2011 already???

I have been in and out of so many diets that I may have slowed down quite a bit on my visits and blogs, but never to fade away into non-existence.  This is for the year that was…

- Thank you Castle Korean BBQ…you may not be the best but I have been your staple customer for so long that it is your squid and your brisket have been our saving grace countless times.  I have been hungry, and you have been more than willing to feed to poor and needy (thank you inexpensive Korean BBQ).

- Thank you Senor Fish…because when we have no where else to go, you are but a block away of goodness on a plate.  Loving all the more that we do not have to walk with alcohol in hand, your sangrias make you such a popular cheerleader.

- Thank you Yogurt Haven…I have been hooked with your delightful Taro enticing me to the core that even through the coldest of winter I will never tire of you.

- Thank you Starbuck’s on York…for our many nights of hanging out and playing our card games and providing us with such great service every single time.

- Thank you to the many Happy Hour places offering solace after 10pm: Burbank Bar and Grill, Octopus Glendale, Coffee Table Lounge, Red Lion Tavern, Wokcano Pasadena, and the many Korean cafes within reach.

- Thank you Boiling Shrimp…you may not the same as Boiling Crab, but you have never let us wait more than 5minutes, whether for our seats or our food.  It is a plus that you are sans liquor license and have a store next door. Picture this, ready seats and cheap drinks that we can bring in to your establishment.

I am still thankful for my 2009 findings, add to them are the 2010 gems and hole(s)-in-the-wall that will surely be revisited and never forgotten.  I may find more in 2011, but it is not to say that you will be unnoticed and untouched.  Let’s do this 2011.  Pardon the diets I may have, after all…a foodie will live on food alone.

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Filed under BBQ, Crab, Dessert, Drinks, Happy Hour, Korean Food, Related Article, Seafood, Squid

PHOlling for Pho, Los Angeles

‘Tis the season after all for the cold and the warm, and by that I meant the weather and the soup.  Recognizing the many Pho places in Los Angeles that are popping up, maybe it’s time to crawl towards the comfort it brings.  Although, there are many better bowls out there, I can only go to so many and therefore may have to pick and choose considering proximity and necessity.  Let’s explore the hole-in-the-wall, the chain, the upscale, the popular, and find out which one we love best.  (For the sake of comparison, I am willing to sacrifice myself and eat combination Pho at each location. )

Pho 2000

“The Hole-in-the-Wall”

Walk along the Western Ave and you’ll find many Pho places.  This one was introduced to me by an aunt a long time ago.  It was my first Pho experience in Los Angeles some *ehem years ago.  Therefore a revisit to this place is a must.  It’s nothing fancy, mismatched chairs you’ll find at any second hand store, tables covered in their menu with plexi glass on top which definitely saves on reprints, and a small counter.  Don’t get me wrong, they do have several of them everywhere in the Koreatown area, but nothing spells authenticity than the confusing and clearly “un-thought” (if that is even a word) of decor and the very humble style.  Their service is fast but not the best of the four: NOT A SMILE IN SIGHT.  Oh well!  The Pho is not as good as I remember, there was a time when I thought it was the most comforting thing I have ever put inside my stomach.  The noodles were mushy and glued together (if that makes sense in your imagination) and the meatballs had a very weird aftertaste that was reminiscent of (spoilage).  The squid and tendons were cooked well, surprisingly.  The broth was on the blander side and so a dash (or aplenty) of sriracha will help the bowl a lot.  In these parts onions are served in and out of the bowl, on the side with plenty of hoisin and sriracha and the winter nights were becoming much much better.  Maybe the chef was on Holiday vacation.  But with the disappointments in the meal, we had to move-on. And so…moving on. 

PhoCiti

“The Chain”

A new 24hour location just opened up in Glendale, thus aiding towards the need for something open late at night after going around Glendale getting slightly “almost sober”.  No further explanation needed.  The service was fine, I suppose.  You order at the counter and the food comes in less than 5min when there are not many customers around.   Oddly enough, it was winter and there were not many customers around.  We do need some help with tougher cuts of meat.  With just chopsticks and a spoon, it was hard for me to cut and gnaw at the huge pieces of meat, it was short of bringing out the cannibal and primal in me.  But the meatballs and noodles here were a sure improvement.  The broth was “fine” (for a lack of better word than boring).  I still needed a little bit of help with my condiment friends but without would have been just as “fine”.  The place and decor stepped it up a little bit, coming from one chain to another.  But even during the cold winter nights, it was lacking in activity (during dinner???).  Maybe that was a sign to move on.  And so moving on once more.

