Tuesday, December 10, 2013

160. Please Experience the Softness of Kakuni Pork at Tsujita LA (West LA: Sawtelle)

Grace and I stopped by Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle for their ever popular tsukemen for dinner, but we found out that this main location serves the famous noodles only during the lunch rush.  We were not the only guests that were met with this unexpected news... but while everyone else crossed the street over to Tsujita Annex where the ramen is served during dinner, the two of us stayed to explore the evening menu.

The uni tempura with matcha sea salt combined some of my favorite Japanese ingredients with an adored method of preparation.  For this dish, a shiso leaf is dipped into tempura batter on one side only and deep fried to an unbelievable crisp.  Next, luxuriously creamy pieces of fresh sea urchin roe top the delicate and crunchy shiso.  Finally, sea salt blended with traditional green tea powder is sprinkled over the top.  The sea urchin itself is not actually cooked, thankfully, because only raw uni is ever so rich and creamy.  This uni tempura is unforgettable and must be ordered.

Since it was promised to be super fresh, we also got the sea urchin in uni shooter form.  Hidden under the cover of quail egg and green onion was fresh urchin with ponzu sauce.  It was cleverly presented, but it isn't my preferred way to savor fresh uni.

Okay, hold onto your chopsticks.  The one dish that Grace and I could not stop fawning over was the pork kakuni plate.  It is basically a cube of fatty pork belly that is slowly stewed in soy and sauce along with other spices until the fat renders down and infuses itself back into the meat.  The menu suggests to "please experience the softness," which is exactly what we did.  When we tried to break off pieces of it to eat over the rice, the sinews of the pork pulled apart the way melted cheese would on a pizza.  It was juicy beyond comprehension, succulent beyond compare, and tender beyond all possibility.  It melts in your mouth.  It really melts.  You barely have to chew.

The eggs and greens are a nice addition, but they pale in comparison to the pork.  Because the pork is so fatty, the greens perhaps may have been better served outside of the sugary soy sauce... and to really complement the supple texture of the pork, a soft boiled egg with the orgasmic runny yolk would have been a wise choice.  But forget about the sidekicks.  The star is the soft kakuni pork.  I don't even recall picking up the miso soup.

While it isn't something many would think to order, the handmade tofu with green onions and grated ginger is highly recommended as well.  Anytime tofu or cheese is made my hand, there is extra depth to the flavor possibly due to the naturally imperfect textures of the curd.  It tastes much fresher and less processed.  But who wants tofu when you can have delicious pork belly? It's not to be missed.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle
2057 Sawtelle Blvd.
Sawtelle, West LA
Los Angeles, CA 90025

ML - 20131017

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

159. A Burmese Spread at Daw Yee Myanmar Café (LA-SGV: Monterey Park)

After my first experience with Burmese food at Burma Superstar in San Francisco, I have been intrigued by the food from the country now known as Myanmar.  We visited Daw Yee Myanmar Café to eat more of this unique cuisine that blends Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Lao influences into its own native fare.

A must-order dish that provides a glimpse into traditional Burmese fare is the tea leaf salad.  Diced tomatoes, roasted peanuts, fried lentils, and toasted sesame accompany shredded cabbage, whole chilies, and fermented tea leaves imported directly from the mother country.  Our Burmese server-host-instructor extraordinaire tossed the hodgepodge of ingredients table side until it created a harmonious blend of rainbow colored, texturally titillating, fragrant salad.

One of our favorites was the kima platha, a sort of grilled flatbread in finger food sized pieces folded over ground chicken seasoned with Indian masala.  It is almost like a potsticker, but a more bready, heartier, fuller version of the usual fried dumpling.  The kima platha comes with a dipping sauce, but we used it to soak up all the leftover curry goodness on our plates.

Speaking of curry, the egg curry was a highlight of the night.  Get this... the eggs are hard boiled and deep fried, then added to the mix of tomato and onion sauce.  The colorful curry covers the eggs, making them gleam in the golden pool of glory.  Cut the eggs up and let them fall into that sauce... douse the eggs with more sauce, and you've got a spoonful of bliss.  Whoever thought of this (someone Burmese I presume) was a genius.

There are many more items on the menu that are great to share as well.  We also ordered the mutton curry, which was robust in meaty flavor with a tinge of lemongrass.  The mohinga, Myanmar's national dish, should not be missed.  Rice noodles submerged what is known as a catfish chowder piques an initial interest but results in a complete addiction to the comforting noodle soup.  We are definitely returning for more.

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

Daw Yee Myanmar Café
111 N. Rural Dr.
intersection of Garvey Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91755
Closed Tuesdays

ML - 20130909

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

158. Healthy Living - I CAN CAN Cleanse... and So Can You! (LA: Arts District)

As an avid food blogger, or a food lover in general, we do our best to try new dishes and eat at different restaurants consistently, but do we put in the same effort when it comes to taking care of our health? Hitting the weights, visiting the yoga studio, or running up a sweat can check your health momentarily, but what gives our bodies a true restart?

Teresa Piro believes that her innovative CAN CAN Cleanse is the routine maintenance that your body needs.  This isn't just another juice cleanse or any other liquid diet that supposedly helps you shed the pounds.  The CAN CAN Cleanse is designed to provide the physical clarity and psychological empowerment to help make a change toward a healthier lifestyle.  It includes hot tea, nut milks, and savory soups along with the vegetable and fruit juices as part of the one, three, or five day program.  Teresa put me on the three-day program with the line of fall cleanses.  This is my experience.


