Follow by Email

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I'm Moving Blogs to NJ STILL EATS: Are You In or Are You In??

I have officially exceeded my image capacity for this domain so am launching the sequel to my original blog as beginning TONIGHT at 6pm PST with a whole new look thanks to the new blogspot features that gave it a nice makeover!

I have a ton of food stories to tell from my Korea trip and beyond so stay tuned my friends and don't forget to follow me and bookmark me (Boy, I don't think I"ve ever said that before -- bookmark me. Oh, and please add me as a favorite or should I say "please favorite me"?) again! And tell me what you think of the site's new look. I tried to modernize it and make it more visual with EXTRA LARGE images as a nod to the art of food porn. The above image is a teaser of one of the top three things I had while in Korea. Can you guess what it is? You're just going to have to go here to find out.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Korea Roundup I: Noodles with Ice Floating and the Best Soju Pairing



I know that for those who don't live in Korea or LA, complaining that there's no good nengmyun, or cold buckwheat noodles to be found in LA gets me no sympathy. But just like my rant on a lack of decent ttukbokki a while back, there are plenty of things that LA doesn't do well or doesn't do at all. And nengmyun is one of them. So it was with great satisfaction that within a few hours of my arrival into Korea, I got to have excellent nengmyun at Hanilkwan, an old school restaurant with tons of history that since expanded into three locations. I went to the one near Korea's "Times Square" in Youngdeungpo that is nothing like NY's Times Square but is a huge mall that has everything.

I was happy as the bowl of nengmyun was placed before me and I saw delightful pieces of frozen broth floating around the cold soup, not to mention the neatly stacked radishes, cucumbers and pear daintily topped with half a hard boiled egg. The broth was so refreshing and spot on. I could taste the meatiness of the broth that was like 50 times more complex than the ones I've had in LA. Ok, I'll stop the hating. But I can't help but gush at this seemingly simple but very complicated dish.

The side dishes were also fresh and not overly salted. The bindaettuk, or mung bean pancakes actually imparted the mung bean flavor instead of the doughy tasting ones that have added too much flour to the mix. It hadn't been reheated 20 times and smelling like old oil. It was crispy and browned just right.

On a totally different note, I enjoyed the food at an event we had at Raum in Seoul. It's not a restaurant but the lobster starter and the lime sorbet were highlights.

From riches to rags, I also loved Saemaeul Shikdang, which plays to our nostalgic love of old pots and rustic hole in the wall-type atmosphere and takes it corporate. I was somewhat surprised and disheartened to learn that it's actually a chain restaurant with multiple locations. Not that chains can't be good but I'm wondering whether I was influenced by this atmosphere to love the food. Still, I loved it.

The best dishes are chadol (thinly sliced beef) smothered in spicy marinade and cooked tableside, along with kimchi jjigae, served in those yellow pots you see people eat instant ramyun in Korean dramas. The marinade was like the spicy pork bulgoki, only this was for beef. It came with shredded Korean green onions seasoned with some more spicy sauce because there can never be too much spice.

The kimchi stew with pork pieces was spicy, flavorful and perfect with a cold glass of soju. Now I don't normally crave soju or even like the taste of it, especially not the plain stuff. But the kimchi jjigae was so delicious and the garlicky, spicy meat was so juicy and perfectly marinated that washing it down with soju seemed like the most natural thing to do. I also consumed a lot of rice to temper the strong flavors.

I mean look at that pot. Doesn't it remind you of those drinking scenes in dramas? "아줌마, 여기 소주 한병 더요!" ("One more bottle of soju please!") I was tempted but got an extra  공기밥 (bowl of rice) instead. Stay tuned for second entry next week.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wayfare Tavern in SF: Great Burger By Celeb Chef Tyler Florence

I've always been a big fan of Tyler Florence's recipes and cookbooks but had never tried his restaurants so it was a treat trying Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco. It delivered. Since his horseradish burger is one of my faves to make at home when I'm not going to Houston's, I figured I'd try the burger. It was solid, as were the fries. Don't let his fame deter you from trying his very good food. I myself am allergic to celeb chefs but he defies the stereotype.

