If there's one thing my family and I bond over it's the Food Network. We'll sit in front of the TV and critique the shows, praising the food that looks delicious or chefs that have smart things to say and rag on the ones that are that are annoying or full of themselves. Though it's only entertainment, we're a tough crowd; my parents are the most difficult of the bunch to please because they tend to judge everything from the older generation Chinese perspective. Their comments are usually something to the effect of: "They throw away all the broccoli stalks? What a waste!" or "She doesn't chop fast enough. I can chop that faster with my cleaver."
So when I found out that the theme of Sarah's monthly Dine and Dish was to Be Rachael Ray For A Day, a theme so cleverly conjured up by this month's guest host, Sam, of Becks and Posh, I couldn't help but remember something my parents once shouted at the TV when we were watching $40 A Day. "$40 is a lot of money for one person! They think that's cheap???"
Over the last few days I brainstormed ideas as to how I could get myself to get into character for my big day. I made sure I called extra virgin olive oil "EVOO." I made sure I had a garbage bowl at my side in the kitchen. I practiced my "Mmmms" and "Yums" and giggles and eye rolls. I started undertipping and underpaying at restaurants. I even started wearing my shirts tucked into my waist-high jeans. (Just kidding!)
But in remembering what Mom and Dad said about $40 a Day, I decided to do a little self improvement and see what $40 could do on a lovely Los Angeles day not for one person, but for two! Mom and Dad are right, Rachael Ray could use some cutting back--money doesn't grow on trees, you know. That coupled with the fact that I am too chicken shit to eat out by myself like Rachael does anyways. So I grabbed my trusty fiancee Isaac and with 40 bucks in hand, we set out to prove just how easy it is to feed the two of us all day without having to resort to drive-thru's.
(Money, money, mon-ay...)
Our first stop: Breakfast at Gilbert's El Indio, Santa Monica.
Being in Los Angeles, we're lucky to have so much cultural diversity around us. Having practically every type of cuisine under one smog-covered roof, we would not have bacon and eggs or a blueberry muffin and coffee this morning; instead, we would do breakfast the Mexican way.
Gilbert's is a small, divey joint next to a car wash on Santa Monica's Pico Blvd. Its decor looks like a truck carrying Mexican tchotchkes and a truck carrying a shitload of cheesy family photos from the 80's collided and things flew everywhere. But weekend mornings are lively, with lots of local families having breakfast to the sounds of ranchero and mariachi music blasting from the jukebox.
Gilbert's Kitschy Interior
Though Gilbert's has a regular menu, we always go for the breakfast menu if it's anytime before 2pm. Five dollars and eighty cents (used to be under four bucks a few years ago!) lets you choose from a list of about ten breakfast specials, ranging from authentic Mexican: huevos con chorizo, chilaquiles, menudo, to more Americanized: bacon and eggs w/ hash browns or breakfast burritos. Plus you get rice and beans, warm tortillas, homemade chips and salsa, spicy marinated carrots, and a choice of iced tea or coffee. The huevos con chorizo Isaac ordered were near perfect in my book--more on the dry side, but moistened and flavored with that spicy chorizo oil. The rice and beans were fluffy and salted well. De-LISH!
Huevos con chorizo
Oh, by the way, Isaac ordered a coke, which I yelled at him for, saying that he was going to put us over 40 bucks with crap like that! He said he didn't care.
Now since I'm being Rachael Ray, there's no doubt that I drank too much last night, so I went for the infamous Mexican hangover remedy, menudo. Here, tripe and other cow parts are bathed in a spicy red broth with hominy, onions and peppers; condiments such as diced raw onion, dried chiles, oregano and lemon are added to taste. The heat of the broth helped me sweat the alcohol out of my system and forget that I was such a lush last night. I loved the chewy texture of the honeycomb tripe, though I saved my favorite part of the dish for last...I sucked the pata, part of the cow's hoof, dry: its tendons fell easily off the bone to become gelatinous goodness in my mouth. YUMM-O!
This will cure your hangover fast
The total for our breakfast?
Huevos Con Chorizo $5.80
Tip $3.60 (see, Rachael can leave tips for great service!)
Dollars Remaining $22.00
We had a great start to the day, but with only twenty two dollars remaining, will both of us get to eat, or will one of us starve?
(Money, money, mon-ay...)
Our second stop: Lunch from Lee's Sandwiches, Alhambra
Like I said before, there are so many ethnic cuisines to explore in Los Angeles, and there's certainly no shortage of Vietnamese food here in the southland. Lee's specializes in the bahn mi, a Vietnamese style hoagie filled with a choice of meats, usually Vietnamese cold cuts or maybe grilled pork or chicken, and topped with pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, jalapenos and cilantro. Their small, bright shop located on a busy strip of Valley Blvd, always seems to be packed, but the folks at Lee's work with factory-like efficiency--order a sandwich and it'll be ready within 3 minutes. They also bake their own baguettes, make a variety of French-Vietnamese appetizers and desserts, and can make you an iced coffee or smoothie drink if you so wish.
