Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Elite Restaurant... Monterey Park, CA - A Step Above Standard Dim Sum?

Living in the SGV, I'm spoiled with such vast selection of Asian food. And the low prices for SGV food are sometimes unbelievable. I've taken many non-Asian friends to eat and I've watched them rub their eyes and do a double take on the menu. What? How do these people live? Same thing I wonder everyday. In SGV, you can get dim sum as low as $1.60 per dish. You can have a family style lunch for four, for under $20. You can get almost any soup noodle for under $5. To me, this is wonderful. And I have money left over to buy things like Asian face visors, pirated vcd/dvd's and rims. You know, the good stuff.

But over the past years, there's been a new wave of higher-end restaurants that make Asian people rub their eyes and do a double take - particularly dim sum/banquet style restaurants. The new wave dim sum-style basically mixes traditional dim sum with Western/Pan-Asian ingredients. It was only a matter of time that Chinese would head towards the fusion trend in LA (aside from HK-style cafes in SGV). There's Mission 261 in San Gabriel, Triumphal Palace in Alhambra, Seafood Harbour in Rosemead and New Concept in Monterey Park. Well New Concept has a new owner and has reincarnated as the Elite Restaurants - same chefs, same staff.

I was called upon by the powers of the Los Angeles Court, to serve as a juror last week in Alhambra. Oh joy you assholes. Sitting in the jury assembly room, I stared at the clock and counted the minutes. If you're a true foodie, you're mind never strays away from food. When you wake up in the morning, you're already thinking about breakfast. After breakfast, you're thinking about lunch. After lunch, you're thinking about a snack. After dinner, you're thinking about the next day's cycle. Insane, I know - but you know it's true. I wanted dim sum but didn't want to try the ones I usually frequent.... mmm, how about Elite? I had heard so much about it from friends and on Chowhound.

I arrived at Elite to find that it WASN'T decked out in red wallpaper with the cliche Golden Dragons of Double Happiness mural. Instead, the walls were dressed with yellow wallpaper and framed images of their culinary gifts to us. This place was packed to the rim when I got there at 12:30. As I waited for my table, I snagged a menu and started pre-ordering. *Note: fancier dim sum places will not have the old ladies wearing jade bracelets pushing carts. The food is brought to you buy a server after filling out your menu form. My eyes lit up in excitement as I filled out my lunch order. I couldn't wait. I flipped the other side of the menu and almost fell over the chair. Elite also serves banquet dinners ranging from $388 to $1,688. The Chinese love the number 88 and 888 (eight is pronounced as 'baht') because it sounds like the phrase... "get rich" (faht choy). Elite might want to consider changing their prices if they want to "get rich". Not many people can shell out $1,688 for a family dinner unless they sell their left kidney.

Elite Restaurant Interior
No red wallpaper, dragons and jade-bracelet equipped cart-pushers. Hope I didn't mistaken this place for Panda's Inn?

Macau Roasted Pork (Oh Moon Seew Yook)
This was awesome! Beautifully roasted pieces of pork back or belly and perfectly fried skin. I love pork belly! This is served with a dish of salt and hoisin sauce. For those that have never heard of Macau, it's an ex-Portuguese colony southwest of Hong Kong. Although the architecture is reminiscent of Portugal's, there are cantonese-speaking people everywhere. Macau is also considered as the Vegas of South Asia. $5.98

Spare Ribs with Chili & Black Bean Sauce (Pai Gwut)

The only difference in this and traditional 'pai gwut' is that the ribs are steamed on top of sweet potatoes, which do nothing for this dish. I've had better 'pai gwut' at traditional dim sum joints. $1.98

Congee with Pork & Preserved Egg (Pei Dan Sao Yook Jook)
A must-have when I eat dim sum. I expected to get a small bowl here but I was wrong. It came in a huge white soup bowl. Like the 'pai gwut', I've had better. Good deal though, for only $5.08.

