Friday, December 18, 2009

Our First Anniversary - All that We've Learned This Year

First Anniversary Dinner

On a Saturday evening, I sat with my wife in our apartment at the dining table and clinked our glasses. We finally did it. We celebrated our first year together as husband and wife. It wasn't easy but for every difficult moment, there were twenty-five or so good moments to outweigh it. Rather than showing a whole slideshow of us doing couple poses in various locations, I thought I might share the things I've learned as the husband to a very special woman and as well as the importance of having someone to turn to. If you're thinking about getting married, consider these few words of advice.

I learned a lot about life from Tuesdays With Morrie. I haven't read it in over a decade but I still remember a lot of the quotes, many of which have influenced the way I approached my relationship with Jeni.

"... there are a few rules I know to be true about love and marriage: If you don't respect the other person, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. If you don't know how to compromise, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. If you can't talk openly about what goes on between you, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. And if you don't have a common set of values in life, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be alike."

MGM

I think the first thing we asked each other after getting married in Las Vegas was, "What do we do now? What does a married couple do right after putting the rings on? Most people will probably buy a house and have children. We decided to skip all of that for the time being.

For a lot of newlyweds, it's the first of many uphill battles. There is such a thing as personal space and it takes at least a year to really find out which buttons you can and can't push. Thank god we got that out all the way. Although I'll occasionally find unclosed drawers or those stupid hair-ties all over the place, I've learned to suck it up and take care of it myself. I know she's done something similar for me. If you don't discuss the things that irritate you, it will only get pent up and be released like an H-bomb. You can't change everyone but you can compromise.

Our First Anniversary

Children. We love my nephew to death and after several days of taking care of him, we knew that a child would not be in the works anytime soon. I know things will change when we do have a child, but for now, it's about enjoying our time together before we both get saggy with nasty stretch marks. Who knew that a 3 year old could need so much attention and sugar. God. I love him still though.

Our First Anniversary

Our First Anniversary

I've learned that you have to live each day like it's the last. Especially on the dance floor. Jeni and I have no problem being the first people to open up the dance floor at any wedding because we don't care what people think. There's no one I'd rather dance with than my Chuck Taylor-sporting wife. And when I'm breaking out into a calorie-burning workout to some 90s hip hop, you know you have a good wife when she's there to hand you a mini towel and say something sweet like, "Here. You're disgusting."

Our First Anniversary

Our First Anniversary

I've learned that even when you don't care to do something, you just have to do it because you're now one unit. I can't tell you how many times Jeni has reluctantly gone with me on taco runs because I was hungry at 1 am. She would sit in the car even if she didn't feel like downing some buche but was still happy to be hanging out.

Our First Anniversary

I've learned that she would be up for any show, even if she had not heard of the band. This photo was taken at the Bon Iver show at the Hollywood Forever cemetery at around 6 am. She was bundled up like a cocoon with dew all over her, but still smiling in enjoyment.

Our First Anniversary

I've learned that we could work together, no matter what we did. When I used to do catering, she served as a waitress and even as my sous chef. She didn't care to do cooking and prepping for all the parties, but was always there to make sure I would keep my cool and make things happen. This year, on top of our full-time jobs, we shot six great weddings and learned how to rely on each other to cover all bases. She would do the couple shots, I would cover the reception – vice versa. Wedding photography is not easy because of the high tension and shenanigans that go on but seeing how calm she was only made things flow "like the salmon of San Juan Capistrano." You can view some of our work here.

Our First Anniversary

Our First Anniversary

Our First Anniversary

Our First Anniversary

I've learned that we could not travel the same way we do with anyone else. While most people will visit scenic spots or tourist attractions, our main motive for traveling is to photograph and eat food. It's a lot of fattening fun. I remember the time we were in Rio de Janeiro during our honeymoon and heading to see the famous Christ the Redeemer statue on top of the mountain. Seeing that it was a big deal to get up there, we said screw it – took a super distant photo of it and went straight to a restaurant. This was taken after our tasty meal at Portland's Beast restaurant. If you're planning on having children, it's best to get the travel bug taken care of first... which is what we're doing!

