Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Night We Braved Death, aka The Blowfish Feast

Fugu. Blowfish. Pufferfish. By any other name a poisonous fish. The poison, tetrodoxin (TTX), that's contained in the organs and skin, is a sodium channel blocker that causes muscle paralysis and can eventually cause death by asphyxiation (since your respiratory muscles similarly are paralyzed!!).

Who would eat such a dangerous thing? Well, we would, of course! Organized by the ever enthusiastic Choisauce, a group of daring foodbloggers+friends, arrived at Dae Bok to confront their (not one, not two, but TEN) blowfish dishes! Alas, we could not have all ten. We were divided into three tables so each table got different dishes.

On my table were veteran foodbloggers whom I met for the first time that night, Deep End Dining and Rameniac.

As is usual at Korean restaurants, the night started with some banchans.
Don't be fooled, though. Not all of them are mere banchans. They include a dish of blowfish skin salad!
I did just say the skin is where the poison is. But apparently if you take out all the spikes then you can eat the skin. So we took a bite.

And waited.

Hmm. Am I feeling dizzy? Or maybe that was just the shochu. Rameniac claimed his lips were getting a bit numb ... Meh, seems like we're still alive. Time to eat more!!

This chewy skin salad was perhaps my favorite blowfish dish of the night.

Each table got a blowfish jjim, a steamed fish dish with bean sprouts in chili paste.
So, yes, the blowfish. It was meaty. A real meaty white fish. Other than that it doesn't have a distinct taste. Most of the flavors of the dish comes from the chili paste. The meat's pretty tough in this jjim so we didn't eat too much of it, especially with something else cooking in front of us.

One of the other tables got the blowfish bulgogi which I heard was good ... They didn't share!

The main attraction of the night, however, was the spicy blowfish stew or mehwoontang (you can order it non-spicy, aka jiri). Prepared on the stove on your table, the blowfish is cooked with beansprouts and minari (which I found out thanks to Choisauce's post)

Spicy, garlicky, fish broth. Talk about flavorful! The fish was also much more tender in this preparation. Definitely a win over the jjim.

After you're done with your blowfish and veggies, they'll come add some dumpling-like dough into the boiling pot.
Chewy dough that are flavorful after cooking it in the fiery broth. Delish! Al Dente or not though depends on when you take it out yourself ;)

It still doesn't stop there. After making sure that we were done with the dough and most of the soup, they came bearing rice and beans and veggies.
Yep, it's time for the fried rice!

All these + oil are mixed in together with a bit of that fiery blowfish soup. I got excited just watching her stir it in the pot!
Wait a bit until the bottom and sides are crispy. Yum yum.
Crispy fried rice filled with the flavors of that spicy fish stew. A great way to end it!

We washed down our meal with some shikhae (cold rice drink) which I absolutely love (got 2 seconds) but apparently forgot to take a picture of ...

Having survived this challenge, we celebrated in style with a 5000cc bong at Crazy Hook and some karaoke. I must say, Deep End Dining and rameniac both are quite the karaoke singers!! We're still demanding that Pepsimonster destroy all evidence!

Dae Bok
2010 James M Wood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 386-6660

Dae Bok on Urbanspoon



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Friday, April 24, 2009

South Bay Japanese Food Marathon, Part 1

The South Bay has rapidly turned into a Japanese food mecca, with the likes of yakitori-turned-izakaya Bincho, etc in the area. I haven't been there much. Why? It's really not that far. There should be no reason! So why not go and hit em all, food marathon-style? I was joined by Food Destination + 1, Pepsi Monster, the nascent Kung Food Panda, Mattatouille, Choisauce, Teenage Glutster, and Rumdood.

Our first stop: some okono and monjayaki at Gaja in Lomita.

Which one do we want to order? Do we want to cook 'em ourselves or have them prepare it for us?
Luckily Food Destination(a.k.a Gilded Palate)'s Japanese gf was there so we could order properly.
Look at her skilfully whip out our okonomiyaki on the teppan!

This time we also had something I haven't tried here before, the monjayaki. We ordered the one with mochi and spicy roe.

