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53rd and 6th Halal Cart (Manhattan, NY) – The Million Dollar Question: Why?

May 5, 2010

An actual conversation while standing in line at the 53rd and 6th Halal Cart:

(This is considered a very short line.)

Stranger: Is everyone waiting in this line waiting for this cart?
Us: Yup.
Stranger: What makes this cart so special? I always see people waiting for this cart. None of the other guys have lines. Why go to this one…?

Now THAT is the million dollar question. Why?

The 53rd and 6th Halal Cart currently has 965 reviews on Yelp with a 4.5 star average rating. 94% of people “liked” it on Urbanspoon. It even has it’s own Wikipedia page. What makes this halal cart so different from the other dozen halal carts parked down the street? (Btw, you know you’ve hit it big time when googling an intersection links directly to your cart.)

(This is their specialty – chicken and rice.)

After tasting it for myself, I’ve decided: It’s their white sauce. It has to be. I can’t come up with any other reason but that.

Their specialty platter is essentially just lettuce, rice, chicken and pita with whatever sauces you decide to load it up with. Now take the sauce away from the equation: The lettuce is lettuce. The rice is rice. The chicken is a bit mushy. The pita is nice and fluffy but people don’t order “chicken and rice” for the pita. Honestly, without the sauce, it’s average at best.

However, the white sauce almost transforms this plate of blah to one that even I found myself craving the morning after. What’s in the sauce? No one knows…secret recipe. It’s creamy, not heavy, the consistency isn’t too thick but it’s also not watered down by any means. There are no distinct seasonings that jump out at you. I’m not even going to begin to guess what’s in it. All I know is that the white sauce has to be the reason why this cart gets more foot traffic than all the other carts in the area combined.

WARNING: The 53rd and 6th Cart has a white sauce and a red sauce. The white sauce, I’ve already explained above. The red sauce is suicide hot. Like, PAINFULLY SPICY. The cart even has a caution sign for the hot sauce. I put a little of it on my plate – didn’t think it was too bad so I added a lot more. Um…Yeah. Don’t do that. My mouth was on fire for a good five minutes. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t focus, my tongue was numb…

…Just stick to the white sauce.

53rd and 6th Halal Cart
53rd St and 6th Ave
New York, NY 10019
Website: http://www.53rdand6th.com/

53rd and 6th Halal Cart on Urbanspoon

Ricky’s Fish Tacos (Los Angeles, CA) – My First Real Fish Taco

April 3, 2010

Yesterday, I had Ricky’s Fish Tacos for the first time. The first thing that popped into my head after that first bite was:

“…If these are fish tacos, WHAT THE HELL HAVE I BEEN EATING THESE PAST 25 YEARS?!

Honestly, nothing compares – the best fish taco IN MY LIFE.

(See the guy behind the fryer? That’s Ricky.)

(See those things sitting on my plate? Those are Ricky’s fish tacos.)

The batter is super light, crispy, and not at all heavy or greasy. The fish is moist and flaky. The whole thing is topped with thinly sliced cabbage, pico de gallo, Ricky’s homemade crema sauce (made of mayo and skim milk) and salsa.

I can’t write anymore. It’s just so damn good. (Once you have your first bite, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

Ricky’s Fish Tacos
Los Angeles, CA
Twitter: @rickysfishtacos

Cream Pan (Tustin, CA) – Strawberry Croissants and Azuki Cream Pans

March 26, 2010

Sometimes I find myself, looking at food porn for hours on end. Sometimes, out of the blur of food pictures posted across the internet, one of them will catch my attention and spur me to trek across Southern California, to taste what looks like pure deliciousness.

(I hope I made that look like pure deliciousness because that’s what it tastes like.)

Cream Pan in Tustin is an Orange County staple, winning OC Weekly’s Best Bakery in 2008. In their words,

“Nothing in its triangular, hand-holdable frame can be improved upon. The croissant flakes off in crisp, buttery sheets; the custard is as cool as silk; and the sliced strawberries are perkier than a giggly, doe-eyed anime schoolgirl. And of course, it’s sprinkled with plenty of powdered sugar to make it look like you’ve just snorted some blow. Japonaise’s strawberry croissants are just as addicting.”

Yes, the strawberry croissants may be considered the #1 thing to get at Cream Pan, but I would almost argue that their azuki (i.e. red bean) cream pans are just as good, if not better.

These puffs, which look like they weight as much as a cloud, are actually chock full of cream and red bean. The lightly sugared whipped cream is airy and, upon first bite, spouts through the top like a volcano. The red bean tastes natural (i.e. without overly sweet additives) and is only enhanced by the whipped cream. The dough is soft and chewy, like freshly baked bread.

The way these goodies taste is an exact match to how I imagined them to be. I’ll add more to this Cream Pan food porn collection as I try more of their desserts – I’ll definitely be back.

