Sunday, July 31, 2005

Tacos and Morale, What A Concept

To the cheap jerks that run my company:

Listen up. This weekend, I attended the annual Summer Party thrown by my fiancee Isaac's company. Look at how festive the atmosphere is and more importantly, look how happy everyone is...

By the way, what you're looking at is a photo of his company's actual office grounds. There are places for employees to sit outside and see the sun and get some oxygen to their brains. Sun=serotonin. Serotonin=happy.

Even the caterers from Taqueria El Zarape in Montebello were having fun. Here is one of the caterers doing the "I love to make tacos" dance.

There were also free condiments for us to take. They did not charge $0.15 for a lemon wedge or $0.10 for a cup of water like they do at our
nasty hospital food cafeteria.

Best of all, the free catered food was DELICIOUS. Complimentary AND quality food? Imagine that! Succulent carne asada, al pastor and pollo were freshly made and served on two layers of pillowy soft corn tortillas. A few splashes of their fiery salsa roja and a couple squirts of lime and we were in taco heaven. I scarfed these down along with the velvety rich refried beans and fluffy Mexican rice that came on the side. And they were so good I went back for seconds.

Awesome food, live music and great conversation amongst coworkers that actually like each other was made even better by vodka tonics and margaritas from the OPEN bar. Oh, and in case you didn't know, most normal people do have personal lives and families outside of work, so all the employees were encouraged to bring their spouses, significant others, kids, and dogs (yes, dogs!) to the festivities.

So what's the problem, yo? You run a multi-billion dollar company so why can't you stop being cheap bastards and invest a little more in your people? Your stinginess breeds anger and bitterness instead of happiness and teamwork. Take me as an example! Why, I'm sitting here bitching and blogging instead of working.

I'm not asking for immediate change. Just think about it. Take the model and pictorial essay that I just presented to you and think hard about how happy employees can be even more profitable to the company. In fact, go mull it over some kick-ass tacos. Here's the address:

Taqueria El Zarape
2575 Via Campo
Montebello, CA 90640
(323) 838-9405

Yours Truly,

(BTW, I know what the rest of you are saying...just quit yer bitching already and get another job. Rest assured, I'm working on it!)

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Thai Me Up, Thai Me Down: A Few Words On Dating And Rambutan Thai

"We're meeting T for dinner tonight at Rambutan Thai in Silverlake..." said Isaac.
"OK, cool," I interrupted.
"...He's bringing his date with him," he continued.

Whao-kay...this was going to be interesting. A double date. With Isaac's buddy, someone I do know, and his date, someone I've never met before.

They were already there when we arrived, sitting opposite one another at a table for four. Isaac's friend T got up to greet us, give us hugs, and introduce us to his lady friend. She was a cute little thing, perky in more ways than one, and seemed to be already having a great time. But she didn't get up. And he didn't move to her side of the table either. Meaning I had to sit next to her and Isaac next to his buddy. Or me next to Isaac's friend and Isaac next to his friend's lady friend. Of course we chose to do the former, but there was just something very un-feng shui about our seating arrangement. Something didn't flow right. It felt and looked as if these two guys opposite us, probably two stranger guys, had just picked the two of us girls up and were taking us out to dinner, neither of them knowing which one of us they wanted to be with yet and vice versa. Awkward indeed.

Considering the circumstances, I guess the guys picked a good restaurant. Rambutan Thai, although located in a Silverlake mini-mall, is a sexy little place once inside. It's a small, dimly lit space, dark wood tables lining both sides of the dining room along burnt orange dupioni silk covered walls. In the back, a small bar and a gold-leafed wooden relief carving of Buddha. No, not fat, jolly Buddha, but Buddha's other likeness, the more feminine, sexy Buddha. Rambutan's staff is sexy too--a little attitudy at times--but sexy nonetheless, walking to the rhythm of downtempo beats playing in the background.

Buddha there to wish you eating pleasure

So after we ordered, we got to talking a little bit. Her asking us how we all know each other, me asking how she and T know each other, etc. Turns out everyone met through work--she met T at his current job, Isaac and T know each other from one of their former jobs years ago, and Isaac and I actually met though work too. But what I didn't know is that she's not really a coworker of T's; she belongs to another company that just happens to work with his company and she is in town for a couple days on business. Oh, so it's that kind of date. Well, this is gonna be even more interesting than I thought.

Cocktails would help to make the night more fun for everyone. For the frisky couple that was with us, well, you know. And for us, a couple who's practically married, it would serve to loosen us up from a stressful week. Rambutan serves beer, wine, sake and soju, and like most beer and wine licensed only places nowadays, use soju as their non-full liquor license loophole in mixing cocktails. Soju, a Korean vodka-like liquor made from rice or other starches, is allowed at these types of establishments because like beer, wine and Japan's sake, soju is considered a food accompanying drink in Korean meals. Smart, huh? And it allows these guys to put sexier looking and tasting drinks on the table. My "Praying Mantis," a cocktail of soju, grapefruit juice and lime juice in a martini glass, was tasty, though not very strong, and flirtatious with it's big shiny red cherry all aglow from the flickering candle behind it.

Flirtatious soju-grapefruit martini

Because Isaac and I have already been dating for gosh, years now, are living together, and will be married in, oh, some amount of time soon, we're not so concerned about atmosphere and if it were up to us, would much rather go to some cheap Thai place in Thai Town or North Hollywood. But I guess if it were back in the day when he was still trying to woo me, this kind of place would fit the bill. Rambutan's dishes are way overpriced and cost around 50 to 100% more than the same stuff at the aforementioned types of places in Thai Town or North Hollywood. But they're served on sleek, square plates that you can eat out of with lime green colored chopsticks. And despite the higher pricepoints, the food, though not as good as that at my hole-in-the-wall favorites, is tasty.

Rambutan has a whole menu of Thai "tapas"--small plates of Thai or Thai-inspired foods that are perfect for those who will be, or hope to be, getting it on later on. Most of them are bite sized morsels that couples can feed one another from across the table with their lime green chopsticks. I've eaten some of their small plates before--their luscious lime-juiced beef waterfall in cute little cabbage cups, fried shrimp cakes with a sticky honey-like sweet and sour sauce, plump and juicy curry dumplings--and they were all feasts for the senses; just imagine if I were on a real date! Tonight, I ordered a plate of tua kak off the tapas menu, dry sauteed green beans with shredded pickles, Chinese radish and dried shrimp, for everyone to try, and even though it was way tasty, there was no feeding one another with this one...not with the four of us there. I'm just not that type of girl. Ha ha!

Tasty Thai tapas for the senses: tua kak

Our couple, whose loins were probably burning by the time the appetizer was served, split an order of crying tiger beef and panang shrimp--how cute! I didn't want to be too forward and pick off their plates (I have to try it if I'm going to write about it after all!) but fortunately, Isaac ordered the crying tiger beef too and I had actually had Rambutan's panang (but not shrimp) on a previous occasion. Me? I ordered a chicken pad thai, which was balanced well with both sweet and sour flavors--but a little on the slimy side, to split with my man. I could see that the two lovebirds were enjoying every morsel of their dinners, each of them picking off each other's plates, a bite of plump shrimp bathed in a sexy (and spicy!) milky red curry here, a bite of juicy, pink in the middle rib eye steak with a naughty little chili garlic sauce on the side there. Why, they both even ordered brown rice with their dishes. Horny and health conscious? That's a match made in heaven!

