Monday, December 29, 2008

Discover LA: Farmer John's Hog Wild Mural in Vernon

Other than being a great foodie town, LA has much to offer and while this blog will still be primarily about my culinary experiences, I also wanted to share with you other things about LA that have definitely made me smile, think, chuckle, appreciate and so much more and hopefully, they'll also help you discover an LA you've never known before and may want to know better.

If you're one who likes to go hog wild, you may find the mural surrounding the Farmer John Brand Clougherty Meat Packing Company in Vernon, CA, just your thing. It certainly got my attention - so much so that I whipped out my camera and took photos from one end of the mural to the other.

The mural basically depicts farm landscapes where you can see fields, trees, corn, barns, etc and of course, lots of pigs, big and small. Some of the pigs are happy and carefree, either laying in the grass, playing in the mud or with each other, flying airplanes, sleeping in hammocks and interacting with everyone from a buxom hill billy gal to keeping a boy company while he's fishing to pulling a wagon for a Gladiator wanna-be.

Other pigs are trotting happily following a road and "Farmer John" signs to what they think is probably OZ, but is actually a smokehouse or a greased pig contest. A variety of other animals also grace this mural like dogs, chicks, quails, hawks, crows and probably even more that I may have missed this time around.

If you'd like to know the history of this mural, it basically goes like this. In 1957, Barney Clougherty, then owner of Farmer John, was approached by Les Grimes, a talented painter of scenic backgrounds for Hollywood movie sets, to decorate the outside of his building. With Barney's blessing, Grimes spent the next eleven years working on his "masterpiece." Unfortunately, Grimes died in a fall from a fifty- foot scaffolding he was using to paint a portion of the sky on the mural.

After Grimes' death, Clougherty hired Arno Jordan to finish the murals. Arno Jordan continued the legacy by painting new murals and restoring Grimes' originals. To noted art dealer Ivan C. Karp, the murals are "a fundamental tract for West Coast vernacular painting." What's great about this mural is that it includes several gatefold plates of entire walls. Now that's some great detail. The plant was purchased by Hormel who intends to maintain the murals.

To see the the photos I took of the mural, go to:

To check out the mural for yourself, here's the address below:

Farmer John
3049 E. Vernon Avenue
Vernon, CA 90058

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Korean Soon Tofu Soup Explorations in Koreatown and SGV

The chill is in the air (literally), which means it's perfect soup weather and if you're someone like me who loves strong, bold flavors than sometimes the only kind of soup that will do is Korean Soon Tofu or Dubu (depending on who you ask). But before I talk about 6 restaurants that serve these sizzling bowls of tofu soup, let's learn a little more about tofu and Korean tofu soups.

What is Tofu?

Before we can even delve into Korean Soon Tofu Soup, first, a quick introduction for tofu itself. Tofu (the Japanese "Romaji" spelling), also called doufu (the Chinese "Pinyin" spelling often used in
Chinese recipes) or bean curd (the literal translation), is a food of Chinese origin, made by coagulating soy milk, and then pressing the resulting curds into blocks. The making of tofu from soy milk is similar to the technique of making cheese from milk. Wheat gluten, or seitan, in its steamed and fried forms, is often mistakenly called "tofu" in Asian or vegetarian dishes.

There are basically three types of tofu: soft/silken tofu, Asian firm tofu and Western firm/dried tofu. For Korean Soon Tofu Soups, the tofu of choice is the soft/silken tofu.

What is Soft/Silken Tofu?

This undrained tofu contains the highest moisture content of all fresh tofus. Its texture can be described as similar to that of very fine custard. In Korea and Japan, traditional soft tofu is made with seawater which has an
even higher moisture content and is often eaten as a dessert, but sometimes with salty pickles or hot sauce added instead. Because it is nearly impossible to pick up this type of tofu with chopsticks, it is generally eaten with a spoon.

What is Korean Soon Tofu Soup?

In Korea, tofu is often served not as a substitute for meat, but alongside it, with a small amount of meat flavoring enriching the silken tofu, which adds its incomparable body and mouth feel.

The Korean specialty soon dubu (tofu) chigae (soup or stew) combines soft tofu, spicy broth and bits of meat or seafood or kimchi. Like all Korean soups and stews, it is served hot enough to boil an egg, which is exactly what you do; at "soon houses" all over the world.

Now that you've learned m
ore about Korean Soon Tofu Soup, let's talk about some Korean Soon Tofu Houses in the LA area that you may or may not wish to check out for yourself.

BCD Tofu House

I've heard people refer to BCD Tofu House as the McDonald's of Tofu Houses in general. Now this could be a bad thing or a good thing depending on how you feel about McDonald's. I decided to go with an open mind, although I mentally prepared myself for food that might probably be just ok. Lo and behold, it was just ok, if not disappointing. The panchan was pretty uninspired with the fried fish, more chewy than crispy and with kimchi that was downright bland. Both the pork bulgogi and beef kalbi had at least some flavorand a little bit of caramelization from being grilled, but both meat dishes were too oily.

