Archive for the ‘California Soul’ Category

California Soul: Joy Luck Place (Cupertino)

March 17, 2008

This post is dedicated to Hua and Wangster.

Whenever I go home, I gotta get my dim sum fill. My mom thinks this is so bizarre, cause she knows I always go to dim sum in NY. But it’s just different in the Bay somehow- dare I say better? I don’t know what it is- but I will say that dim sum hasn’t gotten any better for me than since we went to Ocean Jewel in Queens. That was almost a year ago.

So there’s this little place in Cupertino called Joy Luck Place in this all-things-chinese mall where there’s a Ranch 99. There’s a serious cult following- you wait a minimum 30 minutes for a table. That’s minimum. And ridiculous. But worth the wait.

Here she comes…

All my must-haves:
Shiu mai-

Meatballs- kinda a new obsession I share with my dad. Hideko is not into this.

Shao lom pao (soup dumplings)-

Pan fried shrimp and chinese chive dumplings. YUM.

All time favorite- pork spareribs.

Shredded chicken chow mein with chives and bean sprouts, American style.
Pea shoots.

Gotta catch the dessert cart-

Hideko’s favorite- Rice cake filled with black sesame soupy deliciousness, powdered with this soy bean flour (kinako, in Japanese)

This place is Hua and Wangster’s SPOT. I personally might like Dynasty, in the late Vallco Mall more. But basically whichever you choose to go, you won’t be disappointed. I never thought I would be someone who would say this, but: they’re just so CLEAN!

Joy Luck Place
10911 N. Wolfe Road
Cupertino, CA
T: 408.255.6988

California Soul: Osha Thai Noodle Cafe (SF)

March 11, 2008

After driving around for about 30 minutes trying to decide what to eat (pho? Thai? Burmese? Tofu House?) Alice and CJ took me to the original Osha in the Tenderloin, which everyone says is the best out of the other 5 Oshas scattered around the city now. I guess all the other ones are fancy, while this one is pretty gritty. We waited about 30 minutes for a table, at the bar next door (great bar).

You know when I told you in my last post that I tend to over-order? You ain’t seen nothing yet. CJ and Alice are friggin unstoppable– even I needed to put on the brakes at a certain point. CJ’s mantra, “No, we need more, that’s not enough.” Love it.

Yum Woon Sen: silver noodle with pork, shrimp, chili paste and red/green onions. So refreshing and tangy. Ayagwa’s version kicks ass too.

Dish of the Night: Fried fish cake patties seasoned with curry and green beans. All of us agreed that this was our favorite.

Spicy pan fried rice noodles with tomatoes, mushrooms, bamboo, chinese broccoli, bell pepper, onion, basil, chili and chicken.

Osha Noodle Tom Yum: shrimps, ground pork, fishballs, bean sprouts, fish cake, lime juice, and noodles. Now, you know I can eat noodles all day, everyday: ramen, soba, pasta, pho, wonton noodle soup, udon, blah blah. But if I lived in SF, I would go to Osha for this every week, no joke. I know this looks nasty (sorry it’s almost gone), but seriously, this stuff was surprisingly addictive. Noodles in tom yum? I was a skeptic, but now I’m a fan.

Green curry fried rice. Yum.

Spicy string beans with chicken. Too much chicken!!! But this one was supposed to be with shrimp. We ate it anyway.

CJ with our spread. Check it out! Um, this is for three people. We are so ridiculous.

The interior is pretty neat- bright lights, black walls. You feel like you’re in a black box performance space. Lots of loud techno. Here’s Alice. I miss her.

Funny thing about the Bay Area is that people are REALLY into Yelp. It boggles me. When we were trying to figure out where to go for dinner, CJ and Alice had an entire debate based on Yelp reviews. It’s nuts!! These Yelpers have so much influence! One of the Oshas has 3.5 stars out of 5, based on nearly 600 reviews!!! 600!

If I had to rate it, I would give this place 4.5 stars. 1/2 point deducted cause they only use white chicken meat, another 1/2 cause the music was too loud and intense, but a 1/2 point regained for being open until 1am!

