Six Taste Food Tour: Taiwanese Food in Arcadia

Dry Wontons in Spicy Oil and Minced Garlic

There is a short list of reasons I will get up before 9 AM on a Saturday morning. A very short list. Of course, I wouldn’t be a food blogger without a few of those having to do with food (e.g. beating the dim sum crowd), and I’ve just added “Taiwanese food tour” to that list.

Juicy Pork Dumplings - Din Tai Fung

So if you choose the “Delicious Dumpling” Six Taste food tour, be prepared that Arcadia is where you’ll have to drive on a weekend morning – but you can rest assured that the trip is well worth it. You won’t have to get in your car again until the conclusion and when you do leave, you’ll be properly sated as you depart (unfortunately, this does not apply to vegetarians).

Arcadia is the 3rd largest Taiwanese population outside of the native island, with San Marino to the north being the 2nd (meanwhile, my own Taiwanese parents decided on Wisconsin). As always, it’s best to go to the source, or at least where a majority of ex-pats migrated to from the source.

Fried Pork Chop

Krista (Brand X), Marian (Marian the Foodie), Cathy (Gastronomy Blog) and I started out at J.J. Bakery, guided by Arcadia native Michael, our tour guide for the morning. We learned about common characteristics of Taiwanese pastries. Then, we moved on to the notorious Din Tai Fung, the definite focus of the tour. The Taiwanese dumpling chain known for their delicate skinned pouches filled with soup and pork rarely disappoints. Michael showed us tea etiquette and how to properly eat our shiao long bao, by poking or biting a hole into the dumpling and pouring out the soup onto our spoon. No soy sauce – just black vinegar and ginger – should accompany the bite-size dumpling.

Taiwanese Sausage with Garlic

Afterwards, we walked to the neighboring plaza to try out SinBala, so-named after the chantings of a Taiwanese dice game. Here, we tried Taiwanese sausages with various dressings, like traditional garlic slices, shredded basil and mango. We also tried chili wontons, an oyster pancake (a common Taiwan night market treat) and fried pork chop. Most were not too keen on the oyster pancake (in fact, I like the egg runnier than it was prepared) but the sausages and the wontons went over well.

Our last stop was a goods shop that shared a space with a Lollicup bubble tea store. Beef jerky and dried foods were stored in bins and we were free to taste anything that so pleased us. It reminded me of my last trip to Taiwan, when we visited a Hakka village with tons of dried goods. Preserved and pickled goods were made very popular when food was scarce since they were made to last longer.

Shaved Ice with Mango and Ice Cream

To close out the tour, we of course had some Taiwanese shaved ice with condensed milk, mangos and ice cream. It was definitely a treat – though it raised questions about the fluffier shaved snow. That will have to wait until our self-guided Taiwanese tour that a few bloggers and I will inevitably do another Saturday.

Though I’m Taiwanese in blood and have visited the Motherland enough times to count on both hands, I still learned a lot on the tour about Taiwanese food and community in Southern California (not being fluent or literate will stunt things in that area). Six Taste also conducts tours in so many other areas of Metro LA, with the Taiwanese tour being the east-most based tour. For the uninitiated, with visitors and residents alike, it’s a great way to get shown the ropes on the neighborhood you’re most curious about.

Six Taste Food Tours: Delicious Dumpling Tour

Select Saturdays

$55

J.J. Bakery
1130 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007

Din Tai Fung
1108 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007

SinBala
651 W. Duarte Rd., Ste F
Arcadia, CA 91007

Dose of Vitamin P: Buñuelos de “Belly” In Tijuana

Buñuelos de "Belly"

Only pork could be worthy motivation to spend a mere 8 hours south of the border. Last night’s trip was my first time crossing that border – and it was well worth it. Bill of Street Gourmet LA guided Jo of My Last Bite, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs (ha ha) and me around that Northern Mexican city and I can vouch that he is an invaluable guide to have.

The flyer said “Pork 5 Ways” and indeed, there were 5 chefs, but there were more than 5 ways in which pig was prepared. My favorite dish was the dessert – and I loved that it being dessert was nary a reason to cop out of the theme. It blew my mind in execution.

