Eat Drink Style San Francisco Good Eats #2: Sticking Out Like A Sore Thumb - Winterland, San Francisco

Today, DY and I, again, ended up driving her Aunt all over San Francisco in preparation for her Chinese New Years ‘party’ at the City Hall. When we got to the City Hall, we were immediately assigned projects. I was assigned to “Project: Hang really tacky red banners with random Chinese characters on the second floor wall”. Using fishing line, I had to strategically tie and center the banners over the second floor railing of the humongous City Hall. DY’s “Project: Place as many apples and oranges on tacky Chinese platters without them falling over” seemed a bit monumental compared to mine. I think her Aunt was looking for something along the lines of a Egyptian pyramid of fruit. After about 30 visibly-failed attempts in about an hour, the eighth wonder of the world was erected. Whew, we’re done. Yeah right. I then had to bring in about 40 cases of wine and hard alcohol with a single dolly from the delivery dock. DY and I then tended to “Project: Pick up catered food from craphole Chinese restaurants”. Before all that, her Aunt insisted that we attend the ‘party’. After picking up the food, we devised our plan to avoid the lame party. I ended up telling her Aunt that she was too sick to go out. If any of you have seen the Asian American lesbian film, Saving Face, you can get a picture of what kind of party this would turn out to be. Basically, lame. Why the hell would they need 40+ cases of alcohol? If everyone at that party drank, it would’ve looked like a red sea.

Relieved that we were able to ditch the party, we took a nap and got ready for a delectable dinner at the wonderfully, experimental Winterland restaurant. DY had raved about this place months before, and I knew it had to be good. I was treating DY and her roommate JP tonight for their hospitality. Located off the ultra-sceny Haight Street, this was a break from the many bars and cafes that line the street. It stuck out like a sore-thumb with its bright orange awning over the front entrance. We walked in, and to my surprise, Interpol was playing. The ultra-posh restaurant seemed like it would have the usual jazz buzzing thru the room, but aimed for a younger crowd that had a palate for haute cuisine. Although Winterland was somewhat empty, most of the customers sat at the watering hole with martinis and well drinks.

The waiter came by to take our drink orders and served some warm Olive bread. One of my favorite types of bread. DY told me that the menu changed frequently here at Winterland, and that the Chef loved to experiment. Looking at the menu, she was definitely right. Here’s what we had.

A. Bay Scallop & Crispy Duck Tongue/Espresso Tapioca Pearls/Sea Urchin Emulsion
Whoa. Sounds frightening right? This was excellent. Sweet scallops, nicely battered duck tongue, boba and sea foam all layed out on a nice platter of goodness. For a minute, I thought it would be a buzzkill, but took the palate for a nice rollercoaster ride.

B. Duck Confit/Black Truffle Lentils/Chanterelles/Brussel Sprouts
This was my entree, and loved it. The crispy duck confit meshed well with the savory lentils, earthy chanterelles and bitter b-sprouts. I'm going to make this one very soon.

C. Squab Breast & Foie Gras Terrine/Sour Cherry Chutney
Although the squab was slightly tough and overcooked, the combination of gelatinous Foie Gras and Sour Cherry Chutney revived the dish as a whole. I would've been happy with just the Foie Gras terrine by itself.

D. Berkshire Pork Duo
A crispy pork belly which perfectly fried skin was covered in a smooth wave of almond praline foam. The texture of this dish was excellent.

E. Lamb Shank Braised with Vanilla Bean
This dish won the "Food Envy" award. DY and I eyed JP as he happily devoured this tender dish.

Also on the menu for the Anthony Bourdains out there - live Sea Urchin with Razor clam Ceviche, cucumber miso and Yuzu granita. I wasn't buzzed enough to try this. No reservations next time I'm here at Winterland. Like I said, with a menu like this, Winterland sticks out like a sore thumb, in a good way.

Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Happy Hallmark Day. Beacon: An Asian Cafe - Los Angeles

Pam from Daily Gluttony said it best. Valentine’s Day, aka Hallmark Day, is a commercialized ploy to make money off tacky paraphernalia and make the single scurry around for a date like lions in Africa. Am I bitter? Not even. I remember V-Day being a fun day during my elementary school years. I used to sift through the candy heart boxes, saving all the “I love you’s” for the “special girls”. Yes, I have 8 “I love you” hearts, which means I can give them to 8 different girls. Even though those hearts tasted like peppermint-infused chalk, it was nice to give and receive. I also remember spending a lot of time writing on those Warner Bros. cards like with Pepe Le Pieu. Carefully writing messages of ‘love’ in illegible, mispelled cursive handwriting – stuff like “Your my valentine”. As I grew older, Valentines gift-giving evolved into nasty chocolate hearts and hideous white bears holding red hearts. I never fell into that because it was just plain tacky. Now it’s all about wining and dining – taking your ‘love’ to the nicest restaurant to impress. Which is what I did. No not with a new ‘fling’, but with a fellow foodie friend.

