Eat Drink Style Buu Dien, Chinatown - Keeping It (Bun) Rieu

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Chinatown, Los Angeles. A one square mile area that some call their weekly lunch spot or see as purely a wasteland of elderly people, junk shops and wandering tourists. For those that have ventured and tasted SGV, it is futile to search for better food in Chinatown. Understandably it’s a spot for people that don't want to make the drive out to the San Gabriel Valley, where the real food is. You won’t find lip-stinging Hunan food. You’ll never kiss a juicy pork dumpling. Nor will you slurp a solid bowl of beef noodle soup. It doesn’t exist in Chinatown because it’s not what the people want. You’ll most likely find all of your food drenched with sweet n’ sour sauce and receiving your bill with a fortune cookie on top. Sadly, a lot of people consider the food to be authentic “Chinese” food. If that was Chinese food, I’d rather go vegetarian. And what a lot of people don't know about Los Angeles’s Chinatown is that it's not really comprised of Chinese. In actuality, most of the Chinese food that you've eaten in Chinatown is Cantonese Chinese food, similar to Hong Kong-style Chinese food... but made for non-Chinese. Got it?

Of course the majority of the establishments are Chinese restaurants and various businesses, but it would be unfair if we did not recognize the efforts of the ethnic Chinese minorities that really do shape the character of Chinatown. But in the last decade, there has been an influx of Mainland Chinese, Chiu Chow Chinese, Cambodian Chinese and Vietnamese Chinese. A lot of them operating small noodle shops, jewelry stores and general eateries. You just read the word “Chinese” how many times in that last sentence, but there is a difference. And believe it or not, not all Asians look or eat the same. One thing in common with those ethnic minority groups are noodles. You probably won't find me in a joint like Empress Pavilion or one of those television-network Chinese restaurants like CBS/ABC. What the hell is that about anyway? I avoid those entirely. But you will find me in the noodle shops.

It's hard to find authenticity in Chinatown, I know because it seems like everything is offering the same food. But if you look really hard, you'll find some hidden gems. When it comes to noodles, the ethnic Chinese minorities reign the 1 square mile kingdom. Hong Kong wontons don’t exist here like you would think, not even in SGV. Places like New Kamara and Mien Nghia offer decent bowls of soup noodles for under $7, guaranteed to make your belly shiny. There are a few other Cambodian Chinese places that are so so, and you would surely find better stuff in Long Beach for sure.

For me, I think the Vietnamese options are on the light. Outside of Pho 87 on Broadway, I haven't found anything worth stopping for. All of the other pho restaurants I've been to are below the batting average. There is also Leena's truck, Nam Thai, on Spring/Alpine which offers a few Vietnamese staples such as banh mi, banh cuon and bun thit nuong, with the banh cuon being purchased from a factory daily. But her truck has been in operation since the lates 80s and runs independently from the Los Angeles food truck scene.

Amidst the salad bowl of ethnic cuisines, tourist traps and overpriced food, I’ve recently parted through the brush and bullshit and fell upon Buu Dien, an earnest, mom & pop, sandwich shop in a lonely stuccoed strip mall. Jonathan Gold recently heralded this place as one of the best banh mi shops in Los Angeles. And they are good. But he may or may not have overlooked something that I find to be quite delicious and what Buu Dien should be recognized for. I’ve been here a few times over the year to pick up sandwiches and one day I noticed a sheet of paper by the entrance: pho, chicken curry and bun rieu. For $4 each. Can’t be good, too cheap, right? You’ve had the first two, but may I suggest you meet bun rieu? A dish that consists of a crab and tomato broth with vermicelli noodles and various toppings. This originates from North Vietnam and can be topped with snails, tofu or even dill fishcakes, the way I had it when I was in Vietnam.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

So on a hazy morning, I walked in to Buu Dien. The lights were shut off and the room was illuminated solely by the blue overcast light from outside. There was an old TV blaring out headlines in Vietnamese and I could hear the quiet gurgling from the coffee maker nearby. A heated display case offered you its delicacies – cured pork balls, fried pork patties and banana-leaf wrapped goodies. Some signage on the wall colored in Vietnamese/French-like typography advertised the available drinks. A clock shaped into the country of Vietnam ticked away. There was another display case that stored various Vietnamese drinks, patés and Vietnamese meatloaf (cha lua). On top, there were packages of instant noodle bowls – I wondered who actually bought these. There were stools scattered around, like they had walked away from tables on their own. The tiles on the floor were slightly cracked and freshly mopped. All that was really missing were some red and blue plastic stools and napkins tossed all over the ground. This feels like Vietnam, and I already liked what was going on in here. This was your typical Vietnamese food establishment selling various culinary knick-knacks.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

