Friday, March 24, 2006

Daikokuya in Little Toyko

It was my second-to-last night living in Downtown LA (finally, I'm moving tomorrow!), so I decided it was time to check out a place that had been on my "to dine" list since I moved down here: Daikokuya Original Noodle & Rice Bowl.

Daikokuya is a specialty noodle house on 1st St. in Little Toyko. They're most famous for their homemade Daikoku Raumen, which is truly very special (so special it made Jonathan Gold's 99 Essentials list).

This is no Top Ramen by any stretch of the imagination:
* The raumen includes noodles, a boiled egg, seasoned bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and green onions in pork soup
* The broth is made from pork bones that are boiled for more than a day
* They use kurobuta (black pork), which is known for its tenderness and unique flavour
* The eggs are soaked in the broth overnight prior to serving

Hungry yet?

You know how takeout tastes even more delicious the next day, because the flavours have had time to brew? That's how everything at Daikokuya tastes when it's served. It's rich, savory, down-home delicious comfort food, Japanese style.

Oh, and did I mention they have good cheap Japanese beer on tap? $2.00 buys you a mug of Kirin, $10.00 buys you a gigantic pitcher. We don't mess around...

We ordered a bunch of food because everything looked and smelled so good. To start, spicy tuna roll ($4.95)...

Lots of soft, flavorful tuna, crunchy cucumber strips and fresh avocado.

Gyoza ($4.95)...

The gyoza tasted freshly homemade - hot, crispy, green-oniony, so yummy.

Brian ordered a combination dinner ($10.50), which came with cabbage salad, a chicken and rice bowl, and a bowl of raumen:

The salad has a fantastic thousand-island-ish dressing - it's so simple, but really good.

Here's the Chicken and Egg bowl. I only had a small bite of this... barely enough to taste it. Brian managed to inhale the whole thing in a matter of 1 or 2 minutes, so I guess it was really good!

Then came the raumen ($7.50 for just a bowl by itself). WOW...

This is some serious stuff. The broth is really rich - one spoonful is enough to warm you from head to toe. And it tastes SOOOO amazing. Apparently, you can also order the broth stamina style, which means extra rich... I couldn't imagine it getting more rich than this.

The noodles are very al dente, which gives them a nice chew that softens up as time passes.
My favorite part was the pork strips in the broth.

This is the TORO OF PORK: it's fatty, savory, and literally melts in your mouth. I am salivating as I type just remembering how delicious it was! The taste is like bacon meets toro, and then some.

Daikokuya is a cool little spot. Very homey, diner-like, but hip - everyone in the restaurant looked like they had stepped out of a music video. They're open late too: usually till 2AM or later. It was about a 20 minute wait when we got there, but well worth it.

After this meal, we came home and promptly fell asleep. I haven't had such a comforting meal in a really long time - I slept like a baby. I really loved Daikokuya and will definitely be back: it almost makes me want to stay downtown... almost.

327 E. 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Nozawa + David Myers = Sokyo!

Could it be true? Two of the greatest culinary masters (in L.A. at least) are joining forces to open a new, Japanese-themed restaurant in June 2006?

I squealed with delight when my friend S.K. first shared the news that Nozawa of Sushi Nozawa and David Myers of Sona were in talks to open a restaurant together in the former Noura Cafe space. Now I have so many questions: What will it be called? Will Nozawa select the fish? Will Sushi Nozawa stay open?

Here's the juicy news bite: Chef David Myers, who opened Sona in Los Angeles three years ago, is working on a new project with Kazunori Nozawa of Sushi Nozawa: a modern 100-seat Japanese restaurant serving small plates. The space, which will include a lounge, patio, and two private dining rooms, is expected to open on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood in June 2006.

It would be great if they named the restaurant TRUST ME and they literally had no menus at all. I am so excited I can hardly contain myself... It's going to be a nail-biting three months!

UPDATE: The restaurant is going to be called Sokyo. I still like Trust Me better. These may be sketches of what the restaurant will look like on the inside. They will have a menu consisting of various categories, such as salty and crunchy, raw, robata, vegetables and bowls, and mini-sweets from pasty chef Michelle Myers. And finally, Nozawa will only serve as a consultant, which kinda disappoints me a little... I was hoping he would actually be a chef there (at least on Saturdays, since Nozawa is closed on the weekends).

Monday, March 20, 2006

Hollywood Bowl Summer 2006

Don't get me wrong, I love classical music... but the Hollywood Bowl is upping the ante with some great electronica this year. Although the site says single tickets aren't available until May 6, you can create your own series and secure your tickets earlier.

