Loving Lukshon

Restaurant: Lukshon

Location: 3239 Helms Ave, Culver City, CA 90034. 310.202.6808

Date: October 20, 2011

Cuisine: New Asian

Rating: Pretty damn tasty

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A couple of years ago my office was in Culver City, and the restaurant revolution there was already well under way. But the trend continues apace with Lukshon, a sort of re-imagined southern Asian (vaguely Chinese — sort of) joint opened by the same owners as adjacent Father’s Office. I’ve been itching to try it for better on six months and we finally got the Foodie Club together for an impromptu meeting.


The modern interior space. There is also a generous and attractive patio.


The menu. We ordered about two thirds of it, for eight people, all family style.


“atlantic fluke  pickled watermelon, black sesame, cucumber, kinh gioi.” Light flavored, but tasty. The black sesame lent it a pleasant gritty texture.


Lukshon does not allow corkage. I didn’t know that and Foodie Club co-president EP and I hauled four bottles to the table. I was skeptical at first of the small wine list too, as it’s devoid of big name offerings. But with some help from the Sommelier we put together what turned out to be a very enjoyable trio.


We had the 2010, but the 2009 got 92 from parker, “Ollivier’s 2009 Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Clos des Briords is as perfumed and lusciously-fruited a wine of its genre as you are likely to encounter, though that by no means precludes depth of mineral character. Scents of pear, clover, Persian melon, and fennel inform the nose and migrate to a buoyant yet expansive, mouthwateringly juicy palate tinged with a shimmering crystalline sense of minerality characteristic for this cuvee. This sensational value finishes with an uncanny combination of soothing refreshment and vibrancy. It is apt to be even more ravishing in another year or so and be worth following for at least 3-4.”


“shrimp toast  rock shrimp, cilantro, chiles, tiny croutons.” These are little fried balls with a sweet and spicy sauce. They tasted pretty fried, with an understated flavor.


“baby monterey squid!! chiang mai pork sausage, candlenut, mint, rau ram.” Really tasty. The fried tentacles in the center were pretty straight up calimari. The bodies were stuffed with the yummy sausage.


“duck popiah.  cilantro stems, pickled jicama, hoisin chile sauce.” With the texture of a Saigon Roll, these duck rolls were packed with meaty flavor inside. Plus, being a sauce guy, I love hoison. One of my favorite dishes.


“spicy chicken pops!! shelton farms’ drumettes, garlic, kecap manis, spicy sichuan salt.” Nice little “wings” with a lot of flavor and a bit of heat. A kind of BBQ sweet heat.


This was a very interesting wine. Old fashioned — like 2,000 years old fashioned. Evidently, it’s kept in amphorae, large greek/roman style terra-cotta vessels. While a white, it was so unfiltered as to be almost cloudy. But damn good.


“kurobuta pork ribs.  spicy chicory coffee bbq sauce.” The meat just fell of the bones. A bit of char. Seriously good ribs, what cheap Chinese restaurant ribs aspire to be.


“rib eye steak yam neua. gem lettuce, radish, carrot, tomato, herbs, spicy lime vinaigrette.” This was fine, but just kinda beefy.


“foie gras ganache!! carob, ceylon cinnamon, tamarind gastrique, almond, puffed rice.” These were more a dessert than a savory. The creamy foie texture and richness leant them the character of some kind of ultra rich mousse.


“lamb belly roti. canai  chana dal, cumin, mint, raita, pickled cauliflower.” Another of my favorite dishes. A kind of vaguely middle eastern, vaguely Asian pizza. The little sour marinated crunchy cauliflower was good too.


“garlic pork belly  do ban jian, rice cakes, cabbage, garlic chives.” Probably my favorite dish. This had some good heat and that rich fermented bean paste flavor. The meat was rich, but not too fatty, and under the sauce you could only tell it from the rice cakes by texture. They added a chewiness to complement the some pork.


“short rib rendang!! malay spices, red chile lemongrass rempah, coconut cream.” More meat. I liked the sauce better on this one.


Parker gives this very solid Riesling 90 points. “Pepper-laced pears and apples are found in the nose of the zesty, vivacious 2002 Riesling Eiswein Oberemmeler Hutte. This molasses, brown sugar and white fruit-flavored offering sports eye-popping acidity, loads of depth, and a long, sweet finish. Anticipated maturity: 2007-2025.”

“heirloom black rice  lap cheong, onion, roasted garlic, lilly’s farm fried egg.”


Mixed up. This was pleasant, rich, sweet, and ricey.


“gai lan aged ham, shaoxing wine, garlic.” Nice stir fried greens. But I wanted more ham flavor.


