Sunday, May 31, 2009

Wine, Hot Dogs, and Cookies; Didn't We Just Eat?

As a follow up to our dinner at Canelé, we headed over to Silverlake Wine for CakeMonkey, sparkling Syrah and the Let's Be Frank hot dog truck.

First the Drinks

I've mentioned before how dinners with bloggers inevitably become marathons. Don't get me wrong, I value always having a place I need to check out and great friends to bring me there. Silverlake Wine, frequented by Mattatouille and Christine every Thursday for wine tasting, focuses on "boutique, small production wine in all price ranges around the globe." When we arrived, the place was packed, but I loved the feel of the store. The checkout counter is in the front. You go inside, open up whatever bottles you'd like in the store, and pay when you leave. It seems like a very casual system, but one that's not intimidating at all to a stranger or a budding oenophile. They offer tastings Sundays at 3, Thursdays 5-9, and Monday 5-9.

Cleared out by the time we left at 11

Then the dessert

During dinner, Danny kept raving about something called CakeMonkey. Upon inquiry, he could only tell me that I'd have to try it for myself. I imagined a full-sized edible monkey made of cake. When I arrived at Silverlake Wine, I discovered the cookies he was referring to. Decadent hardly describes these circular morsels of oatmeal cookies sandwiching maple vanilla buttercream called Li'l Merri's. When a cookie bends under its own weight, you can imagine how much butter is in each one of them. I happily ate one, but more than that at a time might be too rich. Plus, having worked at Ben and Jerry's in high school had given me a natural aversion to buttercream. There's nothing like seeing buttercream by the bucket load that will turn you off to it.

And finally the dogs

The other draw of Silverlake Wine is the Let's Be Frank hot dog truck parked outside on Thursday nights. After hearing Fiona raving about Let's Be Frank being better than Wurstküche, I had to investigate. We ordered the all three of their frank offerings and compared.

Biting into each of these dogs, I realized that I can't compare Let's Be Frank to Wurstküche at all. I still think the best hot dog in LA is Pink's, but I'll give best sausage to Wurstküche. There are different criteria for rating hot dogs versus sausages in my opinion. For sausages, I focus on the combination of flavors and I'm looking for a heavy, complex mouthfeel. Contrastingly, for hot dogs, the appeal is always in the casing. The best hot dogs, like Pink's or Gray's Papaya in New York, have a snap that's unparalleled. I want to bite into a hot dog and have it bite right back at me. Let's Be Frank was somewhat in the middle between the two. Without quite as much snap as a Pink's hot dog, but definitely not as satisfying flavor-wise as Wurstküche. Still, they make a great frank, just not my favorite. Paired with a few white beers from Silverlake Wine, this made a fantastic second dinner/snack.

Of the three we tried, the beef "Frank Dog" beef frank had the best casing snap, the "Hot Dog" spicy frank had the best flavor, and the "Brat Dog" pork frank had the least appeal. Pork just doesn't make quite as a good a hot dog. Get each one with their house pickles and grilled onions.

Silverlake Wine
2395 Glendale Blvd
Silver Lake, 90039

Let's Be Frank
Culver City and Silver Lake, check the website/twitter
$5 per dog

See Kevin's detailed review.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Kogi's Karmic Fail: An Introspection of Food Fantacism

Kogi Fail, ticketed for zoning

Step away from Twitter for a day and it feels like you've been out of touch for a week. Upon returning from a day trip to Universal Studios, I discovered the gem of drama surround Kogi's rebuff of Food She Thought. As luck would have it, the food gods blessed me with cosmic coincidence that Kogi would actually be a block outside my apartment today. So I stepped outside to see what the fuss was all about.


Flushed with the amusement at Kogi's PR failure for ridiculing a budding journalist, I couldn't believe that the truck would just happen to be within walking distance of me. As a disclaimer, I write all this despite never trying anything from Kogi. This isn't a criticism of their food, which could be excellent for all I know. Instead, this is an examination of food fanaticism and how silly we all look from the outside.

