Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My New Year's Resolution for 2009

Yes, I know.

There is always a list by the end of the year that commemorate a "best of" or "worst of" the year. Well, I'll get to those list later, but for now I want to share on the places that I want to visit next year.

You can call it a mission statement list and I call it my New Year's resolutions. I hope to visit these places as many as possible. If not, all of them.

  1. Totoraku Teriyaki House Pico (West LA)
  2. Dal Rae (Pico Rivera) Reviewed on March 7
  3. La Casita Mexicana (Bell)
  4. Massimo (Beverly Hills)
  5. Gordon Ramsay at London (West Hollywood)
  6. Pho Filet (El Monte)
  7. Sushi Zo (West LA) Reviewed on April 3
  8. Mom's Burgers (Compton) Reviewed on April 13
  9. French Laundry (Yountsville)
  10. Al-Watan Halan (Lawndale)
  11. Palate Food + Wine (Glendale)
  12. The Hidden Kitchen (Costa Mesa)
  13. Doner G (Anaheim)
  14. Bean Sprouts (Arcadia)
  15. Umemura Restaurant (Gardena)
  16. Quan Hop (Westminster)
  17. Urasawa (Beverly Hills)
  18. Cole's PE (Downtown) Reviewed on Feb. 13
  19. Angelini Osteria (West Hollywood)
  20. Class 302 (Rowland Heights)
  21. Beachwood BBQ (Seal Beach)
  22. Bulgarini Gelato (Altadena)
  23. L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Las Vegas)
  24. Fat Duck (Berkshire, UK)
  25. Charlie Trotter's (Chicago)
Of course it will take some big time coinage on a few of these places. Hope I can at least scratch some of them from the list this coming year.

Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Disappointment @ Din Tai Fung Dumpling House (Arcadia)

Din Tai Fung is one of the most polarized place where it attracts both ends of the spectrum. It's either you hate the place or love it where there is no middle ground to compromise.

To look back on this place, you have to take into the account that the founder grew up in Shanxi (northern province of China) who immigrated to Taiwan after the fall of Kuomingtang. The founder decided to sell his signature xiao long bao (Little Dragon buns - Juicy Pork soup dumplings) to support his livelihood back in the 80's during a difficult phase of his fiancial standings. A happy success story where he was able to turn a food cart venture selling his xlbs into a full fledged restaurant in Taipei. Within those short years later, it would culminated into the restaurant being name the "top 10 Restaurants in the world" by the New York Times in 1993.

With that being said, there are some detractors who like to point out that the soup dumplings are made by Taiwanese that catered only to Taiwanese. Therefore, the taste and even the skin are not authentic to the standards of a genuine Shanghai cuisine. The debate continue to rage on even as the restaurant expand worldwide picking up new fans of their the same time picking up more detractors as well.

The new opening of another branch of Din Tai Fung was welcomed as the old location endured crazy long wait for people just to experience their delicious signature xiao long bao. The new added restaurant (not joined in by the old location as it is a stand alone new restaurant) has a very upscale look with a 2nd floor to handle more customers descending on this place. The trick about coming here is that most people would park in the lot at the 1108 Baldwin Ave's location, to scout on the wait time for a table at the 1108's location. Then sly trekked over to the hidden plaza behind the first location where the newer modern looking 2nd restaurant is at.

For us to start off, we ordered the Shanghai Rice Cake Noodles. I'm beginning to like this dish more and more each time I ordered this type of noodle patties. It's sliced to a round rice noodle wafer patties. With the right amount of soy sauce, it is very delicious. Love it as a possible memorable bite of 2008.

Shanghai Rice Cake Noodle ($7.50)

The cheapest item of the night was a small order of pork chop for only $3.50. Why did we ordered this? Apparently, Din Tai Fung was running out of other types of dumpling dishes and anything relate to their 20 dumpling specials. The pork chop was suitable, but not very memorable.

