I was at dinner at N/Naka the other day, and my acquaintance and I got to talking about how there’s a stigma among our “non-foodie” friends on spending hefty bucks on food. Propose a AYCE KBBQ joint for $9.99 and everyone with the time will be down. Suggest a five-course tasting menu for a reasonable $50 and people who aren’t self-proclamined foodists will gasp in horror.
It’s an understandable phenomenon. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a mediocre meal for outrageous prices (Jean-Georges in Shanghai, Yamashiro, Momofuku fried chicken dinner, I’m looking at you guys). But pick the right place, and I guarantee you, that money will be worth your time. And personally, I’d rather spend good money on amazing food than tickets to a Broadway show. Or these days — a Vegas trip plus a carload of booze.
These dinners are rare occasions and though I’ve personally never paid more than $80 for a meal, (I wish I could afford the $150-$250 range) the stand-outs (Le Bernardin, Eleven Madison, Mr. & Mrs. Bund) have all been well worth it.
That’s what a tasting menu is all about. It’s a show, divided up into various acts. On Sunday, I had the opportunity to sample Niki Nakayama’s $55 five course kaiseki for the restaurant’s benefit dinner. 100% of proceeds from the series went to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
We started off with Sakizuke, a pairing of something common and something unique. I’m assuming that something common was the bigeye tuna and the unique element was the pool of avocado dashi nestled on the bottom. Additions included jalapeño, cilantro, tempura soy paper and a drop of citrus ponzu sauce on top of the tuna tartar.
Next, Nakayama followed with a beautifully plated slab of san ten mori, pan-seared beef teres major, mixed baby greens, miso pepper dressing plus a succulent Fanny Bay oyster with sesame aioli and a hamachi carpaccio in the middle with sweet sesame ponzu. I wasn’t too hot about the beef (was it supposed to be served cold?) but of the three, my favorite was the oyster.
The hearty mushimino (steamed dish) and agemono (fried dish) was a steamed lobster chawanmushi and a vegetable kaki-age tempura, respectively. The chawanmushi, essentially steamed egg, included lobster bits and black prince tomatoes. The kaki-age was impressively constructed in one piece with gobo, maitake, carrots and onions.
Fourth came a perfectly al dente pasta dish cooked in abalone broth with mentaiko and Italian summer truffles.
My absolutely personal favorite (but that’s just because I’m partial to sashimi) was the chirashi-zushi. Standouts included the buttery uni (sea urchin) and creamy East Coast scallops.
We finished it all off with a sesame panna cotta with okinawan black sugar syrup. The bowl was painted with black sesame paste and it was all topped off with a sesame tuille.
Address: 3455 Overland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90034
Phone: (310) 836-6252
I remember walking out of my last final in college in mid-December. I was still clutching onto my study guides and my notes. Mostly for warmth though. It’s always freezing in New York. That I do not miss.
The feeling was liberating but at the same time, absolutely terrifying. No more structure, no more planned-out semesters. I was flying back to Los Angeles with a completely clean slate. In all aspects of life — career and relationship-wise (ugh). And that meant if I didn’t make a daily conscious effort to meet people and learn new material, I would never move forward.
It’s easy getting comfortable in suburban Los Angeles. For the last four years, every time I flew back, I had the same routine, met up with the same people and did the exact same activities. Over and over again. It was an endless loop of comfort but I was fine with it because I was living under the timeline of college and under the wings of a very comfortable relationship.
But the reality is that life doesn’t operate on a college break schedule. And, as I had to learn the very hard way, things don’t always work out according to plan.
So ever since I’ve moved back, I’ve made it a personal goal to get out, meet as many people as I can and take up as many opportunities as possible to learn. As someone who was in a “couple” for three, going on four years, independence was initially a tricky thing to embrace. I dreaded not having a go-to person for places I wanted to check out, a default to call up when I was going through rough patches. Who could I turn to when something horrible happened? Or something great that I wanted to share? And if I got sick of my own house, where could I hang out? What was I supposed to do during weekends in Los Angeles now?
But when viewed in the right perspective, this independence turned out to be an amazing gift.
So in the spirit of my new life philosophy, I started planning dates with myself. Things I always wanted to do but never had a chance to, or was too lazy to, or just didn’t do because no one else wanted to do it with me.
