Din Tai Fung

din tai fung
Originally uploaded by illewminator.
When you're in the mood for delicate dumplings at not-so-delicate prices, be sure to hit up Din Tai Fung on Baldwin and Duarte in Arcadia. It's not really expensive, but we're not talking cheap grub here. [We went with 7 people, ordered probably 10 dishes, and spent about $13/person for a light dinner.]

Still, what do you expect for fresh, hand-made dumplings made to order?? There's a window in the front of the restaurant where you can watch the all-Latino staff expertly fold these Chinese delicacies.

Pictured here are the "xiao long bao" or more officially, "xiao long tang bao" or "soup dumplings" (pork and crab filling is their house specialty, but they also have pork or fish filling -- i preferred the pork filled).

All the dishes are small, so be prepared to order more than you think you'll need. Many people like the herbal soup and the desserts. (I personally don't consider beans to be a dessert item, but my friends really seem to like them).

Be prepared for a long wait and parking can be a challenge at this very popular international restaurant (locations also in Taiwan and Japan).

Philip's BBQ menu

philips menu
Originally uploaded by illewminator.
here's a shot of the menu at Philip's BBQ. you can partially see that they also provide party trays for $50 and $100. call ahead to reserve your orders for holiday weekends 'cause they are guaranteed to be really busy.

Philip's BBQ

philips bbq
Originally uploaded by illewminator.
one look at this tiny hole in the wall in leimert park and you should know you're in for some tasty Q -- meat-scented smoke perpetually wafts from the roof of this compact bbq factory and there is usually a grip of people hanging around in the parking lot in front waiting for their orders to appear from a bank teller-sized window next to the door. i got the combo plate with my choice of 3 meats (pork ribs, sliced beef, and rib tips), baked beans and potato salad. it also comes w/ 2 slices of white bread -- perfect for rolling the oh-so-tender sliced beef and eating it like a sandwich. the pork ribs were also melt-in-your-mouth tender and tasty. the rib tips were slighty chewier and a bit crunchy -- good for gnawing. the combo has plenty of meat for 2 people to share, although we had to fight over the tiny containers of beans and potator salad. still, 2 thumbs way up for philip's, arguably the best bbq in all of LA.


sushi gen
Originally uploaded by illewminator.
this is the sashimi lunch plate at this very popular lunch spot in honda plaza in j-town (2nd and alameda). this is the most popular lunch special at sushi-gen -- and for good reason. look at all the food you get for only $10.50! ultra-high quality sashimi, beautifully presented, and great quantity all adds up to a one hour wait for a table, if you arrive anytime between 11:50 and 1:00. but be forewarned: if you sit at the sushi bar, you'll definitely pay for it -- at the bar, you can't order the lunch specials off the menu.


hapless hamburger HABIT

note of caution: don't believe the local cable ads for Hamburger Habit that say they are the BEST in LA. located in the northwest corner plaza of National Blvd and Sepulveda Blvd in West Los Angeles, Hamburger Habit is a pure ripoff. the chili dog was like 4 bucks for something I could've cooked via microwave (the dog was puny). the hamburger is completely unremarkable...especially for the 6 or 7 dollar price tag. pound-for-pound, in-n-out win's ANYDAY! Hamburger HABIT: what a rip-off. (the photo of the burger on the right is lifted but MUCH MUCH more appetizing looking that the one I got at "the Habit.")


taiwanese shaved ice action

ok. so this ain't taiwanese style but it's a pretty picture of red beans and grean tea toppings that i grabbed off the web. it looks like japanese style to me.

In the heat of the Taiwanese tropical summers, there was no better treat than the ubiquitous shaved ice dessert available in mom and pop shops located throughout the city of Taipei. The huge white flags with the Chinese “ice” symbol always perked me up after hours of walking the mean streets of Taipei with my mom. Every Pacific Rim island and small country (including Hawaii) seem to have their own special array of shaved ice toppings that constitute the discriminating palate of local cuisine. My favorite 3 flavors out of the Taiwanese palate have always been either small red or green bean (red bean preferred if given a choice and limitation on the number of toppings) and boiled peanuts. (FYI: grass jelly, yellow jelly, mini tapioca balls, mango pudding, plump wheat meal, random tropical fruit and apparently little mochi balls are other common toppings) The dishes are sold as three or four toppings options, depending on the complexity of flavors you prefer. Often, at least in Taiwan back in the day, the toppings are placed in the plate first, then the shaved ice then a generous squirt of sugar/cane water. Apparently, condensed milk is also added in the places I’ve tried around LA.