Osha Thai Noodle Cafe
696 Geary Street @ Leavenworth and Jones
San Francisco, CA

California Soul: Swan Oyster Depot (SF)

March 10, 2008

They say the sun comes up every morning
And if you listen oh so carefully
The winds that ride on the high time
Whistle in melody
And so the people started to sing
And thats how the surf gave birth untold
To California soul, California Soul
– Ashford & Simpson

You know what the surf all along the west coast gave birth to? Absolutely the best oysters in the world, hands down. No joke- I’ve had oysters in many towns, in many countries, and I’m confident that this is true. There’s something in that Ocean, we’ll call it Pacific Soul–when it brushes up against Washington, Oregon and down to California, it creates these divinely luscious slurpable gems.

As soon as I got into San Francisco, Vanessa swooped me up and we headed towards California and Polk for the Swan Oyster Depot. Jim told me about this place, and I’d been dying to go. This seafood joint has been around since 1912 (!), and opens at 8am, closes at 5:30pm- I’m guessing the odd hours is to cater to local fishermen for before or after their shift.
We got there around 12:30pm and there was already a long line out the door. It was a mixed bag of tourists and regulars- the regulars got special treatment and got to drink in line. I want to be a regular!

There’s a fan above the doorway- bizarre but great.

All of the day’s selection displayed in the window. Gorgeous! Look at all those colors. All the guys behind the counter would run back and forth when making your food.

The Depot literally is just one counter, seating maybe 20 people. No frills here, just a lot of history. Men old and young work behind the counter. They were all super knowledgeable about their seafood.
We waited maybe 30-40 minutes in line. Here’s our guy- I think his name was Jeff??? Shame on me for not remembering- he was seriously the sweetest. He’s been there for at least 20 years, which is awesome (on their postcard, they have a pic of him when he still had hair. Aw). He also had a huge crush on V, which meant he showered us with attention. We like that.

He put our purses behind the counter. Seems to be a ritual of sorts.
Alright, the meal. Er, feast. God we ordered too much… you may have noticed that I always over-order. People get really annoyed at me for doing this, but V is the perfect eating partner cause she eats as much as I do, and is experimental. Neither of us have any shame. That’s my kinda girl.

“Jeff” really helped us construct our feast- we just gave him an idea of what we wanted, he suggested, we complied. No one should know what you should be eating better than the guy behind the counter (that goes for any place in general).

First up, OYSTERS! We got a dozen assorted (Drake’s Bay, Kumamoto, Olympia, Miyagi). In practice, I will only eat west coast oysters- there’s such a wide variety of flavors, sizes and textures just from up and down the coast, that is far superior to east coast oysters. I can’t explain what it is, but I think it’s the Pacific Soul.
Next- 1/2 dozen cherry stone clams. I love these cause they’re chewy, juicy, and for their delightful fleshy colors. V was not a fan though.
We got a bowl of the clam chowder to share- it was literally so runny, we were confused. But seriously, this was one of the best clam chowders I’ve ever had. Basically water and clams, and maybe some butter and milk, but mostly just clam juice. It was surprisingly refreshing and flavorful.

Big bowl of oyster crackers- just dig your hands right in!
V wanted scallops, so scallops “Jeff” gave us. He offered them raw sashimi style, or lightly marinated with olive oil, capers and red onions. We opted for the latter. Here he is squeezing lemon over it.

It was such a nice looking dish- and the mushiness of the scallops were perfect with the crisp of the onions. Flavor explosion!

At this point, we were pretty stuffed- “Jeff” kept checking in with us, every time he came back he thought we would be done for sure. NO WAY. He was really good about pacing our meal. He raised his eyebrows when we told him we wanted to finish with the crab salad. And another beer please! They have Stella on tap!

Seriously best crab salad. Their louis dressing is crack in form of a chunky orange cream sauce. Look at these fat pieces of crab!!! It was unreal.
5 courses, 2 beers, 2 hours later, we finally gave up. We surrendered our gluttony-I was sad that it was over. But we had so much fun! Until poor V started having some issues… FYI- Barney’s and Nordstrom downtown have really nice public bathrooms. Note to self- stop while you’re ahead.

V- SORRY!!!! But don’t ever stop eating with me!!!

Swan Oyster Depot
1517 Polk St.
(between California St. & Sacramento St.)
San Francisco, CA
T: 415.673.1101

View of the Bay Bridge on a gorgeous February day. The fog lifted for maybe an hour.

