Eat Drink Style Han Bat Shul Lung Tang, Koreatown 한 바 설 렁 탕 - Hangover Special Please

Han Bat Sul Lung Tang Koreatown

6:13 am.

I open my eyes to a hazy foreground. There's barely any light coming in through the windows yet I find it hard to even open my eyes. They feel like they've been sewn shut. I swallow the saliva in my mouth and feel the droplets slowly trickling down no faster than a snail's crawl. My mouth and throat are completely dry as a desert, probably from sleeping with my mouth open. I'm laying on the right side of my face, body sprawled over my bed. My leg's hanging off the bed and I can feel absolutely no blood circulating there. Oh my head. It feels like it's in a woodshop vise cranked all the way. The back of my eyeballs are throbbing with a slight jolt of pain. I can feel the pressure in my kidneys, signaling me to go to the bathroom. But I refuse to. I know what's going to happen if I get up. All the blood is going to tilt inside my head once I stand up, causing me to feel even more nauseous. It's now 7 am and my alarm goes off loudly. I purposely set my alarm to bad music so that I am FORCED to get up and turn it off. But this day, it couldn't be more painful with my hangover and horrible sound of Black Eyed Pea's "My Humps". If I had a gun, I would shoot my alarm clock a million times. I groan in major dis-satisfaction and shut up Fergie. Might as well go to the bathroom too. I stand up with the aid of my bed and feel the blood trickling to the right places, nearly falling. Oh god. I come back and fall back onto the bed. I miraculously find a cup of old water by my bed and kill it. This is terrible. The thought of going to work in the next few hours does not please me. As I lay there motionless in deep regret over last night's debauchery, there are only two words that come to mind:

Han Bat.

Han Bat (한 밭 설 렁 탕) is a Koreatown restaurant that specializes in ONE thing: sul lung tang. (I know the korean character for 'bat' is incorrect. Stupid computer won't do the character I want!) Sul lun tang is a soup made from boiling various beef bones, primarily oxtail, over a period of 12-15 hours. The result of the low-and-slow cooking method is a milky white broth caused by the collagen and marrow in the bones. Tonkotsu ramen is made through the same process, but with pork bones instead. There are only 4 meal categories in a day: breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. For me, I've added a 5th meal – this is best eaten after drinking. Nothing is more pleasing than a bowl of soup for me because I'm taking care of two things at once: thirst and hunger.

I walk in at 7:45 am and see a few tables occupied. I've been here about 8 times already and have figured out the clientele. There are usually two types of people that come in here. You've got the older Korean men and women (ah-je-shee and ah-je-ma) getting their breakfast on while reading the morning newspaper. And then you've got the 21-32 year old guys and girls with bags under their eyes, or bed-head, slurping the soup quite rapidly. At this time in the morning, they are more than likely... hungover. Like me.

Han Bat (한 밭) should actually change it's name to Han Go Pa (한 고 바) because of its remedial significance in quelling hangovers. Koreans will get that haha.

Han Bat

This is what Han Bat might look like when you're drunk or hungover. No time to admire the hole-in-the-wall decor. Just eat the food.

Han Bat

This is what Han Bat looks like after you've had their soup. All of a sudden, today is a brand new day.

Han Bat Sul Lung Tang

Han Bat's Hangover Soup: Sul Lung Tang
At Han Bat, they keep things really simple. You only have two options. Either you order the beef bone soup ($8.32 + tax) or you order the boiled beef that comes with wasabi ($16.63 + tax). The SLT comes in a mini black cauldron and is unsalted. You can smell the wafts of beefiness in the steam – reeling your drunk ass in. The broth has a subtle buttery-thickness to it. Some places will add tons of beef flavored stock (dashida) to enhance the real taste of beef bones. For your SLT, you can choose these types of toppings:

-mixed 석 음
-brisket 살 코 기
-flank 양 지
-intestine, tripe and spleen 내 장
-tongue 우 설

I always get the brisket and flank, which is similar to the beef cuts used in pho – my favorite. Rameniac has ordered the spleen before and decided to stick with non-spleen items. I love this soup!

Han Bat Toppings

Han Bat brings out the chef in you and lets you customize your SLT with korean salt (similar in texture to kosher, but slightly clumped up), black pepper and freshly-made chili paste. Along with the seasonings, comes the best topping in the world: the tub o' scallions which the server plops on the table. And a bowl of scalding hot rice packed into aluminum bowls.

Han Bat Sul Lung Tang

Normal people do one scoop. I take it to the next level and add 5 monster scoops. I've caught the server looking at me once. She asked me, "You like???" I said, "Nehhhhhh..."

Han Bat Kimchi

Han Bat Kimchi
I love their kimchi. This is the pasty, thick kind that doesn't have that acidic/carbonated bite which is usually associated with pre-bottled stuff. The server sets this on the table and asks if you want it cut. *Bam* Out comes the trusty old Korean-restaurant gadget: scissors. *Snip *Snip *Snip: on your mark, get set, kim chi!

