Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Harmonious Han Dynasty - Philadelphia

When I first made that drive from the east coast to the west, my guilt grew with every bump in the road, my remorse multiplied with every pothole, and I felt like I was cheating on New England, the love of my life. But after spending a year in SoCal, I'm not sure my love will last. This year I felt like I was cheating on the west coast when a conference forced me to fly back east.

Apparently Han Dynasty handles the conflict better than me. A once-modest hole in the wall, the new vaulted ceilings and mood-lit sky-high bar contains an air of subtlety similar to P.F. Chang's. But the sizzling Szechuan cuisine is unmistakably authentic with just a touch of Chinese-American, a marriage between the east and west.

The mouth-warming Dan Dan Noodles are peanutty-sesame-sweet, and the sauce brings on the heat without the mouth-numbing Sichuan signature spice.

The Tofu Garlic Sauce Style was more just salt and spice. The garlic is just enough to turn on the heat and not quite enough to end a relationship in a single breath. 

The Szechuan Sliced Fish was tenderly boiled in a red-hot pot of broth. This one was made with silken tofu instead of cabbage, which my dining companions didn't particularly care for. I grew up slurping silken tofu from my father's soups, but I think my friends felt the tofu could use a little Viagra.

East meets west at Han Dynasty and results in a harmonious marriage of authentic Szechuan with a tolerable level of spice. I don't know if I'll ever love both coasts without conflict, but I can only hope to handle it as well as Han Dynasty did.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hannosuke at Mitsuwa Marketplace - Torrance

There's no nice way to say it: I'm getting old. OLD. I can't stay up past midnight, my immunity to hangovers has started to wane, and I've started shopping for hair dye to cover up the gray. My metabolism used to sprint, and now I think it crawls.

Unfortunately, in the case of metabolism, slow and steady doesn't exactly win the race. I've had to cut down the calories, and to my great dismay it hasn't been that hard. Turns out, my ability to sample every fried food at the LA County Fair is also seriously impaired. 

But at Mitsuwa I still have hope and its name is Hannosuke. The lighter-than-air, golden-battered, crispy-fried Original Tendon tempura allows me to think I'm young again. The flaky fish puts even the finest fish and chips to shame, the firm-yet-tender shrimp is flavorful, the soft-boiled egg is essential, the shishito is a much-needed sharper, greener contrast, and the kakiage is an unbeatable mix of crunchy seaweed and baby shrimp. And despite my old-lady intolerance for fried food, I can finish an entire bowl of tempura over rice without having to pack the Pepto.

This is not the first time I've moaned and groaned about getting old, and this certainly won't be the last. Probably because getting old is the least fun thing I can think of and because soon my memory will deteriorate to the point I forget that I've already complained. But not all aging is bad. One great thing about getting old is that you have disposable income. And if you're craving tempura, there's nothing better than splurging on the Edomae Tendon, which is identical to the original except the generic fish is replaced by tender, melt-in-your-mouth anago. You definitely pay for the anago, but the price is worth it for me...soon I'll be chewing it with dentures.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market & Patio Cafe - Malibu

To say that one’s online dating profile can be deceiving is an understatement, and believe me, I would know. So let me spare you some of the smoke by telling you the lessons I’ve learned, and soon you’ll see why Malibu Seafood is the only date I want.

Lesson #1: No one looks like their photo.
Cameras can caress a silhouette, finesse a face, and even make a beer gut disappear. People also have a tendency to think they haven’t aged in the past ten years, so a picture is worth a dozen years. Malibu Seafood, if nothing else, looks like its photo. This modest seafood shack off the permanently-packed PCH may show a little wear-and-tear, but the no-frills plastic-board menu and no-fuss BYOB plastic patio channels a casual charm.

Lesson #2: Everyone exaggerates.
No one needs to about how much back hair you have yet, but how about a fair warning about your tendency to curse like a sailor? But I’m not saying you shouldn’t play up your best features. Cleverly-written profiles make me want to meet you right away, and nothing turns me on like a guy who flashes his Ph.D. The thing is, if the date were an Ahi Tuna Burger, he would have the tendency to think he holds a sashimi-grade patty when what he has really came from a can. The chopped ahi in this burger was a little bit bland.

Lesson #3: Know what your deal-breakers are.
The Grilled Sea Scallops were every bit as amazing as I expected. Fresh, tender scallops, grilled just right with a touch of ginger. The main course is amazing, but don’t forget to pay attention to the sides. No one is perfect, but it’s the little things you have to tolerate. A lackluster personality is the ultimate deal-breaker for me, but it’s up to you to decide whether solid-yet-slightly-boring sides are close enough. The potato salad needs a little salt, and the rice pilaf is forgettable, but I'm okay with it as long as I don't spend the entire date in awkward silence.

When it comes to online dating, I have been unpleasantly surprised time and time again. Apparently even the most insufferable of people can come across as playfully pleasant via text. But not Malibu Seafood. A seafood shack is what you see, and seafood from a shack is exactly what you get. Whether you're looking for a romantic picnic, a casual catch-up with friends, or a serious seafood scarf-down after a canyon hike, Malibu Seafood is a date who’s down for anything.

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.