Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Post 51: Lunch - Tupperware Jjajangmyeon Surprise... Coincidence?

Every once in a while, we come across one of those coincidences that makes you wonder if it's anything more than just a mere alignment of stars.  In my last post I wrote that I would have liked to have ground pork in the zhajiang noodles from Hot Wok.  I'm pretty sure that my dad doesn't read my blog... or does he? When I opened my family of Tupperware for lunch, I found this:

Instant Korean jjajamyeon... with a side of ground pork!

My mom made the ground pork, and my dad packed the lunch... so it was my turn to put in some cooking effort.  Fair trade, no? I was wondering why my dad decided to put an entire package of instant noodles into glass tupperware, but when I was looking for a bowl at lunch, my realization hit... it was right there in front of me.  My dad really does think of everything.

What's your most recent surprise or coincidence? Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110419_21

Friday, April 22, 2011

F.A.T. News 6: Changes at the Airport

Here are two articles in last week's news about positive changes to one airport and changes that are needed at all airports across America.

Beautification at SFO (the new Terminal 2):
San Francisco airport's new Terminal 2 'T2' dazzles
article by Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY

Watch out for the little guy:
JFK runway collision spotlights dangers on the ground
article by Alan Levin, USA TODAY

The video of the Delta regional jet being tossed like a toy can be seen here.

On a positive note, the improvements at SFO seem to reflect Bay Area residents' strive for a greener environment.  If only the same changes could be made to Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.  I wonder when other airports will follow suit by allowing passengers to dump out their liquid at the security line instead of tossing the plastic bottle away.  That would definitely be a milestone for those who want a greener Mother Earth.

ML - 20110419

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Post 50.3: Goodbye Thousand Oaks, Part 3 - Authentic Chinese (LA: Agoura Hills)

The Thousand Oaks area has plenty of cookie-cutter restaurant chains that serve cookie-cutter American food.  It's tough to find a good mom and pop shop that serves anything remotely close to the cuisine from the home country.  The first time I was introduced to a local Chinese restaurant, I sat down to find a placemat with the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac and a shining, metal fork.  Now... I'm not against Western silverware, but the lack of chopsticks in plain sight in an authentic Chinese restaurant is a bit unnerving.  And disappointing.  The second time a co-worker suggested Chinese food, I walked up to a restaurant with two abnormally large horses guarding the entrance... not my definition of Chinese food.

Thankfully, another co-worker discovered Hot Wok, a small mom and pop restaurant run by an immigrant trio from the northeastern region of China.  Rather than serving overly soy sauced Americanized Chinese chock full of water chestnuts, Hot Wok (滾鍋) rolls out truly down home items like hand-made dumplings (手工水餃), scallion pancakes (蔥油餅), and spicy broiled (poached) fish filet (水煮魚片).  Here are some of the dishes from Hot Wok that have saved me from the panda and the horse in T.O.

Black bean noodles
listed on the menu as cha jiang mien (炸醬麵)

With plenty of cucumbers and bean sprouts, this noodle dish is a little bit Chinese... but with a simple black bean sauce, this noodle dish mixes in the characteristic of Korean jjajangmyeon.  My ideal version would include a good portion of ground pork, but the black bean sauce is enough to make me feel right at home.

Leek & pork dumplings
listed on the menu under (韮菜豬水餃)

Hand-made dumplings around the Conejo Valley? Unbelievable.  Not only do they come close to the real deal, they are the real deal.  Flavorful pork is blended with fragrant green leeks and filled into freshly made dumpling dough.  These eight little heavenly clouds with just a touch of soy sauce truly spark a bit of inner happiness.

Pan fried pork calzone
listed on the menu as imperial pan fried meat pastry (京都)

I've never actually had this item ever before, but ironically, this pork pancake hits close to home.  The imperial pan fried meat pastry, as Hot Wok calls it, is like a calzone in that it's stuffed with different ingredients and enclosed with a bread-like carbohydrate.  Like a lasagna, though, there are multiple layers; ground pork and thin pastry are placed over each other one layer at a time within the outer casing.  Soft, crispy, soft, crispy... savory, salty, savory, salty... the textures and flavors confuse my brain.  And I'm also confused about what to call this item... pastry? Calzone? Pancake? There's one thing my brain knows for sure though... this thing is delicious.

Beef wrap
listed on the menu as beef roll pastry (牛肉餅)

While the imperial meat pastry is something I've never had before, the beef wrap is something I've enjoyed throughout my adult life.  Wrapped within a Chinese tortilla are slices of braised beef and an explosion of cilantro.  It's relatively small compared to the beef wraps at other restaurants, but you know what that means? I can eat the whole thing by myself.

Cumin lamb
listed on the menu as lamb with tze lan herb (孜然羊肉)

The mix of cumin and chili peppers with fatty curls of lamb creates a truly tasty flavor.  The spiciness is more fragrant than biting.  It's an addicting taste.  You'll understand when you place the savory lamb over a bed of steamed white rice.  The rice soaks up the spicy oils from the lamb, taking away just enough grease so that you can continue shoveling bite after bite into your mouth.

