8.27.2016

Tri-Tip Brisket Gourmet Taco Recipe


Ah Brisket. That meat, boiled on the stove for hours, that always looked grey at family gatherings. That's right, I'm NOT from Texas! Since Carnitas is basically pan-fried pulled pork, pulled beef, AKA brisket (the lower chest of poor Mr. Vaca) has become a popular gourmet Amerimex taco.

I was recently in Mexico, tasked with cooking for a local taco night and I got a little ambitious. The brisket cut is nowhere to be found at Costco (the safest place to buy your meat in the Cabo area.) I just couldn't let it go and so I bought some Tri-Tip and hoped for the best.

Tri-Tip is normally too nice a cut of meat to waste on a slow (2-3 hour simmer) but it actually came out great. It is the lower triangle of the bottom sirloin area. I tasted it at various phases and it was so tasty!

This portion of meat (a solid 1lb) made about 12-15 tacos. I used a tomato flavored tortilla, special ordered locally. I def. recommend flour over corn for this recipe. If you are feeling ambitious, make your own and ad some tomato paste to the mix for color and flavor.

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Taco Ingredients

1 lb of Tri-Tip
2 White Onions - Thinly sliced
1 can of Tomato Paste
2 bottles of Bohemia Obscura (Dark Beer)
1/2 cup of Olive Oil
Tsp. of Cayenne Pepper
Tsp. of Chile Powder
Generous Sea Salt to Taste
1 Tbl of Honey
1 Tbl Dried Oregano
1 Head of Cabbage
Green Tomatillo Salsa (Herdez or your own!)
Sour Cream
1 Small Red Onion - Finely diced
Cilantro - Finely diced


Use a good Dutch Oven or Heavy Covered Pot

Rub with a Tbl of Sea Salt and pan sear your piece of meat until brown on all sides (Use 1-2 Tbl of Grapeseed Oil to coat the pan)- Med heat here.

Add sliced onions stir them around until brown and wilted. Add your spices and let them get slightly browned/toasted.

Add your first bottle of beer - go ahead, take one sip but that's it! ;)

Turn the light down and add the Tomato Paste - dissolve it into the beer, turn the light to 'medium low' and simmer for 1 hour.

In an hour you should need more beer. Add it and cover and simmer another hour.

Now you should have a nice sauce but not too much liquid. Let it sit for a bit, maybe half an hour. You could do this part the night before, let it cool and then finish the next day.

To finish, simmer for another 20+ minutes. Cool slightly and taste your beef. It should be soft. If for some reason it's still resisting you, add another half bottle of beer, 1/4 cup of oil and continue to simmer.

Once it cools, you can shred with your hands... that's really the best way. Cut into chunks and shred each chunk. Reserve the sauce and use it over pasta the next day. Mmmmmmm.

For the garnish: I broiled a finely sliced head of green cabbage. Drizzle with olive oil and sea salt and broil until brown. It's even OK if some pieces get a little charred for effect.

I like to use a green salsa with this. Any good gourmet store should have a decent Tomatillo Salsa. If you are feeling ambitious, GO FOR IT. 

A spoonful of salsa, a squiggle of sour cream (from a squeeze bottle best) and then dust with red onions and cilantro.

I see after typing this that it's not exactly an EZ recipe, but it's worth it. DELICIOUS. If you already know how to make Brisket, I would pan fry it with a little tomato paste and the above listed spices to get a similar effect and use beer in your water.

Deeelicous!

8.06.2016

Emma's Warm Tomato Jalapeño EZ Salsa Suprema


Emma is someone I worked with in the fashion biz years ago.

Every day she brought her own lunch, and every week it was a fine selection of homemade Mexican food. Tacos, tamales, enchiladas, tortas. YUM. Emma was always a sharer. Thank you Emma.

One day, the smell at her lunch table was insane and I was drawn over to her like a Chuck Jones cartoon character floating over a white cloud of aroma in the shape of a finger.

She shared some with me and I nearly died. What. Is. In. There???? It must be like a mole, 20 plus ingredients.

It was just chiles, onions, tomatoes, garlic. The usual suspects. But it was the ratio and the frying of the salsa after it was blended that made it so special. Oh and just the right amount of salt.

