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Beverly Soon Tofu (Los Angeles, CA) – A Bowl of “Home”

March 19, 2013

Even though I don’t mention it often enough on this blog, I adore Korean food. I consider Korean food to be one of my favorite cuisines and soondubu, in particular, to be one of the ultimate comfort foods, just one step below home-cooked meals from the mom. It’s surprising that I feel so strongly about both seeing that I was only introduced to Korean food relatively recently (when compared to the other staples in my life). However, I have no doubt that my love stems from that first Korean meal a little more than 10 years ago…

———-

First, to preface: the parents are not “foodies” by any means. They can eat the same thing for lunch and dinner week after week and be perfectly content. They definitely don’t go out of their way for food.

However, when my extended family came in town that particular weekend and we began playing the “Where should we go for dinner?” game, they decided that we would drive almost an hour to BCDs for dinner. (At the time, they had never had Korean tofu themselves either. Since then though, they have embraced soondubu as closely as I have.)

My memory is honestly a bit blurry but what I do remember vividly is this:
Hunger in my stomach before dinner.
Relief and satisfaction upon that first bite of bubbling tofu and rice.
Warmth from being surrounded by family, now happy and full.
Peace in being exactly where I wanted to be.

That bowl of tofu was “home”.

———-

Eating soondubu at Beverly Soon Tofu transports me back to that moment.

When I was still working in public accounting, there were nights when I felt like I was going to collapse (physically, mentally, emotionally)…those were the nights I’d go to Beverly Soon Tofu.

I’d walk into that small and homey restaurant just off of Olympic and Vermont and hide myself in the corner, behind an old wood table. I always ordered the same thing: Seafood soondubu. Spicy.

The nice women working there would then bring barley water and banchan. The banchan was simple but comforting, somewhat ordinary but absolutely delicious.

Sweet potatoes.

Marinated cucumbers.

Pickled radishes.

Cold tofu.

Soon after the banchan, the soondubu would arrive, piping hot and about to bubble over the sides. With a bowl of rice in one hand and a spoon in the other, I would dig into the silky tofu filled with plump mussels and clams and tender squid and octopus. I would crunch on small shrimp and slurp the runny yolk of an egg. I would shovel banchan, tofu and rice into my mouth until my belly was full, until my body was warm…until I felt like I did after that very first bowl. Even if it was just for a split second, I was at peace and I was happy.

TL;DR: Sometimes food is more than just food. It can transport you.

Beverly Soon Tofu
2717 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-1113

Beverly Soon Tofu House on Urbanspoon

Best of 2012

January 30, 2013

(Surprised at all by the timing of this post? You shouldn’t be. We are talking about me after all. At least I got it in before the end of January!)

2012 was a spectacular year.

Whether I was gracefully sitting behind white linen dressed tables or squatting on a plastic stool on a dirty curb, the food I ate this year was absolutely and utterly spectacular. Sadly, pretty much none it has actually made it onto this blog, but my mind and stomach (and hard drive, since I did remember to take pictures!) remember the meals well.

Here’s a peek of it all…

———-

The Food Ledger’s Best of 2012

(And now for the annual disclaimer: Blah blah blah…Only includes restaurants I ate at for the first time in 2012…Blah blah blah…Whatever. You get the point by now.)

Fine Dining Rocks My Socks

(Alinea’s truffle explosion. Note: Heed your server’s instructions. It actually will explode.)

  1. Alinea (Chicago) – When I first heard of Alinea’s tasting menu, it was described as either an eye-opening revelation or a completely pretentious bore. Now that I’ve experienced it, I can say it’s anything but the latter. The experience is novel and whimsical and simply a lot of fun! In retrospect, I think I was giggling like a school-girl during at least 50% of my meal. Worth every damn penny.
  2. Benu (SF) – How does Benu not have 3 Michelin stars? The fact that they were able to seamlessly morph the flavors of my Chinese childhood into precise, immaculately created courses – it boggles my mind. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so emotionally touched by a meal. Just amazing.

Hide Away in a Hole In The Wall

(I miss LA Mexican food.)

  1. Guisados (LA) – If you’ve figured out anything by reading this site, it’s that I’m a girl of texture. And, there’s no better textural bite than the gelatinous stewed chicarron and the hearty chew of homemade tortillas at Guisados. It’s places like this that make me miss living in LA.
  2. Chunju Han-il Kwan (LA) – Any place that servces budae jjigae – a soup made of kimchi, spam, hot dogs, ramen noodles, rice cakes and random veggies – must be a hole-in-the-wall. Get a pot of it roaring on a portable burner and one of Chunju’s enormous kimchi pancakes, and you’ll have enough food to easily feed a family of 4. (Note: We only had a party of 2. Oops!)

