Memories of hot pot have always involved family and friends around one or two boiling pots of broth on hot plates, set upon the dining room table and enjoyed over conversation, often during the holidays such as Lunar New Year. Sometimes, it was simply the way my mom handled a meal when there were going to be a lot of people coming over for dinner. Raw cut meats, vegetables, bean thread noodles, and tofu were laid out on the table, waiting their turn to get dunked, cooked, then retrieved before being dipped into a personal bowl of XO sauce beat with a raw egg, and eaten.
Noodles are a perfect way to ring in the Lunar New Year. Representative in Asian cultures of long life, noodles are also one of the most comforting foods that I turn to – perfect in our “chilly” Los Angeles February. So when I heard that the first ever Noodle Bowl Fest would be held at The Viceroy, you could color me skeptical about the representations that would be served – until I actually looked at the participants.
They’re the noodle heavyweights of Arcadia, Thai Town and Little Osaka, but also the culinary heavyweights of Highland Park, Manhattan Beach, the food truck movement and Santa Monica. A $45 ticket (bought before January 31st, $55 after) will get you tastings of the following:
I love all the Metro L.A. expansions the noodle shops have been undergoing, lately.Â When I say lately, I mean especially within the past month or two.Â After all, I was never quite a South Bay (or Daikokuya) kind of gal.
Yamadaya in Culver City. Shin-sen-gumi in Little Tokyo. Robata Jinya is even within the same proximity to my workplace as Ramen JinyaÂ is to my Hollywood apartment. Ikemen itself is not an expansion, but another project of Yasumasa Kawabata and Sean Nakamura – the latter of Ramen California fame.
But Ikemen. I can walk there.
I’m lucky because the parking at this plaza, quite frankly, is asÂ horrendous as you might expect parking would be for any establishment at theÂ Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea Avenue intersection. I went solo the other night and sat at the counter beneath several sticks of bonito. Equipped with the knowledge that tsukemen (dipping noodles)Â is their specialty, I ordered the Johnny Dip topped with pork (chicken is your other option). The dipping sauce is described as “Tonkotsu au jus mixed with green onions and Italian basil.”Â The non-traditional flavor was veryÂ good in that familiarly super rich way. Of course, the basil flavor was the most novel thing about it. The noodlesÂ were thick – all the better texture to sop up that delicious dipping broth.
My next visit will be soon, and I’ve already decided on the Zebra Dip tsukemen, flavored with slowly roasted garlic. Only after then might I venture into traditional (or “genuine,” as Ikemen labels it) noodles in broth. Perhaps those recipes are from Ramen California?
Oh, Hollywood. The best part about this ramen movement is that finally, ramen as drunk food really will become a reality. That is, really good ramen – and not just the dehydrated form we’ve all grown up with. Ikemen is open until 12 AM on the weekdays and 4 AM on Fridays and Saturdays. With all the flack L.A. gets about last call and lack of late night food, Japanese noodles may turn out to be my saving grace.
I’m somewhat new to the area, but I’ve finally hopped on the Wat Dong Moon Lek bandwagon. The Thai noodle house is one of the rarely-disputed mainstayÂ gems nearby. Its humble enclave in that Silver Lake strip mall on Fountain Avenue exudes more personality than a n00b like me might ever expect from a noodle house on her initial visit.
Like Thai Town to the northwest, its blue interior doesn’t escape Hollywood influences. But what you won’t find here are the pages and pages of countless soup-dry-noodle-curry combinations; instead, there’s a manageable, well-executed menu that comes in pamphlet size should you not want to read the wall. You can sit at the counter, one of the high-tops or low-. The curry list is simple – just choose amongst red, green, yellow, panang or jungle. I’m also intrigued by what the rice dishes and blackboard menu have to offer
The drawback to dining alone, no matter how peaceful the experience, is the lack of companions’ dishes to scalp bites from.
My rad na kee mow (gravy boat drunken noodles) with tender slices of chicken was as delicious as it was beautiful. Those green beans were little bursts in the sea of gravy (yeah, that’s a bubble in there), with an island of delicious, soft rice noodles even having a subtle pan-fried crisp.
