y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: February 2012

More Six Taste - Little Tokyo and Thai Town Tours

The final of my Six Taste tours, last April/May, also group together nicely - Little Tokyo and Thai Town. I love Asian food, especially Japanese and Thai. So any tour with that type of food automatically gets a big YES from me.

The Little Tokyo tour began meeting at the front of the Japanese American National Musuem (JANM) with an orientation and snacks, where we guessed the ingredients. Mystery food is fun!

Our Tour Guide, Brian, then took us to Chado Tea Room where we learned a huge amount about premium teas and tasted several. We also enjoyed tastings of scones with clotted cream and preserves.

As an added bonus he gave those were interested a thorough overview of their green tea selection.

One of our curious stops, Mitsuru's Grill, provided the sushi one would expect on this tour (scallop and salmon), and Brian taught us proper sushi eating etiquette.

Mitsuru's unexpected diner style ambiance intrigued me. They appeared to serve both Japanese and American food.

The other place we visited that I'd always dismissed as probably too touristy, is Wakasaya. It's that place in the Japanese Village Plaza Mall that you pass by that offers a huge $50+ seafood bowl that is free if one can finish it within 15 minutes.

They specialize in donburi, or rice bowls with various toppings, and are known for very fresh seafood and spicy, fresh wasabi that can serve as a weapon if you eat it too fast or too much of it.

On our tour we had mini bowls of udon (noodles) in broth and negi toro (chopped up toro - fatty tuna belly) donburi.

The plethora of sauces leave something for all tastes, but in honesty, the food did not need much. I've since returned there twice.

All our tastings did not fall under the old school Japanese style. We also ate at Four Leaf to try their Smoking Bird crepe, filled with tea smoked chicken, and some of their tasty beverages.

They profess to have the best boba in town, which I returned to taste and wrote about in a prior post about an event at Little Tokyo.

Another feature of historic Little Tokyo, along 1st Street, I'd walked by repeatedly but never noticed the engraved brass colored plaques under our feet showing each business and year established at that very spot.

One listing mentions 1890 when approximately 40 Japanese people lived in Old Little Tokyo.

A black row eloquently represents World War II and the internment period of the Japanese people.

We stopped at Fugetsu-do, a most charming confectioner which moved to the area in 1930. One feels almost transported back in time upon entering the store. One look at the old school kitchen and traditional methods brought a warm feeling.

We tasted this gorgeous rainbow colored, wonderfully squishy mochi, a glutinous rice cake with various stuffings or condiments.

Mitsuru Cafe also rocked it with their freshly made on the spot, warm and steaming, imagawayaki cakes filled with red bean. The combination of the chewy pastry with melt-in-your mouth red bean paste really works on many levels.

And while on the subject of desserts, Mikawaya's Mochi ice cream shop also hit the spot. You've probably seen their boxed mochi ice cream boxes at Trader Joe's and many other markets.

They've taken it a step further with their "mochilato", simply mochi + gelato. The colors and flavors catch the eye and it's hard to choose just 1 or 2. I went with chocolate hazelnut, and returned a couple of times to try other flavors, still holding out for plum!

*     *     *     *
Thai Town

We met our Thai Town Tour Guide, Lalita, right at this Thai Angel monument, one of a few statues along Hollywood Boulevard, protecting Thai Town.

Our snacking started right away with fresh tamarind fruit pods. Another first of this tour were handouts with our stops and menu, Thai phrases and cultural notes and more.

It turns out Lalita is a professor, and this tour definitely packs a punch in terms of lessons and activity. 

We visited the Silom Market to learn about Thai ingredients. Tucked away in a corner this woman prepared some kanom beuang,sweet and savory taco-like shells with egg and other items mixed in.

Our spicy stops were interspersed with sweet stops. I would have preferred more spice/savory options, thinking that anyone signing up for a Thai food tour should be able to handle the spice level.

The spicy hot spectrum might have peaked with this pad kee mao, or drunken noodle chicken, at Sanamluang Cafe. I've enjoyed many meals at this establishment (you can read my post on another location of theirs), and this was no exception.

