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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

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

Dirty dogs for dinner?

Although, we Filipinos are supposedly known for eating canines back home. I love my babies too much to even fathom the idea. So for me, not tonight, not tomorrow, or not in this lifetime. I’m talking about the famous Mexican-style street cart staple, of course. Bacon-wrapped hotdogs for dinner.

I have no idea if these things should come with a disclaimer or a warning on the side. Tiny cart with no sink anywhere to wash his hands, nothing to cover the hotdogs and toppings from the fuel emission, and a vendor that had no intentions of upgrading his popular means of living. But if the swarm of people do not care, then sure as hell I don’t either. I certainly believe that I grew up eating street food that not only compares well to this cart, but so bizarre that I have grown a stomach that can rival Mr. Andrew Zimmern anytime.  But first, let’s talk dirty dogs here.

This dirty dog is as good as I remember. We used to sell them for fundraisers but there’s something that makes this one so much better. Maybe the thought of eating from the source, I can pretend all day long that I make good ones, but nothing beats the goodness of a really “dirty” dog. A generic hotdog wrapped in a thin slice of bacon cooked, not on any grill or griddle or flat-top, but just a regular, make-shift sheet pan. Hotdogs and jalapenos on one side, onions and peppers on the other. Give the man your $2.50 and he’ll place it in the middle of the tray to heat up, toss around the onions and peppers, place the bun alongside, and you’re almost set. He takes the bun, the hotdog, drizzles ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, and then places the onions and peppers on top. Done. Did not even take him more than 2min to do it.

It was simple and absolutely, satisfyingly delicious. The hotdogs were juicy inside, the bacon added saltiness (and everything’s good with bacon anyway), the ketchup was sweet, the mustard gave it that extra kick, the mayonnaise was generous and creamy, the onions and peppers were so overly cooked down to a sweet, almost caramelized finish. Nothing wrong with this picture. Only err to this event was getting just one. Never overestimate when it comes to dirty dogs, who says one is more than enough. NEVER again.

So do I really care about that little piece of paper that displays the letters of the alphabet, preferably the A? Do I really care that this cart violates every good sense of  clean cooking? The empty foil in my trash says no, I don’t. Sometimes you have to live a little to enjoy the better things in life. In this case, a dirty dog for dinner.

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Filed under American Food, Hotdog, Mexican Food, Street-food

Carmen’s (A deconstruction of a Torta Cubana), Los Angeles

Not even back to Ktown and I already dreamt of which places I must go to before my deadline by end of May. Having stepped inside the hold, memories flood back as I remember the many months I stayed here, including the many places I go to for my fix. I must admit, Ktown is one of my favorite places to dine in LA. It is crawling in diversity, unabashed, hole-in-the-wall locations that are just simply put: delicious. Carmen’s taco truck is one of those places.

Nestled between Kingsley and Ardmore on 8th, Carmen’s shares the usual Mexican taco truck servings, including some “acquired tastes” of meat (cabeza, lengua)

But I do not go to Carmen’s for the tacos, burritos, or quesadillas. I go for the tortas. Not all taco trucks serving tortas are made the same. Some are just rolls and whatever meats they serve their tacos or burritos with, plus some salsa on top. But here at Carmen’s you actually get more than just chopped meat and bread. Expect to stay for more than a few minutes, because made-to-order goodness comes to those who wait.

The quesillo torta. First of all, the bread. They actually use a telera or a soft round bread, commonly used in tortas in Mexico. They grill the bread to a nice crust, with treasures of burnt parts on the outside. Whilst slightly crunchy on the outside, the inside is a soft, somewhat thin layer of bread that holds well against the heavy pounding of other ingredients. Lettuce, slices of a half of an avocado, and real queso oaxaca. Oaxacan cheese is similar to string cheese but sold in balls and very much used in a lot of Mexican dishes; with a very light taste such as mozzarella and even melts into an almost same consistency. Only $4, you really can’t go wrong with this torta if you’re looking for something simple and (almost) light to the belly.

But if your need is for weight and gain, then go for gusto and get the Torta Cubana.

There are no words big enough to describe this colossal monstrosity. It is MEAT in a sandwich, VS just a sandwich with meat, plain and simple. Five layers of one meat after another plus the addition of lettuce, quesillo, and half of an avocado.

This is only half of the torta (the rest lay peacefully inside my expanding stomach). Let’s have a closer look (from  LEFT clockwise):

-Salchicha: sausages. A whole sausage cut right down the middle and placed down on the grill to get those burnt, grill marks. It excretes necessary oils onto the grill to mingle with the rest of the meats. I don’t mind that their sausage is generic, I’ve had worse.

-Jamon: HAMMMM. Yes, let’s add pork to the equation. Salty, cured pork.

