“Sav-or,” I respond with equal confidence.
“I’m pretty sure it’s Save-r,” Cathy, the Gastronomer, repeats.
I jut my lower lip out into a pout, not wanting to admit defeat. “I like Sav-or.” I mumble.
Cathy and I are discussing how to pronounce the title of food magazine, Saveur while walking down Broadway toward 6th street in Downtown LA. We, along with my good friend Ashley, are participating in food blogger Javier Cabral’s “The Rise of LA Food Trucks: A Walking Gastro Tour” – Art Walk’s new walking tour that Javier hosts the second Thursday of every month.
While Cathy and my debate is silly, the word sticks with me long after I’ve left the final food truck of the evening – my stomach engorged and steeped with irritation for my indiscriminate consumption of too much eclectic street food. The stew of conflicting flavors has not sat well, and I am feeling bitter about the mediocrity of the fare I’ve sampled over the course of the tour. When I get home, I brew a cup of Rooibos tea and hotly announce to the Twitterverse, “I think I prefer my food not from a truck.”
The backlash is immediate, but I hold firm. It’s not that I think all food trucks are inherently bad – I just enjoy eating my food at a table. With chairs. And silverware. And wine.
Atmosphere and comfort play an important part in the dining out experience for me. Because I cook the majority of my meals at home, I want to be able to completely sit back and relax while someone else does all the work for me – preparing a unique dish I’m not likely to make for myself, bringing it to me when it’s ready, and taking it away when I’m done with it. I like being able to transport myself from my usual kitchen rituals, and the setting – the cloth napkins, cushy chairs and table scrapers do play an important role in that experience.
That’s not to say I’m loathe to eat at a restaurant with paper napkins and unsightly neon lighting, or "above" getting fish tacos from a stand, but in such circumstances the food better be good enough to compensate for the lack of ambiance.
While I have only sampled fare from four food trucks to date – Don Chow, Cool Haus, Lomo Arigato, and India Jones – none of the food, except for that from India Jones, seems worthy of the precarious nature of eating it. If I’m going to be noshing on a plate of Chow Fun noodles with carne asada (one of Don Chow’s signature Mexican Chinese fusion dishes) while sitting on a bucket in the middle of the sidewalk, those noodles better be far superior to any of the noodles I could obtain from a traditional sit-down eatery. As I discovered this past Thursday, they weren’t. Nor was the BBQ pork taco that my friend Ashley later described as “the worst taco [she’s] ever had.”
Even the much-adored Cool Haus truck, which serves gourmet ice cream sandwiches with premium ice cream made at Milk, failed to impress me for the second time. Despite my lackluster first experience with the truck, I was still anxious to try a balsamic fig marscapone ice cream sandwich. Just like the first time, however, I found the sandwich awkward to eat, and ultimately discarded the hard sugar cookies to eat the ice cream by itself. Again, the quality of the product did not compensate enough for the effort and discomfort it took to consume it.
Of the five different bites I sampled on Thursday night (including a taste of the lomo saltado from Lomo Arigato that was fine, but unremarkable), the only item that stood out to me was the potato paratha with raita ($3.50) from the India Jones truck. The fragrant spices in both the raita and paratha made me regret the stomach space I wasted on the Chow Fun noodles that were, incidentally, the most expensive thing I purchased at $6. I would be interested in sampling more of India Jones’ offerings – including the Frankies (essentially a slim wrap) that several people around me were enjoying.
Ultimately however, I don’t see myself craving another food truck experience in the near future. Even though the paratha was tasty, I missed what I consider the most pivotal part of any dining experience – being able to “save-r” or “sav-or” whatever dish it is I’m consuming. Standing on the corner of a busy street, balancing a camera, a purse, a water bottle, and a plate of food, does not allow for such enjoyment. Especially when the food does taste exactly like it came from a truck.