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Posted by on Jan 20, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 3 comments

LA Story (El Cholo Mexican Restaurant)

 

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When I first heard El Cholo was the favorite late-night hangout for actor Jack Nicholson right after Laker games, I knew this was the place to visit.

a6507c0329a9654a90a17cad05b23610El Cholo first opened up in 1923.  It was founded by Mexican immigrants who nurtured their family business and handed down secret recipes over multiple generations to the present day.  Nearing a full century in business, El Cholo has since expanded outward to other locations throughout Southern California.  However, the original flagship restaurant location remains at 1121 S. Western Avenue, just a short distance from downtown Los Angeles.

There’s lots to love about El Cholo, which has varied meanings in the Spanish language — from “peasant farmer” in some Latino regions to what’s regarded as a derogatory term, particularly in Peru.  Jack Nicholson’s tastes and his endorsement aside, there were a number of things which attracted me to try out this historic location, most of all its authenticity and obvious recognition of its heritage.

Legend has it that the dish we all know as “nachos” was introduced here during the 1950’s.  According to El Cholo’s restaurant history which is posted on the wall in the lobby area, a former waitress named Carmen Rocha crafted nachos in San Antonio, before moving later on and introducing the dish to Los Angeles at El Cholo, where she worked up through 1959.

IMAG1692 - EditedOne of the most impressionable things about El Cholo is the “Louis Zamperini Room,” which is named after the Los Angeles native who was once an Olympic athlete (competing in the 1936 Games held in Berlin) who later enlisted in the U.S. Army-Air Corps, was shot down over the Pacific Ocean, miraculously made what was then the longest survival on a life raft on the open sea in history, only to be followed by capture, imprisonment, and torture in a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan during World War II.  If this story sounds familiar, last year’s movie “Unbroken,” based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand was based on Zamperini’s life.  Any place that honors such a remarkable man in this special way with his own dining room, complete with photos of the genuine hero who died last year at age 97 merits a visit in my estimation.  [Note:  My review of Hillenbrand’s book can be read HERE]

With so much going for it, I really wanted to like El Cholo.  But blatant honesty can be a painful thing.  Unfortunately, I probably won’t repeat as a customer.  I can’t recommend this historic establishment for at least a couple of reasons.  Before I get to these critiques, first here are a few positives.

IMAG1691 (1)El Cholo makes a fantastic margarita on the rocks.  I ordered the house specialty, which was splendid.  Everything about this staple of Mexican cuisine was perfect, from the generous portion served, to the kosher salt on the outer rim, to the frothy shaken ambiance atop the cocktail, to the float of Triple Sec, to the exceptional lime-based mixer which was as good as any margarita I’ve ever had outside of Dallas.

The layout of the restaurant and ambiance as also quite pleasant.  The adobe architecture throughout — both inside and out — which divides several rooms into different sections provides for an unexpected quaintness, even though this is a large-scale operation capable of serving hundreds of covers at a time.  One gets the feeling that a discovery has been made — a nice quiet restaurant no one else knows about, although that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

The food is also pretty good.  Not great, but generally pleasing.  I say this having enjoyed so many Mexican meals in so many different cities that I’ve now lost count.  Yes, I do know what great Mexican food is — and on a scale of 1-10, this gets a solid “7.”  My dinner included two beef enchiladas rolled in corn tortillas.  I also ordered the New Mexico-style green chili sauce (not a fan of the usual red sauce), which gives the dish a bit more kick.  I added a chicken taco.  The platter came with the customary rice and refried beans.  The standard chips and salsa were fine (chips were warm, a good sign).  Salsa was a bit of a bore — nothing special.

So, where did El Cholo go wrong?  Here are two criticisms.

First, the service was atrocious.  I felt like the invisible man during most of my one-hour stay.  I waited for what seemed like forever to get served.  Then, the waiter barely came around at all.  I was forced to rely on a busboy who didn’t speak much English (most of the staff were Mexicans).  Contrary to what I often write, I tend to be very tolerant of slow service and miscues.  However, this entire episode was unnecessary and unforgivable.  The restaurant wasn’t busy (I dined late in the afternoon).  But each time I needed something, a member of the staff would be around but never make eye contact (something which drives me crazy).  I resorted to shouting at one point in order to get someone’s attention.  One supposes that Jack Nicholson never had to resort to these measures.

Whack!  Here’s Joooohny!

IMAG1698 - EditedSecond, was the lack of value.  The bill finally arrived (after considerable begging for the waiter’s attention), which amounted to a whopping $35.45 for one patron.  Seriously, who in the hell spends $35 on Mexican food, with just one drink and no frills?  $35?  I could have eaten in Chinatown for a week and bought extra lottery tickets for that amount.  I did some quick calculations and the enchiladas must have run about $20 (about 33 percent higher than average elsewhere based on my experience), plus another $6 for a chicken taco, then $10 for a margarita.   In hundreds if not thousands of meals over the years, I may have tipped less than 20 percent only a handful of times, but given the non-existent waiter and being engulfed with neglect from start to finish, I tossed two $20 bills on the table and stormed out.  Fuck it.