The Buñuelos itself was a crunchy, crispy wafer with hints of cinnamon and sat on top of braised, soft pork belly. The pork belly itself wasn’t marinated in anything especially remarkable and was allowed to stand on its own, with the assembly on the plate carrying it through. The sweet agave syrup drizzled over the dish was just the right amount of sweetness to not make it saccharine. It was also infused with bacon, which matched the depth and heft of the dish. But the perfect touch? The ginger and lemon grass ice cream. The refreshing, cold notes of the ice cream brought perfect highlights, really finishing the dessert off nicely with some kick.

This dish was brought to us by Chef Paul Zamudio of Cabo San Lucas, who also prepared delicious pork cheeks sous vide – another one of my favorites for the night. I hope that the border doesn’t continue to separate his cooking from my palate – but I’m sure that Bill will see to it that it doesn’t.

By the way, this post is dedicated to Josh of Food GPS, whose love of pig consumption (and his detailing the best dishes in his Dose of Vitamin P series) has always inspired this particular Tijuana crew. We were sad to hear of his recent week of disappointing pork dishes, and thought he had somehow “taken one for the team” since our pork dishes in Tijuana were so successful. So thanks, Josh.

Held December 8, 2010

Villa Saverios
Blvd. Sanchez Taboada Esq. Escuadron 201 Zona Rio
Tijuana, México

The Tuscan Fried Chicken at Cube LA

Tuscan Fried Chicken

If “November” and “turkey” have become a little too synonymous for you, you’re lucky to have the option of some good ol’ fried chicken at Cube. It’s available only until Wednesday, November 24 – and if you don’t catch it now, you can expect to see it again in about a year.

Cheese & Salumi

The recipe is of the Tuscan variety and for $23 you get a a half-chicken chock with lemon wedge, Maple Roasted windrose Farm White Acorn Squash and sauteed McGrath Pea Tendrils. This isn’t your usual, butter-filled entree but rather a zesty, juicy bird that packs a punch; red pepper flakes are in the batter. The fluffy breading crumbles beautifully under the weight of your knife (should you feel like sharing) and between your jowls to reveal an extremely tender, semi-boneless masterpiece by Executive Chef Erin Eastland.

While you’re at Cube, don’t forget a custom cheese-salumi plate of your choosing and glass of wine to start. It’s always a delightful experience whenever I’ve dined there; trying the limited edition fried chicken plate was no exception. To finish it off, go seasonal and try their Warm Hachiya Persimmon Pudding or satisfy your chocolate craving with Dark Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake.

All food and wine were hosted.

Fried chicken available through November 24, 2010

Tue – Sat, 11 AM – 11 PM

Cube
615 N. La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA
323.939.1148

Favorites From Drago Centro’s Fall Cocktail Menu: $8 Today Only

Golden Goose | Bulleit Bourbon, Fernet Branca, Fresh Cape Gooseberries, Maple Syrup

I admit, I was off form when I took the Metro Red Line to Downtown Los Angeles last week to preview the fall cocktail menu at Drago Centro. I forgot my Canon S90 point-and-shoot camera, the device usually responsible for taking the high res shots you’re used to seeing on this blog. But my desire to safely walk in my own neighborhood and use public transportation in LA (yes – I use it) didn’t diminish my own enthusiasm when I got to Drago. (Plus, I think my BlackBerry Torch did a good job, don’t you?)

Eponymous

Michael Shearin and his team put together a really good menu, and there are a few particular cocktails that I would order in a heartbeat. Caroline on Crack (her post) and Daniel of Thirsty In LA (his post) battled traffic to be at Drago and it was worth it, so it’s safe to say that these cocktails carry a bonus when you Metro it in – and to Metro it back out, again. The station is but a couple blocks away.