And then an older man with glasses popped up from behind the counter and said hello. “Hi, how can I help you?” How about cooking me something delicious, I thought to myself. I ordered bun rieu and he smiled with surprise. There was another gentleman slurping down a bowl of bun rieu like he was in his happy little world. I took a seat and waited for my bun rieu.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Cha Chien/Hue
I sometimes think the Vietnamese can start their own fast-food like corporation by packing one of these patties in between some lettuce and bread, and sell it in some happy meal like form because this stuff is great. It's used in banh mi, in bun rieu and possibly as informal wedding dowry.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Nem Nuong
These are Vietnamese style meatballs that are cured and then either grilled or deep fried. Used mainly in sandwiches or eaten like a meatsicle.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Bun Rieu
My attention was averted when I heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Mr. Pham's slippers slid across that tiling, holding a tray full with everything I needed to get my meal on. There was the bowl of noodles gently breathing heat, a plate of lettuce, herbs and lemon and hot sauce. He placed everything on my tiny table and said "enjoy".

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

But before he could leave, I asked him about the missing component... shrimp paste (mam ruoc). He again looked at me like I was new to this delicious dish. I told him I can't eat it without my shrimp sauce. Most people have a love/hate relationship with this pungent, if that's even the right word, sauce made of ground fermented shrimp. Although we had the Lao version of this growing up, shrimp paste never failed in triggering a response in the form of a plugged nose, "eeeewwww" and a quick sprint for the hills. But I love it and have grown to love it the more I use it. Like it's good for my health. I cracked open the jar and it was almost done with. There was nothing but a plastic spoon cut off at the end to fit within the jar. I say you skip this part if you aren't ready to dip your own chopsticks or use the spoon provided to dig up that purple paste of pungency. But if you do, the addition of this sauce with some hot chili, lemon and herbs form yet another yin-yang relationship within Vietnamese food.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

There are many versions of bun rieu out there, the crab paste and snail ones being the most popular that I've seen. Here at Buu Dien, Mr. Pham's wife, Hen, does her with a huge piece of crab paste. Her mudball-like sculpture of crab, shrimp and pork is nothing short of delicious. As the crab paste sits in the soup, it soaks up the broth like a sponge – with every bite, more tasty and juicy than the other. I love this.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Don't eat this naked. You must eat it with bean sprouts, lettuce and herbs. Squeeze of lemon.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

I learned that Mrs. Pham indeed makes all of her meat delicacies. This cha chien was delicious. It's no wonder her banh mi sandwiches are tasty as well. You throw this into any Subway sandwich and you'll finally have some flavor in your food.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

If I had not stopped here for banh mi sandwiches, I would not have found this. Finally a break from my usual soup noodles at New Kamara. And for $4, this only makes the meal that more special. It wasn't the best I've eaten, but still very good. I love Vien Dong in Little Saigon, for its dill fish cake patties and snails in their bun rieu, but this to me feels more home-cooked and reminiscent of the many soup noodles I ate on a red stool in Vietnam. All that was missing was some balled-up napkins on the floor, the constant sounds of motorcycle motors and honking and the sweat-inducing humidity. Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Hello from Japan - My Yakitori Chicken Chart

Yakitori Chicken Chart

Hello from Japan! I haven't had time to upload the things we ate. It's been less than a day here in Tokyo and we've already eaten some amazing food including grilled ground chicken with torchoned cheese, flattened blocks of crispy gyoza and of course, orgasm-inducing Hakata-style ramen. Just wanted to share with you a very critical piece of food geekery. When in Japan, you're going to be eating the best yakitori ever, but how do you tell the waitress that you're more interested in trying chicken testicles than white breast meat? Or that you're ok without the chicken head mcnuggets? Feel free to use! More to come.

Eat Drink Style Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach Pier - Agedashi Tofu & the Japanese Fried Food Diet

IB Redondo Beach

Jeni and I have been eating more in the South Bay area since we started taking some classes over at Otis. She enrolled in a aluminum-foil-based class, Fashion with Foil, and I finally realized my dream in basketweaving, under water. All the blood, sweat, and tears from these extracurricular activities, as usual, leads to a loud, bellowing stomach that can only be shut up by savory food. So on this night, we found ourselves heading to the Redondo Beach pier to eat. Most people come here to taste the abundant offerings at places like Quality Seafood, an L-shaped market that is the modern age smorgasbord for Gods of the sea. You've got steamed dungeness crab, large conchs, about 36 types of oysters (30 which I've eaten in one sitting), shrimp, lobster, etc. While expensive, there's enough to leave any epicurean hot & bothered. And there's the highly-mentioned, Korean-owned Pacific Fish Center & Restaurant, with their admired crab soup. I've yet to try that. Thoughts on the soup?

