LA Weekly Burgers & Beer

This past Saturday was the LA Weekly Burgers & Beer festival. In addition to being a weekly alternative paper, the LA Weekly is also a food festival churning machine. The weather was great, the crowds were manageable, I received free tickets from the Weekly, and I somehow snagged free parking. What more could I ask for?

One of the better burgers was Barrel & Ashes’ burger bite. With so many stands offering burgers and so little stomach space, I appreciated that they did away with the top bun to focus on the main ingredient: a great patty.

Unlike most of the vendors here, Badmaash didn’t play it safe. Instead, they went with a full-flavored, aggressively spiced lamb patty burger. Their strategy paid off because it was one of the burgers that stood out.

Word on the street is that Cassell’s has a really good, no frills burger. Their rendition of it at the festival may have looked plain compared to that of Animal’s or Pink’s, but they stuck with the basics and excelled.

Another bite of something different was El Cristalazo’s shrimp slider. The perfectly cooked shrimp went surprisingly well with the usual burger accouterment.

Overall, the festival was a success. The venue was perfect, with enough room and shade to be comfortable. Most of the lines were manageable. The beer selection had a little something for everyone, instead of being super heavy on IPA’s. My two favorite beer vendors there were McLeod’s and Phantom Carriage. Will would have preferred at least one stand doing a veggie burger, but I can see how that would be a risky gamble for a vendor.

I thought that an afternoon full of eating burgers would put me off them for a while, but going through the pictures today, I wouldn’t have a repeat of a few of the bites I had yesterday.

Blackball Desserts

BlackBall DessertsBlackball is one of the many Chinese-style dessert shops opening up in the SGV.  It replaces the now defunct Hong Kong dessert shop formerly known as Benser Tasty.  Blackball specializes in house-made grass jelly. If the term ‘grass jelly’ scares you, don’t go running yet. Blackball makes the scary black gelatinous dessert palatable with a bunch of add-ins.  Green bean, red bean, konnyaku jelly, chewy sweet potato, chewy taro, and cream.  The combinations are endless. BlackBall Desserts

On a hot summer day, I really wanted the cooling properties of grass jelly, so I ordered up a bowl of it with green bean, konnyaku, and the chewy pillows of sweet potato and taro.  They’re like gnocchi’s sweet, denser cousins.  Unlike the grass jelly that plops out of a can, the jelly here is softer in consistency and not as herbal.  The sweetness of the other toppings do a good job of balancing out the grass jelly, so good in fact that I felt like I was eating an actual dessert instead of something mildly healthy.

While I’m sad that Benser’s mango and black rice dessert is now just a distant memory, I’m glad that a worthy dessert shop has taken its place.  The heat-lowering qualities of the grass jelly will probably entice a few diners exiting Boiling Point with fire in their bellies across the parking lot.

Blackball Taiwanese Dessert
250 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 872-6865

Rustic Canyon

Last night, Will and I finally made it to the west side for dinner. We’d been meaning to try out Rustic Canyon ever since we found out Jeremy Fox was now cooking there. It seemed like a good idea, since he’s been known to cook creative vegetable-heavy dishes and it wouldn’t be a stretch for Rustic Canyon to do some vegan dishes.


We started off with the marinated olives and marcona almonds.  The almonds flavored with sugar and lavender are said to be one of Fox’s signature dishes and it’s no wonder why. What at first smelled like a bowl of potpourri turned out to be a bowl of addictive, strangely spiced almonds.  The olives marinated with fennel, orange, and garlic were also a nice surprise. Everywhere in LA has a bowl of marinated olives now, so we were expecting more of the same, but something made these olives taste really bright and different.

DSCF1511 The beets and berries, as suggested by our server, was a slightly different take on the ubiquitous beet salad.  The dressing was overly acidic for my taste, and I like pretty sour stuff. It could have been balanced out had there been more avocado in the salad.  The addition of mint gave it an unexpected pop which I liked.

DSCF1514I also had the squid ceviche: a quirky combination of squid and melon that actually worked.  The squid was gently poached in salted water, so not a traditional ceviche.  Each piece was perfectly tender, and the entire dish was dressed well with a good balance of acid and richness from the sauce below the squid. I also liked the slightly sweet pickled slices of chili pepper.

DSCF1509We also had the focaccia with burrata and eggplant caponata. While good as a plate of bread and cheese, it wasn’t as successful as focaccia.  The top of the focaccia didn’t seem done enough and the bread was denser in the middle than I expected.  It seemed like the dough wasn’t given enough time to rise, or something.  I’m not usually one to complain about a dish to the restaurant, as long as it’s edible, but since the server asked how the bread was, I told him the truth. He assured me that this was a different “style” of focaccia, since focaccia differs from region to region and that it was meant to be rustic.  Fine. We’ve had focaccia up and down the west coast of Italy and this was not like any of the different focaccia in any region we visited.

Not pictured was a chickpea stew with tomato sauce which was really good, vegan, and tasted amazingly like meatballs with red sauce.



We also had a bread stew with tomato sauce, which tasted similar to the chickpea stew. This would have been a safe dish if not for the basil kimchi on top.  It was really spicy and unexpected, and gave what would have been a boring dish a little zing.

One of the hardest decisions of the night was picking between the Tcho chocolate cake or a scoop of sweet corn ice cream. The sweet corn ice cream won out and it was so good I don’t regret it at all.  The slightly salty, creamy, corn taste was exactly what I had pictured when I read it on the menu.  It was so good, I didn’t want to waste any time taking a photo of it.

My feeling about Rustic Canyon is a little mixed. I over heard the staff say that Fox wasn’t in the kitchen that night, so it might have been attributed to that, but I thought some of the dishes didn’t seem that balanced and leaned toward the too much acid side.  And while most of the dishes were good, nothing really blew my socks off.  I couldn’t help feeling that this was a case of a good chef and a good restaurant but neither being a good fit with each other.

Rustic Canyon
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401