Thursday, December 11, 2014

Smooth Sailing at Seikoen - Torrance

Boys have come a long way since high school. Gone are the days of who-can-grow-the-longest-patches-of-incomplete-facial-hair, JNCO jeans that sag to the knees and cargo pants let you sneak a 2-liter bottle of coke into the movie theater. Enter a new generation of boys-become-men who can be just as much of a man with clean, unbitten nails and designer jeans.

Korean barbecue has undergone a similar evolution. Enter Seikoen, the metro-sexual alternative to beefy slabs dropping with sweet-salty-savory sauce.
Good meat tastes like good meat no matter how you slice it, and a good man is a good man regardless of what he wears. But if we said we don't prefer clean-shaven or neatly-trimmed over scruff we'd be lying, so be sure to both savor AND admire the immaculate marbling of the flavorful Prime Rib.

There is something to be said about a flattering dress shirt, but it's nothing without the tie. This is why the Ox-Tongue is getting some serious lip service. The tongue itself is tender and thin, but it's the layer of finely-ground salt and pepper rub that seals the deal.

Thin slices of buzz-cut Beef Heart make chunky bulgogi look like the bowl cuts off yesteryear.

Even the thicker chunks of chewy Squid turn tender on the grill. Like a squid steak...if squid could be a steak. No tentacular fly-aways here - these slices are as clean as a set of cuticles status post MAN-icure.

I love my bulgogi, and nothing will take galbi's place, but I can't help falling for Seikoen's smoother, more delicate approach. The ingredients are subtle, but there are no sauces to cover up the imperfections, and believe me, Seikoen's stuff has none.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Grilled Cheese Truck - Los Angeles

Anything can be called art nowadays, but we mostly lump it into two inadequately-descriptive categories: classic and contemporary. Same goes for dining. There will always be the classic, the paradigmatic, the iconic. If the statue of David were made of food, it would be cooked by the chefs at Per Se. Daniel and Craft revel in immortality, and replicas of Ruth's Chris hang in more hotels than Claude Monet. Then there is contemporary dining with all its creative curiosities. A melange of every ethnicity is served in restaurants without tables, and sometimes you literally have to catch your food as it falls off the back of a truck.

There's no doubt the food truck trend is here to stay. Roy Choi catapulted himself to fame from the back of his Kogi truck, and nowadays, you can find almost anything anytime if you know which truck to chase. Kogi was clearly the little engine that could, but unfortunately, it's spawned some sub-par clones, among them The Grilled Cheese Truck.

The Cheesy Mac Fully Loaded should be called the colon cleanse, and the quality wasn't worth the pain. The mac and cheese was mediocre, and there was no way the so-called sharp cheddar could overcome the BBQ. The shredded pork was chewable, and the caramelized onions were close enough. It's what you would get on a barbecue plate if you stuffed everything into your mouth at once except there's extra bread to dull the flavor.

The Roast Beef at least made sense. Double cream brie goes with almost everything and makes for a cogent combination with creamy horseradish sauce.

Dessert was a dry sculpture of starch. The S'more Melt was accurately named, featuring Nutella instead of conventional chocolate, but you don't need to be a chef to know that cramming dry graham crackers between slices of toasted bread is a bad idea. My mouth was more dry than Vegas on a Wednesday, and I could barely swallow the last couple bites.

Grilled Cheese Truck is a misnomer. A more accurate name would be Stuff-as-Much-of-Whatever-You-Can-Between-Two-Slices-of-Grilled-Bread-and-Cheese Truck, but I'm guessing that didn't fit on the side.

When it comes to food, I love it all, but when it comes to art, contemporary isn't my thing. The same is rarely true of food, but I look at the Grilled Cheese Truck the same way I see a sculpture of chewed gum and hair. I can only shrug my shoulders and say, "It just doesn't do it for me."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Therapeutic Chengdu Taste – Alhambra

I think every physician deals with one medical problem that defines bane of their existence. All problems are a pain in one way or another, but there’s always one that gives us more trouble than most. Mine is hypertension, and if I could do away with just one medical problem, that would be it. Because trying to control hypertension in an outpatient clinic is an absolute nightmare.

