Viet Chicks at Chichen Itza
Last week, my friend Anh-Thu, who went to grad school with me and is the big Viet sister I never had, touched down in Los Angeles for a 24-hour layover before she flew back to Hong Kong from a vacation in New York. Aware of my cool tin collection, she gave me a trio of mooncakes protected in colorful metal boxes. Just think that had I been born a couple of centuries earlier, I would have been the woman posing on the container, giggling demurely behind a fan with crimson blossoms tucked into my bun. Alas, fate has cast me in a Los Feliz apartment with a burnt orange chair and Masami Teraoka's koi-geisha breathing down my neck.
Hong Kong is a great haven for buying knick-knacks, like these Fiorucci sunglasses that make you wish you had a unicorn you could ride while wearing them.
Here's Anh-Thu modeling the purple shades. Her unicorn is double-parked on the street.
Because Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art was closed on Tuesday, we had a leisurely lunch at Chichen Itza, one of the 99 restaurants that made Jonathan Gold's cut in his annual list for The L.A. Weekly. I was a little anxious about trying out this eatery. After all, I've disagreed wholeheartedly on two of Gold's picks (Oinkster and Blue Velvet). Still, it's hard to screw up Mexican food in Southern California. Even the worst taco here is light years ahead of what Anh-Thu can find on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Plus, Chichen Itza specializes in Yucatan food. To cool us off on a steamy afternoon, we sipped agua de guanabana.
The chips arrived smothered in salsa piquante and some sort of mole. The little bowl of hot sauce packed quite a punch and came in handy later.
For some reason, there was a Lebanese connection with Chichen Itza. That's why the chef offered kibi, or deep-fried balls of ground beef. But there was no pita bread within a mile radius.
This was one of the best tamales I've ever had. It would give Mama Yuca's a run for her money. Filled with cheese and hard-boiled eggs, Chichen Itza's tamales were served with an onion-filled tomato sauce and pumpkin seeds. The hot sauce kicked the flavor up a notch.
Because Anh-Thu doesn't eat meat, I feasted on the kibi by myself. But we shared the baby octopus that was cooked in squid ink. It's easy to over-cook octopus, but Chichen Itza's chef had a deft hand. The cephalopods weren't rubbery at all. The squid ink was also a little sweet, but not as much as the corn mixed in with the rice.
The fried plaintains served with sweet cream were listed among the appetizers, although they were sugary enough to be had as dessert. Anh-Thu and I ate so well that this time around I wholeheartedly agreed with Gold.