y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: Six Taste x 2 = Happy Tummy

Six Taste x 2 = Happy Tummy

Recently, after many positive reviews from friends, I attended not 1 but 2 Six Taste L.A. culinary tours. This company was founded by two entrepreneurial L.A. non-natives to highlight culinary gems in our great city. Even for someone who has been raised in L.A. each tour unearthed some new great spots in a fun manner. Let me recap highlights of each tour.

Tour #1 - Santa Monica Food Tour

I selected this tour to start things off because I've lived in Santa Monica for over 5  years and it was a good excuse to revisit this charming town. The morning tour goes through the abundant Santa Monica Farmer's Market as well as some local spots. I opted for the afternoon tour covering 7-8 Santa Monica finds.

Our first stop was Rockenwagner Bakery, where we sampled some Austrian Coffee along with the baked treats below. I am not a black coffee drinker (which I chalk up to cultural tastes) but this was an ultra-smooth black coffee without the usual acidic bite. I did not miss the cream at all.

Rockenwagner's tri-berry scone and croissant pretzel

The coffee tasted even better accompanied with the buttery yet light croissant pretzel and tri-berry scone. Both were moist and did not need any additions. The berry compote sandwiched within the scone kept it moist unlike most scones I've tried.

Therese - our tour guide extraordinaire

Therese began the tour with an introduction about herself and Six Taste. I did not expect a PhD as a tour guide, but she explained that this fun job helps pay off her grad school debt. She was instantly likable, informative, smart, adorable. She also explained the theme of her tour which was how the establishments we visited were staying 'green'. Along the way she also pointed out architectural treasures and interesting stores in the area. She was chock full of information, answering all questions with grace.

After her intro we shared our names, where we live and our 'last meal on earth' (aka 'death row') meals. That immediately warmed me up because it's something foodies often discuss and think about. Judging from the crowds' responses, everyone had sophisticated palates. Many of us swapped dining suggestions along the way.

Border Grill's Amarilla Ceviche Tostadita

Border Grill was one of our next stops. They prepared for us a taste of 4 bocadillos (small bites) from their menu. My favorite was the Amarillo Ceviche Tostadita topped with a ceviche made from mahi mahi fish, aji amarillo chile, ginger and lime. In addition some of us ordered margaritas. The also gave us a Mexican sugar cookie packed to go with a 'free margarita' card for a return visit. The trip was a mini multi-course sit down meal.

Santa Monica Pier - Bay Cites Deli picnic

Moving on with our tour, we sampled two types of pasties, British crescent shaped meat pies, at the Tudor House - creamy chicken and mushroom, spinach and sharp cheddar cheese. Since the sun was setting Therese guided us to Ocean Street for a lovely ocean sunset view along the pier. And to make the view even better, she brought along Bay Cities Italian Deli's famous Godmother sandwiches. These sandwiches, full of Boar's Head meats and cheese, are all about the fresh, soft and chewy bread. Therese made sure we enjoyed them fully by letting the bread marinate in the sandwich juices for 2 hours before serving them to us. This is the recommended way to eat them and I can see why.

Pourtal Wine Tasting Bar - Pinot Wars

One of our stops was at Pourtal Wine Tasting Bar, which had wines grouped into themes. They gave us a loaded up card which we could use to get a couple of 1 ounce tastings of our own choice. They also offered snacks for the group. The wines and themes keep changing. In addition to the great Pinot Wars, which I never left for my tastings, they had a terroir them among other interesting ones.

We ended the tour at Angelato, serving 100 different flavors of gelato. We all had 3 tastes and chose 3 flavors to enjoy. Their flavors range from black sesame to cola float to durian to green apple to Italian plum cake to spumoni. Therese recommended the Blood Orange gelato (also comes as a sorbetto), which was sublime.

All in all there was a fair amount of walking which helped balance the frequent noshing. Therese collected feedback from the group at the end of the tour and we parted ways.

The next weekend, with a Pleasure Palate group, I tried:

Tour #2 - Delicious Dumpling Tour

This tour covered a much smaller physical space, centered around a popular Taiwanese strip mall in Arcadia. On the day of the tour it was raining heavily and a parade took place right on Baldwin Avenue, blocking access to the parking lots. Many members of the group arrived late and drenched. Our guide Michael was extremely flexible and patient, offering us coffee while we waited.

