He bows, Fawlty-like, and heads for the kitchen. A moment later the waiter sweeps by to ask if everything is okay, and I say, "Well, you said the grilled fish today was trout."

He looks at the salmon. "Yes, sir."

"This is salmon."

He looks at it again, and says, I kid you not, "It's a special kind of trout. It tastes like salmon, but it's trout."

I say, "What?"

And then he says the funniest thing a waiter not named Manuel from Barcelona  [Ees no rat. Ees hamster. Special, filigree hamster!] has ever said.

He says, "It's half salmon, half trout."


Yes, sir. Half salmon, half trout.

"It's some sort of hybrid? I really don't think so."

"That's what the chef told me, sir."

"That's scientifically impossible," Sa says.

I say, "I would really like the chef to come and tell me that this piece of fish is 'half salmon, half trout.'"

The waiter goes back to the kitchen and returns moments later to apologize, saying he's sorry, it was salmon, it's his fault, they hadn't changed the menu board in the kitchen from the day before, when the special was trout. I nod, although this certainly doesn't explain why the chef thought he was serving an amazing breakthrough achievement in fresh-water fish biology right there at Downtown Disney. Or why the manager, for god's sake, was able look straight at a piece of salmon, and say it was trout.

I also can't help wondering how many other couples were served the salmon-that-tastes-like-trout, without saying anything more than "Hm. This trout sure tastes like salmon, doesn't it, honey?"

I also can't help wondering if any of those fictional couples got the happiest ending on earth.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Can You Stand It? – Ricky's Fish Tacos

Ricky's, from the South. Don't blink.
Ricky's Fish Tacos
1400 N Virgil Ave
Los Angeles, CA 9002
Yelp Info

If you haven't heard of Ricky's Fish Tacos, you're obviously not a foodie (they've been singing its praises for over a year now). You also haven't spent seemingly half your life trying to find a fish taco of Ensenada quality here in Los Angeles. But my friends... you gotta check this out.

A couple of years ago, shortly after the opening of "The Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada" in Los Feliz, I posted a smackdown roundup of Baja-style fish tacos in and around L.A. My gold standard for the comparison was our favorite Ensenada taco stand, a tiny two-woman operation not far from the cruise ship dock.

Stand on Lopez Mateos and Alvarado in Ensenad

As I said in the original post:
"I decided to try to find the best approximation here in the L.A. area. The good news is that there are several. The bad news is, that for a variety of reasons, they are all just that, approximations."
Every place I visited (although I have yet to make it to La Habra for  El Taco Nazo, and probably never will) fell down on some level. The Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada, for their weird salsas; Tacos Baja Ensenada, for a mushy batter massively overfilled and imbalanced concoction; Del Taco (a surprise near-winner) for their sugary tomato salsa.

I'm here to tell you: Ricky's Fish Tacos gets it right.

"Awesome," you say, "I'm there right now, where is it?"

That's the tricky part.

Ricky's, in the best fish taco tradition, is a stand. And it's a stand that isn't even as fancy as the one pictured above. It's merely a couple of folding tables with a deep fryer on top, a bowl each of shredded cabbage and pico de gallo, three squeeze bottles of salsa, one of crema, one cooler for drinks, one cooler for the fish, a cash register, tip jar, and napkins. Three more folding tables and some folding chairs are the dining room. A couple of Easy-Ups for meager shade.

That's it.

As for the location: I guarantee you'll drive by it twice trying to find it. Best I can describe is: it's literally a stone's throw from the Vista Theater. Turn south on Virgil from Sunset Blvd. Immediately start looking to your left. There, in the driveway of an apartment building, across from the Von's loading dock, you'll see Ricky. Don't bother looking for a sign, there isn't one. Park on the street.

Business hours?  Generally, 12:30-4:30 PM Thurs-Sunday. But you'd better check Ricky's Twitter feed, as his operation is subject to vagaries of wind, rain, fish availability, and other obligations, and he sometime sells out early.

Once you've found it, all you need to know is this: Fish tacos. Shrimp tacos. Occasionally, lobster tacos, which sound exciting but aren't as good as the fish and shrimp (lobster is too delicately flavored to hold up well to the deep-frying and the batter). Order (why not one of each to start?), take a number, sit. Ricky or his assistant will prep your taco to order, and add cabbage and pico de gallo for you. You choose your salsa(s): there's a mild green, a medium smoky chipotle, and a hot red. Add a little crema. Sit and eat. (NOTE: Ricky is opposed to squeezes of lemon and lime, see why in an interview here.)

The most difficult element of a fish taco to get right is the batter. Ricky's is just right, crispy without being inimical, perfectly seasoned. The fish is arguably better than what's generally used in Ensenada. He uses swai, a freshwater Southeast Asian staple also known as Iridescent Shark or Striped Catfish. It's a fascinating critter, but all that matters here is that's mild and flaky, similar to cod but with a creamier texture, and less much less fishy than U.S. catfish. It's the perfect fish for the taco: it holds its own texture-wise, but becomes succulent with deep frying, and absorbs the flavor of the batter perfectly.

These are fish tacos as they're meant to be. Each bite is a fugue, as soft, warm tortilla gives way to crunchy, cool cabbage and fresh pico de gallo which gives way to crunchy batter, which gives way to juicy, flaky fish just as the heat from the salsa kicks in. Chew, and the elements blend in an eye-rolling crescendo of deliciousness.

Shrimp tacos nearly as good, offering a little more resistance but slightly less flavor. The shrimp taco, with smaller pieces, highlights the batter more, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

One Shrimp with Salsa Verde; One Fish with Salsa Roja

My one and only gripe, if you can call it that, with Ricky's tacos is that the fish portion per taco is a little too large, leaving not quite enough room for the tortilla to comfortably contain the cabbage and pico de gallo. I'd actually prefer smaller pieces of fish, and a lower price (tacos are $2.50 each). I'd happily order three instead of two, and spend less time scooping up stray cabbage with a fork.

If you've never thought of yourself as a food pilgrim before, the type to drive a half hour or more to scarf tacos from a makeshift shanty just because they serve the best in town... Ricky's might just make you a convert.