In preparation for the actual cleanse, Teresa suggests that you should eliminate or reduce the following items in your diet about three days prior: caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, dairy, red meat, flour, sugar, salt, bread, pasta, pastries, cookies, ice cream, and other processed foods.  You should also increase your consumption of water, herbal tea, and raw vegetables during this time.  You are definitely not supposed to binge on beer or force feed French fries prior to beginning the cleanse.  Don't forget... you will be able to eat these foods again! It's just the start of a healthier lifestyle.

DAY ONE / The Beginning

9:00 a.m.  (#1) Lemon ginger juice.  It is somewhat of a rude awakening to start with this in the morning, especially when I am expecting my morning routine of juice and coffee.  The cleanse has truly begun.  It's a little tough for me to take down, so I nurse the lemon ginger juice for almost an hour.  I am determined to finish it though.

10:00 a.m.  (#2) Green juice.  This stuff is refreshing in relative comparison to the lemon ginger juice.  It almost soothes my stomach.  It tastes lighter and less chunky than the other green juices out there.

11:30 a.m.  (#3) Rosemary nettle tea.  I'm very cranky without solid food, so I am not looking forward to the next bottle.  I completely overlook the label that suggests to "enjoy hot!" so I drink it straight out of the fridge.  The tea is cold, and my attitude becomes equally as cold.

12:30 p.m.  (#4) Celery root sage soup.  I definitely remember to heat up the soup this time, and while the soup warms up, my mood lightens as well.  I like the soup.  A lot.  I like that it is both hot and savory.  It provides just sufficient sustenance for me to continue on.

2:00 p.m.  (#5) Purple grape juice.  Just when I thought I needed some sugar, the grape juice is there to give me what I want.  I sit with someone during their lunch break, and it is painful to watch them eat a very appetizing Mediterranean meal.  I sneak two tiny bits of chicken, just one olive, one cherry tomato, a slice of cucumber, and a good spoonful of hummus off that person's plate.  Teresa said that if I feel the need to cheat, which I do, there is a list of Permissible Eats that I can use as a guideline. 

4:30 p.m.  More cheating.  A hard boiled egg, a small piece of chocolate with almonds, 25 pine nuts.

5:00 p.m.  (#6) Green juice.  After hunkering down to get some work done, I completely forget that I am hungry until I get home.  Out of habit, it is dinner time, so my digestive juices are flowing again.  The green juice holds me over for a second time.

6:00 p.m.  (#7) Hazelnut almond milk.  I love this.  I doesn't make me think that I am on a cleanse.  It's sweeter than soy milk and not as thick as almond milk.  The cinnamon and nutmeg in it are in the perfect ratio.  I wish this was sold in stores. 

7:00 p.m.  Cheat food.  An apple and two cocktail cucumbers.  Just enough to hold me.

8:00 p.m.  (#8) Rooibos tea.  This hot tea is not as fragrant as the rosemary nettle tea, but this is how I like my tea.  It is sort of cleanses my palate and clears my head for the evening.

Day One was pretty tough, and all I could think about what not having any food.  However, I reminded myself that there are so many people around the world that feel hungry on a daily basis.  To cleanse your body because you have eaten too much for too long is an experience that undoubtedly reminds me of how good we have it here... in America... to use food as entertainment rather than sustenance... to use food as a hobby... to be able to choose what we put into our bodies rather than eating simply to continue living.  Way profound of a thought... but yes, it happened on Day One.

Just in case you were wondering, which people have asked... yes, I had a bowel movement today.  A normal, regular bowel movement.  But I visited the urinal many times... many, many, many times.

Total extra liquid consumed on Day One: 24 oz. of water

DAY TWO / The Trenches

I wake up later than usual.  I am very cranky knowing that I cannot have solid food today.  The ginger lemon juice is still not my favorite, but I take less time to drink it today.

The rosemary nettle tea tastes better warmed up... way better... and the celery sage soup is awesome.  It should be served on restaurant menus.

Right about when I think I'm going to crash from low blood sugar, purple grape juice becomes the saving grace of my day.  Teresa describes it as the much needed happy hour that we all look forward to at the end of a long day.

In the afternoon, I receive an e-mail from Teresa reminding me that tomorrow is the last day.  It is very cool that the owner of the CAN CAN Cleanse has checked in on me (as she does with all her customers) to motivate me to the finish line.  

No bowel movements today.  This is to be expected since all that is being put into your body is liquid.  Once again... many visits to the restroom though... many, many, many visits.  If you end up losing weight, it is this water weight that is being flushed out of your system.

Total cheat food consumed on Day Two: one slice of turkey, one hard boiled egg, three cocktail cucumbers, 25 pine nuts

Total extra liquid consumed on Day Two: 36 oz. water

DAY THREE / The Light at the End of the Dark Tunnel

Teresa designed the three-day cleanse to be long enough to work but short enough that you actually finish it.  I have heard of so many friends and acquaintances that begin an enduring two week program that includes harsh teas that cause frequent and uncomfortable trips to the restroom.  This is nowhere close to that.  I love that the timing is in tune with how your body feels.  You are also free to adjust and arrange the juices, teas, and soup to fit your schedule.

Another e-mail arrives from Teresa telling me I'm almost done.  It's great to hear from her again.  But you know what? Day Three is really not that bad.  This has become routine, and as I knock back each bottle, I feel more accomplished.