Han Bat Radish

I can't describe the goodness of Han Bat's SLT. It is such a simple dish that does wonders for those that are sober or drunk. For a total of $11 (tip included), I get a piping hot bowl of beef bone soup, 2 side dishes, rice, the tub o' scallions and a very happy body. Han Bat accepts cash only and is open from 7am - 10 pm everyday. Valet parking available behind the building.

How do YOU quell your hangover?

Han Bat Shul Lung Tang (한 밭)
4163 W. 5th St (and Western)
Los Angeles, CA 90020 (213) 388-9499

And for those that find themselves hungover in NYC... I recommend Gahm Mi Oak. Solid.

Eat Drink Style Jones Soda Company - The Thanksgiving Holiday Pack

The only thing I like about the thanksgiving dinner meal itself, is the gravy. My plate looks like the Brown Sea once I get my hands on that greasy ladel. I literally drink it. Because of my current look (refer to profile photo), I've got to slow down. Thanks to the Jones Soda Company, a brand known for quenching our thirsts with unique flavors has furthered its reputation. Introducing: the Holiday Pack.

- Turkey & Gravy Soda
- Sweet Potatoes Soda
- Dinner Roll Soda
- Pea Soda
- Antacid Soda

I'll probably by some this week and come back with a report.

Eat Drink Style Viet Soy Cafe, Silver Lake - Hot Soy on the Platter

Viet Soy Cafe Silver Lake

Moving over to the East Side of Los Angeles has been a pleasant experience so far. Besides being closer to J, there were Asian markets that I could shop at and a variety of places to eat at. Korea town is to the South, Thai Town to the North and Chinatown/Little Tokyo to the East. And not to mention the cozy, down-to-earth places in the Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area. The Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area offers a lot of vegetarian and vegan options for those that are health-conscious. If you don't have the word 'organic' on your menu at least 5 times, you'll get less customers. Though being a health-conscious eater usually does not apply to me, I'll occasionally eat something healthful. Good food is still good food to me, whether it's wrapped in bacon or wrapped in a kale leaf. J has been on a health binge, so it's been hard finding a place that would satisfy us both. But sometimes you'll find a gem in the nooks and crannies of any city. May I introduce to you, Viet Soy Cafe.

After four failed attempts in going here for a meal, we were finally met with an open door. Viet Soy Cafe, named after the owner Viet Tran, is quietly tucked in between a residential area on Hyperion Avenue. I call this the Highway-perion or Die-perion, because of the cars that go by at 55-60 mph. Be careful, many people have died on this street unfortunately. On a happier note, you're in for a light lunch if you don't get runned over.

J and I walked into the cafe, a quaint little space with 6 or 7 counter top seats, one small 2-top and 2 outdoor tables. Viet Tran greeted us warmly and pointed to the counter. Behind the counter is a large fridge, and to the back is the kitchen with 1 cook and 1 dishwasher. You can see all of this happening because the space is SUPER small. But nonetheless, a feeling of coziness that you get at a lot of restaurants in the Silver Lake area.

Viet Soy Cafe Window

We checked out the photo-copied menus, making sure to order the recommended dishes from Yelp reviews and Bon Vivant's posting. It was 10:30 am, and we couldn't be more excited about a healthy soy breakfast.

Viet Soy Cafe Soy Milk

Fresh Organic Soy Milk with Black Sesame
I love all soy milk. The super-thick, velvety soy from Silk. The boxed Soy milk from Hong Kong, Vitasoy, that kids never wanted to trade for during my time in grade school. The hot bowl of Soy milk that the Taiwanese have for breakfast. I love it all. At Viet Soy Cafe, you can get your soy milk with flavors: black sesame, cinnamon, mint or yerba mate (grassy, green tea-like taste). The black sesame seeds are toasted and ground probably with a mortar & pestle, and then lightly sprinkled into the cool, soy liquid. The soy was very fresh and subtle in sweetness, with slight undertones of sesame. If you like yours more sweet, I'm sure you can ask for sugar. I liked it the way it was served. You can take home a quart for $5.00 with a $1.00 bottle deposit.

Besides the ubiquitous vietnamese-style coffee with condensed milk, VSC offers a version made with soymilk - looks tasty!

Viet Soy Cafe Soy Nuggets

Soy Nuggets
Everytime I shop at the Chinese market, I have to make a stop at the soy products. From the five-spiced tofu to the fried soy squares, you can make endless stir fry dishes with these as a substitution for meat. According to Viet, the soy used for this dish is different from that of the milk. When ground together and mixed in with carrots, green onions and seasonings, the result is a nice 'nugget' of goodness. Some may find it necessary to have a dipping sauce, but again, I like it simple without any accoutrements. I could have eaten another order because they were just fried perfectly, almost tasting like chicken. 6 pcs. for $3.00

Viet Soy Cafe Jicama Rolls

Jicama Rolls
Jicama, a type of turnip, is used a lot in Vietnamese cuisine. If you've had cha gio before, you've tasted it. These spring rolls are made with sliced soy cubes, julienned jicama, mint, fried shallots and served with a hoisin/peanut butter dipping sauce. The rolls are light and easy to gobble up in 2 bites. I love ANYTHING with fried shallots in it. J really liked these because they're healthy. 5 rolls for $5.00

