Sunday, April 6, 2014

Best LA Eats #4 Jeon Ju's Sizzling Bibimbap

Bibimbap is a Korean rice dish served with a rainbow of marinated vegetables, meat and topped with a fried egg. The rice develops a nice crunchy layer from being served in a sizzling stone bowl hot enough to give you blisters if you touch it.

Located just off of Vermont Ave., Jeon Ju serves the best bibimbap in Los my humble opinion. Elsewhere, you might find versions of this dish where it's served in a regular bowl (what's the point then?), the rice is greasy from too much sesame oil or the vegetables are bland.  At Jeon Ju, you can taste that each vegetable in the bibimbap (shiitake mushrooms, chives, spinach, carrots, bean sprouts, daikon, kimchi) was seasoned with care. And what makes Jeon Ju's bibimbap unique is that they have several versions and their most popular one is the one topped with bbq short rib galbi meat. Mmmmmm.

The selections vary slightly from time to time.

Bibimbap with Galbi
The Korean hot sauce is technically optional but you should give it a try. It's not the same without it and it's really not that spicy.

Spicy Beef and Glass Noodle Soup
Perfect for a cold day. Guaranteed to clear your sinuses! But seriously, this soup is delicious with a bowl of white rice if you can resist ordering a bibimbap.

Beef Bulgogi
Sweet and slightly charred beef bulgogi that comes on a bed of sliced onions and sizzling hot plate. It's the perfect compliment especially if you like more meat in your meal.

LA's Korean food is hard to beat, except I guess in South Korea. My Portland food intelligence tells me to be prepared to miss LA's Korean food badly so I recently bought two stone pots at the Korean market with the naive hope to replicate Jeon Ju's bibimbap. Hey, at least I'm trying. 

Jeon Ju
2716 W. Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 386-5678 
*Parking in the strip mall is often hard. The strip mall is on the corner of Olympic and New Hampshire. Go past the strip mall on New Hampshire and there's a backlot that always has parking.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Best Eats #3 - LA's Best Tsukemen Ramen at Tsujita

It's rare for a ramen shop to be so elegantly designed and decorated but at Tsujita everything fades away as soon as your tsukemen (dipping ramen) arrives. Attention must be paid to the noodles and char siu because Tsujita serves the best tsukemen in Los Angeles!

Char Siu Tsukemen
When you order the tsukemen, you get two bowls. One is this bowl of thick al dente noodles topped with generous slices of braised fatty pork. This is the most tender char siu you'll ever taste. You also get a second smaller bowl of tonkotsu broth to dip your noodles in. Enjoy a few bites and then squeeze some lime on the noodles to help cut the fattiness. 

Tonkotsu Broth
Tsujita boils their tonkotsu pork bone broth for 60 hours. The result is a super thick and concentrated broth that glazes and clings to every strand of noodle. Sitting in the broth is a seasoned soft-boiled egg, house-made bamboo shoots, chopped bits of char siu pork and green onions.

The Perfect Egg
To me, a soft-boiled egg with an oozing orange yolk is the perfect egg with ramen. I can eat this egg every day.

Char Siu Don
If you're feeling extra hungry, this small bowl of hot, fluffy short-grain rice topped with the same pork that comes with the tsukemen is the perfect meal topper. Or, you can always order extra noodles and Tsujita will also add additional soup stock to your tonkotsu so it's drinkable.

If you don't like the tsukemen style, Tsujita also serves the usual pork ramen in a lighter tonkotsu broth. But I don't know why you wouldn't like the tsukemen!  Tsujita also has a sister location diagonally across the street known as Tsujita Annex but that restaurant serves a different kind of pork ramen that I'm less fond of. Portland is short on ramen shops that could compare to the quality in Los Angeles. I'm bracing myself...

2057 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 231-7373
Protip: Arrive before Noon on weekdays to beat the office lunch crowd. Weekends are always crowded so be prepared to do some people-watching. The ramen is ONLY served during lunch. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Best Eats #2 - Langer's Deli & LA's Best Pastrami Sandwich

Langer's Deli's famous #19 is their best-selling sandwich since 1947. You get moist, tender pastrami marbled with bits of delicious fat, sweet, crunchy cole slaw and soft rye bread (also the best in town). Hands down Langer's serves LA's best pastrami and corned beef sandwiches. I might even argue it's better than what I've had in New York City.

