Friday, October 28, 2005

Trick Or Treat

I played hooky from work yesterday and walked into my office today to find this sitting in the seat of my chair:

My coworker had fashioned these miniature Mr. Hankeys out of Tootsie Rolls while I was out and decided to leave me a little surprise.

I'm on my way up to the Bay for a few days...Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Deep Thoughts...By Daily Gluttony

Can someone please tell me...why do bacon and gorgonzola work so well together?

Monday, October 24, 2005

I Do Declare--The Snack Monitor Baked Eclairs!

Every Monday, my group at work has something called "Monday Munchies" where someone's responsible for bringing in snacks each week. A little reminiscent of grade school, I'll say. Remember when you had to be the Paper Monitor or the Lunch Monitor for the week? My fourth grade teacher even put up a "Monitor Wheel" with everyone's name on it and where every week, it'd be turned clockwise one tick and would assign each student his/her new weekly monitor responsilbility. I think being Paper Monitor was the easiest as all you had to do was pass paper out to all the kids, and Lunch or Milk Monitor was OK 'cause all you had to do was go to the lunch lady, get the box with all the hot lunches or milk in it and carry it to the cafeteria. Being Chalkboard Monitor was always scary because you were responsible for erasing the chalkboards AND cleaning the erasers (*cough cough*). But even as kids, no one ever wanted to be Ball Monitor, because, well, the name sounds funny.

So this week at work, it was my turn to be Snack Monitor for Monday Munchies. And because it was a gloomy day on Sunday and because I needed an excuse not to go out and shop, I decided to do some serious baking. With all this talk lately about
Beard Papa and cream puffs and with a recent disappointing experience at Lee's with their cream-filled Deli-Manjoo, I thought it'd be nice to whip up something of the puffy, creamy sort...but maybe something larger scale since I did literally have all day. Yes, I decided to bake eclairs.

I used the same recipe I always use, which is adapted from
Gale Gand's recipe from the Food Network website. The difference, however, is that I normally only make one batch and this time, I had to make two in order to feed all the people in my group at work. Did I say I had all day?

Ahh, my peaceful, yet not so peaceful afternoon of eclair baking reminded me that I'm glad it is once again fall and that the weather has cooled down enough for me to use my oven again. (Prolonged oven use inside of a brick-walled apartment during the summer is more like baking the humans inside it, namely ME) It reminded me that baking is indeed relaxing and an excellent time for indulging in deep thought. (But not too deep--you gotta watch that timer!) And it also reminded me that an all-afternoon baking spree can take a toll on your bad wrist especially when you have to break out the fricken pastry bag and do all that piping. Next time, I'm just going to use the choux pastry for cream puffs. Same taste, just different shape, and NO prolonged piping.

Luckily for me, my eclairs turned out really well--the golden brown outer shell topped with a chocolate ganache shell revealed a light, creamy, vanilla-infused custard inside--and were a huge hit at Monday Munchies." If I'd been in one of my moods, I'd have filled them with mayonnaise to
fuck with everyone, but nah, I thought I'd be nice this time.

Here's a
link to the recipe. The recipe calls for 1/2 a vanilla bean, but depending on the quality of bean you use, you may want to up it to a whole bean or supplement the half bean with some vanilla extract. I used the Tahitian Vanilla Beans from Trader Joe's, and while they're well priced, they're a bit on the dry side and not too flavorful. Also, the pastry cream part of the recipe is not enough for one batch, in my opinion. I think it really needs about 1 1/2 times that amount. The chocolate ganache and egg wash parts, however, yield enough for two batches. One more thing, if it gets too difficult to fill the eclair from one side of the pastry, poke a hole in the other side of the eclair and pipe the pastry cream in from the other side as well.

The Snack Monitor's work is done. Now we just need someone to be "Ass Monitor" to check how big our asses are going to get from all these snacks.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I Should Probably Watch My Back: Ribs USA, Burbank

*looking over shoulders* OK, look. I'm going to say something that is probably going to earn me a lot of hate mail as soon as I hit "Publish." Ready?

I went to Ribs USA the other day. And really liked it.

OK there, you happy? Now bring it on. I can take it.

More than any other type of food out there, BBQ seems to be what people get the most defensive and competitive about. The
Chowhound Los Angeles board will show you: put a post about the "Best BBQ in LA" anyday and there'll be a slew of debate over who has it. Perhaps it's because there is clearly not a multitude of good BBQ places in L.A. Whatever the case, it's like BBQ is somehow connected so someone's manhood or origins, like "If you're gonna fuck with my BBQ, you's better come fuck with me first." Or worse yet, bring up a good BBQ place that everyone else thinks is crap and people will come after you with torches and dogs to hunt you down.

Well, unfortunately for me, Ribs USA is one of those places. It was named by
9 on the Town as one of the Top 9 Rib Places, and though I don't think anyone slammed Ribs USA directly, there were certainly a slew of negative responses to the original post that contained this list. "That list is crap," one guy said. "What a joke," said another. OK, I agree with some of the Hounds...Dr. Hogly Wogly's is crap, and The Pig on La Brea is even crappier, and I haven't been to this so called chain of crap Lucille's Smokehouse, but damn it, I like Ribs USA! I may as well be condemned to chain-restaurant-lover status huh?

Ribs USA is about mismatched wooden tables and chairs, neon beer signs in the windows, plastic beer penants lining the ceilings, TV's with the latest games on, and sawdust and peanut shells on the floor. Not an ounce of pretention in this shack of a restaurant located on Burbank's Olive Avenue. It makes you want to sit down, watch a game, and have a few beers. And not fancy imported beers, mind you; I'm talkin' the domestic stuff--Coors, Miller, or Bud. Grab a complimentary basket o' peanuts, crack those suckers open, toss your shells on the floor, and you're set.

You can toss these shells to the curb (literally!)