BR works part time at Beacon, an Asian Café in downtown Culver City. I had never eaten at Beacon and this was the perfect time to try out one of LA’s up and coming restaurants. Voted by Los Angeles Magazine as one of LA’s top 25 restaurant and headed by Chef Kazuto Matsusaka, I was in for a good treat. Matsusaka, has worked under Hideo Yamashiro (Yamashiro’s) and Wolfgang Puck (Spago’s). Like all restaurants in LA, they offered a prix fixed menu for Hallmark Day.

We got to the restaurant at 8 and were quickly seated at the bar. Beacon was smaller than I thought - holding no more than 30-40 people inside and 20 outside. It was cozy and lit with candles. Downtempo music echoed from hidden speakers, creating a nice urban ambiance. This was the perfect place with the perfect volume. Ever been to places like Yardhouse? That place is deafening, to the point where you practically have to yell just to be heard. I was amused by the mountainous cabinet filled with Sake and wine that towered over us. I tilted my head back and wondered how mad the employees would be if I ordered the Sake bottle on the very top shelf. Without even looking at the menu, we ordered the 6-course Prix Fixed menu with wine pairing. A great deal for only $59. Plus we’d get the employee discount – so we really scored. Fortunately, there were 2 choices for each course – perfect for both of us. We would simply switch off dishes.

As we waited for our dinner, BR and I checked out all the couples in love. What were they possibly talking about.

“Remember when we first met online? Was it on or eHarmony?”
“If I didn’t get so wasted that night, we would’ve never met each other…”
"No restraining order will ever keep me away from you, my dear."
“I still remember the time you held me as I threw up in the alley…”
“I was tired of dating 13 guys at a time. I was ready once I met you.”

The couple next to us at the bar were completely wasted and *ahem, hot and bothered. Being Asian didn’t help them because they were as red as the Kool-Aid man. Something told me that they were more interested in having each other for dessert instead of the Crème Brulee.

We started off with a deliciously sweet glass of cold sake. I looked at the menu and wondered what the positive and negative numbers meant. I was like “Is this gonna be my BAC level after I drink this”? BR explained to me that the numbers were indications of how sweet or dry a particular Sake was. Known as the Nihonshu-do rating system, the higher the number, the lower the sugar content – thus a drier taste. +3.0 is the ‘neutral’ point. The range of Fruity to Dry is -20 to +10. The sake we tried was a +10. Soon after, the food arrived. Here’s what we had.

A. Trio of Small Bites
Edamame Hummus, Olive Tapenade
Crispy Shrimpcake with Ginger Aioli
Shitake Mushroom Tartlette with Pecorino

The Edamame Hummus was somewhat bland. I’ve had it with White Truffle Oil and prefer that. The Crispy Shrimpcake was awesome. These came out piping hot and burned my tongue. I can eat a whole basket of these. The Shitake Tartlettes were BR’s favorites. As tiny as they were, the shitake and buttery flavors really packed a punch.

B. Baby Arugula, Endive and Radicchio Salad
This is what I call a perfect salad. Served with a beautifully browned ball of warm Goat cheese, this salad hit all the checkpoints in my palate. Sweet, hot, tangy, warm and crisp. I’m gonna try this out for my next catering gig.

C. Smoked Sturgeon with Fennel-Carrot Salad, Wakame and Créme Frâiche
This was so so. I appreciated the time they took to smoke the fish. It was my first time eating Sturgeon fish, but I would imagine that it’s as fishy as salmon. It was a good thing that they served this with Avocado Créme Frâiche.

D. Kaki Fry Oyster
This is so dangerously good. Like the Crispy Shrimpcake, I can eat a whole basket of these. They were fried lightly with a nice panko crust and full of flavor. There was no ‘fishiness” in the taste of the oyster and the texture actually tasted resembled a Portobello mushroom. This was another BR favorite.

E. Vegetable Dumpling
This bowl of Mushroom-herb broth came with 2 delectable dumplings. With the essence of truffles infused in the broth, I think we could’ve done another 5 bowls. I’d like to try adding some Pho noodles in this broth. Mmmmm. I loved this one.