Viet Soy Cafe Chicken Banh Mi

Lemongrass Chicken 'Banh Mi' Sandwich
VSC offers three types of sandwiches: shitake & tofu, green onion sardine and lemongrass chicken. The lemongrass chicken was made with an orange aioli, probably mayonnaise and a little Sriracha mixed together. 8" sandwich for $5.00

Viet Soy Cafe Fish Noodles

Dill & Turmeric Fish Noodles (Bun Ca Thi La)
Like Mexican restaurants that serve their weekend menudo, Viet has his fish noodles on Sundays only. I'm more than glad he recommended this, because 3 hours after lunch, I almost drove back to Die-perion Avenue and risk my life running outside of my parked car to eat this again. The portion was small and I think he did this to strategically drive me crazy. I loved this dish. Viet said this is a Hanoi-style dish, and Hanoi food in general, has a much lighter taste than its Southern counterpart. The fish was sauteed in a pan and mixed with turmeric, dill, fish sauce, sugar and soy milk, served over bu'n noodles (rice noodles). And of course, a nice sprinkle of freshly fried shallots. I've never had this before so I have nothing to compare it to, but I will surely order this again. This Sunday. $7.00

Viet Soy Cafe Fish Noodles

The reviews and the overheard discussions on VSC did not disappoint me. While I'm curious as to how it would do in areas like San Gabriel Valley and Westminster, even Hanoi, you have to appreciate it for what it is. It's a cozy, quaint, tasty, health-conscious addition to the Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area with a nice, hard-working owner. A lot of people are vegetarian/vegan in this area and VSC is exactly the type of place they want. Even for a carnivore like me. This beats a coma-inducing meal at my other breakfast joint, Eat Well. If I were to open a restaurant, I would want a space exactly like this – 15-20 seats, 10 things on the menu. When you don't have too many items on the menu, you have more time to focus on making something the best it can be and you can actually talk to your patrons. Thanks for reading.

A-hem, A-hem, A-hem***
Viet Soy Cafe will be closed for a few weeks starting 11/25. Viet Tran is opening his other restaurant, Viet, in the Atwater Village, ACROSS from Indochine Cafe. Viet will feature Hanoi-stye Pho (more subtle than Saigon-style Pho and less toppings), cha gio egg rolls, banh cuon crepes, and much more.

Viet Soy Cafe
1997 Hyperion Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 663-7888
Sunday - Thursday 10am-3pm (closed Friday & Saturday)
Master-Cash Only!

Viet (Atwater Village)
3133 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) NOT-SURE

Eat Drink Style Gonpachi, Beverly Hills - Soba & Anime Food in A Lavish Place

Gonpachi Main Entrance

What would you do with $18 million dollars?

Would you retire and travel the world? Would you help out a village in an underdeveloped country? Would you buy a ticket on Virgin Galactic? No, these are all a waste of time and money. Instead, let's build a Japanese mega-restaurant over the old Ed Debevic's Diner and name it Gonpachi. That's exactly how much it cost to build Global Dining's third location in Beverly Hills. According to articles, it's a true import, meaning they shipped out the same exact building materials out to LA. Let's see what $18 million dollars buys you.

This week, I drove down to Beverly Hills for a company function at Gonpachi. I couldn't be more excited. My foodie friends, Tokyoastrogirl, Rameniac and Pirikara, had written/told me about this super-sized izakaya. An izakaya is a Japanese-style pub serving various foods. To me, it's like a tapas bar. You can get your sushi. You can get delicious chicken, beef & pork skewers cooked over charcoal. And the best part, wash the former down with thirst-quenching Kirin & Sapporo on draft or fine, silky sake. All of this, while being as loud as you can be. When I was in Japan, I remember one night when we went to THREE izakayas in the span of about 4 hours and managing to squeeze in a little bit of karaoke. Izakayas are a way of life for many Japanese businessmen. After a long duel with work, nothing is more satisfying than hot food and cold beer... for 4 hours straight.

I parked on the street and immediately raised my head to follow the outlines of the tall structure against the sky. Big. I approached the main entrance and came upon a quaint outdoor garden with trees I couldn't identify. Beautiful. Of course, there were the ubiquitous koi ponds to my side... with koi about 14" in length. Nothing as big as the ones I've seen in Asia. I followed the pathway lined with lanterns you'd never see at Pier 1, which lead to the building and a man awaiting me at the door. Manager. I walked in and followed the waft of alcohol being drunk by my coworkers. I thought to myself, I probably just walked by $250,000 worth of landscaping. Where's the other $17,750,000?

Gonpachi Outdoor Lanterns

Gonpachi Leaves


After about an hour of having drinks, the foreplay was over. It was time to get down to it. We walked together down to the main dining room and everyone just gazed around like it was the Sistine Chapel. Only two stories high, yet breath-taking. I thought to myself, any second now, a ninja is going to jump out and mince us. It felt VERY Kill Bill-ish.

