Monday, October 30, 2006

Shabu Shabu Ya on La Brea

Excuse me please... (taps knife on wine glass). Ting - ting - tinggggg.

I have a question. Why is Shabu Shabu so expensive?

I've pondered this extensively: there is no actual cooking provided by the eating establishment. There is only prep work. They cut up meat and vegetables, bring a pot of boiling water to the table, make you cook it yourself, and charge a 300-400% mark-up on the ingredients. It's twice as expensive as Korean BBQ, and they don't even marinate the meat. What gives?

Before we get started here, I should probably let you know that I've never had Shabu Shabu before now. I've always meant to try it, but never got around to it... there were always these pesky little sushi joints getting in my way. Well, a NEW Shabu Shabu restaurant opened up within walking distance from me, so I figured, why not give it a shot? All the other restaurants within walking distance have proven to be complete and utter dining failures, so maybe this one would seem great in comparison.

Then again, maybe not.

Everything about the new Shabu Shabu Ya on La Brea was right... tasty food, fun eating experience, nice environment, super friendly service. Well, everything was right except one thing: the price. Suddenly you put a price on something and the value of everything else goes down immensely.

$107.25 for 2 people (no alcohol, mind you), is not exactly what I'd call a bargain. Especially when both of you leave hungry, talking about where you'll get "dinner" after having that oh-so-expensive cook-it-yourself appetizer in rather humble environs. I won't lie, I felt a little duped.

If we can ignore price for a moment, I'd like to show you what we ate, because it was pretty good and pretty fun.

Like any down-home Japanese restaurant, Shabu Shabu Ya makes sure to stock "the leading brand in the Marble Soda category," Ramune. Yes, there really is a Marble Soda category, and you really should check out the Ramune fact page for some other interesting translations, such as high techniques and making the bottle into a "hand lantern." Ramune, which is like the Japanese Sprite, is a fun and fascinating drink - the top is stopped with a glass marble that you "pop" open with a special plunger device. The marble then falls down to the bottle's neck, where it rolls back and forth each time you take a sip, making a fun hollow scrapy sound like marbles on concrete. Want more of a challenge? Try getting the marble out without breaking the bottle...

After you play with your drink, it's time to play with your food. Our waitresses brought by a special mortar and pestle filled with sesame seeds: first, you crush the seeds into a sesame powder, then they top it off with a sesame dressing. Fresh!

Shabu Shabu Ya has a couple side dishes, such as edamame and miso soup. The edamame was OK, but actually tasted a little freezer burned. The meat dishes also come with an assortment of vegetables and udon noodles that you can toss into the boiler.

Now on to the meat of the matter. Shabu Shabu Ya offers three types of meat: regular beef, washugyu beef, and chicken. Washugyu beef is a cross-breed of Wagyu beef and Angus beef, and at $54 for a large, one would hope the genetics of such a marriage would create sparks in the flavour department.

It certainly looked nicely marbled...

But as we cooked up and ate each tiny expensive sliver, I couldn't help but wonder if this really tasted that much better than the regular beef, which is half the price. Good, but not life-changing, and certainly not the experience you'd get from real Kobe beef.

After the plate of beef, we weren't just appetized, we were starving. On to the chipper chicken...

They ask that you cook the chicken for 15 minutes, and to help pass the time, you get this cute little chicken-themed eggtimer. Unfortunately, they took it away before the buzzer went off - I was hoping it cock-a-doodle-doed, or chirped, or something. The chicken was pretty tender and tasted good in the sesame sauce, but it was also, pretty plain. I guess that's the point.

After the chicken, yep, you guessed it, still starving.

I don't have anything against Shabu Shabu Ya - it's a nice little place with very friendly people. But given my first experience, I can't imagine myself going back to Shabu Shabu Ya, or back to Shabu Shabu in general.

By the way, my debit card receipt showed up as "Sake House Miro," which means Shabu Shabu Ya is probably owned by the same people who own Sake House two doors down. If only they could apply the reasonable prices of the former location to the new digs, I might actually consider giving it a second try.

Till then, you'll probably just see me swinging by to pick up another bottle of Marble Soda.

Hungry Cat Redux

Have you ever done something silly, like try to drink your way through the entire Hungry Cat cocktails menu in one night?

I tried... once upon a time... and then I forgot to write about it. Most of these drinks aren't even on the menu anymore, but the Blood Orange Negroni (far left... R.I.P.) was particularly good. The other ones involved limes, mint leaves, lemon slices, and, yeah, I'm cheating. I don't remember.

While the food is still up for debate, the drinks rule. Old school, hand squeezed, not afraid to give you a bite of bitters when you're least expecting it. Cheers to H.C. for still keeping a little sophistication in a land of lycheetinis.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

PiNkBeRRy iz kEwL! Colleen Cuisine makes the LA Weekly

I don't know what's more flattering, the fact that Jonathan Gold compares me to "a 13-year-old MySpacer obsessed with Orlando Bloom," or the fact that Jonathan Gold read my blog. wOOt! lOl! rotfl!

Mr Gold - U R so KeWl!!! CoUnteR InTeLligEnce iZ a waY AwEsOmE bOOk! I FoUnD my FaVe ReStauRaNts cUz of U! ZaNkOu, sUsHi gEn, Sasabune, sOOt BuLl jEeP (hAHa LOL! jEEp liKe a cAr! O:) lOlrOtFl!). wOOt!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Angelini Osteria: A White Truffle Birthday

Let Friday, October 20th, forever be known as "The Day I Died and Went to White Truffle Heaven."

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who categorize people, and those who don't. As one of the categorizers, I think of people in two categories: those who love truffles, and can justify spending nearly three digits for a sprinkling of them, and those who don't, and can't, and won't. For those in the second category, you may want to stop reading.

When Brian asked me where I wanted to eat to celebrate my birthday this year, only one restaurant popped into my mind: Angelini Osteria. Not just because Angelini is one of the best Italian restaurants in Los Angeles, but because my birthday falls at the peak of white truffle season. White truffles, of course, are best served in their natural environment, over Northern Italian food. Or over anything really...

[If you didn't know there were two kinds of truffles, white and black, or if you thought I was talking about chocolate, here's a quick little primer. White truffles are generally considered superior in taste to black truffles, and because they are rarer and cannot be cultivated, they're also much more expensive]

So when our very gracious waitress handed us the specials menu, my eyes lit up when I saw fresh white truffles served over pizza, agnolotti, tagliatelle, risotto, scrambled eggs, and a few other dishes I'm now forgetting. And when the table next to us snickered... $85 for a pizza! how big is it?!... I just sat quietly and placed them in the above-mentioned don't/can't/won't category.

Two things about Angelini's truffle specials: disappointingly, they shave the truffles back in the kitchen, not in front of you at your table. They seem to be missing some free advertising, as the scent and spectacle of live truffle shaving is rather spectacular (not as spectacular as live lobster sashimi, but close). However, they more than make up for that by giving not a sprinkling, not a shaving, but a generous drowning of fresh white truffle flakes. We picked the agnolotti special and got more truffles than I ever expected...

If you're a truffle-lover, you know the smell is amazing. Even just truffle oil or truffle cheese or truffle butter smells amazing. But having a plate of them freshly shaved is borderline overwhelming... in the most wonderful way. Just lean in slightly, take a deep inhale, and you could nearly pass out from the musky, heady aroma that somehow graduates from your nasal passages directly into your brain. I don't know if there's a science behind this, but they seem to spark a near-instant serotonin release, the result being a woozy, giddy, I-think-I-need-a-cigarette sort of feeling.

After finishing off the plate of agnolotti, Brian and I looked at each other and giggled. "Do you want to get another one?" he asked. "Don't you think that's a little obscene?" I responded, secretly hoping he would say no. So we asked for the menu again, scrolled down the choices, and settled on risotto. And we got even more truffles than the first time...

So how did it taste? Words cannot describe... either you get it, or you don't. Things like "lick the plate" and "bathe in it" come to mind.

