Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The New MOCA Exhibit in Thai Town - "Hi" Thai Noodles Thai Town

My Dad (who speaks Thai) loves to go to Thai Town every once in a while to pick up some goods. Like what you ask? Mango and rice desserts. Soong Tum (papaya salad). Newspapers. Crickets. No joke, he bought some frozen crickets as a beer snack. And those Thai karaoke laserdisc/dvd’s. Oh god. I come back every weekend to see the parents and I always find my dad singing to his favorite Thai and Laotian songs with a 6-pack of MGD’s. Ghetto I know. But that’s what makes my dad happy. Sometimes you might catch me at a karaoke bar singing 80s songs with a 6-pack of MGD’s too. Like father, like son.

One thing prevalent within each Asian culture is the simple, yet comforting bowl of soup noodles. Chinese and Nu Ro Mian. Cantonese and Wonton Mien. Vietnamese and Pho. Koreans and Neng Myeon. Japanese and ramen/udon. I’d keep going but I really don’t know what kind of soup noodles Cambodians, Malaysians and Indonesians eat. For sure they have something though.

Dad: “What do you want to eat?”
Me: “Do you have to ask? You know what I always want.”
Dad: “Soup noodles it is.”

I like anything with beef and when I go for Thai food, I know I’m getting the Thai Boat noodles (Kuai Teow Reua); even before glancing at the sticky ass menus. Mmmmm. This was first created by boat peddlers who’d paddle up to you for direct service. Kinda like room service I guess. The cook would have a boiling pot of goodness and hand you the bowl of noodles for a small charge. If the service was bad, you could simply paddle away. At least you could see what the cooks were doing to your food since you were so close. No ‘behind-closed-doors’ mischief going on.

The reason we picked this place was because of its blatant advertising. As we were driving by slowly, our eyes caught the huge framed photos of their noodles. We parked and I started salivating for the Thai Boat noodles. Once I walked in I found myself staring at 6-7 framed photos. I thought to myself, “Are we in the museum of noodles?” It seriously looked like a museum exhibit with the huge 5’ x 3’ framed photos of the soup noodles. All they needed were those little white cards from the MOCA or LACMA to describe what I was staring at. And maybe have an usher posted by the wall warning visitors to refrain from taking photos. *Being a foodblogger, I can shoot photos withoutt flash while holding the camera under my armpit.

We sat down and were quickly greeted by the owner and given sticky menus. I rested my elbows on the sticky tables and saw that ‘Hi-Thai Noodle’ had a ‘Three-bowls-for $10’ deal. Dope. Problem was, it was only my Dad and I. Should we get the $10 deal and bring the third bowl home? We both got the “Beef and Beef Ball” soup noodle with a salted crab papaya salad to start out with. What the waiter brought out shocked me.

It was the tiniest bowl of soup noodles I’d ever seen. No wonder they were three-for-$10. If you ordered one bowl, you wouldn’t be full. If you ordered two bowls, you’re paying $8 for a regular sized bowl of noodles. Good thing about Hi-Thai is that they have quite a variety of soup noodles – beef, pork stew and seafood. Looking up at gallery pieces, you got a pretty clear idea what you were going to order. No need to lean over at the other table and spy.

The Thai Boat noodles tasted pretty good. Thai boat noodles, unlike Chinese beef noodles, have a thicker consistency in the broth. You can actually see that it’s made with a lot of beef stock because of the cloudiness. That’s a good sign. The slices of beef and beef balls were also quite tender and flavorful.

Still hungry, my Dad and I went for round 2. This time I ordered a fishcake and pork ball dried soup noodle. It had peanuts, fried garlic, cilantro, green onions and a little oil, which you mixed up. I loved it. My dad got this pork stew with rolled up noodles – resembling mini scrolls. It was sweet and heavy on star anise.

The Soong Tum papaya salad with salted blue crab was very good as well. Made with a lot of lime and fish sauce, it had a real kick to it. Not sure if many people know this, but Laotians also have a papaya salad with salted blue crab called “Dama Hoong”. It’s the same as the Thai version but with less of a sweet and sour taste. I prefer the Laotian version. Total for 4 mini-bowls of soup noodles and papaya salad came out to $22 without tip.

This was only my second stop in my search for good Thai Boat noodles and I’m sure there are better. Hi-Thai is open 24/7 and is on the corner of Hollywood and Harvard in Thai Town.

“Hi” Thai Noodle
5229 Hollywood Blvd. (c/o Harvard in Thai Town)
Hollywood, CA Read more!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Gift of Gluttony: Part Two - Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon and Wasabi Whipped Potatoes Recipe

Remember what we ate in college? In retrospect, it’s amazing what we considered as our daily sustenance. For me, it was Del Taco, Alberto’s, canned food like spam and corned beef, and on special occasions it was Shake-N-Bake with whatever kind of meat was lying around the apt. Probably spam. It was cheap. It was tasty. And almost comforting at 3 am coming back from a futile study session. Amidst all the drinking, we found ways to feed the need. I remember I was so poor one time that I actually scoured my room for change. Lifted up couch cushions, looked into the carpet corners and even my car. What did I buy with my hard-earned money? 3 hard-shell tacos and 2 red burritos from Del Taco. $3.30. Good times, haha. Tacos are messy, but when you’re broke, you’re eating up every piece of scrap lettuce and cheese that flies out from your monstrous, great-white-shark-bite of hunger. Now, as an adult, I make sure that before any night of debauchery I engage myself in, that I’m well ‘padded’.

My second guest for the “Gift of Gluttony” festival was MN who had told me about her recent diet. I had met her through a mutual friend because she had an interest in getting into the ‘make-you-buy-things-you-don’t-need’ industry called advertising. She told me some of her ideas for ads and I immediately took her under my wing because she had the potential. MN left a few months ago to attend the Virginia Commonwealth University for a degree in copywriting. For those that don’t know, advertising agencies have two positions within the creative department – an art director and copywriter. As an art director, I’m responsible for making an ad look good, which leads to hours and hours and hours of Photoshopping. As a copywriter, you are responsible for all the writing. Clever headlines. Sales promotions. Product descriptions. All of that. But both the art director and copywriter are responsible for concepting. A lot of copywriters have degrees in journalism and English naturally.

MN came back last week from school and I promised her a dinner because I haven’t seen her in months. She was telling me how she relied on Subway, pizza joints and restaurants with random deals as a daily diet. I said “hell no, you need to eat well.”

I had learned a lot from working at The Restaurant and wanted to put some of the knowledge into use.

Me: “Do you like beef?”
MN: “DO I?”
Me: “How’s filet mignon sound?”
MN: “Fuck yeah!”
Me: “May I bacon-wrap it?”
MN: *Droooooool.

I served up a bacon-wrapped, filet mignon and topped it with deep fried oyster mushrooms. So good. For the sides, I made whipped potatoes infused with wasabi and some cipollini onions, which are wide and short, baby onions – not to be confused with pearl onions. I made a steak sauce using the drippings from the filet and threw in some Chianti wine and ready-made demi glace.

Filet Mignon with Chianti demi-glace and Wasabi Whipped Potatoes

Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon
Salt and pepper both sides of the filet. Wrap each filet one piece of bacon and secure it with a toothpick. Sear the filets on high heat with olive oil, about 2-3 minutes. Flip them over and slap it inside a 450 oven for about 12-15 minutes, depending on your desired doneness. I like medium rare.

