Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Totoraku (aka Secret Beef Restaurant)

Totoraku undoubtedly serves up the finest yakiniku this side of the Pacific Ocean.  Dining here is on an invitation-only basis.  If you know the chef/owner, you're in.  If you know someone who knows the chef/owner and brings you, you're in.  If you know someone who's dined here before and was given a business card and brings you, you're in.  I think you get the picture.  So maybe "secret beef restaurant is a misnomer.  I mean the place has its own Yelp page, correct address, phone number and all.  I guess it should be known as the "Dine-By-Invitation-Only Beef Restaurant."   I was told that if you call the restaurant, they will pretend not to be a restaurant.   I don't know if that's still true, but you definitely won't be able to make a reservation being some random Joe off the street. 

Smooth Obturator and Triple T have dined here many times, but always in the company of their friends Tiny T and Oishi Nazi, the latter of whom is personal friends with Oyama-san (chef/owner).  They gathered once again so that Triple F, Running Man, and I could experience beef like we've never had it before.

Before the onslaught of meat, came a dizzying array of appetizers.  Keep in mind, there is no menu, so I'm just going off the very brief descriptions given by our server.

Foie Gras on Quail Egg (left)  A well balanced richness between 2 very rich things.
Tomato on Mozzarella (right)  A light creaminess with a sweet tart finish from the tomato.

Ankimo jellyfish
I don't think I'm a fan of monkfish, it tastes like a fish foie gras.  The jellyfish tasted similar to the kind at dim sum with a slight vinegary tang.   Both elements merried well together in my mouth.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Golden State

Many argue over what is considered "The Best Burger in LA."  Is it Father's Office, Umami, 25 Degrees, Golden State, or some other new bumping burger joint?  While I do enjoy a good burger, I can't quite understand the craze.  As a result, I haven't joined the burger bandwagon to truly see for myself whose burger reigns supreme in LA.  I thought Exile Kiss did a good job chronicling her burger adventure through LA.  She concludes that Father's Office, Rustic Canyon, and Golden State have the best burgers.  While I do agree Fathers Office is amazing, I may have to disagree about Golden State (I haven't been to Rustic Canyon).

Persian Cucumber Salad sliced persian cucumbers, lemon vinaigrette
The cucumbers were fresh and crunchy.  They were tossed in a really simple and light vinagrette with a medley of arrugula.  Nothing too spectacular but the refreshing nature of the dish helped cut the grease through the meal.

French Fries
Crispy.  Golden.  Fried.   The ketchup here is very special.  Sorry no picture!  It is a curry ketchup that has all the tomato-ey goodness of ketchup, but the kicked up spiciness of curry.  It really is something, and I scooped up as much as I could.  I even slathered it all over my burger.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Pecan Crescent Cookies

So I've always thought about which direction to take the blog.  Do I want to be focus on high end dining like kevinEats, cooking and recipes like Ravenous Couple, or have a blend of dining, cooking, foodie events like Gastronomy?  Lately, I've fallen into the genre of a dining out blog, but eventually I would like to incorporate more cooking.  I'm slowly learning that documenting my adventures in the kitchen is a whole different beast with a different set of challenges.  In restaurants, proper lighting is the biggest enemy.  At home, dressing up the food to make it look beautiful is a struggle for me.  I've always cooked to eat.  I don't use garnishes.  I don't have havc fancy dinner/cook/serving ware.  Everything in my ktichen is a mish mosh of cheap junk.  Anyways, I plan to jazz my kitchen up someday when the finances permit.  In the meantime, stick with me as I manage with what I got.

My sister's old roommate had these cookies sent to her by her mom.  I loved them the minute I tried them.  They are really quite light in sweetness, but still rich in flavor from the plentiful helping of pecans.  They would go great with a cup of hot tea.  They would also make a great holiday cookie, because they're like a softer shortbread cookie, and much more interesting than your regular sugar cookies.  You can still eat them year round like I do though.

I will most certainly be investing in a tripod to help take pics while I cook.  For now, you have these sad pictures.

My oven is EVIL.  I hadn't used it in a while and forgot that I needed to adjust the temp and cooking times for any given recipe.  As a result, the first batch of cookies burned!

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Beaker & Flask

Apparently Portland has a big happy hour scene as well as a cocktail scene.  People love to get the party started after a long days hard work and they like to get their drink on with some stiff cocktails.  What I find strange is that a lot of the happy hours only go until 6pm.  What's up with that??  Not everyone gets off work at 4 or 5pm.  I find this pretty discriminatory for the people that have jobs with longer work hours.  I guess not everyone gets to be happy after work.  As a result I have not been able to hit up many happy hours.  I have been able to experience this wonderful cocktail scene everyone is talking about. 

