Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Slaw Dogs: Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout the New Kid in Town

Ray Byrne and mom

Hot dog stands across Los Angeles should be shaking in their boots right now. Ray Byrne of The Slaw Dogs in Pasadena has taken hot dogs to a whole new level. Indecisive people stand frozen in place staring at the Slaw Dogs menu. Other diners are truly inspired, practically giddy at the wealth of choices. Some of us are still talking about the toppings days later.

It all starts with the dog. There are all beef dogs, natural casing dogs, kosher dogs, bratwurst, two kinds of chicken dogs, and even a veggie dog, among others. You can have your dog grilled or "rippered" Jersey-style, thrown into the deep fryer until it splits.

There are 27 standard toppings, including sesame mayo, curry ketchup, pickled onion, jalapeno, chipotle mayo, and even sport peppers if you want to make a Chicago-style dog. 25 custom toppings, for an additional 99-cents, give you choices like bacon, pastrami, roasted pasilla peppers, jalapeno, chili, kimchi, thai-slaw, a fried egg and a number of different cheeses.

Not a do-it-yourself-er? "The Original" sports chili, cheese, mustard, onions and cole slaw. The slaw is unusual on a hot dog, but it works, adding a refreshing crunch. In fact, that is one of Ray's skills. He is able to take seemingly clashing flavors and make them work together.

One recent special included a jalapeƱo kumquat chutney that blew me away.

The special muffalata dog (olives, pastrami, and Swiss) really worked. At this point the Slaw Dogs is going to have to take out a restraining order on me.

Two of the wilder dogs are the "Green Monster," (roasted green chile, chipotle mayo, grilled onion, pepper jack and spicy garlic salsa) and "The TNT Super Dog" the latter which brings back memories of the Oki Dog, with a 12" rippered dog, chili, cheese, bacon, pastrami, fries and grilled onion swaddled in a burrito. If that's not enough, you can also request a fried egg.

The Thai Slaw Dog on a 12" All Beef. Spicy peanut-coconut satay dressing, cilantro-carrot slaw, crushed peanuts and siracha aioli

Don't forget to order the sweet potato fries, perfectly crisp and completely greaseless. There are also fry specials, most recently the truffle and Parmesan fries. I don't know how they are going to ever take them off the menu without a riot ensuing.

There are also big, fresh, crunchy salads. Salad, shmalad.

My inspiration The Vancouver Dog, inspired by Japadog - a bratwurst with wasabi mayonnaise, grilled onions, with just a sprinkling of nori. I don't know what the crunchy bits are, but I trust Ray implicitly

The irony is that owner Ray Byrne didn't even eat a hot dog until he was 20 years old (It was at Pink's). He first considered a burger palace, but decided the hot dog would be the perfect vehicle for his creativity.

Little does Pink's know it, but there's a new sheriff in town. Move over, little dog. The big dog's movin' in.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Nostalgia for Abuse: A Rant

Photo thanks to JM3 via Flickr

The other night I went to the new Nobu, and it seems like I can't tell anyone that without them becoming maudlin and pouting, "Ohhh, L'Orangerie." Poor L'orangerie, that used to occupy the space. Everyone misses it so. Well, you know what? Screw L'Orangerie. There. I said it. Their foie gras creme brulee was ridiculous. It was an insult to the poor duck or goose who laid down its gluttonous life to make that crap.

People seem to miss some bygone era when waiters treated everyone like crap and they all ate it up with a spoon. It reminded me of hairdressing school and how the old ladies loved it any time the hairdressers got bitchy and told them off or smacked them with the brush.

I was taken to L'Orangerie on my birthday back when it was a real splurge, a rare occasion to ever go out to eat anything anywhere. I dress properly, I have manners, and I no longer have purple hair. Yet from the moment we walked in the door we were sneered at as if we weren't good enough to grace those hallowed halls.

