Friday, June 30, 2006

Have A Great Weekend...

Hope everyone stuffs their face this weekend with food and stomachs with beer. This is one of my favorite times of the year because I can bbq EVERYDAY. Be safe and don't be one of those dumbasses that loses their fingers to fireworks. Be back next week. Read more!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Isn’t She Lovely – Sushi Karen, Culver City

Isn't she lovely...
Isn't she wonderful...
Isn't she precious...
Less than one minute old...
I never thought through love we'd be...
Making one as lovely as she...
But isn't she lovely made from love.

Stevie Wonder probably wasn’t singing about a girl named Karen, but that song comes to mind when I think about Sushi Karen in Culver City. Culver City has recently revamped their downtown area, making it a pleasant area for mid-day lunches and casual dinners. Sushi Karen is just west of the downtown Culver City and sits with a nice gray painted exterior and bright neon signs (a characteristic of many sushi restaurants) and has a romantic view of Best Buy. Named after Chef Toshi’s 3-year old daughter, it’s quite a popular sushi spot for regulars, like me. Reviews on Citysearch state that Chef Toshi also selects fish from the same purveyor for Matsuhisa and Nobu but lets you keep your arms and legs intact.

JL: “Wanna eat sushi tonight?”
Me: “Sure.”
JL: “There’s this place that serves big portions of sushi and it’s good - Sushi Karen.”
Me: “Sushi Kirin?”
JL: “No, no. Sushi Karen, like the name, Karen. Stupid.”
Me: “You’re a fob and I can’t tell the difference in your pronunciation. Let’s go.”

Sushi Karen has a nice chill atmosphere. The floor exposes concrete giving it a trendy, industrial feel. It’s somewhat dark but still intimate. I believe they play downtempo. I love any restaurant that plays downtempo. The times I’ve been there, there haven’t been many patrons, but I don’t mind an empty restaurant. I don’t have to yell over anyone else’s voice to be heard.

As JL, BR and I walked in, we were greeted warmly by the hostess and Chef Toshi himself; a very polite, humble-looking man. I wanted to sit at the bar and talk to him, but it was full. Behind the sushi bar, you can see many types of sake and Japanese beer. Has anyone ever tried Orion beer? There’s also a 6" x 8" collage of the famous Karen on the shelf. We got our menus and I could tell that Chef Toshi was eager to serve his fish to us. He asked us a few times if we were ready to order. I stayed away from the regular menu and focused on his “Specials” board.

A. Sushi Karen Menu - All for love.

B. Chef Toshi - Chef really loves what he does. You can see he's superfocused making your order. Definitely talk to him, he's quite social.

C. Sashimi Salad - For $13, you get a huge plate of greens with (I counted), at least 12 pieces of fish, including salmon, yellowtail, albacore, toro and halibut. This is lightly tossed with a delicious Sesame-Miso dressing. This is my usual order along with the Amberjack Jalapeno Kanpachi sushi.

D. Spicy Tuna Salad - My copywriter JM got this and absolutely loved this. For $8.50, he got 10-12 pieces of beautifully-seared Tuna in a spicy dressing.

E. Karen Roll - BR and JL love this roll. This huge roll contains tender-cooked salmon, cucumber and avocado, all wrapped in a soy-rice sheet. Sometimes the sheet is pink, sometimes its orange. This was really tasty and filling. $13 and well worth it.

F. Spanish Mackerel - This is one of Chef Toshi's specials listed on his board. BR loves strong-tasting fish and devoured this. It's garnished with minced garlic, ginger and green onion and served with a ponzu sauce. The garnishes really knockout the fishiness of the Spanish Mackerel. $5.50 for 2 pieces.

G. Sashimi Special - I ordered this off the "Specials" board for $20. Everything was fresh, with the Spanish Mackerel being my least favorite.

H. Amberjack Jalapeno Kanpachi - Oh man, my favorite. I get this every time I eat here along with the Sashimi salad, and I'm full. Amberjack has a similiar texture and taste to Himachi (Yellowtail). Chef Toshi adds a thin slice of jalapeno, cilantro, freshly-pressed garlic and tops it off with fresh Yuzu and soy sauce. Upon eating it, your palate will get a nice kick in the ass. My eyes enlarged in delight. 2 pieces for $5.50.

I. Tempura - Good as usual.

J. Candy Crabs - As I perused his "Specials" board, I came across Candy Crabs. I asked Chef Toshi what it was and he quickly ran into the kitchen. He came back out with a bucket of orange and black crabs. For $6, you get to send four of these guys into the deep-fry ocean for a quick bath. It's seasoned with Japanese sea salt. Chef Toshi put the crab on my plate and the crab quickly put up his dukes, faster than Daniel-San could get into the "Crane" stance. I couldn't hear him, but he was probably screaming "NOOOOOOoooOOOOooOOOO, don't even think about it. Back off b*tch!!!" We saw this guy about 5 minutes later and devoured him. It was so good. The crab meat had a subtle sweetness and the legs were crispy. I almost cut my lip with the sharp claws.