Beaker & Flask is really popular for not just the food, but for the cocktails.  I'm not much a fan of cocktails because they don't go well with food in my opinion and I'm such a lightweight so I can't handle these stiff cocktails everyone likes.  We ordered some cocktails here and I really did not like them.  Maybe we ordered wrong, but we just went with the waiter's suggestions.  They tasted horrible in my opinion, but I'm sure any ole lush woulda loved them.  They were damn strong, and after 2 cocktails, Dumpling Man was passed out asleep after dinner.  The food on the other hand was a bit more palatable.

Prawns & Mussels poached in fennel broth, fingerling potato, celery and frisee salad
This sounded a lot better than it actually tasted.  The quality of the prawns and mussels were just average.  The whole dish was remarkable under-seasoned.  The concept was there because I did enjoy the potato, celery, and frisee salad in combination with this subtle creamy broth and seafood.  It was just too darn bland.

Mustard Grilled Rabbit bacon, chanterelle, apple crepe, crispy pork, grilled leek vinaigrette
This dish was alllll over the place, but it was still delicious.  Every element was independently flavorful and interesting.  The rabbit had a piquant mustard sauce that was well balanced with some sweet notes.  The apple crepe was soft and just slightly sweet, and perhaps the most out of place element.  The crispy pork was fried and salty.  Everything else just mashed together.  There was certainly A LOT going on in the plate, and while that usually works against the success of the dish, I really appreciated the craziness.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

SUGARFISH by sushi nozawa

Sugarfish has been on my radar for a while but I never got around to trying it.  I was reminded of this by the many recent blogger posts on the new Sugarfish that recently opened in Downtown LA.  So I feel like a bit of a bandwagoner with this, but perhaps I can stand apart because I did not dine in Downtown, but rather Marina Del Rey at the original Sugarfish.   My dining companions for the evening, Miss Rheeee and Me So Hairy! decided on this more central location.

Sugarfish is an offshoot of Kazunori Nozawa's original and more traditional sushi restaurant in Studio City, Sushi Nozawa.  His mission at Sugarfish is to provide similarly high quality sushi, but at an affordable price by cutting out the sushi bar, and streamlining service.   At both locales, Chef Nozawa aka "Sushi Nazi" serves his infamous "Trust Me" style of sushi, where we, as diners, basically trust that he is going to serve you the best damn sushi without the frills and distraction of fancy sauces, rolls, or fusion flavors.   Also, Chef Nozawa hand picks the sushi to be served in all his restaurants, so the quality is consistent throughout.

In addition to ordering a la carte, you have the option of 3 pre-set menus: The Nozawa ($35-$38), Trust Me ($28.50), andTrust Me/Lite ($19.50).  As most diners go with the pre-set menus, we all opted for the "Trust Me" while I added an order of the "Daily Special" which happened to be large scallop.

The most notable thing about the sushi here, aside from the fresh high quality fish, is the rice.  It's served pretty warm.  While I have experienced the "warm sushi rice" style at Sushi Sasabune and found it utterly unappetizing, I thoroughly enjoyed it here.   The main difference was that the fish didn't taste like it was being cooked while sitting atop the rice.  The contrast of the chilled fish and the warm rice made for a nice little party in my mouth!   The rice was also seasoned deliciously.  Probably the tastiest sushi rice I've had.

Organic Edamame
Edamame isn't something terrible special, but this version was pretty good.  It was chilled, perfectly salted, and with each little bean soft and substantial.

Tuna Sashimi big eye
The fish was fresh and perfectly complimented by the home made ponzu and sprinkling of green onions.  I can't pinpoint what was so special about the ponzu, but it was very tasty and I really wanted to get every last drop in my mouth.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Sea Harbour Seafood

I was fortunate enough to work with a family medicine physician in the San Gabriel Valley back in the day.  It was great, because I went home at noon everyday and on some days I got to taste some of the best food in the SGV at the expense of some pharm reps.  Sea Harbour Seafood (or as I like to call it, Seafood Harbour, because that's the name I was told and it's stuck ever since) was one of the restaurants I was fortunate enough to try.  It has to be one of the BEST dim sum restaurants in Southern California.  Please correct me if you think there is something better out there.  But when you serve fresh meaty shrimps bigger than my eyeballs, you can only be known as the BEST in my opinion.  Even Ludo Lefevbre and his wife are fans.  I saw them take a gigantic bag of takeout from here one Sunday.   It's a wise decision to get take out, because the wait here is RIDICULOUS.  A few years ago, I'd wait for over an hour to get a table.  Nowadays, the wait isn't as bad, probably because the place is pretty pricey and times have changed.

Chinese Greens in brine
You just can't beat the vegetables from the good Chinese restaurants.  It's like they get the pick of the crop and the rest of the mid quality vegetables goes to market.  Whenever I try to make vegetables at home, they never have that same freshness or clean taste.  Here, they are cooked in a tasty brine with some slivered radishes.  Today's version was a bit olier than usual, but still delicious.

