Archive for February, 2008

California Soul: Silverlake Edition (LA)

February 29, 2008

It’s all in the air/ You hear it everywhere
No matter what you do/ It’s gonna grab a hold on you

California soul… California soul…

— Ashford & Simpson

It’s in my bones, I can’t shake it off- California is IN me. Took a week off to attend a wedding in San Francisco, and detoured through sunny LA and San Diego on my way up. It’s been a glorious trip meeting up with old friends, and most importantly, voraciously eating through each day.

My bff Sara lives in Silverlake, in LA, which I absolutely adore. It’s hipster central, but not so annoying– lots of shops and restaurants and cafes that is totally walkable (very rare for LA, or California in general).

Every morning, I walked to a Chicago-based coffee joint called Intelligentsia- an authority on fine coffees and hot baristas. Good coffee, lots of locals, minimal interior and again, hottie central.

Right next to Intell is The Cheese Store of Silverlake, which is a fancy little fine foods shop (lots of imported condiments, chesses, olives and wine), that specialize in making awesome paninis.

Look at this wrapped panini- flat and compact, like a notebook!
Turkey, cranberry, cheese, and some mysterious green oozy stuff. Who you gonna call? C’mon, laugh.
A cup of cornichons
We went to El Conquistador for my first supper- gotta get your Mexican fix as soon as you land in Cali. This place was AWESOME. I stupidly forgot my camera, but the food was satisfying (I had the enchiladas, Sara had the ropa vieja), extremely friendly service, and flamboyantly kitchy decor. You have to go to see exactly what I’m talking about, but trust me, you will have a blast.

I was super skeptical about Pho Cafe: without a sign, overrun with hipsters, and with their orange Ikea chairs. Also, my friend, an LA native, had warned me that any restaurant in LA with an “A” rating is bogus (the LA Dept of Health grades all eateries, “A” obviously being the highest).

Boy, did they prove me wrong though- the food was excellent, the real deal (dare I use the word “authentic”). Worth the 15 minutes we waited for a seat (it seems this place is packed all the time).

Banh xeo: Crepe with shrimp, steak, shiitake mushrooms and bean sprouts

Bun cha gio tom thit nuong: cold rice noodles with egg rolls and beef

Pho tai gan: rice noodle soup with rare steak and tendon. The soup was very flavorful- a little sweet, lots of depth. I didn’t want it to end.

Possibly my absolute favorite part of Silverlake- the 99cent store. The window proudly displayed their offerings ranging from food, toilet paper, foil, to toothpaste. 99cents people!! There were 2 long aisles devoted to food– refrigerators packed with eggs and milk, condiments, dried foods and canned goods. I got Sara an awesome welcome mat here. A welcome mat for 99cents!!! GO NOW!

All the above spots are all within a 5 block radius from one another on Sunset Blvd. Can you imagine not needing a car in LA? All have a pristine view of the iconic Hollywood sign.
3922 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90029

The Cheese Store of Silverlake
3926-28 West Sunset Blvd.

El Conquistador
3701 West Sunset Blvd.LA, CA

Pho Cafe
2841 West Sunset Blvd.

99cent Store

3600 West Sunset. Blvd.

Welcome to Cafe Nunes at Sao Jorge Island, The Azores

February 28, 2008
Mt. Pico from Sao Jorge

J and I went to the Azores for vacation last summer and visited three islands: Faial, Sao Jorge, and Pico. At Sao Jorge, we had a chance to taste the locally grown coffee. I read somewhere that the Azores is technically the only place that grows/can grow coffee in all of Europe. Of course, that is not surprising in post-colonial days.

Cafe Nunes is located at Faja dos Vimes, which is about an hour drive from Sao Jorge’s biggest town, Velas. There are more than 40 fajas (volcanic islands with really steep cliffs down to the sea) in Sao Jorge and some are inhabited.

Faja dos Vimes

When we visited Faja dos Vimes, where Cafe Nunes is located, there was no one around. Cafe Nunes was not even open. We rang the bell and the owner, a very nice lady came out and opened the place for us. We sat down to savor the coffee, which I found a bit acidic for my taste. But it was good. The owner took us to the backyard and showed where they grow the coffee. They do not make enough coffee for mass consumption.

Coffee trees growing in the backyard

Coffee beans drying under the sun

Cafe Nunes
Quite acidic, but good coffee.

Sao Jorge is also known for their cheese, which can be found here in the U.S. They say there are more cows than people in Sao Jorge and cheese factories are open 24 hours a day to keep up with the amount of milk that comes in everyday to produce cheese.

Sao Jorge Cheese
A little store spotted at Faja da Calderia de Santo Cristo, where you can only access by foot or one of those four-wheel bikes. This faja is also known as a surfing spot.

Inari, Four Ways

February 27, 2008

Inari sushi is one of those things that I always want to order even though it always tastes kind of bland. I do like bland food though. I’ve had inari covered with spicy tuna before which was pretty delish. I made my own version.

I don’t really like plain white rice. Actually I do but I have pounds of different grains at home that I need to use. I used black (or purple??) rice, white and brown. I made some sushi seasoning and also used one of those ready-to-use seasoned packets of lotus root/carrot from the Japanese grocery. I just added in extra (spicy but totally not) bamboo, peas, scallions and some chopped shiso. I usually saute some onion but I didn’t have any (and also there was a gas leak in my building but TMI).

I just topped these with some ume/shiso furikake (rice topping). It definitely tasted better than just a plain inari but not totally mind blowing.

I keep jarred salmon flakes/eggs around if I want to eat ochazuke in the morning. Is that gross?

Okay obviously this was the best. Ikura. When do those globules of orange fishiness not taste good? I just want to eat a bowl of it, like cereal.

Last one was just covered with chopped shiso. That was the best along with ikura. Do you love my plates? They look like they are from Ikea but are supposedly “concept” appetizer plates that you arrange differently according to the number you use. Which sounds so Ikea to me. So here is a meal you can make without a range, supposing you have a rice cooker.

This was totally Sandra Lee for Japanese food.

Healthy Cake – Too Innovative

February 26, 2008

I am in Tokyo. Day 2, and still waking up way too early in the morning. This morning I was watching a morning TV program, which was full of information from concerts to new restaurants, and bakeries.

This one shop caught my eyes and ears. It was a “healthy pastry shop”. Japanese turn things into some unbelievable ways. Beans become sweets, tofu turns into milkshake, miso becomes ice cream, etc. But this was the most extreme way I’ve ever heard of and had to try it.

People on TV were a bit skeptical in the beginning, but when they tasted it, they were like “OMG, these are light, not too sweet and great!”. So I went to the shop.

This looks just like a pastry shop shelf, right?

Of course, they pack it so nicely, and put some extra cardboard so that cakes won’t move. Plus they put a tiny ice pack, so that cakes will be kept cool. How Japanese!

This looks like strawberry mouse, right? No, think again. It was red pepper mouse and jelly.
As a summer appetizer at an Italian restaurant, it makes sense. It was subtly sweet, but very red pepperish. Mousse was very light, but definitely red pepper. I like the shape, but had very hard time believing this as a dessert.

Strawberry short cake? But it’s not a strawberry on top! Yep, it was tomato short cake, with some green vegetable in the sponge. I don’t know how to describe this. It was tomato and whipped cream, and a bit greenish sponge. Definitely odd, definitely tomato. For some reason, however, it kind of tasted interesting. I heard this shop only uses items in season, and once strawberry season was over, the chef tried out different types of seasonal vegetables and tomato apparently matched the best.

Cherry tomato looks like a cherry, but it IS TOMATO ON TOP OF A FUCKING CAKE! WTF! Slices of tomato in layers? I admire their daringness to put things like tomato in cake, but I must say, this is something you want to try once, but I don’t think I will go back to this shop craving for tomato short cake…

This chocolate dome thing was of course chocolate mouse outside, but inside was daikon radish mouse. Hello, people, no matter how you try to turn things into something else, radish is radish, and it is weird. Chocolate mousse was very subtly sweet and nice, but mixing chocolate with daikon? I don’t know, I am pretty daring when it comes to food, but this wasn’t my favorite.

This is mille feuille with corn… Um, well, I mean, it was very crisp puff pastry, but cream tasted like corn chowder. There is no egg in this, and just mushed up corn and milk… At least it was very smooth, not corny. Description of this cake says “natural sweetness”, but it was NOT SWEET. It tastes like a very bad creamed corn layered between puff pastry.. Of course the yellow dot on the cream is pieces of corn..

This was chocolate layered cake with pureed chrysanthemum leaves. It’s not literally chrysanthemum. We eat this leaf in hot pot and is pretty popular. This puree was actually the most subtle flavor and kind of good with chocolate.

Chocolate cake with burdock. Burdock is used for Japanese home cooking often. Kinpira gobo is one of the most popular dishes in Japanese home kitchen. This was sauteed with butter, sprinkled on top of chocolate cake, baked together. Definitely burdock flavor was strong, and it takes some time to get used to it, but it kind of tasted good after a while..

This was definitely one of the weirdest food experiences I have had in my life, and I think once is enough. No matter how you say it, vegetables should be used as vegetables, and I think there is a limit for it to be used in some cooking, such as cake..