F. Miso Marinated Black Cod with Miso Puree Sauce
This is a typical entrée in any Japanese restaurant, but I’d have to say this ranks #2 in my books. #1 goes to Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s version, in which he pours hot oil mixed with soy sauce, sake and green onions OVER the broiled black cod. Oh man. If you ever eat at Beacon, I highly recommend this dish. The miso adds a salty, yet sweet taste to the perfectly cooked fish. See that pink rice ball – it was shaped into a heart. BR and I quickly ‘broke’ it and laughed.

G. Star Anise Braised Veal Shortribs
This was my first time eating Veal shortribs. The overall taste of the dish was very light. I expected to taste more Star Anise, which I love. I think they could’ve added a little bit more salt because it was bland. This got a thumbs down from BR and me.

After all the wine and food we had, we walked away with a steal of a deal. I didn’t bother photographing the THREE plates of dessert we had, because I hate dessert. It came out to $52 each, excluding tip. I’m definitely coming back here.

Beacon: An Asian Café
3280 Helms Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 838-7500

Eat Drink Style San Francisco Good Eats #1 - Grease and Organs

After a few months of job hunting, I finally landed something at a bigger and better ad agency. I decided to give myself a week buffer before the mice in my head started rolling the wheels again. My friend DY had moved up to San Francisco to attend art school and her time up there was ending this month. Both of us being foodies, I had to experience the San Francisco restaurant scene, which I had heard so much about. It would be my first taste of delectable food and her last. I love road trips. It’s just you and the iPod. And of course, the Parliament lights. The open road is truly a launch pad for free thinking. Course the only thing on my mind was: What was I going to eat? I left early in the morning and got to San Francisco in 5 hours. How fast? 95ish.

As soon as I arrived, DY and I talked about the places we’d be eating at. Our first stop was Tartine Bakery, a cozy café that sits on a corner of the Mission district, known for their pressed sandwiches and decadent desserts. San Franciscans, occupied by their PowerBooks and pets, filled up the outdoor seats and enjoyed the fresh food and serene environment. A line was formed inside and most of the people were gazing at the sweet treats inside the glass display. We all looked like children in a fish store. DY recommended that we order the Pecorino & Almond Pressed Sandwich filled with stuffed cheese and crushed almonds with olive oil, lemon and sage. I’ve never eaten Croque Monsieur and just liked the sound of it. We paid the cashier and took a number. About 10 minutes later, the food arrived. The Pecorino & Almond sandwich ($7.75) resembled a panini, only way greasier. The outside was coated with butter and olive oil. I swore that I could taste the oil oozing out of the bread as I bit into it. But, boy was it good. All the robust herbs and richness of the Pecorino made this one tasty sandwich. DY and I had to split that one. Next we tried the Ham & Cheese Croque Monsieur ($7.25). This came on a crispy bread stuffed with warm ham and melted cheese. Loved this better than the pressed sandwich because I’m weak when it comes to anything with ham. I definitely recommend this to anyone looking to sit outside on a nice day and enjoy the city. Warning: it gets PACKED on weekends in the morning.

DY’s aunt was an active figure in the SF Asian community. She was responsible for organizing a Chinese New Year party at the City Hall. So we ended up driving her all over SF for FIVE HOURS. I was exhausted. Remember, I just spent 5 hours driving up here in the morning. More hungry, than tired, we were ready to hit our next joint.

DY, her roommate JP and I headed over to Walzwerk for dinner. Also situated in the Mission district, Walzwerk serves some authentic East German cuisine. Sausages, schnitzel, you name it. And of course, a great assortment of beer. Before, my only experience with German food was at the Red Lion Tavern in Silver Lake – which I love. I’ll walk in their sober and end up having a friend drive me home. That’s what friends are for.

Walking in, we were greeted by girls with German accents. Fake? I think not. It was a sure sign of authenticity. As we sat on the table, we noticed a small picture frame showcasing the many German beers they served. I felt like something dark, and not my usual Hefeweizen. I can’t remember the name though. Compared to the Red Lion Tavern, the food here was much lighter and crisp tasting. Here’s what we had:

A. Fried Veal Chop with Brussel Sprouts and Sauerkraut - Oh man this was sooooo good. The sweetness of the crisp veal chop was balanced out by the wasabi-like bitterness of the brussel sprouts.
B. Pork Chops with Red Wine Sauce - excellent. Didn't care for the sauerkraut because it had a sweet, cinnamon taste to it. Not what I'm used to.
C. Lamb Shanks with Red Wine Sauce - also excellent. I actually envied DY's friend who ordered this. Grrrr.

