Friday, August 20, 2010

The Saucier's Apprentice

My heart is heavy, friends.

I’m not holding it in my hand or anything. It’s just an expression. When I started this adventure, I was excited to accomplish two very specific things: Eat tons of yummy food from the mobile kitchens that have made LA into an ant farm of peripatetic culinary wonder; and write about it so that I will always have a record of my summer of food-trucking.

So far, I have had nothing to complain about. Rather, the opposite. I left a forensic trail of cheeseburger down Sunset Blvd, thumbed my nose at destiny with a stack of almond peach pancakes in a Pleasantville farmer’s market, and found a banana pudding that I would happily use as body lotion. Capital C Creamy.

I knew there was a possibility of something like this happening. It was in the very back of my mind, trapped under something heavy. But it took an outside force to bring it to the surface, Inception-style. I’ve had my first less-than-great experience. Not awful. Just confusing. Not disgusting. Just kind of…meh.

One of my favorite things in life is an empty apartment. Bare, no furniture, freshly painted walls. (Snacks don’t count, obviously.) It appeals to the optimist in me-the emptiness. I can sit on a floor, my back against a plain wall, and see the pre-ghosts of all the great times to be had. The late nights watching movies, the kitchen explosions, the life-changing conversations with life-changing friends. The steamy days of summer, the hibernation during winter’s chilliness. I can just watch it all play out from the blankness, and I love it.

So when my friend Anna said: “I’ve just signed for my new place, wanna get food and come sit in my empty apartment?,” it was on like Donkey Kong. The Dumpling Station truck was parked outside of the Guitar Center on Ventura Blvd. Every time I’ve bought a guitar, which is never, I always wish I had a dumpling to go with it. I love the idea of dumplings as a meal. Not a side dish, not an appetizer. Get right to the good stuff.

Additionally, they are so conveniently chopstick-able. Nothing makes me feel my life slipping through my fingers faster than a pile of slippery noodles and a set of chopsticks. I don’t have the Guitar Hero timing and coordination for that sort of thing, and certainly not the patience. But dumplings are their own neat little package-each one a grab bag, filled with pork and potential.

We ordered up a bunch, and sprang for the “S’mores Dumplings,” listed as a dessert. We headed back to her sparkling clean, absolutely adorable, empty apartment, laid out our picnic meal on the shiny wooden floor, and opened our precious to-go container. White Styrofoam: bad for the environment, good for dumplings. We opened the non-bio-degradable treasure chest and stared in silence. I blinked at her. She blinked at me.

“I mean…..”
“I know…”

There was no sauce.

I’ll let that sink in. NO SAUCE.

Once, when in was a kid on vacation in Niagara Falls, I bought a grab bag at a drugstore. Remember those? You just buy it, and let yourself be surprised by whatever junk or treasure the nonplussed employee forced to fill them has chosen for you. There was a bin full of opaque white paper bags, each marked 50 cents. I opened mine, the bagged equivalent of a promisingly empty apartment. I don’t remember most of what was inside, but I do remember this: A teddy-bear pin with the name “LESLIE,” inscribed on it.

I’ll let that sink in. LESLIE.

Why would you put something with a NAME on it in a grab-bag?! What are the chances of a Leslie actually buying it? It made absolutely no sense, and not just because I was 8. 20 years later I would feel that same confusion when faced with a box full of sauce-less dumplings.

Let me make this absolutely clear: sauce was not offered. It was not listed on the menu. In my world, the implication is then that the sauce will simply be included, having been neither offered nor requested. This leads me to believe that there is no dipping sauce possibility, which leads me to sorrow.

It may seem like I am placing too much importance on the sauce part of this equation, but let me ask you the following: ever eaten pasta with no sauce? Gummy. How about a tuna sandwich with no mayo? Tough to get down. Fries with no ketchup? Disrespectful. See? These things are important. They elevate the dish, they make it possible for these things to be not just edible, but delicious. Tasty. SAUCE-y.

We got them down somehow. They were probably delicious, but I’ll never know. It was pretty tough to get past the rubbery dumpling wrapper, more like swallowing a doggie chew-toy whole than enjoying a meal. But there’s always dessert, right? Apparently, there’s some confusion about what a “s’more” consists of. The crunchy fried s’more dumpling looked promising enough, but was perplexingly filled with…nutella. ? Right. No marshmallow component, or graham element. NOT a s’more.

I will not dwell on this. Life is too short. So, on to the next one. And I WILL be asking for sauce. I’m talkin’ to you, Leslie.


  1. Your best one yet, Leslie! Ooops..I mean, Frances

  2. I love it! And I totatlly remember grab bags. I too love the idea of an empty house/apartments. Right now as I'm ripping wallpaper off my kitchen wall I am anticipating a gorgeous new kitchen.....but right now all I see is a total mess.

  3. for the love of all that is holy...someone get this girl sauced! :)

  4. Great pictures of
    1) zee truck
    2) zee food
    3) zee personality behind zee truck and zee food

    Keep blogging--you're a stellar contributer to this most-modern form of social literature!