Slimy pad thai...not too sexy, is it?

Juicy crying tiger beef

Turn up the heat with some panang shrimp

No dessert for any of us; in fact, we spent just a little while longer chatting, and then they did the "OK, we're gonna go now," and left their half of the bill. Quick hugs and handshakes ensued and off they went to take full advantage of the rest of the evening, to enjoy some sexy LA nightlife or whatever else they may choose to do. *wink, wink* Isaac and I were left sitting there by ourselves. In practically-married boring old couple style we did the: "What do you wanna do now?" "I dunno, what do you wanna do?" "Wanna go home?" "OK." So yeah, we went home. Back to our place, with laundry baskets and dirty dishes and the like. But what we did when we got home, well that's for us to know. Let's just put it this way, the practically- married boring old couple knows how to have fun too. *wink, wink*

Rambutan Thai
2835 Sunset Blvd.
Silverlake, CA 90027
(213) 273-8424

Friday, July 29, 2005

El Hatuchay: A Hotel Or...?

The possiblity that our Friday afternoon lunch restaurant, El Hatuchay, is named after a hotel sent me into obsessive-compulsive mode this afternoon to find the true meaning of "El Hatuchay." Who cares that I had to close out the month at work? There had to be a more glamourous significance to the name, perhaps the moniker of an indiginous person, maybe someone who meant something to the people of Peru, but the more I looked, the more it kept coming back the same old way: hotel, hotel, hotel. Well gee, the hotel must be named after something, I thought, but not even the hotel's own website could enlighten me. Eventually, I let it go, otherwise I'd never finish this post, but please, if anyone knows that there is a significance to the name "El Hatuchay" other than that of a hotel, please let me know!

Whatever its name may mean, whether it's really a just a hotel or if it's some sort of
Incan figurehead, for the sake of today's post it's just a Peruvian hole-in-the-wall in North Hollywood. It's located on a stretch of Sherman Way in North Hollywood that I normally wouldn't just hang out in--I even get a little weirded out when I have to drop off my car at the shop--but it's also located on a street that I consider one of the best single streets at least in the San Fernando Valley for cheap, ethnic eats. North Hollywood's Sherman Way's got everything from wonderful Thai joints to tasty Mexican taquerias to Vietnamese Pho to El Salvadoran pupuserias. And now, to add to the list, Peruvian cuisine! The whole world on a street--I love it. The place was busy (a good sign if there ever was one), it's patrons mainly local ethnic families and blue collar workers, which made us stick out like a sore thumb. Flags of the various North, Central and South American nations line its walls amongst fake plants; faux Incan rock carvings line its back wall and on its ceiling sits a bright neon lit sun.

We've all had Peruvian food before from other places but El Hatuchay's menu seemed a little overwheling to us upon first glance. A regular menu, with its dishes categorized by meat-type, was given to us along with a $6.90 All Day Specials menu with the same dishes from the regular menu listed out in a big page-long list full of itty-bitty words. There were a color pictures of some of the more popular dishes around the perimeter, which seemed to confuse the issue more than not, as it was sort of a match by numbers type of game. Hmm, this picture says number 7, which is...*pointed finger moving towards the worded part of the menu*...Pollo Al Vino, which is...sauteed chunk chicken, onions, tomatoes, bell pepper and rice! Whoa-kay, next? Our hungry little selves poured over all the selections, wondering how many possible combinations of sauteed meat, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, and rice there could possibly be. My friend literally closed her eyes and decided to order whatever her finger landed on. Hey, whatever works.

I really wanted to like the mint-green colored aji, a chile puree that came in a plastic squeeze bottle, but as you may or may not know, I have a really evil aversion to cilantro. I've tried this stuff before at
El Pollo Inka and just couldn't get myself to eat it although the people I was with liked it so much that they were practically drinking it. It was no different at El Hatuchay: my friends raved about it, putting squirt after squirt on the rolls they gave us pre-meal. I put a small squirt of the stuff on my roll trying to convince myself that maybe cilantro is just an acquired taste that i could get used to. I really liked the creamy, spicy base of the aji but just couldn't get past the nails-on-the-chalkboard cilantro flavor. Oh well, I tried.

Rolls and the aji that I wanted so much to like!

At least I could pick the cilantro out of the ceviche de pescado, a cool, tangy medley of fish, lime juice, onions, cilantro and sliced potatoes. I'm not exactly sure what kind of fish was used for this--it looked like snapper to us--but it was extremly fresh, and nicely tenderized by the acidity of the lime and onion juices. We particularly enjoyed the two types of corn that flanked both sides of our zesty marinated fish treat--there were kernels of regular corn and larger, crunchy kernels of something that seemed like hominy. An odd treat--sort of like eating corn nuts soaked in lime and fish juice.

Tantilizingly tangy ceviche

There was literally half a crab in our parihuela, a Peruvian boulliabaise of sorts. We noticed a bowl of this steamy orangey-red broth on one of the tables when we walked in, and though it was about 100 degrees outside, could not resist ordering it. The seafood in it--fish, mussels, squid, octopus and crab--ranged from really fresh to not so fresh, depending on what it was, and the broth was a little reminiscent of that of menudo. I expected the broth to have a little more kick, but it was still tasty, and nothing a few squeezes of lime couldn't take care of. Floating in our parihuela was some chopped cooked cilantro, which I surprisingly did not taste. Could it be that I'm getting used to it??? I don't think so.

Peruvian boulliabaise: parihuela

If you order from the long list of $6.90 All Day Specials that I mentioned earlier, you get a bonus potato appetizer with your meal: a choice of papas a la huancaina or causa. We'd ordered two specials and decided to pick one of each appetizer. The little plate of papas a la huancaina tasted like cold sliced potatoes with a milder version of Cheez-Whiz glopped on top--a dish that we didn't get but couldn't stop picking at for whatever odd reason. Our other appetizer, the causa, was sort of like a potato-tuna mold. A small cube of packed yellow waxy potatoes with thin layers of canned tuna and olives inside sat on the plate next to some thinly sliced pickled red onions, a dish that was surprisingly good and a way better use of potatoes than the papas a la huancaina in my opinion. If this were an
Iron Chef Battle Potatoes, whoever made the causa would win for sure!

Cheez-Whizzy papas a la huancaina

Causa: who woulda known that a potato and tuna mold could taste so good?

Luck was on my friend's side when her finger randomly landed on the tacu tacu con bistek. OK, so the bistek was just allright--a little tough--but the tacu tacu, a fried mixture of rice and black beans must have contained crack in it because it was amazingly delicious. It came in the shape of a mound, a little weird looking, and tasted of perfectly salted velvety beans mellowed out by fluffy rice and a nice hint of oil. Thin slices of pickled onion accompanied this dish, adding a little cool tang to the saltiness of the bistek and tacu tacu.

Amazingly good tacu tacu con bistek

I wasn't too impressed with the bistek encebollado, the other special we ordered. It was kind of like a typical lomo saltado, but with the beef and potatoes left intact. The beef was overly dry, and the sauteed onions seemed a bit much. Despite the dryness of the beef, the dish was a bit too saucy, with a lot of the brown sauce running into our mound of steamed white rice and making it overly salty and soggy. The best part was the lightly fried potato halves that came with, nothing too special, but good in their simplicity.

Not too impressive: bistek encebollado

El Hatuchay's service is friendly, but runs at a slow and leisurely pace, so don't expect to be back to wherever you have to be quickly. Which makes me think that perhaps El Hatuchay really does stand for a hotel near
Machu Picchu. After all, who wouldn't want to be vacationing in the Andes?

El Hatuchay
12853 Sherman Way
North Hollywood, CA 91605
(818) 765-9907

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Nine Dollar And Sixty Cent Slots: Suehiro Cafe's Okonomi Plate

I think I've come to the realization that I don't like Las Vegas all that much. I mean, what can you get there that you can't get here in L.A.? OK, there's the gambling, but I just don't have that kind of luck. I don't like to lose money without getting something in return which is why shopping and I are best friends. Free drinks with your gambling business? No thanks, my wasted money is more than paying for some watered down drink. Hmm, and I guess you can smoke indoors in Vegas, like that's a good thing (yeah right). Nope, I can stay right here in La-La land for crazy intoxicated nightlife, people watching, good food--all without the 100-plus degree, lung scorching weather that seems to linger even after 3am.

So if it's gambling you're in to, I know a way you can satisfy your craving of figuring out possible combinations and then getting a 100% return on all of them right here in L.A. The game is played at
Suehiro Cafe in Little Tokyo and costs only $9.60 (plus tax and tip!). Its instructions are simple:

Please choose one item each from columns A, B, and C to make up your favorite plate.

Column A:
-Ginger Beef
-Pork or Chicken Katsu
-Broiled Saba (Mackerel) or Sanma (Saury)

Column B:
-Edamame or Natto

Column C:
-Cold Tofu
-Lightly Boiled Spinach
-Two Eggs Over Easy

OK, so each of three columns has three choices, of which you get to choose one to make up a combination...that's 27 possible combinations right? Oh but wait, they threw in an embedded option of "Boiled Saba OR Sanma" and "Edamame OR Natto." So that's, um, forty-something...aaah whatever, I'm not a mathematician. Either way, I'm picturing the slot machine wheels with the bar, 7, and cherries spinning around right now, only this game has a helluva lot less combos. And you win every time--with a great meal, that is.

Suehiro's Okonomi Plate is essentially a bento box with options. Because I'm not much of a gambler, I usually go for Possible Combination #11 which is the pork katsu from column A, the gyoza from Column B, and the boiled spinach from Column C. And no, the restaurant didn't give this combo the number eleven. I am just a nerd. It's the number I would have given this combo if I had defined the combos using my particular sequence, so don't try to ask for a number eleven, they won't know what you're talking about. I love the crispy, golden brown panko breading on the katsu, the tender, white meat underneath made even more interesting with a couple squirts of the tangy tonkatsu sauce and if you dare, some spicy yellow mustard. The gyoza's thin wrapper, browned nicely on one side, contains a tasty filling of seasoned pork and vegetables. A side of lip-smacking ponzu sauce awaits on the side for your dipping pleasure. The boiled spinach looks like they shaped into some sort of tube, whacked it in half at an angle, then put a little hat of bonito flakes on the two stumps. It's a refreshing compliment to the crispiness of the katsu and gyoza.

Yesiree folks, we have a winner!

You get a couple extras--a few bonuses--with your prize, too. Comforting miso soup starts your Okonomi meal, a bowl of rice comes with, and in your partitioned plastic bento tray comes a little mound of potato salad as well as Suehiro's shredded cabbage salad, a simple salad of crisp shredded green cabbage and a light orange colored cream dressing. It's the kind of dressing that I look forward to getting in Mom and Pop-type Japanese restaurants--something that obviously contains Kewpie mayonnaise and who knows what else, but whatever the case I love its smoothness, creaminess and subtle zestiness.

One day I will try my luck with another possible combination, perhaps #5 or #13? Or maybe I'll be daring and pick stuff at random! I know I'll probably get something good in return with those, but for now I know for sure that I get an excellent
ROI on my chosen possible combination #11, so I've been sticking with that one. I know, I know, I'm too risk averse, but isn't this great? A game with a prize every time!

Suehiro Cafe
337 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-9132

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I Ain't No Holla Back Girl

The worst song to wake up to when your radio alarm clock goes off is Gwen Stefani's Holla Back Girl. I think Gwen wrote it in partnership with Chiquita and all the other fruit companies out there because I can't get that damn line about the B-A-N-A-N-A-S out of my head. Needless to say, I fought the urge and did not have a banana for breakfast. Stupid song.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

How To Find Seoul In The Valley, A Multiple Choice Quiz: Seoul Cafe, Glendale

You're jonesin' for some Korean food while at work in North Hollywood. You have about an hour and a half for lunch, give or take a few minutes, and decide to go get some. You:

A) Drive west to the Reseda/Northridge area.
B) Drive to Koreatown.
C) Drive to Burbank.
D) Drive to Glendale.

Is it...

...A? Wrong. While I've heard there are a few Korean restaurants in the Reseda/Northridge area, the drive's just too long. You'd be fired for sure by the time you got back into the office.

...B? Wrong. Koreatown's only about 10 miles away from North Hollywood, and 101 Hollywood Freeway traffic isn't that bad, but once you get into Koreatown, forget it. Lots of traffic, no parking, You'd be fired after coming back from here too.

...C? Wrong. There's one Korean restaurant called Seoul-Something-Or-Other on the trendy part of San Fernando Road near Ikea and all that. It's close enough to drive to at lunch but the food's not good.

...D? You are correct! Wow-how'd you guess? Only about 10-11 miles from lovely North Hollywood, there sits a little Korean sit-down restaurant called Seoul Cafe on a popular stretch of Brand Blvd. Traffic's usually pretty zippy getting there from the 134 and once you get there, there's a metered lot in back and plenty of street parking surrounding the restaurant.

At lunchtime, Seoul Cafe caters mostly to the downtown Glendale office lunch crowd--guys and gals in business or business casual attire, ID badges clipped to their waists. Most people go for one of the Korean BBQ lunch specials, although there are other menu items to choose from: jigae stews, jap chae, bibim bap. For about 8 or 9 bucks, the lunch specials are friendly to the average wage slave's pocketbook and a helluva good value for the amount of food they give you. A soup, usually a warm broth with slices of daikon, is brought first, along with a couple dishes of panchan, usually baechu (napa cabbage) kimchi, oi (cucumber) kimchi, ggak-dugi (radish kimchi), or shreds of pickled daikon. It's not the huge array of panchan that you usually get at your typical Koreatown restaurant, but for lunch it's good enough. And Seoul Cafe's kimchi ain't bad either; they've all got good, soaked-in spiciness and flavor and a good bite.

Cabbage kimchi and pickled daikon

Crunchy, pungent cubes of ggak-dugi.

Your BBQ meat comes out on one of those typical black iron cow sizzling platters--no cooking at the table here, but remember, you have to go back to the office afterwards, so the less smoky the clothes, the better. My pals and I always split the galbi (shortribs), bulgogi (sliced beef) and the daeji bulgogi (spicy pork). I like the galbi the best, it's got a good sweet and salty balance, and it's fun to tug the tender meat off the little nub of bone with your teeth. The bulgogi and daeji bulgogi are always juicy but slightly charred around the edges the way I like it; the daeji bulgogi, however, could use more spice. Oh well, what do you expect for Glendale? Sometimes we also get the dak bulgogi (chicken) to add to the mix. It's just allright. You know, it's chicken.