Our First Anniversary

Our First Anniversary

A year later, we're older but we're also stronger as a couple. Instead of going out to dinner for our celebration, we decided to lay low and keep things between us. With all the new restaurants opening up in Los Angeles, it can get a little tiring eating out. Not to mention the consumption of all that butter in each dish. It can get a little much. On a cold night, we headed to the Fairfax Farmer's Market. It was a surprise menu so I sent her off towards the Grove while I headed for groceries.

I walked by all the butchers and seafood stores and really thought about all the food that we ate this year. At one point, we were heavily into places that did gorgeous plating, but that appreciation slowly faded because after a while, it didn't look like food anymore – it was art really. At the end of the day, I'll take a dish cooked by a loved one over the hottest chef's creations. It's about warming the soul, not so much the eyes.

First Anniversary Dinner

Since this was a special occasion, I decided to cough it up for one of the tastiest mushrooms around. To me, I think this is a more well-balanced, wholesome mushroom than a truffle. And a fraction of the cost although it clocks in at a whopping $20+/lb. Ouch.

First Anniversary Dinner

Risotto is one of those dishes that like a child, needs constant nurturing. It's easy to spoil it and ruin it, but with a careful hand and a glass of wine, making it can be rewarding.

First Anniversary Dinner

Cold weather is a clear indication that it's time to break out the Le Creuset and braise something. The chances of making a bad braised dish are low as you can pretty much make meat taste good with very little vegetables, stock, herbs and wine.

First Anniversary Dinner

Fanny Bay Oysters
Every day is a good day for oysters. Jeni wasn't too fond of shellfish before she met me but I'm very happy now that I have an oyster partner in crime. These oysters were from Whole Foods, and they weren't that fresh. I'd suggest Carlsbad Aquafarm at the Hollywood Farmer's Market or Glendale's Fish King.

First Anniversary Dinner

First Anniversary Dinner

First Anniversary Dinner

Seared Diver Scallops and Corn/Cherry Tomatoes with Jalapeno Creme Fraiche
I went simple with this Fall combination. I basically put together three things that I really enjoy… scallops, corn and creme fraiche. This was light and really tasty. After searing the scallops, I quickly sauteed the corn and cherry tomatoes and lightly glazed it with a dollop of creme fraiche and chopped jalapeno.

First Anniversary Dinner

Pan-Fried Veal Sweetbreads with Bacon/Brussel Sprouts and Spinach Cream Sauce
I was lucky to find these sweetbreads at one of the butchers. A big portion of it only cost a few dollars. I soaked the sweetbreads in a bowl of milk with salt for 6 hours. I then lightly dipped it in some salted-flour and pan-fried them in a little butter and olive oil. Most sweetbreads I've had are extremely moist, but because I only let them sit for 6 hours, there was still a nice bite to the already-soft sweetbreads. The combination of the spinach cream and slightly-charred taste of the bacon/brussel sprouts were really good together.

First Anniversary Dinner

Alaskan Halibut with Chanterelles, Curried Lentils and Sauteed Swiss Chard
One of our favorite restaurants is A.O.C. for Suzanne Goin's mediterranean style. I decided to do a fish dish similar to something I had eaten there a while back. As you can tell, I like pan-seared dishes because they are light and maintain a simple taste to it. To save time, we bought Trader Joe's pre-cooked lentils which is SO HELPFUL. Add some curry powder, thyme, butter and finely-minced carrots and onions and your side dish is done.

First Anniversary Dinner

Braised Short Rib with Chanterelles & Creamy Reggiano Risotto
This dish was obviously a bit on the heavier side so I only served up a small portion of it. I loved eating the tender meat with the nutty & earthy chanterelles. The risotto was flavored with Sauvignon Blanc wine, heavy cream and freshly micro-planed reggiano cheese.

As I'm finishing up on this posting, I'm staring at both of our plump backpacks. It's that time again where we escape the lovely City of Angels, and head somewhere far for some R&R. This year, we're heading to half of Jeni's motherland, Vietnam, my dad's home country of Laos and Cambodia. I could not be more excited about the street food in every country. Time for 2-legged, 4-legged and 6-8 legged delicacies. I've never been to Southeast Asia and I'm imagining some of our photos will look something like this...