As for the Original Premium Tofu with Seafood that I ordered with a medium spice, I might as well have ordered the "white" version of this soup, which comes without any spices at all. I was expecting some heat, but got embers instead and maybe, just one ember at that, plus the soup itself seemed a bit watery. The tofu, which was soft, maybe even a little mushy was by no means close to being silky. Definitely no repeat visit for me.

BCD Tofu House
869 S Western Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 380-3807

To see pics, go to:

Beverly Soon Tofu

At Beverly Soon Tofu, our meal started with a tofu appetizer topped with seaweed in a bowl of sesame oil. The tofu was so airy and cloud-like that it definitely bode well for things to come. The panchan was also a step above BCD and of a much better quality. The bean sprouts and cucumber were cool and crunchy and the kimchi had a nice kick to it. Before our soon tofu soups arrived, we shared a bowl of bibimbap, which had white rice topped with lettuce, carrots, beef short ribs bean sprouts, mushrooms, tofu, a fried egg as well as other items. With the addition of the chili paste tossed with the bibimbap, it could have easily been a meal onto itself and a delicious one at that.

Finally, our soups arrived. I ordered the beef and kimchee soon tofu, which was steaming away when it hit the table and of course, hot enough to cook the raw egg I broke into the bowl. It looked and smelled good and my firste was sheer heaven. The soup itself was flavorful, full-bodied and rich. Care was definitely put into the making of it. Just like the tofu appetizer we had earlier, the tofu in the soup was soft, silky and gave you the feeling that it was going to melt away in your mouth. If only this tofu house was closer to where I lived, I'd probably be a dedicated repeat customer.

Beverly Soon Tofu
2717 W Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-1113

To see pics, go to:

Sokongdong Soon Tofu

With Sokongdong right across the street from Beverly Soon Tofu, they make for natural competitors and in my research to find out which tofu houses had the most buzz, both Sokongdong and Beverly Soon Tofu always came up with the most raves. After a stellar dining experience at BST, I was definitely looking forward to making the comparison.

First, a quickie note about the panchan. I like the panchan a little better at BST for more variety and plus I felt that the chili used for the kimchi cabbage and cucumbers seemed just a tad vinegary. Sokongdong is also known for their raw chili crab which was part of the panchan, but there was so little meat that all you were left with was licking the chili sauce off the shell, if you were so inclined. We also ordered dumplings (mandu) and were pretty much underwhelmed. The dumpling skin seemed really thick and the meat filling didn't seem seasoned enough.

Finally, the soon tofu soups arrived. I ordered the soon tofu soup with beef. I have to say that it was that tofu soup that saved the day. Just like BST, the soup was rich, chock full of flavor with a nice heat to it and the tofu had a nice silkiness to it as well. I can see why people go back and forth between BST and Sokongdong; however, my vote goes to Beverly Soon Tofu. There are just too many more things I like, food-wise and even atmosphere-wise, more at BST than Sokongdong.

Sokongdong Soon Tofu
2716 W Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-3737
To see pics, go to:

Young Dong Tofu

In my other explorations, I also came upon Young Dong Tofu in San Gabriel. I think it's part of a small chain since there's also one in Arcadia. When I initially tried to find some reviews about Young Dong, I couldn't find much information about it. Of course, now there's a whole slew of Yelp reviews about it. However, with it being a closer drive than Koreatown, I decided to take a chance and check it out and I have to say that I'm glad I did.

At Young Dong, along with 5 panchan dishes, you also got a miniature dressed lettuce salad, a green onion pancake and rice in a stone bowl. The last three items mentioned did not come as side dishes in the 3 tofu houses mentioned above, although BCD did have one large piece of lettuce as part of their tofu set. The panchan at Young Dong Tofu was definitely on the mark for me, definitely better than BCD ad Sonkongdong and almost good as BST. The panchan tasted fresh and crisp and speaking of crispy, I also enjoyed the onion pancake. When it arrived, I could already tell I was going to enjoy it when I spotted its browned crispy edges.

As for the soon tofu soup, while not as complex as either BST or Sokongdong, the soup was satisfying and the tofu soft to the palate. I also enjoyed how green onions were a more prominent ingredient in Young Dong's soon tofu soup compared to BCD and Sokongdong where there was just a limited quantity and BST where there were none at all. The green onions added a nice subtle hit of grassiness that I appreciated. Young Dong for me, was a nice find.

Young Dong Tofu
927 E. Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel, CA 91778
(626) 286-6031

To see pics, go to:

Young Dong Garden

Young Dong Garden, unlike the 4 restaurants mentioned above, isn't a tofu house and while it serves soon tofu soup, it doesn't specialize in it. I was definitely curious as to how it would compare and let me tell you, eating the soon tofu soup there was like eating a xia long bao at a Hunan restaurant as opposed to a Shanghai restaurant.