After Walzwerk, DY and I hit up the Skyy Vodka with some orange juice for a night cap. Turns out that one drink led to another, and we got the munchies. I felt like Mexican food and she knew just the place. We drove down to what I thought resembled Santa Ana. As soon as I got out of the car, I recognized the delicious smell of an outdoor Mexican grill. A man stood behind a sneeze-guarded cart with his bovine delights. Carne asada. Check. Pollo. Check. Carnitas. Check. Brain (sesos) and beef cheek (cachete) tacos. Wait – what? I looked over at DY, who insisted that those were her favorites. All of a sudden I visualized Anthony Bourdain with a nasty smerk on his face. C’mon you little prick. Alright, let’s do it. Ok now, maybe this was easier to digest because I was somewhat buzzed. But seriously, they were damn good. The brain tacos had a light grey color and tasted fatty. The beef cheeks had black lining on some of the pieces of meat, which tasted like thin rubber. I was thinking that they could’ve been part of the lips. The funniest part of the night was actually finding an antique from my younger days - an actual working Street Fighter machine. I couldn't play it of course, because of my careless finger incident.

After a long, but quick drive up north and another five hours of bussing DY’s aunt around SF, I’d say my first day of finding good eats in SF was a very successful one. Day 2 next.

Eat Drink Style Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles - A Spontaneous Hundred-Dollar Snack

Osteria Mozza Los Angeles

On the way back from Audrey Kawasaki's latest exhibit at the Bergamot Station, Mayoi Michi, J & I drove with rumbling stomachs. We started to flip through our mental rolodex of late-night food options in the Silver Lake adjacent.

Soup noodles at Torung or Ruen Pair in Thai Town?
Tacos Arizas, the taco truck that catered our first date in Echo Park?
Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada? I wish! They close too early.
Two Tacos for $.99 at Jack in the Crack?
Fried Chicken at The Prince or Toe Bang in Koreatown?
Pho Cafe in Silver Lake? No, thanks.
Raw oysters and tasty fries at Hungry Cat? We didn't feel like drinking.

We couldn't decide on a place because there was a con for every pro. But heading on the 10 towards the La Brea exit, we both shot a slight grin... as though we knew what would be best for us right now...


Specifically, Mario Batali's & Nancy Silverton's delicious pie at Pizzeria Mozza. Beautifully-crafted dough with minimal, yet sufficient, toppings – it's what makes the pizza more than a delectable snack. We parked on Highland and crossed the street but instead, focused our attention on Pizzeria Mozza's sister restaurant, Osteria Mozza, which focused more on pasta and rustic dishes... but no pizza. Since we had already tried their pizza, this would be a good chance to try out Osteria. This year, we've been good with eating at home and spending less on extracurricular activities. Osteria was our little reward for wearing halos on our head for 2 months.

The main criticism on Osteria Mozza is the advanced reservation one must make in order to eat there. God, so L.A. But we've learned that some places may do that to create a hype. It was already 10:45 pm and we were hungry. We walked in, not knowing what to expect, and felt the vibe of good ambiance. Dimly lit with sparse lighting, the constant sound of indistinct chatter and silverware clanking on porcelain plates made us feel that we are at the right place at the right time. Even at 10:45 pm. I walked up to hostess and asked if it was possible to get a bar seat without reservations. He glanced over his shoulder with his stylish Armani Exchange glasses, the Malcolm X-style ones, and pointed at the corner of the bar. Nice.

Osteria Mozza3

Osteria Mozza2

Osteria Mozza1

He pulled us towards the 'cheese bar', where we could see four line cooks hustling and bustling. Two were busy working the expensive-looking deli slicers that looked like they were imported from Italy. Another cook was meticulously plating what looked like a burrata cheese appetizer. And the last cook, a woman with frizzy brown hair in her 40s who had to be none other than, La Brea Bakery's Nancy Silverton. We looked at each other and felt even more excited to sit at the bar. She wore an apron that was different from everyone else's, almost like a midwest-style denim dress. Not the most stylish, but gave us the feeling of motherliness with her cooking. All she needed was one of those wooden, beaded necklaces made with stuff from Michael's. Nancy Silverton is another one of our favorite female chefs that cook more with soul than anything. She fits right up there with Suzanne Goin (Lucques & AOC), Alice Waters (Chez Panisse, Berkeley) and Judy Rodgers (Zuni Cafe, San Francisco). We stared at every one of her moves. You can see her in the photo above.

