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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

King Shabu Shabu - Torrance

After a visit to the neighboring Little Sheep, I figured King Shabu Shabu would be close enough. Only a couple of blocks and a complex separate the two, after all, but it turns out the hot pot was worlds apart. 

My first issue with King Shabu started when I first sat front of a boiling pot of just plain water. Sure, the meat and veggies will cook just fine in any medium, but where is the flavorful broth to season them?

Despite the slower start, the Angus Ribeye and the Lamb were of undeniable quality and were packed with flavor, even if the broth was not. The thing is, just a single plate of either costs almost as much as an unlimited meal at Little Sheep. 

The Veggie Plate comes with every order of meat, and the enoki mushrooms, Napa cabbage, and tofu do cover all the bases, but the selection still leaves a bit to be desired. I don't care for boiled carrots, for example, and it would have been nice to have more choices.

The Udon noodles are always the best way to finish, as they steep in the water, which is now infused with veggies and meat. But to really give it a kick you have to know which of the oils to add and how many drops to drip. And for that you just have to hope that your server is in a helpful mood.

You would think that when two different cultures converge into one literal melting pot, they would reach some kind of consensus, but that just didn't happen here between the Mongolians and the Japanese. King Shabu Shabu may be a bit more polished than Little Sheep, but is the cost really worth a little service?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot - Torrance

It has recently occurred to me that people complain a lot about me taking pictures of every single piece of food that passes my lips. The bad news is, no matter how ravenous you feel, you can't eat until I get my snapshot. The good news is, I've learned a lot about food photography this way, and I now plan to share my wisdom with you. 

Like a flavorful hot pot, it all boils down to the action shots. Here, a vivid and serene depiction of the Half & Half hot pot, a yin and yang of the House Original and House Spicy broths...

pales in comparison to the bubbling action of froth and foam, as Tong Ho, Oyster Mushrooms, Broccoli, and fishy Hot Pot Dumplings are captured mid-cook.

Cooking is hot but not nearly as hot as the raw beauty of pristine ingredients in the rough. Everyone likes a good story, and here is the opportune time to present those meaty cuts of Lamb Shoulder and marvelous marbles of Angus Beef.

Contrast is key in making sure your readers never get bored. The stark black plate highlights the pre-pink potential of the uncooked House Shrimp Balls.

No one wants a never-ending novel depicting only veggies or meat. Add some Wide Potato Noodles and Udon to the mix...

or show some steaming Sponge Tofu to shake things up.

The hearty House Lamb Wontons were easily one of the best things on the menu. Here we incorporate all the elements of an excellent photo in one simple action shot of that juicy little game-changer being dropped into a steaming pot.

The meal is done, and in down to my final paragraph of pro tips. If you've been studying with fervid interest, hoping to glean some wisdom from my words, I hope you have by now realized that I am FOS. When I say I am a photographer, it is actually pronounced photo-grapher. Not like the artist, but more like a professional burner of retinas. I am, like most Asian girls with a cell phone camera, just another photo-crazy foodie, so I advise you to disregard all of my advice on photography. Do take my advice, however, and go to Little Sheep for some AYCE hot pot.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Egregious Enterprise Fish Company - Santa Barbara

As a Santa Barbara establishment, I expected a lot from Enterprise. For starters, I expected this particular enterprise to be a little more successful.

I mean, halibut is hard to make not-good, but their Asian-themed Grilled Halibut was worse than a stereotype. The soy/teriyaki theme included a sticky bed of murky sauce, mushy brown rice and bok choy that tasted like a slug.

I cut people a little slack for swordfish because it's a tough fish to fry...or broil or boil or grill or bake. Its moisture evaporates faster than drops of water on the blacktop, and it responds to even the slightest heat like it's been nuked. But the Pacific Swordfish was possibly the worst I've had. It was mesquite-grilled about as dry as a bone, and the "Salmoriglio sauce" was an unappetizing brown goop.

I had hoped to end my Santa Barbara trip on a higher note, so Enterprise Fish Company was clearly the wrong place to end my trip. As a restaurant on a major strip, I expected it to be touristy, but I guess I expected too much when I expected it to be touristy AND edible. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company & Union Ale - Santa Barbara

If you're going to take a spur-of-the-moment daytrip to Santa Barbara, you might as well start with a spur-of-the-moment sampling at the nearest brewery.

So there we were, pacing outside the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company...15 minutes before it opened... At 11:45 AM. Yup, we were THOSE people. But it's always noon somewhere, right?

So we started the day with the power of flight and a bartender that hid his judgement well.

Unfortunately, that much beer didn't fly with an empty stomach so it was a good thing Union Ale was within stumbling distance.

I recommend biting into the thick, 4th-of-July-barbecue-style Classic Union Burger before you visit Figueroa. The thick, all-American patty with melty, all-American cheese is dripping with thousand island dressing. Eat with abandon, and abandon all hope of keeping your hands clean.

