A Delicious But Dirrty Affair

This year, my hometown of Los Angeles did not make it onto Gourmet Magazine’s list of top five dining cities in the United States. Us Angelenos have known this all along: L.A. is a big city with some decent fancy restaurants, but other cities have much more impressive high-end dining rosters.

lomosaltado.jpgWhile Los Angeles may not be great for gourmet cuisine, it is unmatched for ethnic chow. You know what I’m talking about- those secret (or sometimes not so secret) hole in the wall gems that serve up delicious concoctions from the Middle East, South America, Asia, and everywhere else. You name it, we’ve got it. And it’s so authentic, it tastes just like it does back home. Wherever that may be.

A while ago, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services began requiring all eating establishments to post their inspection rating by the front door. The details of the inspection results are also posted on the County web site. The Health Department’s grading system is like the school system’s: Total score of 100 points, with “A” being the highest letter grade.

friedporkchops.jpgI just looked up two of my favorite LA restaurants on the Health Department website- Mario’s Peruvian and Lee’s Garden. The results were just as I figured. Because for food to taste good, it must be just a little bit dirrty. Makes sense, right? How good could Lee’s pork chops taste if they didn’t have a dash of Lee’s Special “Chutney”? Like with all delicious- mysterious recipes, I’ll eat it, but when it comes to knowing what’s in Lee’s Special Chutney, I have a strict Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell policy. Just like the U.S. Navy.

So now you know all about Los Angeles’ role as the ethnic chow capital of the world. Where the food is authentic and delicious. And inexpensive, to boot. And if you forget to tip, next time they’ll even throw in the hepatitis for free.

Favorite Restaurant 1:

MARIO’S PERUVIAN & SEAFOOD RES
5786 MELROSE AVE
LOS ANGELES, CA 90038

Current Score: B (84 out of 100)

Violations:

  1. Risk for contamination
  2. Food Storage
  3. Improperly Cleaned/Not Maintained Clean
  4. Storage
  5. Unapproved Type/Improper Use/Improper Installation
  6. Wiping Rag
  7. Deterioration/Unapproved Materials/Facility Not Fully Enclosed

Latest Inspection Date: 10/12/2005

Inspection History
Date – [Score] – Letter Grade
06/03/2005 – [90] – A
04/05/2005 – [90] – A
03/24/2005 – [74] – C

Favorite Restaurant 2:

LEE’S GARDEN
1428 S ATLANTIC BLVD
ALHAMBRA, CA 91803

Current Score: C (76 out of 100)

Violations:

  1. Holding of PHF
  2. Cooling
  3. Thawing
  4. Food Storage
  5. Ready to Eat Food
  6. Improperly Cleaned/Not Maintained Clean
  7. Unapproved Type/Improper Use/Improper Installation
  8. Deterioration/Unapproved Materials/Facility Not Fully Enclosed
  9. Not Maintained Clean
  10. Sink and Fixtures/Floor Sink/Floor Drain
  11. Drain Line/Supply Line
  12. Hood

Inspection Date: 10/12/2005

Inspection History
Date – [Score] – Letter Grade
05/13/2005 – [80] B
03/26/2005 – [81] B
03/17/2005 – [71] – C

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Come Enjoy Our Delicious Rudeness

soup_man.gifRemember the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld? Well, he’s a real guy named Al Yeganeh, and his original soup shop is a real place in New York City. Al has always despised the “Soup Nazi” moniker. He is, however, quite enterprising. In the past year, he has opened over a dozen stores under the brand “The Original SoupMan”, with plans to open a few dozen more this year. Soup Nazi Man also has his packaged soups on grocery store shelves in fourteen states.

Soup Nazi’s penchant for Rules with a capital R is no myth (Move to the left! Have your money ready! No talking!), as one of his new business partners attests: “Al is obviously temperamental…”. Boy, I guess that soup is better than crack, if people keep going back despite the rude service. Or maybe it’s got crack in it. Someone should remind Yeganehnehnehneh that his soup is only “World Renowned” because Nazi joke-totin’ Seinfeld made it so.