And I love that inside the restaurant, you'll see that LA is truly a multicultural mecca with couples, families, friends and co-workers of every shade all enjoying the best Jewish deli food the city has to offer. It's too bad that it's only open until 4pm and it's closed on Sundays.

The #19 (aka #1 if you don't want swiss cheese)

Look at those layers of soft and tender pastrami! The cole slaw is perfect too; it's marinated just right so it doesn't make that fresh rye bread soggy. I will really miss this when I leave LA. This is a sandwich to dream about. Thankfully, they will Fedex their pastrami and rye bread.

Langer's Deli
704 S. Alvarado St.
Los Angeles, CA 90057
Small parking lot available down the block at 7th cross Westlake
Protip: Arrive just before Noon to beat the long line that usually snakes outside the entrance. There are even stanchions for crowd control! 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Goodbye to Los Angeles Tour: Best Eats #1 at Flavor Garden 嘴香园

The Hungry Kat is leaving Los Angeles. 

I was born and raised in El Monte (aka San Gabriel Valley for those who don't know all the little cities that dot the SGV) and have lived on the Westside of LA for the last sixteen years. It is time to leave and start a new adventure!

I will be joining the City of Roses also known as Portlandia. Yep, Dan and I look forward to walking and biking everywhere, doing yoga daily and having a house to raise chickens (already have names: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner) and planting a vegetable and herb garden. 

I will miss my family, my friends and the wonderful diverse cultures and food in LA. However, I'm happy to say goodbye to the traffic, the expensive real estate and general high-level of stress associated with living in a big city.

I am moving in mid-April. From now until I leave, I will attempt to eat at all of my favorite LA spots and take you on this tour so you can go enjoy it too!

Best Eats #1
Flavor Garden (aka New Flavour Garden or its Chinese name 嘴香园)

This mom-and-pop in Alhambra is currently my favorite shop for Chinese beef noodle soups, dumplings and other fried goodies. Everything I've tried so far is made in-house, fresh and has great balance in rich flavors and texture. The restaurant is small - mostly small tables with two 6-tops - and it gets really busy on the weekends so if you don't want to wait, try to arrive before 11:30am. And as usual per mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants, decor is minimal to none but service is efficient and food is delicious.

Green Onion Pancake (蔥油餅)
Hands down best green onion pancake I've had in a loooong time. Lots of green onions, layers of seasoned flour dough pan-fried to crispy perfection. Sprinkle a little salt and enjoy.

 Beef Noodle Soup (牛肉面)
You have many choices to enjoy this giant bowl of noodles. It's big enough to share with another person especially if you're ordering all this other food. You can get this spicy or not spicy. Beef only or beef with pieces of tender, jelly-like beef tendon. Wide, chewy hand-pulled noodles or softer, thin-cut noodles. You can also get it with clear beef broth which is doesn't have all the herbs and spices that makes the soup heavier and darker as seen here. The clear broth is delicious too and has intense meat sweetness from all the bones used in the broth.

Pan-fried Pork Dumplings (鍋貼)
Get these pan-fried or steamed and dip it in a little soy, vinegar and/or hot sauce. They come in various fillings with pork, shrimp and/or veggies. Just be careful when you bite into them. They're hot and full of meat juice. The first time I had these, I hit Dan in the face...amusing but let's try not to scald our loved ones faces. 

Chili Wontons (红油炒手)
 Pork wontons steeped in fragrant chili oil and topped with crushed peanuts and green onions. It was surprisingly not super spicy. The chili oil was heavier on the fragrance than heat. Again, really good and I loved the delicate wonton skins. I don't encounter good versions of this dish very often.

Leek Dumplings (韭菜盒子)
Vegetarian-friendly...if you eat eggs. These pan-fried dumplings are filled with Asian leeks/chives, eggs and vermicelli noodles. I love it with a dash of soy and black vinegar and you can really taste the sweetness of the leeks. 

View inside Leek Dumpling

And not pictured here is also there Beef Pancake Roll (牛肉卷). My god that pancake roll is delicious (rivals the one at 101 Noodle House) and its essentially similar to a green onion pancake but the pancake is thinner and its rolled up with stewed shredded beef, hoisin sauce and a mix of cilantro and green onions. It's the perfect Chinese burrito.

I'm sad that we can't try everything at Flavor Garden because every time Dan and I visit, we are tempted to order our favorites.  If I have time to visit again, I will definitely order a plate of steamed meat buns, spicy dan dan noodles and steamed pork spareribs. Check out Yelp for other folks' photos. 

  • Flavor Garden (嘴香园)
    1269 E Valley Blvd
  • Alhambra, CA 91801
  • (626) 284-3549

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dining with the Wolf & Wolvesmouth

After three and a half months of reservation requests, I finally got invited into the Wolvesden this weekend for an unforgettable meal cooked by head Wolf, Craig Thornton, and his crew of misfit wolves. The meal was amazing in every way and defied easy categorization. The food wasn't Italian, French, Southern American or Chinese. There were no crazy foams, liquid nitrogen or the balls of some animal. It's Craig Thornton cuisine and it's damn delicious.

Dana Goodyear at The New Yorker did a fantastic job last December in her article about Thornton and his underground supper club, Wolvesmouth so I won't wax poetic here. I'll just say that I really admire Craig's focus on taste which translated into an eye-opening and delicious experience for me (who knew borage flowers could be so sweet!). The communal table setting and BYO policy was also a great way to meet new people and not pay exorbitant prices for alcohol (money that I was happy to put towards my donation for the meal instead). If this same 9-course meal was transferred to a restaurant, it'd likely be a stiffer experience that would cut into my dining-out budget for many months.

So, thank you to the Wolf and the whole Wolvesmouth gang. This was a revelatory meal I won't easily forget and it was inspiring on many levels - the combination of flavors, ingredients, and technique, the artful presentation and of course, your enthusiasm, creativity and dedication. I hope I'll be invited back soon as the season changes.

Here are some photos I took in the minimally lit Wolvesden...every dish was so good that it defied me the ability to pick a favorite!

Ribeye Cap
(broccoli jalapeno slaw, broccoli cheddar puree, broccoli tempura, pink lady apples, rapini flowers, lime)

(apple, turnip, sorrel, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cider, cabbage)

Ocean Trout with Belly
(carrot, beets, wasabi pea, calendula flowers, squid ink, yuzu)

Rabbit Meatball
(cilantro, cilantro flowers, chipotle, avocado, sopes grapes, radish, green onion)
*Finally! A rabbit dish that isn't dry and bland. More rabbit meatballs please.

Pork Belly & Lobster
(tostones, mint lime aioli, celery root & snap pea remoulade, pina, banana chip)

(borage flowers, cocoa coffee, walnut, parmesan frico, mushroom, beet top)
*Craig said this was his most challenging dish - having to form the cooked squash into balls and dipping them into semolina flour without losing its shape. Then it has to sit for 24 hours before further preparation.

Fried Quail
(piquillo, candied peanuts, cucumber, green tomato, grilled baby gem lettuce, blue cheese buttermilk)

Dessert 1
(pistachio, blueberry meringue, chocolate tofu mousse, raspberry, raspberry tofu sherbet)

Dessert 2 
(olive oil meyer lemon steam cake, olive oil lime parfait, lime curd, citruses, FD mandarin salt)

Donations in the crocodile head at the end of the night. I love that they gave us Chinese lucky red envelopes to put the donation. What a nice touch!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Best (Hidden) Bakery in Los Angeles

In my last post, I raved about the pretzel bread buns used at the Hole in the Wall Burger Joint. I was chatting with the owner when I was there and he said they used Dolce Forno Bakery. All the lights in my head immediately went flashing like an ambulance. I know Dolce Forno also supplies the bread at the wonderful LA-based sandwich mini-chain, Mendocino Farms. Now, I'm seriously motivated to seek out Dolce Forno!

Dolce Forno Bakery is owned and run by the Drago Group (in the same family as the famed Downtown restaurant Drago Centro). It wasn't easy finding the bakery. It's tucked in a street that has to be accessed via an alley behind a Del Taco off of Venice Ave. and Robertson Blvd.! But once you find it, you'll be rewarded with heaps of pretzel bread, classic Italian breads, pastries and desserts. 

The bakery is not your typical retail shop. It's sparsly decorated because it's really just the front counter of an entire baking operation in the back that supplies some of the best restaurants and hotels in Los Angeles. Here you'll find several kinds of dinner rolls, baguettes, classic Italian breads like ciabatta, focaccia, panini, pagnotta, filone, casareccio and more. I read that Mom's Whole Wheat Loaf is a must-try too so I have to get that next time. If you go and it's late in the day, call ahead to make sure they still have what you want.

