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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Warm and Cozy at The Wallace - Culver City

I love going out for dinner, and I love trying all the somethings-new. But some nights I just want the warm embrace of what I already know.

The Wallace is just the place for a night out that tastes like a night in. A mason-jar comfort of fresh Smoked Trout is served with chunks of cool cuke and yogurt and tastes like a mountain stream.

There's nothing more romantic than a candlelit dinner. The jar of Duck Rillettes catches the light of the dancing wicks while you're spooning up tender duck smudged with smooth goat cheese and fig.

You'd eat your vegetables at home too if they tasted like they were roasted over a real fireplace. The Cauliflower is just the right amount of brown at the tips, teased by a parm-y gratin.

Little Gem Lettuce is a spin off a safe bet - just enough flavor and flounce to entice, but not enough to overly excite. Sweet pears, savory bacon, sour-ish pickled shallot, and creamy buttermilk vinaigrette mix every known flavor into one crisp bowl.

The problem with making something familiar is that it has to be flawless or I might as well stay home and make it mediocrely myself. I've probably had every iteration of Alaskan Cod there is, and all the woodsy garnish-greens and fungi in the world can't atone for this thick, unceremoniously-seared chunk.

If I were trying to master the skillet, the Flat Iron Steak would be my lofty goal. Sink your teeth into a medium-rare morsel and let the juices lace your red-wine tongue. The trumpet royale mushrooms are just as juicy, and the skordalia conjures a pot-over-the-fireplace polenta, except it's much too salty.

The Salted Caramel Pudding is the ultimate dessert for someone who wants to stay in and sin. The so-called sugar cookie is a crumbled, crunchy contrast to the layers of flavor of an indulgent dulce de leche.

The Chocolate Cremeux is a comingling of familiar chocolate crumble with tropical notes of pineapple and an out-of-this-world coconut sorbet. Comfortable flavors with an exotic-but-not-too-exotic spin.

We all suffer from some repressed xenophobia at times, but we often feel guilty about desiring nothing new. The Wallace walks that fine line of your subconcious, introducing the the goody oldies with just enough flair to feel like they're a little new. Combine that with mostly blissful blends and pristine polish to assuage your occasional, comfort-seeking guilt. The Wallace is a little bit of everything borrowed-and-blue, and I'll be back to borrow a little more.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Musha Mash-Up UPDATE - Torrance

I'm a sucker for a good adventure. There's no thrill too stimulating, no high too titillating, no rush too exhilarating, and I'll try almost anything. My principles stay the same when it comes to food, and I'll try almost anything...with less than six legs. 

It can be hard to equate a culinary experience to a roller-coaster rush, but the right food and the right combination of food are always a thrill worth seeking. I've experienced Musha a million times, and the butterflies never fade.

I'll shake in anticipation of the simplest things at Musha. Even a straightforward Kabocha Dip, mashed and steamed like Cheese Whiz on a grocery-store cracker, has a soothing grain and a surprising sweetness.

The Yellowtail Sashimi sits pretty in pink, with blended hues like a Saharan sunset. Professionally cut and flawlessly fresh, I've never stopped at just one order.

Some experiences are easy to come by, and some require a little digging. The grilled Hamachi Kama has just the right amount of char, and the sweetest meat sits just below the surface.

I'm usually annoyed when servers bring the wrong order, but when you see a fork in the road, just take it. Someone else's Shichirin Griller Tanshio held irresistable slices of transparently thin beef tongue. A formidable flesh, its flavor compounded by a coat of salt n' pepper.

Every time I go to Musha, their creativity blows me away. Every dish is an experience, every combination is novel, and every bite is a new world. The signature Takotama is like none I've ever had before, soft octopus in tuna broth tempered by a ginger crunch between two layers of omelette sandwich, dripping with dark house sauce and mayo.

When you find a good thing, never let it go. Hang on tightly to the Seafood Noodle lest it slip from from your infirm chopstick-grip. The long, udon slip n' slide is interspersed with shrimp and calamari, soaking in a not-so-subtle black pepper river.

The TKU is a TKO every time. The udon is always al dente, and the rich butter with pollack caviar shows some innovative spunk. If you can only eat one dish at Musha, make sure this is the one you eat.

