Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Mediocrest Place on Earth - Disney Dining Part 1: Disneyland

Ah Disneyland, home to fun and adventure for children of all ages. The happiest place on earth...except when it's time to eat, when it becomes a minefield of overpriced mediocrity and downright horribility. Is it possible to find great food in Disneyland? Not really...but there is the better and the worse. As a fairly regular guest, I thought I would share my experiences in Disney dining and help you identify the pitfalls and possibly, a few hidden gems.

This week we will focus on the the popular Disneyland Park and next week, we will cover the less popular though in my estimation underrated Disney California Adventure, but first, a few helpful eating tips for both parks.

Tips for the Hungry Mouse

1. You can bring outside food into the park. That's right, you can bring food from home or elsewhere and eat it in the park. Technically, you are not supposed to actually enter the park with outside food, but should eat it at the front picnic area, but I've never had a problem setting up at one of the outdoor restaurant tables with a sandwich. (There is a Lee's Sandwiches that opens at 7:00 a.m. just a few miles from the park on Harbor Blvd.) Even if I don't bring a full meal, I usually bring some healthy snacks so I have some alternative to the high priced goodies that tempt you throughout the park.

2. Bring water. Even if you don't bring food or snacks, there is no reason to pay Disney prices for water. I usually bring at least a bottle per person. If you freeze them the night before, they stay pretty cool most of the day.

3. Avoid Hamburgers. Even at the places I say are decent, do not order hamburgers. I don't know what Disney does to their hamburger patties but they are revolting, grey discs that have no place between a bun. Anton Ego would not swallow.

4. Remember the First Corollary of Disney Dining: Nothing is Great/Everything is Expensive. You will have a better time if you accept this rule. As a food blogger, I suspend my usual standards when I enter the Magic Kingdom. There are a few good bites, but no amazing finds, and sweets tends to be better than savories. Just repeat the rule to yourself: Nothing is Great/Everything is Expensive. You'll live to eat another day.

5. Reserve a table. At some choice dining spots, particularly the Blue Bayou at Disneyland and Ariel's Grotto at California Adventure, reservations are required. Call Disney Dining at (714) 781-DINE.

6. Disney is dry/California Adventure is wet. You won't find alcohol for sale at Disneyland park, but you will find it at California Adventure.

And now for the food, by Disney location. First a few caveats for both this list and next week's. This list is by no means exhaustive but reflects some of the things I have experimented with, for good or ill, over the years. Also, it covers only food within the park, not Downtown Disney or food at any of the hotels.


About that corndog cart

The only single Disneyland food that gets buzz among foodies is the corndog cart on Mainstreet USA. Even Jonathan Gold has sung the praises of the little red wagon. It's located on the right side of Main Street, from the direction of the entrance, right before you hit the Carnation Cafe. When done well, these things are indeed wonderful...a perfectly fried, sweet and chewy cornmeal coating, hand dipped such that it bulges at the top and locks in the hot dog juice. Of late, however, they have had a problem with the grease having a rancid odor, a smell that makes me nauseous before I even bite into the dog. If you can smell the grease before you can see the cart, you may want to pop across to Disney California Adventure's Corndog Castle, which I will cover next week. Same dog, fresh grease.


New Orleans Square has some of the most promising food in the park, as you might expect from an area that is named after one of America's most prominent gastronomic destinations.

Blue Bayou

One of the most sought after seats at the Disney table, the Blue Bayou's main draw is the location. It is situated inside of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which gives you the feeling of dining alongside a bayou at night. It's fun to sit and watch the pirate boats pass by. The food is mostly mediocre, but they do serve one of the last great Monte Cristo sandwiches. I love a Monte Cristo...ham, cheese and turkey on white bread, battered and fried and served with jam. The BB does a near perfect version of this classic. My biggest beef with the Bayou is that the food is ludicrously expensive, and this includes the Monte Cristo which weighs in at almost $20 (although it is big enough to easily feed two). Overall, the BB is a great thing to do once, but call in advance for reservations, (714)781-DINE, because it fills up.

Cafe Orleans

For the food of the Blue Bayou without the fun of eating inside a ride, Cafe Orleans is a table service restaurant with a similar menu, including the vaunted Monte Cristo, and reservations are not required.

French Market Restaurant

The French Market Restaurant is a decent cafeteria style restaurant right next to Cafe Orleans. They do a fine fried chicken, and I like the pork on the BBQ pork po-boy, though the bread is perpetually stale.