When Jeni told me that we'd be eating at an izakaya at the Redondo Beach Pier, it took me a few seconds to register that – for it seemed a little non sequitur. Like finding a coupon for Osteria Mozza in the Penny Saver. Eating foie gras from a little ice cream store. And your first time seeing a Vietnamese pho restaurant in the middle of Koreatown. None of these make any sense.

For those too lazy to type up izakaya in wikipedia, I'll save you the trouble. Basically, it's a Japanese pub with all the shenanigans of drinking included. A place where sarariman, or in real English, "salary man" go to discuss charts and graphs over ice cold draft beer and savory skewered-meat and various small plates. Tough life! I remembered my trip to Osaka a few years back. We walked into a shopping center and found at least 3-4 izakayas that were packed to the brim. Almost all of the male clientele were still in their business suits chatting away. Keep in mind, that this was around 11:30 pm. These guys either got off just now or have been there since happy hour started.

But it's important to remember that the concept of an izakaya, with its mostly-male clientele and delicious food, really wouldn't exist if these had not been invented. Beer... and sake...

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

... two things that seem to be the common denominator for much of Japanese dining. I couldn't imagine eating sushi, yakitori and shabu shabu sans beer and sake. It's like driving a car with no wheels – you're ready for the ride, but you're not going anywhere.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

We walked into the tiny izakaya with no more than a 24 person capacity, and we were greeted by a smiley young chef that seemed to be the only employee in the restaurant. He walked out from the kitchen and quickly switched to server mode, passing out menus. He then walked back to the kitchen and proceeded to cook. I love double-duty people at restaurants – so hard-working. My friends and I once frequented this dive bar that deserved a shittier title than,
dive bar. The old, cigarette-wielding woman in the bar was not only making drinks and serving them. She was also the server and the chef. She probably had to clean up and close down the place too. Poor lady.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho is owned by Tomo Ueno from Tokyo. It used to be called Yakitori Bincho until the Health Taliban slapped Ueno's wrists for lack of ventilation. What a pity. Seems like one of the better places to get yakitori in LA is at Shin Sen Gumi. But not without walking away with bleeding ears. If you search for Yakitori Bincho on Yelp, you'll see that it is closed – so the review is completely useless because there is no more yakitori being offered. We were bummed to see on the menu, that there was really nothing skewered over hot charcoal. Oh, the pain...

But there was something else here in store for us that Jeni and the
Serial Ramen Killer had mentioned: the agedashi tofu, a dish that consists of fried potato starch-battered tofu cubes wading in a pool of soy sauce/mirin/dashi broth, topped with green onions and grated daikon.


Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Amuse Bouche from Tomo
Tomo started us out with a small Sanrio gift from the sea. A little package that included sliced octopus, pickles and seaweed.

Because there was an absence of yakitori, which is usually a major part of the izakaya experience, it seems Chef Tomo filled in the voids with quite a bit of fried appetizers. Usually I can only eat 2 types of fried dishes, as it gets too greasy, but I don't think we had much of an option besides ordering soups. So here begins the Japanese Fried Food Diet.


Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Potato Croquette (Korokke)
I like it when the sauce is nice and tangy. This was fried beautifully, but not really an appetizer I'm into. It reminds me of crabcakes – which I am quite sick of from my catering days.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Chicken Meatballs (Tsukune)
This is a popular yakitori dish – ground chicken mixed with soy sauce, mirin, ginger and green onions. Because Tomo is banned from grilling, he simply dunked these into the Fry-o-lator. And this is what emerges. Very good.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Chicken Wings
This was one of two highly recommended dishes by the chef. These were fried beautifully and glazed with the perfect amount of sauce. Nice job! Reminds of tasty Korean fried chicken.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Deep Fried Chicken Thigh
Hey, that rhymes. +10 points. This was the other dish Chef Tomo highly recommended. As you can see, it is fried beautifully and served upon a 'salad', which makes it look less unhealthy. I really enjoyed the flavoring and tenderness of this but I wish it wasn't fried as long. Good nonetheless.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Sea Spiders (Soft-Shell Crab)
What's not to like about Soft-Shell crabs, the ocean's most sensitive/tender/wimpy insects. If they stopped writing sappy poems, laid off the RomComs and Cheesy & Sleazy compilations, they'd increase their testosterone levels. These weren't bad.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Tofu Cubes in Dashi Broth (Agedashi Tofu)
I have to admit that when I saw Chef Tomo take out the same brand of tofu I buy at the market, I didn't think it would taste too good. For some reason, I always think great chefs out there make their own haha. But when Chef Tomo served us the tofu, I knew I was wrong. The cubes were fried beautifully. It had a crisp texture, yet it was plump and bouncey once I pressed it with my chopsticks. The glistening broth had a delicate aroma of grated daikon and dashi. I watched Tomo, just before serving, boil the broth in a small pot – bringing it to a rigorous boil. I can't tell you how many times I've eaten 'flat' dashi at room temperature. It's terrible. This wasn't.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

