Monday, April 24, 2006

Mysterious Pink Gummy Candy

Hey look, it matches my blog!

It sure looks like sushi, but it's not. What is it? I have no idea.
They sell it at the Hannam Market in K-Town and it tastes like gummy... nothing. No flavour at all.

It's so pretty, I was really hoping it would taste like... something. But no, nothing more than a gummy supermodel - all looks, no substance.

Kasugai Peanut & You

This is my favorite snack of the moment. A crunchy, salty, soy-saucy-sweet shell, peppered with seaweed flakes, and... SURPRISE! There's a peanut inside.

The name sounds a bit like a Barbara Walters special. "Tonight at 10, Kasugai Peanut & You - What You Don't Know CAN Kill You"

Um yeah. They're good. Buy them.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Hungry Cat

A review of The Hungry Cat would be the perfect place for me to post gratuitous photos of my kitten children, but today, I will spare you. Here's a photo of the Hungry Cat mascots instead (pssst... they're open for lunch!)

We chanced upon The Hungry Cat over the holiday weekend when the movie we went to see at the Arclight was sold out. I had heard of the place and had been meaning to try it, but the Sunset/Vine complex is not a place I find myself very often.

At about 9PM on Thursday night, the restaurant was completely packed. With no reservation and no tables available, the host kindly offered to seat us at the "Chef's Table." That sounds fancy, but it should more accurately be called, "The Dish Station," because it's right next to the dishes and offers a fleeting view (yet no interaction with) the chefs. Despite literally being within arm's reach, the chefs don't even hand you your plate... they pass it through the serving station immediately to the left, then around to your table. That said, it's a cute little spot at the bar and offers a nice view of the action.

Hungry Cat has a simple but well-thought-out menu (mostly seafood) with several daily specials. They also have a nice beer/wine/cocktails list, with (gasp!) reasonably priced drinks. Nary a $15 martini in sight.

Drinks to start:
Greyhound Proper w/grapefruit juice and candied grapefruit ($8)

This has to be the freshest greyhound I've ever had. Captain Bartender Man cut a grapefruit in half and squeezed it right in front of me! Delightful, and the candied grapefruit rind is a nice little appetizer.

Turbodog ($5), a delicious dark brown ale:

I think I'm on a beer kick lately... I've been wanting to try different beers at every meal.

For food, we started with the "Pride of Baltimore" crabcake ($14)

The crab cake was nice and crunchy on the outside, warm and crab-meaty inside. I later learned that this is made from a 100-year old family recipe. Does that mean it's really good? YES. The best crabcake I've had in my life? NO. But really good. And the jicima coleslaw on the side is refreshing and complements the crab well.

For dinner, I had the Lobster roll w/fries ($22)

Now, I don't like to make comparisons - every dish should have a chance to shine on it's own, right? Well, my very first lobster roll was at Pearl Oyster Bar about 3 years ago, and I still think about it. Hungry Cat's lobster roll was good. Indeed, very good. Just not a Pearl lobster roll. That's all I'm going to say.

My other half had a "Pug Burger" with bacon, avocado and blue cheese ($14)

Now this was something - so huge that I had to draw out the diagram just to figure out where all the ingredients were. The bacon was thick slab cut, perfectly fatty and tasted great with the blue cheese. But the real star in this burger is the bread - it's a crusty, crunchy ciabatta-like bread. So good. The only challenge is figuring out how to eat this thing... it measures about 6 inches tall when you stack it up.

Overall, I thought The Hungry Cat was good, but like many Goin/Lentz restaurants, I'm afraid the media coverage hypes it so much that you go in expecting to be dazzled. Dazzled I wasn't, but happy and satiated... yes.

The Hungry Cat
1555 N. Vine St. (Sunset/Vine complex)
Hollywood, CA
(323) 462-2155

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Zankou Chicken

If a mere two syllables could start me salivating, those syllables would have to be: Zan. Kou. I love Zankou Chicken. LOVE it. And yet I only go about once a year... why? Not sure. All I know is that while Zankou is always delicious, it is sometimes... dangerous. It's the triple fudge chocolate cheesecake of chicken. Or something like that.

