Monday, February 23, 2015

Tsujita: Tsukamen-style ramen

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If you are a loyal reader of this blog, you may have picked up on our ramen obsession. Naturally, I had to seek out ramen for my last meal out in LA. This was probably one of my favorite meals all week just due to the uniqueness of the flavors and style of ramen. The coolest part was that this was Tsukamen-style ramen with the noodles served on the side for dipping. 
The layout of the restaurant is tiny. There are only a few seats at the counter and two other tables. When you arrive, you put your name on the list and hang out outside till seats open up. Thankfully at lunch time we didn't have to wait more than 15-20 minutes.  
There are only two options on the menu: Ramen with the noodles mixed in the broth or Tsukamen with the noodles on the side. Since I had never tried it before, I went with the Tsukamen and added an extra egg and char siu pork. Honestly the  portion was so generous that the add-ins were unnecessary. 
My favorite part of the dish was the noodles. They were perfectly chewy and balanced the heat and spice of the ramen broth. I was surprised that they were served slightly chilled, but I am told that is the thing. I alternated between dipping then in the broth and spooning the broth over the noodle bowl. It was so fun to play with my food! 
Compared to the picture above, the broth took on a deep red color once I stirred in all of the ingredients. This is largely due to the generous portion of chili powder that I incorporated into the broth. Thankfully the heat was mild to medium, and I never felt overwhelmed by the spice level. For heat lovers, there was extra chili powder served on the side. And if you are spice-averse I recommend stirring in little bits at a time. Also, if the broth gets too spicy you can just spoon it over the noodles to temper the heat.  
The flavor of this broth was increasingly complex with each bite. The eggs were perfectly cooked to a soft-boiled consistency. I felt like I experienced new flavors with each bite.

What I love about ramen is the multitude of variations I have tried and how each one seems to surpass the others.  Tsujita was a fun foray into the world of Tsukamen, and I can't wait to find more places to try it out. If any readers know of a place to get Tsukamen in the DC-area, we would appreciate the suggestions!


A.O.C. Beverly Hills

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At least one meal of every trip I have taken tends to be over-hyped and underwhelming. A.O.C. in Beverly Hills perfectly fit the bill on this trip. I had read about A.O.C. on EaterLA and when I mentioned it to Martie, she had already made a reservation. Unfortunately, both in terms of service and food, this visit was unable to replicate her previous experience. 
The atmosphere and decor of A.O.C. was lovely. We sat on a covered patio that felt like you were dining at a Mediterranean house in Spain or Greece. But from the outset the service was disappointing. Our waiter seemed both overtaxed and disinterested throughout the duration of the meal. We had to flag him down for drinks and barely saw him after he took our order.  
The menu, however, looked promising with loads of interesting ingredients. Our first dish was a flat bread with lamb bacon, caramalized leeks, and chèvre. We were both intrigued by lamb bacon, but I can now see why it has not caught on. It was missing the salty fatty richness of pork, and the gamey texture of lamb. I was left reminded of deli-style ham. Martie was hoping for a crispier bacon to balance the soft bread. 
I had also been really excited about the arroz negro with calamari and saffron aioli. We had a hung jury on this dish. Martie liked the high acidity of the black rice and the pairing with the calamari. I disliked this dish because of the massive glob of mayonnaise served on top. Sometimes a little aioli can add some richness to a salty dish, but I thought this tasted like Hellmans and was just way too much. I also found the rice to be overly salty and the calamari to be a tad chewy. 

Unfortunately, the one dish I really enjoyed is not pictured. We ate it too fast! Imagine pappardelle topped with soft roasted Tahitian squash (similar to butternut or kabocha squash) and spinach with grated Parmesan and cracked black pepper. 
Next we had cauliflower with curry powder and red wine vinegar. The cauliflower was flavorful, but the size of this dish, compared to the others,  was confusingly large. 
Lastly, we had black cod with roasted carrots and onions. It was topped with a nondescript creme. The roasted vegetables seemed out of place with such a light fish, and would have been better suited to a meatier protein. While the skin of the cod had a nice crispness, the rest of the dish was quite bland. The only saving grace was that the waiter, who had otherwise ignored us for most of the night, noticed our dissatisfaction and offered to take it off the bill. 

For a restaurant that receives such high accolades, we were both surprised by the mediocrity across the board. Thankfully, neither of us were starved for delicious food this week and we knew more excellent meals would be on the way. 


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Carbon Beach at the Malibu Beach Inn

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From the desert and mountains of Palm Springs we drove due West and up the PCH to Malibu.  Driving into town, you can't see much because the houses overlooking the cliffs take up much of the view. So my first real shot of Malibu was sitting down to lunch at the Carbon Beach Restaurant at the Malibu Beach Inn. The moment instantly called for a glass of wine to celebrate the beauty and warm sun. I tried a delicuously buttery Chardonnay from a Malibu winery called Dolin. This picture is just perfection. 
The food options were mostly light traditional American lunch fare - salads and sandwiches. Of course we had to go a little outside the box. I ordered the fish tacos, which, instead of standard tilapia or other white fish, came with seared ahi tuna. 
I was impressed with the generous portion of the fish, and was happy to spread California avocados all over my tacos. They were light and refreshing with good quality ingredients. 
Martie picked an even more unusual option - tuna tartare with Indian spices. Again, it was a very generous portion of tuna. She raved about the combination of fresh fish and Indian spices and used the crunch buttery pappadum cracker on top to scoop up the fish. 
But more than the food, we were awed by the view. Basking in the sun with the waves lapping against the rocks was pure bliss. 
After brunch we drove deeper into Malibu to go on a hike along the cliffs on the coast. California, with its range of landscapes is stunningly beautiful and Malibu is no exception. Just to make my snow covered East Coast readers a little jealous, I wanted to share a few pictures from our hike along the cliffs, down to an isolated rocky beach, and ultimately back up for sunset. 