We halved the tofu cubes with our chopsticks and watched as the starchy batter slowly ripped apart – in my opinion, a sign of nicely textured stuff. And man, this was so good. Every bite, piping hot with gooey, toothsome flavor. Outside of Japan, this is my favorite agedashi tofu.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Next time you're at the Redondo Beach pier and DON'T feel like dropping $40 for a dungeness crab served merely with butter and lemon, say hi to this kind gentleman. I give him respect for continuing to offer tasty
izakaya dishes even when the yakitori menu was stripped from him. Along with Asa Ramen and Ramen California, Yakitori Bincho is a nice addition to a South Bay Japanese-food crawl. Thanks to Tomo for facking derishus agedashi tofu and to you for reading.

Izakaya Bincho
112 N. International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
(310) 376-3887

Eat Drink Style Ramen Jinya, Studio City - A Tasty Bowl of Lost in Translation

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

If you remember the opening scene of Lost in Translation, you can see a red-eyed, groggy Bill Murray wake up in a cab. The amazing array of Japanese characters in neon light form reflecting off the windows of the cab. Cut after cut of city life and a blank stare provide us with the confusion Bill experiences. For the whole movie, everything he was accustomed to, interactions, mannerisms and customs were either flipped upside down or thrown out the door. And it was the same way I felt when I had first arrived in Japan. It was already the evening when we landed in Narita International. From there, we cabbed it into the city and it was just like the scenes in Lost in Translation. Lights - of every possible hue. Signage - working every single one of your sensory glands. Black-haired people - walking around aimlessly. All of this happening within a tightly packed concrete jungle. This was the system known as Tokyo.

Being tourists in Tokyo was a challenge. Everything was written in Japanese and no one spoke English. If there was English signage, it probably didn't make any sense. Try finding directions in the metro station and you'll be sure to spend more time than you need there. You may know that more comically as Engrish. If it were not for one of our friends that spoke minimal Japanese or the Chinese characters in Japanese (kanji) we might as well have just followed a tour book. But when it comes to eating, I never found it difficult to find good food. There are photos and drawings everywhere. Their posted outside businesses, all over the window and even have employees running up to you to reel you in. There's also the wonderful art of plastic food modeling in Japan known as shokuhin sanpuru which is more often than not, a clear indication of what you'll be eating. In Tokyo, after a long night of you know what, I found myself completely fueled by sake and Sapporo, running by a restaurant with the food models sitting on a table, not enclosed in a case, and awarding myself with a plate of plastic tonkatsu for a souvenir. Oops. To that restaurant in Tokyo, sorry, I still have it if you want it back. Read more about Japanese food modeling here.

In Japan, the worst food there is probably better than any Japanese food you'll eat in your neighborhood. It's true, the standards are so high there for a culture that drools over small details. It was because of the simple enticement by large food photos and high standards that we were able to eat solid ramen at every ramen shop. And I loved that. You didn't have to log on to a food forum, Yelp or a tour book to find good food, it was really the food that found you. I can still remember the last bowl I ate in Tokyo. It wasn't a very busy shop and it was the kind of restaurant that you ordered the food from a machine, which then printed the orders in the kitchen. In less than 10 minutes, a server brought your piping bowl of whatever ramen – it was divine. We were indeed lost in translation, but frolicking in the joy and art of Japanese soup noodles.

This was 2006, and since then, I've only found a few places in Los Angeles and New York that were worth considering, "solid ramen". I do like Santouka from time to time, but I feel guilty eating such a rich broth. I like Asa Ramen for its fatback toppings, but that too can be much. Ippudo Ramen and Ramen Setagaya in New York are super tasty, but I don't live in New York! But good news comes to me when I get an instant message from the Rameniac, and usually it sounds like this:

"Hey, I found a new ramen joint that opened up."

This time, I'm brought to Studio City, a satellite of Japanese food culture in Los Angeles. During the 80s, a lot of sushi shops were popping up for the wealthy movie industry folks and even now, Ventura Blvd. is peppered with here and there Japanese joints. Ramen Jinya is located in another one of the millions of Valley strip malls next to good old Marshalls. One look from the outside and you wouldn't think much, but with an ex-Santouka ramen chef leading the charge and backing from Takahashi Tomonori, a successful restaurateur that operates 7+ establishments under his La Brea Dining brand, I think I've found myself a piping-hot, bowl of Lost in Translation.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Like California Ramen in Torrance, Chef Daisuke Ueda ("Daice") offers a Californian twist to the menu with fresh salads that include corn, broccoli and potatoes. But that's the least of our interests - we want to get into the meat of everything!

