(Wo)man shall not live by bread alone

Funny Confession Ecard: I'm ashamed of what I've done for a Klondike bar.

So as you might’ve expected already, being a Hungry Asian Girl and indulging in restaurant meals on a relatively frequent basis can get pretty demanding on one’s metabolism. A couple of months ago, following a disastrous sequence of holiday-related (and birthday-related…and Chinese New Year-related…) calorie explosions, I realized that my indulgence in the perpetual munchies meant that I was fast becoming a Very Chubby Asian Girl and decided – and I know this is shocking  – to stop eating carbohydrates.

It’s hard to describe my love affair with carby, starchy foodstuffs. As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t (and never will be) anything quite as satisfying as really good pasta bolognese, or creamy risotto, or pho with rare beef, or curry rendang with rice, or potatoes dauphinoise or…er, anyways. Miraculously, however, I’ve managed to keep my carbs to a relative* minimum for the past couple of months, which at least means I now fit into my favorite skinny jeans again, thus giving me enough hipster cred to be allowed entrance once more to a number of restaurants and bars in the downtown Los Angeles area. Or maybe that’s just my fake ironic moustache talking.

In any case, here are a couple of low-carb options that have become my new (sort of) BFFs that are hopefully amusing, if not helpful, for other delusional individuals out there looking to maybe do the same thing.

  • Eggs, though I will admit to  having eaten more yolks than I should. I do love a good egg’s Benedict, even without the English muffin
  • ThinkThin Bars. Despite the tragically amusing name, these are also gluten-free for those with what must be one of the worst and most cruel allergy conditions known to man. The Brownie Crunch one is where it’s at.
  • “Creative” salad options and combinations. For instance, I have renewed my love for beets, which can’t be very exciting for many other people but is pretty funny for me given the number of “beet and goat’s cheese salads” that seem to have worked their way onto generic hotel set menus lately.
  • Rediscovering that being a carnivore is awesome. Self-explanatory, but one thing to note is that since going low/no carb, I seem to have noticed that my penchant for red (and I mean red) meat has increased. I’ll have that steak as rare as possible, please.

Next time, the Hungry Asian Girl discusses her New York City restaurant plan of attack and completely abandons the above resolve. Stay tuned.

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Spring beginnings

The weather here in Los Angeles is finally beginning to heat up after a – relatively – long winter, and it seems like it’s the season to try new things…

New tastes, flavors and um…ingredients:

Photo credit and my very first silkworm experience all courtesy of the LA Gastronauts. (Which by the way is an excellent idea for anyone in either the LA or NYC area looking for other food enthusiasts with adventurous palates and/or a deathwish.)

New restaurants:

The Spice Table, Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. Sambal potatoes, lamb belly satays, sexy laksa noodles, all served up with great hospitality from chef/owner team Kim & Bryant. 

New knives (!):

Looking forward to a summer season with old and new friends alike, and with any luck, continued new experiences.

And more blog posts.

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Asian Persuasion

I think I’ve got a problem and because this is apparently what you’re supposed to do with these things, I’m going to come right out and admit it. I can’t stop eating at Lukshon, the new Asian fusion-ish Culver City restaurant by Sang Yoon (of “you can eff right off you want any substitutions on this burger” Father’s Office fame). It’s been open three weeks and I’ve been there as many times. The staff now recognizes me, I don’t have any money left* and  the addiction shows no sign of letting up.

I want to preface this but saying that I eat a lot of Asian food. This probably goes without saying, but by virtue of having an aZn upbringing and an inherent penchant for big, punchy Asian flavors, I voluntarily eat a lot of the stuff. Unfortunately my expertise (self-proclaimed) and love (self-evident) for this food also means that I have a near zero tolerance for a lot of BS food coming from pseudo Asian “fusion” restaurants out there.

The problem is that a lot of the stuff is just so overdone and obviously inauthentic by now. While we may have excused this inauthenticity in the late 90’s for some sexy presentation (read: tiny portions with lots of interesting saucy dribbles), the current – and rightful – trend towards the simpler preparation of a few, key ingredients, seems to make a lot of poncy “fusion” restaurants seem a bit redundant. Yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno is a great example, because while it’s still delicious and outrageously expensive at Nobu, not only has it been widely ripped off at every vaguely aspirational trendy Japanese joint, everyone knows that in Asia, the fish would’ve been bought, steamed, served and eaten in under 15 minutes with no fuss and with no drizzle of EVOO in sight.

