Friday, September 11, 2009

Celebrity Eats for $4 at Gyenari

I’m usually broke so eating out for me means a $3.75 Banh Mi or a $1.00 Cabeza Taco. It’s been ages since I chowed down at Border Grill in Santa Monica. I’ve never even set foot in Chinois on Main or Providence. To paraphrase Marge Simpson, I can’t afford to eat anywhere that has a name. That’s why I was surprised to find a name on the menu of my favorite bargain watering hole. I hate to sound all fan boy but I did get a little bit of a rush looking down at the Gyenari bar menu and seeing “Debbie Lee of The Next Food Network Star.”

Gyenari Menu

Debbie Lee may not be a name the way Tom Colicchio is a name, but fans of The Next Food Network Star will remember her. I was rooting for her during the show. I wanted to see a Southern/Korean cooking fusion show on TV. Well, Debbie didn’t win, but if you want to sample a new take on Korean food head over to Gyenari in Culver City.

I’ve been coming to Gyenari bar ever since I discovered the place next to the AMC theater. I was looking for a new movie and drinks hangout for me and my friends. We had settled on The Bridge but the only place to eat over there was Marie Calendar. Gyenari was definitely a step up quickly became one of my favorite spots. The food wasn’t very Korean but it was good and the $6 sojus and the $2 Hite beers kept me and my mates very happy. However I have to say the new food looks ten times better yet is still $4 at happy hour. I started off with Rice Ramaki and if there’s anything that shows off the Southern/Korean fusion it’s this dish. Ramaki are rice dumplings usually served in a light red sauce. Gyenari serves them wrapped in bacon and with a spicy chili dipping sauce. The dumpling is light and springy. It’s nothing more than boiled rice flour dough. But wrap it in bacon and add a spicy but not too spicy red chili sauce for dipping and you’ve got a great new bar food. I could eat these with their dipping sauce all day.

Gyenari Rice Ramaki

Gyenari already had pretty good sliders, the new ones look nicer with miniature sesame seed buns and topped with shredded Korean BBQ pork.

Gyenari Sliders

The new Mandoo are called Melting Mandoo. I really don’t see what makes them “melting.” They are decent pan seared dumplings and they have that red chili dipping sauce which could make a poker chip taste good.

Gyenari Mandoo

My friend ordered the ribs and I didn’t a chance to sample any but they looked gorgeous.

Gyenari Ribs

He also got the seafood Jeon Jeon which I did grab a bite of. It was, to my taste, a big improvement over what they used to serve. The old Jeon Jeon was a flat crepe which was a little weak in the flavor and texture department. The new version has lighter fluffy cakes, like what we think of as pancakes only in this case topped with seafood instead of maple syrup. It was another bit of Southern meets Korean and I got a real kick out of it.

Gyenari Jeon Jeon

Of course the sojus and the beers kept flowing [as you can see by my photography.] There used to be couches in the bar area, but they got rid of those. When you serve soju they’re too much of a temptation to stretch out and take a nap. The happy hour goes from around 3 to 7 PM. It’s still one of the best kept secrets in Culver City. Me and my friends go there all the time and always find plenty of seats, except of course for the one time we brought a real crowd and found the place packed to the rafters.

Gyenari BBQ and Lounge
9540 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232-2631
(310) 838-3131
Prices: $2 Hite Beers, $6 Sojus, $4 bar food during Happy Hour 3PM-7PM

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dong Ting Spring: Spicy Hot Hunan

The massive Focus Plaza has so many dining options you could eat all three meals and never leave its confines. Dong Ting Spring is one of the more popular spots. This Hunan place is one of the smaller eateries but is clean and elegant inside.

Dong Ting Spring Ext

Hunan cooking is a spicy Southern style. I’ve been eating a version of it since childhood. Even in the Midwest where Chow Mein usually involves those dried crispy noodles you get out of a bag in the chip aisle, the Chinese restaurants there usually offer “Hunan” dishes. They aren’t real Hunan dishes but when you’re a budding spice fiend growing up in Cleveland they really fit the bill. My favorite was a beef dish swimming in brown sauce with wood ear mushrooms and whole dried chili peppers. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant and I think it’s a Johnny Rockets now, but I remember me and my siblings gobbling up plates of the stuff and daring each other to take a bite out of the pepper.