The brioche bun was perfectly soft and fresh while dense enough to hold the hearty patty, which was cooked a solid medium rare with a nice meaty flavor and just the right consistency. I thought the brie would be too overpowering for the patty but it was on the mild side and nicely melted. The caramelized red onions were sweet and I asked for the bacon on the side as I find bacon to be a distraction in good burgers. Don't get me wrong. I love a nice, crispy bacon as much as the next person but when it comes to burgers, you gotta leave the patty alone. You can also add a fried egg on top but as much as love a fried egg on anything, I resisted to stay true to my rather purist tendencies when it comes to a burger.

I also liked the pickles that tasted home-made for their low sodium content. They were refreshing without being like the overly pickled, sadly shriveled, super salty and vinegary commercial pickles.

Let's talk fries. They were crispy and not over-salted. Approved!

We also shared a nice fig and pork belly salad with some greens as a starter. I realize the choice of pork belly as a starter for a full-on, meaty burger may not have been the wisest one and I did regret it momentarily but thankfully the salad ended up not being as heavy and the figs were super sweet -- a great complement to the salty pork belly chunks.

Another bonus was the complimentary brioche bread served before our meal arrived. It was fluffy and I chowed it down slathered in creamy butter even though I had a whole bun waiting for me. I didn't mind the carb overload because it seemed light and not too dense. Oh, and I walked it off.

I'd definitely like to return in the evening and try its extensive wine and beer selection.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Parish: Fried Oyster Poutine Anyone?

It was a blessing in disguise when we heard that Perch was too full and had to head to the Parish instead. Perch has a great view, I hear, but Parish probably has better food. Indeed, I was impressed with the interesting takes on classics and the modern and swanky redo of the former Angelique Cafe space's interior (RIP).

The drinks weren't as impressive, however. The Russian Tulip was a glass containing 99% ice with a splash of some vodka, lemon juice, grenadine and bitters. It tasted like diluted lemonade.

We had the slow cooked pork shoulder with some greens and more interestingly, paneer, chunks of the delectable Indian cheese that comes with super soft spinach at your fave Indian restaurant (yes, saag paneer is the one).

In case you haven't noticed, we ordered a bunch of fatty, luscious and crunchy goodies to go with our drinks. We'd had a long day, damn it. We deserved it. So the slow cooked pork dish was soft and a mix of healthy and meaty for a fine balance.

Next up: fried chicken with some greens, grilled peaches and grape tomatoes. What better way to enjoy a big old chicken leg with a crunchy crust than with healthy greens and fruit? Again, the balance. The chicken wasn't as good as at Son of a Gun (I know, broken record) but it was decent.

We even had fried oysters, which I would never order but was pleasantly surprised at how good they were. Not only were they fried oysters, they were in poutine form, which signficantly ups the decadence ante to the whole experience.

Poutine is a great Quebec tradition that consists of fries smothered with seemingly whatever your heart desires (or fears), although traditionally it's usually been gravy and curd cheese. Animal has a great version with pulled oxtail and Biergarten did for a while with short ribs but I no longer recommend it. There was a dearth of fries in this oyster version but I appreciated it for its novelty value.

It's hard to talk decadent, the overused food blog term of the century, without mentioning roasted bone marrow. It was a tad disappointing, especially compared with Church and State that's also all about super heavy and delicious stuff.

The bread was crusty enough but the marrow wasn't as spreadable. It needed work.

Last but not least, what's a happy hour without a blood red burger split amongst the group's carnivores?

I was glad the patty was cooked medium rare, red enough in the middle to really taste the beef, with epoisses, a soft French cheese that was a good counterbalance to the pickled carrots' tanginess.

The bun was soft enough but I wasn't crazy about this burger because you guessed it, while above average, it was no Houston's burger. But one recent burger had in SF was not bad, but more about that later.

