Eat Drink Style The New MOCA Exhibit in Thai Town - "Hi" Thai Noodles Thai Town

My Dad (who speaks Thai) loves to go to Thai Town every once in a while to pick up some goods. Like what you ask? Mango and rice desserts. Soong Tum (papaya salad). Newspapers. Crickets. No joke, he bought some frozen crickets as a beer snack. And those Thai karaoke laserdisc/dvd’s. Oh god. I come back every weekend to see the parents and I always find my dad singing to his favorite Thai and Laotian songs with a 6-pack of MGD’s. Ghetto I know. But that’s what makes my dad happy. Sometimes you might catch me at a karaoke bar singing 80s songs with a 6-pack of MGD’s too. Like father, like son.

One thing prevalent within each Asian culture is the simple, yet comforting bowl of soup noodles. Chinese and Nu Ro Mian. Cantonese and Wonton Mien. Vietnamese and Pho. Koreans and Neng Myeon. Japanese and ramen/udon. I’d keep going but I really don’t know what kind of soup noodles Cambodians, Malaysians and Indonesians eat. For sure they have something though.

Dad: “What do you want to eat?”
Me: “Do you have to ask? You know what I always want.”
Dad: “Soup noodles it is.”

I like anything with beef and when I go for Thai food, I know I’m getting the Thai Boat noodles (Kuai Teow Reua); even before glancing at the sticky ass menus. Mmmmm. This was first created by boat peddlers who’d paddle up to you for direct service. Kinda like room service I guess. The cook would have a boiling pot of goodness and hand you the bowl of noodles for a small charge. If the service was bad, you could simply paddle away. At least you could see what the cooks were doing to your food since you were so close. No ‘behind-closed-doors’ mischief going on.

The reason we picked this place was because of its blatant advertising. As we were driving by slowly, our eyes caught the huge framed photos of their noodles. We parked and I started salivating for the Thai Boat noodles. Once I walked in I found myself staring at 6-7 framed photos. I thought to myself, “Are we in the museum of noodles?” It seriously looked like a museum exhibit with the huge 5’ x 3’ framed photos of the soup noodles. All they needed were those little white cards from the MOCA or LACMA to describe what I was staring at. And maybe have an usher posted by the wall warning visitors to refrain from taking photos. *Being a foodblogger, I can shoot photos withoutt flash while holding the camera under my armpit.

We sat down and were quickly greeted by the owner and given sticky menus. I rested my elbows on the sticky tables and saw that ‘Hi-Thai Noodle’ had a ‘Three-bowls-for $10’ deal. Dope. Problem was, it was only my Dad and I. Should we get the $10 deal and bring the third bowl home? We both got the “Beef and Beef Ball” soup noodle with a salted crab papaya salad to start out with. What the waiter brought out shocked me.

It was the tiniest bowl of soup noodles I’d ever seen. No wonder they were three-for-$10. If you ordered one bowl, you wouldn’t be full. If you ordered two bowls, you’re paying $8 for a regular sized bowl of noodles. Good thing about Hi-Thai is that they have quite a variety of soup noodles – beef, pork stew and seafood. Looking up at gallery pieces, you got a pretty clear idea what you were going to order. No need to lean over at the other table and spy.

The Thai Boat noodles tasted pretty good. Thai boat noodles, unlike Chinese beef noodles, have a thicker consistency in the broth. You can actually see that it’s made with a lot of beef stock because of the cloudiness. That’s a good sign. The slices of beef and beef balls were also quite tender and flavorful.

Still hungry, my Dad and I went for round 2. This time I ordered a fishcake and pork ball dried soup noodle. It had peanuts, fried garlic, cilantro, green onions and a little oil, which you mixed up. I loved it. My dad got this pork stew with rolled up noodles – resembling mini scrolls. It was sweet and heavy on star anise.

The Soong Tum papaya salad with salted blue crab was very good as well. Made with a lot of lime and fish sauce, it had a real kick to it. Not sure if many people know this, but Laotians also have a papaya salad with salted blue crab called “Dama Hoong”. It’s the same as the Thai version but with less of a sweet and sour taste. I prefer the Laotian version. Total for 4 mini-bowls of soup noodles and papaya salad came out to $22 without tip.

This was only my second stop in my search for good Thai Boat noodles and I’m sure there are better. Hi-Thai is open 24/7 and is on the corner of Hollywood and Harvard in Thai Town.

“Hi” Thai Noodle
5229 Hollywood Blvd. (c/o Harvard in Thai Town)
Hollywood, CA

Eat Drink Style The Gift of Gluttony: Part Two - Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon and Wasabi Whipped Potatoes Recipe

Remember what we ate in college? In retrospect, it’s amazing what we considered as our daily sustenance. For me, it was Del Taco, Alberto’s, canned food like spam and corned beef, and on special occasions it was Shake-N-Bake with whatever kind of meat was lying around the apt. Probably spam. It was cheap. It was tasty. And almost comforting at 3 am coming back from a futile study session. Amidst all the drinking, we found ways to feed the need. I remember I was so poor one time that I actually scoured my room for change. Lifted up couch cushions, looked into the carpet corners and even my car. What did I buy with my hard-earned money? 3 hard-shell tacos and 2 red burritos from Del Taco. $3.30. Good times, haha. Tacos are messy, but when you’re broke, you’re eating up every piece of scrap lettuce and cheese that flies out from your monstrous, great-white-shark-bite of hunger. Now, as an adult, I make sure that before any night of debauchery I engage myself in, that I’m well ‘padded’.

My second guest for the “Gift of Gluttony” festival was MN who had told me about her recent diet. I had met her through a mutual friend because she had an interest in getting into the ‘make-you-buy-things-you-don’t-need’ industry called advertising. She told me some of her ideas for ads and I immediately took her under my wing because she had the potential. MN left a few months ago to attend the Virginia Commonwealth University for a degree in copywriting. For those that don’t know, advertising agencies have two positions within the creative department – an art director and copywriter. As an art director, I’m responsible for making an ad look good, which leads to hours and hours and hours of Photoshopping. As a copywriter, you are responsible for all the writing. Clever headlines. Sales promotions. Product descriptions. All of that. But both the art director and copywriter are responsible for concepting. A lot of copywriters have degrees in journalism and English naturally.

MN came back last week from school and I promised her a dinner because I haven’t seen her in months. She was telling me how she relied on Subway, pizza joints and restaurants with random deals as a daily diet. I said “hell no, you need to eat well.”

I had learned a lot from working at The Restaurant and wanted to put some of the knowledge into use.

Me: “Do you like beef?”
MN: “DO I?”
Me: “How’s filet mignon sound?”
MN: “Fuck yeah!”
Me: “May I bacon-wrap it?”
MN: *Droooooool.

I served up a bacon-wrapped, filet mignon and topped it with deep fried oyster mushrooms. So good. For the sides, I made whipped potatoes infused with wasabi and some cipollini onions, which are wide and short, baby onions – not to be confused with pearl onions. I made a steak sauce using the drippings from the filet and threw in some Chianti wine and ready-made demi glace.

Filet Mignon with Chianti demi-glace and Wasabi Whipped Potatoes

Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon
Salt and pepper both sides of the filet. Wrap each filet one piece of bacon and secure it with a toothpick. Sear the filets on high heat with olive oil, about 2-3 minutes. Flip them over and slap it inside a 450 oven for about 12-15 minutes, depending on your desired doneness. I like medium rare.

Doneness Chart – This will vary

Medium Rare – 12-14 minutes
Medium – 14-16 minutes
Medium Well – 16-20 minutes
Well done – why bother making filet mignon

*Another trick which I’ve learned is the hand chart. Using your left hand, touch your index finger with your thumb in a relaxed manner. Touch that big slab of muscle that forms under your thumb. That is what ‘rare’ feels like. Now, use your middle finger to touch your thumb, that is ‘medium rare’. Ring finger is ‘medium’. Pinky finger is ‘well done’. You can feel how tight the muscle flexes in order for the thumb and pinky to reach each other.

