Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Friday Is Hawaiian Shirt Day

They bought pizza at work today for a Meet-and-Greet luncheon. We had to go around the room and introduce ourselves. It felt a little
Office Space-y.

But at least I ended up with some pizza, unlike
Milton and the birthday cake.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Gung Hay Fat Choy, Sun Lien Fai Lok

(Image courtesy of Florida International University)


I finally got up off my ass and posted something, although brief...I've been up at my parents' pigging out.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous Year of The Dog!!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

TJ's Taste Test, Part (I Don't Remember) Of Many: Thai Joe's Prig Khing Green Beans

Everyone, I'd like you to meet the newest addition to our family, George the Gastro-gnome. Ever since Isaac murdered the last gnome Jim, nothing's been the same, but we look forward to spending quality time with George for many years to come, especially because George is cast from iron and won't break as easily.

George spent some time in Thailand last year and has quite a liking for Thai food, so the other day, he asked me to pick up some frozen Prig Khing Green Beans from
Trader Joes.

Sorry, George is a little shy.

George is great sous-chef; I walked away from the kitchen for a minute and he watched the pan of sizzling frozen green beans the whole time to make sure they didn't burn. After about 3 minutes, we added the packets of Thai chili sauce and let it cook for a couple more minutes.

"Oooh, oooh, let me try!" said George. I couldn't resist his adorable little face, so I gave him a sneak preview of the chili laced beans.

"Hmm. The beans lack that crunch that only fresh beans have, but other than that, they're tasty. The sauce is spicy with a hint of tamarind and has a nice funky saltiness from the addition of dried shrimp," George declared.

The rest of the beans were eaten with some hot jasmine rice, and yes, they were quite good for something frozen. You know what they say: Always trust a gastro-gnome!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Meeting Of The Minds (And Stomachs): Papa Cristo's Big Fat Greek Dinner, Los Angeles

Last night, Isaac and I had a dinner date with strangers--strangers we met on the internet.

No, we are not one of those kinds of couples...get your mind out of the gutter! Last night, we met up with the rest of the
l.a.foodblogging crew for some good food and good conversation at Papa Cristo's weekly prix-fixe Big Fat Greek Dinner.

It was a little like going on a blind date when we first walked into the dining room, whose blue and white checked tables were arranged communal style for this popular nineteen dollar Thursday event. There were people everywhere, whether they were seated, at the front tasting wine or at one of the appetizer stations. We looked around for some sort of "l.a.foodblogging" sign, maybe even a guy holding a sign like they do at the airport, but no luck. Some of the tables had a bunch of old guys at them, so hoping that our assumptions were correct that my foodblogging counterparts were mostlikely younger urbanites, we used process of elimination to help find our table. Finally, we found our way and met a bunch of the people I'd only known through cyberspace until now--
Jonah, Neal, Cybele, Zteve, Kristy, Dylan, WhyWeType, MaxMillion--and some significant others, too. A table full of food kooks just like me...awesome!

"l.a.foodblogging, where aaaare you?"

We started the evening off getting to know each other--how did we start blogging, what do we do when we're not blogging--and chowing on warm pillowy wedges of pita bread with taramosalata, a Greek caviar spread that reminded me a bit of lox cream cheese, and sliced loukaniko sausage that we'd picked up from appetizer stations set up in the dining room.

Looks kind of like abstract art, doesn't it?

This was a party, yes, but nothing took away from the casual, informal atmosphere that I love about Papa Cristo's. As usual, everything was served in or on plastic wares, including the wine that adorable owner Chrys S. Chrys was pouring for the night's wine tasting. Who needs wine goblets when you have medicine cups to try cabernet? So much better than Robitussin and very practical in my opinion!

The night hadn't even really gotten started yet and we were already full. The appetizers just kept on coming. First, delicious spanakopita triangles wrapped in flaky phyllo and filled with a solo feta cheese filling or a spinach and feta filling. Next, plates of pristine feta cubes, Greek olives, and dolmas--perfect little packages of seasoned rice wrapped in lemony grape leaves. Third, more of their crack-laced pita bread (because you can't eat just one!) and bowls of cool cucumber and yogurt tzatziki that I just couldn't get enough of. All of these dishes were served family style, a great way to get everyone to interact and mingle, though none of us needed any help with that!

Probably the only time that "flaky" is good

Dolmas, feta, and olives...oh my!

Cool as a cucumber tzatziki

Each of us were served a Greek salad of iceberg, tomato, cucumber, black olive, feta and a zingy Greek vinaigrette that came in a little plastic take out condiment cup. I've always been a fan of Papa Cristo's Greek potatoes, roasted tender with a slight hint of lemon. The seasoned green bean dish was texturally challenged because they obviously came from a can, but with its hearty tomato sauce, it tasted just fine. And as if our we weren't about to give birth to some serious pita bread babies--you know, the ones that were growing at exponential rates in our bellies--they brought us bread...warm, crusty French bread to go with the main courses that had yet to arrive!

Greek salad for food geeks

Bread??? Are you kidding???

Del Monte Greek Green Beans

When they finally did arrive, what we got were plates piled with grilled lamb chops and braised chicken. From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that the meat dishes at Papa Cristo's are delicious, but I still couldn't help wondering how tonight's dishes would turn out since cooking meats for this many people usually has its shortcomings. I was pleasantly surprised--the lamb and chicken were both tasty and tender. OK, so you could tell the lamb was not $20 & up pricepoint lamb, but you know when un-fresh lamb that's been sitting around has that old gamey taste to it? Well not at Papa Cristo's...you can tell that they sell this stuff and lots of it; this lamb was fresh, cooked with a nice brown crust on the outside and left a little rare on the inside.

Baa! I love lamb!

The chicken was even better. It was one of those dishes that certainly tasted better than it looked; on the plate, it reminded me of something one of my guy friends in college made with soy sauce and chicken as his first attempt at cooking on his own. But after I took a bite, I knew that this definitely wasn't some dude dashing some soy sauce and garlic power on chicken and frying it up kind of thing. The guys at Papa Cristo's had definitely put some time and thought into this because the chicken was seasoned very well--with wine, olive oil and garlic no doubt, as well as some other spices I'm sure--and was extremely tender. I even got some gelatinous slivers of fat along the way, and boy were they tasty. All of this meat served on...what else? Plastic platters and served with...what else? Plastic tongs, which, by the way, kept snapping in half all over the restaurant because they were a bit on the flimsy side. Who needs to break plates when you can break tongs, right?

Tasty "college" chicken and some fragile tongs

There's no plate breaking at this Greek party, but the atmosphere at Papa Cristos was plenty lively and that was before the belly dancer came out. After that, the crowd went wild...hands were clapping to the rhythm of the brunette-I-Dream-Of-Jeannie's gyrations across the room. There were people who tried hard not to make eye contact with the dancer in hopes that she wouldn't drag them out for a dance; then there were others who voluntarily went out and boogie-oogie-oogied till they just couldn't boogie no more. Perverted old men had their dollar bills out as she worked the aisles with her swaying hips and finger cymbals; both men and women got up and shook their groove thing, seduced by the dancer's charm.

That man wasn't one of us, I swear

The festivities didn't end there, however. After the whole room broke out in "Happy Birthday" in honor of a few celebrants, we were each served baklava, layers of syrupy sweet pecans wrapped in wrapped in flaky phyllo dough. To top that off, coffee served in (what else?)...diposable demi-tasses!

I guess "flaky" is OK in this case too!

I'm not going to sleep tonight

We all had so much fun and such good conversation that it was almost as if this whole l.a.foodblogging gang had already known each other for awhile. When I tell random people that I blog about food, there are some people that get it and that fully support it, and then there are people that don't exactly get it. "Why don't you be a food critic?" they ask. And then they don't drop it when I tell them that I just do this on the side for fun. ("Why not?" they insist.) I also get this: "How can you like food so much and not be fat?" What some people don't get is that liking food and writing about it doesn't necessarily mean that I want to write for Gourmet magazine full time; nor does it mean that I eat twelve donuts for breakfast everyday. Foodbloggers are normal people just like me and you, you know (hell, none of us even critiqued the food that night!)...we just happen to like good food and writing about it too!

Papa Cristo's
2771 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(323) 737-2970

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Fed By Silver Spoon, Part Two

Seven years ago, I fell in love.

With Isaac? No, not with Isaac...I hadn't even started dating him yet.

Seven years ago, I fell in love with Italy after only three weeks of time spent together; three short weeks, but three of the most beautiful weeks I've ever had in my life. I travelled to Italy with my parents and my aunt & uncle, and were escorted around by my cousin who was a European resident at the time, so though we did do some of the typical tourist stuff, we got to explore the country alot more than if we had gone on some tour package. Wherever we went, I loved seeing the passion the Italians have about life, about love, about family, about food. I fell in love so hard that I vowed that I'd be back.

Well, I haven't yet. But I will.

With all of this in mind, purchasing a copy of
The Silver Spoon (newly translated English edition) at Costco the other day was a no-brainer. On one end of the authentic stick, this "bible of authentic Italian cooking"--this must-have item in the Italian kitchen--has recipes for stuff like calf's head and brain sauce. But on the other end of the authentic stick, it's got recipes for the simple yet flavorful foods that Italy is known for. I think Padua was our first stop in Italy, and I remember my aunt asking where they had pizza and spaghetti (you know, the kind you'd find in your local mall food court); I on the other hand, was happy as could be sitting on a ledge eating a simple sandwich of tuna, arugula, and sliced boiled egg on buttered bread while watching all the people go by. I still rave about the primi I had Genoa that consisted simply of a pasta and squid ink sauce.

As there wasn't a big chance that I'd be going for the calf's head as the first recipe to try, I decided to go the simple route and cook Spaghetti with Capers. The recipe called for a whole salted anchovy, but as that was way too much trouble to find, I went ahead and just used a couple of canned anchovy fillets which worked perfectly fine. I also added a few squirts of lemon juice and some grated parmesan.

Spaghetti With Capers
(adapted from The Silver Spoon)

-1 salted anchovy, head removed, cleaned & filleted, soaked in cold water for 10 min and drained OR 1-2 canned anchovy fillets
-4 tbsp. olive oil
-2 garlic cloves
-2 tbsp. capers, rinsed
-12 oz. spaghetti
-lemon juice
-parmesan cheese

1) Heat the oil in a pan.
2) Add the anchovy and garlic and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the anchovy has disintegrated and the garlic has turned golden brown.
3) Remove the pan from the heat, discard garlic and add the capers.
4) Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in large pan of salted boiling water until al dente.
5) Drain, toss with the sauce, add lemon juice and parmesan to taste, and serve.

The funky saltiness of the anchovies plays with the lemony tartness of the capers so well. So simple and so tasty. This is the kind of Italian food that I love.

On the side, I served some baby broccoli sauteed with garlic, red chile and olive oil. I wanted to follow one of the broccoli recipes in the book, but decided not to and just do it on my own. I became a little wary when two of the broccoli recipes asked for the broccoli to be cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes. A little lost in translation perhaps? Because if I cooked any broccoli in boiling water for a whole 15 minutes, it'd turn to mush. Maybe that's the way the Italians do it? Probably not, but I guess I'll just have to go back to Italy and find out. Either that or try alot more of these recipes, which I definitely intend to do!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Fed By Silver Spoon, Part One

You already know how dangerous stores like
Target and Costco can be to people like me. Just call me a sucker for merchandising, someone whose cart is filled with 10 unnecessary impulse buys, whether it be hairclips or a new cereal, before she reaches the checkstand.

At Costco, temptation usually comes in the form of food, like "Hey, you wanna try these
Armenian foccacia? Our fridge is full, but let's try them anyway." But every so often, I'll find something in the media aisle that will catch my eye. More recently, my impulse buys from this section of the warehouse has been in the form of novels that I'm trying very hard to replace my television with. I always check out the cookbook section, but all you see lately are Rachael Ray and Semi-Homemade Sandra Lee books, and who needs culinary inspiration from them?

The other day, however, I happened to be browsing the cookbook section when a tome of a cookbook with a silver spoon on its stark white cover caught my eye. "Italy's best selling cookbook for over fifty years. The bible of authentic Italian cooking," a sticker on the front cover read. I'd heard about The Silver Spoon before in a news article saying that the legendary Italian cookbook would finally be published in English, and lo and behold, it was there right in front of me. And for 42 percent off the cover price of $39.95. I had to have it.

As with all of my new cookbooks, I like to sit down and read them when I get home; you know, a little one-on-one, get-to-know-you time.

"Uh yes, Silver Spoon, do you have anything in particular you'd like to share?"

First thing out of his mouth: "EATING IS A SERIOUS MATTER."

(Yeah, no shit)

I think this is going to work out just fine.

I'm thinking that The Silver Spoon is to Italians sort of what The Joy Of Cooking is to Americans--"the book that has its place in every family kitchen, the one that many brides have received as a wedding gift." Like its American "counterpart," the book is jam packed with recipes--over 2000 of them--and covers everything from simple sauces to roasted meats to dessert. The Silver Spoon, however, seems way more intense. Rather than your typical chapter titles of "Vegetables," "Seafood," or "Meat," there are entire chapters devoted to a single type of vegetable or animal or even part of an animal. Want belgian endive? You got it. How about brain or calf's head? That, too. Oh, and did I mention its got pretty pictures? My only gripe with that, however, is that the pictures are uncaptioned and that sometimes I'm left to guess which recipe it corresponds with. You mean you need me to think?

For tomorrow's dinner

For all you Belgian Endive-philes

I just love pretty pictures!

Look for a gnocchi post one of these days!

Granted, I've never seen the un-translated, un-
Phaidonized Italian version, but there is still a certain primitivity about these recipes that I love. Many of the ingredients lists are short and simple, though many use ingredients which may not be popular or readily available in the States. (You may have some luck finding "Pluck and Lights," or lamb lungs and vital organs, for example, at some butchers; at others, not so much) The cooking directions are written in concise, choppy sentences, almost as if they were from recipes scribbled on pieces of paper and passed on through generations. Having read through the preface "Our Spoon" regarding the English translation, I learned that English language cookbooks tend to have more detailed explanations than Italian ones, and that The Silver Spoon's translators made it their goal to make the English version user-friendly to its readers while also retaining the Italian character of the book. With this in mind, I'm dying to see the Italian version. I imagine that reading its recipes are like getting a Chinese cooking lesson from my mom: no exact measurements, just a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. Too bad I can't read Italian.

All the sauces you can imagine...even "brain sauce" and "Chinese sauce"

I'm ecstatic to have added this book to my collection, though I don't think that I'll be preparing half of the dishes in here. I see myself making some of the more simple dishes, like bread soup with tomato or porcini with prosciutto or zucchini frittata, but I don't imagine that I'll be making brain sauce, guinea fowl, or kidneys in madeira anytime soon.

"Enough about the book," you say, "go make something from it!" Stay tuned for part two.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Journey To See My Master: Dumpling Master, Monterey Park

"Revenge is a dish best served cold."

Or hot out of a take out container at your desk with scents of garlic and oil and stir fried pork and steamed rice wafting through the cubicle rat maze. Yes, while the rest of my cubicle farm was chowing on questionable office cafeteria food or microwavable astronaut food, I sat humbly at my desk, not a peep about the prize I'd just picked up on my lunchtime journey out to Monterey Park see my master. Dumpling Master, that is.

Like all kung fu movies where the apprentice goes out in search of his or her master, the master is never located in the most visible of locations. In some cases, you'd have to journey up a mountain to a remote mountain hideaway. In my case, my master would be found tucked away in a minimall that's overshadowed by Shun Fat supermarket.

Dumpling master does serve up revenge in the form of cold dishes, as seen by the small saran- wrapped plates of cold dishes in the refrigerated case. You can get revenge in the form of thinly sliced pig ears, spicy cucumber or pickled cabbage. I chose to seek revenge the hot route...I had my eye on several things--xiao long bao and a variety of other steamed and fried dumplings, niu rou mien (beef noodle soup), stir fried rice cake, scallion pancakes--and had to decide quickly; I told the master what I had come in search of and of course she delivered. But not without a challenge, of course.

She spoke only Mandarin and limited English. I speak English and Cantonese. I wanted this dish that my mom had ordered here before that was basically a fried pork chop with pickled potherb over rice. I could not find the exact dish on the menu. I asked. She pointed to a rice dish of pork chop with gravy over rice. I asked if the included potherb. She then pointed to the pork and potherb fried rice and said we can do that but with rice and gravy. But I wanted the pork chop and I didn't remember it having gravy. She stared at me. I stared back.

After a few short minutes of waiting, the Master returned with my reward: a plastic bag carrying pork and potherb with gravy over rice (yes, I gave in), pork and napa cabbage stir fried rice cake, and an order of scallion pancake. Food which would provide strength and sustenance at both lunch and dinner. (You didn't think I was going to eat this all by myself at lunch did you?)

"Do you have any soy sauce and vinegar I can take to go?" I asked the master. Yeah, yeah, so I like to dab my scallion pancakes in a teeny bit of soy-sauce & vinegar mixture, so what?

"Soy sauce here," she replied abruptly as she handed me two soy sauce packets and a small plastic cup and lid, "you want vinegar, you make yourself." She pointed to the vinegar cruet on an empty table, and then almost magically, disappeared into thin air. The Master works in mysterious ways.

A good apprentice always make sure she keeps the to-go containers of any fried or crispy stuff open on the way to her destination so as to avoid any sogginess from steam droplets that collect inside. I drove back to work with my purse, a box of pork/potherb rice and stir fried rice cakes tied up in a plastic bag, and an open Chinese takeout box of scallion pancake all in my passenger seat.

Back at work, I tore into the scallion pancakes first, which had held up quite well during their 15 minute car ride. They were crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside without being too doughy. I mixed the a little soy sauce into the tiny cup of vinegar the Master had made me prepare myself and dabbed the pancake into it; the taste of scallion-tinged hot oil made a teeny bit tart by my soy sauce/vinegar mixture was delicious. This is why I stay true to the master.

Yes, Scallion Pancake Master

Though I went in search of enlightenment through fried porkchop with potherb, I was glad I took the Master's advice on the pork and potherb with gravy over rice. I was afraid that with the gravy it would have been too saucy, but to my surprise, it wasn't. A mixture of stir fried pork strips with pickled potherb mustard greens lay on top of a bed of hot steamy white rice, the tang and slight crunch of the potherb were the yin to the yang of the mild but soothing pork and white rice.

Yes, Pork And Potherb With Gravy Over Rice Master

The Master isn't necessarily masterful at everything, however. I thought the stir fried rice cakes with pork and napa cabbage were a bit bland and could have used a bit more flavor. Texturally, however, this dish was a winner--its oval rice cakes were cooked to the perfect chewiness and offset the napa cabbage's crispness nicely.

Uh Maybe, Pork And Napa Cabbage Stir Fried Rice Cake Master

As all master-apprentice visits should be, I felt stronger, wiser, and enlightened after this trip, ready to take on anything or anyone that got in my way.

Dumpling Master
423 N. Atlantic Blvd. #106
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 458-8689

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

More Fun Than A Barrel Of (Exiled) Monkeys: Damon's, Glendale

Speaking of paradise, I think I need a drink.

The other day, I escaped the office for less than an hour, my destination some pseudo-paradise otherwise known as
Shakas in Monterey Park. And yeah, it was nothing to write home about, but it nevertheless managed to satisfy some serious cravings for both Spam and seeing the sun. It's certainly no Hawaii, though.

Hey, but if it's a fake Polynesian paradise you're longing for, why not go for the real deal? And no, by real deal I don't mean a REAL Polynesian island; I mean real-deal fake Polynesia. For that, my friends, you go to Damon's Steakhouse in Glendale where you can dine on steak and mai tais under cheesy thatched roofs and fake palm trees.

Like so many other places without windows that I know so well--the office, the
Cuban place I went to in Little Tokyo just a little bit ago--Damon's also has no windows. But because Damon's might as well be some dark, secret-handshake Tiki lair, the whole no windows thing actually works. Walk through either the single front or back door and you're suddenly transported to one of those old school theme restaurants in the likes of Trader Vic's or San Francisco's Tonga Room; one of those places that Jet Setters or wanna-be Jet Setters could feel like they were actually jet setting. It's also a little reminiscent of Vegas with its colorful, old carpeting and eccentric but friendly waitstaff whose median age is somewhere around 65. Come to think of it, much of the clientele here is of retirement age.

There's so much Polynesian kitsch here that you have no choice but to get into it. One does not simply sit in a booth at Damon's; one sits in a bamboo hut. One does not simply go to the ladies or mens room here; one goes to WC's whose doors are marked appropriately with either a hula girl or hula guy and the words "wahine" or "kane" on them. I have not been to Damon's in probably, oh, three years or so, and was saddened on this recent visit to find out that the so-tacky-they-were-cool stuffed monkeys they had hanging from the ceiling had since been removed, deemed "too old and dirty" by the restaurant's new owners. "Eww, that's no fun," I whined to our server after she had told us of the monkeys' fate. "Yeah, well that's what we thought too when they took them away, but fortunately, they've pretty much kept everything else the same," she replied. Hmm, we'll see about that.

"Those assholes kicked us out!"

You can't go to a place like Damon's and not have one of their tropical drinks like a mai tai or a chi chi. And in this case, our server was right about things staying the same despite change in ownership, because my mai tai was as strong as I remember it. OK, so perhaps I'm a bit more of a lightweight now, which explains why I was extremely happy even after one of these yummy, pineappley and citrusy rum concoctions.

Oh my! What a good mai-tai!

And which is probably why I didn't mind that the petit fillet I ordered was just OK. I seem to remember the same menu item being of a better quality beef the last few times I've been to Damon's. Either that, or the hunk of beef that was sitting on my plate was cooked medium instead of the medium-rare that I'd asked for. I think it may have been a combination of both that caused my fillet to be a teeny bit dry and overdone in some spots. Oh well, what do you expect for 19 bucks, right? Certainly not the prime, prime stuff. And it's nothing a few more sips of mai tai can't cure.

Like a sponge: mai-tai absorbing petit fillet and potato

For 19 bucks, you also get a choice of salad or soup, and a choice of twice baked potato, rice or some other choice I can't remember...veggies, I think. I always go for the salad--one of lettuce, beets, and French dressing--which is served in individual clear plastic salad bowls; it's old school, but nevertheless refreshing...a little tangy and a little sweet. For my starch choice, I usually pick the twice baked potato, an Atkins-dieter's worst enemy consisting of fluffy mashed potato stuffed back inside its earthy skin and baked. The other starch choice, the rice pilaf, is a buttery version of Uncle Bens in my opinion, but whose purpose, like the potato, is more than just to taste good, but also to soak up the excess rum that's been consumed since arrival. (And that's exactly also why no one ever picks the vegetables--no alcohol absorption factor!)

Cool salad in a cool bowl

There are other old schoolish steak and chop-type of dishes here: prime rib, other cuts of steak, chicken and fish, all served with the same types of mai tai-absorbing sides. Like the meal I had here that night, the rest of Damon's menu items not haute cuisine by any means; in fact, they're the type of meals that you'd probably see retirees eating as Early Bird Specials. To me, Damon's is all about the cheese factor, and except for the fact that those monkeys were exiled, I suppose the new owners managed to keep the Damon's experience intact. Whether you're a jet-setter or a retiree, everyone comes here to have a good time...with mai tais and chi chis and steaks and fake palm trees and all (but no monkeys)...right here in downtown Glendale.

Damon's Steakhouse
317 N. Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91203
(818) 507-1510

Monday, January 09, 2006

Rants And Craves: Random Thoughts In The Life Of Daily Gluttony

So yo, today I didn't eat anything eventful nor anything that I haven't already told you about already. Therefore, I've decided to keep it short and sweet by giving you one rant (because I can't live without complaining) and one crave from my most recent food-revolved life.


Dearest coworkers,

If you really can't make up your mind about the exclusive after-work dinner plans that you're making, then either a) shut up and respect the fact that your non-included coworker is sitting right there about to stuff her ears with pencil erasers because your loud conversation about shitty, trendy restaurants is annoying the crap out of her or b) do not use
Citysearch to help you find a good restaurant.

By the way, do not take this as a hint that I want to hang out with you, because I don't. Your idea of a good restaurant obviously sucks ass; I cannot, therefore, ever be friends with you.



This weekend, we went to Costco where the parking lot was a madhouse as always. There was a huge crowd of cars, signals blinking right or left, waiting to get into this space or that space. We drove forward, and noticed that a car was pulling out but that none of the cars waiting had signaled for that space, so we pulled into it naturally. When we got out of the car, some fat, farmer-tanned middle aged guy with a southern twang, kind of reminiscent of Hank Hill from King of The Hill, started yelling at us that he'd been waiting there and that we'd stolen his parking space. "Huh?" I said, somewhat dazed that someone was yelling at us, because yes, perhaps he was waiting back there, but he had not signalled for that space. "DON'T SAY HUH. YOU STOLE MY PARKING SPACE," yelled Hank. Instead of throwing down, we just got back in the car and gave him his space. You know why? Because we had just come from lunch at
Skaf's Lebanese Grill, served by lovable owner Sam Skaf, and were happy as clams, ready to make love, not war.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Is It Chocolate? Is It Moxie? No, It's Choxie!

I wasn't sure if I had suddenly beamed up to some hip European metropolis or not.

I was minding my own business watching
Food TV one day, and next thing you know, I'm surrounded by leggy models dressed in modern, monochromatic fashions. Mod artwork flashes before me--circles, squares, circles in squares--to the beat of Euro-synthesizer pop. I see visions of chocolates and candy, but are my eyes deceiving me? Could it be perhaps the art is truly an optical illusion, or could it be perhaps that I should have said no to that extra hit that night way back when? Every so the music is interrupted by the peppy, but feminine sound of "Cha-Cha-Cha-Choxie!" OK, I must know...who is this Choxie? Take me to your leader! He or she must be the one who magically transported me to this land of chocolate on acid. Did Austin Powers and Dr. Evil play a trick on me?

Then in a split second, it all became clear to me. Like a gang flashing their sign, my television flashed a big red bullseye which made the answer crystal clear. It wasn't some evil mad scientist. It was

Yes, my friends, Target is now in the gourmet chocolate business with their proprietary Choxie line, making it possible for one to purchase artsy-fartsy and more sophisticated chocolates and truffles along with one's dishwashing and laundry detergent.

And all of this makes Pam very, very happy because she just happens to looooove Target. 'Cause seriously, where else can you go to buy toilet paper and Q-tips and maybe pick up a cute but inexpensive top, hip wrapping paper, a sequined toss pillow and the latest DVD releases all at the same time? And with this new Choxie thing, the merchandising geniuses at Tar-zhay have found yet another way to add impulse items to my cart. I think I may be in trouble.

After having seen those oh-so-alluring TV ads for their hip new candies, I actually went in search of them on one of my routine Target shopping trips. I found them on two end-caps of the candy and snack aisle where you'd normally find bags of Snicker's minatures and Sour Patch Kids. On these end caps, though, were brightly colored packages of Chocolate Truffle Bars, Truffle Meltaways, Truffle Temptations, and the product I decided to walk away with that day, an oblong plastic box of graphicly designed Artisan Truffle Tiles. Five bucks for a box of eight pieces...eh, what the heck.

At home, I arranged them neatly on a plate, sat down at my dining table and had my very own taste test. Is this truly the chocolate with moxie? (For those of you who don't know what the word "moxie" means, don't worry; I had to look it up myself. It means "energy" or "pep" in this case) I bit into my first one, a Chili-Limon truffle tile, decorated in orange and red wavy lines. The first thing I noticed was its texture, that it wasn't quite the melt-in-your-mouth smoothness that you'd normally expect from a truffle. These were more like pretty versions of those thin Ghiradelli chocolate squares, filled in the center with a little something-something. The something-something in this particular truffle tile tasted decent, however. As its name implies, it had a subtle kick of chili and a teeny-tiny tang of lime...enough to at least make it a little un-boring.

Next up was a grid of sky and turquoise blue circles atop a chocolate square, all composing the Jasmine Tea truffle tile. A faint hint of fragrant jasmine flower was present, but not enough to blow me away. Number three was a orange dotted Orange Mango tile, in which I tasted a little mango upon first bite and then more orange as I devoured it further. It, too, was OK, nothing to write home about.

White chocolate starred in tile number four, a Key Lime truffle tile dressed up in an ivory and lime green bubble pattern. I liked this one, not only because it was cute, but also because I liked the combination of the white chocolate with the tart lime flavor.

If I hadn't been told by the box that the next tile, the one that just said "Choxie," was a Lemon Rose flavored tile, I'd have never known that it was. No hints of lemon or rose anywhere to be found. Just a square of chocolate in my book. I did, however, quite enjoy the bumble-bee colors of the Apple Pie tile as well as its delicate flavors of apples and cinnamon.

Number seven, a Cafe Latte tile, looked like the Jasmine Tea tile, only in ivory and brown. White chocolate and a "latte" filling were supposed to give this one its character, only it didn't particularly taste like a latte to me. Coffee grounds maybe. Latte, no. In fact, the last truffle tile--Cinnamon Praline--painted in girly pink--was much better tasted more like a fancy coffee drink than did its predecessor. This one had a nice creamy, cinnamony and nutty flavor, like one of those holiday lattes you'd order at your favorite coffee chain.

For a massive superstore, perhaps these Choxie's do have some moxie; at least Target tried to create something that would appeal to their more finicky, trendier customer. The range of flavors is certainly eye-catching, as is their hip artwork and packaging. But for truffles and chocolates in general, eh, I'm not all that impressed. I'd rather save my five bucks for a piece of better quality truffle, or maybe bottle of shampoo or a cute picture frame.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Hawaii's Just On The Other Side Of The Tracks: Shakas, Monterey Park

Man, I really need some color on me. Because of this new job--in Commerce, CA, of all places--I do not get out very much. Not because I don't have the time or because I'm not allowed to, but just because of the fact that my office is in the middle of industrial-ville and that, compared to my last job, there's not as many good eats within a five mile radius. Give it a few more weeks of being enclosed in an office for eight or nine hours a day and I guarantee you that I'll be pasty as hell.

Anyways, a couple days ago, I decided to venture out of the office for lunch for the first time since I've been here. According to my Thomas Guide, if I keep driving east on Garfield for a few miles, I will end up in Monterey Park. And I know there's good food there.

For my first eat-outside-the-office-adventure, I chose Shakas, a Hawaiian joint in Monterey Park near the 60 freeway. I can't tell you how many train tracks I crossed to get here; fortunately, no actual trains crossed my path, otherwise what normally would have been a 10 minute drive would have turned into 30, and I really don't need that much color on me.

I've actually been to Shakas several times; it's become a regular snack stop for us to go and pick up some Spam musubis to snack on while fobbing it up in Monterey Park. It's fast and convenient--just pull into one of the mini mall's parking spaces, walk through the door past the Spam shadowbox, place your order at the tiki hut looking counter and go sit down. One of Shakas' people will bring you your food, whether you're taking it to go or not, in a to-go container.

Now this is artwork

Oh, what I'd give to be in Hawaii...

You can go Hawaiian plate-lunch traditional and order yourself a loco moco, the gravy topped hamburger steak and eggs with rice that San Diego food blogger
Kirk loves so much. Not feeling very loco? Then perhaps some slow cooked kalua pork or taro leaf wrapped pork lau lau will make you wish you were away from the mainland. There is the honey and soy glazed sesame chicken, Shaka's sweeter, Hawaiianized version of Korean kalbi, and deep fried chicken katsu...with or without curry. And if that doesn't work, just go with the always reliable fallback: Spam or Portuguese sausage and eggs.

Sesame? Sesa-you!

I like them, Pam I am

This time, I wanted to try something new, and I went for the House Special Mochiko Chicken, described as "an island favorite that has been served for many generations. Always found at your Auntie's Sunday picnic. Marinated in sweet Hawaiian batter then deep fried to lock in the flavor." OK, I didn't know what they were talking about, 'cause well, first of all, my aunties never had Sunday picnics. And second of all, if they did, they'd serve wintermelon soup or something like that. Anyways, this Mochiko Chicken sounded good.

Not more than five minutes of waiting and my styrofoam to-go container was ready. Back in the car, back across the tracks and back to my anti-paradise.

Granted, I've never had Mochiko Chicken before so I have nothing to compare this one to, but I think it would have been better had I eaten it fresh at Shakas. (No, I was not too chicken to
eat there alone...I had to get back to do some work) I think the ten to fifteen minutes it spent cooped-up in a covered styrofoam box collecting steam may have made it lose its crispness. But it was not a waste. So I didn't get to savor the delicate crunch of rice-flour batter, but at least the chicken tasted good. The chunks of boneless dark meat chicken were tender and had nice touches of sugar, soy, and ginger. As with all Hawaiian plate lunches, my meat sat over (what was supposed to be) two scoops of rice and came with a creamy mac(aroni) salad on the side. Shakas' mac salad has always been a bit on the bland side, in my opinion, but give it a few shakes of salt and you'd never know. I do love the funky tartness of the pickled cabbage that comes with all of Shakas plates. The meal also came with a small cup of what looked like a sweet teriyaki glaze, which I ended up not using for fear that the whole thing would get too goopy.

Nothing my aunties have ever cooked

Of course no trip to Shakas is complete without one or more of their Spam musubis, little bundles of nori-wrapped Spam and rice. Forget the sandwich--these are the ultimate take-with-you-when-you're-on-the-go food. They're comforting, and somehow, always manage to put a smile on my face. Shakas wraps theirs in cute red and white checkered paper, with the musubi in the middle and the paper gathered on both ends like a piece of candy. A treat indeed.

Work ain't no picnic, but this is.

Shakas is not brain surgery. It's not grand gourmet, it's just simple Hawaiian comfort food...a cheap and easy way go out to get some sun and deal with the bullshit of making a living in Commerce, CA. Man, I should have stayed and ordered a shave ice.

2300 Garfield Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(323) 888-2695

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Making Friends Or Making Enemies?

Either I'm starting to be more comfortable with things over here at the new office or I really hate everyone. Because today, for the first time since I started, I brought a container of nice, pungent kimchee to go with my lunch.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

One Well-Endowed Dinner: Ham Hung, Koreatown

It was New Year's Day night, and as most normal people would be at home enjoying the day with their families or in bed recouping from the previous night's festivities, we were out looking for food. Hours spent at home either due to personal choice or to nasty weather were starting to give us a little cabin fever, so rather than cooking dinner, we decided to venture outside in search of some good eats.

What better comfort food than some hearty, warm & spicy Korean food, we thought. Oooh, and duk bo sam, or rice paper wrappers, wrapped around some barbequed meat would hit the spot just right. One place came to mind, a place called Shik Do Rak that's well known for their duk bo sam, but as I'm a girl who never likes to go unprepared, I gave them a call just in case there was the slightest possibility that they were closed. On New Year's Day??? Yeah right.

Wrong. They were closed. The wheels started to turn faster now. OK, if not Shik Do Rak and duk bo sam, then where else? Allright, how about
Kobawoo for their daeji bosam and hae mul pa jeon? I picked up the phone, dialed and the other side kept ringing and ringing with no answer. As with Shik Do Rak, desperation set in: hmm, the phone rang twenty times, maybe if I call again, somebody will pick up. Did I tell you that I can be too much of a dreamer-in-denial at times?

I remember a time when I was one of those people that actually had to work on holidays. Back in college, I took up retail management to earn my clothes and party money, and was one of those suckers that had to fake a smile to all those lucky non-service industry people who had the day off. I hated those people. With a passion. "You have the day off, what the hell are you doing shopping??? Why do I have to work to cater to your ass? Go home already, fuckers," I'd mumble under my breath.