Fried Pork Chop ($3.50)

My favorite dish of the night? The Shrimp won ton soup. Ahh, you know the night is going to end bad if that was the best thing going for you. I like the above normal size of the won ton and the soup was very simple to be enjoyable. It's not going to blow you away, but with Won Ton Time closed in Alhambra, it's always good to look out for a possible won ton destination.

Shrimp Wonton Soup ($6)

The biggest disappointment of the night for me was their signature xiao long bao. I have ordered their pork and crab version. To my amazement, I was shocked at how bad those two meat are together. The taste didn't meshed very well and the soy sauce could not hide the displeasing taste. For the very first time, I also did not liked the way how the skin tasted. The texture of the skin was very rubbery and the size portion of those xlb were very small. For those little treats, they were setting us back at $9 per plate. Thank goodness, we didn't ordered more than one as it was an absolute bust for the night.

Pork and Crab Xiao Long Bao (juicy soup dumplings) - $9

The other two dumplings that ended the night for us was not that great either. One was the pork and shrimp steamed dumplings, which were fine, but not stellar. The other was the steamed fish dumplings that was not up to par for the night. Was it that bad in terms of dumplings taste? I think the foul taste from the xlb never set the course for the evening and the steamed fish finished off the tone of the night with its offsetting flavor for the dumplings. The night never recovered from the won ton soup and ended on a disappointing notes from the dumplings.

Steamed Dumplings ($7.75)

If there is any consolation out of this night was that the service was friendly and fast. The big stinger of the night was the prices for the dishes added up to $44.50 before taxes and tips. Definitely not cheap at all coming here to dine.

It's one of those places that have the huge hype that didn't live up to its billings.

ps. I did like my meals at the 1st location at 1108 Baldwin. I doubt there is any difference between the two in terms of taste.

Din Tai Fung
1088 Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91006
(626) 446-8588


Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Battle of the Iron Guts @ Orochon Ramen (Little Tokyo)

Once upon a time, I do have an iron gut and a metabolism that an unlimited buffet would not be able to defeat my stomach. I don't need any exercise tips from Michael Phelps to help burn whatever amount of calories I was able to consume in the good old days. However, I never was able to factor in one element: time.

That was the whole interesting challenge that I needed to overcome in this infamous ramen-ya in Little Tokyo. Orachon Ramen, the little noodle house on the top floor of Tozi place behind the Omni Hotel, is famous for one reason: The #2 Challenge.

What is the #2 Challenge? It's supposed to be one of the most spiciest and most chili filled inducement bowl of ramen that was ever introduced. The whole idea of this concept was that you will pluck down a fair amount of money (as in 50 cents extra on top of your bill) and finished off an extremely chili spiced ramen bowl in 30 minutes or less. What is the prize in this? You'll see it in the end of this review.

#2 Special (Soy Sauce soup base)

The broth for the soup contains 13 different spices (stated in their website). You will be able to choose from three different soup base (Miso, Soy Sauce, and Salt), where then next you will have to choose the spicy level of your soup, with the #2 special being the most extremely tummy wrecker out of the whole menu.

The waitress gave us an important tip about finishing the bowl in 30 minutes. She suggested to us to get the soy sauce broth because it's easier to digest. Miso is suppose to be thicker and more likely to slow you down with its heavier texture. Some people don't respond to salt base as well as the soy sauce because it can add a whole new element of salt during the contest. Salt being the thirst inducer, meaning you will slow down and drink water. Drinking water will then add more volume to your stomach contents.

One Contestant decided to put green onions on his #2 ramen bowl

So obviously, our friends and comrades who wanted to participate in this macho ritual of downing the entire bowl of ramen with soup in 30 minutes, have all chosen Soy Sauce as their soup base.

As in for me, I chickened out and ordered the #4 Orochon ramen (medium spicy). You get to see a big different soup as the Orochon #2 have chili marks all over the bowl (visible ring marks can be seen on the bowl above the soup.

