New Concept - Monterey Park
Q: You have leftover sushi rice, leftover homemade smoked beef brisket, and a hungry 4 year old. Now what?A: Desecrate your ancestors.Don't hate me. Thinly sliced brisket sauced with sweet BBQ sauce, and tied on with a ribbon of nori. My kid ate nori today and liked it for the first time. He ate sushi rice today and liked it. Moreover, he was entertained by the idea that the beef was held on with a seatbelt.Just be glad I don't keep bologna and yellow mustard in the house.
Temple of Duck
Some foods can only be had in their far away, native lands, prepared by the experienced hands of wizened old cooks: mopani worms in Zimbabwe, or live monkey brain near the Temple of Doom, where Indiana Jones went with Steven Spielberg's wife and that cute Asian kid.
Just as you won't find a great pastrami in a diner with a ten page menu, one must seek out a specialist for great Peking duck. For me, that means driving far beyond the backwaters of Orange County and into San Gabriel Province, practically annexed by the greatest concentration of Chinese peoples outside of Asia.
In this mighty valley once roamed the American outpost of a legendary Beijing duck house called Quaanjude, which sadly closed down several years ago. Picking up the mantle is a relative newcomer: Lu Din Gee Cafe, where seven of us gathered recently for a duck feast.
Some places, like Empress Seafood will bring out a whole roasted duck, head and all, and make a show of carving it tableside. LDG carves the bird in the kitchen, and only serves the breast meat and the crispy skin in the first course. The legs and other parts are served in a later soup course. Tasting of roasted duck, the soup here is very good. Whoever said duck soup is easy never made a good one.
The skin and breast meat arrives at the table accompanied by thin flour pancakes, a salty black bean paste called tian mian jiang, and a plate of julienned scallion and cucumber. Some places serve a fluffy white steamed bun instead of the thin pancake. I prefer this more traditional form. The pancake is smeared lightly with bean paste, then wrapped around pieces of skin and meat, proving that the Chinese also invented burritos. The best part: tasting like duck chicharron, the perfectly roasted skin gave up what little duck fat remained and reminded me how much better I like duck than, say, turkey, or chicken.
Note to self: learn how to roast a halfway presentable duck by next Thanksgiving.
A perfect Peking duck is the culinary equivalent of simultaneously juggling a bowling ball, a chainsaw, and a wet paintbrush: a balance of conflicting requirements. The prized, crispy skin must be defatted sufficiently, yet the meat below should be greaseless. A humid oven initially helps to defat, but later inhibits crisping. The breast meat cooks faster than the leg meat, meaning the breast will be dry when the thigh is perfect.Involving air compressors, plenty of refrigerator space, and a few days of preparation, Peking duck is difficult to pull off well at home. If you care to try, click here to find out more. I can make one every day for the rest of my life and I won't ever pull one off as good as Lu Din Gee Cafe. Screw it - next Thanksgiving, we're going to a restaurant for duck, that's why they're there.
Dessert included a passionfruit jelly made with konjac. I saw the molds at IKEA!
A sweet dessert made of peas, something the Japanese would call yokan
Lu Din Gee Cafe
1039 E Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA
OC Weekly digs ramen
The OC Weekly has graciously published my first freelance piece today. Many thanks to Gustavo Arellano for running the piece! In case you were wondering what happened to the rest of my ramen writeups, this idea morphed into the OC Weekly story. Click here to read the story.
37 words for "belch"
Perhaps you've heard that the Innuit language has 37 words for the various states of "snow." I have no idea if this is myth or truth. I learned it in the context that human beings assign narrowly defined distinctions to things we hold most dear, yet we have only one word for "love" in the English language to describe all the ways people are capable of loving.
Another cultural mythoid holds that South Pacific islanders belch after eating to express satisfaction with their meal, and gratitude to the person who cooked it. This leads me to wonder how restaurant critics on those islands write reviews. Are there 37 words for "belch?"
(This is what happens when the mind is allowed to wander unsupervised instead of writing about the wonderful Peking duck we enjoyed at Lu Din Gee Cafe in San Gabriel last Saturday. A review with photos is coming, I promise)
Before you and your Samoan linebacker and/or restaurant-reviewer brothers get your panties all in a bundle, let's make clear I'm just playin' here...
Dr. Literstein on Good vs. Right
We went skiing in Park City, Utah last week only to find ourselves unpreparedly in the midst of the Sundance Festival, which seemed more L.A. than L.A.: film geeks and wannabes everywhere talking endlessly about themselves.So at noon, we escaped to a terrific old bar called the No Name Saloon because you can't drink all day unless you start early.
We drank massive, liter steins of delicious, cold beer. I said it was past noon... and we were on vacation... Don't get all 12 step on me.
What food goes good with that much beer? Sometimes the question is not what's good food, but what's the right food. Ideally, your local tavernkeep will run a joint like Santa Monica's Father's Office, where the hamburgers are among the best in a town full of great burgers.
But in the absence of really good food, I'll take really right food. In this case, the No Name served up a righteous basket of fresh fried shoestrings, potato chips, and onion rings. Just greasy enough to keep one's gullet lubricated for more beer, and starchy enough to fill the stomach and keep me (I mean one) from making an ass out of himself.
Sometimes, though, when the winds and tides align, right food will also be good. Buffalo wings go great with beer, and the best on the planet used to be made in a dive bar called The Rafters in Cortland, NY. We'd head there after work and order a plate of outsized chicken wings that could've come off an albatross, or a pterodactyl. George, the owner, would never tell anyone where he sourced his wings, or what he put in his magic sauce. Crunchy, meaty, salty, saucy and custom spiced just for my asbestos palate, George's wings remain the best I've ever tasted. Proving that you can't go home again, the Rafters is no more, and the puny, pallid wings that most bars sadly serve these days are neither right, nor good. RIP, George, and thanks for everything.