Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Red Corner Asia - Thaitown

Last week, J and I went to Yai for some Thai fare. We were in the mood for noodles and again, we revisited Thaitown in a span of one week. I remembered reading Jonathan Gold's review on Red Corner Asia and how he describes it as one of the more popular places in Thaitown to eat at. We drove down and knew exactly where it was. You can't miss Red Corner Asia with its circus-like neon sign. Striped in green and yellow lights, the restaurant lures foodies like an angler fish in the deep sea. On the roof of the restaurant, a yellow banner is stretched across, noting their late closing time of 2 AM. We walked in and were immediately greeted by the manager, a kind-looking man, and three waitresses standing by the door. I think it's a Thai thing - to have the waitresses wait by the door. I like that. We were immediately showed to the table in the center of the room. But being foodbloggers, we had to be picky about our seating because we wanted the best lighting possible. We ended up sitting near the kitchen window and got a full glimpse of whole chickens riding the ferris wheel of death. Jonathan Gold writes about that chicken dish, known as the volcano chicken. Prior to serving, a whole chicken is doused in Bacardi 151 and lit up at the table. I can only imagine that the employees are quite sick of hearing the ooh's and aah's of this restaurant gimmick.

Funny, a fly just landed on my computer screen - right on top of the Red Corner Asia food photos. Does this place have flies? Or is it super hungry? haha.

Anyway, we perused the nicely layed-out menus and knew exactly what to order. I noticed that there were some pseudo-Thai dishes like Tempura, Kung Pao Pasta and Bangkok Calamari which we steered away from. It's a possible sign that RCA caters to the majority and offers watered-down Thai food. But you should try it for yourself. Here's what we had:

We started out with Angel Wings, which were stuffed with ground pork, vermicelli and veggies. Although they only give you two pieces, you can seriously make a meal out of this because they are gigantic. Talk about force-feeding a chicken to buff up their muscle mass. The chicken was crisp and fried beautifully and the pork mixture was flavorful. This comes with sweet n' sour sauce, but I prefer to use fish sauce. This can easily work as an appetizer for 4 people. $6.95

Next came the Fish Cake On Sticks. These consisted of fish paste, red curry paste, fish sauce and green beans impaled on a piece of lemongrass. Again, it was served with sweet n' sour sauce. I liked this dish a lot but prefer the version I make at home. It wasn't spicy enough. J didn't care much for this dish because of the chewy texture. $6.95 for 5-6 pieces.

Pad Kee Mow is a favorite of mine. Basically it's chinese Beef Chow Fun but with chile, basil and garlic. The beef was a bit burnt from the wok cooking but still had taste. Overall, this had nice flavor but definitely wasn't the best I've eaten. Try it out though. This dish convinced J that there are better tasting noodles in addition to her favorite, Pad See Eew. $5.95

Now for the dish I yearn for in any Thai restaurant. This is basically like Thai pho, only with beef, liver, tripe, beef balls in a hearty brown soup. You can't find this on the menu, so just ask the waitress for it. Compared to Yai's Thai Boat Noodles, this is lighter in the beef flavor and more watery. I appreciate the amount of veggies they give you but is still somewhat bland. For Thai Boat Noodles, give Yai's and Sapp Coffee Shops a shot. $5.95

I've only eaten at 5 places in Thaitown, and Yai, so far, has been reigning. I'll be reviewing Sapp, Palms, Ruen Pair, Ord and Sanamluang soon. I have yet to try the dishes Jonathan Gold has recommended, but as of now, I won't be back to RCA for a while. Thanks for reading.

Red Corner Asia
5267 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 466-6RCA
www.redcornerasia.com Read more!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Useful Japanese Invention - Yakitori Grill, Marukai Gardena

One of my all time favorite parody books is Kenji Kawakami’s “101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions”. Most of you have probably seen this at Urban Outfitters or the Giant Robot Store. It’s page after page of hilarious, useless (or not!) gadgets. Known as chindogu, it is the art of the weird, strange and unuseless idea. Most of the gadgets, in a practical sense, seem to be crafted with ingenuity. In actuality, they would cause embarrassing social and personal difficulties. It’s amazing what lazy people will do to make their lives easier. Kawakami did not make a dime off the gadgets and found this to be a therapeutic hobby. Although the Japanese do have some wacky inventions, the book is simply a source for quick laughs. These products are not sold in Japan. Listed above in the picture:

A. Chopsticks with Cooling Fan - For hot ramen!
B. Butter-Stick - Simply twist like a Uhu glue stick and apply.
C. Dust & Sweep Slippers - I love these.
D. Handi-Roll of Kleenex - For those with constant sniffles.

