Thursday, June 17, 2010

Short Orders: The Lusty Month of May

Although spring has sprung, this Girl still loves her some soup... and bagels... and Vietnamese street food... and...?

Although May was a busy month, I still took time to stop and smell the:

May 22, Vietnamese Rice Cake with Caramelized Onion in Chinatown: Jolene and I always delude ourselves that we can just run into Chinatown, pick up whatever trinkets and treats we decide we can't live without that day, and depart in a timely fashion. We are always so wrong.

On a mission to fetch supplies for the necklaces I make and sell at local museums (the Japanese American National Museum and the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum), my sister and I hurried to Chinatown on a mission, promising my brother-in-law that she would be back "soon" for the onslaught of Saturday activities with the kids. While puttering in a shop that sells knock-off handbags on Broadway near Ord, I caught a whiff of something that took me back to childhood. It was as if someone had opened the world's biggest bag of Funyuns. I looked around and noticed a boy eating something white and gelatinous out of a styrofoam box.

I always share snacks with my sister. Unless she takes too long putting more money in the meter!

As we headed down the street, we stopped in front of a little Vietnamese deli where I found the object of my olfactory delight. As we entered the store, a woman was unwrapping a pan the size of a tire that was filled with something covered with caramelized onion. She was selling slabs of this to passersby, dousing each serving liberally with a light brown sauce full of little red chilies. Although I had already surpassed my allotted carb intake for the morning - miniature pan dulces from Venice Bakery - I had to try it.

Move over, Gaga. This is my neuvo-disco diva name: Lady FishPaste.

Although we had only meant to stay an hour, Jolene and I took turns running back to the car parked a few blocks away to add more change about three or four times. While she was gone, I put some of what the vendor and the people in the deli simply called "rice cake" and dug into my portion greedily. The consistency was custard-like and white as snow. The onion topping also had dried shrimp in it, Southeast Asia's answer to bacon bits. I tried to stop eating after my first helping, but decided that Jolene, who is as fanatic as I usually am about counting calories, wouldn't mind a smaller piece of the stuff.

May 23, Smoked Whitefish Salad on a Black Russian Bagel at the Bagel Factory: Fish is said to be brain food and I need all the help I can get. A weekend treat is a toasted Black Russian bagel - dark pumpernickel with raisins and onions - slathered with smoked whitefish salad from the Bagel Factory.

One bagel is said to be the caloric equivalent of five pieces of bread. My rules of thumb are a) if they use dark flour, it's practically whole-grain, which doesn't seem as evil and b) toasting a bread product makes it like a cracker, which is usually lower in carbs. No wonder I flunked freshman algebra.

May 29, The Big Steak at Grand Casino:
When I'm not wearing one of my many weekend hats as roving reporter, social butterfly, or doting aunt, I grab my beading board and go to one of my favorite spots in downtown Culver City, Grand Casino. I love the quasi-European twist to the menu and bakery, which is largely influenced by Argentine cuisine. I have spent many a sunny late afternoon alone there, reading or making a necklace, basking in the melodious conversations of the other patrons, who speak only Spanish.

It was getting close to dinnertime and once again I was faced with having to make a low-cal decision. And I was hungry. I spotted the steak on the menu but did not want potatoes or anything starchy on the side. I asked the waiter if I could just have twice the salad. He was very accommodating and told me he would have the cooks put something together.

Grand Casino always feels like I've gone back in time to a slower, more gracious era, where a "Lost Generation" isn't necessarily lost, just looking for comfort. If Lady Brett and Jake Barnes in "The Sun Also Rises" would have stopped all their agonizing, they could have gone to a little sidewalk cafe to eat something like a juicy, medium-rare steak with a crisp, fresh salad - with yes, a little Pernod on the side - they would have felt as I did on that Sunday afternoon, alone in a babel of Spanish whose words I did not understand, but whose emotion was clear. Damned fine.

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