Friday, February 27, 2009

Gastroporn/For the Love of Food

"R" you hungry yet?

Excellent article by Drew Lazor from Theme magazine about the addictive nature of food blogging. Whether you're someone who enjoys concocting culinary creations, snapping pictures of your food adventures or writing restaurant reviews, fellow foodies know what I'm talking about when I say that we all have one thing in common: A die-hard passion for food. Food isn't just a fun hobby or activity for us -- it's part of our lifestyle.

It's not enough that something tastes good -- we have to know what's in it. What herbs, spices, coloring and cooking processes made this item what it is? We pay extraordinary attention to flavors, textures and temperatures. And yes, we're a bit obsessive (that's an understatement).

Experiencing a severe case of food coma.

Theme magazine's February/March 2009 issue, aptly titled For the Love of Food, explores the different ways we approach food, through a hodgepodge of pictures, stories, reviews and food diary entries. I hope you'll pick up this issue, bursting with diverse gastronomic gems. Bringing the multi-culti flavor of life to an inner gourmand near you...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

When Tofu Met Chili

Overheard: “It’s like this Korean Mexican fusion thing of crazy deliciousness.”

Tofu and Chili were consummated (or was that consumed) yesterday in Santa Monica, Calif. at a truck stand selling "spicy bites of pork, chicken or tofu soaked in red chili flake vinaigrette, short ribs doused in sesame-chili salsa roja or perhaps a blood sausage sautéed with kimchi, all of it wrapped in a soft taco shell." Peep the New York Times article here, which also gives props to up-and-coming Korean restaurateurs in the LA area.

As Korean food becomes more understood and accepted, its popularity should naturally increase. As for me, I'll continue to pay homage to my favorite 24-hour Korean BBQ, Kum Gang San. There are two locations: One in Manhattan and the other in Flushing, but I'm partial to the latter. The chefs know how to do it right. And I get as much ban chon (appetizers) as I like. It helps when I speak some Korean, too.

I really should have made more of an effort to hunt down Kogi while I was in LA. Next time, I won't let it go so easily.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Who Stole the Cookie From the Cookie Jar?

Lil Jon stole the cookie from the cookie jar!

Cold day in New York, so I thought it was time to get the baking gear out and settle in for Round No. 2. of Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. Alas, I raided the pantry but could not find the light brown sugar. I substituted molasses for it instead, which worked fine. Just be aware that the result will be slightly darker.

This recipe is by far the best one I've tried yet. Everyone from my family to my friends and even my dog (shhh -- you're not supposed to give your dog chocolate!) can attest to the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth flavor of these scrumptious morsels. The marriage of oat and chocolate (with its offspring: walnut and vanilla extract) will have a long lifespan, I predict.

Cookies really aren't the same without butter, so don't even think about using margarine. The health effects of margarine are debatable, but something that most people don't recognize is that the hardening of vegetable oils used in the making of margarine actually produces the saturated fat they fear so much in butter. Plus, margarine often has trans-fat, resulting from hydrogenation. This information is not usually disclosed to the public but is studied by naturopathic physicians, who specialize in natural medicine.

On to the recipe...

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Submitted by: Panthera

"I modified Beatrice's Excellent Oatmeal cookies very slightly. I came up with something that my boyfriend went CRAZY over! I've never seen him enjoy cookies to that extent! He said I blew his mother's recipe away."
Recipe Rating: 4.6/5
PREP TIME: 15 min.
COOK TIME: 12 min.
READY IN: 55 min.
Original recipe yield 3 1/2 dozen

-1 cup butter, softened
-1 cup packed light brown sugar (or 2 tbsp molasses)
-1/2 cup white sugar
-2 eggs
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1 teaspoon salt
-3 cups quick-cooking oats
-1 cup chopped walnuts
-1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Tollhouse)


1. Preheat the oven to 325 deg F.
2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until just blended.

Close-up of choco-oat batter

Mix in the quick oats, walnuts and chocolate chips. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. (No need to butter the sheets -- you'll find there's already plenty of butter in the mixture.)

Second batch: Not too sweet, not too rich. Just right.

3. Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven.

Crumbly first batch

Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Eat your heart out, Marg R. In

Final step: Consume!

