Eat Drink Style Hot Pot. Remixed.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

Winter is coming and for Jeni and I it means one delicious thing to add to the menu: hot pot. But the problem is, she being Japanese, loves her nabemono, Japanese hot pot. Me being Chinese, I love Chinese/Mongolian style hot pot. There isn't really a difference between the cultural versions of hot pot, but rather the sauces are what makes it unique. The Chinese typically use plain water from the start, but I myself really enjoy Mongolian style hot pot because it's flavorful right from the get-go. After all, Mongolians did invent hot pot and brought it down to China, probably Sichuan (Szechuan) first. They even invented the style of food called Korean BBQ in which meat was grilled upon metals shields and open fire. If you've eaten at Mon Land Hot Pot or Little Fat Sheep, then you've had this flavorful dish. The soup used for dipping/cooking is simply an awesome array of over 35+ ingredients that really creates a nice aroma throughout your house. And for us, there's nothing more homey than a hot pot meal.

So rather than push each other's button on which type of hot pot we should do, we did a little compromise. A remix basically. We both get to buy our own goodies, use our own sauces and enjoy. She likes udon, I like my bean thread vermicelli. She hates my fish cake but throw in some dumplings to make her happy. Luckily, she digs the Mongolian flavor and I like this kimchi flavor package she uses from time to time. So everyone is happy. Here's what we eat.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

According to a waitress at Little Fat Sheep, she said there are over 50+ ingredients for their hot pot. Forget trying to recreate this at home and look for this brand with an imitation 'little sheep' cartoon on it. It even SAYS 'fat sheep' in Chinese too. I think this one tastes the most like Little Fat Sheep and Mon Land Hot Pot and will cost you only $1.79. They have two flavors... the one pictured above is regular and there is a spicy one. What we usually do is use the plain one for the base and add the spicy one in for kick – probably only 3-4 tablespoons are needed. I got this at the Shun Fat Supermarket on San Gabriel Blvd. & Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel. These were so good I bought like 15 packs of each flavor, walking around like I'm on that Supermarket Spree gameshow.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

This is the ingredient that separates Mainland China (typically Northern) from the rest of Chinese cuisine. It's cold up there and they like food that will keep them warm inside, even numbing the mouth. These is red peppercorn powder, or as its labeled, prickly ash powder. One teaspoon of this and the packaged broth is taken to another level. It has a slight 'limey' taste on the tongue, but it's really a numbing feeling.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

You can simply pour the flavor package into a pot with water and proceed to eat. But to really call it your own, you can try adding a few things. I like to add shrimp shells, 4-5 ginger slices, daikon and some garlic. Adds a real nice flavor to it all.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

Here you can see the Japanese and Chinese melting pot in action. I've got my Chinese/Chiu Chow meat/fish balls and she's got her beef and fish cakes.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

In Chinese hot pot, you usually eat napa cabbage, spinach and hollowed morning glory. But napa cabbage is the common denominator in our remix. Along with Japanese leeks, dumplings and usually 3 types of mushrooms including shitake, king and shimeji. King mushrooms are the best because you can cut them somewhat thick for a 'meatier' texture.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

In Chinese hot pot, this is a popular condiment: Bullhead satay barbecue sauce (sa cha jiang). A potent sludge that is made with chilis, dried shrimp, small fish, shallots and oil. I cannot live without this sauce. A lot of people use this differently and I was taught by my parents to add an egg into this sauce with some soy sauce, green onions and cilantro. Some people like vinegar in it as well. Either way, everything that goes into the hot pot will be dunked in this sauce. Mmmmm.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

Jeni likes these sauces. On the left you have goma dare, which is a sesame sauce. She will grind fresh sesame seeds with her mortar and add this for a nice aroma. On the right, you have ponzu, a citrus-based sauce that is as dark as soy sauce but is made with mirin, vinegar and seaweed. Both are solid sauces.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

And here are a few important utensils: chopsticks and scooper to get the runaway bits.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

I'm up for trying new hot pot ingredients or sauces. How do YOU hot pot? Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park - $3 Echo Park Happy Meal

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

I was driving back home on my normal route through Echo Park into Silver Lake, and my taco radar went off. My eyes dilated the way they did in Requiem For A Dream, which by the way, is one of the most depressing movies ever. Through my peripheral vision, I spotted the Home Depot clamp lamps that I've grown all too familiar with. Home Depot clamp lamps = good street food. I parked and to my surprise, they had quite a small setup, not the usual 1-2 griddle tables, but rather a large pot and a steaming lid. I looked closely at the sign... barbacoa. Even better. What a relief it was to find someone selling something other than the usual suspect tacos.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