Chicken Feet
I never really eat these, but not because I don't like it.  I do, but it is just a lot of trouble to eat with all those little bones.  Mama H.o.P. and Smooth Obturator love chicken feet so they gobbled it all up.  Smooth Obturator says "This is the BEST chicken feet I've ever eaten!"  I forgot to ask why, but he's pretty critical.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Soowon Galbi

I haven't traveled the world. I have barely even traveled the country, but I'm just gonna put it out there.  Where is there better Korean food, or at least as wide a selection of Korean food, than LA?  Of course, I'm excluding Korea obviously.  Good food is born out of fierce competition to be the best.  There is a lot of that going in LA's Koreatown.   Korean bbq joints are a dime a dozen in Ktown.  You'll find one on every block.  I always wonder how any of them stay afloat.  I guess one could say the same about Pho restaurants in Little Saigon.  They're everywhere!  I guess everyone just has their personal favorite.  My favorite Korean bbq joints are Soowon Galbi and Shik Do Rak.  I haven't been to Shik Do Rak in a while, favoring the newer cleaner Soowon Galbi.  I'm pretty sure there are better bbq places, but I haven't been motivated to find any new ones.  Once you eat the galbi here, you'll be satisfied to make this place your own too.

It was an occasion to dine here, because Zhu Zhu Hamster was in town.  I called up The Communist to make it a girl's night out.  By that, I mean eating till we drop, not drinking or partying because I'm so boring like that.  The Communist invited Soprano Man.  I was like, "Oh fine, I see how it is!"  So then I called out Wontuan who begrudgingly drove his pale ass up from the LBC.  It turns out Zhu Zhu Hamster called out #1 Fan to join as well.  What started out as a private 3 person affair turned out to be a mish mosh group of 6.  Anymore and I would have been annoyed.  I do not dine in groups large than 6 when I intend to enjoy the food and specific company of the people around me.  In any case, it turned out to be a really fun night and I'm glad everyone brought a date.

The spread...

Hae Mul Pa Jun seafood pancake
Pretty standard.  Packed with seafood, onions, and crispy goodness.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Two Tarts Bakery

I love a good cookie.  I like cookies more than brownies, ice cream, and cake.  Pies and tarts are a close second.  I had a craving for something sweet and buttery.  Two Tarts Bakery is popular for the variety of mini cookies they bake up daily.   They just have a case filled with many mini delights.

You might think its a bargain that everything is just 75cents, but the cookies are pretty darn small.  It would be better if the cookies were normal sized and 75cents, but oh well.  I still ended up buying 5.

Lil' Mama
This was probably one of my favorite cookies, because it is their version of an Oreo.  I love Oreos, but only the cookie part.  I'll buy a package of Oreos and cut out all the frosting and place all the cookies back to be eaten later.  It's just unnecessary unwanted fat and sugar that does not taste good.  This version has similar great cookie taste but with a delicious frosting center.  It gets sorta messy because the frosting is much softer so it all squishes out with each bite.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I'm not usually into to trying brand new restaurants.  I like to allow the reviews and word of mouth to build up before I go jump in.  My stomach space is precious real estate these days!  I can't be wasting it on some bad caloric investments.  But when it came to Roy Choi (Chef/owner of Kogi and Chego) and his newest venture, A-frame, which just opened a few days ago, I thought "This is a risk I'm willing to take!"  After reading Grubstreet's review outloud for Smooth Obturator and Triple T to hear, we decided it would be a good choice for a Sunday night.  Smooth Obturator is really particular about eating certain foods on certain days of the week after reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.  I've learned to be wary of ordering mussels at less than reputable establishments because there is a good chance they are sitting in their own urine, and not to eat the "fish special" on Mondays.

We could smell delicious Asian aromas wafting from the restaurant as we approached, a mix of grilled/fried deliciousness with notes of tangy, sweet, savory, and spicy.  The hostess was super friendly and introduced me to Roy himself, at the nudging of my brother.  I got the whole "I'm a foodblogger" introduction.  Somehow that seems to change things a bit to chefs.  I think they understand the power of foodblogs.  We can make you or break you.  I probably can't because I only have 5 readers.  In any case, he seemed to relate to the name of my blog!!

I could regurgitate the concept summary from A-Frame's menu, but in short, A-Frame = MAN FOOD.  A-Frame = GRUBBIN'.

Kitchen Fries purple okinawan sweet potatoes, yam, korean sweet potato, kimchi sour cream, sea salt
Before I even got my introduction, Roy served us these, on the house!  It was pretty dark, and they honestly looked like ugly black logs.  Of course, they tasted just fine.  A mix of sweet potatoes but I really couldn't tell them all apart.  They lacked that additional battering on the exterior but still had a light crunch.  The kimchi sour cream was a nice departure from you're regular ketchup or mayo based dip.  The kimchi flavor was quite subtle.