I like that Sushi Karen is small. It lets Chef Toshi interact with you and make you feel at home. I’ve been here four times already on separate occasions with JL & BR, my copywriter JM and Jeni of Oishii Eats. The Chef remembers me and always says, “Thank you for coming back.” I always tell him I’ll keep bringing more of my friends back here. The reason I keep coming back here is for the Amberjack sushi. It’s so good. I have yet to try the SuperToro, which is supposed to be extremely oily and fatty, like me. SuperToro = SuperDylan.

Me: “Chef, how long have you been open?”
Chef Toshi: “Oh, for 3 years!”
Me: “So Chef, if you have another child, are you going to name a restaurant after him?”
Chef Toshi: “Ha! It’s very hard running this restaurant. We’ll see how we do here.”

Sushi Karen is a great alternative to the Hollywood/Beverly Hills sushi spots for those that live in the Westside. Chef Toshi gives you generous portions of fish, sometimes almost TOO big. But I’m not complaining. So in the following years, if you happen to see a place like Sushi Bill or Sushi Jenny… it’s probably another work of the wonderful, Chef Toshi.

To answer Stevie Wonder's question... Yes, I think Karen is lovely, very lovely.

Thanks for reading.

Sushi Karen
10762 Washington Blvd (1 block West of Overland)
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 202-0855 Read more!

What to Eat On Venice Blvd. with Only $6 and Some Pocket-Change – Larco Mar Peruvian Rotisserie

I started working in the Culver City/Palms/Mar Vista area about 4 months ago. I was stoked upon receiving the job offer because I knew I would have good eats. With places like Café Brasil, Versailles, Beacon and even Sawtelle Blvd. (for longer lunch breaks), this new job would prove beneficial to my tummy and wallet. One day, with only $6 in my pocket, I drove around seeking a low-budget haven. No problem. Some of you know that I can make the most out of nothing, at places like Souplantation. What could I get? McDonald’s? No. In & Out? No way, I’m pro-Fatburger. Wendy’s? No, something about square patties seems unfitting. After passing Overland Avenue, I caught a red & white-striped building with a banner advertising a whole rotisserie chicken for only $5.95. Nice. A roasted chicken is definitely healthier than one swimming in the Deep Fried Ocean.

Upon walking in, I noticed three different things going on. Larco Mar not only serves Peruvian rotisserie chicken, but also has Mexican food and a decked out bakery with Mexican cakes and pastries. It was dead inside though. The cashier was sitting on a chair, absorbing the overly-dramatic soap operas on Telemundo. One of the cooks leaned against the counter with a towel draped over his shoulder. This was a ghost town and of course I got stares because, well, I’m not Peruvian. And maybe it’s the fact that they haven’t seen a customer since last week. I was gonna suggest that they buy an inflatable chicken that they can stack on their roof. The large clown/gorilla floats you see at car dealerships. That should let people know that they exist.

I didn’t feel like ordering a whole chicken so I went for the ¼ chicken with two side orders combo for $4.95, which comes out to $5.36. I was safe, and still $0.64 richer. I could use that for stuff like bum donations, sticky-hand toys from the vending machines or Chiclets. In addition to the $0.64, I also had about $1 worth of change. I ordered a ham croquette and ground beef empanada, which came out to like $1.25. So actually, I was $0.11 richer.

As I waited for my food, I noticed a recognizable logo on the rotisserie ovens. Apparently, our buddies here at Larco Mar found Boston Market rotisserie ovens on Craigslist or something. Funny. At least take the logo off. Nobody wears clothing with the price tags or size stickers still on them right?

A. 1/4 Chicken with 2 Side Orders - If you're not health-conscious, definitely go for the dark meat because it's moist and flavorful. The chicken was delicious. I asked the lady for some tortillas, which she gave for free, and made little tacos with the green Peruvian hot sauce. If you've been to Mario's Peruvian & Seafood, you'll know what I'm talking about. Addictive stuff. A few weeks later, I ordered the whole roasted chicken for $6 and 1/2 of it was moist (dark meat), and other being quite dry (white meat). I recommend this meal over the whole chicken. The rice and beans were average.

B. Ham Croquette and Ground Beef Empanada - Valued at $1.25, these are fun things to try. The ham croquette looks like a mozzarella stick but isn't that tasty. What they meant by ham was really corned beef. It was mushy and just strange tasting. The empanada, on the other hand, was yum. Perfectly spiced and moist.