The jury will get back to you about the Baby Got Back Burger. I love Gorgonzola, but the combination of fried onions, steak sauce, and whatever part of the pig is called the "candy" is too much for someone who's swigged so much beer.

No matter what ails you, there's always room for ale, and there's no reason to settle for one when you can try them all. You might want to eat before you load up at Figueroa but if you're in the area I recommend both... In any order.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Guaging Green Temple - Redondo Beach

I have a hard time judging American vegetarian because it's one of few cuisines that feels intentional. Authentic Chinese is made with so little meat anyway, Thai is conducive to tofu, and south Indian is practically ruined by anything carnivorous. But American vegetarian often feels like the meat is obviously missing or removed, and it's that perception of absence that tends to cloud my judgement about the presence.

Even the Jamaica Tea tasted a little bit diluted. The root flavor was new and refreshing, an unexpected subtle tang that I can only vaguely describe as a fruity-rooty hybrid. Unfortunately, it also tasted a bit watered-down.

The Green Mix was easily one of the best veggie bowls I've ever had, a small, tasteful portion of farmer's market fresh broccoli, asparagus, green beans, and corn. But at the end of the day, it's just a bowl of vegetables, however sublimely steamed. The tofu sauce was what saved it - this impossibly unique grainy gravy that makes anything taste like a million bucks. I loved it, but unfortunately it wasn't quite worth seven bucks.

The Tostaditas were basically gigantic, glorified nachos that needed more salt. The baked corn tortillas were big chips topped with black beans, etc. The vegetables remained infallibly fresh, but the combination was a bit bland. This dish probably could have been saved by the tofu sauce.

When it comes to restaurants, I tend to be a splitter. Usually it's a pretty clear line between what's good and what's no bueno, but Green Temple has me in a different kind of split. The food is impressively fresh, but I could have done it myself for less than half the price. The tofu sauce was worth every penny, but for that, all I need is a tub and a ten.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hooking Up with Izakaya Hachi UPDATE - Torrance

Being adventurous isn't without consequence. Sometimes you discover the hidden gems, sometimes you see what the hype is all about, and sometimes you miss by a mile. The misses are always worth the hits, but sometimes you stick to what know because you can't stand to miss one more time.

Plus restaurant monogamy has its perks, and Izakaya Hachi is my proof. There's not a single non-delicious thing in the entire place, and they're incapable of anything less than stellar.

The beef tongue steak is possibly my favorite steak in all of South Bay. The tender cubes of bleeding Charcoal Grilled Beef Ribeye Steak can't compete but that sweet n' sour ponzu makes them close enough.

Fried foods are playing it safe, and the Deep-Fried Meat Stuffed in Shitake Mushroom is like a juicy mushroom dumpling without the wrapper.

The Creamy Crab Croquette is red-hot crab in a river of cream, but the crab kind of drowns in the cream.

The Red Crab Sunomono has the ratio right. The cold crab is infused through the vinegrated cucumber and wakame seaweed, adding the briny flavor that makes it probably best salad ever.

I hate mackeral sushi with a passion, and I'll even opt out in the case of omekase. Even if it's good, I can't stand the fishy sting. The Battera Mackerel Sushi changed my mind entirely. The slightly tinge made me tingle, but each bite was smooth, and the vinegar highlighted a full-flavored mackeral. 

$110 doesn't go far in fine dining, but Izakaya Hachi's prix fixe for four is a steal. The Homemade Sesame Tofu is so simple, yet the firm, cool slices are amazing with a clean combination of sesame and dashi broth.

Fragrant chunks of spectacular tentacular Octopus and Radish Salad are far from forgettable.

The Kumamoto Oysters are west-coast briny and slide down seafoam smooth.

The Tuna and Octopus Sashimi are standard, but that doesn't make them any less savory.

Nankotsu Karaage trumps fried chicken for once. The cartilage has a small surrounding layer of savory fat, and the crunch is oh-so-satisfying.

The Chicken Meatball is a light-but-heavy stick that slugs you with a ground chicken mix.

The beef tongue steak will forever be my favorite but the Pan Fried Beef Intestine makes a good case for itself. The pan-fried chunks are chewy in the best way possible, bursting with a sizzling spicy miso.

Just when I thought that the fun was fine, the Kurobuta Shabu came out. A steaming pot with a hearty mix of all things green and mushrooms with major attitude stewing in Tonkotsu broth with impossibly thin slices of lighter-than-air Berkshire pork. Still I think the best part was finishing the broth with ramen noodles.

The single scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream with a red bean is excessive after a feast like this. Still the red bean is cool and refreshing, a sweet ending that kind of resets your too-full stomach.

I don't know why I blew so much cash elsewhere when I could have just spent it on the prix fixe. The problem is, having 3 friends is harder than it looks, and getting them to show up at the same time is like herding cats. That said, I will herd just about anything to get that prix fixe meal again.