Archive | January, 2010

Jan. 31, 2010

31 Jan

9:30 am

2  slices of wheat toast with Nutella

1 glass of skim milk

1 pm

1 bratwurst with mustard

8 celery sticks with ranch dressing

2 cans of Diet Pepsi

3 pm

1 orange

8 pm

chipped beef on biscuits

side mixed green salad with vinaigrette

1 glass of orange juice

Manwich. Hamburger Helper. Dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. These are all dishes that I have eaten over the years because of my friend Abigail. But those dishes pale in comparison to her latest offering; chipped beef. If you have a grandparent who’s served in the military, they will remember S.O.S., or shit on a shingle. This is one of those dishes created in wartime scarcity with a cheap meat substitute, and to eat chipped beef is to travel back to a time when Rosie the Riveter helped turn out warships to fight the Axis power. If you watched Top Chef last season, you’ll remember this dish as something Jennifer Carroll made for Nigella Lawson and promptly got blasted by the judges. It’s not surprising, Jennifer is from Philadelphia and chipped beef is fairly popular in the northeast part of the United States. Chipped beef is air-dried beef slices that can only be described as Pringles made out of meat. Hormel, the largest manufacturer of chipped beef, actually compares it to the great Italian air-cured beef bresaola, which is like saying a Mazda Miata is comparable to a Ferrari. The beef chips are cooked in a bechamel sauce to make what tastes like a salty sausage gravy. Our friend Lucy was kind enough to bake Pillsbury biscuits, and the combination was oddly compelling, if salty. Somehow, beef chips are almost fat free. I don’t even want to know the chemical process to get to that point.

9:30 pm

1 slice of shoofly pie

Like horse-drawn carriages, beards, barns, Harrison Ford in “Witness” and Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise,” the shoofly pie is synonymous with the Pennsylvania Dutch. This incredibly dense and moist molasses pie is impossible to find in Los Angeles and I’ve never heard of it until I caught an episode of Good Eats on molasses. The recipe is really easy, and since Abigail was making a dish distinctive to that part of the United States, I figured shoofly pie would make a fitting dessert.

Shoofly pie recipe

I mostly stuck with Alton Brown’s recipe, but one crucial note must be added. Molasses is incredibly dense, so 12 oz. will actually weigh one pound. Hence, you should double-check any recipes with molasses to see if it calls for weight or volume. Conversely, some of us, like me, don’t have kitchen scales. I had to convert 8 oz. by weight into cups by hand. Generally, 1 cup of molasses per shoofly pie should work. I also added a bit of cinnamon and allspice to the batter. Cloves would work pretty well too.

Shoofly pies distinctive trait is that baking soda isn’t mixed in with the leavening agents. It’s mixed with boiling water instead to kick-start it. The result is a pie that won’t rise but retains a lot of moisture. Some people like their pie “wet-bottomed,” which means the bottom of the batter is still liquid. That results in a stronger molasses flavor. You can adjust the wetness of the pie by varying the amount of dry ingredients in the molasses. Some pies omit it entirely and just use it as a crumb topping, which makes for a true wet-bottomed pie. I made a relatively dry cake, which was by design. I’ve never ate shoofly pie before, and none of my friends or family heard of it. I didn’t want to overwhelm anyone on first bite. I baked two pies, one for my mom and the other for Abigail. I shared this test-slice with my mom and her eyes lit up after one bite. “It’s GOOD,” she exclaimed. “It’s not sweet, but it tastes like sugar.” My brother was less enthusiastic, he said it’s more of an acquired taste but could see why some people would love it. That’s the best way to describe shoofly pie. It is an acquired taste, and the only flavor is pretty much sugar. But there’s a lot of depth and complexion to the sweetness, and I can’t come up with a comparable flavor. The recipe is easy enough, and since you can’t find it anywhere in LA, I suggest making one if you’re curious.

