Eat Drink Style Yoshinoya: Quality Not Assured

On a scale of 5-stars, Yoshinoya deserves 1-star. Not for the food, which i personally think deserves 3 stars. This 1-star accolade applies to the knuckleheads for their level of customer service at this particular location that operate the establishment known as Yoshinoya... 'authentic' Japanese for non-Japanese. But like Jollibee, there is something intriguing – drawing me back in. The meat is beyond identifiable and could be a cross between donkey or zebra meat... a result of a bad animal cloning project gone awry that somehow made its way into our warm Styrofoam bowls. But man, that (insert mystery meat) juice is tasty.

So i go to Yoshinoya on the way home b/c that's where starving people frequent, especially when they have those BOGO free coupons. A whole bowl of zebra/donkey meat, onions and rice soaked in a lagoon of beef fat/soy sauce/msg for under $5. Hey i'm poor and hungry, sign me up please!

I walk in and immediately I see one female cashier sporting the manager button. She's laughing her ass off and looking down. I take a look at her and know that she's been down the HIGHway. Oily faced with slightly red eyes that were halfway open. I walk closer to the counter and take a look at the menu. Suddenly, i hear a laugh coming from below where her HIGHness is standing. Sure enough, she's got a colleague on the floor laughing while lying on her back. She looks at me and just busts up... doesn't even bother getting up. She apparently is high too. In the back, are two guys standing there laughing with them. After about 30 seconds later, the cashier realizes that... 'hey, maybe this guy is here for a reason. maybe he is actually here to order something from me. so maybe i should take his order? thanks my lovely brain." No sh*t, I came here to watch you circusfolk perform!

Cashier: "Hi, can i help you?"

Colleague-on-the-floor impersonates her in a weird voice: "Ugh... Hi, can i help you?"

Both start to laugh again uncontrollably. and gain conscience 15 seconds later.

Me: "I'll take two large beefs." (That sound weird.)

Cashier: *pppoooooffffft* "Ugh ok, two large beefs."

She then grabs the handy, bendy-mic and looks at me and says "two large beefs" in a deep and retarded tone and busts up.

Homegirl, who is still tanning on the floor under the fluorescent lights, starts laughing again. The whole time, the guy (line cooks) are echoing their laughs. They respond to the manager's professional request for 'two large beefs' and start to move about and DO something.

Cashier: "$9.50 please."

I pull out my card and swipe. I get my receipt and then the cashier says..

"Oh shit. I pushed the CASH button! haha. I didn't push debit/credit!"

Employee on the floor: "Stuuuuuupppppiiiiid."

More laughing ensues. I watched as she tried to correct the transaction for over 3 minutes. She couldn't even function and eventually just said "ah, fuck it!" Motor skills not kicking in.

Next, the girl on the floor gets up and grabs the mic from the cashier. And suddenly, a mini cat-fight ensues with some pretty hard slaps to the head – enough to hear a thump and make the two guys in the back say "oooooooh". They were too busy watching the cat-fight and stopped making my order. The girl backs off and wipes her hair/straightens out her clothing and suddenly grabs the mic again and starts to sing some song really loudly. She then pulls out her cellphone, activates her ringtone and puts it to the mic to add some musical ambiance to the restaurant, which already looks like a mix between a hospital cafeteria and morgue b/c of the drab tiling.

I stand back and just witness the wildlife scenario.... like I'm on a Safari. Binoculars and everything.

Next, two guys come in and walk straight to the counter. They whisper to the cashier and she walks to the kitchen and asks for some chicken wings and gives him a large cup. He gladly goes over to fill his drink and waits proudly for the free food. He is golden.

The four of them start to chat and I see my food being placed on the counter top. And I patiently wait to see how long it would take to get my food. 30 seconds. 45 seconds. 1 minute. 2 minutes. and finally at 3 minutes... I said "HEY!" while pointing at the food.

Cashier: "Oh fuck. sorry!"

I get my food, walk out and take a last look at the store and say to myself...

"I love Yoshinoya."

Eat Drink Style Garbage Pail Food #1: Yokohama Ramen, Los Angeles

It seems like there are accolades for virtually everything. In high school, it was the “Best ________” awards. In college, students with 6.0 GPA’s were recognized and hooked up with some scholarship money to continue proper schooling. In the workplace, ass-kissing employees will get some kind of “Team Leader/Brown-noser” award. There are even awards for porn stars. How proud must the parents of those ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’ be? So the same goes with the food blogosphere. There’s the recently completed, 2005 Food Blog and Urb Awards in which some of my friends over at the site were nominated. Well, I’ve decided to create my own category. Not really an award, but more of an ongoing category commemorating some of the worst piece of shit places I’ve eaten at. Introducing…

The Garbage Pail Food Accolade

This highly coveted award is derived from those notoriously gross and humorous trading cards that were banned from schools – Garbage Pail Kids. For those that may disagree with my selections, this is all in fun and probably a huge financial loss for the unlucky eateries. But who am i anyway? It's just one person's opinion.

The first recipient of the GPF award goes to Yokohama Ramen in West Los Angeles. On Saturday, before driving off to Hollywood Hills for a catering event, I wanted to get a bowl of ramen. I drove down Sawtelle Blvd. for my usual Kinchan’s ramen. On this day, it happened to be way crowded. I didn’t have time to scour for parking, so I just took off. My friend had told me about another ramen shop over on Barrington/Gateway called Yokohama. I drove down Barrington, excited that I’d be eating at a ramen place besides the Sawtelle Trio – Asahi, Kinchan’s and Ramenya (Olympic Blvd.)

Yokohama sits at the end of an old strip mall. Looks really depressing. It’s very easy to drive by this because Gateway isn’t really that busy of an intersection. I walked in and saw about 6 out of the 12 tables occupied. Ok, not bad. Should be good. The waitress handed me an sticky and oily laminated menu – a common sign of restaurants that prefer to focus on the food rather than a clean eating environment. Wow. I perused the menu to find 21 types of ramen! Nice.

Yokohama Ramen
Kyushu Ramen
Tokyo Nori Ramen
Shio Ramen
Shoyu Ramen
Shio Ramen
Spicy Miso Ramen
Chashu Ramen…

And the prices were reasonable - $5.50 to 7 for a big bowl of noodles. So I ordered the Shoyu ramen. The waitress tried to convince me to try the #1 Yokohama special, which was ramen topped with seafood, pork and veggies. Naw. Anytime I go into a ramen shop, I wanna try the popular stuff – either shoyu or miso. You don’t go to a Vietnamese Pho restaurant and order a Banh Mi sandwich – you gotta try the pho. I also ordered some gyoza. Also on the menu, was Korean and Chinese food. Odd. Could this be one of those fake Japanese restaurants – like Kabuki, which is Korean-owned? I like Kabuki though.

10 minutes later, my food arrived. I happily rubbed my hands together and attempted to split the wooden chopsticks perfectly. Never happens. So with my retarded chopsticks and spoon, I dove into the bowl and fished out the broth. Uh oh. This wasn’t good at all. It really tasted like they added soy sauce to hot water. Did they even make their own pork stock? I then tried the noodles, which were soggy and similar in taste to Nissin packaged noodles. I then tried the cuts of spinach – they had been precooked and maybe even frozen. I could still taste old water in it. The bamboo shoots looked tasty, but had this weird smell – like it had been kept in a metal container for a long time. And finally, with one last attempt at redeeming itself as a decent bowl of ramen, I grabbed the Chashu pork slices. Ok it was tender, but there was this weird liver-like smell to the meat. Could it be somewhat rotten? I didn’t even finish this bowl of noodles. I pushed it aside and waited for my gyoza.

Before I even reached for the gyoza, I could tell they were frozen just by looking at the soggy skin. They looked like they had been sitting out under a heat lamp for a good hour before they were microwaved and dished out to the Chinese guy who just ate some really bad Shoyu ramen. Even Todai’s dumplings looked better than this. That should tell you a lot since Todai is the Asian cousin of Hometown Buffet.

There you have it. The first recipient of the GPF award. For anyone else that’s been there, I’d really like to know what you thought of their food. Again, this is all IMO.

Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style SF Good Eats #3.5 - Meeting the Passionate Eater of SF

It was now 6 pm, and I found myself driving alone back from Napa Valley. Well, there were two other bodies in the car, but DY and Mei had passed the hell out after going to four wineries. Or wait, was it five? *shrug* On the last run, they didn’t even bother going in with me for the tasting. Anyway, I had to drive with the windows rolled down, iPod singing and cigarettes lit – anything to keep me up because I was still buzzed. I was falling asleep too and not about to pull over for a napster. I don’t know too many people that actually become more energetic after drinking wine. Beer is what does it for me.

We got back to the Mission around 6:30 and I had about an hour to get ready, because tonight I was meeting up with a fellow blogger for the first time. Being a daily reader of her blog, I had to meet the woman behind the honest, detailed and smartly written reviews about her food, and how it was involved in her life.

Me: “Hello?”
PE: “Yes, Hi. May I speak with Dylan?”
Me: “Speaking?”
PE: “Hello, Dylan. Am I calling at a bad time? This is ________, and you may also know me as the Passionate Eater.”
Me: “Oh hey. Jesus, why are you speaking so formally? I thought you were a telemarketer ready to sell me something? I was this close to hanging up haha.”
PE: “Oh, I’m sorry.”
Me: “So what are we eating tonight?”
PE: “I like Indian food.”
Me: “Likewise, you pick.”
PE: “See you at the Indian Oven at 7:30.”
Me; “I’m there.”

I jumped in the shower, buzzed. Ever take a shower when you’re buzzed? It feels great haha. After the shower, I was completely sober. Amazing. Anyway, I mapquested the Indian Oven Restaurant and headed out. Before we got off the phone, she asked what I was wearing. I was gonna tell her, “leopard skin mini skirt with white pumps and a blonde wig”, but she might’ve flaked out on me – thinking I was a complete freak.

7:25 pm. I got to the Indian Oven, and no sign of PE and her bf. I didn't expect her to hold up a sign with “Passionate Eater” on it or anything. I’ve never really met anyone on the Internet, so a million things ran through my head. Your brain automatically attempts to process the things you’ve read about a person, and develop somewhat of an image. When Best of LA and I met Daily Gluttony for the first time, she probably did the same. Every single person that walked by, I tried to fit them into my mental mold. People must’ve thought I had a staring problem.

But then a few minutes later, a young lady and a young man approached me quickly. And I knew it was her because she carried a cheery disposition that was reflective of her writing style, and well it was 7:30 pm. Put those two clues together, voila… Passionate Eater.

From the moment the three of us sat down, we talked and talked and talked. I think the waiter came to us twice to take our order and we waved him off. By the third time, we were ‘obligated’ to order. Lamb, tiki masala, naan, whatever, just order anything PE haha. “Ok, back to what I was saying about… “

I’m really glad that I’ve gotten into this food blogging hobby. I mean it’s really great to be a part of a community with common and SPECIFIC interests, like food. And I think we surprised each other with just how much we remembered and knew about each other through writings on food.

PE: "How's your finger?"
Me: "No, no. How's your finger?"

Me: "Were you exhausted after that Super Bowl Party you catered?"
PE: "Yeah, weren't you after your catering gig?"

We talked about other sites that we enjoyed reading. Talked about things we were going to cook next. Blah blah blah and more blah, blah, blah. I looked over at PE’s boyfriend and couldn’t help but think that he was bored to tears. It was now 9:30 pm and it was time to go. Otherwise, I would’ve had to carry PE’s boyfriend into the car.

Oh yeah, was the food good? Yeah it was good. I don’t have any pictures because I charged the batteries but forgot to put them in the camera. Genius. Luckily, PE’s boyfriend had one of those all-in-one phones and took a snapshot of the delicious Samosas and one of PE & me. Regardless, even if the food tasted like ass, it was still a great night of conversation and wine.

Here are some of her postings that I like:

Valentine's Day
Super Bowl Sunday

PE and PE’s boyfriend, nice meeting you.

If there’s a blogger you frequently read about, I’d encourage meeting up with him or her sometime. It’s fun, different and nice to meet the person behind the black, 8-pt text that you stare at all day long. If I'm ever in Singapore, I'm knocking on Jocelyn of Kuiadore's door for haute dining. J, is that okay?

Pam, Kirk, Yoony, Jeni and OC people (Elmo, Prof. Salt and MealCentric), name the date and time!

Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style San Francisco Good Eats #3: Where's Thomas Keller? - Bouchon, Yountville, Napa Valley

To eat at Thomas Keller’s “French Laundry” requires a two-month reservation and an hour drive from San Francisco to the small town of Yountville. For $210, you’re entitled to a fabulous 9-course meal with complementary dishes from Chef Keller. Since my trip to San Francisco was planned with such short notice, I wasn’t able to reserve in time. But, I had to at least see what the place looked like since I was going up to Napa Valley anyway. As I drove up with DY and her friend Mei, I was anxious and excited. Fingers and feet tapping, I wondered if I’d be able to see Thomas Keller at his restaurant. After an hour, we reached the Yountville exit, and my anticipation grew from a slight finger-tapping on the steering wheel, to an accelerated heart-rate. I started to count down the address numbers…

6650… 6648… 6646… 6644… 6642…

and finally, 6640. I stopped the car, made a U-turn and parked the car along the roadside.

Me: “I’ll be right back.”
DY and Mei rolled their eyes.

I approached the complex slowly like a ninja. The gold-plated “French Laundry” sign was tucked neatly on the bottom of the building – quite easy to miss. Being careful not to be spotted as another tourist, itching for a peak into the French Laundry. I tried to take a peek inside the restaurant. Negative. The windows were blocked by shutters. Tightly. I then crept along the left side of the restaurant, and saw two cooks unloading goods. Probably $500 caviar and cases of foie gras fresh from France. Still no sign of my target. I went back around to the backyard of the restaurant. Keep in mind, before Chef Keller took over the house, it was a French Laundromat. I tippy-toed to look over the fence and I saw two young Asian cooks, probably stagiers (interns), chatting away. I wanted to go up the stairs to what I thought was the entrance, but people were guarding the door. And all of a sudden, I felt somewhat disappointed. My glimmer of hope had suddenly dissipated into oblivion and I walked back to my car. DY and Mei gave me puzzled looks.

DY: “Well did you see him?”
Me: “Naw.”
DY: “Who cares. Let’s go eat then.”

She didn’t understand how badly I wanted to meet him. But then again, what would I do if I did see him? Ask him to take a photo with me? Autograph his own cookbooks that I didn’t even own yet? Give me leftovers from last night’s $210 dinner? I then decided, one day before I die, I will forget that I’m Chinese, and actually give Thomas Keller my $210 without gripping onto the dollar bills.

By now, we were hungry from the long drive. I figured the next best thing to do was eat at Thomas Keller’s ‘cheaper’ restaurant, Bouchon, which is also located in the town of Yountville – three blocks away. I think the girls knew that I really wanted to eat at The French Laundry and agreed to eat an expensive lunch to make up for it.

Walking up to Bouchon, I didn’t see any large signs screaming its name. Instead, I found myself stepping on a large Willy-Wonka like rug on the ground that said “Bouchon”. Well not that big. I’m only exaggerating because I’m so fascinated with Thomas Keller. In a sense, it was like the Willy Wonka story. People flock to eat Thomas Keller's food, but do they really ever see him? Upon entering, I saw two cooks working behind the seafood bar. Bouchon was known for its many varieties of oysters and oceanic delicacies. I, of course, would try it some.

Seriously, Bouchon wasn’t as large and elegant as I imagined it to be. A few palm trees were placed inside. The floors wore a black & white checkered look. The walls painted with a French style. The patrons eating there? I think the average age was 103. After 10 minutes, we were brought menus, bread and water. Here’s what we had:

A. Oysters From the Bar
At $15 for 1/2 a dozen, these are quite pricey. Were they good? Yes. I couldn't remember the name of the oysters, but I know that the small and sweet, Kumamotos, were included along with three types of sauces.

B. Crab Salad with Watercress
I didn't get to try this, but the girls seemed to enjoy it. $9.75

C. French Onion Soup
This dish was very good, probably one of the better french onion soups i've tasted. The crust is actually not made of dough, it's ALL CHEESE, with maybe a few croutons in the soup itself. The soup had a balanced taste of sweetness and saltiness. $8.50

D. Roasted Leg of Lamb with Thyme Jus
This was my entree and I enjoyed every bit of it. Although a small portion, the lamb was cooked to a perfect medium doneness and al dente'd beans. I thought that they could use less Thyme Jus because my beans were drowning within. Very good though. $24.50

E. Croque Madame
This was basically a ham and cheese sandwich with a baked egg on top, served with fries. The girls split this and really enjoyed it. The egg cooked perfectly, and beautiful waterfalls of cheese oozing over the side of the sandwich. The fries sucked though - too salty and probably purchased from Sysco Foods.