C. Cake City - Larco Mar is an activity center. While you're waiting for your order, you can check out their bakery and cake designs. If you're not into sweets, well you're stuck with Mexican soap operas.

D. Boston Market, I mean, Larco Mar Rotisserie Ovens - Look at those babies in the chicken carousel.

E. Boston Market, I mean, Larco Mar - The resemblance is uncanny.

Next time you're left with $6, don't give in to the fast food joints. Larco Mar is there to save you. Thanks for reading.

Larco Mar Peruvian Rotisserie
10825 Venice Blvd.
West Los Angeles, Ca. 90034
(310) 838-0375 Read more!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Sergio Mendes & Café Brasil - A Brazilian Evening at the Hollywood Bowl

Last night, my friends and I started off the summer with an evening concert at the bowl. Being a huge fan of bossanova, I couldn’t miss Sergio Mendes’ 40th Anniversary show. Many of you may remember his KOST-song, “Never Gonna Let You Go”, but that doesn’t do any justice for this very-talented musician. He made a comeback recently and employed a new style of music featuring Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest), India Arie, John Legend and the super sell-outs Black Eyed Peas. If you haven't heard his CD, definitely check it out.

So to make the evening even more ‘bossanovy’, I decided to prepare a Brazilian-style meal for the eight of us. The day before, I planned my menu by looking at Café Brasil and Bossanova’s menus...

Garlic Skirt Steak
Chicken Stroganoff with Mushrooms (not pictured)
Feijoada (Pork/Black Bean Stew)
Fried Plantains
Sauteed Collard Greens
Café Brasil-style Salsa
Cheese-bread Balls
Garlic Rice

Mmmm, yes, tons of garlic. I love South American food because it’s so simple and fresh. With wine flowing and iPod bumping, I started cooking yesterday at 12:30 pm and finished at 5 pm. I really need to get a headband because when I’m cooking I’m all over the place. Here’s what I used for each dish:

Garlic Skirt Steak
I used skirt steak because it’s thin and holds marinades well. I added kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, garlic powder, meat tenderizer powder, fresh garlic, fresh onions, olive oil and a little bit of vinegar. I marinated the meat in the fridge for a good 3 hours so they definitely got to know each other well. Grill the meat and serve. Tastes good with a squeeze of lime over it.

Chicken Stroganoff with Mushrooms
Pan-fry some chicken breast until it’s 75% done. Remove and cook mushrooms and onions in the chicken fat with fresh garlic. Add as much cream as you need and throw the chicken back in once it comes to a boil. The recipe calls for sour cream, but I prefer crème fraîche which is rich and sour. Add ketchup for color. This dish should be slightly orange-pink. Serve over egg noodles or rice. This dish was awesome!

Feijoada Black Bean Stew
Traditional feijoada takes a whole day to cook and the recipe calls for stuff like pig ears, tails, hooves, snouts, lips, etc. Since I didn’t have any of that in my fridge, I decided to just use bacon. I have never cooked beans nor will I ever again. I didn’t know that I had to soak beans over night. It took nearly 3 hours to cook these little bastards. Once they were tender enough, I added a few ladels of the beans into a frying pan along with bacon, garlic, butter, olive oil, bay leaves and oregano. i mashed the beans and added them back into the main pot. This technique makes the beans ‘creamier’ and ‘mushier’. Salt and pepper to taste and eat with steak or rice.

Fried Plantains
You can make these blindfolded, with hands-tied, and tongs in the mouth. Cut up the bananas and deep fry them in canola/vegetable oil. Instant gratification.

Sauteed Collard Greens
Collard greens have a bitter, mustard-like taste, so the addition of sautéed garlic and a few squeezes of lime really counter it. Take the leaves, and roll them up. Chiffonade the collard greens so that appear thread-like. Saute with garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Another one of those I-can-do-this-blindfolded dishes.

Café Brasil-Style Salsa
This is one of the reasons I keep going back to Café Brasil. I love their salsa. Chop up tomatoes (don’t use the core of the tomato – too watery), onions, American parsley (not flat-leaf) and green onions. Add some olive oil, salt and pepper – and here are the two secret ingredients I found from a friend… Soy Sauce and Mustard (not French’s or Heinz)! This was so fresh and tasty. It’s better to prepare this near serving time because it likes to wet its pants. I had to drain these 3-4 times.

Cheese-Bread Balls
Known as “Pao de Quiejo”, these are light and cheesy. They taste like Cheetos! Freaking Café Brasil sells these for $0.85 each. Complete ripoff. Come to think of it, Café Brasil is a complete ripoff with exception to their $6.95 executive lunches, only available during the weekdays. I bought the Yoki cheese-bread mix at this Brazilian market on Venice/Overland for $2.99. I was able to make 34 of these. We gobbled these yellow breadballs up like Pac-man.