Sizzling galbi

Daeji bulgogi

Dak bulgogi and "regular" bulgogi

Each lunch special comes with its own plastic-trying-to-look-like-ceramic rectangluar platter with rice, a green salad with soy-ginger dressing, and a partitioned dish with more panchan. This panchan always changes, and ranges from good to not so good, depending on what it is. I like it when they have namul (seasoned bean sprouts) or bits of crunchy sesame infused broccoli. The last couple times though, they've served up a Korean version of a Waldorf salad--mayonnaised fruit chunks--which I just don't get, and some too soggy tenpura (fish cake).

Lunch special "sides" platter

I think our regular waitress, an older Korean lady, had a secret crush on my ex-coworker, a goofy 26 year old Japanese guy, so she's recognized us ever since she's laid eyes on him. We went on a non-Friday casual weekday once and she kept telling him how handsome he looked in his tie. Now, even after he's left us, she knows that we always want an order of jap chae with our meat to mix things up a little. In general, the jap chae is good: chewy noodles, good garlic and sesame flavor, nice ratio of stuff (meat and veggies) to noddles, but it has been known to be inconsistent at times, with the noodles being too soft at times, and with the amount of jap chae they give you varying.

A sometimes inconsistent jap chae; this time it was allright!

Because the people at Seoul Cafe are used to us office types having to eat and go, the service is generally speedy but at the same time very friendly. You're in and out of there in under an hour, so there won't be any worries about getting fired when returing to the office because you've taken a 3 hour lunch. And if you're lucky, you'll have time to spare to run across the street to
Porto's to grab some pastries for dessert! (But don't come yell at me if it's Porto's that makes you get back to the office late and get fired--you KNOW those lines are long!)

Seoul Cafe
312 1/2 N. Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91203
(818) 247-6955

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Don't Sweat The Small Stuff (Unless You Feel Like You Paid Too Much For Strawberries)

So I'm up in the Bay for a few days visiting my parents. Today, the folks and I were at Safeway, the last stop in our morning of grocery shopping; I had walked ahead of them while they were still dinking around in the produce section.

Them: Ai-Yah! Pam!
Me: (turning around and almost literally having a heart attack) Oh my God! What?
Them: We should have bought the strawberries here instead of Trader Joes, they're Buy One Get One Free.

Now that's reason for alarm.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Trying To Find Happiness At Happy Hour: Weiland Brewery

The bad news is that the system at work went down for the rest of the afternoon; the good news is that we were allowed to go home early...woo hoo!!! Being that I usually get home right when most happy hours end, I felt the need to take full advantage of today's free afternoon. I grabbed Isaac and we headed down the street to Weiland Brewery Restaurant to make pigs of ourselves at happy hour.

When I worked in San Francisco, I always felt like I was a part of a real urban work force. Maybe it was because we all swam upstream or downstream together like those cliche scenes in all of those Wall Street based movies. I felt like I shared something in common with all of the other corporate stiffs around me. But in LA, I don't know what it is, there doesn't seem to be as much of a sense of camradery between us office drones. Maybe it's because everything in LA is so spread out, but I felt a little outside of my turf when I walked into Weiland Brewery today (even though I live nearby) I wasn't sure if I was tripping or if people actually stopped to look us up and down as we walked into the brick-walled, loft-like building in Little Tokyo. It's as if happy hour for us office lackeys is what clubbing is to the younger, nightlife crowd. Is my 3/4 sleeve blouse not cool enough? Is your suit of a better quality than mine? Come on, be nice--this is downtown; skid row is only several blocks away. Perhaps it was still early and no one had enough drinks in them yet. OK fine, we had two hours to loosen up.

I think it was an off day, though. I think people were extra snarly today because of the heat and because the restaurant was out of Hefeweizen on tap as well as another one of their draft beers. Which is kinda shitty if you ask does a brewery run out of beer??? Anyways, Weiland Brewery's happy hour is usually pretty happy. It runs from 3pm-7pm and then again from 10pm to close. I like the fact that it runs until 7pm instead of 6 or 6:30 like many places, which actually gives you time to enjoy. As opposed to those "bar area only" happy hour policies, Weiland's happy hour menu is honored throughout the spacious restaurant & back patio. I hate it when I go to those bar area only places and all of the seats in the microscopic bar area are taken fair!

It's not a bad deal here...about ten different discounted appetizers are offered on their happy hour menu, ranging from $1.95 to $3.95 each. Cool pints of draft beer will cost you only two to three bucks each as they're a dollar off. We split five appetizers between the two of us, and because we're both trying to lose weight, shared one beer. (I'm being sarcastic!) Their garlic fries are delicious and a bargain at $1.95 for a big basket. The thin strips of hand cut potato are crispy, and seasoned so well with salt and garlic that you'll need a good supply of mints for the next day or so.

Awesome garlic fries

For some spice, we ordered a plate of buffalo wings and a plate of buffalo shrimp, $3.95 each. Both items were dipped in the same hot red sauce which was a "good" spicy--not bland, and not so spicy that it made me cry, but vinegary with a nice spicy kick. The buffalo shrimp only came with four shrimp but they were good sized, meaty prawns. They give you more wings--about ten--but I wish they had given us more carrot and celery sticks; they only put two of each on the plate. Waaah!

Where'd all the celery and carrots go?

Phat buffalo shrimp

Our chicken quesadilla was, though generic, pretty good. Mixed with melted jack cheese and jalapenos were pieces of moist, marinated grilled chicken for the filling. All of it smooshed between two lightly browned flour tortillas. A couple swipes of the guacamole and it was on. Another value at $3.95.

A chicken quesa-DILLAH (note the Napoleon Dynamite reference)

I should have known better than to have ordered crab cakes when I saw that they were $3.95. There is a certain risk there: quesadillas or hot wings at $3.95 are mostlikely going to be okay. Crabcakes or anything involving seafood at $3.95 is questionable. Fortunately, the buffalo shrimp turned out OK; unfortunately, the crab cakes did not. I don't think they were made with crab, but rather something that looked like and tasted like cat food. (Not that I know what cat food tastes like) They were also extremely dry. The $3.95 seafood theory also proves true with their fried calamari, which we didn't order this time for obvious reasons. The calamari here isn't your typical thin but snappy and tender rings and tentacles; instead, they're kind of like fried clam strips but blander. And they're breaded in a batter that you'd normally find on fried zucchini, not on calamari. I saw a look of surprise on two girls' faces when the server brought them their order of calamari; obviously they'd never had it here before.

Cat food, I mean crab, cakes

We left around 6:30 and by that time, the crowd at the restaurant was definitely livelier. And somehow the up and down stares that we'd gotten when we walked in never occurred as we walked out. Sounds of laughter and good conversations filled the air. Everyone had unwound, chilled out, and was having fun. OK, maybe all of us office drones are in this together, regardless of whether we're downtown LA suits or San Fernando Valley suits. Just give us some cheap food and alcohol first.

Weiland Brewery Restaurant
400 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 680-2881

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

R.I.P. Jim

This isn't really food related, but I am sad because my gnome Jim was killed today.

My stupid fiancee accidentally knocked him off the shelf and Jim came crashing to the floor. Poor Jim.

