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Blue Star Donuts

When In Doubt, Donut

The day started out as most Saturdays do. I awoke in a daze after having not slept very well the night before; a side effect of my new sleep schedule. So, after stumbling around my apartment for a bit, I eventually found the wherewithal to finally get my day started. Indeed, today was to be a rather important day. You see, a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a piece of news that [adult swim] was launching their own emoji keyboard for Android and iOS. And to celebrate, they coordinated with several tattoo shops around the country to offer fans some free flash art. Never one to turn down a free tattoo, I put it on my calendar and never looked back.

Today was the day it was supposed to happen… but it never did. After arriving 3 hours early to the shop, I was met with a line around 15 people deep. I sat there for a brief period of time, wondering if I had it in me to wait. I think I made it a good 45 minutes in, before realizing I was much too tired to spend my morning baking in the sun. After all, I wasn’t even sure how big the pieces were going to be, nor how good the artists themselves were. So, I concocted a plan of escape. Answering an urgent “phone call,” I audibly argued with an imaginary person for a few minutes, before making the move back to my car—in a huff, of course.

Realizing these were my only plans for the day, I contemplated other things I could do in the area. After all, I did drive 30 minutes to Venice on a rather beautiful day. That’s when I remembered reading that Blue Star Donuts had recently opened a shop in the area. For anyone who doesn’t know, Blue Star Donuts is a Portland staple that now has locations around the world. They’re also well known for their motto, “quality over quantity,” which is evident in every single one of their delicious pastries.

I first encountered their brand while traveling the country for my project, The Great Agency Adventure. It was after I had tried and been disappointed by another Portland staple, Voodoo Donuts. I waited patiently for nearly a year to try their confectionary concoctions, only to discover they’re nothing more than overrated sugar bombs. Thankfully, not long thereafter, I was tipped off about Blue Star. I can’t recall the donuts I purchased on that visit, but I’ll never forget how incredible they were. They’re a company that prides themselves on using natural, in-season ingredients and it's a difference you really can taste.

I strolled a couple blocks to the west and landed on Abbot-Kinney Road, where I spied the shop’s cozy little storefront, nestled into a stretch of hipster-friendly coffee shops, eateries and boutiques. Upon first opening the door, I was greeted with a waft of fresh dough and spices—an experience that immediately transported me back to Portland’s embrace. Not to be deterred, however, I quickly began to study the day’s selections and finally decided on a Cointreau Crème Brulee donut, which comes topped with an extra bit of liqueur for drizzling, and an Apple Cider Fritter, made with hard apple cider for an extra bit of bite.

I couldn’t get my hands on these treats fast enough. As soon as I left the store, I took some snapshots of my conquest, before slowly working my way through them; being sure to enjoy every single morsel. The Crème Brulee donut was filled with a delicious vanilla cream that offered just the right amount of sweetness. You could even see the flakes of vanilla bean; further proof they stay true to their promise of always going the extra mile when it comes to quality. The Fritter flaked apart much like a warm croissant, allowing you to see every delicious apple, golden raisin and swirl of cinnamon contained within. To say it was magical would actually be an understatement.

I may not have had the energy to sit on a sidewalk for 3 hours, but Blue Star reminded me that I’ll always have the energy to walk a few miles, if there’s a donut on the other side of that finish line. I also think it says a lot about Portland as a city. They’ve exported a piece of their culture with absolute perfection and for that, I commend them—and thank them.   

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Ktown Night Market

Steamed Buns and K-pop Fun All in One. 

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline and came across an ad for something called, Ktown Night Market. “Back by Popular Demand,” it said. Popular demand? Well, if it was exciting enough to make a comeback, certainly it’s something I needed to check out. The days came and went, and I teetered back and forth as to whether or not I’d actually go. Basically, the level of dough in my bank account was dictating my overall desire. Sure, the event itself was only $5 at the door, but with food trucks and stalls galore, I knew there’d be some money dropping throughout the evening.

After spending the day-of venturing around Le Brea, I finally decided to make the trek 7 blocks east and see what all the fuss was about. I rolled up fairly early—around 6pm—so the crowd had yet to gather its full force. I took this as an opportunity to get my fill of food, because I was sure the lines would start forming at any moment (I was right). The funny thing about stalls and trucks, especially at festivals, is that they can vary rather dramatically when it comes to service.

For instance, the first truck I hit was called, The Chairman. It’s a mobile version of the bun and sandwich eatery that has locations in DTLA and San Francisco. I ordered a Spicy Chicken steamed bun, which comes with Panchan pickles; and a Black Pepper Brisket Bun that’s topped with fennel salad and lemon-ginger vinaigrette. The service was speedy, the food was incredible and I even chatted with the staff for a few minutes about the NBA Finals. All in all, it was the type of experience you want to have with a food truck. However, later in the evening I hit a truck called, Okamoto Kitchen. Billed as Japanese comfort food, it’s definitely an unforgettable experience. The truck itself is bright red with a French Maid Manga character emblazoned across the side, while a TV screen rotates through Pokemon-style screens, complete with 8-bit video game noises and music.

