Sunday, January 31, 2016

Off the Map: REGIS IS HERE!

Original Chopped Salad -- La Scala, Beverly Hills, CA
La Scala

To understand what happened to us at La Scala, you have to know  something about Vodka and celebrities.  Namely, that there are only a handful that she truly cares about, and would ever dare approach.

One such celebrity just happens to be Regis Philbin.  
Let's Just Say That She Generally Has the Celebrity Tastes of a Golden Girl
A dozen or so years ago, Vodka was a frequenter of Live with Regis and Kelly tapings, along with an occasional audience member at Regis's touring concert production.  While she had met Regis multiple times during that period, she hasn't seen him in years, though he still holds a very nostalgic place in her heart.
What? Like You've Never Been to a Regis Philbin Concert?
And so, when we arrive naively and a bit woozily at La Scala, we are already on the bemused side, due to Ginger's insistence at Crustacean that she call La Scala and ask if we could sit at the bar and "eat some food" (exact quote).  For some reason, Ginger had been extremely concerned that we were not going to be able to consume Gail Simmons's Best Thing I Ever Ate original chopped salad from the OLD SCHOOL episode of the show, and that La Scala was instead going to insist that we sit at a table.  In her gin stupor, she decided to clarify this point by phone, which in retrospect, now seemed like a ridiculous question.  ("I can't wait until we get there and say, 'We were the ones who would like to sit at the bar and eat some food.'").  In what has become a running theme with us and Los Angeles, rather than looking at us with derision, the hostess says that she would be happy to give a couple at the bar our reserved table and sit us there instead, and could we just give her a minute to do so?  Sure we can.
What Is With Everyone Being So Nice to Us? Even We Find Ourselves Annoying
This circumstance is how we end up on the sidewalk outside of La Scala, swaying back and forth in a merry haze.  And how Ginger says -- it turns out sarcastically -- to Vodka, "Oh look, it's Regis," not knowing that the man approaching La Scala's doors was not merely a Regis lookalike, but actually REGIS HIMSELF.

In this moment, in what Vodka would later swear was a whisper but was actually more of a screech, she calls out, "REGIS!"  In proof that Vodka shouted this a bit more loudly than she meant to, Regis and his accompanying wife, Joy, both turn around and smile before entering the restaurant.
And now, Vodka is out of control.  
It's Like a Scene Out of The Real Former Talk Show Hosts of Beverly Hills
By the time the hostess comes to fetch us so we can enter the premises, Vodka is in the process of texting everyone she knows three words: REGIS IS HERE.

Once we take our places at the bar, and dutifully order another cabernet and gin and tonic, respectively, Vodka has a decision to make.  While she doesn't want to bother Regis, she also doesn't want to let this moment go by ignored.  Which is how she comes to decide that she is going to write Regis a note.
Here's a Hint: Effectively Writing a Letter to Your Favorite Celebrity After Countless Glasses of Wine Is Harder Than It Looks
Acquiring a pad of paper from the bartender, Vodka begins scrawling various versions of her sentiments, usually tearing the paper off of the pad and beginning again within a few words.  Thankfully, Ginger has the foresight to collect all of these drafts, lest Vodka's ramblings end up in the wrong hands, and it takes seven full drafts until she has come up with something that both she and Ginger approve of.  Vodka rises from the bar stool to bring the note to the hostess, as her plan is to ask her to deliver it to Regis at her convenience.  However, at this time, a few fatalistic things happen:

a) With the hostess stand suddenly quite busy, Vodka loses patience and chooses to deposit the note on Regis's table herself, placing it under his wrist as he consumes, ironically, the original chopped salad (she would later recount this dropoff with the phrase "I slipped him a note," which for some reason made us guffaw), and
b) Despite Vodka's relatively short absence (considering she literally ran from Regis's table back to the bar in the hopes of not further embarrassing herself), Ginger has managed to procure herself another drink.
Alcohol, Alcohol Everywhere, and Not a Bite to Eat
While this will later prove to be a poor move on her part, in the moment, it is exactly what she needs in order to bring herself to the same level as Vodka's Regis-induced revelry.  This festive atmosphere is only heightened when a La Scala waiter appears in front of us and asks, "Is one of you Vodka?"  (Real name removed to protect the not-so-innocent).  With that, he hands Vodka a note from Regis himself, which manages to make her both giddy and verklempt.  
This Is Also When All Photos, Much Like the World Before Us, Begin Getting Blurry
It is in this moment that the infamous chopped salad appears before us, which at this point is a bit of an afterthought.  
Perhaps We Could Have Just Asked Regis for a Bite of His Salad and Saved a Couple of Bucks
While we lap it up willingly (despite Ginger's recent fear of all things green and fibrous), we can't recall much about it without consulting the La Scala menu (it seems it consists of lettuce, salami, mozzarella cheese, garbanzo beans, and "Leon dressing," whatever that is).  
The Irony of Us Writing a Food Blog But Never Actually Knowing What We're Eating Is Not Lost on Us
By this point in the evening, Vodka is drunk with happiness over her note from Regis, and Ginger is just drunk.  So while we know we enjoyed the salad, and would almost certainly order it again, if forced to pick it out in a blind taste test, we're not sure we'd be able to differentiate it from a SaladWorks creation.
Unless, Of Course, It Came with a Side of Regis Philbin
And with our La Scala experience, it almost doesn't matter what else happens to us in Los Angeles, because we already have an appropriately ridiculous story to serve as our favorite west coast anecdote.  Because in LA, it turns out you don't have to go to the Hollywood Walk of Fame to find the stars -- you only need to head to La Scala.

La Scala's Original Chopped Salad: 4 stars

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Off the Map: Oh No, Save Our Comrades

Garlic Noodles -- Crustacean, Beverly Hills, CA

"Do you need us to validate your parking?"  This appears to be the most common question posed in Los Angeles, which becomes all the more humiliating every time we are forced to answer, "No, we walked here."  While Crustacean is barely a quarter mile from our hotel, we soon discover getting there on our own is no easy feat, as we have to constantly hunt down a crosswalk as if we're on an archaeological dig.
The Land Where Every Car Wishes to Kill Us
"Walkin' in LA, walkin' in LA," Vodka repeats, pumping her arms like a shopping mall speed-walker as we cross our third multi-lane highway of the night.  Managing to make it to Crustacean unscathed, we position ourselves on two bar stools and prepare to order Duff Goldman's Best Thing I Ever Ate FILLED WITH ENVY dish, the garlic noodles, plus, of course, some all-important cocktails.
Our Favorite Travel Buddies
Discovering that we are still in the ideal happy hour window (thank you, LA, for agreeing with us that happy hour should essentially last all day), Ginger orders a gin concoction, and Vodka, a glass of cabernet.  From our perches at the corner of the bar, we gaze around the restaurant, noting the long trail of an oversized fish tank weaving underneath the floor, assorted giant fish swimming within it.
Nemo? Is That You?
"Well, that just seems awkward in a seafood restaurant," Vodka notes, though no one, including the fish, seem particularly offended by the project.  
Crustacean's Version of the Yellow Brick Road
As we sip (some would say "chug") our drinks, we realize one reason why, even if the food isn't something to write home about, we have generally enjoyed our experiences at LA restaurants: space.  With so much room to spread out, the establishments almost never have their patrons sitting on top of one another, and even the bar stools we're currently perched on are roomy and spread out.
And With No One Around Us to Watch, We Can Take Ridiculous Pictures and Not Be Judged
Luckily for us, it turns out that Crustacean actually is a place to write home about, as it only takes one bite of their famous garlic noodles to discover that we have, finally, found a true 5-star Best Thing I Ever Ate dish in LA.  
Only Took Us Seven Dishes, But Hey, Still Found One
Since the noodles are also on the happy hour menu, they arrive in a slightly smaller portion, and when a couple fall over the edge of the plate and tickle the bar, Vodka calls out, "Oh no, save our comrades!"  Indeed, losing a single bite of this dish would be a tragedy, as these are some of the most perfect noodles we have ever tasted.  
And That's Saying A Lot, Considering Pasta and Wine Are Pretty Much Our Main Food Groups
Please Note the Precariousness of the Dangling Noodle
Wrapped around our chopsticks in increasingly-large mounds, they are essentially lo mein-type noodles covered in an invisible sheen of Crustacean's secret garlic sauce.  Besides garlic, we're not exactly sure what we taste, but we do know it's pleasing enough to order a second plate.  
Barkeep, Bring Us Another Round
And despite our attempts to soak up our cocktails with double plates of noodles, by the time we're ready to leave Crustacean, we are growing increasingly close to being one too many sheets to the wind.  As Ginger attempts, for at least the seventh time today, to apply her new lipstick, and subsequently places it everywhere except on her actual lips, Vodka tells her, without any sense of irony, "I think your lipstick is too advanced for you," as if said lipstick was an AP Calculus course and not just a few too many shades of pink.
Ginger's Results Essentially Look Like She Put the Lipstick on During an Earthquake
"Just wait until La Scala gets a hold of us," Ginger says, regarding our next Best Thing I Ever Ate location.  And as we trudge out of the restaurant over the floor of trapped fish, how little we know just how prolific that statement would come to be....

