Thursday, February 28, 2008

Yoshinoya: Quality Not Assured

On a scale of 5-stars, Yoshinoya deserves 1-star. Not for the food, which i personally think deserves 3 stars. This 1-star accolade applies to the knuckleheads for their level of customer service at this particular location that operate the establishment known as Yoshinoya... 'authentic' Japanese for non-Japanese. But like Jollibee, there is something intriguing – drawing me back in. The meat is beyond identifiable and could be a cross between donkey or zebra meat... a result of a bad animal cloning project gone awry that somehow made its way into our warm Styrofoam bowls. But man, that (insert mystery meat) juice is tasty.

So i go to Yoshinoya on the way home b/c that's where starving people frequent, especially when they have those BOGO free coupons. A whole bowl of zebra/donkey meat, onions and rice soaked in a lagoon of beef fat/soy sauce/msg for under $5. Hey i'm poor and hungry, sign me up please!

I walk in and immediately I see one female cashier sporting the manager button. She's laughing her ass off and looking down. I take a look at her and know that she's been down the HIGHway. Oily faced with slightly red eyes that were halfway open. I walk closer to the counter and take a look at the menu. Suddenly, i hear a laugh coming from below where her HIGHness is standing. Sure enough, she's got a colleague on the floor laughing while lying on her back. She looks at me and just busts up... doesn't even bother getting up. She apparently is high too. In the back, are two guys standing there laughing with them. After about 30 seconds later, the cashier realizes that... 'hey, maybe this guy is here for a reason. maybe he is actually here to order something from me. so maybe i should take his order? thanks my lovely brain." No sh*t, I came here to watch you circusfolk perform!

Cashier: "Hi, can i help you?"

Colleague-on-the-floor impersonates her in a weird voice: "Ugh... Hi, can i help you?"

Both start to laugh again uncontrollably. and gain conscience 15 seconds later.

Me: "I'll take two large beefs." (That sound weird.)

Cashier: *pppoooooffffft* "Ugh ok, two large beefs."

She then grabs the handy, bendy-mic and looks at me and says "two large beefs" in a deep and retarded tone and busts up.

Homegirl, who is still tanning on the floor under the fluorescent lights, starts laughing again. The whole time, the guy (line cooks) are echoing their laughs. They respond to the manager's professional request for 'two large beefs' and start to move about and DO something.

Cashier: "$9.50 please."

I pull out my card and swipe. I get my receipt and then the cashier says..

"Oh shit. I pushed the CASH button! haha. I didn't push debit/credit!"

Employee on the floor: "Stuuuuuupppppiiiiid."

More laughing ensues. I watched as she tried to correct the transaction for over 3 minutes. She couldn't even function and eventually just said "ah, fuck it!" Motor skills not kicking in.

Next, the girl on the floor gets up and grabs the mic from the cashier. And suddenly, a mini cat-fight ensues with some pretty hard slaps to the head – enough to hear a thump and make the two guys in the back say "oooooooh". They were too busy watching the cat-fight and stopped making my order. The girl backs off and wipes her hair/straightens out her clothing and suddenly grabs the mic again and starts to sing some song really loudly. She then pulls out her cellphone, activates her ringtone and puts it to the mic to add some musical ambiance to the restaurant, which already looks like a mix between a hospital cafeteria and morgue b/c of the drab tiling.

I stand back and just witness the wildlife scenario.... like I'm on a Safari. Binoculars and everything.

Next, two guys come in and walk straight to the counter. They whisper to the cashier and she walks to the kitchen and asks for some chicken wings and gives him a large cup. He gladly goes over to fill his drink and waits proudly for the free food. He is golden.

The four of them start to chat and I see my food being placed on the counter top. And I patiently wait to see how long it would take to get my food. 30 seconds. 45 seconds. 1 minute. 2 minutes. and finally at 3 minutes... I said "HEY!" while pointing at the food.

Cashier: "Oh fuck. sorry!"

I get my food, walk out and take a last look at the store and say to myself...

"I love Yoshinoya." Read more!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Love for Maggi Seasoning Sauce - Maggi Sauce

Maggi Family

From Wikipedia
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - is a psychiatric anxiety disorder most commonly characterized by a subject's obsessive, distressing, intrusive thoughts and related compulsions (tasks or "rituals") which attempt to neutralize the obsessions.

The phrase "obsessive-compulsive" has worked its way into the wider English lexicon, and is often used in an offhand manner to describe someone who is meticulous or absorbed in a cause (see "anal retentive"). Such casual references should not be confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder; see clinomorphism. It is also important to distinguish OCD from other types of anxiety, including the routine tension and stress that appear throughout life. Although these signs are often present in OCD, a person who shows signs of infatuation or fixation with a subject/object, or displays traits such as perfectionism, does not necessarily have OCD, a specific and well-defined condition.