The servers had a friend or a VIP at a nearby table and as a result we were completely ignored all night. You need a fork? Too bad. They didn't even bring me my coffee ever. The only one who noticed my plight and caught my eye with a sympathetic glance was the piano player. So I walked over and put half of the waiter's tip in the giant snifter for tips on the piano.

Well, I ate the frugal way at Nobu last week, in the bar, off the budget menu, and those servers treated us like gold. I love waiters. I like the older lifers for whom it is a noble profession and I love the chatty young ones who make me feel like we are gossiping over the menu. True, I am older and fatter and probably look like I can afford a bigger tip. True, now I am a writer and sometimes they know it, and maybe that changes everything.

Maybe now those waiters at L'Orangerie would be crawling up my ass. But I still can't forgive them for humiliating my then-boyfriend who had saved up his pay to make his foodie girl's Gourmet magazine dream come true.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Keep on Truckin'

Saturday February 13, the first LA Food Fest was held on the outskirts of Downtown LA, with dozens of local food trucks converging in a huge lot next to the 110 freeway.

Unfortunately, the event was too popular for its own good. Promoters expected a crowd of 10,000 but by early estimates nearly tripled that. Many people waiting in the hour-long line for entry were turned away as the crowd inside grew to capacity.

The lines were between and hour and two hours to sample treats from the most popular trucks, like Frysmith, Coolhaus and The Grilled Cheese Truck. Chef Ludo Ludovich staged a pop-up one-time-only fried chicken truck that had to give people tickets to return for their food an hour later, like a Fastpass at Disneyland. We did get a peek at the hunky chef, the food, and his adorable wife working the window.

Ludo's Balls

Treats we were able to sample were from three enterprises that haven’t yet got their trucks up and running. Piping hot donuts from Frygirl were dipped in cinnamon or powdered sugar.

Har Gow, Duck Tacos and Sui Mai were three varieties of Dim Sum presented from the upcoming the Dim Sum Truck.

Dogzilla, a Japanese fusion hot dog is still unsure as to whether they will purchase a truck or scout a permanent location. Unfortunately, their dogs didn’t compare to Japadogs in Vancouver. The excess of bread and fishy nori overwhelmed the bland hot dog. It’s too bad because they were really, really friendly.

The first truck we were willing to wait in line for was Fresser’s Hot Pastrami and the wait was not in vain. The pastrami was East coast-style, made with thick slabs of brisket. The bread was the perfect balance of intensity to mildness to match with the pastrami. A sample of Pot Roast made us wish we had a huge plate, along with potatoes and baby carrots. A Caprese sandwich used farmer’s market fresh ingredients and a nice french bread.

A smiling face at Fresser's

Next we hit the Gastrobus. Their sweet potato fries were double fried and absolutely to die for. Pairing them with a mustard dip was a little odd, but they were delicious on their own. The pulled pork was nestled in a comforting bed of grits. They also offered a refreshing heirloom beet salad in a vinagrette with goat cheese and an adorable lemon meringue in a lemon half, which I did not try myself.

This is a lamb dish from a Greek Bus that a passer-by let me photograph. I don't know what it is, but it sure looks good!

The most memorable stop of the day was King Kone ice cream, with house made ice cream dipped in rich chocolate. The sundae we ordered layered caramel and oreo pieces with a pure vanilla ice cream. Pure heaven.

The final taste was from the holy grail of trucks, The Grilled Cheese Truck.

We watched one customer ooh and ahh over her mac and cheese sandwich with smoked pork, and the amazement in her eyes when she finally took a bite.

We tried the brie and pear and another sandwich with roasted butternut squash and gruyere. The brie sandwich was heavenly, though the squash sandwich was like something my mother would do to trick me into eating my veggies.

There was also a craft station, a few shops and a photo booth with lots of fun props.

So yes, the lines were ridiculous, the day was hot and the crowds were insane. True, we did not get to try a number of trucks on our “to-do” list. But the crowd was friendly and we ate some truly excellent food. Best of all, every bite was priced between $3 and $5 so we came home with change in our pocket.