Crustacean's Garlic Noodles: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Friday, January 29, 2016

Off the Map: Great Hot Dog Expectations

Chili Dog -- Carneys, Los Angeles, CA

The problem with being the Best Thing I Ever Ate dish that we're most looking forward to eating in Los Angeles is that our expectations are ten-times higher than usual.  So this is the issue faced by Carneys, home of Marc Summers favorite chili dog from THE CLASSICS episode of the program.
What Are These "Vegetables" With Which You Are Tainting Our Hot Dog?
To say hot dogs are a guilty pleasure for us would be an understatement, as in truth, we don't really have much guilt about eating them at all.  
Yeah, We Don't Care What It's Comprised Of -- Just Hand It Over
Past experiences have shown that, in general, we are relatively unimpressed by the Food Network's stars' choices of dogs on a bun, despite the fact that we will literally eat any hot dog placed in front of us, no matter its source.  So with Carneys, being a bit of an LA institution (what with the vintage rail car setting and all), we are expecting great things.
Quick Question: Is This the Bar Car?
Getting to Carneys is no easy feet, as it involves schlepping up multiple flights of stairs and crossing Sunset Boulevard sans crosswalk (really, if LA just encouraged people to walk around a little more, perhaps there wouldn't be such need for the preponderance of personal trainers).  
Our Route to Carneys = More Stairs Than We've Climbed in a Month
Huffing and puffing once we reach the Carneys counter, Vodka orders one chili dog, which the server immediately asks if we'd like to split.

"They're very good about splitting dishes here," Ginger notes.  "No one in New York would ever ask us."
What They're Also Very Good About Is Not Being Stressed to Serve Patrons Promptly
Indeed, perhaps this is how LA residents keep their slim fingers despite the lack of walking: no one ever consumes an entire plate of food.
Ah Ha! We Have Figured Out Your Magical Ways, Los Angeles
The hot dog arrives quickly, and upon inspection, all looks well.  While smothered in chili is not necessarily how we would choose to order our own dogs, we're not opposed to the topping.

Our first bites, however, reveal something else.  Namely, disappointment.
Sorry, Where Can We Find the HOT DOG?
Somehow, despite components that appear as though they should all be delicious, this hot dog is lacking.  
Never Trust a West Coast Resident to Make an East Coast Dish
The meat itself is almost completely masked by the overwhelming amount of chili, which we would forgive should the chili actually have a pleasing flavor (or really, any flavor at all, as this is just about the blandest variety we've ever tasted).  
Can Someone Please Send LA Some Salt?
"How do you possibly make a chili dog wrong?" Ginger asks.  "A hot dog should be so much better."
Maybe We Should Have Taken a Hint By the Fact That We Were Carneys's Only Customers
And there is the risk faced with those Best Thing I Ever Ate locations who serve our favorite foods -- the higher the expectations, the greater the fall.  And in the case of a hot dog, maybe it is true that an old one really can't be taught new tricks.

