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