What a shame.  El Cholo should be much better than this.  Based on the utter lack of value combined with the abominable service, I must strongly recommend dining elsewhere.  There must be hundreds of Latino-themed restaurants in and around Los Angeles which are far superior.  Next time, I’ll embark on that discovery.

 

Postscript:  Special thanks to Jessica Welman, who once lived in Los Angeles and graduated from USC which is close by.  She recommended El Cholo based on its reputation but was also careful to warn me that it might not be the same place that it once was.  Welman, who previously recommended Philippe the Original to me (another Los Angeles institution) remains undefeated in her culinary assessment.  [READ MY REVIEW OF PHILIPPE THE ORIGINAL HERE]  

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Posted by on Jan 13, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Rants and Raves, Restaurant Reviews | 5 comments

Since When Did Restaurants Start Rationing Butter?

 

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I’m a butter fanatic.  Call it a fetish.  I know.  I’m freaky.

When I die, in lieu of cremation followed by scattering my ashes off a cliff somewhere — instead, baste me in melted butter.  Then, deep fry me like a beignet until golden crisp and deep brown.  Next sprinkle me with gobs of powdered sugar.  Finally, toss me off a cliff.  That way a hungry seagull can clutch, swallow and ultimately shit the last final vestiges of my earthy existence.  At least my life will have had some meaning.

The great chef and culinary icon Julia Child also had a thing for butter.  It was an obsession, really.  She didn’t take any short-cuts inside her kitchen, which became an extension of our own homes.  Child’s recipes made their way into our dining rooms and transformed how we looked upon food, not simply as a bodily requirement but as an experience.  Accordingly, she didn’t resort to cooking with cheap imitations, nor resort of the use artificial ingredients.  Convenience, my ass.  Fuck that.  Julia Child never used “low-calorie” this, nor “lite” that.  Ever.  And so according to that most hallowed of gospels, there was nor is no replacement for butter.  Authenticity has no substitute.  As they say, you can’t fake sincerity.

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Posted by on Dec 14, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Restaurant Reviews | 5 comments

The Last Supper: “Buzio’s,” WSOP’s Favorite Restaurant Closes After 25 Years at Rio

 

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The last two customers on the final night, with Darcy and Sally at Buzio’s (Rio)

 

Our fondest memories are of people and places.

For many, Buzio’s at the Rio in Las Vegas was one of the fondest of places because it was full of so many good people.  It was more than just a casual restaurant.  Buzio’s was a cradle of friendship and bastion of happiness.  It was a boardroom of wheeling and dealing.  It was a place to gossip, to drown our sorrows, and to celebrate.  If the World Series of Poker, held at the Rio each summer since 2005 had an office, a break room, a social club, a watering hole, and a place of reprieve and relaxation — it was most certainly the public alcove in the form of a once-popular seafood restaurant along the so-called “bad beat hallway” leading back to the main casino.

Buzio’s served its final meal on Saturday night — December 12, 2015.  After 25 years, the restaurant closed its doors for the last time, in order to make way for a new eatery which will eventually open on the spot where where poker players clamored each night for dinner reservations, where strategy was furiously rehashed and debated, where millions in poker deals were made over shrimp cocktails, where disappointments were doused and gradually forgotten, where tournament survival was toasted, and where innumerable lasting friendships were founded.  Hostilities on hold, competitors who tried to outfox each other during the WSOP competing for their livelihoods often dined out together at Buzio’s.  Poker doesn’t have many places around like this anymore.  Sadly now, it has one less such place.

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Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 1 comment

Burgatory is Hamburger Heaven (Blow Your Dick Off Greatness in Pittsburgh)

 

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Hamburgers are for the masses.  Most decidedly, I am not a mass.

An ass?  Maybe.  A mass?  Never.

Fact is, it takes a blow-your-dick into-outer-space-great-fucking-hamburger to crowbar me away from my fancy French food and snooty red wine to try out, let alone be so hammerhead and eyes watering impressed with the experience as to write a review about a food joint where the standard fare is burgers and fries, doused with milk shakes and tap beer, where the waitress forgets my iced tea but still calls me “darlin.”

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Posted by on Oct 22, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 1 comment

Look What This Las Vegas Barbecue Joint Turned Into….

 

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Gee, I thought the barbecue tasted a little funny.

Las Vegas locals who live here on the West Side will undoubtedly remember the name “Memphis Championship Barbecue,” which opened up their family-style restaurant about 15 years ago at 1401 South Rainbow Blvd.  Not to be confused with their Henderson sister location which remains open, for reasons unknown, this rib joint just never made a splash.

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