The Dazed & Confused, which combines Casa Noble Crystal Tequila, Creole Shrub, Cherry Heering, Fresh Rosemary and Angostura, is a cocktail which Michael describes as “combining everything,” much like the inspiration for the cocktail itself. It’s a man’s drink and delicious enough for tequila drinkers. The Eponymous, which combines Appleton VX Rum, Cruzn Blackstrap Rum, Orgeat and Fresh Lime – is even more complex while utilizing rum, and pleasantly less sweet than one would normally expect a rum cocktail to be. In fact, it evolves on your palate and is the drink that keeps on giving. Very nice.

5th & Fig

The 5th & Fig is a special drink, because I had actually loved this drink about a year ago – but Michael said they served it for about a week and then on a fluke, figs had suddenly gone out of season. So, it’s back and better than ever, and even earlier this year so hopefully the figs will be here to stay, for at least a little while. The cocktail is a perfect blend of savory and sweet while really highlighting the nuances of the shrub and complementing the flavors well. It’s a nice balance, perhaps for that indecisive moment where you don’t know if you’re in the mood for something sweet or hearty.

The Golden Goose is delightful bourbon drink with a lot of its charm derived from the gooseberry, itself. The Fernet is a really nice touch, which further highlights the earthiness in the bourbon. Just a touch of maple syrup is added, with compliments to Michael for not adding too much, and letting the gooseberry set the stage.

Smitten With Britain

The Greco Roman is a superb Sherry cocktail in my very little experience of Sherry cocktails. If I could ever muster a sherry craving (haven’t had one yet, to date), I could see this cocktail being my foray. Luxardo Morlacco does make it even sweeter but, I admit, perhaps a bit more palatable. The Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters, however, brings back in an earthy note. I guess when I make up my mind about sherry, I can have it alone. For now, it’s the Greco Roman.

The Smitten With Britain, made with Tanqueray Gin, Chives, Lime and Fever Tree Tonic is a beauty as it is an imaginative variation on your usual gin and tonic. The added chives and lime make this cocktail refreshing – as I guess does the visual charm of the martini glass and purple blooms. Don’t spill.

Smokehouse

The Smokehouse features – let’s not kid ourselves – the bacon. Laphroaig 10-year-old Scotch is the liquid centerpiece, here, accented with Clear Creek Cranberry, Apfelkorn, fresh apple, Fee Bros, whiskey barrel bitters and candied bacon. The smoke is thanks to the Laphroaig. I’m pretty glad I didn’t get to taste all the individual ingredients that make up this drink, because otherwise it would have been just too much. But this is your top savory cocktail on the menu – and the candied bacon swirl is alone reason enough to order this wonder. Michael gets away with not letting this one be too sweet on top of the smoky – and the results are delicious.

Don’t forget to order some appetizers while you’re enjoying your cocktail. And there are great bar bites to be had, like a black truffle-topped funghi calzone. Or order one of Jashmine Corpuz’s delectable sweet bites – her imaginative desserts will have you intrigued.

So get to Drago Centro today: All cocktails are $8 each for the launch. It’s a great day to figure out what your favorite downtown libation is.

All cocktails were hosted.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fall Cocktail Menu Debut – $8 each today (Normally $12)

Drago Centro
525 S Flower St.
Los Angeles, CA‎ 90071
213.228.8998‎

Scoops Debuts Beer Ice Cream Flavors Today

Potential Flavors for Beer Week

We’re in the middle of LA Beer Week and that means it’s time for Tai Kim’s beer flavored ice cream to debut. Yes – that means that today, perfected versions of flavors like Unibroue Quelquechose With Cherry, Guinness Tiramisu, Chimay Premiere With Apricot, Firestone IPA Union Jack With Mocha, Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat Ale With Hazelnut and The Bruery Autumn Maple With Molasses will be at Scoops on Heliotrope for all beer and ice cream enthusiasts to enjoy. (Though, I’m told that The Bruery’s Autumn Maple may be too hard to acquire to make this flavor, unfortunately.)

Tai Scooping Ice Cream

A couple of weeks ago, a few bloggers and I were invited to preview the making of these special flavors. It was so fun to see Tai at his machine, pouring in his special concoctions and, of course, the beer. Curious for more? Be sure to pop on over to Caroline On Crack’s post on this preview for her great videos of the action. My personal favorite was definitely the Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat Ale With Hazelnut. What can I say? The beer flavorings are very subtle – but I I’m a sucker for hazelnut, and it was one of the most potent flavors and the wheaty tangerine was a nice spin on things.