J & J Bakery - green tea red bean rolls, mochi cakes

We began at J & J Bakery which was not as crowded as usual, so we had full reign of the store and were able to take many photos with ease. Michael explained the Taiwanese delicacies including a ham sandwich with French toast bread and "Taiwanese sushi", a seaweed roll with ham as the protein. We each chose an item to sample later and most of us bought a bag or two of items to go as well.

Din Tai Fung - Left: Michael explaining the proper way to eat the soup dumplings. Right: The elusive soup dumplings special.
The group went across the street to the first U.S. location of Din Tai Fung a famous Taiwanese dumpling house. Din Tai Fung is known for its juicy pork soup dumpling, filled with meat and broth. Michael had us do introductions including our 'last meal' and gave us a lesson in how to properly enjoy the dumpling with its accompaniments of fresh, shredded ginger and Chinese black balsamic vinegar. He also ordered several other dishes to try.

I've been to Din Tai Fung over a dozen times but Michael taught me even more about the business, the culture and the tradition of the place. Also, I finally got to try the elusive soup dumpling which usually sells out within the first hour that they open. The soup consists of the miniature soup dumplings submerged in a soup broth. Having tasted it, I prefer the original size dumpling since it contains more soup within the dumpling.

SinBala - Chinese sausage with raw garlic
Our next stop was SinBala, a cafe that serves Taiwanese night market street food. I had been to this strip mall so many times, but was not hip to the culinary scene at this fantastic spot. Michael's insider knowledge of the food, history and culture really shone here. Our table was full end to end with countless dishes including oyster pancakes and other specialties. The menu has a sub-section of Taiwanese sausage with various toppings, ranging from crushed garlic to passion fruit sauce. We tried the it with sliced raw garlic.

SinBala - chicken rolls and chicken nuggets

Other highlights at SinBala were the chicken rolls, stuffed with meat and water chestnuts then deep fried, and the tender 5-Spice chicken nuggets which is by far the most exciting and flavorful chicken nugget I've ever had. Both are served with a sweet garlic chili dipping sauce.

SinBala - dry wontons
What really stole the show for me at SinBala were these dry wontons. They arrive in a steaming hot bowl with layers of chili oil, roasted chilies, garlic, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, scallions and perhaps other magical ingredients. The diner then stirs up the bowl releasing intoxicating aromatics scents. And the dumplings taste as good as they smell. It's a dish you almost do not want to share.

Hanny's - Michael explaining the snack shop
We walked across the way to Hanny's, in a shared space with a Lollicup's drink shop, to try some of the snack foods in large bins, sold by weight.

Hanny's - sampling jerkies and Taiwanese dried mangoes
Michael doled out several unusual flavors of jerky as well as dried Taiwanese mangoes. We were then given plastic bags, scoops and tongs to roam about and try and buy what we'd like, with Michael pointing out some good options along the way.

Hanny's - pumpkin chips, mushroom chips
Among my favorites (and I have been back twice to refill on these items) are the pumpkin, what looks like Kabocha squash, chips seasoned with olive oil and salt. They are crisp with a clean and refreshing taste. The mushrooms look like fresh mushrooms, but are dehydrated into chips that have a pleasant earthy and slightly sweet taste. It's a surprise when one bites into them to hear a big crunch.

After our tasting and shopping, Michael pulled out our J & J Bakery picks for us to all taste and share.

Six Tastes Tour Guide Michael - showing Taiwanese flash cards
By this time most of us were in a food coma, but we had one last stop at Bin Bin Konjac, a shaved ice shop. Michael ordered us a large Eight Treasures shaved ice family-style bowl with authentic toppings like konjac root, grass jelly, taro, beans. It was a bit savory vs. sweet for the Western palate but once again something brand new to try. While we ate Michael shared even more aspects of his Taiwanese heritage which he was so knowledgeable and proud of that his enthusiasm was contagious.

We ended the tour with some group pictures that he kindly emailed to all of us along with a kind greeting and even more information. Overall it was a brilliant tour. I look forward to my next Six Taste adventure!

2 Responses to “Six Taste x 2 = Happy Tummy”:

  1. Michael, thank you for help on the food details! Hope to dine again with you soon.

  2. Andi? says:

    Mmmm Sinbala. Next time you make a run there, hit me up!

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