Scallop Steamed Rice Noodles (Dai Zee Cheung Fun)

Oh man. I've never seen this and when I saw it on the menu I nearly flipped. I love scallops and I love steamed rice noodles. This was excellent. Scallops were perfectly steamed and the noodles were beautiful - not hard at all. The sauce was so so, but still, great overall dish. I would order this dish again. Maybe even two. $2.98

Shark's Fin Dumpling in Supreme Soup Stock
Whenever I have the chance to eat shark, I will eat those bastards. I hate them. I'm amused by the National Geographic and Discovery Channel specials, but those bastards are out of control. Jaws was served in a huge dumpling - almost like a pouch, in a golden broth. I broke the dumpling in half and out came the remnants of Jaws. This was delicious but I felt that the Supreme soup stock was way too sweet. Anyway, I helped out some seals and walruses by eating this dish. $5.98

Pork Shu-Mai (Seew Mai)
I don't know why they call this a pork shu-mai because they all come with large pieces of scallop sitting on top of them. These were definitely the largest shu mai I've ever seen and they were delicious. Because of the satellite dish size bowl of porridge, I couldn't finish this. $2.98

Pan Fried Turnip Cake with X.O. Sauce (XO Jeung Loh Bahk Go)
When I was mini-ED&BM, I used to eat turnip cakes all day long. I call these Chinese hash browns because they are crispy. Elite's version includes X.O. Sauce which consists of minced dried shrimp, dried scallops and chili. The cakes were fried nicely but there wasn't much of an X.O. Sauce-taste. I barely dented this. $5.08

As you can see, I ordered way too much food. My favorites were the scallop steamed rice noodles, Macau pork and shu mai. If you do try Elite, try dishes you wouldn't normally try - they've got a huge list of things I've never eaten. I'm going back again and ordering entirely different dishes. But overall, I prefer traditional dim sum houses like 888, New Capital, Ocean Star and Hop Li (my favorite). I love the anticipation of seeing your favorite dim sum cart approaching you down the aisle. I love seeing what goodies I can eat immediately. Sometimes, traditional is the way to go. I got back to the jury room and freaking knocked out. I was so full I almost puked. Good times. Thanks for reading.

Elite Restaurant
700 S. Atlantic Blvd.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 282-9998 Read more!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Tay Ho Banh Cuon - Rosemead, CA

Yes... banh cuon, the Vietnamese cousin of the Chinese steamed rice noodles found in dim sum. Similar in noodle texture, banh cuon is made with rice flour, tapioca flour, water and oil and traditionally filled with ground pork, fried shallots and wood ear mushrooms. It is garnished with cilantro, sliced cucumbers, even more fried shallots, slices of pork loaf (cha lua) and nuoc cham (fish sauce dip). It is basically a crepe.

This is a dish I learned to love growing up. Back in the 80s, my dad would take his along on his frequent visits to Chinatown and stop by this one roach coach on the corner of Spring & Alpine to pick up banh cuon. I call them the Banh Mi Boys because its run by two brothers - nice guys. The roach coach is STILL there to this day and I'll find myself going there at least once a week to pick up the deluxe banh mi for $2.25 (not the best, but better than dropping $6 at places like Le Saigon in West LA) and banh cuon. The banh cuon comes in a pack of 10 with fish sauce for $2. I eat TWO of them and a pork skewer (nem nuong). Overall, if you check out this roach coach, don't expect much - it's basic Vietnamese fare. Out on the westside, I can't find sh*t. Banh cuon is good because it's so light and flavorful, as with the majority of vietnamese food.

Banh cuon is a dish you can easily find in any Vietnamese restaurant, but there is one that specifically focuses on it: Tay Ho. After J told me about this place, I salivated like one of Pavlov's dogs . I tried out the one in Rosemead.

