The day started off cool and quiet, with few lines, but by about 1 p.m., the sun was beating down full force, lines were long at many trucks, efficiency was flagging and patience was fraying.
The $50 VIP ticket, then, was a surprising bargain: early admission, free food from seven trucks, free water, iced tea, chips and energy bars, a tasty adult beverage, and--most importantly--shade and plenty of it. Given that each item from a truck was $2-$5, the admission and seven trucks alone was $36.50 worth; the liquor, goodie bag, water and shade were certainly worth at least $13.50.
Evidently, I look like a health inspector when I walk around with a notebook before ; at least a couple of trucks mistook who I was (despite a t-shirt that said "Carne Asada Is Not A Crime" and a big, friendly badge that said "Media"); a lost opportunity for test samples, then.
I did take the opportunity to grab a bite from the LudoBites truck (@LudoTruck
) before the official opening, figuring they would be mobbed later; they were, but I'd already had my "chicken coop": a large, seriously crunchy chicken ball, a handful of good fries with sauce (non, il n'y a pas eu de ketchup !
), and a choice of slaw or a lavender biscuit. I opted for the biscuit and, while salty, it was buttery and very good.
Coxinhas (say "coh-SHEEN-yahss") from the Brazilian Ta Bom truck (@Ta_Bom
) were hot and large chicken and cheese croquettes in the shape of a fat, short drumstick. The original coxinha was bland, even with the chopped salsa on top; the spicy coxinha, with pickled chiles tucked inside, was much better.
Curiosity got the best of me and we tried pork and tofu bánh mì from the Nom Nom Truck (@NomNomTruck
), of Food Network fame. They were stuffed fatter than a normal bánh mì (on purpose, according to the owners), and nicely dressed. The pork was, however, disappointingly underseasoned. The tofu, which is basically an edible protein sponge, was much better. These folks are smart, and $5 for a 12" baguette is a good bargain on the Viet-starved Westside or in expensive Hollywood; down here, however, we are flooded with bánh mì, and they are half the price--or less. Stick to L.A., Nom Nom Truck--that's where the money is.
The White Rabbit Truck (@whiterabbittruk
) had a very soy sauce-tasting ground beef taco with mango salsa being served in the VIP tent. They call themselves Filipino fusion, but it's hard to see the Filipino influences; with the sweetness of the salsa, the filling recalled picadillo more than anything Filipino. The other items on their menu were much more Filipino--let's have sisig next time.
) brought the P word to OC; truffle poutine beckoned from all the way across the lot. I was a little disappointed to find that the truffle was there only as a flavor; there were no actual truffles in evidence (though that would have made them the only $30 fries in OC). The fries were very salty, as poutine is wont to be, but the sauce was very good and the cheese curds perfect. The rajas fries were topped with steak in a very citric marinade; the taste was good but they got cold fast... the curse of fries.
The Buttermilk Truck (@ButtermilkTruck
) had their famous red velvet pancakes on sale in silver-dollar size; it's easy to see why there are such lines for their food. Cake doughnuts, though, were even better, hot from the fryer; it'd be nice to have them be a little cheaper; $2 for two doughnut hole-sized items seemed steep.
Get Shaved (@GetShaved
) had strawberry and banana shave ice with condensed milk. This was a big hit; eaten together, the flavors recalled bubble gum (a very popular flavor in Hawaiian shave ice); eaten separately, they were intensely flavored like the fruits they came from.
Even better as a dessert was the roasted pear and nutmeg ice cream from CoolHaus (@CoolHaus
). Wedged between two ginger cookies, it tasted for all the world like a pear Jelly Belly (my favorite flavor) in ice cream form. I stopped by the Register
's booth to taunt their food columnist, Niyaz Pirani
, with it, but disappeared quickly after that.
The disappointment of the festival was Nana Queen's (@NanaQueens
). Nadia (Niyaz's wife) graciously stood in line while we went to bring back water. It took her 45 minutes to order banana pudding and then at least 45 minutes more to actually get it. $3 bought a tiny, salsa-type cup of banana pudding. While it was good, it was certainly not special enough to wait an hour and a half for; you could make banana pudding for a thousand people in that time.
There were two absolute winners in my book.
Deb Schneider of SOL Cocina (@Sol_Cocina
) in Newport Beach was behind the reins of Cart For a Cause (@CartForACause
); because she donated both her food and her time to the cart, the normal $10 price was knocked down to $5. This bought a large carnitas taco with chicharrón on a good corn tortilla, a surprisingly big portion of ceviche, chips, a Miss Lilly's cookie and a drink. While the ceviche was tender and disappeared in short order, the taco was seriously Gustavo-worthy, and at that price even he couldn't complain about the value.
The other winner, and the winner of the popularity contest sponsored by Yelp, was the Lime Truck (@TheLimeTruck
). Even before the marine layer burned off to scorch us all, their array of limeades (cucumber-mint, pluot, blueberry, etc.) was just tantalizing; the show stealer, however, was the $4 foie gras mousse with crostini. Foie gras mousse from a truck... I need to find you more often, guys.
Defeated by the impossible lines, we left around 3. On the way out, we stopped by the Backyard Bees
stand for samples of rescue honey. Backyard Bees removes beehives, rescues the bees and uses the honey and wax to fund their business. Right next door was Backyard In a Jar with OC Fair award-winning jams and jellies--loquat butter, grape jelly and apricot jelly now grace our shelves.
All in all, a success; next year, perhaps fewer tickets and more shade for those who didn't purchase VIP admission.