Gonpachi Robata Station (Yakitori)

The main area had about 12 tables and 8 booths. The private rooms upstairs required a minimum of $350 on the check and just seemed too tame for our group of 10. To my right, were four cooks hustling and bustling behind the large charcoal grill station (robata grill). I give those guys props for manning that grill with 30 skewers at a time, inhaling all of that smoke. Almost as amusing as the TSA staff sitting behind those x-ray machines for 8 hours. Or Sandra Lee standing in front of her four microwave ovens, cooking thanksgiving dinner. BBQ smoke, x-ray radiation and Sandra Lee – all are detrimental to your health.

Straight ahead, was the sushi bar and it was simply handsome. The lighting, the length and overall design of the sushi bar made Sushi Gen's bar look tame. I couldn't imagine how much the omakase sushi dinner would cost.

Gonpachi Dining Room

For some reason, the second you're seated at a table in an izakaya, you must order beer and sake. It's like an appetizer that really gets the party flowing. We must've had 7-8 beers each.

Gonpachi Second Floor "Sake Room"

A view of the $350-minimum private rooms. Looking at it, we really felt like WE were outside of the building.

After we were served our drinks, the servers immediately pointed out dishes we should try. I must've heard the word 'soba' 100 times that night. Apparently, it's one of Gonpachi's pride and joy... fresh, hand-made soba. To further dazzle you, they specifically built a windowed noodle room for you to watch as the chef mak soba noodles from square one. I took so many photos that I had to put them into an animated GIF file for everyone to see. The whole process took nearly twenty minutes and it was obvious that the cook was winded. These guys make the pizza makers at Mozza look baaaaaad.

I must apologize for not having any photos of the food. The lighting was horrible and the pictures were beyond salvageable. So, to tie in with the Japanese theme, I decided to anime-ize my food. I tried my best to model the food and am aware that some things are ambiguous. Plus, last week's grand opening of Takashi Murakami's exhibit at the MOCA in Little Tokyo had its influences on me.

Gonpachi Anime Food

The heart and soul of an izakaya is the yakitori dishes. It means "grilled bird" in Japanese and the Japanese aren't kidding when it comes to grilling chicken. Drumsticks...NO! BBQ chicken breast... NO! Chicken McNuggets... HELL NO! How about the gizzards (stomach), heart, butt and in some izakayas, the testicles. Oh man, my favorite parts. I was very sad to see that Gonpachi had all the 'safe' parts. No offals, skin or butt... only thigh and wings. Boo. Here's what we had.

Usually, this is ground chicken meat with ginger and garlic. Gonpachi went a step above and threw duck in the mix. This was absolutely delicious. For $4.50, it better be. I could taste the ginger and garlic, and the basting sauce was awesome. As a group, we probably ordered 30 of these. This is my 2nd best tsukunu skewer I've had, with a place in Japan being #1. Theirs was served with a raw egg yolk mixed into the soy/sake dipping sauce. Amazing.

'Negi' means green onion/leek. This is a standard skewer and quite boring to me. Shin Sen Gumi makes a great version of this. I actually like the green onion/leeks the most on this skewer.

Chicken wings. Very good, but again, I'm going to give the points to Shin Sen Gumi.

These are not the pork blood cubes you see in soup noodles. These are 'beef tongue'. One of my most favorite parts of the cow. I don't know if I'll have anything better than this. I've had chinese, japanese and korean-style... and most places will only serve this sliced thinly. At Gonpachi, you get a CUBE, no... NUGGET.. of goodness. For me, this was better than the Wagyu skewers we had. Juicy, with good bite to it. Man. They're not messing around.

Gonpachi Anime Food

Sushi & Tapas
In addition to the skewers, the Japanese also serve small plates we know as tapas.

Really, have you ever had a bad piece of o-toro? The 'o' in otoro means 'big'. The 'chu' in chutoro means 'middle', implying a less fatty piece of tuna. I watched as two of our female coworkers rolled their eyes in ecstasy as they devoured the pink fat.

Tuna Tartare
Didn't try it.

A perfectly-cooked piece of salmon. Moist and flavorful... how all fish should be cooked. Those are not popcorn kernels, they are supposed to be salmon roe!!!

Miso black cod, a japanese classic. A paste made out of miso paste, sugar, sake & mirin is used to marinate the black cod over night... and the result is a fish you really can't turn away from.

Gonpachi Anime Food

Agedashi Tofu
I always have to order this simple, yet satisfying dish. Soft tofu cubes are dipped into a batter made with ice cold water and potato starch and then deep fried. It's served slightly submerged in a bath of soy sauce, dashi, sugar and sake. Not the best I've had, but not the worst.

Wagyu Steak
Uh oh, wagyu time. The most spoiled cows in the world. This wagyu was simply pan fried with salt, pepper and butter as it should be. For meat this expensive, it's a waste to mask it with razzle-dazzle sauces. I think this was sitting out too long and the meat had cooked itself - so so. I've had better wagyu. The kind that makes you shake because it's so goddamn fatty. You feel SO guilty when you eat that because it's not far from being beef-flavored butter. Those things that look like the clippings of someone's fingernails are actually garlic chips.

Tempura is tempura. But not here, I could not identify the fish that was included in this dish... it was so good. The only evidence I had was the blue tail. Scallops were also tempura'd - I love anything scallops.