Stir fried loofah/luffa
listed on the menu as sauteed si qua (清炒絲瓜)

Luffa isn't your typical green vegetable.  It's not leafy like bok choy, and it's not as common as gai lan (Chinese broccoli).  I'm surprised this unique vegetable is even served outside of the San Gabriel Valley.  Not only does this vegetable turn into the exfoliating, body cleaning sponge once it's dried, it's also special in that it tastes more like a soft cucumber rather than the squash that it is.  Stir-fried lightly with just a hint of garlic, luffa will help you get your daily fiber intake in a tasty way.

Thousand layer pork
listed on the wall in Simplified Chinese only (笋千肉)

The illusion of a thousand layers is created by slicing the fatty pork belly paper-thin and cutting the edges into the shape of ocean waves.  The thousand layers of pork belly sit atop a mound of young bamboo shoots, which are tender yet crisp to the bite.  Dig down deeper under the bamboo shoots, and surprise! You will find a bed of green spinach, which balances out the unhealthy fat of the pork.  The pool of brown gravy is another illusion itself.  Upon seeing the sauce, I thought that the dish was going to be overly salty, but a hidden sweet and savory flavor took over... if only the thousand layer pork was truly a thousand layers.

Sure, the first few items on the Hot Wok menu are orange chicken and kung pao shrimp, but hidden on the final pages of the menu are what save it from being tossed into the same category as Panda Express and P.F. Chang's.  Items that are also worth trying are a Korean style spicy seafood noodle soup (jjambbong) listed on the menu as three delicacies chow ma mien (三鮮炒碼麵) and Taiwanese beef noodle soup (紅燒牛肉麵).  I'm definitely going to miss this comforting lunch spot.  'Til next time, T.O., let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110416

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Post 50.2: Goodbye Thousand Oaks, Part 2 - Bollywood in the Basement (LA: Westlake Village)

Okay, so I'll miss the commute with my cousin.  But what will I miss about the food that's actually by the office? Immediately, Bollywood Indian Restaurant comes to mind.  Authentic Indian restaurants in the Thousand Oaks area are already pretty hard to come by, but trying to find one that's situated in the basement of an unnamed office complex complete with man-made ponds and mini waterfalls is even harder.  Hidden gem? Yeah, I'd say so.

The restaurant is located within walking distance of the office, but I've only ever employed my lower body as transport once.  I'm usually too impatient to walk (or wait) for my beloved Indian food.  Sipping on sweet lassi and breaking up bits of papad helps pass the time while favorites such as chicken tikka masala, lamb vindaloo and dal tarka are being prepared.

If there's any meal that suggests that gluttony should be limited, it's lunch.  We've all experienced the post-lunch food coma that enshrouds us with the onset of impending sleep, and I'm almost certain that afternoon comatose is not conducive to the work environment.  Thankfully, Bollywood serves lunch specials in smaller portions.  However, I have no discipline in holding myself back from gorging on delicious Indian food.  Ergo, bring on the extra samosas!

Chicken madras

In a world where tomatoes are being skimped on in fast food burgers, it's comforting to find that fresh tomatoes aren't being left out of dishes that absolutely require it... like chicken madras.  No tomato in my burger? Extra lettuce please.  But no tomato in my madras? I can't bear to imagine.  After all, it wouldn't be chicken madras without fresh tomatoes.  What I like about the madras has to do heavily with the confused veggie-fruit.  Its flesh provides some relief from the spicy madras sauce.  The juices are untainted by the spices... cooling, refreshing... like water from the backyard hose on a hot summer's day.  The tomato is juxtaposed nicely against the sauce, teeter-tottering the spiciness on your tongue.

Chicken tikka masala

My co-workers and I usually ask for two orders of the tikka masala (a spicy version for the tough tongue and a mild version for the weaker one) just to make sure there is enough to go around.  And as if we didn't already know that's it's the absolute favorite of the house, the dish is highlighted in red on the menu just so patrons take note.  It's not even the chicken that holds our attention; it's the creamy tomato sauce.  Over rice, slathered on naan, or even doused onto a samosa, the tikka masala sauce cannot be passed up.

Chicken tandoori

Numerous times a friend or co-worker has exclaimed that the chicken tandoori looks dry.  Well, friends, let me tell you... after one bite you'll know that the chicken, as white as the meat is, is as juicy as a pear.  The combination of garam masala, garlic, ginger, cumin and cayenne pepper along with yogurt give the chicken the special taste, and the mixture of red chili pepper and turmeric give it the color.  After being garnished with sliced onions and a wedge of lemon, the tandoori dish becomes unbelievably mouth-watering.  You'll be able to smell the exotic spices and the fresh citrus scent on your fingertips for hours after lunch is over.

Lamb korma

If the chicken tikka masala is the house favorite, the lamb korma is mine.  The korma is much creamier than either the madras or the tikka masala.  In fact, if you bring the plate close to your nose and take a whif, the korma has the distinct smell of butter.  What I really love is not the creamy, buttery fragrance but the bits of ground almond that sit throughout the gravy.  Every so often I'll bite into the bits of almonds, which conjures up images of biting into the hazlenut bits in a Ferrero Rocher.  Firm but soft to the bite, the almonds make all the difference.

