Monday, November 17, 2008

11 in 11: CHINA!

Picture it: on the eleventh day of the eleventh month*, for eleven hours, starting at eleven AM, you go to 11 eateries that, according to the rules of 11 in 11 are "either emblematic of a nation's cuisine OR significant to Los Angeles". Crazy? Maybe. Amazing? Absolutely.

My dear friend Jason Bernstein, occasional AKOY contributor and soon-to-be restaurateur, has been holding down 11 in 11 for the past 5 years along with his meticulously organized cousin Mark Flaisher, the brains behind Jason's formidable brawn. I've been doing this madness with them for the last 3 years, and it's always awesome. This year, they joined forces with another mighty eater, our boy Noah of Man Bites World. Noah's been doing a different country's food every day for the last 2 months, so in a synergy not seen since someone put chocolate in my peanut butter, yesterday was 11chINa11, an epic day of Chinese eating.

how to become a folk hero, lesson one: shades indoors

This also marks the year when 11 in 11 became a media darling: among the 30 or so random people that came in and out of our crew throughout the day were Lesley Balla, editor of Eater LA, and Jeff Miller, editor of Thrillist LA, chilling and chowing until the last bite and sip. Considering I spend way too much time every day reading their writing, (hitting the refresh button 70 times a day in Lesley's case), it was quite exciting to put real live people to the words, especially people as warm and down to earth as these two. In fact, the entire crew was great, and when we weren't stuffing our faces, we were laughing giddily much of the day.

You can read Noah's detailed account here, but I'll give my short-attention-span version. Oh, and it turns out my attention span is so short that I didn't start the day until stop number 5. Here we go...

UPDATE: Here's Lesley's post on Eater. Now, here we go really...

  1. China Islamic
Or, "I'm not sure what it is, but I know it's not pork." I've been wanting to go to this place for years, as I've been fascinated by the Muslim-Chinese mashup that is Western China cuisine since a friend described their "big, slurpy noodles, tiny spicy kebabs, salty breads, and a dish that is only known as 'Big Plate Chicken'". Much of what we ended up ordering, rushed as the kitchen was about to close, was typical 'fortune-cookie' Chinese dishes, though without a piggie in sight. But the knife-cut noodles were just as big and slurpy as I'd hope, and an entire lamb section on the menu is intriguing enough to pull me back to the place.

knife cut noodles: they're slurpy

Geeky culture note: Islamic calligraphy on Chinese scrolls. Rad, and also beautiful.
  1. Yung Ho King Tou Chiang
no really, they're crullers.

This place was touted to us as doughnuts and soy milk. I was thinking sweet fried dough and maybe some delicious beverage like the roasted sesame soy milk I've had at Viet's. Silly me. While the tiny bakery was totally sweet and accommodating to our raucous takeover despite a near-hopeless language barrier, their offerings left us, well, hungry.

Forest likes soy milk.

Soy milk came in bowls (are we supposed to lap like a little kitten?), and tasted like the liquid surrounding packaged tofu. Crullers were greasy dowels of fried dough, not sweet, not savory, just extremely fried. Cruller omelet? Take two of those dowels and wrap them in a fried egg. Salted cruller roll? Heavily salt the dowel, smush on some sticky rice, saran wrap the sucker. The one redeeming item was warm silken tofu in a sweet ginger broth with boiled peanuts -- a big bowl of cozy.

No. Like, reeeeelly likes.

  1. Banh Mi and Che Cali
hi, i'm blob

It's not Chinese, but it was across the street from the cruller place and delicious, so we stopped in. Aside from shockingly cheap Vietnamese sandwiches, freshly made summer rolls, and much more, they had baby 'tacos' made from sweet rice and coconut -- just precious --, and mung bean black sesame mochi: slimey black blobs that reminded me of the slop at the dinner table that burbles right off the plate in Better Off Dead, but were oddly delicious -- to me, anyway.

cutest tacos ever

  1. Lu Din Gee Cafe
Peking duck. Duck feet (No, really. And I ate some. And it was good.). Duck soup. Blurry picture.

Peking pancakes in tortilla container. I love Los Angeles
  1. Half & Half Tea House
Witness the glory of the brick!

