Saturday, October 18, 2014

Status Post MB Post UPDATE - Manhattan Beach

I've been doing a lot of online shopping lately, and that's putting it mildly. I think Victoria's Secret is in business mostly because of my one-women effort to acquire the entire PINK collection, and I may account for half the profit margin on Amazon Prime. It's practically a moot point to go to the mall unless I'm trying to return the five dresses that don't fit. Don't worry, I kept the other two.

I think I get one package a day now. Whether it's dance supplies or protein bars, every excessively large, paper-stuffed, saver-shipping box that comes to my door makes it there without as much as wrinkle and always in record time.

Harry Potter had his owls, the night's watch had their ravens, and MB Post has its servers. To say that the servers at MB Post slowest of the three would be an understatement, and it's not because they can't fly.

With its no-frills wooden tables and casual brown-paper-envelope menus, MB Post successfully delivers the too-cool-for-school vibe of a SoCal beach. For example, SoCal is incredibly environmentally-conscious. We ride our bikes and ditch our cars to reduce our carbon footprint, and we definitely don't want to waste water in light of the recent drought. Which is clearly why MB Post chooses to recycle their water as well. Why else would they force us to use the bottle of water from the previous diners instead of bringing a new bottle? (Yes, we did ask for one. And we almost died of thirst while we waited for it).

Unfortunately, the food is where MB Post does NOT deliver, except in the case of the Burrata and Roasted Pepper Sandwich. The luxurious, silky cheese with sweet peppers was tempered by a fresh, light green olive pesto on soft, slightly-chewy bread. The house chips were gigantic and greasy, and it's a little embarrassing when the side is bigger than the sandwich. If you're craving a lighter lunch, make sure they deliver this burrata-pepper package to you and you alone.

Clearly MB Post doesn't deliver anything Asian. The Crispy Pork Steamed Bun manages to ruin pork belly, an untouchable meat that usually can't help but be good. The unsalted, not-so-tender slab of pork belly isn't thick enough to shine through the thicker, not-fully-fluffed steamed bun, and the hoisin is poured with a heavy hand. Next time I crave this dish, I'll just drink some sauce instead.

Even the supposedly signature Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits don't live up to the hype. The biscuits are savory-salty-sweet with a buttering of maple, but they're on the drier side, and each bite feels a little incomplete.

I may not be able to tell you what the biscuits are lacking, but I can definitively tell you what MB Post is lacking. If Amazon and Victoria's Secret can deliver everything I ordered one day early, and Etsy can deliver a scarf from Australia within a week, then why can't MB Post deliver anything from kitchen-to-table on the same day it was ordered? 

While the post office continues to deliver, MB Post just continues to disappoint. Overcrowded and noisy, with staff who have the attention span of a small child after an ice cream cake, this once-popular eatery may have bitten off more than it can chew. We had to flag down our server multiple times for anything 
and everything we ever needed, whether it was more water, a to-go box, or just the check. With staff that moves at the speed of wight, MB Post might want to train some ravens.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ramen Yamadaya UPDATE - Torrance

When it comes to ramen, Yamadaya is truly king. Their broth is irresistable, and there's really no need to try anything else, but it turns out they're a jack of all trades. Apparently this intimately tiny, claustraphobically-cozy, hole-in-the-wall noodle-niche can do no wrong when it comes to noodles and the Tsukemen is yet another must-try.

It took me a while to get around to trying the tsukemen. The separation of the noodles and the broth requires a lot of extra work, and let's face it, I'm pretty lazy. Plus when I think of deconstructed food, it conjures images of mastication and multilation, basically nothing remotely appetizing. Then again , dipping the noodles is a socially-acceptable excuse to play with you food, and the there's nothing but fun in tasting the tsukemen at Yamadaya.

Maybe I like it because I identify with it. The stronger, saltier, significantly fishier broth is appropriately hyper-concentrated for dipping, but like myself, the fish makes it an acquired taste. I've grown up with fishy soups, but unlike me, this is not a taste my friends could easily acquire.

The tsukemen makes a strong showing at Yamadaya, but I probably won't order again, I highly recommend it, but there's just no point in ordering it when the mere thought of Kakuni causes a reaction unsuitable for public display.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hooking Up with Izakaya Hachi - Torrance

My new approach to online dating is pretty similar to my approach to buying produce. You pick up what you think looks decent, you give it a quick squeeze and make sure it's not too bruised. If you like what you see, you bag it and take it home.

That said, online dating has given me a new appreciation for things that are clearly labeled. The cucumber is actually a cucumber and there's a very slim chance of going home with a bad apple. Plus you get a receipt so you remember what you brought home. 

For example, although I enjoyed  the fresh Tuna with crisp, bitter greens, embraced by a thick, salty miso-esque dressing, I can't remember what it was called so I can't have it again...especially if I call it by the wrong name.