Doneness Chart – This will vary

Medium Rare – 12-14 minutes
Medium – 14-16 minutes
Medium Well – 16-20 minutes
Well done – why bother making filet mignon

*Another trick which I’ve learned is the hand chart. Using your left hand, touch your index finger with your thumb in a relaxed manner. Touch that big slab of muscle that forms under your thumb. That is what ‘rare’ feels like. Now, use your middle finger to touch your thumb, that is ‘medium rare’. Ring finger is ‘medium’. Pinky finger is ‘well done’. You can feel how tight the muscle flexes in order for the thumb and pinky to reach each other.

Using the pan drippings, add some Chianti wine and beef broth. Scrape the pan for any of the ‘fond’, which are the little burnt bits of goodness. Do not discard those because they are flavor packets. Use water and sugar to balance out the tannins from the wine (alcohol) and saltiness. Make a flour/water mixture for thickening. Slowly whisk in the flour/water mixture to achieve a thick consistency for the Chianti sauce. You should be able to see the sauce stick on to the back of a spoon.

Wasabi Whipped Potatoes
Boil skinned potatoes until fork tender – about 15-18 minutes. Reduce the cooking time of potatoes by slicing them up into segments. Add salt to the pot as they cook. After they are fork tender, strain them and throw them back into the pot over low heat. This will cook out any remaining water inside of the potatoes. Water is bad! Mash up the potatoes and add butter, whole milk, salt and white pepper. Don’t use black pepper – black specks in the potatoes don’t look good. Add wasabi or horseradish to taste – should not overwhelm the dish.

Serve these up with your favorite veggies. As a garnish, I deep fried oyster mushrooms and topped the filet with it for aesthetics. You can put whatever you want – parsley, fried onions or herb-flavored butter.

Happy holidays and thanks for reading. Read more!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

West LA X'mas Party, Ugly Ass Christmas Sweaters and Dokpokki

I’m a huge fan of the Farrelly brothers – writers of Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin and Something About Mary. You guys remember that one scene in D&D where Jim Carrey fantasizes about Lauren Holly? I love that part when he’s in the ski lodge with his other sweater friends lighting up his natural gas. God, those sweaters were so awesome. Our 2nd annual West LA party happened on Friday and I wanted to liven things up a little by sporting one of those sweaters. During my lunch break, I headed down to the vintage/thrift shops on Melrose. After going to about three stores, I was worried that my plan wouldn’t happen. Thrift store shopping is hit-or-miss, but once you find something you like, it’s like striking an oil reservoir in your backyard. And to my surprise, I found three of the most hideous sweaters pictured above for me and my 'sweater friends'. I’m the pixellated guy on the left. My friend in the middle actually liked his sweater and is keeping it for reals.

I quickly went home and started to cook food for the potluck. My friend was bringing Korean bbq ribs and I thought some dokpokki, Korean rice cakes cooked in red paste and kimchi, would complement them nicely. Too bad we didn't make any yogurt soju. So I showed up to the party and gave my friends their sweaters. We got a good response and I made the couples take turns wearing the sweaters for photos in front of the fireplace. Truly, a dorky Christmas. Best part of the night besides Best of LA’s smooth-tasting Belvedere vodka was the “Secret Santa” gift exchange. My “Secret Santa” hooked me up with Nobu Matsuhisa’s cookbook. Killer gift. I can now scratch that off my Amazon wishlist of about 20 cookbooks.

After the West LA party, I headed down to some dive bar in West Covina called the Sunset Room… with the red snowflake sweater still on. I walked in and looked for my friends. If there had been a dj there, you would’ve heard him stop the records. My red sweater could not be avoided haha. I got looks from everyone. Good times. Why not? It’s Christmas.

Dokpokki Recipe

Oval or Cylindrical rice cakes (dok)
Gochujang (Korean red chili paste – sweet & spicy)
Kimchi (duh!)
Carrots (diagonally cut discs)
Onions (sliced onions)
Green onions (sliced in 2” lengths)
Soy Sauce
White Pepper

(1) Start by boiling the rice cakes in a pot until desired ‘al-dente-ness’.
(2) Saute garlic, carrots and onions.
(3) Add the Gochujang into a bowl of water and mix the paste up. Gochujang is quite thick and needs some water and air to loosen it up. Dump the Gochujang/water mixture in with the garlic, carrots and onions and stir.
(4) Add Kimchi and a little bit of soy sauce. Use water and sugar to balance out spiciness/sweetness/saltiness according to your liking.
(5) Strain the rice cakes and dump them into the sauce. Dokpokki has a lot of sauce, so make sure you make enough.
(6) Lastly, add green onions and enjoy.

Happy holidays and thanks for reading. Read more!

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Gift of Gluttony: Part One - The Osso Buco Veal Shanks Recipe

Pam of Daily Gluttony recently wrote an honest-to-goodness entry about the importance of family, friends and, of course, food. These three are closely intertwined within our daily lives and with every passing moment involving the three, they should be cherished and never taken for granted. Mealcentric, sadly, has also lost a friend who he had shared many moments with while dining. In respect to the fore-mentioned, even the simplest of foods can bring about a smile or reassurance that you actually matter to someone. I couldn’t agree more. It could be slicing up those juicy, Korean pears for your parents. Going on a carne asada burrito run for your friend who says he’s hungry, but has just completely passed out in the back of the car. Wait, that was me in the back of the car. Making chicken noodle soup or porridge for someone feeling under the weather. For me, a bowl of porridge with green onions, fried egg and a little Maggi Sauce brought a smile to my face when I was sick. Only because Mom made it. It’s little moments like these that matter the most.

For me, cooking is one of the best ways to show appreciation for one’s friendship and love. You devote your own time in making sure that they get something yummy in their tummy because it makes them happy. You’re also keeping them one step further away from being on a Sally Struthers infomercial, or being pictured on one of those donation boxes at Ralph’s. This Christmas, I’ve decided to invite friends over for a culinary present. One, because I love to wreak havoc in the kitchen. Two, I am too broke to buy gifts for all the good children of the world. (Thank you, advertising industry.) And three, I want to make sure that my friends gluttonize and make unfulfillable resolutions for the New Year - like working out at the gym. I love to hear that kind of bullshit.

My first guest was MLT, whom I met back in college in ICS classes, which stands for Information & Computer Science. Once upon a time, I believed that I would be writing programs. *Scoff. I bailed out of that major after one semester of pure hell. But, she was fortunately there to provide “aide” for me before I left. Most people know it as cheating, but who cares. We also attended a wedding together this year and like a total jerk, I left my date alone because I was too busy getting inebriated and dancing with other girls. Only a friend would forgive you for such behavior. And I thank her for that.

Me: “Hey, what do you wanna eat?”
MLT: “I like veal.”
Me: “Well I can attempt to make the Osso Buco dish I had at C&O’s?”
MLT: “Sounds good. What should I bring?”
Me: “Wine. Lots of it. After we eat and drink, we’ll go to a bar and I’ll leave you by yourself while I go talk to other girls.”
MLT: “Asshole.”

I studied a few Osso Buco recipes off Epicurious and Food Network. Here’s a tip for those that love to cook. Look up at least 5 different recipes when you plan on making something. Just because Rachael Ray can teach you how to make it in less than thirty minutes doesn’t mean it’ll taste the same. She does use shortcuts because of the time allotment on her show, and a lot of times, compromises the true taste of a particular dish. Emeril loves to desecrate a dish by adding way too much alcohol and garlic just to hear his audience bark like seals at Sea World. It’s important to find the common ingredients that make the dish what it is. Once you’ve memorized the essential ingredients, you can simply add your own twist to it. Only then, can you call it ‘your own’ recipe.