That being said, I’ve recently eaten at a couple of restaurants of “Asian influence” that have genuinely softened my opinion. The recently controversial Red Medicine is somewhere, despite all the hubbub, I’d go back to again in a second, especially if I was in the mood for dynamic flavor combinations, and very precise, well-executed dishes. Night + Market and A-Frame were both the same way – casual, communal atmospheres, traditional Asian ingredients (pork neck!), funky preparations, served small plates tapas style, made for sharing. A highly enjoyable visit to Kaumudi Marathé’s “un-curry” pop-up also introduced a different side of vegetarian Indian cooking that was quietly innovative and didn’t skimp on flavor.

What makes Lukshon different (and also why I literally cannot stop paying the admittedly not quite cheap prices) is the level of attention paid to getting the basic, foundational Asian flavor and techniques right, before putting modern, unexpected twists on the dishes.

Case in point. Sang Yoon makes his own XO sauce, a spicy condiment made of various kinds of dried seafood, garlic and chilies. Canto families like mine have been eating XO sauce since the stuff was invented by Southern Chinese fishermen as way of preserving seafood (and masking the taste of the rank stuff sometimes). XO making and eating probably pre-dates Larry King. While I of course appreciate the fact that Chef Yoon (or his “people” did anyway) took the time to do proper research and make the stuff from scratch in what must be a labor of love, what I really dig is the fact that at Lukshon, he serves his XO with delicate, coconut-scented rice cakes, an unexpected combination of flavors that makes the already tasty and familiar taste of the condiment even more explosive.

Little details like these, combined with a cool decor (sit at the kitchen counter if you’ve got a small group and watch the chefs work their magic) funky drinks selection (Indian whiskey!) means that my Mint.com statement is just going to have to keep getting uglier*.

Well, um, that was enthusiastic of you. What dishes should I get then?

Everything, obviously. But in all seriousness: The “shrimp toast”, mackerel, duck popiah, lamb sausage roti canai, mussels with green curry, XO fried rice.

Since it’s in the FO family, how’s the beer selection?

Pretty good though if you’re a beer snob, I’d just pop next door, get your Pliny, and come back in a bit for some bomb short rib rendang to go with.

When are you going again?

Lukshon; 3239 helms ave. culver city, CA.

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Having Your Cake and Reviewing It Too

2010’s busy holiday season – which involved getting stranded in four inches of snow, Christmas overindulgence (hopefully more on that in a later entry) and an enjoyable but surprisingly restrained New Year’s – means I’m only just now getting around to another HAG entry, but in any case, an indulgent food-filled 2011 to everyone.

While I’m totally aware that this is somewhat belated and possibly even irrelevant seeing as everyone and their mother remotely interested in food seems to already have an opinion – I thought I’d kickstart 2011 with my two cents on last December’s storm in a teacup incident where Noah Ellis, co-owner of “non-traditional” Vietnamese joint Red Medicine, chucked LA Times critic S. Irene Virbila out of the establishment, but not before posting a picture of her online, thus single-handedly blowing Virbila’s 16 years of anonymity as a food critic. Apparently.

S Irene Virbila - LA Times

The restaurant’s Yelp page has since been filled with a bunch of uptight indignant, angry posts citing mediocre and overpriced food, unreasonable wait times and snooty wait staff as one of the many potential reasons why the restaurant’s ownership may have wanted to prevent Virbila from penning one of her straight-talking reviews.

It’s undeniable that Ellis was definitely being far less than mature (read: douchey), but what the brouhaha that’s resulted from all of this really brings to mind is the bigger issue of whether we even need food critics anymore, anonymous or not. Foodies and their review blogs like this one are ten-a-penny and – goes without saying – instant communication via social media platforms circulates good and bad news about a restaurant instantly and directly. For me though, this phenomenon doesn’t necessarily spell the end for traditional food critics but rather brings together the best of both worlds.