Overall, I enjoyed the Bouchon, bistro-experience. I don't think I would come back though, because $45 for a lunch is a bit exorbitant. If you're gonna spy on the French Laundry like I have, you should just try this once. Or at least go to the Bouchon Bakery next door.

6534 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-8037

After this, we spent the next 4 hours driving up and down the highway, stopping at a few of the 250 wineries in Napa Valley. I wish I can remember the good ones that we went to... but you can imagine after about 3 hours of drinking, it's quite tough.

Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style My Love for Maggi Seasoning Sauce - Maggi Sauce

Maggi Family

From Wikipedia
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - is a psychiatric anxiety disorder most commonly characterized by a subject's obsessive, distressing, intrusive thoughts and related compulsions (tasks or "rituals") which attempt to neutralize the obsessions.

The phrase "obsessive-compulsive" has worked its way into the wider English lexicon, and is often used in an offhand manner to describe someone who is meticulous or absorbed in a cause (see "anal retentive"). Such casual references should not be confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder; see clinomorphism. It is also important to distinguish OCD from other types of anxiety, including the routine tension and stress that appear throughout life. Although these signs are often present in OCD, a person who shows signs of infatuation or fixation with a subject/object, or displays traits such as perfectionism, does not necessarily have OCD, a specific and well-defined condition.

Yes, but I know I have OCD for sure and I am proud of it. Just refer to the picture above. Yesterday, I got an email from Wandering Chopsticks concerning a VERY IMPORTANT matter: the main difference between all the various Maggi seasoning sauces from different parts of the world – which inspires me to write this posting. On a side note, before I went to Mexico, I thought all Maggi sauces tasted the same. And I couldn't be more wrong. I'm sure my fellow foodies, Steamy Kitchen and Guilty Carnivore, would also agree!

First a little history about this sauce that most people incorrectly refer to as a variation of soy sauce – its wheat. Maggi is a Swiss company well known for producing dehydrated stock cubes, instant noodles and soups since 1872. The Maggi family sold most of its products to factory workers who were too poor, occupied by long hours of work and for people that weren't getting enough nutrition in their food. They made headlines with the invention of the bouillon cube. For the impoverished, a simple soup could be made with leftover vegetables, some water and 2-3 cubes of Maggi's bouillon cubes. And today, the most popular product is the seasoning sauce, which is sold in a dark brown bottle with a thick, yellow cap. A few dashes in your soup, steak or eggs, and you're food is taken to another level. Is it healthy? Probably not. Even the bottle warns you to 'add just a few drops'. They aren't kidding because you're dealing with some serious sodium levels. For sure it has monosodium glutamate, but damn, it's good. My favorite way of eating this is over fried eggs with a few dashes of Sriracha. In fact, I'll have some now...

Ok, I'm back from eating my Maggi eggs. *Sigh* So good. Anyway, I just wanted to share with everyone one of the many outlets for my OCD. I started collecting Maggi seasonings after I had lunch with a Chicago-based foodie of Polish descent. We met for lunch at Mien Nghia one day in Chinatown, and as a gift, he brought me a bottle of Polish Maggi. You could imagine my surprise when I learned that Asians weren't the only ones to share this lovely sauce. The label was printed completely in Polish and the only thing that I understood was the distinctly shaped red cap w/ the pinpoint spout and dark brown glass. I asked if I could open it and try it out. I ripped off the seal and used my fingernail to pry open the tiny cap. I looked at the tiny spout, meant for minimal dashing upon food, and dabbed a little on my finger. I then took a whiff expecting it to smell familiar – but it was different... almost stronger and more sour. I brought my finger to my mouth and tasted it. Wow. Delicious and completely different than the sauce that sat in the kitchen of my parents' house since the day I was born. Right then, I knew that I wanted to try all of the Maggi seasonings of the world. Refer back to the definition of OCD at the top of the posting if you've suddenly forgotten what this posting is about.

The Maggi Family Portrait, from Left to Right

A. Maggi Inglesa from Mexico
- tastes like a dumbed-down version of Worcestershire Sauce. I don't recommend it, go with Worcestershire Sauce.

B. Maggi Garlic Seasoning from Manila
- probably my 2nd favorite Maggi that I own. Has a great garlic punch that I've used on fried eggs and food revived by the microwave oven. I bought this at the filipino market, Seafood City. I highly recommend!

C. Grandpa Maggi from My Mom's House - that is the largest size allowed by the FDA because of its potency. Anything larger than that can be categorized as a weapon of mass destruction to your kidneys. It takes a LONG time to use up this Costco-sized Maggi. If you've used up more than 5 of those in your lifetime, you're probably already dead and have somehow managed to catch free wireless in heaven to read this posting. This is the version you'll find at any Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai market. I don't think Koreans or Japanese use this sauce – it's a Southeast Asian thing. Even my relatives with the worst English comprehension know the word Maggi – pronounced "mack-key". Overall, it's very light in color and taste compared to its international cousins.

D. Maggi Jugo from Mexico (Spicy) - jugo is spanish for 'juice', or in this context, 'sauce'. I was overjoyed when I saw the icon of a chili pepper on this mini Maggi bottle. It definitely has a little spice to it, but I could use about 10x more picante. In Latin American cooking, Maggi is used mostly with soups (caldos) and braised stews such as posole, caldo de mariscos and machaca shredded beef. Mexican Maggi is WAY different than any Maggi sauce I have tasted – it is extremely thick, rich and dark. It's as dark as oil from a car that's 8,000 miles behind on an oil change – like mine. We put 2 drops on a tortilla chip, and the taste sustained for a few seconds. Awesome.

E. Maggi Jugo from Mexico (Plain) - this one has an icon of a pan boiling some food. I don't know what to infer from it? Again, it is thick and rich but not as good as the spicy version.

F. Maggi Jugo from Mexico (Soy Sauce) - this one had an icon of a sushi roll and it is what it is – soy sauce. Tastes like Kikkoman.

G. Maggi from Germany - at nearly $20 a bottle, this is the bourdeaux of Maggi Sauces. Freaking expensive but worth the money – it tastes better than Asian Maggi. I would trade this for a bottle of Mexican Maggi.

H. Maggi Jugo from Mexico (Lime) - it is what it is, Maggi with a dash of lime. Think of it as Maggi Sauce on vacation in Mexico, drinking a Corona on a white sand beach. If you don't have limes to go with your Mexican soup, this would do just fine. Tastes great on tortilla chips too!

I. Maggi from Poland - Poland gets the Silver Medal in the Maggi Olympics, closely behind Mexico and with a good lead ahead of Manila's Garlic Maggi. Sharp and pungent, this is a lapdance for your tongue. Love it, thanks again to ErikM. I use this SPARINGLY.

J. Maggi from France (Not Pictured) - this isn't pictured for a simple reason... I have it at work! Many coworkers give me the "WTF" look when I pull this out and douse my food with it. J gave me this as a gift and I love that she wants to destroy my kidneys. The French version is a little more concentrated than the Asian Maggi and has more taste in my opinion than the German version.

Here at Eat, Drink & Be Merry, we only discuss SERIOUS global issues like this. If you've tried an international version of Maggi, share your thoughts on this destructive yet delicious sauce. I've heard that Ethiopian cuisine employs a lot of Maggi Sauce, yummy. By the way, more evidence of the Maggi brand in other countries. Tonight, J & I watched the Jamaica episode of No Reservations and guess what we see in the background...

Maggi Sauce in No Reservations Jamaica Episode

Maggi Sauce in No Reservations Jamaica Episode

Maggi Sauce in No Reservations Jamaica Episode

Thanks to Charlene Collins for this awesome photo of Maggi real estate. Has escrow closed on that? If not, I'm bidding $500 on that.

More Maggi Militia here...
Guilty Carnivore

Steamy Kitchen
Wandering Chopsticks
Epicurious Online

Thanks for reading. Support the Maggi Family!

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.

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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