(This article appeared in the Los Angeles Reader newspaper in 1991)
Idle talk can sometimes have strange consequences. I was at a party and someone asked where I would go for the strangest food in Los Angeles. The problem, I replied, was that there are places all over town with odd items, so to have them all in one night you’d have to drive between restaurants. Imagine doing it in style, I mused, with a limo so you wouldn’t have to worry about parking and worries about imbibing and driving…
The person I was talking with was an event planner, and she liked the idea. So it was that a few weeks later I was sitting at a table at Typhoon looking at a plate of scorpions on toast. Our meal had actually started with a welcome drink of Chiew, the house special made of vodka infused with ginseng, black mushrooms, deer antlers, sea horses, and fuzzy black caterpillars. The drink tasted like Chinese herb stores smell, and with good reason – Chiew is a popular tonic that Chinese herbalists believe strengthens the immune system. I have no idea whether it works, but it tastes exotic and refreshing.
The scorpions were a bit less interesting beyond their fear factor weirdness; they look bizarre but don’t have much flavor. Not so the fried crickets, which are a popular snack at Taiwanese beer gardens. Think of them as land shrimp and you’re in the ballpark. Tiny, dry land shrimp tossed with very skinny French fries, salt, and a dash of chilies – beer gardens probably serve them because they make you thirsty. We shared a bottle of Pinot Grigio instead of beer and thought it went just fine. We also shared an order of Filipino-style fried squid, which might have seemed exotic in other situations but was comfort food compared to the insects.
Then it was out to the limo to catch our appointment with a bowl of curried crocodile. Along the way we met our fellow culinary adventurers – a Belgian photographer, an IT project manager, a travel consultant, a martial arts instructor, and Camille, the event planner. All had signed up for the trip out of curiosity, and were giddy over the oddness of eating strange creatures in different restaurants. We laughed and chatted as our limo moved through rainy streets to Thai Town.
Crocodile isn’t usually on the menu at Jitlada, but owner Jazz Singsanong found a recipe for it and prepared it just for us. Like most reptiles, the flavor is a cross between chicken and fish, and the Thai red curry with vegetables that works with both meats also complemented it well. It was a mild curry for this famously spicy kitchen, a good choice that let us savor the reptilian flavor. I brought two wines to test with the dish, a Sokol-Blosser Evolution and a Donati Pinot Blanc. Both had the balanced sweetness to complement the curry, but the Donati was better with the croc. The Evolution was superior with the mango salad, and both were good with the lemongrass shrimp soup that was our other entrée here.
Then it was back to the limo and the short trip to Ciudad, downtown LA’s bastion of South American fusion. Executive Chef Kajsa Dilger had decided in favor of simplicity – corn and flour tortillas flanked a vast tray of meat that included tripe, fried rabbit liver, beef heart, pork kidneys, and (most dauntingly) chopped pig snouts and ears. The IT manager had a wide grin on her face as the list was read, while others looked nonplussed or slightly horrified. Everyone did try everything, helped along by glasses of a very good Tempranillo. Not all of it was to my taste; I liked the rabbit, heart, and surprisingly, the kidneys, but tripe and snouts aren’t on my list of items I have to repeat. What I must try again is the goat milk flan that we had for dessert – it was spectacular, the best flan I’ve ever had. Whether that is some property of goat milk or a secret of Ciudad’s kitchen, I can’t be sure, but I mean to find out.
We reboarded the limo sated and happy, having all broadened our culinary horizons. The trip was a success, and Camille’s company Wave Generation plans to offer more like it on a monthly basis. At $250.00 per person including the limo, food, and beverages, it’s actually not that expensive – and you will surely have a story to tell your friends afterward.
Wavegeneration can be contacted at 310-490-6862 or by email at Camille@wavegeneration.com