Lamb vindaloo

Seeing aloo in the name of this dish means that the dish contains potatoes; potatoes with curry... what a tasty concept.  Toss in some lemon juice, and you've got a dish with a truly spicy kick.  The lamb vindaloo is the spiciest of the dishes thus far, so I would suggest tasting it after tasting the other sauces.  Like the lamb korma, the meat is slightly gamey but as tender as chicken.  The strong spices and the firey kick definitely help reduce the gaminess of the lamb though.  And to help reduce the fire? I'm sure glad I have some of that mango lassi left.

Lamb tikka

Like the chicken tandoori the lamb tikka is roasted with herbs and spices in a tandoori oven, and it's anything but dry.  Break open the lamb, and you'll see for yourself.  Glistening, gleaming meat juices flow down the nooks onto the plate.  The juice from the meat along with the freshly squeezed lemon juice create a sauce in itself.  Have it over the long-grain Basmati rice, and you may forget about the other dishes.

Dal tarka

I'm not particularly fond of vegetable only dishes, but I ordered the dal tarka once, and it completely blew my mind away.  The menu description is simple: lentils cooked with garlic.  But upon arrival at the time, I know it's not as simple as it sounds.  There are bits of red and splotches of green, probably from the chilis and the cilantro or parsley, floating atop the backdrop of yellow lentils.  Chopped slivers of garlic running throughout give this dish a warm and inviting taste.  It's neither as spicy as the others nor creamy either.  The dal tarka was the turning point for my anti-vegetarianism (the saag paneer and the eggplant bharta are great veggie dishes as well).  Dip the naan into the dal until the plate is running on empty.  And when that happens, bend the naan just a little bit more so that the taste of home can be scooped up by fluffy carbs and into your cavity of gluttony.

Pistachio ice cream

Many apologies for what I'm about to say.  The pistachio ice cream looks like cat food.  Why it's cut like Fancy Feast is beyond me.  But what I do know is that I prefer leprechaun green pistachio ice cream from Rite Aid much more than I prefer this.  It's worth the try, but if you can't stomach the color or grainy texture, try a different dessert item, or order another lassi for dessert.  I'll pass on this one... my food coma is about to hit anyway.

Each time the staff at Bollywood sees us, they probably wonder if their lunch menu has any relevance with us.  I'm sure they designed a lunch menu that tries to prevent the onset of food coma (light on quantity but heavy on flavor), but my Indian food gluttony absolutely defies their goal.  Sorry Bollywood, you're food is too good.  

Each time I walk out of this restaurant in zombie-like fashion, I realize why the restaurant is located in a dungeon of a space but happens to be surrounded by calming waterfalls and ponds.  It's the perfect place for the post-lunch, food coma nap.  Ooh, I see a bench.

Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML 20110326+0402

Friday, April 1, 2011

Post 50.1: Goodbye Thousand Oaks, Part 1 - Monday Mornings (LA-SFV: Glendale)

Just a few weeks ago, I transferred from the Thousand Oaks office to the office in Orange.  It's cut my commute down from 52 miles to 36 miles one-way.  Since gas prices are skyrocketing, I'm sure the shorter commute will help my bank account just a tad.

One thing I will miss about my commute to Thousand Oaks is the Monday morning car ride with my cousin Monica.  We would make weekly pit-stops at Porto's Bakery in Glendale on the way into the Valley.  I would pick up my Monday morning OJ and a ham and cheese croissant sandwich for lunch, and Monica would buy dozens of potato balls and guava cheese rolls for her and her roommates.  Every so often we would sneak one or two chicken croquettes in before jumped back onto the freeway too.

I was one of the few that made the commute from 626 into Thousand Oaks, which means I was one of the few who had access to fine Cuban baked goods.  Feeling the need to share the world's best food with everyone at work, I would bring Porto's into the office every so often.  And of course, we would rejoice together and celebrate in Cuban pastry revelry by dancing circles in our cubicles and dropping flaky crumbs on the carpet like sprinkles on a cupcake.  Okay, that didn't happen.  But you get the picture... there was pastry bliss.

It was one of those typical manic Monday mornings at Porto's that I discovered that the bakery made not only potato balls, but potato ball sandwiches.  Whoa.  So on top of my usual ham and cheese croissant, I ordered a papa preparada, the potato ball sandwich.  Deep fried mashed potatoes with seasoned ground beef with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese gets sandwiched between light Cuban baguette bread.  A bit trippy, no? 

Biting into the potato ball sandwich conjured the same feeling as eating a potato taco.  Oh, drool... the potato taco is my new discovery at the Mexican restaurant next to my new office in Orange.  Can we say carb overload? But the bread definitely outweighs the tortilla in carb count.  I still think the ham and cheese is my favorite (there's definitely a better carb-protein ratio), but the papa preparada is something that everyone should try at least once.

New office location, new morning commute.  Can't wait to see what culinary delights awaits me in Orange.  Oh, don't forget the Tapatío! Until next time, let's get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110228