Dump Day! – Din Tai Fung the gold standard

2010 December 1

Okay, I give.  I wasn’t going to write this one figuring they really didn’t need any further promotion from me.  But, there is no denying that Din Tai Fung is truly deserving of all the hype.  After a year of leaving no dumpling house unturned, Sis and I have both decided that when it comes to Xiao Long Bao (aka XLB or Soup Dumplings) nobody can touch them.  The thin skin, the meaty filling, the fragrant soup all perfectly assembled in a beautiful symphony of flavor that literally explodes in your mouth.  Din Tai Fung’s other offerings also do not disappoint.  DTF uses fresh, clean, quality ingredients and you can taste the difference in everything they make.  One tip – Go early!  This place fills up with eager regulars waiting to get their fix.

Din Tai Fung XLB pork soup dumpling

The Heavenly Xiao Long Bao

Din Tai Fung xiao long bao how to eat 1

How to Eat XLB’s part 1

Create your dipping sauce with fresh ginger, soy, vinegar and chili sauce as  you like.

Dip dumpling in sauce transfer to soup spoon top with ginger.

Din Tai Fung xiao long bao how to eat 2

How to Eat XLB’s part 2

While dumpling is on spoon carefully bite a hole in the top to let hot soup out.

Wait a second to cool and pop that beauty into your mouth.

Din Tai Fung hot sour soup

Excellent Hot and Sour Soup not too starchy with good sour balance

Din Tai Fung garlic green beans

Fresh Crunchy Garlic Green Beans

Din Tai Fung chicken fried noodle

Chicken Fried Noodles  – a little light on seasoning but nothing a bit of soy can’t fix

Ga Ga for Izakaya! – Izakaya Fu-Ga

2010 December 1
by Canela

Lately it seems the new buzz in restaurant trends seems to be the Gastro-Pub; a fun casual spot that offers creative smaller plates where you can have a snack or a full meal while you catch a buzz and catch up with friends and/or co-workers.  Well folks, let me tell you there is truly nothing new under the sun for the Japanese have been hip to this since the Edo Period (17th century y’all) with what they call an Izakaya (..to say nothing of the Spaniards and Tapas, but that’s another post)

I have long been a fan of the Izakaya and have sampled a few of Little Tokyo’s finest.  There is one however that the family seems to be drawn to time and again; the charming underground Izkaya Fu-Ga.  I will admit that Izakaya Fu-Ga may not be the most “authentic” but you see, my husband is a fishetarian and quite sensitive to smokey meaty environments (i.e. my fave Honda-Ya).  So, given those limitations we find that Izakaya Fu-Ga suits us quite well and has something for everyone including the less adventurous members of my extended family.  In other words, this is a very gaijin friendly establishment. Here’s a sample of our favorite dishes…

Izakaya Fu-Ga edamame

Happy Hour Edamame

Izakaya Fu-Ga Sake Sampler

Sake Sampler – This  is a steal @ $10!

Izakaya Fu-Ga Crispy Rice Tuna

Crispy Rice Spicy Tuna – we like it extra spicy and have them add jalapeño

Izakaya Fu-Ga Happy Hour Crispy Calamari

Crisipy Fried Calamari – Happy Hour Special

Izakaya Fu-Ga Baked Green Mussels

Baked Green Mussels – Happy Hour Special

Izakaya Fu-Ga mushroom baguette

Creamy Mushroom Baguette

Izakaya Fu-Ga Sashimi Salad

Sashimi Salad

Izakaya Fu-Ga Green Tea Crepe

Green Tea Custard Crepe

Adventures in Exotic Groceries – Instant Gourmet

2010 November 1
by Canela

Behold before you are an easy ticket to ooohs and aaahs at your table and it’s all so simple now.  Voila…. white truffle oil and pre-made roasted garlic.  I can’t tell you how happy I was when I spotted that bag of garlic at the Vons Market.  I know it’s not difficult to roast garlic but now that it’s one less step and mess, I will be using it much more often.

Truffle oil and chopped or whole roasted garlic will elevate your side dishes to sublime status instantly.   Mashed potatoes, rice, risotto, pasta, bread, even vegetables will all taste better with this dynamic duo.  Remember though a little goes a long way with the truffle oil and roasted garlic is a lot milder and sweeter than un-roasted.  Enjoy!

Truffle Oil Roasted Garlic

White Truffle Oil and Roasted Garlic

Two great tastes that taste great together

Rosé Days of Summer – Not Your Momma’s White Zin!

2010 September 20
by Canela

What’s light, crisp, refreshing, bold, versatile and dry?  A good Rosé.  That’s right folks, just because it’s pink doesn’t mean it has to taste like bubble gum.  This summer the Mr. and I dove into the delightful world of dry Rosé wines.  We found it paired very well with most of our light summer meals especially sashimi.   Below are two of our easy drinking everyday favorites.  Both are French, fairly easy to find and with a price tag under $10 they won’t break the bank.

Cellier du Rhone 2009 Rose

Cellier du Rhone Cotes du Rhone Rosé

La Vielle Freme Rose

La Vielle Ferme Rosé Wine

I’ll Have the Usual – Don Felix 2 in Silverlake

2010 September 19
by Canela

Next restaurant on the family food go round is Don Felix Peruvian restaurant in Silverlake.  Peruvian cuisine for those unfamiliar with it is an unusual fusion of Asian, Latin and European culinary traditions.  Peru’s large Chinese and Japanese immigrant communities have had a huge impact on it’s cuisine and the mix is truly unique and delicious.

At Don Felix a lot of the cooking is done in a wok; this includes traditional chinese style fried rice as well as their signature latin fusion stir fry the Saltado.  A Saltado is made with your choice of meat or seafood stir fried with large chunks of red onion, green onion, tomatos and home made french fries seasoned with soy and vinegar.  This is all then served up with a mound of perfectly cooked white rice.  Peruvians are also known for their ceviches but since I’m a raw onion phobe, I don’t go there and can’t vouch for Don Felix’s version.  One of my favorite things is the spicy Peruvian condiment known as Aji.  Aji is basically a blend of jalapeños, cilantro and mayo.  This adds a refreshing kick to the bread starter, the Mr. loves to coat his mound of rice with it and I love to add it to my noodle dish.  If you go you’ll also want to try their Peruvian beers either Cristal or Cuzqueña.  I prefer the Cusqueña.

So here’s our Usual…..

Don Felix Aji Bread

Aji and Bread Starter… I could fill up on this

Don Felix Tallarin Camarones

My Usual – Tallarin Saltados de Camarones (saltado with no fries or rice and tossed with spaghetti)

Don Felix Camarones Saltado

The Mr.’s Usual – Camarones Saltado

Banh Mi Baby – Saigon’s Sandwich & Bakery (Battle Winner!)

2010 September 15

After a kind of long not so hot summer of sampling San Gabriel Valleys finest in Banh Mi,  Sis and I have finally found our new favorite at Saigon’s Sandwich & Bakery.   Saigons Sandwich & Bakery is a small take out place with just a couple of tables.  They offer most of the usual suspects in filling and also a few unusual ones like egg and sardines.  Daughter was a bit disappointed they didn’t have her favorite choice Grilled Lemongrass Beef but she got over that when she saw they had Boba.

Saigon’s bakes their own bread and if you buy 3 sandwiches you get to take home a free baguette.  They also gives you the option of having your sandwich on either traditional baguette or a torpedo style roll.  Sis and I both opted for #16 Grilled Pork with paté on traditional baguette and Daughter got the shredded chicken on baguette with an avocado boba smoothie.

So what makes Saigon’s Sandwich & Bakery the best in our judgement?  First off, there’s nothing like fresh baked bread  and this one is perfect; crusty on the outside without being hard enough to scratch the roof of your mouth, soft, sweet, chewy and moist on the inside.  Second, the proportions and fillings were just right; the pork succulent and sweet, light and creamy paté, hint of mayo, the pickles crisp not too vinegary, fresh jalapeños and a nice sprig of cilantro.  A beautiful balance of good clean flavors.  For my $2.25 Saigon’s Sandwich and Bakery reigns supreme.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention their crispy egg rolls are also noteworthy.

Saigon Sandwiches Grilled Pork 16 banh mi

The reigning champ! #16 Grilled Pork Banh Mi

Saigons Sandwich chicken banh mi

Daughters choice Chicken Banh Mi (she still prefers the Beef @ Tapioca and Pho)

Saigons Sandwich egg roll

Don’t leave without some most excellent egg rolls

I Made This – Ahi Poke Deluxe on a Crisp

2010 August 26
by Canela

Mama's Poke

There are no words to describe the perfection you see before you. My friends have dubbed it “the best thing ever” after my last dinner party. I really hesitated in posting this one because you know a Gurlz gotta have some secrets but what the heck, I’m feeling generous (lucky for you). Here’s the hook up on my “cheats can be fabulous” version of Ahi Poke Deluxe on a Crisp….. made with a little help from my beloved Fish King.

Fish King sells an amazing already marinated and diced Ahi Tuna Poke.  For those geographically challenged, the ingredients according to Fish Kings label are Ahi tuna (raw diced), soy, ginger, and green onion.  However, I’m certain there is a bit of sesame oil added in as well and I suspect FK wants to keep a few secrets of their own.  At home I add diced avocado and tomato and serve it on a crisp wonton skin.  You can either fry the won ton skins lightly (the yummy way) or bake them as I did (the I’m trying to pretend I’m healthy way).  I baked mine at 375 degrees on a baking pan lightly sprayed with canola oil.  The tricky part here is to keep a close eye on them because they can burn very quickly as I found out.  Timing is crucial; you have to pull them out just before you think their done because they continue to cook a bit when you pull them out. I also spray the tops with cooking spray before putting them in and add a touch of salt.

There you have it!  Now you too can impress your friends and family.  BTW, you’re welcome.

Banh Mi Baby! – Sandwich Porn

2010 August 24

Two of my favorite things in one delectable vision… Oh how I swoon! A girl can only dream…

Banh Mi Baby! – Banh Mi Che Cali (Battle Part 2)

2010 August 14

Next challenger up for Bahn Mi Battle is Banh Mi Che Cali.  Sis and I arrive at around 1:30 pm, get in line at the sandwich counter and ponder the possibilities.  I had to get the BBQ Pork as that is the standard I use to judge.  We also decided to try the Beef Bahn Mi and a wacky new one; Shredded Pork Skin.  Now here’s the unbelievable part; with their buy two get one free deal, all three sandwiches cost us $4.50!!

After we order and get a number we notice that they do have table service and that everyone seems to be ordering the Pho.  Will have to try that on the next visit.  Banh Mi Che Cali also has a crazy Boba selection with a toppings bar you can add to it.  We just got the plain Green Tea with no milk, I know boring.

The sandwiches arrive and behold, this is different.  The pickles and jalapenos are served on the side and there is NO CILANTRO.  Hmmm, at this point I did not have high hopes.  We assemble our sandwiches and take a bite.  The bread was good, soft chewy on the sweet side. The pickles were perfectly marinated not too vinegary.  The mayo was just enough not too much and the fillings were solid.  I liked the BBQ Pork the best.

Who wins?  I really can’t call it.  I think I preferred the meat fillings of Banh Mi My Tho but I didn’t like the lack of mayo, over vinegary pickles and the added peanuts were just too much.  On the otherhand, I preferred the bread, pickles and mayo at Banh Mi Che Cali but no cilantro was a total buzz kill.  If we had to pick I think Sis and I both lean towards  Banh Mi Che Cali , maybe bring some cilantro, but I think I need to continue this battle.  Keep you posted!

Banh Mi Che Cali counter

Bahn Mi Che Cali Counter

Banh Mi Che Cali pickles

Bag of Jalapenos and Pickled Veggies

Banh Mi Che Cali BBQ Pork

BBQ Pork

Banh Mi Che Cali BBQ Pork bite

BBQ Pork assembled and enjoyed!

Banh Mi Che Cali beef

Beef- sort of like a hamburger but spiced with typical Vietnamese spices

Banh Mi Che Cali shredded pork skin

Shredded Pork Skin-actually leaner that we thought it would be.  I couldn’t get past the massive amounts of raw green and white onion but Sis liked it.

Banh Mi Baby! – Banh Mi My Tho (Battle Part 1)

2010 August 7

Now that I’ve popped my Bahn Mi cherry, my compulsive nature has lead me to do extensive Yelp and Chowhound research in search of the perfect one.  From what I can garner it seems that top ranking in the LA area comes down to two places Banh Mi Che Cali and Banh Mi My Tho.  Both places are given high ratings and  have loyal followers who defend theirs over the other so I figured I should try them both and see for myself which sandwich reigns supreme.   First challenger is Bahn Mi My Tho.

I recruit my ever willing and curious Sis and we load up the kids to grab some sandwiches and have a nice picnic.  Finding Banh Mi My Tho was simple enough for us, thanks to our dumpling tour we now know this area pretty well.  Banh Mi My Tho is a tiny little place with just a counter and some refrigerator cases.  We get there early about 12:00 on a Tuesday and the place is humming but not too busy.  I’ve read it can get so busy that it’s confusing to determine who’s in line to order and who’s waiting.  I ordered the #8 Grilled Pork, Daughter ordered the #9 Grilled Beef and Sis ordered the #8 Grilled pork with added paté.  We also tried the eggrolls and one skewer of pork meatballs.  Egg Rolls were good while we waited for sandwiches; crispy, a little oily and perfectly meaty. Meatballs equally delicious.

So how were the Banh Mi’s?  I’m starting to understand the many debates on this subject.  This sandwich is all about balance of texture and flavors and that is quite subjective.  You may like your bread softer or less pickled veggies or more mayo etc etc.  Overall I liked this one, it had an added bonus sprinkling of chopped peanuts although I think I prefer mine without it.  I wish it had more mayo (they may have used butter instead I’m not sure) and  the meat had good flavor but not as flavorful as the filling at Tapioca & Pho.  The Pork with Paté was OK.  It was kind of light on the paté and the paté itself didn’t have a whole lot of flavor.  I think I still like Tapioca & Pho best so far.

Bahn Mi My Tho grilled pork

Banh Mi #8 Grilled PorkI give it a 4 out of 5

Bahn Mi My Tho grilled beef

Banh Mi #9 Grilled Beef – just as good as #8 a 4