And now, for the most talked-about dish of the night. The one that gave a man carpal tunnel syndrome! Hot soba noodles in soy/sake broth. The soba was good, but I was expecting a little more chew/bite to it... like in udon or ramen. This was even more chalky than the packaged version. I don't want to discredit the hard work that young man put into the noodles, but they were only so so.

The gluttony did not end for another 2 hours as the beer, wine and sake continued to pour. Even when people were eating dessert, I was eating sushi, toro and more skewers. Who needs dessert here when anything could be 'dessert'. For many of my coworkers, this was a great experience. There aren't too many places out there where you have so many things to try. Gonpachi isn't that expensive... the problem lies in the fact that the menu is quite extensive. It all adds up.

So what do I think of the $18 million dollar Gonpachi experience? If you take away the beautiful garden, the second story private rooms, the poor carpal-tunneled soba noodle man, Japanese wood and lavish cook stations... you're still left with food that is a little above average. The sushi I had does not compare to Sushi Zo, as it shouldn't, because it's not solely a sushi bar. The yakitori selection is slim and not as 'authentic' as the izakayas I've eaten at. The tapas served were cooked well but very expensive compared to places like Honda Ya/Kappo Honda. And not to mention the fact that because this is a more expensive place, you're more inclined to act more formally in public. There was no loud cheering, drunk people singing as I've seen in Japan... just the quiet hissing sound of chicken parts being grilled over charcoal. Hey, if this place doesn't do well, there's a new Asian-film studio out for rent. Kill Bill 6 ? Crouching Tiger 4? Sandra Lee Does Japan?

But I certainly had a great time and I must say that Gonpachi is one of the most beautiful restaurants I've seen. I can't dismiss that. Beverly Hill's Restaurant Row is geared towards a certain class of people with certain tastes and the new addition of Gonpachi is more than right for it. Look at the Woo Lae Oak korean restaurant next door... a place I've tried and will never go back to because of the ridiculous prices. You've got Fogo de Chao, the $60 per person dinner which serves the same style of meat any other churrascaria will serve for less than 1/2 of that. If you have the money for Gonpachi, go for it. If not, try any of the fore-mentioned places and you'll have yourself a good, gastronomic experience.

Thanks for reading.

134 N La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA, 90211
(310) 659-8887

Eat Drink Style Laiola, San Francisco - Good Things Come in Little Dishes

Laiola San Francisco

Long gone are the days when I used to relish over all-you-can-eat places, including Korean bbq, and made-for-Viking joints like Claimjumper's. America is about exceeding limits – a sometimes tacky and overbearing demonstrating to other countries that power is exemplified through making things faster, bigger and stronger. Is it a wonder that Americans don't live as long as, say Europeans, who bask in the sun with wine and gorge in meals 3-4 times a day? No, because they understand the concept of moderation and turn their heads away from fast food. As you can see from my profile photo, I haven't come to terms with eating in moderation –

I am clearly... American.

During my grueling 2-month stay in San Francisco for work, I came across this little gem, Laiola, with high recommendations from Bar Crudo's Chef Mike Selvera. Previously, I had asked Selvera about his favorite places to eat, during my 7 visits to Bar Crudo. I love finding out what chefs, sick of their own success, like to eat after a long shift. For those that haven't seen Mojo HD Channel's 'After Hours with Daniel', watch it. It's an intimate 60 minutes with celebrity-French Chef Daniel Boulud and America's famous chefs. And most of all, you get to see what they like to eat.

Laiola serves tapas. Tapas is Spanish for appetizers – delightful nuggets of goodness nestled into a 6 x 6" plato. I may be one of the last people on earth to have ever tried tapas, so for me, this was a meal long overdue. And just like dim sum, Vietnamese steamed rice cakes (banh beo) and izakayas... tapas are proof that small dishes are often very delectable.

I took a cab into the Marina district of San Francisco, an area much like the La Brea/Beverly Hills area, with restaurants ranging from passable to showstopping. I met J's brother at the front of Laiola and within a few minutes, we were seated front row. By front row, I mean, right in front of the kitchen set up behind the counters. And next to me sporting a shiny bead of forehead sweat was the head chef firing orders with an AK-47-like demeanor. For any restaurateur and guest, this arrangement can be the breaking point. It can be thrilling watching the line cook add some cognac to the pan, with rising flames that kiss the overhead range. But it may not be thrilling watching him pick out his murph and then using that same hand to plate your $35 dish. Excluding tax and tip.

In Laiola's case, cleanliness and orderliness was intact. The drinks were flowing naturally in a Spanish sangria-serving environment. And gossip was in the air amongst coworkers, business grunts and people with their date-faces on.

Laiola Sangria

Laiola's Stylish Sangria
I'm a beer and whiskey drinker and the chances of seeing me with this drink are very unlikely because it has fruit in it, unless I'm on vacation. It might as well have had an umbrella and a hula dancer on it because it looked like liquid vacation. I remember back a few years ago when I attempted to make Sangria for my friends. A little wine, some chopped up apples/oranges/grapes, 7-up and some brandy.... you're good to go. Or so I thought. My friends told me that the Sangria I had made was probably 150 proof, meaning 75% alcohol. I was convinced that I had made liquid death after seeing 2 of my friends pray over the White Porcelain God. Oops, sorry! But this drink was different, it was aesthetically pleasing, very light and flavorful as any drink should be. I had 2.