At the service window on the patio of the French Market you can get little apple dumplings and the popular "mint julep" which is also served at the Cafe Orleans and the Bayou. Now, as a fan of real mint juelps, I have to say that I am deeply offended that anyone would call this non-alcoholic, fluorescent green elixir that smells and tastes like something you would polish furniture with, a mint julep. I don't know what it is; I don't know that I want to know what it is, but it certainly does not contain mint or Bourbon and therefore, has no business being called a mint julep.

Royal Street Veranda

The Royal Street Veranda is a window near the Pirates ride which serves clam chowder and gumbo in a sourdough bowl. It's not bad when doused with Tabasco (think a decent canned soup in a Boudin boule) and pretty quick if you are trying to get on with your day at the park without a long lunch break.


Tomorrowland Terrace

The futuristic Tomorrowland Terrace is a large circular stand at the center of Tomorrowland. In the world of tomorrow, food will apparently have lost all redeeming value and have been reduced to tasteless burgers, wilted lettuce and flavorless chicken sandwiches. Tomorrowland Terrace may be the worst food in Disneyland, which is saying a lot...AVOID, AVOID, AVOID.

Redd Rockett's Pizza Port

Big slices of pizza and pasta are available at the Space Mountain adjacent Redd Rockett's. It's pretty similar to a Sbarro or similar mall-Italian place. They do have some decent pastas with some nice garlic in the sauce. Pizza Port is a pretty safe bet in the otherwise dangerous culinary world of Tomorrowland.


Bengal Barbecue

I'd heard some good recommendations for the satay-style skewered meats at Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland. The skewers looked like satay, but they were salty, really, really salty. I won't be returning.

Tiki Juice Bar

One of the few places you can get a Dole Whip outside of Hawaii is in the juice bar outside the Enchanted Tiki Room. Personally, I'm not fan of these popular tropical fruit sherbets which come out of the soft-serve machine. They have an artificial/chemical taste I find off-putting, but if that's your thing, you can get it here. Now, an Enchanted Tiki Bar, that would be cool.


There are lots of carts that serve food at multiple locations around the's a guide to just a few of them.


Disneyland does a pretty decent churro. They are crispy on the outside, chewy standard Disney breakfast.

Ice Cream Bars

There are carts all over both parks selling various ice cream novelties such as mouse shaped ice cream sandwiches, frozen bananas and chocolate covered Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. Most of these are pretty decent. I particularly like the chocolate covered Mickey Mouse bar. The chocolate is rich and the ice cream isn't too sweet. However, these ice cream bars come with two caveats: (1) Do not read the ingredient list...just don't; (2) I don't know what Disney uses in their freezer carts, but these things are hard as rocks. Seriously, you could chip a tooth on one of these things...or kill someone if you threw it hard enough. I literally wait 15 minutes before eating one of these mouse-eared treats, maybe less on a really sweltering summer day.

Well, I hope that will help you avoid the bad and seek out some of the good on your next trip to Disneyland. The food is actually a bit better at Disney California Adventure, which we will review next week, so stay tuned Disney diners.

UPDATE: See this entry and extensive comments on Chowhound.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: A Little Tennessee for your Turkey

For Thanksgiving, I thought I'd return to the US and try a little Tennessee with my turkey.

In my Tennessee Smackdown, George Dickel put Jack Daniels in a headlock and ruthlessly banged him against the mat. Given my love of Dickel, I opted to check out the more refined Barrel Select bottling from our friend George.


George Dickel Tennessee Whisky Barrel Select, 43% alcohol, owned by Diageo ($35.99).

Now I was a big fan of Dickel number 12, but this more expensive cousin just doesn't do it for me. It tastes for all the world like a watered down version of No. 12, and at 43% abv compared to Number 12's 46%, maybe it is. Who ever heard of paying more for less alcohol? Sheesh.

Is this sweeter, lighter version of Dickel and attempt to mimic Gentleman Jack? Come to think of it, the rounded flask style Barrel Select bottle resembles the Gent's own bottle. Oh George, don't feel like you need to mimic your rich, ultra-popular Tennessee cousin. You're better than that! Jack may have the money, but you've got the flavor.

That being said, Dickel Barrel Select is still better than any Jack, but for my part, I'll save $15 and stick with old number 12.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Welcome to the Chocosphere

Now that the weather finally seems to be cooling down a bit in Southern California, I can return to my favorite obsession of the cool months: mail order chocolate.

As you know, one of my many obsessions is fine chocolate, and there is no better place to get great chocolate bars than

Portland, Oregon based Chocosphere has an utterly amazing array of chocolate brands. We're not just talking big names like Valrhona, Michel Cluizel and Scharffen Berger but also hard to find bars like Amedei, Bonnat and Askinosie. Currently, they offer chocolate from nearly 50 producers. You won't find most of this stuff on sale anywhere in LA.

And Chocosphere has fantastic customer service. They will consult the weather and pack your chocolates accordingly, a big plus for someone who lives in a climate that can suddenly turn summer-hot in November. And if they have any shipping or other concerns about your order, they will call you personally and fill you in. It's the type of personalized service you don't see at many internet based companies, and it makes all the difference.

Over the next few weeks, I'll post reviews of my latest Chocosphere shipment which included some Italian Domori and French Pralus bars. Mmmm, autumnal chocolate; the (bitter)sweet season is here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Chosen Kalbi

Of the biggest, most often mentioned Korean BBQs, one of the only ones I'd never ventured to was ChoSun Galbee. ChoSun is a giant, cavernous place, full of side rooms of various sizes. It's staffed by an army of fast moving attendants who seem to have a strict division of labor (only the grill lighter lights the grill, etc.). The crowd is distinctly more diverse than most Koreatown BBQs (i.e. not 100% Korean), and the look is a bit more on the upscale side.

Panchan at ChoSun were plentiful and pretty good, but not particularly impressive (I do have a weekspot for fried fishcake, which they did very well). As with most Korean BBQs, it is really the meat that tells the tale and ChoSun had excellent meat.

We started with one of my favorites, ross gui, thin slices of unmarinated beef. I love the buttery goodness of Gui, quick-fried on the buttered grill then doused with the sesame oil/salt mixture that accompanies it. ChoSun had some of the best Gui I've had, and that includes Soot Bull Jeep and Dong Il Jang (which specializes in Gui). It was melt in your mouth delicious, smooth and carrying that wonderful buttery-beefy taste that is the essence of ross gui.

We moved on to the ChoSun Galbee, because how can you not order the signature dish? The galbee was plump, fatty and very lightly seasoned. I liked it but I wouldn't put it in the category of one of my favorites.

In terms of meat quality, I would definitely put ChoSun up their with Park's, though I still prefer the overall experience at Park's. Being a gui fan though, I will definitely be returning to ChoSun.

ChoSun Galbee
3330 W. Olympic Boulevard (one block west of Western)
Los Angeles, California 90019

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Forty Creek

For our first Canadian Whiskey of the entire Whiskey Wednesday series, we try one of the most acclaimed Canadians (to the extent that any Canadian is acclaimed), Forty Creek Barrel Select.

Forty Creek is made by Kittling Ridge, a winery and distillery in the Niagara area of south Ontario. Independently owned, Kittling Ridge makes wine as well as a wide variety of spirits including brandy, liqueurs, rum and vodka as well as Forty Creek, a blended Canadian whiskey.

Forty Creek has won some accolades and certainly has sought to separate itself from the ocean of Crown Royals and Canadian Clubs. Let's give it a try.


Forty Creek Barrel Select, (Kittling Ridge Distillery) 40% alcohol ($20.99).

The nose is very distinct...fruity and sweet, more like a Cognac or even a rum than a whiskey. The whiskey is light on the tongue. It's syrupy though not as sweet as I would have guessed from the nose, and you can definitely taste the influence of the sherry casks along with a strong caramel flavor. I'm guessing it's mostly corn because I didn't detect anything in the way of rye flavor. The lightness is such that it almost evaporates on the palate leaving very little in the way of finish except for a quick but pleasant woodiness on the way down.

The lightness and the character make this a very different drink than the whiskies I'm used to. In some ways, I don't know quite what to make of the stuff. It's pleasant enough but doesn't really satisfy me with the full flavors I expect of a Bourbon or Scotch.

While I have no immediate plans to try new Canadians, I have been on the lookout for interesting ones and will hopefully sample more in the future.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Meals Fit for a King...or a Super Giro

I love my neighborhood for its diversity of cuisine. I sit smack in the middle of enormous Korean, Thai, Central American and Filipino populations. Within five blocks, I can walk to tons of pupuserias (including the best pupuseria in LA), Korean BBQs, and countless other spots. But the one thing my neighborhood is lacking is great tacos, tortas and other Mexican staples.

We have some of the best Oaxacan food around, which is great, but sometimes, you just want a great taco or torta stuffed with the carnitas and al pastor in the style of the western states of Jalisco and Michoacan.