-Cecina: a type of jerky but not as salty as the one’s we’re used to here, comparable to Thai beef jerky or the Filipino tapa. It’s hard on the teeth and stringy, nevertheless one slice is NOT enough Carmen’s. Please make note of.

-Tasajo: a type of preparation of beef. It’s usually marinated in achiote which gives it that reddish or orange color, then it’s seared on the grill to an almost chewy consistency. But do not be deceived, it’s not one tough cookie.

-Milanesa: a breaded steak filet (think wiener schnitzel). Now this slice was the least on my list. It was a too thin that it almost had a mushy consistency. It would probably be a good thing compared to its chewy compadres, but it was a little off-putting.

Like any doubtful Thomas, I tried them individually. They actually tasted common; sausage and ham from any local supermarket. Two slices of hard, salted, and jerked beef. A mushy piece of breaded something. Combined, these slices of protein sing a song so dear to my heart (and my arteries). One bite gets the most out of everything. And with the bread as an envelope, the cheese as a coagulant, and the avocado as a salt buffer, they all make a wonderful, simple, and inexpensive symphony of flavors.

How can you go wrong??? Tell me. I dare you to tell me. You may have had better meats, a better Torta Cubana somewhere else; but given the location, the circumstances, and the SOURCE? A taco truck in Ktown? This is indeed the pinnacle, the culmination, if I may exaggerate. This is the best taco truck torta in LA. And now that I have had a chance to almost finish it, I am off to my next mission in Ktown. Manna Bakery? Mr Pizza Factory? Korean BBQ? Beverly Soon Tofu House? Bonchon? I can go on and on and on, but I will not. I’ll let you dream with me for now.

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Filed under Beef, Bread, Cheese, Mexican Food, Pork, Sandwich, Sausages, Street-food

The Orochon Challenge: 3 Men VS 1 Food

On this corner, with an aggressive doubles strategy and a gazelle-like movement on court-Juan “Jolly Green” Flores.


On another seat, with a tested doubles prowess and cheetah -like court speed-Deo “The Coach” Sy .


And on the other side, with a multi-faceted serve and an unconventional forehand power-Joseph “Bebe” Villafuerte.


The challenge: finish the SPECIAL #2 in 30minutes  (the spiciest Ramen in LA and featured in Man vs Food) at Orochon Ramen and get your face and name on their wall of fame.


It seemed like a daunting task for three of our tennis fanatics, but there was no turning back. Reputation was at stake and egos were not about to get hurt easily. YES is a YES, and no chickens were coming out of their coops tonight. The air was thick with testosterone as we took our seats and waited for these fire bowls to come out of the kitchen. The challengers were pumped up; chopsticks on one hand and milk on the other. And it was evident that they were all willing to slurp to win.

The bowls came out full to the brim with a deadly red broth mixed with fiery jalapenos, serranos, and a secret recipe of powdered spices. A side bet was made. Alliances were formed. The crowd was ready to spectate. Strategies began. Ready, set, go!

And into the halfway point we were made aware that these boys were here to battle. The wear and tear started to show, but none owned up to it. The sweats and tears may have come out but losers, we saw, they were not.

Juan-was taking it slowly but surely.

Deo-paced himself beautifully.


Joe-speed was his strategy and began the attack on his chilies.

Almost 30min was up and we were sure of a winner. He was not a quitter, devouring the ramen without even a sliver of doubt and drinking the broth as if it were only water. The rest have stopped, as if to say, “we no longer stand a chance”. The diners started staring, as if in amazement of the surefire achievement. The waitstaff readied to press that button on their camera to capture this expected victory.

Then the body suddenly gave up and fought back with the natural means of extracting the violence inside a very disturbed stomach. The bags came out (and the rest will be left to imagination). With only 2mins left and 2 spoonfuls inside the bowl, we declared a winner between the three, but sadly-no winner for Orochon this very spicy Saturday night.


With maybe a picture of the trials and not of the wins. Surely, this will be enough to be posted on my blog, for now. This is dedicated to those that have tried and failed, for the next picture taken will then be up at that wall, beaming, proud and steady. Just like a passing forehand, an inside-out backhand, or an overhead smash. Joe will have his chance another time to finally finish, as they say his third time might be the charm.

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Filed under Challenge, Japanese Food, Ramen, Related Article, Soup

Rob Eshman’s Bashing of the LA Food Scene

Rob Eshman, “Foodaism” food blogger from the Jewish Journal, says “It is not a great food city. It is an almost-very good one.” This remark in his recent article is answer to Saveur’s #127th  LA issue featuring the best of LA. Although the famous magazine showcased the most interesting, popular, and hungered for cuisines of LA, it seemed that to convince Eshman would be a feat impossible to achieve. Let us deviate from the usual food reviews and delve deeper into this interesting premise.