To say I'm an acquired taste would be an understatement. My sarcasm can be off-putting, but my wit is crisp and lightly fried like that Agedashi Tofu, and I quickly warm and soften up with a sweeter, milder sauce.

I'm pretty prude for the first few dates. It's hard turn down a guy if he's cut like Kobe, but I'm still horrified when someone I've only met once tries to slip me a little tongue...unless it's the Beef Tongue Steak. I went to town on that blackened-seared, beefy-red, impossibly-juicy-and-soft slab of steak.

I do appreciate looks, but it's what's on the inside that counts. The Dashimake Tamago may look simple and a even a little dense, but I looked past all those wrinkles and found a perfectly-fluffy omelet. The savory broth soaked into every nook and cranny, making each bite a mouthful of flavor beyond my wildest egg-drop dreams.

I guess what I'm really looking for is someone who matches me like the Inaniwa Udon. I may seem as cold and al dente as the noodles, but I just want to avoid dipping my noodles in the wrong sauce. When I find a sauce that works as well as this shoyu-esque broth, I'll have the perfect pairing.

I seem to have trouble finding someone who eats as adventurously as I do. People aren't always so open to trying new things. But despite how much I love my pork kidneys and beef tripe, sometimes I'll gladly take the familiar, tender flavors of grilled Pork Toro tempered by a tasty dipping sauce instead of trying something new that I may not necessarily like. Plus I try not to give people too much lip for refusing to try the tongue.

When it comes to dating, I really don't ask for much. All I ask is that I get what's on the label, and it would be nice if everything wasn't significantly rounder than the picture would suggest. I do want to keep dating, but I think I'm sticking to shopping for now. Even the roundest of apples and the plumpest of peaches don't require copious amounts of alcohol before I can bring myself to bite.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Balking at Brick+Mortar - Santa Monica

I am so many things, but a performer is not one of those things. I duck out of photos, I climb out of camera range, and I prefer that people watch me with their eyes closed. So when I decided I would perform in my gym's aerial show, I thought it would be a stepping stone along the road of personal growth, one more step in overcoming my crippling fear of being seen. Now that the inevitable show, with its set performance order and already-printed, too-late-to-back-out-now programs, is only a week away, I've realized that this decision was just as unfortunate as every decision I made at Brick + Mortar; A great decision…in theory. 

Since it's my first show, I'm hoping to that people's expectations will be playing limbo - the lower the bar, the better. I didn't expect much when I ordered the House Mixed Greens either. I just wanted a standard salad. Thus the crisp bowl of romaine with fresh tomato, cucumber, and feta hit the spot with a lick of lemon dressing. I was plenty happy with what I got. If only I could find a way to set up my audience...

When you perform, you play it safe. My strength is in my back, and I can turn myself into an aesthetically-appealing human wheel. Considering how little time I spend in the sun, I probably bear an uncanny resemblance to the Baked Brie. But it’s pretty hard to mess up baked brie. And with a song as sweet as truffled honey, all those back bends are the tasty balsamic onions to my brie.

But no matter how many great ingredients I have to work with, I can only hope that my routine will be better-executed than the Braised Short Rib. I have great choreography, but even with prime ingredients, any recipe can quickly become forgettable. This short rib is clearly a prime cut, but there’s very little flavor to it and lack of tenderness in this dish. One slip and my Monty will be as sloppy as this bed of fresh corn polenta, a hot corny mess that tastes like it's missing the corn. Forget to point my toes and my unsightly flexed feet will overpower like the ginger chili on the sauteed kale. Let’s just say the flavors of this dish were as forgettable as the quality of this photo is poor.

Even if I can't do a clean routine, I can at least hope for a few good photos. We'll have a professional photographer at the show, and the lighting will be a lot better than this dimly (but appropriately) lit sports bar. I just hope I can give him a little more to work with than Brick + Mortar did.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Boosting the Ego at Berlin Bistro – Long Beach

I've done aerial silks for over a year now, and I've been pretty reluctant to try anything else. I protest the trapeze, I boycott the hoop, and I've always refused to touch the pole. It frustrates my instructors, it kills my classmates, but I wouldn't be the first girl to dislike holding hard apparatuses between her thighs.

But pole dancing is an amazing artistic endeavor when you do it right, and to me, it was a little like Berlin Bistro's Lavender Lemonade. A drink with a pretty purple lining at the bottom of the glass, the lavender lemonade held a world of potential, a fresh sip of something cold, new, and refreshing. And despite being a fairly seasoned aerialist, the sweet lavender syrup, like the pole, created an old favorite with a brand-new spin. The balance of sugar with spice was better shaken, not stirred. And I had to try to shake it just this once.

After the gyrating warm-up, my first pole class was off to a strong start, but I could have done without the screeching, searing of the hard metal pole as it scraped across my skin. My thighs were red as the Seared Ahi Tuna Burger at a raw medium rare. The bruising that comes inevitably grates grill marks on your flesh, but let it be known that the tuna was perfectly seared. Plus the bruises are kind of worth the effort to make your buns tight and toned, with none of the dimpling around the tuna.

