Monday, September 25, 2006

A Wedding in Santa Barbara...

Four months ago, I got a call from a young lady interested in catering services for her wedding. I was referred by my catering boss who usually handles larger-scale events. Since it would be an event for 24 people, I immediately snagged the opportunity to do this wedding. The past few months have been a successful progression in my career as a part-time caterer and employee of a large catering company and I've gained a wealth of experience. So when I opened my eyes Saturday morning, I didn't have the usual sighs and groans, nor the frantic running-around before any catering event. Instead, I was at peace and definitely very stoked. I started loading up all my equipment and packed the food in my cooler. I was at peace knowing that I had two very reliable sous chefs and four good friends by my side. At around 12 pm, we took two cars up the 101 to the beautiful Santa Barbara area. We arrived at an old, but handsome Spanish-style home with a view that overlooked the Santa Barbara beaches and neighboring homes. The best part was that they had a nice kitchen geared with a Viking stove and dual Viking ovens. Yes!

We unloaded our cars and had to move the cars back down a hill. Lots of walking! As soon as everyone piled back into the kitchen, I asked everyone to get dressed in uniform because guests were walking around. It wouldn't have been too professional to let the guests see me in a t-shirt, Diesels and flip-flops haha. The good thing about being a cook is that you only need to wear a chef coat and black pants. My friends on the other hand looked like they were getting ready for the prom - with the girls doing the opposite-sex look. The servers were in a tux shirt, bowtie and cummerbund. All they needed were corsages and boutonniéres. I instructed them on how to place the table settings and serve hors d'oeurves.

We then got right into the food prep. With a time checklist on hand, things were a breeze. I think the hardest part of an event is not the main course, but the hors d'oeurves themselves. We had four of them and they all had to go out at the same time.

Hawaiian Poke with Avocado Mousse on Wonton Crisps
Yes, I know I've done these a million times but they are definitely a favorite. Who doesn't like raw tuna!? The avocado mousse has the essence of lime and jalapeno and gives a final kick to this dish.
Dungeness Crabcakes with Roasted Red Pepper Remoulade
Ah - the "Tater Tots of the Sea". Again, who doesn't like crabcakes.

Smoked Salmon in Cucumber Cubes
The smoky flavor of the salmon mixed with horse-radish sour cream goes well with the cool, watery taste of hothouse cucumbers.

Thai-Grilled Shrimp with Chili Sauce
This is one of my catering boss's trademark hors d'oeurves. There's something fantastic about eating a shrimp lollipop haha.

As soon as the guests were seated, we had to jump right on the salad. I quickly made the vinaigrette dressing and roasted the pears.

Korean Pear Salad with Honey Vinaigrette
The sweet korean pears were balanced with the sourness of the vinaigrette.

For the main course, we served the option of meat or fish. These were actually very easy to prepare. LL was on the grill and earlier had seared them off so that we could hold them till service. Right before service, he threw them back on to reach the appropriate medium doneness. I like my steaks medium rare, but not everyone does.

Miso-Cured Chilean Seabass
This is absolutely my most favorite fish. It's moist and flaky. I marinated these in sake, mirin, sugar and some ginger (a friend suggested that ginger would add a nice taste). These took no longer than 10 minutes to cook in the broiler and were gobbled up quite quickly.

Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon
Bacon-wrapping anything is a sure hit. You can do it on chicken, pork and scallops. Maybe even bacon-wrap bacon. Mmmm. I served this w/ a red wine reduction sauce.

After the last dish was served, we all breathed a sigh of relief and congratulated each other on a job well done. The clients were very happy. The best part of the night was watching my friends pull together for this one event. It's funny seeing your friends in a serious light. Thank you to the crew on Saturday night for a wonderful night. And of course to my catering boss for passing this event down to me.

Next event: a wedding party for a very funny food blogger we all know very well... Daily Gluttony. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading. Read more!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Saigon Flavor - The Triad of SGV Pho

When I heard about the Golden Deli fire a while back, I had to drive over to Main/Mission to see for myself. My dad actually CALLED me to inform me of this tragedy, but reassured me that Golden Deli had lucked out. Turns out that everything to the right of Golden Deli had been burned down, including 7-11, a laundromat, a Chinese DVD store ironically named Firelink and a random gift shop that sells those ugly head visors you see Chinese people sporting these days. Sure enough, the God of Pho, extinguished the fire before it could burn down what San Gabriel Valley hails as the Shrine of Pho. Much like pizza and sushi in LA, the discussion of the Best Pho in the San Gabriel Valley can turn into a sour riot - with people overturning cars and vandalising property. In my opinion, I put Golden Deli #1. Here's my review on my top three places in SGV.

For those that are fans of Golden Deli, you probably know that Vietnam House right across the street is owned by a relative. But they also have another sister restaurant, Saigon Flavor on Valley/Del Mar. Woohoo! I've been to Vietnam House and tasted no difference in the pho - it was perfect.

Although some people may turn to Vietnam House and Saigon Flavor as an alternative to waiting the usual 20 minutes at Golden Deli, they will soon find that you can't beat around the bush. People know the quality of all three of these restaurants.

