Friday, September 9, 2011

Whale Rally

Five years ago if you told me there would be gourmet food trucks saturating the Los Angeles landscape I probably wouldn't have given the notion much credence. Trucks rolling down the street serving short rib tacos? Vegan burger? Crepes? Nah. That's fiction. But then the economy tanked, people were eating out less, and things changed. Pop goes the food truck! Relatively inexpensive meals rolling into your neighborhood serving restaurant quality food. Sure the portions were smaller, but really portions these days are larger then the American waistband really needs.

For many the hunt for the food truck is like the hunt for a great white whale. Armed with only a tank of gas and a twitter capable phone, people sail the roads trying to find these great mechanic beasts. I don't mind the hunt, but to be honest with gas prices these days I'd rather go someplace where there are several food trucks corralled into a pen. Something like a SeaWorld of trucks.

Luckily for me that idea started to take hold in other people wanting a one stop feed trough, and nowadays you can find a food truck rally in your local neighborhood. One such rally had begun at the beginning of summer at Taft High School in Woodland Hills. I'm not sure how long it plans to be there, but at least for the past month I've seen food trucks like clockwork every Wednesday just as the sun starts to set.

This past Wednesday I finally stopped to purvey the offerings. I pulled into the high school parking lot and wandered into the center of the rodeo. On all sides I was surrounding by a truck featuring a different cuisine. Here is a quick list with appropriate twitter link:

  • The Lobsta Truck - Inspired by Red's Eats in Wiscasset, ME, this truck attempts to bring as authentic a lobster roll as possible to Southern California. Going as far as importing split top rolls from New England. @lobstatruck
  • The Buttermilk Truck - Breakfast for dinner can be had at the Buttermilk Truck. I've seen this truck probably most of all and for some reason have never paid a visit. They make everything from the biscuits to waffles from scratch. @ButtermilkTruck
  • Mandoline Grill - Traditional Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches have gone mobile along with with other non-traditional items like Vietnamese nachos. The owner prides herself on using little oil, fat and absolutely no MSG. @MandolineGrill
  • Ta Bomb Truck - This truck claims to be "the first Brazilian lonchera to hit the streets of Los Angeles." They serve traditional items like coxinhas (croquette filled with shredded chicken and cream cheese) and pastels (crispy shell filled with meat, cheese, or both). @Ta_Bom
  • Egg Slut Truck -This was the least flashy truck of the group and had the least amount of offerings. Their website could do with a bit of work to. Despite their lack of polish they did have some interesting items on their limited menu. Take for example the aptly named "The Slut". Coddled egg and potato puree, cooked in a glass jar, garnished with grey salt and chives. @eggslutLA
  • Steel City Sandwich - Pittsburgh perogies and sammies are served from this truck, minus the attitude. The typical sammi has a base of italian slaw and fresh cut fries. I liked that they sold Utz potato chips. Classy. This was one of the more popular trucks. @SteelCitySndwch
So now you must be wondering with all these offering where did I go? Well it was a hard decision. A very hard decision. I must have stared at the menu of every place at least a handful of times. But ultimately I went with The Lobsta Truck and Mandoline Grill. Lobsta because I had never had a lobster roll before, and Mandoline Grill because I love me some banh mi and have yet to find a local place to replace my love for Westminster's Bánh Mì Chè Cali.

First up is The Lobsta Truck. The truck itself is fire engine red with a large lobster silhouette plastered on the side. There was certainly no confusion as to what crustacean this truck was serving.

From here I ordered the signature lobster roll ($12). The lobster roll is a split top bun filled with lobster meat complimented with either butter or mayo. I went with butter. I contemplated the whoopie pie until the last of the pies went to the person in front of me.

After waiting a few minutes out came my order. For $12 it was smaller then I thought it would be. But then I reminded myself that it was lobster so the pricier tag is understandable. The bun was maybe 6" long and brimming with meat.

The first bite was fabulous. The outer exterior of the bun was slightly toasted, the lobster tasted quality, and the texture of crunch and smooth worked harmoniously. The butter was light and added that little extra somethin'-somethin' to the sandwich. I was glad I didn't go for overpowering mayo. This was $12 well spent. I wish I would have eaten it slower to really savor the moment but it was gone before you could say "Lobster."

As I daintily blotted my chin with a napkin I was off to stop number two, the Mandoline Grill.

The menu looked interesting and not too complicated. The really only odd thing to me were the Vietnamese nachos, which were basically the innards of a sandwich over tortilla chips. But I was here for one thing, the sandwich. For the sandwich meat you can choose between grilled pork, Hawaiian bbq chicken, lemongrass tofu, or grilled steak. I went with the grilled pork.

At $6 this sandwich was half the price and more then double the size of the lobster roll. The sandwich was presented to me in a familiar way. White parchment paper wrapped around a long roll bound to it with a rubber band. Unlike the Westminster version I'm familiar with this bread was thinner and the sandwich was less stuffed. Still it had promise. It looked for the most part the same if only light on ingredients.

What greatly differed this one from my favorite was the taste. The bread doesn't have the same crunch that Bánh Mì Chè Cali does. Chè Cali's has a thin crust that cracks as soon as teeth meets bread and instantly your brought into the softer but dense breading beneath. With this you obliterate the bread in one bite and the bread instantly flattens. At this point it becomes more of a shell then bread. Strike 1. The vegetables, particular the daikon and radish slaw, are also different in that they just didn't have enough flavor. I'm used to tartness. This just tasted bland. The cilantro was also a bit on the transparent side. One other thing I noticed was the mayo, or lack there of. As I was eating it I couldn't taste any so I started to pick through the sandwich. I saw a few traces but it was so light that the taste completely dissipated beneath the rest of the flavors. Strike 2. Now on to the meat. At Chè Cali I always get their BBQ pork. I'm addicted to it. As I said Mandoline has grilled pork. I wasn't sure if I'd like it but actually it turned out to be the best part of the sandwich. The meat was moist with only a few dry ends, and the spicing was spot on. The meat saved this sandwich a strike 3. But two strikes down I still walked away deflated. Chè Cali is still the only place I've found an enjoyable bánh mì.

Belly full of pork and lobster I walked to my car contemplating the last hour. I had gone from New England to Vietnam and all it cost me was less than 20 bucks. Not too shabby. Thus is the reason I love food trucks. It's inexpensive, you can jump from one delicacy to another, and the people who work them clearly love what they do. These people appreciate your business because they know that you had to seek them out. You just showing up is a sign of support.

So go out now and support the food truck movement. Support the businesses on wheels. They'll be happy to see you.

Every Wednesday from 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm
5461 Winnetka Avenue, Woodland Hills, CA 91364

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