Studio Session Dinner at El Toro

Santa Ana is one of the more metal places in OC—infinitesimally more so because my band practices and records there—so I’m always glad to have an excuse to hang around.

A Monday night studio session is an excellent occasion to make a quick detour to El Toro Carniceria for yet another lengua burrito and medium tamarindo. This is pretty much the ideal studio fuel (lasted me the whole 6 hours!). Of course, this is also pretty high on my general list of ideal things.

The post won’t count if I don’t put a picture of the food.

Sometimes, I consider skipping salsa to enjoy the wonderfully savory thing, but salsa’s really the thing to do.

After devouring the above, I took the Suburban full of drums around the corner to the studio. An hour and a half later, I was tuned and miced up:

I call her/them/zem/pronoun…”my drums.”

Here’s a rundown of my rig.

Recorded with a nice selection of industry workhorses:  SM57 on the snare, MD-421 IIs, Beta 52A, a nice AKG condenser on the hats, and my AKG D112 in the kick for attack.

Check out what we got!

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4th Street Market 2 of 2

Man, I had a pretty Santa Ana-y day. Walking the streets of DTSA, admiring local art, 4th Street Market (again), and band practice. Maybe I should just move there.

After a leisurely stroll around, Angela, my companion for the evening, was intrigued by Inc Waffles a.k.a. Ink Waffles a.k.a. Waffles Inc. Depends on which waffle one orders, I suppose. On this occasion, we both happened to get sandwiches on regular waffles.

Angela got the Ratatouille and I the BBELT (blueberry, bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato).

Angela got the Ratatouille (with gruyere and sprouts) and I the BBELT (blueberry, bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato).

The ratatouille on a waffle concept provoked a bit of a discussion between the two of us. I thought it was “weird,” though she countered that blueberry on a BLT was at least as “weird.” Regardless, both sandwiches worked far better than expected!

The ratatouille was an excellent specimen, so, as you would expect, a very soft experience. Perhaps I can illustrate the total softness of this sandwich with this:  the most textural component was the sprouts. Does that get the point across? Anyways, my irrational weariness aside, it was an excellent dish.

The BBELT also worked well, but this wasn’t quite as surprising to me as both a fruit and BLT enthusiast. And of course no right-thinking person would ever turn down an egg on top of, well, anything, right? Thin bacon and shredded lettuce yielded an overall pleasantly crispy sandwich, and the cooked blueberries were almost more fruitily rich and savory than sweet.

Also of note were the fries, which bore a seasoning suspiciously similar to PFC’s seasoning. Not that I begrudge any (alleged) seasoning powder sharing between food hall neighbors.

The order number buckets made handy beer holders, at least until you have to return them to the cashier. The classic "i haz a bucket"-"no they stealing ma bucket" story.

The order number buckets made handy beer holders, at least until you have to return them to the cashier. The classic “i haz a bucket”-“no they stealing ma bucket” story.

4th Street Market 1 of 2

This place had been on my list since its opening, and Sam, an old friend, finally becoming available for an outing provided the ideal opportunity to visit.

After a quick walk around the logically arrayed restaurants, PFC’s large trays of fried chicken and Wagyu Chuck’s burgers jumped out at us. I got the burger, and Sam the chicken. Service was (pleasantly) surprisingly quick! We barely had time to try our beers. Or beer, rather. We both got Ritual Brewing’s Wits End.

Sam’s first reaction upon trying the burger was “Oh, that’s just not fair.” I agreed! The balance of components in the double cheeseburger is bang on. Shredded lettuce, well formed and cooked patties, and thin buns make for a soft but hearty burger experience. The patties themselves were by far the most prominently rich burger patties I’ve ever had.

IMG_1281

Even the box reminds one of a certain Socal burger chain…

While the baked potato “fries” are pretty far removed from what I’d call “fries,” they tasted great. I’ll have to try the loaded fries option on another visit.