With all the choices in LA, I rarely go to the same place twice. But Musha has me mystified. Every bite is a journey, every exquisite dish a whole new world. These iconic dishes will never get old for me, and nothing could keep me from going back to Musha for more.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Matsui - Torrance

It can't be easy to share a parking lot with Musha and Torihei. Constantly dwarfed by two powerhouses serving up small plates both stunning and spectacular, Matsui can come across as just a little bit boring.

But boring isn't always a bad thing, and boring doesn't always mean being bored. Boring can also be fun, like the confident cold Tanuki Soba. The light broth sits in a casual earthenware jug, and the tempura bits give al dente soba a happy crunch.

The Una Don is just a sweet slab of eel over a warm bowl of rice, but the eel is perfectly tender, the rice is just right, and the combination carries a feeling of familiarity, flawless like a favorite routine.

The Ten Don scores a ten out of ten on the tempura scale. The long-tailed shrimp and variety of veggies are deep-fried to perfection in an impossibly light batter dissolving in an even lighter soy sauce dip.

There's a sweet, simple comfort in the mundane, and Matsui's sweet simplicity can set right a day gone wrong. If you're looking for a creative meal that excites, Matsui probably isn't the place for you, but if you want your Japanese favorites executed to perfection, Matsui is where it's at.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cho Dang Tofu & Tofu Village - Torrance & Gardena

I've always loved soon tofu, but lately it's been an obsession. I craved it, I fantasized about it, and it even appeared in a really weird dream once. 

So instead of working on a presentation, I went to Cho Dang Tofu instead. And dang, Cho Dang hit the spot. Their standard Combination Soon Tofu is a red-hot (okay, fine, medium-hot because I'm a wimp) broth swims with silky-firm tofu. I usually like my dollar oysters raw, but the oysters are worth the extra buck if you want to add a little more brine to the already-generous helping of clams and beef.

I thought I was good after Cho Dang, but apparently I couldn't have soon tofu again soon enough. I only lasted three days before I pillaged Tofu Village.

For starters, I live for all those little pickled dishes, and Tofu Village gets extra props for the flake-off-the-bone Fried Fish.

Their Combination Soon Tofu is better too. The tofu is even more finely-minced, giving each little cube more surface area to soak up the thicker, clingier broth.

All that tofu hit the spot, and I think I've had my fill for now, but I'm smart enough not to let go of a good thing. So don't worry, Tofu Village, I'll be slurping your tofu again pretty soon.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Savoring the Stink at The Stinking Rose - Los Angeles

True friendship doesn't need to be tested, but a friend who will share a meal with you at The Stinking Rose is a friend indeed. Each and every dish is contains an ample amount of garlic, adequate for warding off vampires while simultaneously waking the dead. 

The decor is a pretty good wake-up call as well. Make sure to walk around in the crypt-like lighting to check out all the famous paintings made into variations on the theme. Get your art history education with painting like the iconic "Starry, Garlic Night".

Anyone willing to stand within 50 feet of you after the Garlic Steamed Clams is a truly loyal friend. Extra points if they brought breath mints because these clams are juicy with absolutely no silt, but they sail in a garlic sea. Just avoid sending a gust of your breath towards any friends you want to keep - not everyone needs to weather your garlic storm.

Once you get through the rough patches, you can just enjoy the ride. The Garlic Braised Boneless Short Rib cruises along with a seamless, flavor-soaked short rib and smooth mashed potatoes with the slightest kick.

All friendships have their ups and downs. People will flock to friend you when things are good, buzzing with bubbling enthusiasm like the Sizzling Iron Skillet-Roasted Mussels, Shrimp, and Crab. But many will leave the table when the overcooked mussels that have shriveled to about a fourth of their original size and have the texture of jerky appear. A true friend chews them with you, by your side, until you can get back to the juicy jumbo shrimp and sweet shreds of crab.

Friendships form the best memories. Some will be amazing and some will stink, and the Stinking Rose will give you a bit of both...especially if one of you burps. One thing's for sure, any friend who's willing wear a garlic hat with you while you eat garlic is a definitely a friend worth keeping.