Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thai Shrimp Salad

After a weekend in which I ate Burger King, two other hamburgers, and, for the first time in perhaps 15 years, a Twinkie, I wanted something on the healthier side for dinner. I attempted to replicate a Thai shrimp salad I had at a restaurant a few months ago.

First I chopped up some red onion, cilantro, red pepper, crushed red chili, and basil. I mixed that with some lime juice and a little olive oil. I boiled some Trader Joe's frozen shrimp in water and lemon juice, mixed it up with the ingredients, squeezed a lemon over it, and let it chill in the fridge for about an hour.
I put the mixture over a plate of mixed greens. I was very pleased with the results. If I make this again, though, I'm going to mince a couple jalapenos and throw them in - I think that would have gone well with the acidity of the citrus.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Sometimes I just crave a hamburger. Do you know that feeling? And I'm not talking about a skimpy McDonald's burger that can last for 12 years (http://www.foodfacts.info/blog/2008/09/mcdonald-hamburger-from-1996.html) or even an Animal-Style Double Double. I'm talking about a burger I cook myself. Thick, cooked on the grill, pink in the middle, with thick slices of bacon, a cheese other than cheddar, and, instead of lettuce, something with a spicier, peppery taste, like arugula or mustard greens.

Saturday, during the UCLA football game, I got that craving. I cooked up some apple bacon and grilled some chopped onions. I cooked some patties on the grill and I used fresh Bristol Farms hamburger buns. On my burger, in addition to the bacon and onions, I put arugula and smoked gouda cheese.

The last picture is my friend's burger. She went for the bacon and gouda, but added iceberg lettuce and avocado. Pretty much everyone I know loves avocado. I hate it. I cannot explain it. When I was a kid my parents had a giant avocado tree in their yard and I remember loving guacamole, but now it is probably my least favorite food in the world. But she loved her burger, so that's what counts.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dim Sum Day

In the movie For Love of the Game, Vin Scully says of the character played by Kevin Costner, a once-great pitcher who is making the final start of his career: "Tonight, he will make the fateful walk to the loneliest spot in the world, the pitching mound at Yankee Stadium, to push the sun back into the sky and give us one more day of summer."

So, on a 90 degree day in late September, with grad school just a couple days away, I recruited three of my good friends to join for me an afternoon of fun, to try and have one more day of summer. We met in Pasadena and had a pint of Guinness, then rode the Gold Line down to Chinatown. We ate at Empress Pavilion and it was great, as usual.

I can't remember every thing we had, but it was a lot. Dumplings with shrimp and broccoli, shrimp and spinach, spring rolls, pork buns, potstickers, and several others, all washed down with Tsingtao. At one point my friend Tracie made some guttural noise and said "I feel like I'm climbing Mt. Everest."

Still, we weren't completely stuffed, so we decided to get one more dish. We got two, including a second order of pork buns. It was delicious, although a bit much. Finally we all pushed away from the table. "Well, Tracie," I said, "we knocked the bastard off."

Then I went to one of the shops in the plaza and visited my penis psychiatrist.
After lunch we decided we needed a walk, so we went down to Olvera Street, walked around, and headed over to the Traxx bar at Union Station. Union Station is perhaps my favorite structure in all of Los Angeles. I drank a cold Deschutes Black Butter Porter and then we headed back to Pasadena on the train. A perfect last day of summer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pommes Frites (New York City)

