Sunday, December 27, 2009

Daikokuya - Los Angeles, CA (Little Tokyo)

Deb and I came here on Christmas Eve after we realized that pretty much every restaurant in LA was closed except for those in Little Tokyo and Koreatown. She hadn't been in a long time and I don't think I've ever been myself so we gave it a go. Clearly everyone else had the same realization that we did because there were a huge group of people waiting outside. It was a pretty cold night for LA and there was hardly enough standing room inside, so we thought of eating elsewhere and walked down 1st Street and saw some open, but empty restaurants and decided maybe Daikokuya was worth the wait afterall.

Inside, you will find several booths and a counter where people are slurping down bowls of ramen.
Cool old school advertisements and movie posters decorate the space as well. They also had a stack of japanese manga on the side to keep you company while you wait.
Deb and I, in typical fashion, ordered way too much food because we wanted to try different things on the menu. We ordered some gyoza and a side of fried rice, in addition to our ramen.
The pan-fried pork and veggie dumplings were OK. You get about 5 dumplings for $5.95. I liked the crispiness of the skin and the mounds of green onions on top, but it didn't really do much for me. Not worth it in my opinion. Deb said that she noticed a lot of Japanese people ordering the fried rice in her prior visits and was curious about it, so we ordered it too. We're like sheep. It has onions, corn, eggs, green onions and pieces of kurobuta pork. It was pretty tasty. Now if they had some sriracha, that would have been awesome.
Now for the Daikoku Ramen ($8.50). You can ask for the kotteri flavor broth, which has a richer broth because they use soup extracted from the back fat. There's too much fatty in me already, so I resisted. You can also ask for firmer noodles. According to the menu, the tonkotsu broth is made from boiling pork bones and joints in a large cauldron throughout the night at an undisclosed location. To the broth, they add boiled chijire style egg noodles, kurobuta pork belly chashu, marinated boiled egg, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, green onions and sesame seeds.

Here's what I loved about the Daikoku Ramen: I loved that they gave you a full egg. I am obsessed with the par-boiled, marinated eggs that ramen houses make. I don't know how they make the yolk still a bit runny, yet hard enough to marinate it, but it's my favorite. Most places give you half an egg, or even worse, they will charge you extra. Blasphemy! I also liked the chewiness of the noodles and the pork belly just melted in my mouth.
Here's what I didn't like so much: The portions here are pretty big, maybe a bit too big. I know, sounds so silly to complain about too much food, but I kind of lost interest eating the ramen halfway through. Maybe because of the large size, the broth cools down a bit too fast and after I ate a good amount of the noodles with the pork, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts, I was done. Usually when I eat ramen, I can't get enough. Here, however, after finishing all of the pork and veggies, the noodles and broth together didn't hold my interest. At Ippudo in New York, they add a red miso paste to the broth that enhances the depth of their soup. I felt like something was missing in the broth at Daikokuya, which was evident after the broth cooled down. It was almost one dimensional and flat. Deb said that she remembers it being better when she came awhile back too. It was good, but not as good as either one of us had hoped.

I've tried Orochon and Santouka several years back and I'm not sure I liked either of them all that much. Deb said she wasn't a fan of Shin-Sen-Gumi either. Sounds like I might have to try some other ramen houses in 2010. Please feel free to pass on some suggestions.

327 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Taco Tour: El Parian, Mariscos 4 Vientos, Tacos Sinaloa - Los Angeles, CA

Matthew and I went on a taco tour of LA. Just kidding. I think I seriously would have mapped out a system where we would hit up five taco stands and eat a taco at each stop, but our choices were limited since it was lunch time and a lot of the taco stands set up shop only at night. I compiled a list for fish tacos, shrimp tacos and blue corn quesadillas that we could try, knowing realistically we could only eat at most at two places. I was looking for a good carne asada place besides King Taco, but couldn't find anything notable. During our 5:30 am walks, Aran told me about El Parian and said her coworkers raved about their carne asada tacos.