This dish was chosen also because it was an excuse for me to buy a Le Creuset pot - one of the nicest kitchen tools ever. You’ve all seen it. It’s that big, blue or flame red ceramic Dutch oven that all the Food Network hosts use to sauté their mire poix (onions, carrots, celery – what I refer to as OCC) and braise heavenly food. I got a tip about the Le Creuset from Immaeatchu and proceeded to search the internet for the best price. Turns out that I got a good deal at Tuesday Morning, which sells brand name stuff for 50-80% off. I got my brand new, 7.25 qt pot for $144.99 – retailed at $299.99.

I then went to shop for the veal shanks, the main ingredient for the Osso Buco dish. Whole Foods and Bristol Farms wanted to charge me $13/lb and a free raping at the same time. Fuck that. When you need four veal shanks, are YOU going to pay $52 for that? I was driving down Santa Monica Blvd. after an interview last week and happened to see a Kosher meat deli. What is the difference between a Kosher meat deli and say, Ralph’s? The Jewish method of slaughtering an animal requires only one stroke of the blade to the throat of the animal, and is then bled dry. After it is bled completely, it can then be sold to consumers. I was like, "Give me 4 shanks please." I got my four veal shanks for $17 total. Was it good quality? Hmm…. *hint. I AM STILL ALIVE.

Here we go:

(1) Veal shanks are tender, obviously because they are baby cows. Veal is kept within tight, dark quarters and fed milk to tenderize the meat. Unlike Kobe style beef, the young cows are not massaged and fed beer and corn. Right about now, I’m getting e-mails from PETA about this posting, so I better hurry and complete this.

(2) Tie the shanks with butcher twine to bind the tender meat with the bone. One simple knot is fine, just make sure it’s tight. Dredge all sides of the veal shanks with flour that’s been seasoned with S&P. Brown the shanks and remove from the Dutch oven.

(3) Prepare mire poix. Mire poix is the quintessential ingredient for any type of stock, whether it be chicken, beef, veal or lamb. It consists of 2 parts onion to 1 part carrots and 1 part celery. Sauté these in a Dutch oven with EVOO and butter. After about 10-12 minutes, they will become translucent and somewhat brown. Add the shanks back in and add Chianti wine to about the halfway line on the shanks. Submerse the shanks with however much beef broth is needed. Toss in your bouquet garni (4 bay leaves, 4 thyme sprigs, 1/2 a tablespoon of black peppercorns), 2 garlic gloves and a little bit of olive oil. Cover and bring to boil.

(4) Once it’s boiling, toss the Dutch oven into the oven at 375-400. remember to baste the tops of the veal shanks every 20-30 minutes so that they don’t get scalded. It should be done in about 1.5 – 2 hours.

(5) Serve the shanks over linguini. Strain the braised mixture to remove the bouquet garni and mire poix. Season the sauce with S&P and butter, also known as monte au beurre, and pour sauce over shanks and linguini. Say mmmmm and enjoy.


This dish was the best thing I've ever made so far. I've never said "mmmmm" so many times besides, well, you know what. I hope you do try Osso Buco out sometime and cook for a friend and a loved one sometime soon. It'll mean a lot. As always, thank you for reading. Read more!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Olive Garden vs. C&O Trattoria, Marina Del Rey - Who's more Italian?

***Begin Sicilian mandolin music***

Visuals: A huge block of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese being slowly sliced. Hot, steaming red pasta sauce being churned with a rustic-looking spoon passed down from many, many generations. Spring vegetables being flipped in a sauté pan in slow motion. The aromatic steam arising from freshly baked artisan bread. Salads getting tossed (not that kind of salad).”

Voiceover: “Buon giorno. Ai em from Seeseely. Mai femmehlee… ees een Uhmerikuh. Wen ai came too veeseet, ai wanted to eet audendeek Seeseelian food. So dey took me to the Awleeve Garden. And ai felt like I was et home.”

Super: Here at Olive Garden, everyone is family…

*Changing channels.*

Working in advertising, I know when I smell good work and bullshit work. The fore-mentioned TV spot stinks worse than an overflowing port-o-potty at an outdoor music festival. Try getting locked in one by your ‘good’ friends. True story. Anyway, I know I work in an industry that prides itself on selling you things you don’t need – or at least showing you what life would be like without a certain product. For the most part, I think I’ve lived a comfortable life without the ingenuity of products such as the Ginsu Knife, Egg-stractor and Nordictrack, which gave rise to the most, awful style of dancing I've ever seen at raves. When I see an Olive Garden commercial, I nod my head and yell out “oh my god”. I wonder how the creative minds behind those horrific TV spots can actually sleep at night. I sure as hell wouldn’t. I might add that the Darden Restaurant Group, operators of Olive Garden, also run Red Lobster. And we know their commercials don’t quite cut it as well. Just imagine the fore-mentioned TV spot with lobsters, lemon wedges, butter, butter and more butter. Jesus Christ. On a lighter note, if I ever bring my relatives to P.F. Chang's or Panda Inn, I won't be receiving any shiny red envelopes - nor will I see them ever again.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Italian food only because I think the sauces pretty much taste the same. Fine, I guess there’s a variety. Red or white. Red with wine. White with wine. Red with wine and mushrooms. White with wine and mushrooms. The list goes on and on. And as for the pasta, the number of sizes/shapes are unfathomable. Once in a while, Italian food sounds good but I know after I eat it, I’ll be feeling like shit. Kind of like eating a lot of heavy food from Panda’s Inn. Sounds good initially when your eyes are bigger than your stomach and regretfully find yourself lying in fetal position in a comatose state. I do appreciate the simplicity and history behind Italian food but I think places like Olive Garden are desecrating what Italians cherish most about their heritage. They can make amends by changing their name from "Olive Garden: An Italian Restaurant" to "Olive Garden: An American Restaurant."

My first trip to Olive Garden was back in 1997 in college. I didn’t know where else to eat Italian food and got tired of the Ragu and Prego sauces. (I think they taste better than Olive Garden though). I’ll admit it, I was actually kinda stoked to eat there only because I grew up in a Chinese family that ate Chinese food solely. I don’t remember what I ordered, but I know that it wasn’t worth going back for. Jeez, all that for $25? Call me naïve, but my parents deprived us of good, American food. I used to think Sizzler was for rich people haha. I’d envy my friends who ate there regularly, secretly giving my parents the eye for not letting us indulge in all-you-can-eat shrimp. I thank them now for saving me from eating crap.

Now Olive Garden is running their “All-the-Pasta-You-Can-Eat-For-$5.99” deal. How much can you actually eat. Two bowls at most haha? Seriously, if our little Southern California ‘foodblogging’ cohort should ever meet up, we should do Olive Garden for laughs. We're somewhat of a family because of our carnivorous instincts and love for writing, and who else other than Olive Garden would warmly welcome us? I think it’d just be funny to see ‘Daily Gluttony’ take out her frustrations in her blog after eating the Sicilian Parmesan Chicken for $8.99 haha. Point is, it’s because of restaurants like Olive Garden that I have a tainted perception of Italian food all these years. Things have changed. Watching Mario Batali on FN, I’ve really grown to like the more rustic style of Italian cooking, much like French and Chinese food – where nothing goes to waste. Duck liver sautéed with Chanterelle mushrooms and white wine? Yes, please.

As we get older, it seems that the only time we get to see friends is for someone’s birthday. When you have an Evite with over 25 guests, it’s gonna be hard to please everyone’s dinner palate. Most of the time, it’s going to be an Italian restaurant just because there’s something for everyone. The food is safe and simple. You won’t find Parmesan Tripe with linguini, Roasted Balut (duck embryos) in Alfredo sauce or Chicken Feet Marsala. I’ve been to Buca di Beppo and Maggiano’s many times but never C&O’s. I’ve been hearing that name over and over again after I moved to the Westside. For my friend XC (some of you are wondering how many names can actually start with an ‘X’.), we chose C&O’s in Venice and I was really stoked.