Jug O' Juice
I like gin and tonic, and I like my fish sauce tonic. Made with fish sauce, Sriricha chili garlic sauce, lemons, sugar and water... this is the ingredient that makes Vietnamese food so tasty. I love how Tay Ho proudly displays their sauce. It's the 40 oz. of fish sauce. Nice.

Spring Rolls (Cha Gio)
Average. It was edible, but you just have to have that delicious crunch from fresh rice paper. I've been spoiled by Golden Deli/Saigon Flavor/Vietnam House! Here's my posting on cha gio.

Steamed Rice Cakes with Ground Shrimp, Mung Bean & Pork Loaf (Banh Beo)
Banh beo is a steamed rice cake. It's a bit starchier and Tay Ho's version is a bit too thick. My favorite banh beo comes from Quan Hy in Westminster where they present the rice cakes in individual dishes so that nothing sticks to the plate. I regretted ordering this because everything was just powdery and starchy. The mung bean and ground shrimp was intensely dry. Not even the 40 oz. fish tonic could help.

Steamed Rice Noodles with Fried Shrimp Paste
Now this was the best dish out of the whole meal. I love shrimp paste - so sweet and tasty. I borrowed some of the pork loaf slices from the previous dish since we couldn't finish it. The banh cuon was cooked nicely - I devoured this up in minutes.

Vietnamese Pork Vermicelli in Beef Soup (Bun Bo Hue)
This is the next favorite noodle dish after pho in vietnamese restaurants. This comes from the Hue district and is actually more flavorful than pho. The soup is made with beef but served with a pork hock. The soup is strong in lemongrass flavor and is delicious. Unfortunately, Tay Ho's version was lacking in flavor. Does anyone have any recommendations for Bun Bo Hue in LA and OC? I love the one from Quan Hy as well.

Fried Pork Chop with Steamed Egg Cake on Rice (Com Tam Suon Nuong)
Pork chop bland. Egg cake good. And that concludes my extensive review on this dish.

Overall, Tay Ho was ok. I think I'm better off trying the Westminster one. The best meal here is probably the Jug O' Juice. FYI, Tay Ho is owned by the West Lake Food Corporation. You can find products like beef balls, pork balls, fish cake, pork loaves and yes, fish sauce, in most asian markets. The fish sauce may very well be the key buy. Try Tay Ho out for yourself. It could've been an off day for me.

Tay Ho Banh Cuon

1039 E Valley Blvd Ste B103
San Gabriel, CA, 91776
(626) 280-5207
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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mark Ryden & The Meat Show

This is the same joyous feeling I have when walking into 99 Ranch Market's meat section or any of the chinese zoos (chinese BBQ restaurants like Sam Woo). It's like a candy shop to me. This painting is by one of my favorites, Mark Ryden, in his older exhibits called "The Meat Show" and "Wondertoonel". The whole exhibition consisted of 18+ paintings with freshly-cut meat as the subject. Here's the link. Anyway, for anyone interested in this style of art, Ryden has a new exhibit at the Michael Kohn Gallery, called "The Tree Show". Afterwards, go drink some MILK!

Mark Ryden

Michael Kohn Gallery
8071 Beverly Blvd (and Crescent Heights)
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 658-8088 Read more!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Soot Bull Jeep, Koreatown - Dinner In A Chimney

Driving through Koreatown, my eyes are constantly wandering around, looking around at potential places to eat. Most are in Korean, some are in Spanish. But there's one place that will blind you with it's large sans serif typeface - as bold as the Hollywood sign. Say hello to 'Soot Bull Jeep'. For some reason, I'm always interested in this simple yet eye-catching sign. Maybe it's the fact that the korean translation actually exists in the english language. And it's just fun to say. Oh the joy. (I'm easily amused.)

