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Ichiza (Las Vegas, NV) – An Oasis in the Desert

August 1, 2010

I used to think I knew Vegas. I know my way up and down the Strip. I can lead you through most major casinos, both sober and drunk. I know where to find a 2-minute taxi line at the MGM on fight night. Yet somehow, I didn’t know of Ichiza until a month ago.

Located on the second floor of a random shopping center off the Strip, Ichiza is small Japanese izakaya that’s open til 4AM on the weekends. Prices are reasonable – about $5-7/plate – and the food is absolutely fantastic.

Their printed menu isn’t very comprehensive; the majority of their dishes are hand written and plastered against the walls. Therefore, do what my friends did and just ask your waitress what is good or what she recommends. (Otherwise, you’re never going to be able to figure out what they have that day.)

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Below is just a smattering of what Ichiza has to offer. As mentioned, the menu was hard to piece together so I’m not sure what the official name of any of these dishes below are. I’m naming them based on what I’ve been able to dig up on the internet so, if you go, please forgive me if the waitress doesn’t understand what you’re talking about.

Yellowtail Tartare

Fresh yellowtail and avocado tartare on a fried tortilla chip with rice, lettuce and pico de gallo. It’s not very Japanese and the combination sounds a little offbeat, but it works really well. I’d recommend ordering more than one order – this was my favorite of the night.

Fried Spanish Mackerel

Pop a bite-sized mackerel into your mouth, bones and all – *crunch!* The fried fish had the right amount of salt as is, so I didn’t bother using the accompanying spicy mayo. Who knew fish would be such a good late night snack?

Fried Shrimp

I typically don’t eat shrimp whole but these shrimp are so small, you’re not ordering them for their meat. You are, however, ordering them for that salty, fried crunch you taste when chomping down on their thin shells. (They’re very similar to the fried Spanish mackerel, but I think I texturally like the mackerel slightly more.)

Chicken Gizzards with Green Beans

The gizzards were garlicky and well seasoned, although the texture was a little bit too chewy for my taste. (This was, however, my first time trying gizzards so I wouldn’t know what a well-cooked gizzard’s texture would taste like.)

Chicken Don

The one truly traditional Japanese dish we ordered, their chicken don was everything it was supposed to be: Warm eggs, tender chicken, flavorful rice, hearty, comforting…

Bacon Wrapped Mochi

Its name says it all: Bacon wrapped mochi. Chewy white mochi, wrapped in salty, porky bacon. It tastes exactly what you’re imagining it tastes like. (Delicious!)

Deep Fried Bacon and Mozzarella Wrapped Zucchini

Mozzarella. Zucchini. Bacon. Fried crust. Mushroom sauce. I’m not sure how this concoction was created but it’s surprisingly good. I wouldn’t have guessed it was mozzarella if it wasn’t for someone telling me. The zucchini is subtle and is almost overpowered by the bacon (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing).

Kimchi Pork

The kimchi pork was not bad, but not as strong as some of the other dishes we ordered. It’s like they stir-fried some kimchi and bulgogi and then poured it over a plate of cabbage. Although it was unimpressive while I was sober, I could see this being really tasty with a bowl of rice after a drunken night.

Tom Yum Roll

Just thinking of how to describe it throws me for a loop – both Vietnamese and Japanese, it doesn’t favor one influence over the other. I can only say it’s like the love child of a spring roll and a sushi roll.

Honey Toast with Vanilla Ice Cream

If I were to order this again, I’d order just one for myself, cut off all the crusts and just dig into the soft, chewy bread on the inside. The inner portion is like a sponge, absorbing all the honey and melted ice cream. Each bite is sugary, starchy goodness.

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(How did I go so long without knowing about Ichiza? Why didn’t I go earlier?)