Laiola Pan Con Tomate

Pan Con Tomate
Literally means 'bread with tomato'. Fresh artisan bread, cut 3/4" thick was first grilled with a light drizzle of olive oil, rubbed with a cut garlic glove and then sanded down with an heirloom tomato. The result is a slightly-soggy, red-tinted, garlic-scented slice of bread... that is ultra savory.

Laiola Chickpea Fries

Chickpea Croquetas
We actually didn't try this Jenga-like dish. But since the chef was next to me, I asked if I could take a photo of it. From the looks of it, this is a healthier form of its cousin, the french fry because it isn't battered and well it's made of chickpeas.

Laiola Albacore Tuna Salad

Olive Oil-Poached Albacore Salad
I usually don't like to eat cooked fish because many times, the process of holding the fish overcooks it. Cooked fish tastes the best when served immediately. The poaching of the albacore resulted in extremely moist and tender strands of meat. I could taste a hint of cayenne or paprika in this. I didn't like this dish at first, but after a few bites, I grew to like the taste of it.

Laiola Blood Sausage

Cigrons Amb Morcilla (Chickeas with House-made Blood Sausage)
I've had Korean and German blood sausage before and was curious how the Spanish like to do it. I expected to see a sausage, but instead saw raisin-like cuts of meat. And it actually tasted very sour. The mixture and ratio of chickpeas and blood sausage was honestly quite bizarre. With recommendations from three staff members, we were left somewhat disappointed.

Laiola Clams Lamb Sausage

Steamed Willapa Bay Clams with Lamb Sausage
I love clam dishes. It's almost like a double treat. Most of the time at restaurants, you'll get a clam dish steamed in wine and chorizo. But the addition of lamb sausage made this stellar. After you get to eat the clams, you still have all that delicious clam juice/butter sauce. We asked for more grilled bread so that we would not leave any of that juice on that plate. This was great.

Laiola Fries with Eyes

Frituras Con Ojos (Fries with Eyes)
The advantage of getting a seat at the counter with kitchen view has its advantages. We overlooked this dish on the menu because my Spanish has gone down horribly over the years. We saw this dish being fired every five minutes. I asked the chef if those were fries and he gladly replied "fries... with eyes!" Smelt fish is battered lightly and sent to the Deep Fried Sea. A little squeeze of lemon and a savory and memorable dish is made. For $9, you get quite a big portion of 'fries'. We could only finish 1/4 of it because we had so much food.

Laiola Grilled Octopus

Grilled Octopus with Romano Bean Salad
This was my favorite of the evening. Baby octopus are blanched really quickly so that the tentacles spread in a more presentable form and grilled with olive oil and served over a cold romano bean salad with chicken stock. Very healthy and very delicious! I wish the romano beans were served hot.

Laiola is a great place for those that are super hungry or those that just want something small to munch on. I'll be back here for sure to try the rest of the 22 -tapas on the menu. In addition, there are four full-plate dishes as well – roasted lamb, grilled swordfish (HUGE steak), slow roasted piglet (looked awesome!) and grass-fed steak.

Thanks for reading.

2031 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 346-5641

Eat Drink Style A Fall Soiree - Man vs. the Wood Fire Beast

Fall Decor

We all have our fears, whether or not we're willing to admit them. But we're all human beings, and it's one of the many things that sets us apart. I've got a whole list of them. For example, I loathe the glaucoma machine at the optometrist's office. You know the one that blows AIR into your eye at like 528 mph. It takes me a good 4 minutes per eye and I wish I was a pirate or cyclops so I'd only have to endure the suffering for 4 minutes total. Another thing I fear is anything in tiny dot patterns. Blackheads, blueberry pies and bad 80s polka dot clothing. I'm not sure why but I think it might have to do with this cartoon I've watched before... where this character had 18 eyes on his face... all blinking at different times. Weird I know. And finally... my apparent condition of bakephobia. I've talked about it in my pizza posting a few weeks back and just can't get myself to appreciate baking because of the necessary precision and limitations set by recipes. I own about 30 cookbooks and because of my short attention span, rarely follow all the directions in them. I use cookbooks merely for the ingredient listing and I adjust accordingly to my own tastes. I also leave out measurements in my cooking posts because not everyone out there trying the recipe will like it. Some may want it spicier, sweeter or saltier. And you can't please everyone, especially when it comes to catering.

I baked a few weeks back, and I can honestly say that baking is an uncharted sea for me to navigate through. I want to learn how to bake. There is an inherent art and beauty behind the combination of eggs, flour, salt, sugar and yeast. Every country in the world has some sort of baked food, with bread being the most basic form of sustenance. In the wonderful book, Sauces, the author talks about the usage of bread as dinnerware. Wood and metal plates were just too expensive to mak during the 13th century in Europe, thus came the idea of bread bowls and flatbread. Not only would you not have to hold 300 degree stew in your own lap or hands, you could eat it afterwards! Genius. Imagine if we had to eat paper plates. This book by the way isn't entirely about making sauces, but explains how food has come to be over time. It's awesome. Did you know that Europeans actually used a form of fish sauce back then?

