Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gardena: The Valley of Good Eating

Once a fertile valley known for its strawberry farms, Gardena is now known for its proximity to LA’s major freeways, an aging Nisei generation and Hustler Casino. But with the gentrification of Little Tokyo and the over-crowded Sawtelle Blvd., Gardena may be Southern California’s best-kept Japanese food secret. And in addition to Japanese food, there are also quality Korean, Vietnamese, Italian, Hawai'ian, Mexican and Chinese eateries. It's all here. But who am I kidding? Gardena is no longer a secret to those who care enough to do an ounce of research for something authentic, so here is my restaurant list (in no particular order):

- Sanuki No Sato (option of Japanese-style no shoes dining rooms as well )
- Otafuku Noodle House

- Azuma (humongous plates! grilled squid should not be overlooked!)

- Shinsen gumi (yakitori and Hakata raman)

- Tampopo - (great for lunch, good value and
- Marukai Market - (2 locations. The Pacific Market one has a takoyaki stand on some weekends)


- Gardena Bowl Coffee Shop
- Local Place Bakery and Cafe (a King's Hawaiian outpost, ahh the )


- Sea Empress Seafood- (dim sum yum)


- Pho So 1

- Pho Consomme (full disclosure: they don't bus tables here until the end of your meal)


- Yellow Cow Korean BBQ -

- Lee's Tofu - (fantastic bubbling tofu soup)


- Eatalian Cafe (super fresh everything! nice open space in the middle of an industrial area)


- Ramona's - (no seating, but if you want your bean & cheese reliable and in bulk...)

- California Fish Grille - (fish tacos! think Chipotle, but way better)

- Josie's Place - (take out only)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Post-Yoga Pub Grub

Anticlimactic eating happens. After a cleansing yoga session SM and I headed to the British pub around the corner from the yoga studio in Santa Monica. ( Or maybe it was because our stomachs grew so accustomed to the large volume of food we've been eating all week that the Whole Foods food bar wasn't going to do.) The British restaurant/pub, Ye Olde King's Head, serves all the traditional fare one could ask for like bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, black pudding and fish n' chips. They even have a proper afternoon tea. There are actually three homey inn-style dining rooms, one of which has a fireplace for those chilly (not really) SoCal days. I had the Brum fish cakes served with peas and chips (fries). Brum fish cakes are basically fish croquettes, probably cod. They were delicious! At least I did the yoga and didn't have a pint.

It appears to be a British celebrity haunt according to the framed photos filling the walls, from Peter O'Toole to Oasis.

Ye Olde King's Head
116 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 451-1402

Friday, November 26, 2010

Everything Turkey!

When I first saw this dessert featured on Diary of a Foodie: Gourmet.com Istanbul episode, I quickly became obsessed. It had all my favorite components: cream, milk, dried fruit, nuts, translucent leaves of dough. I was in Turkey for a brief time several years ago, but we headed straight for the verdant hills bypassing all the delicious food of Istanbul. Last fall I visited SL in Berlin and we scoured her Turkish neighborhood, Kreuzberg, for this special dessert. Most people looked at us quizzically and pointed to the wide array of other flaky and nutty sweets. It turns out that because it is a Ramadan dessert, the rest of the year it hibernates. It wasn't until this fall at a local Arabic grocer, that my mom finds herself at least once a week, I found a box of Güllaç imported from Istanbul. It was meant to be. If I wasn't going to be in Turkey during Ramadan, I was going to have to make it myself and what better day to make it than TURKEY DAY! For the first of two dinners, I decided it was the perfect light sweet that allows room for our second meal at the next house. It was simple to make and not too sweet. A recipe was on the box, but I approximated between it and Gourmet's recipe and it turned out great. We had fresh pomegranates from the backyard, so I added some seeds for color at tartness. Removing the seeds was probably the most difficult part, but everything else easy.

This summer SL went to Istanbul and brought me one of my other favorite sweets, halva, as well as Turkish delights from one of oldest confectioners in Turkey, Haci Bekir. Both delicious.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


A perfect solution for a gluten-free ice cream sandwich. Macaron and chocolate sorbet. Hey, it's good for the lactose-sensitive/intolerant to boot! Chikalicious's more casual sister spot across the street, Dessert Club, Chikalicious, makes it possible for the dietarily marginalized folks to cool their palates with some mid-summer icy sweets.

Dessert Club, Chikalicious
204 E. 10th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 479-0929

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mezcal Is Less Selfish Than Tequila

...said the waiter at Casa Mezcal. And what he meant by that is still unclear to me, but I'll assume he is referring to something about the oak barrel and distilling process. In popular culture mezcal is known as the bottle of tequila with the worm at the bottom, which I recently learned is more of a present-day gimmick that garnered a mystique of virility, hallucination, etc. Too bad it's bunk. However for the aficionado or neophyte, it's a whole new world of complexity and flavor notes in the vast, but tightly monitored, world of Oaxacan finely crafted mezcal.