A few weeks later, our good friend Colleen Cuisine and her husband told us about Soot Bull Jeep. I stopped going to Manna Korean BBQ on Olympic/Western because the meat quality is lacking, plus that stupid techno birthday song makes you want to rip your veins out. My place for Korean BBQ is either Shik Do Rak (where square rice noodles, called dok bo sam, were first appearing in Koreatown) and Tahoe Galbi. Tahoe Galbi is pretty good for the $14.99 AYCE bracket. It's pretty nice inside. I've noticed that if you sit in the patio, you can get the charcoal-style bbq grills which I love. Indoors, you're stuck with the conventional gas grills. From that point on, I only like grilling over charcoal. But the problem with the AYCE places is that they rarely marinate their meat because they are too busy sending out brigades of meat. If they do marinate, the meat would have a very light taste. You really get what you pay for at these places.

For a change, J and I decided to not gluttonize ourselves at a korean AYCE restaurant, and headed over to Soot Bull Jeep. SBJ is located on 8th and Catalina, clothed in bricks and slightly tinted windows. The restaurant looks big on the outside because it's occupying two spaces, but isn't that deep. If you remove the windows and sign, you can see that the bricks and consistent billow of smoke make SBJ look like a chimney. As a pre-dinner ritual, I rubbed my hands together in delight and opened the door for J. And WHOOOMP!

We were hit by the Korean BBQ Train. *Cough Cough* Damn, that was some garlicky, tasty meat in the air. And jesus, this place was freaking smoky. You would think there is a fire burning ablaze in here. I think I just got a preview of my lungs! The place was so smoky, that even the people looked gray.

The Interior of a Chimney/Tailpipe/Berkeley Student's Dorm/My Lungs
Notice the haze by the lights. Notice all the people coughing. Yes, good eats. *Cough Cough*

Within minutes, we were seated and the waitress slapped some menus down for us. Few minutes later, she was back with all of the korean fixings, banchan. I love banchan - I can just eat this straight as a meal. SBJ's banchan is very mediocre though, but I think it's made this way so that the main dish, beef, isn't overpowered.

SBJ has a nice selection of meats and seafood to choose from. Since this was our first time, we had to give SBJ the simple kalbi benchmark test. If they can make a nice kalbi, it's likely that the rest of their food is edible. In the case of a pho restaurant, if the pho doesn't taste good, it says a lot about the rest of things on their menu. We chose the marinated kalbi and beef tongue. My trip to Japan and frequent dining at Musha made beef tongue a hot commodity. Almost every table had the grilled squid and some sort of stew in a metal pot (chi-gae/tang). I'll try that next time. *Cough Cough*

Beef Getting A Tan
The kalbi steak was marinated beautifully and tasted delicious. I like to grill my meat on the rare side because I like tasting the beef more than the marinade. Over-marinating of meat is a common technique in restaurants used to cover up lower grade meat which makes it edible, therefore keeping food costs low. After we finished the meat, we grilled the kalbi bone for a few minutes, and the waitress came over with a pair of scissors to cut the tendon off the bone. It was chewy, but very good. As for the tongue, they were sliced a little too thick but that didn't stop me from finishing the whole plate myself. Because beef tongue is a chewier piece of meat, it's critical that you get carpaccio-thin slices to ensure that you don't dislocate your jaw from chewing. *Cough Cough*

A Beautiful Shot of Beef Beach
When eating with others, it's better to use tongs to flip the meat - not your own chopsticks. *Cough Cough*

Garlic Goodness
SBJ has no regard for the way you're going to smell after eating there, only that you're having an optimal bbq experience. So they offer garlic in a foil cup with sesame oil. It goes well very well with the beef. SBJ also does not serve the square rice noodles like Tahoe, Manna and Shik Do Rak, but instead give you romaine lettuce. I actually prefer this over the rice noodles which you fill you up faster. A tip in eating korean bbq with lettuce wraps. Dip your grilled meat in the soy/vinegar sauce, salt/pepper oil, bean paste (den jang), add some of the spiced, scallion salad and wrap all of that in your romaine lettuce for a korean-style taco. For spice, add a piece of kimchi. So good.