When I walked up the line was a little long, but I decided to test the waters and wait. After all, a long line is usually the sign of a good spot. Unfortunately, what I came to find was that it was actually the result of severe mismanagement. When I finally made it to the window, I ordered myself a nice combo of a Chicken Curry Sandwich (a large piece of Korean fried Chicken, topped with gouda cheese, shredded green cabbage and a special curry sauce, housed in a warm brioche bun) and a Green Tea Parfait (matcha-infused custard, topped with sweet red bean paste, fried dough and whipped cream).

Nothing too extravagant, I thought. The problem came after about 10 minutes of waiting. I saw them place my items at the window, but they never called for me. Instead, the person serving food set it to the side for another 5 minutes. Curious, I waited to see how things would play out. I soon realized he was not giving me my order, because the people in front of me had not received their orders yet and… well… I guess things have to go in order?

It was extremely odd to me, especially given that one of my items was to be served hot and the other cold (read as time sensitive). Once I finally received my food though, I have to admit that it was extremely delicious. Was it worth the 30+ minutes I waited for it? Probably not, but in that moment I certainly enjoyed it. From there, I hit up Street Churros and had my very first churro ever—no, really! And then ventured one truck to the right for some gelato. Both were pretty good, but nothing I’d ever write home about.

Once I was filled with food, I went and checked out all of the clothing stalls around the festival. I guess they were curated by something called, The Silk Show? I’m completely unfamiliar, but I did manage to snag a few good deals from some pretty cool brands. The timing was perfect too, as the sun began to set and the evening’s musical acts took to the stage. So, I grabbed some bubble tea from Boba Bear and spent the rest of the evening bobbing along to some Korean rap groups and a few K-pop favorites. Sure, I didn’t understand a word they were saying, but a good beat transcends all languages.

All in all, the evening was really fun. It was nice to get out and explore the culture of my neighborhood a bit. I do live in Koreatown, after all. My only complaint is that I wasn’t able to hit up more of the food stalls. Obviously, it wasn’t because I couldn’t pack away the food. It had more to do with the fact they were cash only and I couldn’t make out any of the menus. There were some questionable meats being used (at least the types I’m used to) and I was deathly afraid of accidentally purchasing duck’s bill or tripe. I think I'll save those for next year. 

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Kitchen24 (Hollywood)

I Can't Believe They Forgot the Caramel.

[I did it again! I forgot to take pictures. So, these are from Yelp.]

A dense fog filled the air, growing in intensity, as it continued to pump into the room from behind the DJ booth. Sounds of early nineties Nine Inch Nails thumped and buzzed its way into every corner of the ultra exclusive basement gathering. In my hand, a milky black mix of mysterious alcohols and orange juice systematically caressed my lips again and again… and again. Looking around, I could make out the shapes of friends to varying degrees of success. Their gyrating movements chasing the beat—all as the clock melted past midnight and into the early morning.

When the time came to ascend the stairs back to reality, I couldn’t help but feel a little lost as the door gave way to glistening streetlights and the brisk LA breeze. A typical Tuesday had once again come and gone. But, where did it leave me? If memory serves me right, it dropped me smack dab in the middle of Hollywood at 2am. How on earth could I hope to sleep after such an experience, though? Thoughts of nostalgia were swirling around my head and my heart was beating just a little harder than normal. Clearly, there was only one option—food.

Taking quick stock of my location, I knew almost immediately where my feet were to take my next. So, I ventured my way up Cahuenga Blvd., past the likes of Umami Burger and Smoke’s Poutinerie (we’ll save those for another adventure) and into the 24-hour haven that is Kitchen24.

As soon as I walked in, the early morning vibe washed across every inch of me. You know the kind; the one that smells a little like alcohol and varying degrees of poor (depending on how you look at them) decisions? It’s fairly distinct and the diner was ripe with its aroma. I’ve never been bothered by it before though. So, I made my way to the back of the room and took a seat at the bar.

As time passed at a seemingly slower and slower rate, I debated on what I should indulge in. That’s the problem with most diners—too much choice. I finally settled in on the chicken and waffles, but these were no ordinary chicken and waffles. Known as the Midnight Special, this dish comes with a bacon and cheddar waffle, a spicy piece of fried chicken and some absolutely delicious, country-style gravy. How on earth could I pass up such a divine combination?

But alas, before too long it was gone. Yet, my hunger remained and given that I wasn’t the most sober individual in the room, I decided to make a bad decision of my own in the form of chocolate chunk pancakes. I will say, that while they were absolutely delicious, I was rather disappointed that they didn’t come with the caramel sauce the menu so tantalizingly promised. Come to think of it, they were sans the whipped cream too. Now, I feel really let down as I think about it. At the time though, they were the most delicious thing you could ever hope to be in the vicinity of. I guess we can call it even, if you look at it that way. But, I don't. 

