Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hello Hawaii & WonderTune Hawaii

WonderTune Hawaii Cover

Food... alcohol... music... and red silk boxers. These are the good things in life. So I leave you with yet another compilation for your listening pleasure. Jeni and I will be in Hawaii and I've got to be on my best behavior since it's the first time meeting her family there. And of course, we'll be eating. It's been four years since I last went and I have a lot of catching up to do there. Enjoy.

Tracklisting
(1) Little Dragon - Feather
(2) Dirty Projectors & David Byrne - Knotty Pine
(3) Gruff Rhys - Just War
(4) Bat For Lashes - Daniel
(5) Miike Snow - Burial
(6) Burial & Four Tet - Moth
(7) Black Moth Super Rainbow - Gold Splatter
(8) Nouvelle Vague - Road to Nowhere
(9) The Field - A Paw in My Face
(10) Passion Pit - The Reeling
(11) Hudson Mohawke - Overnight
(12) Phoenix - Lisztomania (Classixx Remix)
(13) I Monster - A Sucker For Your Sound
(14) Ra Ra Riot - Can You Tell
(15) The Field - The Little Hear Beats So Fast
(16) Grouper - Heavy Water/I'd Rather Be Sleeping
(17) Klaus & Kinski - Shell For the Morning
(18) The Flaming Lips - Revenge
(19) Of Montreal - A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger
(20) Discovery - It's Not My Fault (It's My Fault)

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Sundays at The Verdugo Bar, Glassell Park

Verdugo Bar

My favorite beer bar in Glassell Park has been doing a Sunday summer thing. Every Sunday at 1 pm, there's beer, BBQ, beats and boredgames. If you haven't been here and enjoy beer, get ready to fall over and passout. This place is a regular meet up for the beer geeks of Beer Advocate.com - a collective of twenty-forty something men chatting about beer.

Verdugo Bar
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Finding Figueroa - A Small Taste of Highland Park Part 1

A while back, I spent some time checking out the Highland Park food scene. And by now, it's quite obvious that I see tacos the way Pac-Man sees those yellow pellets. I was attending Art Center for some night classes and by the time I've been thru an hour and a half of traffic – I'm hungry. I didn't want to give into fa(s)t food restaurants and eventually started driving on the surface streets looking for food, since it is quite difficult to locate a restaurant from the freeway. And that's where I ended up in Glassell Park and Highland Park – two parts of the Northeast side that I feel, along with East LA and the 710 freeway area, deserve a 'taco town' nickname. But I can't eat always tacos...

I eventually found myself driving further east on York Blvd. until I hit Figueroa. My eyes lit up with the numerous latino restaurants – mainly Mexican and Salvadorian cuisines. I was getting hit left and right by them. Here are my thoughts on a few of the places I decided to try out.

La Estrella Highland Park, Los Angeles

La Estrella #3, the Restaurant
Yes, this is the immobile brother of the three other taco trucks in Eagle Rock (Colorado Blvd.) and Highland Park (one on York Blvd. and one on Figueroa Street).  I saw this place and stopped right away. I am a sucker for burger restaurant takeovers – the ones that are run by some guy named Jim or Tommy, and always claim they have the best burgers and fries. That can't be possible if all of them buy the same food from Sysco, right?  Anyway, I had heard that it is not the taco and burritos they are known for, but their fish taco.

La Estrella Highland Park, Los Angeles

I was surprised when the counter guy rang me up for a $3.75 fish taco – I've never paid that much for a fish taco. Ricky's Fish Tacos over in Silver Lake clocks in at $2.50 each, but if you've tried it, you'll know it's worth it.  Anyway, I then knew why La Estrella charged more for their fish taco when it was ready for pickup. It was massive, or at least, appeared to be massive. It looked like a Rose Bowl Parade float with a piece of fried fish on top with fixings.

La Estrella Highland Park, Los Angeles

Like a tribal man foraging in the bushes, I parted the lettuce and found what I was looking for. They gave two decent-sized pieces of nicely battered fish and served it with hot sauce and cream. I know some people prefer their fish tacos served as is, like at Tacos Baja Ensenada in East LA, while some others prefer dressing their own at Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada in Los Feliz. But I was completely happy with this set up. Eating this was quite messy and difficult, it's no wonder they give you a regular sized plate.  The fish was fried nicely, moist and batter was not overdone. Cream and salsa were perfect. I just felt that they could have held back on cabbage, for the sake of making it look like a Rose Bowl float. I would come back here for more.