In light of that, I’ve found a pretty useful gadget, known as the tabletop Yakitori grill. If you’ve eaten at a yakitori restaurant like Musha, Shin Sen Gumi, Terried Sake House, Nanbankan, or Sasaya, you’ve probably seen the direct source of room pollution. They come from the rectangular-shaped grills 5’ in length and 7-8” wide to hold the skewers. A contraption like that could be well over a few hundred bucks if you were to construct it at Home Depot. But thanks to Marukai in Gardena, the Japanese superstore, table top yakitori grills can be found. J and I went there after the Bridge USA Food Festival in Torrance to look for my new toy. There it was for only $22.98. It’s made of a pinkish clay with a few dinky metal parts. MacGuyver could’ve built a better one with a trash can and 2 soda cans. The thing looks like a kids port-o-potty and is uglier than an AMC Pacer but beyond its ‘beauty’, it still does the job. I’m a huge fan of yakitori food, and it was only a matter of time that I would buy one.

Along with the grill set, you need to buy a round grill plate for only $2.29. Japanese charcoaled branches can be purchased at Marukai as well for a whopping $5.99 lb. I got maybe 8-10 nine-inch branches for about $7. Japanese charcoal burns at higher temperatures than your standard bbq briquettes, but does not last as long. The grill basin itself is only about 8” deep so you don’t to fill it to the brim otherwise your food will burn faster than it gets cooked. I suggest buying Trader Joe’s “Cowboy Charcoal”. It’s charcoaled wood that comes in a 5-lb bag for $4.99. Again, it burns hot, but does not last as long as standard charcoal.

Last Friday, we de-virginized the yakitori grill. I had been waiting all week for this moment. As soon as we got to my friend ND & JD’s place, I opened up the package. The grill stands about 12-13” high and weighs a good 10 lbs. There’s a small latch door made out of metal used to control oxygen intake. The wider open the door is, the hotter the charcoal will burn. I then lined up the inside of the grill with foil to catch any drippings and charcoal ash. ND lit up some of the Japanese charcoal in a separate grill for about 10 minutes and added the coals to the yakitori grill. Here’s what we had. (PETA requested that chicken gizzards and hearts be excluded from the posting.)

A. Japanese Charcoal - Solid, yet very light. If you bang them togeher, you get a slight metallic sound. I don't know what possessed me to even try that.

B. Cutting the Charcoal Branches - Since they came as branches, I had to cut them up into 3-4 pieces using a serrated knife. You only need to do a few swift cuts and break them up with your hands.

C. Isn't She Ugly? - Told you it looks like a flesh-colored port-o-potty. Actually the metalwork on it makes it look like it's wearing a lingerie or even a jock strap - depending on your preference.

D. Kryptonite - Never take photos of fire. They usually turn out like sh*t.

E. Skewers - Takes about 10 mins per side.

F. Sake - Again, I don't know much about Sake. Jeni had some at her place and we ended up killing the whole bottle. The sake tasted like tequila and cognac and I don't recommend it.

G. Agedashi Tofu - Photo makes it look like swamp food but it turned out tasty. I boiled the pre-fried tofu packets for $.69 (4-pack) in soup base, dashi no moto and water. Served it with furikake seaweed and radish sprouts. My friends kid's loved them.

H. Chicken Karage - A dish you'd always find at an izakaya/yakitori joint. Recipe can be found here.

I. Chicken Thigh with Negi Leeks - I had the best tare negi at Shin Sen Gumi. This is my version of it. I used yakitori sauce from Marukai and basted the chicken three times: before grilling, during grilling and after grilling.

J. Bacon-Wrapped Quail Eggs - This is for Pirikara and Rickmond who bashed me for not trying the version at Shin Sen Gumi haha. I used Berkshire pork bacon also from Marukai, which is more expensive. You can use any type of bacon. The only thing to watch for is the quail eggs... they explode if you overcook them! Q-bombs are no good!