I think I am going to make Isaac take me out to omakase at Sushi Ike for murdering my gnome.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

That's Amore: Mazzarino's Italian Ristorante

An ex-coworker of mine, some Italian guy, used to swear by this place, an old school red-sauce Italian in Sherman Oaks. I had a conversation with him after he quit--a typical "keep in touch" conversation covering such topics as how the new job's going, how the kids are, etc.--and in giving me the lowdown on his new job, informed me that the company's run by a bunch of Italians. "Allright! A Paisan!" they said to him at his interview. I guess it was a shoe-in.

The first time I had even heard of Mazzarino's was through the
Anna Nicole Smith Show (yeah, THAT show) when Anna and her buddies were having an eating contest at the restaurant. I'm not sure if that was a good move or a bad move on Mazzarino's part, as seeing Anna Nicole making a pig of herself anywhere would make me lose my appetite. But I suppose that if my friend is recognizable by a bunch of Paisanos as a true Paisan, then he wouldn't mislead us about where to get good Italian food. He never took me to Mazzarino's himself, but instead, one of his cronies, a Japanese guy, took me there for the first time about two years ago, and it's been a part of the lunch restaurant rotation list for me and my crew ever since.

Mazzarino's, which had its beginnings sometime in the 40's, is old school red sauce Italian in every sense. The somewhat darkish dining area is divided into two parts: a small main dining room and an even smaller side room where Anna Nicole and her peeps got their grub on, and all the tables are covered with classic red and white checkered tablecloths. On each table, one of those red glass jar-looking votive holders. As expected of your typical southern-Italian American joint, alot of what's on the menu is red-sauce based and definitely heftier than Northern Italian-inspired dishes. Lasagna, mannicoti, spaghetti, baked ziti. Chicken, eggplant, and veal parmigiana. Pizzas and calzones. Italian hoagies. Get the picture?

A basket of the restaurant's famous garlic-cheese bread comes with every order. It comes out piping hot, your fingers nimbly grabbing the edges of a slice and quickly dropping it on your plate before burning yourself. As hard as it may be, I always wait impatiently for my slice to cool down for a few seconds before proceding. Each bite is a combination of crispy crust and edges, fluffy interior, and a wonderful topping of rich butter, chopped garlic, and grated parmesan cheese. It's one of those things that I could eat just by itself, it's so good.

The photo doesn't do the garlic-cheese bread justice

As sorry-ass corporate cogs in the wheel, we're always seeking a good value, and Mazzarino's lunch specials fit the bill. For only $8.95, you get a choice of pasta & sauce (marinara, meat, oil & garlic or arrabiata), lasagna, eggplant parmigiana with a side of pasta, chicken parmigiana with a side of pasta, ravioli, ricotta cheese manicotti, or meat and spinach canneloni, a choice of minestrone soup or salad, garlic-cheese bread, and a soda. *whew!* My fave is the chicken parmigiana with a side of oil & garlic angel hair. Topped with a nice layer of melted mozzarella cheese and marinara, the breaded chicken cutlet is pounded thin, allowing it to crisp around the edges but remain tender inside. The oil and garlic angel hair pasta literally has slices of lightly browned garlic cloves in it, which doesn't make for attractive breath after lunch, but who cares, it's delicious! I've tried the manicotti and canneloni as well: each baked pasta dish was made really well, although I don't think they're as much a bank for the buck as either the eggplant or the chicken parmigiana.

Lunch special salad (with garlic cheese bread in the background!)

Chicken parm w/ pasta lunch special

Recently, we decided to stray from the lunch menu to see what we'd been missing out on. Four of us split a medium cheese pizza, an Italian sub and a chopped salad with salami. The chopped salad was a disappointment as it came out untossed and piled high on a serving plate. That's right, not a bowl, but a plate. Adding to the frustration was the fact that the salami, mozzarella cheese and tomatoes sat atop the mound of chopped iceberg lettuce in sections, meaning they weren't tossed into the lettuce either. We coulda sent it back and had them toss it for us, but decided not to out of laziness. Instead we tried to make it more manageable by divying it out amongst the four of us first, then adding the dressing and tossing ourselves. A chopped salad is supposed to be a symphony of both textures and flavors--you're supposed to get some of the salty and chewy cheese and salami, some of the cool and crisp lettuce and some of the zesty and juicy tomatoes in every bite--and without being tossed correctly, this one just didn't work. Oh and sorry, no picture on this one!

Fortunately, our Italian sub and cheese pizza more than made up for the salad fiasco. I love the sort of spicy-salty smoothness that one gets from Italian cold cuts--mortadella, salami, ham, capicola--and Mazzarino's gives you just the right amount: not too little, not too much. Slices of mildly salty provolone cheese and the crusty submarine roll slathered with mustard and vinaigrette made it even better. Best of all, the sandwich stayed together pretty well: no slipping and sliding of meat and cheese against the tomatoes with stuff falling out the sides while we ate it.

Italian Sub

The pizza was, in one word, luscious. Slightly sweet marinara and bubbly mozzarella sat happily on a crust that was not too thick and not too thin, crisped just right on the bottom and unified in a chewy, but not too doughy meeting place at the edges. I haven't had good pizza in a long time, and this one was gooooood.

Now Thatza Pizza-Pie!

So with the exception of the "shoulda-been-tossed" chopped salad, everything I've had at Mazzarino's has been *air-kissing with fingers to lips* simply delicious. I think I'm going to give my Paisan friend a big mamma-style hug and thank him with hands waving in the air for telling me about this place. But then again I won't because that's stuff that they only do on TV and he'll think I'm crazy.

Mazzarino's Italian Ristorante
12920 1/2 Riverside Dr.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
(818) 788-5050

Monday, July 18, 2005

Vietnamese Sandwiches, Yes. Vietnamese Tacos, No.

Xoi Bahn Kep: Vietnamese dessert "tacos"

I went back to Bahn Mi My Tho for the third time this weekend. If you'll recall,
my pilot trip was back on July 7, so if you do the math, it means I like it alot. I've become somewhat addicted to their bahn mi dac biet.

This time around, it wasn't as uncomfortable dealing with surly lady behind the counter because there were other customers waiting for their bahn mi. She was kept busy and didn't have time to stare. I, however, had more time to check out some of the deli items they had in their tiny section off to the side. An arm reached out in front of me as I was studying some of the Vietnamese dessert items on the shelf. One of the other customers, a mom, had grabbed a plastic wrapped styrofoam plate with some sort of sweet rice dessert in it and called out to her teenage daughter in Vietnamese. Next thing you know, the daughter's smiling and nodding and the mom grabs two of the packages and pays for them with their bahn mi.

There was one package left, so I picked it up, wondering what the daughter was so excited about. Xoi Bahn Kep read the label on the package. "Are they tacos?" I asked myself. I had to find out what all the excitement was about so I grabbed the last one and took it home with my bahn mi dac biet. $3.25 for lunch and dessert. Not bad. I even got a little hint of a smile--an upturned corner of one side of the mouth--from surly lady behind the counter.

After unwrapping the little square plate after scarfing down my sandwich, I studied my Vietnamese dessert "tacos" some more. Each "taco" was wrapped in a crepe-like shell, stuffed with sweet rice and topped with shredded coconut and ground peanuts. I couldn't stop staring at the middle "taco," stuffed with sweet rice that had been dyed bright space-alien green. Finally, I picked one up and took a bite. It was definitely strange, not strange tasting, but strange in texture. I've eaten many a rice based dessert--mochi, manju, kanom krok--but all are made with rice flour that's shaped into something else. On this dessert, it was like I had accidentally spilled coconut milk and peanuts on my steamed rice and didn't want to waste food so just ate it anyway. Hmm, sounds like something my parents would do.