By the time the hazelnut almond milk is finished, I am walking around with a silly smile on my face knowing that I've challenged myself to something that I never thought I would ever do.  I have always told friends and family that juice cleanses and fad dieting is so ridiculous, but I enjoyed this experience because I felt the clearness in my head and the lightness in my walk.  I CAN CAN Cleanse.

Total cheat food consumed on Day Three: one hard boiled egg, two slices of deli turkey, 25 pine nuts

Total extra liquid consumed on Day Three: lots and lots of water

See what goes into making the hazelnut almond milk with the Tastemade video app for iOS here:

The ingredients that goes into the cleanses are made from organic, local, fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, purified water, seasonal spices.  Teresa also uses dates to naturally sweeten the beverage so that it does not contain sugar or other sweeteners.  The fruit fibers and nut sediments are strained for a smooth, soothing taste and texture. 

POST-CLEANSE / Cool-down

Although the first thing I want to do on the morning after is bite into a juicy Double Double, I actually headed cheerfully to yoga (something else I thought I would never do)... and continued to watch what I put into my body.  Yes, I caved in on the weekend when all I wanted was some dim sum, but I was more cognizant of the unnecessary carbohydrates, sodium level, and grease on my plate.  Overall, I have been better about portion control (something I desperately needed) and including more raw foods in my diet.  Quinoa? Never before.  Cauliflower? I would never.  But now I can safely say that the CAN CAN Cleanse helped me do a minor maintenance on my body... almost like the oil change your car needs every 5,000 miles.  Well, Teresa suggests to go through a cleanse seasonally to restart your body.  I am taking her up on this offer, and I can't wait to see what is included in the winter season cleanse.  This is something everyone should test out, especially after the holidays.

If you're wondering how much weight I lost, that is not quite the right perspective.  It's not about losing weight with the CAN CAN Cleanse... especially because what you are really losing is water weight.  But with proper diet and a scheduled exercise regimen (weights, yoga and running for me), I have shed 12 pounds in two weeks.

Happy early Thanksgiving, everyone.  Be mindful of all that holiday food going into your body.  Until next time, beware of getting S.O.F.A.T.

CAN CAN Cleanse
826 E. 3rd St.
Downtown, Arts District
Los Angeles, CA 90013

ML - 20131014-16

Friday, November 15, 2013

157. Bay Area - A Sunny Day in SF Calls for Bi-Rite Ice Cream at Dolores Park (SF: Mission)

On the rare occasion that San Francisco is presented with a warm, sunny day, people scramble outdoors for a little warmth, a little ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery, and a little tan at Dolores Park.  That is exactly what Diana and I, and what seemed like the rest of San Francisco, did that day.

We stood in line for ice cream and peered through Namu Gaji's windows.  Exciting.

We secured our ice cream for the park.  I started on my coffee toffee long before we left the store.

I sat and people watched while Diana attempted to finish her ice cream before it completely melted... then I watched Diana lose her ice cream to the sun and the wind.  The elements of nature are not her friend.  There is no image of Diana here because the picture is erotic and/or inappropriate depending on which end of the spectrum your perspective on ice cream eating lies.  For our close friends, I have video... heh, heh, heh...

Until the next time the sun shines in San Francisco, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th Street
Mission District
San Francisco, CA 94110

ML - 20130901

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

156. Bay Area - Gathering for Bo Ssam at Namu Gaji (SF: Mission)

While waiting in line for Bi-Rite Creamery, have you ever peered in through the windows of the restaurant next door to see what those happy hipster looking people are eating? Well, near the windows it is likely that you will find an interesting array of Asian American fusion cuisine based on Korean roots, like a grass fed burger with kimchi relish or a bowl of handmade ramen with 4505 hot dogs.  At the communal table in the center of the restaurant you may find a crowd pleasing bo ssam pork belly dinner.  This is what Namu Gaji is known for.  The dinner feeds at least five hungry hippos with divinely crisp pork belly, raw oysters, fresh local vegetables, pickles, kimchi, and all the lettuce, cabbage, and sauce imaginable.  It is similar to the bo ssam dinner from David Chang's Momofuku Ssam Bar in New York, but unlike Momofuku, it doesn't take forever and a day to get a reservation for the meal.  And rather than just being a hip spot to meet up, Namu offers a nostalgia from the Lee brothers' childhood that gets transcended into the food. 

I gathered my friends from my study abroad program for a little catch up dinner in the city.  It has been five years since we left Shanghai, and it was time for a family style meal for us to share food and share updates on our lives.  Just like old times, Joyce suggested the restaurant, and I did the ordering.  Before we began our extravaganza of wrapping pork belly in various vegetables, we started with the Sichuan pepper chicken wings and the okonomiyaki.  The chicken wings wowed with its numbing peppery spice, and the okonomiyaki awed with its ever eerie dancing bonito shavings.  The Japanese quiche like pancake was more authentic than it was modern Asian, and I can appreciate that.  It was hot in temperature (it comes on a skillet) but warm in the emotion that it was served with.

The homeyness of the food on the menu was just enough to make my friends from Fudan feel comfortable and right at home, which made for an ideal spot to convene and connect.  Until the next gathering, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Namu Gaji
499 Dolores St. @ 18th St.
Mission District
San Francisco, CA 94110

ML - 20130903

Friday, November 8, 2013

155. Bay Area - Tony's Pizza Napoletana is Jonas Approved (SF: North Beach/Little Italy)

While romping around San Francisco and all around the Bay, I thought it would be cool to feast with some fellow food fanatics.  Jonas Tamano of Jonas Approved was the first one that I thought of.  A local of San Francisco, Jonas knows the city and its restaurants like the back of his hand.  He introduced me to Tony's Pizza Napoletana in North Beach, and we chowed down on their award winning pizza.