We had a great night drinking and eating chicken parts. For $23, you can cook a bunch of food for little money. The only pain-staking thing about yakitori is the skewering. I wonder if the "Unuseless Japanese Inventions" guy has a solution for that. I'd definitely buy it. Thanks for reading. Read more!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Art of Not-Working - Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori, Gardena

One of the best things about working in advertising, besides spending hours on AIM, Youtube, MySpace, expensing crap and taking 2.5 hour lunches on a regular basis, is the freedom to consume alcohol in the workplace. One agency I worked at believed in boosting employee morale not with fat paychecks, but with aluminum kegs almost every two weeks. I'd be working from 10-11, then take a 2-hour lunch, and come back by 3 pm to start drinking with my coworkers. I mean, everyone participated. We'd drink till 5 pm and sometimes start Round 2 at a local dive bar. To me, that is a good work environment - one that lets you work the least amount of hours possible.

Those days are long gone, but I was happy to see that the Japanese folks over at Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori restaurant still practice the ancient "Art of Not-Working". Shin Sen Gumi is the name of a Samurai group in Japan, purportedly, one of the last Samurai clans. They, along with Tom Cruise's help, were dedicated to providing security for whomever with the utmost commitment to excellence. In layman terms, they were thugs with swords. In remembrance of the samurai group, the same work ethic is now passed down to us, only in a skewered-chicken form. Pictured above is Ayumu, probably the manager of Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori. He's a fun, LOUD and energetic man with a bottomless stomach, who obviously loves what he does. He is doing anything but working - hilarious. If OSHA members ever eat here, they'd have a heart attack watching customers drink with Ayumu. Why? Because Shin Sen Gumi loves to participate in the Japanese tradition of binge drinking with customers. It is a show of respect for the chef/food when a patron pours one for the homie.

My friends and I headed over to Shin Sen Gumi on a Friday night for some grilled/skewered chicken parts. Absolutely one of my favorite Japanese foods. I spoiled myself with yakitori when I was in Japan in May and was bummed that I may never find a comprable yakitori joint in California. Enter: Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori. You may have heard of them before because they also produce delicious, Hakata-style ramen. Chinese noodles, Berkshire pork and green onions swim in a beautiful, cloudy broth of pork bones that takes over 15 hours to make. After a 45-minute wait (no reservations taken), we walked into a packed restaurant occupied by red-faced patrons, sounds of clanking beers, Ayumu's loud screaming and the heavenly scent of chicken parts grilled over a robata. The place is small and holds about 40 people.

Warning: be prepared for high-decibel sounds. Here's Pam's review on Shin Sen Gumi's high-decibel ramen shop. Restaurants have funny policies when it comes to greeting. At TGIF, they make the employees wear stupid flair like buttons and pins. At Chuck E. Cheese, you're greeted by a giant rodent wearing a stupid vest and ugly hat. Clothes only magicians like Siegfried and Roy could pull off. But here at Shin Sen Gumi, you're greeted by employees screaming at the top of their lungs, wearing traditional Japanese uniforms. Anything you say, order, question comes back to you at about 300 decibels - 5 times louder than the normal conversation level. I had to drink as fast as I could to get a buzz and only then was I able to tolerate the noise level.

Here's what we had:

A. Cabbage With Vinegar/Sesame Oil - We started off with rabbit food, "on-the-house". For a few minutes, I was eating this dry cabbage, thinking... the fuck am i eating? I then looked over at the next table and saw that people were adding a mixture of vinegar/sesame oil over the rabbit food. A-ha, ok, tastes better. But again I thought... the fuck am i eating? $Free.99

B. Chikuwa Cheese - I call these Ameri-pan snacks. These are deep-fried cylindrical fishcakes stuffed with monterey jack and cheddar cheese. Gross? No way. With a squeeze of lemon, these are quite tasty. Pretty soon, there will be deep-fried tater tots stuffed with cod roe. $4

C. Suigyoza - Literal translation, boiled dumplings, or as in Chinese, sway-gao (sway-jiao). These were overcooked and very boring. Save your $3 and try something else. $2.75