We met up around 8 and walked into what I thought was a courtyard. Turns out that it’s the only seating area underneath the Venice sky. Buzzing with heat lamps, the restaurant was adorned with light bulbs attached to wires, giving it a true backyard feel. I really like eating outdoors when I can. The walls were painted with scenes of a distant land with a far lower crime rate than Venice. Unplugged fountains with old water stood frozen amongst all the diners. Indistinct chatter and clanking wine glasses set the friendly atmosphere.

As soon as we were seated, I was smacked in the face by the smell of garlic, parsley and butter. These garlic grenades were none other than the famous, Killer Garlic rolls, adored by many. Yum. I had to stop myself after eating three rolls, otherwise I wouldn’t have had an appetite. The waitress then brought two jugs of Chianti wine, charging $5 per glass I think. We easily knocked down two jugs in 45 minutes. Here’s what we had.

A. Killer Garlic Rolls. Too bad it’s not a scratch n’ sniff photo.
B. Fried Calamari. Good. This dish always taste the same anywhere you go.
Even Sizzler. Not that I would know.
C. Osso Buco. Oh man, my new favorite. I’m actually making this dish
tomorrow. The best part is sucking the bone marrow out of the shank bone. Yum.
D. No idea with chicken.
E. No idea with shrimp. Ok you see what I mean by Italian food. What the
hell is the difference?!
F. Gigantic Meatballs and Spaghetti. Boulders of beef/pork/bread crumb
Didn’t eat it, but I bet it was good.
G. Fettucini Alfredo. Another safe, favorite that I didn’t bother eating.

I think I selfishly ate the whole Osso Buco dish by myself. My friends freaked out once they saw me inhaling the juicy marrow. Another fabulous dish, not pictured, is the Linguini Mare, seafood linguini. IMHO, I love C&O’s. I think it’s a great place to eat large quantities of quality food (wow, quality and quantity. Chinese would love this place.) and drink Charles Shaw Chianti wine in Venice. I haven’t stopped thinking about the Osso Buco and will be back here soon. Thanks for reading.

C&O Trattoria
31 Washington Blvd.
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 823-9491
http://www.cotrattoria.com Read more!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Restaurant Confidential #1: First Day of School

Long posting. Please bear with me.

Friday night, I went over to Westwood Village to enjoy a night of lonerness. Equipped with my Professional Chef book, I grabbed a slice of pizza, two actually, at Enzo’s and sat in Starbucks. Tomorrow, I would be starting my first day at The Restaurant and wanted to be prepared for the unexpected. I figured that reading my book to familiarize myself with stocks, herbs and meats might save me some face and embarrassment. After all, I was Mr. I work 9-5 and am voluntarily working here out of passion without a culinary degree guy. There was a higher chance of error on my part, but I was ready to get hazed and reprimanded.

I walked into The Restaurant with my cheapie Calphalon Chef and Santoku knife I got for $25, after the Bed, Bath and Beyond 20% off coupon (those do come in handy), black vato-dickies pants and Payless, slip/oil-resistant shoes around 12:30 and met with the Chef. If you read the last posting, the chef forgot who the hell I was, so I re-introduced myself. I was then paired up with a girl who recently graduated from some school I’d never heard of. We’ll call her ‘Tiny’ for now, to protect her identity. An experienced line cook gave us our coats and aprons and showed us around the kitchen. As I put on the double-buttoned coat, I couldn’t help but smile, looking down so that no one would see my flash of excitement. If you guys remember Ben Stiller in Something About Mary, visualize the reaction he got when Mary asked him to go to the prom. Yes, I had a stupid look on.

As a pantry cook, I was responsible for garde mangre, pronounced ‘gar-mun-jay’. It’s French for the cold food station and includes soups, salads, appetizers and desserts. To me, it was French for bottom of the restaurant food chain – a culinary peon. What did I care? I was here to learn, not hope for a chance to stand side by-side-by with that arrogant Bobby Flay. The fact that they were paying me didn’t interest me at all. I initially thought they would just give me an internship. I guess that means more money for me to go out and get trashed and add more ninja-like knives to my collection. The pantry station took about 2 hours to prepare and as soon as I was done I proceeded with my Q&A with all of my experienced coworkers. Notebook in hand, I fired away with questions and jotted every juicy bit of information down. This was like gold to me. There’s a lot you don’t see behind the cookbooks and tv shows. All the shortcuts and secrets that go into making your restaurant experience enjoyable.

What goes into lobster stock??

What the hell is a remoulade??

Can you actually eat that??

The more and more I asked and annoyed them, the more they knew how interested I was in jumping onto their ship. Everyone was surprised that I was doing this on my own leisure in addition to my full time job. They probably thought I was crazy too. A few people told me that they’d rather work with me than with a recent culinary grad with an ego the size of an air balloon.

It was now 4 pm and dinner was to be served in an hour. All restaurants partake in a ritual dinner called “family meal”. In addition to the food prep, every cook is responsible for conjuring up some kind of dish for the whole staff to eat. Usually with older foods and scraps. I was in charge of salads, naturally. I looked over at Tiny and asked if she wanted to make something. Surprisingly, she said no. The whole day, Tiny was helping me out with the proper way to do things, which i appreciated. When she asked me where I studied culinary arts, I said “I’m studying here at The Restaurant Academy.” She gave me a slight look of concern and confusion, as if I had no place in here. Which is true. But it helps to know people that can get you in.

And back to the family meal. The meat cook came by and was like, “Hey man, please make some kind of new dressing. I’m fucking tired of the Caesar, House and Walnut Vinagrette dressing. Fucking tired of it.” I hate salad, but the only decent salad I can make is a Chinese chicken. So I grabbed soy sauce, orange juice, sugar, sesame oil, Sriracha hot sauce (I like mine spicy), water, shallots and chives. I had to do without the Hoisin sauce. As I whisked the dressing up, my hands trembled, for I was deeply worried. Now for the taste test. About four cooks came by to test out my monstrosity.

“Add some sugar.”

“More O.J.”

“I want it spicier.”

“Too much vinegar.”

It’s amazing how these people would come by and quickly dip a finger in for a taste. Everyone was so on the dot, and when it was finally done, the dressing tasted WAY better than what I had originally thought was satisfactory. Even over the wilted, brown romaine/endive salad. I liked my new coworkers instantly. For dinner we had a nice smorgasbord of goodies: butternut squash ravioli with cream sauce, garlic/mustard roasted chicken, sun-dried tomato frittata (an Italian omelette), roasted pumpkin soup and corn chowder. With a lineup like that, who the hell was gonna eat salad. I sure as hell didn’t.

5 pm. Showtime. I had forgotten to bring some kind of hat so I was stuck with wearing the 10” chef hat made out of paper. It was so lame. I felt so embarrassed since we were right in front of the window. I made sure that the next time I came in, I had my own hat with me. I’d rather wear one of those 10 gallon cowboy hats instead of that paper hat. Anyway, the first ticket came out and of course Mousy snagged it before I could even read it. I looked at it and completely blanked out. I had already forgotten how to make the dish. Good thing Tiny had a description of how each and every dish was made and plated, taped up to the wall. After about 2 hours, I got the hang of things, eventually making each and every single dish we had prepped for. I even did desserts, which I have no interest in because of my heavy smoking.

