Friday, November 18, 2005

Never Forget...

Dear Readers,

Daily Gluttony will be going on hiatus for a few weeks while I am up in the Bay Area with my family. My Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer several months ago and will be undergoing surgery as treatment.

If there's one thing I know about all of us, it's that food is an important part of our lives. But I think it goes way deeper than that. Food, more importantly, is a way we connect with those we love, whether in sitting down and having a meal with our families or cooking our loved one's favorite dishes or remembering how grandma's cooking was so comforting. Of course I know this now but I remember times when I was younger, when my brother and cousins and I would share stories of how we didn't know what to do with all of the home cooked food our parents gave us to take back to college. Sometimes we ate it, and gladly, but other times, it'd sit in our freezers for ages and we'd eventually throw it out without telling them because we'd much rather go out for burgers and beer. We were young, spoiled and unappreciative, not realizing that one day, the food we share with our loved ones will only be a memory.

I know better now. My Dad still cooks for me, even though I'm over thirty and self-sufficient, and I make sure now that I savor every last morsel. My Dad feels the same...he's always shown his love through food, and though he's sick, he won't have it any other way...he somehow still has the energy (despite chemo treatments and everything!) to cook up a storm for all of us and show us that Dad will always love us no matter what.

So what I am trying to say, dear readers, is to never take anything for granted. Make sure you sit down regularly and share meals with friends and loved ones. Tell your husband, wife, mother, father how delicious that dish tasted and go tell the world about it. Share your best cooking with your children and then teach them one day how to carry on your legend. Give those that you love a hug and tell them that you love them. Food is love, and it makes the world go 'round. Never forget that.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and your families! Eat well, take care, and see all of you a few weeks!

Best Regards,

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Super Tortas Is Just OK--Super Tortas, Hollywood

If I gave myself a dollar for every time I correctly predicted an onslaught of FOCD (Food Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), I'd be a millionaire. It usually happens to me when I try a restaurant or a certain type of food for the first time. I let the digestive juices settle, a day or two will go by perhaps, and then "Man, why can't I stop thinking about (fill in the blank)...??? I've gotta go get some!"

Well this time, FOCD struck and struck hard after my first
recent experience with tortas. I was looking for any excuse to get to Studio City just so I could zip in to Tortas Mexico and get me another one of them fabulous Mexican sandwiches. But luck would have it that I never had any need to go to that side of the Valley over the last few days so the torta urge would either have to wait or take me elsewhere.

Luck did have it, however, that we were hungry while driving around running errands the other day and just happened to be near a tortas joint that I've heard about on
Chowhound a few times. With a name like Super Tortas, I hardly knew what to think. Would they be "Super" like Supercuts and suck ass in a most generic way??? Or "Super" like Superman and save the day??? Or would they be "Super" as in Super-sized??? There's only one way to find out...

The tiny eating establishment, located on the bottom floor of the same Fountain and Vine mini-mall that houses La Floridita Cuban restaurant and nightclub, had not a soul in it when we walked in; not even an employee in sight...had we entered the
Twilight Zone? We stood at the counter for a few long seconds; finally a woman walked out of the back. "You can sit anywhere you like," she said. Uh, ya think? I could tell that this was gonna be SUPER strange.

As I grazed on tortilla chips that tasted suspiciously like they came from Ralphs and a tangy, spicy tomato salsa, I decided to order a torta milanesa off of the "new items" section of the menu, a move which I don't know if I should have or shouldn't have done. From what I hear, this milanesa torta containing thinly pounded and breaded steak is a quite popular type of torta (at least that's what my Mexican coworkers tell me), so why it would be a "new" item for an established restaurant specializing in tortas is a little beyond me. But I let it go; I was probably just being paranoid.

Super-market chips

It was just OK, this "new-on-the-menu" milanesa torta. Nothing that came close to the slew of "You know which one you have to try??? The milanesa tortas! Aww man, we used to have those all the time in Mexico City--they're the best" comments that I got when I told my coworkers that I had a torta for the first time. I did like the steak--it was pretty tasty and its texture was just right, pounded thin and crispy along the edges. Everything else about the sandwich, however, was just *eh.* It just wasn't a cohesive sandwich, the ingredients didn't work together as a team, if you know what I mean. Avocado and mayonnaise provided a cool creamy touch, but the slices of iceberg lettuce and tomato were just too big, causing them to slide around and causing me at times to pull whole pieces out with my teeth when I took a bite. The bolillo roll was also a bit big and was also a bit on the cold side, making the torta too "bready." If we're ever gonna make this work, I need teamwork dammit!

Maybe they meant "Super" as in Super Big Bread

Or maybe they meant "Super" as in Super Slip N' Slide

I never got a chance to try (or photogragh!) Isaac's chicken tacos, but he said they were "OK." Not your typical small taco truck or taqueria tacos with nice, charred, smoky chunks of meat; these were a little larger, containing a mixture of seasoned shredded chicken, onions bell peppers and tomatoes, kinda sorta like something you'd find in a larger, maybe even corporate Mexican restaurant.

Besides seating us, taking our order and bringing our food out, the lady who had been helping us had been in the back the entire time and not been in sight at all. Not to mention the fact that we'd been the only customers in the restaurant the whole time. Suddenly, she brings out two little bowls of menudo for us to try. "Here. We have menudo now," she said "You try." Hmm, that was cool of her; free menudo is always good in my book! We added some of the condiments she brought: onion, oregano and lime, and dug in. The pieces of tripe were a bit too much on the chewy side but the broth had a nice kick to it. I wanted to thank the lady and tell her what I thought of the menudo, but she had disappeared again! And oh yeah, she'd forgotten to bring us our drinks...pretty sneaky. So there we sat, looking towards the kitchen hoping that by looking that way, it'd make her come out of her cave sooner. Minutes passed and finally Isaac got up and walked toward the counter. "Uh, hello?" he said. "Oh, oh, I'm sorry! I forgot your drinks!" she said, running out of the back. We told her to forget 'em and just paid our bill. Super odd.

Maybe if we give them menudo, they won't notice the drinks!

Nothing was super: the torta was OK, the service was OK (poor attention but good intentions equals "OK"); I'd give them another chance, but my expectations won't be super-high. Oh but this trip to Super Tortas did cure me of Tortas FOCD! (For now, at least!)

Super Tortas
1253 Vine St. , # 8
Hollywood, CA 90038
(323) 469-8912

Monday, November 14, 2005

The OTHER Sunday Supper--Dominick's, West Hollywood

Mention "Sunday Supper" anywhere in LA and you'll mostlikely get a varying slew of comments in regards to a certain place owned by a certain female chef located on a certain stretch of Melrose near La Cienega.

"Oh you just haaave to go!"

"Thirty-five bucks for three courses at a place like this ain't bad."

"It's overrated; go on another night instead."

No matter what the feeling about this particular Sunday Supper is, everyone knows about it, or has at least heard something about this certain well-known lady chef's creations in Southern California. She's even released a
cookbook recently based solely on her famous Sunday Suppers. Now I've never been to one of these infamous Sunday prix-fixe meals. I love, and I mean looove her other extremely well known LA spot, so I thought that maybe Sunday Supper would be a great destination for us and our friends to have our next group dinner.

That is, until I happened to mention it to a fellow-foodie coworker. "Have you ever been?" I asked. "Mm, yeah, it's okay..." she answered. "You know where you should try if you're looking for a Sunday Supper?" A brief conversation ensued followed by an email with some links followed by a phone call to make a reservation. The rest is history.

I'd never really even heard of Dominick's until now. Well, maybe I do have the faintest recollection of this Italian restaurant from driving past the
Beverly Center a bajillion times. I read that this old Rat Pack watering hole has recently changed ownership and under the leadership of new co-owners Warner Ebbink and Brandon Boudet (also owners of the 101 Coffee Shop) has gotten a serious revamping in food, looks and service. And even better, they have a three course prix-fixe Sunday Supper here for only fifteen bucks! Yes, you heard me...fifteen bucks!

We met our friends here at 7pm last Sunday night ready to chow down. Our friends had arrived before us and were already sitting near the bar drinking wine. As the normal hugs and kisses happened I took a quick look around...dark wood wainscoting sat below creamy walls donning old photos of those who once partied here. Dim lighting gave the place a more modern, intimate feel. The friendly hostess quickly acknowledged that our party was all here and took us to our table within a few short minutes.

Dominick's both takes you back and draws you in

Handwritten specials boards add a personal touch

Walking past all the photos, leather booths and creamy walls, we were led to the restaurant's back patio where at a little past 7pm, the party had already started. The covered brick patio was romantically lit with candles and strings of little lights and all abuzz with laughter and conversation from groups of friends, families and loved ones. Fruit trees and plants as well as a burning brick hearth give the lovely space an even more cozy and romantic feel.

Ahh, I'm a sucker for romance

There's no place like home (or somewhere that feels like it)

Little postcards on the table with an old photo of a couple arm-in-arm revealed what the night had in store for us: tonight's Sunday Supper included a roasted pear and gorgonzola salad, milk-braised pork, and hazelnut panna cotta. As a bonus, each bottle of the restaurant's house Dago Red or White wine could be purchased for only $10 a bottle. Bottles of Moretti Beer? Only $2. We were also given menus which is another plus given that many restaurants do not allow ordering off the regular menu on prix fixe night (including the one previously alluded to in this post!). Our bubbly waitress soon came by to explain Sunday Supper in more detail and to describe to us the night's other special, BBQ pork with fennel sausage and cannelini beans. "This Sunday is pork night!" she said with a smile. Most of us ordered the Supper; two in our group ordered off the short but comprehensive regular menu, which was tempting in itself with options such as grilled artichoke, arugula and parmesan salad, homemade fettuccine carbonara, roasted butternut squash with sage & cinnamon...

What's for dinner?

A bottle of Dago Red and some smoother than smooth Moretti beer along with some crusty bread wrapped in white paper bags helped pass the time as we waited for our food. At only $10 a bottle, Dominick's house wine is a steal. Medium bodied, some kind of cabernet sauvignon blend no doubt, the wine whose name "Dago" refers to wine that Italian immigrant families would make for the table, had nice mellow woodsy undertones. One of my clumsy tablemates also knocked a glass of water over somewhere at this point, and we got not one annoyed look from the staff. They quickly came to our rescue and even joked with us: "OK, no more water for you!" a busboy jokingly told my friend with a wink.

It's better with Moretti!

Practically free at $10 a bottle

Soon enough, our roasted pear and gorgonzola salad arrived. Now, I'm not usually one to go for "pear" dishes; I've always seen the fruit as something I keep around for a dessert or snack. But I'm glad that such a dish was included in tonight's supper, because I'm now a convert to this combo. The funky richness of the gorgonzola blended with the refreshing sweetness of the roasted pear. A bed of lightly dressed friseƩ added an interesting textural aspect to the dish.

Roasted pear and gorgonzola...what a pair!

Our main dish of milk braised pork came to us semi-family style, served on three plates for the five of us that had ordered it. I liked this dish, though I thought it was overall a bit on the dry side. Actually, let me rephrase that...the pork itself was not dry; in fact it was quite moist and tender. I guess the dish could have used just a bit more sauce that's all--a nice garlic and herb sauce sat over the top two slices of pork, but the bottom two slices as well as the earthy roasted carrots and parsnips on the side could have used an extra spoonful or two. Other than that, it was a hearty dish perfect for a crisp autumn evening.

Milk braised pork with carrots and autumnal treat

Now ask me about our two plates of fried potatoes with garlic and lemon.

Gee, Pam, how were the fried potatoes with garlic and lemon that night?

Well, I'm glad you asked that, (fill in your name here), because they were FANTASTIC. The potaotes were thin-skinned and crispy with a warm fluffy interior. Their spicy garlicky flavor was offset my the zest of lemon and parsley. This was a necessary add-on.

Gimmee some a' them FRAHD TATERS!

Spaghetti and meatballs...what could be more comforting than that? Dominick's makes their version no differently than any Italian-American mom would--simple, hearty, delicious. There was no way I could go without trying a few bites of the one that my friend ordered that night. The spaghetti was cooked perfectly al dente and sat underneath two perfectly sized meatballs which, spiced well with oregano and fennel seeds, had a slightly spicy kick to them. The sauce was thick and dotted with a little meat, making it adhere well to the pasta. It was a perfect blast to the past, a reminder of when times were simpler and we had not a worry in the world.

The perfect comfort food

Along those same nostalgic lines was their veal parmesan. Three moon-like circles topped the fried veal cutlets: Dominick's made this classic Italian-American dish their own by melting fresh mozzarella on the thinly pounded meat. Unfortunately, I only got to take a bite of a piece that was cut off the browned edges, so my sample was a bit on the dry side despite its sweet but tangy marinara sauce. I was assured, however, that I just had an "off" piece and that this dish was very much worth it.

More old school comfort

Alas it was dessert time and five very sinful looking hazelnut panna cotta were brought to the table. And so sinful they were that I am convinced there had to be narcotics or aphrodisiacs or a combination of both mixed in. A sweet, sticky caramel top made the dessert naughty. The light hazelnut infused cream mold--made this dessert nice. A gelato trio came cute-as-a-button on a cold marble slab and dressed in waffle cone "hats." We chose a simple vanilla flavor, a bolder cappuccino one , and a delectable banana and chocolate chip one for our cool, creamy combo. Had I been more in the mood for chocolate that night, I would have gone ga-ga for the ricotta fritters with hazelnut chocolate sauce. Dusted with powdered sugar, the fritters by themselves are dense yet airy but don't really have much taste. Dipped in the thick hazelnut chocolate sauce, however, they turn into love potions, PMS-cures, whatever the heart desires. Or so that's what Isaac and my friends thought.

Naughty and nice, suagr and spice

I've never seen gelato look so cute

Chocolate and ricotta miracle cure

$27 per person after tax and tip bought seven of us five three-course Sunday Suppers, two regular menu entrees, two plates of fried potatoes, a bottle of Dago Red wine, a Moretti beer, and two additional desserts. Not to mention an absolutely wonderful atmosphere, and probably the nicest service I've encountered at a restaurant in awhile. What is Sunday Supper all about, after all? Dominick's both redefines it and reinforces it by taking us back to basics: good friends, good food and good conversation. Simple as that.

8715 Beverly Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90048
(310) 652-2335

P.S. my apologies for some of the "pasty" flashbulb photos--the only downside of dimly lit sexy settings!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Do You Know The Way To The South Bay?--Yuzu, Torrance

I am scared of the South Bay. I think it's because it's just so expansive and spread out, it freaks me out. I don't why it's even that bad; I mean, the major streets are pretty much the same as the ones I'm used to in LA: Western, Normandie, Vermont. And there are numbered streets to make things easier. But for some reason I always feel like all those wide streets are going to swallow little ol' me and my little car up and spit us out onto the same scary wide streets. And then I'll get lost. In the South Bay. Which wouldn't be much of a good thing.

Food Cabbie duty has forced me to find my way around the streets of Torrance and Gardena, so I am proud to say that some of my fears have been conquered. I think I now have my bearings of East-West-North-South down here and I'm certainly getting much more familiar with the whole area surrounded by the 110, 91 and 405 freeways.

My second night of Food Cabbie duty prompted me to do some research via
Japanese Restaurant Info and Chowhound as I'm sooo not familiar with the area. My friend and I wanted izakaya and Isaac wanted sushi, so wouldn't it be great if we could find something a little Izayoi-ish around these Southern parts? I've already been to Fu-Rai-Bo and love their teba-saki but wanted to try something new. Some people recommended Musha, a popular fusiony izakaya restaurant in Torrance but we wanted something a bit more traditional and plus they didn't have sushi or sashimi to please my better half. Finally, one of the 'Hounds came to the rescue and suggested Yuzu, a fairly new, mostly traditional izakaya restaurant that also serves sashimi. OK, now I just had to figure out how to get there.

Mapquest maps and driving directions in tow (and a Thomas Guide in the backseat just in case), Isaac and I set out to pick up my friend and then find this Yuzu place. Picking up my friend was a piece of cake...I'd already gotten that down over the last couple of days! But finding the restaurant? Hmm, turn left on 190th, right on Van Ness (Hey! There's a street name that I recognize being that I'm from the City By The Bay) which turns into Cabrillo....Yay! I found it! And I passed a bunch of landmarks, the Honda and Toyota plants to be exact, so that I can find my way back. This wasn't so bad after all!

After doing underground parking and taking a short escalator ride upstairs, we saw our dinner destination and it was much fancier than we'd expected. Dark wood slat walls and handpainted banners separated the restaurant's patio area from the plaza's walkway. Though the restaurant's vibe is tranquil, there is a good energy about this place, from the way the restaurant's elegant decor just flows with the practicality of the bar and counter in the center to its modern, zen-like feel. Dark wood tables and chairs, leather benches, and dim lighting give Yuzu a calming yet sexy feel.

After placing our order we were asked if we wanted to come and look at the night's vegetable selections. The three of us trotted out of our seats and across the room to the counter area where a pleasant older lady showed us steamer trays with various goodies floating around in a dark broth. I felt like this was their version of "Bob For Apples"--do I win a prize? She proceeded to tell us what everything was: ground chicken wrapped in cabbage leaf, various fish cakes, daikon, mochi stuffed bean curd, Maui onion, and a couple of other things I can't remember. We chose an order of daikon since we hadn't really ordered many vegetables from the regular menu; we started returning to our seats but of course I had to ask, "Can I take a picture?" "Of course," the woman giggled. So I dashed back over to the table to grab my trusty Digital Elph. A few seconds later, the woman was at our table with a stump of boiled daikon which she cut into three sections for us. The daikon was perfect, a little funky and pungent like all daikon should be, and was juicy with all the flavor that it had soaked up from that sweet soy-based broth.

Try to get as many as you can in 30 seconds!

Our daikon "log", cut into three

Yuzu's sushi was good for the restaurant not being a sushi bar, yet nowhere near as good as a sushi bar's. We ordered a 10 piece nigiri sushi combination for $16 which included maguro, albacore, ama-ebi, ebi, unagi, sake, salmon roe and hamachi. The small cuts of fish tasted fresh but were a teeny bit on the dry side. Needless to say, I wanted to save my appetite for izakaya, so I let Isaac eat most of this.

I'll give these 10 a 6

I'm a sucker for oysters and beer, so an order of Kaki Fry, fried Hama Hama oysters, to go with my Sapporo on tap was very, very necessary. And boy were these fat, prolly the fattest oysters I've had in awhile. A nice crunch from a panko crust gave way to plump, briny oysters. A few squirts of lemon and a couple swipes in the Worcestershire sauce-based dipping sauce and I was in fried oyster heaven.

These oysters were PHAT!

Yuzu uses an "Aburiyaki" grilling method in which food is grilled over a "ceramic charcoal brazier" where "mellow flames and gentle heat produce very fragrant smoke that will season and flavor the ingredient wonderfully." We ordered two items off the Aburiyaki Grill portion of the menu, but unfortunately, our waitress informed us that this supposed magical grill was broken tonight and that we could still order the items but they'd be cooked on something else. We went ahead and ordered the teba-saki (chicken wings) and nama tsukune (seasoned ground chicken) anyways. We did notice that these grilled chicken items lacked a certain smokiness...was it perhaps because the Magic Grill was broken and that maybe they had to cook these things on a stove? The 'Hound that suggested Yuzu in the first place recommended the chicken wings, but our chicken wings, seasoned with sweet soy and sea salt, were somewhat bland and should have definitely been charred a little more. I did enjoy the nama tsukune; they were tasty with onion and white pepper and despite me being paranoid over swishing it in raw egg and despite the fact that this, too, could have been a wee bit more smoky, I liked it.

Un-magically grilled teba saki

Another un-magically grilled dish...nama tsukune

Next up: Aona & Age Nibidashi, a simple dish of the Japanese green aona and age (fried bean curd) cooked in a light dashi broth. Our thin strips of airy bean curd were the perfect compliment to the crunchy, refreshing greens which were almost like spinach stems.

Aona and Age,like two best friends

I hate it when something on the menu sounds so much better than it tastes. We thought the Butamiso Crepes would be fantastic, described as something like miso marinated pork and egg served with vegetables and light crepe pancakes. We expected something more like pork in folded over crepes, something a bit more omelettey. Wrong. Out came a plate donning a big wooden spoon with the pork mixture in the spoon part, assorted vegetables like radish sprouts and cucumber, and a few small crepes that felt and looked just like Ethiopian injera bread. OK, I see, so it's kinda like make your own miso pork taco. That could be fun. Only the pork, which kinda had a pasty consistency was extremely salty, making me pile on more vegetables to take the sting away. Oh, and the crepes? They were injera bread--small little injera bread tortillas to be exact. Now you know
I love Ethiopian food. But at izakaya? Something just doesn't go.

A spoonful of salt with injera bread tortillas

We were still a little hungry after finishing all that, and we almost asked our server if we could make another trip to the "Bob For Food" goodies pool that we'd picked our daikon from earlier, but decided to order dessert instead. "Homemade Custard" was basically flan but was nicely done, having a firm yet smooth-as-silk consistency and luscious caramel to go with. Two scoops of capuccino ice cream looked like a
song out of South Park that I won't mention, but were surprisingly good...not too strong on the coffee flavor nor too sweet, just icy and refreshing.

Fancy Japanese Flan!

Better not be Chef's version

So I wasn't blown away by Yuzu; it was good, not great. But I will give them an "A" for service and atmosphere--we had a great time despite the inconsistent food and broken magic grill. And I will also give myself an "A" for passing South Bay For Beginners with flying colors. Now if I can only find my way home...

1231 Cabrillo Ave.
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 618-8695

Saturday, November 12, 2005

High Decibel Ramen--Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi, Gardena

A few months ago I wrote about how I was having issues with an old boyfriend. Well we've made up and have had a pretty good relationship ever since. But I never said this was a monogamous relationship, so once again I went out trolling for good ramen elsewhere.

This time, my trolling (and
Food Cabbie duty!) took me to Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi in Gardena, one of the several branches of the well known Shin-Sen-Gumi restaurant group scattered throughout Gardena, Fountain Valley and Rosemead. Shin-Sen-Gumi, in case you didn't know, is named after a 19th century Japanese samurai group who served the country and its people during a period of internal conflict in Japan; the restaurant group's motto, therefore, strives to live up to their name's reputation which is probably why Hakata Ramen's customers are greeted with this when they walk in:

Best Japanese noodle I've ever tasted huh? That's a bit of a confident statement. Well, we'll see.

Enter Hakata Ramen and you'll see that these folks are serious and very, very, confident. "IRASHAIMASE!!!!" they screamed as we entered the restaurant. They are loud, and I mean LOUD. Had I been a little more out of it, I would have flinched and then fallen all over the place like
Kramer on Seinfeld. But luckily, I was able to stand strong on my feet.

We were seated at a communal table in the front with other parties of two already slurping away at their ramen. Small stacks of order sheets and a few No.2 pencils sat in front of us. "I'm assuming we have to write our orders down?" I asked my friend. We flipped through the laminated color menu for a couple minutes and proceeded to jot down our order in the grid provided on the order sheet.

I feel like I'm at the Service Merchandise store

What kind of Ramen or Set?
"A" set (Hakata ramen with a side of gyoza). My friend got the "C" set (ramen with a bowl of the restaurant's takana fried rice.)

(How am I supposed to fit all this into the little box?) Cha-siu, boiled egg, spinach, bamboo shoot, bean sprout.

Firmness of noodle?

Amount of soup oil?

Strength of soup base?

A server was along shortly to drop off some iced green tea and collect our sheets. *Phew!* It appeared that we had done this correctly with the exception of the fact that the restaurant does not serve spinach, bamboo shoot or bean sprouts as toppings at lunch, so we had to cross those out. Damn, you mean I could have written bigger?

Our Hakata Ramen arrived quickly...two big bowls of thin ramen submerged in beautiful, milky tonkotsu broth and adorned by bright pinkish red pickled ginger, finely chopped green onions, slices of fat-striped cha siu and a halved soy sauce soaked boiled egg. You probably already know that I'm a little partial to tonkotsu-style ramen where the luscious, milky broth is made by boiling pork bones for hours on end, so needless to say, I was very, very happy. OK, maybe not as happy as I get when I experience utter ramen euphoria at Daikokuya--I like Daikokuya's soup and thicker noodles more--but Hakata's tonkotsu ramen did manage to float my boat. The thin noodles were firm and snappy, its broth milky and oily with delicious pork flavor. I do wish that the cha-siu was a little more tender--it was a bit on the gristly side-- and that I could have added bamboo shoot to make the flavors a little stronger, but no matter. I still enjoyed my ramen.

Nothing's more beautiful than murky, milky tonkotsu broth

The other halves of our lunch sets took a little longer to arrive, but we were kept on our toes while waiting as every few minutes, the booming sound of "IRASHAIMASE!!!" being screamed to entering customers would suddenly wake us up. Finally a plate of six of the tiniest gyoza you've ever seen and a bowl of their takana fried rice arrived at our table. Small, but full of pork, onion and pepper flavor, those itty bitty gyoza made for a nice ending to our big bowls of ramen. I was even more impressed with the takana fried rice, flavored with egg, little bits of pork and takana, a pickled salted mustard cabbage. Noticing a leftover pool of broth in my ramen bowl, one of the loud Irashimase-yellers asked me if I wanted to add more noodles for $0.95. I was stuffed so I politely refused.

Warning: Gyoza not to scale!

Hearty takana fried rice

Add ALL the toppings and you'll be broke!

Depending on how you look at it, Hakata Ramen's not a cheap date. Daikokuya's ramen is a bargain at $7.50 considering it already includes cha-siu, bamboo shoot, bean sprout and boiled egg. Hakata Ramen's bowl is $6.95 and doesn't include any of those toppings. Cha-siu is added on for $2.00, bamboo shoot for $1.00, bean sprout for $0.50, and boiled egg for $1.00, making a bowl of Hakata ramen cost over 11 bucks. Don't get me wrong, I liked Hakata Ramen alot, but there's a reason I keep running back to Daikokuya!

Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi
2051 W. Redondo Beach Blvd. #C
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 329-1335

Friday, November 11, 2005

Get Your Noodles Out Of The Gutter--Shilla, Gardena

Check this out. A good friend of mine was lucky enough to get a six week PAID sabbatical from her company. "What did she do with her spare time?" you ask. Take a couple guesses. Did she go to Peru to climb Macchu Picchu? No, wrong. Did she go backpacking through Europe? No, wrong again. Take another guess. Can't think of anything? Allright I'll tell you.

She spent a week hanging out in Torrance.


You heard me. A week in Torrance. At the place of a mutual friend who wasn't in town for the week. Without transportation. Lounging around in our friend's apartment. To "get away." Get away???

OK, so in her defense, she did take a couple of other short trips here and there. But on a six week PAID vacation??? I'm sorry, I'd do way more than a couple of short trips and a week in Torrance.

But whatever, to each her own, right? Because I'm a nice friend and because I've never really taken the opportunity to explore the Asian food goldmine of Torrance and Gardena, I agreed to play Food Cabbie to my friend for a couple days.

The first night I took her to Shilla Korean Restaurant in Gardena. Maybe it would at least make her feel like she took a trip to Korea. Ha ha...NOT! Anyways, the first night that I drove out to the South Bay, I was dead tired so although I'd just had Korean food for lunch at
Seoul Cafe in Glendale, I didn't feel like exploring or experimenting with anything new, and went for something I knew, something convenient and reliable.

And that's exactly what Shilla is. I can say with absolute confidence that there's nothing wrong with this place. Parking's easy. The service is a little abrupt, yet still very friendly. The place is spacious, well lit and clean. There's hardly ever a wait (at least not when I've been there). The food is good. Perfect for my first night of Foodie Cabbie duty.

Shilla specializes in Korean BBQ, so we couldn't do without an order of meat, and as the weather is getting chilly, maybe an order of kimchee jiigae would do us good? We placed our order--one plate of rib eye for BBQ and a kimchi jiigae--with our waitress (who looked like every one of my Korean friends' moms BTW) who proceeded to tell us that since we're only ordering one meat, they cook it in the back. Maybe OK at any other place, but at Shilla, there's an after meal treat that you only get on the table grill. So we traded the kimchi jiigae in for an order of daeji bulgogi (spicy marinated pork). A guy came by an two seconds to turn our brass plated grill over and start the fire. Cool.

Oftentimes I like the panchan part of a Korean meal more than I like the main dishes, and since Shilla doesn't skimp on theirs, they earn brownie points in my book. A couple quick minutes after ordering and our table's surface was nearly filled to capacity with panchan, and the meat hadn't even arrived yet! On the inventory: Spicy, crunchy baechu (napa cabbage) and oi (cucumber) kimchi, seasoned ovals of fish cake, seaweed salad, pickled daikon and carrots, seasoned beansprouts, garlic and sesame seasoned broccoli, mayonaissey Korean style potato salad, a plate of pa jeon (scallion pancakes), a big bowl of green salad with Shilla's signature tangy & spicy sesame dressing, and bowls of comforting bean sprout and daikon soup.

When it comes to panchan, these people don't play

More panchan...this time pa jeon

Maybe it's because I look utterly clueless, but I usually end up getting "help" at Korean BBQ restaurants when it comes to grilling. Not that I ask for it. I'd like to think that as someone who's better than average at cooking, that I can certainly handle turning some meat, but the servers I've run into don't seem to think so. And those at Shilla are no exception. Our waitress dropped off a plate of well-marbled rib eye and well seasoned daeji bulgogi, poured a brothy liquid into our grill gutter and walked away for a second, but did a double take and came back. Grabbing the tongs from the table before my friend and I even had a chance to organize ourselves, she placed the rib eye on the grill for us. We kept a close eye on our meat while it seared and browned, and obviously, they were too because a couple short minutes later another server came and checked on us, refilling the grill gutter with the brothy liquid that had evaporated since the last pour. Surprisingly enough, my friend and I managed to take the cooked rib eye off the grill and replace the empty grill with the remaining meat ourselves, but don't trip, our servers had our backs the entire time, pouring and checking, pouring and checking. At one point, our waitress came by to pick up the empty dishes on the table, noticed a small sliver of rib eye still stuck to the plate, and consequetly pointed it out and had me pick it up and put it on the grill. Shame on us for wasting (even a little piece of) food!

Rib eye with a brothy "moat"

Expectedly, our rib eye wasn't marinated much to begin with which was fine with us as it cooked up juicy and tender, letting the smoky flavor of the beef come through. Our thin yet substantial slices of daeji bulgogi were also extremely tender, each bite having the kick of red pepper, ginger and garlic. I never knew exactly what the "gutter liquid" was used for but I suspect that it had something to do with the meat cooking up more juicy. The gutter liquid refills tapered off as we continued to grill, probably to allow the meat to char more rather than steam, but as we neared the end of our meal, our waitress came by and refilled the gutter once more and this time, she had a small bowl of noodles, onions and carrots in hand which she proceeded to mix into the gutter liquid. Yes, my friends, this is the reason we traded our kimchi jiigae in for daeji bulgogi. Two orders of meat gets you table grilling and the after meal bonus of gutter noodles. OK, so they're not a phenomenal noodle dish; in fact if someone just brought this out of their kitchen and gave it to me, I'd think the noodles were a little too salty and soupy. But just knowing that Shilla allows no wasting at their restaurant--we saw it with our waitress making me pick the last tiny sliver of meat off the plate and now we see it with cooking gutter noodles to soak up every last bit of grease and flavor--is cool in my book.

Daeji bulgogi with "gutter" noodles

Damage was about forty bucks for two of us which seems like alot but really isn't considering how much food we got. We filled two boxes up with leftovers, most of which I gave to my friend to take back so that she could have something to eat other than what's in our other friend's cabinets. What a good friend I am, huh?

Shilla Korean Restaurant
16944 Western Blvd.
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 538-8848

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Relaxation Without Naked People: Jin Patisserie, Venice

The first time I ever went to "spa day" with my friends, I was a little taken aback by how comfortable many people are about just letting it all hang out in front of strangers. I mean, don't get me wrong, the whole day was indeed relaxing--I felt like a wet noodle after all those massages, facials and treatments--but in the ladies spa room, the ladies just showed their goods to the world. And I mean all of them. Here we were in this tranquil atmosphere--calming music playing softly in the background, a few beautiful yet simple orchids placed here and there to add an elegant touch to the otherwise zen-minimalist room--and there they were...butt-naked. No, I am not one of those women that takes her bra off under her shirt so that no one can see anything, but I am also not one of those women that likes to hang out in the jacuzzi with random women who aren't wearing anything to separate themselves from the water that's touching me! That, to me, is not relaxing...ewww!