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Jan. 30, 2010

30 Jan

10:45 am

2 fried egg sandwiches

1 glass of water

I woke up craving eggs benedict, which is my favorite breakfast dish and my probable choice as my last meal. I actually had intentions of making it this morning, but who are we kidding? Making hollandaise sauce as the first thing you do in the morning is too ambitious of a task. Besides, it takes at least five eggs to make an eggs benedict, two for the dish and three yolks for the sauce, and I only had three left. So I jerry-rigged a fried egg sandwich with what I could find in my refrigerator, which ended up being basil and ham. I fried both of them as well and used olive oil as a condiment. I learned a trick for fried egg sandwiches from a Tom Colicchio cooking demonstration; after flipping over the eggs to make it over-easy, puncture the yolk with your spatula a few times and let it cook briefly. That way, the yolk’s still runny but not messily so.

3:30 pm

Vito’s Pizza

1 slice of meat lover’s pizza

1 slice of white pizza

1 medium Diet Coke

Pizza in Los Angeles is always a touchy subject. East Coast transplants, and there are a lot of them, will always make a point to tell you that it’s nowhere as good as Boston or Jersey or wherever they’re from. And don’t even get a New Yorker started on pizza. They will argue amongst themselves as much as they will with out-of-towners. Fair enough, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it in LA too. We might not have the experience of a historic 100+ year-old Lombardi’s, the fastidious nature of La Pizza Napoletana, the checkered-tablecloth ambiance at Grimaldi’s, the coal-fired slices from Patsy’s or the hairy wait-time at Di Fara’s. But the best slices in LA can acquaint themselves pretty well. I’d even argue that Vito’s, my personal choice as the best pizza in LA, is good regardless of neighborhoods or time zones. Like all good pizzamakers, Vito’s take their crusts seriously and they might make the best one in LA (outside of the charred bread from Pizzeria Mozza). It’s properly thin and crunchy but with a good amount of chew, and it has a clean, slightly yeasty and slightly salty taste of good bread. The simple pizzas, like cheese, margerita or white pizza, is a study in proper crust maintenance. The only thing preventing it from being a truly great crust is the oven, which is a high-powered gas one. The pizzas won’t cook to a blistering intensity like brick-ovens. But the flavors are spot-on, more so than any other pizza place I’ve been to in this city, and you can fold it over onto itself for about as quintessential pizza experience as you can have in LA.

I frequented Vito’s for years, back when they were at their original location across from Los Angeles Community College. Despite the hour plus wait times and pricey delivery service, my former roommate and I would order it regularly to watch football and what-not. When they took a three year sabbatical several years ago with no warning or explanation, some locals actually put candles in front of their original location to keep vigil. It’s a bit much, but I understand their sentiments. When they re-opened in their new place on La Cienega just south of Santa Monica Blvd. with no advanced notice a couple of years ago, the regulars flocked back like jilted lovers brought back. “Half my customers remembered us from our old location,” Vito’s son told me in the opening week. “I don’t know how they found out we re-opened this quickly.”  Hey, if the passion was there before, it can be re-ignited again.

8:30 pm

1 cup of instant ramen

1 bowl of white rice

1 glass of water

10 pm

Den’s of Hollywood

3 pints of Blue Moon beer

1 pint of Sierra Nevada

3 am

Del Taco

2 chicken soft tacos

1 small fries

1 small Minute Maid Light Lemonade

This is what happens when you’re not in bed at a proper hour. I accidentally saw the nutritional information for Del Taco while standing in line and this meal isn’t too bad. I’ve done worse damage in off-hours before. Beside, a bowl of instant ramen is not a great dinner. There, I justified my 3 a.m. meal pretty well.

Jan. 29, 2010

29 Jan

10 am

1 bowl of Reese’s Puffs cereal

12 pm

Boho

1/2  bianca verde pizza (leftovers)

1 bottle of Allegash white beer

5 pm

1 banana

8 pm

Mountain Cafe

1 bowl of jeonbokjuk (rice porridge with abalone)

1 cup of barley tea

various banchan

Congee, the catch-all word for Asian rice porridges, has to rank very low in terms of flavor. While most food tries to impart some type of taste sensation on the tongue, congee aims for the exact opposite effect. As Gertrude Stein once said about Oakland, “there is no there there,” and congee is the Oakland of the food world. Juk, the Korean version is especially bland. Even the jeonbokjuk, which is studded with expensive abalone, is bland. You can add sesame oil, black pepper or dried seaweed, but it only emphasizes it’s lack of flavor. But that’s where one find comforts with juk. It’s warm, soothing and just the type of food to ease upset stomachs and hangovers. There’s a reason why congees are considered good breakfast food in Asia, and why Koreans eat juk in the morning and after a rough night of drinking.