Before I even get to the soup, I have to give some mentions about the
panchan and the other food I ordered. One word. Terrible. The panchan wasn't fresh, with browning bean sprouts and veggies that lacked any kind of crunch or crispness. As for the bulgogi, the meat looked really pale as if it wasn't grilled enough plus I think the seasoning was still hiding in the spice jars. The dumplings/mandu looked better than they tasted - unseasoned, oily and with a funny, strange after taste.

When the tofu soup arrived, I was hoping it would save my meal, but it didn't. The soup had some good flavor, but was so thick that a fork would have stood upright in the middle of the bowl with no worry about it falling down. Inside the soup, the tofu was a little mushy and it didn't help that the soup in general cooled down really quickly. Lukewarm soon tofu soup is just not right. Needless to say, I'm never going back.

Young Dong Garden
19 Huntington Drive
Arcadia, CA 91006
(626) 698-6198

To see pics, go to:

Myung Dong Tofu Restaurant

My first ever experience with soon tofu soup was at Myung Dong Tofu Restaurant, namely because compared to Koreatown, this restaurant is a closer Eastside choice for me. I have to say that it's actually a remarkable that I've become a repeat customer. At my first visit, I really enjoyed the panchan, the savory pancake and the tasty, albeit greasy, kalbi; however, my mushroom soon tofu soup seemed watered down. For my second visit, I again enjoyed everything but the soup itself, which this time had a strange, metallic, tangy after taste that I didn't like at all.

It seemed pointless to return for a third time, so for awhile, I traveled elsewhere for soon tofu soup, even if that meant hitting the freeways to Koreatown and of course, a whole new world of soon tofu goodness opened up to me. However, I didn't want to drive to Koreatown every time I had a soon tofu soup craving, so I decided to give Myung Dong Tofu, one final chance.

I'm glad I did. Finally, I got a bowl of soon tofu soup that I actually liked. The broth is still a little too watery for my taste and the tofu is far from being clouds of tofu bliss, but it has a nice
amount of spice and since then, it has hit the spot every time I've visited. Not as good as Beverly Soon or Sokongdong, but definitely way above BCD and certainly Yong Dong Garden.

Myung Dong Tofu Restaurant
1025 S. Glendora Avenue
West Covina, CA 91790
(626) 338-0414

To see pics, go to:

Anyway, although my thoughts aren't comprehensive, I hope that you found my experiences helpful and if you've never tried Korean Soon Tofu Soup before, than you should give it a try and perhaps, you've seen some viable options in this write-up worth checking out for yourself.

Beverly Soon Tofu House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Xiao Long Bao" Crawl in San Gabriel Valley

As you're reading the title of this blog entry, you may be wondering exactly what is an "xiao long bao" or XLB for short. While no expert, this is what I came up with in my initial research about this tasty dumpling treat.

To start, xiao long bao (literally "little basket bun"; also known as a soup dumpling) is a type of baozi (filled bun or bread-like item) from the Southern provinces of China, including Shanghai and Wuxi. Xiao Long Baos are traditionally steamed in bamboo baskets, hence the name.

It can be filled with hot soup and meat and/or vegetarian fillings, as well as other possibilities. The fillings ar
e wrapped in something like a jiaozi wrapper that turns almost translucent after being steamed. Also referred to as Shanghai steamed buns or juicy dumplings, they can be recognized by their unique design, as the filled wrapper is gathered up into fine folds at the top, prior to steaming.

One way to eat your XLB generally involves pouring Chinese black vinegar into the small saucer which contains ginger that usually arrives with your order. Gently dip the dumpling into the vinegar and than deposit onto a Chinese soup spoon. Take a bite out of the skin and sip the soup out. Then you can drizzle some vinegar on top along with the ginger and then enjoy the rest of the dumpling. Of course, there are may be other ways to eat XLBs, but in the end, just find the way that works best for you, keeping in mind that the soup coming out of the dumpling may be quite hot.

Those of you familiar with the San Gabriel Valley know that we are blessed with some of the best and authentic Chinese dining outside of China itself. What's even more exciting is that there is quite a of variety of regional Chinese cooking styles reflected in the restaurants in the area, which is why I actually had to narrow my choices down to just 4 for the "Xiao Long Bao" crawl that I set up for my dining group. Of the 4, I've already visited three on separate occasions, but this time I wanted to have more of a "side by side" comparison. The crawl started in a shopping plaza in the city of San Gabriel because there were literally three Shanghai restaurants right next to each other that served XLBs.

Our first stop was Mei Long Village where our group of 8 sat down and ordered an order each of their Crab and Pork XLBs and their Pork XLBs. When asked if we wanted anything else, I simply said No and believe me, we got some very puzzled looks from the wait staff during our short time there. Those puzzled looks basically followed us into the next two restaurants as well.