Noticed the top bowl have chili ring marks above the soup?

While I watched my friends sweat, slurp, and even thinking of strategy on how to finish the bowl, I was enjoying my plate of gyoza and leisurely finishing my soy sauce based #4 ramen. One of my friend even employed the straw technique of sucking the soup first before attempting the noodle.

Gyoza (fried dumplings)

It was not pretty watching them laboring hard towards the finish line as I can tell the bowl of chili in the soup is killing them. I looked around the place and saw a loner's corner, where a single seat was facing the wall. Then I realized the prize that was given to the victor... the honor of having your polaraid picture taken and placed it on the bulletin board.

The Loner's Corner with the bragging rights photos

Yes, that's the prize. Bragging rights to be on that board. With so many people competing for that prize, they kept a scrapbook of all the past contestants who were able to finish within the 30 minutes time limit.

The review about the noodle and soup, it's not that remarkable. The noodle was fine, but very ordinary. Not much to speak off either about the soup. I think without the attention getting, spicy #2, this place probably would need to come up with a hook for coming here. The noodle tasted like it belongs to any noodle soup, but it was soup that didn't quite sit well with me. If you are asking me to name the 13 spices, it's not very noticeable enough for an educated guess. In that regards, it was not really special for all the hype it made out to be.

My #4 Orochon Ramen Bowl (Soy Sauce soup base)

I probably think the #2 challenge was the whole attraction for coming here as it proves to be very popular among the thrill seekers.

Note: Three of my eight friends and colleagues who competed in this contest did not finish. The other five barely made it under 30 minutes.

Orochon Ramen
123 South Onizuka street Unit 303
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 617-1766


Orochon Ramen on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 22, 2008

What's In a Name? Savory or Ding's Garden (San Gabriel)

Seriously, what's in a name? It was confusing at first because the sign on the outside with lights said Ding's Garden, but the menu said Savory Garden. It was some what confusing at first looking around the place trying to figure it out what type of cuisine it serves. After a while, I decided to ask Lao Ban Niang (Chinese term for lady manager).

She explained it to me there was a few regions of China that influence the dish with a little Taiwanese adage. I don't know whether or not she added Taiwan in there because she is trying to cover all base with me, but I could give a little latitude on that since they did have some appetizer dishes and the deep fried stinky tofu to back that up. As in for the name of the restaurant, let's just say she stressed that it's not the same owner of the restaurant with the same name in Valley Blvd & Garfield Ave intersection.

My friend and I wanted to come here to taste test out their stinky tofu. There are a few types they have here to suit your liking. If you are not familiar with stinky tofu, the odor can resembled the stinky smell of a sewer or a garbage can. The tofu is often fermented for days to months depending on the preference of preparation. It can be cooked in deep fried, steamed, or stewed with sauce.

Stinky Tofu: Deep Fried and Steamed with chili sauce

My friend wanted to order the steamed version of the stinky tofu where the smell would stand out. He is on the money when he said the smell will be strong, but it was not as stinky like a sewer kind of smell. More like a bad body odor kind of smell. I did came back to order the popular version of stinky tofu when it is deep fried. It was mildly stinky, but very crispy for that delicious taste.

The obscure dish of the night was the Meicai Shrimp Egg Fried Rice. Meicai is a re-hydrated dried mustard greens. In our dish, it looked like a preserved vegetable seeds that tasted very good in the fried rice mixed with a bit of shrimp and egg.

Meicai Shrimp Fried Rice

We also gotten fried rice cake noodle that mixed with vegetable and beef that was quite delicious. The noodle dish that get the most attraction in this place is their beef tendon noodle soup. What I appreciated about this place's beef noodle soup is the subtlety of how the soup was not too greasy. It doesn't cloud the taste of the beef and noodle with unnecessary chili where you can add it to the soup on the side. The tendon was tender and melt in right in your mouth. The noodle was also a huge complimentary team member to complete the entire bowl.