So maybe Ribs USA doesn't excel at all of their 'cue. Their beef ribs are a tad on the tougher side (but I feel that way about most beef ribs anyways). Their BBQ chicken seems just like roast chicken with BBQ sauce on it. But their baby backs? Basted in a honey-sweet, smoky and slightly spicy sauce, the meat on these comes right off the bone with a slight pull and yet stays on just enough so that you have something to suck and gnaw on to get every last bit of sauce off. Finger lickin' good, I say.

Mmm, meat...

For lunch recently, my analyst and I split a T-Bird Tyrone's combo, including a half slab of baby backs (or beef ribs if you so choose, but guess which one we chose), 2 hot links and 2 sides. The two hot link sausages were cut in half and butterflied and were hiding underneath our half slab of ribs. No worries--this way, they got all that yummy sauce that dripped off the ribs, and as if they didn't already have a nice spicy kick to themselves, the BBQ sauce off the ribs gave them even more kick.

*slamming knife into slab* I like this food, dammit!

Bitter and salted just right, our side of collard greens were also spicy the way I like 'em, making them far from boring. (Ain't nothing worse than boring collard greens) My analyst and I, however, disagreed on their potato salad. I don't think she likes potato salad in the first place, but let me order them anyways 'cause I'm the boss. They were more on the soft side, but they still had a nice chunky consistency, and if I had to guess what seasoned them I'd say it was 1000 island dressing and pickles, but I could be wrong. All I know is that they were a little creamy, a little tangy, a little sweet and just plain tasty! I can't say the same, however, about Ribs USA's Mac N' Cheese, which our table somehow got extra dishes of. Totally bland, no sharpness was as if they made this dish with cottage cheese.

You can skip these

Ribs USA also serves pulled pork (which my friend thought was "OK"), tri-tip (which two other people in our party said were really good), hot wings, various sandwiches, burgers, fried catfish, charbroiled shrimp, and salads (but we don't need to know about those, right?).

I'm about to click on "Publish Post," and I've got a jumbo Mag-Lite in hand, just in case.

Ribs USA
2711 W. Olive Ave.
Burbank, CA 91505
(818) 841-8872

Friday, October 21, 2005

Here's Something To Keep You Awake: Free Coffee or Tea at Peet's

I don't really know why, but maybe just because they're cool,
Peet's Coffee and Tea in Studio City is offering a free cup of tea or regular coffee every day in the month of October from 1-3 pm.

I know you only have a week or so to take advantage of this special offer, but I just found out myself! I had my money out and ready to go for the cup of oolong tea I'd ordered when I was informed of this wonderful offer by my friendly barista. No purchase necessary, no strings attached whatsoever. So, instead of going into the till, my cash went straight into the tip jar.

I'm not sure every Pete's location is in on this, or if it's just the Studio City one--I know your ghetto ass wants free coffee and all, but don't tell them "Pam from Daily Gluttony said I can get free coffee so cough it up." And don't forget to tip your baristas!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"Able To Successfully Lead Dim Sum Virgin Coworkers Through First Dim Sum Experience."- Empress Pavillion

What's behind door No. 1?

Having to rewrite my resume after 5 years at my current company was a difficult task. I haven't really taken a good look at myself in a long time, and the longer I think about it, the more I realize that I can't do much, and I don't really do much. In fact, I get paid alot for acting like I know what I'm doing. You remember
Chandler Bing on Friends, and how his job was to manage the "WENIS" but no one really knew what the hell he did? Well that's me.

OK, so my resume might as well just say that I "can do stuff." Uh, I can give orders to people and make them push numbers around that aren't important but sound important. Yeah, and I can take orders and answer questions from senior executives and make them feel OK about their business by making up silly reports and spreadsheets while meanwhile I don't know or care of what the hell they're talking about anyways. I can lead and facilitate meetings. I can calculate all kinds of random financial stuff. I can hang out in my friends' offices and chat about nothing for an hour while the assholes upstairs are passing by my office wondering where the hell I am. I can talk on the phone, send emails to my friends and surf the internet. I can look for jobs, update my blog, read blogs and buy stuff on
eBay. Yes, when it comes down to it my friends, I can get my job done both well and on time AND waste tons of time while doing it. When it comes down to it I guess what I do best, what I should really be putting as the main area of strength on the "Summary of Qualifications" part of my resume is "Can multi-task like a mother fucker."

Maybe it's because I'm already used to it, but multi-tasking at work is a piece of cake. I've got this juggling a million personalities and tasks thing down to a tee. So when I was asked to take 12 coworkers, all of different ethnic backgrounds, corporate status, epicurean tastes, religious backgrounds (you'll see) to eat dim sum at one of my regular dim sum joints, Chinatown's Empress Pavillion, my multi-tasking skills were really put to the test. First, I had to organize the car caravan--who's driving, how many cars do we need, who knew how to get there (which turned out to be just me), give everyone directions. Once that was done, a game of follow the leader ensued--three cars began their trek from North Hollywood to downtown. I knew that myself and the four girls I was with would certainly arrive at our destination safely and soundly, but I had to keep an eye out for the other two cars full of managers and coworkers and what-not.

Me and my car-mates, of course, were the first to arrive at this grandiose dining establishment which at 11:45 was already pretty full. Individual conversations and laughter had combined itself into one giant cloud of noise that blanketed the restaurant. The five of us had settled into a large round table and things were pretty quiet at this point. We were immediately brought pots of tea, and because we were starving and didn't know how far behind the others were trailing, we took it upon ourselves to order. I broke out the Cantonese, asking each of the cart ladies what kind of goods she had, pointing to various plates and steamer tins. This was the easy part: there were only five of us there, and all of us were already familiar with dim sum in one way or another, so no explanations necessary.