Yes, but I know I have OCD for sure and I am proud of it. Just refer to the picture above. Yesterday, I got an email from Wandering Chopsticks concerning a VERY IMPORTANT matter: the main difference between all the various Maggi seasoning sauces from different parts of the world – which inspires me to write this posting. On a side note, before I went to Mexico, I thought all Maggi sauces tasted the same. And I couldn't be more wrong. I'm sure my fellow foodies, Steamy Kitchen and Guilty Carnivore, would also agree!

First a little history about this sauce that most people incorrectly refer to as a variation of soy sauce – its wheat. Maggi is a Swiss company well known for producing dehydrated stock cubes, instant noodles and soups since 1872. The Maggi family sold most of its products to factory workers who were too poor, occupied by long hours of work and for people that weren't getting enough nutrition in their food. They made headlines with the invention of the bouillon cube. For the impoverished, a simple soup could be made with leftover vegetables, some water and 2-3 cubes of Maggi's bouillon cubes. And today, the most popular product is the seasoning sauce, which is sold in a dark brown bottle with a thick, yellow cap. A few dashes in your soup, steak or eggs, and you're food is taken to another level. Is it healthy? Probably not. Even the bottle warns you to 'add just a few drops'. They aren't kidding because you're dealing with some serious sodium levels. For sure it has monosodium glutamate, but damn, it's good. My favorite way of eating this is over fried eggs with a few dashes of Sriracha. In fact, I'll have some now...

Ok, I'm back from eating my Maggi eggs. *Sigh* So good. Anyway, I just wanted to share with everyone one of the many outlets for my OCD. I started collecting Maggi seasonings after I had lunch with a Chicago-based foodie of Polish descent. We met for lunch at Mien Nghia one day in Chinatown, and as a gift, he brought me a bottle of Polish Maggi. You could imagine my surprise when I learned that Asians weren't the only ones to share this lovely sauce. The label was printed completely in Polish and the only thing that I understood was the distinctly shaped red cap w/ the pinpoint spout and dark brown glass. I asked if I could open it and try it out. I ripped off the seal and used my fingernail to pry open the tiny cap. I looked at the tiny spout, meant for minimal dashing upon food, and dabbed a little on my finger. I then took a whiff expecting it to smell familiar – but it was different... almost stronger and more sour. I brought my finger to my mouth and tasted it. Wow. Delicious and completely different than the sauce that sat in the kitchen of my parents' house since the day I was born. Right then, I knew that I wanted to try all of the Maggi seasonings of the world. Refer back to the definition of OCD at the top of the posting if you've suddenly forgotten what this posting is about.

The Maggi Family Portrait, from Left to Right

A. Maggi Inglesa from Mexico
- tastes like a dumbed-down version of Worcestershire Sauce. I don't recommend it, go with Worcestershire Sauce.

B. Maggi Garlic Seasoning from Manila
- probably my 2nd favorite Maggi that I own. Has a great garlic punch that I've used on fried eggs and food revived by the microwave oven. I bought this at the filipino market, Seafood City. I highly recommend!

C. Grandpa Maggi from My Mom's House - that is the largest size allowed by the FDA because of its potency. Anything larger than that can be categorized as a weapon of mass destruction to your kidneys. It takes a LONG time to use up this Costco-sized Maggi. If you've used up more than 5 of those in your lifetime, you're probably already dead and have somehow managed to catch free wireless in heaven to read this posting. This is the version you'll find at any Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai market. I don't think Koreans or Japanese use this sauce – it's a Southeast Asian thing. Even my relatives with the worst English comprehension know the word Maggi – pronounced "mack-key". Overall, it's very light in color and taste compared to its international cousins.

D. Maggi Jugo from Mexico (Spicy) - jugo is spanish for 'juice', or in this context, 'sauce'. I was overjoyed when I saw the icon of a chili pepper on this mini Maggi bottle. It definitely has a little spice to it, but I could use about 10x more picante. In Latin American cooking, Maggi is used mostly with soups (caldos) and braised stews such as posole, caldo de mariscos and machaca shredded beef. Mexican Maggi is WAY different than any Maggi sauce I have tasted – it is extremely thick, rich and dark. It's as dark as oil from a car that's 8,000 miles behind on an oil change – like mine. We put 2 drops on a tortilla chip, and the taste sustained for a few seconds. Awesome.

E. Maggi Jugo from Mexico (Plain) - this one has an icon of a pan boiling some food. I don't know what to infer from it? Again, it is thick and rich but not as good as the spicy version.

F. Maggi Jugo from Mexico (Soy Sauce) - this one had an icon of a sushi roll and it is what it is – soy sauce. Tastes like Kikkoman.

G. Maggi from Germany - at nearly $20 a bottle, this is the bourdeaux of Maggi Sauces. Freaking expensive but worth the money – it tastes better than Asian Maggi. I would trade this for a bottle of Mexican Maggi.

H. Maggi Jugo from Mexico (Lime) - it is what it is, Maggi with a dash of lime. Think of it as Maggi Sauce on vacation in Mexico, drinking a Corona on a white sand beach. If you don't have limes to go with your Mexican soup, this would do just fine. Tastes great on tortilla chips too!

I. Maggi from Poland - Poland gets the Silver Medal in the Maggi Olympics, closely behind Mexico and with a good lead ahead of Manila's Garlic Maggi. Sharp and pungent, this is a lapdance for your tongue. Love it, thanks again to ErikM. I use this SPARINGLY.

J. Maggi from France (Not Pictured) - this isn't pictured for a simple reason... I have it at work! Many coworkers give me the "WTF" look when I pull this out and douse my food with it. J gave me this as a gift and I love that she wants to destroy my kidneys. The French version is a little more concentrated than the Asian Maggi and has more taste in my opinion than the German version.

Here at Eat, Drink & Be Merry, we only discuss SERIOUS global issues like this. If you've tried an international version of Maggi, share your thoughts on this destructive yet delicious sauce. I've heard that Ethiopian cuisine employs a lot of Maggi Sauce, yummy. By the way, more evidence of the Maggi brand in other countries. Tonight, J & I watched the Jamaica episode of No Reservations and guess what we see in the background...

Maggi Sauce in No Reservations Jamaica Episode

Maggi Sauce in No Reservations Jamaica Episode

Maggi Sauce in No Reservations Jamaica Episode

Thanks to Charlene Collins for this awesome photo of Maggi real estate. Has escrow closed on that? If not, I'm bidding $500 on that.

More Maggi Militia here...
Guilty Carnivore

Steamy Kitchen
Wandering Chopsticks
Epicurious Online

Thanks for reading. Support the Maggi Family!
Read more!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles - A Spontaneous Hundred-Dollar Snack

Osteria Mozza Los Angeles

On the way back from Audrey Kawasaki's latest exhibit at the Bergamot Station, Mayoi Michi, J & I drove with rumbling stomachs. We started to flip through our mental rolodex of late-night food options in the Silver Lake adjacent.

Soup noodles at Torung or Ruen Pair in Thai Town?
Tacos Arizas, the taco truck that catered our first date in Echo Park?
Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada? I wish! They close too early.
Two Tacos for $.99 at Jack in the Crack?
Fried Chicken at The Prince or Toe Bang in Koreatown?
Pho Cafe in Silver Lake? No, thanks.
Raw oysters and tasty fries at Hungry Cat? We didn't feel like drinking.

We couldn't decide on a place because there was a con for every pro. But heading on the 10 towards the La Brea exit, we both shot a slight grin... as though we knew what would be best for us right now...


Specifically, Mario Batali's & Nancy Silverton's delicious pie at Pizzeria Mozza. Beautifully-crafted dough with minimal, yet sufficient, toppings – it's what makes the pizza more than a delectable snack. We parked on Highland and crossed the street but instead, focused our attention on Pizzeria Mozza's sister restaurant, Osteria Mozza, which focused more on pasta and rustic dishes... but no pizza. Since we had already tried their pizza, this would be a good chance to try out Osteria. This year, we've been good with eating at home and spending less on extracurricular activities. Osteria was our little reward for wearing halos on our head for 2 months.

The main criticism on Osteria Mozza is the advanced reservation one must make in order to eat there. God, so L.A. But we've learned that some places may do that to create a hype. It was already 10:45 pm and we were hungry. We walked in, not knowing what to expect, and felt the vibe of good ambiance. Dimly lit with sparse lighting, the constant sound of indistinct chatter and silverware clanking on porcelain plates made us feel that we are at the right place at the right time. Even at 10:45 pm. I walked up to hostess and asked if it was possible to get a bar seat without reservations. He glanced over his shoulder with his stylish Armani Exchange glasses, the Malcolm X-style ones, and pointed at the corner of the bar. Nice.

Osteria Mozza3

Osteria Mozza2

Osteria Mozza1

He pulled us towards the 'cheese bar', where we could see four line cooks hustling and bustling. Two were busy working the expensive-looking deli slicers that looked like they were imported from Italy. Another cook was meticulously plating what looked like a burrata cheese appetizer. And the last cook, a woman with frizzy brown hair in her 40s who had to be none other than, La Brea Bakery's Nancy Silverton. We looked at each other and felt even more excited to sit at the bar. She wore an apron that was different from everyone else's, almost like a midwest-style denim dress. Not the most stylish, but gave us the feeling of motherliness with her cooking. All she needed was one of those wooden, beaded necklaces made with stuff from Michael's. Nancy Silverton is another one of our favorite female chefs that cook more with soul than anything. She fits right up there with Suzanne Goin (Lucques & AOC), Alice Waters (Chez Panisse, Berkeley) and Judy Rodgers (Zuni Cafe, San Francisco). We stared at every one of her moves. You can see her in the photo above.