Noodle Dishes: Beef Tendon Noodle Soup and Fried Rice Cake Noodle

I also can't resist coming here without ordering Xiao Long Bao (Pork Juicy Soup Dumplings). Made to order and comes in fresh right at your table. Eat those little suckers while it's hot because the skin would be still fluffy but trapped all the delicious juice inside the dumpling.

Xiao Long Bao (Pork Juicy Sou Dumplings)

Very casual dining place with not much of an ambiance or decor to speak of. Majority of the main dishes are cheaply price at $4.99 to $5.95. Appetizers are lower than $5, except for the salted duck.

Very happy in coming here for casual dinner or lunch. The fuss about the name of the place was gone by end of a very satisfying meal. It's a three person operation with Lao Ban Niang holding down the fort in the front where she made the service goes smoothly in this place.

Made the repeat trips worth while on any given night.

Ding's Garden
534 E Valley Blvd
Suite 10
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 573-5668


Ding's Garden on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Dessert to forget @ Bon Gelato (Cerritos)

No new info to offer on shaved ice to anyone. However, I just want to show everyone what I got for dessert in my recent trip to my old neighborhood.

After a very dissatisfying meal at a Shabu Shabu place, a couple of my lovely dining companions and I decided to cleanse our tongues from an unfortunate disaster. We hoped that by ordering desserts at an ice cream shoppe that was about 20 steps away will end the night more properly.

Boy, when our luck is bad, it continues to go bad.

Bon Gelato as it was called was more of a tea shop/ice cream/whatever desserts they can come up with for their teenage clientele. Everything from frozen yogurt to shaved ice would be sludge away for our fine young future minds. When I walked inside, a fear hits me that there's a possibilty that I will be the oldest citizen in this establishment. Luckily for me, no one else was here except for our party.

Then it did get me nervous on why we're the only ones here at 8pm when the shop would be closing at 10pm. We will find out why very quickly.

Looking at our shaved ice below, you can see that it comes in a Pyrex measurement cup. The monstrosity included Pebble cereal and some chewy candy mixed in with fruits (strawberries, watermelon, melon, kiwi, and mango) and a scoop of ice cream being lavished by slob of condensed milk. You say "yummy", I say "wow".

Actually I was speechless.

It was an utter disaster that lacked creativity in making this shaved ice. Yes, there is creativity involved and some real thought process on constructing a shaved ice with more plausible ingredients than a Pebble cereal that Fred Flintstone would not approved on a shaved ice.

It only cost me $6 to find it very unpleasing. The two lovely gals didn't want to finish that as I was the only trooper that didn't want to waste his $6. One of us also ordered a frozen yogurt that was no way near Tart. That was very forgettable as well.

I can't say this was the worst dessert I ever had in 2008, but it was such a weird concoction that only a picture can speak for itself.

Bon Gelato
13309 Artesia Blvd
Cerritos, CA 90703
(562) 407-2474


Bon Gelato on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New adventure of Pakistani cuisine @ Al Noor (Lawndale)

Not too long ago, I used to be situated down in South Bay where I was working at for awhile. I have heard a lot of great recommendations for Indian or Pakistani restaurants that is supposedly rival Little India in city of Artesia.

For many months I had been dying to come here since I found out about this tiny little restaurant that served Pakistani food that was very close to my old job. To be quite honest, I also used to live within walking steps to Little India in Artesia, but never really explored the area's Indian & Pakistani food. That was one of my big regrets back then, even a dread that my old job's was surrounded by some great Japanese and Middle Eastern places. Now I'm just dying to try a Pakistani place some of my friends had been raving about.

Coming over here wasn't much of a problem as the place was easy to find facing Inglewood Ave. The little strip plaza was so low key, I was a bit surprised that a tumbleweed didn't' blow over the parking lot. Yes, nobody mentioned it, but it is really very dead around this part of the town.

The restaurant wasn't much to look at and it is in many ways a hole in the wall. The low maintenance value on the decor reflect on the fact there's no ambiance to speak of, as you can still see the wall need a fresh coat of paint. In essence, the food will have to be the masterpiece of the whole entire place as if it was hinging on it.

We started it off our meal with a garlic naan which has plenty of garlic for flavorful taste and a great compliments to our dishes.

Garlic Naan

Shortly after that, some of our dishes had started to arrive. One of the first dishes to arrive was the chicken tikka malasa . The sauce feel like a medium spicy, but one of our dining companion had remarked in that it can get spicier in many other times before. Luckily for us, we didn't get any burning sensation in our tongue as the chicken tikka malasa's spiciness level was just right. It brings out the flavor without been overpowering.

Chicken Tikka Malasa

The most spiciest stuff we got for our meal was this beef dish (Alaoo Qeema). Wow, the pepper really stood out in this dish. Although it was really spicy, the sauce never masked the flavor of the dish and the beef was wonderfully taste when you savored it in your tongue. The potatoes that accompanies it gave it some balance like it would it do on a curry dish. Very nicely done I thought.

Alaoo Qeema

The lamb was the controversial dish as it was somewhat of a miss in our table. I couldn't tell in that was a lamb. Maybe I originally thought it was a pork all along until someone pointed the weird taste. We tried to conjure up what the dish might be until we realized we had ordered a lamb dish to go along with the Chicken Tikka Malasa. I guess we can put a little saffron rice to compliment that dish, but it still would feel like we were a little bit off.


All and all, our dish average out around $6 and with about 6 people ordering with a sweet mango lassi (nice little smoothie shake), it average out about $12 among each of us with tips included. Not too much of a back breaker and a good meal overall.

The service and the food comes out much faster than I anticipated. Plus with the way how the place looked, I thought for sure it's cash only place, but they do take credit cards. It show never to judge the book by its cover.

Saffron Rice

I was skeptical looking at this place, but I did have a wonderful meal at this place. I probably would not suggest bringing a large group as the tables were not that many in a small restaurant. Luckily, we came on a slow weekend day as it was not a problem.

Al Noor
15112 Inglewood Ave
Lawndale, CA 90260
(310) 675-4700


Al-Noor on Urbanspoon

Al Noor in Los Angeles

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Top Chef NYC: Week 5

It took me awhile this week to write the recap for this episode only because of some emergency at work. After reviewing it, I was glad to get some time off to reflect on this week's episode. After the last few episodes preceding this one, I was really annoyed by the way on how the show is being edited and presented on television. They really needed a kick in the pants.

Quickfire challenge:

I was thrilled that they decided to make a skill challenge this week on testing the contestant's palate. I was getting sick and tired of these lackadaisical creativity that is being thrown out there for a rapid cooking and plating. Breakfast in a bite size? Really? That was just lame execution on the part of the staff who is in charge of drawing up challenges.

The quickfire challenge dealt with a truth and dare game. Each contestants get to taste test soup or a sauce for a short amount of time on a face off in a one on one duo. They each take turn on giving out a number which they can identify the ingredients in the soup/sauce. The dare would be issue by one contestant where the other contestant must name the numbers of ingredient which was agree upon. The winner is the last man/woman standing from either winning the dare or was able to name the ingredients being issue by the dare.

One quick advantage about this game was that if you can identify the soup or the sauce, you pretty much can guess the basic ingredients. One of the contestant, Stefan could pretty much guess the taste test and started naming the basic ingredients. He got cocky at the end and stumble in naming an obscure ingredient for the sauce where Hosea won the contest. I'm lost for words in that a low numbers of ingredients can win that final round for the Mexican Mole sauce.

It was the best quickfire challenge of the entire season so far because everyone is on the even playing level.

The Elimination Challenge:

Come out with dishes for the bridal shower. Simple and easily done. Except when you come out with a dish that you would neglect to tell the guest that you will need to assemble a dish yourself. In this case, a plate of sushi ingredients was presented, and a seaweed wrap left all the guests puzzled on what that was for on the plate.