“chiang mai curry noodles  chile, tumeric, lemongrass, chicken, prawn, yu choy, rice noodles.” A curry with noodles. Nothing wrong with that, as I love curry.


“dandan noodles!! kurobuta pork, sesame, preserved mustard greens, sichuan peppercorns, peanuts.” I really liked this too. Noodles with a pretty spicy Chinese pork ragu. I had a better version in western China, but this was pretty damn good. Decently hot, but not nearly real Szechuan hot. I guess the sauce isn’t so different than Pocked Marked Old Ladies Tofu (yes, that is a real dish).


Dessert is “free” (as Matt Groning said, “at no additional perceivable cost”). They bring out one per person, but three types. I would’ve liked to try each, but I had the leftmost, which was a delicious form of deconstructed pina colada. Some kind of pana cotta with coconut and pineapple. The middle was chocolate, the rightmost more fruity.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

For other Foodie Club meals (all crazy great) see here.

Manpuku – Not so Secret Beef

Restaurant: Manpuku

Location: 2125 Sawtelle Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025. (310) 473-0580

Date: October 14, 2011

Cuisine: Yakinaku

Rating: Tasty BBQ, good value

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Manpuku is a Yakinaku (Japanese style Korean BBQ) joint in the heart of the Sawtelle little-Tokyo area (just a few stores down from awesome Kiriko Sushi). It’s been a lunch favorite of mine for years because it offers really good BBQ at value prices. It isn’t the ultimate Yakinaku, a title reserved for the amazing Totoraku, but it is about 10% of the price!


This mini-mall is packed with delicious Asian lunch spots.


Just in case you wondered what you might find inside.


Every table comes equipped with it’s own BBQ. I apologize for the mediocre pictures. My snapshot camera is in the shop and so I had only the iPhone4 (I wasn’t going to lug the big camera). On the plus side, the photos did magically sync to my Mac via photostream, which is pretty sexy. Canon needs to add at least Wifi to their regular cameras. I’m sick of pulling out that card.


The lunch menu.


Kimchee on the left, the delicious sweet sauce (for use on the meat after cooking) on the right.


I ordered the “prime rib lunch set” ($15, and sometimes on sale!) and it comes with all you can eat Japanese salad.


And miso soup.

And rice.


Plus one of these plates of marinated prime short rib and a few vegetables.


The meal is simple. You BBQ to taste (rare in my case), dip in the sweet sauce, let cool on the rice, then eat!

There is nothing to complain about here. The beef is fresh, tender, and tasty. If you enjoy this, and are want to really max out on the variety this cuisine offers (every cut of cow) then check out Totoraku.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Memorial Day Pig

One of my friends always throws a “hog wild” Memorial Day BBQ.


The beginnings of the spread.


Pulled pork! This stuff was mouth watering good.


Baked beans cooked in molasses.


BBQ. This was a little sweet for my taste, even the hot.


BBQ turkey.


All this needed some wine from my cellar.

The shafer had enough age to be really nice, although I had cork problems. Parker gave it 90, “The Cabernet Sauvignon Stag’s Leap District has jumped in quality as John Shafer‘s son, Doug Shafer, abandoned sterile filters in favor of no fining and only a polishing, coarse filtration at bottling. That, plus less acidification, giving the wines a higher PH, has resulted in a more revealing and beautiful expression of the gorgeous fruit obtained from the Stag’s Leap District vineyards. The 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon Stag’s Leap includes 7% Cabernet Franc and 4% Merlot. It offers a wonderfully pure cassis nose, a velvety texture, plenty of ripeness, and some structure and tannin in the medium to full-bodied finish. It should drink well for 10-15 years. This winery continues to build on their fine reputation, pushing the quality to higher and higher levels. Shafer’s 50-acre estate vineyard, located in the heart of the Stag’s Leap District, is supplemented by an additional 70 acres in Carneros. The winery continues to be innovative, offering a very good Sangiovese called Firebreak that has a small percentage (usually less than 20%) of Cabernet Sauvignon included in the blend for color and bulk.”

The 2001 Beaucastel is wonderful as always, 96 points. “Beaucastel has been on a terrific qualitative roll over the last four vintages, and the 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape (which Francois Perrin feels is similar to the 1990, although I don’t see that as of yet) is a 15,000-case blend of 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, and the balance split among the other permitted varietals of the appellation. This inky/ruby/purple-colored cuvee offers a classic Beaucastel bouquet of new saddle leather, cigar smoke, roasted herbs, black truffles, underbrush, and blackberry as well as cherry fruit. It is a superb, earthy expression of this Mourvedre-dominated cuvee. Full-bodied and powerful, it will undoubtedly close down over the next several years, not to re-emerge for 7-8 years. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2025.”