In addition to Tiny, I had a few coworkers around me, all from the Pasadena Culinary Institute. Next to the pantry, we had the dessert, grill, meat and fish station. The desserts were handled by a sweet, Korean girl who’d been working for almost a year. I’ll call her Sweetie. She made awesome chocolate cake, bread pudding and Crème Brule. She had worked pantry before and was very helpful. Over at the grill station, stood a small Mexican guy, no more than 4’14”, that everyone called Man-Boy, because of his boyish looks and deep voice. Man-boy took care of pastas, stocks and anything fried. Man-boy was constantly dodging this gay waiter that totally had a crush on him. For snacks, Man-boy made some awesome salsa nachos from scratch and was happily complimented by the gay waiter, who said they were, “So ammmmmmaaazzzzzzzzzzing.” I don’t know if he was referring to the nachos or to Man-boy. Maybe both. Over on the meat station (pan-fry, sauté, oven), we have this other Korean guy who’s been working for 6 years in San Francisco and the Caribbeans. I’ll call him Rivers because of his black, thick-framed glasses – similar to Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. This guy was so knowledgeable and had MOVES in the kitchen. His arms were full of cuts, scars and burn marks. True symbols of culinary war. I once saw him cooking 7 courses at a time, flames flying, kicking oven doors closed, etc. I want to do that. He gave me a piece of Kobe steak to try and boy was it delicious. I don’t think I can afford more than 3 ounces of that because it’s $12 an ounce. And over on the fish station, there’s an awesome chick who looks like she’s in her 20’s but already has two daughters, 20 and 14. I'll call her "Mami". She’s gotta be at least 36. She also had moves and was constantly calling me over to watch her cook fish and foie gras. She was my new-found smoking partner.

After work, we headed over to a bar in downtown and met up with cooks from our sister restaurant. As we all drank beer, stories about the day in the kitchen were told and were hilarious. A few people took themselves to another mental level and most of us, drank the night away.

As I drove home, I couldn’t stop wearing a smile because I had a great time this weekend. My hands were tired from obsessive chopping. My Achilles tendon was sore from trucking up and down the stairs, holding stock pots. My back hurting from constantly bending up and down to reach for things. So what? It was all worth it and I couldn't wait for next weekend when I can go in again and ‘play’. I’ve made some new friends and gained new knowledge. And all of a sudden, I felt alive again. Completely alive. Read more!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Chabuya Ramen - The Newest Baby in the Sawtelle Family

Driving up Sawtelle, I always slow my car down at the La Grange corner. I’m always drawn in by the beautifully designed restaurants in that particular strip of West LA’s Little Tokyo. Most of the restaurants, such as Orris, serve up some delectable food for reasonable prices. Yesterday, as I was leaving from Nijiya Supermarket, I slowed my car down as usual and my eyes caught on to a metallic sign: Chabuya - Tokyo Noodle Bar sign caught my eye. Hell yeah. Another ramen shop.

Chabuya is the newest addition to Sawtelle’s restaurant row. In it’s second week, this place is already getting a nice influx of ramen enthusiasts. The dimly lit ceilings and tall windows really give you a nice welcoming feeling. As I walked in, five Japanese waitresses greeted me in an audible volume: “IRASHAIMASE”. No where as loud as Shin Sen Gumi in Gardena, Fountain Valley and now Rosemead. Since this place just opened up recently, they had a limited menu. The waitress pointed out that I can only have “Cha Shu Ramen”. Don’t twist my arm. I was going to order that regardless. I figure if a noodle shop claims to be a noodle shop, then they should be able to make immaculate Cha Shu Ramen. Same goes with a bowl of pho in a vietnamese restaurant.

And now a few words from Chabuya.

“Straight from Tokyo, Chabuya is the urban ramen bar that revolutionized a favorite Japanese pastime. Its menu was conceived under the meticulous eye of Master Chef Yasuji Morizumi, renowned for his peak season ingredients and an uncanny talent for arousing the senses. Taste Chabuya ramen and two things will strike you immediately. The first is an instant appreciation for the fresh, organic ingredients cooked to mouth-watering perfrection. The second is an overwhelming urge to take another bit.”

The Cha Shu Ramen, what Chabuya calls “The Classic with Cha Shu”, came after only 7 minutes -- $8.50. (The Classic is plain ramen with green onions and bamboo shoots sans Cha Shu -- $6.75.) It was served in a tall, red bowl and had a strong scent of fried shallots. I’m a sucker when it comes to fried shallots because they make anything taste good. And now for test #1: the broth. I dipped my spoon in before disrupting the beauty of the ramen bowl to taste the broth… and it was… AWESOME. I could taste a lot of pork broth, shoyu, miso and shallot oil. Since you can’t customize your ramen like Shin Sen Gumi, I’d suggest that you request for less oil, because there was a lot. I just like it. I then mixed up the bowl, preparing for test #2: the noodles. These weren’t the typical gummy kind you’d get from Ramenya or Kinchan’s. These were more like Chinese yellow mein – thin and cooked al dente – how I like it. Noodles weren’t bad at all. Something tells me that the chef takes pride in his soup more, thus selecting thin weight noodles for a lighter taste, so you don’t become overstuffed.

And for the final leg, test #3: the Cha Shu. I was given about four THINNNNNNLY sliced pieces of what I made out to be pork shoulder or butt. There was a thin layer of fat on each piece. Not bad, but there was a very strong taste of dark soy sauce. I believe the chef had first pan seared the meat in dark soy sauce to give it that dark colored edge before braising it into Cha Shu.

The gyozas came next and I was a little bit suspicious of it. It looked too similar to frozen gyozas at the market because after tasting it, the skin was very, very thin and broken. The filling tasted a little bit watery; a result of being THAWED before frying. Either the chef had overcooked the dumpling or he’s just a master at making paper thin gyoza skin. Still not a bad deal for $3.75.

Overall, I had a great meal. I think the ramen is a little pricey considering how small the portion is. But then again, they use organic ingredients and honestly, everything tasted really crisp and fresh. Especially the spinach and green onions. I didn’t want to waste the broth so I decided to Supersize my meal and ordered a bowl of rice and dumped it in to make Cha Shu Rice soup. Good as well. Another thing I look for is a place with a small menu. Chabuya serves nine courses plus gyoza and shu mai and I know the spend more time perfecting each and everyone. Believe it or not, Ramenya and Asahi will still be open for business the next day if you should decide not to eat there. Give Chabuya a shot, I think you’ll be satisfied. Thanks for reading.

Location: Look up Orris (Los Angeles). It's 2 doors down on Sawtelle/La Grange. Read more!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Restaurant Confidential #0: The Epiphany

It seems that everywhere I go, no matter what time of the day, my mind is constantly battling inner aspirations. I’ve always been very fickle with everything. Hobbies. Food. Music. Girls. It’s not a wonder that I become bored with things really easy. I’d work hard toward something and once it’s complete or gets ‘old’, I move on to the next. It may be that I have a short attention span? Or it may be a natural instinct for me to want to try as many things my life would allow me – you know, before the batteries run out. This fickleness definitely applies to my career choices.

When I graduated from college, I panicked. Growing up in a Chinese family, or even as an Asian American for the most part, there were only three, ‘acceptable’ career paths.

Was I going to be a doctor?
No. I suck at the Milton Bradley Operation game.

Was I going to be a lawyer?
I don't think i can help someone win $2.1 million.

Was I going to be an engineer?
Well, i did make fully functional beer bongs that could hold up to 9 beers at a time.

Mom and dad, I’m breaking all cultural ideals and going into advertising. Advertising? Wus dat? (Just kidding, my parents speak perfect English.) I want to be a part of an industry that devises clever ways to make you buy things you don’t need. Why? It’s fun to be a part of pop culture. There’s a little bit of celebrity hood within it. How many people do you know that can actually be proud of an annoying billboard you see everyday on your way back home from work? Anyway, after three years, I managed to complete my portfolio and finally got a job as an Art Director. Boy did it feel good to finally get to the top of the mountain.

