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In-N-Out Burger & Lee's Sandwiches, Anaheim, CA, tasted on May 3, 2004  There is something about southern California and high quality fast food. Never mind the incredible Mexican food, I mean American chain fast food. The kind decried in Supersize Me (which have you noticed, now that guy is committing his own crimes of scale - ok I should wait to see his new show before passing judgment). The really gross stuff. Or is it? It's kind of ironic that for our first really positive food experience around Disneyland we had to go to the places that embrace their mass marketness, and don't try to pretend they're anything different.

First off, I'll admit, I love fast food. It's delicious. I'll also admit that I almost never eat it since I decided not to be a fatass. Unluckily (or luckily) my two favorite fast food chains in the world are not located where I live in the pacific northwest. However in southern California they are everywhere. Just a few minutes from Disneyland an In-N-Out Burger and a Lee's Sandwiches live not 50 yards from each other. I'm thinking of setting up a tent in the parking lot.

Here's the deal. You can turn up your nose at fast food all you want. But I claim that most of the great food in the world is fast food. After all, what makes for great food in general is focus, simplicity, and freshness. And the original fast food on this planet is street food. Street food often by necessity is focused, simple, and fresh. It's focused because they have to differentiate from the competition of which there's usually a lot. It's simple because how much choice do you have when you're working out of a cart (or a box) in the street? And it's fresh because, where would you store the ingredients?

The big guys in American fast food, McDonald's, Burger King, etc. have tuned their menus into choice after choice of item tuned to stimulate our fat and sugar pleasure centers until we're passed out in a puddle of... well... fat and sugar. It's like a drug. You keep needing more to get the same high. And frankly, that's why I love eating Big Macs and Egg McMuffins. They taste absolutely great when I eat them. But afterwards I feel sick. One day I simply stopped thinking that the sick feeling was normal, and since then they've been a once a year treat.

But back to southern California. In-N-Out Burger, about which I've written already, and Lee's Sandwiches get it right. In-N-Out was actually not the best In-N-Out experience I've had, but it was still better than everywhere else. Not sure if this was a fluke for their Anaheim location, or a pattern. Hard to say until I go back. But Lee's was exemplary.

Lee's is basically a Vietnamese deli done at scale. I'm not a fan of colonialism, but if there's any upside to the French presence in southeast Asia it's Vietnamese subs. The combination of fresh Vietnamese ingredients - various hams, cilantro, hot peppers, jicama, etc. on a French baguette is pretty amazingly delicious. And Lee's has a huge variety. They even do them on these extra thin baguettes which for some reason I find even more delicious as they have a less bread to contents ratio. I could eat three of these sandwiches in a sitting. Lee's also tries to expand a bit by making European sandwiches. I'd tell you how they are but I can never bring myself to order one as the Vietnamese subs always beckon me with their siren song. Those harpies! Lee's also has a host of Vietnamese appetizers and drinks. You can check out the whole menu here. Lots of smoothies, and cool southeast Asian teas and coffees. And Italian sodas? OK. Never mind. That and the weird wireless internet access with a time limit based on how much money you spent are just odd. But that's part of the charm of Lee's. The Delimanjoo pastries are another. These are from a cool Korean machine that just creates pastries in front of your eyes. For the complete description of these check out this report from the Fancy Food Show when we first encountered them. I think the folks at Lee's corporate are experimenting. More power to them as long as they keep focused on making simple great food.

And to the folks in Southern California, please a) create more fast food chains like Lee's and In-N-Out, and b) please let them have some franchises outside of California. We're dying out here.











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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