I love Belgian fries. Unfortunately, they aren't too plentiful around Pasadena, or even L.A. A decade ago I would drive all the way over to Dive! in Century City just to eat their fries. Although then you had to put up with the once-an-hour announcement over the loudspeaker: "Prepare to dive!," while the whole restaurant shifted into a mode resembling a submarine diving - lights flashing and sirens blaring - perhaps the most annoying restaurant quirk I have ever seen, with the obvious exception of restaurants where the server actually sits down at your table to take your order.
I was never a huge fan of Benita's Frites at Citywalk, although I admit I ate there several times. Spring Street Smokehouse did a great version for a while, but last time I was there their fries resembled McDonald's fries. The Oinkster does a good job but doesn't quite cook them long enough the second time (I once asked for them well done and there was no difference.)
But I had read about Pommes Frites before my last trip to New York and I immediately put it at the top of my list. It was exceptional. I cannot remember ever having better fries. It is a tiny shop on 2nd Ave and they only serve fries in three sizes: regular, large, and are-you-f**king kidding me. (Not really; the largest size is called a "double.") I was with three other people and the "large" size was enough for all four of us.
In addition to ketchup, mustard, vinegar, etc., they offer a choice of 25 sauces, ranging from the more common ones I got (honey mustard and roasted garlic mayo) to exotic sauces like "Vietnamese Pineapple Mayo" and "Pomegranite Terriyaki Mayo."
I hope I can visit Pommes Frites every time I return to New York for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Easter Sunday on Olvera Street

On Easter Sunday I was hanging out with three friends trying to come up with something to do. They told me to suggest some ideas, as I was the only one of us to have grown up in Southern California (assuming for a moment that I have grown up.) I gave options of going to the Huntington Botanical Gardens, going for a walk in the Arroyo, going for a picnic on Mt. Wilson, or taking the Gold Line down to Union Station and having a drink at the Traxx Bar. Predictably, they chose the option that involved alcohol.

But when we got down there, it was closed. I suggested we walk over to Olvera Street, as none of them had been there. "It shouldn't be too crowded," I offered, figuring that many Catholic people would be in church. As usual, I had no idea what I was talking about. The place was more crowded than I have ever seen it, because Cardinal Mahony was there doing the "Blessing of the Animals." Oops. My bad.

The upside to this, however, is that while Olvera Street and the Plaza were shoulder to shoulder with people, the shops and restaurants weren't too crowded. We ducked into one restaurant off the street, I do not remember which. My three friends started drinking margaritas but I stuck with ice cold bottles of Pacifico (I have not had either tequilla or Taco Bell in a dozen years, both dating back to the same incident. You don't wanna know.)
We had quesadillas, chips and salsa, guacamole, taquitos, and nachos. All of it was good, but to be honest, drinking cold drinks on a hot Easter Sunday with some good friends is going to make anything taste good, especially if it's drowning in cheese, which all of this food was.

Monday, September 22, 2008


I try not to ever discuss In-N-Out with people who are familiar with the place. It's like discussing politics or USC vs. UCLA: people already have their opinions and you're never going to change any person's mind. In fact, I considered not even posting pictures of my dinner the other night, because I honestly can't think of a single thing that I can contribute. (Am I supposed to write: "Did you know they only serve burgers and fries? Did you know you can order food prepared in ways not listed on the menu?")
I guess I could tell the story about being at a bar in Denver with one of my best friends from high school a few years ago. He was wearing an In-N-Out t shirt, we met some girls, and at the end of the night one of them said to him "I've always wanted to try In-N-Out. I hear there are things you can order that aren't even on the menu." His response was "That's ok, I know everything on the menu and off." I laughed repeatedly at him and what a dorky comment that was.
But today he is married to that girl. So really that story just makes me look like a jackass.
I have eaten perhaps hundreds of meals at In-N-Out in my lifetime, but I can't honestly say that I love the place. I don't like their fries all that much, and I think that just in Pasadena alone there are four places that make better burgers (Hutch's, Pie 'n Burger, Rick's, and Wolfe Burgers.) But there is no denying that In-N-Out is good, and I have never once had a meal there that wasn't absolutely fresh. So I certainly understand why so many people love it.
My standard order is animal-style fries and a Double-Double. In the above picture I only got a hamburger with one patty because I wasn't too hungry. It was good, as always.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Green Street Tavern

Kuala Lumpur was one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. I have not eaten at many Malaysian restaurants, but I have been to a few, and it was the best I've ever had. I never understood when friends had a desire for any of the (in my opinion very average) Thai restaurants in Old Town when Kuala Lumpur was an option. When they closed down I vowed never to go in to whatever restaurant took over the space.