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Gyoza
For $12.50, Ramen Jinya offers a happy meal consisting of a small salad, appetizer of choice (gyoza, fried chicken karaage, etc.) and the ramen of your choice. The skins were very thin on these and as you can tell fried beautifully. I love when you get that caramelized sauce "webbing" on the bottom of gyoza. The sauce was a soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and chili oil mix. I think they may have been over-steamed because the gyoza wrapper was slightly soggy. Gyoza has to be served and eaten right away.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Fried Chicken (Karaage)
This is one of my most favorite things to order at any izakaya. These were beautifully fried and marinated well. I hate when karaage has too much batter or the chicken is too dry. This is strictly a dark meat dish. If you're in Little Tokyo, try out Chin Ma Ya's karaage... it's probably one of my favorites in Los Angeles. This was served with ponzu sauce.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Fried Garlic & Bonito Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen
With a name that long, it should be a solid dish. This was the special at the time of the grand opening and what Rickmond was telling me about all day long. To be exact, these our his exact words:

"What I did order on my initial visit was simply the special of the day, a delightfully authentic and hitherto rare-outside-of-Japan take on Tokyo gyoukai ramen, with a dashi and gyofun fish powder-infused shoyu tonkotsu soup and a topping of marinated and grilled bonito and garlic flakes."

He had me at "garlic flakes". I honestly felt "Tokyo" when I saw that bowl. Moist rolled-up chashu, golden noodles, scallions, an aromatic brown broth with a ladle so large that it could be used as a shoehorn. If you're shopping for some shoes at Marshall's next door, I'm sure Daice won't mind if you borrow the ladles.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

I first tried the broth and it was super tasty. I could taste the nice bitterness from fried garlic with the soy sauce and subtle bonito-flavored broth. The noodles were nice but I would have preferred them even more al-dente. And the, the chashu, mmm... nice and melty. The egg although was a bit too mushy. I was hoping for molten lava yolk action.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Jinya's Chicken Ramen
My favorite wife ordered the namesake house special. I was surprised that Chef Daice would select the chicken ramen as the captain of the ship. I didn't think much of this until I took a sip of that broth. Beautiful. It was so homey and reminded me of a delicious version of Campbell's chicken noodle soup minus the sodium. Chef Daice boils chicken bones for 8 hours... just long enough to add a subtle stickiness to the broth much like tonkotsu broth. I could taste some ginger and garlic in the broth.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

This was served with two chicken meatballs (tsukune) that had a decent amount of wood-ear mushrooms and a super moist piece of chicken breast. I would order this next time I go, it's seriously tasty.
Ramen Jinya, Studio City

That shoehorn is no joke. It makes Ippudo Ramen's spoons like miniscule.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Garlic Injection
If you're a garlic head, then Chef Daice will let you inject as much fresh garlic as you want into your bowl of ramen for a nice spice kick.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Our friend JK, another satisfied slurping customer.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Ramen Jinya has only been open for a week and I have a feeling it will do pretty well. Although out of the way, you'll be glad to know there's a Marshall's next door - two birds with one stone. Admit it, we all shopped there many times in our lives. On top of the quality of the food, both Chef Daice and Takahashi Tomonori are more than welcoming and friendly. This just may be your closest taste of Tokyo without enduring the 12 hour flight, jet lag, sensory overload and confusion. By the way, we'll be running up and down Japan next week for food! Thanks for reading and of course to Rameniac for fulfilling our ramen cravings.

Ramen Jinya
11239 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 980-3977
www.jinya-la.com/ramen

Eat Drink Style WonderTune Japan + Korea - 2010 Summer Mix!

Summer is here along with that nasty cake of humidity and heat we have to cope with for most of the day. But if you're lighting up the grill and cracking open beers, you'll find yourself less distracted by the weather. Or at least, throw midnight BBQs like us. Here's the latest WonderTune mix for the summer. And by the way, we're very excited for our upcoming trip to Japan and Korea... ramen and kimchi overload is about to happen.

The Summer Mix features dancey-pants songs from Breakbot, Caribou, Chromeo, Delorean, Grum, Aeroplane, Hot Chip, Javelin, Sia, Yacht and Yuksek and guarantees body-moving. Thanks for reading.

Download from Zshare
Download from Mediafire

Eat Drink Style Nutella Fingerchips

This reminds me of what I used to do with those fabulous Bugle chips. Remember those? Anyway, I'd imagine that this genius idea would set off a new trend amongst bakeries/dessert shops. Macaroon fingerchips from Jin Patisserie?