Soon both sets of XLBs arrive. By the way, as you're looking at my photos, you may notice that I add black vinegar to my Chinese Spoon before adding the XLB. My personal preference is to sip the soup along with the vinegar. Anyway, back to the soup dumplings. First, I want to comment on the dumpling wrapper, which while not as thin as the ones at the famed Din Tai Fung or as thick as the ones at J&J, which we'll be visiting later on, it still retained some delicate characteristics. It was a happy medium. As for the soup inside, it had a good amount, but while the pork filling was seasoned well, the crab/pork filling actually was literally a little hard and the crab flavors were not shining through, but for the most part, the soup dumplings at Mei Long Village were a good start for our crawl.

Next up was Dragon Mark, which was right next door. At Dragon Mark, they only had the Pork XLBs on the menu, so that's what we ordered. When it came to appearance, they were smaller and tighter than the soup dumplings we had at Mei Long Village. They actually fit quite compactly on my spoon whereas the MLV dumplings didn't. We were hoping that good things came in small packages. Unfortunately, while the pork filling itself was quite tasty, everything else fell beyond the mark, pun intended. The dumpling skin was thick, a little hard to bite into and there was hardly any soup to speak of. It was definitely time to move on.

Our next stop was J&J, right next door to Dragon Mark. Compared to MLV and Dragon Mark, this was the busiest of the three Shanghai restaurants which definitely was a good sign. At J&J, the menu had both pork and crab/pork XLBs and of course, we ordered both. One thing to note here is that the XLBs on the menu are referred to as Steamed Pao, so that's what you'd actually order. Soon the dumplings arrived and compared to Dragon Mark and even to MLV, they were quite bountiful.

While not delicate like at MLV or hard like at DM, the dumpling skin for the J&J XLBs was thick and a little chewier, but given the filling, the skin was perfect for what was needed. As for the fillings, remember how I mentioned the word "bonanza" earlier? J&J's soup dumplings were amazing. The crab/pork XLB was definitely the hit with the entire group.

Whereas with the MLV crab/pork soup dumpling, you could barely make out the crab, the J&J version was chock full of crabby flavor and along with J&J's pork XLB, both of them really brought a new definition to the words "soup dumpling." If the skin was any thinner, the soup probably would be leaking out. J&J definitely was not shy when it came to the amount of soup in their XLBs, especially when in immediate comparison to the stinginess of the XLBs we had at Dragon Mark.

If we had ended our XLB crawl at J&J, no one would have complained. That's how happy we were about J&J, but how can you do a true XLB comparison without stopping by Din Tai Fung, the restaurant who many feel serves the best soup dumplings in town, so DTF became the last stop in our journey and for that we piled into cars and made the trip to Arcadia.

Although our primary reason to visit Din Tai Fung was their soup dumplings, both their pork and crab/pork XLBs, we decided to order a few other items as well. Since most of us have never had their regular non-soupy dumplings, we got the chicken dumplings and the shrimp/pork dumplings. Both were tasty and while not soupy, their fillings were moist and were seasoned well.

Other additions included the Shanghai rice cakes and the prettily presented rice and pork shiaomai. We also ordered red bean steamed dumplings which was a first for me since my usual experience with red bean fillings is in something fried/deep fried. The other dishes we ordered did not disappoint.

So now on to the famed Din Tai Fung XLBs, which were an interesting mix of the other three soup dumplings we tried. The dumpling skin was delicate or actually more delicate than the MLV version so I felt like I had to take extra care picking them up with my chopsticks. They were small and compact like the Dragon Mark version. Like the J&J version, these soup dumplings were definitely soupy and overall, I can see why the Din Tai Fung XLBs always gets lots of praise. What's also fun about DTF is that you can actually see the dumpling makers at work through glass windows.

In the past, DTF has been my go to place for soup dumplings. However, after these side-by-side comparisons, my 7 other dining companions and myself came to one conclusion. Simply, of the 4 XLB versions we tried, we all liked the soup dumplings at J&J the best with the crab/pork being the top choice overall.

While we liked the DTF soup dumplings, the flavors of the fillings seemed almost too subtle. What J&J had over DTF was a bolder flavor. Simply, you took a bite out of the J&J crab and pork soup dumpling and you could really taste the crab and their pork XLBs really tasted "porky." Our group also felt that the J&J XLBs had more soup and that the soup was more flavorful overall. In general, the conclusion of this whole XLB crawl was a bit unexpected. I really thought that Din Tai Fung would win the day, but for this group of diners, DTF was second place followed by Mei Long Village, with Dragon Mark being a distant last.

Overall, it was a really fun foodie experience and the fact that I was able to do something that involved visiting 4 different Shanghai restaurants just to eat one specific type of regional ethnic food is one of the main reasons I love dining in Los Angeles. I'm pretty sure that restaurants serving xiao long baos in close proximity to each other is not something you'll find in just any town across the US, so I definitely consider myself very lucky. One last thing to mention is that between the 8 of us, this crawl cost us around $16 each, with the bulk of the money spent at Din Tai Fung since we had ordered other dishes. So if you want to do a little XLB exploring on your own, pull a few friends together and maybe your outcome would differ from ours.