Using the pan drippings, add some Chianti wine and beef broth. Scrape the pan for any of the ‘fond’, which are the little burnt bits of goodness. Do not discard those because they are flavor packets. Use water and sugar to balance out the tannins from the wine (alcohol) and saltiness. Make a flour/water mixture for thickening. Slowly whisk in the flour/water mixture to achieve a thick consistency for the Chianti sauce. You should be able to see the sauce stick on to the back of a spoon.

Wasabi Whipped Potatoes
Boil skinned potatoes until fork tender – about 15-18 minutes. Reduce the cooking time of potatoes by slicing them up into segments. Add salt to the pot as they cook. After they are fork tender, strain them and throw them back into the pot over low heat. This will cook out any remaining water inside of the potatoes. Water is bad! Mash up the potatoes and add butter, whole milk, salt and white pepper. Don’t use black pepper – black specks in the potatoes don’t look good. Add wasabi or horseradish to taste – should not overwhelm the dish.

Serve these up with your favorite veggies. As a garnish, I deep fried oyster mushrooms and topped the filet with it for aesthetics. You can put whatever you want – parsley, fried onions or herb-flavored butter.

Happy holidays and thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style West LA X'mas Party, Ugly Ass Christmas Sweaters and Dokpokki

I’m a huge fan of the Farrelly brothers – writers of Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin and Something About Mary. You guys remember that one scene in D&D where Jim Carrey fantasizes about Lauren Holly? I love that part when he’s in the ski lodge with his other sweater friends lighting up his natural gas. God, those sweaters were so awesome. Our 2nd annual West LA party happened on Friday and I wanted to liven things up a little by sporting one of those sweaters. During my lunch break, I headed down to the vintage/thrift shops on Melrose. After going to about three stores, I was worried that my plan wouldn’t happen. Thrift store shopping is hit-or-miss, but once you find something you like, it’s like striking an oil reservoir in your backyard. And to my surprise, I found three of the most hideous sweaters pictured above for me and my 'sweater friends'. I’m the pixellated guy on the left. My friend in the middle actually liked his sweater and is keeping it for reals.

I quickly went home and started to cook food for the potluck. My friend was bringing Korean bbq ribs and I thought some dokpokki, Korean rice cakes cooked in red paste and kimchi, would complement them nicely. Too bad we didn't make any yogurt soju. So I showed up to the party and gave my friends their sweaters. We got a good response and I made the couples take turns wearing the sweaters for photos in front of the fireplace. Truly, a dorky Christmas. Best part of the night besides Best of LA’s smooth-tasting Belvedere vodka was the “Secret Santa” gift exchange. My “Secret Santa” hooked me up with Nobu Matsuhisa’s cookbook. Killer gift. I can now scratch that off my Amazon wishlist of about 20 cookbooks.

After the West LA party, I headed down to some dive bar in West Covina called the Sunset Room… with the red snowflake sweater still on. I walked in and looked for my friends. If there had been a dj there, you would’ve heard him stop the records. My red sweater could not be avoided haha. I got looks from everyone. Good times. Why not? It’s Christmas.

Dokpokki Recipe

Oval or Cylindrical rice cakes (dok)
Gochujang (Korean red chili paste – sweet & spicy)
Kimchi (duh!)
Carrots (diagonally cut discs)
Onions (sliced onions)
Green onions (sliced in 2” lengths)
Soy Sauce
White Pepper

(1) Start by boiling the rice cakes in a pot until desired ‘al-dente-ness’.
(2) Saute garlic, carrots and onions.
(3) Add the Gochujang into a bowl of water and mix the paste up. Gochujang is quite thick and needs some water and air to loosen it up. Dump the Gochujang/water mixture in with the garlic, carrots and onions and stir.
(4) Add Kimchi and a little bit of soy sauce. Use water and sugar to balance out spiciness/sweetness/saltiness according to your liking.
(5) Strain the rice cakes and dump them into the sauce. Dokpokki has a lot of sauce, so make sure you make enough.
(6) Lastly, add green onions and enjoy.

Happy holidays and thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Happy Hollandaise!

Hey sorry for the bad Christmas/food pun but I've had one too many bottles of Sapporo and Sake. Just came back from a stellar sushi dinner at Sushi Zo and I'm about to pass out. Anyway, I wanted to thank all the fellow LA foodbloggers and loyal readers for supporting my low-budget site. I've had a blast this year. I'm leaving for Hong Kong and Taiwan this week and have a plethora of food to eat and write about. Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. Let's give it up for food!!! As always, thank you for reading. Regards, ED&BM.

Eat Drink Style The Gift of Gluttony: Part One - The Osso Buco Veal Shanks Recipe

Pam of Daily Gluttony recently wrote an honest-to-goodness entry about the importance of family, friends and, of course, food. These three are closely intertwined within our daily lives and with every passing moment involving the three, they should be cherished and never taken for granted. Mealcentric, sadly, has also lost a friend who he had shared many moments with while dining. In respect to the fore-mentioned, even the simplest of foods can bring about a smile or reassurance that you actually matter to someone. I couldn’t agree more. It could be slicing up those juicy, Korean pears for your parents. Going on a carne asada burrito run for your friend who says he’s hungry, but has just completely passed out in the back of the car. Wait, that was me in the back of the car. Making chicken noodle soup or porridge for someone feeling under the weather. For me, a bowl of porridge with green onions, fried egg and a little Maggi Sauce brought a smile to my face when I was sick. Only because Mom made it. It’s little moments like these that matter the most.

For me, cooking is one of the best ways to show appreciation for one’s friendship and love. You devote your own time in making sure that they get something yummy in their tummy because it makes them happy. You’re also keeping them one step further away from being on a Sally Struthers infomercial, or being pictured on one of those donation boxes at Ralph’s. This Christmas, I’ve decided to invite friends over for a culinary present. One, because I love to wreak havoc in the kitchen. Two, I am too broke to buy gifts for all the good children of the world. (Thank you, advertising industry.) And three, I want to make sure that my friends gluttonize and make unfulfillable resolutions for the New Year - like working out at the gym. I love to hear that kind of bullshit.

My first guest was MLT, whom I met back in college in ICS classes, which stands for Information & Computer Science. Once upon a time, I believed that I would be writing programs. *Scoff. I bailed out of that major after one semester of pure hell. But, she was fortunately there to provide “aide” for me before I left. Most people know it as cheating, but who cares. We also attended a wedding together this year and like a total jerk, I left my date alone because I was too busy getting inebriated and dancing with other girls. Only a friend would forgive you for such behavior. And I thank her for that.

Me: “Hey, what do you wanna eat?”
MLT: “I like veal.”
Me: “Well I can attempt to make the Osso Buco dish I had at C&O’s?”
MLT: “Sounds good. What should I bring?”
Me: “Wine. Lots of it. After we eat and drink, we’ll go to a bar and I’ll leave you by yourself while I go talk to other girls.”
MLT: “Asshole.”

I studied a few Osso Buco recipes off Epicurious and Food Network. Here’s a tip for those that love to cook. Look up at least 5 different recipes when you plan on making something. Just because Rachael Ray can teach you how to make it in less than thirty minutes doesn’t mean it’ll taste the same. She does use shortcuts because of the time allotment on her show, and a lot of times, compromises the true taste of a particular dish. Emeril loves to desecrate a dish by adding way too much alcohol and garlic just to hear his audience bark like seals at Sea World. It’s important to find the common ingredients that make the dish what it is. Once you’ve memorized the essential ingredients, you can simply add your own twist to it. Only then, can you call it ‘your own’ recipe.