Cream Pan
602 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 665-8239

Cream Pan on Urbanspoon

Daikokuya (Los Angeles, CA) – A Party of One

March 25, 2010

Most people don’t like eating alone. I’m one of them.

As much as I try to avoid it, I find myself eating alone more often than I’d like to admit. Not only do I eat alone, 90% of the time I forget to bring a book and end up sitting around watching everyone around me chow down while I sit……at a table…doing nothing…by myself. (Yeaaaaah. Sounds lame, I know. I promise you – I have friends! And social skills!)

That said, there are a very small handful of places where I will willingly eat alone as the happiness I get from that meal exceeds any discomfort of being a party of one. Of that very small handful of places, there is only one restaurant that I will willingly wait an hour – BY MYSELF – for a meal that will only take half of that time to consume.

Daikokuya.

I’ve come to realize Daikokuya doesn’t care if you’re a party of one or four – you’re going to be seated based on where your name falls on THE LIST (i.e. their wait list, which is secured on a clipboard and sits on a lone chair smack in the middle of their front entrance). See that empty space by the counter, perfect for me, myself and I? Unless you’re next on the list, it’s going to stay empty until the couple next to it leaves, when it will be then used for a party of three instead.

For me, no matter how long I find myself waiting, Daikokuya is worth the wait. The dressing on their cabbage starter salad is simply addicting. Its rich, milky tonkotsu broth washes away the troubles of the day with each warm sip. The noodles are just to my liking – not too soft, cooked just enough so it doesn’t feel like they were tossed into the bowl as an afterthought.

I can go no matter if I’m having a good day or a bad one, whether I’m with friends or by myself – it always hits the spot.

(Read my original review on Yelp.)

Daikokuya
327 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-1680
Website: http://www.daikoku-ten.com/
Twitter: @daikokuyaramen

Daikokuya on Urbanspoon

Petrossian (Los Angeles, CA) – Waking Up to Caviar and Truffles

February 15, 2010

After that first meal at Petrossian, I had to go back…So I did. Immediately.

A little over one week after my dineLA-cum-7 course tasting menu, I was already back in the restaurant, sitting by the same window, scanning the same menu and wondering what to order for my second time around.

The circumstances for this meal were different than the last: I was here for a light brunch with a friend and wanted to try the one or two dishes I missed the last time around. Overwhelmed by the menu, I had the opportunity of asking Ben for his opinion:

“What do you think about the caviar pizza?”
“It’s good!”
“I was thinking about the croque madame too.”
“That’d be great for brunch.”
“Well…what about the foie gras salad? Linden (The Gastronomnom) says it’s even better than your Napoleon tartare.”
“Oh, did he? You should get it then.”

Wow. That was helpful.

My dining companion was just as useless, but agreed to split whatever dishes I decided to order. So, after much inner debate, I finally settled on the foie gras salad and the caviar pizza, with an order of the truffle mac and cheese instead of the croque madame. (There’s no way I could turn down the mac and cheese!)

Once again, Ben surprised us with an order of the blinis to start. They were still as delicious as I remembered (a memory of which was still fresh in my mind at that point).

The foie salad was brought out next – a slice of a foie gras terrine placed atop a bed of haricot vert and walnuts.

(“You should get it”, he says. And so I did.)

The fresh green beans were a welcome start to my sunny Sunday morning, and I loved the crunch of the walnuts hidden in the pile. The rich foie terrine smeared over toast points was that day’s butter and toast.

After touting Petrossian’s mac and cheese throughout my conversation, it finally arrived – picture perfect as always. Again, each bite was heaven, with the bacon flavor a bit stronger this time around. Although I adore this dish, I’ve decided that it’s best enjoyed at dinner; it’s just too hearty for a morning brunch.

The caviar pizza, on the other hand, was the ideal dish for such an occasion.

The combination of ingredients is surprising. The menu may have described it as a pizza with creme fraiche, red onions, chives, capers and caviar, however, it fails to include the finely minced hard-boiled eggs (which are key, as I soon discovered). The eggs add smoothness, the onions add sweetness and, of course, the caviar and capers add that final punch of salt.

I ended my meal with the strawberry panna cotta and the pistachio creme brulee. I favored the panna cotta before, I favored it again.

Now that I’ve eaten all the favorites at Petrossian, you may think I’d be satisfied for a while. Not quite – my friend can attest that, during our converastion, I was frequently distracted by the dishes ordered by the patrons outside (you know, the more standard brunch fare like the hand sliced smoked salmon, the 321 salad or my foregone croque madame). I may have been enviously eying them then, but I’ll try them myself soon enough.

Petrossian Paris Boutique & Cafe
321 N Robertson Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90048
(310) 271-6300
Website: http://www.petrossian.com/
Twitter: @petrossianweho

Petrossian Boutique & Cafe on Urbanspoon