Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fat Spoon: An Uni-licious lunch

Soon after I returned from my Southeast Asian trip, I started my new job. My new offices are in Downtown LA, so it was a perfect opportunity to check out the lunch dining scene in the area. My friend and I decide to check out Japanese curry house, Fat Spoon, located in Little Tokyo. I am not very familiar with the area, but already knew I wanted to come back to check out Kagaya, Spice Table, Daikokuya, Orochan and Shin-Sen-Gumi.

Fat Spoon is owned by Michael Cardenas of nearby Lazy Ox Canteen and Toranoko, and is known for their curries and pastas. The prices are reasonable at about $10 an entree. There were so many items on the menu that sounded appealing such as pork cutlet curry, pasta with salted cod roe, but I knew I had to order the uni pasta from the Specials menu.
Uni croquette was also available on the Specials menu.
The croquette had a nice panko breading that wasn't greasy. The mashed potato and uni filling was creamy and rich. I love the strong taste of uni, so I thought that the uni flavor here wasn't strong enough. I wonder if they diluted the flavor a bit to cater to more palates, or perhaps there was more potato than uni. Still a tasty dish but I longed for more of that distinct uni taste.
Uni pasta with mushrooms made up in the uni flavor department. I really enjoyed the al dente pasta that was coated with creamy sauce and mixed with earthy mushrooms and chunks of rich orange sea urchin. It was glorious! I wanted to slurp up every last drop of sauce. I loved the amount of sea urchin in the dish. Even their selection of mushrooms was spot on.

Fat Spoon is a great addition to the area. The restaurant is quaint and homey. I liked the simple menu and how comforting the dishes felt. Sure I wanted more uni flavor in the croquette, but that's a personal preference. I enjoyed my pasta and there are many other items that I'd like to try.

Hits: uni, pasta, prices
Misses: like most restaurants in the area, there is no parking
Rating: ***1/2

Fat Spoon
329 E 1st St.,
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 621-7890

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hong Kong: Ending Southeast Asia trip with one last dining escapade

We weren't even planning to visit Hong Kong. After all, our two-week Southeast Asian trip was already packed, with stops in Singapore, Saigon, Siem Reap, Bangkok and Bali. But since our Cathay Pacific flight back to LA had to stop in Hong Kong, we decided to spend a night with the only goal of eating our way through the city. We were staying in Causeway Bay, and it turned out that we didn't even have to leave the area for our culinary tour.

Our first stop was Tai Ping Koon whose chicken wings were recommended by my friend who grew up in Hong Kong.

Complimentary sweet roll was warm and buttery.

Their famous chicken wings are cooked in a sweet soy sauce. I really enjoyed the wings, the flavors were infused into the meat and skin. Finger lick'in good. I thought it was a bit pricey at US$20 until I realized that I was in Hong Kong, not other parts of Southeast Asia.

Our next stop was for the famous snake soup at Se Wong Yee which came recommended by a local. It was a tiny little cafe with all locals, but they had an English menu available.

Snake soup is supposed to be good for the health. The soup was a savory broth (the same consistency as soup that has been thickened with corn starch) with chicken, mushrooms, wood ear fungus, lemongrass and thin slices of snake that looked like eel. You probably would not even know it was snake in the soup because it was mixed in with other ingredients.

Pig's knuckle was not what I had expected. I was hoping for the stewed pork hock with fatty pieces of pigs feet and lots of skin and bones. This version was like a cold cut. It was still tasty with lots of cartilage, just not what I was hoping for.

After walking off some of our food, we stumbled upon a food stand that was cooking up skewers.

Intestines and fish ball skewers were served with a very spicy sauce that really packed a punch. I love just buying skewers and eating it right on the sidewalk, with the sauce still dripping off the meat.

Just down the street was Tai Woo Seafood Restaurant. We were drawn to it because of the fresh seafood in tanks right at the entrance.

We ordered crab and mantis, which the waiter brought live to our table. The mantis was interesting looking while it was squiggling in the bag.

The mantis is like a giant shrimp but the meat was almost similar to lobster. It was topped with some sort of salt and pepper breadcrumbs.

The crab was small and boiled, so it was rather plain. Would have liked some sauce on it, maybe a chili crab style or pepper sauce.

It took a lot of work to eat through it because it wasn't sufficiently cracked, but it did have lots of creamy mustard. Soooo good!

Next we headed to the famous Taiwanese soup dumpling joint, Din Tai Fung.

Here, we ordered the truffle and traditional dumplings. Can never get over how delicious these dumplings are. The truffle was a nice fragrant addition to the flavorful soup in the dumpling.

Our last stop was Ho Hung Kee, for wonton noodles. This is the most nondescript Michelin Star place I've ever been. Tiny hole in the wall restaurant that still had squatting toilets! And the food here is cheap.

A tiny bowl of noodle soup was topped with wonton. I liked the noodles and the flavorful broth. The wonton was plump and filled with shrimp and pork.

The pigs feet was exactly what I had been searching for. It was fatty and glutenous. I really enjoyed eating the skin and biting every piece of fat and meat off the many bones on the trotter. Lots of good salty flavoring too.

We managed to do quite a lot of damage in an afternoon. I don't think we needed more than a day in Hong Kong. If you do it right, you can eat through the city in just one night.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bali: Feasting on Indonesian cuisine

On our first night in Bali, we popped by Echo Beach for a bite and drinks.

Bali is known for it's fresh and affordable seafood. We selected the items we wanted, and the chef grilled it up for us.