This dish was chosen also because it was an excuse for me to buy a Le Creuset pot - one of the nicest kitchen tools ever. You’ve all seen it. It’s that big, blue or flame red ceramic Dutch oven that all the Food Network hosts use to sauté their mire poix (onions, carrots, celery – what I refer to as OCC) and braise heavenly food. I got a tip about the Le Creuset from Immaeatchu and proceeded to search the internet for the best price. Turns out that I got a good deal at Tuesday Morning, which sells brand name stuff for 50-80% off. I got my brand new, 7.25 qt pot for $144.99 – retailed at $299.99.

I then went to shop for the veal shanks, the main ingredient for the Osso Buco dish. Whole Foods and Bristol Farms wanted to charge me $13/lb and a free raping at the same time. Fuck that. When you need four veal shanks, are YOU going to pay $52 for that? I was driving down Santa Monica Blvd. after an interview last week and happened to see a Kosher meat deli. What is the difference between a Kosher meat deli and say, Ralph’s? The Jewish method of slaughtering an animal requires only one stroke of the blade to the throat of the animal, and is then bled dry. After it is bled completely, it can then be sold to consumers. I was like, "Give me 4 shanks please." I got my four veal shanks for $17 total. Was it good quality? Hmm…. *hint. I AM STILL ALIVE.

Here we go:

(1) Veal shanks are tender, obviously because they are baby cows. Veal is kept within tight, dark quarters and fed milk to tenderize the meat. Unlike Kobe style beef, the young cows are not massaged and fed beer and corn. Right about now, I’m getting e-mails from PETA about this posting, so I better hurry and complete this.

(2) Tie the shanks with butcher twine to bind the tender meat with the bone. One simple knot is fine, just make sure it’s tight. Dredge all sides of the veal shanks with flour that’s been seasoned with S&P. Brown the shanks and remove from the Dutch oven.

(3) Prepare mire poix. Mire poix is the quintessential ingredient for any type of stock, whether it be chicken, beef, veal or lamb. It consists of 2 parts onion to 1 part carrots and 1 part celery. Sauté these in a Dutch oven with EVOO and butter. After about 10-12 minutes, they will become translucent and somewhat brown. Add the shanks back in and add Chianti wine to about the halfway line on the shanks. Submerse the shanks with however much beef broth is needed. Toss in your bouquet garni (4 bay leaves, 4 thyme sprigs, 1/2 a tablespoon of black peppercorns), 2 garlic gloves and a little bit of olive oil. Cover and bring to boil.

(4) Once it’s boiling, toss the Dutch oven into the oven at 375-400. remember to baste the tops of the veal shanks every 20-30 minutes so that they don’t get scalded. It should be done in about 1.5 – 2 hours.

(5) Serve the shanks over linguini. Strain the braised mixture to remove the bouquet garni and mire poix. Season the sauce with S&P and butter, also known as monte au beurre, and pour sauce over shanks and linguini. Say mmmmm and enjoy.


This dish was the best thing I've ever made so far. I've never said "mmmmm" so many times besides, well, you know what. I hope you do try Osso Buco out sometime and cook for a friend and a loved one sometime soon. It'll mean a lot. As always, thank you for reading.

Eat Drink Style Salmon Makes For A Good Snack

Happy Saturday everyone. Just wanted to post on a snack I had one Saturday. The difference between raw and cooked salmon is night and day. Cooked salmon becomes fishy and dry. But it's the best when raw... so sweet and somewhat similar in fattiness/softness to hamachi (yellowtail).

I think salmon sushi is probably the most beautiful looking out of the common dishes. Ikura (salmon roe) is also nice to look at. The lines in salmon remind me of the marbling on a nice juicy steak. Mmm. Sometimes when I'm at Mitsuwa or Marukai, I'm tempted to buy a block of salmon and just eat it like a sandwich.

I got this block at Mitsuwa for like $5 and yielded nearly 18 small pieces of nigiri sushi. I put too much wasabi in between the rice and fish. Nose-hair fire!

What's your favorite kind of sushi?

Eat Drink Style Olive Garden vs. C&O Trattoria, Marina Del Rey - Who's more Italian?

***Begin Sicilian mandolin music***

Visuals: A huge block of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese being slowly sliced. Hot, steaming red pasta sauce being churned with a rustic-looking spoon passed down from many, many generations. Spring vegetables being flipped in a sauté pan in slow motion. The aromatic steam arising from freshly baked artisan bread. Salads getting tossed (not that kind of salad).”

Voiceover: “Buon giorno. Ai em from Seeseely. Mai femmehlee… ees een Uhmerikuh. Wen ai came too veeseet, ai wanted to eet audendeek Seeseelian food. So dey took me to the Awleeve Garden. And ai felt like I was et home.”

Super: Here at Olive Garden, everyone is family…

*Changing channels.*

Working in advertising, I know when I smell good work and bullshit work. The fore-mentioned TV spot stinks worse than an overflowing port-o-potty at an outdoor music festival. Try getting locked in one by your ‘good’ friends. True story. Anyway, I know I work in an industry that prides itself on selling you things you don’t need – or at least showing you what life would be like without a certain product. For the most part, I think I’ve lived a comfortable life without the ingenuity of products such as the Ginsu Knife, Egg-stractor and Nordictrack, which gave rise to the most, awful style of dancing I've ever seen at raves. When I see an Olive Garden commercial, I nod my head and yell out “oh my god”. I wonder how the creative minds behind those horrific TV spots can actually sleep at night. I sure as hell wouldn’t. I might add that the Darden Restaurant Group, operators of Olive Garden, also run Red Lobster. And we know their commercials don’t quite cut it as well. Just imagine the fore-mentioned TV spot with lobsters, lemon wedges, butter, butter and more butter. Jesus Christ. On a lighter note, if I ever bring my relatives to P.F. Chang's or Panda Inn, I won't be receiving any shiny red envelopes - nor will I see them ever again.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Italian food only because I think the sauces pretty much taste the same. Fine, I guess there’s a variety. Red or white. Red with wine. White with wine. Red with wine and mushrooms. White with wine and mushrooms. The list goes on and on. And as for the pasta, the number of sizes/shapes are unfathomable. Once in a while, Italian food sounds good but I know after I eat it, I’ll be feeling like shit. Kind of like eating a lot of heavy food from Panda’s Inn. Sounds good initially when your eyes are bigger than your stomach and regretfully find yourself lying in fetal position in a comatose state. I do appreciate the simplicity and history behind Italian food but I think places like Olive Garden are desecrating what Italians cherish most about their heritage. They can make amends by changing their name from "Olive Garden: An Italian Restaurant" to "Olive Garden: An American Restaurant."

My first trip to Olive Garden was back in 1997 in college. I didn’t know where else to eat Italian food and got tired of the Ragu and Prego sauces. (I think they taste better than Olive Garden though). I’ll admit it, I was actually kinda stoked to eat there only because I grew up in a Chinese family that ate Chinese food solely. I don’t remember what I ordered, but I know that it wasn’t worth going back for. Jeez, all that for $25? Call me naïve, but my parents deprived us of good, American food. I used to think Sizzler was for rich people haha. I’d envy my friends who ate there regularly, secretly giving my parents the eye for not letting us indulge in all-you-can-eat shrimp. I thank them now for saving me from eating crap.

Now Olive Garden is running their “All-the-Pasta-You-Can-Eat-For-$5.99” deal. How much can you actually eat. Two bowls at most haha? Seriously, if our little Southern California ‘foodblogging’ cohort should ever meet up, we should do Olive Garden for laughs. We're somewhat of a family because of our carnivorous instincts and love for writing, and who else other than Olive Garden would warmly welcome us? I think it’d just be funny to see ‘Daily Gluttony’ take out her frustrations in her blog after eating the Sicilian Parmesan Chicken for $8.99 haha. Point is, it’s because of restaurants like Olive Garden that I have a tainted perception of Italian food all these years. Things have changed. Watching Mario Batali on FN, I’ve really grown to like the more rustic style of Italian cooking, much like French and Chinese food – where nothing goes to waste. Duck liver sautéed with Chanterelle mushrooms and white wine? Yes, please.