Lil Jon, age 7, gobbled down four out of the five cookies on his plate. His chocolate-drenched mug left behind traces of his sticky behavior.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Up In Da Club

The title may sound vaguely reminiscent of a certain 50 Cent joint, but don't let that turn you off. This latest offering from Wong Fu Productions is nothing like Fiddy. You may be familiar with Wong Fu as the guys who first introduced us to "Yellow Fever" in 2006, or for their goofy music videos. They've even produced a feature film, "A Moment with You," which hit college campuses across the U.S. and Canada last year. Now, Phil, Ted and Wes are back with "Up In Da Club," a made-purely-for-fun short that teaches us that even nerdy Asian guys can 'get jiggy' with it (or something like that).

"Up In Da Club" features Christopher Dinh as Evan, a shy dude trying to impress 'Stacie the cute accountant' at work, played by perky actress Stephanie Reading. Lotus (Dir. Phil Wang), a glib, pink sunglasses-wearing dance fanatic, is charged with the task of transforming Dinh's character into a Smooth Operator in just one afternoon.

Will he be successful in the club? Will Evan make Stacie dizzy with his killer dance moves? Or will he only make a fool of himself? Watch to find out! The rest of the four-part short can be found on Youtube.

Wong Fu keeps it fresh with a thumpin' soundtrack, courtesy of tunes by Far East Movement, David Choi, Jesse Chui and George Shaw.

Who's That Guy: Speaking of Christopher Dinh...Where have I seen this guy before??

Oh, that's Big Phony's "Girls Like You Don't Go For Guys Like Me" (see related blog post here). In the music video, he cautiously admires a hot chick from afar. Even though he's a relative newbie to the acting scene, Dinh seems to have mastered the art of acting the awkward Joe Schmo. Chances are, you'll be seeing a lot more of this guy.

And just to make this food-/drink-related: As you'll see after watching Part 4 of "Up In Da Club" (fast-forward to 5:03) -- it's never a good idea to get plastered on pre-game booze, lest pictures of your glowing Asian mug (you know I could have said it the other way around) be posted all over Facebook.

It's not rocket science
It's just how it is
Girls like you don't go for guys like me

-Big Phony, "Girls Like You Don't Go For Guys Like Me"

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Skin Food: Alabu Natural Goat Milk Soap

Do you suffer from skin allergies? Are you looking for a natural soap free of harmful chemicals? Do you wish you could have baby-soft skin again? Well, look no further! Alabu Natural Goat Milk Soap is the antidote to your rough heels and acne-infested back.

Okay, so the term 'goat milk' has a tendency to inspire puzzled looks and trepidation. Unfortunately, for those of us who have grown up in a cow milk world, the very thought of drinking goat milk is absurd and perhaps a bit unnerving. Then again, some of us readily eat goat products in the form of feta cheese (well, what else did you think it was made from?). But I'm not asking you to drink it. I'm challenging you to use it on your skin.

Here's why you should give goat milk soap a chance: The makers of Alabu know how harsh and drying conventional soaps are. Handmade natural soaps, on the other hand, are made in the traditional "cold soap" process that retains glycerin, which makes skin smoother and healthier. It's also ideal for those with skin allergies, like dermatitis or eczema, which I happened to suffer from as a child.

Concerned animal-lovers and non-meat eaters will be glad to hear that Alabu soaps are not tested on animals. In fact, Alabu is so sure that you'll love their products that they have a money-back guarantee on the product you paid for, as well as any additional sales tax. With a policy like that, you can't lose.

Alabu's 100% natural goat milk soaps come in three different forms:
-Unscented, for the most sensitive skin
-Essential oil, made with "medicinal plant-based essential oils"
-Fragranced soaps, for those who enjoy a variety of scents from around the world, including Lavender Delight, Green Tea, Oat-n-Honey and Tea Tree Oil (for those prone to breakouts)

Product on trial: Sara's Soap.

Maybe it's because of the name (which oddly, makes it seem like it was made for me), but I had an inkling that this soap was going to be a good one.

The website reads: "Sara's Soap is an extra moisturizing unscented recipe made for a special young lady who has numerous allergies." -- Sounds like the story of my life.

Sara's Soap is created with a generous dose of moisturizing olive oil and vegan squalane oil, making it safe for those with sensitive and extremely dry skin. While the soap does not contain any fragrance, it has a generous lather effect that I can testify to. The result? My skin felt super smooth and buttery soft. I didn't even need my daily post-shower moisturizer! That's both time- and money-saving.