To see pics, go to:

Mei Long Village
301 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91778
(626) 308-9238

Dragon Mark
301 W Valley Blvd # 110
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 282-5953

301 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91804
(626) 308-9238

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

J&J Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Walking a Delicious Road to Pa Pa Walk

Has it ever happened to you that while you're reading through a restaurant review that sometimes one dish will stand out to the point that the only reason you want to visit that restaurant is just to try that one dish? That's exactly what happened to me while reading Kevin Cheung's blog, 50 Meals, about his visit to Pa Pa Walk, a restaurant that specializes in Taiwanese street food. Click here to read that review.

According to Kevin, the words "Pa Pa" means "all over town" in Taiwanese. Taking that further, "Pa Pa Walk" means to "get out around town." Given the definition of the restaurant's name, it seems fitting that they serve food that you might normally order from a stall or cart on the streets of Taiwan, which means that food portions are more similar to tapas.

So what dish caught my interest? On the menu, it's referred to simply as "Cream Soup in Fried Toast", but when placed in front of you, it's reminiscent of clam chowder bread bowls. Kevin further translated that the name in Chinese sounds just like “coffin cover". Fellow blogger, Wandering Chopsticks, also was so entranced by Kevin's post that she paid a visit herself to try this dish and with further research learned that this soup/bread dish is referred to as coffin bread in Taiwan. In her words, "[it] hails from Tainan, the oldest city in Taiwan and the capital from 1663 to 1885. It was so named because of its coffin-like appearance." In my own research, I came upon the Primitive Culture blog, where the blogger wrote briefly about his experience with "coffin bread" in Taiwan with a brief mention from his dining companion about a possible American naval connection to this dish.

Basically, "coffin bread" is what first got me in the door of Pa Pa Walk, but what brought me back for a second visit was how good the food was in general. For my first visit, a friend and I shared 6 savory dishes, including the "coffin bread" and 1 dessert. The first three items that hit our table included the smoked duck, the bbq pork fried rice and the grilled Taiwanese sausage. The fried rice was good, if nothing special. I enjoyed both the duck with its crispy skin and the slight sweetness of the sausages, which when eaten with a piece of raw garlic, had a great savory component to them.

Following the sausages, came the broiled leafy greens and the leek pie, which was shaped more like an empanada. I liked how the greens still had a crunch to them and of course, being cooked with pork made this dish even more of a hit to my taste buds. The leek pie, which also had glass noodles as part of the filling, was my least favorite of the bunch. It was too greasy and the leek/noodle filling had an aftertaste that wasn't working for me at all.

At last, the "coffin bread" arrived and what a sight! The bread, which was golden brown, was hollowed out and filled with the creamy vegetable chowder. The top part of the bread that was cut off, served as the lid and you can see the soup dripping down the sides of the bread box itself. Of course, we devoured that bread lid first, which was crispy and toasted to perfection and it's where you can first get a hint of what the soup will taste like.

Finally, I took a spoonful of the soup and while there weren't any bold flavors, it was rich, thick, creamy and filling. As we ate into it more, we started breaking off pieces of the bread walls to eat as well. Amazingly enough, even as we ate towards the bottom of this bread box, the bread still retained is crispy, toasty qualities. Personally, I don't really like the "coffin bread" reference because to me, it's more of a comfort food, especially during those colder months of the year when you want and need some warmth going into all your nooks and crannies. Come on, how can you go wrong with toasted bread and soup?

I don't even know how we had room for dessert, but we did and ordered the strawberry slush, which basically is just condensed milk poured over shaved ice topped with sliced strawberries - simple ingredients that definitely took care of my sweet tooth. I only wish that they had smaller more individual orders because our order was huge and was really more for 4, maybe, even 6 people as opposed to just 2.

For my second visit, I brought my dining group and this time, we shared 10 savory dishes. Three of them were repeats from my first visi
t, the Taiwanese sausages, the cream soup in fried toast and the leek pie and my feelings about those dishes didn't change from my first visit. This time around, we ordered the following items: pork and leek dumplings, sole and cilantro dumplings, stir-fry rice noodles, stir-fry napa with dry fish, deep fried oysters, deep fried chicken roll, steamed mini pork buns and the Taiwanese meatballs.

Of the two dumplings, I favored the light and delicate flavors of the sole and cilantro dumplings. The leek in the leek and pork dumplings was a little overpowering, to the point that I couldn't even taste the pork. The rice noodles were good albeit not mind-boggling while the steamed mini pork buns were disappointing. The pork buns are supposed to be XLBs, but the soup inside these dumplings was quite minimal. You're better off going to J&J, Din Tai Fung or Mei Long Village.