One Bite and I’m Yours

(If only all vegetable dishes tasted this good.)

  1. The Dutch (NYC) – Whenever I just want that little *something* – a burst of flavor to suppress an irresistible food craving – I just order one of their oyster sliders and I’m immediately satisfied. They really are the perfect bite.
  2. Northern Spy Food Co. (NYC) – I’ve figured out the secret behind why their kale salad is so freaking addicting: Hidden in between those healthy kale leaves and that sweet roasted squash is cheese. Lots of cheese. I’m not complaining, mind you, I’m just stating a fact. Also a fact? Northern Spy Food’s kale (and cheese!) salad may be one of my favorite salads of all time.
  3. Bon Chovie (NYC) – It’s one of my few must-go vendors at Smorgasburg…I could munch on their Jersey-style (head-on) anchovies all day.

I Can’t Live Without

(I always tell myself to order something besides their Umi No Sachi…Hasn’t happened yet though.)

  1. Sushi Yasaka (NYC) – Nothing’s changed since that last post; Sushi Yasaka is still my favorite sushi joint in the entire island of Manhattan.

Best Foodcation…Ever. Period.

(If I could eat the Lunch Lady’s noodles every single day, I would die happy.)

  1. Everything (Vietnam) – There’s something about being in a foreign country, walking into a restaurant (or in most cases, an open stall) where no one really speaks English, pointing at things without knowing exactly what they are and getting the most amazing food in return. I still don’t know half of what I ate in Vietnam, all I know is that every bite was comforting and unique and just completely delicious. If you ever get the opportunity to go yourself, eat at the places on the street – if you play the safe route and eat like a tourist, you’ll miss out on all that country has to offer (which is a hell of  a lot!).

Almost…But Not Quite

(The hangover breakfast of gods.)

  1. Avec (Chicago) – I’ve only been to Avec once but it’s clear to me that it’s basically the “good for any occasion” restaurant. Have company in town? Go to Avec. Want a nice dinner out? Go to Avec. The food was delicious, the prices were reasonable and the staff was incredibly helpful.  For example, when they didn’t have the bottle of wine we wanted on hand, they recommended another great one that was only a 1/3 of the cost. Wait, so you’re not going to price gouge me and really just want to make sure I have a great time? I’m going to Avec.
  2. Korzo Haus (NYC) – I love me a good veggie burger, and Korzo Haus has served me my favorite veggie burger to date. Now, as a disclaimer, that could be due to my addition of bacon to that veggie burger but hey! It’s still a veggie burger and still my favorite. Plus, they make their “ketchup” out of beets! BEETS!!
  3. Barney’s Greengrass (NYC) – When I’m hungover, like REALLY hungover, I always want Barney’s Greengrass. I don’t usually make it there (dude, it takes effort getting out of bed!) but I always want it nonetheless. Eggs scrambled with smoked sturgeon, an everything bagel with cream cheese and a cup of coffee = Protein, salt, carbs, fat and caffeine. Do you need anything else?
  4. Baco Mercat (LA) – I remember when bacos first appeared in LA on the menu at Lazy Ox; I was never able to get my hands on one back then because they always sold out! However, now that I’ve eaten one at  I see why – because huge, tender chunks of beef and fried hunks of pork belly stuffed between flatbread are delicious. There’s a fantastic spread of vegetable dishes on the menu too so, even if you aren’t a meat-lover, there’s going to be something that appeals to you!

Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles (Manhattan, NY) – Go For the Knife-Cut Noodles, Not the Soup

October 4, 2012

I love Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles. No, really, I do. I used to eat there at least once a week (if not more) and I still go there now whenever I’m craving a bowl of noodles.

…But I have to admit the truth: It really isn’t THAT good.

I’m completely torn.

(Does that broth look like it has the deep hue of a rich beef noodle soup? Sadly, no.)

It’s their broth – their broth drags them down. Is it bad? No, but it’s not great either. It’s not savory, not rich, not meaty enough. (Luckily, it is also not very greasy so it’s great for a hangover, as I can attest.) It’s “meh” in liquid form; average at its best.

And it’s such a shame that the broth stinks cause I’m madly in love with their knife cut noodles! Those slivers shaved from a ball of dough with their thin, squiggly edges and thicker innards have the texture and chewiness that I crave. The springiness of the dough in each bite…if only I could fully enjoy it in a decent hot soup!

