Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Fun Foray to Famima!! (For Phil)

A couple months ago my buddy Phil requested a "booze meter" to represent how many drinks I had for a certain meal. For instance, if I wax poetically about how great Burger King's "Chicken Fries" are at 1 in the morning, it would be helpful to point out that I had a certain amount of alcohol in my system. (Although I guess if I were ever to rave about tiny pieces of chicken processed into the shape of french fries, my lack of sobriety would be self-evident.)

But, believe it or not, almost all of the meals I consume these days, and certainly almost all of the ones that I photograph and write about, are consumed sober. I don't know if it makes it any better that I willingly eat things like a Carl's Jr. Teriyaki Burger when I'm of sound mind and body, but that's how it is.

But I thought I would include a recent spectacular exception. The other night was Elizabeth's sister's 21st birthday, and we went out in Old Town for quite a while. At the end of the evening, after the girls had gone home and I was considering grabbing a cab, I had a better idea. My friends Jim and Rachel were on their honeymoon in Africa and I was checking in on their cat every day, so I figured I would just walk over to their place and spend the night. On the way I passed by Famima!! and decided I could do with a late night snack.

I got myself a Po' Boy Sub: turkey, ham, pepperjack cheese, mustard and red onion. I also grabbed a pork bun and a bag of Maui Onion Dirty Chips. Dirty Chips are made with no artificial flavors or preservatives and are always extremely crispy. I like all of their flavors, but Maui Onion is my favorite.

I walked over to my friends' house, put the food on the counter and contemplated what to do. I took a bite of the pork bun. I have had at least 100 of these Famima!! pork buns over the years, but I have always consumed them within 5 minutes of purchase. After the walk and their cooling-down, something was lost. I didn't really enjoy it; the room temperature dough was like chewing on a bar towel. So I took the pork out and added it to the sandwich.

I took some mustard out of the fridge and added a generous amount to the sandwich. I put a large handful - well, the whole bag - of chips into the middle of it. It was awesome. Admittedly, I could have been eating dog food at this point (or, even worse, a Lucky Boy chili cheeseburger) and I probably would have liked it. But it was still good. The pork didn't add anything to the sandwich, but then again it didn't take anything away. It was mostly just a barbecue flavor in-between the ham and turkey.

This was so good that I would gladly eat one of these sober. Although, let's be honest - I never will.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shogun Restaurant

Sometimes I write about restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley that are more than just restaurants to me. I've lived here almost my entire life - although even the years I didn't, this still felt like home - and my parents have lived here their entire lives. My grandparents all lived here as well. So I was lucky growing up in that I was exposed to many fun places that became indelible parts of my childhood and thus my life.

Some of these places are long gone, but several remain: Taco Lita, Rick's, Hutch's, and a few others. And Shogun would have to be near the top of that list. Ever since I was a kid, Shogun was the place my family went for birthday celebrations or large, special-occasion family dinners. When Elizabeth's sisters were both in town recently, my parents wanted to meet them and offered to take us all out to dinner anywhere we wanted. Since it was the day after Kate's birthday, I suggested Shogun.

When I was a kid my drink was usually Coke or a Shirley Temple, but now I always get a beer. This time I chose Kirin. Dawn ordered a Royal Hawaiian: vodka, raspberry, guava juice, pineapple juice and sweet & sour in a large, hollowed-out pineapple. I didn't try any but it looked impressive.
In the past my standard appetizer has been the gyoza - they do a great job with it. But lately, with my recent adventures to Asian restaurant happy hours, I have been eating a lot of chicken karaage. I decided to try Shogun's to see how it is. And it's great. It was served with two sauces: sweet & sour, which was good, and a ponzu sauce, which was not. I will be ordering this from now on instead of gyoza when I feel like an appetizer.
Elizabeth, Kate and Dawn decided to get the appetizer sampler, one of the largest such platters I have ever seen: egg rolls, chicken karaage, edamame, tempura, gyoza, and chicken yakitori. If this had been dinner for the three of them they probably couldn't have eaten it all. I had some of the gyoza and yakitori and I loved them both.
When I was a kid I loved the show the teppan chefs put on. I still do. When I was 13, my best friend David and I went to Shogun with my parents for dinner. The cook accidentally threw a sizzling shrimp onto my dad's arm. "Oh, so sorry!" he yelled. "Japanese mistake!" 18 years later all I have to do is "So sorry" to my friend David and he will ask "Japanese mistake?" That sums up the experience perfectly, I think.
They give you two sauces before they cook your food: steak sauce and seafood sauce, although in all fairness, they both taste great with anything. (I like to let my veggies sit in the steak sauce for a couple minutes before I eat them.)
I was the only one of the 6 of us to get fried rice. I have long thought that this is the best fried rice I have ever had. I gave Elizabeth some and she agreed. The salad that comes with each entree is another one of my favorites. I love their ginger dressing.
When I was young I always, 100% of the time, ordered the Banzai chicken and shrimp. Eventually when I got to be a teenager I realized that it was really the shrimp I loved. So now I just order the shrimp entree. They are probably the best shrimp I have ever had. My buddy Murph is also in love with them, and maintains the best meal he has ever had in his life was at Shogun, mostly because of the shrimp. The vegetables are great, too: my favorite are the zucchini and the onion.