Then I found out that the new restaurant would have the word "Tavern" in its name, and my stance relaxed a little. When I learned they would have a reasonably-priced cheese plate and inexpensive wines by the glass, my stance relaxed a lot. Then, after a couple visits for a glass of wine at their sidewalk tables, I was crazy about the place.

Last month a friend and I went there for dinner. It was great; she had a piece of salmon that we both agreed was the best salmon either of us had ever had. I had a New York steak with Bernaise, and we had a bottle of wine and then another glass each after we finished the bottle. It was a great meal. All this, however, came with a hefty price tag. This is not a complaint, of course; I have no problem paying high prices for an amazing meal. But Green Street Tavern also has a lunch menu, with much lower prices.

A couple weeks ago my friend had to take his car to the body shop and I picked him up, and he offered to take me to lunch. I suggested Green Street Tavern, as neither of us had been there for lunch. I had the braised braised short rib sandwich with provolone, pickled peppers, and horseradish aioli. It was very good, although my buddy's shredded chicken sandwich with roast corn and cilantro salsa was better (he let me have a bite.)

Both meals I had there were phenomenal. The dinner was more enjoyable, simply because it was such a nice setting (and, uh, I was with a woman.) But the lunch was great too, and cost much less.

Moules Frites

I had planned to make mussels and fries for two of my best friends, although I realized I no longer have a reliable deep fry thermometer, so I went to buy one at Sur La Table. I picked out the nicest one they had (it still only cost $18.)

"Are you a cooking student or a professional chef?" the lady at the counter asked me. Apparently those are the only types of people who would spend a whopping 18 bucks on a kitchen gadget. I had no idea.
"Neither," I said, "I'm just cooking mussels and fries for my two favorite girls."

"Ohhh," she gushed," that's sweet. How old are they?"

"36 and 28," I said.

I don't think that was the answer she was expecting.

Anyway, I cooked the fries twice, in the classic Belgian manner. I cooked the mussels in a broth of wine, shallots, butter, garlic and beer. My friends said they were very good, although I can't say, as I do not like mussels. I had two microwaved White Castle hamburgers.

Also, I forgot to chill the white wine. Luckily I had my frosted Angels mug. So while the two most beautiful girls I have ever known ate mussels cooked in beer and Belgian frites with roasted garlic mayonaisse, I ate my White Castle burgers with A1 sauce and drank wine out of a frosted baseball mug. I have issues.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New York Pizza

The last time I was in New York City my plane touched down at midnight and I did not get off the plane until 4:45. I could tell twenty different stories about what a nightmare it was, but I'll only share a couple things. It was the middle of August and the plane got noticeably hotter as the hours went by. At one point the flight attendant said "We are out of water and the toilets are at 100% capacity. If you have to go we can't stop you, but just be aware of this." And nobody would tell us why we were waiting so long. (Thanks, Jet Blue.)

It was the closest I have ever come to the proverbial thin line between civilization and chaos. As a final beat-down to my soul, when I finally got off the plane with my carry-on bag that reads "UCLA Basketball," I found myself at the baggage claim next to Joakim Noah, who looked at my bag and smirked.

By the time I got back to Manhattan and got to sleep it was after 8 AM. I woke up around 1 in the afternoon, very hungry. My friend and I walked down the block and went in to the first pizza place we found. It was the best slice I have ever had. Am I remembering it more fondly because of what I had endured that morning? Absolutely. Do I care? No. On that trip I ate at Totonno's and John's on Bleecker, and I suppose technically they were "higher quality" slices, but I will always remember this slice as the best I have ever tasted.