Not to be overshadowed by the exquisite roasted duck noodle soup at Sanamluang Cafe. It just hit all the right tastebuds.

Our heat quencher at Siam Sunset consisted of a choice of various drinks. I went with the coconut palm sugar juice because it's the only item I had not tried. Deeply refreshing with crushed ice, very sweet and it leaves a sort of butterscotch or even buttery taste in one's mouth.

Our beverages washed down some pa-tong-go, or Chinese donuts dipped in condensed milk. I could dip cardboard in condensed milk and probably wouldn't mind!

We proceeded on to the popular Ruen Pair for their moo daid diew pork jerky with chili dipping sauce. The plates were cleared in no time.

We unraveled plastic wrap coated sticky rice served in straw containers.

At Ruen Pair we also tried some Thai papaya salad, known as som tam. My dear friend and former college roommate Lida, introduced me to this dish during our college days.

It's made with shredded, unripened green papaya, shrimp paste, fish sauce, lime, chili and many of the traditional Thai ingredients.

Due to the mixed group, this version was prepared on the mild side, but packed a lot of flavor.

If that looks like a lot of food for a 3-hour or so tour, let me add that we also had a ginger fish dish and coconut ice cream at Red Corner Asia, Issan Northern Thai style slightly sour sausage, and one of my favorite desserts of all time, the mouth-watering grilled coconut milk cakes at Bhan Kanom Thai (you can find a photo towards the very end of this post)

We stopped for fresh sugar cane juice, a childhood favorite of mine, but the shop was closed.

Eventually we returned to the Thai Plaza area to admire this beautiful shrine. We took a second quick walk through Silom Market where Lalita tirelessly helped some of us find Thai ingredients to buy, and offered us some Thai candies.

I also bought an aluminum, fancy Thai style tiffin box to add to my small collection.

Overall after attending 6 of the 7 regularly scheduled Six Taste tours so far, I can say without a doubt that they are all enjoyable, educational and a treat for the palate. The guides put in lots of energy, enthusiasm and authenticity into it.

My perfect setup is food paced with walking to avoid the constant state of fullness, and balancing activity with a sprinkling of down time to better take in all the experiences and flavors.

They've also started specialty tours to bring even more adventures into the mix.

More Six Taste - Downtown and Hollywood Tours

Back in December 2010 I wrote a post about my first two Six Taste tours. I've never been much of a "tour" type, let alone touring in a city I've lived in since my family moved here when I was a toddler!

Well, those tours of Santa Monica, where I lived for 5 years, and the Delicious Dumpling Tour, right in my current backyard, so to speak, showed me the things right before my eyes that get overlooked.

Tracy, our guide, met us at Pershing Square. The moment I saw her dangling cherry earrings I knew she'd be fun. Since then I've copied her fab style and got a pair of my own!

Let me recap my Downtown L.A. and Hollywood tours. Both neighborhoods are the places I most often hang out in when not at my own neighborhood, and I even went to school in downtown. So my skepticism of learning new things stayed on the back of my mind.

The group kicked things off at Grand Central Market, where we had an intro then had some time to explore and shop on our own. My parents used to bring me here food shopping during my whole childhood, so it's full of nostalgia for me.

First tasting at Sarita's Pupuseria within the market proved to be a great choice. I never met a pupusa I didn't like. If you haven't tried these Salvadoran masa tortillas stuffed with cheese, meats and other great stuff, it's a must try.

Crunchy and golden brown on the outside and gooey on the inside, the texture perfectly balances with the acidic, spicy cabbage salad.

The nice thing about walking through the city is seeing little details like these bronze pig heads above a bicycle rack. One may not notice this when driving down the street, but they certainly caught my eye upon exiting the market by foot.

We walked into an alleyway off 4th Street past a filming crew to this obscure door that leads into the Harlem Place Cafe, another place I walked by but never noticed. Part art gallery, coffee house, bar with a food menu and wi-fi it served many purposes beyond what its speakeasy looks indicated.

This establishment apparently closed down since our visit, according to Yelp and Four Square.