First, what should one look for in a good Taiwanese shaved ice experience? I look for general cleanliness of ambiance, a sufficiently sized to-go or for-here container that can handle vigorous mixing of ice with toppings, generous helpings of the three only lightly-sweetened toppings (my choice for number of toppings), a good amount of sugar water for binding the overall dish and a balanced serving of condensed milk. And of course, the value to price ratio is very important because the shaved ice treat is really casual “street” food and its price should remain as such.

For a long time I’ve relied on my weekly trips to Alhambra for playing co-ed volleyball as the opportunity for grabbing a shaved ice at the Shau-Mei cafeteria style Taiwanese/Other Chinese food restaurant in Monterey Park (located at the northeast corner of Garfield and Garvey). The Shau-Mei shaved ice is a reliable and convenient treat, and thus, the overall winner of the three types of dishes I’ve tried thus far. I’m sure there are plenty of other places in the area that serve shaved ice (including the numerous hong kong type cafes and Taiwanese “small eats” dim sum parlours) but I’m a gal that sticks with unfussy stuff that I know and is reliable. The Shau-Mei shaved ice in Alhambra just up the street at the northeast corner of Garfield and Valley Blvd is EXACTLY the same so kudos to them for at least doing the franchising fordist system effectively.

For $2.75 you get a huge serving of shaved ice on a medium sized clear dessert plate with three ample toppings, sugar water and generous squirts of condensed milk. At Shau-Mei I get the small red bean, boiled peanuts, and small pink and white mochi balls (similar to those in the picture). I don’t recall mochi balls as something that I used to see in the topping choices in Taiwan but since I love them so outside of shaved ice, indeed they are just as tasty WITH shaved ice. What’s even better about the Shau-Mei experience is that the shaved ice line is SEPARATE from their hot food line and THUS you can just walk up to the shaved ice counter and order QUICK (no need to sniff pig’s feet and chow mein before dining on the ice). What service! Do the ordering in English, Mandarin, Taiwanese or Cantonese, your pick (maybe even Fujianese and Shanhainese). They have huge spoons that shovel lots of each of the toppings I pick and the wetness made to the ice by the sugar water and ratio to the condense milk is just enough to add enough sweetness to the already sweet toppings. The boiled peanuts are just like they should be, wet, soft and sweet. Clearly the all-around winner.

A second runner-up for me has been the shaved ice at the Taiwanese-run boba joint, Volcano Tea, the Japanese strip of Sawtelle in West Los Angeles (located just north of Olympic). I’ve been able to study there while nursing an adequately sized shaved ice in a big styrofoam cup (you get the cup whether you dine in or take out). There I get small red bean, small green bean and boiled peanuts. The toppings are all made the “right” way as I remembered in Taipei shaved ice shops. I would only say that they need to have sugar water in it rather than drench the ice in tons of condensed milk to compensate because the ice is not as wet as it should be to make for convenient mixing of all toppings. Next time I would just ask them to “hold the condensed milk” (in English or Mandarin if you’d like). They also have the various typical toppings displayed on their backlit menu on the wall. The price is a little more than $3.00…but hey, what can you do when you’re paying for Westside real estate.

And finally, the place that I will never go back to for shaved ice, Relaxtation on the UCLA campus (and probably not at other Relaxtations either). On a whim, I was hungry while on campus and was craving the icy snack. Not on the regular menu, I spotted a small sign standing on the counter that said “shaved ice available here” and I went for it. Not having the toppings listed, I asked for my usual: red and green bean and peanuts. BAD CALL. I got this small sized styrofoam cup packed with dry peanuts, overly sweetened mushy beans and even dryer shaved ice (that wasn’t even shaved that finely…more like ice gravel). The dry peanuts were the WORSE part of the experience because they were like the salty roasted planter’s peanuts poor undergrown stepcousin. I couldn’t’ believe it was even possible to have my mouth feel even less refreshed AFTER I had the shaved ice. After a few bites, I quit and just trashed the thing. What’s worse is the thing cost me around or more than $3.50, money that I will never see again. What a rip-off.

I know there are DEFINITELY other shaved ice frontiers that I have yet to explore…but for now, my needs are met with the choices I’ve made. A curious option that has come up is a shaved ice offering at the Green Tea Terrace on Westwood Blvd, in Westwood. It’s my favorite place for Japanese macha green tea boba with soy milk but they also make yummy smoothies and are offering this Japanese style kakigori. But it will unlikely take the space I have in my heart for the Taiwanese style fare.

a fun website for food-lovers

This website for food-lovers offers a searchable glossary of 4533 cooking ingredients and terms as well as fun food facts and tips, such as an answer to that eternal question: how to tell if a watermelon is ripe. See http://www.hungrymonster.com/Foodfacts/Food_Facts.cfm.