We also had a burrata salad with greens and grilled peaches that was good but not enough greens. Loved that peaches were grilled as they brought out the fruit's natural sweetness.

Service and ambiance were great. Parking is a bit of a pain as you have to use a lot nearby, pay and walk, God forbid.

I'd like to return to check out its other bar food classics like fish and chips, balanced out by the very healthy chopped kale.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Laurel Hardware in WeHo: Great Space, Cool Atmosphere and Delicious Oozing Egg Sandwiches

I love discovering gems in my own 'hood. Laurel Hardware was one of those places you always drive by but never got a chance to try. It was actually a real hardware store before going through a transformation into the coolest restaurant that I'm happy to report has pretty good food.

Let's deconstruct this fried chicken biscuit sandwich that came with a side of pancetta gravy. I'm not a big gravy person. I find it rather distracting. So I just used a small dollop of gravy for my sandwich but frankly, I don't think it needed it -- especially in light of this perfectly oozing egg. Kudos to the kitchen for getting the egg just right -- a beautiful soon-to-be runny sunny side up.

True, I didn't think the chicken was nearly as mind-blowingly crispy and juicy as the one in Son of a Gun. But it was a thicker cut and managed to stay quite moist and nicely seasoned. It came with collard greens in a biscuit bun that wasn't my favorite biscuit but it was ok. Think the biscuit could have had a harder crust but I still appreciated the different experience of a fried chicken biscuit sandwich.

I liked the Gangster cocktail that was cucumber vodka with watermelon and lime juice. It was so refreshing -- the perfect summer drink. Very appropo considering it was 100+ weather.

I didn't care too much for the mojito that came with a "summer float," which I found too sweet.

I did, however, love the decor and vibe of this place, at least during the day. It features floor to ceiling windows and has different spaces in the back with booths, communal tables, couches and an outdoor patio area. It's a very long and slightly narrow space and I loved it. I wonder what it's like for late night drinks. Note to self: must try.

My brunch companion had the turkey bacon sandwich in a pretzel bun with heirloom tomato and homemade ranch sauce. I usually never rave about turkey -- sorry but what's there to rave about -- but this turkey tasted home-roasted and freshly sliced. The bacon was chunky and cooked just crisp. I didn't mind that the sandwich came with fries, which were good but not terribly memorable.

I'd like to return soon to check out other brunch items and dinner/drinks menu -- and perhaps sit in the outdoor patio in the back. The space looked so inviting. Service was good too. Recommended.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mexico Roundup III: Veggie Ceviche and Fusion Pastas at Onix in Huatulco

I wasn't sure what to expect food-wise in a beach town like Huatulco, but my party and I were pleasantly surprised when we ran into Onix right off the main plaza.

We liked it so much we went two nights in a row (ok, and there was a dearth of good places).

The first night we got complimentary veggie ceviche, which were surprisingly very good. I never thought I'd like vegetarian ceviche. I mean, should those even be called ceviche?!  But the mix of crunchy raw vegetables that included tomatoes, cauliflower and onions were just what we needed in the hot and humid tropical weather.

Then the oyster tostadas topped with some melted cheese surprised us once again. I don't even like oysters unless consumed super fresh and raw. These were cooked and I had never had anything like that before. Thumbs up.

I reluctantly ordered the chicken flautas and was worried they'd be too greasy and dry like most places in LA serve them. 
How ethereal were these lightly fried flautas stuffed with miraculously moist chicken meat inside?

Also adding to this place's brownie points was the side of pickled vegetables to accompany our meal. The plate included carrots, cauliflower and zucchini pickled to perfection with just the right amount of bite to them.
After days of eating nothing but Mexican food, even the biggest Mexican food enthusiast like me gets a bit Mexican food-ed out. So I couldn't help but try some of the more fusion pasta dishes offered.

I tried a spaghetti dish that had chile, cilantro, tomato, onion and topped with some quesillo. Ah! my least favorite cheese.

I adroitly set aside the big lump of cheese atop my pasta and enjoyed the pasta underneath. It was fresh and light -- just what I wanted.