I asked the taquero to lift the lid and it big mushroom steam cloud of 'lamb bomb' hit all of us.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Along with your taco is an offering of a consome, also known as consomme in French, or simply... broth. Like Asian cooking, bones are not discarded after the meat has been removed. They are reserved to provide further sustenance, usually in soup form. Depending on the state in Mexico, they may offer different types of broth. I've had it at Highland Park's My Taco and East LA's Breed Street, which offer consome de chivo, a goat broth which is even better than the taste of lamb in my opinion. But Barbacoa Hidalgo does a consome de borrego... so you've got a lamb soup to go with your lamb taco. Which I'm calling the $3 Echo Park happy meal. Sorry no toy included.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Taco de Borrego (Lamb Taco)
For $1.50, it seems like I got 2-3 tacos worth. They piled the meat high and with a smile. The meat was moist and pretty tasty. The hot sauce offered was quite spicy. Never worry, there's always a bucket of Mexican sodas or water.

Barbacoa Hidalgo, Echo Park

Consome de Borrego (Lamb Broth)
For $1.50, you also get this. A lamb broth with onions and chickpeas. I always pile in a ton of onions, cilantro and 1-2 squeezes of lime. No need for hot sauce, this has a nice kick already. The soup was a bit on the salty side but it's important to note that some people will eat this almost like a French Dip. They'll dip their taco in the broth for a flavor kick, and it's tasty.

Barbacoa Hidalgo sets up shop every night from 7-11 pm in Echo Park off Sunset/Echo Park Avenue. Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style A Dinner for My Uncle - Braised Lamb Shanks, Black Cod with Mushroom Dashi, Poached Octopus and Seared Scallops

A Dinner for My Uncle

It was 1983 and I had just woken up from a long nap on the plane. My mom quickly tapped on my shoulder and pointed out the tiny window. I was groggy and disoriented from my first airplane flight (Pan Am!) – but my eyes grew wide open. To this day, I can vividly recall the yellow lights of Hong Kong's harbor and Kowloon City. I could see large junk ships sprinkled all over the green water and cars cruising the streets like fish swimming in a two-way stream. My mom was from Macau, now the Las Vegas of Asia, but had moved to Hong Kong to work. She then moved to the United States in the early 70s to pursue a more opportunistic life as many Asians did. She got married a few years later and had me and my sister. It was now eleven years since she had left her father and brothers and she was happy to come back to Hong Kong now with her own family.

For first time visitors to Asia, it is usually quite a disorienting, stimulating experience. Like life on fast-forward. We filed out of the airplane, picked up our luggage and proceeded through the long hallways towards the exit. As we got closer, I could hear indistinct chatter from people and cars honking. I was taken aback by how many people were waiting to pick up their friends and family. The lighting was a bit dim and casted behind the crowd. At my age and size, everyone seemed like a giant silhouette to me. It was daunting. But all of a sudden, my mom sped up ahead of me and my dad, who was holding my baby sister. We could see a man behind the rail waving vigorously with a huge smile on his face. This has to be the Uncle my mom had spoken about so often. "Kow-fu", as I would learn to call him, which means "mom's younger brother" in Cantonese Chinese. I didn't know him but I knew I liked him the second he picked me and my sister us up for a hug. It was 1983 and I was now in Hong Kong with my new family.

The details of the trip were blurry after the day at the airport. I can only be reminded of the activities we did through pictures. A lot of photos of us at restaurants with "lazy susans" on the tables. Photos of us on random park slides. Anonymous old people holding us. Anonymous people with terrible 1980s fashion holding us. But one thing we'll never forget is the feeling of love that my Uncle gave us and that constant smile that could only come from a good relationship between him and my mom.

In the next 27 years, we had visited and seen my Uncle at least 8-10 times. But this time, he was coming back to Los Angeles to visit my family. I had grown a lot since then and I am now married myself. He had met Jeni before but this time he would be stepping into our house. It was now my turn to make him feel the way I felt when I met him that day at the airport in Hong Kong. If I had to write about the impact of my "Kow-fu" on our life, it would be a long series. But what do you give someone who pretty much has everything, has seen a better part of the world and indeed lives a life rich in so many ways. And as I've learned and preached throughout my time writing this blog is the importance of food, friends and family. In almost everything we do, food does bring us together. As children, we all hated being force-fed by family. They weren't trying to make our lives difficult, they were just trying to provide sustenance and love.

With that, I decided to show my appreciation for my Uncle and Aunt visiting from Hong Kong with a home-cooked meal. With Nathan and Karen McCall's wonderful offerings, local farmers market and great wine from Jill Bernheimer's Domaine LA, I was able to prepare a California-ish menu.