Guess what? I love advertising, but I’m already tired of it after only a year and a half. It seems that I’ve traversed back down that mountain, only to turn around and raise my head up, gazing upon the new challenge. I blame it all on the Food Network. During the first three years, I fell into a comfort zone. I’d do the 9-5 like everyone. Go home. Eat. Sit and watch TV. Three years. And one day, with nothing to watch, I flipped to the Food Network. Alton. Tyler. Rachel. Emeril. Bobby. Anthony. Ina. Giada. Paula. Marc. Mario. I watched EVERYTHING and absorbed every bit of information regarding food. Soon after, I started cooking more, researching knives and pans and buying cookbooks. What has happened to me? I had created a monster. My very, own monster. I was a full-fledged foodie.

I had befriended a co-worker whose boyfriend works as a grill cook at a restaurant in Los Angeles. He was telling me how he had gone to college and settled for a sales job. One day, he resigned and jumped straight into the kitchen. Seven months earlier, he had worked up from the pantry to the grill - a huge step in the kitchen world. Last time I talked to him, his last words were, “Hey man, if you love it, just do it. It’s hard but it doesn’t hurt to try. You’ll never know if this is or isn’t for you, unless you give it a shot. I can get you in, but you have to want it. I cried because I got rocked by the chef, but it only fueled my passion for it.” He is a chef and a coach – all in one.

Two weekends ago, I sat at home thinking about the restaurant. My only option is to work on the weekends because I’m not divorcing advertising just yet. We’re still doing okay. I guess you can say this is going to a be an affair. Short? Long? Who knows. But man, seven days of work is mind-boggling. Working in the kitchen is going to be hard enough, but add another 40-50 hours on that. Fuck it. I’m doing it. I don’t anything to lose if it’s not for me. At least I tried.

I went into The Restaurant last Tuesday to meet with the Executive Chef. I had talked to him on the phone briefly and could tell he was stern. I knew he was giving me an opportunity only because of my coworker’s boyfriend. I knew he was already giving me a month-tops. Whatever. So I had prepared for the interview by mentally rehearsing the right things to say. Here’s how the interview went…

Me: So I heard you need some help in the pantry?

Chef: Yeah. When can you start?

(That’s it?)

Me: Um. Next weekend.

(Chef then starts scribbling on a fresh piece of printer paper.)

Chef: Meet here for orientation at 10 am. I’ll see you next weekend. Bring your own knives. We got a coat for you. Buy your own shoes and pants. I recommend that you don’t wear khakis or white jeans. (Who the hell wears white jeans besides girls? Aren’t those illegal for men to wear?)

Me: Ok.

Chef: Any questions?

Me: No.

Chef: Wait, what was your name again?

I’m serious. Total time: 5 minutes. 4 of those minutes went towards paperwork. I shook hands with him and as I walked away, I felt a knot in my stomach. I don’t know what the hell I just got myself into. Nervous? Anxious? Excited? Yes, all of that. As soon as I walked out of the restaurant, I approached the steps quickly - a perfect ramp for that memorable, slow-motion Toyota leap from the 80s commercials. I felt like doing that but I thought I’d save it for another occasion.

So this past weekend, it was time to gear up. I felt like it was a back-to-school sale. Pencils. Pens. Trapper Keepers. Jansport backpack. Mead paper. I bought my first pair of black Dickies. I figured I’d be safe as long as I’m not walking around the streets with them. Brought the ubiquitous Bed Bath & Beyond coupon to the store and bought some cheapie Calphalon’s. Who cares. They’re going to get f*cked up.

This Saturday, my life is going to change as I start my first day. Will it be for me? Or will it not? I’ll fill you in after this weekend. I’m just glad to know that there’s a fellow blogger going down the same path with me. Yoony of Immaeatchu is interning at the AOC winebar pantry. Like me. Thanks for reading. Read more!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Coq Au Vin Recipe and Emeril – Chicken Cooked in Wine

I am an epicurean, which means, that day and night, my mind is somewhere in the vicinity of food and drinks. I use the three regular meals to get through my day. When I’m eating breakfast, I’m already planning what I want to eat for lunch. At lunch, I’m pondering my dinner course. And sometimes, after going out to see a band or to some other social function, I consider the possibility of eating a midnight snack. Usually something fried and savory. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t have a satisfying meal, I feel as if there’s a void and become irritable.

Most of us, I assume, have the Food Network on sometime of the day. Whether or not you’re actually paying attention to the show, it’s just so comforting hearing the language of food. Even if it’s the annoying “bam”, “EVOO” or “yummm” (Rachael Ray) sayings that have desensitized us. Yet, we force ourselves to endure such cheese, because we truly are pigs that live to eat. The second I get home, the Food Network is flipped on.

One night, I sat on the couch in a completely, vegetative trance, watching Emeril Live. The lame lines we’ve grown numb to, simply had no effect on me.

“I don’t know where you get your ______ from. But where I get mine, they don’t come seasoned.”

“Call your cable company and order Smell-a-vision right now!”

“Use your knob.”

“See, they’re getting happy.”

“Just needs about 80 cloves of gah-lic.”

Ugh. So repulsive. Nothing on his show ever appeals to me and I question his true ability to cook. Like most celebrity chefs, they’re just an act. A face. Does anyone really think Sandra Lee from Semi-Homemade can actually cook? Hear what Yoony of Immaeatchu and Slash Food bloggers have to say about Miss Lee. I think it’s awesome that Bourdain could give a rat’s ass about no longer working for the Food Network. If you’ve read his wonderful novel, Kitchen Confidential, you’ll feel the love he has for Flay and Legasse. In one part, Bourdain tells us how essential it is to have the squeeze bottles for final touches, stating that “Bobby Flay has been making Mexican food look like Haute cuisine for year with these bad boys.” Funny. It’s also interesting to note that Emeril has his show setup like a modern, monkey-lab experiment. He’s got everyone wired to a metal cap that sends out electric shocks every time he mentions the word ‘garlic’ and ‘pork fat’. And the crowd never fails to respond. Bourdain sums up Emeril’s crowd as basically “a group of barking seals at Sea World -- hoping for some of the crap that he cooks”. Hilarious. I’m pretty sure anyone fortunate enough to sit at his counter is told beforehand to pretend the food is remotely delicious.

But once in a while, he will cook something that does sound appealing. If it doesn’t involve 80 cloves of garlic, 2 whole blocks of butter and 1/2 a bottle of Rum, I’ll actually continue watching. For me, it was Coq Au Vin, a French stew consisting of chicken, vegetables and wine. Cooked and dredged in alcohol, this rustic farmers dish was a great way to combine ‘not-so-fresh’ ingredients for a Sunday brunch. The chicken meat falls off the bone beautifully and is lathered with gravy made from the wine and chicken broth. Yum. And the best part of cooking this dish is that you get to employ some pyrotechnic techniques known as flambéing with Brandy. Pure fun.

Ingredients for 4
12-14 drumsticks
1 bottle of cabernet sauvignon (my wine of choice. Use pinot noir for a sweeter overall taste. Say no to merlot. It’s way too dry and tannic.)
1 cup of brandy
2 carrots
1 large onion (or 20 pearl onions)
Crimini mushrooms
1 can of chicken broth
2-3 pieces of bacon
Bouquet garni (a sprig of thyme, parsley and bay leaf)
Parsley (garnish)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Here we go. This is damn easy, and adds a nice scent to the kitchen.