Even if it meant doing it alone…because the truth is, you’re never really alone.
Hear me out on this.
Whether it was random dinners from meetup.com (oh my god, I know it sounds weird, but pick the right group), cooking classes or even just networking with mutual friends online — I always ended up meeting new people.
Alright, I know there’s a stigma to online groups. But for reals, pick your groups wisely and start off with an event with a fairly large number of people. My first one was a dinner at Feng Mao 2, a great Korean/Chinese skewer joint in Koreatown. There were about 30 people in attendance and mostly everyone was in the same situation: “All my friends are not in Los Angeles anymore.” “I just moved here.” “I just moved back.” “I finally have time to meet people now.”
And hey, two pitchers of beer later and we all liked each other enough to be down for dessert next door. (+ Our particular table just clicked.)
Restaurant: Feng Mao 2
Address: 414 Suite E S Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90020
Phone Number: (213) 388-9299
Restaurant: Haus Dessert Boutique
Address: 3826 W 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90020
Phone Number: (213) 388-5311
1) Foodstory Japan: Takoyaki Cooking Class
I heard about Yoko’s classes via Twitter (oh social media). But I was drawn to it not only because of the food, but because of her approach towards food: “She is a Japanese Food Storyteller and producer of a variety of Japanese cooking classes and workshops. She focuses on cultural aspects of Japan’s rich food history and etiquettes.”
Though takoyaki-making was the highlight of the course, we also learned other traditional dishes (akashiyaki, daikon salad and pork miso soup) that can’t typically be found at your local Japanese restaurant. The three hour class was great and extremely informative in terms of ingredients and culture. Even though I was the youngest (as I usually am these days) of the group, all eight of us shared amazing conversation over hot takoyaki balls.
Plus, it’s easy for people passionate about food to bond over food.
In LA, you gotta fill up that car with gas and move. To experience it, you have to make the effort. Sometimes that means going completely out of your comfort zone.
I have to admit, sometimes I’m tempted to cancel last minute. It’s so much easier staying at home, curled up in bed with a good movie. Plus, it’s not like I don’t have any friends and I honestly do enjoy the company of my great family. But every time, I muster enough will to force myself to get out of the door and into my car.
Trust me. Once you put yourself as a priority, an amazing thing happens. You end up with so much more because you enter these situations with an unbelievably open mind.
Because you’re not doing it for anyone else but yourself. You have nothing to lose and no one to disappoint but yourself. And because you made such a large effort to do something 100% for yourself, you put 100% in getting the most out of the experience.
Now dating yourself can be daunting.
Driving alone in Koreatown and walking into a restaurant with absolutely no expectations of who will be there can be a nerve-wrecking experience. Parking in a sketchy downtown LA lot for an evening cooking class hopefully somewhere down the block is potentially frightening. Especially when there are very few people walking around.
But I assure you the fear is temporary because at the end of the each evening, there were always people there to walk me back to my car.
What about you guys? Any other self-dating tips? Things to do, groups to join?
Redondo is my new favorite beach. The crowds are minimal, there’s a neighboring suburbia, and it’s just a really relaxing place to rent a bike and take a good summer stroll without the harsh glare of retail stores and the annoyance of a heavy tourist presence.
Headed here with Dan and Jackie for a nice day trip. We rented beach cruisers – $8 an hour, locks and baskets included – from Marina Bike Rentals (505 N Harbor Dr, Redondo Beach, CA 90277) and rode up and down the shore for an hour. It’s a fabulous route — modern beach houses on the right, and a open beach with tan bods and gorgeous people to the left. Not a lot of noise, save for the occasional guy on his patio stringing a guitar.
And of course, keeping true to my Asian food obsession, we did not leave without paying a visit to a local Asian eatery. This time: Izakaya Bincho per the rec of KungFoodPanda. From the bike rental shop, Izakaya is roughly a 10 minute walk.
It’s situated on the boardwalk and is this totally unassuming restaurant. We had the hardest time finding it and when we did, the place looked like it was under construction. A man (who we later learned was the chef) was just sitting in the back next to a pile of fans. The restaurant wasn’t going to be open until 7 pm. It was 6.