Mountain Cafe, one of the oldest Korean eateries in LA, is the juk place in Los Angeles most Koreans will point you to first. It’s a tiny shack in a mini-mall with just enough tables for 10 people or so. They have a sizable menu, and this is one of the few Korean restaurants that serve jangjorim, a braised beef and hot pepper dish, as a banchan. But almost everyone here is eating jeonbokjuk, which at $7 and change, is pretty cheap. You do get the amount of abalone you pay for, which is scant. There are chopped up bits of abalone floating around somewhere, just enough for you to notice it’s presence, but nothing more. The porridge itself is creamy, hearty and has a raw egg yolk floating on top that you mix in that makes it pleasingly rich. We ate juk at night, which is the equivalent of scrambled eggs and bacon for dinner, and this meal had the same comforting effect. Mountain is also open 24/7, which makes it an effective post-drinking destination.

Starbucks

1 tall nonfat latte

10 pm

HMS Bounty

2 bottles of Blue Moon beer

I used to go to HMS Bounty a lot right out of college because they had $3 well drinks and one could get drunk for cheap. That was really the only reason to go there. Prices has gone up moderately since then, but it’s still sensible enough. I haven’t been here in years, so it brought back memories to step into this old-fashioned dive bar. It wasn’t crowded except for a smattering of hipsters, Koreans and grizzled old people who probably lived in that area before it was Koreatown. My friend lives right down the street from the Bounty and she’s never heard of it. I expect her to make this her neighborhood bar, even though she doesn’t drink.

Jan. 28, 2010

28 Jan

9:30 am

1 bowl of Reese’s Puffs cereal

1 pm

1 pan-fried chicken teriyaki breast

1 side of white rice

1 glass of water

6 pm

Boho

1/2 bianca verde pizza

side of fries

2 glasses of Allegash Curieux beer

I had reservations to Breadbar’s Hatchi dinner, featuring Ricardo Zarate from Mo-chica. These dinner reservations fill up quickly and it’s a good chance to check out some of the talented, young chefs in Los Angeles. Michael Voltaggio, last season’s Top Chef winner, cooked at the last dinner. I made these reservations over a month ago and really looked forward to it. Mo-chica, if you remember from a previous post, is one of my favorite eateries in Los Angeles. And yet, I willingly cancelled on dinner. You know why?

The Jeopardy! contestant test.

I unwittingly double-booked dinner on the same night as the contestant tests, and for me, it was a no-brainer as to what I would choose. As I’ve stated on Tuesday, being a Jeopardy! contestant has been a life-long dream of mine. The test is rather difficult, you have to answer 47 out of 50 correctly, and it’s 50 of the harder questions from the show. I actually passed it once, when I was 18-years-old, for College Jeopardy! I answered exactly 47 out of 50 right and got to play a practice-game for a camera test. I won my game, barely beating a girl from UCLA and crushing a kid from Princeton. I did very well except for on one question: What would you do with your winnings? “Probably pay off my student loans,” I lamely replied. Afterward, one of my classmates interned for Jeopardy! She told me that they look for contestants with just a bit of personality, enough to give a witty anecdote, but not be too much as to overshadow Alex Trebeck. Me saying I’ll pay off my student loans qualifies as not witty enough. That was the closest I’ve gotten. And as Minnesota Vikings fans can tell you after last week’s nut-kicker of a football game, getting close without actually winning is soul-crushing. That’s what drives me every year. Jeopardy! is my Moby Dick.

Last year, I answered 45 out of 50 questions correctly, which is my best showing since college. I was confident that I’d do better in 2010, a year wiser. Since I cancelled dinner at Breadbar, Kim and I went to happy hour at Boho instead. The primary draw for that place is a great happy hour deal, microbrews and appetizers are all priced at $5, food is $8. My Allegash Curieux, which is normally $9 a pint, was almost half off. They also have Duvels and several labels I’ve never heard of. Their pizzas are $8 and pretty good. I got a white pizza with preserved lemons and that combination worked surprisingly well. The crust is very thin and undercooked, but pleasing enough. Non-happy hour prices are very steep for what it is, which is yet another gastropub in Los Angeles. Before 7 pm though, Boho’s a pretty good deal.