Eat Drink Style Portland, Oregon - A Humble Point on the Culinary Map - PSU Farmers Market, Bunk Sandwiches, Pinestate Biscuits, Pok Pok, Tanuki & Ten 01

Portland, Oregon

Saturday morning, I woke up with a complete food hangover from yesterday.  For those that have never participated in a food hop or food marathon, it is quite a caloric feat.  It's what a foodie would do given a short amount of time in a new destination.  We had only been  in Portland for less than 24 hours and probably did 2-3 days worth of eating/drinking – yet it was the only beginning.  We got up and Jeni immediately blurted out, "Stumptown Coffee" with a Tourette-like excitement.  Again, as we waited in the elevator to slowly take us down to coffee heaven, I saw this sign again.

Ace Hotel Stairs

I thought about all the food we ate and we had to do something about it.  We had recently purchased some bikes and took them with us to Los Olivos.  The next best thing we could do in the U.S.'s most bike-friendly city is to go rent one.  That way, we wouldn't feel so bad about inflating ourselves with delicious food for the remaining three days we had here in PDX.  

Portland, Oregon

We found a bike shop near the Burnside Bridge, which takes you over to the North East and South East side of Portland. It wasn't cheap but a lot more fun than riding a cab.

Portland, Oregon

After grabbing some coffee, we took Ron's advice on visiting the Saturday farmer's market held at Portland State University.  And I'm glad we did.  The trek from the Ace Hotel to the farmer's market took 15-20 minutes, but went by quickly with the site of super green trees and cool weather.   For a minute we didn't know if we had passed the market but the sound of street musicians and indistinct chatter suggested otherwise.

Portland, Oregon

The farmer's market was filled with vendors selling the usual stuff and things I really wished we had down in Los Angeles.  Like...

Portland State University Farmers Market, Portland

This gentleman representing the pickle company, Picklopolis.  They offered interesting stuff like pickled fiddleheads, ramps and beets.  Love the white suit.

Portland State University Farmers Market, Portland

And here was this young man selling eggs.  Freshly laid eggs from his chicken farm about 45 mins outside of Portland.   He was stoked to show us photos of his chickens/roosters in his album.  Jeni really loved his hillbilly-suspender look.  

Portland State University Farmers Market, Portland

Portland State University Farmers Market, Portland

Besides the usual farmer's market fare, there are quite a few hot food vendors serving breakfast, Mexican food and sandwiches. By far, the booth drawing the most attention was Pinestate Biscuits.  Ron did not warn us on what we were about to experience.  Jeni waited at the back of the line as I walked down the line towards the booth to investigate.  I walked up to this guy and just watched in sheer disbelief.  

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

In one hand, he held a plate with a fried chicken on a biscuit.  He then placed two pieces of bacon and a slice of cheddar cheese on top of the fried chicken.   Wait, I'm not done.  He then tops everything with a big sloppy spoonful of sausage gravy.  And finally, placing the other biscuit on top.  He saw me shooting photos and smiled for me – knowing how unhealthy and decadent this creation was.  It was almost like having a meal served to you by the Devil.  Topped with butter, cheese, fat – all things that are delightfully bad for you.  I was waiting for him to ask me if I wanted this super-sized.

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

It was time for the Devil to take our order and we went for the Gold Medal trophy of fatty food. We got the works which also included a fried egg!

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

And here it is, the Pinestate Biscuit with the works.  Look at the stopping power.  Even the people at McDonald's are running for the hills.  If you want a diet version, you can just have the fried chicken topped with gravy and cheese. 
 
Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

Now it was time to taste it.  With something as big as this you really don't know where to start.  I gripped the beast with two hands, and gravy started to drip all over my plate.  Nice.  Where was a bib when I actually needed one?  Jeni and I looked at each other with the "what are we doing?" look.  I even saw another couple staring at me in bewilderment – getting ready to eat the biscuit vicariously.   At that moment, my name wasn't Dylan anymore.  It was Gus, the tow truck driver wearing a blue collared shirt and navy blue Dickies with full butt-crack showing. Tow truck drivers don't eat tofu crepes with strawberry parfait for lunch.  They eat food with bold flavors and size.  With my hairy arms and blackened finger nails from car grease, I picked up that thing like it was my bitch and bit into it – my protective eyelids rolling up like a Great White shark's.  

Pinestate Biscuits, Portland

And it was... seriously tasty.  It didn't seem to make sense at first but when put together it was a delicious ode to what every Maxim-reading, college boy enjoyed eating.  There was something grisly and barbaric about it; it was in fact, a man's meal.  There was no herbal garnish to 'fancy' it up or a nice plate for presentation points.  It was exactly what it was... a biscuitsandwichwithfriedchickenfriedeggcheddarcheesewithsausagegravy.  I don't know when I would eat this again but it's one of those things that you can definitely say you've eaten.  The guys at Pinestate Biscuits have seriously found an area right between pain and pleasure and slapped it in between two delicious biscuits.   Note: can easily feed a small village in China or one hungry tow truck driver.

