Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Power of Two: Pacific Dining Car and Langer's

Two LA Landmarks: Pacific Dining Car and Langer's

Remember the 80s? We didn't walk; we power walked. We didn't eat breakfast or lunch. We had a power breakfast or a power lunch. And a suit wasn't a suit. That's right. It was a power suit. The whole thing made me want to power puke.

When a friend invited me for breakfast at the venerable Pacific Dining Car in downtown LA, my first thought was, "What should I wear?"

I considered wearing a power suit (or at least a power jacket) while we ate our power breakfasts, but settled on a look that was more casual Friday than uptight Tuesday. After all, I figured the ultimate power comes from having a flexible schedule that allows you to take off the morning for a downtown breakfast outing. (Don't ya' love stickin' it to the man.)

Sure enough, all of the other diners were dressed in suits and ties and gazed at spreadsheets and pie charts between sips of coffee from a china cup. To fit in, dining companion and I studied Jonathan Gold's list of 99 Things to Eat Before You Die while we developed a strategy for our next take over of a restaurant.

I hadn't set foot in the Pacific Dining Car since the 80s, when I worked downtown as a briefcase-lugging corporate drone. I was happy to see that it hasn't changed a bit. Some icons become stodgy over time, but not the Pacific Dining Car. It still looks and feels fresh and elegant, refined and special with its rich colors, linen table cloths and fine china and silver.

Butter rosettes and a fresh rose at every table

I ordered the breakfast hash, which is made from the left over steaks from the night before. Unlike most hashes, which tend to be at least 50% potato, this one was 85% steak and 15% potato, all swimming in a rich, savory gravy. The steak came cubed, not shredded, and was so tender that I barely needed to chew. It came topped with a poached egg with two biscuits on the side. Power breakfast indeed.

Dining companion went for the Cajun style eggs benedict, featuring sauteed mushrooms and a crab cake instead of Canadian bacon.

After our two-hour breakfast, we realized that it was time for lunch. So we did what any food-loving duo would do: we traveled a few blocks away to Langer's to try one of their legendary pastrami sandwiches.

When the sandwiches arrived, the first thing I noticed was the warm, untoasted bread. Then when I bit into the sandwich, I immediately noticed the crisp, chewy crust. I was enraptured. Apparently, this is what rye bread is all about. Why doesn't everyone do it this way?

We packed up our sandwiches to go, and I vowed that I wasn't ever going to eat again. That is until I returned home and that rye bread started calling my name.

Of course, I did what any good girl from the 80s does. I powered down the pastrami sandwich and then I took a power nap.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Evolution of the Hot Dog

Be prepared for a 15-20 minute wait in line and a 15-20 minute wait for "fast" food at The Slaw Dogs.

You may assume that you can get a realistic glimpse into my eating habits by reading this blog. You would be wrong. Or half wrong. Or maybe half right.

Take the last nine scrumptious days. I've slurped Japanese
udon and soba at Sanuki No Sato; indulged in a friend's home-made cassoulet, ala The Art of French Cooking; sampled more than a half dozen "red wines under $10" at the same friend's home; toasted to good health with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot; shared paella, charcutterie, Spanish potatoes and a bottle of Spanish wine with friends at Three Drunken Goats; met friends for dinner at Malbec, where my medium rare steak arrived well done (but the staff did an excellent job of correcting the overcook); had a tasteless burger at The Counter in Pasadena; sipped a Manhattan at the decades-old bar at Musso and Frank; tried the jellied consomme (like gelatin with a bouillon cube), beef tongue, mixed salad and Welsh Rarebit at Musso's; and couldn't get enough of the fusilli with fresh tomatoes (hangers on from the garden), shallots, garlic, olive oil, splash of balsamic and sea salt I made for dinner on Saturday night.

And, even though this rundown sounds like a foodie's fantasy, it's far from my typical week of dining and drinking. And it omits a lot of indulgences, like the half sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies that I gobbled down in the car on the way back from the Scout's home. Or the Cherry Garcia ice cream that I had to have after a friend blogged about the joys of the cherry and chocolate confection.

All but one of these meals was blog-worthy, but I'm not tempted to write about a single one of these dining adventures.

And why not?
Because I want to talk about hot dogs.

The Slaw Dogs kicks the classic hot dog up a notch.

Specifically, the dogs with attitude at Pasadena's newest specialty restaurant, The Slaw Dogs on North Lake Avenue. The hotdoggery has been open since February, and already lines are snaking out the door, an unusual sight in the City of Roses (especially north of the 210).

Today, I chatted with two women who had driven all the way from Camarillo and Torrance to sample the dogs. While other eateries are tumbling faster than dominoes, what is there about The Slaw Dogs that's packing in the crowds from all over Southern California?

It's an All-American classic. I know the saying is, "As American as Apple Pie," but we could just as easily substitute "hot dog" for "apple pie." Can you think of a hot dog without visions of family barbecues, fourth of July cookouts, greasy diners and baseball games. It's nostalgia wrapped in a bun.

It's a Regional Favorite: Seems like every state puts a different twist on the classic. There's the Chicago-style hotdog. The Coney Island dominates the Northeast. And, of course, the restaurant's namesake, the slaw dog, is a West Virginia classic. The bloggers at West Virginia Hot Dog point out that nobody in West Virginia orders a "slaw dog" because it's a given that your hot dog will come with slaw. (Well, it's a given if you live in one of the southern counties in the state. West Virginians take "regional food" to a whole new level.)