When you look in the mirror during class and you see the gorgeous lines your own body makes, you feel hotter than the wasabi mayo, and suddenly I see what my friends mean when they tell me they do pole for themselves. The Smoked Salmon Flatbread is a dish you can justify for others as well as yourself. You don't get healthier than the good-fat smoked salmon with sweet slices of heirloom tomato and a contrasting crunch of crisp red onion. Unfortunately, the dill-cream cheese is the social stigma that drags down the fun.

But as one empowered lady once said, "The players gonna play, play, play, play, play. And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate". I, for one, won't be letting the fun-Nazis win. And from now on, I'll be grabbing a tasty bite from Berlin Bistro every time I grab a pole and shake it off.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Formulaic Fig & Olive - West Hollywood

I get it. Your kitchen is your domain, you’re baroness of the burners,  the oven is a kingdom and you are its queen. But you’re not too good to follow a recipe. Why, you ask? Why follow a pre-written, pre-conceived notion when you can conspire to create? Because other people have probably already conspired to create whatever you’re thinking of, and they made the mistakes so you wouldn’t have to. 

A recipe is a culmination of every single way every single person ever tried to make something, a conglomeration of other people's trial and error, a conglomeration of everyone else's pain. I'm not saying you can't modify it a smidge or tweak it a a tiny bit to suit you, but change it too much, and all you'll end up with is something someone else already had to throw away.

I follow recipes to the letter because I'm lazy, but when it comes to fine dining, I'm paying for something I can't make. I sit at that cloth-covered table every time hoping for just one gustatory glimpse into the soul of a chef truly touched by genius. When I'm in a restaurant, I want to see chefs going against the grain, going off on a limb, branching out to the point that I can no longer see what twig they're on. And that's exactly what I was looking for when I walked into Fig & Olive.

I'm not sure what kind of creativity I was looking for, but the Crostini came from the recipe book called "generic & unremarkable". And at a whopping $4 a pop, let's just say this recipe won't be called "biggest bang for your buck". Everyone knows that avocado is good in any recipe, and combining it with crab on a cracker is a pretty puny cop-out. The crab was so tasteless it could have been canned, and the firm, unripe avocado wasn't doing the crab any favors. Considering this was a combination of my two favorite ingredients, I was hoping for something better than what normal people serve at a high-end housewarming.

Whatever the crab was lacking, the Manchego cheese with fig jam did not make up for. The fig was a tasty texture, but the triangle of manchego tasted just as good from Trader Joe's, and you'd have to be nuts to go crazy over a couple of Marcona almonds.

The octopus crostini came highly recommended, which I found surprising. You either love or hate octopus and it's definitely not for everyone, but it looks like Fig & Olive found a way to turn the texture turmoil into a crowd-pleaser. The octopus is shaved so thin it's undetectable. Add a sweet carrot puree and you can have octopus without having to taste the octopus.

The crostini were pretty forgettable, but the Sea Scallops were sublime. Fresh, tenderly seared on a bed of carrot tapenade with critical curls of citrus, these three little 6-dollar scallops were an even worse value than crackers. I think the tentacled-mess presentation was trying to distract from how little was actually on the plate.

The Melone & Burrata is ring to relish. This one goes in the book of "sure things". The sweet, fresh mascarpone-stuffed mozz puts all other cheeses to shame. Sure, burrata is the avocado of cheese, but the pairing with cantaloupe contrasted by bitter arugula and radicchio is hard to beat. I may value culinary creativity, but there's no need to reinvent the wheel...of cheese.

My cooking stories often start with " the recipe was perfect, the execution is somewhat flawed." Whoever made the Rosemary Lamb Chops didn't have that problem.They clearly found the most tender lamb chops in the market and added a premixed plethora of Provence herbs. A common, winning combination with amazing underlying eggplant, a brilliant bed of smoky darkness like nothing I've ever tasted.

Everything I ate at Fig & Olive tasted like a foodie following a recipe exceptChilean Sea Bass. The fish is flaky and flavorful and the asparagus and carrots were crisply cooked. How you make that crock of creamy, savor-loaded sauce without a single drop of butter or cream is genius beyond my wildest dreams.

The entrees were dressed to impress, but the Mixed Berry Crostata was a recipe for disaster. The berries are fresh, the cointreau syrup is undetectable, and the vanilla mascarpone is perfectly barely-there. The filo is hard and stuck together, and trying to get everything in one bite becomes a natural disaster. At the end of the day, someone bought a bunch of things that looked pretty and threw them all together. 

A recipe is not a marker of your peak of perfection, rather it’s a conglomeration of your mistakes. It's not meant to tell you how do things right, it's meant to prevent you from doing things wrong. It seems that Fig & Olive follows its recipes to the letter. There's definitely nothing wrong with their food, but at the end of the day, the only thing they got right was the recipe.