Certainly beats the snow piles back in DC! 


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Cheeky's: Brunch in the desert

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Yesterday we made the drive from Santa Monica out to Palm Springs for a little extra heat and relaxation. Most of the day was spent poolside pretending to be in a Mad Men episode. No, really. The whole town is still decorated in a "modernist" theme circa the 1960s. It's pretty cool to see that era preserved.
Downtown Palm Springs has a couple of streets with restaurants and artsy shops.
On our way to our hotel, we checked Yelp for a good suggestion.  We were lucky to find a little outside cafe called Cheeky's. Apparently everyone else in Palm Springs had the same idea. 
We were seated after 20 minutes in a really pleasant garden. 
We first ordered fresh pressed blood orange juice to refresh us from the desert heat. 
The offerings all sounded amazing, but finally I settled on the Huevos Rancheros.
These were some of the best I've had. The were two tostadas toasted to a crisp. 
Underneath and between the two tostadas was layered a white bean purée. On top were two fried eggs, melted cheese, and a scoop of guacamole. The whole thing was drizzled with a garlic tomato sauce that was more of a purée than a chunky salsa consistency. I tried to get a little of each ingredient in each bite, and it was total perfection. 
Martie ordered eggs poached in artichoke heart cups. They were nestled on a bed of creamed kale and topped with hollandaise like a traditional benedict. The artichoke cups were freshly steamed and added a nice change from the traditional English muffin.  
The rest of our day didn't involve too much interesting food, so I will update you next on our Saturday brunch in Malibu. 


Friday, February 20, 2015

Sugarfish: LA Sushi Franchise

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Last night we went to dinner at Sugarfish- a sushi restaurant with a handful of locations around LA.  In DC, I resent any restaurant that has chainified itself, i.e. sold out for quantity over quality. But I can't say that quality or quantity were sacrificed at Sugarfish. I was super impressed by both the stellar quality sushi and unique array of fish served. 
Although you can order a la carte, most diners at Sugar Fish opt for one of the pre-selected meals coming with an assortment of sushi pieces and hand rolls. We decided to go this route and ordered the "Trust Me" option (there's also a "Trust Me Lite" and a bigger version called the "Trust Me Nozawa"). 

First each party gets a small plate of edamame. Standard and simple. 
The first fish dish was tuna sashimi. It was served in a light broth, although I am sad to say I forgot to ask what was in it. We also dipped in soy sauce for extra flavor. 
A unique part of the meal was trying albacore tuna- yes, the same stuff they use to make canned tuna. I had low expectations but was surprised by the light flavor. A nice touch is that the generous portions of fish are draped over warm rice. I find it hard to describe sushi, so aside from naming the fish, I think I will let the pictures do the talking. 
Salmon sushi topped with toasted sesame seeds. Almost left a slight taste of bagels and lox in my mouth-in a good way! 
I opted for tuna instead of the raw scallop. 
Glistening yellowtail. 
Toro hand roll. If you eat it when it first comes out, the nori is crispy and perfectly compliments the soft rice and fatty tuna. 
Lastly, a blue crab handroll. By this point, I was so stuffed, I could barely finish it. But I loved every bite.  
Today we are off to Palm Springs for an overnight spa retreat! See you in the desert!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Huckleberry: Live blogging Los Angeles

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Last year I live blogged my week in SF with links to all of my favorite food destinations (See: This week I am back on the west coast visiting my best friend, Martie, and I will be live blogging all of the delicious food I discover. Hope you'll join me on the journey!

For breakfast today, we are in Santa Monica at an adorable cafe called Huckleberry. It reminds me of a local version of Le Pain Quotidian.
To order you walk up to the counter and place an order. It is almost impossible not to be tempted by the array of fresh salads and baked good arrayed before you. The breakfast offerings are mainly egg based, ranging from simple breakfast sandwiches to elaborate vegetable and meat bowls topped with fried or poached eggs.  
To share Martie ordered us a side of carrots, boldly stating they are the best carrots she has had. I have to say I agree. Unlike most cooked carrot dishes, which are overly sweet, these carried a savory note. They were lightly roasted and topped with an unlikely combination of avocado, cilantro, caraway seeds and a light lemon infusion. They were both refreshing and decadent at the same time. 
As my main, I ordered a quinoa bowl topped with market fresh vegetables and two sunny side up eggs. The vegetables included roasted butternut squash and caramalized onions. 
I mixed the whole thing up to spread the egg goodness all around. If I made this dish myself, I might add something green and something red, but I can't really complain. For such a healthy breakfast, this was packed with flavor.  
Martie went with eggs poached in a tomato lentil stew. She compared the dish to shakshuka- the formidable middle eastern eggs baked in tomato sauce and topped with feta cheese. Her only complaint was that the sauce was a tad sweet. This was definitely one of the heartier options on the menu, but didn't leave her feeling uncomofortably full. 
Since breakfast we have been strolling around the Santa Monica downtown. I have to admit I understand the appeal of the Cali lifestyle. 

Until dinner time!