So stop 1 on our list was El Parian. It's on Pico on the way to the Convention Center (a couple blocks before the 110 freeway), coming from Koreatown. We went around 11 am and were bummed because it looked closed, but the main entrance was to the right of the gated entrance, and thankfully for us, it was open. I thought it would be like King Taco where you order at the counter and sit down, but this was a sit down restaurant with a waitress. The waitress was really nice and brought out chips and salsa for us. The chips look like the kind you get at the supermarket, but the salsa was tasty.
Matthew got the carne asada taco and I got the carnitas taco. We kind of had sticker shock because the tacos were $2.85 each. I was used to tacos being $1 to at most $1.50 each. But when the tacos arrived, we realized that these tacos were a lot bigger than street tacos. They double up on the handmade tortillas and fill them with so much meat that you can actually make two huge tacos out of one. So basically you get 2 tacos for $2.85. Not bad at all! Here's my carnitas taco. It was pretty tasty - very tender and flavorful.
Here's the carne asada taco. This had chunks of charbroiled steak. They give you a lot of meat. Matthew said he preferred the carnitas over the carne asada.
We asked the waitress for suggestions and she said that their birria ($8.25) was good. It's a Gudalajara-style, chile-rubbed, fire-roasted goat that is stewed in a clear, earthy broth that sings of cloves, peppers, tomatoes and other spices. I didn't realize this till after the fact, but Jonathan Gold recently wrote an article about El Parian's birria and said it measured up to some of the best birria he's tried in Guadalajara. So we blindly walked into the best birria in all of LA. Sweet! I normally don't like goat because it tastes a bit gamey or has an odd smell, but this one wasn't like that at all. The meat fell right off the bone and the soup was really flavorful. I think I might have a hunkering for this next time I'm down with a bad cold. This large bowl was accompanied by a plate of cilantro, onions, lime and radishes and some fresh, hot tortillas. She also recommended we use some of their homemade hot sauce, which was on every table. We put this on our carnitas and carne asada tacos as well. Yummo! The waitress periodically came by and refilled our tortillas with ones straight from the grill. So what started out as a plan to eat only 1 taco each and try a bit of the birria dish, ended up with us consuming like 5 tacos each. Oh boy! Those hot, homemade tortillas were so addicting though and the birria was surprisingly tasty. Try the birria dish or if you're not sure you'll like it, they have birria tacos too. You will not be disappointed.

Stop number 2 was Mariscos 4 Vientos in East LA. I found out about this place through this blog. He had my attention at deep fried shrimp tacos. I've tried tacos where they have battered, fried shrimps in them, but not a shrimp taco that is completely fried. It warranted a visit. I think they Mariscos 4 Vientos started out with a taco truck but opened up an actual sit down place on the corner of Olympic and S. Lorena Street. My understanding is that the taco truck still does business nearby. When we got there during lunch time, there was ample parking available in the lot.
Here's the extensive menu, featuring a lot of shrimp. They had tostadas, grilled and fried shrimp plates, oysters and even hot dogs and hamburgers. Obviously, we did not venture all the way out here for the latter options, so we stuck with the shrimp tacos. As soon as we sat down, they brought out a freshly fried batch of hot tortilla chips with salsa and lime. Holy moly, the fried tortilla chips were awesome. The salsa also had pieces of seafood in it. If I wasn't so stuffed already, I would have done some serious damage to these chips.
We decided to get one deep fried taco each. It comes piping hot with sliced avocado and house salsa on top. The tacos were only $1.50 each. What a steal.
Here's what it looked like inside. There were chunks of shrimp, which looked like it was battered as well. I couldn't really tell what was inside. I don't know if it was because we were still so full, but I couldn't see myself eating more than one of these tacos. It's very tasty but also a bit heavy and you probably shouldn't eat too much of these in one sitting. =) I'm really glad I got to try these though, it was a great find.
A few nights before this, I had a chance to try the Taco Sinaloas taco truck in Koreatown after another gluttonous night of eating. This truck is on 8th and Irolo, near the Jons Marketplace and across the street from R Bar. I think there's also a Taco Sinaloas in Highland Park and in Torrance so I'm not sure if they are all affiliated or what.
We ordered five carne asada tacos. They had the smaller street tacos you would typically find at King Taco. They had vats of hot sauces on the side that you can douse on to your liking as well. Honestly, it was freezing that night and I was too cold eating this outside to really taste anything. It's cheap ($1 each), easy to find in Koreatown and they are open late. Enough said.
El Parian
1528 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90015

Maricos 4 Vientos
3332 E. Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90023

Tacos Sinaloa
3334 West 8th Street (in front of Jons Marketplace)
Los Angeles, CA 90005

Saturday, December 26, 2009

LA Mill Coffee Boutique - Los Angeles, CA (Silverlake)