Flank Steak with Humboldt Fog

One of my best friends loves only three things: happy hour sangrias at Bar Celona, Ninja Warrior, and Humboldt Fog cheese. For his birthday party this year I cooked dinner. I marinated a flank steak for a couple days then grilled it up. I split a loaf of bread, drizzled it with olive oil, crumbled some Humboldt Fog on it, and grilled it.

I assembled the whole thing with chopped arugula. It was a hit.

Fast Food Review: Popeyes

Just as I will always refer to Costco as "Price Club," Old Pasadena as "Old Town," and Brock Landers as "Dirk Diggler," this restaurant will always be Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits to me. I don't care that they are now calling themselves "Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen." It's not like they're suddenly doing crawfish boils in the parking lot and selling bottles of Turbodog. It's still the same stuff. And in no way is that depressing.
My friend and I were driving past the Alhambra location when we spotted a sign for Super Popcorn Chicken, and we had to find out what it was. There was nobody else eating in the place, just a semi-deranged man who kept coming in and out with different pieces of newspaper. The guy working there was obviously the owner, and a very nice guy, but with a strange desire to talk to us the entire time we were eating.
But Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits isn't exactly The French Laundry, so I didn't care. Besides, the popcorn chicken rocked. They were huge pieces of white meat chicken that put Kentucky Fried Chicken's (sorry, never gonna start calling it KFC) popcorn chicken to shame. We also got an order of the butterfly shrimp, which were decent although overcooked.
I don't know how many other Popeyes are offering the Super Popcorn Chicken, but if you see one, go for it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cava (Portland)

While trying to decide where to go for dinner, my friends suggested Cava. I had never heard of it, but since I was a guest in their house and I respect their food opinions, I agreed. With their Kiwi accents, though, I thought they said "Carver," so I was expecting a place with meat and not much else (not that that's a bad thing.)

When we pulled up to the place I couldn't believe it. It looked like a laundromat or a dive bar. The picture above was taken on the way out when you could kind of see inside the windows, but on the way in you could not see anything. Unbelievably, we walked into a gorgeous, dark wooden bar area, then around a corner and out into a beautiful courtyard. Never in a million years would I have expected this.

We started with some pints of a local beer, Hopworks ESB, and a cheese plate. Good stuff. I ordered a hamburger with blue cheese and caramelized onions. It was cooked perfectly and served with some of the best fries I have had.
I am glad I gave up eating barbecue for one meal, because I may have found my new favorite Portland restaurant. I certainly prefer it to any place I have eaten downtown.

Frozen White Castle Burgers

It's possible that frozen White Castle hamburgers are a great untapped culinary realm. (It's also possible I am a complete idiot.) I try not to ever use a microwave, and this was no exception; I wrapped them in foil and heated them in the oven for about 20 minutes.

In the above burger on the left, I made a vinaigrette of mustard, oil, garlic and green onion that I spooned over feta cheese. In the burger on the right, I made an aioli, sauteed some red onions in balsamic vinegar, and threw on some arugula. The burger on the right was by far the better one, although if you put aioli on a book I would probably eat it.

The Greatest Lunch of The Year

My friend and I were running errands on a Saturday and she really wanted McDonald's. I'm not a huge fan of the place but I am of her, and besides, they had a new promotion for the "Chipotle BBQ Bacon Angus Third Pounder" that looked too good to pass up. We stopped by the McDonald's on Colorado Blvd., by Pasadena City College, and also right next to Zankou Chicken.
Partly because I was worried the chipotle burger would suck, but mostly because I can never pass up a chicken tarna wrap, I ducked into Zankou and picked one up. What an amazing meal. The chipotle burger was the best McDonald's burger I have ever had (not really saying much, but still, there was a time in junior high when I ate them a lot.)
And the chicken tarna, smeared (like I always do) with so much garlic sauce that I can kill houseflies by breathing on them, was fantastic, as always.