Kowfu Dinner Scallops

Seared Diver Scallop with Piquillo Pepper Sauce & Spanish-style Green Beans
Recently, the scallops at McCall's have almost been as large as a hockey puck. The bigger ones are obviously meaty yet can be challenging to cook since you stand a better chance of undercooking it or "cracking" the scallop - a HUGE pet-peeve of mine. In that case, less is more theory comes in to play. If you don't think you can handle the large size scallop, get two smaller sized ones. If you haven't had piquillo peppers before, you may want to start using them over red bell peppers – they are so sweet and subtly smokey. You will usually find them jarred with olive oil and water. I recommend Bajamar, which McCall's and La Española (Harbor City) has. If not, Trader Jose will work just fine.

Ingredients
Diver or Dayboat Scallops
Roasted Piquillo Peppers
Wax beans
Garlic
Whole Dried Peppers (I like Thai, spicier than Mexican and Italian)
Heavy whipping Cream
Chicken broth (optional)
Lemon
Smoked paprika
Butter
Sugar
S&P
Olive Oil

(1) Blanch the wax beans prior to cooking them in the pan, it'll make your life much easier. Bring the water to a rigorous boil, add two tablespoons of salt and a shot of olive oil. Add the beans and cook for about 3 minutes, strain the beans and shock them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Remove from water and dry with paper towels. These should have a nice crunch to them, but not a raw taste.

(2) In a blender, add about 3-4 pieces of the piquillo peppers, one clove of garlic and a little cream. Blend it and add cream and stock as needed for a nice consistency. Add sugar for some sweetness. Don't worry about it being too chunky. Upon service, you will heat the sauce up in a pan with some butter and smooth it out. Salt and pepper to your taste. If you want, you can blend it for another few minutes. Set the sauce in a pan on low heat as you'll be serving it right away over the scallop.

(3) In a skillet or iron pan, keep the heat on high. Make sure the scallops are COMPLETELY DRY before seasoning them with S&P. The more moisture your scallop has, the more difficult it is to get a nice caramelized "cap". The heat must be high but not to the point it is "cracking" your scallop open. You have to babysit scallops or they will lose control. They'll drop out of school, starting doing drugs and you'll never hear from them again. 3-4 minutes per side depending on the size of your scallop. Set aside.

(4) Sauté the beans on super high heat. They have already been cooked but you want that last kiss of heat from the skillet. Add olive oil, toss in the beans. Add garlic, dried chili peppers, smoked paprika and S&P to taste. When I cook this, it takes no more than 1 minute because my skillet is smoking hot. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the dish and serve. The sweetness of the scallop blends really well with the smokiness of the piquillo peppers and spiciness of the sautéed green beans.

A Dinner for My Uncle

Poached Polipolata Octopus with La Quercia Pancetta and Baby Potato & Celery Salad
This is inspired by one of my favorite Italian dishes in Los Angeles. Both Osteria Mozza and Osteria Mamma (ex-Chef of Osteria La Buca) offer a tasty, poached-octopus salad. The former cooks the octopus with the "fabled wine cork method" and finishes it off on the grill. The latter poaches the octopus in water and offers a lighter, delicate version of this famed Italian dish. I chose to follow the latter because I didn't have time to do a final char. And since an octopus lacks bones and sinews, there is no need to do excessive braising. The preparation of my 4 lb. octopus took no longer than 1 hour 15 mins. After all, you are not serving the whole octopus, only the tentacles.

Ingredients
Octopus
Baby potatoes
Celery
Chives
La Quercia pancetta (any will do, even Nueske bacon)
Special occasion olive oil
Regular olive oil
Lemon
S&P

(1) Wash the octopus, touch its eyeballs and say "sorry". You don't want to submerge the octopus in hot, boiling water because it will curl up really quickly and tighten all the tentacles. Instead, add the octopus to a pot and fill it with cold water. Add 2-3 tablespoons of salt. Bring the octopus to a boil (probably 10-12 minutes) and immediately cook on low heat. The key here is to check Mr. Octopus every 15 minutes. You do not want a mushy, overcooked octopus – it's gross. Cut a piece of the tentacle off and try a piece from the wider part of the tentacle. If it tastes soft yet still meaty, you're good to go. Cut off all the tentacles at the base and add them to an ice bath. Discard the head. Remove the tentacles once they are cold and pat them dry. Mix some olive oil with the tentacles in a bowl and keep it refrigerated. You are prepping them for sautéing or grilling.

(2) Boil the potatoes til they are in between hard and fork-tender. Shock them in ice. You will be cutting them into small pieces and want a somewhat nice bite to them - not mashed potatoes.

(3) If you are grilling the octopus tentacles, make sure they have a nice char on high heat. You want that nice grill taste. If you are sautéing, cut the tentacles up into 1/4" - 1/2" pieces. Sauté on high heat in a skillet with garlic and a little white wine if you'd like.

(4) Cook pancetta until they are slightly crispy. Pat them dry with a paper towel.

(5) Mix the tentacles, potatoes, celery, pancetta and chives in a bowl. Cough it up, and use the SPECIAL OCCASION olive oil since this will make or break the dish. You use cheap olive oil, it will taste like styrofoam. People will know you're cheap, delete you off Facebook and never speak to you again. S&P and lemon juice.

Kowfu Dinner Black Cod

Pan-Roasted Black Cod with Matsutake and Bun Shimeji Mushroom Dashi
The black cod at McCall's is intensely fresh and fatty. It is almost impossible to overcook this fish but the most desired part of this fish is a nice crisp skin. I've messed up on this in the past. If you overcook the skin it'll be blackened. If you undercook it, you'll get this soggy, scab-like texture which can be undesirable. In this dish, the moist fish is combined with the earthiness of Japanese mushrooms in a light dashi stock. Dashi is a key Japanese stock that is made with fish powder, bonito fish flakes, sea kelp (kombu), sake or mirin and salt. The result is a broth that can be sold as a soft drink. I've cooked this dish many times and my guests have always been happy. If you don't want to make your own broth, you can just buy a bottle of udon/somen/tsuyu sauce. From there, add shitake mushrooms, bonito flakes, soy sauce and sugar and just achieve the taste you're looking for. It should be slightly sweet and salty and match the milkiness of the black cod.

Ingredients
Black cod (skin-on)
Your choice of Japanese mushrooms (I used Beech, King, oyster, Matsutake)
Microgreens
Shichimi Togorashi (Japanese 7-ingredient chili pepper mix)

Dashi Ingredients
Dashi-no-moto fish stock (comes in large box or packets)
Shitake mushrooms
Bonito flakes (katsuoboshi)
Soy Sauce
Sake or Mirin
Sugar
Water

(1) I am very bad at measurements and just eyeball everything – tasting as I go. Start out with some water in a pot and add soy sauce. Throw in about 4 dried shitake mushrooms and a handful of bonito flakes and lightly bring water to a boil. Then add about 2-3 tablespoons of the dashi no moto fish stock powder to get that 'fishy' taste you have in good miso soup. From here it's a game of adding sugar and more soy sauce to achieve the final taste. Again, the result should have a nice hint of sweetness, fish, mushrooms and smokiness from the bonito flakes. Set on the side on super low heat. Bring to a boil upon service.

(2) Keep your oven on at 450 degrees. Sear the black cod in a oven-safe skillet (meaning no plastic handles) on medium to high heat and carefully watch that skin. You'll know the skin is being cooked on too high of heat when your smoke alarm goes off and you'll know the skin is being cooked on too low of heat when the fish starts sweating out the water. It has to be in between. I'd say 5-6 minutes on the skin side and then toss it in the oven for about 4-5. Keep checking the fish by jiggling it. It should be done when it's not like jello, and not too firm.

(3) Sauté the mushrooms of your choice on high heat and add a little bit of the Japanese 7-spice pepper mix.

(4) Now you're ready to serve. You want to add piping hot broth AROUND the fish. Pretend your black cod is a castle perched on top of mountain of mushrooms, surrounded by a mushroom broth moat and garnished with microgreen trees. Make sure the broth does not touch the fish. Protect that castle. Enjoy.

Kowfu Dinner Lamb Shanks

Braised Lamb Shanks with Serrano Chile Salsa Verde and Lazy-man Lentils
I felt a braised dish would be a great way to end a dinner. To me, a braised dish is the epitome of a home-cooked meal by a loved one. It's comforting, tasty and very tender. There aren't too many things that would suck as a result of a braising in a Le Creuset pot. Instead of doing the usual wine-braise, Nathan and I had discussed a beer braise with veal stock instead of chicken stock for that extra shot of slight "gameness". Often times, red wine can make a dish too "heavy" and this new plan offered an escape from food coma. For the salsa verde, I searched high and low for a good recipe. Many suggested either boiling the tomatillos, blending the tomatillos raw or roasting the tomatillos. Boiling would take away from the taste a little. Blending raw tomatillos would result in a super sour taste. I went with roasting because I like the taste. As for the lazy-man lentils, what I mean by that is use Trader Joe's pre-cooked ones – it'll save you so much time. Upon service, just wake it up with some chicken stock, garlic and butter.

Ingredients for Lamb Shank Braise
Lamb Shanks
Mire Poix (onions, carrots, celery)
Thyme
Bay Leaves
Cumin
Veal Stock Demi-glace (available at McCall's, if not use chicken stock)
2 cans of lager/light beer (I used Sapporo)
Red Wine (for color)
Chicken Stock
Whole bulb of garlic

Ingredients for Salsa Verde
8-10 Tomatillos (green tomatoes)
1 large onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
cilantro bunch
lime juice (if needed)
Chicken broth (optional)
Serrano or jalapeno chiles
Salt

Lamb Shanks

(1) In a dutch oven (Le Creuset), brown the shanks over high heat. The browner they get, the more flavor and better looking they'll be. Use salt and oil freely since you want to get a nice browning. This takes about 10 minutes. Remove shanks and place in a bowl. Keep the oil in the dutch oven.

(2) Sweat the mire poix for about 8 minutes and add 4-5 sprigs of thyme, 2-3 bay leaves and a beheaded bulb of garlic (don't bother peeling the garlic).

(3) Add shanks back in and add about 1 cup of red wine for color, 2 cans of beer, 3-4 tablespoons of cumin and chicken stock until the shanks are submerged. Add 2-3 scoops of veal demi-glace. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Have your oven on at 500 degrees and move the pot inside once it has come to a boil. Braise for 2.5-3 hours and check at the 1.5 hour mark to make sure the liquid has not evaporated too fast. You'll want to add more chicken stock and flip the shanks upside down to "repair" the dried out side of the shanks.

(4) Salt to taste, or add water if it's too salty. Keep this in the oven on the lowest setting or on the stove at simmer until service. You'll want to use a fork to pull the meat off the bone and make sure you suck that marrow out of the lamb bones while you're at it – so good.

Salsa Verde
(1) In a mixing bowl, toss the tomatillos, chiles, garlic and onions with some olive oil. Roast them at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until they are tender. In a blender, toss them in and add salt to taste. It should still be sour enough, but have some lime juice on reserve just in case. I also used some chicken stock and extra pieces of raw onion to "kill" off the sour taste. This was tasty.

After four courses, some ice cream and ample wine, I could see that my Uncle and Aunt were ready to fall asleep. I didn't cook the fish as nice as I wanted to because I had to cook for 7. I knew some of the dishes were too different for them being from Hong Kong. But at the end, my Uncle assured me that there is nothing better than a homecooked meal. He has eaten everywhere in the world but would pick a meal with family over anything. And I couldn't agree more. All of the effort Jeni and I put in was worth it. I then looked at my little 4 year old nephew and thought about the day he would hopefully cook for me and I then understood how my Uncle felt at that moment. So to my "Kow-fu", thank you for being a great Uncle and for everything you've done for my family. Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake - A New Noodle Addition on the Eastside

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Los Angeles is a city with over 4 million people, and it's a surprise that this massive tally still lends itself to many it's-a-small-world occurrences.  Cut back 10+ years to high school.  I was much different then, as most people are.  I actually did really well in school, I was a soccer jock and I spent a good part of my days practicing how to do windmills, flares and headspins only to have my parents scream at me about studying for SAT's.  Like most high school groups, you had your own territory somewhere on campus.  For that 10 mins between every class, my friends and I would report back to basecamp, which was a tree that probably heard way more than it should have.  Not surprisingly, being in San Gabriel Valley, my group was entirely Asian except for this token white guy named Willie Wood, which we later knighted as Willie Woo.   Behind us was a nice mix of girls that were really into SKA & punk music that we would say hi too.  One of the girls, was this really quiet and sweet half Thai/half Caucasian girl that wore short hair, dressed in black and carried a lunchbox tattered with band stickers.  

And then forward 10+ years later at a dinner put together by TonyC of Sinosoul, I find myself sitting at the table staring at this girl.  I told J, I think that girl went to my high school.  She told me to find out if it was her.

Me: "Anjali?!"
Anjali: "Dylan?!"

I waved her over to sit with us, and it was truly a weird experience because we were never close.  But it's always cool to see where people are a few years down the line.   

Me: "Dude you like food?!"
Anjali: "Yeah! I write Delicious Coma."

J fell in love with her and they hung out a few times.  A few nights ago, we met up w/ her and her man to check out the new Umami Burger on Hollywood/Vermont, which was very good. I love that they have a good supply of Hitachino beers, a fine brew from Japan with a dope logo of an owl.  Anyway, Anjali mentioned this Thai noodle place that she had just checked out and one that I've seen on the way back home in Silver Lake.  

My noodle alarm woke me up at  7:30 am, thirsty and hungry.  The noodle alarm clock usually happens when I've had a little too much to imbibe.  The body needs liquids and solid food.  And I immediately thought about Wat Dong Moon Lek (WDML).  