(1) Salt & pepper the chicken. Heat your pan and add olive oil and butter over medium heat. Next fry the bacon until all the fat has been rendered out. Once the bacon is crisp you’re good to go. Remove the bacon and add the chicken and make sure it’s been browned nicely over high heat. Don’t worry about the meat being undercooked because that’s what braising is for! Once it’s browned, reserve about 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat. You don’t want to overpower the dish.

(2) PAY ATTENTION. Remove the pan off the stove and add the brandy. Ignite the brandy and let the alcohol burn out for about a minute or two. Cool huh? Once the flames die out, set it back on the stove and lower the heat to LOW. Let it cook for a few minutes. (*Note. The reason professional chefs can add alcohol over direct heat is because they have high-ceilings, $10,000 overhead fans and FIRE EXTINGUISHERS.)

(3) Heat up a dutch oven or large stock pot and add butter/olive oil over medium heat. Get it nice and hot and add the carrots, onions and mushrooms with some flour for thickening/browning. (10 minutes).

(4) Now combine the chicken/brandy pan into the stock pot and add the whole bottle of wine, chicken broth and bouquet garni. Simmer for about 1 hour, or until desired tenderness of the chicken. The veggies should also be fork tender. Salt & pepper to taste and garnish with parsley.

Coq Au Vin can be served as is, or as I like it, with a plate of rice. I do have to maintain integrity for my people right? Thanks for reading. Read more!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Aloha Aloha! Day Seven

Tuesday, October 25th

With only 2 hours to return the car and head to the airport, there wasn’t enough time to try the popular Eggs n’ Things on Kalakaua Avenue. We had driven by many times to see hordes of people blocking the door away. I was bummed that I didn’t get to try it. Instead I resorted to McDonald’s local breakfast plate. A Styrofoam plate with 2 slices of Spam, 4 slices of Portuguese Sausage, scrambled eggs and rice. This was actually very tasty. I really wish McDonald’s supplied you with Furikake packets. Does anyone know where I can get Portuguese Sausage?

As I sat on the plane for that 5 hours, images of Hawaii flashed by me. Images of…

Waikiki Beach
Ezogiku Ramen
ABC Stores
Macadamia Nuts at the ABC Store
Foie Gras
Shrimp Truck
Hanauma Bay’s Turtles
A really hot girl I saw at the beach
The ABC Store by Rai Rai ramen
Shaved ice
Shaved ice
Shaved ice
Portuguese sausage
The Poki Pines at Alan Wong’s
The ramen menu at Ezogiku
A turtle waving at me
$100 bill
Macadamia Nuts
Our shitty car rental
The ABC Stores at the airport

And as I saw the familiar lights of Los Angeles, I became depressed knowing that in a few hours, I would be stuck in traffic, smelling the smoggy air of Los Angeles, sitting
in front of the computer hammering away at ads, emails and instant messenger. I absolutely dread coming back to the workplace and reading through the armada of emails.

But I’m delighted to provide you with this detailed article on my wonderful trip to Oahu. I will definitely be back soon. Thanks for reading. Read more!

Aloha Aloha! Day Six

Today was the last day we would be able to have a full day, since we would be leaving on Tuesday morning. Instead of going to Three Tables or Shark’s Cove, we wanted to make sure that we were able to snorkel… and see Sea Turtles. Sure enough, we saw two, feeding away off the coral reef like they were at a Las Vegas buffet. Looked good, but it couldn’t have been as good as the Angelo Pietro restaurant, who manufactures my favorite salad dressing. It’s off Kapiolani Blvd. and sort of tucked into a corner. I was so full from lunch but I HAD to try Angelo Pietro’s. They only had locations in Hawaii and Japan and I certainly hope they open up one in Los Angeles.

I ordered the raw potato salad topped with radish sprouts and their signature Sesame-Miso dressing. It was so refreshing and good. Probably the freshest vegetables I’ve had so far in Hawaii. Tempura and macaroni salad DO NOT COUNT. I also ordered the bacon/pickled vegetable spaghetti which was light and flavorful. Nothing difficult to make. I really prefer eating Japanese-style, Italian food as opposed to traditional Italian because I think it’s lighter. Yum. I’d go back here again.

And to end the trip with a bang, we decided to have an exquisite dinner at Alan Wong's. We crossed off Roy’s and Sam Choy’s because they have locations in California. We ran late because Alan Wong’s was hidden inside a non-descript building. 30 mins after our reservations, we were seated in the nicely decorated restaurant. The chefs worked quietly, yet efficiently in the open kitchen. The waiters buzzing around our table like bees in a hive. It’s rare that I treat myself to exquisite dining, and I think Alan Wong’s was a great place to experience Hawaiian-fusion and end the trip. The 11 of us decided to order appetizers and entrees and share with everyone. Here's what we had... (getting drool towel ready*).

Ahi Tuna Tartare. Basically it was a poke-pie with soy sauce and wasabi. Light, crispy and intensely flavorful .

Sushi. I didn't try this but I'm sure it was good. I had my stomach space reserved for bigger and bolder things.

Kiawe Grilled Maui Cattle Company Rib Eye. This dish was served with mushrooms, green beans and a port wine sauce... it was so good. Steak was too simple and plain for me to order though.

Poki-Pines. One of Alan Wong's specialties. Wonton skins were shaped into miniature pineapples and stuffed with ahi tuna poke. So good! This recipe is available in Alan Wong's hawaiian cookbook.>

Broiled Lobster and Abalone with Aioli. This one was one of my favorites. Eaten together with the aioli, the meat just melts.

Macadamia Nut-Coconut Crusted Lamb Chops. Awesome. The reduction sauce was a little too sweat and thick though.

Da Bag. Clams and kahlua pork are steamed in a large foil bag and served in flavorful clam broth. Nothing really special. I did enjoy the broth though.

Butterfish with Foie Gras. This was my favorite dish of the night and also my first time trying foie gras. I'm gonna try my hardest to replicate this dish .

Duck Salad. Moist pieces of duck served over greens. Bland..

Crabcakes. I thought these were sort of dry.

After dinner, I started to think my career options. I figure I can only do advertising for a few years because I am more interested in the culinary arts. Before Hawaii, I was talking to a few chefs from Café Pinot in Downtown Los Angeles. I expressed my interest in working there part time and they encouraged me to send in my resume. I like pretentious and haute dining. I like that they treat a white plate as as though it’s a canvas, with food as the form of art. I'm crossing my fingers as we speak because I'd be overwhelmed if I got the job. They told me I wouldn't have to start on dishes, so that's good to know. haha. I'll let you guys know what happens. Read more!

Aloha Aloha! Day Five

Sunday, October 23rd

Before another day of hanging out in North Shore, we decided to make it quick and headed over to Zippy’s, Hawaii’s fast food restaurant. This place is truly a stoner’s paradise. Looking at the menu, you can virtually anything you want. From chili fries to katsu, saimin to gravied loco-moco. Zippy’s is known for their chili. A friend of mine was telling me that he’d FREEZE their chili in a container to bring it back to the mainland. Nuts. The chili was pretty good, but I still prefer Wienerschnitzel’s! What I liked most about Zippy’s was there assortment of baked goods and pastries. I bought 10 rolls of garlic rolls, which were drenched in garlic butter. Yummy. And by a friends threatening suggestion, I had to try their Boston Cream Pie. Again, I dislike desserts, and this was extremely sweet. My cheeks were tingling after one bite.

This by far, was the best day I’ve had in Hawaii. We got to Sunset Beach park around 12 and stayed for the sunset. 5 guys, 2 girls, how romantic is that? Haha. For reals, I took another long nap and started taking photos with my Holga camera, the $18 wonder that takes beautiful, saturated photos. There’s a whole photography movement based on this camera called “Lomography”. Check it out. It was also fun watching the over-confident body-boarders ride the 8 foot swells. Seriously, they looked like clothes in a washing machine.

