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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Umenoya - Torrance


To say that our country has hit a rough patch would be an understatement. We have elected a racist misogynist who is unfit to run our government, and I'm just as scared as any other Facebook pontificator, except I keep it to myself.

I swore loyalty to this country so many years ago, and no racist fear-monger can take that privilege away, but I've felt the hate firsthand, and I fear for what my immigrant parents and my future "half-breed" children will face.

But I am luckier than most. I live in southern California, and California gives me hope. Everywhere I go, I see a melting pot, an industrial mixer of people sitting and eating together. Unintentional, and a real-life version of the multiracial friend-groups manufactured for college catalogs.


Good food is one thing everyone can agree on, and noodle houses like Umenoya bring people together. No matter how bad a day is or how grim the world seems, there is always a good Spicy Tuna Bowl in the South Bay to brighten your outlook on life. The tuna is finely-chopped and heavily-sauced, but there's no days-old stench to hide. The tuna is fleshy and fresh, the sriracha is hot and sweet, and this spicy-mayo mix has perfect proportions over just-right sushi rice.


Tuna is a warm-up, and the Spicy Miso with Chashu is the main attraction. There is not a single person I know, regardless of race, who doesn't love a steaming bowl of ramen. Umenoya has one of the best bowls in the South Bay. The noodles are on the thicker, ropier side, and their broth is creamy like butter with floating fat. It's rich on the tongue, a savor like your fat-buds can't believe, but it's bearable, unlike the surfeit at Tsujita. Bean sprouts temper the texture, a child, crunchy wake-up call.

It's because of places like southern California that I know we'll be alright. This kind of diversity, this kind of acceptance and the kind of common ground found at places like Umenoya that makes me believe we can survive and eventually thrive.
Umenoya Ramen Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Urth Caffe - Santa Monica


Ughhhh...the line! If the parking-lot 405 doesn't suck enough, the transition to the 10 doesn't make you poke your eyes out, and the parking situation on a farmer's market day doesn't drive you to homicide, there's the line. Four years in LA and it's the first time I haven't stormed away from Urth Caffe in disgust. What's so special about this stupid place anyway? I bet their food is as bad as their line! ("Their grapes were sour," said the fox.)

I finally braved the line because I didn't have a choice. My sister-in-law's choice, NOT mine. And she hasn't been my sister long enough to pull my usual only-child, change-all-your-plans-for-mememe crap. 

Somehow, there is no line at 11 AM, the day before Thanksgiving, and despite what looks like a whatever-it's-just-cafe-food menu, I find myself smiling at the tranquil outside terrace and a friendly cashier who clearly loves his job. 

Curry is my craving, and I'm loading up. The Curried Pumpkin Soup is hearty and make-a-pie thick. Shred-y and squash-y, heavy on the tongue and light on the palate. 


It comes in combo with a half sandwich, but why not get a whole for only two dollars more? 15 dollars just for soup and a...never mind. The Chicken Curry is WORTH IT. Cold and finely chopped, the chicken is a class act, with a full-flavored meatiness that actually tastes like chicken. With curried mayo and sweet raisins, the natural freshness makes it pop.


Sometimes, you just want the Cheese Plate. You always want THIS cheese plate. Cheese platter is a more accurate description, and the cheeses so basic yet so luxurious. The brie has creamy, silky substance, the Jarlsberg is buttery and smooth, the gouda is goooood-ahhhh, and the French feta achieves a remarkable balance of pungence, salt, and fermented stink; a classy touch of restraint. Everything goes with everything else, especially the crisp, tart apples and giant, juicy grapes.

I get it. I get why the line is so long. It isn't easy to find this artful balance, this wholesome, earthy goodness, even in the so-natural-it's-unnatural culture of Santa Monica south. 

I make my hatred for Santa Monica clear, but even I will admit that there are restaurants worth seeing and plenty of food worth eating. Urth Caffe got me, and they had me at a single bite. They know how to cook, they know what to cook it with, and they know how to put it together to make it irresistibly good!
Urth Caffé Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sushi Ken - Torrance


God I love south bay sushi. It is an obsession, it is an addiction, it is a budgetary conundrum...And I don't give a damn. Besides, it's dirt cheap compared to LA, and it's healthy if you don't harbor an irrational fear of carbs.


First step to getting on my good side: sell grainy, sweetened nuggets of Ankimo, a monkfish liver I once heard described as the "poor man's foie gras." Sushi Ken delivers. No popping pearls of fat, but the same pasty, liver-y texture hits where it hurts.


It's been rough trying to find a deep-fried Soft Shell Crab that's acceptably fresh and not so clearly frozen for months. Sushi Ken comes about the closest I've seen. I love me some chewy claws, but the jury is out on the yellow in the middle.