I'm not a coffee drinker, but when I kept hearing about La Mill Coffee Boutique in multiple conversations with multiple people, I made a mental note to try it. Renee loves her coffee and when we had some time to kill before dinner, I suggested we try La Mill and see what the hype was about. Here's the sign lit up at night.
Inside is a cute turquoise and white designed space with a black and white painting on the wall, reminiscent of toile wallpaper. You can order at the counter to take your coffee to go or sit at the tables.
I love the robin egg blue chairs and the chandelier. So cute.
To tell you the truth, I was overwhelmed at the selection here. Not only do you pick a specific coffee bean, but you can pick the type of extraction. You can have it brewed in a Clover vacuum siphon brew chamber, a french press or a Japanese hand drip process, among other numerous options. I didn't know there were so many ways to brew a cup of coffee. I texted my friend for guidance and he suggested the Guatemala hand drip. I ordered this iced. Here's the fancy contraption it came with. They brew these at the table.
The waiter was super nice and told us exactly what he was doing and how it was affecting the taste of the coffee. Apparently you have to pour the water several times and in a particular fashion to get the right taste. It went totally over my head, but I'm sure a coffee aficionado would appreciate the play by play explanation.
The hot water is poured down the drip and below it is a container of ice. The ice cools the coffee as it is steeped through. The end result is a boat load of iced coffee.
The description of their coffee beans are given the same esteem as wine. The tasting notes of the various coffee beans from Panama to El Salvador ranged from crisp bright acidity to deep tones of dried fruits, peaches and apricots. Again, I am not a coffee person so I can't describe the taste of my Guatemala El Socorro Y Anexos very well, but it had a smooth, clean finish with no lingering or bitter aftertaste. It was pricey though, I think $10 or so for my iced coffee. I think it amounted to like 3 full glasses of coffee so I guess the per glass cost isn't too bad, but there is no need for Soomeenshee to be drinking 3 glasses of iced coffee in one sitting. I paid for it later that night when I couldn't fall asleep.
Now for dessert, we ordered the Passionfruit Gelee, which had lychee-shiso sorbet, coconut-soy milk soup and basil seeds. Apparently Pastry Chef Adrian Vasquez of Michelin two-starred Providence designed the menu. This was amazing.
The dish arrived with a slice of passionfruit gelee surrounded by what looked like chia seeds, topped with some crunchy flake thing and the lychee-shiso sorbet balanced on top. The waitress then poured the coconut soy milk soup into the bowl for us as we watched. The flavor and texture combination was delightful. This has got to be one of my favorite desserts in a long time. I seriously would have been happy just eating the lychee-shiso sorbet, drinking the coconut-soy milk, savoring the passionfruit gelee or even chomping on those frog egg-looking basil seeds on their own, but together, it was perfection.
I think I might have to stay away from La Mill in fear of getting addicted to their coffee, but their dessert selection, I'm sure, will beckon me again. The waitress told me to try their food next time since we enjoyed the dessert so much. Chef Michael Cimarusti from Providence designed the food menu here as well.

La Mill Coffee Boutique
1636 Silver Lake Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Genwa Korean BBQ - Los Angeles, CA (Mid Wilshire)

While driving down Wilshire Blvd. near La Brea Ave., I noticed a new Korean BBQ restaurant in the Avalon apartment complex. I usually get suspicious of Korean BBQ restaurants that aren't in Koreatown because I just assume they are catering to a non-Korean crowd, otherwise they would be in Koreatown. But when I was reading yelp, I saw that they got really good reviews. So when Renee was in town, I took her here for lunch. We wanted to eat something light since we were going to have a huge dinner, but foresight is something I lack when it comes to food.

It was very modern and clean and I was shocked to find that most of the patrons were indeed Korean. My mistake. I guess Koreans now venture out to Mid Wilshire to eat Korean food. We sat at a booth and on the side were stacks of Korean books. It reminded us of our parent's bookshelves. Very cute touch.
Now, the impressive thing about this place is their banchan. I think there were like 18 different kinds. I didn't get to try all of them, but I like the fact that they give you so much variety. I usually end up asking for more banchan at other places, but here we barely made a dent between the two of us.
They also brought out a salad.
We both got a lunch combo. I got the nangmyun and kalbi combo and Renee got the sambap combo. I forgot to take a picture of the meats but they were really good. The kalbi was really tender and had good marbling. The nangmyun was pretty good too and came in a huge bowl.
Service here was really good. I don't think I asked for a refill of water once. That is a good sign of good service for a camel like myself. They also gave you a small glass of shikhae (rice punch) and brought out two small tablets that I thought was candy at the end. The waitress, out of nowhere, splashed some water on it, at which point I was about to shriek at her sudden act of violence against my candy, but the tablet expanded into a wet towel. So weird.

I will definitely have to try this place again and try some of their other dishes as well. If you are in the mood for lots of banchan and tasty BBQ, check this place out.