Lemongrass Vietnamese Restaurant 

“The Popular”

Watch out for this one when you crave for Pho.  It can get packed and tables always get full come dinner time and  parking is close to non-existent (NOTE: 2 spots in front).  Not really my favorite but really close to being my go-to.  The broth is actually better than the first two and the rice noodles have this delicious bite to it, not too hard and not too soft.  The meat and cuts were at par, perfect bite-size pieces and tender enough.  The decor was much nicer than the first two, and by far slightly more upscale (and they even offer alcoholic drinks).  If you are a Pho connoisseur then do not come here.  If you’re doing a Pho crawl (just like I was) then definitely try this place.  But for $8 a bowl, I was expecting a golden delicious broth that will blow the rest of its competitors out of the water.  Damn the good service for tipping the scale towards their advantage.  Nevertheless, it was really necessary to seek perfection elsewhere.  Let’s move on.

Indochine Vien

“The Upscale”

I say upscale for several reasons: the location is much better than some of it’s predecessors, the decor and styling is definitely an upgraded version of the other Pho places I’ve ventured in, and the prices are UP UP UP(scale) compared with what  a bowl of Pho is usually valued as.  But for the record, this is ranked as high UP there versus the other three.  The broth is slightly on the sweeter side but at least had enough flavor for the sake of recognition.  The meats were plenty and cooked well that no tutorial on utensil usage was necessary.  Was it worth the $8.50?  I would say it was not quite, but will suffice.  They had ample parking in the back, service was fast and efficient, it was not crowded, and the food was bordering slap-me-silly delicious (interpret/imagine however way you want). 

Lesson for the winter: Pho is as individual as we all are.  Just because it is as seemingly simple as broth, noodles, and meat does not mean they will all comfort you the same way.  Depending on your need for the moment, may it be location, occasion, budget, etc, there will always be a bowl that can satisfy your craving for warmth amidst the cold.  Don’t just take my word for it, you will have to crawl on your own. 

*FYI: I did not have pictures of Golden Deli as it has been a long time since I’ve been (note: pre-blog).  I did not have the means to revisit for the purpose of this post.  But it is by far still my favorite bowl compared with all that I have tried so far (written about or not).  But if you have your own suggestions, please let me know. I’d love to find that best slurp of Pho I want to keep dreaming about and devour even in the middle of a heat wave.

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Filed under Comfort Food, Noodles, Pho, Soup, Uncategorized, Vietnamese Food

Artisanal LA 2010, Downtown LA (Savory Edition)

And so man cannot live with desserts alone. After all, the sweets often come after the savory. So as not to saturate and kill my palate and appetite with too much sugar, I also had to make my way towards the salty, bitter, meaty, and even the “hoppy”. At the Artisanal LA Fall 2010, I didn’t need the salt over the shoulder to have good luck, I had no problem finding the best savory had to offer.

Enjoy my sumptuous finds:

I had to buy Damn That’s Good’s curry sauce for a dinner idea I immediately envisioned after I tasted their sample. It was not a simple sauce to make, and the taste showcased its complexity well. It had a perfect amount of spice, very well-balanced with a spicy taste towards the back-end without overpowering the combination. Their risottos were actually okay. I must admit, bias set it when I had to taste it cold, it didn’t really sit well atop my tongue but I’m sure it would have been better received had it been at least a little warm. Their pastas were also cold. But all had a good promise of flavors.

Winner of the KCRW 2nd Annual Pie Contest, The Flying Pie Man shared his savory creation only during this event. Yuichiro Sato unfortunately does not have a means of selling his product yet (store or online), but we were blessed indeed that he has shared and we have tasted. It was more like a Shepherd’s pie or also called Cottage Pie. The seasonings in the ground beef had strong flavor (almost too overpowering for my taste), the mashed potato at the bottom was creamy and buttery, and the vegetables were actually still crunchy despite having been marinating with the juices from the meat, the mashed potato, and steam within.  The pie crust was actually the best part; it was flaky, salty, buttery, and just crunchy delicious. So here’s a plea: get your site together Yuichiro, the line at your table said it all.