Osteria Mozza4

Osteria Mozza5

As we pulled our new replacement for our stolen camera, we heard a voice behind us saying:

"Which model is that?"

We turned back to see that it was a server with a joyful demeanor and hair that was 30 minutes away from needing a re-gelling session. Very nice guy. After hearing about his new camera from Costco, flight-attendant wife, recent travels to Dubai and Buenos Aires and love for cooking... we got our menus and had to order within 5 minutes. Because our server was so into food we let him pretty much do the ordering. Here's what we had.

Osteria Mozza Burrata Bacon

Burrata Cheese with Bacon, Braised Escarole & Caramelized Onions
This was our server's recommendation. It was larger than we had expected, because after all, this was just snack time, not a tasting menu. And honestly, after one bite of this, I knew why Mario looks the way he does. But you know what, that's a good thing. He is a man that is so passionate about his food and tacky orange Chuck's and clogs. He's not going to cheat you out of food; he's going to knock you out the Italian way. The combination of creamy burrata cheese, sweet caramelized onions, soupy escarole on grilled bread was decadent, yet tasty. I only wish that they had divided this dish into 6 normal sized pieces vs. 2 boatloads.

Osteria Mozza Grilled Scallops Lardo

Grilled Diver Scallops with Lardo & Pink Peppercorns
In the book, Heat, by Bill Buford, he describes a dinner party where one of the guests was Batali himself. The man is more than generous, as he came to the party prepared... with a case of wine and a slice of deli meat known as lardo. The marketing term for that is white prosciutto, and let's just through that bullshit. It's pure lard that has been smoked and cured... and it is heavenly. Sure anyone can grill diver scallops, but only Batali would finish it with the near-translucent slices of one of the many delicious parts of the pig. Fat so thin and ghostly, it almost melts on your tongue. These scallops, although small and expensive, were cooked beautifully and I'm still thinking about them. But that's me, I'm a scallop-whore. I wanted another 5 skewers, but at $16 for this dish, would you drop $100 on this?

Osteria Mozza Grilled Octopus

Grilled Octopus with Potatoes, Lemon & Celery
Before I selected the diver scallops, I was declined by my own server. And I love that honesty. He asked if we could change our minds and direct our attention to this instead. And what he told us next really proved that he was the type of knowledge every server should have. Basically, he said that we've never had this style of octopus before. Hmm, how so? First, they get 6 large octopi – pack them in a large hotel pan and fill it to the brim with some of the finest Italian olive oil with salt & pepper. But before it's slowly poached at 175 degrees, a secret ingredient is added. One that NO ONE would guess, well unless you work at Osteria Mozza. Four corks from wine bottles! Ok, so now we were excited. The plate arrived and we immediately dove in. If you told me it was slightly braised chicken, I would believe you. This preparation for the octopi really tenderized the meat. It was awesome and for us, the winner of the night. The server said that if you didn't add the wine corks, the meat would not come out this way. Something about an enzyme that leaks out from the wine corks. Alton, please analyze.

Osteria Mozza Oxtail Ragu Tagliatella

Oxtail Ragu with Tagliatelle
And finally, what J and I were both dying to try... Batali's handmade pasta. After a few occasions at Cube on La Brea, I was entirely hooked on fresh pasta. It's a completely different beast than the dried pasta. The server said this oxtail was cooked with Fresno chiles, San Marzano tomatoes and soffrito. Soffrito is basically an Italian version of mire poix. It varies in different countries. In Cuban, Caribbean and Puerto Rico, sofrito consists of red bell peppers, garlic and onions and is a standard base for stews, soups and sauces. I could totally smell the red bell peppers in this dish, so sweet and homey. I wound up the ribbon-like pasta and tender oxtail with my fork... and wow. Simply divine. The portion, at first, may look small, but you have to know that oxtail releases TONS of rat. Along with the sauce of the braised stew, you're guaranteed to get a flavor in every bite. We woke this dish up with some fresh black pepper. So good.

Although this was a pricey 'snack', it was more than worth it. Mario and Nancy's food is decadent and will put you right to sleep... with sauce stains on your shirt and a big smile on your face. Thanks for reading.

For those that have been to Angelini Osteria and Osteria La Buca, I'd love to hear your recommendations because I'm eating there next!