Here's what's on my series... I'll probably show up to more shows later this summer, but these tickets seemed like they'd go pretty fast. Hope to see you there!!

Flaming Lips, Thievery Corporation

Sun, Jul 23, 2006 07:00 PM
Thievery Corp is one of my all-time favorites.

KCRW's World Festival: Gotan Project, Zero 7 and Jose Gonzalez
Sun, Aug 27, 2006 07:00 PM
Gotan Project and Zero 7... two of my other all-time favorites. You MUST see Gotan Project live - they are incredible. Tango meets electronica with a live accordian player over deep house/dub beats. Super cool. Which reminds me, I need to get my hands on their new album.

Video Games Live 2006
Thu, Sep 21, 2006 08:00 PM

80's Night
Sat, Sep 23, 2006 07:30 PM

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Four Things: The LA Edition

OK, I'm a little late in the game on this one... but better late than never, right!

Four Jobs I've Had In My Life In L.A.:
1) UCLA Wooden Center (low-budget student gym) - "Weight Room Manager" (ha!)
2) Unpaid PR flack
3) Paid PR flack
4) Barbie marketer (current)

Four Movies About LA I Could Watch Over And Over:
1) Mulholland Drive
2) Swingers
3) Collateral
4) Clueless

Four Places I've Lived All Over L.A.
1) Westwood (UCLA days) - started on the West side
2) West Hollywood - slowly moving East
3) Hollywood Hills - East-er still
4) Downtown - OK, a little too East. Isolated, boring, crack junkie central. Moving back West-ward to Miracle Mile this weekend.

Four LA-Themed Shows I Love(d) To Watch:
* I don't really watch TV, so I'm just guessing here...
1) Beverly Hills 90210
2) Melrose Place
3) ???
4) ???

Four Places I Would Vacation At In LA:
we're talking about hotels, right?
1) Hotel Bel Air
2) Casa del Mar (Santa Monica)
3) Shutters (Santa Monica)
4) Chateau Marmont

Four L.A. Based Websites I Visit Daily/Frequently:
1) Defamer
2) Chowhound Los Angeles board
3) KCRW Music Calendar
4) Perez Hilton

Four Of My Favorite Foods Found In LA:
1) Crab hand roll at Nozawa (ANYTHING at Nozawa, actually)
2) Pinkberry frozen yogurt
3) Mango and sticky rice at Wat Thai Temple
4) Bacon-wrapped dates at A.O.C.

Four Places In LA I Would Rather Be Right Now:
1) Eating at Nozawa
2) Eating at Urasawa (still haven't been!)
3) Eating at Pinkberry
4) at the Beverly Center with an unlimited budget

Downtown - Mile 26

Lucky me - I live at Mile 26 of the L.A. Marathon. It feels pretty good to wake up at 2PM and know that several thousand people have already run 26 miles today. Poor souls...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Peeps Flambe

Hey everyone, it's Peeps season! Yes, it's that time of year again when the magical sugary marshmallow creatures with the amazing shelf life return in Easter-themed shapes. This year we have bunnies, chicks, and eggs in purple, pink, orange, yellow and blue.

And coming this Easter, a brand new Official Peeps Web Site! Stay tuned...

This year, Peeps turn 53. In just over half a century, Peeps have been sent into space, undergone extensive scientific research, discovered the dangers of smoking, and even undergone the first conjoined quintuplet separation.

What a few lucky people know is that Peeps also make for excellent FLAMBE! Imagine if a marshmallow married a creme brulee. And then they had babies. Got it? It's super delicious... like a roasted marshmallow that has a crunchy crystallized sugar crust on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside. It's peep-a-licious.

Tonight, Brian brought home some blue bunny Peeps, so it seemed the perfect time to light up my trusty Bernzomatic and get to work.

Here's the first set of sacrificial lambs...

Like carefree college girls laying out in the sun on Palm Beach

Uh oh... we're getting a little sunburned!

Things don't look so good for our Peep friends...

Oh boy, that's some serious burnt sugar action...

OK, now's the fun part. Let it cool a bit, then crack with a spoon - it's just like creme brulee, only marshmallow-y!

My next victim...
Little bunny blueboy is no match for my Bernzomatic...

Ouch! That's hot!

Things didn't end well for this bunny... he sorta melted into a big blue-green blob....

But he was mighty tasty!

Spacecat ate experiment number 3... that's all for tonight!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo

Friday Night, 8:30PM

I've had a couple bad experiences with downtown sushi. The first was Hamakawa. Easily the worst sushi I have ever had in terms of quality and freshness. Literally inedible. Second was Zip Fusion Sushi. A couple bad pieces of uni and I couldn't order anything from there ever again. So I was somewhat reluctant to check out Sushi Gen, thinking it might just be another mediocre downtown sushi joint. Fortunately, I was wrong!

Sushi Gen is now a strong contender in my list of favorite LA sushi spots. No one will ever replace Nozawa (in my heart at least), so second place is a now a tie between Sushi Gen and Sasabune. The thing I like about Sushi Gen is that it's an incredibly friendly and festive environment. While Nozawa is a bit like going to your psychiatrist (with a bill to match), Sushi Gen is like going to hang out with old friends. Old friends who make you wait 45 minutes for a table. Hey, it's a great spot, the wait is worth it!

We arrived at Sushi Gen at about 8:30PM on Friday. The place was packed, with about 2 dozen people waiting for a table when we arrived. You have the choice of sitting at a table or at the sushi bar. The sushi bar is sushi only, no cooked dishes... fine with me!

After about 45 minutes of a wait, we were finally seated at the sushi bar in front of Kazu, who warmly welcomed us. A waitress brought by hot towels and took our drink order.

We started with a cold unfiltered sake called Sayuri. It's the prettiest pink bottle I have ever seen, and for people who know where I work, they know I LOVE PINK!! Sayuri means "a little lily," and in sake form, it is delicate and delicious. That's Kazu working his magic in the background.

Sushi time! We had A LOT of sushi, and everything was stellar.

I kinda forgot to take pictures until about halfway through the meal.
Some things I missed at the very beginning include:
Maguro (Tuna): bright red, buttery soft
Toro (fatty Tuna): like a tuna-flavored stick of butter in your mouth... fantastic
Hamachi (Yellowtail): buttery soft and a tiny bit sweet... so yummy

Albacore: topped with a bunch of green onion and raddish swag, which added a nice fresh crunch. The fish also stood up well alone, without the garnish. So good, we got a second order.

Aji (Spanish Mackerel), one of my favorite sushi dishes for it's bold, assertive fish flavor, also done up with the garnish. Very fresh, very tender - absolutely wonderful.

Ama ebi (raw sweet shrimp): so sweet and a great fresh, almost-crunchy texture.

OH-MY EYES!! Ama ebi head and tentacles, deep fried. Brian refuses to eat these, I LOVE THEM. They taste like sweet chicken fingers, only with more layers and crunch (oh yeah, and shrimp eyeballs). A squeeze of lemon and they make my list for favorite fried crustacean.

Hotate (raw scallop). Oh my goodness. Kazu squeezes lemon juice and a little salt on these. They are TO DIE FOR. A must order. So sweet and fresh, it seems a shame that these precious creatures might ever touch a grill. So good we got a second order.

With the basics out of the way, we decided to get a little more adventurous. I asked Kazu if he had anything special or interesting that day. He replied: Sai-YO-ri (spelled sayori). Pointing to our sake, "NOT Sai-YU-ri, Sai-YO-ri." OK, we'll try that!

Sayori is a spring season fish called Halfbeak in English. Here's what it looks like in sushi form (on the left) and fish form (on the right). It's a crisp fish, with an assertive, but relatively mild taste. It reminded me a little bit of aji. Actually, I am just making up my tasting notes... I had a lot of Sai-YU-ri by this point and I don't remember. But it sure was shiny and pretty!

We seemed to have started a chain reaction down the bar, because for the remainder of our meal, I heard guests going back and forth with the sushi chef, "Sai-YU-ri... Sai-YO-ri"

Finally, my all-time favorite sushi dish, which I always save for "dessert:"
Uni (sea urchin roe). This is not a dish for the faint hearted, and it's definitely an acquired taste, similar to how oysters are an acquired taste. The flavour is interesting and very complex - sweet, with an almost peanut-butter taste, followed by an explosion of ocean goodness (but somehow not salty). But the texture is what makes uni really spectactular. People have compared it to "kissing a mermaid," and that sounds just about right. Good uni is at once firm, and able to dissolve on the tongue. It's a party in your mouth.

Here's what uni looks like in sushi form (on the left) and how it looks when you extract it in nature. Isn't it beautiful? Kazu's uni was so fresh and good, I got a second order.

At this point we were pretty stuffed. Oh, and down two bottles of sake and two beers, so buzzed too.

Here's a photo of Kazu, our wonderful sushi chef, who gladly hammed it up when asked if we could take his picture. Could you imagine Nozawa like this? I think not...

The sushi is pretty reasonably priced. Our bill (which included 12 orders of sushi, half of it market price, 2 bottles of sake and 2 beers) came to $122. We ate and drank a lot more than we usually do at Nozawa, for less. A bargain in my eyes. Plus, sushi really is like therapy, and if you're there for an hour and a half, it's cheaper than a psychiatrist.

I loved Sushi Gen... I had so much fun and it was a great atmosphere. I can't wait to go back!

Sushi Gen
422 E Second St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 617-0552

11:15am-2pm, 5:30pm-10pm

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Figaro Bistrot in Los Feliz

Los Feliz has a lot of cute little restaurants, one of which I frequently walk by on the way to the Los Feliz theater and Skylight Books: Figaro Bistrot. The name alone should give you a clue to the restaurant's philosophy - they spell Bistro with a "t" and they are very, VERY French. It's an adorable restaurant, with an outdoor heated patio and a cozy red, dimly-lit interior decorated with chandeliers and antiques.

Figaro recently went to an all-organic menu. And when I say all-organic, I mean Healthy Organic Biodynamic, since that's what all the 10-page flyers on the tables now say. They claim to be "the most completely organic restaurant in Los Angeles." They claim all of this organic-ness leads to cleaner rivers, more breathable air, and greater plant and animal biodiversity. Well, mostly, it leads to outrageous menu prices. But the food's good too.

I've heard mixed reviews on the service, ranging from friendly to downright awful. We had a very good experience with our waiter, who was from Nice (or perhaps from the Melrose area, by way of acting school). I expected a bit of snootiness, but he was charming, quite friendly, and very accomodating.

Here's what we had...
Our waiter brought an amuse bouche to start: mango pineapple juice topped with cranberry foam, dotted with balsamic vinegar. They intend for you to drink it like a shot, and we both tossed ours back only to have the entire concoction stay planted right where it was. Second try, same thing. So we waited a couple minutes until they brought silverware, loosened the edges of the foam with a knife, and this time, success. It was definitely worth the wait - a foamy, juicy citrus blast tamed by the sour-sweetness of the balsamic. A good way to start off the meal, and a sign of good things to come.

Here it is: I'm still not sure why the mango pineapple juice is green, but it sure was delicious!

Next they brought a bread basket that had a french baguette and sundried tomato bread, with sweet cream butter. The sundried tomato bread had huge pieces of sundried tomatoes and was very tasty.

Figaro's menu has all the French bistro classics: escargot, steak frites, pork tenderloin, etc. The waiter also brought by a chalkboard with the day's specials. One soup, three appetizers, three main dishes, and a dessert. This is when I first noticed that the prices seemed high. Most of the appetizers were in the $10-25 range, and entrees started at about $30 going all the way up to $60.

Sometime around this point, a crazy street person walked by our table and started shouting obscenities. Charming. Still, they were playing some great music (Hotel Costes 6 and the very excellent Mirror Conspiracy among them), the heat lamps were warm, the candles burning, and I was digging the romantic, Left Bank vibe.

To start: Beef tartare with truffle oil and capers in a bearnaise sauce (from the specials menu).

Raw beef and truffle oil, how can you go wrong? This was simply delicious.

Main course: we shared the roasted pork tenderloin in a cognac reduction with sauteed apples and potato puree.

The pork was tender, perfected roasted, and nicely seasoned. It came in a small saute pan, along with the apples and the cognac sauce it was cooked in. I wanted to drink the sauce. Absolutely intoxicating...

The pork tenderloin came with a side of fluffy yukon gold mashed potatoes. Simple and good.

We finished with a shared dessert: Carmelized tarte tatin flambe.
They bring it to your table, pour brandy all over it, and light it on fire.

Did I mention I love pyrotechnic food? This was so fun, and REALLY tasty. Sweet, delicious apples and the most amazing vanilla bean ice cream.

In additional to the 1 appetizer, 1 entree, and 1 dessert, Brian had two beers and I had two glasses of wine. Total bill before tip: $122. Had we both ordered appetizers and a main course, it would have been well over two hundred. At a bistro. Outside. With homeless people shuffling by.

OK, so the food was very good. Not mindblowingly good, but good. The downside is that they're charging high-end gourmet prices for bistro-quality fare. I expect to pay that much at Grace or Spago, AOC, etc., but at Figaro BistroT? No thanks...

Figaro Bistrot
1802 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Guelaguetza on 8th/Normandie

Guelaguetza is somewhat famous in Los Angeles for its authentic Oaxacan cuisine. Oaxaca is a Mexican state in the southern part of Mexico, often called "Land of the Seven Moles." I really like mole, and I had heard so many great things about Guelaguetza... I thought I was in for a fantastic meal.