Really, the only thing I wanted was a nice chocolate shake, but there’s beer available, and the house cola is quite enjoyable for those teetotaler types.

Photo credit goes to my friend.

Photo credit goes to my friend.

One of the main things that drew me to the fried chicken was its appearance. It seemed to be quite dark, but I could tell just by looking that it wasn’t from overcooking. It was, in fact, from an excellent seasoning mixture applied to it. And, as one can see in the picture, the color is noticeably red in the normal light of the eating area. It’s mostly cayenne/paprika/other red powder spice in the nose, but on the tongue it balances sweet and spicy. A wonderful complement to perfectly fried chicken.

Their dipping sauce is also great, but almost superfluous for me.

Honorable mention to the charred corn salad as well! Good corn, lettuce, tortilla chip pieces atop, and quite a generous portion.

And since I had band practice the next night, I went again!

The Grilled Cheese Spot

I had originally planned to go to The Grilled Cheese Spot while I was waiting out my jury summons in Santa Ana, but I ended up getting sent to Westminster. Hardly a death sentence, eating wise, but I prefer to avoid sudden changes in plans. I had a free day Saturday, though, after helping my grandparents out with some work in Brea, and The Grilled Cheese Spot was pretty much on the way home. I lucked into great parking just two blocks away with 20 minutes left on the meter, and after giving myself an hour, I was off.

GCS was conspicuous with the crowd of people―some eating, some in line―around its front. Right away I liked the look of the sandwiches I saw in people’s hands. I was struck by indecisiveness, but then I saw the build-your-own menu. There, the only way is up! With the occasional upcharge, of course. I immediately zeroed in on the fried eggs and grilled onions, but aside from those, I circled white bread, cheddar, tomato, and bacon. I also ordered the Government Issue, american on white, to try a classic grilled cheese, the house potato chips, and the house onion onion rings.

I loved both sandwiches! Not as crusty as the ones my mom made me when I was a kid, but the fillings were well heated and activated and all that.

My custom sandwich on top, the Gov't Issue on bottom.

My custom sandwich on top, the Gov’t Issue on bottom.

As good as the sandwiches were, I have to admit that the fried offerings somewhat overshadowed them! The onion rings are obviously handmade, and very well, too. The membrane was removed, the crust was crispy, and the onion tender. The crust had some sort of aromatic flavor that neither I nor my mom could place with certainty, but whatever it was, it was really good. The chips, slightly simpler, were just overall excellently prepared―thinly sliced, seasoned well, fried crispy, and properly dried afterwards. I’ve encountered a good amount of chips that were not subjected to that last vital step.

Nary a grease spot to be seen on the bags.

They were still crispy hours later when I finished them at home.

I’d go back here any day.

El Toro Carniceria: Taco Lengua

El Toro Carniceria of Santa Ana is a very well-known spot at 1st Street and Bristol, a stone’s throw from the hip Arts District. It’s actually a two-part affair, composed of the main store and the smaller prepared food annex. The main store is very useful in its own right, but the tacos, among many other things, come from the prepared-food annex. The annex isn’t tiny, but it fills up fast. El Toro’s lengua has pleasant aromatic notes of cilantro and onion, and, like all their meats, is always cut up to order and steaming hot. Like any taqueria, you can of course get any meat in any form, and everyone has their favorite dish with their favorite meat. The star of any taco from El Toro is definitely the meat, although every component has its place in the dish. Usually, I go for a torta, but the first time I went to El Toro Carniceria, I saw some tacos being made for another customer, but it was how they make their tacos that really appetized me. For a taco lengua, the person behind the counter simply grabs a handful of lengua, kept in large pieces in the case, runs a cleaver through it a couple of times, and scoops it into double-layered house-made corn tortillas. A generous pinch of onion and cilantro finishes the simple, delicious, and massive taco. There are a variety of great salsas available, but for me that just detracts from the simple perfection of the meat, tortillas, onion, and cilantro.

Taco with a capital T. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Taco with a capital T. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.