Ichiza
4355 Spring Mountain Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89102
(702) 367-3151

Ichiza Sake House on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Ssam Bar (Manhattan, NY) / Momofuku Milk Bar (Manhattan, NY) – Tasting a Lucky Peach

July 14, 2010

Momofuku Ssam Bar

When I first planned NYC Trip #2, I originally penciled in “Momofuku Ko” on my schedule. Arguably the hardest reservation to get in all of New York (I heard David Chang won’t even let his parents bypass his infamous Momofuku reservation system), the only way to get a reservation is to stalk the website and count down the seconds until reservations for the following week’s seating opened. I felt confident I would be able to score one of the twelve available seats for that night…that is, until I totally forgot about making reservations. I remembered 12 hours too late. (Oops!)

…Okay then, onto Plan B.

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Getting into Momofuku Ssam Bar is much easier than Momofuku Ko. Unless you reserve an order of their famous bo ssam pork shoulder ahead of time, Ssam Bar is a first-come, first-serve eatery. My suggestion is to get there early, before the lunch/dinner crowds hit – otherwise, you’ll be escorted to the Momofuku Milk Bar next door, where you’ll wait for your table in a somewhat uncomfortable position. (Milk Bar has no chairs and waits are typically about half an hour or longer.)

Plates at Ssam are decently sized but…well…my dining companions and I are eaters. Therefore, for the three of us, we ordered all of the following:

Santa Barbara Uni, Whipped Tofu, Tapioca, Shrimp Crackers

Call me dense but I didn’t get this dish. Maybe the contrast in texture was meant to be the focus, but I didn’t really understand how the flavors of the whipped tofu, the chewy tapioca/boba balls and the shrimp crackers were supposed to work with the rich, buttery uni. (The uni was fresh and delicious by itself though.)

Fuji Apple Kimchi, Jowl Bacon, Maple Labne, Arugula

The kimchi apples, on the other hand, I understood – it was easily one of the top 5 dishes I tasted during my second NYC trip. Crisp Fuji apples are coated in the peppery kimchi seasoning (minus the vinegar) and topped with meaty bacon and spicy arugula. The labne (a strained yogurt) mellows everything out. A complete bite of all four components? Amazing.

Country Ham

We ordered two types of country ham: the smokier Edward’s Wigwam ham and the non-smoked Finchville’s ham. All I have to say is, if you’re going to go for ham, get it smoked.

Steamed Buns, Pork Belly, Hoisin, Cucumbers, Scallions

When I used to hear about Momofuku pork buns I used to think, “What’s so good about Momofuku pork buns…? Pffft. Big deal.” Now I think, “OMG, I WANT A PORK BUN.” Just imagine a peking duck bun – the familiar hoisin and scallion flavors and the texture of the fluffy bun – but now swap the duck for soft and tender pork belly that just melts in your mouth. Doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is – these pork buns are DELICIOUS.

Corned Beef Terrine, Fried Egg Sauce, Tea Brined Egg Salad

I was uninspired by this dish, possibly because I ate it immediately after those mind-blowing Momofuku pork buns. Although it was tasty, at the end of the day, it just felt like chunks of corned beef compressed in a terrine mold.

Fried Baby Artichokes, Pistachio, Sunchokes, Bottarga

I’m not a fried artichokes kind of girl as I find they lose their tender artichoke qualities when they’re immersed in a vat of oil and end up with a texture reminiscent of dry leaves. Therefore, instead of commenting on the fried artichokes, I just want to bring your attention to the delicious sunchoke puree smeared on the side of the bowl in the picture above. (I would have much rather had a bowl of just that!)

Chili Soft Shell Crab, Green Plum, Asparagus, Lemon Confit

The tart lemon was a nice accompaniment against the asparagus and a nice contrast against the crispy soft shell crab. However, I don’t recall tasting any of the chili that is referred to in the dish description.

Spicy Pork Sausage, Rice Cakes, Chinese Broccoli, Crispy Shallots

The meaty, spicy dduk bok-ki was a great way to end the meal. The rice cakes were crispy on the outside but soft and chewy in the middle (just the way I like them!). The pork sausage had a real kick to it too. (I wouldn’t recommend ordering anything after this one.)