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit Mariscos Truck
I first experienced Nayarit-style seafood when I ate at Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista. Nayarit is a Mexican state located along the Pacific Ocean, near Guadalajara and Mazatlan. There, people eat, drink and breathe seafood. I was thrilled to find a truck serving Nayarit-style food. Screeeeeech. I'm not really in a position to distinguish the delicious types of ceviche available to us, but if I see lime-soaked seafood on a tostada with hot sauce and avocado, I'll drop my silk boxers. I parked my car, and got the usual stare down from the 100% latino clientele.  I took a look at the menu and ordered the ceviche and the mixed seafood soup (caldo de mar).

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit, Highland Park

Here we have a glimpse of a part of the menu. I love the signage and photos on roach coaches - so simple and so real. Straight to the point – no Photoshop or food styling needed because what you see is what you get. Notice, the shrimp cocktail image, the food stylist decided to place the lime in a standard Chinese sauce dish.

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit, Highland Park

Caldo de Mar (Seafood Soup)
I also love when I get food in a cup. It totally makes sense if you're driving and feel the need to eat. I think beef noodle soup would be fantastic in a coffee mug. You could totally bring this into a meeting and NOT look like a ( o o ) ! Anyway, I haven't eaten enough of this to form a comparison. But for a few bucks, I was more than content with my soup. A slightly sweet broth comprised of shrimp, imitation crab (jaiva/jaiba), octopus (pulpo) and fish. I added a few drops of lime juice and hot sauce – good stuff but I know there are way better joints out there.

Mariscos Estilo Nayarit

Tostada de Ceviche
Ceviche is one of those things for me that just work. Even if it was the worst ceviche in the world, some lime juice, smoky hot sauce and avocados can make a world of difference.

There are three seafood trucks on Figueroa. This one and the truck from Mexico City (D.F.) are pretty decent. Again, I don't know much about seafood trucks – I just eat the food from them.

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Papa Pollo Restaurants
This is a chicken-chain originating from Mexico. A house-turned-restaurant screaming in yellow paint with a lovable mascot cartoon, I had to try it out.  Who doesn't like rotisserie chicken?

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

When you walk into the 'patio' of the restaurant, you'll see the menu printed on large tarps. The orange reminded me of Little Caesar's growing up.  I was surprised to see potatoes and taquitos offered as a side order to the roasted chicken.  Looks like I'll be having a nap really soon.

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Roasted Chicken (Pollo Rostizado)
From the outside of the restaurant, you can definitely smell the action-packed chicken.  They have a lot going on in their spices which can be a good thing.  The chicken is very moist and the skin full of great flavor.  I've been here twice and the first time the chicken was fabulous, the second time, I found myself downing a ton of water because it was so salty.  I'm curious about my third visit.  

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

Taquitos
If taquitos are your thing, then I guess this wouldn't be that bad of a side order.  But I had eaten so much chicken that when I looked at this, felt even more full.  But I tried it anyway... chicken was kinda dry inside and the tortilla was over-fried.  Definitely not the best flauta/taquito you'll have.

Papa Pollo, Highland Park

As if the taquitos weren't enough, you get roasted potatoes.  For your information, these potatoes are not fried, but rather placed directly underneath the chicken carousel.  So all the drippings fall gracefully into the cut-up starch grenades we call potatoes.  I could taste a lot of Lawry's seasoning salt and man, I was thirsty.  And very sleepy.  

I think if I eat here again, I'm ordering chicken.  Only.  Good night.

And of course, on my journeys, I snuck in a few taco stands.  I can't turn away a street vendor. Here's a brief description of the types of tacos offered by taqueros (taco vendors).

Asada (CA) - flap/flank/skirt meat. Usually grilled. Sometimes fried in oil.
Suadero (SU) - brisket. Fried in lard/roasted.
Lengua (LN) - cow tongue. Steamed/braised.
Cabeza (CZ) - head meat and cheek meat (cachete). Steamed.
Sesos (SS) - cow brain.  Steamed.
Nervio/Ojos (OJ) - cow eyes. Braised.

Carnitas (CR) - pork shoulder/picnic/butt. Fried in lard/roasted.
Al Pastor (AP) - pork shoulder/butt. Spiced and marinated over a day and roasted on a spit. Originated in Mexico City by Lebanese immigrants. An onion or pineapple is usually placed above the spit for extra flavoring. Try with pineapple!
Chorizo (CH) - pork sausage. A mushier, spicier and oilier version of its Spanish counterpart.  
Buche (BU) - pork belly/pig stomach lining/hog maw. Fried in lard. My favorite taco filling. When fried longer adds a nice texture.
Tripas (TR) - pig intestines/chitterlings. Washed, boiled and fried. People love these for the texture and 'filling'

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

CA, CZ, AP, CH, 
This guy has a great visible location, right in front of an auto repair shop.  Who knows, he probably works there during the day.  I've learned that a lot of employees of businesses will stay on the property after closing hours to sell food.  Pure diligence. I enjoyed the CZ.

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figeroa & Avenue 45 Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

CA, CZ, LN, AP, BU, CH, TR 
In addition to the taqueros that operate right on business property, you've got some that will sell outside their homes.  Like these two nice guys from Jalisco.  You would never find them unless you were paying attention to the Home Depot clamp lamps.  Out of the three taco stands I reviewed in this posting, they are my favorite because pretty much everything they offer tastes great.  I enjoyed the CZ, LN, AP and BU.  Ask for a crispier buche by saying "bien dorado, por favor."

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & Pasadena Avenue Taco Stand,  Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Right at the end of the York Taco Town strip is this nice couple, also from Jalisco.  I think I know which Mexican state I'll be visiting next as their is a pattern of good tacos from Guadalajra.  Anyway, they've got everything you need.  And if they like you, will give you a free deep-fried potato and offer you some boiled beans for your tacos.  I enjoyed the AP, CZ, LN and BU here.  

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

Figueroa & York Blvd. Taco Stand, Highland Park

More to come from the Figueroa area of Highland Park.  Thanks for reading.
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Ord Noodles and Thaitown Noodles, Hollywood - Mini Bowls of Joy


Just kidding... they aren't THAT small.  Just wanted to bring to light, some of my favorite soup noodles from the Thai Town area in Hollywood.  When I was writing the Noodle Whore blog, I started out researching the Thai Town area – places like Yai, Sanamluang, Sapp Coffee Shop and Rodded were definitely popular.  In a matter of 5 years, my dad (Noodle Whore Sr.) and I have seen Thai Town change quite a bit.  A few changes in ownership and new chefs really kept it dynamic.  So it's not a wonder that I, maybe you as well, jump around the restaurants a lot in Thai Town.  In my opinion, one thing remains true though.  Besides the spicy curries, hand-mixed food, soups and stir-fries, the Thais are outstanding at producing tasty soup noodles.  And it's why I continue to eat here at least twice a month.  

It was only a few years ago that Thai Town introduced their version of a Jack-in-the-Box/Burger King slider, or as they call it Mini Sirloin and Burger Shots.  My Dad said that I was being too much of a fat, greedy, over-consuming American because this is how they do it in Asia – smaller bowls.  Face it, we all like miniature things.  As much as I hold myself back in using the C-word, miniature things are CUTE.  And I think the same thing can be said about these smaller bowls of soup noodles – or as I call them, Diet Soup Noodles.  It's not that they are healthier in any way, it's just that you get a smaller serving.  For anyone that enjoys soup noodles, this is great because you can try more than one type of noodle each time you visit. Or you can be a Debbie-downer-pessimist and see that you're actually spending more money for two miniature bowls than a regular sized bowl.  Whatever the case, your stomach will thank you.

Ord Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Ode to Ord
This place has always been solid.  The crowd here is typically younger and the clientele primarily speak Thai.  At any time of the day, you can find yourself bobbing your head to Thai R&B slow jams busting out from the mini stereo system here.  Ord has also started closing daily at midnight – oh joy.  

They have 4-5 different types of noodles you can pick from in the mini $3 bowl category.   Not everything is offered in a midget form, just a few.  Most people come here for the Crispy Pork & Basil Rice and Thai Boat noodles, but Ord prides itself most on these noodles called hoy khaa. Literally, it means 'dangling feet noodles'.  Don't worry, the cooks weren't soaking their feet in your broth, it's a reference to the makeshift-seating at this particular noodle shop along the rivers in Thailand.  I believe Ord is the name of the city this family is from. When you go in, look at the photos of the dangling feet and you'll know what they mean.  $3.50 for diet bowl, $5 for regular bowl.

Ord Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Ground Pork, Pork Ball, Dried Shrimp & Pork Liver Soup Noodles (#1 Hoy Kha)
This is a true pork-heavy treat.  Nice chunks of ground pork, a toothsome pork ball, slightly-bloody pork liver with your choice of noodles - served dry or with soup.  I almost always go with the soup and thin rice noodles.  The soup has a nice pork bone base with a sharp sweetness and a bit of tartness to it.  There are so many delicious things to pick at and excavate from the bowl. Thinly sliced green beans and fresh bean sprouts are added for texture.  

Note: medium spicy is pretty SPICY.  I'd go with mild and add your own chili flakes.  Also, for some reason, if you order hoy kha with glass noodles, you can't get a small bowl – only a large bowl.  Also #2, I sometimes find the regular-sized bowl isn't filling enough, simply add $1 more for noodles.  

Recommendation: Thin or thick rice noodles with soup.  Egg noodles just don't seem to work well with this.  

Ord Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Thai Boat Noodles (Kuay Tiao Luh)
This is the most common bowl of soup noodles in Thai Town, much like Chinese beef noodle soup in San Gabriel Valley.  The soup is made with Thai soy sauce, fish sauce, herbs, spices and of course, beef blood for the rich flavor.  I really enjoy their soup, as it has a nice beefiness and vinegar kick to it.  Compared to Sapp Coffee Shop's bold kick-in-the-face TBN, this is more on the delicate, sour side.  I used to eat at Sapp a lot, but lately, it has become a bit salty for my taste.  But they do a great TBN.  

Recommendation: Thick rice noodles with soup.  Choose from Beef or Pork, both are good.  

Ord Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

On the other side of the street and just a few blocks east is another strip mall gem that doesn't get as much attention. We've been coming here for years to this noodle shop run by a mother and daughter.  In January '09, the mother retired and sold the business to another woman.  My Dad and I still call it "Mama's Noodle shop" though because it's so homey.  The space is no bigger than your average dining room/kitchen, seats approximately 20 pigs and really feels like you're eating at someone's house.  The chef is pretty much within arm's reach.  And they barely have any room to contain their restaurant products.  I remember one time having to use the restroom.  The place was so small, the cook AND the waitress had to stop cooking and move out of the way just so that I could walk through haha.  

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

On the outside of the restaurant is a giant hint as to what you should order.  I want one of these to hang over my fireplace but I think you-know-who would be upset. Nam tok can be translated as 'beef blood' noodle soup.  But it doesn't matter, just saying these two words will get you to a happy place.  $3 for a diet bowl, $5 for a regular bowl.

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

You are looking at one quarter of the restaurant.  

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Here's another soup noodle worth trying.  Think TBN with tendon and minus the blood.  

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Here's the chef in the second quadrant of the restaurant. 

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Preparing the nam tok noodle soup.

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Nam Tok Beef Noodle Soup (Kuay Tiao Nam Tok)
I'm sad that the previous owner is no longer here because she truly made a great bowl of nam tok noodles.  Although these are a bit different, I still think it is decent if you don't want to wait at Ord, which can sometimes be crowded.  The major difference between this version and Mama's is that they add a lot of fried garlic, fried pork skins (chicharrones) and have a clearer soup.  Mama's was way more rich in beef blood, while this is stronger on the five-spice powder flavor.  Still, both are good.  Meat is cooked perfectly as I love my liver pieces to be more on the bloody side. 

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Tom Yum Pork Noodle Soup (Kuay Tiao Tom Yum)
I usually order a small bowl of this along with my nam tok noodles.  It's nice to have two different flavors going on.  Tom Yum, as you're probably familiar with, describes a distinct sour taste in food – almost limey and spicy.  The soup noodles here don't employ the same broth, but something way more delicate than its counterpart, tom yum goong.  This is served with similar ingredients as Ord's hoi kha, and also includes fish cake, fish ball, fried garlic and fried pork skin.  Try this out sometime.

Thanks for reading.  Both places are cash only.  

Ord Noodles
5401 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90027
(323) 468-9302
Monday - Sunday  10am - Midnight

Thaitown Noodles
5136 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90027
(323) 667-0934
Monday - Sunday  8am - 8pm
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Friday, August 07, 2009

Shisen Ramen, Torrance - A Szechuan-Style Ramen Shop

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

I think my appreciation for ramen came after my friends and I went to Japan for the first time. We weren't particularly hunting for ramen, but more so, let the smells and signage of a ramen shop attract us.  And we fell in love. Japan made it really easy for us to find food through one simple principle: cook nothing but delicious food.  Every shop we went to was simply solid.  From light, salt-based and soy sauce-based soups (shio and shoyu) to thicker-stock soups (tonkotsu), they were all good.  For a while, the ramen shops on Sawtelle row represented the ramen capital.  And it wasn't until coming back from Japan, that we realized that those noodle shops just didn't cut it.  We reminisced and lamented for a while.  We tried to find a place that offered a more rich-style broth other than salt and miso paste.  