Portland, Oregon

It was a good thing that Jeni and I shared that beastly biscuit, and rode our bikes to work that off.  We cut through the suburban area and admired the beautiful houses on the tree-lined streets.  We didn't bring any water with us but thanks to a kind young man named Riley, we were rejuvenated for a mere 50 cents.  Notice how Riley has a hesitant look on his face.  I think we were the first Asian people he's laid eyes on haha.  Riley, I can assure you we are nice people – now give me that lemonade.

Portland, Oregon

Again, I know it may seem ridiculous to readers on here, just how much we eat.  You see, most people on vacation will engage in activities like shopping, site-seeing and amusement parks.  We don't do any of that.  We simply eat and drink all throughout town.  After an hour of riding, the consensus (based on two voters) was that we needed to eat some more food.  Ron, where do we go?  

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

We rode our bikes down to a quaint Southeast sandwich shop called Bunk Sandwiches.  According to Ron, sandwich shops are creeping on the town of Portland in a good way.  In addition to Kenny & Zuke's, which is right next door to the Ace, Bunk Sandwiches draws a steady crowd during the 6 hours it is open.  I remembered Bunk Sandwiches being mentioned in a magazine for its creative creations, such as the pork belly banh mi, but it wasn't on the menu the time we were here.  "Get the pork belly and pulled pork," says the Ron located within my head.  

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

Sandwiches are served with Dirty Potato Chips and Picklopolis pickles on a clean sheet of paper.  All for only $8.  NO TAX.

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

By far the best pork belly sandwich I've eaten.  The cuts of pork belly were so damn moist and tender.  The small amount of crisp lettuce and aioli really made this a perfect sandwich.  To wash this down, may I suggest a "bunkmosa" for the extremely hip, skinny-jean wearing hipsters?  An innocent cocktail made of Miller High Life and orange juice.  

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

The pulled pork sandwich was served with a type of slaw on a poppy seed roll.  Good, but I enjoyed the pork belly more.

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

Bunk Sandwiches, Portland

Chef Tommy Habetz is pictured in the lower corner and is super cool.  On my next trip here, I'll definitely be stopping by to see what other creations he has in store.

Portland, Oregon

During the millions of emails sent by Ron and Kevin of Guilty Carnivore, we had thrown in the idea of possibly seeing a show.  M83 sounds great, but we really didn't know how full/tired we'd be.  We continued riding throughout the suburbs to kill time.  We were about to meet Ron for the first time in two hours for a snack, followed by a formal dinner with some more foodies.

Portland, Oregon  

Guess we'll eat again.  Unfortunately, this popular food cart called Potato Champion wasn't open.  They serve french fries and a Canadian treat called poutine, which entails the dumping of gravy and cheese curds on top of your fries.  I think I've had enough gravy-as-a-topping for a few years.  Sorry Potato Champion.

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

We rode around longer to kill time and came across my favorite barber shop, Rudy's.  Jeni and I looked at each other and simultaneously yelled, "haircut!"  In addition to riding bikes/scooters on vacation, we like getting our hair cut by whoever because each city has its own hairstlye.  I was convinced that I would be getting a 'normal' haircut compared to barbers I've had in Taiwan, Guilin and Buenos Aires. Heck, Rudy's is only FROM the Pacific Northwest so I'm in good hands.

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

We decided to meet up with Ron and his friend at Pok Pok, a popular Thai restaurant.  But why eat Thai in Portland when we have Thai Town in Los Angeles?  It wasn't until I saw Pok Pok featured in the May '09 issue of Food & Wine that I became interested in eating here.  And to top it off, Pok Pok is run by an American by the name of Chef Andy Ricker, who goes to Thailand 2-3 times a year to learn/acquire recipes to bring back to PDX.  To me, that sort of effort deserves a fair review.

Pok Pok, Portland

We were surprised to see that Pok Pok was really not a restaurant, but more so, a house with outdoor/patio seating.  It was 5 pm, the time of opening, and there were already a good 25 people waiting outside (im)patiently.  The rest of the house had already been filled up – crazy.  And the next door take-out order area, known as Pok Pok Whiskey Soda Lounge, was packed with PDXers.  
Pok Pok, Portland
There was something really cool about eating Thai food in a cabin-like house.  I could smell chicken being roasted on a special type of grill that Chef Ricker could only have devised through the influence of visits to Thailand street vendors.  It was so dainty, yet functional like any one of McGuyver's gadgets.  The foil above the grill gave me a feel of being along the street in some Asian country.   Yet we were brought back to Portland reality with the mostly-male waiters wearing baby blue t-shirts and various arm tattoos.  