As we get older, it seems that the only time we get to see friends is for someone’s birthday. When you have an Evite with over 25 guests, it’s gonna be hard to please everyone’s dinner palate. Most of the time, it’s going to be an Italian restaurant just because there’s something for everyone. The food is safe and simple. You won’t find Parmesan Tripe with linguini, Roasted Balut (duck embryos) in Alfredo sauce or Chicken Feet Marsala. I’ve been to Buca di Beppo and Maggiano’s many times but never C&O’s. I’ve been hearing that name over and over again after I moved to the Westside. For my friend XC (some of you are wondering how many names can actually start with an ‘X’.), we chose C&O’s in Venice and I was really stoked.

We met up around 8 and walked into what I thought was a courtyard. Turns out that it’s the only seating area underneath the Venice sky. Buzzing with heat lamps, the restaurant was adorned with light bulbs attached to wires, giving it a true backyard feel. I really like eating outdoors when I can. The walls were painted with scenes of a distant land with a far lower crime rate than Venice. Unplugged fountains with old water stood frozen amongst all the diners. Indistinct chatter and clanking wine glasses set the friendly atmosphere.

As soon as we were seated, I was smacked in the face by the smell of garlic, parsley and butter. These garlic grenades were none other than the famous, Killer Garlic rolls, adored by many. Yum. I had to stop myself after eating three rolls, otherwise I wouldn’t have had an appetite. The waitress then brought two jugs of Chianti wine, charging $5 per glass I think. We easily knocked down two jugs in 45 minutes. Here’s what we had.

A. Killer Garlic Rolls. Too bad it’s not a scratch n’ sniff photo.
B. Fried Calamari. Good. This dish always taste the same anywhere you go.
Even Sizzler. Not that I would know.
C. Osso Buco. Oh man, my new favorite. I’m actually making this dish
tomorrow. The best part is sucking the bone marrow out of the shank bone. Yum.
D. No idea with chicken.
E. No idea with shrimp. Ok you see what I mean by Italian food. What the
hell is the difference?!
F. Gigantic Meatballs and Spaghetti. Boulders of beef/pork/bread crumb
Didn’t eat it, but I bet it was good.
G. Fettucini Alfredo. Another safe, favorite that I didn’t bother eating.

I think I selfishly ate the whole Osso Buco dish by myself. My friends freaked out once they saw me inhaling the juicy marrow. Another fabulous dish, not pictured, is the Linguini Mare, seafood linguini. IMHO, I love C&O’s. I think it’s a great place to eat large quantities of quality food (wow, quality and quantity. Chinese would love this place.) and drink Charles Shaw Chianti wine in Venice. I haven’t stopped thinking about the Osso Buco and will be back here soon. Thanks for reading.

C&O Trattoria
31 Washington Blvd.
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 823-9491

Eat Drink Style Cha Gio Recipe - Good Things Come in Pairs

Back in the Sichuan hot pot posting, I explained a little about Chinese 'hot air' and how you should balance out the scalding hot food with cool drinks. The chinese feel it is a sub-category of the 'yin and yang' ideology – that everything has a complementary opposite. If you're tormenting your body with fried chicken on a hot, blistering day, your body is going to whine and moan... "give me a freaking cold drink right now." If not, you won't be doing the body any good. There are endless things that work well in pairs in our universe. But the only one I, and you as a food blog-reader, really care about is food. And the 'yin and yang' ideology somewhat applies. What's a peanut butter sandwich without jelly, carne asada tacos without a
Jarritos bottled-soda
, franks without beans, a chili dog without a roll of toilet paper, etc.

This brings us to one of my favorite sidekicks of Vietnamese pho. At places like Golden Deli or Saigon Flavor, it is rare to see a table occupied solely with piping hot bowls of pho. Sharing the real estate is 'cha gio' of course, Vietnamese egg rolls. Eat one egg roll, eat some pho, eat another egg roll, kill the bowl of pho. It's a rollercoaster ride of delicious food. Oh the joy.

I've been wanting to make 'cha gio' for a while but could never find the right skin at the markets. The only kind available to non-chefs were Chinese-style egg roll skins. When these are fried, you don't get the nice bursting skin on egg rolls I've grown to love. After a few minutes of staying out in room temperature, they become flat and soggy. Not so good. Golden Deli, Saigon Flavor and Vietnam House are all San Gabriel-based sister restaurants which make my favorite egg rolls. Pho 79 in Alhambra is damn good too. I think most pho restaurants make the majority of their profit from egg rolls because the ingredients are cheap.

One day while I was at Golden Deli, I decided to approach the owner and ask him. I had heard before that the recipes within these three restaurants were cryptic and top-secret. You basically had to marry into the family to get your hands on the blueprints. I can see it already... a big, cult-like ritual inducting a new family member in. Heart-pounding bongos and drums banging... the tempo increasing as the main event nears, flames rising from pits, snakes wrapped around vines, people with face paint circling around you in attack mode. The whole nine yards. For these egg rolls and pho recipes, it might even be worth a big chicken-bone-through-the-nose piercing and a ritual neutering.

Me: "Excuse me?"
GD Guy: "Yes."
Me: "Do you guys make your own cha gio skin?"
GD Guy: *stares at me*
Me: "These are the best. I'd like to --"
GD Guy: "It's rice paper."
Me: "Oh. I thought you guys made your own skin."
GD Guy: "No, just soak the rice paper in some warm water for a few seconds. Let it air really quickly, and roll your filling."
GD Guy: "Nice."

Quite painless. For a minute, I thought I had struck a wrong nerve. He knew very well that I wouldn't be able to replicate his prized dish. Course not. But it wouldn't hurt to try.

I headed over to 99 Ranch and bought 1.5 lbs. of ground pork, wood ear mushrooms, bean thread vermicelli, romaine lettuce, red/green chilis, mint and rice paper (7" size). Total cost... under $10. You can make at least 25 of these.

Party time:

(1) First soak the bean thread vermicelli and wood ear mushrooms in separate bowls of water. Both come in dried form, water rejuvenates them. Should be ready to go in 10 minutes. Chop the bean threads into 1/4" to 1/2" cuts and roughly mince the mushrooms.

(2) Use salt and white pepper to season the ground pork. Add a little bit of Shao Xing rice wine in to tenderize the pork. Add vermicelli and mushrooms (carrots are optional) and mix everything well. Let them sit and party for about 10 minutes.

(3) Prepare a bowl or pot of hot water for soaking the rice paper. Dip the rice paper in for at least 10 seconds and pull it out, laying it flat on a cutting board. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling on the rice paper and fold it like origami. Bring the sides in, bottom over the filling and keep rolling. Lost yet?

That's why I've prepared a quick "Cha Gio For Dummies" instruction manual. The phallic/fecal-shaped representation of the pork filling is purely a combination of midnight blogging and lethargy.) Everyone knows the Japanese are masters of Origami, but its the Vietnamese that have adapted clever techniques of making paper cranes into digestible food. That's good thinking. I'll take an egg roll over a heart-shaped dollar bill any day.

"Cha Gio For Dummies" Manual

Figure A - This is based on 7" rice paper. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling and shape it into a rectangle as shown in the diagram.

Figure B - What appears to be an angry baseball with eyes and eyebrows is actually Figure B. Grab A and B flaps and fold them right where the filling is placed, as straight as possible. Careful not to mash the filling.

Figure C - While holding A and B with your fingers, use your thumbs to grab part C of the rice paper and fold it over the meat and A & B flaps. Tuck flap C right under the filling, making sure the rice paper isn't loose.

Figure D - As you start to roll everything, make sure you're tucking the filling into the skin. The egg roll shouldn't be loose nor super-tight. Because your soaking the rice paper in water, there is no need for an egg wash because the rice paper will adhere to itself.

Back to the cooking.