While the menu has an amazing array of authentic pizzas cooked in half a dozen different ovens, we had to go for the one and only margherita.  After all, the margherita pizza is the World Pizza Cup winner, and Tony's makes only 73 of them in their 900 degree wood fire oven each day.  I couldn't pass up the chance to have this rustic pizza made with a combination of imported Italian ingredients and local farmers products.  San Felice flour cooks into a crisp crust.  The real San Marzano plum tomatoes spread into the slightly sweet sauce.  The mozarella fior di latte derived from cows, not the more common buffalo version that we all know, makes for a milky melt.  And the fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt top off the traditional taste.

Jonas and I also ordered the meatball gigante.  I mean, how could we not? Only 25 are made per day, and the veal, pork, and beef meatball comes served with a choice of one of four sauces.  We picked the creamy wild mushroom sauce with pancetta, and robiola cheese.  The server pours the sauce on tableside, and it makes for quite a show as it swirls together with the red tomato sauce.  For those of you who don't think two people can finish eating a giant meatball the size of a very large grapefruit or small pomelo, think again.  We can eat up a storm.  But some words of wisdom... perhaps you should order the regulation sized Italian style meatballs instead of the gigante...

... unless you are Jonas and me of course... because we can still close lunch off with some egg tarts from Golden Gate Bakery.  Follow Jonas' blog or Instagram, especially if you are a big fan of all sorts of Asian cuisine.  Jonas, like myself, collects the various flavors of Japanese Kit Kats as well.  He also visits the Los Angeles area frequently.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Tony's Pizza Napoletana
1570 Stockton St.
North Beach
San Francisco, CA 94133

ML - 20130905

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

154. Bay Area - Tasty Indian Pizza and Wings (Bay Area: Sunnyvale)

Tasty Indian Pizza combines the best of Indian fare and arguably the most cherished American food to bring a unique Indian-American perspective on bar favorites like pizza, wings, and nachos.  I like that the name of the restaurant tells you exactly what you are getting.  But hey, if you don't like the insides of a samosa on top of your pizza, then there is good ol' pepperoni for you too.

My friends and I hit up Tasty Indian Pizza not for the pepperoni but for, well, the tasty Indian pizza.  We ordered half of the 3 Idiots and half the Saagar.  The 3 Idiots half of our pizza was adorned with Indian butter chicken, which is really just the dark meat portion of chicken tikka masala, and garnished with chilies and jalapeños, making for a spicy taste that can be easily washed down with cold beer.  The 3 Idiots, as I have since learned, is a major Indian blockbuster that was the highest grossing Bollywood film when it was released.

The Saagar half of the pizza was mainly a creamy spinach pizza with pineapple, jalapeño, red onion, and cilantro.  The pineapple sounds absolutely bizarre in that mix of ingredients, but once that spiciness creeps up onto your taste buds, you'll be glad that the sweetness of the pineapple is there to put out the fire. 

We also order the spicy tandoori wings.  The outside resembles the glowing red chicken fired up in the tandoori oven, but the inside is even more tender than the traditional version.  The skin is just slightly crisp, not enough to produce a real crunch, but one bite into it, and the meat oozes with juiciness.  It is now one of my favorite ways to have chicken wings.  A fair warning though... the chicken is hot in both temperature and spice.  Be prepared to sweat.

What is cool about Tasty Indian Pizza is that not only does it have seriously delicious food, it is also an ideal spot to gather your friends for football and beer.  Sounds like a perfect spot for Sunday, doesn't it? We have already declared we would return for the other pizzas on the menu.

When football season is over, let's get Tasty Indian Pizza take-out and stream 3 Idiots, yeah? I'll take your silence as consent.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Tasty Indian Pizza (AKA Tasty Subs and Pizza)
528 Lawrence Expressway
Sunnyvale, CA 94085

ML - 20130906

Friday, November 1, 2013

153. Bay Area - HK Style Chinese BBQ at Cooking Papa / 好煮意 香港大排檔 (Bay Area: Santa Clara)

If you are in the Bay, and all you want is some Chinese food, Cooking Papa in either Santa Clara or Foster City is a good choice.  This Hong Kong style restaurant is not really an eye-opening surprise of ridiculous deliciousness.  It is just good food.  It is quick.  It's affordable.  It's no fancy restaurant, and it's no hole-in-the-wall either.  And it satisfies when you are hungry.  It was the first place that I stopped at on what seemed like a never ending journey through Bay Area.

Cooking Papa makes some solid Cantonese BBQ, referring to the roasted chicken, duck, and pork on the menu (or hanging in the window).  Juicy and succulent, our combo platter of roasted duck and pork (燒味雙拼) fit the bill just right.  This, by the way, is different from Peking duck, which is northern style BBQ.  Northern or Peking style roast duck focuses on the crisping of the skin; the meat is usually not as succulent.  On the other hand, southern or Cantonese style roast duck focuses on the tenderness of the meat.  It is usually very juicy, and the skin is usually not as crisp.

