Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Always Trust Your Gut

When a recipe for "Chicken and Garlic Stew," better known as Chicken With 40 Cloves of Garlic, tells you to simply add all the ingredients to your dutch oven and start simmering, you've got to know that something is deathly wrong.

But I was a dumbass and trusted the recipe in Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything instead of trusting my gut. I've produced quite a few
recipes from this no nonsense cookbook with success, so I thought "Why not?"

This "supposed braising" recipe required no browning, no deglazing, and asked for only a half cup of liquid to support a 3 lb. chicken. But since Mark seems to know what he's talkin' 'bout, I followed, mixing the cut up chicken, olive oil, parsley, cinnamon, salt, pepper, forty or so cloves of unpeeled garlic, and about 3/4 cup of liquid (oooh, I diverged!) to the pot.

When I lifted the cover, what I saw was a nasty boiled/steamed chicken dinner. I left the cover off and tried to reduce it to get a little browning going, but the chicken remained tasteless and lifeless and I am now kicking myself in the ass. I will say that the softened garlic cloves were good, and I was able to at least make a meal out of spreading them on pieces of crusty baguette.

I am not posting the recipe for obvious reasons!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Do Your Plates Come In "Shrink To Fit"?: Musha, Santa Monica

There's a reason they call small plates "small plates" and that's because they're, well, small.

Or so you'd think.

Because before we our food came to the table at Musha in Santa Monica, we thought our plates would take up as much space as "normal" izayaka restaurants. Read on...

My eyes lit up when Sarah from
The Delicious Life announced that the theme for this month's Dine & Dish would be "Amazing Graze," a.k.a. a small plates free-for-all, because I love small plates meals. No matter what I choose, whether it be Spanish tapas, Chinese dim sum or Japanese izakaya, amongst others, I'm able to try a wealth of flavors and textures--usually for the price of what I'd normally pay for a couple of normal sized plates!

I'd always heard good things about the more modern and innovative, somewhat fusiony izakaya at Musha, so we decided to give it a whirl. The restaurant, located on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, was small and packed on a Saturday night. Fortunately, we had reservations so we were seated pretty much right away at a small table for two.

As with most small plates restaurants, Musha's menu gave me a headache because of all its choices. There is alot to read in Musha's menu as they give detailed descriptions of each dish so we undoubtedly took longer than usual to make our choices. There was a specials page written in Japanese calligraphy, a cold kitchen and hot kitchen section, a "tofu world" section, a salad section, grill sections, a starch page with rice and noodles...our heads were spinning.

I've got a menu, and it's got Excedrin written all over it

Now the dish sizes at other izakaya joints, say
Haru Ulala or Furaibo, average about 5"x7" or maybe 6-8" diameter and flat for the most part. I already said that Musha distinguishes itself from the others by its "izakaya with a fusiony twist," but what also sets Musha apart from the others, at least in our book, was the fact that we couldn't cram what we thought would be small plates onto our small table. Had we known the dishes would arrive almost at the same time, we would have ordered one by one.

The first dish to arrive was our sashimi combination or albacore, maguro tuna and salmon which sat on a 9" square platter. Including the 2.5 inch soy sauce dipping plates into which we dipped the surprisingly fresh and buttery soft fish, plus the pot of tea, bottle of Kirin and glasses we had on the table, we were still safe but knew we had to be wise with our space.

Our first space hog

Up next, a 10" diameter glass bowl of sesame green bean salad containing crisp green beans tossed with a creamy sesame dressing and bacon bits and dressed up with shredded radish and pea shoots all in a giant fried wonton shell. This larger-than-expected salad was delicious, crisp and cool while being rich and luscious at the same time. Ain't no way we were going to finish that one all at once. It was so good we had to make it last. But I think we were heading into the trouble zone by doing so.

They gave us enough, but we couldn't get enough

Because not two minutes later, our waitress pushed a metal cart up next to our table and unloaded a flaming hot charcoal grill and a plate of raw beef tongue on to it.

The shichirin grill, which was approximately an 8" cube, was a cute little clay contraption inscribed with Japanese characters and topped with a grill grate. We could see the charcoal, which according to the menu is bincho charcoal, a "non-odor charcoal," glowing through small holes on the side of the grill. We used it to grill the tanshio, or thin slices of seasoned beef tongue which, when done, were squirted with lemon and swished in a sesame oil based sauce. While the taste was good, the texture was better--meaty yet having that slightly spongy quality that only tongue can have. And because we had to grill a couple of pieces at a time, we were at this point pretty much out of table space. I don't know why we didn't tell them to slow down; I think we were just speechless from the good food!

We had to start building upwards due to over population

As if they couldn't fit any more stuff on our table, a 12" oblong plate of negitoro croquettes arrived next. I think they had taken away the plate on which the sashimi sat by this time, but with a firey grill and all the other stuff that was on our table, we still felt cramped. And this time, I actually opened my mouth and said something. "OK, no more food!" I giggled to our waitress, who giggled back with a nod. I loved this dish of breaded and deep fried minced tuna, green onion, garlic, pepper, and hijiki seaweed. The tuna mixture was downright tasty and despite its ground texture, held together really well inside its perfectly crisp panko shell. Each bite was made even better by the addictive daikon mayo dipping sauce on the side. This sauce, cool and creamy while enhanced by that funky salty daikon flavor, was so good that when we finished the croquettes, I kept the sauce so that I could dip pieces of the fried shell from our green bean salad into it. And how big was that cup of sauce? Like an inch and a half diameter, I think. Obviously we were getting nowhere with this space clearing thing.

They sat on the edge and took us over the edge

Fortunately, we managed to finish off the tanshio so away went the grill and the plate on which the beef tongue came, freeing up about a foot and a half of space. We still had one dish left to go so this was a good thing. A few minutes later the cart pulled up alongside us once again, this time holding a big hollowed-out round of parmesan cheese and a small pot of Musha's signature risotto. Our waitress emptied the risotto into the block of cheese and started tossing it as if it were a salad. She then scooped the creamy rice onto a plate and left the plate and not the huge block of cheese with us. (Imagine that!) The risotto showed off Musha's fusiony side--it was Japanese in the use of Japanese brown rice and soy milk, and was Italian in cooking method as well as in the use of proscuitto bits and parmesan cheese. It's flavors worked really well together, but it was a little on the heavy side, especially as a final dish.

Oh please don't put that on the table too

*Whew* just the plate, thank goodness

Finally we were done and able to comfortably stretch our arms out on the table. Despite the lack of foresight on Musha's part to pace our dishes so as to not cramp our table, we had an excellent experience here. We will definitely return to test out some of their other specialties like the spicy tuna dip or cheese tofu or kabocha pumpkin croquette. I guess you could consider Musha's style "izakaya on light steroids" as they serve slightly pumped up flavors and portions. The only delicate thing we got that evening? The cute little bag of Japanese candy they hand their patrons as they walk out. Our damage was $75 with drinks, tax and tip--not bad considering our table was always filled to the rim.

424 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 576-6330
(additional location in Torrance)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

How Sweet It Isn't: Dolce Enoteca, West Hollywood

I thought I was being

Yeah, any minute now, Ashton and a bunch of camera guys would be running out of the kitchen of Dolce Enoteca, a trendy West Hollywood Italian co-owned by himself and LA nightlife gurus Lonnie Moore and Mike Malin, et. al., and tell me that I'd had some dirty trick played on me. 'Cause people seem to love this place. And I didn't. So what the hell? C'mon, where are the cameras?

OK, so maybe I won't get to be on
MTV after all. Instead of believing in the fact that a practical joke was being played on me, I had to come to the reality that this restaurant, a hot spot amongst the young (and even the not so young) Hollywood crowd, is popular because of the people and not really because of the food. Which I just don't get. And thus, with all those "I don't get it" question marks swimming in my head, I thought I was being Punk'd.

My girlfriend had not arrived yet, so the two skinny young hostesses directed me to the bar to wait which I totally hated. Not really so much because I minded sitting at the bar by myself, but because then I'm obligated to spend extra money that I don't want to spend. I mean, I do have some sympathy for the service industry, so I don't want to hog up some bartender's bar and not order anything. Eh, what the hell. I planted my ass on one of the leather cushioned barstools and ordered myself a vodka tonic...at least I'd be able to sit and observe the place while I waited sipping my $8 cocktail.

Fortunately, it was chilly out, else I would have burned to a crisp with the (literally) flaming bar. It was cool aesthetically, but I couldn't help but wonder how practical the fire really was. I mean, bottles of good liquor were displayed right in front of it--wouldn't the heat have negative freshness implications on their booze? I was also convinced that my bartender was made of heat resistent silicone as someone standing back there would undoubtedly melt after only 20 minutes. I sunk down further in the deceivingly-soft seat cushion and looked around the lofty, dimly-lit room which was pretty busy for 7:30 on a Tuesday. Hollywood (or wannabe Hollywood) was everywhere, from Paris Hilton-esque girls in their slinky knit dresses to the guy I saw in a table across the room wearing a suit and a fedora hat, a la Justin Timberlake or Usher. I just hoped I would fit in wearing my cubicle-chic jeans and sweater. Why not, right? It is L.A.; anything goes.

I'm melting, I'm melting....

After waiting a few minutes, my friend finally arrived and she sat with me at the bar as we waited for our hostess to escort to our table. Two minutes passed, three minutes passed, five minutes passed. Uh, did we not have a reservation and is my friend not here now meaning we can now be seated??? We were about to get up and remind Miss Hostess that we were ready to go to our table but she showed up a minute later and here's what she said:

"So are you guys all settled?"
(Pause) "So you're settled? Like, you're ready to go to your table?"
My friend and I exchanged funny looks. Yes you dumb ho, we are settled and ready to go to our table. What part of that didn't you understand??? "Uh yeah. We're ready to go to our table"
(Another pause) "OK."

As we grazed on bread and an amuse-bouche of salami and cubes of some sort of crumbly cheese, we looked over the menu which not only listed the restaurant's eats but also tried to entertain through food-related quotes written by everyone from
Antheme Brillat-Savarin to Miss Piggy. I don't know if it's the Asian upbringing, but we always like to have variety in our meals and were therefore most attracted to the "Enoteca (Small plates for your table)" section of the menu from which we ordered three dishes. We also added a salad and one entree which was plenty.

Do I look amused?

In Italy, the term "enoteca" is used mainly to describe wine shops and is sometimes used to describe restaurants or wine bars. So the word enoteca used in say, Dolce "Enoteca" sounds OK, because it is indeed used to describe a restaurant. But I've never heard the word "enoteca" being used to describe small plates before. Was I being Punk'd again? Or is "Enoteca (Small plates for your table)" really a misrepresentation? I'll forgive that, but what I won't forgive is the "enoteca"--oh excuse me, I meant the small plates--themselves. The gnocchi in our gnocchi di patate al pesto was overcooked and the pesto sauce was watery. Ditto for the sauce in our penne arrabiata, which was of a slightly better consistency than that in the gnocchi, but nevertheless watered down and lacking the smoky spice that good arrabiata sauce should have. Our tartara di tonno, or spicy tuna tartare, was too mushy and tasted like they simply took minced tuna and mixed tabasco in it. With the exception of our tuna tartare which was presented as a tiny speck on an otherwise empty plate, the portion sizes on our "enoteca" were quite large. Normally, we would have squealed with joy, but in this case, it pissed us off because it forced us to waste food.

I'd like to dump these dumplings please

Are you trying to be cute? It's not working

No wonder it's angry

Our "piatto di burrata fresca con proscuitto San Daniele e pomodori alla griglia," or burrata cheese and proscuitto San Daniele with grilled tomatoes, was probably the best dish of the evening and that's not saying much. We ate the creamy, chewy burrata cheese, thin savory slices of proscuitto and basil dressed tomato slices with our table bread and were satisfied. But hey, did they even have to cook anything on this dish??? Says alot, doesn't it? OK, maybe they grilled the damn tomatoes. Big deal.

Less effort=better food

I don't remember the Italian name of the risotto with scallops and asparagus in a lobster reduction special that we ordered, but I do remember that it was way too salty. Well grilled scallops and good texture on the rice redeemed a dish that otherwise made us chug all of our water in seconds flat.

Would you like some risotto and scallops with your salt?

Though my friend and I were already past disappointment by the time our last dish came around, we were curious about the restaurant's dessert selection so we chose a "soffiato all'amaretto e cioccolato accompagnato con pesca al vino moscato." or amaretto souffle served with poached peach in moscato wine and hazelnut ice cream *catches breath.* The cupcake-sized souffle, drizzled with chocolate gananche and dusted with powdered sugar had a nice, subtle amaretto taste and wasn't as light and airy as I'd wanted it to be. The small scoop of hazelnut ice cream was good, though the poached peach halve seemed more canned to me than anything.

Amaretti souffl-"eh"

We were soooo done with this place and wanted to get the hell out of there, but Mr. Waiter was nowhere to be found. After a few minutes of head turning to spot him, we finally got our bill to pay for the subpar meal and service. Fortunately, my friend had a half off coupon so the damage came to only about sixty-some dollars after tax and tip, else our meal would have run into the triple digits which, for a good meal is fine by me, but for this, we would have been quite PO'ed. (And no, we had only presented our "coupon" after the meal, so it's not like they Punk'd us for being frugal!) To top it all off, we noticed a strange smell as we waited for our check and change. "Do you smell cigarette smoke???" I asked my friend. We looked around and lo and behold were two tables of it-girl looking girls that had lit up and were puffing away in a room that was obviously not alfresco. Restaurant employees were walking by yet no one said anything. Some of my friends smoke. I used to smoke. So it's not like I'm being a huge prude or anything because guess what? No smoking, bitches! But they were smoking. Amazing.

It was almost 10:30 by the time we left and it seemed the party was just getting started at Dolce. I kept waiting for the hidden cameras to come out, but they never did. I almost wish I had been Punk'd because then, at least things would have made more sense.

Dolce Enoteca
8284 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 852-7174

Friday, February 24, 2006

Don't Have A Cow, Dude: Harris Ranch, Coalinga, CA

Everyone who's ever made the trek up Highway 5 from L.A. to Northern California has smelled the smell. You're about 200 miles away from home, sitting behind the steering wheel or comfortably in the passenger seat minding your own business, perhaps singing along to your favorite 80's hair band CD when suddenly your car fills up with the foulest stench ever imaginable to man. You hurriedly reach over to the A/C controls making sure the recycled air setting is on. And to your right, the source of the odor that suddenly hit you and your passengers like a ton of bricks: a literal sea of cattle basking in the hot sun awaiting their demise.

We don't like the smell, no. But we are curious about the restaurant located just up the road, yes. Being that close to a slaughterhouse, the meat must at least be fresh right?

Last weekend, we just happened to be at that 200-miles-past-L.A. mark when we saw the Hanford/Lemoore turnoff, and guess what? It was almost lunchtime, so we turned off...straight to Harris Ranch, home of the steakhouse-just-down-the-road from Fresno County's infamous slaughterhouse. Fortunately for us, the usual stench did not knock us out when we opened the car door; it was a cold morning, so the cow fumes had not baked enough to permeate the air.

We walked into the Spanish hacienda-looking inn and were quite impressed with the well kept grounds. Tons of sunlight spilled through its many windows and bounced off its wood beamed ceiling and ceramic tile floor. People young and old were everywhere, whether shopping for beef souvenirs at the gift shop or waiting for a table. There are actually a few eateries at the inn, some more casual than others, and because we were in our most casual long distance driving duds, the family friendly Ranch Kitchen seemed like the best option for us.

After waiting about 10 minutes, we were led into the large farm themed dining room filled with travelers and families and seated at a booth along a wall dressed with frilly country floral curtains. The usual family restaurant fixings are present--soups, salads, sandwiches, grilled and griddled entrees--so there's nothing much that distinguishes Harris Ranch's menu from say, Marie Callendar's or Cocos' menus except for, well, beef. And that's exactly what we were there for.

What we really would have loved is a steak but it wasn't even noon yet, and we were afraid that that much meat wouldn't be too bowel friendly, especially since we still had a long drive ahead of us if you know what I mean. So no "Harris Ranch Restaurant Reserve Beef" for us...no filet mignon, no New York striploin, no prime rib. A burger, though, would be a much better choice. Not quite as heavy and still some beef.

As opposed to their California Burger which had both bacon and avocado and their Gorgonzola Burger with (duh) gorgonzola and caramelized onions, both Isaac and I ordered the Ranch Burger which was just your basic no-nonsense cheeseburger--cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onion and special sauce. Sounds easy enough right? Well you'd think. The "1/3 lb. USDA Choice natural Black Angus Beef" was of good quality and had that nice charred beef taste, but the rest of the burger was crap. The buns were cold and un-toasted, they forgot to put cheese in both burgers, and mine was missing the onions. The steak fries were OK but nothing special--just wedge fries seasoned like curly fries. We complained to our waitress, who was really apologetic and offered to have them remade, but we didn't have time so we just ate it. Literally.

You're not giving beef a good name, you know.

I'll have to admit that despite the poor lunch experience, I'm still a wee bit tempted to come back just to have a real steak and give Harris Ranch another chance to redeem themselves. If I do then surely you'll read about it in the future. If not, no big deal. After all, what good is good beef if the food around it sucks? We had a cow, and it wasn't worth it.

The Ranch Kitchen at Harris Ranch
24505 West Dorris Ave.
Coalinga, CA 93210
(800) 942-2333

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Why I Should (Or Shouldn't) Be Asked For "Things To See And Do In L.A.": Singapore's Banana Leaf, Los Angeles

I had to go to
the Grove last week. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to purchase a book that I had on hold at Barnes and Noble, else I would have stayed at home. I actually detest this shopping center--the Disneyland of shopping malls I call it--because quite frankly, it sucks. It sucks for me as an efficient shopper because it has stores that are visually appealing but that stock horrible assortments of merchandise. It also sucks because it's crowded and the parking's atrocious. I would never voluntarily choose to go here. Not now. Not ever.

But that's just me. If I were from elsewhere, I dunno, say visiting from Shanghai, China or Kansas City, Missouri or something, then maybe I'd think The Grove was the best thing since sliced bread. Those people want the double decker trolley and the night-time water fountain shows. They enjoy the live cover bands on the weekends. They want the tourist trap chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory and Wood Ranch BBQ. They like the fact that the Banana Republic and Gap here look so much nicer than the usual Banana Republic and Gap in their shopping mall back home. People who shop here are usually tanned, made up, dressed to the tee. "This must be where the rich people shop," they say, "This is L.A."

I guess if you you're a person like me--a person who hates places like the Grove--then you may as well make the best of it. Being a tourist in your own city is fun at times, if not for the novelty and the excitement, then at least for sheer observational purposes. Last night, Isaac and I had a blast staring at all the people that were staring in awe at the things the we don't think are awesome. (Did that make any sense?) Like why is the flashy couple with the two three year old twins dressed in toddler-sized True Religion jeans and holding the dog who had its butt and legs shaved to look like it was wearing furry thigh high boots cool??? Shoot, maybe this is L.A.

We also made the best of our weeknight out at the attention-whore capital by not having dinner alfresco at one of the attention-whore restaurants ("Look Honey! That must be fun--having dinner right along the pathway where everyone enters and exits the parking garage! I want to do that next time we're in LA!") and instead walking right past all the retail flagship stores to the
Farmer's Market which is somewhat of a tourist destination I'll agree, but in a much more un-Grove way.

I've always liked the Farmer's Market; I know that the food here can be hit or miss depending on the stand, but still, walking around from stall to stall deciding if I should eat Brazilian or Mexican or Korean or Cajun and then deciding if I should get a pastry or perhaps a bag of candy to take home makes me a happy camper.

Last night, I decided to go off the beaten path a little and order my dinner from Singapore's Banana Leaf, the Singaporean/Malaysian/Indonesian stand located only several yards from yet still tucked away from all the hustle and bustle of the more popular Loteria Grill, Pampas Grill, and
Gumbo Pot.

I was in one of those "I'm hungry and indecisive" type of moods where I wanted everything on the menu, so fortunately service was patient and friendly--the long coiffed guy working the counter waited and answered all my questions as I wavered back and forth over their menu selections. I wished to God that Isaac hadn't had a Cajun craving and walked over to the Gumbo Pot. I wish he had stayed so that I could order more stuff. But no, it would be Banana Leaf for just one tonight, so would I go for the Rojak Salad of cucumber, jicama, pineapple, bean sprouts, apple, tofu and spinach tossed with a spicy tamarind dressing that Pat of Eating L.A. loved so much? Or perhaps a Gado Gado salad of vegetables, egg and tofu topped with peanut sauce? They sounded delicious, but unfortunately, the weather was a bit chilly even for L.A., so I needed somthing somewhat toastier. So then would I perhaps order some spicy Rendang, an Indonesian style curry made with chicken or beef, coconut, chili, lemongrass, galangal and ginger, amongst other things?

Actually, as good as everything sounded, I was craving something a little more dry grilled that evening so I went with the ever-so-simple choice of beef satay. For a Farmer's Market food stand--a non-full service eating establishment--my beef satay plate was artfully arranged, skewers pointing outward, atop a banana leaf. The beef quality was decent but not excellent, perhaps a little too much fat in a couple places, but the overall flavor was pretty good--browned in all the right places with hints of coconut, ginger and chili. The dish came with a side of peanut dipping sauce which was I enjoyed because it wasn't one of those overly pasty peanut buttery sauces. It was a little thinner, with a little touch of spiciness and oiliness, and (yes!) real bits of peanuts. Fragrant jasmine rice and slices of cool cucumber helped to round the dish out.

I was still cursing Isaac for having gone elsewhere to fetch his dinner, but I was still able to wrangle up a small side dish to go with my satay. Banana Leaf's Roti Paratha reminded me a little of the Chinese
scallion pancakes that I love so much only without the scallions. The crispy outer layer of our two grilled round flatbreads revealed a layer of thin but fluffy bread in the center, great for sopping up the side of fragrant curry sauce that came with.

If the dishes I described don't float your boat, there are certainly a few other options on Banana Leaf's menu that may. They serve Otak-Otak, minced sole grilled in banana leaf, as an appetizer. Mee Goreng, Indonesian pan fried noodles, and Nasi Goreng, an Indonesian fried rice, seem to be hearty choices. Curry Laksa, rice noodles served in a coconut curry broth with tofu and beansprouts could have been a total possibility on a chilly February evening. Judging from the two dishes I tried tonight, which weren't knock-my-socks-off-good, but that were pretty decent, I'd come back to try more.

So which is a better representation of LA...The Grove or The Farmer's Market food stalls? That's up to you. But ask me to be tourist in my own city for one night and I would totally choose this over the Banana-Republic-On-Steroids and the double decker trolley any day.

Singapore's Banana Leaf at The Farmer's Market
6333 W. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 933-4627

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What We Do For Love (We Braise!)

Isaac and I are pretty much anti-Valentines Day. We don't understand why couples go and waste their hard earned money on cutesy white teddy bears with red ribbons around their necks, heart shaped boxes of chocolates that you can buy any other time of year, and marked up dinners at crowded restaurants with hasty service--all for a silly holiday that Hallmark invented. Concerning Valentines Day, we have a few rules for each other: Do not buy me any flowers, especially red roses. Do not buy me any boxer shorts with hearts on them. Do not buy me candy, stuffed animals, greeting cards or anything related to Valentine's Day. Do not take me out to dinner on Valentine's Day. Maybe the day before or the day after, but never on.

Which doesn't mean that we don't like to do nice things for each other though. We just don't want to be caught up in the whole sickeningly cutesy commercialism of the whole thing. I don't want to be the girl at the crowded restaurant wearing the pink flirty, feminine outfit (because it's Valentines Day, you know, you have to wear something romantic looking) clutching a red rose and a teddy bear, and he doesn't want to be the fool dressed up in a shirt and tie getting his wallet cleaned out by an expensive prix fixe menu. So we do other things instead. This year, I decided to perform a labor of love that in my opinion, outdoes all the bouquets, cheesy balloons and chocolate hearts. For "Valentines Day" this year, I made osso buco for my man. (It's in quotes because I didn't really make it on Valentine's Day; I made it two days prior.)

The great thing is that he thinks that this was a complete labor of love, but in truth, the dish that earned me brownie points for, like, forever was the easiest thing to make. With a little inspiration from
Eat, Drink & Be Merry's Osso Buco post and a brand new 7.25 Le Creuset Dutch Oven (which I happened to get for a steal at $125), I was totally set.

My "other" baby

Actually, the hardest part of making this dish wasn't even in the actual preparation but rather in finding a place that sold good veal shanks at a good price. I knew that places like Whole Foods and Gelsons sold them, but then again, I also knew that with their prices, I'd be better off going to a restaurant. Since I was already in Burbank, I swung by Magnolia Blvd where there are two markets--Handy Market and
Monte Carlo Market--that may have the goods for a better price. The first one, Handy Market, was out of veal shanks, so I kept my fingers crossed as I drove down the street to place number 2. I had to wait a little as there was a bit of a crowd at Monte Carlo's meat and deli counter that afternoon, but the wait turned out to be well worth it--I got 4 shanks for 20 bucks and change, and I was on my way home to cook my "Anti-Valentines Day" dinner.

Allright, here's the lowdown on what I did, pretty much adapted from
Little Miss Big Head's recipe:

4 veal shanks, patted dry
flour for dredging
1/2 cup butter or olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 rosemary sprig (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1 bay leaf
1 thyme sprig (or 1/2 tsp dried)
3 cups chicken or veal stock

-Tie kitchen twine securely around veal shanks to secure meat to the bone. Dredge lightly in flour, dusting off excess.

-Heat butter or oil in dutch oven over medium high heat and add veal shanks, browning on each side. Remove shanks from pan and set aside.

-Add vegetables to pan and cook over medium heat for a few minutes until tranluscent. Stir in tomato paste. Add wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up browned bits. Cook until liquid is reduced by about half.

-Add shanks back to the pan and add 2 cups of the stock along with the herbs. (Make a bouquet garni with cheesecloth and twine if desired; I had no cheesecloth so I just threw everything into the pot) Return to a boil and reduce heat to low.

-Cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, turning meat and adding remainder of broth occasionally until meat is tender.

I got the good dishes out for this one--I served the osso buco over a bed of linguine in our wide rimmed Pottery Barn pasta dishes. Braising has become one of my favorite cooking methods: high quality results for low maintenance work, a plus in any lazy gourmand's book. The meat was like butta', so tender that it literally fell off the bone. The braising process also melted all that lovely connective tissue up, giving us some gelatinous goodness with every bite as well as some luscious bone marrow to enjoy at the end. Our sauce, made hearty by our mire poix (carrot, onion and celery combo) reduction, was perfect over the al dente linguine. On the side, a bowl of brussels sprouts sauteed with olive oil and garlic to add some greenery.

Look, they're like little green hearts!

A labor of love? Well, yes and no. Yes because he's the love of my life, but no because making this delicious dish was a cinch!

And to all of you...Happy Valentine's Day. Sorta.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Waste Not, Want Not

I can't believe I did this, but today, I actually wasted food. Well, I wouldn't have if the whole thing didn't taste like ass.

Craving some bibim naeng-myun, or Korean spicy cold buckwheat noodle, I bought a bag of refrigerated instant bibim naeng-myun from the Korean market for about 3 bucks. Forget the fact that I could have just bought myself a bowl from the noodle stand inside the market for about 5 bucks. No, my cheapskate self had to try and make it the instant way and save two dollars.

The bag, whose brand I do not know beacuse it was in Korean, contained 2 packets of buckwheat noodles and sauce that I tried to prepare according to the package's instructions, which coincidentally, were also in Korean. But there were pictures at least. OK, a pot of boiling water--check. Dunk noodles in boiling water for...OK, I can't read Korean but I recognize the numbers 2 and 3. Dunk noodles in boiling water for 2-3 minutes--check. No wait--uncheck. I think I had my noodles in the water for about a minute and a half and when I took them out, all I got was mush. Throw noodle packet number 1, now a goopy, mushy mess down the garbage disposal--check.

Lucky for me, the package came with two servings of noodles so I decided to give it another shot. OK, a pot of boiling water--check. Dunk noodles in boiling water for less than a minute this time--check. The next step I did on my own...rinse noodles in really cold water for a few seconds to chill--check. Now back to the pictures...add sauce packet--check. I added a few sliced cucumbers, but unfortunately no sliced beef or boiled egg because I had none in the fridge. But still, the noodles and sauce were horrible. The gochujang (red pepper paste) based sauce was frighteningly bitter, no nice saltiness or sweetness to round it out. The texture of the noodles was flat, not having that taut, chewy pull that good Korean buckwheat noodles have. I ate the cucumber slices and everything else went into the garbage disposal. Bleh.

I'm wondering if there was something in the Korean instructions that I missed, or if the noodles really, truly did taste like ass. Anyone out there read Korean? If so, please enlighten me...did I skip a step? If not, I guess I'll just stick to
eating my bibim naeng-myun at restaurants. And for now, I can't believe my 3 bucks went down the drain...literally.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Baby Got Back: Heavy Noodling, Monterey Park

Noodles, like people, have their own diverse community of different makeups and textures. The pasta or noodle aisle at any market is a huge melting pot, really: there are egg ones, rice ones, wheat ones, short ones, long ones, hollow ones, twisty ones, skinny ones, fat ones. Fat ones. Did I say fat ones? Because you see, just like some people have a "thing" for certain kinds of people in our own huge melting pot, I've got a "thing" for fat noodles. Fettuccine, pappardelle, wide rice noodles...the more meat on 'em, the better. In fact, how did the old saying go regarding this whole fat fetish thing?

To the beanpole dames in the magazines, you ain't it Miss Thang.

You know the song. And that's exactly why I took me and my fat fetish over to Monterey Park for lunch today to get some Heavy Noodling.

On a stretch of Garvey Avenue lined with Chinese video stores, restaurants and herbalists is this modest space of a restaurant that will mostlikely remind you of your grandma's living room. Though the plush-carpeted dining room was about two-thirds full when I walked in, there was a surprising sense of tranquility on the air...I think everyone was just busy burying their heads in and slurping away at their bowls of noodles.

Like myself, the people that come to Heavy Noodling also have a fat fetish because there is pretty much one thing that they seek, and that is their knife cut noodle. I wouldn't say that these noodles, which originated from the Northern Chinese province of
Shanxi, have "little in the middle but pack much back"; instead, I'd say that they pack much back in the middle. In non-mixalot terms, because of the way they're cut by shaving off ribbons from a ball of dough, these wide noodles are kind of lumpy in the middle and tapered on the edges creating an interesting, uneven texture.


Heavy Noodling allows you to indulge in your fat fetish in two ways, basically--stir fried or in soup. Get it stir fried and you can choose ingredients like lamb, seafood or moo shu to have your knife cut noodles cooked with. Or, do like I did and indulge your fat fetish in soup. Without even tasting my beef stew and tendon noodles, I knew I was in for a hearty treat. As my chopsticks carefully picked up the first knife cut noodle, I was anxious to sink my teeth into the charmingly clumsy-looking ribbon. Its texture was perfect--its tapered edges gave it kind of a wavy feeling on my tongue and the plump center was cooked to the perfect al dente firmness. The beef broth was slightly anise scented and contained pieces of tender stewed beef and wonderfully gelatinous tendon. Spinach and bits of pickled cabbage lent even more interest to this already interesting dish.

The restaurant also serves a few soups and sauteed dishes as well as small plates and cold dishes. The saran wrapped cold dishes like spiced boiled peanuts, sliced pig ear and spicy pickled cucumber are kept in a glass case atop the counter. I ordered the crispy flour cake--one of the items off of the "home made dim sums" part of the menu to try, and was pleased by this plump version of the more mainstream
scallion pancake. Its crispy outer layer gave way to a chewy interior flecked with scallions, its flavor a nice balance of scallion, oil and salt. Again, fat is good. Heavy noodling also serves a small plate called mu shu sautee cat ear which isn't what you think it is, and which freaked my coworker out until I told her that "cat ear" was really a round, indented noodle that only resembled feline hearing organs.

Only if she's 5'3...

And in light of my recent determination to find more good eats around the new office, I gotta say this LA face with the Oakland booty saved the day. This baby packs much back.

Heavy Noodling
153 E. Garvey Ave.
Monterey Park, CA
(626) 307-9533

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pittsburg 21, Seattle 10--The Kimchi Bokum-Bap Wins

Some people have hot wings, pizza and beer for their Super Bowl Sunday. Me? I go to California Market in K-town and order a to go box full of kimchi-bokumbap (kimchi fried rice) for the big game. With my purchases in my shopping cart ready to leave the market, I stopped at the little food stall located right across from the checkstands. The stand was pretty busy with other diners lunching on udon, california rolls, jap chae, and whatever else was on the stand's short menu. "One kimchi bokum-bap," I called out to the lady behind the counter, who immediately asked me something in Korean. She seemed a little annoyed that I didn't understand "For here or to go" in Korean, but called out to the Latina lady in the back ("Kimchi rice!") to cook my order up immediately. Five minutes and six dollars later, I had a hot steamy bag of goodies ready to take home with me.

I'm normally not a sports fan--I'm more of what you call an in-the-moment sports fan. I don't follow any teams regularly, but I can get really into one if I'm in the stands watching, if it's a big event, or if I have any kind of money on it like I do every Super Bowl--I won 500 bucks last year, suckas!

It wasn't the best kimchi bokum-bap I've ever had, but it was still pretty good. I looooved the one at this place called KoRaeSom on 4th and Vermont that has closed down since my college days; it was probably the only decent thing on their menu and they made it with Spam. I make a pretty decent one too, but being short on time before kickoff, California Market's would have to do. It tasted good--pungent and salty with kimchi and bits of beef and topped with two fried eggs. I only wish there were a little bit more kimchi and not as much green onion. My meal also came with a tasty soup made of some obviously MSG-laden seafood broth, scallions, seaweed and fried tofu, and a cup full of bright yellow taekwon pickles--funky and delicious. By the end of the game, Isaac and I had managed to grazed through everything along with some other snacks too.

Today's game and commercials were hella boring, and my square didn't even come close to any payout (unless you count the fact that my numbers were Seattle 1, Pittsburg 0...do reversals count?), so needless to say, my kimchi bokum-bap was the most exciting part of my Super Bowl Sunday.
Once again, California Market saves the day.

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

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Too Hip To Be Square: 101 Coffee Shop, Hollywood

As I was growing up, there were certain things that I swore would never come back in style. Tapered jeans was one of them, and now, to my surprise, they're back again, being worn with tunic tops, low slung belts and pumps by tall skinny types to being worn with studded belts, beat up Chucks, and rock and roll tees by today's mall rat teenagers. Nor did I ever think that the whole "my parents' house in the 70's" look would come back. You know the type: cheesy wood paneled walls donning faded photos of your dad with mutton-chop sideburns and your mom wearing coke-bottle glasses. The scratchy orange and brown plaid "tweed" sofa that sat in front of an all-in-one wood TV and stereo console. Things that were hip became square but are now hip again.