What I really should do is finally get serious about East LA and do some Whittier Boulevard or Huntington Park exploration, but I haven't yet, so I get really excited when I get somewhere where there is a King Taco, and recently, I've added the popular Gallo Giro to my list.

El Gallo Giro [GUY-oh HE-ro] is a 20 year old chain which now has multiple locations, mostly in eastern LA, but also Long Beach, Van Nuys and Santa Ana. They do traditional Mexican fare: tacos, tortas, fabulous aguas frescas and pastries.

King Taco is in many ways a similar institution, dating back to the '70s and serving tacos and burritos to a crowd of hardcore taco fans from its outlets across LA County. In Long Beach there is a King Taco nearly a block away from a Gallo Giro, so I was able to try both and do a little compare and contrast. Being a porketarian, I concentrated on the al pastor and carnitas.

Al Pastor

The Gallo Giro al pastor was nicely spiced, but the King Taco pastor blew it away. The spicing on the KT pastor was above and beyond. Not only chili, but great seasoning with almost a bit of sweetness to it.


If KT wins the al pastor award, Gallo Giro takes it for carnitas. Their carnitas were crisp and oh, so juicy, if a bit on the fatty side. The KT carnitas were fairly standard.


Both establishments serve excellent salsas. The red salsa at KT was spicier and I think the KT green was my favorite, but Gallo Giro's salsa were also quite good.

El Gallo Giro has great aquas frescas (loved the pineapple) and a panaderia, though I didn't try any baked goods.

El Gallo Giro also has daily specials, including the family pack: meat, rice, beans, tortillas and a liter soda for $15. Now, during a recession, that deal makes El Gallo a true hero.

So whether your a King or a Hero, there's good stuff (and pork) all around.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Cut Above: Knife Skills Class at Sur La Table

Even though I love to cook and do a fair amount of it, I seldom write about it on the blog. Why? Because I am an ambitious but totally self-trained cook. I have terrible technique; the only things I know I learned from reading Julia or watching Alton.

About a year ago, I was trying to go all Iron Chef on some cantaloupe and I cut my thumb so badly that I had to visit the emergency room to get it stitched up. The next Christmas I received a well intended Sur La Table gift card to be used for a knife skills class (regular price, $70).

Well, it took me almost a year to get to it, but I finally signed up for a class at the SLT at the Third and Fairfax Farmers Market, and I'm so glad I did.

Super-animated but down to earth instructor Tina Rogers started with the basics of knives: the different knife types, sharpening and honing and proper handling. After that, she gave us demos of the basic cuts and hints about how to improve technique, subsequently setting us loose with the knives to try it all out. We sliced, diced and julienned to our hearts' content using everything from ceramics to santokus to big old Shuns.

Rogers was a great instructor with a good sense of humor who was game to answer any question, relevant or not, and I literally learned at least a dozen things that will improve my game in the cutting world. While there was a "shopping break" for which to use our complimentary 15% off coupon, there wasn't any hard sell, and in fact, Rogers was less than enthusiastic about the world of $300 knives and unnecessary knife accessories.

During the class, our beautifully cut food was carted away to the front kitchen where it was turned into a pasta dinner that we enjoyed, with wine, after the class. Considering this, and the fact that during the class there were ample snacks and bottled water, it's a pretty good deal for $70.

Now, I've got to admit, I'm not a Sur La Table fan. Let's face it, you can get pretty much everything they sell for at least half the price at Cost Plus or Surfas, but this class was both fun and gave me new skills. The next day, when I chopped up apples for my baby daughter, I took the opportunity to give her nicely julienned strips.

The Sur La Table culinary program, which is only available at selected stores, includes a number of interesting sounding classes including baking, holiday meals, sauces and even molecular gastronomy. Some classes, like knife skills, are hands on, but others are demos, so check that out when you sign up. Tina Rogers seems to teach knife skills about once a month, but sign up early because they do fill up.

Given how much I enjoyed this class, I know I'll sign up for more. Until then, I plan to engage in lots of injury free cutting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Oh, Canada

I've been writing about whiskey for a year and a half and nary a drop of Canadian whisky has touched my palate. In many ways, Canadian whisky is treated as the ugly stepchild of the whiskey world; Americans treat Canadian whisky the same way they tend to treat the nation itself, pretty much ignoring its very existence. American whiskey publications seem to write more about Japanese whisky than Canadian, even though there are only two Japanese whiskies available in the US while Canadian is widely available.

So what is Canadian whisky and does it deserve to be passed over like so much cold poutin? Is there more to it than Crown Royal and Canadian Club? We will spend the next few weeks answering those questions, but first, the traditional Recent Eats whisky primer:

What is Canadian Whisky?