So head on over to Scoops today, and find out one of the sweetest ways to celebrate LA Beer Week. I’m curious myself to see what flavors actually came out of all that experimentation.

Beer flavors debut Monday, October 11, 2010

Mon – Sat, 12 – 10 PM
Sun 2 – 6 PM

Scoops
712 N. Heliotrope Drive
Los Angeles, California 90029
323.906.2649

The New Menus – and Experience – at Rivera

Chille Relleno | Anaheim chile with Martian Red Corn Salsa, Burrata Cheese, Cherokee Tomatoes

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a blogger dinner held at Rivera in Downtown LA to preview the new menu, a new concept that combines three categories of Chef John Sedlar’s interpretations of Latin cuisines. Sangre encompasses dishes inspired by the Iberian roots of Latin cooking, Samba is comprised of those with South American, Central American, and Caribbean influences and the Playa Bar menu incorporates seafood-themed cuisine inspired by Mexico. Each of them are served in specific dining rooms in Rivera and come complete with “sound bites,” or the explanations and history behind each dish. The Conexiones menu is the main menu that is served throughout the restaurant and, overall, emphasizes the connection between those Latin roots and our city. Local Californian ingredients are used, giving each dish its unique flair and that fresh, home-grown touch.

Post-Columbian Gazpacho | Traditional Cold Heirloom Tomato Soup ($9)

In an interactive spin that’s brand new at Rivera (and probably anywhere), diners who want to know more about particular dishes are directed by the menus to call 1-310-464-6884 and follow the prompts to hear Angeleno Magazine’s 2009 Chef of the Year Chef Sedlar personally explain the history and preparation of each selected dish.

There was a seemingly endless stream of dishes that came in threes this night, and while Chef Sedlar’s cooking is always exciting, I’ll prioritize detailing dishes that topped my list and save you the 15 dish-long play-by-play.

My first and second favorites hail from the small plates menu. I’ve always been a fan of gazpacho, and if this is “traditional” then perhaps I’ve been missing the execution in so many others. I loved that it made with golden tomatoes, decidedly sweeter than any orange variety I’ve had. I really enjoyed this cold but indulgent soup. It was interesting to recall the colors as I learned later (through the press release, but diners will learn by calling the number) that before Columbus, gazpacho was white, not red, because it did not yet contain the fruits of the New World: Tomatoes and peppers. The Flan de Elote ($11) was another elegantly simple – and sweet – dish, with a light corn custard topped by black quinoa and dressed with squash blossom sauce.

Continue reading

Summer Desserts Debut at Nobu

Cheesecake - $12 | Photo credit Craig Takahashi

Summer is upon us, and there’s no better time to introduce a new dessert menu. Nobu on La Cienega has you covered – with three new options from pastry chef Gabriele Riva. This ever delicate-yet-decadent, deconstructed cheese cake is made with Cheesecake mousse, sable breton, raspberry coulis, and sweet gorgonzola gelato. Yes – gorgonzola gelato! (Indeed, I am on a gorgonzola ice cream kick and cannot wait to try this one – especially after the phenomenal Pear-Gorgonzola-Walnut ice cream from Tai Kim of Scoops at the Eat My Blog Bake Sale over the weekend.)

Equilibrium - $11 | Photo credit Craig Takahashi

Further along the summer theme is Chef Riva’s Equilibrium ($11), which resembles a fresh green salad. The dessert is a mix of orange segments, light goat cheese cream, baby arugula, carmelized pecans and sorbet. I’m curious to try this one out; I can’t say that I’ve ever had a salad for dessert, before.