As I mentioned, the five of us were already familiar with dim sum and were a little more adventurous in our tastes in food, so we ordered some of the more "authentic" dishes like braised chicken feet, braised tripe, and spareribs in black bean sauce. The braised chicken feet were divine...both sweet and salty with dark soy, its gelatinous and fatty skin easily tugged off with the teeth. I got to enjoy it in peace, meticulously sucking each one of the tarsal and metatarsal (is that what they call them on birds?) bones dry. Our tripe, though a bit on the oily side, still had that tickly and crunchy texture that I love, its goose-bumpy flaps soaking up the gingery-garlicky sauce nicely. I've never really been a huge fan of the spareribs in black bean sauce--I've always thought the sparerib meat was too chewy--but the salty-bitter black bean sauce sure was tasty. I took advantage of this calm before the storm while I could, while at the same time keeping an eye out for the seven dim sum virgins who were about to get caught entering the Empress Pavillion dining room like deer in headlights.

Do the chickens have large talons?

Don't trip, it's just tripe

Can you spare me a sparerib?

They arrived shortly thereafter, the five of us waving them down and the seven of them having to swim across the expansive dining floor, weaving in and out of tables and dodging steam carts. Immediately, I had to turn the multi-tasking switch to "ON."

How does this work, Pam?

What's in that, Pam?

Does it have meat in it?

Can I get a fork?

Do they have regular menus here?

Can you ask them for one?

I think my head actually did a 360, as it was pulled in every possible direction by people that had never had dim sum before, people that were afraid to talk to the Chinese ladies pushing the carts, people that didn't eat meat, people that did eat meat but that didn't eat pork for religious reasons, people that were just plain curious about finding out about one of the greatest culinary pastimes of my culture. I was talking a mile a minute, first listening to questions from everyone, then switching back and forth from Cantonese for talking to the steam cart ladies and waiters to English for the anxious group around me. I had to constantly keep an eye out for items I that knew were vegetarian. I also had to do word problems in my head like this one for everything that was ordered:

"If there is shrimp in this dish, but no pork, and there are 2 people in the group who don't eat any kind of meat whatsoever, and there are 4 pieces per tin, how many tins should I order?"

I think that finally I got a groove going. I had to re-prioritize my to-do list, and thus the camera had to be put away after awhile. Food got on the table and slowly but surely, everyone was happy. The fried shrimp rolls, wrapped in paper thin, blistery dough, were a huge hit as were the more popular dim sum plates like har gow, steamed shrimp dumplings, and shu mai, steamed pork and shrimp dumplings. Both the vegetarians and the non-vegetarians loved the plate of crunchy and slightly bitter Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce I ordered for the table. And, there were some things that were a little strange to them. I had ordered some enoki mushrooms wrapped in soybean paper for the vegetarians, but because they'd never had enoki mushrooms before, the mushrooms' stringy texture made them ask me, "Are you sure there's no meat in this???" Some of them were also weirded out by the concept of lotus paste since they'd never before heard of it. And sure, they made me order stuff that I would never even think of ordering here, like potstickers for instance, but it made them happy, and I was happy that they were happy.

Hey Mikey, he likes it!

Mainstream, but reliable shu mai

Take a look at the damage...

So once again, my fabulous multi-tasking skills helped me through yet another situation, and with the help of Empress Pavillion and its trusty dim sum and energetic atmosphere, I managed to turn a handful of my coworkers into dim sum fans--an example that I think is worthy of mentioning in any resume or job interview.

Empress Pavillion
988 N. Hill St. , ste 201
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 617-9898

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

No Napkin Needed: Lee's Deli-Manjoo

Walking into the popular Vietnamese sandwich chain
Lee's Sandwiches, one would expect the initial aroma to be one of pate or daikon or pork roll, but no such luck. It's quite the opposite, in fact. At Lee's your first whiff is often that of vanilla and eggs, something that you'd expect from a bakery or even an ice cream shop that made fresh waffle cones. Is this the sweet smell of bahn mi? Nope--it's actually the smell of Deli-Manjoo, mini cream-filled cakes made fresh at Lee's.

The folks at Lee's turn these little guys out, just like their sandwiches, with factory-like efficiency using some kind of automated heated plate molds. I've seen them make these a thousand times while waiting to pick up my bahn mi order. Today, I just couldn't stand it any more and had to get some of this vanilla scented goodness that I'd been passing up all this time. For a buck I got a bag of four, which was the perfect amount to snack on while driving around Alhambra all morning and to tie me over until I got to sit down somewhere and eat my sandwich.

I bit into my first minature-ear-of-corn-shaped Deli-Manjoo and got a little dab of creamy custardy filling. The thing was more cake than anything, reminding me a little of a madeleine, but not as delicate. I was expecting a mess! The sign at Lee's said "Caution--The Filling Is Hot!" I thought there'd be thick, hot custard dripping and burning me as I drove down Valley Blvd, but I was wrong. All I got was a smidgen of lukewarm vanilla cream that was a wee bit on the runny side. The verdict? These don't make for a good
Carl's Jr. commercial. And they were good, but not great. Lee's thrills me much more with their sandwiches.

Lee's Sandwiches
1289 E. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 282-5589
other locations in Southern California

Monday, October 17, 2005

With Love From Puerto Rico

Some people, when their fiancé comes back from Puerto Rico, get a t-shirt that says "My Fiancé Went To Puerto Rico And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt." Not me. When my fiancé comes back from Puerto Rico, I get two huge bags full of delicious, thinly cut, crispy, and lightly salted plantain chips made from scratch by an old family friend--apparantly some really ornery old lady who says to Isaac: "You want me to make the damn plantain chips??? Well then you gotta drive me to the store." Now that's love.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

One Ghetto FOB-ulous Potluck BBQ

Whether you're Asian or not, you've all heard the phrase FOB which stands for Fresh Off (the) Boat. I use this term or variations of it (e.g. "fobby", "fobbish") to endearingly make fun of friends or relatives who have just come over to the States, or even those who have been here for a while but who still seem to hang on to the old country. You know, stuff like the fact that they think Versace shirts are hip or that they prefer to squat on the ground instead of sitting in a chair or leaning against a wall or the fact that after years of being here, their clothes still smell like mothballs AND they still have not mastered the English language. I know many people like this--hell, even my parents are a little on the fobby side--and I love each and every one of them to bits, but I have to admit there was a time when I was a kid growing up, that I was a little embarrased to be surrounded by all this fobbiness. I didn't understand why they couldn't try harder to assimilate, why someone always had to bring braised beef tongue to a Thanksgiving turkey dinner. I got over it soon enough, learning to appreciate and embrace the mix of cultures.

