Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Palate Paradise Phenomenon of the Los Angeles Strip Mall

Three of the best things about Los Angeles’ food scene are: there is so much to choose from that you can seek out a restaurant and miss miserably but literally have another option right around the corner at any given time; you can eat at a new joint once a week for years and never return to the same place; and you can stumble upon the quirky ethnic or niche-specialty food shops in practically every neighborhood that turn into gem little prizes to be found at random. The Cute Gardener and I pride ourselves on having the ability to flex with the first trait (he keeps plans b and c and even d in his mental pocket whenever we venture out for a meal). We’ve definitely availed ourselves of the second, having only returned to a mere two or three places out of lust or nostalgia in our entire year together. And of the third, we’ve happily discovered quite a few treasures that have provided our fridges and pantries with exotic delights.

For example, take our endeavors this past Sunday. At eleven o’clock after a morning of movies on the couch we got a burger craving and so took a trek to Glendale on the search for a beefy lunch at Eden Burger Bar. Located in a seedy little strip mall in a nondescript stucco building attached to a wine shop, we found an odd interior paradise that was conducive to a Russian strip club mob scene in a bad B movie. A dark and cold dining room full of chairs and tables already laid with oversized wine glasses awaited as we were seated by a leather jacket wearing and tattooed hostess who was the only other person there behind the young, fresh faced boy tending bar. White upholstered and padded walls surrounded the periphery of the space that was also lined with plush royal purple benches. Bizarre massive paintings in color blotches and intricate chandeliers completed the strange European club-like ambience that took us back to the early nineties and the feeling that at any given second my dining companion could be potentially approached in solicitation of a lap dance.

We ordered from the short and simple burger and pizza menu.

He chose the Mediterranean burger, which came topped with hummus, feta, mozzarella, heirloom tomato, onion, arugula and a slab of roasted red bell pepper that resembled a tongue. In the mouth it provided a dose of salty, comforting and savory goodness. Unfortunately, it dehydrated the CG hours later after he was home.

I had an odd, never-heard-of-before burger that was topped with slices of grilled fig, seared in a soy-like crust and topped with lemon basil aioli, gruyere, sundried tomato, crispy prosciutto and olive tapenade. The prosciutto gave it a kick of crusty salt that married well with the strangely nice blend that took place with the other sweeter ingredients. I loved the brioche bun in original taste and content although by bite three it had entirely disappeared as an element becoming completely shriveled and sogged in the juice of the ample patty. The juice of the meat proved that the burger was good though and packed a meaty flavor.

We ordered sweet potato and regular fries at $4 a pop for sides and they were the hit of the meal. After trying countless fries in the city, I have come to learn that I specifically enjoy those that are relatively thin and cooked in a way where the outsides are crispy, the insides are moist, and the ratio of those two facets are equal. Eden succeeded in this department.

Back outside, and realizing it was still daylight (something the cave-like restaurant with its generous stream of midday Sunday diners dressed in more nighttime-esque clothes had surreally masked), we decided to look around the rest of the strip mall. A strange little chocolate shop called Mignon (the chocolate shop and restaurant could have changed names and they would have fit each place better) beckoned from the corner. I didn’t buy anything because the candies in the case looked average but it did have an interesting selection of ethnic candies wrapped in beautiful jewel like foils and I knew this was a good place to find all those treats that perform in Middle Eastern celebratory occasions.

Then we ventured to the other side of the parking lot to the Middle Eastern market where I hit Eureka! Strolling slowly down the aisles (freezing cold), I started to spot items infused with rose – something I had desired for a while. I grabbed a jar of rose butter and the CG asked me if I wanted a cart. I declined. Then I grabbed a quart of rose and sour cherry juices and he asked again and I declined. By the time, I reached for the chai masala and rose hip teas, I took his suggestion and went on to fill the basket with hazelnut and milk chocolate spread, rose jelly, and red pepper spread for my egg scrambles and labne covered toast breakfasts. For twenty dollars I scored a trip to the Middle East and all the foreign condiments my heart could possibly want.

Another ordinary food adventure in L.A. filled with cinematic worthy and strange settings, moody winter weather, a cornucopia of multi-cultural delights and unexpected twists.

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