The house special pan fried noodle (招牌煎麵) is on the money too.  It is an authentic take on a Hong Kong style chow mein, frying up the yellow noodles until they are crisp all around... and then smothering the top with sauced up scallops, shrimp, pork, mushrooms, and bok choy.  This is one of those dishes that everyone at the table dives into, and each individual douses their portion with extra soy and chili.

What is spectacular about Cooking Papa is the dessert... and not just any dessert.  The Hong Kong style egg puff (鬆化沙翁), which should be ordered at least ten minutes in advance of your desire for dessert, is particularly dramatic.  These egg puffs are somewhat like waffles, only that puffed up hemispheres of batter take the place of the square shaped dips in a typical American waffle.  They typically fit into a paper sleeve to be held while eating on the streets of Hong Kong, but it looks like the Papa injected some Godzilla portioned steroids into these overly gargantuan super sized monstrosities.  Oh, and then Papa dusted it with some powdered sugar.  Cray cray.  The egg puffs are a sweet way to end the meal.

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

Cooking Papa / 好煮意
2830 Homestead Rd.
Santa Clara, CA 95051

ML - 20130831

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

152. Bay Area - Orenchi Ramen and the Amazing Soft Boiled Egg / 俺ん家ラーメン (Bay Area: Santa Clara)

Orenchi Ramen in Santa Clara has the best ramen in the Bay Area hands down.  There.  I said it.  Whether it is the house special with the traditional tonkotsu broth, other variations with a simple salt or shoyu base, or even the dipping tsukemen that is only offered to 15 early bird patrons, any noodle at this Japanese ramen house is sure to please... even if it is over 100 degrees outside.

The texture of the noodle is chewy and elastic, just the way that pulled noodles from Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan should be.  And although I cannot say the noodle has any particular flavor, it is submerged in a broth that is concentrated, almost milky with absolute pork essence.  The soft boiled egg that sits atop the liquid lipid lake is the crown jewel of the bowl.  Typically, ramen from other restaurants comes with just half an egg, but Orenchi grants guests a whole entire egg, the white of which encapsulates the gleaming gold that lies within.

A must try is the french fries okonomiyaki style ().  Orenchi substitutes the traditional bottom of an okonomiyaki pancake with good ol' French fries, but the top is still the same... tart Japanese mayonnaise, drizzles of otafuku sauce, some seaweed seasoning, and a generous heap of bonito flakes.  We all love topping our fries off with some greasy goodness (think carne asada fries), so you know that this is a mouthwatering monstrosity. 

With our own bowls of ramen and fries to share, it is hard to order anything else.  We did manage to scarf down some karaage with everything, but there is still an extensive menu that includes takoyaki, potato croquettes, and roasted pork over rice that requires exploring.  But I guess we can save that for our next visit... hopefully not in 100 degree weather.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Orenchi Ramen
3540 Homestead Rd.
Santa Clara, CA 95051

ML - 20130907

Friday, October 25, 2013

151. Bay Area - Yummy Yummy Vietnamese Raw Beef Salad / 火車頭牛肉粉 (SF: Inner Sunset)

Yummy Yummy in the Inner Sunset is one of those places you never forget.  Though pho is written in Vietnamese on the yellow awning over the door, this restaurant makes more than just bowls of rice noodles.  The raw beef salad is one of the most popular items, and it is what I remembered from my first visit here three years ago.  It is almost absurd as to how squeamish I was about eating raw beef just three years ago because I would easily select fresh steak tartare off any restaurant menu, particularly from Olympic Provisions in Portland.

Thin, almost translucent, sheets of rosy red beef gets showered with such a healthy dose of lemony citrus that it almost cooks the protein.  The fragrance comes from the fried shallots and chopped basil, and the toasted peanuts provide a complementary crunch to the smoothly soft beef.  I detect some quickly fried garlic in there too, and my tongue likes it.

The fish sauce fried chicken wings is a must order item just as much as the raw beef salad is.  The skin is crisp.  The glaze is spicy.  And the chicken itself is damned hot.  There is a big chance of burning your fingers, so if you can manage eating chicken wings with chopsticks, I would highly recommend it. 

The main attraction at Yummy Yummy is arguably the whole crab.  There are about half a dozen different seasonings on the menu.  We ordered cua rang moi, the house special salt and pepper and crab.  The restaurant provides each person a shell cracker, thankfully, and the three of us tore through that sucker and demolished its tender soft inner meat.  Real good stuff... this is the traditional way of eating seafood before Boiling Crab ever came along.

There is much more on the menu... from the requisite variations of pho to rice cakes and rice dishes... to grilled beef, frog, eel, and even a large vegetarian section.  I have yet to try those because I order the raw beef salad, chicken wings, and whole crab whenever I come here, but I don't doubt that I see some cooked beef and rice cakes in the future.  Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Yummy Yummy
1015 Irving St.
Inner Sunset
San Francisco, CA 94122

ML - 20130831

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

150. Bay Area - Unique Dim Sum at Tai Wu / 太湖魚翅酒家飲茶 (Bay Area: Daly City)

Many people have said that the best dim sum in America is in San Francisco's Chinatown.  These people don't quite have it right, but they are not far from where the best dim sum actually is.  San Francisco's Chinatown is home to many Chinese from southern China, specifically Canton (Guangdong) Province; there is no doubt about that.  However, the Chinese who reside there are second, third, and even fourth generation Chinese and Chinese-American that may have lost the authentic taste and traditional method of making dim sum.  Better tasting and more authentic flavors of dim sum are made by the Chinese from Hong Kong, and many of the first generation immigrants reside outside of the city.  Daly City in the Peninsula region of the Bay Area is exactly where some of the best dim sum in America is, and that is exactly where my friend Pei took me to eat.