And the Brunello also 96, although it needed a few more years. “The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Vigna Paganelli emerges from the glass with masses of scorched earth, leather, tar, licorice, menthol and dark fruit. The Riserva shows a touch more inner sweetness, richness and depth in its fruit than the regular bottling, plus a bit more French oak as well. For now, the Riserva is quite reticent and requires air, but with time its awesome richness and power come through in spades. This dark, brooding and authoritative Riserva from Il Poggione is simply gorgeous. Readers who don’t want to pay the premium for the Riserva in 2004 need not worry; I tasted the 2004 regular bottling (twice!) while preparing this article and it is every bit as promising as my review last year suggested. In 2004 the Paganelli vineyard was harvested on the 13th of October, quite late for this estate. Anticipated maturity: 2019-2039.”


Salmon for those who aren’t into pig!


And spicey hot links!


Then the desserts start to come.


Fruit tart, pie, cupcakes for the kiddies.


This yummy red velvet cake with a cream cheese frosting.


And ice cream from Sweet Rose Creamery. Mint, salted carmel, vanilla, caffe luxxe coffee, strawberry etc.

Fogo de Chao – Beef!

Restaurant: Fogo de Chao

Location:  133 North La Cienega Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90211-2206  (310) 289-7755

Date: April 21, 2011

Cuisine: Brazilian Grilled Meats

Rating: Meat meat meat!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I’m not normally a big fan of chains, but Fogo is one that works for me. It took the formula found is various independant Churrasquero restaurants and made it into a solid reliable festival of meat. And at lunch it offers tremendous value, particularly in comparison to a typical good American steak house. In case you’ve been living under a rock, this is a style of Brazilian BBQ where skewered meats are pulled fresh off the fire and carved at the table.


The fully carnivorous menu of meats. Fogo only offers two dining options. Salad bar, or salad bar + meat. Both are all you can eat.


The salad bar is extensive enough by itself, offering not only some token vegtables but a range of cheeses and cured meats.


Potato salad type salads.

Bacon!


Regular salad.


Dressings.

Cured meats and cheeses.


A giant full drum of real parmesan.


More salad.


I go sparingly in this department because I’m really here for the seared flesh.


The way things work at this kind of Brazilian BBQ is that the servers bring by the skewers of up to 15 different meats and cave them onto your plate. Fogo’s innovation here — and believe me it is a solid innovation — is this magic disk. Each person has one and you can flip it over. Above is the stop side.


And the go side. They key here is that you can control the awesome flow of meat onto your plate. Before the disk invention, you either got barraged or you were forgotten. Now, if you need a fifteen minute breather, no problem. Go red, then back again!


Beef sirloin. Delicious pure beef.

Prime rib eye. Fatty goodness! Actually, a bit too fatty for my taste, but many love it.


Chicken legs and pork sausages. They manage to make even chicken taste great, and the sausages are rich, hearty and delectable.


Here is all that, plus some pork rib, loaded on the plate. The rib on top, chicken and sausages on the left, sirloin on the bottom, the ultra fatty prime rib in the middle.


The pork BBQ ribs. This is one of my favorites.


Watch that soft piggy cut!


Filet minion. Lean and tender.


The garlic sirloin. This had an awesomely intense garlic beefyness to it.


Garlic sirloin on the left, filet on the right.


Lamb chops.


On the plate. Super tasty and tender. Sizzling hot.

Chicken breast (left) and filet (right) wrapped in bacon.


bacon truly does make everything better. They chicken might even have been tastier than the beef.


Picanha, one of the house specialties. A bit of prime sirloin seasoned with sea salt.


The bacon-wrapped filet, pork rib, and picanha (left to right). The last is a really tasty cut.


Fogo also throws a lot of sides on the table (included in the price). Cheesy mashed potatoes.


Fried polenta with parmesan.


Fried plantains. There is also cheese bread, but being passover, we didn’t take any and so I don’t have a photo.


The decor is sleek and modern, and they have a lot of hearty wines.


It’s easy to let your eyes exceed your stomach here. This refuse is just one person’s “leavings.” At lunch all this gluttony costs only $32.50, which is pretty impressive. You can easily make an entire day’s meal out of it!

For another take on excessive BBQ meats, see the Japanese Secret Beef joint.

Totoraku – Secret Beef!

Restaurant: Totoraku

Location: 10610 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064.

Date: April 7, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Yakiniku

Rating: Best beef in town!