So our time was spent (and eventually a handful of quarters) at the nearby arcade for a good hour.
We eventually ran out of things to do…just because the place is a little ghetto and run-down.
When the clock hit 7, we were the first customers in the three-booth-eight-seats-at-the-bar restaurant (point: it was tiny).
The evening kicked off with a miniature sake tasting. After all, that’s what an izakaya is for.
And then came the food. I think we went a little bit overboard. It started off with complimentary edadame beans and then a delicious chicken wing plate.
Next were the agedashi plates and my favorites of the night: agedashi tofu, agedashi mochi, and agedashi eggplant. We had heard Izakaya is known for their agedashi tofu and figured why not order everything else that was agedashi — which means deep-fried with the dashi sauce.
My next favorites were the yakitori bowl (the most expensive at $9.00) and the meatballs.
Succulent meat and very tasty, saucey rice.
I loved the spicy mustard dipping sauce. They already come marinated in some sort of thick soy sauce.
Lastly we had a bunch of skewers, which were totally Dan’s idea. I’m personally not a big fan of skewers, let alone skewered offals. I did of course for the sake of research try the gizzards. The texture takes getting used to, but it’s sufficiently salty and according to Dan, was a great complement to his beer.
Although the wait was horrendous, it was definitely forgivable. The entire restaurant was managed by the chef and one waitress with broken English (who were both complete sweethearts). And we were personally in no rush to leave. It was a great hour and a half spent sipping on sake and the constant stream of plates kept on eternally entertained.
It came out to be a pricey $87 — but it really wasn’t anything unexpected. The meats were cooked to an astonishing perfection. Those chicken wings, skewers and yakitori were the epitome of the words juicy and succulent.
We finished off with vanilla, green tea, and red bean ice cream.
Izakaya is a great place to go if you’re not in a rush, feel like sipping on some beer or sake, have money to spend, and just want to slowly soak in the beach vibe. The food is worth the price you’re paying, and the comfy atmosphere of the entire place creates a really intimate atmosphere.
112 N International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
It’s rare when J volunteers to choose a restaurant. But considering that his traditional Chinese abilities are far more advanced than mine, he’s been taking the reins on a lot of food choices these past two weeks. We’ve been having a real hankering for Japanese food recently. And given the heavy, heavy Japanese influence in Taiwan – finding Japanese food hasn’t been a problem.
He choose Fei Qian Wu, 肥前屋, a joint famous for their unagi-don (eel bento). Word on the street is that they have the most “authentic” roasted eel bento in all of Taipei. Order in Japanese or in Mandarin—the restaurant was founded 35 years ago by a Japanese-Taiwanese family.
As we were walking to the restaurant, we noticed a significant number of Japanese restaurants in the area. According to Taipei Times, the area used to be the home of a Japanese colonial administration. Located in a narrow alleyway, this place was absolutely packed. J & I were forced to share a table with another couple and a lone diner. The seating is cafeteria-style and service is rather rushed.
But the food was great, and sometimes, that’s all that really matters. Fei Qian Wu is famous for their eel. A single portion of eel on rice with miso soup costs NT 140 ($4.67), while a larger portion comes in at NT 240 ($8.01). Truth be told, I’m not a fan of eel myself. The only other time I’ve had it was at Sushi-Dai (one of the most famous sushi restaurants) near the Tsukuji Fish Market in Japan. But according to J, this was hands-down the best version of roasted eel he’s tasted (and he’s had eel three days in a row already).
I myself opted for the beef bowl because I absolutely craved beef. It was a decision caused by having to sadly settle for pork at the nearby Yoshinoya near my apartment earlier in the day. Yoshinoya in Taiwan doesn’t have beef. The horrors.
The verdict? 100x better than Yoshinoya. Juicy slices of beef with onions and a daikon radish on the side. I found myself picking at the leftover grains of rice and wishing I had more.
For the sides, we opted for the grilled squid – oh-so-juicy and seasoned in S&P, and the tempura – lightly battered and oozing with flavor.
This restaurant was a definite win. Cheap, casual, and mouth-watering delicious.
No.13-2 Alley 121, Section 1, Zhongshan North Road, Taipei, Taiwan
11am to 2pm, 5:30pm to 8pm. Closed Monday