The minimum at SBJ is a plate per person. The meat dishes range from $15.99 to $21.99 and the portions are smaller. So you'll have to eat your beef with the romaine and devour up the soup and banchan to get your money's worth. SBJ is definitely one of our favorites. For their kalbi, it's worth the smokiness and lingering odor in your hair and clothing. We came back here a 2nd time within a month because we loved the charcoal smokiness to the meat. It's a total dark, hole-in-the-wall and that's another plus for us. Places like Chosun Galbee, although nice, rely more on atmosphere to satisfy the customers. And with korean bbq, I'd like it as rustic and authentic as possible. The employees of SBJ are really working hard for their money putting up with all that smoke. I seriously think they should a) get new vents or at least turn them on b) wear paint masks with SBJ written on it. At SBJ, the service is good. If you can tolerate a smoky place and do not plan on going to a party afterwards, check them out. I guarantee you will reek the next day if you don't take a quick shower. *Cough Cough*

Soot Bull Jeep At Primetime
Here's a photo the waitress took of J and I after we finished our meal. Thanks to the constant flow of smoke emanating from other grills - my usual task of censoring faces was taken care of. Don't we look happy? *Cough Cough*

For anyone that knows about any other korean bbq places that use charcoal, we'd love to check them out. I know SBJ isn't the only one out there that uses charcoal. *Cough Cough* Thanks for reading.

Soot Bull Jeep
3136 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005-1903
(213) 387-3865

Smoke/Carcinogenic Health Clinic
4621 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90045-1987
(213) 387-9964
Read more!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pho Bo: Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup Recipe - Something's Missing.

Pho Bo - Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Anyone that knows me, understands that I go through multiple phases of interests. I might be into a certain kind of music for a few months, and suddenly jump into something completely different. I might like photography for a few weeks, but then fall into a pattern of hanging out at bookstores. And of course, food applies very well to this pattern. Last weekend, after a long two-month date with Santouka's delicious shio ramen, I fell back into the land of Vietnam's traditional beef noodle dish, pho (pronounced 'fuh', not 'fo' as in 'mofo').

Out of nowhere, after finishing a bowl of pho from Saigon Flavor, I decided to cook my own bowl of pho. When I eat pho, I always order a small bowl of soup - devoid of the blood that leaks from the rare beef (tai), the green onions/cilantros/onions and from the flour washoff from the dried rice noodles. I never taint my soup with Sriracha hot sauce or hoisin sauce. The result is a beautiful brown broth that is very sweet and aromatic from the usage of cinnamon, cloves and anise. Next time you try pho, order a bowl of soup on the side and you'll know that it tastes a lot different from the bowl of pho made to order. I had tried Golden Deli/Saigon Flavor's soup so many times that I have it branded in my palate.

I headed over to the Shun Fat market on Valley/San Gabriel which is joined by several eateries, boba cafe, random music stores and clothing I hope J never dares to sport, even on Halloween. With a list of ingredients I had compiled thru a vigorous search on the internet in my hand, I walked like a madman thru the market. First, the beef bones - the mother ingredient. I asked the butcher what I should use and he pointed me to the meat section with bones pre-chopped in bags. For my 14 quart pot, I needed at least 8 lbs of beef bones and went for 10 lbs. Many of the websites recommended using shin, leg and oxtail bones - but no neck bones because it's too fatty. When looking for bones, try and grab the bones that expose a lot of marrow. I then went for the spices, noodles and fixings such as bean sprouts, thai basil, limes and meat. I don't care for rare steak (tai), so I grabbed some beef tendon balls (bo vien). I was ready to go. I waited in line and I noticed a lady behind me staring at my groceries. I love when people look at the things you're buying - it's like they are trying to figure out who you are. Goes well with the famous quote... "Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you who you are." It's a good thing I didn't have things like beer, hershey syrup, a banana and vaseline. Anyway, the lady asked me:

Lady with the Staring Problem: "You like to cook?"
Me: "Yes."
Lady with the Staring Problem: "You're making pho aren't you?"
Me: "Yes."
Lady with the Staring Problem: "It's a lot of trouble. You might as well go and buy a bowl."
Me: "I know. I just wanna try."