The other pasta with squid ink, squid and pine nuts served with fusilli was also very good. I was impressed at the mix of modern and traditional ingredients.

I also tried the soup donaji, which is a Oaxacan delicacy and yes, you guessed it, I wasn't a big fan. It was a shrimp-based broth with dried shrimp and chick peas that was a bit on the fishy side for me. But interesting nonetheless.
The plantain chips were always a welcome appetizer. The steak I got the second night first came too undercooked and then overcooked, and then they redid it from scratch for me and it was cooked right -- just too much meat for one person to finish, even me.

The side vegetables had too much butter on them and not good quality butter so I couldn't eat them.

I liked the habanero salsa this place gave us upon request for some hot sauce. That thing is crazy spicy so beware spice fiends.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mexico Roundup II: Nab an Elote on the Street and Keep the Mole Red in Oaxaca

Another revelation while traveling in Oaxaca was the versatility of squash blossoms and nopales. I want to add them to everything now, just like they do -- in quesadillas, soups and salads. I'll probably get flamed for saying this but I was generally disappointed with the food in Oaxaca. Sure, I could have gone to the wrong places and ordered the wrong things or gone on an off-day. But I concluded I'm likely just not a Oaxacan cuisine-kind of person.

For example, I didn't care for memelitas, a local delicacy of tiny tortillas topped with a bean spread, meat or veggies and sprinkled with some fresh cheese.

I also didn't like the tetelas at Itanoni that got rave reviews on message boards. These are corn masa triangles filled with beans, cream, queso fresco and salsa. Finally, I didn't like quesillo, the stringy, super heavy cheese they add in virtually everything.

Having said that, I did have some awesome things. Some of my fave dishes in Oaxaca were from Oscar Carrizosa, the chef at Casa Crespo who shared his kitchen with a group of us (although not cheap, I highly recommend his cooking class) and showed us how to make a multitude of dishes like mole Coloradito (red mole) with chicken thighs, squash blossom quesadillas, potato and cheese croquette and mezcal (a regional spirit similar to tequila but with a worm inside the bottle) sorbet to finish off the very full meal. After having such excellent tortillas, I was inspired to buy a tortilla press and make my own. I just can't go back. He took us shopping at the market beforehand, which added to the experience.

I should add that I also didn't care for tlayuda, that ubiquitous street food revered by all, apparently except for me.
It's a large, thin tortilla topped with bean spread, shredded lettuce, quesillo, avocado chunks, tomatoes and any kind of protein that floats your boat. I got ambitious when visiting the 20 de Noviembre Market in Oaxaca and got the one with chorizo, beef and al pastor. I didn't care for it. The meats were far too salty and I didn't love the combo with the other components. I also didn't like the way the tortilla shell tasted.
I did love the elote, or Mexican-style corn on the cob sold on the streets. I got it "con todo," of course, which included salt, butter, chili powder, cheese and lemon juice.

One of the biggest disappointments was La Biznaga, which got rave reviews and boasts a beautiful, artsy and inviting space but seems like a tourist trap serving diluted, overrated and overpriced food.

The only thing worth mentioning was the chile relleno that came in a mild green sauce but everything else was outright bad. The al pastor fish I had was completely lacking in flavor.

At Itanoni, I thought the use of hierba santa, a local herb, in a tortilla rolled up with some beans would be good but I didn't think the flavors gelled very well. And the tetelas mentioned above, well, the cream was too strong and ruined it for me. I just didn't care for the tortillas to begin with, despite wanting to like them after seeing how they were hand-made right before me. I liked the drink infused with herbs.

I had another unremarkable meal at Los Danzantes, which I was glad had a location in Oaxaca as the wait in its Coyoacan location in Mexico City was too long so we went to Corazon de Maguey. In retrospect, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I liked Corazon a lot better than Danzantes, or at least the Oaxacan location didn't impress. Interesting because Corazon and Danzantes are owned by the same group.