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 297-0100

Eat Drink Style Kitchen Confidential #4 - Everything's Gonna Be Alright

After last weekend’s eye-opening experience in Montecito, I felt a little bit more confident facing my first career obstacle as an aspiring caterer. My friend GW was throwing a bridal shower for her good friend at her house on a Sunday afternoon. One night, while on the phone…

GW: “So I’m the Maid of Honor for my friend’s wedding.”
Me: “That sucks. Why is she getting married so early?”
GW: “She found the one. So now I’m throwing a party for her at my house.”
Me: “………….”
GW: “You should cater it haha.”
Me: “I’m down.”
GW: “I’m just kidding, you don’t have to –“
Me: “I’m serious.”
GW: “Well then…”

After about two weeks of planning, we (GW and the Bride) decided on a menu. As we got closer to the date, I started to get a little bit nervous. I started to question myself and put myself in the hot seat. It was like I was in a dark interrogation room answering the questions of faceless voices with a hot beaming light from Ikea over my head. Will they like the food? What if there are vegetarians? Will the food run out? And more importantly, where would I find the room to do all of this? Certainly not at my West LA shack. For 5 days, these questions were like protons and neutrons bouncing inside my head like a nuclear reaction. I was going crazy. But that’s what parents are for. I called them and knighted them as my Sous Chefs - they gladly accepted. They weren’t happy about working for $0/hr though haha.

GW and I met on Saturday afternoon to do all of our grocery shopping. The night before, I had packed all of my weapons (cookware, utensils, herbs and sauces) and written out the ingredient list. Everything was going well, until I forgot that I had left my notebook on a shopping cart at our first destination. With only an hour left before I had to get to The Restaurant, there was no way I could’ve gone back to find the notebook. So we sat there and went thru every single item, and after 15 minutes, we were good to go with the ingredients. Done. Only half a day before judgment day.

I woke up at 7:30 am the next day. The night before, I clocked in 11 hours at The Restaurant. I could not move. I could barely keep my eyes open. I was this close to calling it quits because I was completely exhausted. I debated another 30 minutes of sleep but we all know what happens... 30 minutes becomes an hour and a half. Waking up at the moment was critical - it was the difference between having a fun, fulfilling career as a caterer or being out on the streets or working at Initech like Milton. But I couldn’t let GW down. I woke up the Sous Chefs and immediately wrote up the menu on a sheet of paper. Here’s what I served:

A. Bosc Pear, Candied Walnut & Goat cheese salad with Lemon/Honey Vinaigrette
B. Smoked Salmon and Dill/Sour Cream on Crispy Wonton Skins
C. Vietnamese Glass Rolls with Sweet Pork and Thai Basil (Sweet n’ Sour sauce)
D. Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Hoisin glaze
E. Crispy Prosciutto Roasted Asparagus with Lemon
F. Wild Mushroom Risotto with White Truffle Oil
G. Baby Spinach & Three-Cheese Lasagna

From 7:30 am to 11:30 am, it was complete madness. This is the best part about working in a restaurant on the line. The ticket machine is spitting out orders one after another. Sometimes 6-7 tickets in a row. It’s total action and it’s emotional. For four hours, we yelled at each other, we slipped all over the place like my kitchen was built on a giant Slip n’ Slide, pots and pans flew into the sink with thundering noise, apologies were made, people were told to shut the hell up and hurry the fuck up, blenders screamed, and worst of all, fingers were cut. Badly. Without my worrisome parents not knowing what I just did to myself, I ran into the bathroom to tend to the wound. If I had told them, the food would not have been finished and my first attempt at catering would've been a disaster. I gauzed my finger up and ran back on the line. The whole time, I was hiding my bandaged fingers up so my mom wouldn’t see it. We finished at exactly 11:20, giving me 10 minutes to get to the Bridal shower.

I sped down the road and checked my phone. 8 missed calls from GW. Uh oh, she was freaking out. Luckily when I showed up, the guests were just rolling in and entertaining themselves with Mimosas. I unloaded the food and laid everything out on the table. I really wanted to get out of there. There was just way too much estrogen flowing thru that house. My finger was throbbing. And I had 30 minutes to get to The Restaurant. Talk about hell. One of the guests saw my finger and asked to check it out. Turns out her husband is a doctor.

Guest: “Let me see it.”
Me: “Are you sure?” (while drinking a glass of wine to alleviate the pain. So alchy haha.)
Guest: “Take it off.”
I slowly unraveled it.
Guest: “Uh, that’s bad. You can’t be here right now. You gotta to the hospital and get stitches.”
Me: “And stitch what?”
Guest: “Whatever they can.”

I downed my glass of wine and headed back on the road to a hospital. GW came running out with my reward: 24 bottles of Stella Artois beer. Yes! Suddenly I got a call from my mom.

Mom: “How’d they like the food?”
Me: “I think they like it. I didn’t see anyone throwing up.”
Mom: “I saw your trail. What happened to you?”
Me: “I’m going to the hospital.”
Mom: “Ai-yah.” (That’s Cantonese for ‘you stupid fool’)
Me: “Thanks for your help, you kicked ass.”

I sat there in the waiting room of the ER and looked over to my dad who had a worried look on his face. I told him I was fine, that it was all my fault, but we got the job done. In that four hours, it was nice to be with the family and work towards a common goal. That’s all that mattered. I now know what and what not to do next time around. For sure, I will be more than ready. GW called me to see how I was and tell me that the food was enjoyed by everyone. As my fingers throbbed, I leaned my head on the wall and sat back in the greasy, vinyl ER chairs, and gave a tired smile.

Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Kitchen Confidential #3: An Evening of Elegance, Affluence and Taste

Anyone who has ever thought about making a profession out of culinary arts, will at one point, fathom the idea of owning his own restaurant. At times, I would sit on my dining table and wonder where I’d like to open mine. Will it be in Santa Monica, Silver Lake or Pasadena? Anywhere would be nice. Daniel Boulud, author of the wonderful book, Letters To A Young Chef, once said that when a Chef pours his heart out into his own cooking, the people will find the food – no matter where it’s located. Perfect example – Thomas Keller, chef and owner of The French Laundry in Yountville, is located in Napa Valley. People will endure the two-month long reservation and tread up to wine country for a $210 prix-fixe menu. But there’s a high risk of failure in the restaurant business . Trends come and go, competition flares up with the arrival of a hot-shot chef and most importantly – location, location, location is ever so important.

I’m over the restaurant idea because in Los Angeles, you can find any type of cuisine out there. Take a drive down Valley Blvd. in the San Gabriel Valley and you’ll know what’s the hot commodity. Korean/tofu houses, Vietnamese Sandwich shops and most recently, Hawaiian fast food. I give it another three years before these tame down. What’ll be next? A Euro-Asian fusion restaurant sounds mighty clear. Some place that’ll serve Cha Shu pork, Osso Buco-style over some linguini.

With all that said, I’ve been focusing on a career as a professional caterer. And I got my first opportunity through a friend of mine recently. A grandeur opportunity. MH invited me to help cook for a 9-course tasting that was to be held in Montecito, a town outside of Santa Barbara with a capped population of 10,000. The clients for tonight are proud owners of an NBA team in the Mid-West and the largest shopping centers, also in the Mid-West. Who else lives here? Oprah Winfrey, who just spent $50 million dollars on her 42-acre, 20,000-square foot estate in Montecito. Know what I mean by grandeur, now?

With my iPod fully charged, two packs of Parliament Lights, black Dickies pants, oil/slip resistant shoes from Payless and chef coat neatly ironed, I drove down the 101 towards Santa Barbara. I’ve never felt such anticipation and anxiety for a long drive, but this could prove to be a twist of fate. I was dying to find out. After about two hours, I finally arrived in Montecito. On the way, I noticed a sign that clearly indicated that I was no longer in Kansas. When driving through BFE, I’m used to seeing a deer crossing sign. I thought I was exposed to the bizarre after seeing this freeway sign on the way to San Diego – but this was truly a ‘what-the-fuck’ moment. How many times have you seen a crossing sign with a golf cart on it? Anybody?

I pulled up to the estate and pressed the button for the intercom. A guard granted me access onto a pebbled road that led into the ten-acre estate. I parked my white Camry next to a Bentley, a BMW and two Mercedez’. The BMW probably belonged to the youngest child. An assistant to the family greeted me and re-directed me to the ‘proper’ place to park - the lot for the ‘under-six-figures’ people. I didn’t think my Camry really ‘fit’ in anyway.

MH then came out of the house and greeted me. I, along with five other employees, unloaded the supplies and went towards the house. I walked through a small patch of grass and was greeted by three weird looking bunnies, gobbling at nothing. I stepped into the house and looked like a kid discovering his first porno video. Jesus Christ. Why would anyone need THIS MUCH ROOM? Never mind the 20-foot ceilings, fine upholstery and antiques, I was drooling over the kitchen. Two huge sub-zero refrigerators disguised with wooden cabinet panels. A huge island with faucet, plus three long side counters for ‘prepping’ food. And of course, a Viking stove with six-burners, griddle and two conventional ovens. That stove alone is worth $10,000. If this whole kitchen setup took up my whole apartment, I would sleep on the floor.