Then came Shin Sen Gumi (Gardena, Costa Mesa & Rosemead) and Daikokuya (Little Tokyo) opened, creating this pork-bone soup craze that changed the Los Angeles ramen scene.  Shortly after,  a wave of new ramen shops hit the Los Angeles area after 2000, introducing more and more varieties of ramen.  Santouka, Asa, California and Gardena ramen to be exact.  Our friend Rameniac really helped define the differences in the shops available here and really made ramen a hot topic.  

After class, Jeni and I continued our ramen adventures in the South Bay area.  We had a really tasty experience at Shigetoshi "Sean" Nakamura's California-cuisine/ramen experiment – in which he combines farmer's market ingredients like heirloom tomatoes and cheese in ramen.  A combination that would surely raise the eyebrows of any pre-nisei Japanese, but has somehow got both Jeni and I craving it.  And we find ourselves here at about 10 pm – at a ramen shop offering Szechuan-style ramen.  Funny when you think of it, since it was the Chinese that inspired Japanese ramen.  FYI, ramen means 'pulled noodles', and it's pronounced 'la mian' ( 拉 麺 ).

I was so stoked to try this because we had a similar dining experience in Yokohama, Japan, shortly after visiting the Ramen Museum.  Ridiculous, I know. Basically, take your traditional Chinese dishes like BBQ pork, black bean sauce noodles, mabo tofu or sesame paste noodles and dump it on top of noodles and soup... voila Chinese-style ramen. But it's actually more complicated than that as you'll see.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

We sat down and took a look at the menu.  The main feature was the shisen ramen, which is Japanese for Szechuan.  We were about to order from it until we saw tonkotsu and a special ramen called the Garlic Black Shisen which got us wide-eyed.  A few months ago, I was at Ippudo Ramen in New York begging the chef to make a 'burnt soy sauce' ramen (kogashi) I had heard about.  My friends had just gotten back from Japan and bragged about it - I couldn't take it!  I was declined in New York but suddenly reminded of that style of ramen when I saw the Shisen special.  One please.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

Garlic Black Shisen Ramen ($9.80)
Although it looks like a mini Exxon oil tanker ran into some rocks, this was one promising bowl of noodles.  We both took a whiff of the ramen – the smell of fried garlic was marvelous. Thinly-sliced scallions, bamboo shoots and a few pieces of pork... we were ready.   The soup was really excellent, but super oily.  That's expected out of any tonkotsu-style soup.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

They used yellow noodles, which had just the right texture to it.  I usually go for medium cooked noodles because I like more bite to it.  I am actually craving this bowl of noodles right now.  They've had this on special since July and the servers said that they do change frequently.  I would go eat this ASAP.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

Tonkotsu Chashu ($7.50)
We also ordered the tonkotsu chashu ramen to really gauge the restaurant.  We do this all the time with pho restaurants.  If the pho isn't any good, chances are, it's not their focus or they really need a new chef.  I looked at the broth and kind of hesitated.  After eating that Black Garlic ramen, I was a bit greased out.  But it was everything but oily, and packed with a strong flavor of pork, salt and a lot of ginger.  I even dumped in some of the pureed garlic offered by the restaurant.  This was really good.  Except for...

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

the overcooked noodles.  Aye.  It could have been a stellar bowl.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

But to make up for that, Shisen Ramen is quite generous with the chashu portions.  It was almost too much for me since the pieces were pretty fatty.  

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

I also noticed in the chashu photo, an uncanny resemblance to Scarecrow in Batman Begins.  Not the most beautiful photo of chashu, but I promise it is very palatable.

We also ordered gyoza and paiko for appetizers (not pictured).  The gyoza (in Chinese 'jiao zhi' or  'gao jee') were tiny as hell, but fried beautifully.  You know you're eating a good gyoza when you have that tiny crunch from the crisped up wrapper – something the Japanese are masters at making.  The paiko here (in Chinese 'pai gwut' or 'pai gu') are very similar to the fried pork chops sold in Taiwanese joints, but nothing comparable to it.  They were fried nicely with a nice dash of five-spice powder and served with a Sriracha-based dipping sauce.  

I am already thinking about my next meal here.  Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

Shisen Ramen
1730 Sepulveda Blvd. #6
Torrance, CA  90501
(310) 534-1698
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