Monday, May 21, 2007

Show Me Some Skin: Shik Do Rak, Koreatown

Let's perform a little exercise, shall we? Read the following lines and tell me what comes to mind:

I love skin.

I love it when it's dry.

I love it when it's wet.

I love it when it's a little bit salty.

I love to lick it. I love to bite it. I love to smack it up, flip it, rub it down...

Now I'm assuming that most of you need to get your mind out of the gutter.

But if you're at all in touch with your Asian side, you'll know that since the Chinese word for food wrapper is also the word for "skin," that I could also be talking about that. You know, like wonton wrappers, er, I mean skins. Eggroll skins. Gyoza skins. Mu Shu skins. Mandoo skins. Xiu Long Bao skins. Burrito skins (aka tortillas) And in this case, I am.

See what I mean?

From what I hear, as far as a certain type of Korean skin is concerned, Shik Do Rak in Koreatown is apparently the self-proclaimed Home-Of-It.

And so it was that Mr. DG and I met up at Shik Do Rak with our favorite foodblogging couple, Jeni of
Oishii Eats and Dylan of Eat, Drink, & Be Merry to see what this skin was all about. No, I'm not talking about Korean burlesque, you naughty little minxes. No, no, I'm talking about duk bo sam, otherwise known as Korean rice wrappers.

The process at Shik Do Rak is pretty simple. Grill up your meat. Dip it into the delicious garlicky, beany, red pepper paste and/or into the salted oil. Put it onto a square of duk bo sam. Top with some of the flavorless-needed-to-be-dressed lettuce salad. Wrap it up. Eat. Repeat. Have some of the not-too-plentiful panchan and some Hite beer while you're at it. Shik Do Rak's menu isn't all too complicated either with its handful of meat choices and just a sprinkling of other non-BBQ dishes. We did this whole wrap thing with some chadol baegi which are thin, ribbon-like slices of beef (very reminiscent of the beef curls that you see at those Mongolian BBQ places), beef tongue and beef short rib. Making things even easier is the restaurant's super-attentive wait staff: just ask and you shall receive. And if for some strange reason you don't, just ask the ultra-friendly owner--a cute little older gentleman who literally goes to each table to check on them--and you definitely shall receive.

Plus this (cooked of course)...
And this...
Equals this!

I liked this place, but definitely not because of the meat. Though its overall quality was decent, its flavor left something to be desired because it wasn't pre-marinated. No, my friends, it's all about the duk bo sam here. There's something about the cool, chewy snap of the wrapper against the freshly grilled meat that has one coming back for more. After all, this is the house of skin, er, I mean duk bo sam, isn't it?

Shik Do Rak
2501 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 384-4148

(To get Eat, Drink, & Be Merry's take on our Shik Do Rak outing, go

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

DG's Basement Tapes: Restaurant Koshiji, Little Tokyo

(This post is the first in a series of gawd-knows-how-many unfinished posts I have hidden deep in the depths of my post library. Had I been more on top of it, this post should have been published in December.)

There are Los Angeles foodbloggers.

And there are San Diego foodbloggers.

And there would certainly come a time for the two to meet. So when Kirk, our beloved foodblogger from San Diego, emailed me to tell me he'd be in town, I arranged a mini get-together of local bloggers for the two groups so co-mingle. But somewhere in that fucked-up, obsessed-with-Bizarro-mind of mine, I couldn't help but think of the "Bizarro Jerry" episode of Seinfeld where Jerry, George and Kramer finally come face to face with Elaine's new friends who bore an uncanny resemblance to her OG chums. What if, despite so many similarities most of which revolve around our common passion for food, we had absolutely nothing to talk about once we met up? I imagined uncomfortable moments of silence, obligatory questions like "So...I hear it's going to rain this weekend" followed by "Uh yeah. Mm-hmm" and twiddling thumbs.

Fortunately, however, our Bizarro meet up was
far from boring. On a Saturday night, some of us Angeleno foodbloggers--Oishii Eats, Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, Best of LA, Rick James/Diet Chili Cheese Fries, and myself--came face-to-face with Kirk and fellow San Diegan food fiend Jack at Little Tokyo's Restaurant Koshiji. I don't think there was one odd moment of silence as we all had so much to talk about; this was the first time meeting and/or hanging out with Kirk for some of us but it felt as though all of us had known each other for years. I'm really glad to have added Kirk--such a funny, kind and caring person--to my growing circle of food-loving friends.

Unlike its loud & trafficky Bizarro twin Kokekokko down the street, Koshiji is more of a low-key yakitori joint. Service can be extremely slow which could swing the pendulum on meetups like ours either way: either it could make things even more uncomfortable if say, the foodbloggers from the other side of town
really are like Bizarro Jerry, or in our case, it gave us more time to chat over the good chow we've had in recent weeks and drool over Kirk's recent experience atUrusawa.

Small cups of raw vegetables with a small dish of miso-based dipping sauce seem to be included with each person's place setting; a much welcomed snack while we waited for our server to take our order and bring us our food, but unfortunately not quite enough for people like ourselves who were starving.

Cup O' Veg
Finally, our food started to arrive. Although we all ordered separately, our food came out very much un-separately, so it took some investigating to remember who ordered what and in what quantities. Luckily, one of the things Isaac and I ordered was Koshiji's chicken yakitori course, so those skewers had been separated from the rest of the pack.

The chicken-on-a-stick course was on the whole, unimpressive. The plain ol' poultry meat skewers--negima (chicken w/ green onion), tsukune (chicken meat ball), sasami (chicken breast with shiso leaf), kamo (duck breast w/ miso sauce) and tebakara (chicken wings)--though not bad, didn't have that just-came-off-the-grill caramelized and smoky wow-factor that I was looking for. My favorite part of a yakitori meal, however, comes not so much from the chicken-meats-on-a-stick but rather from the chicken-parts-on-a-stick. While the liver skewer was just plain gross, the crunchy-textured sunagimo, or chicken gizzard, skewer was pretty damn good as were the cute little quail-eggs-on-a-stick, better known as uzura.

Just So-So Chicken-Parts-On-A-Stick
Our yakitori chicken course came with a bowl of soboro-don, a hearty bowl of seasoned ground chicken with egg over rice, and a small cup of broth with...cilantro???? Koshiji lost major points with me right there--what person in their right mind puts cilantro on Japanese food? The soup was given straight to Isaac. He loved it. Enough said. As for the soboro-don, I thought it was a little on the bland side, not quite as tasty as the one I'd had down the street at Kokekokko.

A Match Made In Hell
Soboro-Don: Not Your Typical Mall Chicken Bowl
Koshiji was able to redeem itself with some of its other menu choices, however. Their chicken karaage, probably the only non-food-on-a-stick item we ordered that night, was crisp on the outside, tender on the inside and had nice hints of soy and ginger. We almost mistook our kaori (pork belly) wrapped around subtley spicy shiso leaf for grilled mushroom caps upon first glance, but fortunately figured out that they were not someone else's grilled funghi dish. Grilled spirals of squid (ika), scored for even more textural interest and wrapped around shiso leaf, were also delicious. Toumorokoshi (sweet corn) were charred in just the right spots. And with our orders of what are probably my two favorite meat-on-a-stick of all time--crispy kawa (chicken skin) and salted-just-right tan (beef tongue)--koshiji certainly did not disappoint.

It doesn't have to come on a stick to be good
Some Mo' Better Skewers
Hey, Don't Touch My Corns
Gotta Love Skin & Tongue
All in all, despite the slow service and a couple of misses on a few of their items, Koshiji is a welcome addition to my Little Tokyo dining list. I liked that it was chill, and the awesome company made it that much more fun. Of course if I were Elaine Benes, I'd be forced to choose sides--hang with my OG LA foodbloggers or my newly found San Diego ones. But this isn't Seinfeld after all, and it's good to know that I can hang with both. In the same room. At the same Bizarro restaurant.

Restaurant Koshiji
123 S. Onizuka St. #203 (in Weller Court)
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-4989

Monday, May 07, 2007

Eating My Way Thinner: Hijiki Nimono

It sucks trying to eat healthier.

Because suddenly, I don't want to snack on almonds or fruit. I want cookies and chips. I don't want to simple give my pan a small drizzling of olive oil. I want to brown my food in lots and lots of butter and then deglaze the hell out of it with lots and lots of wine. I don't want whole wheat bread. I want tortillas made with lard.

I struggled with many food ideas, looking at recipes from
Cooking Light and other healthy eating sources. But the more of these types of recipes I thumbed through, the less appealing they all started to sound with their reduced fat mayo or skim milk substitutions. Not that that's all bad. It's just that sometimes, especially when you're willing to make a big change like this, you want the real deal.