Flash forward to today and trot over to Focus Plaza for a nice dinner at Dong Ting Spring (or Dong Ting Chun.) Obviously I’m not in Cleveland anymore. There’s Stir Fried Pig Intestine and Hot & Spicy Stomach on the menu. I decide to go a little less adventurous and Wild Mushroom stir fried with Smoked Ham, Hot & Spicy Fish Fillet, and the Cabbage with Chopped Chili Pepper.

Dried Chili is the main seasoning on all three of my dishes. Unlike with Sichuan cooking there’s no numbing sensation to tame the heat. This is a multi-cola meal.

The Mushroom Stir Fry is easily my favorite dish. I’m a sucker for Chinese or Shitake mushrooms. I love their meaty texture and flavor. The pork is very smoky. I wouldn’t call it ham in that it isn’t completely dried out and I don’t think it was fully cured before being smoked and then stir fried. But it is flavorful and when combined with the mushrooms you think you’re eating a plate full of meat. Very spicy meat. The dish has chili pepper flakes and slices of jalapeno throughout. There’s no slow burn at this place. You just jump right in to the heat.

Dong Ting Spring Mushroom

Next comes the fish fillets. They resemble the Chinese fish my family makes, steamed , topped with scallions with a soy sauce and hot sesame oil drizzled over it. This dish is different in two ways. First there’s a ton of pepper flakes on top. Second the fish wasn’t steamed. It has a rich slightly oily taste. I believe it was par cooked in oil, what some Chinese chefs call “passing through oil” and others call “velveting.” Some might find the fish too oily but I liked the added richness to the light fish.

Dong Ting Spring Fish

I finish off with a veggie. This is pretty simple, a big mound of Napa stir fried with dried chili pepper. It’s simple, filling, and makes me feel a little bit better for adding a green with my meats.

Dong Ting Spring Cabbage

I have to thank Dong Ting Spring for finally giving me a true taste of Hunan. After years of nibbling at the edges I finally got a bite of the real stuff. I hope it never becomes a Johnny Rockets.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dumpling Hunt Part 9: Mei Long Village

Go to any LA Foodie blog or message board, do a search on XLB or "Soupy Dumplings" and there's one restaurant name that will pop up over and over again; Mei Long Village. Mei Long Village has a reputation for the best XLB in the San Gabriel Valley. Tasting Table just did a blog on XLB and prominently mentioned Mei Long Village. With that much buzz it was only a matter of time before I checked it out myself.

Mei Long Village Ext

So that's how I found myself sitting down for lunch one Saturday ordering the "Shanghai Steamed Dumplings" and the "Crab and Pork Steamed Dumplings." First thing I noticed was that it was nearly deserted on a Saturday near noon. Of all the spots on my Dumpling Hunt, this was the least busy I'd been to. Din Tai Fung, Mama's Lu, Luscious Dumplings were all slammed by comparison. There was just one other family eating with me the entire time. Something was up. Places that are supposed to serve the best anything aren't usually dead on a Saturday at noon.

Mei Long Village Int

I received my order. First thing I should clarify is that Tasting Table gets the prices wrong. The XLB or Shanghai Dumplings aren't $5.50 for 10 they're $5.95 for 10 and they don't have crab filling in them. The pork and crab dumplings are $6.95 for 8.

First the XLB. Tasting Table says the skins are very thin and prone to breakage. Now I don't wield the most gentle set of chopsticks around but I was still able to finish all 20 of my Din Tai Fung dumplings without a single break. This batch I lost two transferring them to my soup spoon. But worse than that there were at least three dumplings that had holes in the bottom so had no soup to lose. Half my order of soupy dumplings had no soup. Not to accuse anyone, but fresh made wrappers are pliable and less apt to break. It certainly appears as if the batch I got either was left to dry out or else was made with dry (pre-made) wrappers. Neither a good sign.

Mei Long Village XLB

So how were the 5 dumplings that had soup in them. They were all right. They're weren't bad but they were hardly transcendent. To be honest I greatly prefer the dumplings at Din Tai Fung or Mama's Lu.