The Thai iced tea was good, too.
Next up: Pa Ord. And Wat Dong Moon Lek Noodle, again. Now if both places could get a 3 AM close time…
It was one of my last nights in Taiwan when my mom and I met one of her old childhood friends at Su Hung, a restaurant surprisingly located in a shopping structure adjacent to a subway station. As we ascended the stairs, a hot pot restaurant caught my eye – but I was ever lucky that Su Hung was the one that came recommended.
I had decided to resist the hype of Din Tai Fung, further dissuaded by word of endless waits and an eagerness to avoid being lumped into the “eating tourist” demographic. After all, why settle for the merely better-than-Arcadian version of the restaurant chain, with possibly an even worse wait? I had a bloodline to honor.
Su Hung offers not pork soup dumplings, but rather loofah-greens-and-shrimp soup dumplings. You can eat more of these than the very popular pork version and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more specialized soup dumpling anywhere else in Taipei – much less in America. There is less soup in these, but they’re a nice departure for diners looking for something lighter, a little different and less obvious.
There are plenty of other dishes at Su Hung that will quench your appetite for the savory, including the very delicious tofu dish which comes in a stone pot immersed in a broth made with braised crab eggs. Though I enjoyed pretty much everything that came out from the kitchen, this was my favorite preparation of tofu during my entire Taiwan trip (and you can guess that with all the meals shared with relatives, vegetarian and non-, there were a lot). Never the brave one to crack the middle innards of a crab shell open (I’m a leg woman), I really appreciated this delicious sauce and barely fried tofu with a texture that was silken yet could hold its own to the temperature. Boiling stone pots never fail to excite me as they approach the table – and this one far exceeded even my expectations.
If you’re looking for a unique yet delicious noodle dish, order the Simmered Noodles – a simple bowl of wheat noodles-in-chicken-broth that attains its complex taste and texture by, you guessed it, simmering for a long time. It’s dressed with tiny dried shrimp and green onion, and was perfectly comforting for that rainy day we happened to eat at Su Hung. Divy up that medium-sized bowl with your dining partners, and your seconds and thirds will show you that you wished the portion was even bigger. Guess you’ll have to order another, or another of their specialties.
And of course, the title picture may evoke memories…of the East Village. Rather than being portioned out individually at Momofuku for $9 a pop, you’ll get enough green onion, wilted cilantro (just like New York) and braised pork belly to fill 6 “bao” tacos for NT $360 (USD $12). You actually are given only 4 shells to begin with, but the waitstaff will graciously bring you more should you have more honey-braised pork belly to stuff them with. Of course, this is an unfair price point and cost-of-living comparison, but it’s just one more reason this dish is a definite must-order when you dine at Su Hung. It’s your favorite Hunan-style hamburger, ever that much closer to the source.
No meal is complete without dessert, and Su Hung has the perfect version of your typical red bean-filled sesame rice balls you would otherwise see being wheeled around, cold, on carts at San Gabriel Valley dim sum. This version comes hot and flat, like a freshly-made, sweet rice crepe, with the red bean oozing out from all sides at which it is cut.
Su Hung offers unique and well-executed dishes that will surely enrich your Taipei dining experience. It was ironic that the Taipei Times’ review of the place published online on the very day I dined there. It had mostly favorable views, consistent with my pleasant experience.Â It seems as though the businessmen that line their tables are really on to something – and those looking for a solid meal, period, would serve themselves well to take their cue.
11:30 AM – 2 PM 5:30 PM – 9 PM
Su Hung Restaurant 2-1, Jinan Rd Sec 1 Taipei City, Taiwan 02.2396.3186
I have always loved beef noodle soup. It’s easily one of my five reasons to drive to San Gabriel Valley. Before my trip to Taiwan, however, I had associated a proper bowl of noodles as having a deep, dark broth and good amounts of chili paste and oil floated in it (latter of which is added by myself). In the beginning of my trip, spent in the southern cities of Taiwan, I even had homemade Nu Riu Mian. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. It was homemade in the sense that the broth and beef had come from a frozen packet bought at the Kaohsiung Costco, whereby you add your own, fresh noodles – and greens, if you wish. If those were available at the Culver Costco, I would become probably the only CostCo member to occupy a 1-bedroom apartment shoebox in a heartbeat.