Another thing I haven't done much in Downtown area is grocery shop. Tracy explained that the Two Bits Market provides a very important thing for the neighborhood by selling local, organic, artisanal, "non-processed" foods as their website says front and center.

We enjoyed a simple yet tasty sandwich there which the owner presented to us while giving some background on the store.

We stopped at Syrup Desserts for a beverage and dessert trio. Their extremely well brewed ice teas with fresh fruit quenches any thirst. In fact I enjoyed the fruit teas so much that friends on the tour handed me theirs and at one point I walked holding 3 cups. You can really taste the high quality teas as well as the fresh fruit.

The dessert tastings included a citrus sorbet, berry croissant and the star of the plate - a Belgian Liege sugar waffle, carmelized with sugar crystals cooked into the batter. Once again, great interplay of crunch and softness at the center. If that wasn't enough, dollops of nutella and whipped cream sat atop the waffles.

After having eaten quite a bit of food, only a really strong dish would interest me to eat more, and Mac & Cheeza fit the bill. The simple concept of this take and bake at home shop is to pick a size - the baby mac, momma mac, daddy mac or mac daddy, choose meats or veggies to add in, choose a topping and you're done.

Yelp indicates this shop has also closed since then, although the website indicates another Eagle Rock location inside Larkin's.Whether it's there or not, Larkin's itself delivers on comfort food inside a charming Craftsman house setting.

They prepared two combinations for us. The spicy toasted walnut topping added a great crunch to the dish.

We enjoyed the macaroni mural on the wall and mac and cheese art throughout the shop.

These paintings consist of macaroni noodles.

*  *  *  *  *
Our Hollywood tour began with each person introducing themselves and discussing their favorite food movie or food scene in a movie - a cute departure from the usual "what is your last meal on earth" icebreaker.

Walking around for the Hollywood Tour also helped us see some fun stuff. I had to keep up with the group, otherwise I would have checked out this Bettie Paige Clothing store, being a sucker for rockabilly and retro pinup girl type garments.

One of our early stops on the Hollywood Tour fell during happy hour at Loteria Grill. The standout dish among our antojitos for me was this wonderfully crunchy Chicharron de Queso. 

It doesn't take much to understand the allure of this dish, and the tomatillo salsa and jalapeno margarita only serves to take it over the top. 

We took a quick trip to Mel's Drive-In to have the adorable mini shakes. We stopped at a couple of other somewhat expected Hollywood institutions such as Miceli's and Skooby's Hot Dogs.

The highlight of this tour for me was our visit to the legendary Boardner's, the last place where Elizabeth Short, aka The Black Dahlia, the victim in L.A.'s biggest unsolved murder, was last seen alive.

The dark, velvety booths scream Old Hollywood and being inside, one can just imagine the scene in the 40's and 50's.

We were still in the midst of happy hour, planned nicely by our guide, so drinks were half off. Besides the signature cocktails such as The Black Dahlia, The Bloody Bugsy, The Hollywood Starlet, The Crooked Cop and The Blonde Bombshell, they serve "Mocktails" such as Safe Sex on the Beach, Fauxjito and  Mockarita.

Chef William Annesly brought out a couple of extravagant dishes to taste. Above you will see the Morcilla, or black sausage with fried quail eggs and below that the richest mac and cheese in the hottest plate ever! As delicious as it was, nobody left hungry after just a few bites.

During Prohibition era, Boardner's had a hidden speakeasy in the back, with separate entrance. The original bar, fountain and a stage are in the back courtyard.

Another door led to the downstairs Club B52, in all its red velvet and black Gothic splendor. Our Tour Guide Danny appears in the shot above, in the club's Lovin' Lounge.

The club is full of ornate chandeliers, murals, statues and nude pinup girl photos, not to mention a go-go dancer stage (with a sign indicating the platform is for hired dancers only).

That spot on the tour truly transported us back to the heyday of Hollywood.

Overall the Hollywood Tour, while enjoyable, didn't deliver as much as the other tours on the exciting food promise. However, it never gets boring learning about old Hollywood and our Tour Guide, Danny, made it fun.