So it comes as no surprise, then, that as I've gotten older, I've incorporated some fobbiness into some of the things I do, even though I am SOOO not a fob. Like I always bring a pack of dried squid and shrimp chips along on road trips. I still
eat porridge and noodles for my birthday. I still have an aversion to the number 4 because the number 4 in Chinese sounds like the word for death. And at barbeques, my friends and I always like to fob it up a little--we cook stuff on the grill, but there's always, ALWAYS rice. We did one this Saturday which was not at all refined, no need for any sort of ambiance, 'cause we're all like family anyways. There were no place settings or proper utensils. Tin foil and bags were strewn all over the counters and table. But the food? The food was DAMN GOOD! So without further ado, I now present to you our ghetto FOB-ulous BBQ...

When we first got to my friend T's house, we all had to take off our shoes and leave them with the sea of shoes in the foyer...

Check out my friend's new shoes. Aren't they fobby??? He likes to wear these with jeans. But that's OK 'cause he likes them and that's all that matters!

OK, enough about shoes. These were really the star of the friend T grilled up some steaks for us which were damn good. Here is the pile o' meat after T took them off the BBQ. Notice the random Target bag in the background.

No fobby BBQ is complete without rice (not shown) and kimchee:

Or without a few 40's of Hite Beer:

My friend H made these kick-ass egg rolls complete with dipping sauce (not shown)! Mmmm...

There was even some more "Westernized" stuff in the mix, like these grilled zucchini, eggplant and mushrooms. These...

Became these...My fave was the zucchini.

I didn't get a chance to take a pic of what I brought, which were potatoes au gratin with bacon, but if you look in the photo below of the mess on the table, they were in that glass baking dish. I used a recipe that I had torn out of a Southwest Airlines magazine, and they turned out really good! I'll make them again one day and do a whole post on them.

For dessert, my friend T's girlfriend J baked these really awesome chocolate macadamia nut cookies. We also had watermelon, red seedless grapes and a cake from Chinatown's
Phoenix Bakery 'cause it was my friend M's birthday. Now see that greased up pot o'grease in the background?

Here's a close up of it. See how the grease is just caked on all up and down the sides of the pot? Mmmm. We were wondering what that ceramic pie on the stove was--turns out it's a bacon grease container. Now that's ghetto.

Here they are again but this time you get a view of the range controls, one which does not work and is taped over with paper and masking tape with the words "Do Not Touch" on it.

So there you have it, our ghetto FOB-ulous potluck BBQ. I love these kinds of functions--totally low key, no pretention, kick-ass food and drink, and lots of laughs. The topic of the evening this time was whether or not there really is a midget village with like midget sized houses in a midget sized community in Long Beach. My friend M swears he saw it once. But he was drunk and can't remember where it is exactly. So if anyone has ever seen it, been to it, or knows where it is, please let me know!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Trying To Find Happiness At Happy Hour: Olé Tapas Bar, Studio City

It's obvious that people are starting to lose it at the office. And for good reason, I guess. I mean, no one in their right mind likes to get fired, right? Our new parent company tells us that if we want to relocate, that there are great opportunities ahead for us, and that oh by the way, everyone has to re-interview for these opportunities. It's caused a bit of an oddly chaotic atmosphere at work, one that is interesting to observe at the same time: it's like watching all the dumb-ass worker ants scurry in different directions when someone takes the food away that they were all marching blindly towards. Some of these "ants", however, are certainly taking it better than others, depending on what kinds of things they have going on in their lives...or in their heads. Some people, for example, have families or mortgages they have to take care of, so they're rightfully more anxious about not getting to the point where the unemployment checks roll in. Then there are those who don't have a care in the world--like maybe they're young or live with mommy and daddy--and are looking forward to getting their severance package so they can take an extended vacation. Then there's me who doesn't have any loyalty to this company so could care less if I blatantly talk to potential employers over the phone from my own office, and who doesn't have any huge obligations like a family or a mortgage yet, but am getting closer to stuff like that as I'm getting married soon, and is viewing this whole thing as a huge inconvenience. Then there are people like my coworker who have obligations but not necessarily any financial worries, have been with the company for like 15 years and who were so blind as to think that something like this would never happen, and who have never so much as talked to any outside potential employers since they got hired, have not updated their resume in 15 years, and are shitting bricks that now they have to enter the job market again. There are people like this that I normally would not hang out with on a regular basis at lunch because they ride the corporate high-horse, but that I would have to babysit on a weekday night after work over happy hour because they were too stressed out to go home.

And so that's how my friend and I ended up at Olé Tapas Bar in Studio City a couple of nights ago with our other coworker who wanted to freak out over tapas and sangria. It was quite a cute space that we walked into--sleek, dark wood tables,
West Elm-ish modular shelving with strategically placed fickering candle votives used as space dividers, plush red ultra-suede ottomans, murals of Spanish matadors on the walls painted in golds, browns and reds to tie in the color theme. We were lucky enough to snag one of the ottoman seating areas as it was still early, an option that would allow us to stretch out a little more, maybe allow my coworker to relax a little faster which would have been beneficial to all of us at that point.