Repeatedly, those who have tried Kogi tell me that it's NO BIG DEAL. It's Korean food, in a tortilla. And if you haven't tried Christine's grandmother's kalbi, don't tell me that Kogi is the best Korean food. My stance on the phenomenon is the same treatment I give any taco truck. If it's there, I'll eat at it. Do I really need to scout out the @kogibbq locations, and even in extreme cases, chase the truck when it moves?

Of course Kogi's success is mostly through word-of-mouth and viral marketing, two very powerful strategies in this increasingly interconnected world. As a blogger, I can see how fast new restaurants can spread, or even how soon they close just by blogger buzz. If Kogi wants to forge ahead, it can't abandon its grass-roots supporters. I've heard stories of Kogi not appearing at stated destinations or even abandoning lingering customers to find bigger crowds. This kind of business inevitably leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the consumers. As of the writing of this, Kogi still has not issued any sort of response or apology for the backlash it's facing on Eater.

But back to the events of this evening. I was thirty feet from white truck and the throngs of hungry students before I realized that the shutters were shut and the signs were down. This was the scene in the photo above, an officer citing some remote ordinance about serving food at a T-intersection for more than thirty minutes in a residential zone. My first reaction was internal satisfaction that Kogi would get punished in a karmic way after its poor treatment of a fellow blogger. But my attention snapped back into the current moment when a Kogi groupie ran up to the driver excitedly. "You can park around the corner. I just checked and it's fine to park there in ten minutes. Wait, let me double-check with the cop." He runs over to the police car, swaps a few phrases, then comes back nodding his head in hopeful affirmation. The line of young men and women behind me gather in unison, like some sort of freedom march for the legal union of short-rib to tortilla. They turn the corner and camp a strip of curb for their beloved truck.

This whole scene was oddly surreal to me. In most cases, I'd be one of those kids. Food has become such a peculiar fascination for me that it wouldn't be far-fetched for me to chase Kogi across town. However, given the opportunity to look in from the outside, those students looked ridiculous. Suddenly, all the images of food porn paparazzi (myself included) swarming a dish came to mind. It's funny to imagine the scene, and I can easily see why people are so vocal against the food blogging surge. We really just take ourselves too seriously. I'm not trying to cast doubt on the passion of any of my fellow foodies, but have we gotten so carried away in this journalistic hobby that we've lost sight of what brought us into it in the first place? I've been tempering my blogging as of late with my impending departure looming overhead. And I'll tell you, it's been nice just eating for the sake of eating, without notepad in hand or camera around my neck.

Poor groupies waiting there for a truck that never came

Despite the attention paid by the customers in preparing a truck stop, Kogi actually turns the opposite direction and drives away. I laugh to myself and walk back to my apartment to twitter share the ticketing picture. Half an hour later, I take a peek outside; there are still a dozen or so people hovering over that curb with fingers crossed. At the head of the pack--the guy who checked the street signs and cleared the location with the cop. He was looking down at his shoes, stomach probably growling. The light changed and his head perked up--the knock-off Calbi truck just drove down the street.

There's only one word to describe all of this: delicious.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Too Bad Hot Isn't a Synonym for Spicy in Chinese: Boiling Point in Monterey Park (沸點臭臭鍋)

It's really a shame that I don't make the trek out to San Gabriel Valley (SGV) for Chinese food more often. I'm constantly complaining about the Chinese offerings on the Westside, but it's hard for me to find opportunities to travel East. In my mind, Chinese is always best enjoyed communally; at a dinner for two, there isn't enough variety. That's why I cherish my trips back to the Bay Area for a chance to see my family and eat Chinese. Additionally, my Chinese is too pathetic to order anything interesting, so I've been reluctant to climb into a restaurant that caters to the ethnic Chinese. In one embarrassing incident, my Mandarin was so terrible that the woman thought I was speaking Cantonese and gave me a chicken leg instead of a pork chop. It took a Korean, Christine, to show me a hot pot restaurant in SGV. Can I get some love from any other American Born Chinese who can't read menus?


We came on Tuesday for their hot pot lunch special. What was normally $9.99 was discounted a dollar and supplemented with a free drink. While Christine insisted on the available garlic sauce, spicy bean paste, and spicy oil, I was perfectly content with the seasonings that came in the pot.

In fact, I questioned whether it's healthy to ingest something so dark red. Christine would call me a complainer, but her idea of "complaints" are more of what I consider "observations" for my health.

Each person receives a personal pot loaded with ingredients. Pork intestines, tomato, fish cake, napa cabbage, enoki mushrooms, sliced pork, fish balls, floated in the crimson soup. Below those treasures, I excavated blocks of stinky tofu (臭豆腐). This was the first time I encountered stinky tofu hot pot. It's amazing what you miss out on when you don't explore this culinary cornucopia called LA. As the name would imply, stinky tofu is rather robust in fragrance. The smell is fairly strong, but the taste is much more mild. It takes tofu to a whole new level in my opinion, since tofu is normally so bland.

I ordered the spicy pot, and it was just at the level of enjoyable for me. A milder one wouldn't have had enough flavor, but anything hotter would've been unbearable. I believe that pork intestines are best enjoyed in preparations like this--simmering in a spicy broth. Overall, I had a great lunch, but I wonder now if I'll experience any regrets the next day.

Boiling Point (沸點臭臭鍋)
153 Garvey Ave
Monterey Park, 91755
(626) 288-9876
$8.99 lunch special


Monday, May 18, 2009

Canelé in Atwater Village: It's Pronounced Can-a-lay

As the title might suggest, I was a little slow picking up the correct pronunciation of Canelé. I'm never very good with French or Italian. So after being corrected by Christine I'm writing it here prominently so I can remember. Given that I was working in Pasadena the last week, I decided to send out an invite for a casual dinner at the restaurant I had been meaning to try for months. Of course, I realized that night that bloggers don't really have "casual dinners" and meals inevitably (d)evolve into marathons, to be chronicled in an upcoming post.


My first encounter with Canelé was the LA Magazine Top 75 Restaurants list last year. When I first read it, I had only gone to four of those places. Now I've gone to sixteen. Still not quite as many as I had hoped, but along the way I found enough other places to keep me quite satisfied. But knowing that this was one of Mattatouille's favorite restaurants, I called him up along with Christine, Danny, Fiona, Josh, and Kevin for dinner. I guess it's safe to say since today was my last day of work, but I'm moving to New York. This was one of the last get-togethers I'd have with my foodie friends and certainly didn't disappoint.

I entered the quaint restaurant about ten to six on a Thursday night. Greeting me was Jane Choi, the manager, and Corina Weibel, the chef. Together, this dynamic duo runs the front and back-end operations of Canelé. Of course "back-end" is somewhat of a misnomer because of the open air kitchen in plain sight of the dining patrons. I could see myself coming by for a bite after work, maybe sitting along the bar, watching the cooks churn out Mediterranean comfort food. I swore I saw Andre Royo at the bar too, but none of my companions watched The Wire and couldn't identify him as that lovable drug addict Bubbles.

No reservations are accepted since the place is so small, but since I was the first person in the restaurant, I had no trouble securing the large communal table, which seats about 8-12. Eschewing the $22 prix-fixe menu Tuesday through Thursday, our group of seven picked out five appetizers, seven entrees and four desserts.

Cod Brandade
According to Matt, this is a common bistro fare. I could easily imagine it being a simple snack served on a Parisian patio. As with most French food, the dish was rich and soul-warming. A cod, olive oil, and milk puree, it had plenty of cod flavor but without unbearable fishiness. Eaten with a few slices of baguette, this could easily make a heavy first course or a midday snack. I wonder if any wine could stand up to this dish. Our syrah and chardonnay certainly couldn't keep up.

Clams and Mussels
As one of the specials of the day, the clams and mussels dish was not a typical menu item. For seafood like clams and mussels, I always like to hear that they're offered as a special. I like to think that the chef picked those out because they looked good for that night, rather than keeping them on the menu and settling for substandard seafood. What I liked about this plate of mollusks was that the shellfish had an opportunity to express its own flavor rather than simply being swallowed up in garlic butter. Definitely, the butter helped to heighten the flavor, but it wasn't dominating.