Garlic Rice
Just add 2-3 cloves of minced garlic, a little butter and salt to the water during the cooking process. Mix it around every few minutes. That’s it!

All of this goes well with a nice glass of Caipirinha (Brazilian Mojito) or a can of Guaraná, Brazil’s famous pop. I had heard that the guarana powder is also a performance enhancer. I have yet to experience that from a can of soda. And another thing, the people at Café Brasil charge $2.50 for a can of this. Go to the Brazilian market on Venice/Overland and get a 6-pack for $4.50.

We got to the Hollywood Bowl by 6 pm and I laid out the smorgasbord of Brazilian food. I made WAY too much food for the 8 of us. At one point in the show, I was so buzzed and tried to offer people the leftovers. Who would take food from a stranger? Four and a half hours of non-stop cooking sounds like a long time, but when the music is great, the wine is pouring and the friends aren’t throwing up your food in the trashcan, you can’t help but smile.

Thanks for reading. Read more!

Monday, June 12, 2006


Found this off the internet while searching for images on Google. I hope to god this isn't real. Looks like two 10" buns, 5 lbs. of ground beef, 13 tomatoes, 1/2 a lettuce, 16 slices of American cheese, a whole onion and 1/2 a jar of mayonnaise. Read more!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Angelo Pietro's Raw Potato Salad

When I was in Hawaii last year, I was stoked to find out that there was an Angelo Pietro restaurant. Angelo Pietro manufactures some of the best tasting salad dressings. I'm not one for salad, not even a giant taco salad, but this dressing does wonders. For this dish, the restaurant used the Sesame-Miso flavor. Because of my high cholesterol, I felt a salad would do me some good. It's a light, quick and tasty meal.

Party Time
(1) Peel the potatoes and dunk them in some water right away. Add a little vinegar so that they don't oxidize as quickly. Chill this in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
(2) When you're ready to eat, run the potatoes throw a vegetable grater or mandolin. Put them in a bowl of ice water right away. You wanna serve this as quickly as possible or the potatoes will oxidize.
(3) Have the radish sprouts, bonito flakes, green onions, furikake and Angelo Pietro's Sesame-Miso dressing on hand. Fried garlic is optional. I had some on hand and just tossed them in for some extra flavor.
(4) Strain the grated potatoes and squeeze out as much water as possible. Add the toppings and pour the sauce all over. Enjoy.

***The Sesame-Miso is quite acidic, if you love the flavor of sesame oil, it wouldn't hurt to add a few drops to counter the acidity.

Thanks for reading. Read more!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Noodle Whore #2: Pad Kee Mow - Thai Beef Chow Fun

My second installment of the Noodle Whore series also brings us a dish from Thailand. The Cantonese have Beef Chow Fun, and so do the Thais. Known as Pad Kee Mow, this dish is similar but calls for Thai basil, chilis, garlic, lime and raw bean sprouts as a garnish. I’ll almost always order this dish at any Thai restaurant. Pad Thai just isn’t for me. Another favorite Thai noodle dish of mine is the Thai Boat Noodle Soup. Mmmmm.

For this recipe, you’ll need beef flank steak, fresh rice flour noodles that come in sheets (Fun), dark soy sauce (aka mushroom soy sauce), Thai soy sauce (or Maggi Sauce), fish sauce, 2 eggs, Thai basil, cilantro, green onions, Thai chilis, garlic, red bell pepper, bean sprouts (garnish), sugar and lime.

Party Time:

(1) Scramble the eggs and fry in the pan. Swirl around till most of it is cooked and set aside. Chop roughly, don’t mince them.

(2) Chop up the noodles into 1.5” x 1.5” squares and separate from each other. Set aside. Make sure your pan is hot and sauté the minced garlic, minced chilis, Thai basil (10-12 leaves) and when ready, add the beef. Add the dark soy sauce (used for color, not so much taste) and stir fry for about 5 minutes. It’s okay if it’s undercooked because you’re going to throw them back in once more. Take it out and set aside.

(3) Next, sauté the onions and red bell peppers for at least 5 minutes, not sweated! Add the beef, garlic, chilis and basil back into the pan and stir fry.

(4) Add 3-4 drops of fish sauce and 8-10 dashes of Maggi sauce (to taste). Finally, use sugar to balance out salinity.

(5) Garnish with raw bean sprouts and squeeze lime over the noodles. That’s it!

Hope you enjoy this. Again, this is a rough recipe. Use your own palate to adjust the taste. I’m an eyeballer and throw in whatever I feel is right. Thanks for reading. Read more!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin