Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Thank You to the Rat Man - Chorizo, Sake & Manila Clams, Beef Bourguignon Recipe and A Scoop of Scoops

J lives in a great spot in Los Angeles. It's close to our favorite eating spots with Chinatown, Koreatown, Thai Town and Little Tokyo within a 10-minute drive. The 101 is less than 3 minutes away. The complex she lives in has several cottage-style units, a nice courtyard for hanging out, a semi-view of the Downtown skyline and most importantly, warm neighbors. After a few months, we were all on first-name basis and pretty much knew about each of the neighbors. This is great we thought. The grass is green, birds are chirping, dragonflies buzzing around – life couldn't be better.

Or so we thought.

J and I started to notice that the soba noodles and spaghetti pasta packages were being opened. Unless it was a new design, vietnamese rice paper had small teeth marks. Cotton was being removed from J's japanese-style futon. Occasional scuffling in the walls and banging sounds in the oven.


One night, J and I were ready to go out. I went over to her closet to grab my jacket and all of a sudden, we froze to the sound of something rustling in j's wicker hamper. I turned to look at her and pointed my finger at the hamper. Her eyes were widened, eyebrows arched with concern and distraught. I signaled for her to open the kitchen door. She came back and I slowly opened the hamper. And within a flash, something black and hairy with a long pink tail jumped out. He scurried right by J. J quickly watched as it went by and let out the most delayed scream ever. 2 seconds later. It was pretty funny haha. Anyway, the rat didn't see the open door and instead, ran behind the fridge. Great. I went back there with a broom and proceeded to slam the spank the back of the fridge like it liked it. J was annoyed and told me to stop haha – I was probably releasing stress from a few months ago and forgot that I was after a rodent. Anyway, it was nowhere to be found. We moved the fridge and stove. Nothing. Rats are so clever. Did he sneak out while I was on the spanking spree?

We knew of one last option – call JR. JR is J's next door neighbor. A tall, slender early-30's drummer who proved to be one of the most handy guys around the complex. He has helped J out many times with different things. We asked him to come over and help us rat out the rat. After a few minutes of looking, we were all baffled.

JR: "Wait. Did you check inside the stove?"
Me: "You serious. It's freaking hot in there."
JR: "Be right back."

He comes back with a flashlight, and lifts the broiler door open. And sure enough, we see a trembling rat wedged in the back end of the broiler. I couldn't believe that it got through the stove from the back side. We opened the door, stuck something in the broiler and out popped the rat. Thank you JR.

But the story does not end here. Again, we found feces and opened food a week later. Was it the same one? Couldn't be. An Orkin guy was even sent out and he really didn't do anything but give J these stupid old school Tom & Jerry mouse traps. Rats aren't stupid.

Me: "You know what you need?"
J: "What?"
Me: "You need some clear sticky tape. Just tape."
J: "And we throw some bait."
Me: "Yesssssss." *evil*

J found some sticky tape at the store. But we needed something delicious to lure that hairy bastard back in here. Thank god J had some of that delicious cashew butter from Trader Joe's. That stuff lures me too. She put a ball of the butter past the sticky tape line. And within an hour, she reported hearing noises in the kitchen - like nails gliding across the ceramic tile. She called me while I was at work and I could hear the rat making noise. She peeked in and saw the rat, about 7" minus the tail, stomach stuck to the tape - exhausted. It was relief yet cruel at the same time.

Me: "Are you just going to just let it die?"
J: "I don't know what to do."
Together: "JR."

JR comes over and picks up the tape with the rat attached to it. The rat was miserable, tired and nearly dead. JR takes the rat to the back, grabs a big stone and puts it out of its misery. I think it was the right thing to do. Thank you JR.

Now that I've whet your appetite. Let's get on to the food. As a simple thank you to JR for helping J out and for being a really down-to-earth, good neighbor, we invited him over for dinner.

We started off with some delicious cheese that J got at Silverlake Cheese store. The creamy, triple-creme kind. Stuff that looks like butter.

As an appetizer, we made some manila clams. I love the clams served up at Musha, which are cooked with sake, parsley, leeks, mushrooms, garlic and about 10 lbs of butter. Who doesn't like butter?! Our take included sake and white wine, chorizo sausage for a spice kick and korean-style sliced scallions. And it was delicious. JR and J were so hungry that they started sponging up the sake/butter sauce with bread. Not healthy, but good.

Chorizo Clams

Chorizo & Sake Manila Clams
Simply wash and scrub the clams to rid them of any sand or nasties. I bought nearly 20 clams - about 2.5 lbs. First pan fry some chorizo pork sausage and break them down into small bits. Set aside on paper towel to soak up the grease. Sauté some shallots and garlic over medium heat. After you've sweated them, add about 1 cup of white wine, and about 1/2 a cup of sake. Wait a few minutes for the alcohol to burn out and add about 2-3 tablespoons of butter. As soon as the butter melts, bring the clams to the party. You'll see the clams slowly pop open. ***A side note. To identify dead clams, take a wooden spoon and tap the clamshell. If you hear a solid sound, it's alive, if you hear a hollow sound (like cracking open egg shells), it's dead. Once all of them have opened (about 4 minutes, add the sliced green onions and stir - making sure that you spoon butter into all the clams. Serve immediately with french bread.

Beef Bourguignon

Beef Bourguignon
JR is french, and we knew that he would like this. We saut̩ed some beef stew meat in olive oil and added a mire poix (onions, carrots, celery). Poured in some red wine and add bay leaves, garlic, thyme, peppercorn and tomato paste. To thicken up the stew, we added potatoes, a little flour and mushrooms. Baked the whole thing in a dutch oven at about 450 degrees for nearly 4 hours. The result is a hearty and savory meat dish that goes well with greens, rice and potatoes - or simply with fresh warm french bread. If you want the recipe, feel free to email me РI'm too lazy to type it out.

Scoops Ice Cream

A Scoop of Scoops Ice Cream
Any dinner party we have, J will get stoked. Her first choice for dessert is always Scoops Ice Cream over on Melrose/Heliotrope. Owned by a very nice Korean man, Scoops conjures up very interesting ice cream flavors daily. He even has a white board for people to write down suggestions for future flavors. I believe he has even made a foie gras ice cream. Mmm. Not a flavor any PETA person would like to see on a menu. Pictured above is the brown bread and chocolate, banana and cinnamon flavors. A delicious way to end a hearty meal.

Thank you to JR for being a good neighbor and friend to us, and thanks to everyone for reading. I know this was long.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Koreatown Battle of the Tofu Houses: Beverly Soon Tofu VS. So Kong Dong Tofu

Korean Battle of the Tofu Houses

Tyson vs. Holyfield. Holyfield vs. Lewis. Great matches. But what about the real bouts - food fights!? For many in Los Angeles, it's Golden Deli vs. Pho 79, Sushi Zo vs. Sasabune, Phillipe's vs. Cole's french dip – the list goes on an on. But who reigns as champ in the soon tofu circuit? For those that have never eaten this delicious Korean dish, it consists of meat, seafood, tofu, broth and chili powder all served in a scalding hot stone pot. Before I frequented the two places above, I ate at BCD Tofu House a lot and Young Dong and Min Dong in the SGV area - they were average but I wanted the best of the best. All over Chowhound and Yelp, Beverly Soon Tofu and So Kong Dong were the two most mentioned places - both of which I had to sample. *Ding Ding Ding* Rumble time!

Live from the streets of Koreatown on Olympic Blvd., lie two contenders that have forever had conflict with each other. In fact, they are directly across the street from each other! On the North corner, weighing in at 2717 W Olympic Blvd Ste 108, about 900 square feet, in its 20+ years of serving food... Beverly Soon Tofu aka BST - The Beast! And on the South Corner, weighing in at 2717 W Olympic Blvd Ste 108, also about 900 square feet, also in its 20+ years of serving food.... So Kong Dong aka SKD - Super Killer Destroyer! (k that was stupid, but just play along). Let's take an insider look at those two opponents.

Beverly Soon Tofu, Koreatown

BST sits on the corner of a strip mall with very bad parking. All the buildings in Koreatown are 2-3 stories, and can only afford 10-12 parking spots because the area is so tight. The interior of BST takes on a rustic Korean atmosphere - I love the wooden benches they use. And can hold about 36 people. To add to the authenticity, you'll see a government-supplied metal bowl as part of your settings. No not for rice or soup - but for your ice tea! They give you your own ice tea dispenser which makes it easier for the servers to be more efficient in taking care of the food.

Beverly Soon Tofu Beef Tofu

Beef Soon Tofu
BST really packs a powerful punch with the soon tofu. The broth used is extremely full-bodied and you can tell it wasn't some kind of bouillon/powder used for flavoring water. For $8.27 per pot, BST doesn't dent your wallet. (That was bad!) The stock really has a strong beef taste and is thick, not watery like some other places. The tofu is soft and fluffy, the way I like it. Some places I've been to, the tofu is just too chunky/pasty and when mixed, turns the whole dish into swamp mush. You can easily lose your appetite if this occurs.

BST offers 10 kinds of soon tofu: the combination (meat/seafood), seafood, kimchi, mushroom, vegetable, fish egg, squid, shrimp vegetable, seaweed and soybean paste (dwen jang).

Beverly Soon Tofu Beef Tofu

Here's a slow mo replay of BST's beefy uppercut. Even when mixed up, tofu and broth stay separated.

Beverly Soon Tofu Kalbi

Like BCD Tofu House (Bok Chang Dong - the 24 hour soon tofu joint), they offer korean bbq platters with the soon tofu. For an additional $6, you can turn your soon tofu into a powerhouse combo! (sorry) Although the amount of kalbi given is sparse (6-7 pieces), you can't find a better pairing for your molten hot bowl of tofu. These are cooked inside the kitchen, so don't worry about getting the Soot Bull Jeep or Gui Rim experience.`

Beverly Soon Tofu Fresh Tofu

Not pictured are BST's side dishes (ban chan), which are another strong point - they are definitely high quality. Everything is good - the kimchi, the bean sprouts, radish, potatoes... and their secret weapon... silky round cuts of tofu in a light broth, sesame oil and seaweed strips. I gobbled this in 3 scoops. Loved it.

When the server brings you the rice that accompanies the soon tofu, it's also served in a stone pot. Once she scoops out the rice into the metal bowls, she'll add ice tea or water to the stone pot to loosen the rice that's burnt and stuck to the sides of the pot. With the help of some salt, this becomes an instant double dinner. Or if you choose not to add water, you can eat the burnt rice pieces on the inside of the pot, which Koreans refer to as 'noo roong ji'. Both are good sources of double dinner. In addition to the soon tofu, I hear that BST serves a good bibimbap, which is a stone pot filled with meat, eggs, veggies and rice - served with sesame oil and sweet red chili paste (gochujang).

Total bill comes out to about $34 with tax and tip for two people. Service is great here, parking isn't.

So Kong Dong Koreatown

Now a look at the Super Killer Destroyer, SKD, across in the South ring. SKD sits in the corner of a strip mall hidden behind the stairwell and also offers bad parking. BST has an advantage to SKD b/c it's on the north side of Olympic - much easier to turn into coming from either direction on Vermont. This area around 6 pm on a weekday is pure shit.

I came here on a weekend around 7 pm and it was quite slow. For a place to be this hidden and still hold a great reputation in the overwhelming Koreatown area really says a lot. I was greeted warmly and instantly smelled the goodness coming out of the kitchen.

So Kong Dong Tofu

For $8.50, you get a piping hot bowl of soon tofu. And it is super delicious. Thick, hot, bubbling - just like BST. But I'm going to have to say that SKD's soon tofu (beef, very spicy version pictured above) gives a nice hook to BST's noggin. Every single scoop made me want more and more - it was like chewing gum that never ran out of flavor. Tofu was very silky and fluffy like BST's, but I found that the soup evaporated faster than BST's, making everything really mushy and choppy. Still very good though! I'd take this over BCD anyday.

SKD also offers 10 kinds of soon tofu like BST: combination (meat/seafood), seafood, clam, oyster, beef, pork, kimchi, mushroom, beef intestines and dumplings.

So Kong Dong Dumpling Tofu

A good way to test the quality of the soup is to try the plain soup version. Just kidding, that's just my bullshit excuse for not being able to handle much spiciness (due to excessive drinking in the past). Great soup - I could definitely taste the essence of beef and seafood in the broth. I quickly stole some of J's spicy soup and dumped it in my bowl. Again, the broth evaporated quite quickly. But nonetheless, delicious.