Tai Wu (太湖魚翅酒家), apparently also called Mr. Fong's, offers some unique items that neither San Francisco's Chinatown nor the San Gabriel Valley in LA have.  We didn't order any siumai or hargow, normally staples at any dim sum gathering.  We did, however, order these mini daikon cakes that blew my mind.  The menu reads sauteed turnip cake with XO sauce (XO醬蘿卜糕), but it was so obvious that they were deep fried.  These normally flat and rectangular tiles were made into dice sized cubes, which meant that there was more surface area for crispy, golden goodness.  Holy deliciousness.

We also ordered steamed rice noodles with pork ribs (特式排骨蒸手拉腸).  The rice noodles are generally machine made and then typically rolled around shrimp or chasiu pork, but these were hand pulled rice noodles and then covered with spare ribs in a flavorful black bean sauce.  It was saucy, savory, slightly spicy, and just so delicious.

For dessert, we chomped down on some golden and flaky egg custard tarts (酥皮蛋撻), but Pei pointed me toward these baked "durian" fruit puffs (金枕榴蓮酥).  Why durian is in quotations is beyond me, and I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing.  Though the King of Fruits is known for its utterly unbearable odor, the pastry isn't nearly as smell as one would think.  The "durian" puree inside is smooth, creamy and has a slight hint of pineapple.  Supposedly, this type of Golden Pillow type of durian is the most common of all exported durians from Thailand.  Think about a smooth, ripe avocado blended with tropical taste and fibrous texture of a pineapple... and then enveloped by a crusty pastry.  That is what we had.  Definitely worth a try.

We also ordered the requisite chicken feet (豉汁蒸鳳爪) among other dim sum favorites like baked taro buns (芋泥雪山飽), but the unique dishes are truly extraordinary here.  Next time you look for dim sum in the Bay, check out the Peninsula area rather than heading into the city.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Tai Wu (Mr. Fong's) Restaurant / 太湖魚翅酒家
950 King Drive
Suite 100
King Plaza Shopping Center
Daly City, CA 94015

ML - 20130905

Friday, October 18, 2013

149. Bay Area - Ici Ice Cream: The Best Ice Cream in East Bay (Berkeley: Elmwood)

The first time I set foot in the Ici Ice Cream shop was way back during my undergrad years.  My friends who attended Cal Berkeley introduced me to this quaint little shop on College Avenue within walking distance of campus.  Back then I did not know that Earl Grey could be an ice cream flavor, that Baked Alaska was a dessert, or that orange peels could be candied and eaten.  Oh, how Ici Ice Cream changed things for me.

I have that same memory of Ici's ice cream from the first time I visited... only this time I anticipated the creative flavor combinations.  The offerings that day included a maple-candied bacon, a spicy Mexican chocolate-salted almond, a malted banana, and a lemon-mint sherbert.  After trying each flavor out, I ultimately decided on the caramel-cashew... in a hand rolled cone and topped off with crunchy cocoa nibs.  Heavenly.

What I like about the ice cream here is that it is not overly sweetened, which means I could eat the ice cream all day, everyday for a year, without getting a toothache.  What I do not like about the ice cream here is that the scoop is so petite for the price that I could not afford to eat it all day... and definitely not everyday for a year.  I can, however, afford that Baked Alaska bombe.  It looks so good... I want it so bad.  I am coming for it next time.  Kat, you in?

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

Ici Ice Cream
2948 College Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94705

ML - 20131008

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

148. Bay Area - Your Meal Ticket to Jimmy Carter's Apple Grape Pie (Berkeley: Northwest)

After having some amazing pancetta pizza, Kat suggested we head to Northwest Berkeley for some amazing pie at Meal Ticket, a little neighborhood spot opened by Chef Jimmy Carter and wife Carolyn Del Gaudio in 2001.  It is known for its humble kitchen fare as well as its renowned apple grape pie, which is exactly what we came for.  We even called ahead to make sure there was enough left since it sells out quite frequently.

One bite into the apple grape pie, and we knew it was fresh.  The apples and grapes were cooked al dente if that is possible to say that about fruit.  The apples were firm and not mushy soft, naturally sweet and not doused with sugar, baked to perfection and not drenched in butter.  The crust was flaky but still held together.  The whipped cream that topped it all off was infused with cinnamon, which made the fragrance waft up... it just smelled so damn good.  And of course, I appreciated that everything was cut into bite size pieces... but who cares about that when the pie is just so delicious?

While we were filming our short Tastemade video, one of the regulars said that we had to come back to try the food there.  He actually said that Meal Ticket makes one of the best burgers in the area.  I'd believe it.  He showed me his half eaten burger just so that we could see the fresh and juicy center.

We also met the man himself when he came outside to check on his regulars.  Cool guy.  Makes good pie.  And for those of you that might be confused, this is not the former U.S. president.  But he is the most powerful man in his kitchen.

We'll be back for some of these burgers and more of Jimmy Carter's humble pie.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Meal Ticket
1235 San Pablo Ave.
Northwest Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94706

ML - 20130906

Friday, October 11, 2013

147. Bay Area - Gather in Berkeley for Spicy Pancetta Pizza (Berkeley: Downtown)

When Katrina said that we should head to Gather for pizza in Berkeley, I thought she was out of her mind.  The kind of pizza that I know in Berkeley is from either Fat Slice and Blondie's, the floppy, extra cheesy kind of pizza that drips with pepperoni oil.  You know, the ones that Cal students snack on in between late night study sessions.  Well, Gather opened my eyes to a completely new category of pizza in Berkeley.