Patisserie Potager
2-44-9, Kamimeguro
Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0051
Tel: 03-6279-7753

Mangiamo 2007: El Brillante

February 25, 2008

On my way back to NY, I had a stop over in Madrid for a few hours. Marta and Jose whisked me from the airport to take me to a dream lunch of my favorite Madrileño dish- Bocadillo de Calamares. Basically, a sandwich filled with fried calamari. GENIUS!!! It truly is a priceless invention- nothing could quite quantify how happy this makes me. El Brillante, above, is famous for this dish, although you can find it at any bar in Madrid, more or less. But El Brillante’s tagline is “Los mejores calamares de Madrid”- translation: the best calamari in Madrid. So you gotta go.

Fluffy bread filled with fried calamari, nothing else. It’s gorgeous.

Little squid, battered and fried. This wasn’t as good as I was hoping, but maybe that’s just cause I was in bocadillo heaven.

Can’t leave Madrid without having a proper tortilla!

A pint, a smoke, a Marta

And that’s it- my trip to Italy and Spain in a nutshell. All good things come to an end, I suppose. Thanks for indulging me, and letting me go on about a trip I took months ago (I lost all my pics when my computer broke, I’m tellin ya!). I’m in California now- I’ll try to deliver my eats in REAL TIME- I promise.

El Brillante (3 locations)
Atocha, 122
Tel. 91 468 05 48

Eloy Gonzalo, 12
Tel. 91 448 19 88

Eta. Carlos V, 8
Tel. 91. 528 69 66

Mangiamo 2007: Da Enzo

February 24, 2008

In Rome we stayed in Trastevere, which is a hip, bohemian hotspot on the other side of the Tiber, near Vatican City. It’s a great neighborhood, sorta Williamsburgish, lively at all hours of the night- lots of bars, clubs and restaurants.

For my last supper in Italy, I wanted a typical Roman meal- and Trastevere is as good as place as any to get it. The place we had read about in some guidebook had a long wait, so we decided on this place instead. It turned out much better this way. Da Enzo was really unintimidating, with its tables and chairs out front, and kid’s crayon drawings covering the walls of the interior.

We snagged an outdoor table- it was a cool night, but always a treat to sit outside. I remember our waiter was a jolly dude- Romano to the core, as was the food here. No frills, really robust, simple but delicious.

We started with sundried tomatoes. Assuming it’s a roman thing to serve them this way, drenched in olive oil. Bittman would dig it.

Grilled veggies
This was pretty awesome- carbonara, but with huge bucatini pasta, instead of spaghetti. Also, this had guanciale, not pancetta, which really makes the dish more porcine. So good!

Matt got the pasta all’amatriciana, which we didn’t get a picture of, but is pasta with tomato sauce with guanciale, hot pepper flakes and onions. The pasta dishes were definitely only lightly sauced, letting the ingredients really flavor the dishes.

Dessert was vanilla gelato with little tiny strawberry-like berries. Again, simple but delicious:

Da Enzo was on the corner of Via dei Salumi! Street of Cured Meats! I want that address.

Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere- it’s a gem.
Here’s a great post about Da Enzo that I just found from the blog At Home in Rome (she lives in Trastevere, lucky lady). Next time I’ll definitely need to get the fried artichoke!

Da Enzo
Via dei Vascellari 29 (Trastevere)

Tel. 06 581 83 55

Fresh from the Box

February 23, 2008

They sell these sweet fried pancakes in Korea for ~$1. They have some rice flour sometimes so they are chewy. Wait that might actually a different food all together. Okay what I’m talking about is “hoddeuk.” It’s filled with nuts and sugar and drips fat and syrup all over you. Yum! Since they obviously don’t sell it fresh here I made it from a mix. I never make anything from mixes so I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t turn out disgusting. Like Betty Crocker cakes.

I brought this back from Korea because it also included an acorn squash flavor. I used a rice cup measuring thing because it called for cc’s. Who has measuring cups for that?

You end up with this yeasty dough. Everything is included.

This is the filling. It’s basically sugar and nuts and spices. Like, 1/20 part nuts and spices and the rest sugar.

Pile it on on. Actually I don’t understand how much you are supposed to put in I only used half. I think a lot of Koreans are diabetic…

Form little balls and fry them. I made some in a dry pan and no no they were so bad.

You should smash them a bit to get them flatter. I am so Alton Brown I used a wine bottle.



This is one of those foods that seems universally likeable. Oil and sugar, the perfect combination. I’m sure this is super easy to make from scratch but actually, I am lazy. The end!

Mangiamo 2007: Bar del Cappuccino

February 22, 2008

There’s nothing like walking into a coffee shop that makes the best cup of coffee EVER. That’s what happened in Rome- we happened to walk into Bar del Cappucino, without a clue that the barrista is a middle aged man named Luigi Santoro, who has won countless number of prizes for his cup o’ brew– on TV no less! He’s a cappucino superstar!

He uses only Danesi beans- an Italian espresso brand that I never knew was so good. Little swirly designs decorate this frothy cup of goodness.

There’s Luigi in his little barrista corner. You see him over there? The other guy may have been his son. The staff were all really cute and funny.

Incidentally, they also make bombass paninis too. They steam this special flatbread and fill it up with whatever you want- bresaola, prociutto, salami, even pastrami! This panini maker, a cute sassy blond girl, had a loyal following of regulars who would taut her as she made the sandwiches. The banter was fun.

One of these days, I’ll edit the video clip of her making the sandwich- it’ll make your stomach growl.

We returned the next day for our morning coffee. Why fuck with a good thing?

Bar del Cappuccino
Via Arenula, 50
00168 Roma
Tel. 06.68806042

Umamiventure #7 : Pacificana, Sunset Park

February 22, 2008

This past Sunday we intrepid Umami Marters made the trek to Sunset Park for an Umamiventure visit to famed Chinese joint Pacificana. Although Pacificana is best known for dim sum, we threw caution to the winds and reserved a table for dinner.

Waving aside the free (maybe? we weren’t sure…) soda awaiting us at our table, we ordered a bottle of wine and some frosty Tsing Taos and got down to the business of serious face-stuffing. $30 and about 10,000 calories later, we were a happy group.

Our first main dish and the undisputed hit of the evening was Peking duck (above), chopped up and served right at the table. While the pancakes served with the duck were thicker and fluffier than most of us were expecting, the overall package was fatty-salty-deeeelicious and well worth the longish trip on the N train.

Pacificana is (as its name implies) all about the food of the sea, and we put its substantial fish skills to the test. Two kinds of crab (“Hong Kong Style” and “Ginger and Scallion”) were both tasty and fun, requiring a sizable amount of upper body strength to get at the sweet sweet (and occasionally spicy) meat within. We also devoured a whole striped bass (the time lapse between the before and after photos below is about 5 minutes) and a number of shrimp dishes. Crispy baby bok choys and some “pea leaves” (which I’d never had before) were good, too, and made me feel a little bit less like I’d just consumed my weight in fried shellfish.

Was Pacificana good? Yes indeed. Was it as good as Chinatown stalwart Congee Village, where dinner never seems to cost more than $11, no matter how much you eat? That’s a toss-up. The specter of Congee Village was certainly raised during dinner (as is pretty much inevitable whenever you’re discussing New York Chinese Food That Is Totally Awesome), but we never did reach a verdict on whether Pacificana’s substantial charms were really worth the higher pricetag. Either way, the trip was worth it—as head Umami Marter Kayoko’s fortune cookie wisely noted “a gathering of friends brings you lots of luck this evening.”

Pacificana Restaurant
813 55th St @ 8th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11220
(718) 871-2880

Past trips include:
Jackson Diner – 01/08
Sripraphai Restaurant – 11/07
Taste of Jackson Heights – 10/07
Red Hook Ball Fields – 06/07
Ocean Jewel Restaurant – 06/07

Mangiamo 2007: Enoteca Corsi

February 21, 2008

For not really having any premeditative restaurant agenda, Matt and I did really well in Rome. The city’s such a maze, that it’s best not to have your heart set on any one restaurant- you’d just get frustrated going around in circles looking for it. We were walking around towards the Pantheon in the afternoon and stumbled upon Enoteca Corsi randomly. This place was so neat!

You walk in, and it’s just a big bustling room filled with local regulars and when you go in the back, it’s this huge garage-like room with shelves full of wine (hence “enoteca”, or wine store).

Copies of the menu were handwritten with the daily offerings. It was Friday I think, so there were lots of seafood options (some Catholic thing about not eating meat on Fridays- what is that called? Fasting? Kidding).

To start off, Matt got the chick pea soup

I got the linguine with tuna (of course, you know I can’t say no to tuna)

As our secondi, Matt got the roasted veal with potatoes
I got this soupy concoction of squid with beans and escarole. It’s not quite what I had in mind, but it was heartwarming nonetheless
For dessert, we got some tart, and the proprietor came out next to us alongside the counter and just handed us this bottle of Vin Santo and two glasses. Love it! Romans really remind me of NYers- gritty, fierce, but really just good people who want to show you a good time.
Red and white wine on tap!

This meal only cost us like $25 each. It was definitely one of the more memorable meals we had.

Enoteca Corsi
Via del Gesu, 87-88
00186 Roma
Near Il Gesu church, right off Via V. Emmanuele