*sigh*

TL;DR: Go for the noodles, not for the soup.

Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles
1 Doyers St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 791-1817

Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles on Urbanspoon

Banh Mi Saigon / Great NY Noodletown (Manhattan, NY) – Soft Shell Crab Banh Mi

August 24, 2012

Yeah, that’s right, read that title: It’s a SOFT SHELL CRAB BANH MI.

First off, why isn’t this amazingly ridiculous sandwich sold in its entirety already? Why did it take an article by Serious Eats New York for this creation to come to to light?! Seriously people, there’s a market for this sandwich! (Btw, just for clarification, when I say “market”, I mean me.)

…Okay, now that my quickie rant is over, honestly, this sandwich is not that hard to put together:

  1. Buy a deep fried soft shell crab.
  2. Buy a vegetable banh mi sandwich.
  3. ???
  4. PROFIT!!

Banh Mi Saigon

The bread had great texture – it had a nice crust on the outside but was still soft and fluffy on the inside. The vegetables were fresh – the cucumber was crispy and the pickled radishes and carrots were tangy. Lastly, when I asked for some spice, they delivered – halfway through, my lips were tingling from the sriracha and jalapenos. It had all the components of a great banh mi (minus the meat)…not sure if I can ask for anything more from a vegetarian sandwich!

Banh Mi Saigon Bakery
198 Grand St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 941-1541
Website: http://www.banhmisaigonnyc.com/

Banh Mi Saigon Bakery on Urbanspoon
Great NY Noodletown

So, I have a secret. See that plastic takeout box above? The one with the crab? That’s actually not one soft shell crab. There are TWO in there.

See, I was in a good mood when the day I decided to recreate this sandwich. A really, really good mood. So when the lady at Great NY Noodletown asked me whether I wanted one soft shell crab or one order of soft shell crabs (1 order = 2 crabs), of course I said I wanted one full order. I mean, you can’t have too much of a good thing, right?! (In retrospect, this was not such a good idea, but I’ll get into the details later.)

Dredged in cornstarch and then deep-fried, these “salt-baked” crabs are absolutely delicious. I could have just taken a single bite straight out of the middle, through the crust and into the warm meaty body, and called it a day. However, I kept my eye on the prize and soldiered onward…

Great N.Y. Noodletown
28 1/2 Bowery, New York
Canal Street, NY 10013
(212) 349-0923

Great N.Y. Noodletown on Urbanspoon
 

(The finished product. An epic sandwich.)

There is no way to prepare for the awesomeness that occurs when the above components are eaten together. Yes, you can imagine tasting a soft shell crab banh mi in your head, but it’s not just the same in person. Upon that first bite, you get a little bit of everything…salt, pepper, vinegar…warm crab, cold pickles, soft bread…it’s absolutely ridiculous.

Which brings me back to the crab issue: DO NOT BUY TWO CRABS. Why? Because you cannot physically stuff an entire soft shell crab into half of a baguette without compromising the ratio of veggies to crab. Its little fried legs just will not fit, and you’ll find yourself biting into pure crab more often than not. (Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but you’re supposed to be eating a sandwich, not an actual crab. ) Additionally, most people can’t eat an entire banh mi sandwich and two soft shell crabs in one sitting. If you let those crabs sit out too long, they get soggy…and no one likes soggy crabs.

TL;DR: Only one crab per sandwich. It’s worth it.

Sushi Yasaka (Manhattan, NY) – Umi No Sachi at a Steal

August 22, 2012

Everyone has their go-to sushi restaurant – Sushi Yasaka is mine.

 (Btw, can someone please explain to me the difference between “umi no sachi” and “chirashi”?)

Every time I go, I always order the same thing: their umi no sachi, an overflowing bowl of sashimi over rice, for $26.  We’re talking well over a dozen pieces of fish, an assortment of egg and roe and, in most cases, a raw oyster on the side. (There’s a picture – count it yourself!) Most importantly though, every piece I’ve eaten here has been FRESH. There has never been a questionable piece; you know, the one that put in your mouth and then can’t help but wonder if you should swallow? Never. All I’ve ever tasted is clean, sweet, fresh fish.

Considering that’s the approximately the same price other sushi places charge for a mediocre chirashi bowl (and trust me, I’ve had more than my share of mediocre chirashi), Sushi Yasaka is a steal.

Sushi Yasaka
251 West 72nd Street
New York, NY 10023
(212) 496-8460
Website: http://www.sushiyasaka.com/

Sushi Yasaka on Urbanspoon