We started with the Summer Bean Soup, a mixture of white beans and other seasonal root vegetables with fresh basil pesto.  It was vibrant and full of flavor... a proper way to jump start our appetites for the pizza.

Of the four pizzas on the menu, we both thought the Pancetta Pizza sounded the best.  When the pizza arrived, we could tell just by looking that we made a good decision.  The thinly sliced interwoven layers of pancetta were all crisp... and the savory saltiness gave the first bite a depth of flavor that made me want to moan with pleasure.  I might have.  But neither Kat nor I noticed as we were too fixated on the deliciousness that was our pancetta pizza.

Did I mention that the creamy egg yolk was oozing throughout the center of the pizza? Did I also mention that the yolk and cheese were blending together and that the golden, unadulterated combination of the two was still bubbling as the server set it down in front of us? Oh, have mercy... the pizza gods... they can cause such simultaneous pain and pleasure.

The best thing about the pizza was that it was spicy.  I'm not talking about just a little heat or a slight kick.  I mean a really ballsy flame.  The kind that real food lovers can handle... the addicting kind that keeps us coming back for more.  The chili was a smart move, Chef.

I am dreaming about it already... the warmth of the crust, complete with its peaks and valleys from hand pressing the dough, the sprinkle of oregano on the dropped egg... and of course, the pancetta... the crispy, salty, delicious pancetta.  What a magnificent pizza.  I'm definitely gathering in Berkeley for this again.  Crossing the new Bay Bridge to the East Bay is fine with me.  So until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

2200 Oxford Street
Downtown Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94704
BART: Downtown Berkeley

ML - 20130906

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

146. Bay Area - Foreign Cinema Rolls Out the Red Carpet (SF: Mission)

Last month I spent about 10 days in the Bay Area seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and stuffing myself silly.  Once of the first restaurants I visited in San Francisco was Foreign Cinema.  Diana and I chose this popular culinary destination to experience their brunch menu.  Here is what we ordered.

Smoked salmon, ruby red grapefruit with creme fraiche and black tobiko.  Gorgeous.

Sea bass tartare with wasabi tobiko.  The lime juice combined with olive oil made for a light, fresh taste.

Poached eggs with proscuitto ragu.  The runny yolk made for glorious food porn.

Croque Madame with toasted ham, Gruyere and some of the best béchamel sauce I've ever had.

After starting off with some raw dishes, we worked our way to hot dishes that were centered around eggs.  Apparently the co-owners Gayle Pirie and John Clark love eggs and have written a cookbook featuring recipes using eggs called Country Egg, City Egg.  We also order some cocktails, Love in the Afternoon as recommended by Chef Gayle and a Bellini, to go with everything.  It isn't Sunday brunch if there aren't any drinks involved, right?

The excellent service made us feel like the red carpet was really rolled out for us.  The food was done well and presented beautifully.  We would definitely come back again... perhaps to experience the much talked about dinner service.

Check out the Tastemade video above for some mouthwatering shots of our brunch.  Also, see my Flickr set for some images from our meal.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Foreign Cinema
2534 Mission Street
Mission District
San Francisco, CA 94110
BART: 24th St Mission

ML - 20130901

Friday, September 20, 2013

145. Beverly Hills Brownie Company - Kristen Chenowith Says Brownies Are Heaven In Her Mouth (LA: Beverly Hills)

On my first visit to Beverly Hills Brownie Company last summer, I declared the beginnings of the Brownie Comeback.  Owner Bobbie Greenfield made 241 batches of red velvet brownies before she perfected what we thought we knew as our favorite childhood treat.

Since then BHBC has gone full steam ahead and has developed new flavors, new ideas, and new famous followers.  Our favorite Hollywood celebrities such as Kristen Chenoweth have picked up on this brownie craze as well.  The beautiful blonde who blossomed on Broadway blasted about the brownies from her Twitter account @kchenoweth.  Her favorite is said to be the red velvet.

Rumor has it that a certain hit R&B artist who was a judge on the last season of The Voice ushered in a few brownies for himself, and the host of the rival singing competition on Fox has idolized these delightful desserts while on air also.

New flavors on the menu at BHBC this season include the S'mores, complete with graham cracker crumble and toasted mini marshmallows... no fluff here.  It's even topped off with a block of the classic Hershey's signature milk chocolate... perfect for those who are having a major case of summer camp nostalgia.

The brownie ice cream that is coming out in just a couple of weeks may gain some of its own fans.  As for me, I am still loyal to the peanut brittle, red velvet, and the brownie ice cream sandwich.  It really is the perfect ratio of brownie to ice cream.  It even inspired me to make a video using the Tastemade app (currently only on iPhone and iOS devices) featuring said scrumptious sweets.

If you haven't already done so, check which one of the more than two dozen different flavors of brownies will be the heaven in your mouth.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20130914

Saturday, August 31, 2013

144. Tokyo - Grubbin' on Gyoza at Tokyo Haneda Intl Airport / 羽田空港せたが屋の餃子

Instead of flying out from Narita International Airport (NRT), I chose a departure flight from Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND).  Haneda Airport is much closer to the city center, which shortens the time needed to get to/from the airport drastically.  I saved on the extra commute time, so I wandered up to Edo Market on the fourth floor to check out the airport's pre-security restaurant offerings.