I liked how the dry
fish added just the right amount of saltiness to the stir-fry napa and both the deep fried oysters and chicken roll were wonderful. The batter for the oysters wasn't heavy or oily and I liked how the tofu wrapper for the chicken roll still had a little bit of a chew to it. The only dish I had difficulty with was the Taiwanese meat ball.

When we ordered this dish, I was expecting little round meatballs and what arrived was something I didn't recognize at all. It looked like a little mountain cut in quarters with some kind of meat filling inside the base. At first, I thought we had the wrong order, but checking with our waiter, it was the right order. Our waiter further told us that the covering was a kind of starch. I think he said it was made up of a rice starch.

I had a taste, but I couldn't get into it. First, I didn't really like the sauce and I can't even tell you why. I just didn't like it. The texture of that starch was also too glutinous for my taste and for the life of me, I couldn't identify the meat that was inside this starchy mountain. If anyone has been to Pa Pa Walk and have tried this dish dish before, I'd love to know more about what the ingredients actually are.

With around 100 food items on their menu and I'm not even counting the beverages or desserts, Pa Pa Walk definitely offers a variety of Taiwanese foods. In writing this blog entry, it reminds me that I've only covered 10% of their menu. Considering that I really enjoyed both meals, even with a couple of exceptions, perhaps it's time for a re-visit and it's a place you my consider checking out for the first time yourself.

To see pics, go to:

Pa Pa Walk
227 W Valley Blvd # 148B
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 281-3889

Pa Pa Walk on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tacos with a Korean Twist

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

Last month, I was online reading through my email when one came in with a subject header that immediately piqued my interest. Simply, I saw the words "Korean Taco Truck" and my world stopped. Korean Taco Truck? Even before I opened the email to read, I was ready to drive to wherever that truck happened to be parked just to check this food out. It almost didn't matter that I was snug in my pajamas at 11:00 pm in the suburbs.

Finally, I opened the email and it was an invitation from Alice Shin, PR person for Kogi BBQ, to attend a Korean taco tasting. A melding of Korean and Mexican flavors definitely intrigued me and I was already to RSVP Yes until I saw the date. :( Unfortunately, I already had plans that night, so I thought all was lost. Luckily, thanks to Kogi BBQ Founder, Mark Manguera, I was able to arrange a private tasting for me and a few friends this past Saturday.

As I was driving to our meeting place, I actually end up parking behind the Kogi BBQ taco truck, which wasn't hard to miss. It had a brightly orange and red sign with the Kogi name in black on the back of the truck. By the way, the word "Kogi" means meat in Korean. On hand for our tasting was Mark himself, his wife and co-founder, Caroline as well as Caroline's brother, Website Administrator/Photographer, Eric Shin and Chef Roy Choi, former Executive Chef of Rock Sugar.

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

From Mark came the story of what sparked the creation of Kogi BBQ. Apparently, it started with a few bottles of champagnes that led to a discussion of how in Korea, street food was the best way to sober up, which in turn led to the subject of taco trucks and voila, a Korean taco truck was born. As for the menu, the recipes themselves are a collaboration between Caroline and Eric's mother and Chef Choi.

For this tasting, we got to sample 4 different tacos and one surprise addition. One tidbit from Chef Choi is that there is a different marinade for each of the proteins as well as a different dressing for the salad and sesame seeds that tops each taco. I really like the fact that he really thought about what would pair well together.

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

My first bite was of the Korean chicken taco and I really appreciated how the meat was charred to a golden brown, giving it a light smoky taste. I also liked that the chicken had a just grilled taste to it and that the splash of chili sauce added a much appreciated kick. Then I sampled the Korean short rib taco. I loved how the grill gave the meat a wonderful caramelization that was both sweet and richly satisfying and with just a squeeze of lime, the flavor marriage of sweet and tart made this taco my favorite of the four we sampled.

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

Next came the sweet smoky heat of Korean spicy pork taco, which made my tastebuds quite happy; however, a squeeze of something quite unlime-like added a different dimension altogether. On all the plates that our tacos came on, orange wedges sat side by side with the lime wedges. At first, I thought the oranges were some kind of palate cleanser, but Mark actually encouraged us to use it as an alternative to the lime. He's definitely on to something. A squeeze of orange juice on my pork taco added a wonderfully refreshing citrus-y component that really hit the spot.

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

If you're a vegetarian, you were not forgotten. Kogi BBQ also offers tofu tacos. Compared to the other three tacos, the tofu tacos were my least favorite and not because I don't like tofu either. The tofu needed more flavor and I wasn't that enthralled with the silky texture of the tofu itself. Now if that tofu was deep fried and perhaps marinated more, it would be a different story. Also, regardless of which taco you chose, the nice thing about them is that all the meat are cut into smaller pieces. That means that you don't have to worry about a big piece of meat hanging from your mouth just because you couldn't bite it off. What a relief!

