Monday, June 19, 2017

Mama Lu's, Phoenix, and Seoul Sausage Happy Hour

There are a few general rules to follow when trying to trying to decide if a place will be good: 

1) Is there a line when nearby places have none?

2) If it is an ethnic cuisine, are there people of that ethnicity eating there?

3) Has a friend with a discerning palate eaten there and liked it?

Mama Lu's answered all these questions yes, but aside from one dish out of four, I can not say it was good.

They are known for their dumplings, so we ordered some to test out their signature dish. They were surprisingly bland with a heavily cilantro based filling and even with some doctoring with tableside black vinegar and chili oil, the three of us only ate one and left the rest.
I am still on my quest for great beef chow fun. The presentation made me hopeful, because it was not greasy, but once again it required doctoring with several of the tableside condiments to flavor these noodles. Again we left half food on the plate.
The clear winner of the evening were the pea sprouts sautéed in garlic, which we all loved and which needed no doctoring of any kind! This was the only plate we finished completely.
The clear loser of the evening were the clams in black bean sauce which were cloyingly sweet and which none of us wanted to eat after a few bites. We were amazed at how full the restaurant was and how disappointing the dishes were, especially since two of my friends had eaten there before and enjoyed their previous meal. It may have been a change of chefs that night, but I am not keen to venture for another try with their poor batting average on flavors.
A better choice for Chinese is Phoenix Food Boutique, a small outpost of a small chain, catering mostly to take out customers. Their $7.95 shrimp and pork wonton noodle soup was a hearty bowl with wonderful wontons and fresh bok choy. I found the soup itself lacking in depth of flavor, but the ingredients were tender and tasty enough to merit ordering this bowl.
The $8.50 beef chow fun was big enough for 2 people, and chock full of tender slices of beef, crunchy bean sprouts, and tender spring onions. If it were less greasy, this would have been perfect!

Seoul Sausage has been one of my favorite spots ever since they opened a brick and mortar shop near Sawtelle. I've been to their Little Tokyo location before, but this time I brought friends for Happy Hour. Since my friends are adept beer drinkers, our wonderful waiter provided us with tastes of several before we placed our order. We shared the Sausage Party platter and all agreed that the sweet and spicy chicken and the kalbi pork were our favorites,
so we followed up with two full sized sausages of both.
One of my friends ordered the Da Rapokki, pork belly spicy ramen, but didn't like the lack of liquid, but I loved the spicy noodles and pork belly.
I couldn't come to Seoul Sausage without making my friends try Korean Fried Chicken aka KFC, which was the hit of the evening :)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sweet Day

My desserts are usually fruit or cheese, but there are times when I crave chocolate or cookies. Thankfully I found two places to indulge those cravings when they arise :) 

Lolli and Pops is like heaven for those with a weakness for sweets; they offer ROOMS full of whatever temptation might entice you to replace your meal with a sugar high. If you don't have a location near you, they make gift packages and will ship to whomever you wish to bestow some sweetness.
 Some candies are sold by piece or weight.
 You can mix and match flavors while as you fill containers of different sizes.
 Some sweets are packaged for you.
 If you are nostalgic, there is an entire room of vintage candy.

 If you crave candy from other countries, they stock a few classic items.
 Classic US candies, from Jelly Belly
 to Pez,
 and Gummy Bears,
 each have their own section (or dedicated room).
 They have their in house brand 
 as well as famous names like Vosges,
 and Harry Potter.
After wandering through the store and feeling a bit overwhelmed, I decided I wanted a cookie (or two, or three), so I went into the Eagle Rock Italian Bakery. They are also a grocery store and deli, making sandwiches to go, and selling Italian olive oil, balsamic vinegar, semolina pasta, and more kinds of tomato products than I could count. It's a small selection compared to Bay Cities in Santa Monica, but the products are all curated for quality. 

I practiced extraordinary restraint by eating only 2-3 of these light buttery treats a day. It's going to require super-human resolve to limit my purchase and consumption now that I know how delicious they taste!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Bread and Sandwiches

When I first moved back to the US, I asked my gluten loving friends where they found their favorite baguettes and croissants. Since I now live on the eastside, making the trek to Bouchon in Beverly Hills on a regular basis was not going to be part of my life. The consensus was that I should try the croissants at Euro Pane in Pasadena. I was in for a shock when I saw how big they were. Easily 8" long and 3" wide in the center, they are HUGE by French standards. Since they use real butter, the flavor was good, and it was light and airy on the inside, but I had to "crisp" up the outside by popping it into the oven for a few minutes. This was a very good rendition, but I didn't salivate and want to run back for another one (the true test of a great viennoiserie is that you want another one).


A very good croissant is at Mr Holmes Bakehouse, famous for their croissant muffin hybrid, the Cruffin, as well as filled donuts.

The Holmes croissant is a butter intense version that some people adore, with a nice flaky exterior and good air pocket interior. I prefer a less butter saturated version, but for those who love butter, this croissant would be very satisfying.

Bread Lounge in DTLA makes a very good croissant, with a light airy center layers, and a crisp outer shell. It's about twice the size of the ones in France, but normal sized for the US. Slightly buttery and very light interior, but it doesn't have that delightfully chewy texture that I love.

I found Proof Bakery in Atwater Village on Instagram. If you look at their feed, have some napkins nearby because you will salivate onto your phone :) I got both a regular croissant and an almond, since those are my two favorites. The sizes were normal by French standards and I skipped the pain au chocolat because I'm one of the rare people who doesn't like their bread with chocolate!
After one bite of the croissant I wanted to go back and get a dozen! It is as close to an excellent Parisian one as I've eaten since I've been back in the US; flaky crisp exterior and layers of soft buttery interior with just the right amount of toothiness. I ate all the crumbs off my plate:)
The almond was just as authentically made and had a generous filling of almond paste on the inside and outside. This was so good I wanted to save some for later, but I kept eating "just one more bite" until it was gone.
I don't live on croissants alone, so I also looked for baguettes. A local showed me Nicole's in South Pasadena, a gourmet shop and cafe. When I saw they had beautiful products and cheeses from France I swooned, and then nearly fainted when I saw the prices were 3-5 times what I paid in France! I picked up one of their baguettes, anticipating a traditional rendition.
I was disappointed beyond words. I could have bought a baguette at a chain supermarket with better crust and texture, not to mention flavor.
Frogs Organic Bakery got rave reviews for their baguette, but by the time I arrived at the South Pasadena Farmers Market, they were already sold out! I settled for a loaf of their sourdough. It was a nice loaf of bread, but it lacked the crackling crisp crust, sour tang, and springy texture that I love. I was so uninspired by this loaf that I didn't go back for a baguette.


For artisan bread, the loaves at Seed Bakery are made with made with freshly milled organic ingredients, so if your tastes are for denser more robust bread, this is the place to go. You can literally see the difference in the crust and air pockets between the Frog's Bakery vs. Seed Bakery loaves; buy according to your preference.



Since my favorite baguette before I left was at Bouchon Bakery, and I was in Beverly Hills for a Yelp Event, I stopped by to get one. After three years of eating baguette tradition in France, this was more like a regular baguette.
I was thankful for a decent crust, proper air pockets, and good flavor after the previous shop. 
The baguette I got from Bottega Louie was twice as expensive but better in all aspects from crust to interior and much bigger. Since it is so close to two metro stops, this easy and pricey choice is one of my favorite baguettes in Los Angeles.
Bread Lounge is another of my favorites; they not only bake a wonderful baguette, complete with crackling crust and airy interior, but it is about half the cost of the baguette at Bottega Louie. Bread Lounge is in an industrial part of town, so not easy to access with public transportation, but easy to find parking if you are driving. The loaf doesn't have the toothy chew of the Bottega Louie baguette, but the crust has a nice crunch.

Another favorite is the baguette from Clark Street Bread, available now only at the Grand Central Market in DTLA (and various restaurants around town) until their shop opens in Echo Park. At $3.50, their price is in line with Bread Lounge, and although the crust needed a bit of crisping in the oven, the interior has the chewy texture I like, and the aroma of the loaf belies the quality ingredients used in its formation.

As in many other aspects of life, there are tradeoffs, and happiness lies in finding a balance that works. I'm grateful to have several choices which make me happy. If I could combine the best of all my favorites, I would have the Bread Lounge crust combined with the chewier interior of Bottega Louie, and the flavor of the Clark Street baguette :)

A great bagel is nearly as rare as a great baguette, but for NYers looking for a taste of breakfast from home,  Belle's Bagels is worth both the trek to Highland Park and the early morning journey (they sometimes sell out by noon or earlier on week-ends). Get a container or two of their Sierra Nevada Cream Cheese to complete your order and you will be set until they are open again (Thursday-Sunday).

In my hunt for bread, I found Float in Pasadena. They got rave reviews for their sandwich baguettes so I went for lunch and I agree, they have some of the best bread not for sale individually:) My friend ordered the tuna salad with avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and whole grain mustard. She thought she could only finish half, but it was so good she ate it all.
I ordered the pastrami banh mi with hot pastrami, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, red onion and cilantro. It was a refreshing take on both a traditional banh mi and a regular pastrami sandwich which I thoroughly enjoyed and would order again any day. They also have floats as the name implies, but after their hearty sandwiches there was no room left in my stomach.
In the foodie mecca of the eastside, aka Eagle Rock, I saw Milkfarm's enormous cheese counter and was drawn inside like a moth to flame, or in my case a raclette to a heat source (here's a video of how raclette is eaten). I saw a customer eating the turkey press and got one for myself:) It was made with turkey, roasted eggplant, roasted shallots, sundried tomatoes, pesto, kale, smoked mozzarella and fontina on multigrain. Even though it wasn't on a baguette, I was absolutely happy. 
Who wouldn't be happy eating this?!??!?!
They also sell Bread Lounge Baguettes, so if I need a local quick baguette fix, I have a place to go!