This was before I was the Taco Maven. The Herdez Salsa Casera has always been my fave. As much as I love Trader Joes, I don't like a single salsa that I have tried. All close to flavorless. And the supermarket Pico de Gallos are ridiculous. The minute you chop that stuff up it starts to go bad.

Currently, the two places I would drive just to get some salsa togo, and then go back home and put that salsa on my own taco are: 1) Viva Fresh in Westchester on Sepulveda Blvd. 2) Tinga Taqueria on La Brea. Their house salsa is a REVELATION. Bottle that shite please. Sell it at Trader Joe's.

This recipe probably serves 6-8 but for 2 I would halve it and make it fresh each time...

She also gave me another tip and said if you cut jalapenos face down once you have cut them in half, your fingers will be saved.

5 Tomatoes (med sized... romas or round) chopped
1/2 med white onion (finely diced)
1 or 2 med cloves of garlic (finely diced)
8 Jalapeno chiles (finely diced - seeds included)
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
2-4 Tbl. olive oil (heated)

*** She did not add cilantro - lots of people don't like it anyway, but if you feel like it, add some!

If you are great with the Cuisinart then go 'machine' all over yourself. You want a rough blend, not a soup. You want to see bits of everything and you want it to have some body. But you also want it to be smooth.

Finely chop everything, except the tomatoes (more chunky) and then give it about 3, 4 second bursts with one of those hand-immersion-blender wands (with blade in not the whipper)

When you have your nicely blended, but rough, mixture, you fry it in a pan with the hot oil for maybe 3-5 minutes... and that's when you add the salt.

Sometimes it feels like a little too much tomato and if the jalapenos don't have enough heat for you, go ahead and add 1 Serrano or 1/2 a Habenero (dios mio!)

There is something about this blend, maybe by frying it in the oil, that keeps the salsa from going bad quickly. And it's so so so so pretty. And tasty.

Viva La Salsa!!!!!

6.12.2016

Salazar, Frogtown, Los Angeles


Salazar! So glad I was in town to be part of the first wave of people to enjoy taquero Esdras Ochoa's and Billy Silverman's new grill 'n picnic spot at the outer corner of Silverlake.

At first I had to Google the word, just to see if it officially meant anything. I do speak the muy excelente taco Spanglish. Turns out it was the name of the former owner of the space. A garage don't cha know, for many years. My imagination started to run and I pictured a chop shop straight outta Fast and Furious.

Whatever it was, it is now a premium place to enjoy fabulous cocktails and delicious tacos 6 nights a week (closed Mon.) and one glorious day of lunch with your friends, family, and pets on Sunday from 12-5.


As a testimony to its early popularity, the place was already filled to the brim at 12:09 on a Sunday. I thought they handled the "Holy Lunch Rush, Batman" very well. They acknowledged they were backed up, they apologized, brought more chips etc. It was a beautiful day. No problem.

To my eye, team Salazar is doing everything right. Really fun and friendly staff and management. Creative cocktails abounding; Apricot Sour Beer anyone? How about an Horchata cocktail? OH YEAH. The tacos? As to be expected from half of the team behind Mexicali Taco & Co., they were superb.



I was especially impressed by the pastor taco. Yes, it had the right amount of pineapple. Yes, it was served on an AMAZINGLY FRESH, yet soft, yet chewy, yet thin and translucent, yet no breaky, flour tortilla. OMG. Taco perfection. Salsa? Check; Smokey, plus salt and a roasted tad of sweetness. Divine. I did slurp directly from the salsa cup. I admit it.

Plenty of stuff for vegetarians to eat. A nice taco with grilled onions, potatoes, and spinach.  3 kinds of beans, one of them sans animal. A very filling whipped potato and sausage side order (easy to leave the sausage off.) An heirloom tomato salad which was so delicious it didn't even need the heirloom tomatoes! (A wonderful mix of baby cress, grilled fresh corn, paper thin sliced radishes, requeson cheese and red onion.) For those days when the tomatoes may not be cooperating with perfect sweet ripeness, I say, grill 'em!