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

In addition to the meat fillings, I also liked the dressed lettuce and sesame seed mixture that topped all of the tacos. The salad was light and enhanced the flavors of the tacos without detracting from them. One thing I personally would like to see is the addition of more "crunchy vegetables" that I can add to my taco experience. Thankfully, there's already some thought into creating some kind of kimchee/radish slaw and/or using cabbage as a way to add additional texture to the tacos.

After four tacos, we thought we were done, but Chef Choi decided to surprise us on the fly, with short rib sliders on Hawaiian bread rolls. How cool is that? I think the concept is great, but I think that there needs to be some additional recipe development. For my particular palate, it was just too sweet. The addition of the mayo actually helped cut that sweetness a little bit, but just not enough for me. I should add though that some of the tasters in the group liked the sliders as is, so it could just be preference on my part.

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

One thing that I forgot to mention is that along with the tacos, you'll be able to order burritos using the proteins mentioned above as fillings. In fact, you can even order a breakfast burrito, which contains eggs, hash browns, cheese as well as the meat of your choice. I could see myself scarfing down a short rib breakfast burrito topped with a little chili sauce for my first meal of the day. How about you?

Overall, it was a great experience. Mark, Caroline and Eric were great hosts and Chef Choi's food was fantastic and definitely memorable. I am officially a fan and I'm definitely looking forward to not only tasting even more of Chef Choi's fusion creations, but also seeing how far this venture will go (hopefully, well enough so that a Kogi BBQ taco truck will one day be hanging around in my neighborhood).

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

Kogi BBQ

Saturday, November 01, 2008

How an Edible Book is Similar to a Food Blogger aka Socal Food Bloggers Unite!

There's a certain similarity between an edible book (in this case one made of cookie and frosting) and a food blogger. It's a surreal duet of food and art.

In the case of the edible book, it's creating literal art out of food where someone had to put some thought into it beforehand with the end result being something one can physically touch, smell and taste.

In the case of food blogging, it's creating written art describing an initial sensory experience with food with the end result being something that someone can vicariously touch, smell, taste, hear and see (at least at first). There's certainly nothing stopping the reader from indulging in their own tasty reality once they step away from their computer.

In the end, both the edible book and the food blogger's words could eventually feed the body, but what makes the food blogger stand out between the two is that their prose first feeds the mind, and if after partaking of the heady descriptions of that boldly flavored duck and fig appetizer or the delicate sweet hotness of the ancho chile flan, one becomes inspired to seek that food, than it's easy to see that there really is an art to being a food blogger.

So why am I waxing so poetically about food bloggers? Well, why not? It's my blog after all and what better use for a photo of an edible book than somehow using it as a comparison to food bloggers.

However, my reasons may be slightly more selfish than that. For the past year, I've been privileged to meet quite a few food bloggers through a variety of means and how refreshing it is to not be the only one taking out my camera to take photos of my meal. In fact, at one recent Foodbuzz dinner, it was almost surreal to see 15 to 18 cameras come out to take photos of one course after another. For once, I actually left my camera inside my purse just so that I could watch the show. It's been a pleasure and a honor meeting these wordsmith artists in person and it just hit me that I don't want to wait for outside forces to necessarily get us together. Why not take destiny in our own hands?

On that note, having run my own dining club, Pleasure Palate, for the past 5 years, I definitely am comfortable organizing a group, so instead of tricks on Halloween, I decided to create, what I hope will be a treat, for my fellow Southern California Food Bloggers in the form of a Meetup Group simply called Socal Food Bloggers. My hope is that through Socal Food Bloggers, it'll give many of us a chance to meet face to face through dining out together as well as offer opportunities for us to network, exchange info and for more experienced bloggers to help mentor newer food bloggers.

So if you're a Food Blogger and my definition of a Food Blogger is someone who has a stand alone blog with at least of 70-75% of the content towards food and/or beverages, I'd love for you to join the group. To join the group, which is free and only requires a Meetup membership, which is also free, click here or for more information, please feel free to drop me a line at

Friday, October 31, 2008

FOOD FIGHT - Revolution Never Tasted This Good!

A few days ago I had a chance to screen the documentary called Food Fight by Filmmaker/Producer, Chris Taylor. I have to say that I really learned a lot more than I ever though I would. At first, I wasn't sure what to expect when I popped the DVD into my laptop. When I think of what a "Food Fight" means to me, it brought up visions of mashed potato flying across a crowded high school cafeteria and spinach being tossed back in a revengeful response.

But as I started watching, the words "Food Fight" took on a completely different meaning. We've literally travelled a full circle where initially, our food production was more locally grown and the freshness and the flavor of our produce was paramount. Then it changed and became more about subsidizing big business where the goal became more about food at a cheaper price, which also resulted in food that was as far from its natural state as you can possibly get. This was a price that in the end wasn't so cheap because consumers paid for it in obesity, diabetes and other health issues. Cheap food? Yes. Rising health care costs? A bigger YES!

In the 70s, things started changing in the form of Chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, who in her search for produce that tasted the way it was intended, fresh and bursting with flavor, literally created her own food chain away from larger retail grocery chains. This food chain consisted of local farmers supplying her with fruits and vegetables grown in the areas around her Berkeley restaurant, literally picked a day or so before hitting her kitchen ready to be made into tasty dishes, using ingredients that her customers have never even heard of, even though many were grown literally in their own backyard.

This revolution spread down to Southern California where Chef Wolfgang Puck took the baton and also ran with the whole concept of focusing on local produce to create changing seasonal menus year round. With him slowly becoming a celebrity chef at the time, the notion of California Cuisine as was started by Chef Waters started getting more national recognition through his efforts. There's definitely a lot more to this story than I can describe here, but as you can see, we have come full circle.

These days, farmer's markets have popped up all over the United States. Home cooks are following the same sensibilities of today's chefs and seeing and tasting the value of buying produce directly from local farmers. It's a wave and hopefully, it's a wave that will gain the strength and the momentum to make big government see the importance the food we eat and how it can truly contribute to the health of its people.

To find out more info, check out the links below:



If you'd like to actually see the documentary for yourself, there's a free AFI screening in Hollywood on November 8th, 2008 3:15pm at the Mann Chinese 6 on Hollywood Blvd. If you are not in Los Angeles or can't attend the screening, then click here to join the Facebook group to get updates of future screenings.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"The Four Schools of Chinese Cooking" - Dinner at Yunchaun Garden

A few months back, I came up on this online article on the Cooking Light website simply entitled "The Four Schools of Chinese Cooking" and as the title suggests, it talked about 4 different types of Chinese cooking based on schools or more likely "regions": East, West, South and North. Given the fact that I'm lucky enough to live in the San Gabriel Valley where the breadth of Chinese cooking is unparalleled, I thought I'd start a new dining series for Pleasure Palate where we would dine at restaurants representing each school, starting with the Western School.

Taken directly from the article, "The Western School [is] acclaimed for its spicy dishes, includes Sichuan, Hunan, and Yunnan provinces." Look below for more info.

What the West is known for: Fiery Dishes That Will Perk Up Your Tastebuds in a Big Way.

Styles of Cooking: Seasonings and Condiments Combine for Mouthfuls of Hot, Sour, Sweet and Salty All in One Bite.

Common Seasonings: Chiles (Fresh, Dried and in Pastes), Peppercorns, Ginger, Garlic, Water Chestnuts, Bamboo Shoots, Mushrooms and Nuts.

Representative Dishes: Kung Pao Chicken, Twice Cooked Pork, Szechuan Beef and Mapo Tofu.

To represent the Western school, I chose Yunchaun Garden in Monterey Park to be the first dining experience in this series and I tried to choose dishes, with the help of the staff, to best showcase what the Western School was all about. For our meal there, we shared 11 dishes. The dishes ran the gamut from awesome to good to okay to "What were we thinking?"

The absolute highlight of the meal for me was the Chongqing Spicy Cold Chicken. Sitting on a flaming red pool of chili oil, it was both vibrant looking and vibrant tasting. This chicken definitely packed some heat while the slight nutty-grassiness of the peanuts and green onions added some great flavor to this dish. Also a favorite was the Chongqing Special Flavor Boiled Fish. The fish itself was delicate and tender and it definitely absorbed the hot kickiness of the chili peppers and the spicy red broth it was cooked in.

Another really tasty dish was the fried lamb with cumin. The bite of the cumin, the spiciness of the red chili pieces beautifully flecked all over the meat's surface and the distinct bold flavor of the lamb really combined into a dish that was definitely a palate pleaser. Some of the other dishes were good, if not outstanding.

Everyone enjoyed the Kung Pao Shrimp. The Won Tons in Chicken Soup and the Sauteed Snow Bean Leaf helped in cleansing the palate in between bites of the spicier foods. I thought the Ma Po Tofu was okay, but needed improvement. After taking a bite, you could feel a little bit of heat on the tip of your tongue and maybe, the back of your throat, but compared to the other three, it lacked depth and dimension. It felt like it was hot just for the sake of being hot.

Dishes I wouldn't order again include the Twice Cooked Pork and the Stir-Fried Duck with Ginger. In both cases, both the pork and duck were chewy while the dishes in general were just really bland. The Yunnan Yam Cake also wasn't to my liking. I'm not even sure how to describe the texture. It reminded me of a firm tasteless jell-o.

In general, I enjoyed my meal and would come back for a return visit. I do prefer my food, while not necessarily mind-numbing hot, to be bold in flavor and my dinner at Yunchaun Garden certainly did provide that and sometimes more. I'm sure that I've barely cracked the surface of what the Western Style of Chinese Cooking is all about, so if anyone has any recommendations for what I can order for a future visit, I'd love to know about them.

To see pics, go to:

Yunchaun Garden
301 N. Garfield Avenue
Suite D102
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 571-8387

Yunchaun Garden on Urbanspoon