I didn't know if I could finish all three. In fact, I didn't even finish one, and I wasn't able to give them away, either. I wish I knew where that mom and daughter were, I'd give them the two leftover ones.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Either They're At Pink's Or They're Handing Out Free Money Somewhere...Nope, They're All At Pink's!

Look! I found all the people...they're at Pink's!

By George, I think I've got it.
No one was at Phillipe's because they're all at Pinks Famous Hot Dogs. My mystery is solved.

You'd think they were giving out free money here. Driving down La Brea Avenue this afternoon, there was the usual line of people outside Pink's. And being that it's summer, the line wrapped around the building toward the parking lot. There was an ambulance outside, probably coming to the aid of someone who had just had a heart attack from all the grease or who had passed out from claustrophobia.

The wait schedule at Pink's on a day like today goes something like this:

0:00- Get your ass in line. Mostlikey, you won't have to walk far from your car to the end of the line because the end of the line will be near the parking lot.
0:00-0:30- Shuffle your way toward the corner of the building in the bright sun with all the other poor saps.
0:30-1:00-Round the corner and start shuffling your way past the antique store that is never open.
1:00-1:30-You're not done yet! Make your way through the mini line maze towards the counter. Is there a ride at the end of this too?
1:30-1:35-Place your order. By now, you're so hungry you've already eaten all the mints in your bag.
1:35-1:45-Enter the door and wait another few minutes for them to ring your order.

OK, so maybe it won't take an hour forty-five all the time. Sometimes it'll only take an hour and a half. I suppose if you're a tourist, waiting in line for a hot dog isn't such a big deal since you've already travelled this far.

Pink's is, to me, one of those places I go when I need grease. This could be at 3am when I need something to soak up all the inebriants in my system (it's been awhile since I've been out like that though!) or it could be when I am simply craving junk food and want something more than Doritos. The last time I went to Pink's was a few months ago when my girlfriend and I wanted greasy picnic food but had no picnic to go to.

My dog of choice at Pink's is plain and simply, the chili dog. Depending on whether or not I've calmed down from waiting in line, I'm usually pretty happy when I bite into one of these. It's true--the snappy, juicy Hoffy dog literally pops when you bite into it. Pink's chili looks like a ground beef gravy with a pool of oil on top, but it's got a good, mild, beefy taste that seems to go really well with the tangy yellow mustard that's slathered on the warm fluffy bun. Instead of ordering a chili dog with sauerkraut, I always order myself a side of sauerkraut for 40 cents to sprinkle on to my chili dogs--I like to have control over my condiments! If I'm in a chili mood, I'll get a side of chili fries; if not, I'll go for a plain side of fries. Pink's fries are like a straight version of curly fries: seasoned and crispy.


Thank goodness I always order the same thing at Pink's; their menu would send anyone's brain into a tailspin, as if standing in line wasn't mindboggling enough. They've got dogs with bacon and tomatoes, Polish dogs with pastrami and cheese, dogs with pastrami, cheese and onions wrapped in a tortilla. If weiners ain't your thang, you can get a burger instead. But it's not just A BURGER that's on the menu--there are eleven to choose from! For the star-struck, they've got creations named after celebrities: the Ozzy Osbourne Dog consists of a Polish dog, nacho cheese, American cheese, grilled onions, guacamole, and chopped tomatoes. The Martha Stewart Dog has a hot dog with mustard, relish, onions, chopped tomatoes, sauerkraut, bacon and sour cream. Hmm, doesn't seem to be too much of a good thing. Too darn confusing.

So this is what people are crowding up my freeways for. I guess it is an LA landmark just like Phillipe's, only Pink's came around a couple decades later, in 1939. They do make a good dog, but there are so many
other places to get a taste of LA history! Oh, but what am I talking about--Pink's wouldn't be Pink's without the line. Just like summer in LA wouldn't be summer in LA without the crowds and traffic.

Pink's Famous Hot Dogs
709 N. La Brea Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 931-4223

Friday, July 15, 2005

Either They're At Phillipe's Or They're Handing Out Free Money Somewhere...They Must Be Handing Out Free Money Somewhere.

Crawling southbound on the Hollywood Freeway at a little over 15 mph, it suddenly hit me that it's open season for tourists in Los Angeles. The cars entering and exiting the Lankershim and Highland exits are backed up all the way to what seems like Ventura County, carrying people who have come from all corners of the world to get the ultimate LA experience: Universal City, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, maps to stars' homes. Recently, its been unusually busy--the traffic has not eased up even after this busy area and has remained stop and go all the way to downtown, adding at least 20-30 minutes daily to my late-afternoon commute. Traffic has even gotten worse on weekends. So where on earth is everyone going?

If everyone thought like me, then the obvious answer would be that everyone is on their way to get food, right? After all, there certainly is no shortage of
landmark restaurants in the Southland, and why wouldn't people think like me? (yeah right) Letting my imagination run amuck, I decided to test my theory on a historical downtown eatery, since the traffic seemed to move at a snail's pace the whole length of the 101 South. If I was indeed correct, then I'd find everyone at Phillipe's The Original eating French Dip sandwiches. Yeah, that's it. The 101 has been jammed up because everyone is heading downtown to Phillipe's.

Crap. I hate it when I'm wrong. Not only is Phillipe's not filled with the entire tourist community, but there aren't even that many locals here today. To my surprise, the lines at the counter were only 1-2, as opposed to the usual 5-8, people deep. I spotted a few folks whose attire screamed tourist, lost amongst a few Average Joes here and there. There was no excess of cameras and fanny packs, no excess of local civil servants--DA's, deputies, and the like. No excess of old locals who have seen better days. Nope, everyone seemed to be elsewhere on this lovely July day, a phenomenon which I will still one day set out to solve, but also one which made me take advantage of the short lines today.

I did not have to stare long at the jar of bright magenta pickled eggs that sits atop the counter before it was my turn. "What can I get for you?" asked my counter lady as I shuffled over the sawdust covered floor up to the counter. With almost robotic speed and efficiency, she prepared my order, and I was on my way to grabbing a stool at one of their many long, counter-like tables. I decided to haul my tray from downstairs, a former machine shop, to the upstairs dining room, formerly a hotel, to take advantage of its brightness and airiness.

Scary magenta pickled eggs...only 65 cents each!

Supposedly, Phillipe's is home of the original French Dip sandwich, a claim which has long been debated, as many think that
Cole's P.E. Buffet, about a mile away, is the originator. No one really knows--both stories date back to 1908--but whatever the case may be, Phillipe's should still be proud. They make a mighty fine sandwich. Crusty on the outside, but warm and fluffy on the inside, the French roll on my single-dipped beef sandwich is dipped in just enough au jus to make the sandwich moist without falling apart. The crispy edges soak up some of the au jus and provide a perfect textural compliment to the pile of thinly carved roast beef. If more au jus is your thing, you can also ask for your sandwich to be double dipped. Also on my light grey paper plate was a scoop of potato salad, creamy yet crunchy from bits of onions and pickles, and sprinkled with a few dashes of paprika. To top it all off, a snappy pickle spear and a cool glass of house-brewed iced tea. Phillipe's also has a good selection of desserts--pie slices, New York style cheesecake, puddings. Today I chose one of the tiny plastic-wrapped bowls of tapioca pudding which was somewhat geriatric, but classic nevertheless. If you're brave (which I am not), each table has a jar of Phillipe's famous hot mustard with which you can lace your sandwich or whatever else you may care to put it on.