My parents, Elizabeth and Dawn all ordered the steak and shrimp. (My parents got an extra shrimp appetizer to go along with it.) The sisters both loved the steak. I have not tried it in years - as I said, I love the shrimp and don't usually leave room for anything else - but I tried one piece of Elizabeth's, and it was great.
And, of course, since it was the day after Kate's birthday, we had them do the whole song-and-silly-hat-and-picture routine, and she got her free ice cream.

Everyone loved their meal. Well, everyone except my dad, unfortunately. (Unfortunate because he was on the one who paid for the meal.) He was not a big fan of his steak and wondered if the place had changed ownership since he had last been there, because he really felt the quality of everything except the shrimp had gone downhill. Regardless, the girls and I took plenty of food home with us and picked at it for the next 24 hours.

This was another fantastic meal at Shogun and I'm glad we all got to go.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Charcuterie has been open in Sierra Madre for over a year and a half, but I'd never eaten there. I went in twice: once to look around when they had first opened, and another time when I saw an acquantaince of mine working as a server as I drove by (I stopped in to say hello, although he quit a few days after that.) I knew I would like the place but I still never bothered going. Maybe it was all those years of working just down the street and visiting another restaurant that used to be in this location and served cafeteria-style food. My parents have gone to Charcuterie many times and always loved it. But I just never bothered.

The other day, Elizabeth, her sister and I stopped in. They wanted to shop at Attitude! just down the street, so we thought that would be a good place to eat. This was around 1:30 in the afternoon and there was only one other table occupied inside, although a few people were scattered outside. I love dining on patios, but it was really hot that day, so we sat inside, by a refrigerator full of cold cuts and cheeses. There was a giant wheel of Humboldt Fog, one of the largest I've ever seen. (They often have one of these at Nicole's in South Pas, but this one looked just a little big bigger.)

On the weekends, Charcutrie offers breakfast until 2 PM. Dawn ordered the short stack of pancakes, and still received a massive pile. She said they were good although not great. I didn't mention this to her, but I'd seen them sitting out for several minutes while Elizabeth's and my sandwiches were being readied. I understand restaurants have to do this and not everything is ready at the same time, but I never understand why restaurants do this in full view of the customers.

Elizabeth ordered the lobster salad sandwich, which she really liked. I took a bite, without the avocado and tomato, of course, and it was really good. I had the reuben, which I really liked as well. It's wasn't too messy and there was a generous amount of meat in it. We both loved the fries that came with our sandwiches: crispy and covered with spices.

I really liked Charcuterie, just like I knew I would. I will definitely be back.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Guinness Ribs

Yesterday was Arthur Guinness Day, the 250th anniversary of Guinness Stout. There is no drink in the world I love more than a perfectly poured pint of Guinness; there are very few things I love more. And my middle name is Arthur. So I had to do something to celebrate. I considered just sitting around drinking Guinness all day, but that seemed a little counter-productive. Although I once did that in Dublin, my brother and I starting at the Guinness Factory and making our way back to the hotel, stopping at several pubs to see which pint we liked the most. (In the end I liked the pint at Mulligan's the best, with The Quays a close second. Interestingly, the pint at the Guinness Factory was the worst I had in all of Ireland.)

For lunch I got four racks of baby back ribs from Taylor's. I emptied two cans of Guinness Draught into a baking dish and placed a wire rack over it. I laid the ribs out on the rack and roasted them in the oven for a couple hours. When they were almost cooked through, I pulled them out and let them rest while the grill got hot.

I got out a bottle of Guinness-flavored Bull's Eye barbecue sauce and coated the ribs, then put them on the grill. I only left them there a few minutes, just long enough to get a few nice char marks on the meat.

These were some of the best ribs I have ever had - and I don't even like ribs. These are not barbecue by any means, pretty much the exact opposite, but still fantastic.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


One of the challenges of having Elizabeth's two sisters here was agreeing on where to eat. Dawn won't eat seafood and will only eat meat when it is cooked well-done. Kate doesn't eat any meat, but she will eat seafood. Before heading down to Olvera Street a couple days ago, I suggested we eat lunch at Islands in Paseo Colorado. I have been eating at Islands for a long time and, although I wouldn't call it great, it is always reliable.

We took a seat at a table underneath a nice picture of a couple guys riding waves. (Also right by the kitchen, where we could hear the cooks trading ribald anecdotes about a couple women they know. We weren't offended - although we thought the guys were complete jackasses - but I imagine most people would have been.)

Elizabeth ordered a couple appetizers as her meal: chicken strips and a quesadilla. I think Islands chicken strips are great, and I love their honey mustard salad dressing (although I think the honey mustard they serve with the strips is lousy.) The quesadilla isn't bad but I've always found it bland, and pretty skimpy on the filling.

Kate had the fish taco. She said it was OK, but not as good as the one she'd had a couple days earlier at Fred's. Dawn ordered the BLT without the T. I forgot to ask her how it was, but she ate all of it, so I imagine she enjoyed it.

I ordered the Kilauea burger - jalapeno and black pepper, pepper jack cheese, red onion strings and chipotle aioli. I had this burger once a couple years ago and didn't really like it, and, if I remember correctly, it made my stomach hurt. So this time I ordered it with a turkey patty. It was only average. For all the toppings they put on the burger, it really didn't have much flavor.

Despite not liking my burger, it was still a good time. My usual entree at Islands is the "Toucan" chicken sandwich. From now on I'm just going to stick with that or some of their tacos, which I also like.