I wish I could have brought my parents to the 101 Coffee Shop with me just to get a reaction out of them--"Ai-yaaah! This looks like our first house!"--not to mention all the puzzled looks at the Gen X and Y-ers who suddenly think hanging out a place reminiscent of mom and dad's living room is cool. Hipsters both young and old fill the counter, tables, and booths of
Warner Ebbink and Brandon Boudet's retro-chic diner located below the Best Western Hollywood Hills Hotel. The color scheme here is brown with hints of topaz yellow and burnt orange, colors popular on many a refrigerator and formica countertop back in the day. In fact, I wouldn't even call it "brown"; it's more like "faux wood laminate" if you know what I mean. The place has a glittery white cottage cheese acoustic ceiling, vintage ski lodge-esque walls and just like my parents house back in the day, faded photographs of people who today's hipsters strive to look like. You might even remember The 101 Coffee Shop from the 90's cult favorite Swingers, a movie which incidentally, gave some new found hipness to things square.

Do you see your Uncle Ted somewhere up there?

Even the menus have fake wood on them

What would Mom & Dad think?

The menu at the 101 Coffee Shop is classic diner fare but with a few modern twists. Your fries on the side, for example, aren't just any fries on the side as they're a yummy mixture of crispy potato and yam fries. The hash browns that come with your breakfast are grilled patties of potato and green onion and are more like latkes than hash browns...not my favorite, but unique nevertheless. Vegans and vegetarians need not be put off by its diner fare--there are quite a few meatless options as well, their No Huevos Rancheros being one of them. In fact, one of my favorite sandwiches here is a vegetarian one. Their grilled portabello mushroom sandwich is pretty darn good, with meaty and juicy portabellos, melted mozzarella, roma tomatoes, peppery arugula and basil mayo on a crusty French roll.

Trust me, it's tasty

The burger here's pretty substantial, its ground beef patty still tender even though I order it medium-well. (Yes, uncooked ground beef scares me if I don't know where the meat comes from, and you'd be surprised how many places char the fuck out if it when you order it medium-well) With the addition of caramelized onions, crisp lettuce and melted cheddar on a toasted bun plus a pickle on the side, their burgers are just fine. The tuna melt here is pretty standard and is a bit pricey at around 8 dollars, though it does have a good tuna, cheese and bread ratio.

This fashion can repeat itself over and over again


Breakfast is served all day, along with everything else on their menu, so if bacon and eggs strikes your fancy at 2am, you can have it. Or if it's fried chicken you want to cure your hangover on a Sunday morning, well, you can have that too. Some things just never go out of style.

Though I really, really hope that pegged pants (you know, the ones we used to fold over and roll up) and shoulder pads never come back.

101 Coffee Shop
6145 Franklin Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 467-1175

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Fry Daddy: Koromaru at Marukai Pacific Square, Gardena

So now that it's
The Year of The Dog, or 2006, or whatever you wanna call it, I do have a couple of resolutions. First, I need to save more money. This will hopefully be done by cutting down on unnecessary purchases like designer jeans and earrings. On the other hand, it will also be done by investing in useful tools that will hopefully help me with the second resolution of eating at home more. Third, I need to go on a fitness and diet regimen to slim and tone me up for my upcoming wedding. OK, so I'm not fat but I still want to lose a few pounds. Think I'm crazy? Try telling that to any bride.

I was out in the South Bay one sunny Saturday afternoon trying on wedding dresses coincidentally, and with one swift blow, I broke all three of my resolutions. It was lunchtime and since I was out, there was no way I could have kept the first two. The third, however, is a different story. Yeah, I could have bought some lean turkey on whole wheat or maybe some sushi, but instead, I drove my ass over to the
Marukai Pacific Square food court and stuffed my face with a menchi katsu sandwich from Koromaru. (What??? Trying on wedding dresses all morning takes alot of work!)

The first thing I noticed when I first laid eyes on Koromaru was that all of the fake plastic food in its display case weren't just any fake plastic food, but that they were all fake plastic deep fried foods...deep fried cutlets, deep fried croquettes, deep fried stuff on sticks...you name it, they can probably deep fry it.

Looks good enough to eat!

At Koromaru, you can get as elaborate as a bento box consisting of a deep fried something, such as chicken karaage, pork loin and tenderloin tonkatsu, or a combination of deep fried somethings, plus rice and salad all for under 8 bucks. Or you can go as simple as a deep fried squid stick or a deep fried lotus root stick for a buck and change. They've got a variety of croquettes ranging from butter corn to curry to vegetable, which you can even have sandwich style in the form of a "croquette dog" for just under 4 dollars.

Today I chose a menchi katsu sandwich made with deep fried ground meat patties as it was the easiest thing to eat in the car. (Quit yer bitching...I have not
relapsed into anti-eating alone-hood, Marukai Pacific Square has very limited seating!) It took awhile to prepare, but man, it was worth the wait! It was sort of like eating a deep fried meatloaf sandwich only better. The ground meat was seasoned well with onions and spices and was enveloped by a perfectly fried outer shell. The cutlets sat between refreshing shredded cabbage and slices of thick white sandwich bread that were lightly slathered with mayo and drizzed with tonkatsu sauce. This sandwich kicked ass.

Today I am on The Menchi Katsu Diet

But it will not help me lose any weight. Eh, for a good sandwich I won't stress out over it...there's always tomorrow, right?

Koromaru at the Marukai Pacific Square Foodcourt
1620 W. Redondo Beach Blvd.
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 538-1126