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And now, for a side tangent:

For those who may not have seen The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Ssam sits right around the middle of that list at #26. It’s the 5th US restaurant on the list, only topped by Alinea (in Chicago) and Daniel, Per Se and Le Bernardin (all in NYC). It’s six spots above The French Laundry (in Yountville, CA).

When first scanning the 2010 list, I was surprised to see Ssam ranked so highly. At the time, I hadn’t read much about the place so I attributed my reaction to ignorance and gave it the benefit of the doubt. However, after dining at both Ssam and at the last restaurant to make the cut (Eleven Madison Park at #50) in the same week, I left NYC still very confused. Momofuku Ssam Bar…#26…?

According to the Momofuku website, the name “Momofuku” means “lucky peach”. I believe it’s a fitting name – Without a doubt, like a ripe peach, Momofuku Ssam Bar is delicious and worth trying. However, I find the inclusion of the word “lucky” even more fitting – As tasty as it may be, with a #26 position on the World’s Best list, Momofuku Ssam Bar must be much, much luckier.

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500
Website: http://www.momofuku.com/

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Milk Bar

We started off the night in Milk Bar (while waiting for our table); we ended our night there as well. I wanted something sweet but since I was slightly stuffed at this point, I only split a slice of David Chang’s infamous “Crack Pie”.

Crack Pie – Toasted Oat Crust, Gooey Butter Filling

I think it’s logical to assume that Crack Pie was probably named for its supposedly addictive qualities. I have no doubt that there are people out there who are addicted after bite one; I, however, am not one of them. Honestly, it just tasted like butter and sugar to me (which is basically all that’s in it anyway). I’m not sure what I expected from it but…well…if this is crack, I think I’ll pass next time.

What I won’t pass on, however, is Milk Bar’s cereal milk soft serve. As a girl who likes her cereal SUPER soggy before chowing down, I really enjoyed this – its taste was spot on, exactly like the sweet, sugary milk you typically find at the bottom of your bowl. I’m not sure I would purchase an actual bottle of their cereal milk (especially since I feel like I could easily re-create it by pouring myself a bowl of cereal at home) but the cereal milk soft serve is definitely worth the trip.

Momofuku Milk Bar– MOVED
(new location information)
251 E 13th St
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500
Website: http://www.momofuku.com/

Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar on Urbanspoon

Petrossian (Los Angeles, CA) – Pictures Are Easy When Food Looks This Good

June 20, 2010

(For my first two Petrossian reviews, refer here and here.)

I feel a little guilty writing this review because this is my third review of Petrossian. I have 30+ reviews still sitting in my backlogs (including two New York trips and now an Atlanta trip too!), waiting to be written. Is it fair to write yet another Petrossian review while so many other restaurants have been sitting for months in queue, waiting to be typed onto screen?

No, it’s not really fair, but it’s just so easy to write Petrossian reviews. The food inspires me to write and the aesthetics behind Chef Ben’s food translate from plate to picture so effortlessly.

(Picture taken by Liz of Food, She Thought.)

Unlike my previous visits to Petrossian, which were basically planned to satisfy my hunger for fine dining, this visit was for a special occasion – this meal was the one that would later be featured on ABC7’s “Food Paparazzi” segment for both local and national broadcast. (I was very excited.) Given the occasion, Linden the Gastronomnom requested a small tasting menu and, as usual, Chef Ben did not disappoint.

Course 1: Caviar Surprise with King Crab and Apple Cider Jelly

We began our meal with a glass of hibiscus champagne, with its distinct vibrant rose color, and a hearty portion of “caviar surprise”. I was happy to finally taste the surprise, which I had seen on many a food blog, and enjoyed the sweetness of the crab and apple cider jelly against the saltiness of the caviar.