Karma's a bitch isn't it? Because years later, I am one of those fuckers, and I too, am expecting someone to be there to cater to me because I happen to have the day off and feel like going out to eat. And ya know what? Two of those places said fuck you, no way. Hey, good for them.

Still, we had to find a place to eat, and instead of driving around in the rain, I decided to call a friend who's a little more savvy on the Korean restaurant tip than I am. "How about Ham Hung?" she suggested, saying the name in a Korean accent. "Huh?" I asked. "Ham Hung. H-A-M as in the meat. And H-U-N-G as in hung." Now you know
how immature I can be. Beavis and Butthead, a.k.a. Pam and Isaac, were soon out the door to Hung Ham, or Ham Hung, or heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh, that hung meat place.

We picked up a friend, and found the place located on Ardmore off of 8th street in Koreatown. We parked the car in their lot, which was across the street, not directly across the street but a few-doors-down-across-the-street, facing some sketchy apartment building. Even sketchier looking guys were hanging out on the stairwells and balconies of the said apartment building, making me a little paranoid about leaving the car there. But the guy at the restaurant assured us he kept watch outside, putting me at a little more ease to enjoy our meal.

The restaurant was practically empty, and I wondered if the folks that worked here, like the retail store employee Pam of yesteryear, were also cussing us out under their breaths for having to work and cater to us on a holiday. We plopped ourselves down in one of the many empty large booths that seemed almost guarded by the large metal hoods that loomed from the ceiling. Oooh! Menus with pictures! That should help. But then again maybe not, because there was so much to choose from. Apparently, Ham Hung is well known for their naeng-myun, or cold buckwheat noodles, and there was no shortage of those to choose from. There were also a variety of stews, pancakes, bibim bap, meats to BBQ, as well as plenty of other delicious looking eats. Fortunately for us, Ham Hung has prix-fixe combo dinners, and we chose the Three Person Combo Dinner A for $52, which came with three of the $14.99 price-point meats and three naeng-myun.

Where are all the people? Where we should be...at home, relaxing.

They brought some cups out containing what I thought was tea, and we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the cups actually contained a warm, refreshing broth. A good variety of panchan arrived almost immediately. My only gripe was that the baechu (napa cabbage) kimchi was a little too much on the ripe side, but it didn't bother me too much. All of the other little dishes--ggak-dugi (radish kimchi), pickled shredded daikon, seasoned bean sprouts, seasoned sliced pickles, garlic and sesame flavored spinach, seasoned fried tofu, a lettuce and scallion salad tossed with a sweet sesame dressing, and some addictively good stewed potato chunks--were just fine.

A cup of broth, disguised as tea


More panchan!

This well help towards my five servings a day quota

The service, though a bit abrupt, was nevertheless very attentive. Perhaps it was because we looked like we didn't know what we were doing and our server felt sorry for us, but either way, our waitress was always checking up on us and for that, we loved her! She brought out our first two meats--a dak (chicken) bulgogi, which sounds more boring than it actually tasted, and strips of fat laden pork belly...yum! Firing up the grill for us, she put the chicken down first, and checked on our grill everytime she whizzed by our table--cutting the meat into smaller pieces so that it wouldn't burn, turning the meat, strategically piling up the cooked pieces on one side, adding more meat to the grill, changing the grill plate when it got too hot and crusty. She even refilled our panchan without us asking. Now that I think about it, I guess we really did look pathetic. Oh well, she was awesome.

Like I said, our dak bulgogi tasted alot more interesting than it sounds, 'cause who orders chicken at a Korean restaurant??? We do, that's who...if we're with people who are trying to cut down red meat consumption, that is. Still, the pieces of tender dark meat chicken were seasoned nicely with flavors of sesame, garlic and chili. The pork belly was probably my favorite--I loved how the pork fat crisped around the meat part making for a yummy, smoky, crispy treat. We cooked the bulgogi, marinated rib eye, last, its juices caramelizing into a goodness that was a little sweet, a little salty, garlicky and beefy all at the same time. Perfect with our panchan and steamed rice!

The boring but not so boring dak bulgogi


Last but not least...bulgogi!

As stuffed as we were, we had almost forgotten about the naeng-myun, or cold buckwheat noodles, that came with our meal until our waitress came by and asked us which ones we'd like to choose. A few minutes later and three big metal bowls came out--two with bibim naeng-myun, spicy buckwheat noodles, and one with mul naeng-myun, buckwheat noodle in cold beef broth. Both dishes were cool and refreshing, a perfect way to end a warm and toasty meal, but maybe a little too chilly on a cold and rainy night like that night. My favorite was the bibim naeng-myun, with its thin, chewy buckwheat noodles sitting atop a spicy red chili paste and sesame oil concoction, and topped with half a boiled egg, crisp cucumber and a slice of beef. I think I would have liked the mul naeng-myun, its same noodles and toppings sitting in an ice cold bath of beefy, gingery broth more had it been a hot August day.

Cool as a cucumber, but hot & spicy bibim naeng-myun

Please don't make me take a cold bath--it's wintertime!

All that great food and great service for just a little over sixty bucks after tax and tip for three people. That's one helluva well-endowed dinner if you ask me. Thanks Ham Hung!

Ham Hung
809 S. Ardmore St.
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 381-1520