California Soul: Naglee Park Garage (SJ)

March 8, 2008

Christi considers herself quite the rotisserie chicken connoisseur, and she had been raving about her discovery of “the best roasted chicken” for months. Naglee Park Garage is a cute little brick house (lots of house restaurants in SJ) near its namesake park, close to SJ State.

I would call this place old-school-garage-knick-knacky-cool. There’s even a bike propped up high on the wall. Lots of locals coming through- the cool 30s set, lots of friends of the owner/chef, who is this hot young guy with his head wrapped in a red bandanna. It’s just a fun atmosphere, a neighborhood spot where people can come and chat with each other and crack jokes- love that. They have outdoor seating too.

Started with a mug of Boont Amber Ale. Delish- check out the head! The brewery is in Boonville, north of SF.

We got three sides- the roasted brussel sprouts, sweet potato home fries, and the mac & cheese. Veggies in season, all excellent:

Mike got the duck confit with apricot compote- the apricots were perfect with the duck. Inspires me to start cooking with them too.

We got 2 of the marjoram rubbed 1/2 chickens- surprisingly flavorful all the way to the bone. Not fussy, just herbs and chicken. Simple, I like it:
Of course I ate all the skin. Is that bad? Christi and I had a huge debate about dark vs. white meat. I’m sorry, but white meat bores the hell out of me- it’s usually dry and tasteless. I stopped getting chicken nuggets at McD’s cause they only have the white meat now. BORING. Although it’s probably better this way.

Oh, don’t worry, we got not one, but two of their bread puddings.

Their homemade lightly whipped cream poured over the bread pudding was divine.

I have to say that the sides were hands down the most memorable part of the meal. You would think that roasting vegetables is easy, but very few places actually get it right. I’m looking forward to going back and trying all their other seasonal offerings- they’ve got seafood and ribs and peppercorn encrusted steak, all at affordable price points. I’m a fan of the Garage.

The Naglee Park Garage
505 East San Carlos St.
@ 11th St.
San Jose, CA

T: 408.286.1100

California Soul: Casa Vicky (SJ)

March 6, 2008

Jamie is always taunting me about these deep fried burritos he gets near his place in downtown San Jose- sounds like the best invention ever, right? (Second to a fried calamari sandwich). So of course he took me to his spot, Casa Vicky, when I got into SJ. It’s literally a little house on the corner of the street. Very unassuming- you walk in, and it’s just super casual, with a glass case filled with fresh baked goods, and another with take home tamales and lots of other goodies. You order up at the register- the walls are pink!

It’s sorta hard to tell in this picture, but they have a tortilla machine! Yes, they make their tortillas in-house- Jamie says that he just gets a bag to go so he can make burritos at home. JEALOUS!

Alright so I had a hard time deciding what to get from their expansive, delicious-looking menu, but in the end, obviously I needed to try this infamous Dorado burrito (deep fried burrito). Of course I got it with pork. This came out- super boring looking, right?

WRONG!!! This burrito was SO EFFING GOOD. Like down and dirty good. Like crack good. Like I’m actually-going-to-do-this good: :-o. (You will NEVER see me do that, except on very special occasions.) But seriously, even this lame emoticon with its jaw dropped could never properly describe how good this burrito was.
I’m a real sauce person, so I needed to put lots of salsa on this- I guess my one request next time would be to get some red sauce or something with it. But the shredded pork (carnitas?), SO tender! Like you know it’s been cooking for days, and it just fell off the bone. And it didn’t taste too piggy despite the fact that it wasn’t all spiced out. The pork was just top notch- definitely the highlight.

Jamie got this shredded chicken dish.

But enough about that- back to my burrito. You get super dirty eating this, I loved it. The burrito oozes with grease as soon as you bite in- I know it sounds nasty, but it was so heavenly! If you look really hard, you can see oil dripping off this thing. SO HOT.

The tortilla was delicious- I have a feeling it just tastes better fried like this. Important: the oil didn’t taste all stale and used. If you’re gonna bite into a greasefest, you want it to be fresh grease at least, right?

The aftermath: my hand was lined with grease- I felt so accomplished. Jamie says that he only eats this with a knife and fork. What’s the fun in that?

The best thing about this burrito is that it was so damn SIMPLE! Homemade tortilla and perfectly cooked pork- just using the best ingredients and putting it together. That’s it people! It ain’t rocket science!

Dude seriously, if I were ever to have a wedding, or a quinceñera, Casa Vicky is so catering it. Couldn’t you just imagine me in a tiara and pouffy purple quinceñera dress with greasy burrito oil stains all over it? Um, I’m 12 years expired, but I think we should still do it.

Casa Vicky
792 E. Julian St. at 17th St.
San Jose, CA
T: 408.995.5488

California Soul: Osteria Mozza (LA)

March 4, 2008

I’m sorta embarrassed to admit it, but seems that I have a Mario Batali obsession. But let me preface this entry by saying that we weren’t even supposed to go to Mozza- we had reservations at Campanile, but my flight got in too late so we had to cancel. Sara said they were being buttholes about canceling- we’re not down with that.

So in the past 6 months, I’ve been to Lupa, Babbo, and I made it to his newest LA haunt, Osteria Mozza with Sara last week. It was, I have to say, a very good meal. I would put Mozza between Lupa and Babbo– it’s more casual than Babbo, in both the atmosphere and the food, and I’m keeping Babbo at the top since it’s the original (need to respect that). That said, we had a well-rounded, well-proportioned meal, and excellent martinis.

Amuse-bouche on the house: ricotta and tapenade bruchetta with slivers of basil. The ricotta was delish.

Had no fucking clue this was going to be a bruschetta, as the mozzarella menu (yes, they have a mozzarella bar!) just said “burrata, bacon and escarole”. They conveniently left out “on bread”, which made this a bit heavy. And the burrata was so creamy and mouthmelting that all the other stuff was a bit excessive. But that’s carmelized onions on top- can’t say no to that.

Dish of the night: Grilled octopus with chives and potatoes. The octopus… so soft… no chewing involved! And the char from the grill- so perfect! And the potats… it all went together so well.
Presentation wise, the dish kinda looks like the sweetbreads I had at Babbo, doesn’t it?

Here it is deconstructed:

Francobolli di Brasato: stamp-shaped ravioli filled with braised beef and thyme. This was absolutely delicious- the beef was super tender, almost mushy (in a good way), and the sauce was soupy, almost gelatinous, like bone marrow almost.

Sara got the mezzaluna ravioli filled with pumpkin. The pic was too bad so I won’t post it, but it was so sweet with its hints of cinnamon and spices.

Interior shots: high ceilings, classic fixtures, a long bar for eating and drinking:

One side of the dining room, with walls filled with wine.

The restaurant is on a pretty busy intersection on Melrose, so the windows overlook a gas station and a shopping center across the street. No romance here. Sorta wished they frosted the windows, but I guess they’re just keeping it real.

I think that Mozza is a nice addition to the LA food scene, in that they’ve established their brand here that’s unique to LA- with the huge space, and partnership with La Brea Bakery’s Nancy Silverton. Can’t get that in NY, that’s for sure.

For nicer pictures, please visit Eat, Drink and Be Merry‘s post on Mozza.

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Ave.

California Soul: Park’s BBQ (LA)

March 3, 2008

Can’t go to LA and not go to Koreatown. Best Korean food ever, and it’s a trip down memory lane for me, cause that’s where we lived for 4 years when my family first moved to the States.

On my friend Jim’s recommendation, Keisuke, Yoskay and I went to Park’s on Vermont. It was late in the afternoon so we missed the lunch rush- the place was virtually empty. Lined with stainless steel hoods above each table, the ceiling beams here were covered with pictures of the owner with K-Pop stars. Nice.
Yoskay and I were sickly, so we got a bunch of soups. Also, we didn’t want to stink of beef, garlic and smoke for the rest of the day, so sadly, we opted out of barbequing. All the dishes were written in Korean, with only the descriptions in English, so I don’t know the names of most these dishes. SORRY.

Assorted banchan. The yellow radishes on the top right corner was very takuan-like (Japanese pickled daikon)- but a little sweeter. The jalapeño peppers were refreshing:

Not too spicy kimchee- very good. You can tell how legit a Korean joint is by their kimchee
Daikon kimchee- my fave:

Seafood pajeon- crispy on the outside, just barely cooked on the inside. One of the best pajeons I’ve ever had, no joke.

Kalbi “stew”- with noodles, enoki mushrooms, napa cabbage, and onions. Simple, flavorful and filling.

