DTLA Days Well Spent

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People have a lot to say about Downtown LA: artists and creatives are setting re-imagined roots, it's yet to be pedestrian friendly, its iconic past is about to see a resurgence. I just love that it can still feel like an underdog and champion all at the same time.

Sometimes, when walking, I swear I see dreams written on the faces of strangers. Some haven't been given the chance, some lost their chance and others are still giving everything they've got just for a chance.

I spent a wrinkly-shirted afternoon with photographer Hannah Gweun. We just walked.

What's not to like about a city, a people, willing to fight for their dreams?

 

LA Secrets | Underground Food Market

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A speakeasy food market? It's one of those things you'd almost expect to exist in LA; and just like that @laundergroundm caught me on Twitter. They're just two events in. This past weekend @craftedport_la hosted them in a warmly restored World War II era warehouse in San Pedro. 

Michaela G. is behind this private, members-only underground market (you just have to sign up with your email) that's looking to give home cooks, caterers and up 'n coming cooks a chance to showcase their creations and get instant feedback. 

You're emailed the location the night before, show up with the given password, pay a $10 admission fee and eat your way around tables that offer dishes anywhere between $1 to $5 dollars.

My favorites came from two different husband and wife teams: a slightly spicy but homey flavored Chicken Biryani and a smokey sauced Pork Slider.

To sign up, visit: http://www.laundergroundmarket.com/

This Is What Happens When You Roll to Jiufen In a Fake Custom Volkswagen

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This post starts with a few 'nevers': I never knew Jiufen was Miyazaki's inspiration for Spirited Away, I have never been in a custom fake Volkswagen, I never knew inflatable ducks could be celebrities and last but not least, we never ever say no to Elbert.

Here's the thing about Elbert. If he tells you that we have to take a day to hang in Jiufen and that he has to be the one to take you, you just say yes. It's a guaranteed day of memories, laughter and questionable photos.

"Just come downstairs and look for the most subtle looking car!"

There he was. Our brother Elbert laughing giddily as he stepped out of a delicious candy apple red Volkswagen. "It's fake," he laughed some more, "my friend customized this thing from the inside out to make it look like a VW and let me borrow it for our daytrip today!"

Fake or not, it was clearly the most adorable and special car I'd ever met; all I wanted to do for some strange reason was to see it in cake or candy form and eat it. After some more gawking, squealing and picture-taking, we were finally off winding through roads and hills up into the mountains of Jiufen. This area draws a lot of tourists internationally but locally from Taipei, too.

Once a gold mining town, tunnels and stairs glide your feet throughout this mountain village to melodious cafes, teahouses and eats; if you've watched Miyazaki's Spirited Away, it's incredibly easy to see why this town was hard for the beloved director and animator to forget.

As one often does when in Taiwan, we were eating all day; when the sun started to set Elbert assured us the real eating was just about to begin. Our first round of dinner involved free range chicken baked in a fiery clay oven. Then it was up to your hands to shred it into pieces, armored in gloves they provided. 

Dinner Part 2? The Keelung night market. This was, by far, my favorite night market in all of Taiwan. With an emphasis on seafood, lined stalls and some serious flavors, I for sure can't wait to come back to this one on a much emptier stomach. Oh and Keelung's pineapple cake? Solid thumbs up.

Our night ended face to face with Taiwan's biggest celebrity. That duck bobbing (and at times exploding) on the waters of Keelung was in the news literally every single day. It was pretty dang cute. Not gonna lie.

It was difficult to do this day justice by photos (clay baked chicken and riotous laughter included); I'll have to post a video from our Jiufen day trip soon.

Thank you Elbert for our last, most fun and unforgettable day in Taiwan. As for them questionable Ray+Elbert photos? Well, let's just say that I stopped questioning the two of you long ago. We love you and miss you!

 

 

It Was A 14-Item Pop Up. We Ate and Drank It All.

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An original 14-item menu for a Tiki Supper Club Pop Up Dinner hosted by The Great Company in a tropical-smelling warehouse in Downtown LA? Had I ever heard of such a mix? Of course not.

My good friends over at The Great Company have been colorful and engaging stewards of their space; when Andy Windack shared that he'd been creating custom dinners for groups and friends, Great Co. was excited to collaborate.

This pop up would be a Tiki Supper Club, #thecoconutclub, Windak said. I'd like to assume that none of us really knew what to expect when we sat down to a table dressed with fresh birds of paradise and chummy pineapples. Having been at the space since prep-time, I just knew that if the drool-inducing aroma was to end up in my belly, it'd indeed be a Great Sunday.

