my ‘treat yourself’ birthday meal at republique

Thursday, 8th, 2016

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First off, can I just comment on how pretty this restaurant is? I tend to have the funny luck of moving away from places which then become the home of some of the best places, like Republique in miracle mile/weho or Kogi in Palms. Not that I could afford to eat at Republique all the time then (or now) but it would still have been nice to be walking distance from it.

As it’s birthday month, my good friend Lin (also a September baby) and I decided we wanted to celebrate this year by treating ourselves to a nice meal. So we picked Republique. Just sitting inside the restaurant is fun, especially for us because we got seated right at the storefront where you can sit against the front windows and see everything going on in the room. The building is a Spanish inspired brick structure, but looks like you’re inside of a beautiful train station. With a glass of wine each, here is what we ordered for dinner:

Oysters – 6 total. Our waiter recommended 3 Kumamoto, 3 Black Duck Salt to get the opposite ends of the taste spectrum. Kumamoto is light and refreshing, Black Duck Salt is a bit heavier and rich.

Charcoal grilled Mediterranean octopus – SO good. This was almost my favorite thing we ate and we ordered seared foie gras. Instead of watermelon, we had cantaloupe, cabbage, pistachio, chile, and lime topped with generous cuts of tender octopus.

Seared foie gras – what can I say? It’s seared foie gras and incredibly delicious. It’s served on top of steel cut oats, which I found really interesting but added a nice contrast texture to the soft foie gras. There are also chanterelle mushrooms, baby turnips, plums and almonds.

Duck breast – the duck was cooked perfectly (pink in the middle) with thick cuts of bacon. Also to die for.

Unfortunately I was only able to snap a photo of the foie gras. But here’s some eye candy from their Instagram.

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There is no shortage of fine dining in LA but Republique earns a spot in my top 5 now for sure.

Note: Brunch at Republique is self service but you get full service for dinner.

perfecting the lasagna cupcake

Thursday, 1st, 2016

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Lasagna is one of the best dishes ever invented – this is a strong and agreed upon belief at our place. The only issue is the amount of time and effort it takes to make. I think I do it once a year, and only for special occasions. That’s where lasagna cupcakes come in. You can make them on a week night in under 40 minutes. I made 36 the other night and put away 5 at a pretty impressive rate.

Because I only have one cupcake tin, I have to make one batch at a time. There are 2 benefits to this, one is the fact that you get to eat cupcakes while your next batch is baking. The other one is you can test out different portions of ingredients and methods to arrive at the perfect way to make them.

Here’s how I made my most successful batch:

1. Use wonton skins, the square ones. You can get a pack at most Asian grocery stores. I got mine from Mitsuwa.
2. Lay wonton skins into each cupcake holder and press down the bottom to be flat. I got best results layering 2 skins instead of one. That way you have a stronger base and your ingredients won’t roll off later.
3. Sprinkle the bottom with parmesan, then shredded mozarella, then ricotta.
4. Add ground beef (or a meat or veggie of your liking).
5. Top off with your favorite marinara sauce. Find one that’s chunkier versus all liquid to avoid leakage.
6. Sprinkle more parmesan on top if you like.
7. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until wonton skins are nicely brown and crispy. During this time you can finely chop up some basil.
8. Let cool for 3 – 5 minutes.
9. Top with shredded basil.

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A beautiful sight indeed. Enjoy!

tsuruhashi japanese bbq

Wednesday, 31st, 2016

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Among friends who live in orange county and east of LA, Tsuruhashi is a much talked about Japanese BBQ place. The bf and I have been meaning to check it out for a few months now, but just never find ourselves in Fountain Valley. We decided to use our lazy Sunday evening to finally make the drive, meet up with family and check it out.

It’s located in a strip mall with a very random assortment of stores – a gun shop, a reptile “experience” and a generic restaurant called Fortune Cookies. But I can say with confidence that if you have the time or happen to be in Fountain Valley then you should pay this place a visit. They don’t technically take reservations but you can call ahead of time to put your name down on the waiting list.

The meat is phenomenal. The portions aren’t huge, but that allows you to try a lot of different meats that are very high quality. Here’s what we ordered between 4 people:

Assorted Kimchi – even their kimchi is amazing. You can get nappa, daikon or cucumber. We decided to get all 3 with the assorted.

Yukke Raw Beef Sashimi – if you aren’t cool with the concept of eating raw meat, this can be pretty intimidating. However, I’ve had this dish once or twice before at places with really high quality meat, and it is amazing. The beef is paired with sweet slices of pear, sprouts and topped with an egg. Mix everything together and enjoy.

Kobe cube cut short rib – Exactly how it sounds. Heavenly cubed pieces of Kobe beef.

Rib eye roll – This was my favorite thing we ordered. It’s rib eye with a shiso leaf and some sort of plum sauce inside. The combination of the flavors is amazing where the acidity of the plum balances out the savory meat.

Outside skirt – very tender

Sausages – these are just regular sausages, but we had them last and they must have picked up all the flavors from the grill because it was such a yummy way to end the meal.

Sesame ice cream – so good. I’m not sure if they make this ice cream in-house. It definitely tastes like it, but if they buy it from a grocery store I need to find out which one quick.

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Hanjip Culver City

Friday, 19th, 2016

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One thing to keep in mind before going to Hanjip is that it isn’t your typical Korean BBQ. If you’re looking for that, then any of the tried and true establishments, Baekjeong, Hae Jong Chon or Park’s BBQ will do the trick.

Don’t come here looking to eat piles of brisket, pork belly and squid. Instead, you’ll have the best experience trying dishes you wouldn’t get at your everyday KBBQ stop. Try things like the beef poutine, curly fries topped with slides of bulgolgi, marinated onions and bonito aioli. Or go for the uni steamed egg with salmon roe. Don’t forget the bone marrow corn cheese. Enjoy these with watermelon soju – probably one of the craziest punch bowls I’ve seen. You’ll get half a large watermelon that’s been scooped out into small round pieces. The waiter pours soju into the bowl and tops it off with fruity pebbles and pop rocks. How fun is that?

Eye candy from their Instagram:

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why smorgasburg LA is worth visiting

Thursday, 18th, 2016

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If you haven’t been to Smorgasburg LA because someone told you it wasn’t that great, I definitely think it’s worth checking out yourself. I heard some naysayers before I decided to go, but I had a good time at the Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, Dumbo a couple years ago. The selection of food vendors on the west coast and east coast differ, but both were good in their own way.

In LA there are of course special donuts, a variety of drinks and teas and different varieties of tacos. Here’s what I tried:

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Goa Taco: my favorite stand hands down and the reason why I’d go back. These are tacos made from Indian paratha instead of tortillas that Goa Taco describes as “the buttery, flakey lovechild of a tortilla and a croissant.” I tried both the pork belly and tofu tacos. The pork belly is rich and decadent while the tofu is light, crisp and fresh. If you try anything at Smorgasburg, try this.

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Mama Musubi: Not bad but not amazing. These are your standard rice balls. I tried the original (can’t remember what the filling was), tuna and salmon. They photograph well, but not anything to write home about.

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PopdUp: Another one definitely worth trying, especially because it’s been so hot in LA. Standing without shade on hot concrete makes the heart crave a soda. Lucky for us, PopdUp is healthier than your average can of Coke with no preservatives added, 100% natural and vegan. Essentially they take local fruits and herbs and blend them with raw sugar to create a syrup. Soda water is added to create the fizz we all like. They come in these pretty jars and lovely flavors like grapefruit basil, orange thyme and my favorite – lychee with ginger and elderflower. Love.

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Raindrop Cake: This is one of those things that is worth trying if you’re really curious. The presentation is interesting but the taste is underwhelming. It basically tastes like rain water in a gelatin-like form. Which, to be fair, is what it’s called.

Lastly, the venue, Row LA is an awesome mix of new outdoor west coast styled spaces and classic east coast warehouse vibes. It’s worth visiting just to enjoy the continued development of DTLA.

Corner Beef Noodle House

Wednesday, 27th, 2016

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Beef Noodle Soup is Taiwan’s national dish. As a staple, it’s expected that any self-respecting Taiwanese person should be very familiar with and love this dish. As a Taiwanese American, my personal opinion is that it’s good, but not at the top of my list. I have more love for other favorites like the oyster omelette and all the components of a proper Taiwanese breakfast. But I’ll save that for another time. Any way, as one would suspect, San Gabriel valley including my hometown Arcadia, is filled with places that serve beef noodle soup. A new one entered my radar from cousins who are visiting from Taiwan, so we went to check it out together.

Corner Beef Noodle House is in El Monte inside a plaza. It’s a no-frills cafe-like restaurant that started out as a to-go only brick and mortar, then expanded into a sit-down situation. There are side dishes and seasonal dishes such as liang mian (cold noodles) kept in a refrigerator for you to order to-go or enjoy at your table. My cousins ordered a half meat, half tendon slightly spicy beef noodle soup, which was really one of the best I’ve ever had. My mom had a pork chop rice and I couldn’t stop stealing pieces of pork chop. For myself, it was too hot for a noodle soup so I got the dry XO sauce on noodles. The best part were the hand-pulled noodles. The minced beef and scallions on top are simple and standard.

I recommend coming here for the beef noodle soup once it cools down. For southern California, that’ll be well into October.

favorite bottomless mimosas: wildcraft

Monday, 25th, 2016

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One can never know too many bottomless mimosa spots. My recent favorite in the neighborhood is Wildcraft in Culver City. They serve bottomless mimosas for $15. Such. a. good. deal.