Phillipe's Famous French Dip Sammich

Geriatric, but a classic...Phillipe's tapioca pudding

Hot stuff!

Not much has changed at Phillipe's since its early days. Though the prices have gone up with inflation, its menu pricing is still very much old school. My sandwich was less than five bucks, the scoop of potato salad--90 cents, the pickle--80 cents, the pudding--a buck seventy-five, and the iced tea--50 cents. For 65 cents you can get one of the brightly colored, but scary, pickled eggs. For 10 cents, you can get an olive. For a two-ten, a bowl of chili. For a buck eighty, a pickled pigs foot. And a cup of coffee at Phillipe's costs only nine cents. It's no wonder both Angelenos and non-Angelenos flock to Phillipe's to get a taste of LA history. But not today. Where is everyone? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Phillipe's The Original
1001 N. Alameda St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 628-3781

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Must. Get. Help.

I am not a regular coffee drinker. I do not usually have a cup of joe in the morning to wake up.

Today, I had a cup of joe in the morning to wake up.

My energy spiked and fell more quickly than a blind man driving along a cliffside road.

Now I need more coffee.

I think coffee is more addicitive than cocaine or heroin.

I am not allowed to drink coffee anymore.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Dear Asshole: You Will Not Ruin My Dinner Too

Dear Asshole,

Do not make me and my people look like the idiots and have us re-do our work 2,3,4 times just because you were too stupid to communicate your business directives to your own people. You are a fuck-face and I hate you for it.

OK, I feel much better now that that's off my chest. On days like today, when all that comes out of your mouth are fightin' words, cheap, easy, and tasty dinners are key. Which is why tonight, I stopped by Koreatown on the way home and picked me up some pre-made jap-chae from California Market. Yeah, it's not as good as home- or even restaurant-made (nothing can compare to my ex-roommate's mom's jap-chae) but it does the trick. For a little over 3 bucks, you get a good sized clear container full of sesame and garlic-infused clear yam noodles, bell pepper, carrot, spinach and shitake mushroom. Heat it up quickly in a pan and you've got yourself a tasty, no-fuss dinner for two. Korean markets such as California Market always have other quick pick-up foods available for not-so-pleasant days: mixed vegetables, beef, and sauce for bibim bap, pre-marinated meat for bulgogi or galbi, a variety of Korean pancakes, and loads more.

Look, now because of all the time and grief that I saved myself after that simple and delicious meal from California Market, I have all this free time to stew about other stuff. Like that ass-clown at work. Fucker.

California Market
450 S. Western Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90020

Monday, July 11, 2005

Freshman Orientation: Izayoi

I was a bit of a wallflower until this blogging thing started. Look at me now--I've got link buddies, comment friends, a whole wealth of people I communicate with who, until recently, were complete strangers. Why, I've even been doing some outside socializing as of late thanks to some encouragement from Sarah from The Delicious Life! Last month, a bunch of us food bloggers went in search of a Queen of Cuisine. This month, she told us to get out there and meet ourselves a freshman!

The freshman that I chose to haze for
this month's Dine and Dish, Izayoi in Little Tokyo, kinda already knows what he's doing. Izayoi ain't no deer in the headlights, scared shitless twerp; instead, he's more like a bad-ass college graduate going into his first year of grad school with every ounce of confidence in the world. So no, I'm not going to spank this one with a wooden paddle or throw him head first into a trash can or make him slam beer after beer until he passes out. In fact, from what I hear, this freshman can hold his own pretty well; he'd probably come kick my ass.

Izayoi, which has been open for lunch a little over a month now and has only been open for dinner for, oh, five days, is actually the reincarnation of Hollywood's Sushi Ryo. Along with graduation from his former Hollywood digs, the freshman got a bit of a makeover. No more adult book store or seedy donut shop neighbors; Izayoi now sits proudly as one of several new storefronts in Little Tokyo. The occasional panhandler passes by its exterior as is typical of Little Tokyo, but its airy interior which could pass as a
West Elm showroom, boasts soaring ceilings, exposed pipes and dark, sleek tables and chairs.

I didn't know Izayoi back in his Sushi Ryo days, but the word from a couple of fellow
Chowhounds is that its sushi chef, Jun, has mad fish skills. Naturally, we decided to test this new (but experienced!) man on campus could do so we ordered a variety of nigiri sushi: tuna, hamachi (yellowtail), albacore and ebi (shrimp). Brought out on a giant square platter lined up like troops, all of the fish was like butta'...amazingly fresh and buttery soft. Our ebi was meaty but springy, and perfect in its simplicity. The albacore was lightly seared on the edges and came with a very pleasant citrusy ponzu sauce for dipping.

Neat little rows of nigiri

We were also interested in trying the albacore dressed in some different clothes, so we ordered the albacore salad. I enjoyed it, but what I had hoped to be the same quality of fish as our sushi was just slightly lower. I wondered if maybe restaurants traditionally use older pieces of fish with salads and the freshest pieces only for sushi and sashimi. Or perhaps it was because the slices were obviously larger, but the albacore in the salad was definitely not as tender as that in our nigiri and even had a very slight "fishy" taste where it was seared. The flavors in the entire salad were delicious, however. The lip smacking tartness of ponzu dressing complimented the slight bitterness of the field greens and roasted yellow peppers very well. Making the tart and bitter flavors stand out even more--something that hit me as I was mid-salad when I thought to myself, "Hey! This actually tastes kinda good"--were our ice cold pints of Kirin beer.

Albacore Salad

In his self-reinvention, Izayoi has also decided to become a little more well-rounded and offer a variety of izakaya, or Japanese small plates, to its menu. With appetizer, deep-fried, grilled, and simmered & steamed sections on their menu, Izayoi is sure to attract more friends. As a
huge fan of izakaya, I was very excited to hear that our freshman was offering up so much in his first year: sake and miso marinated black cod, grilled baby barracuda, steamed mixed mushrooms, seafood cream croquette, amongst many others. Izayoi prices their izakaya slightly higher than than many izakaya joints, with dishes priced between six and ten dollars, but offers a much tighter selection, so as to not skimp on quality, I'm sure. With the one izakaya dish we tried, the pork kakuni, I was right. Every ounce of quality was put into this small but delicious and artfully presented dish. Here, tender chunks of pork that was cut with just the right amount of luscious fat was braised until the meat seemed to melt in my mouth. To the side, dabbed in a nice amount of the pork sauce, a fried soybean curd pocket (the kind typically used to make inari sushi) stuffed with mochi, an ooey-gooey treat. A few strands of boiled spinach and shredded radish made the dish even more interesting.

Pork Kakuni

Izayoi's newness was very evident, however. Arriving at around 6:30 pm and leaving close to 8pm, we were the only customers there (except for a group of men that seemed to be friends of the owners), its staff waiting for people to walk in so it can show its stuff. Its staff made us feel so appreciated, giving us the most attentive service and even two Izayoi smiley face pens as a parting gift! To make even more friends, Izayoi offers its Izayoi Lunch Box to its first 20 lunch customers. It seems like quite a bargain at $9.50 as it contains a variety of goodies, according to some Chowhounds--mixed sashimi, hijiki seaweed, pickled vegetables, mixed tempura, broiled fish, chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), rice, miso soup and salad. A little more word of mouth and our freshman could be the next big man on campus. And me? Well, I'm glad to have another new friend!