This is their must-buy Pretzel Twist. Dolce Forno has replaced Rockenwagner as my pretzel bread go-to. Use the Pretzel Twist as a hamburger bun or just eat it plain and enjoy it's slightly salty and chewy exterior and moist, doughy center. Or, enjoy it the way I do which is to slice it in half horizontally, heat it for ten seconds in the microwave and then spread some salted butter on it. PURE CARB INDULGENCE. Oh, and did I say it's only 85 cents each?!

Dolce Forno also carries a small variety of muffins, danishes, Italian cookies and my favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie (after the ones I make of course, haha). It's crunchy around the edges and soft and chewy in the middle. I almost want to call it a Chocolate Layer Cookie because its got ribbons of chocolate layered throughout the cookie. I can probably eat ten of these in one sitting especially since it's only 95 cents each.

Besides breads and pastries, Dolce Forno sells their housemade dried pastas (i.e. linguini, fettuccine) and 2 to 3 varieties of frozen ravioli. I bought a 5lb bag of their mushroom ravioli and divided it myself when I got home. One pound will serve about 3 to 4 people depending on what else you're serving and it only takes 5 minutes to cook. I love having restaurant-quality food at home.

I can't believe Dolce Forno doesn't have a bigger retail shop. There are some good bakeries scattered around Los Angeles but with our infamous traffic, it is insanely hard to get to the handful or so good bakeries to buy good fresh breads and pastries. I refuse to believe the market doesn't demand more amazing bakeries like this. Are we really such an anti-carb obsessed city?

Dolce Forno Bakery
3828 Willat Ave.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 280-6004
Mon - Fri: 8am to 5pm
*Direction Tip: If you follow the directions on Google Maps, you will not find the bakery. I've filed a bug report with Google but while they're fixing it, it's best to use Mapquest which has it right. You access the alley right behind Del Taco on Venice/Robertson and you'll see street signs for Willat Ave. and Hoke Ave. Limited street parking and the Dolce Forno sign isn't very big so don't blink!

A few of my other favorite bakeries
12225 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 979-3211

Angel Maid
4542 S. Centinela Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 915-2078
*They specialize in cakes though they do have some pastries, cookies and great cream puffs. They have the best cakes in the city! They use whip cream frosting instead of heavy, sugary buttercream and have done wonderful cake designs for me.

225 6th St.
Santa Monica, CA 90049
(310) 566-2400

1014 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 451-2311

12835 Washington Blvd.
Mar Vista, CA 90066
(310) 577-0747

Susina Bakery
7122 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 934-7900

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Best Burger Under $10 Alert! Hole in the Wall Reopened!

Philly Cheese Steak Burger of the Week @ Hole in the Wall Burger Joint

I've heard a lot about this joint and I finally got to try it last week in its newly reopened location in Santa Monica (across the DMV, by the Water Garden). One word: AMAZING. My burger was the perfect marriage of a medium-cooked beef patty, thinly-sliced steak and melted provolone cheese bound by a heavenly pretzel bun. I admit my Burger of the Week was a little messy to eat and my friends who ordered regular beef and turkey burgers didn't have to go through three napkins like I did but it was totally worth it every time I sunk my teeth into all that juicy goodness.

You go in and they have a list for you to put together your burger. Grab a pencil and start ticking off your delicious burger journey. The list of choices may seem short but don't let that fool you because the chef has given you his careful selections. They work! Don't forget those fries and if it's a Friday, treat yourself to a milkshake or cupcake for surviving the week. Then give the list to the cashier, pay and in less than 10 minutes, you'll be enjoying one of the best burgers in Los Angeles. 

One visit to Hole in the Wall and it was enough for me to come to the conclusion of what I've suspected all along. The more ubiquitous Counter Burger gives you a gazillion choices to put together your burger but no matter how much thought you've put into it, somehow your carefully put together ingredients will still result in the same mediocre taste. And that is regardless of how you've changed your cheeses, sauces and toppings. Sadly, the Counter Burger also tend to overcook their beef patties even when you order it medium or medium rare.

Between Hole in the Wall and The Counter Burger, I would choose Hole in the Wall any day. They use never-frozen grass-fed Angus beef, source their breads from a local bakery (more on that awesome bakery in my next blog post) and make their own spreads and ketchup. That soft pretzel bun alone is worth driving to Hole in the Wall for.

Hole in the Wall Burger Joint
2200 Colorado Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 449-0147
11am to 10pm daily
Parking tip: Metered street or 2-hr free at Arboretum Plaza, entrance on Colorado Ave., right off the Starbucks.