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.
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
November 7, 2011
In December 2009, Caracas introduced to me to the arepa.
…Wait, let me be perfectly accurate: In December 2009, Caracas introduced me to the Venezuelan arepa. (I just didn’t know that at the time.)
I make the distinction because…well, honestly because I have another post in the works I talk about different types of arepas. However, I’m also making the distinction because I know more than I did in 2009. Before Caracas, I had never heard the word “arepa”, let alone that there were different types of arepas. Now, I know better. That’s one of the reasons I love food – a single bite can open your eyes to something completely new.
…But I digress. This post is about arepas. Venezuelan arepas.
If you’ve never had a Venezuelan arepa, think of a corn flour disc that is grilled then baked until it’s relatively crispy the whole way through. This hard arepa shell is then cut in half and stuffed with fillings that range from meat and seafood to avocados and plantains. It reminds me a little of an authentic Mexican gordita, but baked and without the breadiness in the middle.
Caracas serves 12+ varieties of arepas at any given point in time, which can be a bit intimidating. (Even more so when you consider Caracas also serves appetizers, salads, empanadas, shakes and desserts…) If you’re not sure what to order, you can’t go wrong with a combination platter – I usually order “La Popular” because it contains two of my go-to’s: The “Reina Pepiada”, which has shredded chicken mixed with avocado, and the “De Pabellon”, which has beef, black beans, cheese and plantains. The weekend special arepas are also good; one of my all time favorite arepas was the seafood arepa special with grilled squid.
No matter what filling you choose, make sure you try a bite with the yellow house sauce. (There’s a bottle of it on every table.) I don’t know what’s in it – it’s “a secret” – but I do know it’s like crack. Tangy, slightly fruity with just a touch of spiciness, I douse everything I order in it.
Lastly, a word of guidance: Arepas may look small but they’re actually much more filling than you would think. Order 1 if you want a hearty snack, 2 if you’re really hungry and 3 if you want to feel like you’re giving birth to a food baby. Whenever I order 3, I always curse myself for ordering that last one. Seriously, 2 will fill you up just fine.
(Btw, I apologize for the quality of these photos. Caracas’ food is great but its lighting…not so much.)
December 31, 2009
My love for restaurants is fickle.
“I love you, LudoBites 2.0!”
“No, I’m sorry L’Atelier, I didn’t mean it. You’re #1 on my list. Promise.”
“Le Bernardin, forget them all – I just want to be with YOU.”
Yeah, just like that.
This year was monumental, in relation to both the volume and quantity of food I’ve consumed. I’m a girl of extremes – from hole in the wall to the creme de la creme, I’ve really had a little bit of everything. I’m extremely fortunate to be able to have tried all of these in a matter of a year and can only hope that 2010 will be just as fruitful as 2009.
That said, without further ado, I bring to you…
The Food Ledger’s Best of 2009
(Note: The following only contains restaurants I’ve eaten at for the first time in 2009. First excursion in 2008? Too bad, you can’t be on my list.)
Fine Dining Rocks My Socks
- Le Bernardin (NYC) – Was there any doubt about what I would name as #1 for the year? Please.
- LudoBites 2.0 (LA) – Foie gras croque monsieur. Oxtail polenta. Caviar panna cotta. LudoBites 2.0 at Breadbar causes me to salivate every single time I mention its name. Just thinking of it now causes my mind to wander to a happy place…
- Hatchi at Breadbar: Michael Voltaggio (LA) – The service? Sucked, big time. The food? Phenomenal. If you’re ever wondering if his food tastes as good as it looks on TV – it does (e.g. the sweetbreads in pea consomme causes me to do that salivating thing again). Not only was the food delicious but hearing Michael himself explain how items like horseradish styrofoam were concocted was quite the treat.
One Bite and I’m Yours
- L’Atelier de Joel Roubuchon (LV) – Didn’t quite make it on the fine dining list (its Discovery menu wasn’t consistent enough to stand up against the big boys) but L’Atelier’s foie gras ravioli deserves a list of its own. They’re like little pockets of happiness floating in pure bliss…
- Animal (LA) – Animal’s foie loco moco is composed of a hamburger, spam, foie gras and a quail egg, stacked on a pile of golden rice and surrounded in a sweet pool of soy sauce and sriracha. It’s the reason I eat meat. It’s also the reason I could never date a vegetarian.
- Masan (LA) – Eating live octopus is fun. It squirms on your plate, saucing itself as it wriggles through the oil, salt and pepper, and then suction cups to the roof of your mouth as you chomp down. Sashimi doesn’t get fresher than that! (NOTE: pictures and video on Flickr)
Almost…But Not Quite
- The Bazaar (LA) – A very close #4 on my Fine Dining list, the final decision came down to the flip of a coin (Not really…but it was close!). Without doubt, The Bazaar boasts the best DineLA menu ever and makes me that much more excited to try out Saam in the next year. (Maybe a 2010 contender?)