Here are a few other very well-known places I have been to or heard about, where the service is famously rude and the food sometimes good.

nanking.jpgHouse of Nanking, San Francisco. This Chinese restaurant is in every San Francisco guide book I’ve ever read. The line is always out the door, populated mainly by tourists patiently waiting for a bit of Nanking magic. It’s a tiny place (hence the line) with old tables and chairs, and the food is served on industrial-style metal plates. I went there once, to see what all the fuss is about.

Waiter: You! Order now!

Jack: OK…I’d like the kung pao chick…

Waiter: [shakes head, cuts me off] BOO HOW!!! [" NO GOOD!" in Chinese] You won shicken! I bling you shicken!!!

He then proceeds to jot down an order for some random chicken dish I didn’t want. O well. The food’s too sweet anyway, so I’ll leave it for the tourists.

One day I will be brave enough to shake my head and wag my finger at the waiter while he’s shaking his own head at me, yelling “BOO HOW!”. Do you think this will enrage him even more?

Wong Kei, London. Like Nanking, this London landmark is notorious for rude service (I am beginning to see a pattern here: What’s up with the rude waiters at Chinese restaurants?). The waiters at Wong Kei rush you to order quickly, throw your food on the table, and shove the bill down your throat so they can clear your table for the next customer. They’ve even been known to spit on the floor in plain view. Gross.

This one I will not mess with. You never mess with a spitting waiter unless it’s after your food is served and you never intend to go back.

Many people swear by Wong Kei, though: It’s good food at a good price, and the place is huge. I prefer Mandarin Kitchen across the street from the Queensway Tube stop. Better food in my opinion, and no sightings of spitting waiters.

Sushi Nozawa, Studio City. This Los Angeles area sushi place often has a line halfway down the block, and many consider it to be the best sushi place in Southern California. Like his soup-ladling counterpart, though, Master Nozawa is jokingly referred to as “The Sushi Nazi”.

If you manage to score a table, do not order a California roll. If the chef suggests something to you, do not say no and order something else. Do not order too much of the daily specials- they need to be rationed out sparingly to all the regulars. Any of these infractions are liable to get you politely excused. At Sushi Nozawa, your meal can sometimes be over before you think it’s over.

One of these days someone with a shaky hand should cut up some blowfish and force feed it to El Maestro until he agrees to make a California roll. (El Maestro- If you are reading this, I’m just kidding. Please please please don’t cut me off. My real name is not Jack anyway. It’s Pooky.)

I wonder why these places are so popular. For some, I guess it’s the quality of the food. But at Nanking, for example, the food isn’t even very good. Perhaps it’s the entertainment value of the rude service that keeps people coming back. Because it’s all fun and games until a waiter spits in your dinner.

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Pizza Lovers Teleconference

pizza3.jpg

Pick up handset.

Press “Line 1″.

Dial phone. [doo! dOo! Doo! doO! dOO! DOO! Doo! doO!]

[RING RING!]

Press “Hold”.

Press “Line 2″.

Dial phone. [doo! dOo! Doo! doO! dOO! DOO! Doo! doO!]

[Riiiiing!]

Press “Conference”.

Press “Mute”.

[Riiiiing!] [RING RING!] [Riiiiing!] [RING RING!].

Pizza Hut: [Picks up] Hello! Pizza Hut! Would you like to try our Meat Lover’s Pan Pizza today? [Riiiiing!] Hello?

Domino’s Pizza: [Picks up] Thank you for calling Domino’s! Will this be for delivery or pick-up?

PH: Hello?

DP: Hello?! Yes, delivery or pick-up?

PH: Excuse me? Did you want delivery, or pick-up?

DP: Huh? Who is this?!

PH: This is Pizza Hut! Who is this?!

DP: This is Domino’s Pizza! Do you want to order a pizza or not?!