I was originally just going to go with a single glass of red sangria--my coworker obviously needed a tad more than one--but was somehow convinced that a pitcher split amongst the three of us would be more economical and beneficial. Allright sure. A few short minutes later and our pitcher arrived, filled to the top with the ruby red drink, but also filled at least 3/4 full with ice. I also immediately noticed that it was just a little too easy to see through the red liquid. It apparently lacked any sort of opacity--I could see straight on through to the other side, not even any chunks of alcohol soaked fruit to block my vision. We poured this highly transluscent concoction into our glasses which were each garnished with a skewer of fruit, and upon first sip, I could taste its transluscense--totally watered down, bo body whatsoever. My one intended glass soon became three, yet I felt no buzz at all. Twenty-four bucks for grape Kool-Aid is a rip off, dontcha think? The gratis green olives they brought us were good--nice and salty, but not too salty--but weren't good enough to make up for this sorry, watered down excuse for sangria.

"Crystal clear" should never be used to describe sangria

Olé redeemed itself slightly with its twelve-dollar Placa Caliente, a sampling of four of their popular hot tapas all arranged on a white square platter with sauce squiggles and such. The Queso de Cabra Frito con Miel, or fried goat cheese with honey, were quite good, its breaded sweet outer crust contrasting nicely with the soft, pungent tasting balls of goat cheese. Roasted potatoes with aioli is probably an all time favorite comfort food of mine, so it was no surprise that I did also particularly enjoy our Patatas Bravas. The chunks of potato were full of that salty, roasted flavor and tasted even better when given a few swipes of the creamy garlicky aioli. A few slivers of caramelized onions added some interest, as well as a few strips of Serrano ham, which I didn't particularly care for here, as they charred the hell out of it making it too crispy whereas they should have left some of the fat intact on it. Our Setas Y Alcachofas, or sauteed mushrooms and artichokes were simple, sauteed in an oniony sauce, nothing out of this world but were still good. Least impressive was the fried calamari, or Calamar Vasco, which were nicely battered, but were served with a red chili garlic sauce, a sauce which one can normally find at the Asian grocery store next to the Sriracha. I guess it was OK, but its Asian flavors just did not go with all the other Mediterranean flavors on the platter. There was a little bonus on our platter, a small mound of caramelized, pickled onions in the center of our four tapas that were soft, a little sweet, a little tangy, and really good to snack on.

This Placa Caliente made this happier hour slightly happier

I noticed that the restaurant's website advertises a happy hour that runs from 5-7 pm Mondays thru Fridays though we never got any menu or any mention from our server of happy hour specials. This happy hour, to me, was not so happy. I think that I would have been a little more happy had we not spent so much on watered down sangria, or if plain and simply the sangria had been made properly. But not everything's about me. To my stressed-out coworker, this happy hour was indeed happy. In two hours, over watered-down sangria and a plate of decent tapas, we had managed to let her ramble and be self centered and whatever the hell else she wanted to be, calming her down in the hopes that maybe she wouldn't be stressing us out with her stress over the next few days. OK, that's happiness in itself.

Olé Tapas Bar
13251 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 986-3190

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Don't Ever Come Between Me And My Spam Musubis

To The Bitch That Interviewed Me This Morning:

What do you think's gonna happen when you neglect to tell me that this supposed "great job" involves frequent travel at the drop of a hat? Do you think you could have told me that during our phone interview so that I wouldn't have had to waste my time driving out to Timbuktu to talk to your bimbo ass? Do ya really think it's gonna help me change my mind when I tell you I don't think the travel will work, that I have alot of personal commitments like my family and my future husband, and then you tell me, "Well, talk it over with your fiancé. You know, a happy wife makes for a happy marriage!" And what do you think's gonna happen when, before you tell me about the travel, you make me take a fucking test that involves numbers, which I'm normally really good at but not first thing in the morning and especially not when you surprise me with it?

Well, you're gonna cause me to get really pissed, and be fuming when I walk out of there all uncomfortable wearing a suit in this heat, and be starving 'cause I didn't eat any breakfast 'cause I had to get up an hour earlier than usual to come meet you. And you're gonna cause me to have a sudden brain fart on the 60 freeway, when suddenly, my empty tummy and I feel like having a few Spam musubis from Shakas in Monterey Park to make up for all of this and though I've been there a million times and know full well that it's on Garfield, took the Atlantic exit by mistake. Uh-huh, you caused me to get off on the wrong exit--one that, when I finally realized what I had done, had a traffic signal out a couple blocks up, making for one helluva traffic jam. So then I said, "Fuck it," and just went home, where I had to get ready for my "normal" job, which now seems like paradise compared to your hell-hole, and where I proceeded to scarf down ALL the leftover rice that was in my fridge.

Yeah, take your job and shove it. Bitch.

Yours Truly,

(So do you think I should send this instead of the traditional Thank-You letter?)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Learn Something New Everyday!: Nem Chua Dac Biet

Actually, I didn't know what it was until my friend told me. We drove out to
Bahn Mi My Tho the other day for bahn mi and while we were there, she picked a pack of these up. She pulled these out when we were using the Alhambra Costco picnic table area to eat our sandwiches.

OK Pam, you gotta sound the letters out. "Nem-Chua-Nha-Trang-Dac-Biet...uh, what is it?"

"It's a pickled meat sausage," she said.

"Oh OK. Can I try one?"

Tart and garlicky, snappy in texture and dotted with a sliced garlic clove and chili to add a bit more kick, these little things are pretty darn good.

I found out later that the little buggers are simply called "Nem Chua," the "Dac Biet" part meaning "special", and the "Nha Trang" part being the brand/maker/whatever. What? It's not like I can read Vietnamese!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Skip The Jar, Use The Can

I don't see how people can stand using those nasty jarred pasta sauces like Rag-Eww or even Classic-Uh-Oh when it's just as easy to make your own. Funny enough, it comes out of a can.

The following is a recipe, adapted from one of
Mark Bitmann's, for Arrabiata Sauce, which literally translated means "Angry Sauce" in Italian. Whoever invented it was probably angry from eating yucky jarred sauces and then came up with this one. It's fast and incredibly easy to make.

Arrabiata Sauce
(adapted from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything)

1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, cut into chunks or slices
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes, drained and crushed with a fork
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

*Heat olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic becomes quite brown--but not black--about 3-4 minutes. (Bittman says 7-8 minutes, but I strongly disagree. 7-8 minutes over medium-high will yield black, bitter garlic for sure.)
*Add tomatoes to the skillet along with salt and pepper. Turn heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture becomes saucy, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Violà! There you have it. Browning the garlic and red pepper flakes in hot olive oil first gives the tomato sauce a smoky, spicy dimension that you'll never get out of that jarred stuff. Serve with penne pasta and some grated pecorino-romano, and you've got a simple pasta dish with some serious bite.

P.S. I have to admit, though, that I do keep a jar of the jarred stuff in the fridge for emergencies!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

3.5 Courses Of Beef Times Two: Pagolac

In light of my
recent experience dining alone, had I eaten this myself, I'd have gained 20 pounds for sure.

My friend and I recently had dinner at Westminster's Pagolac, a Vietnamese restaurant best known for its "7 Courses Of Beef" meal. $12.99 per order, the menu says. We were about to get one order for each of us, but fortunately our waiter was honest and told us that may be a bit much for us girls. So one order it was. This was the opposite of dining alone, I thought to myself, One order, but for two people!

I looked around the expansive dining room as we waited for our first course. In the lobby, a cute display of a vintage Vespa scooter and carriage--two of Vietnam's main modes of transport--surrounded by colorful flowers and fruit baskets. The place had an energetic vibe which I loved...all around us, local Vietnamese families were busy eating, conversing, and simply enjoying a weekend supper together.

Take me to Pagolac...and make it snappy!

I've heard of this "7 Courses Of Beef" thing before--I've seen it advertised both in the windows and on the menus of various Vietnamese restaurants--and it's always intrigued me. It sounds so massive, doesn't it? Like you're gonna get the whole cow or something. I remember going with my coworkers to get pho one day at some place that happened to serve this 7 course meal. One of my coworkers nearly fell to the floor when he saw the neon lit sign in the window: "Seven Courses Of Beef. Hahahahahahahahaha!!!!" I don't know why it was so funny; it could have been perverted, it could've not. I guess we all just find our own ways to entertain ourselves.

Not two minutes later, our first course arrived: Bo Nhung Dam, three slices of beef tenderloin that we were to cook fondue style in a little hot pot with vinegary broth. My friend, who'd had this meal before, went first, demonstrating by dunking the slice of beef into the broth, swishing it around a few times, then assembling into a spring roll with the rice paper wrappers, the lettuce and herbs and the assorted veggies that they had brought to the table. I quickly followed suit, swishing my slice around in the broth, while trying to dodge the flames that were coming up from under the dish. The rice paper wrappers were a little difficult to peel apart, but I took my time, and soon I got a piece of the thin, white wrapper. I tore off a piece of the green leaf lettuce that was amongst the huge pile of herbs as well as a few leaves of purple basil and mint, placing them carefully atop the piece of slightly cooked beef that I'd lain on the rice paper. To this I added a little bean sprout, shredded carrot, pickled daikon, and sliced cucumber. A nice dunk in the fish-sauce laden peanut sauce, and I had my first delicious bite. If you like the traditional unfried Vietnamese spring rolls, goi cuon, you'll like this for sure. It's cool and refreshing, with the snappy rice paper, and all the various herbs, lettuce, and veggies, while also being hot and intense from the cooked meat. The funky peanut sauce adds a nice kick as well.

Our condiments patiently waiting our 7 Courses of Beef!

Course No. 1: Bo Nhung Dam

There was still one slice of beef tenderloin left from course #1, but we didn't have time to get to it before courses #'s 2,3,4 and 5 arrived. They actually came all on one plate garnished with two stale shrimp chips and were to be eaten exactly the same way as course #1...made into a spring roll. Course number 2, Bo Cha Dum, was a huge steamed meatball that had mushrooms, peanuts and a few strands of vermicelli mixed in. It reminded me of a steamed pork cake that my Dad makes that contains shitake mushrooms and water chestnuts; this meatball, however, had a twinge of coconut milk to it, which made it really tasty. There were three rolls wrapped in beef slices, and I wanted to take them apart, but didn't, so I just read the menu for a description of course number 3: Bo Sate, beef sate prepared with a special curry sauce, pickles, ginger and wrapped in sliced tenderloin and charbroiled to perfection in an open flame. I was a little disappointed by this one as I expected to taste the sate flavors a bit more. Wrapped in all those spring roll goodies, though, it was fine. My favorites were courses 4 and 5: Bo Nuong Mo Chai, charbroiled ground beef sausage, and Bo La Lot, beef sausage wrapped in a "Hawaii Leaf", which was reminiscent of a greap leaf, and grilled. Bo Nuong Mo Chai was a little meatier and shaped into a round meatball, each bite perfectly juicy and spicy. The Bo La Lot seemed to be seasoned with the same type of spices, but its texture was a little softer, still oozing with juiciness after biting into the charred leaf.

Four courses of beef on one plate

By the time Course #6 Bo Bit Tet, a salad of grilled beef and lightly dressed lettuce leaves, came around, our rice paper was starting to get a little dry, and it became much more difficult to peel them apart. I'd get the corner up and as it lifted off, it sometimes started to stick to itself, looking like this:

Now I'm not going to say what that looks like. My girlfriend and I could not stop laughing though! Some people laugh at "7 Courses of Beef", we laugh at rice paper that looks, well, shall we say, used.

Anyways, the beef in course #6 was a bit too well done and dry, but again, making it into a spring roll seemed to solve everything.

Course No. 6: Bo Bit Tet

Course #7, while containing beef, was not meant to be eaten spring roll style, but rather, served as sort of a palate cleanser after having all of those intense flavors. Chao Bo, a soup made of rice, ground beef, alphabet noodles (though I couldn't spot any...I saw star shaped macaroni instead), and scallions in a clear broth, was soothing--something I'd like to have the next time I get a cold.