Alas, I was left to satiate my beef noodle soup cravings – along with other requisite dishes – to the best of my ability during this trip. I saved the restaurant version for Taipei, which is the city to consume a bowl as the dish is a Chinese import.Â It’s a specialty particularly in the capital city,Â as evidenced by their yearly Beef Noodle Festival. Thanks to the recommendation of Danny (KungFoodPanda), the small shop specializing in the bowl of noodles was one of my favorite stops, period. The Taiwanese in the States – and Taiwan, apparently – love acronyms, and the name of the shop was no coincidence since for their most popular bowl of soup, the broth takes 72 hours to complete. It’s also named in allegiance to its Anglo phonetics, though it was my mother whom I have to thank for translating so that I could understand the process. It is unlike any other bowl I’ve had – in both taste and color – and the broth’s complexity pretty much blew me away. The housemade noodles were also excellent and springy, tossed with slivers of fresh ginger. The beef tendon atop the clear broth was super tender. The traditional dark broth (with braised chunks of beef as opposed to the tendon)Â may be the more favored flavor in general, but there was good reason to wait that extra half-hour before the “clear broth” was declared ready by the shop owner, proving that they really take their broth seriously.
It is the dark broth at 72 NRM that is ready at all times. Nevertheless, I showed restraint and kept my hands off the jar of chile paste on the table so that I might really taste the essence of the broth. It was the most flavorful yet seemingly effortless bowl of beef noodles I’ve ever had. Sometimes, in a less refined broth, I’ll find that there’s a bit of precipitate to the texture – but this broth was basically seamless with its rich flavor completely integrated. The clear broth still had more, but with that being my first bowl ever, I wouldn’t feign any sort of expertise. It stands that it had eye-openingly complex broth and amazingly fresh noodles.
The process of this broth – and the fact that it takes 72 hours to make – was intriguing enough to ask my mom for a translation. Apparently, the ingredients are simmered in cold water the entire first day. Then the temperature is brought to a medium heat during the second day in order to break down the grease. Mild heat is used on the third day in order to bring out the flavor. One and a half pounds of bones are used to make each bowl of broth. The flavors are so rich that you will “still be savoring [them] for 2 hours” after you finish your bowl.
I’ve had a lot of ramen. Truth be told, those bowls of ramen don’t come from very many places. My inaugural non-Top Ramen bowl was at Shin-sen-gumi in Arcadia, but my favorite isÂ (and the majority of those aforementioned bowls were from) Santouka with their Shio broth being the trump card to my ramen cravings. With those locations being San Gabriel and the Westside – and my new apartment being inÂ Hollywood proper with Torrance and GardenaÂ even further away – I became eager for other options. Ramen Jinya does a great job filling in.
Another confession: I have a bias against chicken broth ramen. Give me that chashu in all forms – fatty pork slices and fatty pork bone broth. So while Ramen Jinya is like Ramen California (so I have heard, haven’t tried) in offering chicken broth options, I just have a hard time making the leap. So Tonkatsu and Premium (bonito-infused)Â Tonkatsu ramen it is. With, perhaps, a side of curry. In retrospect, it’sÂ not the most complementary side you can order with ramen, butÂ I can always eat curry. For everyone else, I’d go with the gyoza. They’re bite size, but they’re good and have a proper crisp on the outside and a hot center. (Unfortunately, I was off form on my first visit and don’t have a picture.) As far as price point, you can get a salad, side and ramen combo for $13.50 and a bowl of ramen alone for $8.50.
