Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hot and Soupy #4: Ochazuke! Suehiro Cafe, Little Tokyo

Being the holidays, I ended up spending a lot of time watching Japanese dramas. And those, well, they make me crave Japanese food.

So one day, while watching Shinya Shokudo, I found myself craving Ochazuke.

Ochazuke, or chazuke, is a simple dish, really, and if I had the ingredients I probably could make it myself. It is made with rice served in a green tea and dashi broth. The toppings vary but the typical ones are salmon, tarako (cod roe), ume, nori (seaweed), etc.

Not having much luck locating a place that serves it in Pasadena, I dragged a friend to Suehiro Cafe in Little Tokyo. Suehiro Cafe is a popular place serving cheap comfort food like katsudon. I ordered the mixed chazuke with salmon, tarako, and nori for $6.30.

The bowl camed with a dollop of wasabi.Mixed Chazuke - $6.30
While it isn't as 'gourmet' and impeccable as the chazuke I had during my kaiseki meal at Wakuriya, this one is all about slurping it down. Warm, soupy rice full of dashi flavor would hit the spot any day. Oh, and I think tarako adds a great texture to the dish, so I recommend you get that topping next time you try chazuke.

Suehiro Cafe
337 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-9132
Suehiro on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The List of New Year's Eve Lists + A Bit More

I still can't decide what to do for New Year's Eve either. In my search I came across some great lists from other bloggers/publications, so instead of rehashing what they said, I'm going to give you links to these lists so that they may help you too! I'll also add a few other things that may not be listed. Here goes:

Los Angeles Magazine: Roundup: New Year's Eve Planner

e*starLA: New Year, New Decade: The NYE Dinner-Party Round Up

Thirsty in LA: NYE Parties in LA: "So Long Aughts, and Thanks for All the Fish!"

OpenTable: New Year's Eve Dinners

For the bigger parties:
LA Times: Ramie Becker's Ring in 2010: Los Angeles New Year's Eve Parties

For more parties and hot shows:
NBC Los Angeles: LA's New Year's Eve 2010 Hotlist
lists of dinner or drinks with shows including Lucent Dossier's Haute Cirque

Other goings-on:

For an early dinner, Bistro LQ will have a 4-course prix fixe menu at $55 for early seating (5:30-6:30) and a 6-course menu at $90 otherwise. Roasted Maine lobster, foie gras french toast-style, lamb loin, and duck magret are on the menu. Call (323) 951-1088.

Wolfgang's Steakhouse will have their full menu available plus a few specials (Lobster Mac and Cheese, a special cocktail). Not only that, they'll also have their Happy Hour menu available in the Della Robbia room starting at 10pm. And of course, complimentary champagne will go around twice here, at 9 pm (a toast to their NYC roots) and at midnight. Call (310) 385-0640.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Getting Into the Spirit: Infused SKYY Cocktails

When a PR email about the infused SKYY vodkas hit my mailbox, one cocktail recipe in particular caught my interest. That was the Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaii's way of pronouncing "Merry Christmas" and now also a song once recorded by Bing Crosby).

Mele Kalikimaka Martini

1.5 oz. SKYY Infusions Pineapple
3 oz. Eggnog
Splash of Coconut Cream or Coconut Milk

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into martini glass. Top with sprinkling of nutmeg and cinnamon and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

I got samples of the SKYY Infusions Pineapple and Passionfruit and last weekend tried a "punch" using the passionfruit.

I'm bad at coming up with clever names, so here goes the

Passion-Quince Punch

1 part lime juice
2 parts agave syrup
3 parts Licor de Membrillo (quince liqueur that I obtained in Tijuana - I'll probably find a substitute you guys can actually work with sometime)
4 parts Passionfruit SKYY Infusions

The flavors from the fruit infusions come out strongly in this drink. A sweet but quite strong punch that I thought was perfect for my party guests who's not used to drinking but whom you want to get wasted anyway. Plus, it's easy to make when you're rushing to get your party started. (I've been told I always time things too tightly :P )

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hot and Soupy #3: Kaori Sushi, $50 Omakase, and Lobster Soup

I try not to come down to Orange County much (what would I do there?), but when I have to (i.e. when former roommate Kat's 9 Lives demands a visit from me), I ask for good food. The last I visited her in OC I was coaxed with some omakase at Kaori, a Korean-run sushi joint in Fullerton.