After showering, keep the soap dry by getting rid of any residual water in your soap dish and hanging the bar of soap on a soap drying rack.

Ingredients: Saponified Olive Oil, Buttermilk, Coconut Oil, Soy Bean Oil, Squalane Oil, Castor Oil and Cocoa Butter

Oh, and for those of you interested in the baby-soft skin mentioned earlier, try BabyMe.

You can purchase Alabu goat milk soaps at a local retailer near you or online. Alabu also sells clothing, lip balm and shaving supplies, along with other personal care items.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 20, 2009

Better Than Your Average Shiatsu

Rub liberally into tough muscles and hard knots.

I'm talking about the Bilardo Brothers Peppercorn Steak Rub. Originally intended as a gift for my dad that I picked up at a farmers' market while in LA, this steak rub isn't an award winner for nothing. (In case you were wondering, it won 1st place in national cooking competitions, like the '99 American Royal International Sauce Competition, '98 Barbecue Showdown and countless other meat championships.)

Bilardo perfected its blend of high quality white and black peppercorns, rosemary, garlic and a host of other fine spices. Just a tiny sprinkling of the peppercorn concoction really makes the flavor pop. It's also ideal for seasoning marinades, combining with sour cream to create a tangy dip, or tossed over salad.

L-R: Dad's bean sprouts & oysters, steak sauce, steak rub with parsley.

Dad's quite a food experimenter in his own right. He's conquered Caribbean Fish Stew (Pisca Stoba), among other dishes he whips up with whatever ingredients are in the house. Unfortunately, the next day, Mom, bro and I found our faces flush with red patches. Must've been the oysters. Oysters may be commonly thought of as an aphrodisiac, but I'm betting my flushed cheeks aren't from swooning over a handsome catch. (It's a myth, by the way -- oysters don't at all enhance sex drive). In any case, overdosing on shellfish is not advised.

The best part is, this steak rub is made of all natural ingredients. Absolutely no preservatives, additives or MSG included! For all the meat lovers out there, Bilardo also sells personalized rubs for chicken, fish, pork and BBQ meat.

NOTE: I will write a vegan-friendly entry soon, I promise.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Leaving Footprints on Saint's Alp

Pronunciation: \'alp\
Function: noun
Etymology: back-formation from Alps, mountain system of Europe
Date: 15th century

1: a high rugged mountain
2: something suggesting an alp in height, size, or ruggedness

My first introduction to Saint's Alp Teahouse was about three years when my friend Nick took me there for some boba freshman year. This was back in his pre-vegan days (if you can remember that long ago, it's safe to say it's been awhile). A cozy Taiwanese teahouse in the East Village, Saint's Alp is a local neighborhood haunt popular with the college kids, a place where I know I can get good bubble tea and reliable lunch dishes for cheap. Over the years, I've sampled countless varieties of their bubble tea: black, almond, mango, passion fruit, Romeo, Juliet and kumquat lime nectar bubble teas, and lychee nectar with nata de coco. As for the dishes: Braised chicken, minced pork and shredded spicy chicken with green noodles, just to name a few.

On my most recent trip to Saint's Alp two days ago, I discovered with a shock that my beloved Romeo (tart) and Juliet (sweet) Specials had strangely vanished from the menu. Oh, no! The thought that my Shakespearean loves had been offed saddened me momentarily.

But then I ordered a Tropical Fruit Nata ($3.45, incl. boba), and all was well with the world again. The Specially Braised Chicken Chunk with rice ($5.50) came out a little later than usual, but I'll cough that up to the downsized staff (I only spotted one chef in the kitchen before 3pm, and there were only two small parties when we arrived at 1pm on a weekday).

Pssssst: Even the waiters are familiar. The same Taiwanese pretty boys from three years ago still work here. That's one of the perks of being a regular, you notice these things. And they notice you. Maybe.

My friend Kristal ordered the Marinated Minced Pork with rice ($5.50) and the hot butterscotch black milk tea with boba ($3.25). Buttery is the key word here.

A shining Kristal moments before digging in.

For years, I thought Saint's Alp was 'Saint Alp's' -- a common visual blunder, I suppose. I have so many memories of Saint's Alp. Countless lunch and snack sessions with high school and college buddies, but also a handful of awkward 'dates'.

I'll never forget that one sweltering summer evening of 2007. I was working as a front end cashier at Dean & Deluca. I brought my co-worker here -- it was his first time. Blond, curly-haired, one year my senior, with a nonchalant swagger, completely uninhibited and borderline Bukowski-an by nature. His recent history included backpacking through China, where he'd almost managed to get stuck there until someone had made a few calls to the embassy and bailed him out. After work, we walked all the way from Soho to Third Av and almost didn't make it to Saint's Alp due to my lack of navigational skills. Once there, he ordered the first thing that caught his eye: Chocomint Shake. I could've died then and there. But hey, to each his own.

There's still a lot on the menu I have yet to try: Mung bean shake, green barley juice, honey & yolk cocktail, taro pudding with azuki bean, condensed milk toast. However, I'm confident that I'll get around to long as Saint's Alp stays in business (crossing my fingers).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do

Mario Batali is probably a household name by now, at least among New Yorkers. The chef, together with his business partner Joe Bastianich, owns over six hot restaurants in New York City; Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca is their flagship Italian restaurant. Batali has also won many culinary accolades. In 2002, he won the James Beard foundation's "Best Chef: New York City" award. He has also written many books.

But Batali may be on your radar for another reason: This fall, his new PBS television series, Spain, on the Road Again, is bringing the flavor of Spain to kitchens near you. The show documents Batali and his three co-stars, one of whom includes Gwyneth Paltrow, on a road trip eating their way through Spain. Batali's version of Spanish Paella was recently aired on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

On President's Day, my family decided to embark on a little culinary adventure of our own.

CHALLENGE: Recreate Batali's paella. Here, I chronicle our first attempt.

Above, close-up shot of the final product.

Mario Batali's Paella
Ingredients: Makes 6 Servings

-10 small to medium chicken drumsticks

-1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

-2 cups medium shrimp, enough for about 5 per person

-1 medium Spanish onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

-1/2 cup pureed ripe tomatoes

-1 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste

-1 tsp. saffron threads, crushed

-2 tbsp. sweet pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)

-1 lb. Manila clams, scrubbed

-4 quarts chicken stock

-2 cups bomba or other shortgrain rice (arborio and risotto do just as well; we used arborio)

-1 cup freshly shucked peas

-10 spears pencil asparagus, stalk cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch thick slices

-1-inch pieces of sausage

Directions: Preheat an oven to 400 deg. Place the drumsticks on a baking sheet and season all over with salt and extra-virgin olive oil (we pan-fried them). Bake for 20 to 22 minutes and set aside.

In the meantime, heat a 14- to 18-inch paella pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until smoking. Add the shrimp and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add the onion to the pan and cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Push the onions into the center of the pan and sprinkle 2 tbsp of the salt around the edges of the pan.

Add the tomato puree, stirring it into the onions, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the remaining salt, saffron, pimenton and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add chicken stock, bring to a boil, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir it well to distribute it evenly. Add clams, drumsticks, arranging them nicely throughout the pan (the sausage and shrimp can also go in at this point). Then add the peas and asparagus and bring the stock back to boil, and cook, without stirring, for 10 minutes. Taste for salt and add it if needed, then cook, again, without stirring, for 10 more minutes, or until the liquid is completely absorbed and the pan starts to make a crackling noise (don't worry, this is what you want).

Remove from the heat and let rest for 10 minutes before serving (this sets the flavor).

Slicing and priming the ingredients.
Clockwise, from left: onions, olive oil, red and orange peppers, shrimp, paprika

Pan-frying the shrimp and sausage slices.

The sauce, before the addition of chicken stock and rice.

Voila! Our family-style paella.

After an hour and a half of prepping and cooking time, we realized that the key to the Spanish way of approaching food is slow. No rush, just savor the delicate morsels and pop a flask of red wine (not pictured). The arborio rice soaked in and retained the rich hints of seafood, sausage and vegetables. Gwyneth Paltrow is known to have eaten an entire pan of the rice alone. Now I can finally see why.

RESULT: Success! Next time, we'll be sure to use that paella pan so the rice doesn't end up soupy (ordered it from Amazon and it should be arriving in 4-7 days).

And there you have it -- the taste of Spain without even having to pull out your passport!

The Secret Garden

Apologies, as I'm still behind on my entries from LA. However, I thought I would provide a glimpse into the Huntington Library in San Marino. Although it is called a library, the actual library comprises only a fraction of all the art and culture in this non-profit institution. Mr. Henry E. Huntington was a man with a love for art, books and gardens. Inside his estate, you'll find vintage books and manuscripts, an extensive art collection with paintings from the 17th to 20th century, botanical gardens and plant life. The most eye-catching gardens are the Rose Garden, the Japanese Zen garden, the Desert Garden and the newly constructed Chinese garden.

Above: Following my aunt through a mysterious tunnel to the Asian gardens. It looks almost enchanted, no?

More tunnels, and I feel like this is an edition of 'Where's Waldo?' (I'm not stalking my aunt, really -- she's the one in the red coat). I wish I knew what kind of trees these were, but the overhanging branches made to resemble tunnels are a remarkable architectural specimen, similar to ones I've seen in The Getty. It's like bringing a little bit of the indoors (flattened trees resembling ceilings) to the outdoors, with natural sunlight flickering in through window-like lattices.

Above: Japanese Zen garden. Props to the guy rockin' the turquoise turban.

Red berries, in the dead of winter. The color reminds me of smashed tomatoes. Not that I smash tomatoes.

The Chinese garden had a koi pond with pretty mallard ducks. That green head caught my attention as a ten-year-old. I remember buying a mallard beanie (back when beanie babies were all the rage) at the Audobon Center in Sharon, Conn.

Pink flowers in bloom.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Day 11: Imagine

Tenno Sushi is a little Japanese restaurant on South Central Avenue in LA's Little Tokyo that's popular with career people during weekday lunch hour. When I was there, I spotted two female police officers, a Korean couple and middle-aged business men in dark suits. The menu is heavily Korean-influenced. Even the waiters and sushi makers behind the counter were Korean. They all wore traditional Japanese kimonos. No wonder the lunch special dolsot udon ($6.95) was so delicious -- along with the shrimp tempura, the dish included a plentiful array of healthy ingredients, such as oyster, enoki mushrooms, corn, jujube, walnuts, chestnuts, seaweed, seatangle (konbu) and fishcake. Tenno, which means 'Emperor of Japan' in Japanese, certainly made me feel like a queen with all the textures floating around in my mouth.

The Kid ordered teriyaki chicken with furikake on rice, potato salad and orange (not sure what the red thing is -- beets?). While the chicken was only so-so, the ginger salad dressing had a nice tart kick to it.

My aunt is happily slurping down her dolsot udon soup. Tenno also has a full bar and sushi menu. The crab rolls were especially good.

Next to the men's restroom, John Lennon's famous mug adorned the "Employees Only" office. I was reminded of the weight of his lyrics:

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

I hope one day the state of the world will echo Mr. Lennon's words. Dreams are not just dreams, if you are willing to work towards a reality. And I imagine all the people sharing all the good eats, from Persia to the Philippines, India to Ireland. Let's unite!

Day 10: A bit of Pleasantville in Pasadena

Fair Oaks Pharmacy Soda Fountain, which opened in 1915, is a real old-school soda fountain and pharmacy in Old Town Pasadena that also sells gifts, old-fashioned toys and my friend, Curious George. You can order all manner of malts, floats, shakes and sundaes. Since I was banned to a 24-hour liquid diet following my choking episode (see previous entry), I got the Hand-dipped Banana Milkshake ($4.95). Nothing's better than a shake made with REAL fruit (in this case, real bananas). Even Curious George would approve.

Background, from l-r: banana split, seasoned salt fries, hot fudge brownie with vanilla ice cream.

A generous serving of Neopolitan ice cream accompanied the banana split, down to the cherry on top. Six scoops of ice cream is more than enough for pint-sized customers.

Young people enjoying their sundaes. I wish I had a close-up of the fudge -- it oozed down the vintage cups. Next time, I want to try the Lime Rickey or the Root Beer Float.

Strolling down Old Town Pasadena. The Metro bus stops by periodically to drop off and pick up commuters. Notice how the bus matches the LA Weekly newsstand in front of it.

I scream,
You scream,
ALL scream for ice cream!