So, beyond having an amazing bottomless mimosa deal, Wildcraft is known for their pizzas. I’ve had my eye on the carbonara, which is a pork lover’s dream with pork belly, bacon and pancetta. It’s then topped with a soft egg, provolone and black pepper. Swoon. I did not end up ordering that when I visited, but it’s definitely on the list for next time. I wasn’t up for a heavy brunch, so instead we ordered from items under the “main” part of the menu versus pizza. Here’s what we had:

The bf ordered carnage hash: pork belly, italian sausage, pancetta, bacon, egg and mornay. Mornay is a Béchamel sauce gruyere cheese.

I had seared gnocchi: berkshire ham, kale, poached eggs, fries and hollandaise.

Both dishes were really flavorful and of course, a bit on the heavy side. But the upside of that is you have leftovers = a nice late night meal later on. I’ve never had gnocchi prepared the way they do it. It tasted and looked more like polenta.

Next time, I’m getting that carbonara pizza. Oh, and their cold brew coffee. It comes in original or lavender flavor, so obviously need to get the lavender. And as always, I leave you with an Instagram snapshot from their account:

via Wildcraft Instagram

why you shouldn’t fall for cute character meals (even though I did)

Wednesday, 20th, 2016

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Plan Check does a special series sometimes where they feature a cute character and create a themed meal around it. Months ago they featured Gudetama, a lazy egg character from Sanrio. There are hilarious short cartoons you can watch on YouTube – I love them. I missed the Gudetama series, so when I saw the Chococat and Pudding Dog meal, I had to go.

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Unfortunately (and somewhat obviously) it wasn’t very good. The meal came with a burger stamped with Pudding Dog on the bun. There were crisscut fries, a tiny cup of mac and cheese, homemade potato chips, a shake and a chocolate cookie for dessert. Everything was adorable but just didn’t taste good. Plan Check is known for their burgers, so the Pudding Dog burger was okay. We also ordered a fried chicken sandwich off the specials menu that was tasty.

To be fair, I’m betting the Gudetama meal tasted a lot better because he’s an egg so they basically added a fried egg to the burger. And we all know everything is better with egg. Lesson learned, no more cute character meals unless the character is a delicious ingredient.

Favorite Happy Hour: EMC Seafood

Thursday, 7th, 2016

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Happy hour is a genius concept. No one ever gets upset at the thought of happy hour. I mean, that’s the whole point of the name. My favorite for the past 2 years (that’s right, no one has kicked this place off #1 for that long) is EMC Seafood & Raw Bar. Specifically I go to the one in koreatown, closest to me.

$1 oysters and $5 glasses of wine or beer. What more can you ask for? Also, the happy hour is EVERY DAY. There’s an early one from 4 – 7 PM and a late night happy hour from 10 PM – close. Beyond oysters and booze, the other menu items are delicious as well.

Here’s what I’ve eaten there (minus the oysters):
crispy smelt – small fish lightly batter and seasoned with garlic, pepper, salt
crispy garlic brussels sprouts – delicious, mostly because they’re baked to perfection. I can make this dish at home so it’s not a typical order.
crispy soft shell crab sliders – good, but a one time order. The portion is small and flavor is decent but not out of this world.
zucchini fries with yogurt ranch dipping sauce – really good to share for the table
lobster roll – incredibly rich and delicious, not your new england style cold, seafood salad type roll. Cooked with tarragon butter, sea salt and served on a brioche bun.

Lastly, a peek at their beautiful Insta, lobster rolls galore and a new location in Irvine.

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Via @emcseafood

pork and chive dumplings

Wednesday, 8th, 2016

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Did you know that making dumplings has a therapeutic effect? Maybe not on all people, but it definitely does at our place. Because we spend so much time behind screens, it’s nice to take a break and actually make something with our hands. It’s even better if that something is edible and delicious.

I came across Hey There, Dumpling! when I was shopping for Danny Bowien’s book on Amazon. There’s actually not a lot these two books have in common besides the fact that Asian guys wrote them and they are both books about Asian food. (Good job Amazon algorithm!) Danny Bowien’s book is not a cook book. There are recipes in it, but the book is actually more of a biography / series of interviews that let you learn about him. Hey There, Dumpling on the other hand is a recipe book. Not just for dumplings, but noodles and buns too. So of course I bought it.

The addition of this book at home is what sparked dumpling making for us. It’s become a great way for the 3 of us roomies to bond when we get home from a long day at work and have something yummy to eat afterwards. We’re not experts and we’ve only made the first 2 dumplings in the book so far, but we’re really enjoying it.

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The pork and chive dumplings we’ve been making are exactly that. Ground pork, chives, scallions, ginger, garlic, onion. Combine those ingredients with soy sauce, sesame oil, corn starch and let sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to over night. Then start placing the meat in the dumpling skins. Deep fry. Not a shabby way to spend a week night.