When treating newly-diagnosed hypertension, we almost always start at the second line because the first line treatment is miserable. Props to patients who try, but no amount of Mrs. Dash is going to substitute for salt, the saving grace of food…At least that’s what I thought until found the Wontons With Pepper Sauce at Chengdu Taste. The deep red sauce of numbing pain is the classic temporary taste-bud-obliterating broth that put Szechuan cuisine on the map. When you think of numbing the tongue, you usually recall the Novocain the dentist gave you to soften the blow of the repulsive root canal, but status post Szechuan food is different. You may be barely able to feel your tongue, but what you CAN feel is a strangely prickly taste that mimics the sting of salt.

But even the strictest diet can fail, and you’re left titrating dosages to no avail. You strike a balance between the diuretic, the ACE, and the kidneys like the perfectly-proportioned cumin crust of the tender Toothpick Lamb. Disrupt that balance and you may be throwing away the toothpick with the lamb still attached.

If only salt were the only culprit for hypertension; sometimes the culprit is me. Affectionately named “white coat hypertension”, my mere presence can skyrocket a normal systolic by 70. If you’re completely at ease with doctors, dip into the Boiled Fish in Hot Sauce and let the sweat tell the story. The fish is flaky and fresh, the cabbage is soaked through but still stays crisp, and the still-numbing sauce brings on the heat.

Sometime I think I AM a medical condition. People come to my clinic complaining of the bland food they eat and the white rice they replace with brown (which is NOT a suitable substitution if you’re Asian, BTW), and I sometimes think I made their lives worse instead of better. At least I can recommend Chengdu Taste to soften the blow. A single spoonful of pepper sauce makes the medicine go down… That’s my lie and I’m stickin’ to it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Too Much Tsujita Annex - Los Angeles

What do you call too much with way too much? Some call it excessive. Others call it David Yurman and Mikimoto. I can't afford to call it any of those things so I call it Tsujita Annex.

It's hard to watch everyone else flaunting fabulous when you're strapped with med school debt in a conspicuously consumptive city. But just because no one put a Cartier ring on that...hand holding the chopsticks doesn't mean you can't have the most luxurious broth in all of LA.

The Ramen with Char Siu is loaded with a broth of liquid gold with ropes of ramen noodles as thick as Yurman's signature cable. The bunches of bean sprouts crisscross like the cable-enhancing crossover, and the precious pearls of floating fat are as close to Mikimoto I'll ever get. 

The only thing better than one piece of David Yurman jewelry is two pieces of David Yurman jewelry, and the only thing better than one bowl of kotteri ramen is three bowls of kotteri ramen in one. The broth at the Annex is by far the thickest almost-solid bowl-of-fat I've ever had, but all that richness is both satiating and overwhelming all at once. Eating at Tsujita Annex is exactly like walking into a Yurman store, actually. I get an unspeakable pleasure from sampling the luxuries...until the richness of the price hits me and punches me in the gut.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

North End Caffe - Manhattan Beach

I made my first turkey this Thanksgiving. I brined the turkey...and my kitchen floor, and I popped in the oven and roasted it like a pro. It takes a true genius to put a buttered bird into an oven and turn the switch to 350 degrees. Good thing my "eat at your own risk waivers" absolve me of any wrongdoing in case I did poison my guests.

But just because I can roast a turkey doesn't mean I'll ever come close to the mastery of a chef...Or at least that's what I thought until I went to North End Caffe.

I only tried a few things, but I think I can make them all. Hopefully they don't sue me for revealing their not-so-secret recipes...Maybe I should make them sign a waiver too?

To make the Isabella breakfast sandwich, cut a baguette-that-is-not-really-a-baguette in half. Do not toast or warm the baguette in any way, but do put some pesto on it. Pour some oil into a skillet, throw in one egg, and wear long sleeves. I don't know about you, but I can't fry anything without being spattered by painfully hot oil. Flip the egg before it burns. Slice brie, spoon a not-quite-ripe avocado, add chopped tomato. Repeat with different ingredients, like bacon and some extra leaves, for example.

For unimpressive Side Potatoes, deep fry chunks of potato with no detectable seasoning whatsoever and garnish with inadequate mayo in a disturbing shade of Pepto-Bismol pink.

 are the best way to end a meal. Deep-fry small balls of dough and top with powdered sugar. Let sit until cool and oil starts to seep and sugar starts to soak. Eat just one to end your meal - I guarantee you'll be too grossed out to eat anything else.

Despite having figured out their secrets, I would still come back to North End Caffe when I'm craving something simple and homemade...Homemade as in cheap-yet-pricey prime-ingredient sandwiches I could easily throw together myself. And although $7.50 makes for a dirt-cheap breakfast in Manhattan Beach, you can get an entire meal for double the price of a sad little sandwich. Seriously, go somewhere else. At least you'll be springing for edible sides.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Eating Well at Wang Xing Ji - San Gabriel

Foodies are the lepers of the culinary world. We are the nightmares of chefs, the yellers of yelp, and the scapegoats of common cooks. It seems like everyone has their own misconceptions about us and I’m as over being misunderstood as I am over this California foie gras foolishness. With a single post, I hope to put all these rumors to rest.

Misconception #1:
Foodies only do fine dining.

Not true. The authentic experiences we seek take us to every corner of the earth, and they're not always the best of places. The most authentic ethnic foods, for example, always come with some form of norovirus. Wang Xing Ji, with its generic Asian d├ęcor in the middle of an aesthetically unappealing strip mall centered around a 99 Ranch is hardly Chinese Laundry, but the Juicy Pork and Crab Bun is the stuff of legends. Bread-bowl soup with a touch of Asian, this juicy bun is the size of your head and requires you to sip a cup of soup with a straw before biting into the thinly-wrapped bun. We don’t just do fine dining, we do dining at its finest.

Misconception #2:
Foodies only eat at famous restaurants.

Din Tai Fung created quite a name and a whole lot of hype, but the way foodies flock for their juicy pork dumplings, you’d think they were larger than life. I was not the first foodie to make a special trip just for DTF because if it’s famous enough to have an acronym, it’s probably worth a visit for anyone with a mouth. But just because we’ve never heard of WXJ doesn’t mean it can’t trump DTF a thousand times over. And it does. The Juicy Pork Dumplings are better, and the Juicy Pork and Crab Dumplings are out of this world.

Misconception #3
:  Foodies only eat expensive food.

Sometimes good food IS expensive. You pay a little extra for the prime ingredients, especially things that are harder to acquire and prepare. But some of the best pad thai comes from the street carts of Thailand at only a dollar-a-pop. And while these inexpensive
Sesame Noodles didn’t blow my mind, the cold noodles with a savory-yet-unspecial peanut sauce were a cold, welcome contrast to the dumplings.

The Bean Sprout Seedlings were cheap, but they really hit the spot. Simple stir-fried greens with garlic and a touch of oil, but they were also the first dish to go. We scarfed that stuff down the minute it hit the table, and we fought over that last crisp, leafy shoot while half the dumplings just sat there and chilled.

There’s also something to be said about a spin on staple dish. Asian foodies still love our grandma’s flied lice, and this salty, savory Pork Belly Fried Rice was one of the best I've had.

Misconception #4:
Foodies are picky eaters.

Just the opposite. We eat anything, we eat everything. We eat the offal, we eat the awful, and we'll put just about anything into our mouths at least once just to say we tried.

“You’re a foodie. I’m NEVER cooking for YOU…” is the most obnoxious thing you can say. Home cooking is a gift for a foodie – what could possibly be more unique than something you put together in the irreproducible environment that is your home? You could make me mac n’ cheese from a bag and forget to add the water, and I would still say thanks and mean it. I’m a blogger, not a bee with an itch. All I ask is that you put your assumptions aside when eating with me and stop judging me when I take a photo of my food…with flash.