Day 10: The Art of Choking

There are some things you think will never happen to you. There's skinning your knee, slipping in the bath tub and stapling your finger (all of which, sadly, I have experienced). And then there's choking. Most folks don't think much of it. Maybe you were eating too fast, didn't chew properly and the food got stuck temporarily.

Or it may get trapped in your windpipe. In which case, the Heimlich maneuver comes into play.

But let's backtrack: Sunny day, clear skies, Downtown LA at 10:30 a.m. We roll into Ctown for some Vietnamese sandwiches and freshly-squeezed orange juice, both of which were a mere 2 dollars each. A Latino husband-wife team sold the orange juice in a parking lot. Manning a shaded vending booth, the man squeezed the oranges in the fruit juicer as the woman poured the contents into plastic cups. Behind the booth was their faded blue pickup truck, where hundreds of bright oranges peeked out from barrels. This OJ is the real deal. The flavor of oranges, and oranges alone. Nothing artificial here.

In the car, we munched hungrily on Banh Mi Dat Biet, a hearty Vietnamese sandwich made of assorted sliced meat, daikon, cilantro and carrot on a crusty French loaf. However, when the car lurched forward, so did the carrot, lodging itself in the back of my throat. Alarmed, I grabbed my water bottle and guzzled it like there was no tomorrow. I thought it would go away.

But it didn't. A constricting sensation was cutting off my air supply as I gulped for breath. Oh, to breathe! My uncle, sensing my situation, quickly drove me to the nearest hospital (first picture). Fortunately, Huntington Hospital was nearby. After waiting something like an hour, I finally got checked out. It turns out that the carrot had scratched my esophagus, causing me discomfort even though it had gone down my throat. So, after all, I didn't need the Heimlich, but that was my first visit to the ER. And on vacation. I'm just that lucky.

Back on the road again, my little nephew cautioned me, "Auntie Sarah, don't eat the carrots, okay? O-kayyyy?" Don't worry, kiddo, I'm not going to do anything rash this time around.

Lesson of the day #1: Don't eat while the car is in motion.

Lesson of the day #2: Always bring your up-to-date medical information with you when traveling. You never know what calamity might befall you...erm, yeah.

That sandwich sure was tasty, though.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Day 9: I'm Mellllllllllting!

Well, I'm no Wicked Witch of the West. I narrowly missed the rain, but you can see from the picture above that a storm is a-brewing. Not that it matters when you're spending the afternoon in The Mall.

Yes, The Mall: that towering parthenon of middle-class suburbia. This one was the Westfield Topanga in Canoga Park, a higher-class shopping center with squeaky clean marble-like floors, a dizzying array of food court eats, from Mediterranean to Japanese, and consumers clad in sharp heels, slouchy Balenciaga bags and pop art graphic Ts.

Look what I found! Melt Gelato & Crepe Cafe. Now, we have Melt Gelato in both Boston and New York, but they're hard to come by. It took me an hour and a half by the Red Line T to get to the Braintree location in Boston, and there's only one Melt Gelato in Manhattan -- compared to the 17 locations in California. In any case, I'm a fan of the airy, whipped-rich texture of gelato. I like browsing Boston's North End and Manhattan's Little Italy for a classic Stracciatella (Vanilla Chocolate Chip) or nutty Nocciola (Hazelnut).

While Melt's Tiramisu and Strawberry Cheesecake are also quite good, when I'm looking for something fruity and light, I opt for the Fresh Mango or Pomegranate. This time I tried the Fresh Red Raspberry Sorbet, and it really tasted like fresh, seedy raspberries -- no gimmicks. I can also vouch for the crepes and paninis. Try the Strawberry Royale crepe (fresh strawberries, bananas, nuts, chocolate or nutella) and the Tuscan panini (pesto, grilled chicken, provolone cheese, red peppers).

In fact, since tomorrow's Valentine's Day, why not take your date out for gelato and crepes? I'm not a big proponent of the mass commercialization of holidays, but if food is indeed the way to the heart, then by all means -- do not starve your lover!

Last summer, I even filled out a Melt Gelato application on the spur of the moment. At the time, I had dreams of moving out to San Francisco and working at the gelateria while interning at an arts & culture publication. While those plans didn't pan out, I found the questions on the application both thought-provoking and light-hearted -- not your average run-of-the-mill variety.

"Smiling is good for me because..."

"I love to perform for a crowd because..."

"I should be in the movies because..."

...You know, because I'm a rockstar.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Day 8: When In Doubt, Go For the Spam

Sunday, I wandered the streets of Chinatown. This is one mural I found. It may be hard to see what the people in the picture are doing but on the right-hand side, a man is sitting down for a meal over a traditional glass tray table. The ladies around him are entertainers (probably similar to geishas in Japanese culture). On the left, men and women are drinking tea, playing traditional instruments and engaging in a game of go, which is popular with the Japanese but first originated with the Chinese in 2000 BC.

At Sam Woo Cafe, the glossy menu offered options aplenty, but I went for spam and rice. The soy sauce was an unnecessary addition, in my opinion, since the spam was salty enough as is. However, the rice soaked up any lurking saltiness. I ordered a red bean milkshake to wash it down. The day before, I filled up on some spam musubi at L&L Hawaiian Barbecue in Santa Monica. Two big portions of Japanese rice and seasoned spam wrapped in nori ($2.95) was more than enough for a snack. Oh yes, my spam fix was satiated.

It happened to be the Lantern Festival and the lion dance paraded around town, dancing into every retail store in Chinatown. An entourage of gongs, cymbals and local Chinese association members in black logo jackets followed closely on the lion's heels. The sharp -BAM!- of the firecrackers made my already deaf ears even more hard of hearing, and I couldn't shake the notion that it sounded like gunshots. (Henry, this one's for you.)

I met up with more relatives for dinner at Mountain Valley's Claim Jumper, where I had the Whiskey Chicken (which is actually a sweet, tangy apple glazed sauce over stuffing, mashed potatoes, biscuit and roasted vegetables). I prefer my vegetables a bit more cooked, but at least the crunchiness gave my teeth some exercise. The combination of three carbs on my plate translated into a doggy bag pile of leftovers. I love me some comfort food.

My uncle ordered the prime rib steak. Just take a look at that gargantuan baked potato smoldering with sour cream and chives. Now that's a baked potato done right!

What the Fuzz: Kogi BBQ

Kogi! Kogi! Kogi! Okay, so the term 'Kogi BBQ' has been hitting me left and right ever since I've been in LA. I've run into Kogi at least three times in the past week and I'm wondering what all the fuss is about. First, I read about it in the Jan. 30-Feb. 5 edition of LAWeekly while browsing the publication aimlessly in Japantown, and again in the LATimes. My third run-in with Kogi was on a link to this blog.

Though I have yet to try it, Kogi is a traveling taco truck bringing Korean-style marinated meat tacos to the public. It was the brainchild of Mark Manguera, who is of Filipino descent but married into a Korean family. Manguera was munching on tacos one day when it hit him that Korean meat would taste delicious with tacos. Most people would leave the idea at that -- a fanciful rumination. Not so Manguera, who decided to make his dream a reality last November. He recruited his sister-in-law, Alice Shin, who is in charge of much of the PR and Twitter updates; wife Caroline (second-in-command); former Rocksugar chef Roy Choi, who works his culinary prowess in the kitchen; brother-in-law Eric Shin, designated cameraman; and friend Mike Prasad, who helps with publicity.

The tacos come in flavors like Korean short ribs, spicy pork and spicy bbq chicken. For non-meat eaters, there's a Venice Beach vegan black sesame seed jelly special (ooopf, that was a mouthful). Even better, the tacos only cost two dollars each -- great for lunch on the go or a late midnight snack.

Kogi has attracted a large following: people have waited in line for up to two hours just to take home a half dozen tacos.

Singer-songwriter Big Phony even got some props when he created a Kogi jingle of his own. The lyrics go:

I'll follow you down
All over town
Do anything to get there.
Where do we go?
Somebody knows
Jump in the car to get there.
(In Korean:) Koooogi ahjeushi, eodineun gahneunyah?
Mogoshipdah ( go ship DAH)

By the way, the still above is not of Big Phony but is from his music video, "Girls Like You Don't Go For Guys Like Me." I've been tuned into Big Phony since 2005 or so, and got to interview him for Boston Progress Radio. He's quite a character -- talented, for sure, with lots of offbeat humor to boot. His dislike for photographs has led to some interesting t-shirt designs. In any case, check out his songs and blog here.