Course No. 7: Chao Bo

By the end of our meal, I think I'd probably assembled and eaten about 12 "spring rolls" just by myself and was ready to burst at the seams,
a feeling I'd had just a few days before. But we got the check and for all this food plus a Thai iced tea, our total came to just under 20 bucks after tax and tip. A total deal for some really good times and seven whole courses of delicious beef!

14580 Brookhurst St.
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 531-4740

Saturday, October 08, 2005

My One Step Program To Personal Recovery

Just me, myself, and the food.

Oh please don't let there be a parking space, oh please don't let there be a parking space, oh please...

Aww shit, there's a parking space. Right out front.

I never, ever am able to find a parking space on Little Tokyo's 1st Street. I always have to park on Temple or 2nd or some side street and walk over to wherever it is that I'm going. But not today. Today, there was a parking space right in front of
Daikokuya. It was a sure sign that the time had come to face my fear of dining alone.

All morning I'd been playing mind games with myself--should I, shouldn't I, should I, shouldn't I--but the fact was that I was STARVING after a morning of running errands, and more importantly, I'd been meaning to do this for awhile now. When I was getting ready to leave the house today, I knew there was a possibility of this happening since my better half had already made his own plans; I also knew that it's be pointless and a waste of time to run home just to eat. So with this in mind, I grabbed a magazine from the rack and stuffed it in my purse "just in case." I told myself as I was driving towards Little Tokyo that if there was no parking, then forget it. If there was parking, then I had to do it. Well, you know how that turned out.

Yes, you can say it. I've got issues. Like major issues. And I've thought long and hard about why I have such a fear of eating alone. It's not that I'm afraid of being alone. Hell, I do stuff on my own all the time. I've gone to Knott's Berry Farm alone and went on the rides by myself before (story for another day) ; I've even gone to a concert at the Greek alone. So why the thing with the eating? To me, and this is only to me 'cause I'm that delusional, the act of eating by yourself, especially if you're a woman, kind of makes you look alone. Like here I am, no friends, and I'm so sad that I have to stuff my face, and that's how I'm gonna get fat, and then I really won't have any friends. And that's a really fucked up way of thinking: How could I be that self-centered of a person to think that all eyes are on me? I think I may have hung around with too many mean, shallow people in my lifetime who would actually think about saying something as evil as, "Look at her. She's eating alone. She must have no friends."

I discussed this with a friend once, who asked me, "So like, if you go to the mall and you get hungry, then what the hell do you do???" "Oh, that's easy," I answered, proceeding to tell him that I'll either buy a pretzel and eat it as I walk around, or go buy a nutrition bar from the health food store that'll tie me over until I get home. So many times I've been out running errands, get hungry, and have to stop and pick up something to go that's easy enough to eat in a parked car, motor running with the A/C on. I gross out with most fast foods, so my "car foods" of choice are kim bap from the Korean grocery store, a bento box from Mitsuwa market (chopsticks included!), or of course, In N'Out Burger.

So today was the big day.

Apprehensively, I opened the door to Daikokuya which I had chosen for my first solo flight, one, because they have a counter, and two, because I had a real hankering for tonkotsu ramen! A bubbly waitress greeted me immediately and asked how many. "One, " I said in a low tone, holding up one finger. To my surprise, she directed me towards a booth, probably since it was still early and they could afford to have me sit there instead of at the counter, and as I walked past some of the other booths, I noticed that there were a couple of other solo diners. Cool! I thought, I'm in the company of others in the same solitary boat! She started to set my menus up on the side of the booth that faced the front of the restaurant, but I thought that might be a little too conspicuous for my first time, so as soon as she was done arranging, I quickly moved the stuff and plopped myself down on the side of the booth that faced the back. Sorry, I know it's a day for not messing around anymore, but shoot, a girl's gotta be comfortable too.

Armed with the lastest issue of
Kiplingers, I sat and waited for my ramen, flipping through various articles on how to retire rich, and what the hottest new funds are. I came across this headline that I interpretted as a message:

See? With the parking space and all, I think this really was meant to be.

After a few short minutes, my ramen arrived. It was hot and steamy, dense and full of delicious pork flavor, perfect for calming my nerves which I now realized had...gone away!!! I couldn't believe how easy this was, and how silly I had been all these years for being so afraid. The only crappy thing that happened, though, was that I had taken a sip of the hot tonkotsu broth a little too early and without blowing on it to cool it down, and scalded my tongue, making a dorky face and spitting some of the hot broth back into the bowl, and when I looked up, I noticed the waitress had seen me. I think she quickly looked away because she knew I was embarrased. But you know what? It's OK!

I've come to realize why people don't mind this eating solo thing. There was, in fact, a nice thing about the solitude I had experienced. I liked that it was one on one--just me and the food--no conversations and such to get in the way of flavors and textures. It was an intensified sensory experience, and there's something to be said about that. I don't know if I can do a sit down dinner alone just yet, but we'll see. I'm taking this slow.

I was so happy with myself and the whole experience that I left my server a 25% tip. I got in the car and called Isaac right away, "Honey, you'll never believe what I just did..."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Honey, I Think It Just Kicked: Messob Ethiopian Restaurant

I lost my virginity. Again.

This time, I popped my Ethiopian food cherry. And this time, I wasn't careful, so I'm with child. An injera bread baby, that is--that's growing in my belly as we speak because I ate too damn much!!!

I walked into Messob Ethiopian Restaurant on Fairfax's stretch of Little Ethiopia pure and untouched, half knowing what to expect from talking with friends who have had Ethiopian food before and also from the
delicious review of a fellow food blogger, and half not, 'cause, well, just because. It was a little like being a kid in a candy store; I couldn't stop staring at all the interesting fixtures: huge red and green wicker basket looking things that ran down the center of the restaurant which I later found out were low, glass topped tables and not snake baskets, carved low back chairs with printed cushions, large patio-sized umbrellas that also graced the middle of the dining room. In the front of the restaurant, a windowed alcove that contained all of these fixtures, perfect for intimate group gatherings. The three of us, however, chose to sit at a "regular" table along the wall...probably easier for eating my first Ethiopian meal!

Messob's lovely dining room...I couldn't help but stare!

To make things easier, we ordered the Super Messob Exclusive for two, a combination platter that includes some of the restaurant's most popular dishes. And because we were starving, we ordered a few sambossas, triangular fried dumplings that are a little reminiscent in both name and form to Indian samosas. These, however, had a thinner, flakier "skin" than Indian samosas and were filled with spiced lentils. They were quite good, though extremely piping hot, burning my mouth a few times.

A piping hot sambossa

To drink, plain ice water (boring!) and...a chemistry beaker looking carafe of Messob's homemade Ethiopian honey wine (less boring!). It was all aglow with the light yellow color of honey, and it tasted almost like a very sweet hard cider. I detected a slight carbonation, but I could be wrong. A little too syrupy sweet to drink alone, but as an accompaniment to the boldly flavored foods we ate, it was just fine.

Chemistry was never my strong suit, but this wasn't bad!

Ahh, the long awaited moment...our Super Messob Exclusive platter finally arrived. It was a beautiful presentation of colors and textures atop a huge round of injera bread and I just couldn't wait to dig in. Instinctually, I wanted to grab my fork and start tearing into this, but I was reminded that Ethiopians traditionally eat with their hands. Their menu, in fact, goes into detail about Gursha, the technique of hand feeding your dinner companion(s) by placing chunks of food into their mouth. Gursha, it says, plays up the exotic component of eating and is exchanged between husband and wife as well as friends and relatives. OK, I know we were all good friends and all, but uh, no thanks. I think we had quite a pleasant Ethiopian dining experience sans Gursha! My friend instructed me and my other friend, also an Ethiopian food virgin, to tear off a piece of the injera from the basket, and proceed to pick up whatever my little heart desired from that fabulous platter of food. The injera, a spongy, sour flatbread whose purpose is both food and utensil, felt a little like a chamois to me and reminded me that I have to get a car wash soon. "What makes it so spongy?" my friend asked. "They make it with 7-up," I answered. "Really?" she replied. At least I was able to fool her for a second. Seriously, injera is made with teff, a practically gluten-free round grain that flourishes in the Ethiopian highlands and whose properties are slightly yeast-like, therefore resulting in a bubbly texture after a brief period of fermentation. I'm still really glad that I remembered that I need a car wash, though.

Say "No" CAN you say no to this???

I need to wash my car

I really need to wash my car

I dug into the siga wot first, a stew of beef braised in red pepper sauce. The chunks of beef were tender and hearty; I tasted a faint hint of star anise, so it tasted almost like a Chinese dish ngao lam--braised beef and tendons--that I'm more familiar with, and was therefore, really comforting. There were two stewed chicken drumsticks--doro wot--on our platter. Its meat was a little hard to tear off the bone with injera (we were novices, after all) but after that, it was all good: a little salty, a little sweet, and nicely spiced with ginger, cardamom, and paprika.

I'm not a big fan of lamb unless it's really fresh and either grilled or roasted, so needless to say, I could have done without the yebeg siga alitcha which was a curry-like lamb stew. The meat was tender, but tasted a tad too much on the gamey side. Funny enough, this also reminded me of the lamb curry stew that my Dad sometimes made when we were younger. All it needed was some scallions and potatoes. I never liked the Chinese version for the same gamey reason.

I did, however, quite like the kittfo, which was basically spiced ground beef, and the zelzel tibs, beef sauteed with onions and chiles. The tibs were maybe a tad on the dry side, but like carne asada for tacos, were chopped into small chunks and were so tasty that they were more than manageable.

Meats, meats and more meats

As much as I loved our meat dishes, I think I loved our vegetable dishes even more. Collard greens seemed to be prepared the same as how I'm used to 'em--Southern style--and were also perfectly sweet, salty and bitter, with maybe a slight hint of ginger that made this delicious dish a little more unique than its Southern counterpart. Nothing could beat the simplicity and cleanness of yatakilt alitcha: steamed cabbage, carrots and potato spiced with garlic and ginger. Strips of injera bread cooked with tomato sauce, tomato fit fit, were strangely good and perhaps should have been picked up with just my fingers to avoid such a carb overload. The yater alitcha, a greenish yellow dish of steamed peas and onions seasoned with garlic and ginger, as well as the yemisir wot, split lentils in red pepper sauce, were velvety smooth and both had bold, spicy flavors. A party in my mouth of different spices: tumeric, cardamom, nutmeg, paprika, cumin, cloves...the list goes on. A simple salad of lettuce and tomatoes tossed in a vinaigrette also helped to cleanse the palate.

Tomato fit fit and collard greens

Yater alitcha and yemisir wot...tasty!

By this time, I realized that that injera bread baby was starting to expand in my belly, as I hadn't kept track of all the injera that I'd tore off and nibbled over the last hour of eating. We still had a little food left on that huge platter of ours, and our waitress, knowing that we were all somewhat new to this, came by and told us that we must eat the layer of injera bread under all that food we just devoured because "it's the best part!" Yeah, of course it's the best part, having soaked up all of that saucy, spicy goodness. We made a few attempts, picking up pieces of this sauce laden sponge with the injera from the basket, but realized that if we kept doing this bread- with-bread-thing, it would for sure be a premature birth as our stomachs would just burst open. Then we tried picking up pieces of the yummy injera base with our bare hands and realized we were making too much of a mess. We would have given up and asked for forks at that point had we not been ready to go into labor right then and there.

And if that wasn't enough, our meal included a couple of baklava, which blew away
a previous cavity hurting experience with baklava. But because we were so full, we took a few obligatory bites and left the rest.

Were they trying to induce labor???

A really wonderful, delicious meal, although I've learned my lesson: Practice safe eating--only order the Supper Messob Exclusive for ONE next time.

Messob Ethiopian Restaurant
1041 S. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 938-8827