Course 2: Salmon Tartare, Caviar, Quail Egg

The salmon tartare was also delicious, as tartare and caviar have been known to do. (Another example: the steak tartare and caviar referenced in my first review.) As the course was perfectly seasoned, I found myself directly putting fork into mouth, completely ignoring the toast points provided on the side.

Course 3: Crispy Egg, Cipollini Onion Soubise, Pressed Caviar

My favorite component of this dish was surprisingly not the crispy egg but instead the onion soubise. Although a soubise is defined as a bechamel based sauce, I found the consistency to be more similar to a puree or a very thick soup. The runny yolk of the egg spilled into the soubise, making it even richer than originally plated.

Course 4: Skate, Brown Butter Foam, Crushed Potatoes, Sherry Vinegar Gelatin, Capers, Croutons

My first ever taste of skate will not be my last as I’ve never had anything similar in texture; it seemed to flake away in distinct layers. (To borrow an apt description by Ruth Reichl, it has a cordoroy-like texture.) The sherry vinegar gelatin was like a punch of flavor in the face (I mean that in a good way) and, surprisingly, did not distract from the rest of the dish. A complete bite of fish and accoutrements was salty and tart and buttery all at the same time – simply delightful.

Course 5: Sweetbreads, Baby Spinach, Maitake Mushroom

Our last course is typically not found on the menu, although I wish it was. As a lover of sweetbreads, I appreciated the simplicity of the dish because the natural taste of the sweetbreads was allowed to shine.

As mentioned previously, this meal was for a special occasion and Chef Ben outdid himself with this menu. Looking back now – the caviar in excess, the flutes of champagne, the TV crew – it feels a little surreal. This is, in no way, “normal” in my life…but I could get used to it. I just have to find a camera crew to follow me around and I’ll be set!

(Note: Since I’ve had people ask: ABC7 did NOT cover any part of this meal. I don’t think they would have let us splurge on caviar and champagne if they had…)

Petrossian Paris Boutique & Cafe
321 N Robertson Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90048
(310) 271-6300
Website: http://www.petrossian.com/
Twitter: @petrossianweho

Petrossian Boutique & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Marea (Manhattan, NY) – This Is Food Porn.

May 20, 2010

Before reading any further, please first watch the following Youtube clip from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations – Food Porn Part II. (Start watching at 3:10 – That’s when it starts getting gooooood…)

Okay, now that I’ve made you hungry, I’ll also make you jealous: The sea urchin and lardo? The burrata and lobster? The octopus and bone marrow?

I ate that. ALL OF THAT.

I find it fitting that Marea is established right across the southern border of Central Park. When I think of Central Park, I think of a lush, green oasis in a concrete jungle; when I think of Marea, I think of a modern, bright dining room in a sea of older, dim restaurants.

Although the fundamental characteristics between Marea and other NYC fine dining establishments are the same (e.g. big windows, crisp linens, glass centerpieces, etc.), there’s something about Marea that is so visually appealing to me. Maybe it was because I went to Marea on a perfectly sunny spring day, but the whole space just seemed to sparkle the moment I walked in. This has to be one of my favorite dining rooms thus far.

Marea’s lunch menu is simple – a two course business lunch for $38, with each additional course costing $19 (although, looking at their online menu now, they’ve increased it to $42 and $21, respectively). The “Ricci” (i.e. the sea urchin and lardo) is not on their lunch menu but after seeing the above No Reservations episode, I begged my way to an order.

(Note: I am going to start transcribing quotes from the No Reservations episode because, honestly, can I describe the following better than King of My Heart? I don’t think so.)

“Two fat sacks of sea urchin roe, plumped with goodness. The briny, swollen membranes held aloft by two tiny chariots of toast. A gossamer thin sheet of lardo, lightly cured pork fat from the mountains of Tuscany, draped over the top and ever so slightly heated, allowed to wilt, to melt over the aroused golden pillows, like a dying swan.” – Anthony Bourdain

Ricci – Sea urchin, lardo, sea salt.

