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Monday, January 26, 2009

The York Delivers Microbrews but not Burgers

Must report back on my recent burger club outing at The York in Highland Park and Houston's in Century City. The York seemed so promising, with its hip "gastropub" moniker, microbrews and cool industrial interior with high ceilings.

Alas, the $13+ burger (because of extra toppings like avocado) was a sore disappointment. First of all, the patty was a bit pasty and flavorless. The meat just wasn't the greatest quality. The condiments didn't do much to salvage a bland burger. The fries were utterly unremarkable.

We drowned our sorrows in a glass of respectable Hefeweizen and concurred, as we usually do, that none comes close to Houston's delicious burger.

I had to go a few days later. I found myself going against convention and ordering the hickory burger (not found in the Sta. Monica location I usually frequent that I think is the best in LA). I should have gotten the classic California burger like I always do, topped with avocado, arugula and onions.
The hickory burger came with three slices of Canadian bacon, unmelted shredded cheddar cheese and chopped onions topped with a sweet and tangy hickory sauce. I like my burger with BBQ sauce on the side as much as the next carnivore, but the hickory sauce was more sweet than tangy and tasted flat. Besides, I never got the bacon in a burger thing -- regardless of type of bacon. Remove. My patty was overcooked to medium well when I had asked for medium rare. The sturdy sesame seed brioche-like bun was perfectly toasted and went well with the meat but the experience was lost the moment I bit into the dry and slightly chewy patty. What happened? Stick to the classics and what you know, I told myself. It was an off day. I still love Houston's and will go back any day for a protein fix.

In the meantime, I'll continue searching for that magical first bite into a bloody burger dripping with meaty goodness.

The York
5018 York Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 255-9675

Houston's (many locations)
10250 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 557-1285

Sunday, January 11, 2009

(Korean) Soup's On

I kicked off the new year in style -- Korean style, that is -- with the best rice cake soup I've ever made. Koreans eat ttukguk on New Year's day. I honestly don't know why, but we do. And I have, on every single January 1st of my life. This year was no exception, but I decided to make it with real home-made broth. So I took a chunk of brisket and some bone marrow and boiled them for hours and hours with garlic, ginger, onion and green onion. The broth was superb, if I may say so myself. All I had to do was season it with salt and pepper, add the thinly sliced rice cakes, wait until the rice cakes got soft, add one beaten egg and chopped green onions after removing the soup from heat. I like to toast a sheet of dried seaweed on the stove and crush them over the soup right before eating it as garnish and a crunchy, earthy flavor. Add a few slices of the brisket in small pieces and you've got a perfectly comforting and nutritious soup to start the new year.

I also wanted to thank HK for making another heartwarming classic -- spicy seafood soup (meuntang) -- that thankfully she made a life-time supply of and I had leftovers that got better with time. It had fish, tofu, radishes, two kinds of mushrooms, onions and sutkat, a peppery green (chrysanthemum leaves) that rounds out the spicy flavor. It was slow cooked for hours and in the end, I could really taste the ingredients' melding flavors.

I haven't tried the linked recipes but like everything else, Korean cooking is all about "jeokdanghee," which literally translates to "an appropriate amount," or eyeball, as we say here.

I haven't yet found restaurants in Koreatown serving good ttukguk (too much MSG) or meuntang (not simmered long enough so there's no depth of flavor or the fish smells far too fishy -- not a good sign), so I'd love to hear about them if you know of any.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Best of 2008

You won't see the usual suspects that I'm so tired of seeing on annual roundups featured in glossy magazines and newspapers. True, I haven't tried all of those exclusive places and my wallet has inevitably dictated where I've gone in 2008. But I also want to stress that there is culinary life beyond the fancy hotel restaurants and $200+ sushi palaces in LA. I wait for the day when good food throughout LA will be recognized as such, without the monikers "Best Ethnic Food" or "Best Cheap Eats." I believe these are the best that I've tried within my budget. Enjoy.