     Whipped Potatoes with Red and Green Chorizo

    Heirloom Tomato Salad

In the kitchen, which you can see into from the patio, is the kind of BBQ that Esdras and Javier used to pull out of their pickup truck during the early days of Mexicali Taco in a parking lot in DTLA.

Now chef Esdras is sporting a nice white coat and looking very handsome, I must say (cough, cough) as he ably manages the kitchen in pursuit of the kind of quality and creativity we have become accustomed to when his name is on the taco marquee.

    Veggie Taco. Folded by me. Served flat.

    Esdras Ochoa cooking up a taco storm.

The overall dining experience was just so pleasant. I loved the meat-laden wooden planks. I loved all the tin camping gear (plates, pots of beans, salsa cups etc.) Even the check comes clipped to a mini piece of wood. Seats are comfortable. Shade is ample (sure they could use a few more umbrellas - especially for the hostess!) but that is an easy fix.

On a second pass at Googling the word Salazar, I see that it has Basque origins meaning 'old hall.' This fits! You will also be saying the word "czar" every time you speak the name out loud. Need I explain? A great outdoor gathering place in a cactus garden, peppered with the creative souls of Los Angeles, good friends, and tacos. Yum.

Buen provecho!
Salazar
2940 Fletcher Drive, LA 90065
Contact them on Facebook

6.03.2016

Chicas Tacos, Downtown LA Taco Diner


Hello DTLA! Back in town for taco hoppin' and it's really nice (although daunting) to see all the progress and hipster-izing of the previously forlorn DTLA continuing on at freight train speed.

I have had the privilege to work in the Fashion District not 1, but 3 times between 2000 and 2012.

The changes since I have been living in Mexico the last 4 years are impressive. The best part might be all the fine food establishments lining up in re-vamped vintage buildings. It feels like LA finally has some history besides entertainment.

Some of my favorite DTLA restaurants have been anything by Josef Centeno, Bottega Louie, Church and State and now Little Sister. In fact, Downtown LA is reminding me of San Francisco more and more each day and here comes a giant Bloomingdale's sized Whole Foods to brighten things up.


I was very excited on Wednesday, to park 3 blocks away and pick my steps through rubble and construction barriers to be almost first in line to try the new Chicas Tacos.

A fabulous neon sign, a very colorful 50's diner feel and a very friendly staff welcomed me. Lots of eaters there around 2pm, but not the insanity of a line out the door (which might be coming soon.) They plan to open evenings mid-June and now that Summer weather is here, the al fresco adorable picnic patio will be much appreciated.

How were the tacos? They were good! Dang good. I especially loved the thin but chewy, fresh tortillas and all the beautifully cut veggies that were part of each taco. I couldn't see eating more than three as these are normal sized tacos and not street silver dollars meant to be inhaled by the half dozen.

Real Mexican Glass Bottled Coke

Let me start with the price, because I can see that many taco lovers will be all "What? Five Dollars? What?" But parking at the meter was $2 for under an hour. If you park in a lot across the street it will run you $6. Prices are up! Especially in LA but the quality and the creativity make this taco worth it.

BTW at my very guilty pleasure, comfort food dive, greasy crispy chicken taco place (Hello Fiesta Grande in S. Pasadena) the a la carte taco is $4.50 and it's OLD school.

So the tacos definitely get the Taco Maven's stamp of approval... all except the fish taco. While I love the idea of a caesar salad stuffed in there, word on the street is that the fish for the taco is tilapia and most likely farmed tilapia because fresh tilapia is harder to get.

I hope the kitchen can correct me on this since 'freshness" and "wild caught" are big words on their website. Fish is such a dangerous things these days... with polluted waters and bad farming practices which result in weird bi-products like DDT in your fish. Now that's the real "What?????" So. I personally stick to shrimp tacos as I find the higher quality is easier to procure... but I imagine that would be a $6 taco if Chicas were to offer one.

Veggie Taco - Full of Flavuh and Veggie Goodness

Steak and Crispy Potato Carne Taco

Of the 3 I tried... The steak, the chicken and the veggie, the veggie was the one bursting with flavor. It was friggin' delicious. I also loved the crispy potatoes in the steak. The actually quality and texture of the meat wasn't anywhere near close to Mexicali Taco but then it probably wasn't grilled over a bbq fire either. The overall enjoyment of the beef taco was very tasty and stimulating. Their hot salsa was also terrific. The pork taco included chicarron so what's not to like?

I also hear tale of something called "Mama's Style" a la the In-n-Out secret menu. I was hoping it was a crispy taco but to the best of my understanding, it's 4 stacked flat tacos of your choice with extra cheese between them and eaten like lasagna perhaps. Sounds tempting as a dinnertime variation.

Usually, I avoid chicken tacos out of boredom unless it's a creeeespie, but again, the combination of elements totally worked! The chicken taco had a nice Mediterranean salad on top and even a few garbanzo beans. The chicken was reddish with flavorful seasoning.

Mediterranean Chicken Taco

They also have a delicious-looking collection of creative fruit waters. No jamaica or horchata here. Instead they offer Lavender-Cantaloupe water along with Cucumber-Mint and Watermelon-Cinnamon. I'd like to try to confirm the sweetness level because normally I don't like to waste my calories on liquid sugar! More chips please.

How I wish Chicas Tacos had existed when I was slogging away in the clothing biz. I could have walked right over for a snack, which most people seem to be doing. I saw a lot of cute to go boxes stacking up for people presumably eating in their offices. The classic pink bakery box with tacos nestled within and the words "Until Tomorrow" stamped on the side in Spanish, was cheerful indeed.


Hasta pronto Chicas y buena suerte!

Chicas Tacos
728 S. Olive St. Between 7th & 8th Street DTLA
Open for Lunch 11-3

6.01.2016

Las Cazuelas del Don, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

When you enter Las Cazuelas for the first time, you notice three... no, four things.

1. The charm of the small but clean and shaded patio seating area.
2. The charm of the owner.
3. The charm of the brown, clay pots sitting near the kitchen.
4. How clean and peaceful it feels.

Alberto (the Don) of Delicious Tacos








I had previously sampled their deliciousness at the San Jose Farmer's Market, held every Saturday during November - May. They only had two choices that day: Fish & Beef. I wasn't quite sure what I was eating but it was so damn good I vowed to hunt them down at their (new at the time) location. This was back in 2013.

Recently, I finally found my way there... Not hard to find. Just a block above the main highway on Malvarossa which is one block toward Cabo, past the very popular 2nd hand store, Back to the Rack.

Back to the tacos!

The menu is a conversation piece. 7 deadly sins and 5 wicked combinations of grilled meat, 1 chicken and 1 vegetarian - all seasoned perfectly and then slow cooked in a cazuela pot for several hours. Rich and delicious, you can choose how you want it served: a taco, tostada, vampiro etc. The pots are imported from Tlayacapan in the state of Morelos not far from Mexico City. The tradition of cooking in them was passed down from the owners family.

Chicken 'Lust' Vampiro Style with Melted Cheese

'Envy' or 'Gluttony.' Gluttony has bacon. Envy, Chorizo

Even the chips were clean and simple, not too greasy, properly salty with complex salsas. Truly the ideal dining experience when you are visiting a foreign country and even more so if you are a local relying on other local business owners to keep high standards of quality and cleanliness. Can't say enough about this!!!!


Hongo Vegetarian 'Pride.' Meaty and Mighty.

Currently open from about 1pm - 9pm. Local telephone: 624 130 7386

5.13.2016

Taco Maria, Costa Mesa and Carlos Salgado

I was fortunate enough to eat at Taco Maria in the Fall of 2015. I still have the menu as I am editing this post in June of 2017.

Since my incredible dining experience, both Taco Maria and Carlos Salgado have accumulated even more well-deserved praise and attention for creating and serving absolutely incredible Mexican fusion food. Jonathan Gold first wrote about Taco Maria in 2014. So great to watch their progress. Here is a 2nd review from 2015 on Good Food.


When I first went, of course I had heard the buzz, but I didn't really understand how it worked. Maybe if I had read the J. Gold review I would have been prepared! But I had been living in Mexico, flying by the seat of my chaps. I drove from LA, in rush hour (sort of forgot about TRAFFIC) and as there were multiple actual accidents, it took me over 2 hours.