 

Six or seven years ago my friend and then-boss Shuhei Yoshida took me for the first time to the “secret beef” place. He warned me. It’s hard to find, is unlabeled, there are no walk-ins, and the door is often locked. I’ve been back at least 6-8 times since and am now friendly with chef/owner Kaz Oyama. This place is invitation only. Some one in the party needs to know Oyama-san (that would be me this time). It serves a very refined version of Japanese Yakiniku, which is Beef BBQ originally from Korea but filtered through Japanese sensibility.

This particular meal is the March Foodie Club meeting. And yeah, we’re late by a week (for March). We took eight people.

The outside is basically a shell. The “Teriyaki House” has nothing to do with the food within, and the phone number is incorrect.

The “decor,” is almost amusingly spartan (ugly actually). Nor is this a big place.

One of my favorite things about Totoraku is that the wine is all BYOB, hence no corkage, and the food (being mostly beef) goes so spectacularly with big red wines. You can see some of the bottles left over from previous guests, many of which are of the very highest level. We’re talking 1945 Petrus, La Tache, or Hommage du Jacques Perrin.

The wine prepped in my cellar and ready to go.

This unusual Spanish white earn 92 from Parker, “The 2007 Gorvia Blanco was sourced from a single 3 acre vineyard planted exclusively to the indigenous variety Dona Blanca (used in the past mostly for grappa production or as a table grape). Medium straw-colored, it reveals aromas of apple, pear, slate/mineral, citrus, and acacia. Crisp, concentrated, and intense (in the style of top-level unoaked Chablis), in the mouth it is vibrant, complex, and impeccably balanced. It should provide both intellectual and sensual pleasure for another 5-6 years.”

There are three dipping sauces. Left to right, a sweet teriyaki-style sauce, lemon juice, and light soy sauce.

The impressive looking appetizer spread. This is for four people. Everyone gets a bite sized bit of each.

Pear with prosciutto. Very sweet and soft, with a hint of salty.

Black sesame tofu. Highly unusual and delicious. Nutty, gooey and chewy.

Akimo (monk fish liver). Some of the best I’ve had, very soft and not very fishy.

Vegetable jelly. Interesting texture, tasted like… vegetables.

Sockeye salmon wrapped in jicama, with avocado and a kind of soba.

Fresh steamed abalone on zenmai Japanese royal fern), a sansai, or mountain vegetable. Delicious. Very tender abalone, and the vegetables nicely pickled and earthy.

Kohlrabi in a kind of potato salad like prep. Excellent crunchy texture and a nutty flavor.

Hard boiled qual egg stuffed with code row and crab. Tasted like a deviled egg!

Shrimp on endive with caviar. The endive lent a nice crunch and slightly bitter tang.

I always like to start the reds with Burgs. Parker gives this 92, “Bachelet’s 2005 Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes – from 60- to 70-year-old vines both below the route nationale and north of Gevrey in Brochon – offers lovely black fruit aromas with hints of anise and mint. A truly palate-staining intensity of vividly-fresh, tart but ripe black cherry and blackberry is underlain by firm, fine tannins (not precluding an emerging silkiness of texture) and augmented by bitter-herbal and stony notes. Although palpably dense and abundantly tannic, this outstanding village wine still comes off as juicy, sleek, invigorating and refined. Put it away for at least 5-7 years.”

Beef carpaccio with special salt, flowers, and some onion family derivative. Very yummy. This is eaten raw.

Two kinds of beef sashimi, eaten nearly raw. On the left beef tataki (rib eye) and on the right (in the cup) beef throat sashimi. Also on the plate is a bit of Korean style hot sauce (the red stuff), some intensely strong garlic (yum) and micro julienned ginger.

The throat was very chewy, more about texture. The rib eye soft and more flavorful. All went well with the garlic and ginger — I particularly liked the garlic.

 

Homemade smoked beef tongue. Tasted just like a good pastrami.

A raw beef dish. Marinated raw beef is seen here with ginger, raw egg, cucumber, daikon, pine nuts, and something orange. Apparently, this is a Korean dish called Yukhoe. Actually, I’ve had it at Korean places, but in any case it’s delicious.

The elements are mixed together and then eaten. It’s hard to describe why it’s so good, but it is, with a very complex flavor and texture interplay.

I went to this vineyard in 2009 and convinced the owner to sell me a case of this spectacular old vine, but little known (and little made) wine before it was even released. He had to put the labels on hismelf. Parker 96. “The top effort, the 2007 Cotes du Rhone-Villages Rasteau Fleur de Confiance, is awesome. An inky/blue/black color is followed by a stunning bouquet of scorched earth, incense, blackberry jam, coffee, and spice. This full-bodied, massive, stacked and packed Rasteau is destined for two decades of life. Its sweet tannin and textured mouthfeel are compelling. Give it 2-4 years of cellaring and consume it over the following 20 years.”

Chef/Owner Kaz Oyama, fleeing from the “paparazzi” with a glass of the Rasteau.

The raw is finished, and so out come these humble little BBQs.

Beef tongue with salt.

So many moo-less cows.

BBQ to perfect, and add a bit of scallions, then dip in lemon juice and enjoy. This is about the most tender tongue I’ve had (and I’ve had plenty). It’s still a dense slightly rubbery texture, but delicious.

Filet Mignon with bell peppers, onions, and sisho pepper.

These are all grilled up. You can eat the beef however you like, I prefer rare to medium rare. The peppers even had a bit of heat, but not so much, but a delicious flavor.

The “salad.” Cucumbers, carrots, daikon.

They are served with this spicy sweet miso dip. The vegetables do help to move along the fat and protein heavy meat.

Momotaro tomatoes with a vinaigrette. These are supposedly incredibly good tomatoes, as a hater, I didn’t try them. I think Oyama-san gets them from some special place in Orange Country.

Parker gives this blockbuster 96 points. “The 2008 Flor de Pingus had been in bottle for 2 weeks when I tasted it. It offers up an enticing nose of smoke, Asian spices, incense, espresso, black cherry, and blackberry. On the palate it displays outstanding volume, intensity, and balance. Rich, dense, and succulent, it has enough structure to evolve for 4-5 years and will offer prime drinking from 2015 to 2028.”

I had asked special if we could get a bit of seafood thrown in just to “break up” the meat. These are nice jumbo shrimp.

Shrimp on the barbi!

Outside rib eye with special salt and garlic.

Cooked here with the scallions.

To medium rare. Then eaten with the sweet sauce. Personally I like this better than the filet as it’s fattier and has more flavor. It’s slightly less uniform in texture.

Chilean sea bass with a bit of dressing and peppers. Tasty, but not as fantastic as the beef.

Sashimi grade salmon with pepper and lemon. Simple, but the fish was so good it was delicious.

Inside rib eye.

It’s hard to compare the inside and the outside. I think the outside might have been very slightly better.

“Special” beef. I think it was a form of sirloin. It was certainly good, very salted.

A little early for this massive Parker 98. “The 2007 Espectacle is 100% Garnacha sourced from 120-year-old vines located at La Figuera on the northern edge of the Montsant DO. The vineyard is managed by Rene Barbier’s Clos Mogador team and is aged in one 4000-liter vat at Celler Laurona. The 2007 Espectacle reveals a sexy bouquet of mineral, Asian spices, incense, truffle, and black cherry compote. This leads to a full-bodied, plush, succulent, impeccably balanced wine which admirably combines elegance and power. It will evolve effortlessly for several more years and have a drinking window extending 2013 to 2022 if not longer. It is Montsant’s benchmark wine and a world-class expression of old-vine Garnacha.”

Short rib. Close to the Korean galbi. This is way more tender than what you’d get a typical Korean BBQ house and was my favorite of all the cooked meats. It’s also probably the richest — go figure!

Raw.

Less raw. Goes in the sweet sauce — yum!

Skirt steak.

This is a tasty but sometimes tough cut. Not here, soft as butter.

A bit of a “bonus round” with left to right, short rib, filet, outside rib eye.

Were cooking now!

The lynch is always one of my favorites. Parker gives the 2000 96 points. “Beautiful creme de cassis, and cedar in a surprisingly full-bodied and evolved style that could be drunk now. I originally predicted 2008-2025 for the window of full maturity, and that looks accurate, as this wine, which exhibits a little amber and loads of glycerin, is probably the biggest, richest Lynch Bages produced after the 1995 and before the 2005. Succulent, with lots of juicy black fruit and silky tannin, this is a beauty that can be drunk now or cellared for another 15-20 years.”

The final savory course is a rice and egg drop soup. You could get it spicy or mild (this is spicy). Apparently in Korea this is called Gukbap. It helped wash down the beef.

There are some special ice creams and sorbets.

On the left White Chocolate, bottom Espresso, right Lychee, top Blueberry, back pistachio. I liked the ice creams better than the sorbets (which isn’t usually the case). The sorbets were a bit mild, although certainly very nice. The White Chocolate was my favorite, followed maybe by the Pistachio.

I had brought 12 wines (for 8 people) but we only made it through 6. I was a bit disappointed because I never got to my biggest gun, a 1970 Palmer, because I opened 6 bottles at the beginning to breathe. But still, the “little” guns were pretty great. Big reds always go extraordinarily well with this very beefy meal.

And this place IS all about the beef, which is arguably some of the best I’ve ever had. Certainly the best yakiniku/Korean BBQ I’ve ever had. There is a perfect tenderness to every cut that’s fairly transcendant. I’m not even that much of a steak fan — but I’d take this stuff any time over even a spectacular cut from Mastros or Cut. The food here does not vary much from visit to visit. There is no menu. The quality however is utterly consistant. So while it isn’t an everyday sort of dining experience, perhaps once every 6-9 months, I love to return for my fix.

For other Foodie Club meals, click here.

Fellow Foodie Club Chair - EP

Zengo 2 – part deux

Restaurant: Zengo [1, 2, 3]

Location: 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Tel. 310.899.1000

Date: March 4, 2011

Cuisine: Latin-Asian Fusion

Rating: Color me confused — It’s in a mall, and it’s pretty good.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

A month to the day after my first visit (REVIEW HERE), I went back to Zengo. As I discussed previously, this is a slightly commercialized but pretty tasty mall restaurant whose appearence has accompanied the rooflift of Santa Monica Place. This one is Latin-Asian fusion. Sort of Asia de Cuba meets Rivera.

Today’s menu. PDF version HERE. The menu is pretty much all tapas style (hooray!) where you order 3 or so dishes per person and share them all.

“Hot & sour egg drop soup, foie gras-pork dumplings / enoki / green onion.” This is one of two repeats from last time. It had a very inserting note to the sour, from tamarind I think. The richness of the dumplings too is very nice as is the texture of the enoki.

“Thai shrimp lettuce wraps, chorizo / peanut / cilantro / tamarind chutney.” The second repeat. All three ingredients are combined like most “Thai wraps.”

Close up. The shrimp has a nice crunch and texture. The sauce is tamarind, and quite sour. Overall very nice.

“Peking duck-daikon tacos, duck confit / curried apple / orange-coriander sauce.” These were YUMMY. The meat was very soft and BBQ flavored. You could hardly tell it from some good Carolina style BBQ-pork, but it wasn’t pork (duck). The sauce is light and sweet, the apple mostly for texture, and the daikon an interesting and very slick and cool (it’s wet) take on a taco.

Close up. The smoked flavor of the meat comes through strong, and it’s darn good. The other elements provide complementary notes and texture.

“Achiote-hoisin pork arepas, corn masa / avocado / crema fresca.” These are serious flavor bombs. The meat tastes a bit like a good short rib, and goes perfectly with the typical pairing of avocado and crema fresca. There is just a bit of heat from the chilies.

“Scallops al mojo de ajo, roasted corn-edamame salsa / bacon, cotija cheese / roasted garlic soy, yuzu-sriracha aioli.” Probably the least successful dish of the lot, but certainly not bad. The scallops themselves were tasty. The rest was like a slightly coleslaw’ish succotash, with bacon chunks. The bacon was really good though — when isn’t it?

“Pork carnitas rice noodles, pork shoulder / mushroom / cashew / soft egg / hot ’n sour sauce.” Another winner. The noodles are tossed first, allowing the poached egg to break an coat them with yolk — Korean style? These overall had a really nice flavor: salty savory. Like Thai egg noodles with meat, but with more things going on.

As I said last thing, Zengo is not subtle cuisine, it’s full of crazy bold flavor combos. But I’m still impressed, and doubly so considering it’s a mall restaurant. The all tapas style menu gets my vote too because I’m sometimes a more is more kind of guy, and I hate getting stuck with just two dishes.

If you enjoyed this, check out the previous REVIEW HERE, or just across the deck the interesting Dimsum Xino.

Quick Eats: Tofu Ya

Restaurant: Tofu Ya

Location: 2021 Sawtelle Blvd. Los Angeles, Ca 90025. 310-473-2627.

Date: Jan 06, 2011

Cuisine: Korean BBQ & Tofu Soup

 

Some friends of mine wanted Korean for lunch so I found this Westside place on Zagat (it was the best rated west of the 405 at 23 for food). Boy, is this place a great value! And good to boot. I’m not nearly as experienced a Korean eater as I am at Japanese, but this was certainly very tasty.

The tiny little Sawtelle shop front. Random Thursday afternoon at 12:30 and there was a 20 minute wait. An excellent sign.

The simple menu. Besides the ubiquitous BBQ meats this place seems to specialize in “soft tofu.” I didn’t know it exactly by this name, but this is my favorite kind of tofu. I’ve often gotten this in Japan. Served differently, but the same tofu. We’ll see some of it in a bit.

Not a big joint. Smells like BBQ meat. Yum!

The usual spread of small Korean dishes. Kimchi, sprouts, noodles, spicy marinated cucumbers, marinated tofu, eggs, etc.

The spicy tofu soup. I should have gotten a picture after the bubbles settled down. The soup is filled with lots of “soft tofu,” beef, and various seafood. I ordered it medium spicy and it wasn’t very hot by my standards, pleasant though. The soft tofu is that kind of medium-firm off-white tofu that has a luscious smooth texture.

It comes out sizzling. Click on this picture above to see a video of it going nuts.

Steamed rice.

Bibimbap. I’ve always liked this dish. Various veggies and meats. You jump the above steamed rice in.

Then add korean red sauce and stir.

Looks like this. Tastes good.

Galbi. Beef ribs, marinated to perfection and BBQed.

Bulgogi. More or less the same thing, but with no bones, and onions. After awhile the onions caramelized. Beef and cooked onions always goes well together. Full as I was, I could have eaten two plates of this stuff.

Teriyaki Chicken.

The tiny prep area.

Food as Art: Little Saigon

Restaurant: Little Saigon

Location: 6218 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22044-3210 (703) 536-2633

Date: Nov 27, 2010

Cuisine: Vietnamese

ANY CHARACTER HERE

One of my favorite places back “home” (Washington D.C.) is Little Saigon, a local hole in the wall Vietnamese place with absolutely stellar food.

Yeah, Hole in the wall. But good!

We start with this prosecco. Basically Italian Champagne.

The menu is as long as War and Peace!

Table condiments.

Almost everyone here is Vietnamese, which is always the best sign of authentic ethic restaraunts.

This is marinated raw beef, soaked in fish sauce, with onions, chilies, and basil. Not a typical American flavor, but amazing nonetheless.

My two-year son’s favorite: rice cracker (with black sesame).

Vegetarian spring rolls, hot as the 9th circle of hell (temperature). The sauce is this amazing chili-sweet-soy combo.

The owner visists. My parents have been friends with her for years.

Vietnamese “hot wings,” but fried with TONS of garlic. Amazing. I was dipping the garlic by itself in the sauce and eating it.

We moved on to this tasty malbec. Toasty oak.

Soft egg noodles with tofu, brocoli, mushrooms, baby corn. Fine, but not the best dish of the evening.

Crispy orange duck. This must be Chinese inspired, but it’s amazing, totally amazing. The duck is perfect, and the sweet/bitter tang of real orange peels (not to mention the schechuan peppers) delectable.

Rock fish, steamed, with a ginger cilantro sauce. Very nice light whole fish.

One of my guilty pleasures is just soaking rice in the orange duck sauce!

The check for 6 people, $108! Not a bank breaker.

Observe more Vietnamese diners — they know their own cuisine. Never trust an Asian restaurant with blond waiters (none here).

There were oranges for desert, which nicely finish off the meal, and my two-year-old loved them.

For a second review of Little Saigon, see here.

Thanksgiving – Pork Insanity

On our third night of ThanksGavin craziness, after Wednesday, and the incomparable thursday, we move into our traditional Friday evening at my cousin Abbe’s. This year Abbe settled on roast pork sandwiches — a meal with deep South Philadelphia roots.

We begin with the pork roasts going into the over, basted in white wine. They came pre spiced from Fiorella’s on Christian Street in the Philly Italian market. They only do pork (specializing in sausage) and have been in biz since the 19th century.

Broccoli Rabe sauteed in garlic.

Roasted long-hots. Serious peppers.

Parker 93 points, “The 2008 Vico made from 100% Mencia with 30% whole clusters and aged for 9 months in seasoned French oak. Opaque purple-colored, it offers up a slightly reticent bouquet of damp earth, mineral, incense, black cherry, and black raspberry. Dense and loaded on the palate, the flavors are already complex and mouth-filling. Impeccably balanced and with a 45-second finish, it has the stuffing to blossom for another 2-3 years but can be approached now. It is a great value.”

A very nice super tuscan.

The 2001 Beaucastel, RP 96! “Beaucastel has been on a terrific qualitative roll over the last four vintages, and the 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape (which Francois Perrin feels is similar to the 1990, although I don’t see that as of yet) is a 15,000-case blend of 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, and the balance split among the other permitted varietals of the appellation. This inky/ruby/purple-colored cuvee offers a classic Beaucastel bouquet of new saddle leather, cigar smoke, roasted herbs, black truffles, underbrush, and blackberry as well as cherry fruit. It is a superb, earthy expression of this Mourvedre-dominated cuvee. Full-bodied and powerful, it will undoubtedly close down over the next several years, not to re-emerge for 7-8 years. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2025.”

The Merlot was great too, tasting more like a Pomerol than a Cal Merlot.

Chef/Host Abbe chops grilled artichokes (from Claudio’s in the Philly Italian Market).

Our token white, “2009 Dönnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spatlese Even the “off-vintages”, if there are any, for Donnhoff’s most renowned wines get high scores, and are of the finest quality and greatest longevity. Niederhauser Hermannshohle is one of two famous single vineyards which Dönnhoff farms, and the 2009 delivers a wallop, serving up a subtle olfactory treat of blood orange, pear, stone fruit, and talcum powder. In the mouth, incredible concentration comes to fore, as vivid flavors of orange pulp, blueberry, and wild cherry balance racy acidity, luscious mineral notes and a creamy, almost decadent, mouthfeel! A succulent, loaded offering that promises to delight for several years to come…that is, if you can possibly resist drinking it now!”

The heart stopping cheese selection. Camembert, Epposises, quince paste.

More options.

The bread.

And Thursday night’s Tapenade.

The wine keeps on rolling. A 2005 by Raul Perez, spectacular. And the Hall, “The dense purple-colored 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain reveals abundant aromas of cassis interwoven with hints of bay leaf, licorice, and underbrush. Moderately high tannins give pause, but the sweetness of the fruit as well as the level of glycerin and concentration bode well assuming the tannins fall away at a reasonable pace.”

Some folk don’t like the other white meat, so panko crusted pan fried flounder was on the menu for them.

The pork roasts emerge!

Cousin Matt invested in a meat slicer just for the occasion.

The pork was intended to be assembled into sandwiches. Here is salad, artichokes, and provolone fresh from Philly’s Italian market.

Chef Abbe presides over the fish, the broccoli rabe, the “juice” and rolls.

A fish sandwich.

My pork sandwich, with the spicy peppers, cheese, artichoke, broccoli rabe, etc. Pork is soaked in the juice (gravy) ala French dip style.

Mom levers her special “Apple Drapple” Cake out of the pan.

Lo and behold, a second pecan pie!

The Apple Drapple, dressed for my son’s second birthday.

 

ThanksGavin Calendar:

Wednesday night dinner

Thursday night Thanksgiving Feast

Friday night pork roast (this post)

Saturday Deli Brunch

Ghost of Thanksgivings Past

This year I’m going to fully document the gluttony that is the Gavin/Flitter Thanksgiving “weekend” (it’s really more the better part of a week – WED THURS). As a teaser, I shall reveal 8 historical testaments to the gut. Each year, my mother and her sister gather to craft an exquisite and entirely homemade feast. No attention to detail is too small. Stay tuned for lavish documentation of the 2010 process.

2002 – While the feasting and plates like this go back for decades prior, it was only in 2002 with the purchase of my first DLSR that I started recording the spoils. Notice not only the large number of dishes, where everything is made from scratch (including cranberry sauce, stuffing, etc), but the carefully planed color coordination.

2003 – No two years are the same. Peas make an appearance in the green vegetable category. Dishes do repeats. For example, my mother’s incredibly delicious cranberry sauce, which has citrus, ginger, and cayenne added to the cranberries. There is a tongue searing zing to the stuff.

2004 – Asparagus and beets make an appearance.

2005 – A different salad, and the beets become a regular guest.

2006 – The sweet potatoes get an experimental dose of black mustard.

2007 – Brocoli Rabe comes onboard.

2008 – This year was the odd man out, although no less delicious. My son was born just a week before in California, and so we hosted. My aunt wasn’t able to make it and so my mother had to shoulder the load alone. No problems with the cooking, and we heard the East Coast feast went on strong too, but it just wasn’t the same without the whole gang. However, in honor of sunny California, the salad went frisse and apples. Oh, and my father and I, unaware that my new European gas BBQ had a thermometer labeled in Celsius, cooked a 20 something pound turkey in a record 2 hours.

2009 – The entire gang returned to Philly for the usual reenactment. The fare was as sumptuous as ever!

2010- This year’s plate! As good as ever.

Just so you can appreciate what the spread looks like, here is 2009′s fare before being plated.

And in case you thought deserts were neglected. Just two of the fabulous array. The “rustic apple tart.”

And my mother’s incomparable homemade pecan pie.

And last but not least: the Chefs!  My mother on the right, my aunt on the left.

CATCH UP TO THE PRESENT HERE WITH THE START OF TG 2010.