And this time, Candace is making me hungry with this terrific recap of Los Angeles-area dining highlights.
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Candace again! Back with a new installment that we’ll call “What I ate in….”
Now for those of you who know NOTHING about me, there’s one fundamental fact you should know: I love great food. Expensive. Cheap. From a truck. From a restaurant. From a little lady on the street. I don’t care. If it’s good, feed it to me.
So when I travel I meticulously scope out restaurants. This isn’t to say I plan every single meal – but it’s good to just have a few places picked out.
In September, my fiancé Jay’s longtime friend got married in Palm Springs. As I had never been to LA, we decided to stay one night there.
Have you ever tried to pick ONE RESTAURANT to eat at in Los Angeles?! It was beyond difficult. But we decided on Animal. And my, did we choose well.
This was one of the more difficult menus to choose from. You had your basics such as bbq pork belly sliders. And then you had your veal tongue. I like to think we landed somewhere in the middle.
We ordered the roasted figs featuring hazelnut, buttermilk, blackberries and crispy ham which had a lot of depth and flavor, but left me wanting for something more.
Our adventurous order was the crispy pig ear accompanied with red chili, lime, maple, farm egg. Lightly crunchy and full of flavor, it was SO delightful that it made me wonder if there were other animal ears we should be eating.
I also wondered if there was an alternative universe where pigs were eating human ears, but that’s another post.
On a whim we ordered the hamachi tostada, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut. Best whim ever. This dish was the unexpected star, filled with chunks of fresh, raw yellowtail and bright Thai-like flavors. I like how they just call it “herbs.” I want those herbs in everything.
As an entrée we ordered a turkey leg the size of my head. It was brined in duck fat, smoked and fried. While the skin was crispy and flavorful, turkey legs are always gonna turkey leg and just be a bit…dry.
I understand that soft shell crabs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the honey walnut soft shell crab, JW’s black sriracha, and scallion were so good I almost cried tears of joy.
Next day we considered brunch – but you can eat brunch anywhere! [Editor’s note: that’s crazy talk] What’s one thing that the left coast does that my beloved East Coast can’t even sneeze at – DUMPLINGS. Jay loves dumplings and was immediately on board with this idea.
So I searched for somewhere between LA and Palm Springs and one place kept coming up – J & J / Jin Jian Restaurant a Shanghainese spot in an area known as San Gabriel Valley.
On our way there, we made a stop at LA’s Original Farmer’s Market, which was AMAZING. Stalls and stalls of all sorts of food. You could grocery shop, grab a donut and coffee or sit and have a cheese plate and bottle of wine.
As we grabbed a savory scone and tea from Short Cake, they told us they were giving away a free Raspberry Frangipani for the first 250 customers. Score, we’ll take it! As we cruised to Palm Springs we nibbled on it and holy jeez it was good. Not too sweet, light and just the right amount of berries. It was like a fancier, lighter egg pie. I wanted more and I usually shy away from raspberry deserts.
BUT BACK TO THE DUMPLINGS. Confession – I like steamed dumplings, but I don’t get crazy over them – and you know why? Because the East Coast does not know how to do them. They’re often gummy and just not right.
Well J & J restaurant does dumplings RIGHT. Their most highly touted item is the Xiaolongbao, or soup dumpling. Most people (okay, people who don’t know, AKA me) think soup dumplings are dumplings in soup. No! They are dumplings that have a soup-like mix inside of them. They often feature pork and J & J is known for their pork and crab XLBs (that’s what you call it when you’re in the know.)
Thanks to a few language barriers we accidentally ordered both pork AND pork and crab. It was one of the better mistakes we made, as they were both absolutely delicious. They used fresh crabmeat, which gave them a subtle but delicious seafood taste, giving these a slight edge over the just pork XLBs.
And these dumplings were anything BUT gummy. The texture of the dough was perfect and we were enthralled with how well they held the soup. Tack on an order of radish pancakes and a huge platter of fried dumplings (sorry, I can’t help it) and our bill came to a whopping $25. We were so stuffed we took the fried dumplings with us which actually hold up well and make a great hotel snack.
Don’t judge my life.
Tell me, what should I mangia next time I’m in Los Angeles?
Have you had great dumplings on the east coast? If so, tell me where!