I think this was my favorite stop. I wish it was walking distance from my apartment. Tucked in a supermarket shopping center, it's a cozy teashop with super-friendly young servers, funky glassware, and the miracle that is Brick Toast. Take a thick square of white bread (the "brick"), spread both sides with butter, top it with something delicious like almond cream or caramel (or tuna, if you prefer), toast it in the oven until the it's browned on top, soft in the middle, has the sweet aroma of buttered popcorn, and is utterly delicious.

A mountain of brown sugar shave ice with sweetened condensed milk, boba, egg custard, and more was another highlight, and all the milk teas, hot and cold, were also nice. None of these can compare, though, to the culinary paradox that is honey, plum, and tomato juice. What does it taste like? Confusion.

tomato-honey-plum juice will Scramble Your Face.

  1. Yunnan Garden
perfectly cooked snow pea tendrils in the back there

Not sure what the cultural significance of this one was, but we managed to get our waiter to do one of those, "Are you sure you want to order that, gringo?" double takes, so I was pleased. The dish in question was fish cubes with corn and pine nuts. Random, but turned out to have a pretty simple flavor profile that appealed to the five-year-old in all of us. Good thing too, as everything else on the table was way too spicy for Baby Tannaz. But I ate it all anyway and didn't even cry.

  1. Jay Dee Cafe
The tradition of 11 in 11 is to end the night at a bar. When we got to Cotton Candy, our original plan for the end of the line, we realized the sleepy wine-and-beer-only hotpot joint wasn't nearly jovial enough to contain our growing spazziness. Thankfully, our new SGV friend Tony came to the rescue and sent us to Jay Dee Cafe. When we walked in, the jukebox was playing honky-tonk and a surly woman at the bar told us we looked like we just rolled off a film set. Also, there was a moose head on the wall and drinks were $3.50. Jackpot.

By the end of the night, we all knew each other's life stories, new food adventures had been plotted, and there was just about enough goodwill bouncing off of us that, if used wisely, might have brought world peace. Love is in the air, friends, and so I offer you, a portrait collage of some of the lovely 11 in 11 kids that made it through the home stretch.

* OK I know it was actually the 15th. But, like, branding, OK?
** Thanks to Mark Flaisher for his smooth photographic stylings on a few of these pics.


  1. Is it bad that the only place to really pique my interest was Vietnamese? I mean, baby tacos and banh mi!??!?!?! C'mon! And where was the Panda Express three item combo from Ackerman Union? Life doesn't get much better than orange chicken, beef & broccoli, chicken with mushrooms, and chow mein while studying for an EE 102 final. Oh wait I mean that was the worst ever.....

  2. brad i have to say, the vietnamese place was cute and all, but you really need to try this Brick Toast business. it's goodness will make you forget all about your EE102 final.

  3. I was going to post about how all this nonsense is giving me kind of a stomachache and I didn't even have any duck parts. Or ask more specifics about the love that was in the air? Please, let that not be figurative. But Brad just reminded me of Ackerman Union and specifically, the Coop, before the stupid corporations took over (I kid you not, we had protests when Taco Bell came to Campus Corner (although not by me because it was one of the great days of my college career (which totally defies the point of my post so we'll pretend I didn't say it))) and now I'm just annoyed. WTF with Rubio's and Panda Express at Ackerman? Did I stumble out of Moore 100 into a MALL? And the hell-hole that has replaced my beloved Coop pizza? Sheer evil (though the salad bar was a nice addition). So now I'm just pissed. Thanks Brad.

  4. I'm not saying that Rubio's and Panda (and Sbarro) are necessarily good, but they're a GIANT step up from the Treehouse. Now as far as the Coop, I can remember going to UCLA for my high school tour and thinking that would be a cool place to get a pizza and listen to a live band. At no point in time did I think to myself "this is a great place to get a $7 chicken sandwich that is actually made of rubber." Also, food at Pauley isn't great either. In fact it's the worst. Ever. But someday, after it's refurbed, we'll be able to enjoy $11 nachos. Except for Tannaz because she doesn't like going to games.

  5. Hi Tannaz,

    Great report. I just finished reading Noah's post on this day and now I see yours. Wow, you survived the 11-in-11 China Day, too?! Amazing.

    Sounds like you all had a great time with some good food.

    So the real question is: Where did you all have dinner after all that "light snacking"? :P