And don’t forget that there’s a fresh summer cocktail menu to lead into or even supplement your desserts…

Nobu West Hollywood
903 N. La Cienega Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069-4709
310.657.5711

Bar and Lounge
Sun – Mon: 5 – 10:15 PM
Tue – Sat: 5 – 11:15 PM
Happy Hour 7 nights per week:
5 – 8 PM

Happy 6th Birthday, Valerie Confections

Almond Fleur de Sel Toffees

Six years ago, Valerie Gordon and Stan Wrightman, Jr. decided to found an artisanal confectionery. With the finest and natural ingredients comprising delicious chocolates, toffees, petit fours and even jams – the sophisticated palate is further complimented by Valerie Confections’ minimal and artful signature packaging. I’ve found that a great way to give a part of L.A. is to gift a box of Valerie’s toffees or petit fours (and keep one for yourself). It’s guaranteed to leave your giftees with a much better impression of the city than than they had, previously. Only if that diplomacy tip is your thing. Who needs them?

In celebration of their confectionery’s birthday, Valerie and Stan are doing a very special 50% off discount expressly on their very first product – 12-piece Debut Toffee Assortment. Just use code “HBVAL” upon checkout. This code offer is available only through Monday, May 31st. Shipping & handling are not included.

And if you happen to be local, stop by the boutique (on the border of Koreatown and Downtown). You’ll be treated to special birthday samples of those debut toffee flavors! Trust me – they all taste absolutely heavenly.

Mon – Fri: 10 AM – 6PM
Sat: 12 PM – 4 PM
Sun: Closed

Use code “HBVAL” for 50% off 12-pc Debut Assortment
Through May 31, 2010

Valerie Confections
3360 W. First Street
Los Angeles, CA 90004
213.739.8149

@ValerieConfctns

Desserts a Sleeper Delight at Drago Centro

La Torta Di Primavera (Extra Virgin Olive Oil Cake, Avocado Mousse, Grapefruit, Basil Gelato, Campari Candy)

One night, after an outing somewhere in Downtown LA, Caroline had a need to cleanse her palate with a little something that would ultimately wash away all the dissatisfying drinks we everyone else had consumed earlier that night. (I had gotten there late and benefited from the experience of those who were punctual and who found their cocktails too sweet and frankly sub-par. I ordered Highland Park 12, neat.)

Crispy Sweetbreads, Gnocchi, English Peas

We were done and I might have gone straight home to crash, but instead decided to accompany Caroline. A few tweets later and we were set to drop by Drago Centro – especially since it was known that Michael Shearin would be there. Though now set for next week (delayed from a date this week because of filming schedules – ohhh, LA…), Caroline and I wanted to possibly get a peep at drinks that are to debut as the collective Spring Cocktail Menu. It is set to debut next Wednesday, to be exact, and Michael indulged us in a couple of them – without names but with ingredients. Sweet. Caroline did a fantabulous write-up including names she made up for the cocktails themselves – so let’s defer to L.A. Weekly’s Best Drinking Blog of 2009, shall we? Just remember to get the sneak preview for the Spring menu next Wednesday, April 14th all day – all new drinks will be only $6 each.

While Michael – by choice or not – accompanied us while we sat at the bar, Chef de Cuisine Ian Gresik greeted us and sent out beautiful mini iron pans of peas, gnocchi and crispy sweetbreads. They were perfectly savory and had just the perfect amount of salt. The gnocchi were tender but had good flavor and great bite. Since this was my third stop this night, I panicked a bit that Chef Gresik would send out more food, but was consoled when Pastry Chef Jashmine Corpuz had also come out to visit us and decided to grace us with her beautiful desserts as our edible night cap. Michael Shearin had us covered with our liquid ones.

Il Budino Di Cioccollato (Chocolate Custard, Date Carpaccio, Pecan, Caramel Gelato)

And out came trays of 3 desserts each – which coincidentally were the first 3 on the dessert menu but couldn’t have covered our sweets palate more diversely. The light, fruit-adorned one intrigued me in that I had never had grapefruit for dessert, before. But there the sour fruit was, in all its glory while accompanying tiny biscuits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Cake, Avocado Mousse and even Basil Gelato. It was aromatic, light and refreshing. The delicious, clear pink chips of Campri candy were the icing on the cake, as Pastry Chef Jashmine had apparently collaborated with Michael to use them as garnishes for both dessert and cocktail – so definitely look for this candy garnish on the new Spring cocktail menu.