Pok Pok, Portland

Pok Pok, Portland

Pok Pok, Portland

There's peace of mind when you can trust the host to order delicious food for you and not have to look at the menu once.  Ron highly recommended the Fish Sauce-flavored Chicken Wings.  And they were super tasty – spicy, good amount of fish sauce and a nice crisp skin.  I could have easily eaten a dozen of these with ice cold Thai beer.

Pok Pok, Portland

Pok Pok, Portland

I didn't catch the name of this dish but it involved a duck egg, warm noodles and herbs in a coconut milk broth.  I was expecting a sour/sharp taste to the soup but was mildly reminded of the some of the delicate, well-balanced dishes I had tried at Los Angeles's Jitlada restaurant.  Most mediocre Thai restaurants will offer dishes on extreme ends.  Your food is either really strong on fish sauce, sour, spicy or sweet.  Compromising taste to appeal to newer, less-adventurous diners only leads to bastardization.  I can't remember the last time my parents ordered Sweet & Sour chicken or egg rolls in starchy red sauce.  Anyway, all I could remember about Chef Ricker's food was how well balanced his tastes were.  Not to mention the fact that his menu highlighted regional dishes I had never even heard of, more so than common dishes like Pad Thai or Tom Yum Soup.  I have never been to Thailand but I got a good feeling when tasted the food here at Pok Pok.  

Pok Pok, Portland

Pok Pok, Portland

We were in a hurry to meet for the formal dinner and only got to try three different things.  I was quite bummed but this only makes Pok Pok an even bigger priority on my next trip.  I highly recommend this place if you have the sudden urge to eat something non-Portlandish.  Everyone we had talked to in Portland asked where we were going to eat, and we would tell them Pok Pok.  We would get a nice, "Ah!" response.  Apparently, a very good thing.

Note: Chef Ricker also has a skewer joint called Ping in the Northwest side of town.  

We rode our bikes back towards the Northwast area, near the Pearl District, and Ron and a group of foodies for an izakaya meal at Tanuki.  We walked into a small room lit with red lights and a TV playing some strange Japanese drama.  Here we met Kevin of Guilty Carnivore, a wonderful couple that really enjoyed food as well and Nick, who joined us earlier at Pok Pok.  

Before we could even start ordering food, we were poured sake as part of a welcome toast.  

Tanuki, Portland

Tanuki, Portland

Again we let Ron, Kevin, Matt and Nick do the ordering.  Tanuki is considered an izakaya for its smallish plates.  But not everything was Japanese.  There were hints of Chinese, Thai, Korean and even Pacific Islanderish in some of the dishes we ordered.  All were done really well.  

Tanuki, Portland

Tanuki, Portland
My favorites were the skewered duck hearts, skewered bay scallops, ahi tuna, fried egg udon and braised pork with fresh mango over rice.

Like Ricker's Pok Pok, I was very surprised to see that the food was prepared by this young lady – Chef Janis Martin.  According to Ron, she studied in Japan (I believe Okinawa) for quite a few years, before coming back to Portland to run Tanuki.

Tanuki, Portland

Now it was time for dessert in a cocktail glass.  The night before, we had awesome cocktails at Clyde Common.  None were priced more than $8.  But here at Ten 01, drinks are up to $10 and with good reason – it's purportedly one of Portland's best cocktail lounges.  Ron mentioned that the owner sent all the stellar bartenders down to Tennessee for a lesson in Whiskey.  Don't pull my arm, boss.  

Ten 01, Portland

Ten 01, Portland

And this concludes another exhausting yet wonderful day of eating and drinking.  Again, tomorrow will be a groundhog day for my wife and I.  Again, we looked at the elevator sign, but smiled at each other.  Hey, at least we rode off a ton of calories today.  Thanks for reading.  


Portland State University Farmer's Market
Saturdays,  8:30 am - 2:00 pm
www.portlandfarmersmarket.org

Pinestate Biscuits 
(at PSU Farmer's Market)

Pinestate Biscuits (Restaurant Location)
3640 SE Belmont Street
Portland, OR  97214
(503) 236-3346
www.pinestatebiscuits.com

Bunk Sandwiches
621 SE Morrison Street
Portland, OR  97214
(503) 477-9515
www.bunksandwiches.com

Pok Pok
3226 SE Division Street
Portland, OR  97255
(503) 232-1387
www.pokpokpdx.com

Tanuki
413 NW 21st Street
Portland, OR  97209
(503) 241-7667
www.tanukipdx.com

Ten01
1001 NW Couch Street
Portland, OR  97209
(503) 226-3463
www.ten-01.com