(4) Heat up a pan, pot or deep fryer with vegetable or canola oil over medium heat. Never use EVOO – too low of a burning point. Make sure the oil is hot enough by dropping in a piece of soaked rice paper. If the oil is TOO HOT, air will fill in the egg roll and separate the rice paper from the filling and you'll lose the familiar shape of an egg roll.

(5) These take a long time to cook, probably 12 minutes. The skin may still be somewhat white yet edible. If you can achieve the golden look, all the better.

These tasted so good. The skin was super crispy and the filling had a good ratio of meat to mushrooms/vermicelli. I've left out a few things in my original recipe that are unnecessary, like fish sauce and sugar in the filling. The condiments should be doing all the work. Next time, I will try adding grated jicama and minced shrimp. I simply wrapped them in romaine lettuce, sliced cucumber, mint and dipped it in freshly made 'nuoc cham' (fish sauce mixed with water, sugar, chilis, garlic and lemon). I ate about 8 of them and suffered minor blistering on the roof of my mouth because they were so damn hot. Well worth the agony. Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Dear Green Onions... Get Well Soon

Sad day, green onions from Salinas, California have been traced with strands of E. coli (Escherichia coli). Several people have fallen ill in the Northeast from eating green onions. Taco Bell has removed green onions from all of their 5,800 restaurants. Taco Bell is also investigating the facility that provides other produce for their food. Ready Pac Produce supplies Taco Bell with lettuce, tomatoes and onions. I'm sure most of you have heard of Ready Pac salads. They are the ones that sell the 'triple-washed' packages. I've never trusted that. Always wash vegetables efore eating.

E. coli along with other diseases such as Hepatitis C come from food handlers that DO NOT wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Not #1... #2! Nasty.

Yesterday, I was at 99 Ranch and walked by the green onions in the produce section. I stared at them and shook my head in pity. I cannot survive without green onions. I was planning on making Chinese beef noodle soup this week but MUST have green onions. I'm sure they are safe to buy, but I'm not going to risk getting ill until its clear. Just wanted to make sure everyone was aware of this issue. Green onions... please come back soon haha.

Eat Drink Style Din Tai Fung & The Dumpling Factory - Din Tai Fung, Arcadia

In a land far far away (far, if you're from the SF Valley and Orange County), there exists a place that beckons people from all over Southern California to experience its culinary treasures - the Valley of San Gabriel. It's a long and arduous 45-minute journey through wicked, poisonous smog, reckless face visor-wielding and glove-wearing drivers speeding at a whopping 25 mph and seas of red lights. The Valley of San Gabriel is heaven for the hungry and sees tens of thousands of travelers every week. Here, fragrant orchids smell of Vietnamese egg rolls. Lush forests are abundant with dim-sum berries. Grassy hills made of Crispy Beef Chow Mein and Beef Chow Fun. Flowing rivers filled with the wonderful Vietnamese pho broth. (Ok, this is getting gross. But just play along.) And there is one place that produces a highly coveted treasure: the Xiao Long Bao (shao loong bao - which literally means 'little basket buns'.). A treasure so powerful and delicious that it causes midgets, centaurs, leprechauns and unicorns to do the riverdance to, in unison. A place many consider as the Chinese version of Pink's, Tito's, Philippe's and the like. It's called the Din Tai Fung factory and its known for its skill in making delectable Xiao Long Bao. Xiao Long Bao comes in the form of a juicy, steamed pork dumpling. So juicy that if one were to eat hot off the plate, could cause serious burns/blisters in your mouth. One must not be so greedy when encountering this treasure.

Although XLB's come from the Southern provinces of China, including Shanghai, DTF is a Taiwanese establishment. Din Tai Fung originated from Taiwan in 1969 and has graciously offered its treasures to people all over, including locations in Canada, Japan, Singapore, Korea and Indonesia. Fortunately, my trip to the DTF factory is under 20 minutes, not a 16-hour flight. The original founder of DTF was a man named Yang Bing Yi. He ran an oil business at a shop called Heng Tai Fung, but was soon forced to find other means of making money b/c of the introduction of pre-canned oil. And dumplings would soon be his key to success. He opened up DTF in respect to the man who gave him the job at Heng Tai Fung and helped keep his family afloat.

My friend SK and I finally decided to make the journey up to the DTF factory and experience world-class dumplings. When we got there, we found ourselves in a crowd of about 50 people, as well as the midgets, centaurs, leprechauns and unicorns doing the riverdance. They were annoying. I walked up to the hostess and put my name down for two.

Me: "Hi, table for two, please."
DTF: "45 minute wait. Is okay?"
Me: "Sure."
DTF: "Take this menu and make order!"

I walked out and joined the disgruntled crowd. They provide seats and parasols so people don't pass out. I came here during the summer and it was punishing. Anyway, we made our order and held on to it. ( They provide english translations too.) 45 minutes later, we were called on the loud, muffled Aiwa-microphone.

As soon as we walked into the DTF factory, our eyes widened with amazement. For those that haven't seen the inside, you're in for a killer treat. I was able to sneak in my camera.

Wow, XLB's are really harvested in trees and plants. I always thought they were made by humans with ground pork, ginger, green onions and freshly-made wrappers and then steamed in metal/bamboo baskets. Guess I was wrong. Amazing!

We were careful not to walk under the XLB tree in fear of them dropping down on us. It would be tragic to die in this juicy manner.

We saw many Oompa Loompas breaking out into chorus while harvesting the XLB's. Here they are doing a routine to a techno-remix of Celine Dion's "Titanic" song. Awful.

A close-up of a greedy customer. Proof that XLB's can be addicting and turn you into a wild beast. She thought you could chew XLB like gum and quickly snagged it off another group's table. Little biatch!

This brat was throwing XLB's all over the place. The XLB's exploded against the walls like water balloons. Din Tai Fung was furious and immediately had the boy caned. If I'm ever in a food fight, I'm running straight for XLB's aka Chinese Pork Juice Grenades.

Because the sun shines more brightly in the Valley of San Gabriel, it is advised that you equip yourself with one of these face visors. Only $5.99. Warning: wearing these will result in bad driving, a rather notorious characteristic of the SGV.

I was able to sneak into one of the rooms where they prepare the harvested XLB's. Here, they seem to be singing a song as they work, but it's in Taiwanese. So I'm helping you sing along by providing a karaoke version with the bouncing ball. Oh joy.

Another look at the meticulous preparation. DTF is pricier than most Chinese restaurants but they have to pay the 15+ servers and 25+ kitchen workers. We finally found a grassy area to sit and an Oompa Loompa came out with our order right away. That's the good thing about submitting an order early. You wait long to get in, but eat right away. Works both ways.

DTF's Xiao Long Baos are average in size. The ones pictured here are the standard pork dumplings. 10 pieces for $6.50. Most Chinese places are 10 for $4.50. The crab version at DTF is 10 pieces for $8.00 but I never order those. Something about the crab meat that soaks up all of the juices.

There are a few ways I've seen people eat the XLB. Your main concern is not to tear any of the dumpling skin or the guts will come out and you'll get boo'd by your fellow diners.

The Crater Technique
This is common of first-time XLB eaters. They'll take a bite of the XLB, like a crater-sized bite, learn that it's hot and drop all the juice over the plate. Lost cause.

The Double Meal Technique
Carefully select your XLB with chopsticks, only grabbing by the 'head' of the dumpling. Since it is twisted there, the skin is sturdier. Take a little bite on the side and pour the juice into the spoon. If you can get 20-50% of the spoon filled with pork juice, you've got a good XLB. I've been to places where it was completely dry - so disappointing! Next, you drink the soup and dip the XLB in the vinegar/ginger provided and devour it. See, 2 meals in 1.

The Commando Technique
This is the way I eat it. In order to do this, you have to let the XLB's cool down in the steamer. After like 3 minutes, you're good to go. I add vinegar and ginger slices on the spoon, carefully place the XLB in the spoon and eat it all once. Boom! Pork Grenade!