I found a ramen shop called Setagaya (せたが屋) in the corner of Edo Market (江戸小路).  It is ideal for travelers flying individually or in small groups since it is a small space.  A ticket vending machine greets you to the right of the entrance.  This is where you are supposed to make your selection and pay.  As soon as you find a seat, you hand the ticket over to the server.  Their specialty is ramen, but I had not had any gyoza (餃子) in Japan during my six days there, so I knew I had to have some before I left the country.

For now, though, ikimasho... we gotta go! I'll try the noodles the next time I fly out of Haneda Airport.  There is also a Tsurutontan (つるとんたん), famous for their giant bowls of udon noodles in the Edo Market as well.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20130630

Thursday, August 29, 2013

143. Tokyo - Arigato gozaimashita: Wrapping Up A Week in Japan / ありがとうございました, 日本!

If I dedicated a post to every single restaurant I visited in Tokyo, I would never get to my long back log of posts from the Bay Area and the East Coast.  Here's the remainder of the eating, seeing, and doing from Japan... all in one post.

Ken and I slurped up some very homey ramen that really hit the spot after an exhausting morning at Tsukiji Market.  The shop owner joked that the bamboo was from the same place Ken was from... Taiwan.  Look for a red noren that says ramen in white Japanese lettering (ラーメン) hanging in the doorway.  The faded red business signage reads Chinese food (中国料理) in Japanese.  The owner says the gyoza is very good too.

天好 24
東京都 台東区 / Tokyo Metropolitan, Taito Ward
花川戸 1-15-7 / Hanakawado District, 1 Chome 15-7

We passed the Asahi Breweries Headquarters on the way to Tokyo Skytree, the tallest freestanding tower in the world.  It was camouflaged against the gray sky and too pricey to travel up to the observation deck.  We relaxed over some chocolate and macadamia ichigo wafflate on the entrance floor instead.  The coffee is decent, and the chocolate beverages are milky and quite delightful.

100% Chocolate Cafe
東京都 墨田区 / Tokyo Metropolitan, Sumida Ward
押上 1-1-2 / Oshiage District, 1 Chome 1-2
東京スカイツリー / Tokyo Skytree
東京ソラマチ 4F / Tokyo Solamachi, 4th floor

A popular expat gathering hole serving Spanish-Italian influenced Japanese tapas helped us shield the hustle and bustle of Metropolitan Tokyo at bay.  We ordered the hot spiced chicken, fries with anchovy butter, squid in black ink sauce, and quattro formaggio pizza, oysters, and more.  The highlight was the octopus and ooba pasta with yuzu pepper.  The shiso garnish helped keep the pasta light.

Rigoletto Bar and Grill
東京都 港区 / Tokyo Metropolitan, Minato Ward
六本木 6-10-1 / Roppongi District, 6 Chome 10-1
六本木ヒルズ ウェストウォーク 5F / Roppongi Hills, West Walk, 5th floor

Kristen has a knack for introducing some very aesthetically appealing treats.  She ordered a gripping grape tart, and I selected a scrumptious summer peach tart.  There are more than two dozen tarts, all of which center around an individual fruit or combination of fruits that are formed into various flowers and other intricately carved shapes.

Berry Café
東京都 中央区 / Tokyo Metropolitan, Chuo Ward
銀座 3-2-15 / Ginza District, 3 Chome 2-15
外堀通り / Sotobori-dori Street
ギンザ グラッセ 6F / Ginza Glasse, 6th floor

A true late night in the streets of Tokyo must include yakitori at an izakaya.  Grilled chicken wings, skewers of extra crispy chicken skin and succulent meatballs are go-to favorites.  What captured my attention, though, was the mentaiko omelette... salty orange fish roe rolled into sweet yellow tamago for the ultimate egg in egg action.  Oh, and the beer here is only 380 yen in the wee hours of the night.  Kanpai!

串焼ダイニング十兵衛 (Juubee Skewers Dining)
東京都 渋谷区 / Tokyo Metropolitan, Shibuya Ward
恵比寿南 1-23-5 / Ebisuminami District, 1 Chome 23-5
恵比寿 スカイウォーク出口 / Yebisu Skywalk exit
アメリカンブリッジ ビル 1F / American Bridge Building, 1st floor

We celebrated the final night in Tokyo with drinks... a foam topped Yebisu Stout at the top of the Westin overlooking Ebisu District seemed fitting.  There is a scenic view of the Tokyo night scape just behind the bar.

コンパスローズ / The Compass Rose
 東京都 目黒区 / Tokyo Metropolitan, Meguro Ward
三田 1-4-1 / Mita District, 1 Chome 4-1
恵比寿 ガーデンプレイス 内 / Yebisu Garden Place 
ウェスティンホテル東京 22F / Westin Tokyo, 22nd floor

And that's about as much as my stomach can handle.  It's time to pack, get some rest, and head to the airport first thing in the morning... Taiwan is next on the itinerary! Super big thanks to Ken, the Lee family, and Kristen for the utmost guidance and hospitality on this trip.  Without you guys it would not have been as fun and gluttonous as it was.  Arigato gozaimashita!

I'm going to finish up a few posts on some recent fooding in the States.  Posts on my trip to Taiwan will start popping up in October, so stay tuned... until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20130625-30