Thursday, September 29, 2005

If It Talks Like A Duck, And It Walks Like A Duck, But Isn't Quite A Duck: Tino's Italian Ristorante

As much as I hate to categorize people, places and things...people, places and things inevitably fall into categories. You know, like you can look at a guy and know what his story is: "Oh yeah, he's one of those Rockabilly-guys-who-slicks-his-hair-back-and-wears-a-wifebeater-tank-top-and-cuffed-blue-jeans-and-shows-off-his-tattoos-while-driving-his-vintage-car-with-the-fuzzy-dice-hanging-from-the-rear-view-mirror." Same goes for restaurants. You can say that a restaurant is a "hole in the wall," or an"haute cuisine establishment" or a "mom and pop joint" or a "tourist trap" or a "cheap-donuts-and-Chinese-that-caters-to-blue-collar-guys" and figure out who its customers are, what makes its clock tick.

Well this restaurant threw me off. Because I wasn't really sure what its story was. Which would normally be okay, because then I'd just tell myself that the place is so unique it doesn't fit in to any category! But this place didn't not fit in in a cool, unique way. This place didn't fit in in a "its-trying-too-hard-to-fit-in-so-it's-not-working" way. Hey, is that a category? Shit, am I even making any sense?

Anyways, I first went to Tino's Italian Ristorante about 4 years ago when my coworkers and I were trying to come up with a place to eat and coincidentally found this restaurant's grand opening flyer on the windshield of every car in the office parking lot. Its address led us to a Valley Village mini mall, and we soon spotted the restaurant's sign wedged between all the others, but the restaurant was nowhere to be found...until finally, we found it literally tucked away deep in the corner of the mini mall. No storefront, no windows, just a single door leading into this...hole in the wall???

Well, you'd think, judging from its neighbors, but instead, you walk in and you find that Tino's is furnished with rustic wood tables and chairs. Gold leaf mirrors and faux paint finishes adorn its walls. Glass olive oil and vinegar decanters sit in cute wrought iron holders atop each table. Hell, they even give you a cloth napkin. So a cute Italian trattoria? Well, maybe, if it weren't for the fact that we felt like we were trapped inside a windowless box where, despite the quality furniture and decorative paintings, the low ceiling was composed of fluorescent light boxes amongst cheap acoustic ceiling tiles.

That first time we went four years ago, the guys at Tino's practically jumped up and hugged us when we walked in. They were extremely friendly, getting us seated and making sure we were comfortable and then taking our order, and then 10 minutes went by, and then another few minutes, and oooh! free bruschetta for the whole table, compliments of the chef! And then another few minutes, and several visits from our server telling us the food would be out shortly, and would we like more water or refills, and then finally, after over half an hour of waiting, our food finally arrived.

I don't remember what we ate that day, I just remember that our food was just okay. Some dishes were good, some just weren't. And the service? Well it both rocked and it sucked. It rocked because they were so friendly and gracious and they gave us free bruschetta, but it sucked because they were so slow and they kept trying to cover it up by being nice. After awhile, it gets old, like just get us our damn food already. Especially when we're the only ones in the restaurant.

OK so that was four years ago, and maybe I was being a little harsh. Tino's was new and maybe it was trying to find its bearings...I wasn't about to start interfering and making suggestions to the owner like Jerry did to Babu on
Seinfeld. So when my group decided to go to Tino's for lunch the other day, part of me was bummed because I remember how odd the last experience was, but the other part of me was excited, because I was curious to see how our rookie had developed. To tell you the truth, I wasn't even aware that it was still in business.

But it was, and seemed to be flourishing. And yet nothing had changed, except for the fact that there were actually quite a few other people eating there. We walked in to find the same bizarrely claustrophobic and artificially lit yet cozily decorated interior. Our server tried to be friendly by asking each of us our names as we ordered our lunches so that she could remember who ordered what and call us by our first names, yet never bothered to use them again. In fact, when bringing us our food and drink, she had to resort to the old "Uh, who had the iced tea?" We got about three refills of their rosemary bread which we grazed on with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and once again, they brought us an amuse-bouche, this time deep fried mozzarella balls with peas, which were quite good--crisply breaded on the outside with a nice gooey cheesy interior--but still did not make up for the fact that we again had to wait over half an hour for our meals to come out.

Free doesn't always make everything better

Was the wait worth it? Not particularly. My Pollo alla Parmagiana was nothing special, just pounded, breaded chicken breast coated with marinara and mozzarella. Nothing stood out, except maybe the fact that it was a tad too salty. Its side of spaghetti marinara also lacked character...the sauce just sat there, the pasta just sat there. Everything just sat there. A little bit above bland and that's it. And you know what? That's what everyone else had to say about what they ate..."Eh, it was okay" or "It wasn't bad" or "I guess it was pretty good" was used to describe the lasagnas, chicken marsalas, and various pasta dishes around the table.

Don't just sit something!

Both of my dining experiences at Tino's have made me want to slap it around and knock some sense into it. Hey, maybe it's not sense, maybe it's taste, or energy or...just knock something into it. I hate that it tries so hard to be all these things...a proper sit down restaurant, a low key hole in the wall neighborhood joint, a "get to know your name" kinda place, but can't seem to get one thing 100% right. And it bothers me that it bothers me, if that makes any sense. But I should just leave it alone, because they've managed to stay open and build up a clientele over the past four years, so obviously something worked.

Oh my God. I think I've got it. There is a category for places like Tino's. These kinds of places are called "Half-Ass Establishments" and that's exactly what they do well.

Tino's Italian Ristorante

5424 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
Valley Village, CA 91607
(818) 763-6272

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Don't Forget Your 5 Servings A Day!

I just realized that I never ate any fruits or vegetables today. Everything I ate was either meat or carbs. That sucks.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Topz At Two Isn't So Tops

At lunchtime, I have a window of about 45 minutes where I can go without eating anything before my blood sugar starts to drop. Which means at 12:45, I'd better be eating lunch or at least grazing on free pre-meal bread or chips. Do not schedule a lunchtime meeting without serving lunch because I will
eat your liver with some fava beans and chianti. Well, not really. You know what I mean.

Today, I got myself into a bit of a risky situation by agreeing to a 12 pm phone interview with a prospective employer which lasted, hmm, HALF AN HOUR. OK, then I was the stupid one after that because instead of going back to the office to eat, I went down the street to Target to buy stuff. 12:45 and I was out of Target but already the coach was starting to turn into a pumpkin. Yes, my time had run out. I needed to eat.

Back at the office, I ran into my friends who were on the way out who in turn hijacked me. Yes, they hijacked me because I have no mind of my own and instead of saying, "Oh no thanks, I'm just gonna go upstairs and eat the tofu with
Trader Joe's Punjab Spinach Sauce that I had packed from home" when they said "We're going to the Coffee Bean, ya wanna come?" I caved into peer pressure and agreed. So yeah, instead of politely refusing so that I could run upstairs and scarf down my food in the privacy of my own sorry desk and raise my blood sugar back up to normal levels, I said, "Well OK, but I'm really hungry," and got hijacked.

"Cool! We'll go to the Coffee Bean in Toluca Lake and you can get food from Koo Koo Roo or Topz!" my friends suggested. OK yeah, this is gonna be fun.

I originally was going to go to Koo Koo Roo, not because I like it--in fact, I really don't like it--but because I've had it before and because I didn't feel like being that experimental in my current state of hunger. But I thought what the hell, I can at least write about a new place. And so I went to Topz. Supposedly, Topz is supposed to be the home of the healthier burger--did I just set myself up for an even bigger disaster?

There were two registers, only one of which was accepting cards, so it was just my luck that I had no cash on me and I was stuck behind high maintenance NBC Universal chick who seemed to be ordering food for her whole office. The cash only line, in the meantime, was moving with lightning speed. Come onnnnnnn...what are you ordering bee-yotch??????? Turns out she was ordering food for only two people--her total was only 14 bucks. So what the fuck was she ordering for so fucking long??? Oh well, no time to get mad, it was finally my turn.

I ordered at 1/4 Pound Angus Burger with cheese, and made it a combo with their fries which are called "Aero Fries" and a drink. While waiting for my order, I noticed the "condiments" bar behind me and proceeded to fill up a bunch of those little plastic cup thingies with their garlic ketchup and garlic mayo.

I got the thing to-go, because I had already been out too long and by the time I got back to my desk to actually eat it was 2pm. My window was long gone and I think all signs of hunger, of impatience, of lightheadedness had left my body and I was in some kind of weird state of shock. Yeah, my body had already said "Fuck you. You'll see. You'll get yours," to me.

I bit into this 1/4 lb. Angus cheeseburger of mine, first noticing that its untoasted whole wheat bun didn't float my boat at all. The patty actually had a nice charbroiled flavor, but the bun and all the other tasteless ingredients managed to take over. So thank goodness for garlic mayo and ketchup which I proceeded to smear in globs all over the underside of each bun. Oh, and those Aero Fries? They're air baked, hence the name. They're allright...quite crispy considering they came from an oven. But they still lacked that certain sinfulness, uh, like the crunch and taste of actual oil, that only a deep fryer can give. Oh well, nothing a little garlic mayo can't cure.

By the end of my meal, I had devoured the burger, all my fries, 3 cups of garlic mayo, 2 cups of garlic ketchup, and oh, about a quarter of my soda (because I don't like soda). I went on
Topz's website to get some 411 on their nutritional stuff. A burger's 400-some calories, Aero Fries are 390. That alone is over 800 calories. And I didn't count all that mayo and ketchup (the best part of the whole meal), the cheese, and whatever part of that soda I drank. Healthy? Yeah right.

I guess my body can say "I told you so."

10119 Riverside Drive
Toluca Lake, CA 91602
(818) 766-9066

Sunday, September 25, 2005

I Can Have This Cake And Eat It Too...Tomorrow

I wanna eat this, but I have to wait 'til tomorrow.

I dragged my ass out of the house at 7:30 this morning and drove to
Porto's to buy my clerical a birthday cake. Why? Because 1) the lines would have become horrendous even an hour later, 2) when it's my turn to buy a cake, I go for the best combination of quality and price, and 3) I really appreciate all the work he does for me! So 7:30 am and one Parisian Chocolate Cake it is.

Aside from the long waits, Porto's is, in my opinion, probably the best bang for your buck when it comes to whole cakes. For only 19 bucks, you get this lovely 10" devil's food cake layered and frosted with Belgian chocolate whipped cream, and decorated with chocolate shavings and some really pretty chocolate flowers! And the best thing is, it's moist and luscious without being overly sweet. If chocolate ain't your thang, check out some of their beautiful fruit tarts or tres leches cakes. Best thing is that their cakes are a good size, taste really good (and remember--not too sweet!) and most are under $30.

The only thing to keep in mind is that, like I said, the lines at Porto's can get really heinous really fast, so either get your nappy ass out of bed early like I did today, or call ahead and order. Oh, and if you have to wait a day to dig in, buy yourself a bunch of treats to tie yourself over in the meantime...

Porto's Bakery
315 North Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91203
(818) 956-5996

Saturday, September 24, 2005

It Feels Like Just Yesterday: Village Pizzeria

Five years ago, I was still in my twenties. Five years ago, I had a lot more energy; I went out a lot more, and went to bed a little later at night. Five years ago, I had pretty much just started going out with the love of my life. And five years ago I feel like I was a lot more naive and a lot less responsible. Tonight, I took a trip down a more recent memory lane and indulged in two of my favorite "five years ago" activities: shopping at
Forever 21 and going for pizza in my old Larchmont/ Hancock Park neighborhood.

I won't bore you with the details of my I-need-to-update-my-wardrobe-but-in-a-cheap-way shopping trip, so I'll move on to the pizza. I've got emotional attachments to pizza in lots of different ways. It was, most definitely, my favorite "treat" food as a kid. Forget the burgers or ice cream; pizza was my poison as a little tyke. Some of my favorite family outings were our Sunday afternoon trips in the late 70's to this pizza joint in Pleasant Hill's Sunvalley Mall. My grandma used to use her leftover Chinese pastry dough to make her own version of pizza for her Americanized grandkids: ketchup or spaghetti sauce, cut up hot dogs or Chinese sausage and American cheese baked atop her lovingly made "pizza crust." My adolescent and college years were fueled by Bay Area pizza slices, namely from
Blondies or Fat Slice, the cheapest, tastiest and most convenient food I could get while rushing from bus to Bart in whatever mischief I was up to at the time.

And thanks to Larchmont's Village Pizzeria, my saga with pizza continues. My first experience with Village Pizzeria was actually via delivery when I moved into the Hancock Park place I was renting at the time, when I had first moved back to LA after not being able to stand the chilling Bay Area anymore. Isaac and I had ordered a pizza after a long day of moving, so we didn't know if we fell in love with Village Pizzeria because we were starving or if it was because they actually made good food. After a few more visits and deliveries, we discovered that it was indeed the latter, and soon enough we were returning to this very neighborhoody pizza joint on a regular basis.

I hate listening to the whole "New York vs. Chicago" pizza debate, so it's great that this place has both thin and thick crust pizzas so that everyone's happy and keeps their yaps shut. I am personally more of a fan of the thicker crust kind (though I do tend to crave a thinner, crispier crust at times), so I usually go for their Sicilian crust pizzas. You can get them whole or by the slice with whatever toppings you desire, and while some people think the crust on these is a little dough-y, I think the thickness goes well with the generous amount of toppings the restaurant gives each of its pies. Isaac's Sicilian slices with pepperoni and sausage were the perfect junk food--loaded with ooey-gooey cheese and sinful meats. I went a tad more healthy tonight and ordered the Sicilian pizza with broccoli and sun dried tomatoes, which was comforting as ever with its warm crust, fluffy on the inside but crispy on the bottom. I just wish the sun dried tomatoes hadn't been as tart as they were. Oh well, nothing several shakes of dried parmesan cheese can't take care of.

Meat-za, meat-za!

Yummy-nummy pizza loaded with toppings

Village Pizzeria's non-pizza food deserves mention as well. I'm also a fan of their Italian style heroes, particularly the meatball and the chicken parm. They're always served on a warm, chewy roll with the perfect amount of mozzarella and marinara and come with a refreshing house salad on the side--not bad for a little over six bucks. We decided to forgo the hero sandwich in lieu of pizza tonight, but we did split a small chef's salad which, for a small, was a huge mound of ham, salami, chicken breast, mozzarella, mushrooms, peppers, onions, lettuce and tomatoes. It was definitely tasty--Village Pizzeria's house vinaigrette is a slightly creamy concoction with a slight bite to it--my only peeve being that I wish they'd chop the ingredients up a little more. Those chicken chunks were huge!

A chunky, but refreshing chef's salad

Isaac and I spent a perfect evening sitting in their small sidewalk area enjoying the comfortable LA night air, people watching and talking shit while munching on our pizza and salad. It felt just like five years ago. But do I wish I could go back? Nah. I liked life five years ago, but I like it alot better today. I'll just pick this pizza memory upand carry it with me well into my thirties.

Village Pizzeria
131 N. Larchmont Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 465-5566

Friday, September 23, 2005

The (Not So) Great Greek...At Least At Lunchtime

I heard this place is bumping at night...plate breaking, dancing, the sounds of "Opa!" yelled with each raised glass of ouzo. Hell, one of my coworkers said the last time she was here at night, the waiters made everyone get up and do a line dance that went outside the restaurant, out to the sidewalk and then back inside.

But during the day, you'd never know that The Great Greek was such a partier. I've encountered daytime "GiGi" twice now and both times she'd come off as a plain-jane, a recluse, a wallflower with her quiet, empty dining room, a few customers scattered around her very Ventura Blvd-ish covered patio. Like an annoying nosey mother or friend, I started judging our little introvert: Hmm, she really needs to get out more, be a little more's she ever going to find someone for herself like this???

Perhaps she attracts with her domestic abilities, I thought. Outward personality isn't everything. Maybe she pours all her passion into her food and then will end up snatching up some lucky fellow who just longs for great homecooked meals made with love. Uh, I don't think our little friend here fared very well in that department either. Frankly, her cooking just did not impress.

I gave her fourteen (yes, fourteen!) chances to wow me. Not as in I've been there fourteen times, but more as in the "Spectacular Greek Deluxe Family-Style Feast" that me and two of my coworkers ordered in which you get 14 of the restaurant's specialties for $14.95 per person($21.95 at dinner).

First of all, let me just point out that I think we only got thirteen dishes. I could be tripping, but as I reviewed my photos and matched 'em up with their website menu, I kept getting thirteen. She can't count, either? My gosh, GiGi, what can you do?

I liked the four Mediterranean dips with pita bread, or spreads, or whatever you wanna call 'em, the best, though that's not saying much because I've had better elsewhere. She makes good pita bread, I'll give her that. It's warm and fluffy, perfect for scooping up those spreads whose consistencies were nice, thick and creamy. Our tzatziki was cool and refreshing, with little slivers of cucumber to add a little texture. Our lightish orange Greek caviar "Tarama" had a nice briny flavor, though it tasted a little too much like the lox spread that I get at my local bagel shop. The hummus and eggplant "Melitzanosalata" were both creamy and mellow, and lacked a much needed kick.

A decent tzatziki

Eggplant Melitzanisalata & lox spread, oops, I mean whipped caviar tarama

A just "allright" hummus

I actually enjoyed our salad of Greek fassolia beans also. Mixed with red and green bell peppers, onions and olives tossed in olive oil and vinegar, these "beans on steroids" were firm, but had a nice, velvety bite. I did not, however, like the Greek Village salad which was supposed to be your typical Greek salad, complete with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, bell peppers, and feta cheese. Whatever dressing they used was goopy and slimy, and purely disgusting.

Greek Fassolia Beans

A very slimy Greek Village Salad

I've had better
dolmas out of a jar. Seriously. A little lemony and a little oniony, these dolmas tasted allright, but once again, there was something slimy about these. It may have been because its seasoned rice filling was a little overcooked; or it could have been the sooo unnecessary light yellow hollandaise-ish sauce they used to top wach one of the little bundles. Whatever the case, I think GiGi here could learn a thing or two about about dolma making from Trader joes, even.

More slime...dolmas

Our "golden fried "kalamaria," which was you guessed it, fried calamari, was decent though just your typical fried calamari, and I wish I could have traded in the crap I'm about to describe for more of it. I bit into one of the "keftethes," seasoned meatballs, and it was so dry and tasteless that I wondered if it had been made of a combination of beef and cat litter. I'm usually a big fan of the phyllo, spinach and cheeese pastries spanakopitas and I was excited to try their moussaka, what they described as the "national dish of Greece"--baked eggplant, ground beef, Greek spices and bechamel sauce, and their baked pastitsio--"pasta layered with ground beef, herbs, tomato, and bechamel sauce," until I tried them, that is. Each one of them may as well have been cheaply made cafeteria casseroles, the worst thing being that I know it was one of these that made me burp some gnarly stuff all afternoon. Sorry for the disgusting details but hey, I gotta speak my mind!

The only decent thing in this picture was the calamari, and they're way in the back.

Her spanakopita did nothing for me

Pastitsio, or your mama's macaroni casserole?

So it was to my surprise when I heard from some of the others in my group that our GiGi lets her hair down at night and really knows how to throw a party. Yeah, I should have known--it's usually those quiet types, huh? Too bad her cooking doesn't get any better at night, but I guess after a few glasses of wine and fun surroundings, I guess the food would become secondary.

The Great Greek
13362 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
(818) 905-5250

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Come Celebrate A Legend Next Tuesday!

(photo courtesy of

I'm really hoping I can go to this, because I really adore this woman.

Since I was a young-un, I'd come across
Julia Child on PBS every once in a while, and would become entranced everytime by her love of food, the people that surrounded her, and life in general. She has been a great inspiration to many of us, myself included, as to the importance of living life to its fullest and simply enjoying. Which is why it's ironic that because I may be working alot next week, there's a chance I may not be able to make it to what I'm about to tell you about. Well, either way, I hope some of you will be able to go.

As a tribute to everyone's favorite chef, the
Pasadena Museum of History, as part of their current exhibit "Orange Blossom Time: The Citrus Heritage of Southern California," will be hosting Julia Child in Orange Grove Pasadena Tuesday, September 27 at 7:30 pm. A panel of chefs from Le Cordon Bleu California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena will be discussing "how Julia Child changed America's culinary landscape and their own lives" as well as preparing samplings of citrus-themed dishes inspired by the legendary chef including:

-Duck Rillette withTangerine Marmalade on a Wheat Crisp
-Fruit Nut Bread with Candied Grapefruit and Citrus Butter
-California Lemon Crepes
-Tequila Lime Sausage on a Corn Biscuit
-Pork Tenderloin with a Kumquat Glaze on Brioche
-Tangerine and Tarragon Sherbet on an Orange Florentine Cone
-Orange Grande Marnier Bombé

Tickets are $25 for general admission or $20 for museum members and includes tasting, program and exhibition entry. Reservations are recommended. Please call (626) 577-1660, ext. 10 for reservations and more info.

The Pasadena Museum of History is located at 470 W. Walnut Street (corner Orange Grove Blvd. and Walnut St.) in Pasadena; free parking in the museum lot and on Walnut St.

(Note to self: Get your work done early...this sounds like a good one!)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Trying To Find Happiness At (Early) Happy Hour: Fox and Hounds

There's some crap going on at my company, so we were all allowed to go home at like 10:30 am today. Instead of going home right away, a bunch of us decided to have an early "happy hour."

But what's open for drinking in the Valley at 10:30 am?

It was between Mexican restaurants or British pubs. We chose the British pub.

Robin Hood is our regular pubbish watering hole, we opted to try The Fox and Hounds in Studio City this time. I was the first one to arrive at this cottage looking establishment. Oooh, there's people inside! Oh, no wait, they're delivery people and vendors. Great. I think I had that fish out of water look when the bartender and another employee approached me at once. "Uh, yeah, I need a table for, like, seven please?"

"You mean seven o'clock?"

"Uh no. I mean seven people. For now."

"Oh! OK. Well, uh, wherever you'd like," as he pointed to the completely empty dining room.

The room and I got to know each other very well

I got bored waiting, so I took pictures of the restaurant's "creedo"

My coworkers started coming in one-by-one, thank goodness. I don't think I could have standed waiting in isolation any longer. Even though it's a bit lushy to be pubbing it at 11am by American standards, I was a bit surprised that the place was empty. I would have expected a least a few old locals having their morning martini, which is a regular sight over at Robin Hood.

To drink, a Stella Artois with lime juice, which was a lighter, more refreshing option this early in the day, though I think they went a little overboard on the lime. But was it this or was it all the crap I ate with it that gave me the biggest headache of my life a couple hours later? Perhaps a combination of both...


We didn't try much of their traditional English fare besides the fish and chips, but judging from the one dish, the Fox and Hound's food is more American than it is English. Though the cod pieces were fresh, I was highly disappointed by the batter which was, unlike the lightly and flaky battered fish I've had in England and even at Robin Hood, thick and fried to a dark golden brown. It came with chips in steak-fry style which were crisp but still not impressive, and peas that were a bit on the dry side. Shit, for a more authentic "English" dining experience, go get Indian food right across the street at
Bollywood Cafe!

Is that fish and chips, or fried chicken?

All of the other "bar crap" food we ordered was just that--bar crap. I'm not sure if I enjoyed the potato skins and beer battered mushrooms because they were actually good, or because they were bad for me and because they tasted good with beer. Our fried calamari had a good seasoned breading on them but looked more like onion rings than squid...obviously made from cheap, large squid rather than the smaller, more tender kind with tentacles & stuff. And our chicken nachos? Yuck. The nasty cheese, jarred salsa and canned olives weren't evenly distributed amongst the chips and guacamole was not to be seen anywhere, though shame on us for ordering nachos from a pub.

Fried 'Shrooms

More grease via potato skins

Fried calamari disguised as onion rings

Na' Cho' usual nachos...totally disgusting.

The place is quite charming, with its cottage like exterior and its welcoming interior; I've even heard that this place can get pretty happening at night. But I think that's the appeal of this place--wanna watch a soccer match (oops, I mean football) amongst younger, prettier folk while enjoying good beers and ales and while eating mediocre food? Go to the Fox and Hounds. Want to hang out with sassy old waitresses that are actually from the Motherland and with crumudgeony old locals while enjoying good beers and ales AND good food? Go to Robin Hood.

Well at least you have choices.

The Fox And Hounds Pub
11100 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604

Monday, September 19, 2005

Love Me Some Ad Lib Chicken!

Got some gochujang (Korean pepper paste), Coke, sesame oil, soy sauce and a clove of garlic?

Well dump some on a bunch of chicken pieces (dark meat preferred), mix well, marinate for at least an hour, and then bake at 350 for about half an hour. Measurements? Don't have any. Just a little here and a little there until I know it's right, though I usually use more gochujang 'cause I like it spicy!

I ad-libbed this dish back in college with the crap that my roommate and I had in the fridge. It's the easiest dish to make and yields some tender and tasty chicken; the leftovers are even better!

Eat with steamed rice and kimchee--mm-mmm!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Monte Carlo Market/Pinocchio Deli, Part Two: DOOOO It.

My friends and I, since we're a bunch of freaks who like to make up stories out of thin air, love going to Monte Carlo Italian market/Pinocchio deli not just because of the food, but because whenever we go, we always pass that giant home improvement store called the Do-It Center. No, not to go, silly, but so that we can break out in our best "New Yoik/Joi-sey" accents for at least a couple minutes to say "DOOOO it."

"Ya just gotta DOOOO it."

"Yeah, go DOOOO it."

"When ya gonna DOOOO it?"

All the boss had to do was make a couple a' phone calls. "Just DOOOO it, " he ordered to whomever was on the other side, and hung up. He turned to me, pointing a finger. "OK, everything's taken care of. Now you know whatcha gotta DOOOO. Now go DOOOO it."

Hence the

Back in reality, the actual experience inside Monte Carlo can be just as much fun as all the funny fake accents and the daydreaming. It's almost as if it should be called Italian Food World, because that's what it is. And you can customize your experience depending on what floats your boat. On one side of the place, you've got an Italian market, full of pretty much all the Italian imports you can get your hands on--wines including overgrown bottles of chianti and pinot grigio, coffees, pastas, jarred and canned foodstuffs. On this side, you can get the sliced imported deli meats and cheeses or baked goods like cannolis and biscotti to take home. Or if you so wish, a couple scoops of gelato for the bambini.

Find this...

...and this...

...AND this...

...and even this on the "authentic" side.

You can bring the boss a box of these, too

The other side--the restaurant side--will mostlikely, however, appeal to your hokey red-sauce Italian American tendencies. Here, you can choose from one of the various Italian-style hoagies with a side of potato salad or whatever deli-case salad you might be in the mood for. Here's where you'll also see all the steam trays full of baked ziti or lasagna, or pathetic looking spaghetti waiting for a ladle full of marinara and a couple of meatballs to top it off. I'm not saying that what you get here is bad, it's just more generic compared to all the exciting stuff on the market side.

The red-sauce steam trays are right around the corner

Once they make or scoop your order, it's time to lug your tray over to the dark booth-lined dining room whose walls are adorned with the facades of old wine barrels and whose tables are covered with cliche red and white checkered tablecloths. Or, sit outside at one of the few umbrella covered tables aside groups of old neighborhood farts that people watch all day to make the time pass.

This last time, I ordered a small Monte Carlo sandwich with two self-chosen sides of three bean salad and Greek salad. The sandwich itself, almost open faced because of the absence of a simple toothpick, is tasty and substantial with mortadella, salami, capicola, provolone cheese all on a sesame grinder roll. It's topped with a scoop of tangy marinated tomatoes that make the sandwich even tastier but make it downright messy at the same time. My salads usually end up catching the chunks of tomato that slip and slide out of my sammich and plop back onto my plate, which is OK, since all the salads that come from behind that counter kind of have that premade-seasoned-with-Italian-dressing-generic-yet-somehow-comforting-taste anyways. It's not the best red-sauce style Italian American food I've had, but it makes for a decent, safe lunch.

My Monte Carlo sandwich--all agape with excitement-- & sides

We're done with lunch and I'm back over on the market side, ready to pick up those cannolis. "Can I have one of the cannolis please?" I asked the sweet but sassy old lady behind the counter. "Sure," she responded in her still-retained East Coast accent as she grabbed one of the regular $1.99 ones for me, "but if ya wanna cannoli you'll neva' forget, ya gotta try one a' these imported cannolis. They're from Sicily. I was lucky enough to try one a' these the otha' day 'cause one of 'em broke inta little pieces and we all got ta' try it. This is one cannoli you'll neva' forget." How could I resist? "OK, gimmee one of those too," I told her.

As she's wrapping my cannolis up, and as my friend's placing her order with her for some of the "unfuggehdable" cannolis, she must've told us about five times how she got to try some because it "broke into little pieces the other day." Because I'm twisted, my gangster alter-ego got the best of my mind and suddenly I imagined myself saying in my best mob voice, "Shut up ya old bag, now gimmee my cannolis, the boss is waiting!" But of course I didn't because one, I'm not a mobster, and two, she was sweet as can be.

We passed the Do-It Center on the way back to the office and of course needed to get in a couple of our usual immature lines: "Are you gonna DOOOO it?", "Why can'tcha just DOOOO it?" But it was soon back to reality, back to regular work--no money laundering, no "clean-up" work--the only thing left of our sick mob world being those cannolis.

Monte Carlo Market/Pinocchio Deli
3103 W. Magnolia Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91505
(818) 845-3517

Friday, September 16, 2005

Monte Carlo/Pinocchio's, Part 1: How Cannolis Can Make Or Break You

Can you tell which is which? Read on...

Because I have watched too much TV and read way too much fiction in my lifetime, I have entered my sick world of make-believe once again.

What I thought up this time is that if I ever have to bring a gift to a mafia don who's done favors for me and my cronies, I'd go pick up cannolis at Burbank's Monte Carlo Market and adjoining Pinocchio Italian deli. I've seen it a million times on mob shows like the
Sopranos where one of the goons brings in a box of 'em for the boss. Yeah, yeah, I see it on TV, so it's gotta work.

Anyways, Monte Carlo's got two kinds: a "regular" kind for a buck ninety-nine each, and an imported Sicilian kind for three ninety-nine. Buy the boss a box of the regular kind and you're likely not to get any kind of large-scale protection in return. In fact, depending on what kind of mood he's in, he just might whack you. The fried outer shell is crispy and the mostlikely domestic cow ricotta filling is light in texture, but it's bland and tastes like nothing, and I mean nothing. There's also no chocolate or candied fruit to be found either. Plain as plain can be.

Now buy the boss a box of the imported Sicilian kind, made with sheep's milk ricotta, and the boss is all yours. Crunchy yet airy, its shell gives way to a ricotta filling that's sweet yet tangy, light yet luscious. To make things even more interesting, a thin layer of chocolate lays between the shell and the filling and a couple of thin slices of candied nectarines flank each end of the tubular treats. Yes, this is the stuff that will get you a share of the big bucks; this kinda stuff will get you the bada bing.

Monte Carlo Market/Pinocchio Deli
3103 W. Magnolia Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91505
(818) 845-3517

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hooray For Bollywood!: Bollywood Cafe

We all concurred that we love this restaurant.

And it wasn't because we think one of the waiters has a crush on my friend.

Nor was it because the aforementioned waiter switched the rose on our table out for one with a larger bloom.

Nor was it because he made it a point to turn on the bright blue and green cheesy light-up mural behind our table--the one that depicted a coastline and played corny ocean sounds--to provide after-lunch entertainment.

Who needs the ocean when you've got this?

No, it was because the food was actually really good. So much, in fact, that we've actually gone to the Bollywood Cafe twice in the last 5 days. (Talk about

For some reason, it's a little reminiscent of those small Indian restaurants in London, or maybe just the ones I've seen...complete with burgundy red table linens, a bar, and waiters dressed in waiter-tuxes, it makes me wanna go back to jolly old England.

For starters, samosas, of course. These fat little triangles crisp, flaky outer shell, revealing either spiced ground lamb with peas or curried potatoes and peas. I'm not a huge fan of ground lamb, since I know that ground meat is usually of a lesser quality and freshness than unground meat and if you're dealing with lamb it's important, but the ground lamb here wasn't all that gamey. Perhaps because it was actually, perhaps it was because of the spices. Either way, the potato ones blew the meat ones away. They were soft, yet still chunky enough to have substance, and spiced just enough so as to not be too overpowering.

Scrumptious samosas

We weren't aware that their lunch specials are served almost family style with a heaping mound of basmati rice and a basket of naan for us to share, else we would have ventured into more variety on our first visit. My three friends ordered the chicken tikka, chunks of marinated roasted boneless chicken that seemed to stare back at you with its powerful orange glow. They asserted themselves well--they were indeed powerful, packing a spicy punch (even at the middle spicyness...the waiter warned one of my friends not to order the "very spicy" and he was right!) while having a perfect moist interior.

Orange is your friend: Chicken Tikka

I gotta say, though, that my chicken tikka masala kicked their chicken tikka butts. I was a little wary of ordering it at first, being that my last experience with chicken tikka masala at Los Feliz's Electric Lotus was watery, bland, and awful. But hey, it's their signature dish, so what the heck. It's not too exciting looking--just chunks of chicken sitting in a pool of thick, burnt-orange colored gravy, but one bite and the flavor blew me away. I loved the its hints of nuttiness and how the spiciness just kinda crept up on me like it was somehow planned that way. The chunks of chicken tikka, already tender, soaked up the masala sauce perfectly.

Same applies here, but more so: Chicken Tikka Masala

Their basmati rice was, well, just basmati rice, but was fluffy with that teeny tiny tinge of dryness that I like from this kind of rice and offset all the strong flavors nicely. The naan, however, was heavenly. Thin, yet pillowy, charred on the edges and wherever the dough bubbled up, it was perfect for sopping up every last bit of that delicious masala sauce. OK, well not every last bit. I actually had two leftover chunks of chicken leftover and a wee bit of basmati rice that I carried home in a doggie bag and scarfed down in a snacking binge the next day. Yeah, you know those times when you go to the kitchen and eat leftovers out of the conatiner? Well, they tasted just as good leftover. A really, really good sign in my book.

Like NAAN other

We were all stricken with FOCD, because we were back in less than a week. We decided to go true family style this time, going with the potato samosas, the must-have chicken tikka masala which was just as delicious as the first time, a chicken vindaloo, a sag paneer, and a sag aloo. Waiter-guy-who-has-a-crush-on-my-friend brought us a free basket of papadums: crispy, spicy rounds of Indian crackers that we dipped in various dipping sauces--one that was sweet and smoky, another that was green and clearly contained cilantro (blech!)--and raved about until our lunches arrived. I liked the vindaloo, containing curried chicken and potatoes, though it reminded me a little of a Chinese chicken curry dish that my parents make. It was certainly nice to have vegetables with our lunch this time, and because spinach seems to be a favorite for all of us, we decided on two "sag" dishes: sag paneer, creamed spinach cooked with cubes of cheese, and sag aloo, creamed spinach with potatoes. Both dishes were spiced very well with cumin, cardamom and ginger and were both good in my opinion, though because the sag paneer had more naughty stuff like cheese and cream, I preferred the sag paneer much more than the more healthy sag aloo. Another great meal.

Papadums...once you pop, you can't stop

Our second round...even better than the first!

Let's see which comes first, more FOCD and many more trips to Bollywood Cafe, or realizing that waiter-guy is more on the creepy side than the nice one. Let's hope it's the first.

Bollywood Cafe
11101 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Semi-Homemade With Daily G.--Pam's Potluck Pasta Salad

Sometimes, when I wanna appeal to my
Stepford side and when I have to make a quick dish for a lot of people that I don't particularly care about like say, a potluck at work, I find it easiest to go Semi-Homemade. You know, kinda like what that broad does on the Food Network--get a bunch of packaged crap from the grocery store and turn it into more crap. Only my pasta salad, though it is made just with a bunch of packaged crap from the store, doesn't taste like crap, it actually tastes pretty good. And I didn't do it with a bunch of heavy eyeliner or in a kitchen full of appliances and accessories that somehow all have the same holiday theme or color scheme. Don't know what I'm talking about? Then check out the show on the Food Network.

And so without further ado, I'd like to share my "recipe" for my Semi-Homemade Potluck Pasta Salad...

*1 box of rainbow rotelli pasta, cooked al dente and drained (Don't ask me what size the box is. You know, it's the box. They're all the same)
*1/2 cup mayo (or more if you see fit)
*1/2 of a 24 oz. bottle of Bernsteins Restaurant Recipe Italian dressing (or substitute your favorite kind)
*1/2 of an 8 oz. bottle of parmesan cheese (yes, that dried powdered stuff)
*The just slightly cooked florets off one broccoli crown
*3 medium tomatoes, diced
*1 small jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained
*1 2.25 oz. can of sliced black olives
*Salt and pepper to taste

*Mix everything together and refrigerate. That's it.

It's kinda ghetto, I know, but I have to admit, it tastes better than alot of the pasta salads I've had elsewhere. The secret? The mayo and the powdered cheese.

Who woulda known it was Semi-Homemade?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Daily Gluttony Goes Paparazzi

Check this out.