This next dish is what I think separates DTF from other Chinese restaurants. They offer this special dish only on the weekends. It's the same concept of XLB's, only they give you 20 mini versions of it. In addition, a beautiful bowl of chicken broth with shredded egg and green onions. You're supposed to put the XLB in the spoon, dip the spoon into the bowl for soup and take one bite. An even bigger pork grenade. I love it. $10 I believe.

The total damage with 2 baskets of XLB's (regular and crab) + 2 side dishes came out to like $23 without tip. Still not bad. I like DTF but it's not the best XLB I've ever eaten. There are a few places on Valley Blvd. that serve decent XLB's for much less. Green Village and Mei Long Village in San Gabriel aren't bad. One of my favorite XLB places is in New York, at a place called Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown. And they serve you XLB's on steroids. Each one of these dumplings can fill 1.5-2 spoonfuls of pork juice. They are simply massive and require small tongs to pick them up. I think they sell 6 pieces for $6. Thanks for reading.

Din Tai Fung
1108 South Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, California 91007
(626) 574-7068

Eat Drink Style Sichuan Hot Pot & the Chinese Ideology of "Hot Air"

The winter season is something everyone looks forward to. Things get fuzzier and people are nicer during the holiday seasons. Some people can't wait for the first drop of snow and go boarding/skiing. Fashionistas start hopping on websites for online clothing shopping. People with nothing better to do run around the neighborhood, harassing civilians with annoying christmas songs. But for the Chinese people, winter only means one thing: hot pot. In chinese, we call it 'huo guo' which literally means 'fire pot', or 'da bean low' in cantonese. The concept of hoarding over a pot with a smorgasbord of fresh vegetables, seafood and thinly-sliced meat originated in Mongolia. Just imagine big, nomadic people in armor with shields/swords throwing a campfire sans marshmallows. It is absolutely freezing in the desert! Korean-style bbq and Japanese yakiniku bbq also originated from Mongolia. They would grill meat on their metal shields and use their helmets to boil soup. Genius. The same shield that is stained of blood also serves as a culinary gadget. Maybe it adds flavoring.

My college friends and I get together once in a while to shoot the sh*t and we love to do it over a big communal meal with beer. I headed over to 99 Ranch Market to acquire the goods. I love buying stuff for big meals. Everyone stares at you like your a pig because you're pushing around a 100-lb cart of grub. Oink.

Every one has their preference of hot pot ingredients. You can pretty much put anything in there. We ended up getting nappa cabbage, enoki/oyster/king/maitake mushrooms, egg dumplings, fish and pork balls, vermicelli, shrimp, tofu, quail eggs and about 6 lbs of meat for the 10 of us. I of course, bought way too much food. The nice thing about hot pot is that everything will be boiled and is pretty much good for you.

We had to kill some time to let the water boil in the 4 pots we had. I grabbed some of the fish balls we had and skewered them. I made a quick marinade using satay bbq sauce, soy sauce, white pepper, sugar and water and basted the fish balls. Threw them on the grill for a few minutes till they were lightly charred. Mmmm, these were so good. Just how I had them in Hong Kong.

While I grilled, I had a cool bottle of Taiwan Beer. I love the name - so simple and generic. Although the label proclaims it as World Class Beer, I think it's a little too light. Very crisp and refreshing though, like Korean Hite beer. This still tastes better than Tsingtao beer which I think of as bottled urine.

There are many different sauces you can use for the hot pot. I just do the cantonese style which is pretty much the same as the fishball marinade. I take 2-3 tablespoons of the satay bbq sauce and add one raw egg, soy sauce and a little sugar. Mix that up and you're good to go. For a nice kick, add thinly sliced green onions, cilantro and green chilis. So good! Hot pot can be done with plain old water. After about an hour of cooking the meats/seafood/veggies, you'll get a nice rich broth which can be seasoned with salt for soup. Talk about double dinner in one sitting. We just used a 1 can of chicken broth and 2 cans of water and added shrimp and daikon into the pot. You can start eating once the water boils.

Here are two of the three platters we compiled. The sliced beef, shrimp and vermicelli are not pictured.

Because we had four pots, we decided to designate two for the Lava Pot, also known as "Sichuan-style Hot Pot" (Ma-Lah-Huo-Guo). 'Ma' means numbing and 'lah' means spicy. And that's exactly what it is. Ladies and gentleman, you are looking at the inside of a volcano. Sichuan-style hot pot uses a lot of red chili peppers and spices. And lemme tell you, it's lethal. My friend and I took a whiff of the broth and immediately teared. Our nose hairs felt like they were just singed. Wow, some potent stuff. But it tasted fabulous. My friend W was at the market and didn't know which flavoring pack to buy and had to call his mom up. She told him to look for the bottle with the "ugly old woman" on it. Some of you may know about Chinese packaging. It's so vain of the creators to smack their face on the label. But thanks to the "ugly old woman", we loved it. The spiciness of her sauce must reflect her self-hatred for the lack of beauty. Caution: Sichuan-style hot pot will cause the "Ring of Fire" or "Sting Ring" if you know what I mean haha.

It was time to start and everyone dove in for the food. Within 15 minutes, you can hear people sniffling and see them wipe sweat off their foreheads. That Sichuan pot was destroying us. One of my friends filled up a 64-oz cup of water and I ended up refilling my water cup 3 times. After about 45 minutes, I started to slow down. My stomach was hurting with goodness and my mouth felt a little numb and swollen.

I was starting to have the symptoms of "yeet hay" or "huo qi da" which literally means "hot air". Although there is no medical explanation for this in English, the term is widely-used in Chinese. Some people say it's similar to a canker sore but really it is an imbalance in the immune system. The Chinese believe in "yin and yang" which is the ideology that everything has a complementary opposite. And it applies to food as well. Ever eat fried chicken or something oily on a hot day? Yeah, you don't feel too good after that. Chinese will balance out a hot meal with a cold cup of tea and eat a cold meal when it's hot. Makes sense. They will rarely eat hot, fried food on a hot day. Symptoms of 'yeet hay' are bumps on the tongue and inside the mouth, sore throat and possibly bloody noses. Basically, this is a term that reminds people to keep a healthy diet, get lots of rest and do things in moderation. It made sense when I ate the food, it was just way too spicy and scalding-hot for me, but drinking water helped balance things out.

After the hot pot, we all sat down on the couch with food coma. It looked like a cemetary of gluttons. We stared at each other like zombies but it was ok, we just had great food. I love the feeling of eating something good and relaxing. That's what hot pot is all about. The whole meal cost about $180. MUCH cheaper than going out to a restaurant to eat. Hot pot is something usually done at home. Good seeing you guys! Thanks for reading.

Check out the Japanese version of hot pot done by Oishii Eats here - shabu shabu. It's good sh*t!

Eat Drink Style Restaurant Confidential #1: First Day of School

Long posting. Please bear with me.

Friday night, I went over to Westwood Village to enjoy a night of lonerness. Equipped with my Professional Chef book, I grabbed a slice of pizza, two actually, at Enzo’s and sat in Starbucks. Tomorrow, I would be starting my first day at The Restaurant and wanted to be prepared for the unexpected. I figured that reading my book to familiarize myself with stocks, herbs and meats might save me some face and embarrassment. After all, I was Mr. I work 9-5 and am voluntarily working here out of passion without a culinary degree guy. There was a higher chance of error on my part, but I was ready to get hazed and reprimanded.

I walked into The Restaurant with my cheapie Calphalon Chef and Santoku knife I got for $25, after the Bed, Bath and Beyond 20% off coupon (those do come in handy), black vato-dickies pants and Payless, slip/oil-resistant shoes around 12:30 and met with the Chef. If you read the last posting, the chef forgot who the hell I was, so I re-introduced myself. I was then paired up with a girl who recently graduated from some school I’d never heard of. We’ll call her ‘Tiny’ for now, to protect her identity. An experienced line cook gave us our coats and aprons and showed us around the kitchen. As I put on the double-buttoned coat, I couldn’t help but smile, looking down so that no one would see my flash of excitement. If you guys remember Ben Stiller in Something About Mary, visualize the reaction he got when Mary asked him to go to the prom. Yes, I had a stupid look on.

