...the only type of marathon I will ever run.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mom and Mako

My mom likes Mako, and for good reason. They consistently serve flavorful Japanese food with slight Mediterranean/Californian twists. My complaint is that it's pretty expensive for what you're getting ($95 with tax/tip for 1 sake, 2 appetizers, 1 entree, 1 side, 1 dessert).Presentation is always elegant and refined, starting with the sake. Served in a ceramic hot-water-filled base, the small pitcher fits cleanly in the center and is topped by the sake cup.We started with the shrimp spring rolls which are served in a martini glass half-filled with ponzu sauce and cherry tomatoes. The batter was light and the shrimp flavor was pronounced.All the dishes come out piping hot, which I think is why my mom likes it so much.
Following that was the seared ahi and baked red crab with cucumber salad. All the dishes are served on a banana leaf, which adds to the overall presentation. The combination of warm ahi and cold cucumber is a nice juxtaposition.
We ordered one of the specials (opted against the $55 4 ounce Japanese Kobe), white salmon on snow peas topped with carmelized onions. The fish was perfectly cooked with crunchy skin and delicate flavor. The onions were sweet to match the peas.
The Szechuan string beans were very tasty as well, not too oily with a good crunch.
My mom can't end a meal without dessert so we had mango sorbet, four big scoops.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tasting Menu or Leftovers: Mediocrity at Morel's

Granted Morel's French Steakhouse and Bistro is in The Grove (positioning it as a place for tourists who don't-know-better to eat), but would they really build a menu around their leftovers and call it a tasting menu? I think they would and did.
Known for their views of the mini Bellagio fountain, megaplex and people watching, Morels has prime real estate. Their steaks and mussels have made the blog rounds. I wasn't averse to trying their tasting menu, as a night of steak, shell fish and pommes frites never hurt anyone. What we got was a mixture of seemingly leftover items, hastily served amongst endless glasses of wine. Now I'm not complaining about the wine, as it was the saving grace of the evening, but I'm pretty sure it was only included to quell any complaints about the food.Upon arriving, it didn't take long to notice the ladies who lunch crowd was at least 20 years older than us. Not a good sign.
The cheese plate featured chunks of muenster (yes, that's chunks- the least appetizing word to describe food) with raspberries, olives and bruschetta. An extremely cheap assortment without a notable component, thus nullifying any reason to mention the paired wine.
The second course was a caprese salad with peaches (not pictured). Again, absolutely nothing worth mentioning.
The third course was a huge slab of seared ahi tuna, it's stringiness and size rendering it gross. They incorrectly assumed we would be happy because there was a lot of food on the plate. The cucumber salad on the side was neither here nor there.
Finally the meal stepped it up a little with the steak, onion rings, fries and flavored salts (regular salt, smoked salt, Fleur de Sel and my favorite the crunchy gray salt- unofficial name)
The meat was cooked well, flavorful and not too fatty.
Dessert was just a milkshake with whipped cream and cookies. Nothing wrong with it, but how hard it is to throw some Dreyers in a blender.
The bathrooms are pretty amusing, pumping in techno and supplying a bathtub-sized trough of mints.
Slower delivery would have helped immensely as the large staff hovered like flies, clearing plates, refilling glasses and offering their assistance to the point of harassment, not efficiency.
Maybe this sort of meal appeals to a different crowd, one who appreciates quantity over subtly, one who has to rush home to watch American Idol or one who doesn't know better than to eat at The Grove.
Overall it felt like the weekend's leftovers were combined into a 'tasting menu', as opposed to a true tasting menu of the market's freshest seasonal ingredients. If they charged $35 per person it would have been fine- you get what you pay for. But at $55 (before tip) it's not worth it, at least not in a city like LA where there are so many food choices. Next up Sunday Supper at Lucques, to see a tasting menu done right.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mao's Misses

Tried Mao's Kitchen on Monday and was disappointed. It was empty yet service was slow. The food was fine- inexpensive for the large portions- but nothing more than slightly healthier Chinese take-out. The ginger ale was the best thing I had, made with real ginger.
The outdoor seating and large space would better serve as a bar than a restaurant.
The ginger ale was phenomenal.
The soup was packed with ingredients, one of the thickest I've had. It wasn't bad...
The pork baozi (a special) were served ten minutes after the other food because the steamer broke.
The meat was bland and mealy.
As it's brand new I'll still give it another shot. I'll order something they can't mess up, like noodles or rice.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The "Good in the Hood" Food Marathon