MH showed me the menu card. In addition to hors d’oeuvres, there were nine courses with a $300 bottle of wine for each course. Nice. We then began prepping away. I had never felt so happy mincing parsley or brunoising mire poix. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hectic as line cooking because we only had twelve people to cook for, plus we had prepped the day before at MH’s house. She actually said that she was nervous about this because she was used to doing three course meals for 300-400 people. It was usually something boring like chicken or grilled salmon. At the estate, there was a higher chance of receiving negative criticism because of the high profile clientele – people who normally experience haute dining. I made sure that each and every thing I prepped was perfect. The day before, I had cleaned off the bone lining on four racks of lambs. That alone, took one hour and fifteen minutes. I thought making mayonnaise from scratch was tough – this was excruciating. My arms were tired from the constant scraping with only the aid of a paring knife, but I knew this was the difference between a fine caterer and catering by Hometown Buffet.

Halfway through prepping, MH called the whole staff over to practice the ‘placing’ and ‘clearing’ of courses. I stood in the lavish dining room and watched as MH stood in the kitchen, with five servers dressed nicely in prom gear, minus the jacket. Each one held two plates and approached the table in ‘snake’ formation. One by one, they circled the table and stopped between two chairs. MH nodded and all at once, they placed the plates neatly on the table in unison. Smooth. The ‘snake’ then circled the table and exited through a separate door.

MH: “Ok, I need you to cook the fish, scallops and lamb. Do not overcook them. We only have one chance. You screw up, we’re done.”
Me: “Uh. You want me to cook?”
MH: “You bet. I gotta do other stuff.”
Me: “Yes, Chef.”

I’ve been at The Restaurant for nearly three months and I still have not touched a sauté pan. Nor will I get to unless I endure another nine. In the corporate world, you start out as a coordinator and make your eventual climb in the ladder. From coordinator, you become an assistant whatever. Then a senior whatever. Then a vice whatever. And so on. In the kitchen, you are placed in the pantry. You aspire to work the grill so that you can stand in front of the fry-a-lator for $8/hr. Next, you work hard for another few months so that you can sauté old, fish. After a few more months, you become the senior partner – which consists of cooking meat. Add another 4-5 years and you can become a sous chef. So on and so on. In two days, I was given the opportunity to cook meats for the client. This was gold to me and I had no problem cooking the food. I was already liking this catering vs. restaurant ordeal.

6pm. The bell struck and Cinderella’s Ball was about to begin. As soon as the guests arrived, the camera’s started rolling. Here’s what was served.

A. Edamame and White Truffle Puree on Croccatini - Tasty and crispy
B. Triple Citrus Tiger Prawns - A delicious MH signature appetizer
C. Three Cheese Plate
D. Lettuce Wraps
E. Miso Cured Hapu 'Upu' U on Sautéed Baby Bok Choy - Hawaiian Seabass
F. Lamb With Black Caviar Lentils
G. Arugula with White Truffle oil, Marcona Almonds and Parmesan
H. Black Truffle Cheese - best cheese in the world
I. Lemon and Mango Sorbet
J. Citrus Tuilles with Fresh Berries and Crême Fraiche

How did I know how these dishes tasted? Because there were tons of leftovers. I ate for about 4 hours straight and got a chance to try the $300 wine. My favorites of the night were the Triple Citrus Prawns, Diver Scallops with Beurre Blanc (not pictured) and of course, the truffled cheese. I made myself a small grilled cheese using that cheese, and let me tell you, it'll blow your pants off.

The clients really enjoyed the dining experience and came in to thank us all. They liked her food so much that they've already reserved her for two more occasions next month. It was nice knowing that a a family, who also own their own restaurants, appreciated all that we had made for them. I love working at The Restaurant because of the friends I've made and the energetic workflow of the team, but this catering experience was truly eye-opening. MH, is a mother of two, who started out working for her parents bakery in Solvang and eventually moved to Hawaii to work at Roy's and several popular California restaurants. She received all of her culinary experience through many kitchens and here she is, only after three years -- cooking a fabulous nine course meal for people who don't know what else to do with their money. MH thanked me for helping out and sent me home early because I had a long drive to endure.

As I drove, I was still in disbelief over the unfolding of events on this accomplishing day. MH asked me to come back to work for her future events and I gladly accepted. I couldn't wait to get home to write about this and share it with all of you. And now, I am very, very tired.

Thanks for reading.