Monday, November 16, 2009

I think I prefer my food not from a truck

“Save-r,” She says.

“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.


Anna A. said...

Awkward eating ain't my thing either. especially if it's dinner time and you want relax and not get smashed into by sidewalk meanderers. I sense a potential sitcom episode of you and truck food in the making...

Liz said...

I'm from Cincinnati, and we don't have food trucks here - that I am aware of. However, I agree with you, if I go out to eat, I want to sit and enjoy myself.

Esi said...

I think it's "sav-or" the "a" in have. Anyway, sorry you were disappointed overall. I like the idea of food trucks and have certainly had some good food from some of them. I think the best experience with them (and how they originated) is to have the food at 2am when people are spilling out from the bars and clubs.

The Duo Dishes said...

Agree with Esi...usually you must be under the influence to REALLY love the truck food experience. Not that it's all bad, but there is something about a bacon wrapped hot dog after a night at the bar. :)

Jenn said...

You can always sit on the curb, but it's definitely not the same thing as eat at a table. But I love food truck. There's just something about them that I love so much.

Gastronomer said...

Does this mean you won't be heading to Art Walk in December? I'll miss ya, D. I'm still digging the food truck madness ;-)

mattatouille said...

Apparently James Oseland (editor in chief) pronounces it identically to how you would pronounce "savor". I pronounce it like sav-uhr, with accent on the second syllable (like it would be in French). Gourmet is so much easier to say :)

Food trucks are nice every once in a while as a deviation from our normal eating experiences. I hope that they're not a regular part of our dining.

Diana said...

Anna - I wouldn't be surprised if said episode featured me getting run over by one of the food trucks!

Liz - Give it time, I bet the trucks will hit the midwest soon enough!

Esi, Crystal & Amir - Haha so that would explain why I don't get the food truck phenomenom -- I don't stay out drinking/go to bars!

Jenn - But if I sit on the curb my skirt will get soiled! ;)

Cathy - Call me when you are going downtown for Rivera. ;)

Matt - Sigh. I miss Gourmet.

Hari said...

Diana, that paratha looks much better than the one I had from IJCT a few weeks back. Mine was a little charred ( and touch too salty :( But the raita was good.
Try @samosahouse if you are in the westside for some good Indian grub. With ample seating and plastic silverware, you will not have any awkward moments trying to save your skirt from food spillage!

Ashley said...

the meat in that taco was just. not. right. so much potential, so little follow through.

the food truck phenomenon is not entirely lost on me, though. i just happen to appreciate the portland version more.

weezermonkey said...

You guys are both wrong about the pronunciation of Saveur!

yutjangsah said...

I like to sit my ass down and plant my elbows on le table and have the ability to unzip my trou should the need arise due to too much food not uhh other possible reasons, while no one is the wiser. This requires a table. So, i'm down w this philosophy.