Homegirl is actually preparing meat on the hood of her car in the California Market parking lot. Here she is slicing meat with a knife. I sat in my car and watched in disbelief as she cut and transferred to another bag, cut and transferred, etc., etc. I finally had to leave when she got the marinade out and was gonna begin mixing it up in that plastic bowl (also on the hood of her car). Was she gonna cook the meat on the hood??? I should've stayed and watched.

Man, that's one dinner party I don't wanna be invited to.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Harsh Reality Check: Gaja Okonomiyaki

Sometimes you think you're the shit, and then all of a sudden you come to the realization that you're sooo not.

Such was the case the other night when my friends and I attempted to "make our own" okonomiyaki at Lomita's Gaja Okonomiyaki. Girls Night Out started with the usual girlie squeals and hugs: "Oh my GAAAWD, how ARE you??? I haven't seen you in SOOOO long!!!" We poured over the literal tome of a menu, chatting a little in between, and then placed our order. "We cook for you, or you cook yourself?" Well of course we chose the latter, we're a bunch of smart girls, right? Or so we thought.

They gave us all the tools...and we still fucked up

A couple more minutes of uninterrupted talking, and our bowl of pork-kimchee okonomiyaki mix, neatly and colorfully arranged in a stone bowl like a bibim bap, arrived along with an instruction card. OK, step one: Spread oil on teppan plate...Check! See? Piece of cake! Step two: Mix Okonomiyaki well. Yeah, like this is too easy.

Mmm, pretty!

This part was easy

So we kept yapping away about life and shoes and gossip whilst in the meantime, we had poured our okonomiyaki onto the grill, not realizing that on the instructions it said that beginners should perhaps make two small pancakes instead of one so it'd be easier to flip. Nor did we really pat the thing down constantly. Well, we thought it was cooking up okay. Ahh, whatever, it'll be fine, we thought. Back to the chit-chat.

We thought this part was easy too

I think our server noticed that we were going to have problems 'cause she came over and made us cut the thing into pieces before we flipped it. Which wasn't a very easy task either, 'cause there wasn't exactly a uniform consistency throughout the pancake--there were softer parts where the batter was, and then there were chunks of pork and kimchee all over, which were harder to cut. So the the quarters we attempted to cut came out looking like a sloppy relief map of the world. Not only that, but one side of our pancake had turned out darker than we'd liked it to be. Yup, we'd made our first "Ghett-O-konomiyaki."

Our ghett-o-konomiyaki

OK, time to quit yapping and get serious--we had to perform an extreme makover on this haggard pancake. After a few brushes of sweet okonomiyaki sauce, some shakes of dried seaweed and a few piles of dried bonito, you could hardly tell the difference! OK, at least it tasted good. In fact, the fact that our pancake had turned out a little darker than we had liked it made for a crispy crust, a nice contrast to the fluffy, egg-y interior. My favorite part was the kimchee, which added some needed spice to all the other mellow flavors.

All dressed up!

Either we quickly learned our lesson that we actually need to pay attention to what we're doing or the next dishes were just easier to cook (or needed no cooking at all!). An order of barbeque beef cooked quickly and easily, and tasted perfect dipped in a citrusy dipping sauce in its medium rare form. Our seafood yakisoba also required self-cooking, but no self-flipping, so needless to say, it turned out tasting and looking good. We made sure we followed the instructions to a tee this time, cooking the seafood and veggies first, then adding the chewy noodles, and we were definitely pleased with the results...a little salty, a little sweet, the chewy bite of the seafood and noodles a great textural match to the crispness of the bean sprouts and cabbage.

We made sure to pay attention on this one

No flipping necessary, just stirring!

This looks more edible

One of my fave dishes of the night was one that required no cooking by me and my friends. I think our Gaja Salad, containing lettuce, shredded cabbage, tofu, tuna, cucumber, sprouts and seaweed all tossed with a creamy sesame dressing, had some kind of drugs in it because it was that good. No cooking required, simple, and addictively delicious--what more could we ask for?

No cooking=good eats!

Looking around the room as we finished our dinner, it seemed the people at the tables next to us had better okonomiyaki making skills. Whole pancakes were flipped with ease, cooking up to a perfect golden brown. Show-offs.

Dessert would be a chocolate banana wrap and a Deluxe Japanese Parfait. We actually had a choice of making the wraps ourselves on the grill but we told the server to go ahead and make it in the back. I think I heard a slight under-the-breath chuckle...was it that obvious that we sucked? Our chocolate banana wrap was more or less a crepe without the delicate crepes; the wrap was instead more of a Bisquick pancake. Really yummy...though I don't think there's much room for error with warm choclate sauce and bananas.

They made the wraps for us--can't you tell?

Now our Deluxe Japanese was, well, interesting, to say the least. Served in a tall, and I mean tall, sundae cup, we first dug in to the whipped cream, red beans, sweet red bean filled manjoo and azuki bean mochi balls on its top layer. Then as we dug deeper into the second layer of whipped cream, we thought what the dark brown stuff that we saw through the glass was chocolate. Wrong. It was more red bean...mixed with corn flakes! And what would await us on the bottom? Look--it's agar agar cubes mixed with whipped cream! It was nice to have such a "unique" desert; I just don't know if I'd order it again--it was Japanese Parfait overkill!

Japanese parfait on steroids

We had a wonderful experience, despite our ghett-o-konomiyaki. In short, Gaja Okonomiyaki doesn't suck, we do.

Gaja Okonomiyaki
2383 Lomita Blvd.
Lomita, CA 90717
(310) 534-0153