- Caracas Arepas (NYC) – The wait staff won’t divulge the secret of their hot sauce, and with good reason – it’s ridiculously tasty. Now that I’ve had that first nibble of a Venezuelan arepa, how will I be satiate the craving if/when it arises? (I’ve been told that there are no good Venezuelan arepas in Los Angeles, someone please prove me wrong!)
I Can’t Live Without
- Beverly Soon Tofu (LA) – Someone tell me how I ever survived without Beverly Soon Tofu?! It’s my home away from home, where I go when I’ve had a bad/good/ordinary day and just just need a big ole bowl of pipping hot tofu and rice. More often than not, you can find me tucked away in a corner by myself at 10pm at night, recuperating from a long day of work. I want it, I crave it…Again, I have no idea how I lived without it.
And thus ends 2009.
Happy New Year everyone! See you in 2010!
December 17, 2009
Seeing that Le Bernardin is arguably the best seafood restaurant in the nation, it seems fitting to begin this review with a fishing story of my own. Like most stereotyical fishing stories, my story starts with an outrageous claim and ends with no proof that what I claim ever existed…but trust me, it’s true.
I was at Le Bernardin on Saturday night and was *THIS CLOSE!* to…*dramatic pause*…ERIC RIPERT.
Yes, you read that correctly, I SAW ERIC RIPERT. I watched him wander from the bar to the dining room, stopping by and chatting with the patrons at each table. I watched him walk from the dining room to the kitchen, disappearing behind the swinging doors. However, I did NOT see him drop by my table and, by the time I thought of asking to meet the chef, he had left for the night. No picture, no proof…all I have is disappointment and regret for not jumping him when I had the chance.
Luckily, that was my only disappointment that night.
It’s times like these that I absolutely hate my inability to write eloquently. How do I describe my 3-star experience at Le Bernardin beyond “Just…WOW.”? Where do I begin to describe the dishes we were served, how can I convey to you the thoughts that ran through my head with every bite? I can only hope that pictures do more justice than words – there are so many words one can use; I can only use the ones within my reach.
Of the three prix fixe options at Le Bernardin (4-, 7- or 8-courses), my dining companion Jenn and I both ordered the 8-course Chef’s tasting menu, complete with wine pairing. After completing our meal, both of us agreed – the wine pairing was a MUST. Some dishes were amazing with or without the pairing but others were elevated to that next level (to the level one would expect from a restaurant like Le Bernardin) because of that one sip. Highly recommended.
Unfortunately, I forgot to write down what we were served for the amuse-bouche but it wasn’t a standout dish in any fashion so I’m not sure if it matters. There was something odd about the texture of the dish – it was little mushy and I couldn’t quite figure out if it was from the seafood or from the accompanying puree underneath. The foam (made of mushrooms, if my memory serves me correctly) complemented the other flavors well; however, the texture was still very distracting.
Course 1: Smoked Yellowfin Tuna “Prosciutto”; Japanese Pickled Vegetables and Crispy Kombu (Pairing: Muscadet ‘Clos des Briords’, Pepiere, Loire 2008)
The smooth smokiness of the tuna played well against the crisp sweetness of the Japanese pickles. I admit, I did without the crispy kombu (a type of seaweed typically used in Japanese cooking); it may have added a hint of saltiness to each bite but it was also a battle to break it into pieces.
Course 2: Poached Pastured Egg; Osetra Caviar; Mariniere Broth and English Muffin (Pairing: Krug, Grande Cuvee)
When first looking at the menu, there were three dishes that caught my eye and ultimately resulted in my choosing the Chef’s tasting over the Le Bernardin tasting, this being the first. The egg, perfectly poached, floating in a pool of broth, rich with the flavor of white wine and mussels – it was divine. The dish just asked to be sopped with the two strips of lightly toasted English muffin (and I, of course, gladly obliged, sopping the running yolks and the broth as daintily as I could).
Course 3: Seared Langoustine, Mache, Wild Mushroom Salad; Shaved Foie Gras; White Balsamic Vinaigrette (Pairing: Gewurztraminer, Cantina Tramin, Alto Adige 2007)
The second of my three must haves, this was a prime example of a good dish elevated by an excellent wine pairing. The course, by itself was a solid dish – the langoustine was tender and the there was just enough foie to add a hint of flavor to, but not overwhelm, the other components of the dish. However, the wine brought out the sweetness of the langoustine, creating a very pleasant taste all together.