Guelaguetza has three locations, two near Koreatown (one on 8th, one on Olympic), and one in West LA. Having read up on it, it seemed the one on 8th and Normandie was the original, and the one to try.

If you ever go, give yourself an extra 15 to 20 minutes to find parking. The parking situation is basically non-existant. We drove down the surrounding 5 blocks about 3 times before finally finding a space.

When we got to the restaurant at 8:30 Friday evening, I was surprised to find it almost empty - only one other couple was eating. A nice waitress greeted us at the door and took us to our table. Our waiter brought by our menus and asked if we wanted any drinks. I had read on their web site and on Chowhound about the margaritas, so I orded one. After a quizzical look from the waiter, I asked if they had alcohol. "No, no alcohol." Now I was confused... was I in the wrong restaurant? Perhaps the other Guelaguezta locations serve alcohol, just not this one.

He suggested a Horchata, so I ordered one. On the menu, it was titled Horchata con Tuna y Nuez, translated to sweet rice drink, chopped nuts and cactus fruit puree (the nuts were pecans). It looked delicious, almost a meal unto itself, and it tasted great. Milky, nutty, and fruity... and I always love drinks that you can eat with a spoon.

They brought by some yummy tortilla chips that tasted homemade and freshly fried. They were topped with coloradito (a red mole) and cheese.

At this point we were still looking at the menu. The menu is a bit confusing to a non-Spanish speaker, and doesn't seem to have any particular order to it. I went in there knowing exactly what I was going to order, and it still took me some time to find it.

Here's what we had:

MOLE NEGRO CON PECHUGA ó PIERNA DE POLLO (servido con arroz) - $10.00
Chicken breast and leg covered with Oaxaca's famous black mole made from chiles, nuts, seeds, Spices and Oaxacan chocolate. Rich bold flavor. Served with rice.

This looked like an oil spill on a plate. The mole was smoky and rich, with a nice chocolate aftertaste. The chicken was so tender it fell off the bone, very moist and delicious. Overall, it was good, but not quite as good as I was expecting. I guess I was expecting it to taste dramatically different from the mole I've had at other restaurants in L.A., and it didn't. I've never been to Oaxaca, so I don't know what it's supposed to really taste like, but it just didn't taste like it was cooked all day long with 50+ ingredients like the stuff I've read about. What do I know?!? This is probably as close as you can get to the real thing, but it just didn't wow me.

Thick, handmade corn tortilla with beans and topped with fresh cheese. Served with a choice off: Oaxacan string cheese, chorizo, tazajo ó cecina.

We chose to have ours with quesillo, which is Oaxacan string cheese. Now, take a look at the picture: you have a thick tortilla, topped with beans, topped with string cheese. This is about as basic as it gets, and I didn't think it was that great. The tortilla tasted overcooked, the cheese was really dry and chewy (maybe that's how it's supposed to be), and the whole thing was just kinda bland.

TAMAL OAXAQUEÑO DE MOLE CON POLLO (servido con arroz y frijoles) - $7.00
Our famous banana leaf-wrapped tamales. Finely ground corn dough packages, filled with shredded chicken in black mole. Served with rice and black beans.

This was probably our favorite dish, but even so, it wasn't the best tamale I've ever had. The chicken inside was flavorful and good, and the combination of chicken, mole and masa was great, but again, I was expecting so much more.

Total bill: $25.42

OK, so the price-value of Guelaguetza was great, but I really didn't love it. Is it the cuisine itself I'm not crazy about, or just this particular restaurant? While I was mildly interested in checking out the Food of the Gods festival before Guelaguetza, now I'm not so sure. Maybe I needed to grow up with this food in order to love it. Oh well.

3337 1/2 W. 8th St.
Los Angeles California
Tel. (213) 427-0601

On our way to dinner, we passed this building, X-topia. Everything on the signs outside was in Korean, except for the phrase "dance machine." What the heck is a dance machine, I thought... so on our way back from dinner, we peeked in.

X-topia is a dirty, run-down, old-school arcade that has an entire room devoted to "Dance Machine." Dance Machines, as you may have guessed, are a life-sized version of the game Dance, Dance, Revolution, and WOW, it is so much fun. Deposit 3 tokens (75 cents), choose a level of difficultly (light, medium, extreme), choose your music (I chose, "It's Raining Men"), and go. The goal is to touch your foot on the four arrows in sync with the screen. Apparently, there is also a level of dance skill involved, which the Korean school girls next to me were demonstrating. But I was just trying to step on the arrows at the right time. You get the hang of it after a couple songs and it is really, really fun. A great way to burn off a few calories after a meal too...