You can see the trainwreck coming for the team that comes up with the concept of self-assemble sushi. The ingredients was not that pleasing in the first place and the idea was just awful. Any one of the members on that team (Eugene, Daniel, or Carla) can make a case for the elimination. The judges decided on Daniel because he actually stand behind that awful dish the team concocted. Easy call on that.

This past week's episode did rekindled my interest in the show and I hope they do keep it going. Otherwise, the boring contestants will make me want to turn it off.

ps. Is there a budding romance going between two couples? For the sake of the show, I hope not.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dumplings @ Mama's Lu Dumpling House (Monterey Park)

One of the great tragedy of all time is to misspell the name of your restaurant. You will always be the butt of the joke whenever anyone passes by. You can't changed the menu or advertising after you spend so much money on printing the menus and fliers, even worse the sign on the door and above the restaurant pretty much stick it to you.

Mama's Lu reminds me a lot about of my mom. She'll just brush it off and tells me often to mind my own business whenever I would point out the obvious mistakes. She'll just shrugged it off and pretended the mistake was not there.

Let's just hope Mama's Lu have some good dumplings to make people forget about the error.

I was thinking of hitting a few dumpling joints around Garvey Ave to see where many of the Northern Chinese dumpling houses are located around. I tried a few like Northern Dumpling House (RIP as it goes through musical chair of ownerships within the past few years), Din Sin World, Qing Bao Bread Food, and the Noodle House.

To be all honest, Mama's Lu is my favorite out of that whole group on Garvey Ave & Garfield Ave area. It's a very small place with limited selections of items on the menu. What they have on the menu were all very tasty and very inexpensive.

One of my favorite about coming here was to order their Fried Green Onion Cake. It's crispy, but yet not flaky. The bread when fried the right way will still allow some elasticity to mold the green onion cake like a tortilla. It's one thing that I will always order to be my appetizer.

Fried Green Onion Cake

The noodle dishes depending on the moment when it served can be a hit or a miss. One of my favorite dish was their shrimp dumpling noodle soup. Just like a Shin Shen Gummi's ramen, you can manually adjust the spice level by adding your own condiments. I usually would add some soy sauce and some pepper to the soup. The restaurant pretty leave the soup base alone and let the customer decide on they wanted to adjust the soup.

Shrimp Dumpling Noodle Soup

Now comes the xiao long bao (juicy pork soup dumplings). They probably may not be the best compares to Din Tai Fung or Mei Long Village to name the few, but it is right up there with the group for that dumpling. They also have other dumplings which in my mind are excellent choices, especially their chives & pork dumplings which only cost $4. They also served a pork bun among the 11 dumplings dishes on the menu which was pretty good. In all, the restaurant have about 20 dishes listed on their one page menu.

Xiao Long Bao (Pork Juicy soup dumpling)

The Xiao long bao comes in two varieties. One with the pork, the other is a mixture of a pork & crab juicy soup dumpling. Either one will make a good choice as the skin retain the juices of the meat and does not fall apart when hold up by the chopstick. It may take awhile for this dish to arrive (20 minutes wait are the norm), but it is well worth the wait.

Mama's Lu doesn't get the same prop like the bigger boys such as Mei Long Village , Dragon Mark, or J&J restaurant on Valley Blvd. Majority of the dumpling dishes served here are within $4-5. The various noodle soup dishes and fat rice noodle cake dishes are in the similar price range also. Great for the whole family albeit it's a small place with only one big round table and 8 other smaller tables in the restaurant. Nonetheless, it's still a great place to get a meal that filled you up without lessening your wallet.

Everything they have done right so far except the name. What is a Lu?

Mama's Lu Dumpling House
153 E Garvey Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91755
(626) 307-5700


Mama's Lu Dumpling House on Urbanspoon

Mama's Lu Dumpling in Los Angeles