Jeni, my friend Tyson and I showed up on a Saturday morning to this quaint place tucked inside of a strip mall.  Its turquoise/teal walls and colorful chalkboard really gave a nice vibe that attracted young people.  On the chalkboard, the menu was drawn with different colors along with photos.  I love places with chalkboard menus.  If we have money for it someday, we'd have some installed in the kitchen/dining area to write up menus for dinner parties.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Being a noodle shop, we went for the soup noodles.  This place, like Ord and Thaitown Noodles in Hollywood, offers miniature and regular-sized portions for a few of the dishes.  We decided to do halfers so we could try more food.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Wat Dong Moon Lek Beef Noodle Soup
This was first on their noodle category so I assumed it was their signature dish.  The broth was very light and delicate and I almost wished it had some beef blood in it to really thicken that broth.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Wat Dong Moon Lek Pork Noodle Soup
This was the pork sibling of the previous dish.  Again, same broth with different meat.  I was hoping for some pork offals.    

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Tom Yum Pork Noodle Soup
I have seen tom yum style soup noodles, but never anything orange colored like this.  It almost looked like a prude, Catholic school girl version of Vietnam's punch-in-the-face pork lemongrass soup noodles known as bun bo hue.   The usage of udon in Thai cuisine was new to me and probably  just a homemade creation.  I would order this again and a lot of chili sauce.

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Hainan Chicken Rice
This is a dish the Hainan Chinese brought all over Southeast Asia.  You can find this pretty easily in a Thai restaurant.  The chicken was pretty moist but the hoisin & peanut butter sauce was different than the sweet, ginger-garlic sauce that is traditionally served.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Ham Hock Rice
I think I favored this dish the most out of everything.  It's also a take on a popular Chinese dish that includes five-spiced braised pork, pickled mustard greens, a five-spice boiled egg and a tasty sauce.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

The food was on the lighter side here as I'm pretty used to straight-forward, bold flavors from Thai food.  But I think we've completely missed the point here.  I forgot that Anjali had recommended the Rambutan salad, which consists of a lychee-like fruit, shrimp and coconut milk and some type of spicy mussel dish that a lot of patrons had ordered.  I'll be back here again to try those dishes out.  The service is great, the people are cool and it's a nice break from the limited parking in Thai Town.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

I highly recommend trying the soup noodles over at Ord and Thai Town Noodles as well. Thanks for reading and to Anjali, Jeni and I had a great time with you and R.  Ready for part two.

Eat Drink Style Animal, Los Angeles - The Bold & The Beautiful... Food

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Jeni and I finally got around to eating at Animal. I know, late right? I think when I first heard about their decadent food, I got a little turned off. Foie gras loco moco? Whoa. Prior to this, I was scarred by this peanut butter, jelly & foie gras sandwich I had eaten in San Francisco and I guess I steered clear of overly decadent food for a while. If it weren't for an invitation from an old school blogger in Hawaii called Ono Kine Grindz and from the queen bee of LA food blogging, Daily Gluttony, I might not have known that Animal would become a favorite of mine.

Ever since I started writing this blog, there have been numerous first time meetups with people we had been reading. Before this, I had experienced a blind date that I wish never happened but stuck through it to be nice. This was different though because we actually knew the writers themselves even before forming a visual of the personality, and food was the common goal. And that made things a little easier for both parties. This included meeting my now wife, Jeni.

On a Saturday night, we drove down to Fairfax to meet Reid of Ono Kine Grindz and Pam of Daily Gluttony. Problem was, we didn't know what Reid looked like. Or at least I think I did.

J: "What do you think he looks like?"
Me: "He's a skinny white guy. I've seen his photo."
J: "You sure? I didn't see his photo on his site."
Me: "I have. He's white"
J: "Ok."

As we're walking to Animal, we don't see a skinny white guy and we kind of stand there. We see Pam talking to an Asian gentleman. We look at each other.

Guy: "Dylan?"
Me: "Reid?"
Guy: "Yeah."
Me: "I thought you were white haha."

So much for the guess. Right away we walked in and it was time for straight food talk. Reid had been writing long before I started in 2005 and writes a popular blog based on Hawaii. Again, one of the best things about eating with other foodies is the willingness to try anything. We all have the Bourdain-ness in all of us – no second thoughts about trying things that are unique.

I also like the story of Chef John Shook and Vinny Dotolo, two guys that used to run a catering business before successfully opening Animal. Not many catering companies will make it to the restaurant level but as you'll see, these guys prove to be more than just catering chefs. Man, what a blessing it is to be at one of the parties they've cooked for. Anyway, here's what we had. A suggestion for eating here – go with a group. Eating here with one other person might be a little much because the dishes tend to be on the richer side. Plus when you eat in a group, you can try way more dishes. The following dishes are ONLY appetizers... we couldn't even make it down to the entrees!

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Grilled Squid & Chorizo
On my second visit, I already had three dishes in mind. This and the following two have been on my mind ever since eating here. The squid is grilled beautifully where it is still soft and not rubbery at all. The smokiness of the chorizo and the squid really melded together. And not to mention, this dish is quite light.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Smoked Trout & Crispy Trout Skin Salad
This was probably my 2nd favorite of the night. The fish was beautifully smoked and man, the skin was like a potato chip.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Amberjack & Peach Salad
I think all of us at the table wanted to engage in some bizarre, gastronomic orgy with this dish. It was light, sexy and had a very different salad personality. Again, an indication of how good these chefs are.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Crispy Pig Ears & Fried Egg
Offals and eggs? Yes, please. I love that these guys tackle the parts of the pig, the ones that always get picked last for the kickball team. I thought the pig ear was sliced a little too thin and fried a little too long. But I can tell you, the mixing of the egg yolk with the pig ears created a nice harmony.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Pig Trotter Croquettes
Another unfavorable part of the pig. This one is the trench-coat wearing guy with long greasy hair that wrote dark poems about what he would do to asshole football jocks. If you haven't had pig trotters, think of them as mini goo bombs fried beautifully. Once you take a bite, the texture inside is almost gelatinous and super tasty. This was done really well.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Duck Confit with Cherries & Farro
I think this is one of the best duck confit dishes I've eaten. Most places will braise it way too long. After a perfect braise, it's either sent to the fry-o-lator or pan friend perfectly. I loved this combination.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Crispy Veal Sweetbreads
I never ignore a sweetbread dish. I love the nutty taste and chicken-like texture. Gooooood.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Chicken Liver Pate
Pate. It was basically my peanut butter & jelly sandwich as a child. Cut to me enjoying this while other kids stare at me in awe. Three pieces are given per order.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Kimchi Pork Belly
This is one of the dishes that I had heard people talking a lot about. Although the 'kimchi' was more like a Thai slaw, this was an interesting dish. I think the sauce was a bit overpowering because of too much vinegar, but man, the pork belly was done well indeed. I was kind of confused as to whether I was eating a Korean or Thai dish. On a second visit with Portland's Guilty Carnivore, I have to say this dish was even better. Especially with a nice glass of Stone.

Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles

Oxtail Poutine
I had heard tall tales about this dish Canadians speak so highly of... poutine. What is it? It is almost like their version of chili fries only they use gravy and cheese curds over their fries. I recently got back from Nova Scotia and had a very delicious version of poutine and have fallen in love with it. What's not to like about moist shredded oxtail, a beefy au jus, cheese curds and crispy chips? This was by far the most 'manly' dish we had tonight and I think this really defines what John and Vinny are about. We loved this.

In a time where popularity relies on the amount of foam you dump on a plate or the number of scientific processes your food has been through, it's nice to know that there are these Two Dudes. The majority of the food is meat heavy, but then they also offer a nice assortment of seafood to really offer some yin & yang. Each dish I can tell comes from passion, care and the desire to make people rub their bellies in joy. I'll be back here for sure. Reid, it was great meeting you finally. Pam, always a pleasure laughing with you. Kevin, I like that you mix wine and beer without hesitation. And J, another great meal we get to share together.

Thanks for reading.

Animal Restaurant
435 N. Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 782-9225
www.animalrestaurant.com

Eat Drink Style Le Club de Grub - A Concept for those Bored with Their Lunch

Le Club de Grub

Lunch time is an interesting time of the day at work. You can tell who's really into food and who's eating for the pure sake of sustenance. I know exactly what my coworkers like to eat because I see them eating the same thing almost every day. Well not every day, but enough to generate a pattern. Some are happy, some don't look happy. This person likes making gigantic salads in a large glass bowl. This person only eats sandwich and fries. This person eats a lot of last night's pasta. I'm hardly in the kitchen eating unless I've brought some home cooked food. Other than that, I'm out and about trying different things. I've decided it's time to sexy up my coworkers lunch by introducing them to places I enjoy near where we work. You can only eat so much of the downtown Culver City area I call the Culver City Corporate Cafteria.

So I started Le Club de Grub. We would try a different restaurant every four weeks and really try to educate people on food. I'd like to show them there's more to life than chicken, wraps and potato chips. Zzzzz. I'm still thinking about the induction process... maybe have them snort a fat line of wasabi? haha.

Le Club de Grub

The first place we're going to eat at is Santouka, which makes a fine bowl of ramen. 3 hours later, I am a bit overwhelmed by the response. "Santouka, do you take reservations???"

LCDG Santouka

A few of the places on the list are Mariscos Chente, a plethora of Koreatown places, Indian and Ethiopian. We're blessed with good food in our wonderful city of Los Angeles – and it's a kind gesture when you can direct people to a good meal. If I made them smile just for that few hours, then I've done my job. Thanks for reading and start up your own Grub Club!

Eat Drink Style McCall's Meat & Fish, Los Feliz - Nathan McCall and the Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

"One man's junk is another man's treasure."

By now in Los Angeles, it's not uncommon to see the words 'pig ears', 'jowels' or even 'trotters' on the menu. With this current dining trend, it's almost bizarre to find a restaurant that doesn't offer a beautiful offal. Just wait for the wonderful people at Olive Garden to offer the braised pig tongue ravioli with pig blood tomato sauce for $8.95 with coupon. Based on a ritual practiced for nearly centuries by almost every race in the world but Americans, a pig is finally consumed to the last piece of meat and thankfully it does not die in vain. When I had heard that Nathan McCall of McCall's Meat and Fish was offering a whole butchered pig that had been milk and acorn fed, I had to go in and see the butchering process. We've all tasted animals that had benefited from being milk-fed or acorn-fed. The latter being best exemplified through the mastery of Spanish charcuterie chefs – jamon Iberico de Bellota (Iberico ham). I had never tasted anything better than that.

On Thursday, I received a text from Nathan and I quickly drove over to meet him. The pig had made its way from the Sandberg Ranch in Lake Hughes, California – about an hour outside of Los Angeles. Nathan told me the 18 month old pig weighed in at 350 lbs., and had to be sawed in half in order to be carried by TWO people. I remembered vividly the scene in Food Inc. where a man in protective gear took a chainsaw down a carcass in less than 2 seconds. Just like that, it was halved.

I've known Nathan and Karen for about 7 months now and on this day, he showed me his true skill and passion for what he does. On top of waking up everyday at 5 am to go to the fish market almost everyday, ensuring that his customers get super fresh seafood, he works until about 10 pm, only to experience Groundhog Day again. He says that he and Chef Nozawa of Sushi Nozawa are homeys. Nathan has also done a lot for me as well.

I walked in with my camera and he had already been working on the first half of the pig – we'll name him "Benny Hill". He didn't even bother saying "hi" to me, he was at work. And one look at his focused face, I knew I shouldn't get near him and his hacksaw. If you happen to see Dylan's Ranch whiskey-fed, taco-fed, noodle-fed pork belly for sale, you'll understand my fate.

With a hacksaw, he cut through the limbs as far as he could, and then finish off with his meat knife. Before each incision or cut, he moved around his worktable like he was on a billiards table. He'd lean to the side and eyeball, murmuring to himself different measurements. I, along with two other gentleman stood and watched him go to town – the town of Porksville. The color of the flesh was a very light pink, yet deep and rich. The same richness you see from the Iberico ham... almost a crimson red. If trichinosis didn't exist, we might've jumped upon the pig like one of those freaks from Twilight and taken a bite of the meat to taste that milk and acorn. In about 20 minutes, he had finished off the first half. And still had the rest of the pig to go.

All I could stare at was that long rack of light pink rib meat. The pig was so fresh that the marrow was oozing out of the ribs, almost looked like vaseline. I took a few photos of the head. The eyes ever so resembling that of a humans. It was clear and stared at me, and I could tell it was only dead for about a day or so. I grabbed one of the trotters and it felt like human flesh. Bizarre but beautiful. I reserved a nice section of the belly.

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

Nathan McCall and the 350 lb. Re Ride Pig

10/14/10 - McCall's Re Ride Pig from dealinhoz on Vimeo.



Over the weekend, I went into McCall's to pick up some fish. The first thing Nathan did was show me a photo on his iPhone – a line about 15 deep before the shop had even opened.

Me: "Did you sell everything?"
Nathan: "Look down. Only one trotter left."
Me: "Nice. I love that nothing goes to waste."
Nathan: "Nothing."

Nathan doesn't know when he'll get in the next pig from Lefty Ayer's farm. But you can bet it'll be gone faster each time. This time, I'm going for the 'buche' and pig jowls. Thanks for reading.

ReRide Ranch (Lefty Ayer's)
32633 Pine Canyon Rd.
Lake Hughes, CA 93532
(
661) 586-7411
Website

McCall's Meat and Fish
2117 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027-2003
(323) 667-0674
www.mccallsmeatandfish.com