Thursday, April 27, 2006

Untitled, 2006: Mystery Food Stall at California Market, Koreatown

You'd think by now I would know his name.

I've paid quite a few visits to this Korean food stall located inside Koreatown's
California Market, yet I still don't know what to call it because all the signs are in Korean. Yes, my friends, this is the John Doe of Korean food stalls. Or should I call it John Kim? (Yoo-hoo readers, this is your cue to interject...if you know Korean, please tell me what the hell it's called)

Despite the language barrier, I can tell John Kim is a pretty straightforward kind of guy. There are about 20 things on his menu, all identified by a colorful picture, a number, the price and a description in Korean. There are things I can recognize like bulgogi and daeji bulgogi, kim bap and kimchi jigae. And there are a few things, mostly soup and noodle based items that I've seen before but can't remember the name of or read them for that matter. I go to John Kim everytime, though, for his bibim naeng myun, or spicy cold noodle with beef. "Number 19," I always say to the cashier, pointing to the menuboard picture above.

I wouldn't say it's eyes-roll-to-the-back-of-your-head good or anything, but it's certainly pretty damn decent. When California Market is the last stop on a long Sunday afternoon of dodging crowds and traffic while running errands and grocery shopping, a bowl of this sinus clearing stuff from John Kim is the perfect pick me up.

I always take mine to go because one, I don't want to be seen eating inside California Market and two, because well, where would I leave my cart? Of course I could shop after I eat, but you know, I'm just not that smart. So I bring the to go box home with me, having to endure the smell of red pepper paste, sesame oil and cucumbers the entire car ride.

Mr. Kim is practical--he always wraps my noodles in a plastic bag before it goes into the takeout container, helping to prevent any unfortunate spills in the car and also allowing the ingredients to marinate a little more until I get home. I wish I owned one of those cool metal bowls that these types of noodle dishes usually come in at the restaurants, but I don't, so instead, I dump the bag of noodles into the next best thing--a white Corning Ware bowl with little country prints on the side--and cut the noodles with kitchen shears to make them a little easier to pull apart. And with bowl and a bottled water in hand, I always head over to the TV to enjoy my fiery afternoon meal. I will admit that taking the noodles to go takes slightly away from the perfect chewiness these types of buckwheat noodles, but they do have a pretty good pull regardless. The spiciness is certainly appropriate though--not quite an immediate tongue numbing spiciness, but a spiciness that starts more salty at first, a wonderful blend of red pepper and sesame oil, and then slowly creeps up on you the more you eat--perfect for eating while cussing out all the stupid girls on
My Super Sweet Sixteen.

Fifteen to twenty minutes into the meal, I'm all worked up, on one hand sweating because of the noodles themselves, and on the other, shaking my fist at all the underage primadonnas on the screen in front of me. Fortunately for me, there is always a good amount fo cooling acoutrements that always come with bibim naeng myun. There are cooling, thinly sliced cucumbers, as well as julienned pickled carrots and daikon, but what is probably the most unique item in this dish are the paper thin wedges of crisp, sweet Korean pear. Slices of beef and half a boiled egg add lend some neutrality (as well as protein) to the dish.

By the time I'm done, my belly is full and my nose is running, and yet again, I let a man whose name I don't even know make me cry. Thanks alot, John Kim.

John Kim at The California Market
450 S. Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90020

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Fight The Power

Ever since my friend Sam sent me this link the other day, I have felt a newly found sense of empowerment. I thought I was alone in my disgust, but come to find out that there are others, in fact, who are just like me:

"What kind of culinary fascism is this?" -Roving Thundercloud, Portland, OR

"I had the immediate sensation of licking a 9 volt battery" -Rob, Buffalo, NY

"People will say, 'There's cilantro in this? I can't tell, I can't taste it.' That's akin, in my opinion to stating, 'My arm is on fire? Hmm, I can't feel it.' " -Anonymous

"Though I hate cilantro I can acknowledge, but not condone, its existance in culinary dishes of such countries such as Thailand, Mexico, Spain and India to name a few. However, under no circumstances whatsoever should cilantro ever be found in Japanese food. It was such an instance at a local restaurant that I found cilantro in my miso soup. Is nothing sacred?" -Pandora, Austin, TX

If you are anything like me, I urge you--please join to support the fight against this vile weed.

(Image courtesy of

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

TJ's Taste Test, Part 9 Of Many: Trader Giotto's Cacciatore Simmer Sauce

I gave Joe another chance.

But I should have known better. Penne pasta and sliced chicken breast cooked in a little heating dish at the
Trader Joe's sample stand would just not be that good. But I gave it a chance because it surely smelled good as my cart and I turned the corner coming out of the frozen section. So I left my cart off to the side and walked up to the nice lady who handed me a small paper cup into which she had just scooped some of that tomatoey pasta concoction. I saw the stack of jars on the counter: "Hmm, Trader Giotto's Cacciatore Simmer Sauce, eh?" I pranced back to my cart excited to try my sample, and as I pushed along started taking small bites. It was a complete watery mess, tasting as if someone had just boiled the chicken in the sauce and then dumped a bunch of slimy penne into it. There was no depth, no dimension, and undeniably, I walked out of Trader Joe's that day with a cart full of hummus and chips and dip and salad dressings and cheeses and wine but sans Cacciatore Simmer Sauce.

If there's one thing I can recognize in people, places and things though, it's potential. And on another recent trip to TJ's, I realized that I may not have given our little jar of simmer sauce enough of a chance to prove itself. This time, I did walk out of Trader Joe's with a cart full of hummus and chips and dip and salad dressings and cheeses and wine and yes, a jar of Trader Giotto's Cacciatore Simmer Sauce.

The first thing I knew to do on this simmer sauce makeover was to actually brown the meat, (duh) so in went my chicken pieces into my trusty Le Creuset Dutch oven. I took the chicken out after a few minutes, and as the usual demented thought of "How sick do you think I would get if I took a bite out of that chicken right now?" ran through my head, I deglazed my pot with chicken stock, scraping up all the yummy crispy browned bits. I returned the chicken (which I did not take a bite of by the way) into the pot, poured the jar of deep orange red simmer sauce in, added a little salt & pepper and let simmer until the chicken was tender.

For the final reveal, I spooned the some chicken and sauce over a bed of lingune, garnished with a parsley sprig, and violĂ ! You could hardly recognize him! The smokiness and saltiness from the browned chicken bits actually enhanced the celery and olives that were in this tomato based sauce, and the fat off the chicken skin lent the sauce some body. With a little faith (and some proper braising), I turned this ugly duckling into somewhat of a swan.

Pick up your own jar of Extreme Makover DG Edition at your local Trader Joe's for only $2.99.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Check, Checkmate!: The Bishop Coffee and Gourmet, Downtown Los Angeles

If anyone had asked me to live in Downtown L.A. fifteen years ago and I would have asked them to pound sand. In fact, if they had asked me only five years ago, I would have done the same. But let's just pretend that this person were a friend who just happened to have a loft hookup and approached me and Isaac three years ago with a sweet deal on a 1400 sq. ft., 14' ceilinged space...

Three years later, we are still living in Downtown L.A.

But to be honest, I don't love it. I don't hate it. But I don't love it either.

I love it because our apartment is so spacious and we're getting a pretty darn good deal on rent. I hate it because living in a big open space isn't all it's cracked up to be. There is no room to retreat to if my fiance suddenly gets on my nerves, and the fact that all our workout equipment is out in the open is simply tacky.

I love that I have all of the
Little Tokyo's good eats practically right at my doorstep, but I hate that the act of shopping for decent food and groceries involves at least a ten minute drive. (OK, so there is Mitsuwa and Marukai which are great for Japanese products, but I refuse to buy anything else there unless I'm desperate enough to pay a higher price)

I love that there's some interesting architecture here in downtown, but I hate that crack addicts and homeless people are permanent fixures in my neighborhood. I love that downtown is convenient to the 101, 5, 10 and 110 freeways, but I also hate that my street is a thoroughfare for 18-wheelers. It's kinda cool when you constantly see your 'hood on TV and in the movies, but it is sooo not cool that these production assholes think they own the neighborhood and make you detour an extra 5 blocks just to get home. (No fuck-face, you don't live here, I do.)

I remember my friend driving Isaac and I to see our new building for the first time, and I clearly recall being just a tad freaked out by the surroundings. Am I that much of a priss, you ask? Well really, no, I am not--I spent many years hanging out in big cities where vagrancy is a common thing--I just don't want to see it right outside my window. My knowledge of Downtown L.A. at that time was limited pretty much only to Chinatown, Little Tokyo, the courthouses, the garment district, and the Staples Center; I knew that somewhere in between all of that was the infamous skid row, which isn't where our building is located, thank goodness, but was close enough to our neighborhood to leave visible traces here and there. But as we kept driving, I also started to notice that hip new businesses had taken root in the neighborhood. My mind turned away from the riff-raff (if only even for a few minutes) and to the cool places I had yet to discover. If it hadn't been for places like
Cafe Metropol, Pete's Cafe & Bar, Freaks Vintage Clothing, Blooms General Store, Groundwerks Coffee, and Soul Folks Cafe--places that made me feel as if I actually had a neighborhood--I'd have thought twice about moving in.

The loft-living honeymoon is over you might say, but although cursing the inconveniences of living here under my breath has become a normal routine, I still get excited when I discover that a cool new shop or restaurant has opened up in the 'hood. It brings back memories of the wooing and courtship stage when all things loft were fun and exciting, when you'd still call up your friends and say "Hey, wanna come check out my loft?" and people would ooh and aah about the fact that you lived in a converted warehouse. Yes, this is exactly why I got the warm-fuzzies when I first laid eyes on one of downtown L.A.'s newest cool neighborhood businesses, The Bishop Coffee & Gourmet, located on Grand Ave. at 8th. It's one of those places you'd spot as you were driving around as a prospective loft dweller, and it's one of those places that would help you make the deal in that wishy-washy head of yours.

And I'm not just saying this because The Bishop's owner Suze is a dear friend of ours, the same friend, in fact, who got us the deal on the place we're living in now. I'm saying this because it's true. Sure, The Bishop provides local downtown office drones with their daily cup of joe and breakfast pastry, but unlike the hundreds of other coffee houses in the vicinity that provide the same service, The Bishop isn't just your typical shut-down-at-6-and-closed-on-the-weekends-because-all-the-workers-are-gone type of places. For a while, being downtown after hours or on weekends was a bit like being in a live version of
Dawn of The Dead, where virtually nothing was open and only the freaks came out at night. But now, places like The Bishop actually cater to us people that live here, helping us remember what civilization was like. Want to grab some coffee and dessert at 11pm on a Saturday night? No problem, they've got it.

Suze hard at work behind her coffee grinder

If it's neighborhood you want, it's neighborhood you get. The Bishop's turquoise blue painted space may be tiny, but it just adds to the cozy neighborhood feel of the place. A mannequin coiffed in jet black braids--a hip, modern version of Gilligan's Island's
Maryanne--hangs out on her vintage bicycle on a ledge atop the cafe.

Hey, where's Ginger?

Service here is not only friendly, but personable. All it takes is one repeat walk through their single glass paned door and chances are Suze and daughter Bri will already know you by name. "Tall," "Grande," and "Venti" from that
Star place are sooo yesterday; here, you can order your Pasquini latte, cappuccino or espresso in "Pawn," "Bishop," or "King" sizes. You can order your drinks with extra shots, squirts of chocolate or caramel, hazelnut syrup, no foam or non-fat--she'll make 'em for you however you'd like and again, will mostlikely remember what you ordered the next time you come in, or at least remember that your picky, high-maintenace ass wanted something special. If you're like me and coffee's not your thing and tea is more your cup of tea, The Bishop carries an assortment of Harney and Sons teas with such flavors as African Autumn, Chinese Flower, Peaches and Ginger and Indian Spice. Just ask and Suze and staff will let you take a quick whiff of all the yummy tea blends they've got in their tea cannisters before they pour hot water onto your pretty little organza wrapped tea bag of choice.

Wakes me up before I go-go

Tea time!

For breakfast, dessert, and everything in between, The Bishop features breads by
La Brea Bakery and pastries from Hollywood's Susina Bakery. The minature molten chocolate cakes have become a staple in our diets as have the bad-for-my-arteries-but-oh-so-addicting sun-dried tomato, caramelized onion and feta croissants. If you're looking for something a bit more substantial, they carry a selection of sandwiches made fresh daily such as curried chicken salad with apples and currants, (my personal favorite), Bri's ham & brie, and genoa salami, pesto & provolone. Grab a seat at one of the brightly colored sidewalk tables and watch the world go by as you enjoy a polenta scone or maybe even a slice of ham and swiss quiche.

When "flaky" is good

I love Curried Chicken Sammiches

Quiche me

But trying to find a friendly neighborhood cafe that's open late night and on weekends isn't your only problem, you downtown dweller, you. No, as a hip urbanite, you've got other problems. You've just been invited to a friend's house for dinner and oh no! you've got nothing to bring for your gracious hosts! There are no extra bottles of wine sitting on your wine rack, and after several scrounging attempts in your cupboards, you can't find a single thing to take with you, unless of course, the canned raviolis you bought from Costco count. And you know they don't, so what do you do? Fortunately for you, The Bishop is half coffee house, half interesting-packaged-foodstuffs store. Your host will definitely appreciate getting a nice basket filled with the likes of
Stonewall Kitchen Rasperry Peach Champagne Jam and Maple Vanilla Pear Butter. They can also create quite a nice arrangement with La Favorita Fish and Bella Cucina Artful Food pestos and sauces along with some of the prettiest rainbow striped farfalle. Or perhaps your guests would appreciate a box of the most interesting pyramid shaped silken tea infusers by Tea Forte. The Bishop has Scharffen-Berger chocolate bars, and jars filled with cinnamon bears, candy necklaces, jawbreakers and um, trail mix--probably the only thing I don't quite get about their merchandise assortment, but to each her own I guess.

for all your gourmet needs

Where to buy Rastafarian pasta? Downtown!

Whatever your fancy, it's cool 'cause you don't have to fucking drive to Silverlake just to buy something nice. Hey, you're stuck downtown for at least the next several months until your lease is up right? So you might as well make the best of it, and trust me, The Bishop makes downtown L.A. just that much cooler and more convenient to be in. Almost makes you wanna stay huh?


The Bishop Coffee & Gourmet
816 S. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 239-0411

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Happy Blog Birthday To Me: Daily Gluttony Turns One!

Aww look, it's baby's first birthday, and my how she's grown!

If Daily Gluttony were a baby, people would surely be throwing her a big party with cake, balloons, and party streamers. She'd be sitting in a high chair while someone took photos of her with baby food smeared all over her face, totally clueless to all the festivities around her. But since Daily Gluttony is not a human baby, there will be no people throwing her a party. There will be no balloons and no streamers. So, in order to celebrate, she will throw a party for herself, complete with cake and candle, and maybe even a glass of wine. That is, of course, if wine is OK for a one year old.

You'd be surprised how many similarities there are between our cuddly, diapered friends and this blog, however. First of all, it seems like just yesterday when
Daily Gluttony was conceived out of sheer boredom. (Like that's never happened to anyone before.) And second of all, she has developed quite a bit in just one year. In the beginning, the little tyke was just trying to find her way, and so began her early months with super-random posts about weekend to-do lists, A.D.D. in meetings, mustard whores, grilled cheese sandwiches, and guillotine cars. She couldn't take a decent food photo to save her life. She was also trying to keep up with the pressure of posting daily to live up to her name and at one point even considered changing her name because she thought it was false advertising.

But it wasn't long before Ms. Poopy-Pants started growing up and figuring things out. Her mind matured into a more reasonable one, and her writing during this development stage became a learning process. She learned to take
better pictures of her food. (Oh, you mean I just have to use this flower button???) Her already keen epicurean senses soared to different heights as she began to focus on trying cuisines she'd never tried before. Trips to the grocery store began to take twice as long due to wandering eyes scoping out a wealth of new foods and products. And simple drives down the street opened her eyes to a world of undiscovered eats. She came to the full realization that the true meaning of "daily gluttony" was not that she had to post something daily, but that her actual obsession with all things edible is a never ending story and thus, kept her birthname.

Time flies, but it's amazing how much can happen in just a year. With her fiery personality, she's made some
enemies, but more importantly, she's made some invaluable friends, even if only through cyberspace. She became engaged to the love of her life, a man who just happens to also be a gnome-killer. She's hired quite an adorable (but drunkard) sous-chef. She got a new job around where she's slowly starting to explore restaurant options, but misses her old stomping grounds and epicurean-parnters-in-crime dearly. She is now the big sister to an alien lemon, and as of 7 days ago, an auntie to a beautful human baby girl.

She also felt like the whole world was crumbling around her
when she discovered that her father had cancer, but is learning how to cope with the physical and emotional side effects that are affecting everyone involved. But she has become a stronger person from it--one who has learned that there's nothing more important in life than love.

A year ago, she would have never made a special trip after work just to go buy a slice of cake to photograph for a birthday post. (OK, so it came from Vons for $2.99, so what?) One year and 225 posts later, she would. Happy Birthday, Daily Gluttony...make a wish and blow out your candle!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hi, My Name Is Daily Gluttony, And I Am A Sushi Addict: Sushi Komasa, Little Tokyo

Thanks alot, Kirk. Thanks alot for fueling my sushi addiction so badly with your post on Sushi Gen that I couldn't stop thinking about sushi for the last three days. What can I say, I'm a sucker for peer pressure.