Unfortunately, it seems that beer clouds your judgement. Two pints of Allegash should’ve been OK with me. But it dulled me just enough to bomb my test. I probably got 38-40 right. The William Faulkner novel Absalom, Absalom? It escaped my mind even though I’ve read it in high school. The author of Witches of Eastwick? I had a total brain-fart even though John Updike’s obituary appeared within the last year. It was a poor, poor showing. But I can consider this a lesson learned for next year’s test. Study more linguistics (it came up a lot on the test) and DON’T DRINK BEFOREHAND. I will succeed one day dammit! Or die trying. Please don’t mention how Moby Dick ended.

Also, Grubstreet has a slideshow of Zarate’s Hatchi dinner. Now I can place a mental image to the meal I skipped to experience abject failure instead. Sigh.

Jan. 27, 2010

27 Jan

9 am

1 bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds

1 pm

Cassell’s Hamburgers

1/3 lb. cheeseburger

side of potato salad

scoop of cottage cheese

1 large lemonade

Before Father’s Office’s Pub Burgers and the proliferation of Umami Burgers, Cassell’s Hamburgers, which opened in Koreatown before such an enclave existed, was considered the best burger in Los Angeles. For a 40-year period since it’s opening in the 1940’s, Mr. Cassell would grind USDA prime beef daily and broil it under a massive double broiler that’s still the only one of it’s kind. To walk into Cassell’s now is to see a burger joint that has literally fossilized since it’s most recent halcyon days in the 1980’s. The white formica interior still has that cheap 50’s feel as does the wooden tables that’s straight from the Brady’s household and a cafeteria that feels like the low-income Communist varieties during the Cold War. There are numerous newspaper clippings on the wall, all recognizing Cassell’s as the best burger in LA. But outside of one LA Times review from 1992, the clippings are all 20-30 years old. A blow-up review from Oui Magazine, Playboy’s defunct French version from the 1970’s, dominates one wall. There are celebrity photos too, of Angie Dickinson and Michael Landon, and most of the Cassell’s patrons probably grew up watching him on Bonanza. The only tip-off that you’re not in the 1970’s is the radio, which is always on KDAY and more likely to play Beyonce than Keely Smith.

Cassell’s now has a Korean proprieter, Helen Kim, who bought the business in the 90’s and has been fastidious about leaving everything as is, bare-bones ambiance and all. The beef is still prime and ground daily, and the massive salamander broiler is still used to broil them. The fixings might’ve seemed novel in the days when fresh produce was harder to procure, but the quality is severely lacking now. The only condiments worth writing about are the eggy house-made mayonnaise and the thousand island sauce made with it. There’s also the complimentary horseradish potato salad that’s actually a cold and dense mashed potatoes, cottage cheese and canned peaches. Fries and onion rings cost $2 more, but they’re terrible. In fact, pretty much everything on Cassell’s menu now tastes outdated. The only thing that still translates are the burgers themselves and those 1/3 or 2/3 pound patties can still hold their own with most burgers in LA. It’s odd to reconcile the high-quality of the beef to the relative cheapness of everything else on the burger. It’s like watching 16 mm films in a 3-D world.

7 pm

1 bowl of instant udon noodles

1 glass of water

There’s nothing like spending a Wednesday night eating instant noodles and watching four hours of State of the Union coverage on TV. Im going to keep this site non-partisan and not comment on that. There are many, many places where you can go to hear the blabbering analysis about Obama’s speech.

9 pm

1 bowl of Reese’s Puffs cereal

10 pm

1 fuji apple

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Jan. 26, 2010

26 Jan

9:30 am

Doughboy’s

1/2 red velvet cake

This was the leftovers from yesterday.

2 pm

ham and cheese sandwich on wheat

1 glass of water

4 pm

Porto’s Bakery

1 papas rellenas

1 guava and cheese pastry

1 small coffee

There are better bakeries in Los Angeles, but few are as dependable as Porto’s. What was once a quaint Cuban bakery in Glendale is now a massive organization with an endless stream of employees on deck like the USS Enterprise. There’s are several service stations that try to anticipate any of your needs. They turn out numerous birthday and wedding cakes, and it’s the most reasonably-priced option in LA. I’ve graced many a birthday celebrations with a large $14 Porto’s sheet cake. There’s also a cafe with a full coffee menu and large pastry case, a kitchen that turns out pressed cuban sandwiches and full dinners, and even a balloon and party supply store on the second floor. Porto’s has long been an LA institution with many words already written about them, and I’ll eventually add to that after I eat a proper meal there. Today, I stopped by for a quick snack, guava-and-cheese pastry and a cup of coffee. I added a papas rellenas out of impulse. It’s salty and the deep-fried mashed potato crust tastes like the instant dehydrated flakes. But it’s satisfying for the two bites it provides. And I got to chase it down with the slightly sweet, slightly tart and cheesy tart that’s become a regular habit in my life.

8 pm

chicken teriyaki with white rice

1 bottle of Lipton’s iced tea

9:30 pm

Irish Times

several onion rings

handful of nachos

2 chicken wings

5 bottles of Coor’s Light

This is my first pub quiz night appearance at Irish Times in a year. i’ve written about it in my blog’s previous incarnation. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a huge trivia nerd. My lifelong dream is to appear on Jeopardy! and I take the test every year. I’ve actually passed it once, in college, but wasn’t chosen to appear. The annual test is this Thursday and I’ll have a lot more to say about it then. I think I love trivia for two reasons. One, it tests my vast knowledge of random, useless facts. As a kid, I often read encyclopedias out of boredom. It’s geeky, I know. I still have scars from childhood trauma to prove it.

But my main draw to trivia is it’s ability to test our cognitive thinking skills in pressure situations. I think of it as the same as going to the gym for your brain. I’m a junkie for behavioral science books and did my part to make Malcolm Gladwell a NY Times best-selling author. I’m especially fascinated by the concept of hunches and educated guesses. Often times, a hunch is a rapid reaction where a person subconsciously draws upon their life’s experience and education to make the most appropriate reaction. Even if our choices seem random, it’s not. Trivia quizzes often asks for educated guesses, and answers often come from eliminating possible choices. It’s a good way to tests our fast-response thinking skills. I tend to do a lot better at Jeopardy!, where a contestant only has a few seconds to come up with an answer, then pub trivia, where the full minute allows our mind to come up with multiple reasons to disprove our original ideas. In other words, we second-guess ourselves. Both Blink and Joseph Halloran’s Why People Make Mistakes cite a behavioral experiment with practice SAT test takers. The second intuition often led to the most right answers, while test-takers who spent the most time reviewing their answers scored the worst. Overthinking things isn’t always the smartest thing to do.

And with that, tonight’s trivia led to the most ridiculous example of over-thinking imaginable. Going into the last question, we were down 19 points. We had up to 20 points to wager and a wrong answer gets the same number of points deducted. The final question was, “outside of hydrogen and oxygen, what is the most plentiful element in seawater?” Now the obvious answer is sodium or chlorine, since the chemical makeup of salt is NaCl, or sodium chloride. After coming up with that answer, the following conversation took place:

Joel: Sodium seems too obvious.

Maxine: It seems too easy.

Me: If the answer’s sodium, we’re not going to win because everyone’s going to get it right. Our only chance is to go against the grain.

Ryan: Are you guys fucking kidding me? It’s sodium! Put the answer down!

But after much debate, we decided our only chance to win is by thinking “outside the box” and going after the 1% chance that it’s an answer no one else would get right. So we answered with nitrogen. The final answer was of course, sodium. “At least we went for the win,” Maxine said. “I’d rather go out in a blaze of glory like Emilio Estevez and Kiefer Sutherland. All or nothing. Fourth of 12th is the same to me if it’s not #1,” I concurred. “You guys are all idiots,” Ryan said. “Why would we willingly chose a wrong answer when we know the right answer? This makes no sense to me!” And after typing this explanation out, it was incredibly stupid. How does it make sense to try and win by willingly giving the wrong answer? By over-thinking, we lost sight of the most basic goal of trivia, answer the questions correctly. How does a wrong answer help us? Afterward, the quizmaster walks up to us and asks, “why did you guys answer nitrogen?” I explained to him our circular piece of logic and he walked away shaking his head. You know what you call people who are too smart for their own good? Dumbasses. That was us last night.