I started working with a group of nice people that run an event planning group called Fresh Events Company. Through a friend, we were brought together for this fall-themed party in Hollywood Hills. The client requested pizza made with their wood fire oven. It's tough enough dealing with an oven in a gig because you have to parcook food for holding, now I have to battle a monster: a wood fire oven.

Setting up a wood fire oven is similar to building a campfire. You set one large log in the oven as a 'backstop' and rest smaller pieces of wood on it, making sure that air is allowed to ventilate under the wood. You can't do more than two big pieces at a time otherwise the wood to fire ratio is knocked off balance and you're left with a slower temperature increase. It's hard to explain and I found myself scratching my head and swearing as I tried it out before the event. The client and I met again on another weekend before the event to practice the wood fire oven. In about four hours, we reached the temperature of 600 degrees. It's not the internal temperature of the oven that needs to be 600 degrees, it's the bricks that form the oven floor that need to be heated. I smiled when I saw the glowing embers of what was once wood. In the four hours it took, I had to come back every 15-20 minutes and feed it some more... much like a baby that wants to keep eating. Once you reach 600 degrees, the next goal is to make as much floor space as possible. Using a long metal spatula, we pushed all the coals to the left side, including the large backstop log. The client than grabbed a wet towel and wrapped it around the spatula and 'wiped' down the oven floor. It's ok if you get a little bit of ash on the bottom of the pizza, it only makes it look more rustic.

I quickly ran into the kitchen and pulled out my pizza dough from the fridge. Threw some flour on the counter top, rubbed my hands together like a gymnast, without the tights of course, and started massaging the ball of dough. After making a disc shape, I did a few rotations using my knuckles to stretch it. This takes skill because if you pull too hard, you'll tear the dough. No no no. For rookies, the rolling pin is still the best. I used my asian style rolling pin, which is smaller than the standard rolling pin, but without the handles. The smaller ones are used for making dumpling skins. Once the dough was as thin as it could be, I carefully laid the dough on a wooden pizza paddle with some flour beneath it. Flour works better than cornmeal in the case of the wood fire oven because it has a higher cooking temperature. If you're making pizza in a conventional oven, cornmeal on a pizza stone will be fine. I then added olive oil (vs. using tomato sauce), two kinds of cheese (a container of four cheese and mozzarella) and the appropriate accoutrements – the client requested portobello mushroom, white truffle oil and thyme. I carefully held the paddle and handed it to the client. He carefully guided the paddle into the oven mouth as if he was feeding a big monster. As soon as he pulled the paddle from beneath the pizza, I heard the most beautiful sound ever: the searing of fresh dough on hot oven bricks. 30 seconds later, the left hemisphere of the pizza was already bubbling... as high as 1.5 inches. The edge of the crust slowly blistering with dark spots. Another 30 seconds later, we used the spatula to rotate the pizza so that we could cook the other side. For a total of 2 minutes in the oven, something extraordinary comes out of the oven. He pulled out the pizza and set it on a table. I almost shed a tear because it was so beautiful. The cheese was bubbling quietly and the crust so fluffy and 'pillowy'. We all took a slice of pizza and sank our teeths in for that familiar and nostalgic food we've all grown up with. As I ate, I watched for the client's reaction and they loved it. I felt so much better doing a practice run and knew things would work out nicely on the day of the event.

Fall Decor

This catering event was very different than many others I've worked. For the first time, I was working with an event planning group. Not only did it mean that there would be decorations and invitations being taken care of, I had people to take care of the front of the house, meaning the wait/bar staff. It is HARD working the kitchen AND front of the house. I could focus more on cooking the food vs. running around like a lunatic.

Although it rained the night before, the dampness had evaporated and left a nice waft of cold air. I couldn't imagine cooking during the heatwave we had two months ago. Many of the decorations used by Fresh Events had orange, brown and yellow leaves, which were really nice.

Fall Decor

Woodfire Oven

And there she is, the wood fire beast. Inside the cavity, there's about 3 sq. feet of space, not very big. That's why it's important to slowly burn wood vs. stuffing it. Four hours to get it going, 2-3 minutes to cook your food. As it sounds, it's a lot of work, but the results do not lie.

Woodfire Oven

A close-up of the wood fire oven. Here, it's at about 425 degrees. By the time you're ready to cook, you shouldn't have any flames at all.

Wood Fire Oven

I gave this thing more attention on that day than I do with J. She wasn't happy with me, but she was very happy about the pizza.

Scallop, Shrimp & Avocado Ceviche

Scallop, Shrimp & Avocado Ceviche
I love love love ceviche and was dying to serve some food on white spoons. Whenever you can get the client to interact with the food, versus picking it up with greasy fingers and napkin, you whet their appetite. I "cooked" 32-40 size shrimp with baby scallops in lime juice for about 4 hours. Any longer, you may risk the chance of having no taste whatsoever. I added tiny-brunoised cuts of red bell pepper for color, green jalapenos for spice and put a small wedge of avocado and cilantro leaf on top. For some additional flavor, I added one of my favorite ingredients, smoked paprika. Client loved this.