Except I wasn't get my fix from that sushi dealer. A short supply of seats, it seemed. I called at noon to find out they only had a 5:30 pm reservation available. And we all know what the wait is like at
Sushi Gen without a reservation.

By the time evening rolled around, my mind instantly went into search mode, and with shaky fingers I started dialing frantically to find someone nearby who would be able to accomodate me. "Hi, do you have a wait right now???" my voice cracked as I dialed
Izayoi, and was told we'd have to wait about 15 minutes. So I had to get my goods from a lesser known, less refined and more inconspicuous guy located down the street who just happened to say they'd be able to take us right away.

The thought of going to Sushi Komasa was like the thought of going to Van Nuys instead of the Hollywood Hills to score. There's nothing to this small, older storefront located on Second Street in Little Tokyo except for a lighted sign on the sidewalk. Its windows are covered with paper screens and though I'd passed by several times, I've never been able to get a good glimpse of anything going on inside. The only clue that maybe they've got decent goods is the constant small crowd of people waiting outside. Oh yeah, that and a
positive post from Kirk, our local sushi peer pressure pusher. My skepticism about the place was somewhat quelled by stepping inside the restaurant, which was a rather teeny tiny space with a small sushi bar and about five tables. It wasn't so much the atmosphere because, well, there really is none, but more so because the place was pretty full for a weekday night.

Like the restaurant itself, Komasa's sushi list is pretty no-nonsense, and as is the case with many sushi bars, there were no daily specials that we were aware of. A simple, but comprehensive list was what we got, and we filled it out quickly. Besides sushi, Komasa has a menu of other selections such as appetizers and bento combinations--we chose to try some chicken karaage and fried oysters to go with our sushi.

Feet tapping nervously with sweaty hands clasped under the table, we studied the several seafood posters they had on the wall in order to distract us and make the time go by faster as we waited for our fix. "Hmm," I thought to myself, "now I can be an expert at the different types of crab, and red fish, and shellfish, and...WHAT?? WHY ARE ALL THE FISH NAMES IN JAPANESE??? AND WHY IS EVERYONE AROUND US CHINESE?" At that point, I knew I really needed help. Is there such a thing as S.A.--Sushi Anonymous?

Not very addict-friendly reading

But finally, they delivered the goods. As the waitress placed a round lacquered box of pristine looking nigiri in front of us, self control was key...we want to get the most out of this sensory altering experience, but at the same time, we wouldn't want people to think poorly of us, would we? So with sound body, but very unsound mind, we carefully picked up our first pieces of nigiri, dipped it ever so slightly into our soy sauce and took the first bite. Total euphoria ensued and self control went down the drain.

Komasa deals some good stuff...

Komasa's fish was extremely fresh, breaking into buttery softness with each bite. My favorite was probably the hamachi (yellowtail) whose seductive mellowness reeled me in from the first bite. Thinly sliced scallion and grated ginger atop our seared albacore nigiri as well as the slightly smoky flavor of sake (salmon) sushi provided an interesting edge to the meal. My only complaint was that our maguro tuna was a little too much on the cold side, but with the overall excellent sushi high we were on, it wasn't that big of a deal.

Perhaps it was because we were already in fantastic altered states, but although the dark meat chicken they used to make their chicken karaage was a bit on the dry side, its crispy marbled- looking batter coating had a nice milky saltiness to it and gave it somewhat of an addictive quality. The fried oysters we ordered, however, were just not good--obviously from a jar and a little tough in some parts--and would not be forgiven in spite of our state of mind.

I think they put drugs in this too

Sushi high or not, these sucked

Sushi Komasa is not the clean cut, yuppified sushi dealer that many of us feel more comfortable with based on looks alone; he's is the older guy whose place you have to walk to the back of the 1970's fourplex to get to and that's OK. Because the older, unrefined guys have some pretty good stuff too. And this older guy charges less too...about $50 after tax and tip for all this food. Oh, and one more thing: don't expect to find any of that trendy, designer sushi here, either. Sushi Komasa deals in the traditional stuff that is tried and true. As always, you just have to trust your gut.

I just wonder when the withdrawal is going to kick in.

Sushi Komasa
351 E. 2nd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 680-1792