As for the pork and crab dumplings, they were good. If there was supposed to be soup inside then I got a completely botched batch. But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they were supposed to just regular dumplings. They tasted good. There was a taste of crab. But just a taste. You shouldn't go in expecting to chunks of Alaskan King mixed in with your dumplings.

Mei Long Village Crab Dumplings

All in all a pretty disappointing lunch given what I had heard. Now I will be going back to Mei Long Village for dinner. I want to try their braised pork leg (called Pork Pump on the menu)and the fish tails and a few other items. But as a lunch spot and a dumpling spot, it's off my list. And from the looks of things when I was there, I suspect I'm not the only one who's written the place off.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dumpling Hunt Part 8: Kang Kang Food Court

Kang Kang Food Court

It took me a few moments to spot Kang Kang Food Court in Monterey Park. That was because the sign over the top still says “Shau May Restaurant.” If you’re driving up Garfield from Garvey, look for the big yellow ABC Café. Right next to it you’ll see lettering say Shau May Restaurant but once you get to the door, the menu says Kang Kang Food Court.

Kang Kang is a Taiwanese style food court a cafeteria style eatery where you can get 1 to 4 items with steamed rice and soup. But they serve things you won’t find in Panda express. Kang Kang offers dishes from all over China. Their menu includes selections from Taiwan, Northern, Eastern and Southern China as well as several house specialties, breakfast items and number of drink options.

I decided to go with the “Shanghai Pan Fried Small Bao” from Eastern China and the “Jing Dong Meat Pie” from Northen China. I placed my order at the counter and picked one of the numbered tables to sit down at. My food arrived on plastic trays with disposable plates and a plastic spoon. I had a flashback to my high school cafeteria.

Kang Kang Int

The Shanghai Bao where a like the “Soup Dumplings” (XLB) I had sampled at Din Tai Fung or Mama’s Lu with one big exception. These were pan fried. They were gorgeous to look at. That had wonderfully golden bottoms and their white tops were sprinkled with black sesame. The only problem came when I bit into them to release the hot soup inside. The wrapper was hard and crisp even on top. It wasn’t like a dumpling or noodle at all and completely like a bao or bun. I’d almost describe it as a Beard Papa crème puff but with soup and meat inside. That posed a few challenges. For one the didn’t give me a soup bowl or a wide Chinese style soup spoon. I had to make do with a small plate and a regular sized plastic spoon. That may have just been a mistake on their part. They have a lot of soups on the menu, I’m sure they have wider spoons and actual bowls available. The second challenge the stiffer structure meant that there were often little pockets of hot soup still waiting inside even after I had chewed off a little hole and dumped out the broth onto the plate. Too bad I had so many difficulties because the taste was excellent. The crispy coating, the big nugget of pork filling inside and even the broth which I ended up squirting over the table all worked together beautifully. I’ll have to make sure I’m better equipped next time I order them.

Kang Kang Dumplings

The Jing Dong Meat Pie however was the exact opposite of the Shanghai Bao. Where the Shanghai Bao were complex and intricate, this was as simple as it gets. It was a ground meat with cabbage, green onions, and ginger wrapped in a pancake and then deep fried. The large pie was sliced into pieces and served. It sat on the plate plain and unadorned. It was fantastic. Part of the reason I loved it so much is that it triggered a taste memory for me. My family used to make our own egg rolls. We made them our own way with lots of meat and only a little bit of cabbage, not the restaurant version that was 80% vegetable. This meat pie took me back to those days. It had the crunchy wrapper and inside was pork with a big hit of ginger and a little tang from cabbage. It was simple, filling and inviting. It’s the kind of thing I could eat everyday and not get tired of.

Kang Kang Meat Pie

I rounded out the meal with a trip to Taiwan for dessert. Kang Kang Food Court serves Taiwanese Ice Slush, a simple dish of 3 or 4 items on a plate covered in a mountain of shaved ice and a squirt of sugar syrup. I went with the 3 items and picked peaches, pineapple (both from out of a can apparently) and for my third I went with the sweeten read bean. The lady behind the counter scooped everything onto a plastic plate and then proceeded to bury it under a mini mountain of shaved ice. When I got it back to my table it looked like I had the top of Pike’s Peak sitting on my tray. The first few spoonfuls were nothing but ice and it was hard not to cause some small avalanches as I dug deeper into the fruit and bean mixture on the bottom. The peaches and pineapple were a really cold fruit salad. The red beans were sweetened but still had that texture and taste to it. It was strange eating beans for dessert but I started to like it after my second bite. The dish was mostly water so it was a relief on that blistering hot summer’s day.