Unfortunately, for those that are used to BST and BCD's kalbi/tofu combos, it doesn't happen here. This is where I think SKD may lack as a restaurant in whole. If you're in for the tofu, just come to either place and order the tofu. Some may argue that you don't go to a tofu house to order meat, which is true, as you don't order soup noodles in a chinese banquet restaurant. But if you must have a side of meat to go with your tofu, I suggest going to BST. SKD only offers beef and pork bul go gi (slices of meat served on a platter w/ onions) for $12.99 which is steep. If you add that to your $8.50 soon tofu, that's $22 we're talking there. But that's for sliced beef, not like kalbi ribs you can get at BST.

With a more expensive pot of soon tofu and no real meat combo, things aren't looking good for SKD. But the tables have turned and a possible comeback is in sight. This is SKD's secret weapon that may see to BST's strong set of side dishes... the spicy raw crab called 'gae jang'.

So Kong Dong Rawcrab

I've never had this but I can tell you that I have a favorite new side dish. Raw crabs are cracked and fermented with red bean paste along with green onions and garlic - awesome. There was so little meat on it though and I knew that it was more for sucking on. The paste used is really tasty. Crab does things to dishes – like how blue crab enhances the taste of Laotian/Thai papaya salad. You can order a whole plate of the raw crab for $10.99. Total bill for two orders of soon tofu with tax and tip comes out to like $18.

Judge's Scorecard after 20+ Years of Fighting

Best Overall Soon Tofu - I'd give it to SKD for it's strong broth. Both places have nice silky tofu, but it's the broth that's important.

Best Overall Side Dishes - This is a tie. BST has very good overall ban chan. But it's SKD's raw crab dish that wins a lot of people over. If you don't think you'll like raw crab, don't go to SKD. They also have fishcake but it's quite rubbery - not the best korean fishcake I've had.

Best Variety - This is a tie when it comes to soon tofu variations. I like the idea of BST's fish eggs, squid, soybean paste and seaweed in the tofu and I also like SKD's clam, oyster and beef intestine offerings - very unique! But I am a sucker for the dumpling tofu (mandoo), which is only offered by SKD.

Best Value - I'd give it to BST for their tofu/meat combos. BST offers both kalbi and bulgogi w/ combos, but SKD only offers non-combo bulgogi for $12.99. Quite expensive IMO for sliced beef. Even if I only want to eat soon tofu, I'd still come to Beverly because of the ban chan.

Best Miscellanous Benefits - Not that I really care about this but it depends on what you like. I like the old school benches at BST. SKD feels like any regular restaurant. Service is great at both places. Parking is shitty at both strip malls. I believe BST closes 30-60 mins earlier than SKD. And BCD Tofu House is open 24 hours.

Overall, I think both places are very solid. I'm glad there are other places to go to besides BCD Tofu House which for some reason just isn't on the same level as BST & SKD. I do like the fried yellow covina fish that's served as ban chan though - so tasty.

Are there better places than these two? Lemme know! I'd love to try it out and do another rematch posting. As always, thanks for reading.

Another compelling battle is also taking place in Koreatown... Pho 2000 vs. Pho 4000. Who is the real Pho restaurant from the future?!

Beverly Soon Tofu
2717 W Olympic Blvd #108
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-1113

So Kong Dong
2716 W Olympic Blvd #104
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-3737 Read more!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Supermarket Love Affair: My Junk Blog

If you're bored at work, or refuse to work, stop by my junk site... Supermarket Love Affair! Updated five times a week... or basically everyday at work. Read more!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Foodporno! The Ramen Girl

I haven't watched the film Tampopo, which was shot in 1985 but I've heard that it's good. It's a film about a woman and her passion for ramen. 22 years later, again the topic of ramen comes up. This movie stars Brittany Murphy, who plays a chef-in-training in a ramen noodle shop. Compelling story, I know. Not sure when this comes out soon, but I certainly hope the theatre sells cup o' noodles at the snack bar during the premiere. That'd be fun to hear slurping inside the theatre. Read more!

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