PH: No I don’t want to order a pizza! This is Pizza Hut! Why would I want to order a pizza?!

DP: Well, why’d you call me then?!

PH: I didn’t call you! You called me!

DP: I didn’t call you! Why the hell would I call you?!

PH: I don’t know why!

DP: Well, don’t call again! [Click!]

PH: Asshole! [Click!]

*sigh* Life was so much more fun before Caller ID.

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Words to Live By

A person’s approach to life, work and play can sometimes be summed up in a simple expression or two. In considering the phrases that I live by, I realized that they are rather simplistic. But I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing. These are the rules I try to live by:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Giving is more rewarding that receiving
  3. Don’t mistake luck for skill
  4. Good judgment is key to success
  5. When in doubt, deep fry

Poor Richard's AlmanacThere are a whole lot of values missing from the list: spirituality, work ethic, civic responsibility, just to name a few. And my interpretation of each phrase may be much different from the obvious. Especially rules 1 (for me it also relates to materialism, in addition to work and other things) and 2 (pertains to family and friends, not to charitable organizations). But in the end these are the phrases that resonate most with me.

I’ve already discussed a bit of rule 1 in a previous post about my friend Jason A. At some point in the future I will elaborate on the rest of them here on SuckyBlog. For now, you can contemplate them as standalone expressions, totally unspoiled by my verbosity and open to your personal interpretation.

These are the words I live by. What are yours?

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Jack’s Artery Blockade

A few days ago, my wife Pat whipped up some brown sugar-glazed pork. The official Thai name for it is “moo+ wan+”, or “sweet pork”. (The “+” means to inflect up at the end of the word, as if you were asking a question in English.) My friends who have tasted it affectionately refer to it as “artery blockade” or “the fibrillator”. It’s a little bit like pig candy, but with three times the sugar and stir fried in oil instead of baked.

I scooped a big ol’ helping onto a plate and thought, “Hey! I should blog this! I bet people will want to know how to make it, even if they’re too scared to eat it!” So I benignly reach for the digicam. Pat then lets out a shriek:

Pat: No! You left a little grease streak on the side of the plate! If you’re gonna blog it let me clean it up!

Jack: I don’t think people will care. They know I’m a slob in the blogosphere like I am in real life. This is not some fancy food blog with fancy pictures.

Pat: You want me to put it on a nicer plate or something?

Jack: Again….ain’t my style. Function over form. Substance over style. Step aside. I’m taking the picture.

Pat: You want me to add some chopped scallions to it, to give it some color?

Jack: OK how about this…why don’t you hold up this wooden spatula and smile for the camera. I can always use a picture of you in your pajamas to accompany the picture of Jack’s Famous Artery Blockade.

Pat then shrieks even louder and runs upstairs to hide from the digicam, the sound of her giggling receding up the stairwell (she can’t help but giggle even in times of extreme distress- at least if our house ever catches fire at night I’ll be awakened by the sound of giggling).

Alas, after that whole ordeal, below is the “recipe” for Jack’s Artery Blockade. Don’t even ask me about portions and cooking times…just use The Force when you cook, like my grandma.

  1. Add some oil to a medium hot pan or wok
  2. Throw in some sliced pork or cooked bacon
  3. Add some fish sauce. I’m Thai-Chinese but not a Thai-Chinese snob (can’t we all just get along?), so I use fish sauce like the recipe calls for, not soy sauce
  4. Add some white pepper
  5. Add some brown sugar
  6. DO NOT add garlic. I like garlic, but it tastes funny in this dish
  7. DO NOT add vegetables. They suck
  8. Stir
  9. Let the meat simmer for a bit
  10. Push all the meat toward the outer edges of the pan or wok, leaving a hole in the middle
  11. You will see the sugary sauce (aka “Jack’s Super Secret Artery Blockade Sauce”) begin to evaporate in the center of the pan. I think fancy cooksters call this a reduction. Like, “Siamese Pork Cutlet with a Lana’i Sugar Cane Reduction”. Since I won’t be charging $20 for this dish (I don’t have nice enough plates- my fine china is made of plastic), I just call it “evaporating pig meat juice”
  12. Lower the heat to medium-low to medium
  13. Sprinkle more sugar periodically and stir
  14. Over time the juice will continue to evaporate and form a glaze. Keep on alternately stirring and then creating a space in the middle for the juice to evaporate.
  15. It’s ready to eat after it’s simmered and stirred for a while, when the pork has hardened somewhat and the glaze gels and is no longer like gravy
  16. Sprinkle chopped scallions over the top before serving, for presentation

I actually object to the last step, but as I type this Pat is dangling my six pack of Costco bacon over the trash can, saying “Tell them to add scallions. Now. Bitch.

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How to Name a Chinese Restaurant

I’ve had a lot of friends ask recently, “Jack, how do Chinese restaurant owners pick a name for their establishment?” Actually, nobody’s ever asked me that (and most of my friends don’t use “establishment” in everyday conversation), but I just threw it out there as a way to enhance my weak storytelling skills. If I had stronger storytelling skills I would not have thrown it out there, and I certainly would not have admitted to making it up. I also would get back on topic real fast.

Because I am of Asian descent (see “Fob or Not?!?!“), I know these things. Here is how you pick a name for a new Chinese restaurant:

1) Pick a name from list A

  • Golden
  • Jade
  • Bamboo
  • Empress
  • Emperor’s
  • China
  • Panda
  • Hunan
  • Szechwan

It doesn’t matter what kind of food you plan to serve- you can randomly pick either Hunan or Szechwan because nobody in the U.S. knows the difference anyway.

2) Pick a name from list B

  • Dragon
  • Palace
  • Garden
  • Pavilion
  • Inn
  • Pagoda

3) Place A in front of B.

Congratulations. Now you have a name for your new Chinese restaurant.

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Yoshinoya Beef Bowl Prevents Cancer

The April issue of the American Cancer Society Journal has published the results of a widely conducted 20-year study of cancer preventing foods. At the top of the list is Yoshinoya Beef Bowl. Initially thought to simply be a leading cause of diabetes and heart disease, Yoshinoya Beef Bowl’s cancer-fighting benefits came as a great surprise to the researchers. Despite initial doubts, the study was compelled to include Yoshinoya’s Beef Bowl because the dish is very popular in Japan, with a Yoshinoya seemingly on every street corner in Tokyo and other large Japanese cities. The study included foods that were popular and frequently consumed in countries that have a low incidence of cancer, such as Japan and Greece.

While researchers initially believed at the outset that the predominance of foods such as fish and olive oil were responsible for the low incidence of cancer in Japanese and Mediterranean populations, the results of the well-funded independent study showed that Yoshinoya Beef Bowl clearly was the primary cancer preventing agent among the Japanese population. The study showed an average 30% lower incidence of several types of cancers for men and women of all age groups who regularly ate Yoshinoya Beef Bowl over a 20 year period, from 1986 to 2006. Those who ate a large Yoshinoya Beef Bowl with two packs of Kikkoman Soy Sauce at least twice a week particularly benefitted, with some age groups displaying up to a 45% lower incidence of colorectal cancer. “We were as surprised as anybody about the results, but the study was conducted very rigorously with independent funding over a 20 year period, and we consider the results to be conclusive,” commented the study’s coordinator, Dr. Aaron Ohno of the nationally-funded Japan Cancer Research Institute.

Public reaction to the study’s surprising results has thus far been enthusiastic. “I give the results of this research study two big thumbs up. Now I can enjoy the fatty-fat-fattiness of a Yoshinoya Beef Bowl and know that I am also improving my health,” comments 19-year-old Arthur Ipsla of Los Angeles, CA, a longtime Yoshinoya patron who has been cancer free all his life.