I had chile en nogada again but this version wasn't nearly as good as that of Corazon. Could it be that things are never as good as the first time? Nah. I'm convinced the restaurant wasn't as good as Corazon. Even the drinks weren't as good.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mexico Roundup I: Chile en Nogada Rules in Mexico City

There are far too many places I went to on my Mexico trip to review them all, and not all of them I liked anyway. So I'm just going to mention the highlights. The best thing about eating Mexican in Mexico is its sheer variety -- so much more varied than Mexican food in LA. I know that's obvious and true for any cuisine but it just hits you when you travel.

My favorite food moment was at Corazon de Maguey in the Coyoacan area of Mexico City of Frieda Kahlo fame (the area not the restaurant). I loved the tamarind Margarita made with mezcal even though I don't usually like tamarind as a solo drink. Mix in some alcohol and frappe it and I suddenly loved it. I also discovered mezcal, which I hadn't tried before, and bought four small bottles at the El Rey distilling plant in Oaxaca days later.

The top dish on this trip was chile en nogada, which fortunately was in season. My friend I was eating with told me it is a very labor intensive dish and worth trying. What's not to like about a poblano chile stuffed with a mix of ground meat, onion and pineapple, topped with a nutty walnut sauce and sprinkled with beautiful pomegranate seeds? It's from Puebla and associated with the country's independence, which explains the ode to the Mexican flag with its corresponding colors of green, red and white.

All patriotism aside, I fell in love with this dish. I've never been a big fan of chile relleno as I found it too heavy with the stuffed cheese and deep fried aspect. But this dish stuffs the chile with ground meat, which I love, and mixes savory and sweet with the pineapple in the filling. The walnut sauce looks creamy but isn't in the least heavy. The pomegranate jewels give the dish a tangy and refreshing bite. Just perfect.

I also loved the chocolate cake that had a surprise center oozing with 80% Oaxaca chocolate and came with a side of cotija cheese sorbet. See what I mean? You can't find this kind of creativity in any of the Mexican joints stateside. Ok, the flavor of the sorbet was a bit pungent for my taste but it was still a welcome take on traditional flavors and textures.

The venue was also gorgeous, as were the restrooms. They're important! Service was also solid. I'd definitely recommend this spot, although I was initially skeptical due to its central location lining the plaza.

We went to a neighborhood taco joint, El Farolito, which was also a revelation. It didn't just offer carne asada tacos. It offered skirt steak or rib meat. I learned that arrachera meant flank steak. Did I want that with cheese? Sure. It turned out it wasn't any shredded cheese or even queso fresco. It was manchego cheese, melted on the grill over the meat. Wonderful.

I couldn't get enough of the salsas either. Instead of the watery guacamole sauce or a chunky order of guacamole found here, our server gave us wedges of fresh avocado, just like that.

I like roasted salsas so it was nice having several to choose from. The salsa verde that I usually don't like was super fresh and concentrated in flavor.

I also liked the flan, which wasn't too sweet and had just the right consistency.

I had two things at Merotoro that I had never tried before and therefore will mention. I'm not sure how much I liked the flavors but I always like to try new ingredients and mix them with familiar ones.

First was salicornia, a green that was very mild in flavor but was an interesting accompaniment to the raw clams and cucumbers.
The second was barnacle topped with sea urchin on a bed of cherry tomatoes, avocados and red radishes dotted with greens.

The flavor was also mild but the texture was a bit odd, on the gooey side and chewy. It was definitely a type of dish not easily found out here and a great summer dish for its crunch and refreshing mix.

One other cool thing I had in Mexico City was fried parsley that came with a dollop of cream cheese in the middle at La Tecla, a trendy spot in the posh Colonia Roma neighborhood. Such an odd idea but somehow it worked.

Another dish that was just as novel but didn't work quite as well was the ancho chile stuffed with mashed plantain. I noticed the balance of sweet and savory was a big theme in Mexico and this place was no exception. It came with a side of bean sauce but it didn't do it for me. But glad I tried it!