Eventually, the clock struck 3 and by my calculations that meant it was time for Kitchen24 and I to part ways. I called an Uber and sat outside for a good 15 minutes, as we played a fun game of, “Will he drive down to me or will I walk up the street to meet him, because he doesn't understand how addresses work?” Obviously, I won and was soon on my way home. I stared out the window and as the lights of Hollywood began to fade away into the backdrop, I felt oddly at ease with everything in the world. Perhaps it was the euphoria of dancing to decades-old music with friends. Or maybe, just maybe, it was that waffle. I guess the only way to find out for sure is to do it all over again. 

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Milk & Lemonade

Fudgy Brownies Make My Day

 

[Some dummy forgot to take pictures. So, these are from Yelp.]

I cried during X-men: Apocalypse. So, let’s start there, shall we? After venturing to The Grove for my fairly consistent weekend movie-going experience, I settled into my seat just as the film was about to begin. Fast-forward two hours and I was forcibly prying my eyes open, because the wave of tears cascading across the lips of my eyelids was nearly unbearable. What else could I do? I certainly couldn’t wipe them away. No… then people would judge me. And as I’m sure we’re all well aware, complete strangers in dark theaters are the most judgmental of all. Thankfully, before too long the credits began to roll and I had the perfect opportunity to dry my eyes as the masses shuffled their way back into the lobby from whence they came.

I’m not sure what weird childhood connection my brain made to make me react as such, but I’m sure it had something to do with memories of the 90s X-men cartoon and perhaps a repressed memory or two. Regardless of the circumstances, it admittedly left me feeling a little hungry for some more nostalgia in my life—which, of course, means sugar. However, being the adult that I am, I decided to preface it with something a little better for me. You have to balance these things out after all.

I made my way west and headed to Lemonade LA. Having never been to one of their locations before, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I’d always heard good things about it though, which ultimately prompted this visit. The Beverly branch turned out to be a charming little restaurant that more closely resembles a patio than it does an eatery. What I didn’t know is that they do service cafeteria style—a perfect fit for riding my wave of nostalgia. So, I nonchalantly walked up to the counter and was greeted with a warm smile from behind the line. I then proceeded to order a rather diverse and delicious meal.

Roasted Cauliflower with Golden Raisins, Almonds and Curry Vinaigrette. Watermelon Radish and Seared Ahi Tuna with Snap Peas, Ginger and Sesame Vinaigrette. Pineapple Chicken with Green Beans, Toasted Coconut, Jalapenos and Jerk Dressing. How incredible do those selections sound? And that was only half my plate! After all, 6 portions are only $12.50. I mean, how on earth could I pass up such a deal; especially with that many mouth-watering choices sitting just out of arm’s reach?

After taking a seat in their large outdoor dining room, I was followed shortly by a group of local firefighters, who had dropped in for a quick bite. I listened in for a bit, while they each described their week at the station. But, unfortunately, I never got to hear the conclusion to a single tale, as duty soon called them away once more. That’s when I threw on my headphones and finished my meal, while taking in the sunshine that had eluded the LA area for the past few days. When my plate was finally empty, I considered popping back in for a helping of the Roasted Brussels Sprouts I spied earlier, but my stomach knew better. Besides, there was far food more to come.

With an already satisfying day under my belt (aside from the unexpected tears), I gleefully backtracked my way down Beverly, until I hit a familiar site that I’d passed many times before, but never took the time to visit. Milk Bakery. Once I stepped inside, I was awash in the decadent aromas of baked goods and that slightly sweet chill you feel in your nose upon entering an ice cream shop. After pausing a moment to take it all in, I headed for the counter and began to wonder how I could ever possibly choose from such a heavenly assortment of goods. The best I could do was narrow it down to 3 items. A gooey chocolate chunk cookie; a peanut butter brownie; and a cookies and cream ice cream sandwich with chocolate chip cookies. It’s a pretty good selection, if I do say so myself.

Service was swift and before too long I was out the door and on my way. I must’ve looked like a complete dope walking down the street, grinning ear to ear and once again indulging in a little piece of childhood bliss. Literally, everything I ate on that stroll was breathtakingly delicious. The cookies had nice crisp edges and soft, chewy centers—also known as the perfect ratio. The ice cream was smooth, rich and full of flavor. The brownie was so fudgy and delicious that after one bite, my brain immediately turned off any sense of how many calories I was consuming in that moment. Savoring every crumb I could see, I finished my treats just as I was rounding the corner to my apartment.

For a moment, it almost felt as if I were going to cry again and then I realize it was just sheer, unadulterated joy from experiencing the best of adulthood and childhood—all in one day and all in the form of delicious, delicious food. 

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