OK, this visit was actually quite some time ago, but I thought it would be an appropriate post for the "hot and soupy" series because the most memorable part of the meal was the lobster miso soup.

Now why would I go have omakase at a korean-run sushi place in Fullerton of all places? Well, Kat's previous report of a $50 omakase that included live lobster was pretty enticing.
Apparently you can call ahead and tell him you want to spend $50 and that you want the lobster soup so he can go buy lobster for you.

Turns out here at Kaori, $50 goes a long way.

We started with some vegetable tempura, followed by some Ankimo with ponzu sauce.

The came a plate of softshell crab.
Nice and crunchy although a tad heavy on the sauce.


Marinated oyster.
The Sashimi plates were also pretty impressive. We got two plates throughout the night consisting of toro, uni, hamachi belly, and more.
While they aren't the best pieces of sashimi you'd find around town, the quality and variety were both quite good considering the price we were paying.

A series of sushi came next, from Albacore belly to Ono with jalapeno ponzu sauce.

The sushi chef Gino showed his own flair too with local ingredients, as exemplified with the Anaheim Chili stuffed with salmon, topped with sriracha sauce.
It was just a li~ttle spicy for my level (I'm training, believe me), but it was a pretty creative dish. An Asian, fishy take on Chile Relleno?

Finally came the main attraction. The headliner of the night. Live lobster!
Live lobster sashimi in a $50 omakase? You have to call ahead and tell him you want it so he can go buy one for you, but if you do, a lobster will be killed and snapped in front of you.

Well, enough with the gore. Here's the delicious part: Live Lobster Sashimi
That's not all though. The best part is still to come. After you're done with the tail sashimi, he will take the rest and make an amazing Lobster Miso Soup.
This was the tour de force of the meal. The soup had so much flavor and texture from the miso base, the bits of lobster meat, and - perhaps the key secret ingredient - the lobster eggs which really added a lot of texture.

The meal ended with a simple matcha ice cream. Being my first time here, I was actually rather worried at the end, incredulous that the meal would actually only cost $50, but there it was on the bill: $50 per person.

Definitely a great deal for some omakase and while the sushi isn't at the level of the top joints in town, the lobster miso soup is worth a try.

Kaori Japanese Restaurant
500 N Harbor Blvd #C
Fullerton, CA 92832
(714) 871-9395
Kaori Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Kaori Japanese Restaurant in Los Angeles

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hot and Soupy #2: Ippudo, NY. Best Ramen in the States

A New York trip calls for Ippudo - if you haven't been there, that is.
I met up with an LA blogger (now Destination Eats) who's relocated to NYC, and his girlfriend for lunch during my trip.
There was a 45 minute wait, so we went to Momofuku Milk Bar to get some goodies while waiting for a table, but Ippudo's staff wouldn't let us take our cookies into the dining area. We had to leave them in the staff closet to be picked up when we leave.

We had fun observing the wall of ramen bowls behind the bar, and wondered what would happen during an earthquake. Well, good thing they're not in California!
After a while we were called to be seated and walked through a fairly large dining room - much fancier than other ramen joints I've been too, but I guess this is a popular spot in NY after all.

I've heard good things about their pork buns, so we ordered some. But beware although at the bar you can order them for $4 each, when you're seated at a table you have to order two at a time for $8! Why? Who knows. Because they want to?
Some people may kill me for this, but I actually liked Momofuku's pork buns better ...
The problem with these are the mayonnaise. Too much mayonnaise that it overwhelms the pork flavor. While the oyster sauce in Momofuku's pork buns are reminiscent of Beijing duck, mayonnaise just reminded me of ...well ... sandwiches?

But the main attraction here is the ramen. I ordered the Akamaru Modern ($14)
Akamaru means 'red circle,' Destination Eats' girlfriend explained to me. The red circle most likely referred the dollop of spicy miso paste in the middle.

Some food porn shots for you: thin straight noodles in true Hakata-style, thick chashu, medium boiled eggs.
This was indeed an excellent bowl of ramen. I liked the firm Hakata thin noodles, the tonkotsu broth is rich and flavorful, the chashu thick and succulent, and the half boiled eggs added an extra texture that neither poached nor hard boiled egg can. It is indeed a magnificent bowl of ramen that hints of the gloriousness that you might get at the original Hakata outpost.

The $14 price tag aside, the attitude about the pork bun ordering and taking cookies in aside, this was conceivably the best bowl of ramen I've had in the US. Whether or not you should pay $14 for a bowl of ramen, though (even if you are in New York), is entirely your decision.

65 4th Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 388-0088
Ippudo on Urbanspoon
Ippudo in New York

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hot and Soupy #1: Handmade Soba and Udon at Ichimiann (You Never Knew It Could Taste This Good)

I've eaten at Ichimiann so much it's a wonder that I hadn't written about it sooner, but this cold winter weather is the perfect time to start it off as the inaugural post of my "Hot and Soupy" series of posts!

Ichimiann is a place I found through Exile Kiss' blogpost, lauding it as the one amazing teuchi(handmade) soba place in town. I was on a crazy soba kick and wanted to venture further than Yabu.

Ichimiann, aka Bamboo Garden, is a tiny shop on a dilapidated side street right next to Foster's Freeze and looks just like a typical noodle shop.
Cash only, you can place your order and then take a seat at the bar by the wall.

The rite of passage for all soba noobs is the Zaru Soba, so even though it doesn't meet the hot and soupy winter theme, it simply cannot be left unmentioned. Zaru soba gets its name from the bamboo sieve that it is served on and is typically served with tsuyu (a mixture of dashi, sweetened soy sauce, and mirin), scallions, and wasabi.
Mix the scallions and wasabi in the tsuyu, then pick up the buckwheat noodles and dip it in the tsuyu.
This is the dish that best highlights Ichimiann's excellent handmade soba, the wonderful texture and the flavor of the buckwheat noodle itself. The soba here is devoid of that doughy and powdery taste and texture that I always hated in mass produced noodles.

If you want hot soba, however, Ichimiann has plenty of options for you, from a simple bowl with poached egg to many more. The flavors of the broth are subtler here, unlike many places which tend to be salty, but it is ultimately more satisfying and worth savoring.

When you want your protein you could opt for the unagi soba topped with grated yam.
Even though this dish made me realize I'm not big on japanese yam, the rest of the dish was excellent. The unagi is nicely grilled and lends a nice flavor although I did miss the crisp texture of the unagi before it's soaked in broth and yam.

When Exile Kiss did a second post, this time on the udon noodles at Ichimiann, I had to go back and try that too (even if I'm still a soba girl).

A bowl of beef sukiyaki udon seems like the perfect meal for a chilly Saturday morning (ok, afternoon).

Ichimiann's udon is thin, unlike the type you normally see in stores and restaurants.
The sukiyaki udon bowl is bolder in flavor than the other soba dishes that I've had and it really hits the spot. The udon, while thinner than usual, is wonderfully chewy without that doughy consistency.
Ichimiann's subtle but deeply satisfying flavor doesn't leave you overwhelmed and dehydrated like some salty dishes might, but instead it just keeps you satiated all day long.

Ichimian Bamboo Garden
1618 Cravens Ave
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 328-1323
Ichimian Bamboo Garden on Urbanspoon
Ichimian Bamboo Garden in Los Angeles

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lunch with Chef Michael Chiarello. Chatting About Top Chef, Good Television, Flavors, and More.

It isn't often that I get the chance to meet and greet a celeb chef, especially when he's not based in Los Angeles, so when an invitation came to meet Top Chef Master finalist Michael Chiarello, I took it despite the fact that I had to drive all the way to OC on a weekday afternoon.

The meet and greet took place at his Napa Style store in South Coast Plaza. When I arrived, he hadn't come out yet, but I was happy to see fellow LA blogger Mattatouille there already partaking in some of Chiarello's fine wines.

I've had his five wines during the blogger event a couple of months ago and really enjoyed all of them, so I was quite happy to partake again. This time they are serving the Eileen (Cabernet, named after his wife) and Roux (old vine Petit Syrah, named after one of his daughters - these vines are 97 years old and are the oldest vines in Napa).

While waiting for Chiarello to come out and lunch to be served, I made my way around the impressive spread of bread, dips, and cured meats which are available for purchase at the store.
Soon after the store manager started bringing in lunch, which was made from Chiarello's recipes and prepared at another South Coast Plaza restaurant for this event. Our simple but delicious lunch consisted of vegetable pizza and cauliflower alla parmigiana.
Since the lunch was at the Napa Style store where samples of various products are available, we had the brilliant idea of sprinkling some of their Truffle Salt on our cauliflowers. So. Good.
To finish off were two trays of chocolates, all of them are (of course) sold at Napa Style including Valerie's salt and pepper truffles.
There were also Rabitos chocolate fig bonbons that I really like.

Chef Chiarello came wearing casual clothing and a big smile, and many of the media people in attendance immediately went over to chat with him. I couldn't hustle through his older fans, so I just waited until later.

Chiarello was quite charismatic and an entertaining speaker, throwing various jokes and anecdotes (one of his quotes of the day: "I'm not particularly artistic but I am crafty.")

As expected, most of the questions revolved around his experience in the Top Chef Master competition - including how the editing process to create "good television" gave a very different impression than what actually happened.
The rest of the conversation traversed through his experience going out to see rabbits with daughter Giana who grew up seeing an ecosystem come to life, to juggling the demands of organic wine growing vs what is financially feasible. According to Chiarello, advocates for organic movement demand certain things but do not realize that means an extra $1 million investment for wine growers like Chiarello. Still committed to organic practices, Chiarello is working on an electric tractor for his vineyard.

His decision to open the Napa Style stores celebrates the increasing return of American consumers to the home kitchen (thanks to the recessions). The products available at Napa Style gave home cooks access to the same high quality and distinct artisan products Chiarello uses in his kitchen such as his various natural and flavored salts and olive oils. As for his selection of these products, Chiarello emphasizes what he calls "flavor" rather than taste, "flavors" that came about from the individuals involved in the creation process itself.

He also spoke of his experiences as a chef up until now, starting from Florida to his return to California with Tra Vigne in Napa and his latest restaurant, Bottega. To celebrate Bottega's anniversary last week, they held an all-week truffle menu! If only it was closer to Los Angeles ...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Upcoming: Holiday Punch Competition and More Rum, Hot and Buttered

Taste (and indulge in) and judge six different punches.
If that's not enough, there will also be as much Hot Buttered Rum as you care for served by RumDood himself (he's the one in hawaiian shirt and fedora hat).

And of course, snacks to keep you afloat all that rum you're drinking.

For just $12, that could be you hot and buttered up in the middle of Malo Cantina this Thursday!

It's fun seeing your friends go places. Like when blogger friend RumDood goes to hold his first ever LIVE punch competition at Malo Cantina this coming Thursday, December 10!

But alas, since I can't be there to see it for myself, I was hoping blogging about it will send some of you guys reading there. Hopefully sending a proxy will make up for me not showing up. In other words, I want all of you to go there on Thursday and get punched up!

I don't see why you would refuse.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Robataya: Low Key Westside Robata & Yakitori

A lot has been happening in the West LA dining scene since I graduated from UCLA. Returning to Sawtelle a year ago, I noticed at least three new spots. One of these was Robata-ya located next to Chabuya. At the time, robata was made somewhat popular by the Katsuya in Brentwood, so we were eager to try this more affordable option.

The menu was pretty extensive. From traditional cold appetizers like the cucumber sunomono - always a refreshing starter when not overdressed - Robataya's version was nice and light with a big enough portion to share.
I was also enticed by the fancier options like the truffle chawan mushi.
The truffles weren't that fragrant and didn't add much to the dish at all, but the chawan mushi itself was really quite good. Next time I'd rather have the chawan mushi and not pay a premium for the truffles.

Seared foie gras might have been the most affordable at only $12.
Not the best quality and a little stringy, but for $12 what more can you ask for? If you can pay a bit more, Orris next door has quite a delicious version.

An order of corn from the robata bar was a whopping plate of six pieces of grilled corn.
Way too much for 2 people to share, even if they are as much of a corn lover as we are.

It was pretty exciting to see options like bonchiri (chicken tail) and seseri (chicken neck) on the menu at Robataya. I fell in love with seseri at Yakitori Totto in New York. The seseri here is not as good as it was fattier, but as decent an option as you can find for seseri in Los Angeles: crispy skin, tender and juicy meat.
When you see chicken tail, you should think chicken butt instead.
In other words, fatty.

They had a nice, although small, rotating dessert menu and the flourless chocolate cake ended the night on a high note.

All in all, not a bad meal. Everything was quite enjoyable and very much comparable to Yakitoriya down the street but with more options. Oh, and no minimum skewer order here either! Nothing mind-blowing (unlike Yakitori Totto); the most memorable dish was actually the flourless chocolate cake, but it's still a good everyday place.

Robata Ya
2004 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 481-1418
Robata Ya on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Get Ready, Ludobites is Back.

Ludobites is back for another limited engagement, this time at the first maid cafe this side of the world, Royal/T (and yep, some old faces from the previous Ludobites may be wearing maid outfits serving you). A group of bloggers were lucky enough to get a sneak preview the night before the opening, all thanks to the Fooddigger team!

They not only get the LA food blogging community together, algorithmically match our palates, and throw dinners for us, they throw dinners like no other. Whole suckling pig, special tastings, and this time, a taste of the new Ludobites before they open.

  • Why we love Ludo's wife, Krissy:
While some restaurants think we camera-toting foodbloggers are annoying, she buys a light box to indulge us with great lighting. Yep, so if you're wondering how we got such great photos for this dinner, she's the hero. She's also the power force running the floor, maneuvering the legal side of the restaurant business, and handling the reservation (so get on her good side!).

  • Why we love Ludo (9 reasons below):
1. Scallop, Brown Butter, Pineapple & Black Powder
The raw scallops were slightly cooked with the addition of the hot brown butter. The scallops were fresh and delicate, with a nice tartness from the pineapple. The black powder was really made from squid ink and added an interesting texture to the dish.

2. Bread Soup with Gruyere Marshmallow
Who thinks of things like "bread soup"? Ludo does, apparently. Bypasses the need to dip bread into your soup I suppose? Either way, this creamy soup made from Breadbar's Rustic Bread, paired with the poached egg is the perfect warm bowl for a cold night.

3. Foie Gras Beignet, Celery Roots Remoulade
The deep fried beignet is glazed with honey and holds 2 oz of foie gras inside. The most indulgent of indulgence, the richness of 2 oz of foie gras will knock you out. The beignet itself acts as a container for all the juice and moisture that comes out of the foie as they're cooking in the deep fryer. You're going to need that honey and celery root to cut all the richness.

4. Squid, Chorizo Oil, Kimchi Puree, Red Onions, and Eggplant Paper
A perfectly cooked squid with a texture like no other and a delicateness that's accentuated by the spicy kimchi puree and chorizo oil acting as both flavor and texture enhancer. The red onion added a slight tartness the brings the dish to yet another level while we were all marveling over how to make that thin eggplant paper.

5. Veal, Udon, Kombu Dashi, Mushrooms & Sesame Seed Miso
A lovely udon. It surprised me the Ludo can make a bowl of udon like this. The noodles had a nice chewy texture and the flavors of the tender veal and the kombu dashi hit the spot as a great umami flavor should.

6. Wild Striped Bass, Garden Vegetables, Aioli
A return to classical French cooking with the tender and moist fish. The highlight here is the combination with the aioli and crisp cauliflower.

7. Marinated Hanger Steak, Crunchy Escargot, Baby Corn, Bok Choy, Black Olive Mole
It was less than 2 weeks ago that Ludo learnt the art of mole making from Glutster's mom and already here he is blowing us away with his creamy and flavorful black olive mole that elevates the flavorful and tender hanger steak. The escargots are crunchy on the outside and chewy inside - simply addicting.

8. Fourme D'Ambert Tourte, Red Pears, Honey-Balsamic
The Fourme d'Ambert is a pasteurized cow's milk blue cheese that supposedly dates back to the Roman Times. Although the cheese normally has a semi-hard texture, in the tourte form it is soft and creamy. With the intense flavor of blue cheese and the warm crispy crust, this was one delightful tart. The crisp red pear and the tangy honey balsamic did well in cutting the richness, making a balanced dish.

9. Chocolate Cake, Coconut Sorbet, Caramel Coffee
A thick and decadent chocolate cake is paired here with a lightly sweet and cool coconut sorbet soup resulting in a clean and refreshing finish. The sprinkles of pink peppercorn on the other hand gave it that light kick that took this dessert to another level.

Yet another great meal from Ludo. We came in with high expectations and we were blown away once again. I'm certainly looking forward to my future meals here, and if you haven't made your reservation yet, they are sold out but get on the waitlist to snag those cancellations (they do have cancellations for tonight - opening night, just contact Krissy the @Frenchchefwife)!

And thanks to Brian from Fooddigger for handling all the wine pairing!

Ludobites at Royal/T
8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA
Ludo Bites at Royal/T in Los Angeles

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