Course 4: Pan Roasted Monkfish; Hon Shimeji Mushrooms; Turnip – Ginger Emulsion; Sake Broth (Pairing: Chassagne Montrachet, 1er Cru Chenevottes, Bernard Moreau 2006)
Typically, I’m not a huge monkfish fan – I enjoy some of the flakier fishes and monkfish tends to be a bit too dense for me. However, I polished off the fish, along with everything else, in order to taste as much of the sake and miso broth as possible. (Le Bernardin may be known for seafood but their sauces and broths are what really make the dish and compliment the natural flavors of the seafood.)
Course 5: Crispy Black Bass; Braised Celery and Parsnip Custard; Iberico Ham – Green Peppercorn Sauce (Pairing: Rioja, Reserve ‘Vina Ardanza’, La Rioja Alta, Spain 2000)
A psuedo Top Chef groupie (I’m not a true groupie as I missed most of seasons 3-5), I was excited to see a dish featured in the Le Bernardin challenge of season 5. It was suggested that we enjoy the creaminess of the parsnip custard (served separately) in between bites of the bass, a welcome change from the saltiness of the ham and peppercorn sauce and the braised celery.
Course 6: Baked Lobster on a Bed of Truffled Foie Gras Stuffing; Brandy Red Wine Sauce (Pairing: Chateau Haut-Bages Averous, Pauillac Bordeaux 2001)
Lobster with foie and truffles – this could be the definition of luxury. The fattiness of the lobster against the foie was fantastic, although I actually could have done without half the lobster (the portion size was rather large in comparison to the other courses and it just got heavy after a while).
Course 7: Creamy Goat Cheese Spheres, Concord Grape, Candied Walnut, Black Pepper (Pairing: Torrontez Sparkling-Deseado Familia Schroeder, Patagonia Argentina)
The third of the three, this was easily my favorite course of the night. The goat cheese popped in my mouth and mixed in with the sweetness of the walnuts and grape – not quite a sweet and savory but more something perfectly in the middle. With a sip of the paired sparkling wine, I was in heaven.
Course 8: Caramelized Corn Custard, Hazelnut Praline, Brown Butter Ice Cream, Popcorn Tuile (Pairing: Ron Zacapa Rum, Guatemala)
Another not quite sweet, not quite savory but perfectly in between dessert, this was another favorite, partially because of the novelty of the popcorn tuile. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple piece of sugar; however, it tasted exactly like a freshly popped kernel of corn.
…There’s really nothing left to say besides that.
155 W 51st St
Manhattan, NY 10019
November 25, 2009
I love Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is like my second home. I enjoy every moment when I’m there and I miss it when I’m gone. Recently Vegas has become my escape – a place to forget about work and Corporate America, a place to pretend I’m someone I’m not and immerse myself in the little pleasures in life.
L’Atelier is one of those little pleasures. When Vegas calls me home, L’Atelier is there to meet me at the door.
I’ve been to L’Atelier twice now and I see no signs of stopping. My first time, I ordered the L’Unique menu (a three course meal that is brought out all at once) with an order of the foie gras ravioli a la carte. Surprisingly, it was not the ravioli but the chicken broth in which they were swimming in that blew my mind away. It was comforting and familiar, rich and exquisite…
I knew I had to return.
This time around, I splurged. I knew what L’Atelier was capable of and I wanted to try its best! I found myself ordering the Discovery Menu – a nine course degustation that I hoped would both exemplify its strengths and, at the same time, soothe my tired soul.
The menu started off strong – you can never go wrong when you start with foie. Our amuse bouche, a foie gras parfait with a port wine and parmesan foam, was a spoonful of bliss.
Our next course, le crabe royale, was delicate and fresh.
Soon after, the courses wavered a bit. The scallop, although perfectly cooked, only had that *wow* factor if you were greeted with the crunch of sea salt in that same bite. The white onion tart with bacon and mushrooms was good but with the time-tested combination of bacon, mushrooms and onions, how could it not?
The fifth course was another foie dish: buttery foie gras in an unadulterated form…Mmm. However, the richness of the foie overpowered the dover sole in the sixth course, smothering it with the taste of the past. By the time the seventh course arrived (yet another foie dish – a foie-stuffed free range quail), I was full.
(As a side note: You know you’ve spoiled yourself when you’re bored with the taste of foie.)
Luckily, L’Atelier had a trick up its sleeve to perk up my palate. The menu simply said “grapefruit infused with Prosecco with lychee sorbet” but what it failed to note were the Pop Rocks that lined the rim of the bowl and the Rice Krispies that lay hidden below the sorbet. The crackling of candy and cereal against the cold lychee sorbet sparked just enough appetite to finish the last course (a chocolate cake with espresso ice cream).
And thus the meal was complete. I sipped my cappuccino, gathered all my strength, then threw myself back into the world. Who knows if I’ll survive the next battle in life but if anything happens…well…at least I can always go home.