D. Arabiki Sausage - A friend text messaged me to try this while I was there. Tasty, but quite similar to Jimmy Dean. Or as the Japanese would say, Jimi Dee-nu! $4

E. Agedashi Tofu - This is basically fried tofu served with a warm soy sauce/sake mixture and is topped with fresh daikon, seaweed and green onions. Tasty. $3.75

F. Braised Pork Belly - Another one of my favorites. The pork belly is braised in a soy sauce/sake/ginger/sake broth. Super moist and tender, served with fresh mustard. I prefer Musha's over this. $6

G. Orion Beer - This is my first time trying this beer. A fellow reader suggested that I try it after spotting it over at Sushi Karen in Culver City. Not bad at all, but I still prefer Sapporo. $5

H. Cold Sake - This was the cheapest one on the menu. I really can't taste the difference between sake so it really doesn't matter if I'm drinking the Charles Shaw of sake. It got me buzzed and did its job. $6

Now for the Main Event:

G. Chicken Wings - A favorite of any yakitori-enthusiast. These were nicely coated with SSG's house sauce and sesame seeds. $5.75

H. Chicken Karage - Always available at any izakaya-style restaurant. These were a little bit dry inside, but the batter was nice and slim on the oil. $5

I. Chicken Hearts - I heart these. These were the best hearts I've ever tasted - even better than the ones I had in Japan. SSG really knows how to make a good yakitori sauce. These were cooked a little bit rare and oozed out a little blood every time I bit into one. Yum. I had about 5 skewers. $1.75

J. Chicken Thigh and Negi - This was by far my favorite of the night. Moists pieces of chicken thigh were tightly packed with Japanese leeks (negi). Again, the same sauce was applied to it, making me order about 4 of these. $1.95

K. Chicken Skin - Oooh, another one of my favorites. I love that the Japanese spare no parts. Skin from the thigh and breast are neatly skewered like an accordion and are grilled till they are crispy. Chicken skin for President! $1.75

L. Chicken Butt - These are moister than the chicken thigh. It didn't come with any house sauce, so I simply dipped it into the finished plates. I can do without this one. $2.50

M. Chicken Wing - These looked like Chicken lollipops. I didn't get to try this but my friends seemed to be smiling with content. Or maybe they were just drunk. $2 each.

N. Chicken Gizzards - These are like cornnut snacks. I can eat a popcorn-sized bucket of these. These came out dryer than what I'm used to and a bit salty. I didn't care much for these.

We all had a great time. We happened to know a group of people there that gladly offered us and Ayumu some sake bombs. All of a sudden, we didn't mind the high-decibel chatter and drunkenness. I think we ate enough chicken parts to construct our own chicken. It wouldn't look too good though. Yakitori is definitely a different culinary experience. If you're sick of fake japanese food like teriyaki beef and ninja rolls, give the chicken a chance. And don't forget to bring the ear-plugs. Talk to Ayumu and offer him a drink - he's cool.

Thanks for reading.

Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori
18617 S. Western
Gardena, CA 90248
(310) 715-1588 Read more!

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Yuzu Tree by Shiro Sirversteinu - Yuzu-Citrus Fruit

Remember during elementary school when the teachers would pass out the monthly book club catalogs, full of adventure books, mystery novels and sticker books. The kids, including myself, used to go nuts over these. But I was an underprivileged kid – I never got to order any of these thanks to my Chinese parents, who also never bought me the ‘good lunches’ consisting of Lunchables, Capri-Sun and Sunkist Fruit Snacks. My only children’s books happened to be written in a language completely foreign to me. And it wasn’t even in Chinese either. Sometimes my children’s books would be found under my dad’s mattress, but that’s another story. So after begging my mom to let me finally order a book, I gladly showed her my pick from the catalog. I had circled nearly 20 different books with my No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil. My mom looked at me and said, “only one.” After careful consideration, I went for the most expensive one – Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”. Valued at $15.95 (which was a lot back in the late 80s), this book had cool illustrations and a wonderful story that I had read over and over again. For those that haven’t read this, the title of the book says it all. It’s the story of a boy and his leafy & barked friend. As the boy grows older, he asks the tree for its vital organs so that he may progress in life. Eventually the man dies by the tree that had provided sustenance since he was a little boy. *Sniff.

My reason for digging up old bones? I found my Giving Tree - a Japanese citrus-fruit tree called a yuzu tree. If Shel Silverstein had been born Japanese, he would probably be writing about a yuzu tree, and not an apple tree. The fruit originates from China and ranges between 5.5 and 7.5 cm in diameter, but can be as large as a grapefruit. Its taste is similar to a grapefruit/mandarin orange. The Yuzu is not eaten as an orange is, but is used for garnishing, marinating and producing citrus-based sauces like Ponzu. The peel and rinds have a oily, robust-lemon and lime flavor. The Japanese sometimes dunk whole yuzu fruits in spas and bath tubs for an aromatic time. I have yet to see Bath & Body Works start a line – not that I would care.

I’ve eaten beef and tuna tataki many times with ponzu sauce but have never experienced the taste of yuzu as an isolated ingredient. Chef Toshi at Sushi Karen makes a great amberjack kanpachi sushi using puréed garlic, jalapeno, soy sauce and fresh yuzu. After I had this, J and I attempted to make this using a ponzu sauce. It was good, but just not the same.

Since I couldn’t find this fruit anywhere in LA Japanese markets, I thought it would be easier to just grow it on my own. Kirk, Elmomonster and Pirikara all helped me out in seeking this delectable fruit. Thanks for the help guys! Yesterday, my mom and I took a peek at the San Gabriel Nursery and found 4 yuzu plants ranging from $39.99 to $79.99. The one I picked was the cheapest yet also bore the most fruit – 8 to be exact, yet unripened. I kept 1 yuzu fruit in my pocket to taste it later on. Yuzu is typically expensive because it supposedly only grows fruit once a year. If this plant does well, I'm going back to San Gabriel Nursery for a Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange tree. As soon as I got home, my mom and I removed the dying plant in the spot we had decided on. I then cut off every single evil thorn on the plant - nearly 65 thorns, some as long as 3". The yuzu bears beautiful, fragrant fruit, but it's also obvious that it is cheap and thrifty. I wonder how many hummingbirds have been impaled on the yuzu tree.

To my Yuzu tree, I only ask that you give me your fruit to make bombass sushi – that’s all I want. Well, maybe some key-yuzu pie. Or how about some yuzu-flavored cookies. Wait! And the sound of Yuzu sorbet sounds great too. I'lll hopefully have a list of different yuzu-infused recipes once this tree decides to 'give'.

Thanks again to Kirk, Elmonster and Pirikara. I’m one happy man.

Thanks for reading. Read more!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

DIY Sushi Karen - Sushi Karen, Culver City

After frequenting Sushi Karen nearly 7 times and achieving the Cheers (where everybody knows your name) status, I decided to try my hand at this. I took J there last week and she really liked SK's Amberjack Jalapeno Kanpachi sushi: a thin slice of fish similar to Hamachi (yellowtail), fresh pureed garlic, a jalapeno slice and fresh yuzu soy sauce.

We went down to the Mitsuwa market in Little Tokyo and bought a decent block of yellowtail for about $9. We couldn't find fresh yuzu, so we purchased the bottled kind for about $5. If anyone knows where I can find FRESH YUZU fruit, please inform me. I will gladly grow a Yuzu orchard in my front yard. Once we got back, we used a sushi rice recipe that we found from Ming Tsai that called for mirin, vinegar and sugar. J had already made some rice and we unplugged the rice cooker, leaving the rice to cool down a bit. If the rice is too hot, it'll cook the raw fish. No goohr.

Since I didn't own a sashimi knife, I made sure to bring my Global Santoku knife for slicing the fish. I made 2" diagonal cuts on the beautiful block of fish, which yielded nearly 20 slices. This was my first time making sushi as I was quite nervous and afraid they'd look ugly.

Here goes the first one. I made an oval-shaped lump of rice and added the fish on top of it. I then topped the fish with some freshly-pressed garlic, a thin slice of jalapeno and a few drops of soy sauce/yuzu.

Everything tasted really good and fresh, only the rice could've been better. The rice didn't clump together as I had hoped, and I think we put too much vinegar and sugar. We will try less next time. Overall, you can't complain about a $10 sushi meal.

Does anyone know a good place to get sashimi knives for a reasonable price?

Thanks for reading. Read more!

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