You also grill this monjayaki on the teppan, but it doesn't quite solidify like the okonomiyaki.

Okay, you got me, I just love eating it with the cute lil spatula they gave us!
The monjayaki might look weirdly gooey and runny, but it's actually a creamy mochi-like concoction that's pretty flavorful with the spicy cod roe.

Gaja Japanese Restaurant
2383 Lomita Blvd Ste 102
Lomita, CA 90717
(310) 534-0153

Next we went right next door to one of my favorite patisserie, Patisserie Chantilly. Communist-style, we each put in $3 and got a bunch of stuff. Except that the ones below are bought separately by Pepsimonster and added into the pot ...

We had almost everything, including their popular cream puffs (popular because Mr J Gold raved about it) - all three flavors: Chantilly cream, chocolate, and sesame.

One of our favorites was the souffle fromage - which is kind of like the love child of a rare cheesecake+souffle.
Light and fluffy, Food Destination claims it's like eating clouds. Agreed. A sweet, cheesy cloud.

Maybe you're thinking that we were sitting nicely around a table, taking a small bite of each cake and passing it around ... well, I wouldn't want to mislead you. When food bloggers share teeny cakes like these, our approach is to ...
ATTACK!


P√Ętisserie Chantilly
2383 Lomita Blvd
Lomita, CA 90717
(310) 257-9454
P√Ętisserie Chantilly on Urbanspoon

The day had just started. Next stops: a detour from Otafuku and Hakata Ramen to Ichimiann, and a grand finale at Izakaya Bincho :)
In the meantime, you can read about it on Food Destination and Pepsi Monster's blogs.



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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

La Casita Mexicana: Authentic Mexican Food 102

La Casita Mexicana was an eye opener. Thanks to Teenage Glutster, I was included in the dinner that the two chefs of La Casita, Jaime and Ramiro, had planned for a number of bloggers. We were joined by Pepsi Monster, Food Marathon, Food GPS, Pleasure Palate and other members of her dining group, Oishii Eats, Eat Drink & Be Merry, Professor Salt and Will from FoodDigger.

Jaime and Ramiro's mission is to educate Americans about Mexican food. Authentic Mexican food. And no, it's not just tacos and burritos and quesadillas. This city has at least seen some mole, but there are so much that we have not really been exposed to, as this meal will attest to!

Jaime and Ramiro set up a table filled with the various ingredients they will be using that night, including numerous varieties of beans and chiles!

The night started with some refreshing drinks: Aguas Frescas of Alfalfa and lemonade with chia seeds
I really loved the alfalfa agua fresca. I thought that it might be too herby at first, but after tasting it, it really wasn't and it was nicely refreshing. The Mexican alfalfa sprouts are different than the ones we normally see here as the leaves are bigger and the stems green. Not sure how it would taste if I try to make it with regular alfalfa ...

White fish soup with hoja santa.
It's been a while since I've encountered hoja santa in the US. Nicely spiced soup (some said it is reminiscent of tom yum soup) and the fish is moist and tender.

Chile Relleno (Pickled jalapenos with tuna filling)
Although I've had stuffed peppers before I've never had one filled with tuna.

Queso Azteca: a blend of 4 cheeses, mushrooms and cactus strips.
Definitely my favorite, and perhaps also most interesting dish, of the night. Full of flavors, especially with the mushrooms and slightly spicy cactus strips, and had a very interesting texture.

Enchiladas in 3 moles(a la bandera)in the colors of the Mexican (the menu said chicken but I was pretty sure they were filled with tuna ... anyway, not the point. The point is the mole sauce!)
The 3 different mole sauces: poblano, pepiano verde, and pepiano rojo. My favorite: The pepiano verde. I think. Hmm. They were all so good.

Tamalitos de huitlacoche (Corn Fungus Tamales)
Corn fungus eh? As Michael Pollan pointed out, we Americans loove our corn (too much even!). And apparently corn fungus is a delicacy and quite expensive in Mexico. This gave the tamales a nice earthy flavor.