Dinner? Guess what we had, AGAIN? Haha. But this time, we were recommended to Rai Rai ramen by the waitress at Irifune. In accordance with Reid, the ramen was mediocre. I don’t think I need to get into their ramen. It’s all the same menu. Ezogiku reigns supreme in the ramen battle.

Read more!

Aloha Aloha! Day Four

Saturday, October 22nd

Today was the worst day of the trip. After three lovely days of warm sun and water, we were hammered by the rainy, tropical climate. It rained throughout the whole island and we found ourselves driving around the WHOLE island (125 miles) looking for a dry spot. None to be found.

For lunch, we drove to the town of Haleiwa for more shrimp trucks and alcohol. A friend recommended Giovanni’s over Romy’s. Tucked underneath some trees was the graffiti-ridden Giovanni’s truck. Well, it was more of people autographing the truck. We didn’t have a Sharpie on us to write any lewd messages though. Like Romy’s, it’s 10-12 pieces of shrimp for $12, and it’s also fried scampi way with ample garlic and crushed red pepper flakes.

We then headed over to a local market to buy a Styrofoam cooler to store our beer and stumbled upon a grill that’d you see in a Food Network BBQ festival. Ray’s serves up their Kiawe Broiled Chicken in this trailer, broiling 25 chickens at a time and selling a whole chicken for only $8. It tasted good, but wasn’t any more interesting than the kind you get at Albertson’s.

We finally got back from our excursion at around 5 pm and headed for dinner at Irifune’s. Started in 1975, this hole in the wall is still a hole in the wall. I seriously would’ve driven by this restaurant if I hadn’t known the address. It looks like a garage! This place is nothing less than mediocre but is famous for their garlic ahi tuna and BYOB rule. Before we got to Irifune, I had called them about the BYOB rule.

Me: “Hi, I heard you can BYOB.”
Irifune: “Sure, can.”
Me: “Umm. How about a cooler full of beer?”
Irifine: “Go ahead.”
Me: “Nice.”

We started off the dinner with the breaded tofu, suggested by our extremely nice waitress. Firm tofu pieces were deep fried and served with a teriyaki sauce. Pretty good, but nothing spectacular.

We all ordered combo plates that with the famous garlic ahi tuna, tempura and miso soup. The garlic ahi tuna was actually delicious. They weren’t kidding when they said it was full of garlic.

But what we really came for was the Poke, pronounced poh-kay. Poke consists of sliced ahi tuna, mixed with maui onions, soy sauce, ogo (thin seaweed, almost like sea moss) and sesame oil. My friend had been raving about poke for the longest time and said that he liked Irifune’s. This was my first time trying out poke and boy, was it good. I believe they used soy sauce, ogo, sesame oil and some kind of mayonnaise. Something similar to that used in spicy tuna roll. We devoured this dish in about 7 minutes. I was very tempted to order another one. Checkout Kirk's and Alan of Ma’Ona’s blog on poke. There are hundreds of ways to make your own Poke, and I will be trying this out very soon.

Irifune, overall, is a down-to-earth, un-pretentious place for simple, Japanese fare. The service was great and I would definitely go back for seconds. It was definitely nice to eat somewhere away from Waikiki Beach.

Read more!

Aloha Aloha! Day Three

Friday, October 21st
Yesterday, we went over to the Mega-Walmart to buy snorkeling gear and alcohol. Our safest best for snorkeling was Hanauma Bay, although Shark’s Cove seemed to be the favorite of the locals. Once we paid for our entrance fee of $5, we were forced to watch this terrible video on the history of Hanauma Bay. It even had this Disney-like song where the girl sang about reefs and corals. So stupid.

We didn’t want to leave the bay and ended up eating at the snack bar. $4 for shaved ice sans vanilla ice cream and beans. Boo. The garlic fries were good, but not as good the Gordon Biersch ones from Dodger Stadium. But I’ll tell you what made my trip. I found $100 at Hanauma Bay! All of a sudden, the crappy shaved ice, mediocre garlic fries and horrid Disney video were long forgotten.

On a sad note, upon arriving at Hanauma, we stepped onto the set of Baywatch. A few lifeguards were setting up the CPR equipment on shore and watched as another lifeguard on a jetski cruised down from the mouth of the bay. He was towing a lifeless woman on a gurney and bounced on the waves like a flag on a windy day. They spent a good 35-45 minutes on her, and sadly, I don’t think she made it. I’m not sure what happened out there. God bless her.


Dinner? Take a wild guess. We decided to take L&I to that awesome ramen shop, Ezogiku, because they had missed out. They loved it.

Read more!

Aloha Aloha! Day Two

Thursday, October 20th
With the company of a crappy, soccer-mom van and a friend who just moved out to Honolulu, we were out for a gorgeous day at the beach and better direction in finding good eats. We decided to head away from Waikiki Beach, and traverse the world-famous North Shore. We hopped in the car, rolled down the windows and immediately turned the radio to KCCN 100.3 FM for local Hawaiian music. We drove by the Dole Pineapple Plantations but skipped that once we saw the many tour buses there.

Our first stop in the North Shore was Romy’s, a small shack situated on a shrimp farm. We had to pullover because the scent of the garlic/chili was overwhelming. Romy’s is known for their garlic/chili shrimp with soy sauce over rice. At $12 for about 10 pieces of shrimp, it was quite pricey. I don’t know if it beats the Chinese fried shrimp with green onions and salt though. (Jeew Yeem Ha) I had the fried shrimp, which was basically shrimp wrapped in egg roll skin and submerged in oil. Now that was tasty. Overall, everyone was content with the meal.

We then headed to Shark’s Cove, hoping to snorkel, but the water was way too rocky. We then stopped over at the beautiful, Waimea Bay and hungout. After that, we headed to the small town of Haleiwa for some traditional Hawaiian shaved ice at Matsumoto’s. Matsumoto’s has been around since 1951 and has been punching out their famous shaved ice to fanny-packed tourists like me.

For $2, you can get the large shaved ice cone with any assortment of syrup, vanilla ice cream and beans. The vanilla ice cream serves as the condensed milk in the Taiwanese version. I don’t like sweets at all, but Matsumoto’s proved to be quite a delectable treat. I only wished they served it at the beaches. Where can I get this in the LA area? I’ve heard Gardena and Torrance has it.

For dinner, we were sans automobile. My lovebird friends decided to deprive the three of us and took the car to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for exquisite dining at the beautiful Hoku’s. I actually don’t know if it’s beautiful, since our friends deprived us of transportation haha. Just kidding L&I. Congratulations to them. After the dinner, L proposed to I after waiting 11 years! We then headed to Tiki’s Bar & Grill on Kalakaua Avenue for a few drinks. This tourist trap serves a nice healthy plate of Kahlua Pork Nachos. Awesome. I couldn’t sleep because I was so full.

So while they were eating delicious food, we trekked down to Ezogiku for, you guessed it, more ramen. Now this place was awesome. It was setup like a diner with the servers in the middle. The menu was simple to read and had a good variety of ramen. They were best known for their Miso Ramen, a huge bowl of chasiu pork, bean spouts and miso-flavored broth for $7.89. Ezogiku also has some killer combos for the hippos like me. For $9.89, you can get a bowl of ramen, 4 pieces of gyoza and fried rice. Awesome. We ended up eating here TWICE. Sorry, Ramenya & Kinchan’s, this place whoops your @$$. Read more!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin