Sunday, December 20, 2009


Nopa reminds me of a first date, where you go in expecting ho hum, but come out a little enamored. The entrance is no more than an inconspicuous black door, with nothing that bears semblance to a restaurant sign. The only hint that this may be somewhere to grab a bite to eat was the large window pane filled with ambient lighting.

You know it's "the hang out spot" when you walk in hearing clinking of glasses and the buzz of conversations from nearby tables. The menu is short and has some of my all time favorites, such as mussels, squab pâté, and fish stew. The pâté was creamy, paired with perfectly toasted crostitinis that can be enjoyed by itself.

The mussels, like most mussels paired with white, garlic and toasted croutons to soak in the broth, was pure delight. There wasn't a single mussel that didn't scream "fresh".

Although the fish stew was the perfect end to a meal, it's main character seemed to be mussels, which bore striking likeness to the mussel dish we just devoured.
Nopa is a place where one can enjoy simple dishes, perfectly executed, devoid of the the "fusion plague" of east meets west. This is where the food is the star, not the chef.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mentaiko (fish roe) Pasta

Today's trip to Nijiya proved fruitful, with fresh ikura (salmon roe) and pink mentaiko, the possibilities are endless. I decided to concoct my own version of the Mentaiko Pasta found at Curry House.

Ikura for garnish
1 pack of mentaiko
2 cups of white mushrooms (sliced)
Chopped green onions for garnish
JAPANESE mayo 3 tablespoons
Alfalfa sprouts (optional)

Why Japanese mayo instead of American?
Kewpie is creamier, saltier and much more addictive than its foreign counterpart, Miracle Whip. Kewpie is like my best friend, I use it in salads, sandwiches, veggie dips, you name it. Although Kewpie isn't the headliner in this pasta, but being a cohesive is just as pivotal. Without Kewpie, this dish would be a lackluster hodgepodge of ingredients.

I premixed the mentaiko and mayonaise, being careful to peel off the sac that encloses the roe.

I boiled the mushrooms with the spaghetti, being the sloth that I am. But the mushrooms should be thrown in as the spaghetti is finished cooking, or else you'll end up with a mushroom soup. Toss the spaghetti with the mentaiko mixture and garnish with green onions, ikura, and alfalfa sprouts and voilà, pairs nicely with a glass of Riesling.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Urth Caffe - Santa Monica

Art or ? I've been hearing about Urth Caffe's latte art, where toothpicks are used to create fancy shapes and forms. It was a delight to witness the "artists" in action and one wonders, can I recreate this on my own latte?

Urth Caffe seems like one of those trendy spots where MILF's congregate to show off their new pair of Rock and Republic jeans. Although the idea behind "Urth" is about organic tea leaves and coffee beans, I didn't get a whiff of any tree hugger or hippie-like clientele. The plethora of couture loving patrons only confirmed my suspicion that "organic" is a designer label made to entice our trend following society. While I was sipping my "organic" green tea latte and nibbling an "organic" banana cream pie, I knew I had succumbed into the trap set by merchants. I had sold myself to the "organic label". Not that the Spanish latte wasn't a mug of unctuous, aromatic goodness, with a sketching of a dove that I couldn’t bear to ruin. But was it really worth the price at $7 a chuck?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bistro LQ - An Early Thanksgiving

 Today I witnessed erotic furniture and indulged in pork like a deprived German, both of which were unexpected. This unassuming furniture store contained some eye opening pieces, either you love or hate. This coffee stand was made of human hair, and I couldn't for the life of me understand the concept. My jaw dropped, but I was left with an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Do consumers actually purchase these for their living room?

My favorite, loose powder coffe table.

The eerie vanity table with melted wax
If only the hair coffee stand was placed next to this vanity table, it would've been the perfect setup for The Ring.

As 6 o'clock chimed in, we scurried to Bistro LQ next door. I was anticipating chef/owner Laurent Quenioux's innovative creations. He was heralded "the mad chef" and Jonathan Gold described him as "the most mysterious of L.A.’s first-rank chefs". LQ is known to be daring with creations such as ant's eggs, barbequed frog legs and such. Without doubt, I was beyond stoked entering the premise. There were no patrons at the time, but I assumed it was because the night was young. The decor was low profile, intimate, with around 10 tables. The only vestige of LQ's zaniness were the melange of silver and champagne balloons floating on the ceiling. It definitely elicited my attention with its out-of-place yet tranquil fusion.
(I forgot to bring my camera. This was taken from their website.)

As we were seated, Jonathan, the adorable parisian server, informed us the regular menu/tasting menu wasn't available today. The star of the show tonight was the Choucroute prefixe menu. Choucroute is French for sausage. With Thanksgiving around the corner, I really did not like the idea of indulging too much on meats. But you only live once, what the hell?
I'm going to keep this short, the corpulence of pork from the meal has left me in a comatose state.

First Course - A simple Herring, Topped with Sauteed Quail Egg
Choucroute to include Sauerkraut poached in Reisling, Mortreaux Sausage, apple wood smoked bacon, Pork Shoulder, Ham Hock, Milk Sausage, Weiners, Blood Sausage, Steamed Potatoes.
 You can only imagine the look on our faces as this massive plate of meat was laid before us. Pork today and turkey tomorrow. Wonderful. Don't get me wrong, these sausages were tender, moist and flavorful, not saturated with sodium like American sausage tend to get. But one can only eat so much pork. We managed to finish 80% of the plate, which was miraculous by Asian standards.

Not only is Chef Laurent notable for his avante-garde courses, but also for his delectable desserts. He boasts a 5 course dessert menu that has rave reviews across the boards. I was amazed at the complex flavors, and how he executed simple dishes with a flair of his own. Although, dismayed that I did not get to try their regular menu of exotic dishes, Bistro LQ left a stellar impression. Service was elegant, food was sophisticated yet unpretentious, and if that's possible, LQ has accomplished it. As we left the bistro, Jonathan, our server, remarked "this is your first time? I'm sure it wont be your last.." with a knowing smile.

8009 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 951-1088

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

La Estrella - not the best taco, but just as good

Where are the best tacos in LA?

I'm not even going to go there. It's like asking a Chinese lady, where are the best noodles? There are some debates you just don't want to spark. I've witnessed many contentions about the best taco's in town, whether or not a burrito's of true mexican lineage, and where hails the best hainan chicken. It can get bloody. Who's to say which taqueria heralds the ultimate taco. Taste is, afterall, quite subjective. LA, having a Hispanic population of 46%, is fortunate enough to have many authentic Mexican food establishments sprinkled through out the city. I'm sure each of which has it's loyal followers.

 I'm on no quest to uncover the primo taco. Having said that, I've been lusting for some authentic asada lately, which led me to the other side of town. In reality, this area was only a stone's throw away from Old Town Pasadena, yet it still made me feel like I was in the wrong neck of the woods. I circled the establishment twice before I decided to brave it, and parked my car. The place was a shack; shabby and rundown, with a few wooden tables in front of the order window, just like a true taqueria should be. Now, you know you're getting some true Mexican food when all you hear is Spanish, the menus not in English, and not a single gringo is to be spotted.

My meal was a trio of carne asada and el pastor tacos. I dug through the bag, curious to see what condiments accompanied it. Lime. Salsa Roja. Aghast! No radishes?! I'll just have to make do. The first thing I noticed was how red the tacos looked. It seemed saturated with the famous red sauce that people swear by. I like my tacos, neat, clean, and not overly wet. This was going to wreak havoc in my car. Did I forget to mention that I was enjoying my trio of tacos in the car? Being the coward that I am, I didn't want to stick out like a sore thumb.
Tacos. The tortilla was a tad bit thicker than the usual skin, maybe to hold the wet mass better. I dissected the parts and found a good meat to onion and cilantro ratio. The asada and el pastor were robustly flavored, not overly cooked, with just the right amount of fat. The only qualm I had was the amount of salsa, the contents were swimming in red. By the time I was done with the tacos, it looked as if I had a brawl with the salsa roja and lost. Sweat was trickling down my neck, the heat from the car, or the salsa? I'll never know.
It would have been near perfect if it wasn't for the excessive sauce. Subsequently, I'm still partial to the more subtle flavor of King's Taco and Alberto's. As I drove away from my covert parking spot with a smile on my face, I thought, where were those damn radishes when you needed them the most?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Little Next Door

With autumn right around the corner, one needs to find a cozy cafe along the sidewalk to sip latte and nibble on a tart. The first place that comes to my mind is the Little Next Door.

