Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wheels on Fire: Vizzi Truck's Inspired Cuisine Hits Sawtelle

Ordinarily one would not expect a “scene” on a Tuesday night on Sawtelle Boulevard. But the small fleet of food trucks that I noticed last Monday night when I went there for my evening walk after dinner was enough to entice me to return on Tuesday night, without having eaten.

I had to cover an event at work until about 7:30 and Shiho had a meeting in Pasadena, where she sadly, already had dinner. But she agreed to meet me for the working girl wind-down. I got there first and surveyed our choices. About seven trucks were parked on Sawtelle near the Olympic Collection and Nijiya Market. There were a number of the now-typical Asian fusion taco trucks, including the ever-present Nom Nom. There were Middle Eastern wraps, traditional American BBQ, and Happy Cup Ramen, a truck that served its wares in real ceramic bowls to eat with on kid-sized tables and chairs.

Exotic produce at Nijiya Market. I wouldn't know what to do with these - but there are some guys parked down the block that would!

It seemed like serving shaved ice to Eskimos to have so many Asian trucks on Sawtelle, which is known as “Little Osaka.” Fabulous restaurants abound, from traditional Japanese curry (Hurry Curry is my favorite) to the Euro-bistro elegance of Sawtelle Kitchen. Which is why Vizzi Truck, with its “coastal inspired cuisine” caught my eye as something a bit different.

Working girl wind-down. All I need is a mojito.

Upon my perusal of the menu, they pretty much had me at “white truffle popcorn with sea salt” and “gazpacho moderna with heirloom tomato, Serrano chili, and Meyer lemon.” But I wanted Shiho’s vote, as I was going to share this late nosh with her because of my stomach’s way-past-dinner-curfew. When she got there, we walked the trucks and Shiho decided that indeed, Vizzi was the “shizzi.” (Sorry. Thought I’d try and be hip, only succeeded in being soooo 2003. With the same level of excitement that I get when I discover an extra 25 percent off sale at Loehmann’s, I started my rapid fire ordering only to keep asking her, “Are you sure you don’t want a taco?”

At the end of my frenzied exchange with the friendly proprietor Chad, we ended up with a box of the truffle oil popcorn, half a pint of gazpacho, a carnitas taco with blackberry salsa, and lemon thyme and macadamia bleu cookies.

Popcorn is the new potato chip here: my taco rested on a tiny bed of fiery red pepper kernels, which was pretty and tasty. I pressed half of my half-pint of gazpacho on Shiho. Although she kept protesting that she had eaten dinner at Gelson’s before her meeting, she said the soup was very good. She also liked the popcorn - which we both tried to stop eating a couple of times and failed. But the favorite nosh was the buttery cookies. I was a bit surprised - and a little relieved - that the "bleu" meant blueberries, not cheese. I guess I've been in West L.A. too long!

My kingdom for a bowl of gazpacho... especially one this fresh!

This gastronomic shangri-la is not without its dark side. A couple of Los Angeles city councilmembers are not happy with the food trucks, which purportedly rack up parking tickets that they absorb as an operating expense. They also have expressed their concerns that food trucks mean unfair competition to neighborhood restaurants. Earlier in the summer, they authored motions for discussion that would among other restrictions, forbid trucks from parking in metered spots within commercially zoned areas. Since almost every parking spot in L.A. - at least anywhere anyone wants to be - is graced with a parking meter, this may pose a problem for twitter-pated truck followers who may have to hunt high and low for their favorite chuckwagon.

This taco's "the berries".

The truth is that food trucks are good for local businesses. They bring an increase in traffic to the areas where they park, a boon in today's economy. Their patrons have the opportunity to become familiar with new parts of the city they would not ordinarily frequent - or spend money in. They also end up patronizing the local businesses – like Shiho and I did. We didn’t feel like trying to balance our mini-banquet on our laps while sitting on overturned wastebaskets, so we got a table at Beard Papa’s, where she also had coffee and a green tea cream puff.

The food truck culture also encourages conversations with the chefs, something that isn’t usually available at this price point. On the way back to our cars, we met Chad’s cousin Chef Dave and sous chef Zach, who were relaxing on the sidewalk before pulling up stakes for the night.

Dave and Zach said that they patronized the local grocers and businesses regularly for supplies. We raved about the food, especially the cookies, which are a family recipe from Dave’s Hungarian mother-in-law. They told us that they were looking forward to the OC Foodie Fest coming up on Saturday and that Shiho should submit some of her artwork to show on their monitors along with the work of other artists that they promote. It was a great L.A. moment, when creative people with diverse interests got together to share ideas and a common goal: to make the city a better, more artistic, and definitely better-fed place.

I have to say that today’s food trucks are healthier than many other choices that people make, catering as they do to vegan and organic preferences. When the chefs aren’t putting a lighter spin on the traditional “roach coach” fare with grass-fed beef sliders or falafel with a Southwestern twist, they totally eclipse the idea that you are eating food off a truck, and serve restaurant quality creations like Vizzi’s Bistro Salad garnished with shaved fennel and dried figs or sushi that you "design" yourself with the help of the chef and a friendly ninja.

Too old and tired to Twitter, I’ll take my chances and be delighted at the unexpected sight of a brightly painted truck and depending on my hunger level and what lane I’m in, I may pull over for a bite.

In the meantime, my food truck fetish is limited to whatever I can find on the street when I happen to be at one of my haunts, the Third Street Promenade, Chinatown, or Sawtelle. That being said, I’m already planning a second visit to Vizzi next week. Chad says that they're park there every Tuesday night. I’m hoping that the “soup of pan roasted butternut squash, simply created with onions, carrots, maple sugar, cumin, chilis, roasted squash, and finished with a touch of cream” is on the menu. And from the looks of this gourmet recipe, maybe I should "dress for dinner."

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