I’m not sure where my menma (bamboo shoots) were, and the egg was perhaps a little stale, but the broth was solid and less salty on my second visit than my first – a good thing. It could maybe use more body, though I did like the Premium broth better than the regular Tonkotsu.Â A bonus: You’ll find yourself scoopingÂ soup less since the spoons are so big.Â The noodles, though, are my favorite thing about Ramen Jinya, and house made from what I could tell. They have good bite yet are plump enough to keep you satisfied.
Ramen Jinya is great for this South Bay-averse ramen lover. Who knows? Maybe one dayÂ I’ll be adventurous enough to try the chicken. According to a tweet of Mattatouille’s, however, I hear that the newly-openedÂ Robata Jinya on 3rd Street offers their restaurant family’s ramen – and I just so happen to work in Beverly Hills. Even better. Who can argue with accessible, good ramen?
Sun – Thur 11 AM – 10 PM Fri – Sat 11 AM – Midnight
Ramen Jinya 11239 Ventura Blvd. Studio City,CA 91604 818.980.3977
Noodle-Off Recipe Competition c/o RFPR, Inc. 5225 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 718 Los Angeles, CA 90036
…and four finalists (based on recipes) will get to compete head-to-head at the finals on Monday, November 22, 2010 at Tiato Garden Market CafeÂ in Santa Monica. A fifth finalist will be selectedÂ at the Orange County Noodle-Off Semi Finals held at AnQi Gourmet Bistro on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 so you Orange County entrants are in the running, too.
What, exactly, will you be judged on? Four categories, to be exact:
Taste Visual presentation Creativity Cooking practicality (ease of preparation and execution)
I’ve found a couple more reasons to eat in Pasadena. With those reasons being a few favorite dishes at CHAM, I thought I’d share the news of the now one-year old Korean bistro that is actually an off-shoot of the spectacular, all-meals-prepared employee perks program of iT! jeans. The creators of the jeans line and the bistro are one and the same, and casual Pasadena diners are reaping the benefits of their kitchen.
This is definitely approachable Korean food – so all you hardcore types can save your money while those who have been previously scared away by these flavors can appreciate the foray into Korean cuisine. A great starter with a spin on the traditional was their pickle sampler, which showcases white asparagus, sweet onions, carrots and thinly sliced beets. I appreciated that the brines in which each of the vegetables were specialized with the beets and onions being sweet yet the carrots and white asparagus having a perfect amount of sour. The white asparagus was my favorite, if only because I’ve rarely seen it prepared pickled, before.
My favorite sugared chili dish was the Spicy Cold Bibim Noodles. Bibimbab, it’s not; cold noodles with just the right, spicy flavoring to go with its cool temperature and texture – it sure is. While the dish wasn’t traditional, the flavors seemed like it.
My other favorite dish was the Tofu Crouton Salad. The tofu were perfectly fried with an almost-tempura like texture on the outside. The butter lettuce was the perfect choice of greenery with barley to add a perfect weight. The black sesame vinaigrette was thankfully not too sweet and ultimately delicious.
The other favorite at this Korean Bistro is decidedly not Korean food – but let’s not fault Executive chef E.J. Jeong (former A.O.C.) for having an imagination, shall we? This other favorite featured very sweet, cubed watermelon at its center with refreshing mint notes in the salad and in the vinaigrette and generous helpings of earthy feta and figs sprinkled on top. This is the quintessential summer treat.
The kicker of this eatery is that their beer list is rather intriguing and offers great pairings with the vibrant flavors of your Korean-style food. Sure, there is Hite, but also the Maredsous 8, Oskar Blues (Mama’s Little Yella Pils), Houblon (Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel) and Lost Abbey’s Devotion. The wine list is also modest but really, all you need. I especially enjoyed the Saddlerock Chardonnay straight from Malibu with my food.
The next time I’m in Pasadena (I am locatedÂ further east, after all) and need a bite – or three – to eat, I would certainly stop by Cham. While this isn’t the place to order your soon tofu on the scale of spiciness like an O.G. Korean eatery, Cham is a place that does justice to and serves its influences well.
P.S. – At the end of your meal, don’t forget the raspberry lambic beer float made with Framboise. Unlike other beer floats, this one is decidedly a dessert for your sweet tooth!