Hows Markets

I hadsteaks this weekend that I grilled myself. These steaks are really hard to screw up. They were a little well done for my preference, but it was still very tender. I got prime boneless rib eye steaks from Hows market for $5.99/lb. For those of you that don't buy steaks, that's a great buy, and prime grade meat is even better. I saw at Whole Foods market the same steak but in the lower Choice grade for $15.99/lb. Hows used to be Hughes Market before Ralphs bought them out. They have a few locations around the city. Check out their website. They also have their weekly ad online.


No News

I haven't eaten out too much recently. I have no stories.

Although a week ago we went to Soup Plantation for our weekly dinner with grandpa. For those of you that know him, Soup Plantation wouldn't be his first choice. I suggested BBQ since I was watching the BBQ cookoff on Food TV, but somehow Soup Plantation was choosen. Grandpa's salad consisted of hard boiled egg, corn and beets. No lettuce or anything salad like on his plate. just egg, corn and beets. I wish I had a camera with me.



angel, vera and me (photo taken by darryl) waiting for our table. we're still happy -- that's because we didn't know we'd still be standing on that goddamned sidewalk an hour and a half later, still waiting for a table. [note the special leg-wrapping yellow stocking (yes, stocking - it was not part of her shoe) on the woman's leg in the window. the best part of her stocking was this spiderman looking web thing that looked like it had trapped a couple of toes in it. yes, this place is full of artsy-fartsy looking white people.]
Originally uploaded by illewminator.


my dining experience at this new, hip, "vietnamese" restaurant in silverlake only confirmed what i've long suspected about the formula for success for new restaurants:

1) pick a key location in a hip neighborhood with a lot of white professionals.
2) choose a little known "foreign" cuisine (the more exotic, the better -- i.e. no chinese, mexican, italian).
3) decorate your restaurant in chic minimalism with little ethnic touches here and there to reinforce the exotic-ness.
4) serve less than half (but charge at least double) of what the little family-owned restaurant on the other side of the tracks does.
5) hire young, ethnically diverse wait staff and a young, attractive, white hostess with perfect diction.

because doing all of the above frees you up to cook whatever the hell you want and feed it to customers who've been waiting for over an hour out on the sidewalk (no waiting area because of the minimalist look) and they'll love it because they don't know a good pho from a bad pho(k) because they've never dared to venture outside of their little whitewashed world long enough to set foot inside a real vietnamese restaurant.

whew... don't get me started. i'm just starting to warm up.

suffice it to say, i was less than impressed by the quality of the food at gingergrass. this, despite the hostess being extremely pleasant and apologetic in her 3 half-hour updates to us as we waited for an hour and a half for a table for 4 that ended up being right in from the door and directly below the snow-blowing a/c vent. the chicken and ginger/garlic pho was utterly tasteless -- like noodles served in a bowl of lukewarm water with some white meat chicken thrown in. they sucked so much that i couldn't even choke down more than a few spoonfuls. i asked for some fish sauce, thinking that might help flavor the broth a bit more, but the stuff the waitress brought from the kitchen was like no fish sauce i've ever had before. it tasted like someone took a dash of fish sauce and poured in a cup of white vinegar. i put some in the pho, but i think it only made it worse.

my friend's chicken vermicelli bowl was also bland, as was the "spicy tiger shrimp." the only thing that was reasonably tasty were the salty spicy fried shrimp, which was just like any other salty spicy shrimp you can get at any decent chinese restaurant. our appetizers (fried imperial rolls and fresh spring rolls) were also fair, but nothing special. for dessert (because we were still hungry after having such unsatisfying meals), we tried the fried banana rolls drizzled with chocolate sauce and the coconut bread pudding. the fried banana rolls were good (because, really, how could you screw up rolling up a banana in an egg roll wrapper and deep frying the thing?). but the bread pudding... again, like no bread pudding i've ever seen before -- it looked like a plate of sauce with large crouton-size chunks of baguette thrown on top of the sauce. it was like someone took a french baguette, chopped it up into large pieces, and poured some sweet sauce over it and threw it in the microwave to warm it up. the sauce was tasty, but there wasn't enough of it on the bread chunks to adequately flavor them, and there wasn't enough of it on the bottom of the plate to dip the bread chunks into it. it wasn't bad (like my pho). but it was a far cry from good. kind of like my assessment of my first (and undoubtedly last) gingergrass experience.


