Fixing the humble Tortilla: Give it a Pocket

We want a little brother.
We want a little brother.

One of the great enablers of Mediterranean food is the humble pita pocket. Developed from Pita bread, the Pita Pocket has opened up a range of possibilities in sandwiches. But the Pita is not to everyone’s taste, and you can’t do anything remotely southwestern with a pita pocket.

We want one of the tortillerias to develop a pocket tortilla – the Portilla, if you will.

Silly? Pointless? We think not.

In our Golden West Food Labs, our food concept artists have designed the following dishes to use a tortilla pocket:

1.  Taco pockets from sliced halves of Portillas
2. Quesadilla pockets, with plenty of cheese but room for more sautéed vegetables
3. Taco salads served with pocket tortillas. Scoop forkfulls of the salad into the portillas, eat.
4. Fajita Pockets
5. Carne Asada Pockets – think a Mexican gyro, but with chunks of Carne Asada, Pico de gallo, cilantro, and maybe a Siracha sauce.
6. Stuffed portillas deep-fried, sort of a flatish chimichanga.

It’s easier and neater than tacos, and smaller and lighter than burritos. It’s a gaping hole in the Tex-Mex menu, and an idea whose time has come. I’m going to Carrillo’s in San Fernando next week, and I’m on a mission.

The Ace in L.A.’s Art Deco Deck

The Lobby
Ace Hotel
929 S. Broadway, Los Angeles

The Renaissance that Downtown L.A. has experienced in the quarter century since I last haunted these precincts is astounding, and nowhere does it hum with such subtle joy as Ace Hotel.

The hotel was crafted from the gutted interior of the old United Artists building, and the architects only touched the grande dame’s Art Deco exterior sufficiently to restore it to its former elegance. The rooms manage to meld the period and the contemporary in a way that you almost want to give a name, like “Art Deco Revival” or “Art Deco Moderne.”

I walked into the lobby and was charmed instantly. The fidelity to the era reminded me of the corridors of the Wilshire-Ebell Theater or the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The parquet floors, the arched doorways, the moldings, the iron trim, and the high ceilings above narrow spaces bespoke the architects’ determination to restore more than renovate.

True to its origins, the Ace is arguably less capacious in either room or public area than your average Courtyard, but the lack of opulence is more than balanced by its surfeit of character. To walk through her main doors is to take a step back in time and down in speed.

One is tempted to linger in the lobby, to dawdle over breakfast at the L.A. Chapter restaurant in the lobby, to set aside the email and to think, to breathe, to be in the moment. Sip the coffee. Read the script pages decorating the lobby wall. Watch the people walk by on the street outside. And listen to the sounds and echoes.

You may accuse me of wallowing in nostalgia, but you would miss the point. What is precious about the Ace Hotel and its anachronistic ilk is not a siren call to a supposedly better past, but their Zen-ish insistence that we eschew internet speed so that we may more fully occupy the moment.

California Cuisine: Rolling out a Barrel

We are in Ojai upwards of twice a week (our son is in school here), so we are in regular need of someplace to pass the hours twixt, say, a parents’ meeting and pick-up time, usually during the day, but often at night. The entire valley is essentially a touristed but slow-growth artists’ colony: you won’t find a Starbucks on every corner or ample parking behind each block. Finding a comfortable, convenient nook removed from the visiting throngs is thus rather more of a challenge here than in say, Ventura or Santa Barbara.

In a hunt for such a nook, we found Barrel33.

There is little about Barrel33 from the outside to distinguish it from the other shops along Ojai’s main drag, so we almost missed it. We actually came in the side door, and as we did, it felt more like coming into a parlor than a restaurant. The room was dark yet lit warmly and softly from each table, the music relaxing and unobtrusive, the hum of conversations from each table barely able to mask the sound of our footsteps on the wood floor. The patrons were all local, casual, and unhurried, the atmosphere more Iberian than American. The decor, the architecture, and the setting were redolent of the Spain-in-the-New-World feeling that embodies the essence of the region. In short, we had found another rare piece of modern Spanish California, and we dropped into our chairs with the same kind of relief that you would feel coming into a cooled room on a hot day.

I am embarrassed to admit that I had never tried tapas before, but I don’t think that I could have chosen a better place to start my Euro-noshing experience. The wines and draughts are clearly curated rather than merely selected. Each seemed chosen both for the palette and as a subtle compliment to the menu.

And the food! We ordered the Mediterranean platter where the doumas, the hummus, and the babaganoush were all top-notch; a delightful Caesar salad; the incredible Blue Cheese and Pear quesadilla (which spoiled us both for any other quesadilla, ever,) and we finished with a chocolate souffle that melted like butter on our tongues. We wanted to try more, but found ourselves replete and happy, constrained only by the call from our eighth-grader telling us that the dance was over, and could we come pick him up?

Enjoyed over two hours, it made for the perfect date night with my wife. We will go back when school starts, the summer hordes have returned home, and when we have more time.

Barrel 33 Ojai
The Arcade Shopping Center, 308 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
(805) 646-1555


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