Well, Canadian whisky is whisky from Canada...pretty much any whisky from Canada. Per Canadian law, Canadian whisky is a spirit distilled from cereal grains which is aged in wood for at least three years. Canadian whisky may contain caramel coloring.

Canadian whiskies are mostly blends of different grains, though there are now some single malts being made in Canada, most notably Glen Breton, made by the Glenora distillery in Nova Scotia (which, of course, means "New Scotland") as well as a few single grains.

One element unique to Canadian whisky is that under the law, it can contain 9.09% flavoring agents. Those agents are often other spirits (Bourbon or Brandy are common) but could be anything, including vanilla, sugar or fruit juice. This is something that really sticks in the whiskey lovers' craw, as the idea of fruit juice or sugar in whisky seems designed to cover up the flavor of a substandard spirit. Of course, not all Canadian whisky uses flavoring additives, and particularly some of the newer Canadians are leaving this suspect practice behind.

Isn't Canadian Whisky the Same as Rye?

No. Well, at least not in the way we use the term in the US. Long ago, most Canadian whisky was rye-based, so people started calling it rye, and eventually all Canadian whisky became known as rye. This nomenclature has been preserved in Canadian law which uses the terms Canadian Whisky, Canadian Rye Whisky and Rye Whisky. However, nowadays, rye is not a central ingredient in most Canadian whisky, and the term just serves to confuse the stuff with American rye whiskey, which is actually rye-based.

That being said, there are a few Canadian whiskies that are still rye-based, including Alberta Premium, one of the well reviewed new Canadians.

What does Canadian Whisky Taste Like?

Canadian Whisky is known for being light, sweet and fruity. This is another reason that it tends to be looked down upon by serious whisky drinkers. Whether this reputation bears out is something we will have to see for ourselves.

Over the next few weeks we will sip a few Canadians and see what our frozen cousins from the north have to offer.

Next Wednesday: Forty Creek

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The New NBC - Proud as a Peacock

NBC Seafood, in Monterey Park, has long been my favorite of the giant-palace variety of dim sum places. For the past couple of years, the strip mall in which it is located has been in the process of being very slowly dismantled, and the parking lot was a complete mess. Still, I regularly braved it for the excellent dim sum. Then, about a month ago, it closed down and the rumor spread that it had been sold. When a beloved eatery is sold, I always get a nervous chill down my spine. Will it stay the same? Will the new owners ruin a good thing? Okay, it's not that there aren't plenty of other great dim sum places in LA, but NBC is something special.

Well, this week was the grand opening, so we headed over this morning to see how NBC faired. What we noticed immediately was that the place looked better. The rundown old palace had received a paint job, a new sign and some better looking linens. The old, somewhat lackluster staff had been replaced by a more attentive and service-oriented group of staffers. Rumors had been that the new NBC had forsaken carts in favor of a Sea Harbor/Elite style menu system, but carts abounded.

But how was the food? Well, it wasn't the same. In fact, it was better. Ingredients were higher quality, shrimp were plumper and the cart dim sum were much fresher. The danger of cart dim sum, of course, is that the food sits on the carts for hours, but here, the cart food seemed fresh out of the oven. Pork buns glistened; there was shen jian bao, look fun and all the old favorites along with some new. For dessert there was a much improved yellow, sponge cake and cream buns filled with a purple yam paste. The only things I missed from the original NBC were the original cream buns and the duck. NBC's duck was always succulent, greasy and dripping with fat and jus. The new duck was still good, but a bit dry.

Overall, I was very impressed by the new NBC. For the most part, it retained the good and even improved it. I'll look forward to further sampling their menu.

NBC Seafood
404 S Atlantic Blvd (south of Garvey)
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 282-2323

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Good & Goaty: Andante Acappella

Andante Dairy in Petaluma, California is the one woman project of the musically inclined Soyoung Scanlan who has been making cheese for 10 years. Andante makes cow, goat and sheep cheeses.

I was very impressed with a small ash covered round of her Acappella goat cheese which I picked up at the Cheese Store of Silverlake. This aged cheese had an intense goaty flavor, though not in a barnyard sort of way. It was sharp and intense in the way that aged goat cheese can be when it's at its best, with the creamy consistency of a soft cow cheese. This little round packs an excellent punch.

I will be excited to try her other products.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Gone Votin'

Sku has been shipped out to a battleground state for the election. He'll see you after November 4 when we will continue the eating and drinking!