Zankou Chicken has six locations in the greater L.A. area, including the original (the one I always visit) on Sunset and Normandie. It's a hole-in-the-wall type of place with some amazing wood paneling and orange formica tables that only add to its charm.

Zankou serves a variety of Middle Eastern dishes, including shawerma, tarna, falafel, hummus, mutabbal, and others. The meat is out of this world - they roast it on a giant spit right behind the cash registers.

I think the plates are the best choice, because you get a little bit of everything, and it's all cut up and ready to eat. The whole chicken is good too, but when you are starving (and when you smell it, you will be), you may not want to deal with carving up the entire bird.

Here's the chicken tarna plate, which includes fire-roasted chicken, hummus, sesame sauce, garlic sauce and pita.

The shish kebab plate, with piles of charbroiled steak, hummus, peppers, and pita.

While the meat is fantastic on its own, it's the accoutrements that take everything to a new level. Tear off a corner of soft, fluffy pita, load on a kebab, douse it in hummus, and dig in. Juicy, garlicy, succulent... there aren't enough adjectives to do this place justice.

The chicken plate comes with two additional sauces: a sesame-garlic sauce, which tastes a bit like the hummus, but saucy-er...

And Zankou's famous, unbelievably rich garlic sauce. I have no idea what is in this, but it's super garlicy, super fluffy, buttery and sublime. Outrageously good.

I haven't been to the other Zankou locations, so I don't know how they stack up, but I do know that some dishes (kebabs and soujouk, for example), are only available at the Hollywood location. Go when you are hungry, bring a friend who doesn't mind garlic breath, and be prepared to take a heck of a lot of leftovers home.

Zankou Chicken
5065 Sunset Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90027
(323) 665-7842
10AM - midnight

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Doughboys Bakery & Cafe

After Eat, Drink & Be Merry took us all to SNL's Taco Town, I got to thinking: What Los Angeles restaurants truly embody the Taco Town mentality of more is better? Let's see, we have Cheesecake Factory. C&O's Trattoria. But even those stay on the side of regular dishes in big portions. I was looking for a restaurant that makes truly outrageous dishes in big portions. Something where I read through the menu and think, "wait, are they serious?"

In terms of portions and ingredients, you can't get more Taco Town than Doughboys Bakery & Cafe. A peek at the Doughboys Menu reveals such gems as The Monster, a big gooey mess of meat, cheese, onions, mushrooms and bread (they even suggest you eat it... like a taco!) or the PBC&B, a french toast, peanut butter, banana, chocolate dipped thing (that gets even more awesome when they wrap it in an authentic Parisian crepe and DEEP FRY IT!).

Geesh, I was getting a stomach ache just looking at the menu.

A wanted to try a range of dishes, so between the two of us, we decided to get three items - a salad and two of the "lighter" (ha!) entrees.

The goat cheese, tomato, walnut salad...

Which came with some yummy focacia toast points topped with an olive tapenade. Add a little goat cheese and walnuts, and voila! A complete meal.

So pretty...

We were pretty full after sharing the salad. But wait, there's more!

Brian had Scrapple with Dirty Eggs. I don't even want to go into the number of ingredients in this dish...

First, we take shredded pork and make it into a PORK PANCAKE! Then, we scrape up all the EGGS in the entire restaurant and scramble them with SAUSAGE and POTATOES and ONIONS! And it gets even awesomer when we throw in not 1, not 2, but 4 HUGE SLICES of parmesean FOCCACIA BREAD! Then we soak it all in BUTTER and smother it in CHEESE! And serve it to you on a plate the size of a coffee table with TONS OF HEALTHY SALAD!

I had the After-School Special, which is a grilled cheese and tomato soup. I was expecting a dainty little sandwich and a medium-sized bowl of soup. I mean, how big can a cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup be? Silly me...

First, we take a quarter-pound each of FIVE KINDS OF CHEESE! Then we put the cheese between TWO WHOLE LOAVES OF BREAD! But wait until we smother it in BUTTER and PAN FRY it! Then we take a giant mixing bowl and pour in tons of TOMATO SAUCE! You'll love it when we dump in a GALLON OF HEAVY CREAM!
(just a little perspective - that's a four-inch serving spoon in the photo, not a regular spoon)

The first bite was good, but after that it was just too much. Too much cheese, too much butter, too much soup.

See, look at me... I'm drowning in butter and tomato soup...

Ugggh. We each ate about a 1/3 of our entrees and could barely stand up.
I was surprised they didn't try to put our leftovers in a bag and pour three gallons of chili on top of it.

Doughboys Bakery & Cafe
8136 W Third St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 651-4202

World's 50 Best Restaurants

The UK's Restaurant Magazine named the 50 Best Restaurants in the World this month.

I have eaten at exactly ONE of them (Jean Georges, woot woot!), but I haven't given up hope to eat my way through several more by the end of the year.

A couple questions...
1) Is French Laundry really that good? Worth the day trip?
2) Has anyone been to El Bulli? I am DYING to go there... (Honey?)

World's Best Restaurants 2006 winners list:

  1. El Bulli, Spain - The Penfold's world's best restaurant, best in Europe
  2. The Fat Duck, United Kingdom
  3. Pierre Gagnaire, France - Chef's Choice
  4. French Laundry, US - best restaurant in the Americas
  5. Tetsuya's, Australia - best restaurant in Australasia
  6. Bras, France
  7. Restaurant Le Louis XV, Monaco
  8. Per Se, US
  9. Restaurante Arzak, Spain
  10. Mugaritz, Spain - highest new entrant
  11. Can Fabes, Spain
  12. Nobu, UK
  13. Gambero Rosso, Italy - highest climber
  14. Gordon Ramsay (Royal Hospital Road), UK
  15. Restaurant Alain Ducasse, France
  16. Jean Georges, US
  17. Le Cinq, France
  18. Daniel, US
  19. Oud Sluis, The Netherlands
  20. Chez Panisse, US
  21. El Celler de Can Roca, Spain
  22. L'Astrance, France
  23. Hof van Cleve, Belgium
  24. La Maison Troisgros, France
  25. L'Atelier, France
  26. Charlie Trotter's, US
  27. Le Gavroche, UK - outstanding value
  28. La Colombe, South Africa - best restaurant in the Middle East and Africa
  29. Enoteca Pinchiorri, Italy
  30. Rockpool, Australia
  31. Le Calandre, Italy
  32. Le Bernardin, US
  33. Noma, Denmark
  34. Restaurant Dieter Muller, Germany
  35. St John, UK
  36. Hakkasan, UK
  37. Martin Berasategui, Spain
  38. Le Quartier Francais, South Africa
  39. Chez Dominique, Finland
  40. L'Ambroisie, France
  41. Die Schwarzwaldstube, Germany
  42. Dal Pescatore, Italy
  43. Bocuse, France
  44. L'Arpege, France
  45. Gramercy Tavern, US
  46. Bukhara, India
  47. De Karmeliet, Belgium
  48. Oaxen, Sweden
  49. Comme Chez Soi, Belgium
  50. DOM, Brazil

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Chyn King Chinese

My first foray into Miracle Mile Chinese Food was passable, but not great. I decided to skip the next five places on my Citysearch map and go straight to the one with the highest rating: Chyn King.

Chyn King is what you could call Fresh Americanized Chinese. Which was fine, because while I consider myself an adventurous eater, I'm not really into "parts," which seem to be part and parcel at the more traditional Chinese restaurants. You know what I mean by parts, right? Feet. Gizzards. Tendons. Intestines. Hearts. Noses. Not really my thing.

So when we sat down at Chyn King, I was happy to see a pretty broad and fresh-looking menu that had some healthy entrees as well. Not that I would actually order any of the healthy items, but nice to know they're there.

Before we got to eating, the owners thought it would be a good idea for us to take a nice, long look at our relationship. See, Chinese restaurants not only serve you food, they also provide relationship counseling. Take the "birth year/animal" diagram, for example: I'm a Sheep, Brian's an Ox... Chyn King tells me we're the least compatible set on the placemat.

B: So, you're trouble, for me huh... You'd rather be with a Boar than me, wouldn't you?
CC: Honey, you know that's not true... but perhaps your SNAKE girlfriend might have something to say about it, hmmmm?
B: This is really about the BOAR isn't it? You're secretly seeing a Boar behind my back, aren't you?!?
CC: What?
B: Ribbit.

Hey look, crispies! A good distraction from all these Ox/Sheep/Boar/Rabbit worries...

We were feeling hungry, so we ordered quite a bit of food: 3 appetizers and 3 main dishes. Here's the procession...

Chicken Egg Rolls ($1.99 for 2), which had real white meat chicken breast! Is this common? I think this may have been my first white meat egg roll.

Vegetable Potstickers ($4.95 for 6):

These were made fresh, not frozen - check out the tiny cubes of sauteed tofu.

Hot and Sour Soup ($3.25): rich, thick, and just spicy enough

Beef on Sizzling Plate ($8.50): this was the highlight of the meal. Really good, hot beef in a delicious sauce. Just for clarification, the beef is the one doing the sizzling, not the plate.

General Tsao's Chicken ($7.95): this was OK. Kinda bland. Sauce a bit too sweet. PSA: do not eat the red peppers... even if you think it would be a funny joke... it's not a funny joke.

Vegetable Chow Fun ($6.50): fresh tasting, filling-but-not-heavy, lots of veggies. This is the only dish we didn't actually finish, so I'll be having this for lunch today.

And finally, a few backhanded "fortunes" to close off the meal.

Total bill: $38. Not bad.

Overall, I thought Chyn King was pretty good. And, THEY DELIVER, which makes them even better. There were a couple things on the "King's Specialties" menu that sounded awesome: Crispy Duck (Duck marinated with Chinese herbs and spices, fried to a crisp, served with 4 Chinese buns on the side); Fish Steamed with Scallion & Ginger (steamed boneless filet of fish in scallion and ginger sauce); Corn with Asparagus Crab Soup (creamed corn and asparagus cooked with luscious crab meat and egg drop). I'll be trying those next time...

Chyn King
5770 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA
Mon-Thurs: 11AM-10PM
Fri-Sat: 11AM-10:30PM
Sun: 11:30AM-10:30PM

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sushi Nozawa

Thursday, 8PM

A lot of times people ask me, "Colleen, what's your favourite restaurant in L.A.?" What's my FAVOURITE restaurant in L.A.? Are you kidding me?!?

That's like asking someone to choose their favourite child, or, in my case, favourite cat. Who's my favourite cat?

Well, duh, that's easy. Orbit. He's the cutest and most wonderful.
Likewise, Sushi Nozawa is my favourite restaurant in L.A. No contest, always has been, always will be.

I first discovered Sushi Nozawa in about 2003 and have eaten there close to a hundred times. That's like, $10,000 worth of sushi! No matter, because from the bottom of my heart...


And for you, dear reader, I have sacrificed being barred forever by sneaking a few covert photos (OK, more than a few), so that you too can see the magic that is Nozawa. See, I normally sit at the sushi bar, where I would never dream of snapping a photo, but tonight the hidden corner table was open, so we sat there.

Nozawa has the most amazing sushi in the United States. I've been to almost every good sushi restaurant from here to New York and have never experienced anything quite like it. It's not just impeccably good quality fish, there's something else, a chemical perhaps, that makes your head absolutely woozy with delight.

For me, a trip to Nozawa is like a visit to a psychotherapist. You can't help but feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. It's sort of like yoga for your palate.

The best way to experience Nozawa is to follow the sign: TRUST ME
Trust Me means omakase, chef's choice. It's the only way to fly...

Please keep in mind that these photos in no way do the sushi justice. It's so much more than how it looks - it's the texture (like butter), the flavour (impossibly fresh), and the perfect marriage of the cool fish on warm rice that make this experience truly special.

Every visit starts off with a plate of tuna in ponzu sauce with green onions:

Followed by toro and hamachi, also known as "orgasm on a plate"

Then we might move on to some albacore:

A crab hand roll midway through (one bite left!):

Excuse me miss, your toro is showing:

The ever-succulent toro roll... just half a bite to go:

Perhaps some halibut:

Crisp, luscious ama ebi:

And of course, my favourite, uni:

Now this is where I feel really loved. See, Nozawa knows I love his uni (I usually get two or three orders). However, he also knows that Brian's not a fan of uni, so every time, even when we're out of sight at the corner table, he remembers to send me an order of uni and to send Brian a lobster roll. Ahhh... love.