Osteria Mozza4

Osteria Mozza5

As we pulled our new replacement for our stolen camera, we heard a voice behind us saying:

"Which model is that?"

We turned back to see that it was a server with a joyful demeanor and hair that was 30 minutes away from needing a re-gelling session. Very nice guy. After hearing about his new camera from Costco, flight-attendant wife, recent travels to Dubai and Buenos Aires and love for cooking... we got our menus and had to order within 5 minutes. Because our server was so into food we let him pretty much do the ordering. Here's what we had.

Osteria Mozza Burrata Bacon

Burrata Cheese with Bacon, Braised Escarole & Caramelized Onions
This was our server's recommendation. It was larger than we had expected, because after all, this was just snack time, not a tasting menu. And honestly, after one bite of this, I knew why Mario looks the way he does. But you know what, that's a good thing. He is a man that is so passionate about his food and tacky orange Chuck's and clogs. He's not going to cheat you out of food; he's going to knock you out the Italian way. The combination of creamy burrata cheese, sweet caramelized onions, soupy escarole on grilled bread was decadent, yet tasty. I only wish that they had divided this dish into 6 normal sized pieces vs. 2 boatloads.

Osteria Mozza Grilled Scallops Lardo

Grilled Diver Scallops with Lardo & Pink Peppercorns
In the book, Heat, by Bill Buford, he describes a dinner party where one of the guests was Batali himself. The man is more than generous, as he came to the party prepared... with a case of wine and a slice of deli meat known as lardo. The marketing term for that is white prosciutto, and let's just through that bullshit. It's pure lard that has been smoked and cured... and it is heavenly. Sure anyone can grill diver scallops, but only Batali would finish it with the near-translucent slices of one of the many delicious parts of the pig. Fat so thin and ghostly, it almost melts on your tongue. These scallops, although small and expensive, were cooked beautifully and I'm still thinking about them. But that's me, I'm a scallop-whore. I wanted another 5 skewers, but at $16 for this dish, would you drop $100 on this?

Osteria Mozza Grilled Octopus

Grilled Octopus with Potatoes, Lemon & Celery
Before I selected the diver scallops, I was declined by my own server. And I love that honesty. He asked if we could change our minds and direct our attention to this instead. And what he told us next really proved that he was the type of knowledge every server should have. Basically, he said that we've never had this style of octopus before. Hmm, how so? First, they get 6 large octopi – pack them in a large hotel pan and fill it to the brim with some of the finest Italian olive oil with salt & pepper. But before it's slowly poached at 175 degrees, a secret ingredient is added. One that NO ONE would guess, well unless you work at Osteria Mozza. Four corks from wine bottles! Ok, so now we were excited. The plate arrived and we immediately dove in. If you told me it was slightly braised chicken, I would believe you. This preparation for the octopi really tenderized the meat. It was awesome and for us, the winner of the night. The server said that if you didn't add the wine corks, the meat would not come out this way. Something about an enzyme that leaks out from the wine corks. Alton, please analyze.

Osteria Mozza Oxtail Ragu Tagliatella

Oxtail Ragu with Tagliatelle
And finally, what J and I were both dying to try... Batali's handmade pasta. After a few occasions at Cube on La Brea, I was entirely hooked on fresh pasta. It's a completely different beast than the dried pasta. The server said this oxtail was cooked with Fresno chiles, San Marzano tomatoes and soffrito. Soffrito is basically an Italian version of mire poix. It varies in different countries. In Cuban, Caribbean and Puerto Rico, sofrito consists of red bell peppers, garlic and onions and is a standard base for stews, soups and sauces. I could totally smell the red bell peppers in this dish, so sweet and homey. I wound up the ribbon-like pasta and tender oxtail with my fork... and wow. Simply divine. The portion, at first, may look small, but you have to know that oxtail releases TONS of rat. Along with the sauce of the braised stew, you're guaranteed to get a flavor in every bite. We woke this dish up with some fresh black pepper. So good.

Although this was a pricey 'snack', it was more than worth it. Mario and Nancy's food is decadent and will put you right to sleep... with sauce stains on your shirt and a big smile on your face. Thanks for reading.

For those that have been to Angelini Osteria and Osteria La Buca, I'd love to hear your recommendations because I'm eating there next!

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 297-0100 Read more!

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