Jan. 25, 2010

25 Jan

1 pm

Doughboy’s

scrapple with sides of dirty eggs, mixed green salad and corn bread

glass of iced tea (with 2 refills and a packet of Splenda)

Doughboy’s re-opened in it’s former 3rd Street space a few weeks ago and lunch-goers Los Angeles can take comfort in it’s re-appearance. Doughboy’s popularity is at once obvious, it’s comfort food to your heart’s content, and the long wait and semi-regular celebrity sightings affirms that fact. But it’s also at odds with the salad-and-water lunch crowd that dominate 3rd street. The menu is extensive, servings are preposterously big and a stick of butter is added whenever possible. The popular “after-school special” seems innocuous enough, grilled cheese and tomato soup. But the grilled cheese is as big as a DVD case, stuffed with a quarter-pound of emmenthal, white cheddar and fontina, and fried in enough butter to turn the bread into bread pudding. The accompanying tomato soup is equal parts cream and tomato. There’s also a soup made with sirloin steak, a French onion soup topped with a quarter inch of gruyere cheese and massive pancakes that re-appropriate sugary desserts into breakfast dishes. It’s a reminder that even the skinny jean crowd sometimes need five different kinds of dairy fat in one dish to comfort themselves.As for me,  I have a love-hate relationship with this place. It’s one of the first restaurants I ate at in LA and it was a regular meeting place with friends. I’ve enjoyed many a French onion soups and after-school specials over the years, and I’ve also had many instances of indigestion, sleepless nights and emergency trips to the bathroom as a result. There will undoubtedly be leftovers too, but you’ll most likely toss it because the fat will separate in the refrigerator and the guilt will be too much from seeing what you actually ingested.

Doughboy’s scrapple, thankfully, is not authentic. Technically, scrapple is a real slice of Americana and probably the oldest pork product in this country. I have a couple of friends from the Philadelphia and West Virginia area who crave it at odd times. For me though, the idea of eating pig offals and entrails mixed with cornmeal isn’t that appetizing in the 21st century. Doughboy’s interpretation uses stone-ground grits, braised pork shoulder and judging by it’s taste, a lot of butter. It’s very rich since you’re eating pork cooked in both fat and butter, but that’s why it’s also tasty in a particular way. Meanwhile, the accompanying eggs were way too salty and the corn bread, which seemed like the hot water kind, was too bland. Despite the presence of a lot of butter, braised pork and eggs cooked in more butter, I still feel like this was healthier than my usual after-school special, which is saying something about this place.

7:30 pm

Doughboy’s

1/2 of a small red velvet cake

1 glass of skim milk

My dinner was actually half a cake I bought to-go from lunch. Doughboy’s most popular offering is the red velvet cake. Oprah herself blessed it as one of her favorite desserts, and the cake’s many fans will vociferously defend it like Tea Partiers will shout down universal health care. Doughboy’s does turn out a good cake. The frosting is made with cream cheese and though a bit sweet, there’s just enough tartness cutting through. The cake’s flavor is well-balanced and you can just discern the cocoa powder. My big issue with Doughboy’s is consistency. I’ve had cakes here that were blisteringly sweet and some that were way too dry. Today’s cake was too moist. By the end of my “dinner,” that white dinner plate had a puddle of red food dye at the bottom because the cake couldn’t hold all it’s moisture. The cake was properly dense, but it oozed food coloring every time I cut into it. Since this kitchen has been open for less than a month, they might need some time to iron out some kinks. But I still tend to favor SusieCakes in Brentwood and especially Bluebird Cafe in Culver City for their red velvets. Since I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, I like their thin layer of frosting. This is also why I actually like the red velvet cake from Ralph’s Supermarket. Their frosting is the most tart one I’ve had in LA and the cake is decent enough. Also, it’s sometimes on sale with a Ralph’s Club Card. For cost efficiency, that is the best red velvet deal around.

10 pm

handful of pretzels

1 bottle of Bass Ale

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