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Favorite L.A. Restaurants

Pat and i eat out a lot these days, because l.a. has lots of excellent places to eat. These are our favorites. They are not necessarily places everyone else raves about, and some of them when you go don’t seem super special in any way. But the two things they have in common are that 1) we have favorite dishes that we order at each, and 2) we go back to them as much as possible whenever we’re in the general vicinity- i guess places we vote for with our feet are the real winners, even if they are not always the toast of the town’s critics and gourmands. On that note, i must tell everyone to stop going to all the places i like, because i really don’t like waiting in line. haha. Thanks to all the friends and family who introduced us to many of these fine establishments.

mayflower (chinatown). house special lobster or crab

yai (hollywood blvd near 101 junction). excellent thai food.

triumphal palace (main st, between atlantic & garfield, alhambra). excellent dim sum.

jiraffe (santa monica blvd, santa monica). very good. pricey though.

mario’s (vine & melrose). excellent peruvian.

zankou chicken (several locations in l.a.).

thai nakorn (garden grove). thai.

fu rai bo (on sawtelle, also another one in gardena). get their house special chicken wings.

manna (koreatown). all you can eat for like $15 a head.

lee’s garden (atlantic and valley, in the del taco shopping center). taiwanese. excellent pork chops w/ rice, and a few other tasty dishes.

din tai fung (baldwin between 210 and 10 fwys, north of live oak, arcadia). dumplings made from scratch. very good, but long wait.

sanamluang cafe (hollywood blvd east of western in hollywood, sherman way west of 170 fwy north hollywood, also one in claremont). authentic and varied thai menu.

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Who’s Beard Papa?

So a little while ago our friend Sharon introduced us to this place called “Beard Papa”. It’s a pretty popular spot is what I heard. which explains why i hadn’t ever heard about it until a month ago- some people are uncool. i’m like anticool. not to say that i am personally against cool things. more like the cool force of the universe evidently doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. anyway, it’s a japanese company that serves cream puffs, of all things. the parent company’s name is muginoho USA (even though they don’t have a franchise in noho they still have it as part of their name…well, north hollywood for those who bought homes there 10-20 years ago at $100,000 – $300,000, and noho for those who moved in recently at well over $500,000). so these things are huge. and they come with 3 filling types: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. there’s a little vat of each filling at the counter, and a big ol’ pile of hollow cream puffs (these are much larger than the regular cream puffs you find at the grocery or the chinese bakery). when you order, they inject the filling into each cream puff for you. kinda like a freshly made sort of thing.

so who is beard papa? the only time i’ve been there, i asked the lady behind the counter, but she could not provide an answer. does he smoke his pipe when he’s cooking up the cream puffs? that would not be very sanitary. and why does he look pretty caucasian even though it’s a japanese company? and what’s with the nose? can that thing be any wider? it must be some medical condition. is there a beard mama? she must be the brains behind the operation. and sharon said it would be more logical if they called it “papa beard”, but since it’s japanese it’s called “beard papa”, reminiscent of those random t-shirts and pencil boxes from asia with randomly stitched together words forming incomprehensible phrases, like “duck pond lily love freshness”. or “sucky blog spring rain ever fly.” ok i made those up. they’re not as funny as the real thing.

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Pho-King Awesome Restaurant Names

For the uninitiated, “Pho” rhymes with “duh”. Or so I’ve been told, but not by anyone vietnamese because we used to have two vietnamese friends in socal but one moved to boston and the other must think we smell b/c for some reason he won’t hang out with us except once every 6 months (not for lack of trying on our part- ok i’ll stop my bitching and get on with the lame joke now haha). here are some gems:

What the Pho – West L.A.
Pho King – Rosemead
Absolutely Phobulous – Hollywood
Pho Kym – Monterey Park

This is not limited to Pho places though:
- when i was growing up near monterey park (80′s! baby!) the two best places for chinese porridge were luk yue and fu yue. i always wondered what the name would be changed to if they merged.
- In Portland there is a Chinese restaurant called “Hung Far Low”. It’s actually spelled that way too.

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