This table was packed with visitors so I barely had a chance to take a decent photo, my apologies. I was about to leave when I was asked to go ahead and taste the meat, so over the shoulder of a stranger I reached out for my sample of healthy, grass-fed steak from Open Space Meats. It was decently cooked, I didn’t expect it to be like a restaurant serving me my medium rare cut, but the meat had a much stronger beef flavor. And of course, lower in saturated fat and higher in Omega 3 fatty acids, which means a healthier option for you.

Of course, I wouldn’t think of leaving without visiting a local brewery. Eagle Rock Brewery showcased two of their Artisan brews. Addicted to my caffeine, I had to choose the Stimulus (Belgian Amber with Ethiopian Coffee). It did not have a strong coffee flavor, but it was definitely present in each sip. The citrus created a fine after-taste that it was a little sad that it only came in sample cups.

I had just enough time to peak in at the most popular demo of the event: Pig Butchering by Lindy and Grundy’s Erika Nakamura. Skilled with a knife, Erika wielded with ease and cut down the half-pig in no time at all. Lindy and Grundy will soon serve Los Angeles just like the forgotten times, with a local, sustainable butcher shop selling organic and grass-fed meat.

Whew, the tasting extravaganza ended there. But it was not only the samples that shined during this Artisanal LA event. The owners and chefs that continue to pursue the healthier, organic side of cuisine and produce showed to us that healthier does not necessarily mean tasteless. And that handmade with the finest ingredients are sometimes a much better and not necessarily a more expensive route to take. So don’t deprive and cheat yourself of the finer and healthier things in life, Artisanal LA proves that they are definitely worth it.

Please support our local farmers and business owners. Click on the links to check out their websites and also how to order.

 

 

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Filed under Alcohol, Artisan, Beef, Event, Occasion, Pork

Aritisanal LA 2010, Downtown LA (Sweets Edition)

Organic. Grass-fed. Sustainable. Hand-made. Local. Healthy. Gourmet. These are just a few words to describe the assembly of the finest artisans in LA at the recent Artisanal LA Fall 2010 at the Cooper Building Downtown last October 24 and 25. With over 100 participants, including chef demos, workshops, and speakers, it was not hard to muster up the strength to come and visit. I didn’t need any encouragement by MultiCultural Cooking Network to cover this event. In fact, my foot was already out the door as soon as I got my tickets a week before.

You can actually divide the room into two obvious sides: the Sweet and the Savory. Here are my finds perfect for those with a serious sweet tooth:

Max Lesser and his Morning Glory confections. Featured on the Cooking Channel’s Foodcrafters, Max presented his handmade and of the finest ingredients brittle in different enticing flavors such as the most popular: Fleur de Sel and peanut.  But what really caught my attention was his New Mexico and Pumpkin seed creation. It had a sweet beginning with a mean, twisted, spicy kick towards the finish. Can you say YUMMY with me?


Cake Suzette, LLC and her unique creations had one my favorite sweet bites for the day (and maybe for the whole year): the Chocolate Peanut Butter Mallomore. It was a chocolate marshmallow with a peanut butter ganache, a milk chocolate crust on the outside and homemade graham crackers, regrets came after the first bite as I only had one square in my possession. She is also famous for her bite size Cake O’s with beckoning combination and coated in different flavor: coconut with a milk chocolate outside, red velvet covered in white chocolate, and cappuccino chocolate with a dense chocolate cake on the inside.

Sweet Dreamery Desserts had more than just your usual cravings. Other than their delicious cupcakes, they also have seasonal and all-occasion bakery baskets filled with different goodies. They can customize your sweets with different toppings such as Tiffany blue cookies, musical notes, pumpkin frosting while filling the basket with table cloths, aprons, decors, and more befitting any special event you may have.

Need a snack fix? Try out P.O.P. Candy and their handmade creations such as the Chai TeaGranola Pecan Bar. They also have a herbed line: Rosemary and Almond, and Thyme, Walnut, and Cherries which were surprisingly well-balanced. I had to keep coming back for more of their Rosemary and Almond brittle which came in small addicting bites. It was so convenient to pop in your mouth that you tend to forget how much you’ve actually consumed, hence the name: POP. They can also custom wrap, label, and serve your choices for any special occasion.