If you decide to embark on this adventure yourself, I'd recommend going for the absolute simplest dish possible. While the agnolotti was delicious, the cheese-filled pasta just barely stole some attention away from the main attraction, whereas the risotto pushed the truffle flavour into full view. Were I to make the choice again, I'd probably go with the scrambled eggs.

Yes, we ate other things besides white truffles, but does that really matter? For those of you who fall into the "yes, it does matter category," here you go...

First of all, we had a fantastic red wine: Nebbiolo, which hails from the same region as white truffles, the Piedmont region of Italy. Angelini has a fantastic collection of Italian wines, with some of the best served by the glass, at very reasonable prices.

Brian had a huge and delicious Bistecca alla Fiorentina, which is a porterhouse, Florentine style. At nearly 40 ounces, this is not a steak for the faint of heart or small of stomach (Brian is a champion eater, and even he took home more than half of it).

I had the swordfish special, which was served over a bed of steamed broccoli rabe. The broccoli rabe was bitter, as it tends to be, and not my favorite. I'd probably substitute it for another vegetable if I order this again. The swordfish, however, was outstanding, a thick steak grilled to perfection, garnished with pesto olive oil and dried cranberries.

And now, I've run out of words. Can't stop thinking about the truffles...

Angelini Osteria
7313 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Pinkberry Sporked Me

My Pinkberry patience is wearing thin. A loyal customer since they first opened in spring 2005, I've withstood the lines, the parking tickets, the controversy, the much-too-long-wait for stores #2 and #3. Now that the buzz has softened and the crowds dispersed, here I am back at Pinkberry with no line, no parking hassle, just wanting to get a medium plain yogurt like the good ole' days.

So I did. And Pinkberry served it to me with... a spork.

A spork!?!? Why?

Sporks are good for two things: KFC coleslaw (where sporks were first used in mass foodservice), and Taco Bell mexican pizzas. Oh yeah, and prison. That's it. When I'm eating my plain Pinkberry fro-yo with NO toppings, I don't need or want those stupid fork tines scraping and poking my upper lip. It RUINS my yogurt chi! It would be like eating sushi with serrated chopsticks!

I'm not sure if sporks are the new delivery method at Pinkberry, or just a temporary replacement, but I do know this: Pinkberry's sporks were three-pronged (exhibit, right), whereas the KFC and Taco Bell sporks are four-pronged (exhibit, left). So it's not like someone went out and gathered up a bunch of fast food sporks because they ran out of spoons. This was intentional.

Go to Pinkberry: Bring your own spoon.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I Will Buy Anything Pink

Dear Mr./Ms. Brand Manager of [every major CPG company in the world] -

Please continue to make pink products in support of breast cancer awareness. Even if it's not in support of breast cancer awareness, please continue to make pink products. I will buy anything pink. Seriously. ANYTHING.

Take for example, this pink can of soup I bought yesterday. I was really hoping the soup itself would be tinted pink, but no such luck. Still, it's so pretty and cute, I'm just leaving it sitting out on my counter admiring it, and consequently, admiring the Campbell's soup brand.

Or perhaps this pink yoga towel from Yogitoes. Best invention ever. It's a $50 towel for goodness sake, and I already had the blue one, but then you had to go and make a pink one and I love you for it.

Le Creuset, please bring back your pink limited edition line. I was a poor college student when it first came out, but now I have disposable income for which to buy ungodly amounts of pink products, and I would buy your entire french oven line if it came in pink. Every single piece. Even though I only cook once a year.


Must! Have! Pink! Stuff!

What else is available in pink for this oh-so-special month of October, also known as my birthday month? LOTS. For some reason, this site has a campaign against pink breast cancer awareness marketing (why?), but they were kind enough to provide a full list of pink products... I'm going out tomorrow to buy them all!!!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

American Girl Cafe at the Grove

American Girl Place is every marketers dream. From the moment you walk in to the time you leave, moms, dads, and grandmas are plunking down credit cards all over the store. It's a place where the average visit lasts 4 hours, the average purchase tops $300 per girl, and because it's usually centered around a birthday, the money flows all year long.

Oh, and if you want to eat there on a weekend, you need to call months in advance. It's a hotter reservation than El Bulli.

Well, that's not entirely true. You can eat there on very little notice if you pick the 9:30AM breakfast seating, which is exactly what I picked to celebrate the 11th birthday of my little sis, K.

K and I showed up bright and early, right as the store was opening at 9AM. That gave us a little time to peek around and decide what she, her doll Lily, and I would do after breakfast. Just as we were oohing and aahhing over the doll-sized shoes and dress hangers, an attendant rang a bell and asked the 9:30AM group to form a line outside the cafe door. It's funny when little girls go to a faux grown-up restaurant: you could tell they all wanted to rush up and push and shove their way to the front of the line, but because it was the American Girl Cafe, they were on their best behaviour and (im)patiently bounced and fidgeted until it was their turn to be seated.

The American Girl Cafe couldn't possibly be any cuter. Designed to look like a fancy restaurant that's just for girls, they have both indoor and outdoor seating, plus special chairs that allow your doll to sit next to you at the table. K and I decided to sit outside on the patio, where we had the entire balcony to ourselves.

While the restaurant decor is special by itself, it's all the little details that really take it to the next level. For example, the napkin holders are pretty hair scrunchies, there's a fresh pot of pink sunflowers on each table (they're fake), and a polka dot gift box holds a set of "conversation starters" designed to provoke the thoughts of girls and big sisters alike.

The food is nothing to write home about, but it's certainly cute and a lot of fun. To start, mini cinnamon buns - these were probably the best part of the meal.

K had heart-shaped waffles, which came garnished with star-shaped fruit. I'm sure they'd make the sausages a special shape too if that were possible, but then again, let's not give them any funny ideas.

I had a quiche. I think. I've never seen a quiche that looked like this before - it was more like an eggy doughy puffy soggy thing.

The grapes were good! Oh well, I had some of K's waffles to curb my appetite.
At the end of the meal, out comes dessert: chocolate mousse topped with Oreo cookie crumbs, plus a little daisy. Cute, cute, and cute.

I remember when American Girl first launched in 1986. Even though I thought I was too old to play with the dolls, I still loved reading the books and looking through the catalogue. Today, American Girl has grown from just a few historical doll characters to a dozen, plus an entirely new line of dolls that are "just like you" (in case you're wondering what I look like, check out GT25H).

After our meal, we decided to take Lily (the doll) on a little spa day. First we'd style her up, then we'd do a photo shoot with her and K. Here Lily is getting her hair done:

Yes, there really was a 60 minute wait to get your doll's hair done. Don't worry, you can always shop while you're waiting! (hmmm... methinks the wait is on purpose)

After the hair salon, we headed upstairs for a photo shoot, then headed home.
All in all, it was a very special day with a very special girl! Love you, K!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Dylan Noodles with Tony Bourdain

I have the coolest foodblogging friends! Go check out my buddy Dylan's unbelievable moment of fame, serving as a noodle guide to food legend Anthony Bourdain.

(photo from EatDrinknbMerry)

Fun fact - that's actually what Dylan looks like in real life. He has a strange disease called pixelitis.

Go Dylan! We're all very jealous, but very happy for you!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

USC vs. UCLA Chips

Do people really care THIS much?

I've never been much of a sports fan, and the cross-town UCLA vs. USC rivalry always kind of confused me. Wouldn't it be more fun if the two schools liked each other and had fun parties together, and maybe even created a Los Angeles all-star team by bringing their top players together for Olympic-style football? I guess that's why women have such a rare place in politics - we'd be doing too much teambuilding and socializing, not even war.

I do have a stake in the matter - I went to UCLA for both undergrad and grad school. But somehow I can't ever see myself in the grocery store, coming across UCLA chips and thinking "Hell YES! I've GOT to have these! And let's smash all the USC chips into smitherines!"

I could understand if they actually gave each chip a different flavour... then I could line them up side-by-side and tell you who'd have the better season, based solely on the taste of blue corn vs. red corn. But no, it's just red food coloring vs. blue food coloring, and that's not very interesting for a food lover OR a football fan.