Let's take a closer look at the uni, shall we?

Here he is... the man, the myth, the legend: Kazunori Nozawa
(Brian had me convinced that he's a ghost and wouldn't actually appear on the film, but you can just barely see him below)

Nozawa is not cheap... our meal, which included one large beer and one small beer, came to $137 before tip. But if you TRULY love sushi, do yourself a favour and make the pilgramage to this, the Mecca of raw fish.

Sushi Nozawa
11288 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, 91604
(818) 508-7017
Mon-Fri 12pm-2pm, 5:30pm-10pm
Closed Sat-Sun

Surya India

8:30 PM and I've got a craving for Indian. Where to go? Citysearch's restaurant mapping has been helpful in the past, so I put in a search. Nothing within 1 1/2 miles... what the #*@& kind of a city is this? (I guess I should have known when my 3 closest "restaurants" include a KFC, a Quizno's and McD's)

Well, I might as well make the drive for something good. I'd been wanting to try Surya for a while now, and at 1.7 miles away, it was close enough. It was particularly windy, rainy and cold Tuesday night, so I was expecting to find the place pretty slow... however, I wasn't expecting to find it completely 100% empty. Hmmm. That always gives you a little pang of nervousness doesn't it? A few other people trailed in after us, but it was a pretty slow night.

Surya is a really beautiful space, with red walls, bright vibrant paintings, and a cozy-but-upscale feeling.

You can tell that a lot of care is put into the details - the menu opens with a promise from the owner about the quality and preparation that go into each dish. Sometimes I'm skeptical about those type of diatribes (ahem Mr. Healthy Organic Biodynamic), but in Surya's case it was real. The owner, Sheel Joshi, was in the restaurant and took a significant amount of time visiting each customer and talking to them about the food. It was more attention than I've ever received at a restaurant, and it was actually really nice.

Surya is a bit more expensive than most L.A. Indian restaurants, with entrees in the $10-15 range. It's similar in price to Bombay Palace on Wilshire, but with a simpler, fresher, more inspired menu. They also have a nice beer and wine list, with about 4 or 5 different Indian beers. Here are a couple we tried with our meal, Flying Horse, and India Special Reserve:

The menu had some interesting items that I hadn't seen before, such as seared ahi tandoori:

This was a really fresh-tasting twist on typical tandoori. It had that hot-but-not-spicy taste that warms up your mouth, but it was even more tender than the typical chicken version. Weighing in at a sizable 10 ozs (approx), we still powered through it in just a few minutes. I would have liked it to be a little more rare, which I'm sure you can request. Overall, a great dish, and it tasted amazing with the mint chutney.

For our entrees, we ordered lamb tikka masala (it's not on the menu, but they're happy to make it), saag paneer, chicken tikka kebabs, rice, and garlic naan. The chicken tikka kebabs were particularly good, very tender, juicy and flavorful.

Here's a sample of the dishes:

One thing I noticed is that Surya clearly starts with very high quality ingredients and spices. Each dish had a very fresh, full flavor, and you could really taste each of the components: with the lamb tikka masala, I could taste the freshness of the tomatoes in the sauce, and the lamb was so tender it splintered off my fork. Sometime saag paneer includes hard chewy cheese that tastes more like bad tofu, but the cheese in Surya's saag paneer actually tasted like cheese! (I read somewhere that they use farmer's market cheese, which would explain it).

If you're in the mood for lighter, more upscale Indian, Surya is definitely a great choice. We left satisfied but not stuffed, and took home a significant amount of leftovers.

The next evening, I ate some of the leftovers cold out of the refrigerator (because I'm lazy and keep forgetting to set up the microwave), and still really enjoyed it. If that's not a test of good Indian, I'm not sure what is...

Surya India
8048 W. Third St.
Los Angeles, 90048
(323) 653-5151
Mon-Fri 11:30am-2pm
Sun-Mon 5:30pm-8:45pm
Tue-Sat 5:30pm-10pm