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Monday, May 4, 2015

Kogi BBQ Taco Truck - Los Angeles

There is nothing sexier than novelty in a world that knows no bounds. In a world where inaccessibility is just a memory from many days past, novelty may soon become obsolete. But just a few years ago, there was a new trend, a revolution in the concept of fine food. Suddenly we were no longer restricted to a restaurant, no longer glued to our pre-reserved seats.

Whether it stemmed from our inner hunter-gatherer urge to seek your own food, to go forth and find and provide, it seemed like everyone was following the food trucks.Taco trucks run especially rampant, with every ingredient in every combination on every kind of tortilla. But let's not forget the common ancestor, the one that spawned the rest, the one and only Kogi. 

You should never have a food without knowing where it came from, and every moving taco you've had is in some way descended from Kogi. And when you try the Spicy Pork Tacos willed with soft cubes of pork cooked into hours of perfection, it's not hard to see the dynasty that rose. 

And as I bit into the iconic Short Rib Tacos that started it all, I lapped up the juice dripping through my fingers, felt my mouth was burst with salsa and crunched through shreds of slaw held together by corn tortillas that remained miraculously soft and sog-proof, all I could think was: So THIS is the taco that launched a thousand food trucks and changed the face of food on wheels.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Just Meh at Maruhide Uni Club - Torrance

I LOVE uni, but I can only LIKE Maruhide Uni Club. The club is classy, and they wield the most powerful culinary ingredient second to saffron, but with great power comes great responsibility, and they don't seem to step up and take it.

I LOVE uni raw, but I can only LIKE uni grilled. The salty, briny, flavor-burst bubbles get a little bit lost in cooking, though the flavor and texture stay put. Unfortunately, some pieces get a bitter, mouth-puckering finish when they're flame-kissed. I'm glad I tried the Grilled Uni, but in the future, I'd rather leave it be.

What could possibly be better than combining the already-creamy texture of uni with even more cream? A better job combining the two, that's what. The pasta is coated with a sticky, heavy, orange-tinged cream that tastes like nothing but cream. All the uni is lost in the Uni Cream Pasta, and the only flavor you get is from the garnishing slices on top. I usually love food in its purest form. but sticky cream sticks out as a glaring exception.

The Uni Gratin is better-described as cream soup. Shrimp and scallops doused in cream are a solid chowder, but there's no uni within the dish, just the decorative slices on top. There are worse things to put on top, but I would like to see it incorporated instead of hanging out like an afterthought.

The Green Tea Mousse also tasted like an afterthought, albeit a pretty good one. Nice tea flavor with just the right hint of sweetness but I definitely only liked it.

I feel like rating Maruhide Uni Club isn't even fair. The flavor of uni is unique, and the depth of its flavor is both incredible and indescribable. At Maruhide the uni has a limitless potential it doesn't ever reach. I'd still go back, but I'd like to see a little more complexity and skill. With such an amazing ingredient, I expect to be more impressed.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Shrimp Lover - Redondo Beach

Fire Crab is by far my fave, but Fire Crab is FAR. Shrimp Lover, on the other hand, is literally a walk in the park. Still I have to think hard every time I choose the palm-treed path of least resistance, not because Shrimp Lover isn't good, but because Fire Crab is just that much better.

Shrimp Lover's Medley Mix is a murky, muddy mélange of garlic with herbs and spices, steamed in a bucket of butter. The texture is chunky, and the spice combination isn't quite as smooth as Fire Crab's seamless red-hot Cajun burn. The Crawfish are by far the best, and the Clams are infallibly fresh, but that combination come out a little weird. 

Shrimp Lover does lose major points for not including sauce-soaked corn in their buckets. You have to pay extra for a sweetly-steamed cob and drop it into the bottom of your bucket to get the true taste of not-good-enough.

Sure, Shrimp Lover is close, but I wouldn't exactly call it the Fire Crab of Redondo Beach. It's half the quality for a miniscule fraction of the time, but it's probably the closest thing we've got so I've got some serious decisions to make.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fire Crab - Garden Grove

Fire crab sounds like the kind of thing you catch when you pay for something that shouldn't be for sale. But don't let the name deter you, Fire Crab turns out to be quite the catch in Garden Grove. 