Pho Spices

I barrelled down the freeway, more excited than a kid discovering his first porno video. I couldn't wait to make the pho. Keep in mind that this is my first attempt at pho, but I'll still provide a rough draft of ingredients (adjust your pho to your own liking):

14-qt pot (feeds around 8-10 hungry homies)
10 lbs. of beef bones (leg/shin/oxtail bones - more marrow the better)
beef balls or flank steak
5-6" piece of cinnamon stick
6 cloves
8 star anise
1 tblsp. of black peppercorns
1 tblsp. of coriander seeds
spices (cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise, black peppercorns, coriander seeds)
5-6" piece of ginger
8-1o tblsp. fish sauce
2- 2" pieces of rock candy sugar
2 large onions (the softball size)
MSG - yes, MSG. you have to have it for this dish. Add 1/2 a tablespoon - that's all you'll need.
fresh rice noodles (i like the 'Kim Tar' vacuum-sealed brand with the pagoda on it)
fixings: bean sprouts, limes, green chili pepper, thai basil, Sriracha hot sauce and Hoisin sauce

(1) First, add the bones into your pot filled with cold water and turn heat on high. Once it boils, let it boil vigorously for another 5 minutes. This process removes impurities in the bones and creates a raft of crap. Dump the water and rinse the bones in warm water, using tongs. Set bones back into pot, and again, bring water to a vigorous boil.

(2) While the water is boiling, use some tongs and char the onions and ginger over the stove. Char it for a good 5-7 minutes so that the onion becomes soft and flavors are released. Rinse the onion under warm water to remove the charred parts. Do the same thing w/ the piece of ginger, rinse it and then take a knife and give it a good whack to release more flavor.

(3) Once the water has reached a boil, toss in the onion, ginger, rock sugar, spices and fish sauce. Let it cook on SIMMER for at least 6 hours. Some recipes will tell you it's done in 2 hours - no way. It takes way longer than that to fully separate the marrow from the bones.

(4) After 6 hours, give it a taste and adjust accordingly. If you want it saltier, use salt and fish sauce. Sweeter, add small pieces of rock candy sugar. If it's too salty or sweet, start over by adding a little bit of water. The measurements given are for a starting ground. I found myself adding nearly double the amount of fish sauce and even more rock sugar. I even threw in a small piece of cinnamon and extra anise.

(5) Once the pho is ready, boil another pot of water. Make sure you soak your fresh pack of rice noodles in cold water for at least 15 minutes to 'wake' them up. Add the noodles to the boiling pot for no more than 8 seconds. Take it out and place in bowl.

(6) Serve with beef balls, fixings and hot/hoisin sauce.

So was it worth the 10+ hours of work? Most definitely. Pho may sound 'easy', but it's truly a form of art. Like with my Chinese beef noodle soup, which I invested nearly a year in improving it, I didn't expect my pho to come out perfect. It was very good, very aromatic and definitely edible... but something was missing. I had J and my friend MK come over to try it. They liked it a lot but also agreed something was missing. Maybe I should serve them pho on very sticky tables, play random Vietnamese music and have the hot sauce/hoisin bottles right on the table. What would I do differently? I think I will roast the bones in the oven with oil until they are browned. Same thing with the onions. Toasting the cloves and anise also helps wake up the flavors. I would also use less cloves because they are very strong. And I will most definitely add another 2 hours to the simmering process. I will be back soon with Pho Round 2 very soon. As always, thank you for reading.

Please checkout Guilty Carnivore's version of pho. This Portland-native has a great blog and helped me out with the pho recipe. Thanks again GC.
Read more!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Goodbye to BR... For Now: Five-Spice Braised Pork Belly with Apple/Cinnamon Brussel Sprouts and Roasted Kabocha Risotto

My good friend BR is leaving for New York to pursue her lifelong dream of being an advertising account executive. I really think she's going to New York for the food and bars that close at 4 am. And the 15-degree weather I experienced only 2 weeks ago really adds to the long list of New York's benefits. I first met her at our last agency and since then have become good friends. She's competed with me in the first annual Iron Chef Souplantation competition and shared a Happy Hallmark Day. As a goodbye, I promised to cook her dinner. She was the one after all that hooked me up in 'the restaurant'. Which has led me down the path as a part-time caterer. And she's also introduced me to the wonderful art scene in LA.

Her bf, C, and her arrived at my place around 8, only to find me running frantically in the kitchen. I had become so used to prepping food the night before and underestimated the time it would take to cook this much food. Luckily, a bottle of wine, sake and a trusty connection to YouTube is all you need to ameliorate your guests hunger.

Ika Salad with Sesame-Miso Dressing
We wanted something light and what immediately comes to mind, is anything from the sea. With the help of Angelo Pietro, a simple, yet healthy salad of thinly-sliced squid, mixed greens, thinly shredded scallions (korean style), radish sprouts and mixed greens.

Seared Scallops with Soy-Yuzu Beurre Blanc

I love anything seared and yuzu-endowed. I bought these 'japanese sashimi-grade' scallops from Trader Joe's for $10. Sashimi-grade my ass - maybe this is what Todai uses. I usually get mine from Restaurant Depot in a large paint bucket. I made a simple beurre blanc with shallots, vinegar, soy sauce, cream and yuzu. I was very disappointed with the taste of the seared scallops, but I was fortunately saved by the sauce. Garnished with a few microgreens, this is a light and pleasant appetizer.

Pork Belly: Up Close and Personal
There's nothing I love better than pork belly. I love it braised Chinese style in pickled vegetables. I love it in ramen. I love it seared to a nice crisp. I had a nice pork belly dish in San Francisco's Blue Plate a few months ago and loved how it was the perfect block of meat, cooked tenderly with a generous layer of fat. I started braising this the night before with a simple mire poix (onions, carrots, celery), chicken broth, black peppercorns, garlic, ginger and an aromatic rub consisting of all-spice, coriander seeds, anise and cloves. The smell was great. My neighbor's dog started scratching on my screen door. He wanted a quick taste haha. Sorry buddy... only if you leave town. Anyway, I braised this at 425-450 for nearly 3 hours and simmered it on low right before serving.

To go with this, I thought a nice bitter vegetable would go well with the sweetly-spiced pork. I chopped up some brussel sprouts (mini Cabbage-like veggies) and sautéed them with bruonóised apple-smoked bacon and fresh cinnamon-flavored apples. The combination was great but a little too much on the cinnamon spice. It lingered forever.

As the base, I made roasted kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) risotto. I started getting into risottos after I had them at Japanese-style Italian bistros. Places like Musha in Torrance and Blue Marlin on Sawtelle Blvd. have risotto. To make this, you simply roast some kabocha rubbed with olive oil and a tiny bit of salt. I then took them on a rollercoaster ride in the food processor - adding water and oil to help the purée process out. Simply add the kabocha purée to your delicious risotto and adjust the salinity and sweetness. That's it.

Overall, everyone loved the perfectly tender pork belly but felt the cinnamon was overwhelming in the veggie stir fry. The risotto turned out nicely. Warning with risotto, this must be eaten right away. The second it starts to harden, it won't be as good.

We finished the night with some red wine, sake and more YouTubing. To BR, I wish you luck on your next endeavor and remember, what you think is a cat in the streets of New York probably isn't a cat. Always, Dylan. Thanks for reading. Read more!

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