Lamb liver terrine
This was my first encounter with lamb liver terrine. Considering my deep love of anything lamb, I would've sought this out earlier had I known it existed. However, my fear with liver dishes is always that the iron taste of liver would overwhelm whatever else was present in the dish. Perhaps it was just bad liver prepared in my childhood that turned me off to that organ in particular. But this lamb terrine had a curious consistency, almost like tuna salad, and an intensity of lamb taste. Paired with the caraway-beer sauce, I could eat a tub of it.

Asparagus and egg on toast
Maybe there's a fancier name for this dish, but it is best described by its component parts. Typically, I am not a fan of asparagus, but the combination of asparagus and egg actually makes me want to buy a few stalks of the hardy green for my next omelet. I always like loose yolk preparations of egg. Good bread dipped in a runny yolk makes an excellent breakfast.

Duck liver pate
My favorite appetizer of the night, the duck pate was creamy enough to melt delicately in my mouth, but solid enough to hold up the cherry compote. This was presented to us as duck liver, but I'm curious if there is a duck liver that's not foie gras. Does the liver need to be fattened to be considered foie gras? As far as I can tell, terrine refer to the cookware, whereas pate just refers to a spreadable minced meat and fat.

Salt roasted brazino
I believe the salt roasted title indicated that the fish was covered in a salt dome to moderate temperature and properly season the fish. The resultant dish had a pleasant flavor with the perfect amount of seasoning. This was my first exposure to caperberries, which are like giant capers. From what I deduced, capers are pickled buds of a Mediterranean bush, whereas caperberries are when the buds are allowed to flower and produce the caperberry fruit. In my opinion, caperberries are much more delightful.

Duck confit
When I first heard about confits, meats slowly simmered in its own rendered fat, I thought this would surely be my favorite preparation of duck. However, in practice, most of the confits I find are too dry. Without enough moisture, the flavor is defeated and the texture flakes. This wasn't the case with the confit at Canelé. Each piece maintain its juiciness and fat.

Pork shortribs
Christine may peg me as a complainer, but I was clearly complimenting the short ribs for glistening in all that holy fat. I wouldn't blame anyone for mistakenly calling this lump of hog meat pork belly. Given its shiny, layered appearance, I was shocked that this didn't come from the underside of a pig. Do I really need to describe its flavor? Look at it. How else could it taste?

Leg of lamb
For my personal dish, I chose the leg of lamb. I'm a sucker for lamb, I just can't resist. Sadly, for all the complexity of flavor, much of it was lost by being overcooked. The meat was probably closer to a medium-well than a dull red medium-rare.

We also had a few desserts, but by then the sun had set and my poor camera couldn't capture anything that wasn't grainy and bathed in the orange glow of incandescent light. Their homemade cheesecake was my preferred meal-ender. Instead of a slice, each cake is made separately. It looked more like a wheel of chevre than a cake. The flourless chocolate cake was also one of the fluffiest flourless cakes I've had. It bypasses the problem of dense chocolate black holes of indulgence. And in case you're wondering, Jane served us Canelés on the way out. Maybe I got a bad one, but mine tasted slightly burnt and it lacked any kind of soft center.

Ah, so that's the namesake pastry

See some actual food worthy pictures and encyclopedic insight on Kevin's post.

For the brunch review and a Christine photospread, see Matt's entry.

3219 Glendale Blvd
Glendale, 90039
$6-11 appetizers, $18-22 entrees, $7 desserts


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Best Bars and Drinks in LA

Cocomero at Pizzeria Ortica
Photo Courtesy of Tangbro

Hello All,

I'm conducting a little survey for the best places to go for drinks and happy hours in LA. Please help me out by adding the places you'd take people for a night out. I'm looking for places with hip specialty drinks, great atmosphere, stellar bar food, whatever you think makes a good watering hole. My goal is to get a list of 100 at least.

Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

De 7 Mon: Seven Courses of...Goat?

Westminster--ground zero for Little Saigon. Forget the filet mignon pho, when I'm here, I want the gritty cheap food. I want the restaurant that doesn't have English translations for its dishes. I want to be served a bucket of ice and frozen mugs when I bring in my own beer. What I want is Seven Courses of Goat at Binh Dan.


After my clumsy introduction into Seven Courses of anything Vietnamese with my Bo 7 Mon dinner, I was enthusiastic when Wandering Chopsticks offered me a chance to eat with a Vietnamese professional. Most people have heard of the Seven Courses of Beef or the slightly rarer Seven Courses of Fish, but I've never encountered goat prepared so many ways. However, Binh Dan specializes in goat and mon nhau dishes, simple food meant to be eaten with alcohol. They also source their goat locally from a ranch (farm?) in Riverside.

1. Tiet Canh - Congealed goat blood with liver and peanuts

While the first course was certainly not shocking to me, I wasn't thrilled by it. Contrary to my barbarian instincts, I don't typically like the taste of blood. It generally has that overwhelming iron taste, similar to liver, that I can do without. This plate of blood, eaten with banh trang me, toasted sesame rice paper, had hardly any flavor at all. Given the lack of taste, I could do without the crimson Jell-O.

2-3. De Nuong/De Nuong la lot mo chai - Grilled goat/Goat wrapped in betel leaves and caul fat

These two courses served together were more familiar to me than some of the other dishes. The grilled goat had similar flavors to the common grilled pork chop found in most Vietnamese restaurants. The wrapped goat was similar to one of the Bo 7 Mon courses, though Binh Dan dried out the meat by overcooking it.

4. De ca ri - Goat curry

According to WC, Vietnam has only one type of curry. Go figure. Goat seems to go naturally with curry, probably so the sauce can cut into the gaminess of the animal. I've seen curried goat in a few West Indian cuisines too, notably Jamaican. We ate the curry with plain rice noodles, though I would've preferred rice instead. Picking at the tendons in the bones of the goat in the stew was particularly satisfying.

5. De nhua man - Goat stew

I swear this is not the same dish as the last one. It certainly took me awhile to deduce that I had not accidentally photographed one bowl twice. WC couldn't identify what was in this stew, but I certainly didn't taste the heavy curry of the last dish. The soup was thinner, meant to be drunk, unlike the curry.

6. De tiem thuoc bac - Goat with Chinese herbs

I can't remember this dish too clearly. I'm not a fan of Chinese medicines so I probably didn't have that much of this bowl. It certainly smelled like a Chinese herbal store.

7. De xao lan - Stir-fried goat

As I mentioned before, I think goat is commonly paired with curry to cut down the gaminess; however, the goat at Binh Dan didn't have any strong flavors that would need the curry pairing. This stir-fry preparation reminded me of the dog I ate in China years before I started blogging. Both goat and dog are similar in flavor to pork.

De luc lac - Shaking goat

Done with the seven courses, we nonetheless ordered two more supplemental goat dishes to get even more variety in our meal. I was actually surprised that so many of the 7 courses preparation were soup based. This is a common Vietnamese dish generally made with beef. It's termed "shaking beef" due to the agitation of the wok during the frying process. Served with a saucer of lemon juice, salt and pepper, this was simple and delicious.

De vu nuong - Stir-fried goat udders

At this point I was slightly disappointed that the meat wasn't nearly flavorful enough to stand out as anything besides a half-step above lamb. I wanted something gamey as hell and hearty. Something that couldn't be interchanged with beef and be near indistinguishable. I got my wish with the goat udders. Intensely "goaty" and chewy, I enjoyed picking at this plate. The slightly charred edges gave a pleasant crispy texture while the meat was tough enough to promote proper mastication, but not so much to tire your jaw. Certainly the first time I had goat udders, but knowing how delicious it is, I might just have to search out other animal udders too.

Overall, a unique experience that I could only get in LA/OC. Well, that and Vietnam, where I'm actually planning to go in June. Hopefully, I'll get enough Vietnamese in me by then that I won't be gastronomically lost going from Saigon to Hanoi.

Thanks to WC for inviting me. Check out her experience here.
See what Kevin had to say here.

Binh Dan
10040 McFadden Ave
Westminster, 92683
They aren't too amiable to non-Vietnamese, so it might be hard to navigate without an interpreter.
$16.50 pp for 7 courses of goat