132 S. Central Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 613-9554

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Not Even Tacos Are Exempt From Inflation: Tacos Mexico

All this for $2.55!

Gone are the days of 300,000 houses, gas that costs less than 2 bucks a gallon, and 50 cent tacos. The last time I ate at Tacos Mexico about three years ago, the tacos cost only 50 cents each. As with everything else in Los Angeles, tacos, too, have become less affordable. Today, at 85 cents each--a 70% increase, they're still dirt cheap to me, but only because I have more purchasing power than I did three years ago. A house, however, I cannot seem to afford anymore even after several jumps in pay. Go figure.

Fortunately, the tacos at Tacos Mexico were still a good bang for the buck, and worth every bit of 85 cents. The tacos are tiny, served on two layers soft corn tortillas the size of drink coasters, but are packed with flavor. The carnitas in my two carnitas tacos were tender but crispy at the edges, and marked with the pungency of salt and oil that all good carnitas should have. A tangy salsa verde helped to lend some kick. My al pastor taco consisted of marinated grilled pork doused in a smoky red chile sauce. The carnitas were my favorite, but the al pastor were good nevertheless. I questioned the sanitary-ness of the "help-yourself" spicy marinated carrots & jalapenos, sliced radishes and lime wedges they had next to the cashier, but filled a little plastic baggie with some anyway. They didn't do me any justice...the carrots were a little soggy.

For 85 cents, you can also get tacos with carne asada, pollo, cabeza (beef head meat), lengua (beef tongue), or buche (pork maws). Back in Tacos Mexico's 50 cent days, one used to also be able to get tacos with tripitas (beef tripe) but it seems they (and many other taco establishments) have taken it off the menu because of some Mad Cow thing. Tacos Mexico's solution was an easy one--simply put duct tape over where it used to be on the menu board. Classy.

For even more money, like two to three bucks or something, you can also get burritos or tortas filled with the same choice of ingredients that go into the tacos. But I never get those. Too expensive--I'm trying to save for a house!

Tacos Mexico
3660 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 480-9394

Friday, July 08, 2005

These Chilaquiles Weighed Almost A Chila-Kilo

Brick O' Chilaquiles

This is the kind of crap that the cafeteria at work serves. Every Friday is Chilaquiles Day at breakfast time and for 2 bucks, instead of the nice, fried tortilla pieces that are a little crispy at the edges and moistened with egg and chile sauce on the inside that you get at normal places, you get a huge brick of what-the-fuck with a thick layer of cheese on top. For kicks, I weighed it at the cashier's scale--it weighed almost a pound. Don't ask me why I bought it; I must have been smoking crack this morning. I took two bites and threw the rest out.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Gabriel Brings Me Bahn Mi But Fernando Doesn't: Bahn Mi My Tho

Whenever I stay home sick from work, whether I'm playing hooky and taking a "personal health day" or when I feel like I'm on my deathbed, I have a personal requirement to take full advantage of the day. Ain't no way I'm gonna waste a sick day; I mean, how many chances do I have to have a weekday off? So today, when my migrane subsided (I SWEAR, I really DID have a migrane), first thing I did was got ready to go out.

Whatever I end up doing doesn't have to be extremely exciting, like I don't go to the beach or go rock climbing or anything. The whole idea is to be able to be out in the real world doing "normal" stuff like grocery shopping or grabbing a bite to eat without the weekend crowds and traffic. And so began a post-migrane trip to Alhambra. I told you it wasn't going to be too glamourous, but where else can I go that's only a 10 minute drive from downtown, has "American" conveniences like Target and a Costco with a gas station, plus loads of great Asian shops and restaurants? It's perfect!

So after filling up my trunk with groceries and other (un)necessities and then filling up my tank with gas, I thought it'd be a good idea to fill up my tummy with something that isn't as easily found in the San Fernando Valley but much more easily found in the San Gabriel Valley. My coworkers and I have drooled over them in conversation: "If only there were a place out here to get some $2 Vietnamese sammiches!" We've tried looking for bahn mi sandwiches in the NoHo/Studio City/Van Nuys/Burbank area before--there used to be one across from 99 Ranch Market in Van Nuys but when we drove out one day, it had closed to make room for a boba shop--ain't no such thang.

Today, however, I was in the right Valley for this sort of thing. In a mini mall on Valley Blvd. just west of Garfield is a teensy-weensy Vietnamese sandwich shop called Bahn Mi My Tho. It was my first time here, so it was a little hard for me to find, not because it was in an inconspicuous location, but because I was still trying to shake off a post-migrane haze. After flipping many illegal bitches on Valley, I finally found it and pulled into their parking lot. I was glad to have a small car, 'cause someone didn't design that lot all that well. The parking spaces were long and narrow, more fit for rocket ships than most cars, an old security guard staring at me as I three-point-turned my way into a space.

A very surly Vietnamese lady with eyes lined in thick black eyeliner took my order, not by asking me if she could take my order but by simply looking up with those encircled eyes. "A number 2 without cilantro and a number 4, please," I said. She wrote my order down on a small sheet of paper, muttered "hm" under her breath and handed the paper to the lady in the back making the sandwiches. I spent the next few minutes poking around a cramped space filled with soft drinks and various Vietnamese deli items--goi cuon, bun, mung bean desserts. I looked up and at back at the counter a couple of times only to see surly Vietnamese lady staring at me. Did I look that criminal? Did she think I was going to stuff some mung bean cakes into my mini messenger bag? It would have been a difficult get-away pulling out of my parking space, but whatever the case, after what felt like the longest few minutes of my life, I looked up to see her bagging my sandwiches. "Four dollar," she said. Wow, she actually said something. I gave her four bucks and then asked for a to-go menu. She handed me my sandwiches and a menu without saying a word. Whatever.

But when I got home with my bahn-mi, the #2 bahn mi dac biet, filled with various Vietnamese cold cuts, barbequed pork and pate, my freakish experience at Bahn Mi My Tho was all worth it. The sesame baguette had a fluffy, chewy interior and a crispy exterior and was slathered with creamy mayonnaise and sprinkled with a bit of soy sauce. Each bite was a treat--the subtle saltiness of the ham, gelatinous texture of the headcheese, the velvety smoothness of the liver pate and the slightly charred crispiness of the barbecued pork seemed to work both independently and in unison. Cool cucumber, crisp pickled daikon and radish, and jalapeno slices added some nice crunch to all the meatiness. Judging from my sandwich and the bahn mi ga, the chicken bahn mi I got for Isaac, Bahn Mi My Tho's sandwiches are more on the fat, fluffy side whereas other
bahn mi's I've bought down the street are served on a longer, skinnier, warmer and crustier baguette. I haven't found a preference yet; all I know is that for $2, this wonderful sandwich is totally unlike anything I can get in my normal Valley during the week. It's something that Fernando can't provide, but Gabriel can come through with.

Bahn Mi Dac Biet

Bahn Mi My Tho also has various com tam, or rice plates, and bun, or vermicelli plates, available to order. Those may take longer to prepare, so be ready to play staring games with the lady behind the counter.

Another sick day put to good use!

Bahn Mi My Tho
304 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91803