Carneys's Chili Dog: 2 stars

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Off the Map: The Wheels on the Bus Go Drink, Drink, Drink

Pasta Mama -- Hugo's, Los Angeles, CA

There are few things classier than using a hop-on, hop-off double-decker tour bus to fulfill one's Los Angeles restaurant reservations.  
Oh No, We're Not From Here -- How Could You Tell?
Without the use of a car, we had decided months ago to utilize the bus's route to help us get from one side of town to the other in order to save a few dollars on Uber.  Unfortunately for us, asking the bus drivers for door-to-door service doesn't really seem to be an option, which is how we find ourselves trudging up the sidewalks of West Hollywood in order to get to Hugo's to taste Susan Feniger's Best Thing I Ever Ate WAKE UP CALL dish, the pasta mama.
Dear StarLine Tours, We Have a New Route for You to Try
Despite the fact that Susan recommends eating the dish for breakfast, we wander into the place in the late afternoon (after all, we feel we've consumed enough breakfasts today to last us a lifetime).  At this point, Vodka's phone is on the brink of death (as opposed to the actual death it will experience on the streets of Santa Monica the next day, but that's another tale), and after we check in, she asks the hostess if it would be possible to be seated near an outlet in order to charge it.

To which Vodka receives a resounding, "No."
Clearly, the Hostess Doesn't Read This Blog, or Else She'd Know How Rapidly "Can I See the Manager?" Flies Out of Vodka's Mouth
Never one to take rejection well, the second our waiter appears at our table, Vodka accosts him with the same question.  Being that he is the kindest person on the planet, he volunteers to take Vodka's phone and charger and plug it in at the waiters' station, out of sight of the nasty hostess (who it becomes clear early on that everyone in the restaurant is afraid of.  So much for our "People in LA are excessively nice" theory).  
So Hardy Har Har, Ms. Hostess
In the meantime, once our new BFF, the waiter, tells us that Hugo's happy hour is currently offering all cocktails for $5, we are overwhelmed with glee.  Vodka orders a cucumber martini, and Ginger a margarita, which cause us to be so pleased with our lives that we each soon order another.
The Drunk Version of Cookies and Milk
In the middle of our bargain drinking, our bowl of pasta mama arrives, which, from what we remember, is spaghetti noodles with eggs, garlic, parsley, and parmesan cheese.  
Good Luck Following That Descriptive Recipe We've Provided
Almost immediately, Ginger, still sporting a hive on her cheek, decides to proclaim, "I think I may have an egg allergy."  This latest theory does not prevent her from diving into the bowl, which, almost immediately, Vodka decides to douse with salt.  
At This Point, Ginger Is Surprised Vodka Doesn't Carry a Flask of Salt in Her Purse
Overall, the pasta is tasty enough, if slightly chunky in texture due to the scrambled eggs.  
Yes, Hugo's, Could You Please Blend This for Us?
We could see how it could be pleasing in the early morning hours, especially since everywhere else in town seems insistent on only serving waffles.  
Nothing Like Some Good Carb-Loading First Thing in the Morning
And while we would certainly return to Hugo's for the $5 cocktails and sweet-as-pie waitstaff, the pasta itself would not be enough to lure us back.    
And Certainly Not Their Lack of Usable Electrical Outlets
As we prepare to leave, we watch a woman in a full down coat strut into the restaurant, despite the 65-degree temperature outside.  And we can only assume that she, unlike us, did not arrive here on a double-decker tour bus.