Kang Kang Ice

The prices were reasonable. My three course dinner cost me $15. The price range went from under $1 to $11. The place was fast and cheap but still good. Don’t go there for an elaborate banquet. But if you’re low on funds and craving a little Chinese, don’t waste those dollars on Panda Express. Check this place out instead.

Kang Kang Food Court
104 N. Garfield Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 571-2727
Price Range: From under $1 to $11

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dumpling Hunt Part 7: Luscious Dumplings

There was a line outside the door when I arrived at Luscious Dumplings in San Gabriel. The small shop was located inside a strip mall off of Las Tunas Dr. Outside its doors there were already four groups ahead of me. The waiter handed me an order form and told me it would be 15 to 20 minutes. I waited and mingled with the small crowd. There was pizza parlor completely devoid of customers just next door. But nobody in the group waiting to be seated even gave it a second glance.

Luscious Dumplings Ext

I looked over the brief but flavorful menu. It featured familiar items like celery and pork dumplings, stewed pork noodle soup. There were also more adventurous items like beef tendon in hot sour sauce and fried dumplings with chive, pork, egg, and glass noodle filling. I decided on fried pork dumplings. Then I waited for my number to be called.

While I waited I glanced down at the hours of operation sign and saw what accounted for the lines. In addition to having only about 8 tables, Luscious Dumplings was only open for customers a total of 33 hours every week. Tuesday through Saturday it was open from 11AM to 2PM for lunch and then again for dinner from 5PM to 8PM. Sundays it was only open for lunch 11 t o2 and Monday it was closed. If you wandered in looking for a mid afternoon snack or a late dinner, you were out of luck.

Once I got inside the place was bustling and filled with Chinese families and friends out for Saturday lunch.

Luscious Dumplings Int

I sat down to my drink and a small dish of pickled cabbage. It was slightly sweet and had a nice tang.

Luscious Dumplings Cabbage

My dumplings came. These looked like the usually Pot Stickers I’ve had a million times at Dim Sum restaurants. There was one difference. These had some kind of glaze on the fried side, something sweet and sugary that caramelized on the dumplings. The fried side was sticky sweet and a nice surprise. The sweetness was a nice counter to the pickled cabbage or the heat of the chili oil that used as a dipping sauce. The pork filling was juicy. There wasn’t a lot of garlic or ginger covering up the simple pork taste. It was a fine dumpling. The glaze was an added treat though it did cause a few of my dumplings to stick together.

Luscious Dumplings Pot Stickers

The price for 10 dumplings was $6. It was a good price but there are better deals to be had in the San Gabriel Valley. Mama’s Lu Dumpling House serves 10 Juicy Pork Dumplings (XLB) for $4.99. The 8 monster sized pan fried dumplings at Qing Dao Bread Food are just a dollar more. And $6 can be a feast at Yung Ho Tou Chiang. Still no one was complaining at the busy Luscious Dumplings. I don’t know if the crowds are like that all the time (though I’d love to visit 6 days straight to find out) but if Saturday is any indication, be prepared to wait.

Luscious Dumplings
704 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 282-8695
Price Range: $6 for 10 dumplings (or 8 of the “Pork with Soup” XLB) or $6 for a bowl of noodle soup with 5 dumplings.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Banh Mi at Sandwich Express in Reseda

Living in Van Nuys means I can’t get out to the San Gabriel Valley as often as I like (which is constantly.) That’s bad news when I’ve got a late night craving for 101 Beef Roll. But the good news is I don’t have to trek all the way to Mr. Baguette and Lee’s Sandwiches when I start jonesing for a good Banh Mi. Relief is just down the road at Sandwich Express in Reseda.

Heading West on Sherman Way past the airport on a Sunday night there’s little traffic by the time I hit Reseda. I find a spot on a side street easy enough and head over to Sandwich Express.