Lee's Sandwiches: fast food but not really
Since Lee's doesn't really have seating except for a couple of small tables outside which were already occupied, we had to take our sandwiches to go, which fortunately for us, saved us a few bucks in tipping! (Now that's more Rachael style!)
Order a Vietnamese-style sandwich at Lee's like I did and the most you'll pay is $2.20. Order a European sandwich like a baguette or a croissant like Isaac did because he didn't feel like a bahn mi today, and you'll pay up to $3.75. Despite my nagging that he's gonna ruin our game if he keeps his expensive habits up, he enjoyed his 10" turkey and cheese baguette, filled with a good amount of deli-style turkey, cheese, and tomato. The best part, however, was the bread, which was crusty on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. Lee's European sandwiches come sliced in half, held together with one of those fancy frilly toothpicks in a clear take out container; red onions, pickle spears, lettuce and a packet of mustard sit on the side. I think it's the packaging that makes it so much more expensive, but funny enough, their European style sandwiches rival those at "regular" Western delis, and at $3 and change, they're still a bargain.
This cost a whole dollar more!
My bahn mi dac biet (Special Combination) sandwich, however, did not come in a box although it was of the same size as Isaac's turkey baguette. Instead, my sandwich came as all bahn mi sanwiches should be: wrapped in paper that's held together by a rubber band. I'd always procrastinated at going to Lee's for the first time, always choosing the independently owned bahn mi shops over this massive chain, but I'm glad we finally tried it. The cold cuts in my bahn mi dac biet--head cheese, ham, liver pate--were of a quality that blew me away. The sliced meats, particularly the headcheese, were snappy, and of the perfect saltiness. The pate had that certain pate smoothness and funkiness that went perfectly with Lee's freshly baked baguettes. And the pickled daikon, carrots, cucumber and jalapenos added some refreshing yet pungent flavors to round the sandwich out. mmm-MMM!
This cost a whole dollar less!
So how much did our lunch cost us?
Bahn Mi Dac Biet $2.20
Turkey and Cheese Baguette $3.20
Dollars Remaining $16.15
It might be kind of a stretch to have dinner for two with only $16.15. Did our Vietnamese sandwich lunch help us, or will it put us over budget? Find out after this...
(Money, money, mon-ay...)
Our third stop: Dinner at Sam Woo BBQ, Los Angeles Chinatown.
A Cantonese greasy spoon is the best way I can describe this branch of the popular Southern California Sam Woo chain. There's a BBQ shop out front where you can buy roast duck or BBQ pork by the pound, or you can eat in like we chose to do. Sam Woo's menu is extensive, with the usual categories--soups, noodles, rice dishes, fowl, beef and pork, seafood. There are fancier dishes you can get like clams with black bean sauce or salt and pepper shrimp (with the heads and tails on!), but with only $16.15, we thought we'd better keep it simple, which is actually how we like it anyways. The two dishes we got, a bowl of rice noodles and won tons in soup and a plate of rock cod and bok choy over rice, are the "greasy spoon" versions of some of the simple meals my parents cook at home.
Sam Woo's rice plates abound with food, and the rock cod with bok choy over rice is no exception. Sitting atop a pile of white rice (literally!) are rock cod fillets, stir fried with crisp and refreshing bok choy in a gravy like sauce. True, the sauce sometimes gets a little thick on these dishes (as is the case with many Cantonese restaurants) but Sam Woo's version is nevertheless tasty, perfect for sopping up with all that rice! There was so much food here that we only ate half.
Rock cod & bok choy with rice
Our won ton noodles are typically made with egg noodles, but tonight we felt like the more slippery bite of the wide rice noodles, so we opted for those instead. The soup is strong with shrimp flavor, and the won tons, containing plump ground shrimp and pork flavored well with white pepper, have an almost crunchy texture. The crispness of a few stalks of napa cabbage are the perfect textural compliment to all the other wonderful things in this dish. Uh-huh, yum-MY!
Won ton noodles in soup
Oh and drinks? We opted for a pot of tea, so they were free!
Now let's see if the $16.15 was enough for dinner...
Won Ton Noodles in Soup $4.25
Rock Cod with Bok Choy over rice $5.50
Dollars left: $3.60
Wow! We did it...only $36.40 for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the two of us...no golden arches or drive thru's needed! Living in Los Angeles, we have so many options available to us, so getting cheap, quality food is a cinch. And with leftovers??? Mom and Dad are going to be proud!
(Money, money, mo-nay...)
Gilbert's El Indio
2526 Pico Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
1289 E. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801
Sam Woo BBQ
727 N. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012