The Mix & Match deal is a seafood steal, a 3-pound bucket for 33. The crawfish is a contagious crustacean, soaked through with sizzling, slightly-searing fire sauce. The mussels stay tender when steamed, and the seafood sauce soaks the cobs of corn for the sweetest burn.

Make sure to order extra corn because one cob is never enough, and don't skimp on the 3-dollar Sapporo to wash it all down. 

I can't think of a single time in my life when I would want to be burned by anything called a fire crab, but this Fire Crab can scorch my Saturday anytime.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Somewhat Lacking Lukshon - Culver City

While Father's Office showcases some real brilliance, Lukshon is not what I would describe as Sang Yoon's finest work. Although I love the small, share-able dishes inspired by Asia and kissed by Hawaiian sun, I just can't say I was all that impressed.

It all starts with a simple fried rice because no Asian fusion is complete without some form of fried rice featuring some kooky combo of prime ingredients. The Crab Fried Rice fits the bill nicely, the barely-there blue crab clawing for recognition in a greasy-but-dry rice bowl with not enough egg. 

The Tea Leaf Salad was the opposite of greasy and fried, a refreshing reprieve. This creative cabbage punctuated by crunchy chana dal and a skimpy hint of shrimp had a sprinkling of tea that added its own dark flavor, evenly coating each cabbage shred.

The Crispy Whole Branzino was an impressive aesthetic, a whole un-filleted fried fish captured in a stunning mid-swim. The fish was undoubtedly fresh, and the puddle of pecel sauce was great, but the fish hadn't soaked up any flavor and became pretty forgettable.

The Sichuan Dumplings would have fared better as fusion fare. The kurobuta pork makes a seamless filling, and Sichuan's signature ma-la burn is escalated by a sweet but sour vinaigrette. I could drink that whole bowl of sauce, but the dumplings were a little dumbed-down.

Lukshon makes nice food with a smattering of creativity and charisma, but it's dishes like the Hawaiian Butterfish I was hoping to see more of. The cubes of fish melt in your mouth like the smoothest ceviche, covered with sweetened lime and coconut snow.

When you concoct a tasting menu, you want to show your best, and the Warm Persimmon Toffee Cake wouldn't be the note I would choose to end on. The cake with persimmon jam comes across a little too much like the fruitcake you get at Christmas except it was made by a more skilled Asian auntie. The brown butter ice cream is absolutely incredible, adding savory rich notes and giving depth to a shallower-tasting cake.

The problem with Asian cuisine is that its transition to fine dining doesn't always work. Asian cuisine is often a display of culinary prowess by a starving people, people whose creativity is driven by the need to please the palate with what the better-off throw away. I would hardly call anything at Lukshon a throwaway, but the notes of true brilliance are often masked by discordance and some flavorful disconnect

Friday, April 3, 2015

Shanghai Dumpling House - San Gabriel

I never cry for any reason. I usually have the once-a-year shedding of the tears, but I'm starting think it's a literal cry for attention from my long-neglected tear ducts. Nothing makes me cry. Not weddings, not births, not fatigue, not emotion. But show me a person who hasn't tried dumplings and I'd probably use up my annual arsenal of tears.

Barring a life-threatening allergy, there's no good reason to deprive yourself of these dimpled delights, and I'll be crying tears of joy while I haul your desolate, sorry self to Shanghai Dumpling House for the classic Pork and Crab Xiao Long Bao, the delicate mix of soft pork with a tinge of crabby brine you've been missing all your life.

Shanghai Dumpling House knows the classics, and they're not afraid to bring on the heat. The Spicy Xiao Long Bao won't make you cry from just the slightest red-tinged burn, but I'd be shocked if I didn't see at least one glistening happy-tear while sipping the savory soup.

You may not have had a lot of dumplings in your lifetime but I have. It's hard to impress me, and I'm rarely blown away. Case and point, I find Din Tai Fung to be highly mediocre. So believe me when I tell you that the Salty Egg Yolk Pork Dumplings will change your life because they blew my mind. The egg acts as a thickener, adding a grainy texture with an element of richness to the already-savory soup.

I've never experienced half of what I tried at Shanghai Dumpling House, and I don't know if an experience elsewhere will ever come close. Now I'm shedding enough tears of sadness to fill all the dumplings at Shanghai Dumpling House because I may never enjoy other dumplings again.

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.