Coupled with such a great story, Welsh Bakers featured one that I haven’t had in a very long time: Welsh Cakes. “Not quite a cookie, not quite a scone”, this bite was long missed. Thank you Denise Carbone, her husband Joe for bringing this ancient Celticrecipe into our century. And thank you to your mother, who still lives in Wales and approved every single flavor prior to production. The Lemon Poppy seed was a great early morning upper with my coffee, which also ironically reminded me that my sweet Artisinal journey just passed.

Don’t get me wrong, there were more Artisans that featured their best desserts forward. All were with unique ideas, combination, and style. In fact I started to have immunity problems. At the end of the day, the sweets started to taste almost the same. So I had to alternate between the sweet and the savory. Well, after all, I would like to give everyone equal opportunity to extract from me the sighs, the OOHH’s, the AAHH’s and the OH MY’s. But, I was never disappointed, I had plenty of other explicit expressions long after I left the building.

Please take your time and read the savory edition, and support our local Artisans.

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Filed under Artisan, Cakes, Cupcakes, Dessert, Event, Occasion

The Fix Burger, Los Angeles

Finding the perfect, juicy burger amidst the hype and mushrooming of burger joints in Los Angeles is like finding a needle in a haystack, well maybe a perfect needle in a pin cushion. Most of these burger joints are okay, some are good, and only a few really are just perfectly delicious.

Having passed by The Fix Burger on Hyperion more than a few times, I realized it’s long overdue to try their certified humane burgers. So one day when traffic had me arching one eyebrow more than once, I stopped by for dinner.

The Fix with Seoul: 1/2 pound of meat, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, button mushrooms, Korean slaw, jack cheese, Korean sauce and Mayo. It was one messy package. The beef was thick, medium inside, and actually pretty good. It was simply seasoned that the beefy taste shone through with obvious ease and such impact. The Korean slaw and the sauce was actually almost the same beginning of a typical coleslaw with a twist of a Kimchi. I was hoping for a more spicy kick but was not delivered to my tastebuds. The meat was juicy and the sauce was slightly watery that my buns had no fight at all. It was falling apart as soon as it hit the table and became a knife and fork burger dinner.

Joe had the Veggie Ono: veggie burger, mushrooms, teriyaki sauce, pineapple, jack cheese, and mayo. It was, as explained to me, just “Okay”. Sadly, it was nothing special. The burger itself was fine, it had good texture but on the bland side. The pineapple was sweet and the teriyaki was on the sweeter side as well, this made the flavors slightly off. It’s hard to envision a savory, juicy burger when you can clearly tasted dessert.

The garlic fries were a perfect side dish, in fact, another order and it would have been my main dish. The fries were crispy, and the garlic was embedded in each bite and even in the burnt after-fried bits at the bottom. The garlic basil mayo was not necessary but with each dip added an elevated taste that bordered fried food indulgence. It was just fried comfort food that can make anyone feel good.

The homemade breaded shrooms were actually also pretty good. It was panko breading and fried to a golden color that made it crispy but not burnt. The button mushrooms inside were perfectly cooked and still juicy, with a combination of oil and its own juices. It was a progression of addiction with each bite.

Surprisingly, in a burger joint, the stars were the side dishes. Although the meat on my burger was delicious the rest of the players made it difficult for me to enjoy each bite. It was too cumbersome to savor each bite with ease. I would love to give it a second chance, I heard they do not have ostrich anymore but the buffalo burger sounds promising, and a talk of a lamb burger is encouraging such cravings that are becoming too hard to control.

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Filed under American Food, Beef, Burger, Comfort Food, Fries, Side Dishes, Uncategorized

Cocary Shabu Shabu BBQ, Monterey Park

 

If you’ve never been to a shabu-shabu or hotpot then leave all your preconceived notions at the door, Cocary Shabu Shabu is not your typical BBQ place. A mix of Chinese hotpot and Japanese shabu shabu, Cocary makes BBQ a much more arduous task. Instead of picking your meats and seafood from the menu, they make you stand up and pick the plates off some industrial size window fridges (4 in fact). And for just about $2 to $3 a plate, pick you meats, your seafood, your vegetables, your fruits, your condiments, and desserts of choice. And the rest is all up to you.

This is not where you just worry about cooking the meat to your liking, it’s picking you grilling items plus boiling items too. In the middle of the grill comes a pot full of boiling soup, and with much Iron Chef-like style, go ahead and practice that skill and harness it with the mixing of your ingredients to come up with either a boom or a bust.