Cotija cheese enchiladas from Michoacan in the recipe of Ramiro’s grandmother
This simple dish was delightfully delicious. Apparently they lightly dip the tortillas in hot oil and then chile. The chile flavor was perfect for the dry, crumbly Cotija cheese. Be careful, this is like one of those addicting snacks ... If 15 or so more courses weren't on the way and I wasn't sharing with 4 other people, might've kept eating this.

Cochinita pibil with cebollas escabeche(Pork roasted in plantain leaves with pickled onions)
I tried the seemingly harmless "pickled onions" and man these onions are packed with heat!!! I downed my agua fresca + FoodMarathon's glass of water + another glass of water and was still dying! (I have looow tolerance to spicy foods)

Pollo en mole blanco: white mole sauce with dried fruits and white chocolate over chicken
The first time I've had white mole! I didn't know they use white chocolate also.

Pork almendrado (Pork in almond sauce)

Cecina with chile japonese : thinly sliced beef cookd with a very hot chile.
Reminiscent of a beef jerky, this is full of flavor and slightly spicy.

Bacalao with tamarind sauce


Puerco adobado(pork in a spicy red sauce)


Chile en Nogada (Chiles in Walnut sauce) - a specialty of Puebla.
According to Cecilia Fabulich, this dish is apparently typically served around Christmas time(?). The colors are again those of the Mexican flag, but also rather Christmas-y, aren't they? An interesting and almost dessert-y dish due to the creamy walnut sauce.


Churros with sweet cajeta (caramel) filling
Nice crunchy churros, and the caramel filling was not overly sweet. This blows any of those Disneyland churros out of the water.

Mexican chocolate paste with crystallized grapefruit.
Chunky, rich, and slightly spiced mexican chocolate paste. Perfect with the candied grapefruits.

Flan de castilla
To end the night was this giant sheet of flan, too much for 20 people, especially at the end of the 17/18- course meal! Apparently they also had the zucchini flan floating around. I guess I was too full to catch and grab it.

Thank you Teenage Glutster for including me in this amazing meal, and especially to chefs Jaime and Ramiro who had put so much care into everything. The best Mexican meal I've had, by far.

La Casita Mexicana
4030 Gage Ave
Bell, CA 90201
(323) 773-1898
www.casitamex.com/home.html

Read OishiiEats' review here and Teenage Glutster's here.

La Casita Mexicana on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April 23: Caltech International Food Fair!

This Thursday there will be an International Food Fair at Caltech (Pasadena) !! Since I'm a part of the Indonesian Student club, I thought I should promote our event, which is open to the public! Here are the deets:

Thursday, April 23 | 4:30 - 6:00 PM | Avery Courtyard | Tickets $3

Join us for a taste of the world from 4:30 - 5:30 PM! For just $3, sample foods from China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Korea, Malaysia, Romania, Thailand, and Turkey. After eating, stay to see traditional dances, hear exotic instruments, and view colorful fashions from around the world. Culture Show is free, beginning at 5:30 PM. Food and performances provided by Caltech student clubs.

And, most importantly, the map!

The entrance is closest to Del Mar Ave and Chester, and you will also be able to see the fair if you're driving on Holliston.

The Indonesian club will be serving kue lapis and beef rendang. See you there!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cecconi's: My new Brunch spot

Feeling sinful, Cecconi's Ricotta Hotcakes sounded like the perfect solution to Easter Brunch. When I called they said they were booked until 4 PM but walk-ins are welcome at the bar. So off we went. The bar was almost empty when we arrived (11:30 AM ish) and there were quite a few tables empty, actually. Anyway. We were seated without a wait.
With no drink menu on hand and sitting at the bar, I just asked my server/bartender if they had fresh squeezed blood orange juice on hand. The answer was YES!

A big glass of fresh (but pulp-less) blood orange juice - $5.
My god ... you have no idea how long I've been craving this! So good. There's no brunch for me without fresh squeezed OJ! And blood orange juice just takes that up a few notches.

I got what I came for. Ricotta hotcakes with preserved blueberries ($8)
Amazing hotcakes! Fluffy enough yet retained some density due to the ricotta. The preserved blueberries actually tasted something reminiscent of dates, especially the 'syrup'. A much better alternative to maple syrup! I'll be getting this again very soon.

The portions here were small (remember your size comparison up there are blueberries) but I thought the prices were quite reasonable. What's the point of spending a couple of extra bucks to stuff yourself ? The size of the portions was just right for me ... to have two dishes instead!

Having finished the "br" portion of brunch, I moved on to the "unch" with some crab ravioli with peas and mint ($12)
Not enough crab, but otherwise delicious. A nice and light tomato-based broth. I loved the subtle kick that the mint leaves added.

Eggs Royale (english muffin, smoked salmon, poached eggs, hollandaise sauce - $11)
Interestingly Cecconi's poached eggs were more well-done than other places. This is probably an individual preference, but I liked it better less runny since I usually have a hard time eating the runny ones other than sopping it up with the english muffin. They're also pretty generous with the salmon, which is great.

Our meal ended on a light note. Chino Farms beets, buffalo mozzarella, and endives ($11).
A very well done dish with great ingredients! I also loved the buffalo mozzarella in this dish.
This might in fact be the best dish of our meal today. Do give it a try, it's light anyway!

The stools at the bar were heavy and not the most comfortable. Doesn't matter. Food's great with great ingredients, prices are right. I'll be back.

Cecconi's
8764 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90069
(310) 432-2000
www.cecconiswesthollywood.com
Cecconi's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Your Perfect Downtown Thursday

I got my Thursdays down. If I can get out in time, that is.

Here's the not-so-secret plan: get to downtown at around 6, or earlier. First order of business: The Edison Bar for $0.35 vintage cocktail (ends at 7 PM). The cocktail changes every week, but always well done. Strong tasty drinks.

Depending on how fast you can finish your drink, you can either make it to Pitfire Pizza's happy hour right next door for 50% off food (ends at 7 PM). Or if you want to sip your cocktail slowly, you can also go to Pitfire armed with a Restaurant.com gift certificate.
$10 certificate for $3, or $25 for $10. But wait, don't buy it then! They almost always have a sale or coupon discount for 60%-80% off! That's $25 for a mere $2 or so!


From now May 31st 09 they're having a 80% off sale with code: SPECIAL.

So I came with a girlfriend armed with my $10 gift certificate and walked into Pitfire Pizza at 7:05 PM. As I handed the girl at the register the certificate she said that it's happy hour til 7 PM and so everything's half off anyway! Well it was past 7 PM I almost pointed out ... but I didn't and took her offer. Luckily the gift certificate is good for a year anyway, so i'm saving it for a later time. Double sweetness!

We each got Pitfire's individual-sized pizza and split em.

The burrata pie (burrata, tomato sauce, caramelized onions, arugula, hazelnut pesto drizzle - $9.95).
I really love the texture play that the tiny hazelnut bits added to this. I liked Pitfire's thin crust although I do wish it was crispier so I would eat the edges too ... The pizza is pretty light, as it is not overwhelmed by the cheese and tomato sauce. Overall I liked the combination of this pizza a lot. Chunks of burrata and fresh arugula, topped with crunchy hazelnuts! Plus, pesto ... I loove pesto.

Sweet Fennel Sausage (fontina, creme fraiche, crushed tomato, red onion, mozzarella - $9.95)
This was also good, although may seem a bit 'boring' compared to the burrata pizza. The sausages were good and I liked the use of crushed tomato chunks as opposed to just plain old tomato sauce. More cheesy than the first and was more familiar as a pizza. (Oh, yeah there's an iphone in the background so you can use it for a size comparison ;> )

$0.35 cocktail + $5 pizza. We made out like a couple of stuffed and buzzed bandits.

Pitfire Pizza Company
108 W 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 808-1200
http://www.pitfirepizza.com/
Pitfire Pizza Company on Urbanspoon

Read LA Pizza Man's review here and Sinosoul's review here.



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