Saturday's food marathon was one of the longest in distance (over 100 miles) and time (five hours). A lot of research went into it, with 14 possible locations analyzed and mapped. The theme was "south of LAX," although we might have broken that rule a little.
First I want to talk about south central LA. It's an area that has gotten a bad rap (pun intended) from mainstream media. Images of the 1992 riots always come to mind. Reginald Denny getting beaten at the corner of Florence and Normandie. Boyz in the Hood and Menace II Society. Lyrics from rap songs "The sun went
down when I hit Slauson, On my way to the strip, now I’m just flossin"
(Dr. Dre/"Let Me Ride"), "How to survive in south central... a place where bustin' a cap is fundamental" (Ice Cube ), "C-O-M-P-T-O-N, and the city they call Long Beach" (Snoop Dogg/"Nuthin' but a G Thang") even Skee-Lo/"I Wish" "You know I take the 110 to the 105, get off on Crenshaw tell my homies look alive." The cumulative result leads to a belief that south central LA is a battleground, a live version of Grand Theft Auto, where you'll most likely get murdered and at best robbed. Obviously this isn't the case. The sheer size of south central means there's a range of socio-economic backgrounds and races. Many parts look like Van Nuys or Torrance or any city USA, complete with Starbucks, McDonalds and Home Depots. There's obviously some bad pockets, but for the most part south central is just another part of the vast Los Angeles metropolis with excellent food.
As we headed south past LAX a 747 sat on the runway overpass.Our first marathon stop was a Jonathan Gold recommendation, Bruddah's in Gardena. A simple long storefront with three rows of tables leading towards a "specials board" that included short rib stew, poke and lau lau. We chose the Hawaiian french toast (thick slices of Hawaiian sweet bread), Beef Kalbi (marinated for days and grilled over an open flame), Portuguese sausage patties (a special) and macaroni salad (short segments of spaghetti and a sesame-inflected dressing, dyed a deep yellow with pureed egg yolks). The large portion of beef teriyaki was as tender and sweet as described. Unfortunately the sausages were dry and bland, but the macaroni was simple and effective. The french toast was the highlight- light, airy and delicious. We felt good walking out onto the quaint Gardena street, not having eaten too much at our first stop.
Stop two, Spoon House, was very close by and another Gold recommendation. Although it was described as a Japanese Italian spaghetti joint, we didn't quite understand the extent. The restaurant literally was a sushi bar and the bar itself remains. Japanese patrons, waitresses and ingredients (sea urchin, squid) round out the Japanese portion of the restaurant. The Latin American cooks stand where the sushi chef once did, but at Spoon House they cook spaghetti.
Not only that, they have a unique cooking system where the dry pasta is precisely weighed before being tossed into a metal "Al Dente System" which cooks it. We stayed simple with an order of spaghetti with eggs and bacon in a meat sauce. The sauce reminded me of my grandma's, very sweet as most of her cooking was. The pasta was cooked to perfection and we happily left knowing we wouldn't have a similar meal any time soon.
This is where the marathon took a turn, literally. We checked Jay Bees House of Fine BBQ in Gardena and joked about ordering one rib. We opted against it as we had more faith in our other BBQ options. Renu Nakorn has been on my list of Thai restaurants for a while so we drove east. On our long drive we witnessed a car accident, air bags deployed, children screaming- this should have been a sign. Despite being told the new address during the marathon planning phase (I forgot that it was destroyed in a fire) I hadn't properly noted it and we ended up at the former location, an empty lot. I called and got a message that they would reopen in December. On to contingency plan 1, Golden Dome Falafel.
Driving though lovely Norwalk, Bellflower and Cerritos we passed the CIF-SS Track and Field Championships at Cerritos College , what looked to be the premiere event of the region. Again bad planning as we arrived to find the restaurant that used to be Golden Dome was now Taco Nazo. The hour-long diversion left us hungry and depressed so we turned back to Crenshaw where we knew BBQ would save us.
On the way to Woody's BBQ we drove past a local's recommendation Taco Mama- or at least where Taco Mama was supposed to be. There was a Taco Mexicano at the location, but it looked decrepit so we passed. Woody's was officially stop number three, as we hadn't eaten at the three earlier mis-stops. In a strip mall on Slauson (with a crackhead outside) stands a small take-out shop billowing pungent smoke through the parking lot. Said crackhead tries to order just one rib and gets an earful from the woman behind the counter, "Damn it, you can't order just one rib! You either pay the $8 for a half slab or get outta here. And none of my customers are gonna buy you anything either!" We order a half slab of pork ribs with mixed sauce (as per Philips BBQ: "We have mild, mixed, or hot sauce. We do not know what medium is so don't order it.") We threw the ribs in the back seat and continued on to Inglewood to get some tacos. We figured there'd be seating at stop four, Taqueria Morelia.We passed The Forum before reaching Morelia, a Taco Hunt recommendation, which is just a small grocery store with a grill set up in front.
Buckets of sauces line a folding table, and a man and woman flip chickens on the grill. We each ordered a carne asada taco and would split a carnitas burrito.
We sat at the lone table, unwrapped the ribs and dug in. The sauce was spicy and sweet, coating the ribs and our hands. The meaty pork ribs were tender and numerous. Our tacos were ready and we doused them with sauce before downing them in a few bites. The tortillas were fresh and the steak was flavorfully packed with salt and herbs. The burrito was large, packed with rice, onions, pork, cheese. I added their spicy guacamole as well. Between the ribs and burrito we easily used all our napkins.
The final stop on the marathon is a landmark in Los Angeles. Known more for its state of the art design and geographical location, Randy's Donuts is almost as famous as the Hollywood sign. There are drive-thru and pick-up windows offering a simple list of donuts and coffee. Like Dunkin Donuts coffee is where donut shops make all their money.
We had an old fashioned glazed which wasn't good and a coconut with glaze filling which was phenomenal.Despite the eastbound detour, the marathon was a total success breaking the record of total mileage and introducing us to many new restaurants in LA. Bruddahs
1033 W Gardena Blvd, Gardena