I Bomboloni (Doughnuts, Apples, Amaretto Caramel, Ricotta, Brown Butter Ice Cream)

And oh, the budino! No, this isn’t the famed Osteria Mozza budino – but it’s practically as good and aesthetically elegant, to boot. The chocolate custard was the close-your-eyes heavenly centerpiece and the caramel gelato put the dessert over the top in sinful delight. The pecans gave the dish good weight and crunchy texture while the date carpaccio framed it well.

As for the I Bomboloni – it’s the dessert for doughnut lovers, everywhere. The doughy holes were a perfect, airy texture while the brown butter ice cream was savory-sweet. The tiny chopped-up apples with cinnamon brought me back to my favorite apple pie but the amaretto caramel added a note of sophistication to the dish. Mmm.

So next time you go to Drago Centro – whether for a full-on tasting menu or just a night cap – remember to not skip dessert. I was very much impressed, especially for someone with a penchant for salt-over-sweet. The desserts here are a sleeper in Downtown LA, and Jashmine Corpuz has the talent and imagination to keep your experience at Drago interesting through the very end…

Lunch: Mon – Fri, 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Dinner: Mon – Sat, 5 PM – 10:30 PM
Now Open Sundays: 5 PM – 9 PM

Drago Centro
525 S. Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA‎ 90071
213.228.8998‎

@dragocentro

November Sweets at Nobu

Looking for a November nightcap?

I know what you’re thinking – November puts you in the mood for pumpkin pie & spice, and a sushi restaurant normally isn’t the place you’d go to get that. But for this month, only – Nobu West Hollywood is serving up a specially-made dessert that comes with a shot. Yes, the Japanese have pumpkins too! Peep below for the absolutely delicious dessert I tried last week:

Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) creme, vanilla caramel, caramelized Kabocha seeds, topped with coconut/caramel ice cream

The shot:

Finlandia grapefruit vodka, spicy pumpkin puree, condensed milk and garnished with nutmeg.

The coconut/caramel ice cream was so delicious with the Kabocha creme and the crispy carmelized seeds gave it good crunch. But the best part is actually the shot (have a little sip with each bite you take), which finishes off the dessert in a whole other way. Yes, it’s made with grapefruit vodka so there’s a nice, refreshing base while giving you that autumn, savory creaminess you’ve come to expect from pumpkin pie.

Oh, I’m sorry – did you want bites to eat before dessert? Nobu is notorious for some seriously delicious tapas – hot and cold. It’s pretty easy to pop in and sit down in the lounge area so you don’t have to mess with the stress of a reservation. I myself like to play it by ear. 😉

Hot tapas:

Wagyu and foie gras gyozas (3 pc) $10
Scallop with jalapeño salsa (2 pc) $8
Miso black cod with butter lettuce (2 pc) $8
Uni tempura $10
Rock shrimp tempura with creamy spicy or butter ponzu sauce $7
“Fish ‘n Chips” Nobu style $8
Lamb anticucho $9
Squid pasta with light garlic sauce $9
Miso marinated grilled Black Tiger shrimp $9
Foie gras and crispy soba (2 pc) $9
Ginger panko encrusted scallops $10

Cold tapas:

Spicy taro chips with yellowfin tuna or scallop $10
Nobu style sashimi tacos with yellowfin tuna, lobster or crab (2 pc) $9
Yellowtail sashim with jalapeño $9
Whitefish sashimi with dried miso $9
Oysters with Nobu sauces (Ponzu, Nobu, Maui) $10
Lobster ceviche butter lettuce (2 pc) $12
Nobu new style sashimi – salmon, whitefish or scallop $8
Tiradito – whitefish, scallop or octopus $8
Kanpachi agua de chili $12

One thing’s for certain – I have my eye on the foie gras wagyu gyozas! I think I may just have to stop in – dessert’s just not enough.

Dessert available through November – $14

Hot and cold tapas available in lounge all day

Nobu
903 N. La Cienega Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
310.657.5711