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Monday, April 30, 2007

WHY BLOG?



Because I love to cook and eat food and would like to share my fave haunts, recipes and tips with friends and family. Because I was tired of being deleted and censored from food sites and message boards (that will remain unnamed) because my reviews were too critical or overly exuberant. Because sending a blog link is faster than emailing all my restaurant rec's to friends and family whenever they travel anywhere I have been to and ask where they should go eat. Because I see some foods I love being "butchered" in mainstream press and TV, and would like to provide accurate information.



ON THIS BLOG

I will be reviewing restaurants -- mostly in LA where I am based; sharing recipes on everything but particularly on rare, overlooked ingredients I think have enormous potential; and providing general tips on eating well and healthy when you're always on the go -- from planning a dinner party and what are good "potluck-friendly" dishes to what I pack for lunch on a weekday.

Enough about me. Let's talk food!

BOWL OF RAMEN GOODNESS




I will kickoff my blog with my favorite ramen place in the U.S. -- Shinsengumi Hakata Ramen. I love ramen so much that I paid a visit to the Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama a few years ago -- hands down the best ramen experience I've had in my life. I sampled ramen from all over Japan from the masters themselves. One clear-broth bowl sprinkled with toasted garlic comes to mind. I recommend it to anyone who has a chance to go to Japan. It's only a quick train ride away from Tokyo and well worth it.



But I digress. Shinsengumi serves one type of ramen and one type only, which is always a good sign. It serves the pork bone-based Kyushu-style ramen that Shinsengumi's Web site claims cooks for more than 15 hours to get that delicious and hearty broth (http://www.shinsengumiusa.com/ramen.php). The standard bowl comes with 2-3 tender slices of pork, bamboo shoots, bright-pink sliced marinated ginger and loads of chopped green onions.

What I love about it is that you can tailor your bowl of ramen just the way you like it. Besides the wide array of toppings you can choose from, you are asked for desired levels of doneness of noodles, soup oil and strength of broth. After having tried different variations, I recommend going with hard noodles, low soup oil and normal broth. For those who like spicy, I recommend adding spicy miso that can be ordered on the side for some kick. Purists may balk but as much as I like the depth of the broth, I like how the spicy miso complements the somewhat overpowering porkiness of the broth.



Shinsengumi is also a good deal if you come hungry. For 95 cents, you can get an extra order of noodles. For less than a dollar more, you can get a combination meal that includes ramen with a side order of gyoza or fried rice. I am particular to the A and C-sets that come with mini gyozas (pan-fried dumplings) and dome-shaped fried rice (with pork and veggies), respectively.

I waver when asked which of the ramen franchises within Shinsengumi is best. I have a soft spot for the first franchise I ran into years ago in Fountain Valley and I frequent the one in Gardena because it's the most convenient. I haven't been to the one in Rosemead, but between FV and Gardena, I would have to go with the broth at FV's shop for its complexity and depth of flavor.



Don't worry about the waiters yelling in Japanese when you enter and leave. It's supposed to make you feel welcome, although I just try to block it out.

I have tried other items on the menu like potato croquette and albacore tuna salad, but none come even close to the divine goodness of the ramen. I have also tried other (but not all) restaurants in the Shinsengumi empire and have one plea and one complaint. 1) Please open a ramen shop in West LA! The shops lining Sawtelle have nothing on Shinsengumi. 2) Its Shabu-Shabu restaurants are no good. I also happen to love Shabu-Shabu but the meat was too thick, the sesame sauce was bland and it plain wasn't worth the drive.