Spoon House
1601 W. Redondo Beach Boulevard. Gardena, CA 90247 (310) 538-0376

Jay Bee's House of Fine Bar-B-Que
15915 S Avalon Blvd, Gardena, CA 90248-2504 Phone: (310) 532-1064
Cross Street: Alondra Boulevard

Renu Nakorn
13041 Rosecrans Ave Norwalk, CA 90650 (562) 921-2124

Taco Nazo (fka Golden Dome Falafel Restaurant)
10316 Alondra Blvd, Bellflower, 562-925-6013

Taco Mama/Taco Mexicano
Corner of Vernon and Hooper

Tienda Latina Carniceria/Taqueria Morelia
10333 S Inglewood Ave, Inglewood 90304, at Lennox

Woody's Bar-B-Que
3446 W Slauson Ave Los Angeles, CA 90043

Randy's Donuts
805 West Manchester Avenue, Inglewood CA 90301, 310.645.4707

The next marathon will include papusas, dumplings, burgers and pie. Stay tuned...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Less Idiots in Hollywood

I posted about the Village Idiot right when it opened. I still go back every once in a while, now that the crowds have died down. It's a much better place during daylight. The windows open to watch the tourists, Ruff Ryders, eurotrash and street rats, they have good beer on tap and the tables are roomy.
Here's a few pics of the food:
catfish with whipped sweet potatoes
chocolate chip cookie with mint chip gelato
shrimp fritters
steak pot pie
pumpkin bread pudding

Thursday, May 17, 2007

It's Going Down

The summer food marathon season has begun. In addition to the Summer of Sushi, there will be plenty of marathoning. This Saturday will be the "Good in the Hood" Food Marathon . The trip will extend from LAX southward. No eating establishment will be north of LAX.
The options are endless, including Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ, Bake N' Broil, George's Greek Deli, Open Sesame, Bruddahs (Hawaiian), Belacan Grill (Malaysian), somewhere in Little Saigon, somewhere in Little Phnom Penh and many others. All suggestions accepted.