My previous post about food in Taiwan, about learners who become doers, couldn't have been better placed. How was I to know that my next food adventure would be intricately designed by a former animator turned self-taught chef who on his 25th birthday invited 25 guests for 25 tastes? 

Our charming consumption concert on this particular night consisted of 14 tastes: 7 dishes, 7 drinks. Yes, you could taste the details, his very thoughts even! And yes, the hand made tiki-torches on the Pupu Platter and the sparkly wonder that was the key lime fire for our volcano dessert delighted the senses.

But my favorite taste that night was something extended from Andy's ceremonious creations. It was simply, the friends. From the sous chef, drink masters, host, servers and guests, all were friends who pulled together because they saw the life in Andy's vision and dream. That item, I'll call it Number 15: Friends Let Friends Dream Together, was easily my favorite dish of the night.

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I've posted the details of just some of my favorites (seen above) for your mouth watering pleasure below:

Mu'umuu: hibiscus-infused dark Jamaican rum, passion fruit syrup, lemon

Hawaiian Sweet Bread & Pineapple Butter

Chai Tai: black spiced rum, coconut, chai spiced syrup, lime, Angostura bitters

Chicken Tiki Marsala: chicken thigh, feet stock, dry marsala, garam masala, tomato, buttermilk, ghee-poached edamame, basmati arancini

Pupu Platter: Coconut Braised Yam - yam, coconut milk, red banana, celery, peanut, cilantro. Fried Coconut Chicken Wingz: turmeric, lemongrass, galangal, rice flour. Duck Bao: hawaiian sweet brea steam bun, duck confit, quince sauce, cucumber, scallion, cilantro, duck cracklings

Surf, Turf and Earth: fillet, uni, maui onion, tarro, ube, shallot

Pineapple Inside Out VOLCANO Cake: cinnamon cake, caramelized pineapple, allspice semifreddo, key lime fire

To learn more:

Andy Windack/@windattack - http://andywindak.com/

The Great Company/@thegreatcompany - www.thegreatcompany.com

Photos by: @mybrotherray

 

When People Believe In Food

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Somehow there is both much and little to say about food in Taiwan. And that's a good thing. The much: bristling variety on any and every street, mom 'n pop shops, open-air storefronts, incomparable night markets (and prices!), cart food caravans cooked by character faces, delicacies that are still hand made. The little: simply convenient, quick. As many here would seem to ask, "Why wouldn't you eat out?"

I didn't want to slather your eyes with an unending stream of deliciousness (food porn just isn't my thing) so I've settled on really just a glimpse of some of our favorite eats. If you've questions about any of the items pictured above, just leave me a comment.

You should probably know that I'm a sucker for stories and sweets; a combo, should you offer, I would never refuse. So my favorite sweet story from the bunch rests on the last set of pictures from the clean and simple Myowa near the popular Yong Kang Street. The man behind Myowa is completely self taught. That satiny green tea ice cream, the multiple layer sheet cake, crispy crunchy feuille? He just read books.

He recalled favorite tastes, he practiced, he made all things matcha green tea. I've so much respect for learners that become doers.

I've even more respect for those who keep doing what they do well for years on end, straight and true. And there is, thankfully, much of that on these streets. When food tastes and speaks in that way, straight and true, I find myself smiling with an odd sense of comfort. People still believe in that, I tell myself.

This island may not be my home, but its food nudges its way effortlessly into my life. I'll always come back for more.

Redraw Designs Dinner

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Thanks to JK, we sat down for a neighborhood meal with the fam at Redraw Designs; they're a resourceful furniture design company staking a place in the ever growing arts district of downtown LA. Authentic Korean eats (backyard charcoal grill, baby!), soju, a communal table and our own little dance party. Them Tuesday nights.

We Went Looking For Seafood. Lots of it

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We asked our friend Calvin for some unique Taipei eats.

"There's this warehouse," he says, "turned into an open-air fish market and you stand and eat incredibly fresh fish; the price is incredible. You can't even get that much seafood and sashimi in the states for the price you'll get at this place."

Sold.

We bus'd and walked our way toward the Taipei Fish Market to come face to face with a rather ordinary-looking building. There she was, Addiction Aquatic Development, sitting snugly amidst the older and more traditional market stalls this neighborhood is known for.

An open walkway drew us in first to tanks of live fish still chillin' in their baskets (clean and smell-free) before nudging us into a warmly lit, bustling open-air market: aisles full of richly packed sushi and bento boxes for those on the go, corners with ready made hot food, a counter that cooks your seafood of choice to-go, a wine bar with house and kitchenware for browsing.