I was meeting a friend who had just flown in to John Wayne airport from Baja California Sur. She had heard of the place too and was game to try it. I was fantasizing about ordering lots of TACOS but I didn't realize that the dinner menu at that time was pre fixe only for $65 per person.


I also had trouble finding the place. It's quite tiny, hidden in what has to be California's most orgasmic and extensive high design mini mall with even a Surfas. It's called the OC Mix and the area that houses Taco Maria is called the SoCo Collection.

OMG. I kept asking for help. People were very nice. No time to shop - most of the stores looked closed anyway but it was damn impressive.

Once seated in the tiny space we were given a skinny menu, which my eyes quickly scanned for tacos. Tacos, tacos, where are the tacos? I saw one: Taco de Esturion. It looked like a very gourmet and interesting fish taco with mil islas. Ah! 1000 Island dressing, instead of tartar sauce or crema! Clever!

And so it went on. My friend, who is the proud owner of a fantastic garden to gullet restaurant in Southern Baja (Hierbabuena) was very pleased with everything we ate, including the recommended wine pairings.

I kept thinking, gotta come back for lunch, gotta come back for lunch, gotta come back for lunch. During lunch and on Tuesday night, you can order tacos a la carte. Oh joy! And man do they look good. In fact, almost all of the pictures I've posted came from the web because the dim lighting at night did not lend itself to my amateur photo skills!


I was very impressed by the charisma and creativity wafting over from the open kitchen. It was like watching a magic show from the back row. These guys were just plain cool. All of them. Not sure if Mr. Salgado was in there or not - there was one guy with tattoos and long hair who fascinated me. Very serious, very perfectionistic. Large hands, but fine attention to detail.

It took me a while to create a blog post - partly because the experience was so singular, I didn't know how to reduce it to words on a page. I thought it best left in my mind. But at this point, I would be a very negligent Taco Maven indeed if I didn't at least try to put some text to screen.

There were four courses. My friend eats fish (but no meat). I eat shellfish and all meat, so we couldn't do a traditional sharing. I think in some cases we ordered the same thing. As I read the menu now, after the fact, it's hard to reconstruct what I ate and what it looked like. Seriously everything evaporated in a puff of smoke and vapor like it was never really there - so pretty on the plate, so flavorful.

First I had the Enmolada (zucchini, mushrooms, date mole, almonds) super tasty but what was it exactly? Were they rolled up, stacked? in a tortilla????? I found my foto! Pretty sure this was it. Stacked and round with blue corn tortillas maybe?


Then I had the Calabaza Gratinada (squash, Oaxaca cheese, basil, pumpkin seeds) was it baked in a dish? I think so! But I'm not sure!!! Zucchini is pretty much my favorite veggie, especially with cheese! It caramelizes so well and is also soft and soothing.

Then I chose the Chile Relleno (corn battered, potatoes, cotija cheese, Veracruzana style) I loved the chile relleno. Maybe because it was so familiar. I also love Veracruzana sauce which usually features tomatoes, olives, onions etc. I remember that it was very original, very beautiful and was GONE in half a heartbeat. I considered licking my plate several times but managed to show restraint. My tongue did not directly touch that plate. I swear. Fingers yes. Tongue no.


I did find one other picture which must have been the Mero con Tomatillo. (Sablefish with tomatillo jam and coriander). This was as delicious as it was lovely to look at.


The 4th course was a choice between 2 meats. I believe they allowed my friend to order the chile relleno instead. Especially after she tasted mine! I went with the Cachete de Puerco (beans, grilled octopus, chorizo oil). Every since Mario Batali first talked about Pork Cheeks on TV years ago, I've felt fondly toward them. 

There was desert, we ate it. YUM. Maybe it had chocolate and cinnamon. Maybe it was a fancy churro? Pero, no fotos, sin memoria, nada. Our dinner lasted 2.5 hours. The drive home was 50 minutes at 8:30 pm instead of 150 min at 3pm. I gotta go for lunch. I really do. Wanna come with?

3313 Hyland Ave. Suite C21 Costa Mesa, CA
714 538 8444