Baccali Chicken

Of all the Chinese cafes I've been to, I'd have to say Baccali Chicken is up there as one of my favorites. It's located on Valley just west of The Hat on Garfield. This is another Chinese cafe, but is a little less "Chinese-y" feeling than most of the others. For one thing, they have a bar so you have more beverage options. They also have TVs stationed throughout the restaurant, usually playing some sort of sports game rather than Hong Kong concerts, videos, or worse, Chinese opera.

Their signature dish, the Baccali chicken, is a tasty (but sometimes a bit salty) rotisseried half chicken, served with rice and veggies. I recommend the Malaysian style chicken, which is the same rottiserie chicken, but with curry sauce over it and the rice is a sort of saffron pilaf with raisins and other stuff mixed in.

Since we usually go here after tennis, we usually have a big group so we eat family style (and make good use of the free refills). I don't think I've had a bad menu item here, yet. Standout items include: curry chicken -- boneless chunks of chicken w/ curry sauce served in a gravy boat on the side and a big plate of white rice; chicken with coconut sauce -- boneless chunks of chicken in a creamy white sauce with toasted & shredded coconut sprinkled on top; korean filet mignon cubes -- tender cubes of filet in a teriyaki glaze; and any of the baked items, which are kind of like the Japanese-style gratin with various sorts of meat or seafood in a cream or tomato sauce then covered in cheese and served over rice. Like other cafes, they also have lots of noodle and rice dishes and my favorite preserved meat fried rice (see JJ Cafe entry for description).

JJ Cafe

Last night, I went to JJ Cafe on Garvey near Garfield with Chong, the expert on Chinese cafes in the SGV (San Gabriel Valley). Even though to me, the cafe genre of food is pretty much all the same, JJ is one of his perennial favorites. He claims the food tastes better there. And, after having gone to several of these cafes with him and sampling the different fare, I guess I agree with him that at least at JJ's, you get consistently reliable food and service.

If we've reached the prior agreement to share our food "family style,", then we usually get an order of preserved meat fried rice and another, more substantial dish. The fried rice is my favorite -- it has liberal doses of both air-dried pork pieces (sort of a cross between bacon and jerky) and chinese sausage (lop cheung). oh yeah, and there's also small bits of chinese broccoli, green onions, and scrambled egg mixed in there, too. YUM! I highly recommend this dish. Chong's favorite is the breaded and fried pork chop wtih curry sauce over rice -- a great deal if you go after 9 or 10pm, when it's only $6.

But last night we went off the program and tried a couple of new items. We got this stir-fried satay sauce udon noodle dish wtih chicken. What we weren't expecting was that it also came with chunks of pineapple mixed in, which wasn't bad, but a little strange. Then we also got minced beef and preserved vegetable porridge, which was ok. Not bad, I guess, but more appropriate for a breakfast item or a late night snack.

As with all cafes, you get free refills on the basic drinks, which include iced tea, iced coffee, milk tea, and honey lemon (kind of like a do-it-yourself lemonade). And they're almost a 24-hour joint (i think they close at 2am and open again at 6am).

Senor Fish

We went to Senor Fish in Eagle Rock. It's on the corner of Eagle Rock Blvd and Norwalk. It looks like it used to be a house. There are a few tables inside and a few more outside. If you sit inside there is a table right under the air conditioning outlet. It feels like your at the receiving end of a snowblower. Go there and you'll see. Don't even bother asking them to turn it down. Your comfort is not a concern of theirs, stop your whining and pick another seat.

Whenever I go there I usually get the fish, shrimp or scallop burrito. That in itself is a meal. It has rice, beans and fried fish. I'm not sure if it has cabbage in it too. It's a hefty size, and when you add the white sauce, salsa and lime it gets pretty messy.

Lately I've been getting the lunch special. $5.99 for two tacos, rice, beans and a drink. I get one fish taco and one potato taco. The fish taco is your standard fish taco, fried fish topped with cabbage, cilantro and onions, salsa and that white sauce. It's so much better than Rubio's and Baja Fresh. The potato taco is really good too. Its made up of almost mashed potatoes in a tortilla and fried till hard. I'm not one to go for the non-meat option, but it was Lent when I tried it and doing the good Catholic thing I went with the potato taco. I've been hooked ever since.


Not exactly a grub spot review

From my endless wanderings, I happened upon this website with food reviews.

Please check it out and tell me what you think.