Genwa Korean BBQ
5115 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Osteria Mozza - Los Angeles, CA

The week before Christmas has been the week of overindulgence for me. It's ridiculous how much I've been eating, and the scary part is that I don't think it will get any better when I go to Korea. I really hope I can detox this weekend and let my stomach rest before the gluttony continues again in Seoul. But first, here's a recap of a lovely meal I had at Osteria Mozza a few days ago.

Osteria Mozza is the brainchild of Mario Batali, Nancy Silverton and Joe Bastianich. It's been around for over 2 years now and it is still wildly popular. I pass by Osteria Mozza all the time, but it always looks crowded and difficult to get reservations so I tossed it into my, "one of these days, I'll try it" basket and forgot about it. This week, James suggested we just try walking in and seeing if we could get a table. We went to the Pizzeria first thinking it was the Osteria and they told us a table wouldn't be available till 11 pm and the wait at the bar was about 30 minutes. It's a small space but boy was it bustling. After we figured out we were at the Pizzeria (we got to see Michael J. Fox though!), we found our way to the Osteria. I can't recall how long the wait was for a table at the Osteria, but she said we could just order at the bar area as well. There were empty seats at the bar, so we didn't end up waiting at all. Sweet!

Everything on the menu looked really good, particularly the antipasti and the mozzarellas. We were going to try a bunch of starters and share a pasta or entree, but the bartender told us about a special three-course menu that they had, which included a choice of mozzarella, pasta, dessert and a glass of white or red wine for $35. It sounded like too good of a deal to pass up, so we tried the tasting menu.

Here's our amuse bouches. It was two slices of thin crostini with fresh ricotta, olive tapenade, basil and Tuscan olive oil. Yum. The ricotta was creamy and mild. Ricottas are really making a comeback in my book these days.
For our mozzarella, we asked the waiter for suggestions and he suggested the Burricotti with braised artichokes, pine nuts, currants and mint pesto. I wish there was a way to cut this perfectly so you get each element in each bite, because it kind of falls apart when you cut into it. But once you are able to put a bit of everything on your fork and take a bite, it's fantastic. The cheese is clearly the show horse, but the pesto, artichokes, currants and pine nuts go really well together.
Our other pick was the Burrata with bacon, marinated escarole and caramelized shallots. The marinated escarole added a bit of acidity to the dish, which worked really well with the salty bacon and creaminess of the burrata. Both mozzarella dishes were delicious. I might have to make a meal out of just cheese next time. For our pasta dish, we inquired about the linguine with clams, pancetta and spicy Fresno chiles, but the waiter told us that it's a popular dish but people tend to think it's a bit salty. He said that they don't add any salt to the dish, but the saltiness comes from the pancetta. He recommended the Agnolotti and the Orecchiette with sausages and Swiss chard. We were happy with his recommendations on the mozzarella so we ordered those two dishes. I've never had Agnolotti before but they look like mini dumplings filled with a mousse like filling of lamb, pork, veal and probably other things he mentioned but I just forgot. It comes with a butter and sage sauce. It was delicious. A burst of flavor in each little bite. A very subtle but flavorful dish.
The Orecchiette w/ sausage & Swiss chard was really good too, but a bit on the salty side. I presume it's from the sausages themselves too. The waiter sprinkled the dish with breadcrumbs, which added a nice crunch and texture to the dish. The orecchiette pasta was tender and was the perfect accoutrement in capturing the morsels of sausage. I kind of wish they had more Swiss chard in this, but still good.
For dessert, we tried the Bombolini, which were Italian donuts, with huckleberry compote, vanilla gelato and mascarpone. Huckleberry compote tasted like a tartier version of blueberry compote. You can never go wrong with fried dough, right?
James picked the Cioccolato, a bittersweet, flourless chocolate cake with Perugian chocolates. It was a bit too chocolately for me, but James suggested taking a bit of his chocolate sauce and putting them on the donuts and compote, and that was delicious.
All in all, a wonderful meal.

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza are in the same building on the corner of Melrose and Highland. The entrance to Osteria is right at the corner, hence the Melrose address, and the Pizzeria is on the Highland side at 641 N. Highland Ave.

Right next door to Osteria Mozza, is Mozza2Go, where you can Pizzeria Mozza's pizzas to go and also buy ingredients from the Mozza kitchen to use at home. They also have a "Scuola di Pizza" a private event room with an exhibition kitchen where they teach you how to make some of their dishes.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Chocolate-Chestnut Mousse Cake

Merry Christmas!

I hope you guys are all having a safe and happy holiday season with your loved ones. I saw this recipe last month in Martha Stewart Living magazine and knew this one would be my Christmas dessert for the year.