Before going to the Banksy art exhibition in the warehouse district of LA, I headed over to Saigon Flavor for the quelling of a severe hangover. Pho is really the best solution to a hangover. The flavoring of the soup wakes you up and makes you smile. I parked right in front and found myself writing my name on a clipboard. Crap, there were 6 other parties in front of me. Eventually I got called and got put at a table for six. I felt bad and told the server that I wouldn't mind waiting for a single table. She put me there anyway. Embarrassed by the fact that I occupied a sixth of the table, I quickly ordered my usual Pho Chin Nam (well-done brisket) and a side order of two egg rolls. Glancing at the menu, I noticed that it was exactly the same as GD and VH's. Quality-assured. 10 minutes later, my piping hot bowl of goodness arrived. I eventually swapped seats with a party of 4.

Cha Gio (Egg Rolls)
Hands down the best Vietnamese egg rolls I've ever eaten. These were like taquitos! Much bigger than the ones served at GD. GD/VH/SF all serve 5 egg rolls per order, unlike the usual 4 at other restaurants. How do they make their skin so flaky/crispy?! 2 egg rolls $1.60 with no fixings. I think it's $5.95 for 5 egg rolls.

Pho Chin Nam (Well-done Brisket)
The reason I love Golden Deli is because of their soup quality. Look at the deep brown color in the broth. It's a result of a longer browning process with the bones and the addition of browned onions. The soup is clear and never fatty. Of course, there is the magic of MSG. Compared to other Vietnamese restaurants, I don't feel as thirsty after eating GD's pho.

Pho Chin Nam (Well-done Brisket)
GD really gives you a decent portion of beef. Sometimes I have to take them out of the bowl and set them aside. They get in the way of the noodles!

Again, here's the link to my three favorite pho restaurants in San Gabriel Valley. Thanks for reading.

Saigon Flavor
208 E. Valley Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 572-6036 Read more!

Friday, September 08, 2006

"5 Things to Eat Before You Die" Meme

I'm being tagged by the Le Creuset-Braising Stacey of Just Braise. It's funny, because only last week I was watching a National Geographic Special about global methods of legal punishment. In America, we have switched from the electric chair to lethal injections. I remember this episode quite clearly - a man was being put to death for murdering a woman in Texas. His last meal? Tex-mex tacos. And I thought to myself, that's it? This is the hardest thing for any foodblogger/epicurean to pin down. Here's my top 5 list of things to eat.

One - Black & White Truffles
These beautiful underground morsels of heaven come from France and Italy. They are found by specially-trained pigs and dogs and average a good $90 for a 1/2 lb. Pigs are no longer used for locating truffles because pigs, like humans, also enjoy eating truffles - the strong odor of the truffle is unappealing to dogs. My first experience with truffles was at Alan Wong's in Hawaii. It was at that restaurant that I decided I wanted to work part-time in a restaurant. During my time at the restaurant, I was eating good portions of truffles every week. To the point, that I got SICK OF THEM. Even the finest things in life can lose its value when overdone. You can put truffles on anything and it'll taste good. My recent dinner included the use of fine white truffle oil from France, that my catering boss had given to me - excellent and rich. What would I eat these with? It wouldn't matter - tacos, pizza, asian food.

Two - Eggs, Eggs and More Eggs Please
Since I'm going to die anyway, my cholesterol level really has no significance anymore. That brings me to the King of Cholesterol - eggs! I wouldn't have them served up in a giant skillet like the photo above, but I would probably want a good 50 egg whites and 25 yolks. Remember Denny's "Grand Slam" special? A combination of four different things including eggs, sausage, bacon, toast and something else. Anyway, when I was a kid, I used to make my own version of the "Grand Slam" - only with eggs though. I would eat up 4 sunny-side-up eggs in less than 2 minutes. I still love eggs to this day and my doctor can tell. Hard-boiled, scrambled, over easy - yes please!

Three - Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai Soup Noodles
I didn't start up my Noodle Whore site for nothing. I LOVE NOODLES! I eat some variation of noodles at least 4 times a week. I still have yet to try making Thai Boat noodles, Cha Shu ramen and Pho. Food in the San Gabriel Valley is so cheap anyway, it's almost not worth it to go and buy the ingredients. $4.25 a bowl? Very nice!

Four - Everything Anthony Bourdain Has Eaten
A few years ago, I refused to eat seafood and animal offals. Then I picked up his book, Kitchen Confidential, and watched his show, No Reservations. He inspired me. His mentality is that you haven't lived until you've tried everything. Also, if things are on a menu, there is an audience craving it. If you can't eat it, then it wouldn't BE ON THE MENU. Now, I have no fear in trying anything at a sushi restaurant, eating animal innards, etc. My wish is to follow his footsteps in his international travels and try everything he has.

Five - Café Mom & Eating with Friends
I put this last because it's the most important. If I don't live to eat truffles by the case, 50-egg omelettes, Asian soup noodles, or eat Bourdain-style, it's ok. You wouldn't be where you are now if you didn't have good parents and friends. Your parents feed you only the best. Most of us will take things for granted, but we'll appreciate them later on. Although we as foodbloggers/epicureans enjoy eating food, we use dining as a means of connection with friends, family and loved ones. Sure my mom's chicken corn soup or oxtail soup would never make it on the French Laundry menu, but it's food that is made with thought. And that can't be replicated. I don't mean to be sappy, but it's true. My last and most important meal would be with family and friends. If you get a chance, read Daily Gluttony's thoughts on family and food.

Thanks for reading.


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