The Slaw Dog gives you the chance to order your dog just the way you like it, whether you're from Brooklyn, New York, or Charleston, West Virginia.

It Was Ready for a Makeover:
Like the humble grilled cheese sandwich, macaroni and cheese and hamburger, the hot dog was ready to benefit from all the best ingredients, including a selection of 11 links offered at The Slaw Dogs.

It's Fun to Have Choices:
In addition to the choice in links, The Slaw Dogs offers 25 "standard toppings" and 22 "custom toppings."

It Lends Itself to Fusion:
The Slaw Dogs offers a Thai Slaw Dog with chicken sausage, spicy peanut-cocunut satay dressing, cilantro-carrot slaw, crushed peanuts and siracha aioli. The Green Monster, which appears to be one of the most popular dogs offered, is topped with roasted green chilli (that runs the length of the dog), chipotle mayo, grilled onion, pepperjack, and spicy garlic salsa.

For my first visit, I went with "The Original" with chilli, cheese, mustard, onions and cole slaw (but I asked them to hold the cheese). It came served with a knife and fork, but that's almost as much fun as slicing up your pizza before you eat it. Unfortunately, my grilled hot dog bun became unhinged after two bites, but that didn't stop me from using my hands to polish off the classic.

Left: "The Original" slaw dog Right: The Green Monster, a crowd favorite

How did it compare with the slaw dogs I've devoured in my home state? Unlike the fine shredded cabbage in West Virginia, the slaw is coarse shredded at The Slaw Dogs. And the WV buns are soft and steamy, not dry from the grill. On the other hand, the chilli and the grilled hot dog were superior at The Slaw Dogs.

Country roads, take me home to the place I belong, Pasadena. But, next time, can ya' steam the bun?

The Slaw Dogs
720 N. Lake Ave., #8
Pasadena, CA 91104

Hours: Sunday - Wednesday, 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
Thursday - Saturday, 11:00 am - 10:00 pm

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Food for Thought

If you live in the San Gabriel Valley, you may want to check out these upcoming events.

March 6:
Learn about Access to Impact: Using Open Government to Create Change at the Neighborhood Church (301 N. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena) from 8:30 am to noon. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Refreshments and free parking. To RSVP for this free event, contact lwvpasocialpolicy@gmail.com or 626.798.0965.

March 13 and 14: It's Sukiyaki Saturday and Sunday at the Pasadena Buddhist Church (1993 Glen Ave., Pasadena). Dine in (4:00 to 7:30 pm) or take out (4:00 to 6:00 pm) a flavorful beef sukiyaki dinner for just $10. The sukiyaki sauce simmers for days, creating a deep, rich sauce that's nearly impossible to duplicate at home. To reserve meal tickets for this fund raiser, call 626.398.9987.

March 17: The YWCA's Woman of Excellence program features Judge Kim Wardlaw, the first Latina woman ever to be appointed to the Federal Court of Appeals. She'll be at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium of the Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut Ave., Pasadena, from 9:30 to 11:00. Tickets are $25 in advance or $35 at the door. Refreshments included. All proceeds go to support programs at the YWCA. Purchase tickets online at www.ywca.org/kimwardlaw or call Ashley at 626.296.8433.

March 20: Do you write or read a blog in the San Gabriel Valley? Join us for the second annual Bloggers' Picnic in Farnsworth Park (corner of Lake Ave. and Mount Curve in Altadena) from noon to 3:00 pm. Bring a potluck dish to share at this free, fun event.

Whenever: Help save the Adams Park Station General Store at Chantry Flats. Read Cafe Pasadena's post about how to give to the non-profit associated with the historic general store.

Hope to see you!

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Taste of the Orient (aka my WTF food moment)

I know. I know. Food guru Michael Pollan would not approve of eating ramen with a little packet of dried seasoning listing no fewer than 14 ingredients (including MSG).

Just the same, legions of college students have escaped starvation and financial ruin by subsisting on the eight for a buck packages of Maruchan or Nissin Top Ramen noodles. My own finicky daughter started school with a hot meal in her belly, thanks to the Cup Noodles that she slurped every morning in the car for an entire year. (That, no doubt, qualifies me for the parenting hall of shame.)

But me? The one with the discriminating taste buds? The one with the refined palate? No, I wouldn't stoop to slurping the ramen of starving students or the grab-it-and-go breakfast bunch. Thanks to the influence of my Japanese American neighbor, Carol, I suck down Myojo Chukazanmai ramen. At $1.49 a package, Myojo is the gourmet version of instant ramen.

Last Saturday, I pondered the flavor choices on a pilgrimage to Mitsuwa Market in Torrance. I dropped a few packages of soy sauce and soy bean paste flavored ramen packages into my cart. And then came the WTF moment: Oriental flavor ramen.

Why would a Japanese company with a Japanese audience market a vague "Oriental" flavor?

To avoid confusion with the milder "Occidental" flavor? To evoke memories of a favorite Oriental rug? To appeal to foodies looking for a touch of the exotic?

According to this review by NoodleSon, it's the sesame oil and traces of Chinese cabbage that contribute that taste of the Orient.

Whatever you call it, instant ramen can be a bowl of comfort on a cold, wet day. But I'll bet that Michael Pollan still wouldn't call it food.