Moooooo Kimchee cubed white radishes, pickled
We went pretty heavy on the proteins and only had these pickled radishes as our side dish/palate cleansers.  They were refreshing and perfectly pickled.  Smooth Obturator kept insisting there was some sort of herb or spice that added a different flavor.  Cinnamon?  Cloves?  Nutmeg?  I don't know.  I would have appreciated bigger pieces.  They were hard to fork or even scoop, so I was forced to use my fingers to pop them in my mouth.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beijing Hot Pot

What do you crave on a cold rainy day?  Usually something hot and soupy right?  I turned to my trusty Yelp to find something that would hit the spot on this cold rainy Portland night.  I came up with 2 hot pot spots, one all you can eat (AYCE) and one traditional pay as you go.  One always has to be wary of AYCE: low quality ingredients, poor preparation, etc.  Just to be safe, we opted for the traditional spot.  We were quite pleased with our choice, since everything was fresh, service was friendly, and we ended up paying less than the AYCE place and we were pretty full.

The decor left much to be desired.  I hate whitewash color walls.  It's so harsh yet so dull. 

Pickled Cucumbers
Very tasty.  Lightly pickled with the unique added ingredient of sesame oil.  Maybe that's how it's supposed to taste, but I never picked up on it before.  I'll have to try making this at home.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Maneki is Seattle's oldest Japanese restaurant at over 100 years old.  Hard to believe a restaurant could be that old huh?  The restaurant is typical for a lot of Japanese restaurants in my experience, small with limited seats.  This place goes so far as to deny anybody without reservations a chance to dine.  The first thing you will be greeted with when you walk in is not a "hello" or "how are you doing," but "Do you have reservations?"  Dumpling Man was not so lucky last time since he did not know about their strict "reservations only policy.  He insisted we try this place on this visit.  It's reputation simply preceeds itself.

I was suspicious about how good this restaurant could be.  It serves everything Japanese from sushi, teriyaki, udon, and small plates izakaya style.  I can't remember the last time I went to a restaurant with a gigantic menu and no focus on a specific specialty cuisine that was outstanding.  Most people agree that when a restaurant spreads itself to thin, the food suffers.  The best restaurants usually have small menus and focus on making a few things really really good.  The prime example is In N Out, damn I wish I could have one right now.

Potato Dengaku miso glazed, roasted
I usually prefer nasu dengaku which is the eggplant version of this dish, but Dumpling Man does not like eggplant.  It was a last minute choice that I really regret.  I'm not sure if they don't do dengaku well or the potato was the wrong choice.  The potato was just too starchy and the glaze was too sweet.  The dish fell really flat.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010


So in Seattle, Tom Douglas is King.  You may ask why?  Well when you own 6 restaurants and 1 bakery that garners outstanding reviews and is wildly loved by the masses, then you can be king too.  Oh, when you stick all those restaurants within a 1 mile radius of each other, that just shows people your royal attitude.  "Hey I own this town, and if I want to stick all the restaurants right next to each other, well goddamit I'm gonna do it!"  Seriously though, Serious Pie, Dahlia Lounge, Dahlia Bakery, Lola, and Palace Kitchen are all in the same block in Belltown!!  Etta and Seatown are also right next to each other but by Pike Place Market.

Anyways, when you're looking for good brunch, there seems no shortage of it in this town.  I decided on Lola for their Mediterranean/Greek inspired brunch fare. Good thing we had reservations because the place was pretty packed.  It's connected to a pretty nice hotel so we had a comfortable and warm place to wait since we showed up early.

Ginger Mint Spritzer housemade ginger syrup, mint, lemon, soda
A bright start to brunch.  The ginger taste was stronger than expected but much appreciated.

Roasted Sweet Red Pepper freshly grilled pita bread
The pita were especially fresh, soft, and fluffy.  The pita were sitting in a little pool of rich high quality olive oil.  This subtle touch really added some oomph to the pita bread.  There was a good selection of spreads to choose from, but we went with the red pepper one.  It was bright, lightly tangy and sweet. 

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Restaurant Zoë

So for our first dinner in Seattle, we decided to go with Restaurant Zoë.  This was Dumpling Man's choice, and what a nice choice it was.  I wouldn't go so far as to say it beats a place like Providence or comes anywhere near it, but it definitely holds its own.  Fresh ingredients, simple but spot on flavors, lovely service and dining ambience.  Perfect for a nice date!

Salmon Tartar (amuse bouche) plums, cucumbers
A quick simple bite of raw salmon, plums, and cucumbers on a crostini.   I'm not a huge fan of salmon, cooked or raw.  If I eat it, it usually has to be the best freaking piece of salmon ever for me to give it my full stamp of approval.  This tasted too salmony for my liking.  Not a bad start though.

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