The outside is a little faded. The sign could do with another coat of paint. It doesn’t look like a place from great Vietnamese sandwiches from the outside. At first glance one might mistake it for an Italian sub place.

Sandwich Express Ext

Inside is crisp, clean operation though it could use more menu displays. They have an excellent Banh Mi menu on the wall and Slush menu behind the counter area. But there’s a whole counter of food options on the one side and I had no idea what they were offering.

Sandwich Express Int

I start things off with a Kiwi Slush with boba. It was bright green, sweet and tart, just like a fresh kiwi fruit. Kiwi makes a very good dessert or sweet drink.

Sandwich Express Slush

The Banh Mi is ready a few moments later. I order the special which apparently means a little bit of everything. The sandwich is stuffed with red cured pork, white pork loaf, rich pate, headcheese, mayo and even a few shrimp. The pickled vegetables are cut thicker than at Mr. Baguette or Lee’s and they include a few spears of cucumber. The meats were very porky. The cured pork was chewy and would have been tough it wasn’t sliced paper thin. The headcheese had a nice bit of cartilage in it. The pickled veggies provided a nice crunch and acid and the jalapenos gave it a bit of heat. As usual the sandwiches were a bargain, $2.95. With my drink it was a filling meal all for just over $5 total.

Sandwich Express Banh Mi

On my way out I noticed a small shrine by the door. I don’t know whether it is meant to welcome guests or bring in good luck. Sandwich Express deserves plenty of both.

Sandwich Express Shrine

Sandwich Express
18575 Sherman Way
Reseda, CA 91335
(818) 757-7698
Price Range: $2.95 for sandwiches.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dumpling Hunt Part 6: Rice balls and Ginger Bean Milk at Yung Ho Tou Chiang

When I got to Yung Ho Tou Chiang they were already putting the chairs up and starting to mop the floors. I was afraid I was too late. The menu said open till 6 PM and it was just before 5. Time I thought for a quick early dinner. Turns out when they say close at 6 PM they mean the place is shut and the staff is on its way home by 6. Of course this way I avoided the lunch and breakfast rush.

Yung Ho Int

Yung Ho Tou Chiang is located on valley just before the New Ave. intersection. It’s in a strip mall with a fair sized parking lot. Arriving in the early evening there was plenty of spaces.

Yung Ho Ext

Inside the space was quite large and impressive for strip mall place. They showed me to a booth and gave me the menu.

The first thing that caught my eye was the prices. Most of the items under the Dim Sum were $2 or less. Some items went as low as 85 cents. The rest of the menu was also a bargain. Soups and Noodle or Rice dishes were between $4 and $6.50. Cold Dishes were ranged from $1.50 to $2.50. There were a few items scattered around that were $8, $9 and one was $15. But overall the menu was made for the budget conscious.

I stuck with the dim sum portion of the menu. I ordered a Sweet/Cold Ginger Bean Milk for $1.30. It was a glass of soy milk with a heavy taste of ginger. It was pretty refreshing on a hot day.

Yung Ho Ginger Bean Milk

Next came a Mushroom with Pork Bun for $1.00. It was a good sized steamed bao with a filling that was more pork than mushroom and had little dried shrimp as well. The filling was seasoned with soy and ginger. The bun was a little on the heavy side but there was a good ratio filling to bread.

Yung Ho Mushroom Pork Bun

After that came the only real disappointment. I ordered the Beef Pan Cake for $2.75. It was a bit of a let down compared to the exquisite Beef Roll at 101 Noodle Express. The beef filling was tender, rich and had a strong anise flavor to it. But instead of spreading the filling out evenly over the pancake and wrapping it, they first folded the pancake on itself, put the filling in the center, coated the outside with sesame seed and fried it on both sides. The pancake was heavy and a little tough where it was folded in on itself.

Yung Ho Beef Pan Cake

After that however came a real treat, Rice Ball Soup with Mushroom and Pork for $3.50. It was a clear broth with four dumplings floating in it. It was topped with a generous helping of cilantro and crispy onion flakes. The dumplings resembled little matzo balls. They were made of glutinous rice flour and had a meat filling inside each one. The outside was sticky and slightly sweet. Like matzo balls, they expanded when they reached the stomach. The filling was the same pork and mushroom mix from the bao. The whole thing may be a little salty for some people’s taste but I found it excellent.