The nigiri is still the main attraction, and their delicate, vinegar-ed rice does the sashimi justice. The chef's choice commences with a leaner piece of Tuna, a solid slice that sets the tone for the rest of the meal. 

There is just nothing not to like about a good cut of Toro, but theirs seems to have a little less fat than others. 

The Halibut is so pure. White and untouched, but not so sterile you can't savor the strips. The Red Snapper have some zing within the racing stripes, and it goes down quick and easy to make way for a slick Marinated Salmon

Amber Jack
is hearty and fleshy, and the Steelhead is a dense, intense hybrid clash of salmon that once was a trout. 


I still can't make myself accept mackerel, but the Spanish Mackerel isn't too bad. Lighter on the vinegar, and much lighter on the palatal assault of fish-juice. 

I love that chewy, cartilaginous Orange Clam, and the Baby Sardine is one of the better iterations I've had. The odor is only pleasant, and its shiny silver belly is slim. It finishes with just the tiniest fishy hint, just enough to give it some distinction. 

The Salmon Roe, too, is far less fishy in both taste and smell, and the salinity is well-controlled. The White Shrimp is sweet, and it tempers the dizzying dollop of wasabi on top. 

The Uni is still my favorite, and this one is a sleek seaside syrup. The Tamago puts an end to a comprehensive spread, a satisfying finale for all.

Far as I'm concerned, Sushi Ken is a win. Some of the best quality for its quantity and cost. Edges out Kantaro by a hair, a hop above Kanpachi, and leagues over the miserable Miura. Chitose comes closer, but I still think Ken is king.

Sushi Ken Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, November 25, 2016

Pisces Sushi - Manhattan Beach


Back from Reno and embracing the dredges of daily life. Unpack, unwind, and forage for the next meal. There's nothing in the fridge that isn't molding, rotting, or just no thanks, and if I eat one more meal after the excess in Reno, I would just dieee...wait I can have sashimi!


I can have an entire Chirashi Bowl at one of the two tiny counters at Pisces. Fresh fish, generous slabs, expertly-sliced. Sweet, plushy salmon makes me melt, meaty yellowtail spirits away the jet lag, and a smooth red snapper whips me back into shape. We get leaner and meaner with the tuna, and scallop nubbins are a spicy-mayo wake-up call. The fish is truly fantastic, but it's actually the rice that stands out. It's vinegared so rightly and sugared just so slightly, and it keeps you eating long after the sashimi is gone.


The same rice sits in the Unagi Bowl, a steaming warmth of comfort-food eel in tender, over-rice slices. Sweet and saucy and you just can't go wrong.

Look elsewhere if you want a romantic, ritzy dinner, but lunch is adorably intimate with someone you know well. Otherwise, opt for the take-out as so many in Manhattan do. Everyone wants a piece of the Pi-sces; your loss if you don't.
Pisces Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Grill at Quail Corners - Reno, Nevada


With weddings comes a lot of things. The end of your freedom, the end of an era, and the end of a thing called personal space. But there are beginnings as well, notably the beginning of a whole new family, a fusion of the one you start with and the one you acquire.

I already have family on three continents, and three years ago, we conquered both coasts. But my immediate family has always been small, and with the upcoming wedding, my family has been growing fast. There's a stronghold in the west-coast-best-coast now, and I got to meet the best of it in Reno.

I was nervous, but I didn't need to be. After all, these are grandparents, and if anyone knows how to give a warm welcome, it's them. This visit just flew by, and before I knew it, we were at our last lunch, fuel for the flight ahead.

We've eaten so much in so little time, and salads are the only thing our stomachs can take. But I hate those filler-filled plates of iceberg nonsense... Except at Quail Corners Grill.


The Louie-Louie is no-nonsense, a dead-serious salad, dense with cold crab and cocktail shrimp. Goes well with chunks of avocado and a couple of asparagus spears, and the bed of romaine is in just the right proportion to tie it all together.


The Sesame Seared Ahi is just as impressive, with surprisingly fresh inland tuna and a dash of Asian flair. Wasabi and pickled ginger add some zing, and what's not to like about water chestnuts and wontons over bitter mixed greens?


Good salads, nice grill, totally ready to go... Wait there are Cookies. Chocolate chip. Fresh out of the oven and soft enough to crumble. Salad then cookies. Finally, someone who understands a balanced diet.


Off to the airport for my shortest, most pleasant flight 
to date, and I smile the whole way home. Because there's no better family than grandparents, and these two are some of the best. I've never met a pair as sweet nor a pair as sharp. In their 80s, smarter than most in their 20s, more classy than I can handle, with charm and wit to spare. I'm sad to see this visit end, but at least I know there are more to come!