A side tangent: I recently had a very similar dish – uni on toast with olive oil – at Church and State in Los Angeles. There, the olive oil seemed to overwhelm the sea urchin and gave almost a greasy consistency to the uni. This was not the case at Marea.

The sea urchin and lardo, in this instance, were complimentary – Each component maintained the qualities that make it delicious and the other only enhanced the overall taste. The uni was buttery, the lardo was smoky…I only wish we had ordered more.

“Combine seafood and cheese – it’s just not done! It’s like catching your parents having sex! Instinctively, it’s like eww! But not this time…This time it tastes like shame. Delicious, delicious shame.” – Anthony Bourdain

Astice – Nova Scotia lobster, burrata, eggplant al funghetto, basil.

Lobster and burrata. Burrata and lobster. Can you really go wrong? Burrata, by itself, is on my list of favorite things. (Coincidentally enough, sea urchin and bone marrow are also on that list.) Add lobster and it’s become an ever higher ranked favorite!

I was originally worried about the texture of this dish – as Anthony Bourdain already stated, lobster and cheese aren’t really supposed to go together. However, the lobster was firm enough to provide some contrast against the soft burrata.

“It starts innocently enough – hand made fusilli and baby octopus, tossed and mingled together with…OMFG, NO! Bone marrow! The unearthly product melted into and fortifying the sauce like some celestial butter.” – Anthony Bourdain

Fusilli – Durum wheat pasta, red wine braised octopus, bone marrow.

Ordering a pasta dish for lunch after devouring a pasta tasting dinner at Babbo the night before is risky. Finding out that pasta dish can hold its own, even after a full pasta tasting menu, is both relieving and exciting.

The fusilli had great texture, perfectly al dente, and had a great chewiness to it. The octopus was tender, not at all tough. As for the bone marrow? Finding bone marrow was like finding buried treasure – my eyes lit up with every chunk of fatty marrow I dug from underneath the pasta.

To conclude: In the spirit of food porn, let’s just say eating at Marea would be the money shot. (And I’m just going to leave it at that.)

Marea
240 Central Park South
New York, NY 10021
(212) 582-5100
Website: http://www.marea-nyc.com/

Marea on Urbanspoon

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck (Manhattan, NY) – A Salty Pimp and My Big Gay BFF

May 15, 2010

(Picture taken by Jenn)

In a city where ice cream trucks are parked every other block (I think I passed at least four on the way to the BGICT), the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck is one worth finding. Although it may look like a standard ice cream truck from the outside (that is, if you ignore its colorful logo), the flavor combinations that have been known to come out of this truck are anything but standard. Using ingredients such as curry powder, wasabi pea dust, olive oil, sea salt, sriracha…This ain’t your neighborhood ice cream truck.

On this particular day, I was on the search for a choinkwich – a caramelized bacon chocolate ice cream sandwich that Jenn, the other half in my NYC fooding adventures, describes as: “fatty goodness + cold goodness + chewy goodness = heaven“. However, once I found the truck, Doug, the nice guy in the truck, said they weren’t selling them that day. (Story of my life.)

So, I reverted to Plan B: “Doug, what would you recommend to a girl from LA who has never had a big gay ice cream before?”

I got a Salty Pimp.

Again, the above may look like a standard chocolate dipped ice cream cone, with its creamy vanilla ice cream and a crispy chocolate shell, but layered between the ice cream and chocolate is are drizzles of sweet dulce de leche and sprinklings of sea salt. Once you try it, the crunch of sea salt almost becomes a natural accompaniment to the vanilla, chocolate and caramel – specifically, it enhances the flavors of both the chocolate and caramel in this sweet and savory concoction.

And, like that, with a lick of my Salty Pimp, I was sold. The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck is my new big gay best friend.

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
New York, NY
Website: http://www.biggayicecreamtruck.com/
Twitter: @biggayicecream

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck on Urbanspoon