I’m on a sort of quest right now to go to as many farmer’s markets as I can in L.A. A pretty tall order as this is a big city, and it being California and all, pretty much every neighborhood has its own weekly (sometimes more than that) market. I’ve already visited my neighborhood market in Hollywood, but then I learned of a place a bit farther afield, but that sounded too promising to pass up. It’s called the Original Farmers Market, located on Third and Fairfax, and is open, get this, every day of the week! What could be better, right?
Well, it turns out the name is a bit misleading. This isn’t actually a farmer’s market, but rather an open-air food court of sorts next to (and probably mostly servicing customers of) the giant outdoor mall called The Grove, with stalls offering all manner of prepared foods and a few enclosed buildings selling specialty items like Spanish groceries and hot sauce.
While I was initially a bit disappointed, I soon embraced the festive atmosphere (lots of food for sale in one place = festive atmosphere for me) and wandered about, waiting for something to strike my fancy.
I settled on the Brazilian place, Pampas Grill, largely because they offered food in buffet form. I am a sucker for buffets. Yes, I know this calls my status as a so-called “foodie” into question, as buffets invariably offer lackluster food at best, but let me lose on a crappy Chinese buffet, complete with indeterminate things of deep-fried nature and sticky sweet, neon-orange sauces, and I will happily go to town. Luckily, the food at this particular stand was quite a few notches above Chinese buffet quality. Here's the plate I made:
Interestingly, quite a few of the items on the buffet were similar to Southern American soul food. Okra made an appearance for instance (the green thing on the plate) – I only took one piece, prepared for slimy ickiness, but it was actually free of slime, though I still didn’t love it – as well as collard greens (I skipped those) and stewed catfish (at the top of the plate - can’t resist the fish!). Rice and beans, South American staples, naturally made an appearance, as well as a few dishes that are, as far as I know pretty standard American fare – you can see my mashed potatoes and chicken marsala at the bottom of the plate. Not too Brazilian to me, but they were pretty good nonetheless.
I went for some more exotic items too, like the banana squash (the orange lump), which was good, probably similar to acorn squash, and the fried yucca or cassava (the beige-ish stick-like thing), which was not so good – very starchy and little tough to chew. The fried ripe plantains, though, were excellent; I think it’s kind of hard to mess up fried sweet plantains (different from fried green plantains, or tostones) unless you burn the hell out of them, and even then I imagine they’d still be pretty good on the inside. The bread-like thing on the plate is pao de queijo, or cheese bread. Made of cassava flour, these seemed to be very popular, and are cheesy, moist and chewy on the inside, a pleasant surprise since I was expecting more of a cheese-flavored dinner roll-type thing. I washed it down with a Diet Guarana soda:
The buffet also has standard items you find on salad bars everywhere (you can see my potato salad and canned beets in the photo), but the main draw for most people is the skewered grilled meats, or churrasco.
Once you get past the buffet you get to the carving station, where some friendly Latin American guys will carve you a pile of whatever meat you fancy. Not being a huge fan of charred meat products (and wanting to keep the cost of my lunch low, as I had already paid a visit to the nearby Whole Foods beforehand), I stuck to the buffet fare.
After lunch I wandered I moseyed on over to the Grove to do some window shopping (including some drooling over the merchandise that I can neither afford nor fit in my kitchen at Sur La Table). I am proud to say that I had my first celebrity sighting – Mario Lopez was filming some sort of show at the central courtyard. What show, I have no idea; I only watched for a minute or so before I got bored. Does my complete disinterest in celebrities mean I fail as an Angeleno? Maybe if it had been a celebrity chef I would have stuck around a bit longer and tried to get some photos*. I actually kind of want to find out where Hell’s Kitchen is filmed and try to get a glimpse of Gordon Ramsay (sure his shows are God-awful in a “can’t tear myself away it’s so bad, I must keep watching even though I feel guilty” sort of way, but hey, the man’s an In-n-Out fan, he can’t be that bad!)
*Major food geek confession: the first time I went to dinner at Le Bernardin in NYC with my family (my first Michelin-star dinner ever, out of three so far), we were early for our reservation and so were standing around outside the restaurant, when someone – my mom I think – pointed over our heads. A few feet behind us, Eric Ripert – executive chef of Le Bernardin and frequent guest on shows like Top Chef, of which we are fans – was standing talking on his cell phone. We squealed like pre-teen girls at a Justin Bieber concert (OK, maybe not that bad – at least we were quiet about it, since he didn’t seem to notice). What can I say – any man who can cook fish like that deserves undying adoration.