It's a variation of an icebox cake. An icebox cake is a cake made primarily from whipped cream and chocolate wagers. You alternate layers of chocolate wafers with whipped cream and stack them together to form a cake. The cake is then left overnight in the refrigerator, hence the "icebox" reference in the name. The chocolate wafers absorb moisture from the whipped cream and the cookies soften as it sets in the refrigerator and take on a cake like consistency. It's also called a zebra cake because you can see the bands of chocolate and whipped cream when the cake is sliced. Taste-wise, it tastes like you're eating a giant Oreo cookie, dunked in milk.

Now the tricky part of this cake is finding chocolate wafers. I went to Ralphs, Vons and Rite Aid looking for these wafers but could only find the Nilla vanilla wafers. I thought about just substituting vanilla wafers instead but thought I'd do a search online for them. Turns out they are available on Amazon, but in packs of 12 or you can even make them from scratch. I only needed 24 chocolate wafers so both options didn't seem feasible to me. I then found out from a chowhound discussion board that these are sold at Ralphs and Vons but aren't in the cookie section. They are placed near the ice cream aisle with the ice cream cones and toppings or in the cracker section. Odd, I know. So I thought I'd give it one more shot and lo and behold, it was on the bottom aisle next to the rye crackers at Vons. Here are the infamous Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, should you be on the look out for them as well.
They are thinner, lighter and larger than a Nilla Vanilla wafer. They taste like the cookie part of an Oreo.

This recipe also requires a jar of peeled, roasted chestnuts. I used two vacuumed packs of peeled and roasted chestnuts that you can find at most Asian markets. They are quite cheap too. I think I bought a pack for $1 or $2 each.

Chocolate-Chestnut Mousse Cake

adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Vegetable oil, for pan

1 jar (7.4 ounces) peeled, roasted chestnuts

1 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar

pinch of coarse salt

3 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon unsalted butter, room temperature

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 61 cacao), melted and slightly cooled, plus more for shavings

1 1/2 cold heavy cream

24 chocolate wafer cookies (from 1 package)

Lightly coat the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan with oil, and line the cake pan with plastic, leaving a 4-inch overhang. You are eventually going to invert the cake to serve, so the plastic helps to take the cake out easily and also to keep the mousse together.

Finely grind the chestnuts in a food processor. It's going to look grainy, don't worry.
Heat ground chestnuts, milk, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbles form at edge.
Whisk together yolks, cornstarch and remaining 2 tablespoons of brown sugar in a medium heatproof bowl.
Slowly add hot chestnut mixture to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return the chestnut and egg mixture to the pan and cook over medium-low heat. Whisk until thick, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of a mixer, add vanilla and butter and beat on medium speed until cool, about 5 minutes. I just did this by hand (one less bowl to clean later).
Stir half of the chestnut mixture into the melted chocolate.
Beat 1 1/4 cups of cream until soft peaks form.
Using a rubber spatula, gently fold half the whipped cream into plain chestnut mixture and the other half into chocolate-chestnut mixture.
Here's the chocolate mixture. You fold the chestnut and chocolate mixture with the whipped cream instead of stirring them together because you want to avoid the loss of air and fluffiness. Think of your rubber spatula as an oar or paddle on a boat. If you were kayaking, you would want blade of the paddle to be in contact with as much of the surface area of the water in order for the boat to move. In the same way, you want to drag the spatula through the mixture as well without causing too much agitation. Take your spatula and cut through the mixture, starting at the bottom and bring the spatula up and over, like you're folding a blanket. Sorry for the weird analogies today. =) You keep doing this and it will eventually incorporate together.
Next, you pour the chestnut mousse into the prepared pan. Cover with 12 chocolate wafers, working in a circular pattern. Top with chocolate-chestnut mousse and remaining 12 chocolate wafers. Fold plastic overhang over top to cover cake. Refrigerate overnight.Uncover cake; place a platter on top, flip and unmold. Remove the plastic around the cake. Beat the remaining 1/4 cup heavy cream until soft peaks form. Spread on top of cake. Garnish with chocolate shavings.
When you slice into it, you'll see the three layers of chocolate, chestnut and whipped cream.
The chocolate mousse is quite overpowering, so I think I might cut down on that next time. I would have preferred the chestnut flavor to come through a bit more, but with the chocolate mousse and the chocolate wafer, it lingered a bit more on the periphery, while the chocolate took center stage. At the same time, had it not been there, it might have just tasted like a chocolate cake, so the chestnuts were essential and helped balance out the flavors a bit more. I might try playing up the chestnuts a bit more next time. All in all, an excellent dessert and the best part is, it doesn't require any baking.