Jeni & Dylan in Southeast Asia

Jeni & Dylan in Southeast Asia

Jeni & Dylan in Southeast Asia

Happy Holidays and thanks for your readership – it's been another great year.
See you in 2010!
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pa Ord Noodle, East Hollywood - The Return of the Noodle Mademoiselle

Pa Ord, East Hollywood

You know that cliche scene of a small-town white man and his baseball-cap wearing son practicing a curveball through a hanging tire in the front yard? That was what it was like when my dad took me under his wing and showed me the ropes – of noodles. When my father first introduced me to Thai Town, it was really a cuisine I really didn't know much about. He knew that I enjoyed noodles like him and really got me to open my eyes.

After eating at places like Sapp, Sanamluang, Ruen Pair, Rodded, Torung and Thaitown Noodles, we found we liked Ord's bloody, but balanced beef noodle soup and sweet & sour tom yum noodles (hoy kha). But soon after, I went back with Jeni and although it was good, there was a slight change in the recipe as well as the disappearance of Ord's original chef/owner Lawan Bhanduram, also known simply as Ord. The photos of Bhanduram and Thai street food still adorn the mustard yellow walls but there was just something missing. Regardless, we never stopped going to Ord for delicious bowls of noodles served by smiley staff. Then Jeni sent me a link from LA Weekly about Bhanduram's third project, Pa Ord. "Pa" in Thai and Lao means "Auntie". Apparently after she sold Ord on Hollywood Blvd, she opened up Ord 2 in North Hollywood. She's one busy woman. Anyway, Jeni meeting one of her readers today and we decided this would be our rendezvous point.

Pa Ord is located in a predominantly Armenian-owned strip mall, which means one thing, you'll be honing your parking skills. Again, we are graced with the same themes that make Ord what it is. Buddhist statues, gigantic photos of Bhanduram and Thai street food, Thai entertainment posters and miscellaneous trinkets – all enclosed in mustard yellow walls. But if you look right through the kitchen, you'll know you're in a good place once you see Bhanduram hard at work. With freshly-dyed hair, glasses and make-up, she always makes sure that she's looking good while she works. Like Marcel Vigneron and his mane.

Pa Ord, East Hollywood

Looking at the menu, it was exactly the same. Same food, same prices but we had to order the same exact things so that we could compare it to her past project, Ord on Hollywood Blvd.

Pa Ord, East Hollywood

Thai Boat Noodle Soup
This used to be a favorite of mine before I found the hoy kha noodle soup (tom yum noodle soup). One look at this and I already knew something was different. I'm back on this dish again now. The broth had a slight purple tint which meant it was heavy on the blood portion and the main aroma was that of five-spice, like Chinese beef noodle soup. The soup was sweet and balanced, unlike Sapp's which can be a bit salty and acerbic. It felt more like a gravy than a soup actually but not heavy at all. Beef balls had great bite and didn't taste like the freezer. The addition of mini wonton crisps replaced chicharrones and added a nice texture.

Pa Ord, East Hollywood

There was also a new addition to the Thai boat noodle soup. A particular type of meat I'm very fond of. I'd like to say it's stomach meat but it's really the meat that is coated with honeycomb tripe, not the standard velcro-like tripe you usually see. This wasn't braised too well but I like it still. If you eat dim sum frequently, this dish is usually served with daikon and it's bright orange. Great stuff.

Pa Ord, East Hollywood

Tom Yum Noodle Soup
This is what Jeni and I usually get at Ord on Hollywood because it has a nice balance of sweet and sour soup along with a whole yard sale of edible goodies. Again, there was something different. The soup was almost clear versus Ord Hollywood's slightly cloudy broth. It had a really clean taste that was both flavorful and refined. I ordered mild which had the perfect amount of ass-kicking spice on the palate. This is good but I think the Thai boat noodles are the shining star.

Pa Ord, East Hollywood

Pa Ord, East Hollywood

Crispy Pork Rice with Fried Egg
This is the last dish we ordered and also our favorite at most Thai restaurants. Crispy pork. Yes. Spicy green beans. Yesss. Fried eggs. Yesssss. And Bhanduram's version was really really nice - more like a stir fry than a drier fried pork belly. It tasted more like chicharrones. The green beans and chiles were real nice in this dish. Quite spicy for a mild order. I can't choose between this and Ord Hollywood's version – both are solid in my opinion. This one has more complexity to it though. Try it.

Pa Ord, East Hollywood

Sweet Yams in Coconut Milk
This is given to you at the end of the meal and if you've been rocking the medium or even mildly-spiced food, this is a blessing in disguise. Sweet boiled yams in a soup that has a nice dosage of condensed milk.