Bacon Wrapped Dates with Parmesan & Goat Cheese

Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Parmesan/Goat Cheese
AOC and my friend Immaeatchu have made me love this appetizer more and more. The combination of sweet dates, goat/Parmesan cheese and salinity from the crispy bacon make it one hot kid on the block. There are two main types of dates out there: medjools and deglet noors. If you're going to use medjools, you might want to cut them in half lengthwise because they are huge. Dates may not appeal to everyone because they've got that sticky chew. I prefer deglet noors because you can pop them in one bite and are actually very easy to work with. There are recipes that call for goat cheese or Parmesan, why not bring the best of both worlds and do a 50/50 ratio? You can use a toothpick or skewer (put 7-8 of them on one stick) to secure the bacon if you're worried about them falling apart. Bake for 5 mins on one side at 400, then flip over and bake for another 7-10 mins until bacon is somewhat crispy... just don't burn the bacon. I saw guests take 2-3 at a time, popping them like they were tater-tots.

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus Bundles
Everyone loves bacon and everyone loves prosciutto. For this dish, I cut the asparagus into 7" lengths and bundles of three using the prosciutto as 'tape'. Lightly spray some olive oil on the bundles and add a TINY bit of salt only on the asparagus. Fresh black pepper and lemon juice for a kick. These were very fun to eat.

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza
And finally, the product of four hours of constant nurturing, arguing and making up: the portobello mushroom, white truffle oil and thyme pizza. These came out beautiully and guests kept requesting more and more truffle oil. Whoa, too rich.

By the end of the night, everyone had so much to eat, including my staff. It's too easy to get pizza'd out, but it was the crust that we kept coming back to. So soft and pillowy.

Great clients, excited guests, wonderful event planning group, loving gf and sister, loyal friends and one angry, tempermental 600 degree oven. That's the best way to sum up one of the smoothest events I've ever worked. Thank you to the McK's, Fresh Events, staff and to you for reading.

Eat Drink Style Chinese Beef & Scallion Pancake - 肉 卷 餅 or 牛肉 卷

Beef Scallion Pancake

On Sunday night, I invited my friends HL, Yoony of Immaeatchu and her beer-guzzling man over for for dinner. The irritating heatwave that had struck upon us a few weeks ago was finally, long gone. When it's cold, I immediately think of beef noodle soup because I am a noodle whore. Beef noodle soup calls for the usage of beef shank, the leg portion of the cow, and because it is tough and sinewy, it requires many hours of braising. Usually when I make this, I'm left with way too much beef. I had run out of soup and didn't know what to do with the remaining meat. Then, I remembered a delicious item I had eaten at Temple City's Mandarin Noodle Deli... scallion beef pancake. Such a good and easy snack to make.

Much like Koreans with their side dishes, known as 'baan chan', Chinese also have their own set of delicious snacks. We have something we call 'lu wei' (滷 味), which literally means 'simmered flavor' and requires hours of braising/simmering foods with spices such as anise, cinnamon and coriander. It's peasant food at its best. If you've been to a Taiwanese or Chinese market/deli, you might see a section of boxed foods with duck's feet, pig ears, tripe, intestines, etc.... that is 'lu wei' food. If you've ever had brown-colored boiled eggs, with that sweet, aromatic and somewhat salty taste... that's 'lu wei'. Good stuff! One of my favorite 'lu-wei' items is cold-sliced beef tossed with cilantro, chili oil and sichuan peppercorns... which is similar to what is used in beef scallion pancake.

Beef Shank Slices

I took my remaining beef shank from the beef noodle soup pot, wrapped it up and threw it in the fridge to let it harden. The next day, I sliced it into 1/8" cuts and poured a little bit of my beef noodle soup over it to revive it from dryness.

Scallions & Cilantro

Next, I chopped up some scallions and cilantro. One of the best kitchen gadgets I own is the scallion slicer/rake. For this dish, you don't want thick cuts of scallions otherwise it'll be overpowering.

Hoisin & Sesame Oil Sauce

For the beef scallion pancake, you need a sweet sauce. Not oyster sauce because it's too salty. Get hoisin sauce. I diluted it with a little water and added about 5-6 drops of sesame oil to brighten the sauce. Tasty.

For the scallion pancake, it's not hard to find it at the Chinese market. They either come fresh in the bread section or frozen. Fresh is best, but if you can't find it, no worries. Just don't use a tortilla or pita bread. Pan fry the scallion pancake for 3-4 minutes on each side until it's slightly brown. If you overfry the scallion pancakes, you'll see the mess you'll make when you try to roll it up. So the softer the pancake, the better it is.

Now, lay the scallion pancake flat, cover it with a generous amount of hoisin/sesame oil sauce, add the scallions and cilantro toward the bottom of the pancake in a tidy row (close to your body), add the beef slices.... and roll tightly away from you. Cut them at a diagonal bias and discard (or eat) the ends.

For the cold beef slices, you can just use the beef noodle soup recipe. Enjoy and thanks for reading.

Beef Scallion Pancake