Yes sirree, there are definitely other ways to relax here in L.A., and I discovered one of them this past weekend. Venice's Abbott Kinney Blvd. is known for having shops with the most unique and beautiful artistic finds, and though its goods are of the edible kind, Jin Patisserie is certainly no exception to this. My girlfriend and I drove up and down the street a few times trying to find it and when we finally did, we knew why. Enter Jin Patisserie and you're immediately transported to another world--one that's totally separated from the usually heavy-with-shopper-foot-traffic street outside. People sit--no wait, they lounge--in its zen tea garden, listening to the calming sounds of a trickling stone fountain complemented by downtempo grooves in the background. On a Sunday morning the place was already busy with people just like us looking to escape the reality that Monday was just around the corner. The master to all this beautiful, delicious madness herself, owner/creator Kristy Choo was even out on the patio waiting tables and serving at one point. Despite the cafe's popularity, however, tranquility reigned supreme.

Enter please...

Everyone's here enjoying the day

Please...fence me in!

The experience really starts with tea, all the pretty little details to be taken care of later. Jin Patisserie serves and sells green, black, scented and organic teas from
Les Palais Des Thes. Imagine sitting back taking in the warmth and aroma of something as exotic sounding as The Des Concubines, a green and black tea blend with an "intoxicating bouquet" of flavors including cherry, papaya and caramel.

My friend and I were in a bit of a simpler mood, so we opted for the simple genmaicha with our "Afternoon Tea." This green tea, brought to us in adorable little white ceramic teapots, was clean and refreshing while also given a hearty aroma from grilled sweet corn and puffed rice. We sat back and took in the crisp late morning air for a few minutes as we sipped our soothing tea, hands warmed by our teacups, and waited for the rest of our Afternoon Tea offering to arrive.

It all starts with this...

A few short minutes and a plate of colorful tasty treasures arrived at our table. Everything was so dainty and bitesized but the kaleidescope assortment of sweets and savories was sensory overload. I will admit that the savories on the plate--two egg salad finger sandwiches, a quiche muffin and hell, I'll throw the scones into the savory category too--were the least impressive. The orange-scented scones, though fluffy, lacked a flaky quality that I like in my scones; my friend's cup of clotted cream looked thick enough though mine was a tad watery, but no big deal...berry jam made everything better. The spinach quiche muffin could have been heated up a little more and the egg salad finger sanwiches, though good, were a bit on the generic side.

A kaleidescope of afternoon tea goodies

Our sweets, however, were both aesthetically and edibly pleasing. Hmm, where should I start? A thimble sized lump of delicious almond-y pound cake dotted with chocolate. A cinnamony cakey cube that had the likeness of bread pudding but more substantial--perfect for an autumn day. A light-as-air mango and strawberry parfait topped with crunchy sweet wafers. Miniature versions of their cakes: a pretty-in-pink peach cake topped with a tiny purple flower petal, a marscapone and passion fruit cake that oozed with passiony passion fruit flavor and topped with a beautiful piece of white chocolate in the likeness of shell, and an absolutely delectable green tea cake composed of refreshing green tea sponge cake and mousse layered with luscious sweet red bean. To finish it all off, a piece of Jin Patisserie's famous melt-in-your-mouth chocolates.

Tasty treats close up

For those wanting something more substantial than afternoon tea (or for those unlike us who were eating actually eating a proper meal in the morning!), Jin Patisserie offers a variety of quiches and sandwiches that all come with a "cake of the day." And if that isn't enough, all of Jin Patisserie's cakes and treats can be enjoyed in their lovely tea garden.

I don't know about anyone else, but I surely couldn't get enough of Jin Patisserie's goodies, so this relaxing morning retreat would definitely not have been complete without a visit to the little blue cottage behind the tea garden to see what other treats I could get my hands on. Again, everything here is out-of-the-ordinary from the pastries which are not simply pastries but works of art, to the wall-mounted pastry cases whose wavy, frosted glass fronts with clear glass "windows" allow us to look at the tasty treats with even more awe. Peer into the counter and you'll see neat little rows of Jin Patisserie's own artistically decorated chocolates. Flavors range from Earl Grey to Lychee to Roasted Black Sesame and can be bought individually or purchased as sets in exquisite silk boxes.

Just one of the many display case goodies

Chocolates as works of art

I couldn't leave empty handed so I chose three little things to bring home with me: a Soft Sea Salt chocolate, a The Des Concubines chocolate, and a lychee macaroon. The Soft Sea Salt was an unusual but mouthwatering treat of ooey gooey caramel and sea salt, the salt bringing out the caramely goodness even more. My The Des Concubines chocolate, flavored with green and black tea, caramel, papaya and flower petals, was decorated with one of those awesome white chocolate "shell" pieces and tasted just as good as it sounded. I fell in love with my lychee macaroon, light and airy and filled with sweet lychee creme.

Good things come in small packages

Jin Patisserie is not cheap. My three tiny little "treats" cost over 5 dollars: $2 for each itty bitty square of chocolate and a buck-ten for the macaroon. Our Afternoon Tea was also on the pricier side at $17 considering that it wasn't alot of food. But for all those yummy creations and total relaxation on a Sunday...priceless. A helluva lot cheaper than a spa and no naked people either!

Jin Patisserie
1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA 90201
(310) 399-8801