I am not ready to write a Dear Jane letter to Ord Hollywood just yet. I'm gonna go with the Mormon polygamy approach and keep both of them. Both are still solid places but if you want to see what the original Ord was about, come say hello to Lawan Bhanduram. Because you'll never know when she's going to pack up her bags, sell the restaurant and recipes and open up her fourth, fifth and sixth project. She is a smart and talented businesswoman after all. Thanks for reading.

If you want noodles in the Silver Lake area, give Wat Dong Moon Lek a shot.

Pa Ord
5301 Sunset Blvd. (c/o Hobart)
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 461-3945
Everyday 9:30 am - 9 pm

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Hainan Turkey Rice Day

Not really, but wouldn't it be delicious to have a turkey version of the popular Hainan chicken rice dish. Moist pieces of dark meat accompanied by the lovely sweet, chili, ginger sauce and chicken broth-flavored rice. I plan to make that with my leftovers – I'll post it when it happens. Happy thanksgiving to everyone and I hope you overdose on gravy like I will.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ondal 2, Mid-City Los Angeles - The Four Acts of Ondal's Spicy Crab Soup

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

When it comes to avoiding wastefulness, you've got to hand it to the Koreans, over any of the ethnicities in Asia.  Each asian country has its way of using up every part of an animal or vegetable but I've noticed that the Koreans definitely shine in the double-meal category.  There's shul lung tang, a dish that is made from boiling discarded leg bones and oxtails overnight to produce a thick, white soup accompanied by various boiled meat and green onions. The meat from the bones usually graduates to a spicy beef soup or even for bbq. If you've eaten spicy korean tofu stew, soon doo boo, you'll sometimes have rice served in a stone pot, known as dol sot. After the rice is scooped out of the stone pot, water or barley tea is then added to create a makeshift 'soup'. The taste from the burnt brown rice adds a subtle char to the soup which is then in need of salt and pepper for taste.  I enjoy the burnt pieces of rice but have yet to finish a full bowl of tea soup.  I've also seen many people in restaurants, particularly males, finish up a particular stew or soup and then dump in another bowl of rice to sop up the soup. My Korean friends from high school would always do the same thing with their instant kimchi bowls... eat all the noodles, drink some soup, add rice and finish up everything – making it a double meal.

Last week, this observation on Korean 'double-mealing' has been taken to another level after my coworkers and I tried a place known for their spicy korean crab soup, kkot gae tang.   I had seen Ondal 2 many times, partly because it sticks out like a sore thumb in a pre-dominantly African American and Latino part of Mid-City Los Angeles.  And the sight of a silly looking Sanrio-style crab on the sign only makes the place more approachable.   

We walked in and were greeted by two servers.  TVs blared the latest world news in Korean.  All in an empty restaurant at 12:30.  We were handed menus and right away, my eyes went straight to the prices.  $55 for a medium sized crab soup.  I was well aware of it through some reviews on Yelp but with only three people, we had better be starving to make this even worth it.

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

My coworker PR was wearing a light shirt and asking for trouble.  A spicy orange soup is a force to be reckoned with especially if you still have the rest of the workday to survive. He took his placemat and constructed his own bib/napkin.  As you can see, not much real estate and straight up looks stupid haha.

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

Luckily, our server saw us messing around and quickly brought over some official Ondal 2 aprons.  She then stared me in the eye, closing her eyes to focus better and asked if I was Chinese.  She spoke both Korean and Chinese, and only made this a better experience for us since we could communicate.    

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

After munching on some side dishes, we saw our server come out of the kitchen with a large steaming pot and all three of us were stoked.  It was simply beautiful.  Four decent-sized crabs comfortably enjoying a hot tub moment.  I had never seen crabs like these, especially with the red circular markings which probably denote the crab's sex.  The server told us that these crabs are straight from Korea.  Did they come dressed in black?  I wonder if they like K-clubbing, have a singing contract, excel in online multiplayer games and binge off soju all day long.  Not that I'm profiling or anything, just saying.  

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

What you're about to see is not a double or triple meal, but a quadruple meal.  For us consumers, Ondal 2 is somewhat economical.  For a Korean crab, it is a nightmare that they have to relive over and over and over and over again. Imagine knowing that fate has brought you to this very restaurant on Washington Blvd.   The meal we had here really plays out like a Saw-like horror movie broken into four cruel, yet delicious acts.  And just a note, a coworker of mine has emphasized the fact that is dish is not particularly native to Korean cuisine, but more so a culinary creation that has caught people's attention.