Yung Ho Rice Ball Soup

The whole meal came out to less than $10. This is a place to eat up and not break the wallet. The rice balls are superb and a great bargain at $3.50. Just try and get there early.

Yung Ho Tou Chiang
533 W. Valley Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 570-0860
Price Range: Dim Sum menu from $0.85 to $5.75

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dumpling Hunt Part 5: Fish dumplings and Pan Fried Heaven at Qing Dao Bread Food

The next stop on my Dumpling Hunt I owe to Chowhound Chandavkl who said that this place had the best sole dumplings in LA.

Qing Dao Bread Food is inside a strip mall on Garfield Avenue in Monterey Park. But don’t expect to find parking. The courtyard style mall is home to several busy eateries. Fortunately I found street parking within short walking distance. Qing Dao has a very modest storefront.

Qing Dao Ext

Inside it is even simpler, just a narrow strip of floor space running from the door to the back with the kitchen and bakery case dominating the rest of the shop. An electric fan was set up to provide air circulation but I didn’t find it stuffy or hot inside which was surprising. Nearly every one of the tables was occupied and the kitchen was bringing out tray after tray of steaming dumplings. You’d think this place would be a sweatbox in the middle of winter.

Qing Dao Int

Along the wall were large pictures of the food offered. I zeroed in on the boiled fish and leek dumplings and the pork and shrimp pan fried dumplings.

Qing Dao Int 2

First came the fish dumplings. They were 12 of them fresh out of the pot judging by the cloud of steam that hung over them. They came with a small saucer of sauce with at least two cloves of freshly crushed garlic. The dumpling skins were thick but soft and not too chewy. They had the right amount of filling so you got the right amount of fish to noodle. The filling was no delicate French style fish mousse. The filling was firm, hearty and speckled with green scallions and not overly fishy. Dipped in the garlic sauce and a little vinegar really added to them.

Qing Dao Fish Dumplings

Next came the pan fried dumplings. I order potstickers every time I go out for dim sum, so I was expecting the same here. The first thing I noticed was that these dumplings were much bigger. I got 8 with my order they were enough to easily feed 2 or 3 people. They were at least twice the size of the largest potstickers I’d ever ordered. They were puffed up white pillows on one side and golden brown and crispy on the other. I bit into the first one and seared the roof of my mouth (with only a glass of hot tea to drink!) Inside medley of ground pork and big pieces of whole shrimp. The wrappers were very thick. On the pan fried side where they were seared the dough was cooked through and slightly risen. It was bread, like a bao or a pancake. The tops were they had steamed were like a thick noodle or Western style boiled dumpling. It was a great mix of textures and the stuffing inside was savory and lip smacking good.

Qing Dao Pan Fried Dumplings

I tried a variety of dipping sauces. I mixed some of the chili oil with soy to create a tongue burning dip. That was a little too much. It got in the way of the great texture and flavor of the dumpling. I tried the vinegar which was better. Eventually I settled on a little bit of soy or nothing at all.

Both orders cost $6.95 each. Given the amount of food it was a bargain. Both orders could have easily have been split among friends.

With apologies to Chandavkl, I enjoyed the fish dumplings but the pan fried ones were what really grabbed my attention.

Qing Dao Bread Food
301 N Garfield Ave
Ste G
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 312-6978
Price Range: $6.95 per dumpling order

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fat Fish After 8

K-Town has so many spots for drinks and food it’s going to take me a while to get through them all.

Late night I find Fat Fish, a very trendy sushi bar offering a sweet deal. $2 sushi from 8 PM till close. I saunter inside to check it out.

Fat Fish Ext

It’s near deserted. The place closes in 15 minutes but there’s still plenty of sushi rolling out on the conveyor belt.