Yoskay’s super duper spicy kimchee noodle soup with tofu and veggies. He claims he was able to sweat out his cold with this. His whole mouth was red after eating, it was hilarious.
My bro’s spicy kalbi noodle soup with tofu and potatoes. Genius- the potats were so comforting.
The lunch special, a pork kimchee stew. Only $5!!! The pork just melted in my mouth.
Yongsusan across the street- Sonja went to the one in Seoul a few months back.

Stopped off at Renzo Piano’s new design for the Broad contemporary art collection at LACMA. Here’s a Chris Burden installation out front which was super neat.
Even though we didn’t end up bbqing, at the end of the day Sara still asked me, “did you eat garlic today?” Knew we should’ve just bbqed.

Park’s BBQ
955 S. Vermont Ave.

California Soul: Hot Date with Oishii Eats (LA)

March 1, 2008

In LA, I was finally able to meet up with my personal favorite food blogger, Oishii Eats aka Jeni (I hope her name isn’t a secret). I’m embarrassed to say, but in the overcrowded sea of food blogs, OE is the only one that I consistently keep up with- it’s totally unpretentious, easy to navigate, and the pictures are always stellar. She’s been doing it for 2 years now, alongside her job as a 2nd grade teacher. Cute!

Before our big first date, Jeni suggested I walk to Scoops, an ice cream parlor that she had written about a year ago. I remembered this post, so I started my trek from Sara’s in Silverlake to Scoops.

The ice cream here deserves all the hype– it’s all homemade, very unique flavors, and the texture was like nothing I had ever tasted before. It’s gelato style in it’s creaminess but also airy, even lighter than sorbet. Bizarre, right? It’s so hard to explain! Fantastical flavors include blueberry/coconut, pistachio/lemon, vegan strawberry/balsamic, chai and horchata. Scoops definitely pushes the limits of ice cream flavors.

I got the strawberry/jasmine and jackfruit/kiwi sorbet. Flavor explosion!!! I really loved the jasmine flavor- subtle and refreshing. Pretty ingenious to pair that with the strawberry.

Seems that they’re known for their vegan line- there’s a vegan restaurant across the street, so there were lots of people leaving the restaurant who came over for ice cream.

The Super Scoops Spoon pseudo Calder-mobile!
From here, Jeni picked me up- even though this was our first date, it was as though we had known each other forever, so it was weirdly normal and casual. Like “Hey Jeni, what’s up, take me to tacos pronto.”

We drove a little ways (a few blocks) to the best fish taco. Like literally, the place is called “Best Fish Taco in Ensenada”. Kinda weird, but pretty awesome that this dude would name his joint simply “Best Fish Taco”.

This place opened less than a year ago, in a shared lot with an auto mechanic. So my style! The place is super mellow, with seating inside, as well as picnic tables out front. Thank god for the umbrellas- you know, just another scorching day in February. Jeni confessed that she’s addicted and comes here for her fix at least twice a week.

Dude (seriously, the guy sorta reminded me of The Dude) only has 2 items on the menu: fish tacos for $1.50 and shrimp tacos for $2. Sweet deal.

We got one of each, and horchatas. I guess the dude has a rule about only ordering one taco at a time, so they don’t get soggy. Good lookin out. The fish and shrimps are breaded and fried- Jeni asks for the totillas doradas, so the totillas are crispy.

After you get your tacos, served on square styrofoam plates (like when you buy meat at the grocery store), you go to the salsa bar, where there’s mango salsa, pineapple salsa, spicy, mild, a bowl of cabbage, and as Jeni yelled, “Don’t forget the cream stuff”. I didn’t.

These tacos were THA BOMB. No other real way to describe them. It’s so magical that something as simple as fried shrimp and fish wrapped in a flour tortilla could taste so damn good! The crunch of the batter, the moist, tender heat of the fish and shrimps, the crisp from the cabbage… I could go on and on here.

Fresh horchata!
I’m a total pig and I went in for another shrimp taco. I took my plate with me, cause they encourage you to reuse for Round II. You probably don’t care to see my half-eaten taco, but I can’t not share this heavenly bite:

Can’t vouch for Ensenada, but these fish tacos could very well be a major contender in the fish taco race of LA. If I lived in LA, there is no doubt Jeni and I would meet here everyday for a little afternoon delight (sky rockets in flight).

712 N Heliotrope Dr.

Best Fish Taco in Ensenada
1650 N. Hillhurst Ave.

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.