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

Act 1 - The Shell
Once the pot of crabs is set down on the table, it is brought to a boil.  Our lovely mortician then takes each crab shell and begins to compile a dish that reminds me of a Brazilian favorite known as casquinha de siri.  A crab shell is hollowed out and filled with a mixture of goodies, and then baked or deep fried.  Great stuff.  This was a little different and dare I say, much better.  Here at Ondal 2, they only use female crabs so that Act 1 can exist.  The server takes the crab shell and begins to add crab roe, rice and bean sprouts into the shell.  And tops it off with a nice shot of crab-flavored soup from the hot pot.  

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

I'm not sure that I would feel right eating meat from an animal's skull, but this seems perfectly moral and legal to me.  The soup is really, really tasty and just full of crab flavor.  The roe was good as usual and went well with the crunch of the bean sprouts and flavored rice.  This rocked.

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

Act II - The Claws & Legs
The server then proceeds to make use of the handy Korean scissors.  I've grown to love the usage of scissors, especially with cutting meat.  It's the Korean version of arts & crafts time.  The soup is so spicy that any bacteria on those scissors stands no chance of proliferating.  She hacks up all the claws and legs, making the four crabs into forty various pieces.  At this point, it looks like sheer disaster.   

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

This particular type of crab really is something new to me.  The meat was almost more textured, and I could feel the many muscle fibers.  It was not overly sweet and very easy to pull out of the shell.  I pulled out all the claw and leg meat and ate them with soup.  Again, very tasty. 

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

Act III - The Broth & "Noodles"
At this point, we are getting pretty full.  We had already eaten a concoction served in a crab shell and numerous pieces of claw and leg meat.  Not to mention that the soup was also pretty damn spicy.  I was starting to break into sweat and the server seeing this, just gave us our own pitcher of water.  Good thinking.  She let out a sinister laugh when I ask her if there'll be more.  Her pupils turned red like a demon's and I knew right then not to really question her anymore.  Nevermind I asked!  She takes out all the bean sprouts and crab parts and dumps them in another bowl.  The hot pot is refilled with more stock and zuccini slices and onions are added and brought to a boil.  

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

Out of nowhere, she pulls out a piece of dough wrapped tightly in saran wrap.  She plays with the dough a little, giving a little tug here and there and begins to rip the dough into flat shapes of 'noodles'.  This is known as su jae bi, and somewhat similar in texture to Korean rice ovalettes.  These were pretty fun to eat.

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

Act IV - The Fried Rice
By now, we were way too full.  The thought of taking another bite of crab was tough but again, I saw our server back with her shenanigans.  This time with a small plate of white rice, seaweed and sesame oil.  My coworkers just shook their head in disbelief.   

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

The server added some sesame oil in the pot that once housed the soup, the noodles, the crab parts, crab roe and crab shell.  Then rice, seaweed and of course, crab stock, was added.  All this done at the table by the multi-tasking Korean server.  Why did I have a feeling that this would be killer? 
Ondal 2, Los Angeles

Do you now know what I mean by Korean 'multi-mealing'?  I think I took a few bites of this before tapping out with the ref.  We couldn't do it.  We ended up doggy-bagging the rice, soup and remaining crab parts  All of which could provide a full snack for two people.  This was good after adding more crab stock and some soy sauce.  

Ondal 2, Los Angeles

Whether or not the Korean tradition of 'multi-mealing' emerged from periods of poverty in Korea or simply because Koreans enjoy stuffing their faces, I find myself still thinking about this particular meal in which I, along with coworkers, really got to know these four crabs.  Inside out.  The $55 is jarring at first, but once you see how much food you get, it's quite a deal.  I highly recommend getting this medium and asking for your own paste to spice up your broth.  I'll be back here again.  I heard the steamed beef hot pot and monkfish hot pot is good as well but I don't know that I can veer away from crab.  Thanks for reading.

Hot Pot Recommendations
Medium = 3-4 people (I recommend 4 people at least)
Large = 5-6 people
X-Large = 6-8 

Ondal 2
4566 W. Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90016
(323) 933-3228
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