As a pantry cook, I was responsible for garde mangre, pronounced ‘gar-mun-jay’. It’s French for the cold food station and includes soups, salads, appetizers and desserts. To me, it was French for bottom of the restaurant food chain – a culinary peon. What did I care? I was here to learn, not hope for a chance to stand side by-side-by with that arrogant Bobby Flay. The fact that they were paying me didn’t interest me at all. I initially thought they would just give me an internship. I guess that means more money for me to go out and get trashed and add more ninja-like knives to my collection. The pantry station took about 2 hours to prepare and as soon as I was done I proceeded with my Q&A with all of my experienced coworkers. Notebook in hand, I fired away with questions and jotted every juicy bit of information down. This was like gold to me. There’s a lot you don’t see behind the cookbooks and tv shows. All the shortcuts and secrets that go into making your restaurant experience enjoyable.

What goes into lobster stock??

What the hell is a remoulade??

Can you actually eat that??

The more and more I asked and annoyed them, the more they knew how interested I was in jumping onto their ship. Everyone was surprised that I was doing this on my own leisure in addition to my full time job. They probably thought I was crazy too. A few people told me that they’d rather work with me than with a recent culinary grad with an ego the size of an air balloon.

It was now 4 pm and dinner was to be served in an hour. All restaurants partake in a ritual dinner called “family meal”. In addition to the food prep, every cook is responsible for conjuring up some kind of dish for the whole staff to eat. Usually with older foods and scraps. I was in charge of salads, naturally. I looked over at Tiny and asked if she wanted to make something. Surprisingly, she said no. The whole day, Tiny was helping me out with the proper way to do things, which i appreciated. When she asked me where I studied culinary arts, I said “I’m studying here at The Restaurant Academy.” She gave me a slight look of concern and confusion, as if I had no place in here. Which is true. But it helps to know people that can get you in.

And back to the family meal. The meat cook came by and was like, “Hey man, please make some kind of new dressing. I’m fucking tired of the Caesar, House and Walnut Vinagrette dressing. Fucking tired of it.” I hate salad, but the only decent salad I can make is a Chinese chicken. So I grabbed soy sauce, orange juice, sugar, sesame oil, Sriracha hot sauce (I like mine spicy), water, shallots and chives. I had to do without the Hoisin sauce. As I whisked the dressing up, my hands trembled, for I was deeply worried. Now for the taste test. About four cooks came by to test out my monstrosity.

“Add some sugar.”

“More O.J.”

“I want it spicier.”

“Too much vinegar.”

It’s amazing how these people would come by and quickly dip a finger in for a taste. Everyone was so on the dot, and when it was finally done, the dressing tasted WAY better than what I had originally thought was satisfactory. Even over the wilted, brown romaine/endive salad. I liked my new coworkers instantly. For dinner we had a nice smorgasbord of goodies: butternut squash ravioli with cream sauce, garlic/mustard roasted chicken, sun-dried tomato frittata (an Italian omelette), roasted pumpkin soup and corn chowder. With a lineup like that, who the hell was gonna eat salad. I sure as hell didn’t.

5 pm. Showtime. I had forgotten to bring some kind of hat so I was stuck with wearing the 10” chef hat made out of paper. It was so lame. I felt so embarrassed since we were right in front of the window. I made sure that the next time I came in, I had my own hat with me. I’d rather wear one of those 10 gallon cowboy hats instead of that paper hat. Anyway, the first ticket came out and of course Mousy snagged it before I could even read it. I looked at it and completely blanked out. I had already forgotten how to make the dish. Good thing Tiny had a description of how each and every dish was made and plated, taped up to the wall. After about 2 hours, I got the hang of things, eventually making each and every single dish we had prepped for. I even did desserts, which I have no interest in because of my heavy smoking.

In addition to Tiny, I had a few coworkers around me, all from the Pasadena Culinary Institute. Next to the pantry, we had the dessert, grill, meat and fish station. The desserts were handled by a sweet, Korean girl who’d been working for almost a year. I’ll call her Sweetie. She made awesome chocolate cake, bread pudding and Crème Brule. She had worked pantry before and was very helpful. Over at the grill station, stood a small Mexican guy, no more than 4’14”, that everyone called Man-Boy, because of his boyish looks and deep voice. Man-boy took care of pastas, stocks and anything fried. Man-boy was constantly dodging this gay waiter that totally had a crush on him. For snacks, Man-boy made some awesome salsa nachos from scratch and was happily complimented by the gay waiter, who said they were, “So ammmmmmaaazzzzzzzzzzing.” I don’t know if he was referring to the nachos or to Man-boy. Maybe both. Over on the meat station (pan-fry, sauté, oven), we have this other Korean guy who’s been working for 6 years in San Francisco and the Caribbeans. I’ll call him Rivers because of his black, thick-framed glasses – similar to Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. This guy was so knowledgeable and had MOVES in the kitchen. His arms were full of cuts, scars and burn marks. True symbols of culinary war. I once saw him cooking 7 courses at a time, flames flying, kicking oven doors closed, etc. I want to do that. He gave me a piece of Kobe steak to try and boy was it delicious. I don’t think I can afford more than 3 ounces of that because it’s $12 an ounce. And over on the fish station, there’s an awesome chick who looks like she’s in her 20’s but already has two daughters, 20 and 14. I'll call her "Mami". She’s gotta be at least 36. She also had moves and was constantly calling me over to watch her cook fish and foie gras. She was my new-found smoking partner.

After work, we headed over to a bar in downtown and met up with cooks from our sister restaurant. As we all drank beer, stories about the day in the kitchen were told and were hilarious. A few people took themselves to another mental level and most of us, drank the night away.

As I drove home, I couldn’t stop wearing a smile because I had a great time this weekend. My hands were tired from obsessive chopping. My Achilles tendon was sore from trucking up and down the stairs, holding stock pots. My back hurting from constantly bending up and down to reach for things. So what? It was all worth it and I couldn't wait for next weekend when I can go in again and ‘play’. I’ve made some new friends and gained new knowledge. And all of a sudden, I felt alive again. Completely alive.

Eat Drink Style Happy Halloween, I mean, Happy Thanksgiving

Right after writing about the bacon narcotic, I got a lot of emails/links regarding bacon. Just too many to post. But this one just had to be posted. It is terrifying to look at, yet I know someone is drooling over his keyboard right now, searching for the recipe on Google.

What the HELL is this thing? We've all seen the turducken, but this is simply ridiculous. This looks like a freshly skinned zebra in the Safari. I'm going to have nightmares for as long as I live.

Anyway, drink lots of gravy and enjoy the gift of cholesterol! Thanks to Jwong for the pic.

Eat Drink Style Chabuya Ramen - The Newest Baby in the Sawtelle Family

Driving up Sawtelle, I always slow my car down at the La Grange corner. I’m always drawn in by the beautifully designed restaurants in that particular strip of West LA’s Little Tokyo. Most of the restaurants, such as Orris, serve up some delectable food for reasonable prices. Yesterday, as I was leaving from Nijiya Supermarket, I slowed my car down as usual and my eyes caught on to a metallic sign: Chabuya - Tokyo Noodle Bar sign caught my eye. Hell yeah. Another ramen shop.

Chabuya is the newest addition to Sawtelle’s restaurant row. In it’s second week, this place is already getting a nice influx of ramen enthusiasts. The dimly lit ceilings and tall windows really give you a nice welcoming feeling. As I walked in, five Japanese waitresses greeted me in an audible volume: “IRASHAIMASE”. No where as loud as Shin Sen Gumi in Gardena, Fountain Valley and now Rosemead. Since this place just opened up recently, they had a limited menu. The waitress pointed out that I can only have “Cha Shu Ramen”. Don’t twist my arm. I was going to order that regardless. I figure if a noodle shop claims to be a noodle shop, then they should be able to make immaculate Cha Shu Ramen. Same goes with a bowl of pho in a vietnamese restaurant.