Hugo's Pasta Mama: 3 stars

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Off the Map: Four Waffles a Day Keep the Hives Away

Red Velvet Waffle -- The Waffle, Los Angeles, CA
There is nothing like leaving one waffle establishment, only to cart your leftovers down Sunset Boulevard to a second waffle place.  Indeed, if we have learned anything thus far about Los Angeles, it is that its residents do not seem to be much for a savory breakfast item, as before noon, we have already consumed pancakes, a regular waffle, and now, the red velvet waffle which Susan Feniger spoke of on the BETTER THAN MINE episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.
So Many Waffles, So Little Time
Truth be told, we walk into The Waffle less excited about the dish we're about to consume than we are about the chalkboard sign hanging above our heads which boasts about their "double mimosas."  
Things Are Looking Up!
Vodka hightails it to the bathroom, which leaves Ginger with the (apparently) highly difficult job of ordering.  After our last mistaken waffle debacle, she is extremely paranoid about making the same mistake, so with Vodka still missing, she decides that she is going to order all of the food for herself and inform the waitress, "The other one is just going to have a double mimosa."
Of All the Sights One Can Find in Hollywood, We're Fairly Certain We're Two of the Strangest
Within minutes, we are joyful at the arrival of our mason jars of goodness, practically slopping over the edges with orange juice and not a small serving of champagne.  Our moods improve instantly, and while we wait for the arrival of our fourth meal of the day, Ginger recounts the time she spent as a child at the Ho Hum Ranch.  "I got herded into the pasture with some llamas," she states without affect, causing Vodka to decide that at times like this, even after ten years of friendships, she doesn't really know Ginger at all.
You Hand Us a Couple of Mimosas, and the Conversation Suddenly Turns to Llamas
It is in the middle of this stimulating discussion that our plate of waffles appears before us.  Two thick red waffles sit stacked at an angle against each other, with hearty helpings of cream cheese frosting oozing down their centers.  Ginger scoops a bit of frosting (her recent fear of dairy clearly forgotten) onto her fork and picks at the waffle until a corner falls off.  Within one chew, she proclaims, "Fact: This may just be the best thing I ever ate."
We're So Easy to Please Once You Get a Little Booze in Us
The waffle is quite scrumptious: crispy yet still chewy, with a good flavor and an even better topping (to be fair, we have never met a cream cheese frosting we haven't liked).  Halfway through its consumption, Ginger starts rustling in her handbag, announcing, "I'm going to take GasX," and whether this is the highest compliment or greatest criticism The Waffle has ever received is up to interpretation.  
Feel Free, The Waffle, to Steal This for Your Next Marketing Campaign: Worth the GasX
In the end, Ginger is much more taken with the red velvet waffle than Vodka is, presumably because she likes all things sweet and Vodka hardly likes anything that doesn't come with a shaker of salt.  In a compromise of taste, we're giving the waffle four stars, since Ginger would eat it again in an instant, and Vodka doesn't understand what type of "meal" it could actually be appropriate for.
The Remnants of a Waffle Slaughter
Of course, what could have helped Ginger's perception of said waffle is the second round of double mimosas which have just been placed in front of us, bringing our mood to an all-time LA high.  
Hey, We've Had to Eat Four Waffles Today. It's Only Fair That We Get Four Drinks, Too
And even though by the end of the meal, Ginger has began breaking out in hives, it doesn't dampen our tipsy energy.
New Form of Allergy Relief
"I mean, there's definitely something wrong with me," Ginger says nonchalantly as we exit the premises, box of GasX in hand and hive on her face.  But nothing, it seems, that a few double mimosas can't fix.

The Waffle's Red Velvet Waffle: 4 stars

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Off the Map: The Accidental Waffle

Chicken and Waffles -- Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, Los Angeles, CA
Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles

Only three stops into our food tour of Los Angeles, and we are growing delirious.  Some may blame the jetlag.  Some may blame the fact that we haven't been bowled over by any of the Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes yet.  But we would blame the fact that we are in desperate need of a cocktail.
Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are
After our excursion for tacos, Vodka checks the double-decker tour bus app and discovers that the bus we had planned to ride in the direction of our next eating location is less than two minutes away.  The problems with this are a) if we miss this bus, the next one won't arrive for another 45 minutes, b) we're not exactly sure where the bus stop is, and c) however we slice it, we're going to be required to run.
Doesn't Everyone Arrive at 5-Star Restaurants on Sightseeing Buses?
We take off "running" (LA's abundance of personal trainers would almost certainly not consider our trot "running") in the direction we think the tour bus will be, and sure enough, a double-decker monstrosity is straight ahead.  At this time, we break into a full-on "sprint" (again, the categorization of our speed is subjective) and throw ourselves onto the bus just as the driver opens the door.  

Where, save for the driver, the bus is completely empty.
No Problem -- Might You Know Where We Could Find a Bar?
Said driver informs us that the actual bus stop, for the actual bus, is somewhere "across the street" (communication issues prevent us from understanding exactly what bus, what street, and what stop he is referring to).  Our impatience results in a decision to throw money at the problem and instead to flag down one of our trusty Uber drivers, who carts us to Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, home of Duff Goldman's Best Thing I Ever Ate COMBOS dish, the chicken and waffle.
All Restaurants Should Hang This Warning When We Come to Town
When we stumble out of the bright sunshine (Vodka would say TOO bright of sunshine) into the relatively dark interior of Roscoe's, we immediately feel as though we have entered some sort of alternate universe.  We are ushered to a table by the very jovial host (again with the people in LA being disarmingly nice), and we are at once disheartened to find that the only drinks available on the menu are beer (which we despise) and "house wine," a term which has proven in the past to be our heads' personal nemesis.  
House Wine = Hangovers R Us
As the clock clicks disturbingly close to noon, we resign ourselves to yet another sober meal as we place an order for a single platter of chicken and waffles.

It bears repeating that we ordered ONE platter of chicken and waffles.  Or so we thought.
Within minutes, plates of the infamous combo are placed in front of both of us.  
We Really Need to Stop Using the Royal We
Now, if still in New York, there is a solid chance that we would have fought this circumstance.  That we would have chased down our waiter and insisted that he take away the accidental waffle, both from our table, and perhaps more importantly, from our check.  
Mister, Do You Know How Many Meals We Have Left to Eat Today?!
But in less than a half day, LA seems to have mellowed us.  It's the problem, we decide, when everyone is so bloody NICE to us -- we then feel bad going at them in our usual guns-blazing fashion.  And so, we reluctantly begin making our way through our separate plates of chicken and waffles.  
Leggo My Eggo, This Is Not
After all, we do love a salty/sweet pairing, so perhaps we'll be grateful that we each have our own portion, and for once, do not have to share....

Yeah, not so much.
The Perfect Bite?
The fried chicken portion of Roscoe's offering is really quite good.  Crispy on the outside and moist and juicy on the inside, it is even preferred to some of the Best Thing I Ever Ate FRIED CHICKEN dishes we've tasted in the past.  
You Know What Would Go Well With This Chicken? ALCOHOL
The waffle, however, doesn't have much in the way of flavor, and after a solid helping of real Vermont maple syrup earlier at BLD, the grocery store version available here just doesn't seem to cut it.  Vodka ends up eating the chicken on its own, while Ginger mostly winds up consuming the butter.
Happy Cholesterol Check to You, Too
After acquiring some to-go boxes, we dump the remainder of our plates inside, assuming that they will last all of a block before we get tired of carrying them. 
Now, Doesn't That Look Appetizing?
In the end, it turns out the leftovers prove to be quite useful later in the day while stuck in traffic on top of one of the infamous double-decker buses. 
"And On Your Left, You'll Find Two Girls Gnawing on a Chicken Bone..."
Which we suppose proves that you never know when an accidental waffle just might come in handy.  

Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles's Chicken and Waffles: 3 stars