Here are my picks:

1) Best new find in LA: Lake Spring Shanghai Restaurant
It looks intimidating at first but inside this mass resides the juiciest, most tender slow-cooked pork you'll ever find. The meat has just the right amount of fat and seasonings for a perfect complement to the string beans. Thanks to AC & family!

2) Best "Hype is True" in LA: Din Tai Fung
The only downside to this joint is the wait but a new branch behind the old one has signficantly reduced the wait. Either go early or late and you'll be fine. I recommend the pork soup dumplings, which are piping hot (careful not to burn yourself -- follow the instructions on the chopsticks cover -- just trust me) and have an incredibly flavorful filling of ground pork and other goodies. If you're so inclined, get the crab dumpling but it isn't the same. I also like the low prices.

3) Best new food item in LA (that's also a steal): Mulita at La Taquiza
It's something between a taco and a quesadilla, so what's not to like? The carne asada was good and I'm looking forward to trying the al pastor and seafood options.

4) Best comeback in LA: Hanyang
If you like ttukbossam, the delicious pairing of rice cake paper with thin slices of meat and other toppings, I daresay Hanyang may be a more interesting choice than Shik Do Rak, the old standby. The reason: the garlicky and spicy red sauce that is smothered on the green onion mix. It simply adds a touch that you won't find at Shik Do Rak.

5) Best BBQ in LA:
Go Brazilian with Almir
You can't go wrong with Almir, the master of Brazilian barbecue, complete with rotating skewer grills and caipirinhas cocktails to boot. His to-die-for catering repertoire includes top quality filet mignon, tri-tip, rib-eye, bacon-wrapped chicken, lamb chops, ribs, etc. The list goes on. It will be the best party you'll ever host.

6) Best steal in LA:
Aloha Cafe
For a quick meal that's nutritious, cheap and fast, I head to Aloha Cafe in Little Tokyo's Honda Plaza (of Sushi Gen fame). It's a quaint little place that serves up Hawaiian standards like Kalua pork and Loco Moco -- and most plates come with a scoop of rice and a nicely toasted piece of Hawaiian bread. My favorite is the special braised rib that is fall-off-the-bone tender. You may want to ask for the gravy on the side.

7) Best home-cooked meal:
Persian Feast
My partner in crime YT and I kicked off our cooking extravaganza series by venturing into unfamiliar territory -- Persian food, courtesy of cookbook, New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij. My personal favorite was a walnut and pomegranate chicken dish that I made again and again with basmati rice thereafter at large gatherings to rave reviews. It's fairly easy and different from what I'm used to cooking so I'm glad that I broadened my cooking horizons.

Best out-of-town joint: Julia's Empanadas in DC
I wish there were more Chileans living in LA so we'd have a Julia's equivalent. Empanada's Place and other Argentine joints don't cut it for me. I miss Julia's excellent spicy, baked ground beef version with a black olive inside. The lines forming outside of Julia's after midnight despite bone-chilling weather speak for themselves. Sigh.

9) Best meal while traveling: tossup between grilled fish and marinated crab in Korea
The meals I remember most fondly (besides my Mom's cooking, of course) are the super meaty and succulent grilled kalchi fish from Jeju Island that I had in Seoul and the kyejang, or raw crab marinated in garlic, soy sauce and other seasonings. I guess I miss the fresh and chunky seafood you get in Korea that you can't get here, for some reason.

10) Best new food item outside of LA:
Garlic Leaf
Who knew that you could use garlic leaf to add flavor to a pork dish? Truth be told, I didn't even know there existed such a thing. Being a garlic lover, I couldn't have been happier to discover at Sosonjae in Seoul that they first pickled this garlic leaf in a soy sauce-based liquid and used it to wrap steamed slices of super-tender pork. Genius!

I look forward to another fruitful year of eating, cooking and other stomach-happy revelations!

Happy 2009 everyone!