And now a few words from Chabuya.

“Straight from Tokyo, Chabuya is the urban ramen bar that revolutionized a favorite Japanese pastime. Its menu was conceived under the meticulous eye of Master Chef Yasuji Morizumi, renowned for his peak season ingredients and an uncanny talent for arousing the senses. Taste Chabuya ramen and two things will strike you immediately. The first is an instant appreciation for the fresh, organic ingredients cooked to mouth-watering perfrection. The second is an overwhelming urge to take another bit.”

The Cha Shu Ramen, what Chabuya calls “The Classic with Cha Shu”, came after only 7 minutes -- $8.50. (The Classic is plain ramen with green onions and bamboo shoots sans Cha Shu -- $6.75.) It was served in a tall, red bowl and had a strong scent of fried shallots. I’m a sucker when it comes to fried shallots because they make anything taste good. And now for test #1: the broth. I dipped my spoon in before disrupting the beauty of the ramen bowl to taste the broth… and it was… AWESOME. I could taste a lot of pork broth, shoyu, miso and shallot oil. Since you can’t customize your ramen like Shin Sen Gumi, I’d suggest that you request for less oil, because there was a lot. I just like it. I then mixed up the bowl, preparing for test #2: the noodles. These weren’t the typical gummy kind you’d get from Ramenya or Kinchan’s. These were more like Chinese yellow mein – thin and cooked al dente – how I like it. Noodles weren’t bad at all. Something tells me that the chef takes pride in his soup more, thus selecting thin weight noodles for a lighter taste, so you don’t become overstuffed.

And for the final leg, test #3: the Cha Shu. I was given about four THINNNNNNLY sliced pieces of what I made out to be pork shoulder or butt. There was a thin layer of fat on each piece. Not bad, but there was a very strong taste of dark soy sauce. I believe the chef had first pan seared the meat in dark soy sauce to give it that dark colored edge before braising it into Cha Shu.

The gyozas came next and I was a little bit suspicious of it. It looked too similar to frozen gyozas at the market because after tasting it, the skin was very, very thin and broken. The filling tasted a little bit watery; a result of being THAWED before frying. Either the chef had overcooked the dumpling or he’s just a master at making paper thin gyoza skin. Still not a bad deal for $3.75.

Overall, I had a great meal. I think the ramen is a little pricey considering how small the portion is. But then again, they use organic ingredients and honestly, everything tasted really crisp and fresh. Especially the spinach and green onions. I didn’t want to waste the broth so I decided to Supersize my meal and ordered a bowl of rice and dumped it in to make Cha Shu Rice soup. Good as well. Another thing I look for is a place with a small menu. Chabuya serves nine courses plus gyoza and shu mai and I know the spend more time perfecting each and everyone. Believe it or not, Ramenya and Asahi will still be open for business the next day if you should decide not to eat there. Give Chabuya a shot, I think you’ll be satisfied. Thanks for reading.

Location: Look up Orris (Los Angeles). It's 2 doors down on Sawtelle/La Grange.

Eat Drink Style Sonoma: Off the Beaten Path

J and I headed up to San Francisco again to visit her brother. This was my third time up here this year and I love it more and more each time. We chose to fly instead of enduring the 4.5 hour drive. I've never flown to NorCal, so this was going to be a more relaxed trip. We arrived around 10 at night and grabbed a quick bite to eat. Tomorrow we would be going to Sonoma instead of Napa because we had heard that the region was perfect for making Pinots. I'm all for Pinot Noir because it is typically less tannic, fruity and smooth.

We started driving up the 101 into Sonoma's wine country around 9:30 am, accompanied with 4 other friends. The day started off extremely hazy and cold and we wondered if it was worth driving up there. Sonoma wineries are known for beautiful estates and Flickr-worthy scenery. After about an hour and a half, we arrived in Sonoma County.

We couldn't go wine tasting without a little padding and made reservations at a restaurant called El Dorado Kitchen. We settled on this place after three cancellations on reservations. We found out that the chefs of EDK worked under the tutelage of Thomas Keller. Okay, we are so there.

EDK is located in the Sonoma town square and neighbors the El Dorado hotel - a cozy, boutique hotel. We walked into the restaurant and were instantly transported to a West Elm catalog. (Page 82 of the Winter issue) Brown and white colors contrasted the dark colored wood furniture throughout the restaurant and made it a perfect place for Sunday brunch. Enough about ambiance, here's what we had:

Blueberry Muffin and Jam
I didn't have this but everyone loved it.

Biscuits & Gravy
Our friend had this said that it was too rich and salty. Minus all that, it was still a nice take on an American favorite.

French Toast
At last, we see a glimpse of Thomas Keller's influence. Beautiful, thick pieces of bread fried to a nice golden brown and topped with créme fraîche. Kind of wish I tasted some of this.

Eggs Benedict and Beef Bourguignonne Hash
Food envy kicked in once I took a bite of this. The eggs were beautifully poached and laced with a velvety hollandaise sauce. I thought the idea of using wine-braised beef in the hash was pure genius. This was awesome.

Fried Egg & Sopressata Salami Pizza
This was a case of misinterpretation. My eyes lit up when I saw this on the menu because (1) I love pizza and (2) I love eggs. I first saw this concept on a food special in Aspen. The chef of the ski resort made a pizza, and right before it was finished, cracked an egg on top of the pizza. It looked sick. When I got this, I was quite bummed. It was merely 2 things put together.. a pizza and 3 fried eggs. An interesting thing about this was the type of eggs used. I think they must have been from a special ranch or something because they were RICH and GOLDEN YELLOW like the eggs of Japan. I took a few bites of the fried eggs and had to set it aside. I just couldn't handle it.

Forest Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Truffle Oil Pizza
J ordered this and was turned off by how rich it was. The mushrooms and goat cheese served as nice toppings but the pizza was just drowned in truffle oil. It was sickening. I love truffle oil but only in moderation. Truffle oil is very high in demand and currently a hot trend. Chefs, for some reason think they can boost up the price of the dish if they add more truffle oil. It isn't THAT hard to find it in LA. Trader Joe's has a poor man's version for $10 and I think it works fine. Moderation! We tried to eat this a few hours later and still couldn't handle it haha.

Overall, the food is rich at EDK but still a great place to stop at before getting smashed bourgeois-style. If you eat here, I highly recommend sharing an entree with someone. Every one of us had doggy-bags by the end of the meal. I'm definitely coming back here again.

It was time to wine taste now. We ended up visiting four wineries in four hours. Last time we were in Napa, we stopped at seven wineries in 2.5 hours! It was fun winery-hopping, but this time, we wanted to take our time. Here's where we stopped at:

Sebastiani - very average wine. Although it's a Sonoma favorite, I didn't try anything that knocked my pants off.

Buena Vista - nice stuff. Smooth and enjoyable.

Gundlach Bundschu - wow, definitely my favorite. Unfortunately, at $36+ a bottle, we walked out of the winery with sad faces. = (

Cline - stellar wine at stellar prices. Wine ranged from $11-$30. This place was packed even an hour before closing and we really enjoyed it. The people were extremely friendly and didn't charge for tastings. Five for Free! I ended up buying 4 bottles of wine and parked it on the bench with our group. We drank 2 bottles and got really buzzed. At about 5 pm, we took off back into San Francisco. After all the rich wine and food, nothing sounded better than a fresh, cold cut of salmon, yellowtail and uni. We ended up at a very average sushi joint but didn't care because it was so refreshing to eat something light. If I were to choose between Napa and Sonoma, I'd pick Sonoma because the wineries are mainly family/privately owned. You don't see too many of the corporate big boys out there and there are definitely less tourists. Stay tuned for J's writeup on our San Francisco eats.

Thanks for reading.