Fat Fish Int

I have a soft spot for conveyor belt sushi. Purists will argue it goes against the very idea of sushi, that great sushi can only be hand made to order, that it shouldn’t left sitting around on a buffet line or a conveyor belt. For the most part I agree. I’ve been to Todai and had the all you can eat buffet and no it is not the ideal way to serve sushi. But things are a little different at Fat Fish. The sushi IS being made fresh and put on the conveyor. Some items may have taken a few more spins than others but the freshness is better than a buffet line which may be changed every hour or so at best. And I like the idea of a sushi place closing out with a bargain binge. Rather than putting fish back into the deep freeze for next day’s service, they’re unloading as much of it as they can. Sort of like a good fish market offering deals towards the end of the day.

Fat Fish Int 2

Well that’s my theory. How did it turn out? I was pleasantly surprised for the most part. I kept it simple and grabbed three dishes off the line.

The first was Yellowtail Nigiri Sushi. Anytime you can grab two pieces of yellowtail for $2 it’s a good night. A quick dip in soy and I popped them into my mouth. The rice was room temperature but still soft. The fish had a little richness to it. It wasn’t perfect, melt in your mouth buttery like you can get at top sushi places, but for the cost better than I expected.

Fat Fish Yellowtail

The next I grabbed a tartare of salmon and tuna with a spicy mango salsa. It was colorful and definitely the star of the evening. It was just the right amount of spice and didn’t overwhelm the fish. The salmon was nicely fatty. The only drawback was the mango dice of the salsa. A little hard to eat with chopsticks, I ended up shoveling them off my plate and into my mouth.

Fat Fish Tartare

I was disappointed in my squid sushi. It looked great on the plate topped with bright red fish roe, but it was tough and chewy. I confess it was no worse than the squid sushi at Kabuki but it was definitely no better.

Fat Fish Squid

Overall I couldn’t complain. For $6 I got six pieces of sushi that would normally cost me $16. It’s street parking but I was able to find a spot nearby (me the city’s worst parallel parker.) Fat Fish closes at 11 PM so it can’t really be called a late night spot. But if you’re between karaoke clubs near 6th Street and feel like popping in for a quick sushi fix, Fat Fish is a good choice.

Fat Fish
3300 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 384-1304
Price Range: $2 Sushi from 8PM to Close (except for Uni and Salmon Roe which are usual price and made to order. As they should be!)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thai Gulch Part 3: Tasty Little Plates at Bua Siam

My first few months in LA I spent most of my time driving up and down Sherman Way. That’s how I first became familiar with Thai Gulch. One of the first restaurants I tried and the one that became my favorite is the very definition of Hole-In-The-Wall, Bua Siam.

You really have to look hard. Bua Siam is easy to miss. It’s in the same strip mall as the impossible-to-miss Cha Chaa. If you look down Cha Chaa’s yellow exterior to the corner and then look a little left, you’ll see it. From the outside it looks no bigger than a postage stamp.

Bua Siam Ext

The interior, well, at first I thought it was the same size as my apartment. That might be too generous. It is a very small space with just a few tables they got from Ikea down the street in Burbank. But it never felt cramped, at least not to me. The dining area is always spotless. There’s a decorative fountain in the corner that’s constantly running (giving the space good Fung Shui I believe.)

Bua Siam Int

When I first came to Bua Siam it was for exotic dishes from all over Thailand. They used to serve a wild boar curry that I ordered every time. The menu has since changed and wild boar no linger makes an appearance. However the reason I’ve continued to come back to Bua Siam is their small plates. They have several of their dishes available in tapas sized platters at prices ranging from $4 to $2.99. A filling lunch can be had for under $10. They offer bay leaf stew, rice cakes with shrimp sauce, and an excellent version of the Thai “jerky”, beef or pork deep fried and served with a spicy sauce.

Last Sunday I make a stop at Bua Siam and go for two small plates that I haven’t had before. Both had very long English names and my apologies if I don’t get them exactly right. The first was called Soup with Broad Rice Noodles, Fish Ball, Squid and Red Sauce. What came was a bright red soup with broad flat noodles and a treasure trove of goodies. Floating in the broth was a huge piece of white fungus. In addition to the fish balls and squid there were deep fried puffs of tofu and slices of fish cake. The red broth was mildly spicy, sweet and acidic. The rice noodles were perfectly soft and great to slurp up.

Bua Siam Broad Rice Noodle Soup with fish ball squid and red sauce

Next came Thai Spaghetti with Pork Spare Ribs and Tomato Sauce. Again the description did not disappoint. The dish was thin rice noodles with a spicy tomato based sauce. It was topped with bits of ground pork and small nuggets of stewed sparerib. The ribs were falling off the bone tender. You just had to pop them in your mouth and suck off the meat. The sauce and noodles had a little spice. There were pieces of whole dried chili on top should you want a real kick with your lunch.

Bua Siam Thai Spaghetti with pork spare ribs and tomato sauce

Bua Siam never seems crowded yet is never empty for long. Soon after I sat down, nearly all the places were filled. It’s a little gem in Thai Gulch. One I hope will last for years to come.

Bua Siam
12924 Sherman Way
North Hollywood, CA 91605
(818) 765-8395
Price Range: Small Plates $2.99 to $4.00, Entrees mostly under $10

Bua Siam on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sichuan Sundae: Hot, Numbing, Sweet and Chocolatey

Every now and then I get a hankering to just experiment in the kitchen. The results were not what I anticipated though.

This all started when I saw a Travel Channel program on Las Vegas and they featured a bartender who had invented a number of out there cocktails like the Carrot Cake Martini. I decided to give it a try with one of my favorite flavor combinations, the hot numbing combination of Sichuan.

I researched Sichuan Cocktails on line and found there were a few of them being offered. But they were concentrating on different flavor profiles like the lychee. A few did have the Sichuan peppercorns sprinkled in but these cocktails didn’t contain any heat for the peppercorns to counteract. I set out to create a drink that combined the red hot chili flavor with the floral taste and numbing sensation of Sichuan peppercorns.

I started by making a simple syrup, equal parts sugar and water brought to a boil.

Cocktail 4

To that I added my crushed chili flakes and Sichuan peppercorns.

Cocktail 5

I brought them to heat then let the mixture steep.

Cocktail 7

The resulting syrup was spicy hot and sweet, but alas very little of the Sichuan peppercorn came through. This may have more to do with the quality of my peppercorns. I’ve found their flavor and strength can vary wildly depending on where you buy them. The best ones I’ve found so far come from Pacific Natural Spices and can be purchased at Light My Fire. Really good Sichuan peppercorns can numb out the mouth with just a few grains. The ones I had in my pantry weren’t nearly as potent. I tried a cocktail but the results were disappointing. Truly no better than a pepper infused vodka with a little syrup and soda.

However a few days later I had a hankering for some chocolate ice cream. I remembered the Aztecs used to mixed chocolate and chili, the chili being a relative of the vanilla plant. I decided to turn my cocktail experiment into a dessert experiment. I poured the syrup over the ice cream and sprinkled on some fresh Sichuan peppercorns for good measure.

Sichuan Sundae

Much better. The chili and chocolate are a strange combination that really works. The bitterness of the chocolate and the heat of the chili match each other beautifully in a taste reminiscent of mole. The milk in the ice cream kept the heat at bay. There was even a pleasant numbing after taste from the Sichuan Peppercorns at the end. The only problem was the syrup ran down the sides and collected in a fiery pool. The solution was easy. Take one brownie or piece of chocolate pound cake and have it act as a base to soak up any stray syrup. I tried it the next night and it was wonderful.

So the recipe for those of you brave enough to try is quite simple.

Sichuan Sundae

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Red Chili Flakes
  • 1-2 scoops Your favorite Chocolate Ice Cream per serving
  • 1-2 Brownies or Slice of Chocolate Pound Cake per serving
  • Sichuan Peppercorns for topping (depending on the strength of the peppercorns you may need 5-10 peppercorns or a whole teaspoon)

1. Make the Syrup – Combine the 1 cup of water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the sugar is completely dissolved and a boil is reached, add the 2 Tablespoons Red Chili Flakes. Take the syrup off the heat and let it cool and steep. Once completely cool, strain the chili flakes and keep for later use.

2. Assemble the Sundae – Lay the brownie or cake slices on the bottom of the serving dish. Scoop the chocolate ice cream onto the brownie. Drizzle the chili syrup over the ice cream. Top with the Sichuan Peppercorns.

Here’s the result

Sichuan Sundae 2

© Michael J Lee July 22, 2009