Which is exactly why I went knocking on Japan's culinary door for diet inspiration. I've always admired that Japanese cuisine in its truest form can be so absolutely interesting in taste, texture and presentation without being drowned in huge portions or a ton of oil and fat. I figure that it's better to satisfy myself via sensory overload than by stuffing myself, right?

Unfortunately, this eating-more-Japanese-food-business would have to exclude some of my favorite deep fried Japanese goodies such as
menchi katsu, kabocha korokke, chicken karaage and kaki furai. (I'll save those for an occasional weekend treat) But with the huge variety of other healthy foods available, I think I'll be OK.

I always look forward to getting little mounds of hijiki nimono, or simmered hijiki seaweed, either at Japanese restaurants or at the prepared foods section of Mitsuwa market, so I thought, "Why not make this myself?" With a little help from
Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen (a really informative book with gorgeous photos, by the way) I was one step closer to a tasty meal and a healthier physique.

Unless you've tried it yourself, it's hard to get an accurate picture of how hijiki nimono actually tastes but I'll try my best. Texture-wise, the black strips of hijiki are not nearly as thin or slippery as wakame seaweed; I think that they almost have the texture of simmered or steamed carrots with a slightly different bite, which is quite interesting given that there are shredded carrots partying right alongside the hijiki in this dish. Taste-wise, it's a little bitter-sweet, and compliments the saltiness of the soy sauce and the sweetness of the sugar and mirin that it soaks up during the cooking process very nicely. All the ingredients used in this recipe can easily be found at any Japanese or Asian market.

Hijiki Nimino
(adapted from Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen)

1 oz. dry hijiki seaweed
1 sheet aburage (deep fried tofu)
1/2 cup shredded carrot
3/4 cup konbu dashi (vegetarian kelp broth-see recipe below) OR water if you're short on time

4 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. mirin

-Soak the hijiki in hot water for about half hour then drain.
-Put the aburage in a strainer & pour boiling water over it to remove the oil and cut into shreds.
-Put the reconsituted hijiki, tofu shreds & carrots in a pot. Add the konbu dashi or water, soy sauce, sugar and mirin.
-Cook on low heat until all the liquid is absorbed.

Konbu Dashi (Vegetarian Kelp Broth)
1 postcard sized piece of dried konbu (kelp)
4 cups water

-Make a few tears in the konbu and soak it in the water for a several hours. That's it.

I enjoyed this delicious hijiki nimono sprinkled with a pinch of toasted sesame seeds and a little steamed rice and edamame on the side. As opposed to many of my gluttonous meals, there was no bloating afterwards, making this particular meal that much better.

Note: The United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong and New Zealand have all issued warnings that traces of inorganic arsenic have been found in hijiki. I'm not sure what to make of this since anything with the word "arsenic" in it is due to sound kinda unappetizing, if ya know what I mean. But I figure that a little hijiki here and there won't hurt since this type of seaweed, until recently, has always been touted for its health benefits and since Japanese people, who by the way are known for their longevity, have had hijiki in their diets for years. As with any food, moderation and variety are key. If you're curious about this whole inorganic arsenic schtick though, you can read about it
here, here, here, or here.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Does "Quarterly Gluttony" Have The Same Ring?

Look at me, I'm all growed up now.

I was just a wee caterpillar, but over the last three months, I wanted so badly to turn into a butterfly.

Only I would have turned into an old, fat, poor butterfly real soon if I didn't watch it. Because in the last three months:

Number One: The Gluttony Family, including our very dear
gastro-gnome George, moved into our new home in Alhambra. Being a homeowner is great; not being able to spend as much on food as we did in our renting days is not.

Number Two: I've gained weight.

There, I said it.

Not a ton, maybe somewhere in the vicinity of 5-7 pounds. Enough to make my jeans feel really snug and enough to make me thankful that the babydoll and tunic trend is back in full force.

I am therefore officially on a budget and a diet. I don't really have a set plan; I don't believe in gimmick diets where you're suddenly not allowed to eat any one form of food (Cut all bananas from your diet and lose ten pounds in as little as three weeks!) so I'm relying on the tried and true method of eat less and exercise more, while at the same time treating myself to new restaurants or full-on calorie-packed recipes on the weekend so that I don't shrivel up and die. As things start to settle down and as I have a little more time to dedicate to blogging (with emphasis on the word little--I'm still really busy you know), I'm hoping that you'll follow me on my spending-less-while-eating-healthier path.

If not you can fuck off.

See you soon.