First let’s see what Saveur prides as LA at its best. A few of these places are: Pizzeria Mozza (a collaboration between Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali, and Joseph Bastianich) that Eshman describes as an “idea of the ideal”, Koreatown as described by LA Weekly, Gourmet Magazine, and Pulitzer winner Jonathan Gold, Thai town in the eyes of Saveur editor James Oseland, Wolfgang Puck as the “King of LA”, Little Saigon and its exotic offerings, San Gabriel Valley and its many unknown locations for amazing Asian food (happy to say my personal favorite, Savoy was featured, but Din Tai Fung was unnoticed), deli giants Langer’s, Nate ‘n Al’s, Canter’s, and many more places most of us die hard foodies cannot live without.

But even when most of us know how these places and many more satisfy our most discerning palates, the critic in everyone will always have something to say-good or bad. That is the very reason why Eshman’s article tickled the very critic inside me. Is it really true? Are we jaded by the glitz and glamour that we are blind to the many deficiencies of the LA food scene? Are we so into the fads and hypes that we have forgotten the essence of food? Here are Eshman’s 10 reasons why Saveur is wrong about LA, and my 2-cents with it.

1. “Restaurants close too early”. Oh My! What time do people really eat then? There are always places anywhere in LA that will serve you good food with a smile 24hours a day/7 days a week if you suddenly wake up at 4am craving for anything from the usual grease to a salad.

2. “Much of LA is a food desert”. To a point, yes. But only because some of the better places are not necessarily within the reach of everyone. Think-my preference may not be within my geographical location.

3. “Angelenos eat to live. They don’t live to eat”. But isn’t it true for everything else in life? We work to live within our means, not live to work. We keep healthy to live longer, not live longer so we can eat healthy. Besides it’s better to curb our eating habits, what with the recession and all.

4. “Supermarkets and cars ganged up to strangle LA’s food culture”. Driving doesn’t seem that bad when we need to get what we really want, believe me, people will go anywhere for anything they desire. Besides that I agree, Trader Joe’s is a gift to LA.

5. “The Coffee culture is below average”. Depends where you get your coffee, because mine is as strong as it gets, and the culture is as burgeoning and even better than any city I know, and NO, I do not mean Starbucks. It’s more like Insomnia, the Sunset row, etc.

6. “Driving makes for a mediocre bar scene”. I agree about our public transportation, but do not agree with the mediocre bar scene. And I am an expert on this “bar scene”. Take a cab, Yellowcab- (800)200-0063.

7. “There are too few outdoor dining options”.  I agree.

8. “We have the best beaches and the best weather, and some of the worst beachside dining in the world”. Except for Santa Monica Pier and it’s gastro hubs, I agree.

9. “No one comes to LA for the food”. But who does anyway? If you want to go anywhere else beyond your square footage, do you not come for the attraction, and the food comes secondary?

10. “The fresh, local food scene has not permeated beyond the precious”. I agree to a point, the market has not been proven to be supportive of this cause, therefore not many entrepreneurs pursue this route.

LA is such a colossal mecca of gastronomy that it is impossible to know and feature all of its best, and that makes it also easy to feature its mediocre and its worst. I may sound a little biased because I am in love with my LA, but it is but a fact. To have so much places and so little time to scour and devour everything in LA, one is sure to miss the best dishes while assuming what is on the plate is already the ripest of the crop. I am not one to battle against Eshman as his tongue is different from mine, his experience may be more extensive than mine, and his palate may have tasted more of LA than mine. But I say before we judge, let us completely and with abandon explore LA as far and wide as possible. Because, as it is true for any city, the best may sometimes be stuck in the hole in the wall, obscure, unassuming locations. LA will need more improvement as it is not perfect, and I will never claim it to be. But I know it is a great, diverse, and delicious melting pot that can satisfy any hunger, even the loudest, and harshest of critics.

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Post-Valentine’s Day

I thought I should just share.

February 13- We had a couple’s massage at Barai and it was really, really good. This is not your usual “Burke-Williams” experience. They swing you around, break your bone, bend your body, pop your joints to your limit. Dinner was at AFloat Sushi in Pasadena. It was good. I mean, the sushi was unspectacular but for the price and the fun of it-it was actually worth it. I had a very nice time.

February 14- We had lunch at my favorite hole-CORAL REEF. We may not have had the best lunch conversation but the food was amazing (and cheap) as usual. His fish with black bean sauce and my pork chops were finger licking good as always. Yummy, indeed.

Reviews to follow. I need to get better pictures.

It just goes to show, you really don’t have to spend a lot to make the most out of the day. Sometimes, simple and cheap is as good (or even better) as elaborate and expensive.

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Filed under Chinese Food, Japanese Food, Occasion, Related Article, Sushi