The common thread that runs through the entire joint? Custom variety. Do you like your seafood served raw, eaten standing at counters? Or maybe hot pot's more your style? How about skewering your fish and shrimp and watching them sizzle over charcoal at the outside patio?

Our lunch, standing at the counter that afternoon included: a seven piece sushi plate, assorted sashimi salad, an enormous bowl of seafood miso soup and grilled fish all for $19 US dollars. Insane.

If you're a fan of Japanese seafood and presentation, you'll be happy to know that the Mitsui Group (responsible for some of the top Japanese restaurants in town) is behind AAD. If only we had something like this in LA. You win again, Asia. #seafooddreamsz

Addiction Aquatic Development: No. 18, Alley 2, Lane 410, Minzu East Road, Taipei City (台北市民族東路410巷2弄18號)

Some Artists Found Abandoned Wine Factories. Then Things Started To Change.

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Back in '97, some young thespians stumbled into a hidden new old world. And they discovered it was hardly new; these sleepy buildings were abandoned, untouched and, it turned out, one of the oldest structures in all of Taiwan. Dial back to the 1920's, these very warehouses were one of Taiwan's largest wine producing factories.

So what did the thespians do? Put on plays and productions of course, probably defying a few entry charges along the way. Then things started to happen. 

Locals and artists both notable and burgeoning nested in spaces to create, showcase, perform and collaborate. Walk around it today and you'll drink in a full creative ground teeming with ideas daringly manifested and deliciously appreciated.

Sounded a lot like the city of risking and dreaming angels where I came from; the family-like feel of creatives smelled familiar and comforting even for this visitor.

Don't miss the exhibitions, indie cinema and design-inspiring cafes when you visit. 

To visit Huashan Creative Park: http://www.huashan1914.com/en/index.html

VVG Something Cafe. An Unforgettable Something

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Promise me you'll go visit this one, too. VVG Something (stands for Very Very Good Something) is more than very good, it's addicting.

We stepped into this other world of a cafe on the bottom, books(tore) up top that promised us twinkling vintage trinkets, unique books and a whole lot of impeccably curated goods and moods. Nearly three hours had passed where we were sure we'd only been there for one. 

The VVG Group has sprinkled a number of their cafes all over Taiwan; I'm on a hunt for the rest of them next trip. I didn't get to try the actual food in the cafes (some say prices are steep for TW) but I've a feeling their foods will be an experience, too.

You can find this location at 1914 Huashan Creative Park. While you're in Huashan, be sure to walk around in what's a sure arts district; the amount of creativity in that square alone filled me up for days.

Find VVG Something at Huashan 1914 Cultural Creative Park
No. 1, Bade Road Sec. 1
華山文創產業園區.
紅磚六合院 / C 棟 ( 杭州北路.北平東路口 )
(02) 2322-5573 

#OIT No. 2 - Ancre Cafe. This Is My Love Letter To You.

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Don't let the ordinary looking exterior fool you.
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#feltlikeadream

There are an incredible number of things Taiwan does right and well. Cafes, my friends, Taiwan does incredibly well. You'll find one in nearly every and any neighborhood you meander into and they will most likely impress you. But this one, Ancre Cafe, will remain a special favorite of mine for many years to come.

What I ask of cafes has changed over the years. During high school, I was just happy to get out of the house and find places where gobs of our friends could conquer tables. During college, well, two words really: wifi + outlets. And then we come to cafes in LA: so where are your beans from? Do you guys validate parking? Omg free parking?! Gotta check in on foursquare! Just saw Diane Keaton, sweet! Omg my 8 dollar coffee makes me want to cry! Whoa, everyone's got a macbook here. Whoa, everyone's working on a script here. #lacafes

Ancre Cafe, this is my love letter to you, you two floors of sun drenched perfection. Your unbeatable location in the Danshui harbor, smiled head to toe at our curious faces; I knew then we would be friends forever. I've yet to meet the mother and daughters who share you with the world (next time!) but thank you for slowing time down. Thank you for letting us listen in on your most coveted soundtrack, the one where the ocean laps warmly at your door. 

Our friend Vincent told us the family that runs Ancre are some of the most content people he's ever met. They love being open, seeing new faces and serving food, drinks to whoever comes through their doors. This was the sort of place that sat me down and asked, "Are you happy today? Right now? If this is where you sat and looked out of every morning, would you say your life was well?" My answer, an uninhibited yes. I'd be lying if I didn't say I dream of opening a cafe someday.

Man, that sunset.

Huge thanks to Vincent for pointing us to this gem. You are, in our books, the official Curator of all things visionary in Taiwan.

Pics by: yours truly & @mybrotherray

Ancre Cafe: No. 233, Zhōngzhèng Rd, Danshui District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 251