Beef, lamb, pork, chicken, salmon, button mushrooms, squid, prawns on the buttered grill? Sure! Tofu, quail eggs, rice noodles, corn on the cob, fish balls, crab, and clams in the hotpot? Why not? The possibilities are endless. In fact let’s not leave Cocary without trying something out of our usual realm of comfort picks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We, and by that I meant I, tried the pork intestines. Chewy, the usual acquired taste, nevertheless I thought it was okay. It was even good when I actually cooked it perfectly. The century egg is actually a favorite of mine, but not to the rest of the group. Although this one was not completely preserved to the black color I wanted but I have missed it terribly so it was a great delight devouring this plate all by myself.

And there’s dessert. The taro flan has always been my go-to here; it’s smooth, creamy, and with light yet obvious taro flavor. I had two, hurray diet.

We were slightly unsuccessful with flavoring our broth but it was definitely an experience I’d love a repeat of. It has been a VERY long time since I’ve had hotpot or shabu shabu so every bite had to linger much longer in the mouth. Whew. I was sweating bullets, but I wouldn’t mind slinging that towel on my shoulder just to come back again.

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Filed under Chinese Food, Japanese Food, Shabu Shabu, Smorgasbord, Soup

Casa Bianca, Eagle Rock

Pizza, pasta, and more. Casa Bianca prides itself with the best and freshest of ingredients handmade and always made to order. And so when given a few tips before I dared investigate, I went with much gusto to this location where the long line  have always tickled my curiosity. It must be that good, eh?

Italian food and chefs are sometimes defined by how good your red sauce is, but I went in with a better plan of attack: spaghetti carbonara with pancetta, eggplant parmigiana sandwich, cheese pizza with anchovies, and a side salad. WHEW! And only for two people. I called it in and opted for pick-up. After all, I want to experience the food and not the wait. Still, it would take them almost an hour because of the massive orders they have, and probably the reason why they only open at 4pm, and even closed Sundays and Mondays.


The spaghetti carbonara was (hold the boos and the hatred) “disappointing” (currently at my nicest). The pancetta was hard and dry, clearly overcooked. I missed the salty, fatty, yet ironically somewhat tender bite to it. There was salt, believe me, but the rest were simply on vacation. The spaghetti was al dente, hard to accomplish when it’s on a to-go container, steaming continuously until released from its vessel. There was absolutely no creamy aftertaste, which I was expecting from a carbonara. NO, not like an alfredo, but theirs tasted more like oil and rendered bacon grease than anything else. AND let us not forget the overly GENEROUS helping of basil. I know it is a staple Italian herb, but it was fresh and all from a former life. Laying on top of my pasta was a lifeless, limp, and almost BLACK shreds with absolutely nothing to add but an assault of basil taste that overpowered my tongue. It might be good, I guess, to hide the disappointments in the dish. But still, one hopes to turn this frown upside down.

From the confused to the aggressive we go. If my pasta didn’t know what it wanted to be (salty, bland, herbaceous), we come to the pizza: SALTY.  But I slightly understand, I do have a heart. Their regular style is thin crust, and with only salty cheese and salty anchovies as my toppings, of course the SALT ASSAULT was a given. But I did not expect it to be this much of a kidney battery. Thank you Casa Bianca for giving me so much anchovies, I appreciate the heavy hand but I am sure that my kidneys do not. Let us move on.

And so we come to the clear winner of the night: Joe’s eggplant parmigiana sandwich. A forgotten part of their menu, the lesser popular item, the unexpected order. The eggplant was breaded lightly but the batter clung to it like there’s no tomorrow. The cheese was melted and stringy, not wanting to let go of the rest of the team. It was really all for one and one for all, on flavor and texture. The bread held up well and so it was not hard to devour the savory and crunchy goodness.

Being my own critic, it might have been my fault having veered away from the spaghetti and meatballs, or the fettucine alfredo. But Italian food is more than the red, green, or white sauce. It should be made more famous to the masses for other dishes it can offer. But even the pizza was a “disappointment”, at a PIZZA PIE place. But I will not stop trying this place over and over again. So maybe I will a find a dish I would love to go back for, and maybe even wait in line for an hour.

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Filed under Italian Food, Pasta, Pizza, Sandwich