My first real mezcal tasting came with a range of emotions including excitement, trepidation, confusion. I have had mezcal before in various incarnations, mixed with a variety of ingredients that essentially masked its true essence, but at Casa Mezcal, a new mezcaleria in the Lower East Side, I was able to experience this liquid for the gods unadulterated by mortal sweetners. Before smoke, there is fire. As you swirl the amber potion take a deep inhalation and you will feel the hairs singed one by one from your nostrils as the flames course their way up to your brain where it signals: FIRE. DANGER. 911. Ignore your sympathetic nervous system and forge ahead taking careful fairy sips of this dragon fuel. Feel the fire and smoke conspire in your mouth, nose, earlobes and chest. It's a mighty drink and those who are expecting the smooth velvet of top-shelf tequila are gravely mistaken. This was just the beginners stuff; the joven or un-aged stuff recommended by our waiter. The aged stuff, resposado and anejo are for warriors only.

Perhaps what our server really meant when he said that mezcal is less selfish than tequila was that it welcomes myth. Since its early inception by the Aztecs, its potency and distinct characteristics have inspired many myths and tales which are continually created, altered and embellished on its journey through time. To perpetuate its mystique, I would like to tell a small tale of my own:

Long ago, a Spanish conquistador fell in love with a beautiful Aztec princess. He vowed his love and wished to marry her. Her prince brother found out about this courtship and became enraged with anger. He told his father, the mighty Aztec king, about this scandal in the city involving his sister and a uniformed Spaniard. The king, furious, told the princess of the Spaniard's fate. The princess escaped the city to try to warn the Spaniard to leave before his father's men come for him. The Spaniard was not scared and told the princess he will defend his right to marry her if it means having to fight 10 of her father's men to prove his love. Hearing footsteps of not 10, but 1000 men marching into town, the princess quickly produced 5 bottles of amber-colored liquid with a fleshy caterpillar at the bottom. "Drink this now!" she told him. But he hesitated. "You have to drink every one of the 5 bottles if you love me. Quickly!" So the Spaniard gulped down this smoky liquid bottle by bottle, slurping in every last of the 5 caterpillars. As the sound of an army of footsteps grew louder, the Spaniard became jovial swinging the princess around the room in a joyous dance. They laughed and they kissed and they danced twirling around the room to a song the Spaniard hummed. "I will profess my love for you to your father's entire army. I will shout from the top of this balcony to the world!" Not understanding the gravity of his new fate, he laughed and they kissed and they danced twirling around the room in a song that the Spaniard whistled. "I will not leave without you. They will have to fight me if they want to separate us!” The Aztec princess and the Spaniard continued in merriment as if they were dancing on clouds. They will spend the rest of their lives together in bliss he assured the princess. So they laughed and they kissed and they danced twirling around the room to a song that the Spaniard sang. The footsteps sounded like rolling thunder just outside the door, but the Spaniard didn’t notice and the princess pretended not to notice and they just continued on as if the world existed between the gaze of their eyes, as they laughed and they kissed and they danced twirling around the room to a song the Spaniard and the Aztec princess shouted together louder than the thunderous footsteps. Down came the door and behind it was the princess’s brother and behind him, his father’s warriors. As the Spaniard waved his sword at the throngs of men of duty, he professed his love for the prince’s sister. The prince did not hear him nor notice the sword flailing about in the air. The men behind the prince entered the room and with little force, took the Spaniard. The princess was forcefully constrained by her brother, who uttered not one word to his scandalous sister. Satisfied by the Spaniard’s now delusional state as he told each of her father’s men he passed, row by row, how he will marry the Aztec princess. The Spaniard didn’t know his new fate, but the princess was certain of it. It was her fate that was now in question. When they arrived at the city, they were taken to a pyramid where two slabs positioned side by side awaited them. Restrained by their captors on the stone slabs, they looked at each other, as if the world still existed only between the gaze of their eyes. The Spaniard now barely conscious, looked toward his beloved Aztec princess and told her “See I told them. I am not leaving here without you.” And down went the flint knife into the Spaniard's chest. The princess was next. She didn’t struggle, but glanced at her father who did not look at her, but ordered the captor hovering above her. The princess's mother, the Aztec queen, fainted and fell to the ground next her father's throne. The captor didn’t go for the heart, as this was not a usual sacrifice. Instead, he split open her torso from sternum to pelvis. The crowd gasped is horror than in awe gazed upward toward the sky, as out from the belly of the princess flew 5 orange butterflies.*
(*The expression “I have butterflies in my stomach” or “You give me butterflies” came from this TALE of the Aztec princess and the Spaniard in uniform. Again, totally untrue.)

A chaser of orange slices and sal de gusano or worm salt, a mixture of ground worms, chilies and salt help cool off your taste buds. But this is yet another tall tale because the worms in the sal de gusano and the poor bloated souls at the bottom of the mezcal bottle are actually caterpillars of mariposa butterflies which hangout in the agave plant. I should like mezcal. I want to like mezcal. Everything about it makes me like it: the lore, the earthiness of roasting a huge pina from the agave or maguey plant in an underground pit, the smoky quality...but it's a drink that takes focus, determination and guts to drink. I'll keep trying, but for now I want my tequila to taste like Fiji water... Or maybe when I'm 80 and my taste buds have shriveled, and my nose hairs are overgrown, I too, will be able to drink mezcal like a warrior.

Casa Mezcal
86 Orchard Street (btwn Grand and Broome St.)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 777-2600

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Goodbye, Beard Papa's, Hello, Popbar!

In the West Village space that once proudly housed the robust pipe-toking, yellow beanie-wearing old bearded man and his crack puffs, aka Beard Papa's choux pastry cream puffs, now offers a more svelte sweet that's just in time for summer in the city. Today it was drippy hot, with a slight breeze to push the hot air around in circles and like an oasis in the dessert, there appeared gelato, sorbetto and yogurt on a stick. It felt like I was walking into a nice large ice box to peruse the rows of frozen treats. An oasis indeed.

Back in my day it was all about the Popsicle brand treats like Fudgecicles and immense Big Sticks and those patriotic red, white and blue rocket ships... oh and Push-ups and sickly sweet non-Popsicle Otter Pops and running after the sketchy ice-cream trucks playing Music Box Dancer through an otherwise quiet suburban neighborhood. Today there are gourmet Italian hormone-free, gluten-free, Kosher gianduja gelatos custom-dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in fine coconut shavings in fancy city storefronts dedicated to popsicles. Oh goodness. Though I do concede that the concept is borderline ridiculous, and the cost is considerably more than the coins I scavenged from my parents pockets to pay for popsicles as bright as the neon 80's, I was so glad that as I rounded the corner in my sopping wet shirt that I wasn't staring at some old bearded man smoking a pipe, but a large refrigerated glass box of popsicles.

(Here's a ditty from the 60's by The Murmaids called Popsicles and Icicles.)

5 Carmine Street

New York, NY 10014

(212) 255-4874

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Vive Le Fooding

I just read this Gopnik No Rules! in the New Yorker. This exciting push by the new guard of French cooking speaks to my Earth Mother slow food heart.

Le Fooding

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Morning on Main Street

There's a Main Street that is smaller than one can imagine in Southern California's great expanse. Sandwiched between the bustling ports of Long Beach and the surfers of Huntington Beach is a small seaside community called Seal Beach. The short Main Street leads into a quiet Pacific Ocean pier, now bereft of seals except for the bronze sculpture town mascot, Slick the Seal, greeting pier walkers at its entrance. Daily surf and weather reports are handwritten in chalk and an old single-screen movie theatre, The Bay Theatre, on the opposite end plays classics, foreign films and indies making this beach city live up to its old town 'quaint' reputation.

In between Slick and The Bay is a great little cafe called Crema Cafe. I don't eat French toast that often, but when I do, I like it to be worth it. Crema Cafe bakes their bread in-house daily which makes their organic multi-grain thick-sliced French toast memorable: soft inside and perfectly browned on the outside and not too eggy. It is served with whipped cream, orange zest syrup and fruit. A foamy Illy cappuccino to sip in between bites makes me wish for more mornings on Main Street, when times are/were slower.

Crema Cafe
322 Main Street
Seal Beach, CA 90740
(562) 493-2501

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Local" Returns to It's Roots

My friend AM recommended this newly opened East Village restaurant specializing in locally grown meals. As many restaurants are riding the 'locavore', farm-to-table, know-your-butcher, wave, harvesting peak seasonal ingredients from nearby farms and buying specialty food items from the people who love their craft, they also seem to be conflating this philosophy with haute cuisine. Before agribusiness, local was all there was. Even if one was hungry, that scraped up meal was still from around the corner and not doused in herbicides ore pesticides. So why should going back to the way things were have to cost so much? Something to think on...

In the meantime, there's a little place in the East Village called Northern Spy Food Co. that is offering the same quality meals, albeit in a homier setting, for the responsible eater who doesn't necessarily have a gourmet budget. It isn't pennies, but definitely worth every penny for beautifully prepared nourishing meals that are not only sustainable, but satisfying.

Kale salad with clothbound cheddar, butternut squash, almonds and lemon dressing; wonderful roasted Bobo chicken; red quinoa with radish and sherry dressing; wild hive polenta with mustard greens, mushrooms and creme fraiche; Farmer's salad with artichoke hearts, turnips and arugula; homemade concord grape and quince seltzers.

Northern Spy Food Co.
511 East 12th Street (btwn Ave. A and Ave B.)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 228-5100