If you focus on the French speaking servers, the blue and gold decor, and ignore the cars with American license plates, you might really find yourself believing that this is a Parisian cafe. The reason why I think autumn is the perfect season for sidewalk cafes is because the Socal sun isn't as treacherous and the winter chill won't freeze your french onion soup. One can always dine indoors, but then it wouldn't be Paris.

During this visit, I decided to focus on the desserts instead of the appetizers or entrees. Now, I'm no coffe connoisseor, but I find the Little Next Door to have one of the best coffes in town. Maybe the heart foam did it for me.

The french onion soup was amazing! I've never had an onion soup with this much cheese. I would have to deem it, the best french onion soup ever.

The Croque Madame was a bit dry, even for a sandwich. I would definitely recommend the tarts and skip the sandwiches.

Baba au Rum
The rum cake and the souffle was undeniably the highlight of the meal. The cake was soaked in sweet rum, but not overly sweet. There was something quite addictive about it. Although I was full, I couldn't stop taking bites out of it.

Chocolate Souffle

There's a reason I always come back to the LND even when there are many other cafes out there. It's like a little excursion out of the hustle bustle of LA, where you can find great food and a relaxing ambiance. Take a step in, and you wont realize you're in LA.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Sushi Koo, omakase

I've always thought the bay area dimmed in comparison to LA's ubiquitous array of sushi joints. It was so embedded in my mind that never once did having sushi cross my mind while I was in San Francisco.

After a bit of snooping around, I came up with Koo Sushi. I was ambivalent at first, afterall, how could a place called Koo yield authentic sushi? But then again, didn't I fall in love with Sushi Sushi? I guess you can never judge a book by its cover.

Koo features a non-traditional ambiance with lounge music playing in the background. We were seated at the sushi bar, directly in front of chef/owner Kiyoshi Hayakawa. I immediately took a liking to the amiable chef. He was not one of those sushi nazi, typical of sushi joints in LA.

My absolute favorite of the night, Spoons of Happiness. It came with two spoons; uni, quail egg, and ponzu. The other spoon held ankimo (monkfish liver) wrapped in yellowtail with truffle oil. This came with a shot of sake to wash it down. They should have called it Spoons of Bliss!

Sashimi Platter

                                        Stuffed Jalapeno, Homemade Miso and Eggplant

I was slightly dissapointed that okra would be on an omakase menu.

Yellow Tail Collar imported from Japan. This was a perfect collar, tender, flavorful with just the right amount of char. I licked the bones clean.

I wasn't able to decipher the name of the fish with the Japanese accent. But I do recall it being tender and buttery, perfection.

There's no way I could let this piece of chu-toro slip my mind. It was also imported from Japan, with no gristles and smooth and creamy as can be.

                                                                          Aji Suhi
I loved how Chef Kiyoshi paired the sushi with it's fried fish bone. Not only was the bone tasty, like briny chips, it was also aesthetically pleasing.

                                                                       Macha Flan

This meal was a feast for the stomach and the eyes. All the items were fresh and were more traditional than fushion. Being a fan of traditional sushi, I was pleased with this. Kiyoshi took the time to explain each dish and seemed passionate about his work. We chatted about how the bay area lacks in Japanese food, in comparison to LA. But I told him, with a hidden gem like Koo, there's no need for more. I will definitely go back and visit again. Kiyoshi's omakase isn't a set omakase like some of the ones in LA. I'm looking forward to my next meal there and the surprises he will conjure.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Torihei, Torrance

Do not fall for the bamboo sake gimick. I have no idea why they charge an extra $5 for the same house sake, when the only difference is the bamboo holder. Really? $5?

Besides the bamboo, I loved everthing about Torihei. There was't a miss on any of the items and the noise level wasn't as high as Shinsengumi. The skewers are just as good as Shinsengumi, if not better. Torihei might even surpass its rivalry, with its extensive oden menu.
                                                     The infamous bamboo sake


Chicken Skin with Ponzu Salad

Half Cooked Egg with Roe (oden)

Seaweed (oden)

Chicken with Mentaiko


"Torihei" special meat ball

Hanpen, fish cake (oden)
Fluffy, light..eating clouds

Beef tongue- a must

Washyugu Beef

The finale, ochazuke. The perfect end to wash down the palate was with some rice soup. It came with pickled radishes and marinated squid.

Remember to drink the broth that comes with the odens. It would be sacriligeous to let that flavorful soup go to waste.  All the dishes surpassed my expectations, especially the Fish Cake Oden, beef tongue, half cooked egg. But I just didn't feel the "special beef". Frankly, I had no idea I was eating beef. My only qualms were the bamboo sake and "special beef". But that won't stop Torihei from being my favorite izakaya for now.                                                                                                                                                         

1757 W. Carson Street, #A
Torrance, CA 90501
Tel: (310) 781-9407

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


"When in Rome, do as the Romans do"
Well, when in Suppenkuche you should drink like you're in Suppenkuche, so no sparkling frou frou drinks. Beer, beer, beer!

The notion of eating german food actually came about a few days ago when I was reminiscing about beef goulash. I wanted something similar, if not exactly like the thick, yummy stew I had in Budapest. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon Suppenküche. This place is in many ways like a hofbrau in Germany, emphasizing on Bavarian cooking. There were long wooden tables shared by strangers and drunkards knocking glasses. The noise level was definitely not for a first date, 120 decibels?! We did end up sharing tables with a few others. If you're phobic of eating with strangers, I definitely wouldn't recommend this place.

                                                  Need I say more?

Soup of the day: Mushroom Soup

Unfortunately, they did not have goulash as their special that day. But we did get to order the Jägerschnitzel (Pork or Veal Cutlets in Mushroom Gravy)with Spaetzle. The veal was tender but the spaetzle tasted a bit different from the ones I had in Munich. I don't remember it being fried. I think they must have "Americanized" the spaetzle.

I wanted to try the Potato Cakes and the bratwurst but the beer left my gut no option but to hail for dessert. When in Germany, eat apple strudel.
This was no American version. This was THE strudel I had in Germany.
While dousing bites of crispy strudel in ice cream, I had a fleeting image of Landa in Inglorius Bastards, interrogating Shosanna. That scene was the most memorable in the movie, filmed with such detail and intensity.

The meal was a decadent one. It left me with unbuttoned jeans.
I wondered to myself as I walked out..
Didn't I dread the bratwursts, schnitzel, and strudels that one summer in Germany?
Didn't I complain about it to my roormmates everyday?
I swore I would never stuff another bratwurst into my mouth again.
Little did I know, I'de be eating those words.

7.5/10  ( 0.5 deduction for no goulash)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Open Door

Although Monterey Park isn't the stereotypical city one would go for outstanding izakaya fare, I think I may have tread upon "a find". The city always had Shinsengumi being the head honcho in Japanese cuisine. But when word gets out about this newcomer, it may suffer a slight blow. I was a bit surprised at the size of Door. It's about the size of a standard living room, plus or minus. The first thing on the menu that caught my attention was the sake flight. $8 for a flight?! Steal!

I don't recall all the sake, but I do remember one was Kurosawa, Junmai, which was my favorite.

Per Diane's reqest, I ordered the Truffle Butter Edamame. I wasn't expecting much but after one pop, I was hooked. Who would've thought that truffle butter and edamame would meld so well.

If there's one thing I always order at an izakaya, it's shishito peppers. You really can't mess this up unless the chef's having an off day.

I was less than impressed with the albacore sashimi dish. The crunch tried really hard to help it stand it out, but it still was just a mediocre albacore afterall.

Creamy Crab Croquette, try as I might to hype it up because of my love for croquettes, I fail. Where was the crab? Where was the cream? I've had many a croquettes and this just didn't shine.

Now the Beef Tataki did prove to be a surprise. With a thickness of double the usual, as you can see in the photo, it actually came out tender. I didn't get any stuck in my teeth as some tataki's can. Surprise, surprise

Spicy Tuna over Rice Crispy, standard.

I've heard some mix reviews about the pork belly/ persimmon dish. But it actually turned out to be quite good. The belly could have been a bit more charred, but it certainly went well with the sliced persimmon. Leave it to the fruit to wed the lard, always.

Overall, this would be a good izakaya for people who don't want to trek past the San Gabriel Valley border. But for true izakaya seekers, I'de definitely still recommend Musha, Izayoi, etc.

122 S Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754-2727