If you are unlucky, you may stumbled upon pricey and mediocre restaurants in Bali. So for the next couple nights, we decided to stay in for dinner. We had two housekeepers at the villa who cooked up a feast for us. I found their food to be way better than what we would get at a restaurant.

Soto Ayam is Indonesian chicken soup. There was shredded chicken meat, vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, boiled eggs in a spicy chicken broth. I really enjoyed this dish. The broth had very developed flavors, like chicken had been stewing in it for many hours.

Chicken and pork satay were marinated well and juicy. The BBQed meat sticks were served with sliced cucumbers and a spicy peanut sauce.

Gado Gado is an Indonesian salad topped with peanut sauce. There are different versions of gado gado, some with a lot of raw vegetables and fruits, but this version had boiled potatoes, beans, hard boiled eggs and deep fried tofu.

Kang Kong with chili and dried shrimp was spicy to the limit.

Mee Goreng translates to fried noodles. Usually, mee goreng is loaded up with meats when it is served as a main course. This version was simply mixed with vegetables since it was served as a side to be eaten with the curry dishes. The dish was spicy, leaving my mouth was on fire. The great thing about homecooked food is that they can be made to your specification i.e. load up on the heat.

Suckling pig is a traditional Balianese dish that I had been looking forward to. The crispy skin was my favorite part, even though the shredded pork was also tasty. The skin crackled in my mouth and had a thin layer of fat underneath it. I would have been ecstatic with just a whole plate of skin.

The next night, we sampled some more local dishes.

Tom Yum seafood was loaded with shrimp, squid, mushrooms and vegetables. A nice combination of spice and tang.

Wasn't exactly sure what this was called but it was intriguing and very delicious. It was a sort of stir fry with shredded chicken, okra and dried shrimp, young jackfruit and fried shallots. I loved all the textures in this dish, and it was very flavorful.

Chicken curry was spicy with succulent pieces of chicken and potatoes. The curry was fragrant with lemongrass and turmeric undertones.

Sayur Lodeh is a vegetable dish that is cooked in coconut curry. It's usually a more watery curry that is not too spicy. I enjoyed the variety of vegetables and how they were all cooked till soft.

Whole fish was simply seasoned and grilled.

And for dessert, the king of fruits - durian.

Love the creamy and pungent flesh of the durian. I like durian both at room and fridge temperature, but if you are weird about textures, pop it in the fridge first. The flesh will harden a bit, which may be more palatable than the custardy texture when it's lukewarm .

I typically prefer to eat out when I am on vacation, but if you have two amazing local cooks in the house, you'll find a more authentic meal at home. Wouldn't have had it any other way.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Our Villa in Canggu, Bali

Here are some shots of the villa that we stayed in Bali, thanks to my generous dad who arranged this lodging for my bf and friends. My parents usually stay in the Seminyak area when they visit Bali, but this year, they rented a villa in Canggu, just north of Seminyak. It's a quiant little village (what part of Indo isn't quaint!) that is filled with rice paddy fields, and the closest beach just a few minutes away at Echo Beach. I much prefer Canggu to the bustling, touristy and congested town of Kuta.

It is very humbling to see the stark difference outside the walls in the rural village vs. the 5 Star living conditions in the villa.

Our awesome pool overlooking the fields.

View of the sunset never got old.

This is probably one of the nicest places I've stayed on a vacation. In Bali, your dollar stretches pretty far (except for wine, which is rather pricey). The view is gorgeous, the lifestyle is chill, the surf is great, the locals are friendly and the food is great. This really is a paradise town.

Friday, November 11, 2011

East Indy (Sivatel Bangkok): Hotel buffet ain't so bad

I typically shy away from hotel buffet lunches but I succumbed when we only had a few hours before our flight out of Bangkok, and the sign outside of the East Indy restaurant at our hotel Sivatel boasted of "traditional street food".

We only had about 35 minutes before the restaurant closed so we headed straight for the buffet.

The appetizer selection included spicy pork with sausage, boiled egg with mixed seafood, spicy minced pork salad, pork Chinese sausage salad, green roasted chili dip and samosas.

Stir Fried Kale and Oyster Sauce, and Stir Fried Squid with Curry

Pumpkin Curry, and Braised Tofu and Egg

Fish & Chili Soup, and River Prawns with Chinese Chili Sauce

Egg Noodles with Pork and Black Pepper, and Fried Rice

Preserved cabbage soup with spare ribs had good flavors. I only wished that the soup was hotter, and that the spare ribs had some bone to it.

Dim sum selection was pretty ordinary.

My selection of appetizers were pretty good. The pork larb was spicy with a citrus zing to it. I went to town on the sliced Chinese sausage, and returned for seconds on the samosas.

I enjoyed pretty much everything here. The chili squid and prawns had good flavoring, and the pumpkin curry was quite good. The pumpkin was soft but not mushy, and the combination of the curry spices and sweetness from the pumpkin worked. The only thing on the plate I did not care for was the noodles. It had a black bean sauce that was overpoweringly sour.

For something sweet, they offer coffee and chocolate drinks.

For dessert #1, I had Vanilla ice cream with palm seeds, pineapple chunks, beans and drizzled with condensed milk. Love the creaminess and sweetness of the condensed milk with the ice cream.

Dessert # was a couple choices of kuih (little coconut and pandan cakes).

Overall, not a bad selection of food. I wouldn't say it's outstanding, but it was a good way to get a flavor of Southeast Asian cuisine when you don't want to venture out of the hotel into the heat.

East Indy @ Sivatel Bangkok
53 Wittayu Road
Lumpini Patumwan
Bangkok, 10330 Thailand