No matter how hard it is for self-proclaimed foodies like us me to admit, seasoned food critics like Jay Raynor, Jonathan Gold, Sam Sifton and yes, even SIV herself, and so on, bring years of knowledge and experience eating and writing about the food industry that is frankly difficult for amateur foodies and bloggers – though many are certainly very talented – to imitate. However, new restaurants will still find themselves held to a certain, and perhaps even higher, level of quality because any preferential treatment shown by restaurants to these no-longer-anonymous critics is offset by the need to maintain levels of taste and consistency to satisfy the equally no-longer-anonymous, over-sharing masses.

As for me, I’m excited to revisit Red Medicine post-SIV drama but apparently reservations have become much harder to come by. After all, all publicity is good publicity. Or something.

Chicken Dumplings at Red Medicine

So you’ve actually been to Red Medicine? Are all the overrated rumors true?

I was lucky enough to snag a table on opening night with my fellow dining enthusiast, E, where we enjoyed everything, especially their chicken dumplings, papaya salad, and cocktails. The food, service, etc. showed none of inconsistency other customers have complained about but admittedly, it was kind of early days.

Ugh – where can I get cool, innovative Asian OmNoms without all the drama and $8 valet parking?

Dynamite Asian-American cooking going on at Roy Choi’s A-Frame in Culver City in a casual, communal dining space that used to be an IHOP. Recap to come soon.

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This is Why We’re Fat

Interesting Freakonomics op-ed by James McWilliams who thinks that the government’s war on everything that’s making Americans fat, obese and morbidly obese (a thinspiration phrase if there ever was one) is ultimately in vain, because – and here’s where I start to read between the lines – our oh-so-Amurrrrican love of everything fried, double-fried, and triple-fried (incidentally, the best and only way to make freedom fries) is an essentially irrational desire.

While I don’t think McWilliams is being particularly helpful by simply pointing out the failure of the government’s policy to police obesity (as if obesity is some kind of dangerous, lurking criminal out to steal our children and rob us of our general wellbeing and welfare – which I suppose it is), what I do agree with is that this affinity we have for tasty but ultimate deadly foodstuffs laced with trans-fats, unknown animal by-products and probably bits of ground up street urchin, is something peculiarly American.

Of course I’m not saying that obesity is only a problem in the US. Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food program from a few years back – the insightful and far less preachy predecessor to the current US Food Revolution series – demonstrated the serious toll obesity and related health risks have begun to take on cities in the UK particularly in Northern, industrial cities like Rotherham.

Back here in the States though, we seem to be feeling the literal and metaphorical pinch of obesity issues most acutely out of any other nation in the world. According to the CDC, only two states (well done to DC and Colorado) reported an overall obesity percentage of less than 20% in 2009 – that’s 48 states where more than a fifth of the population is obese. In Mississippi and other states – you can probably have an educated guess at which ones – the percentage is almost 35%. The related health risks are estimated to have cost an extra $147 billion in 2008 – and someone (read: you and I) is going to have to pay for all that.

So the question ultimately boils down to the issue of how to convince the butter and consumption obsessed American public to voluntarily want to put away their 50 pound burgers and Double-Downs in favor of…Stouffer’s microwavable mac ‘n cheese? For me, what’s missing is a fundamental understanding of our human relationship with food: to understand it as more than just mere fuel and that the goal of eating isn’t just to be able to find the cheapest and tastiest version of that fuel. The basic process of cooking from scratch, properly, with raw ingredients, without any short cuts, and ultimately getting to taste and enjoy that creation, is actually a way of understanding how we are inextricably connected to our society, the environment and ultimately the natural world in which we live. To continue to stuff ourselves full of neon yellow, overprocessed and chemically-injected “food” not only does a disservice to the incredible creation that is the human palate, but also creates a long-term burden on society as a whole.

Now that’s a reason I’d double down on.

PS: Though I suppose there are a couple of practical reasons why you might want some extra rolls of body fat handy.

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The HAG does…Test Kitchen

Test Kitchen

9575 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles 90035

Food 4.5/5

Ambience 4/5

Service 3.5/5

The story

It’s pretty hard to ignore the fact that the current food climate in pretty much every big metropolitan area has become increasingly focused on the new, innovative and temporary, evidenced by the ubiquitous “mobile” food truck/bus/wheelbarrow movement and of course the growing number of high-end, classically trained chefs who elect to go the pop-up restaurant route rather than tie themselves down to one particular location or theme.

While you may be thinking that this sounds just *so* 2010, here’s a friendly foodie reminder that the guys over at Test Kitchen have been gigging in this “limited engagement” scene for ages now and have gotten really good at it. Set in a sexy town house just east of Beverly Hills, Test Kitchen is literally what it says on the tin: carte blanche for invited chefs to create a menu of their own choosing for a very limited period of time.

When the HAG’s overactive Omnoms Radar™ picked up on the fact that Philip Pretty, a fixture at Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous spot at the London West Hollywood, was the guest chef du jour along with Chef Kristopher Tominaga of the excellent Joe’s in Venice, AND that they were cooking what seemed like a clever, refined version of surf and turf, it was a done deal. And also because the Test Kitchen bar mixologists have a God given talent with their booze mixing skeelz.

What to get

As the menu is fixe prix at Test Kitchen for a set number of courses, it’s not like you really have a choice. However, I will note that in the capable hands of Chefs Pretty and Tominaga, we devoured every one of the five courses faster than the cast of Jersey Shore catches STDs. Tasteless reference aside, the highlights without further a due…

  • Peruvian lantern scallops with caviar, ogo seaweed, pickled mushroom, prosciutto, cucumber broth. Oceanography and underwater marine life were never my strong suits at university but apparently growing scallops in lantern shaped baskets (?) does wonders for their flavor. Or something. Might’ve been the prosciutto though.
  • Crispy sweetbreads with crayfish, peppered biscuit, shellfish gravy, petite greens. I’ve always (very secretly) had a thing for Southern comfort food but if all Southern food tasted like this, I’d very happily chuck in the wheatgrass-riddled “LA lifestyle” and crawl inside a barrel (barrel?) of butter with Paula Deen.
  • Poached apple with foie gras ice cream, sea salt caramel. I was obviously sold at the words “foie gras ice cream” but E and I both agreed that this is was one of the best desserts we’ve had all year. Classic textures, flavors and all round all-American goodness, with a dash of overstuffed duck liver flavor!

What’s the bad part?

I want to make sure and preface the following with the fact that this was one of the more enjoyable dinner nights out I’ve had in awhile so I’m fully aware that I’m nitpicking. However, it’s also my feeling that a bit more nitpicking over the Constitution might’ve prevented a certain President from being (s)elected into office in 2000. Or that if test officials had done a bit more nitpicking over my Biology AP exam in high school, they would’ve realized that large vulgar doodles of amoebas don’t actually constitute legitimate answers for a pass. Am I rambling?

  • But Mummy, I want my meat juice now! I’d very much been looking forward to the roasted monkfish and sous vide pork chop dishes, given my penchant for meaty, dense fishes and…well, meat, and while the flavors were in line with the rest of the meal and suitably intense, I noticed that both dishes were – dare I say it – lacking in their natural juices and even a bit…dry?? Regardless, we still consumed these dishes with the required vigor.

What’s the point of you writing this review and me reading it if it was a one-night only gig?

The London West Hollywood: http://www.thelondonwesthollywood.com/

Joe’s Restaurant: http://www.joesrestaurant.com/

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I can’t get enough of Mario’s crabs

Astute readers will remember that I referenced Del Posto’s incredible spaghetti with Dungeness crab in my post on joints run by celeb chefs. The last time I had the pleasure of sampling the dish, it was so heart-stoppingly good that I briefly considered having my first born child with giving up my first born child to Mario Batali in return for the recipe. Luckily for me, Eater is reporting that Del Posto has won its “Video Interlude of the Year” award for a sick video chronicling the A-Z(ed) process of how to make the dish, using shedloads of cool special effects and the equivalent amount of Dungeness crab.

The bad part of all of this is that of course it has confirmed that I am definitely not skilled nor motivated enough to make this dish at home. My large crustacean-crushing mallet also seems to have gone missing from the trunk of my car. Fortunately though for any West-siders, there’s always Cecconi’s.

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