Adele's - Carson City, Nevada


From Virginia City to Carson City, she'll be coming the mountain when she comes. Paradise lake on one side, silver mines on the other. Carson City is a capitol happy medium, industrial minus the mining gimmick, politics minus all the stickers for Trump.


From a church with no nails to practical capitol. But we didn't go to Carson City for the sites, we just came for the food.

I've heard so much about Adele's, and the tall tales have me seeing a castle; giant swan-boat plates and meat towers, straight out of Game of Thrones. I'm surprised to see just a pretty little cottage, but I'm quick to fall for its cheery charm.

My cheeriness turns to bewilderment the moment I sit down. The first thing we hear about is the specials menu, an in-your-face onslaught of dishes and plates, of every meat and every fish, made to the whims of the chef that day.

Specials always make me raise an eyebrow, ever since my friend told me that they're usually a last-ditch effort to unload the less fresh leftovers. (Thanks a lot, Alex!) Fortunately it's just the opposite at Adele's; the specials are the freshest and the specials are their menu... if you don't count the 4-page magnum opus containing their regular menu.


I have a sneaking suspicion that the menu was created by a genius... With a lot of energy... And a lot of ADD. It shows in the menu, and it shows in the items themselves. Case and point the house special Escargot en Casserole, a skeptical stream-of-consciousness starter, about a million items stuffed into a concise, 6-well plate.

But it works. I don't know how it works, but it works. The escargot are simply perfect, cooked into soft, warm little garlic gobs. I had serious doubts about the sweet fruit pairing with garlic and snails, but the combination of tart apples, sweet grapes, and hearty cranberry is so crazy it's perfect. We were sopping it up with extra bread long after the escargot was gone, and we couldn't get enough.


A menu like that and someone still finds time to house-make limoncello. It's a force to be reckoned with in the Dragoncello, where a touch of tarragon takes the sugary edge off and hides it's alcoholic undertones. Too sweet for me but still impressed.


The Bently Ranch Rib Steak is the first sign of focus I've seen. The steak is juicy and just-right-red in the middle, but it can stand alone. The horseradish cream doesn't need to be there, and garlic chips finish bitter.


And again we're back to the omg-so-many-things-going-on. The Duck Two Ways is exceptional, and why just have it one way when both ways are soooo good? The leg and thigh are done in a soft, confit-like braise, and the breast is tender and dense with an orange glaze kissing the crispy skin.


Dessert is a classic, Strawberry Shortcake with fluffy angel food, the first sane item I've seen.


The desserts sure are sweet but nothing is sweeter than a Birthday Sundae when it comes with a grandpa's smile.

I really love Adele's. Maybe because I really get Adele's. There's a genuine love for food that can be felt with every bite, and the menu, however crazy, is just a simple desire to cram every good thing into a single kitchen. And I'm so scatterbrained that all of this actually makes sense.

Our last night of our first trip to Reno begins and ends at Adele's. New city, new restaurant, new family. A lot of good news this trip, and one of them was definitely Adele's.

Adele's Restaurant & Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, November 21, 2016

Gar Woods Grill & Pier - Carnelian Bay, California


Out of Reno and onto a tour of Tahoe. The winding mountains are a harrowing, hair-raising ordeal, full of crags and cliffs and hairpin turns.


It is worth every bit of carsick nausea for a view of this sapphire lake. Sandy beaches dot the coast, and small waves break on jagged rocks. Gar Woods may scream tourist-trap, but it's worth it for a view like this.



It's bright and brisk, perfect weather for comfort food, and a lakeside Shrimp & Lobster Bisque hits the spot. Lobster-flavored cream in a semi-deep bowl, chunks of sweet rock shrimp in each spoon.



It takes me a moment to realize we've crossed the border, and we're not in Nevada anymore. Pre-Calexit California welcomes us with a Filet California Burger. The patty is the softest non-Kobe patty I've had, and though I'm not a fan of teriyaki, it goes with a smushed guacamole. Add thick strips of bacon and a slice of jack cheese, and it's almost impossible to fit your mouth around this monstrosity.



The Dungeness Crab Sandwich is a much lighter option...except not really. The sweet shreds of chilled crab are the filet mignon of shellfish, but it's loaded with a savory mayo. Goes great with sourdough bread for a lightly-ritzy lunch.


Lunch is gorgeous, but we don't linger too long. There are two places to go on our one-day-three-cities whirlwind, and we're swept off to Virginia City right after we pay the bill.
Gar Woods Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato