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After reading glowing reviews of Rui Ji, I made it a point to try it. On my first trip, I tried a spicy numbing soup that had such complex, spicy and numbing flavors that I couldn’t wait to go back. This spotless, calm, and very hospitable restaurant is a good choice for anyone who wants a nice ambiance with their authentic food. I may not be an authentic Asian, since I never drink tea with my meal….

I enjoyed the beef tendon dry pot very much. It had the perfect amount of heat and a melody of flavors that infused the dried tofu, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots with a savory satisfying melange of textures and spices that intoxicated me.

The roasted duck was a perfect crispy delight of sweet and moist duck on one occasion, and a mediocre barely warmed flaccid plate of poultry, on another. I think the chef de cuisine on Sundays needs a refresher course, or perhaps they lost their great chef from Saturday 😦

 The baby bok choy and mushroom dish was superb.

The spicy shrimp hot pot was both delicious and uneven. The shrimp were slightly overcooked, and the seasoning was uneven, with very salty wood ear mushrooms, and perfectly seasoned vegetables.

The heavy handed salt addition wasn’t a distraction in the spicy beef noodles, which had excellent hand cut rice noodles and bok choy. The very salted beef eaten with the noodles and vegetables was a balanced dish.

The hot and sour noodles were so overly salted that we sent it back. The bits we ate, we had to eat sparingly as if it was a salty condiment instead of a dish.

All in all, I was happy with the flavors and the complexity of the condiments, but depending on the day and the chef, you could either be ecstatic or disappointed by the simple crime off too much salt or not enough heat to make the duck skin crispy.

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February is the height of cold and flu season, so for me that means it is soup season 🙂 While I love making my own, there are times when soup is just better when someone else makes it for you! Aside from their phenomenal Hainan Chicken, the roasted chicken soup at Side Chick is an excellent alternative; it combines the crispy skin of a roasted chicken with chicken bone broth, noodles, and tender greens all in one hearty, healthy bowl. As with many of the soups in today’s post, this is a great take out option for a sick friend or yourself if you are not feeling well.

I’ve been wanting to try Killer Noodle since they opened, and when a friend on the Westside was running several hours late, I decided to stop in for a ‘snack”. Tsujita now has THREE storefronts all in the same area, including the original, where I ate right after they first opened in 2011. This latest outpost is radically chic, from the moment you walk in, the black backdrop and colorful containers let you know that this is not your hole in the wall ramen shop.

 For newbies to noodles and soups, every condiment is labeled.

I got the medium spice, which was perfectly hot to be able to finish the entire bowl

 of delicious rich broth with ground pork

 while using about five napkins to blow my nose and dab my eyes 🙂

For a much less intense soup, but hearty complex flavors, a Vietnamese Oxtail pho is a great choice. Pho Ha Noi (get it?) serves a very large portion for their version. Easily enough to share, I took half of this home and had two more meals with the leftovers! As you can probably tell from the photo, the oxtails were not really warm, but since they were going into the soup, they were fine, especially since they had great flavor and were very tender.

 The broth was very good, with enough flavor to infuse the beef.

 The usual side accompanied the soup.

One of the times I went to HMart hungry I got their kimchee soup which perfectly hit the spot on a rainy gray day, delivering a spicy bubbly tonic to brighten the day.

 

The last soup in today’s post is from Ruiji, the Sichuan place that came highly recommended; I found it worthy of all the recommendations after just one taste of their food. I ordered the Mao Sih Wong, a melange of blood sausage, intestines, and a plethora of vegetables. This immense, intense bowl is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, and although I enjoyed it, I’m not sure I would order it again, but it was so complex, so intense, and so unique, it made me want to go back for more dishes.

This is the bowl after I mixed it a bit….the amount of blood cake was overwhelming to me, especially since I found I love French and Spanish blood sausage, but not Chinese. I loved all the vegetables, and the chewy intestines and tripe 🙂

Does anyone have any South Bay ramen favorites to recommend?

The caveat to never shop while hungry is one I endeavor to follow, especially when there are so many good choices in the mega Asian supermarkets in the South Bay.

Even though I had heard rave reviews about it from fellow foodaholics, I had never been to HMart, and for my first time, I didn’t want to be ravenous, so I started my tour of the place in their fast food court.

There are actually three sections which prepare everything from bibimbap, a one bowl mix of meat and veggies with rice, to ramen, and Chinese stir-fry. You place you order at the one cashier and pick up from whichever station your food choice is prepared. There is a Las Vegas Keno style electronic display with your ticket # and pick up window, and if you don’t see your number displayed, it is also announced through the loudspeaker. Most items range from $7-$22 and offer fresh, authentically seasoned, and copious servings. Many dishes easily serve 2 people or one large football player.

Since HMart is a Korean Market (it is actually a US chain done in a Korean style), I chose the all in one bowl of a bibimbap. Yes, everything in the picture was under $11 including tax, and yes I managed to finish it all 🙂 The cup in the upper right contains soup, and spicy Korean chili sauce is in the small sealed container.

A close up of the main bowl of veggies.

 Lots of radish and cabbage kimchi on the side.

Another day, another bowl of the same thing, but with slightly different veggies,

 and slightly different sides.

I craved pork one day and what better way than to have it fried with egg over rice? I could only eat about half of this HUGE piece, and barely made a dent in the rice underneath. All this for under $10, made to order, crispy, and savory. I saw other tables with ramen, especially the short rib ramen with a gigantic prehistoric looking sized short rib, but there was no way I could have eaten all that, so I may take to go one rainy day. Note that all to go order are $1 more, but depending on what you order, you may want to take your food to go rather than waste half of it.

Continuing with the fried theme at a food court, I was at Mitsuwa, a Japanese market, and in their food court, Hannousuke, specialized in tempura, and the tempura over rice looked too good to pass up, so I sat down for a bowl before I began my shopping. With the miso soup, rice underneath, and fried vegetables, this was a large serving that could have easily been two meals (at least for me) for $11.

A close up shows more detail, but unless you have X ray vision, you can’t see how much more food there is underneath the shrimp!

I think I will always go shopping hungry now, as long as there is a good Asian Food Court attached to the market 🙂

When a friend, who is a talented chef, recommended going to Pine & Crane, the chances were good that I would enjoy the meal as well as the company 🙂 We arrived around 1:30 pm and savored finding parking nearby, and seats, in this busy popular restaurant.

My bowl of shrimp wonton soup was perfect, from the tender light wontons and vibrant baby bok choy, to the clear delicious broth that tasted as clean as the ingredients used to make the stock. For $9 you get quality, not quantity, so if you want a mammoth bowl of powdered soup base with frozen premade wontons, go somewhere else. I was perfectly satisfied with my portion and my taste buds danced with joy.

My friend was craving the beef roll, and since I had never tried one before, I took a bite of this hoisin spiked roll and realized it was like an Asian version of a burrito for $6.50. It was big enough to share or for one person to eat for a full meal.

My friend also ordered several sides at $3 each, so I could taste more than one thing, and she took all that we didn’t eat home to her husband (he is a lucky man, and he knows it). All four sides were freshly made, flavorful, and used quality ingredients; it was the first time I actually liked wood ear mushrooms! There were plenty of condiments on the table, but we barely added anything to what we ate because everything was so well seasoned and balanced.

It was a good thing we sat down at the communal table because with all our food, we had to spread out our bounty:)

There are a few general rules to follow when trying to trying to decide if a place will be good:

1) Is there a line when nearby places have none?

2) If it is an ethnic cuisine, are there people of that ethnicity eating there?

3) Has a friend with a discerning palate eaten there and liked it?

Mama Lu’s answered all these questions yes, but aside from one dish out of four, I can not say it was good.

They are known for their dumplings, so we ordered some to test out their signature dish. They were surprisingly bland with a heavily cilantro based filling and even with some doctoring with tableside black vinegar and chili oil, the three of us only ate one and left the rest.

I am still on my quest for great beef chow fun. The presentation made me hopeful, because it was not greasy, but once again it required doctoring with several of the tableside condiments to flavor these noodles. Again we left half food on the plate.

The clear winner of the evening were the pea sprouts sautéed in garlic, which we all loved and which needed no doctoring of any kind! This was the only plate we finished completely.

The clear loser of the evening were the clams in black bean sauce which were cloyingly sweet and which none of us wanted to eat after a few bites. We were amazed at how full the restaurant was and how disappointing the dishes were, especially since two of my friends had eaten there before and enjoyed their previous meal. It may have been a change of chefs that night, but I am not keen to venture for another try with their poor batting average on flavors.

A better choice for Chinese is Phoenix Food Boutique, a small outpost of a small chain, catering mostly to take out customers. Their $7.95 shrimp and pork wonton noodle soup was a hearty bowl with wonderful wontons and fresh bok choy. I found the soup itself lacking in depth of flavor, but the ingredients were tender and tasty enough to merit ordering this bowl.

The $8.50 beef chow fun was big enough for 2 people, and chock full of tender slices of beef, crunchy bean sprouts, and tender spring onions. If it were less greasy, this would have been perfect!

Seoul Sausage has been one of my favorite spots ever since they opened a brick and mortar shop near Sawtelle. I’ve been to their Little Tokyo location before, but this time I brought friends for Happy Hour. Since my friends are adept beer drinkers, our wonderful waiter provided us with tastes of several before we placed our order. We shared the Sausage Party platter and all agreed that the sweet and spicy chicken and the kalbi pork were our favorites,

so we followed up with two full sized sausages of both.

One of my friends ordered the Da Rapokki, pork belly spicy ramen, but didn’t like the lack of liquid, but I loved the spicy noodles and pork belly.

I couldn’t come to Seoul Sausage without making my friends try Korean Fried Chicken aka KFC, which was the hit of the evening 🙂

Little Sister in DTLA is across from Bottega Louie on 7th Street, but unless you are looking for it, you will miss the discreet signage and miss the mouthwatering flavors hidden inside this small space. My mouth has been dancing in joy ever since I found this place and I look forward to every meal there just as I look forward to every trip 🙂

I asked my server her favorite dish and I ordered it; grilled prawns, cabbage mix, mango, cucumber, onion, cashews in a lemongrass cilantro dressing. It’s a much bigger serving that it seems and it could easily have been my lunch with the complex and layered flavors and textures.

The pork, shrimp, and crab dumplings with a spicy black vinegar dressing, chive, spinach, and peanuts was so  tender and savory especially with the extra sauce on the side that I didn’t want to share any with my dining companions.

 The sauce could be a  savory cocktail 🙂

The rice paper pho banh cuon beef and beef tendon, herbs, lettuce, pickled onion was a melody of textures and flavors that combined like an accomplished band, bringing in elements of silky rice paper, with sweet spice and chewy tendon.

My least favorite was the spicy lemongrass chicken with garlic and dried chilies which had depth but not to my taste for the combination of spices.

Very little on the menu is over $15 and they have sandwiches, rice and noodle dishes, as well as congee for those who want more starch. It will take awhile to eat my way through their menu, but it’s a challenge I would like to accept!

Los Angeles may be the City of Angels, but traffic is a nightmare; the freeways are constantly clogged in every direction, for every possible reason, ranging from rain to a game. Using the Metro as often as possible is my way of lessening both my carbon footprint and preserving my sanity.  I’ve used the Metro nearly every time I’ve gone downtown and it’s been the most efficient and least stressful method (and no I’m not being paid by them in any way to say this)!

The Miyako Inn is only one block from the Little Tokyo metro stop and in the heart of Little Tokyo. I had of course come to visit this neighborhood and have eaten here before, but it’s a much better experience to stay overnight rather than drive 30-60 minutes (depending on traffic) to get home. To top off the treat of not needing my car, the room was a gift from a friend who left town in the afternoon and asked if I wanted it for the night. YES!

Because of its location in Little Tokyo, the room is done in a very zen style, with clean lines and neutral tones. If I had chosen to drive instead of take the metro, the parking rates were extremely reasonable for downtown, at only $30 for guests with unlimited in and out access. Free Wifi was also included in the entire hotel to guests and visitors alike.

The bed was super comfortable with the most heavenly pillows and one of the most remarkable features of the room was that the windows OPENED! There was a mini fridge, a safe, slippers, and a coffee / tea maker all included in the room along with an ironing board and iron. As an impressive touch they even had organic green tea as one of the in room complimentary choices. Water was a reasonable (for a hotel) $2 a bottle.

 The toilet was a fun Japanese one

 with bidet controls for temperature, water pressure, and direction 🙂

 I found these inside the nightstand top drawer!

 This view lit up at night,

 but the brightest light was the full moon.

I love Seoul Sausage Company‘s brick and mortar location near Sawtelle, and I found that they have a location in Little Tokyo, so I headed out for happy hour and their famous KFC: Korean Fried Chicken. Crisp, sweet, and slightly spicy with bits of pickled radish, this is great bar food, or you can get a full order of 6 for a meal. If I lived in the area I would probably come by here every night for a bite and a drink 🙂

Being in Little Tokyo meant ramen places were just across the street from the hotel. Daikokuya usually has lines out the door, but since I could the literally see the place from my window, I just peeked out until the line was shorter 🙂 I got the miso ramen, and although the noodles were great and the broth was flavorful, it did not have the complexity of the broth at Tsujita.

I couldn’t leave without sushi, so the next day I went to the famous Sushi Gen 30 minutes before they opened and waited in the line that was already a block long. It looked like every table ordered the sashimi deluxe lunch, but it was a massive plate of food and there was no way I could have eaten it all, so I opted for the chirashi which came with miso soup.

This bowl of chirashi was the freshest and biggest I’ve ever enjoyed. It may look like a regular bowl, but underneath the fish you see is ANOTHER layer and the bits that look like bites are actually much larger  than they seem. I would gladly wait an hour or more for this and many people did. Those who arrived when they opened and after noon may not have been able to get seated before they closed between lunch and dinner service. They are famous for a reason; I’ve never paid such a reasonable price (under $20) for such high quality sashimi anywhere in the world.

Michelin stars used to only be award to the white gloved, ironed tablecloth, Baccarat crystal wine glass establishments where you pay as much for a meal as for a nice used car. Tastes have changed, not only in custom but in cuisine, and what was formerly considered too casual or colloquial, is now being recognized as masterful and artful.

Din Tai Fung the famous chain of 150 restaurants has a Michelin star. They are most famous for soup dumplings. One order of their famous dish costs less than $10 and their locations are inside three malls in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

A friend and I went when they first opened inside the Westfield Santa Anita a few months ago, after consolidating two nearby locations into a bigger one inside this mall. We were terribly disappointed by the famous soup dumplings being underdone on top. You can see the top bits are not translucent and look like underdone pasta; we didn’t even finish our order 😦

After subsequent visits, I am happy to report that they have worked out the kinks. They are now serving beautiful and delicious dumplings that are worthy of their reputation.

 Their vegetable side dishes were perfect, whether sautéed bok choy,

 dumplings with chili,

or mustard greens.

Side Chick is around the corner from the huge famous restaurant in the “Asian Alley” of food places on the second floor of the mall. Serving perhaps the only Hainan Chicken Rice in a mall in the USA. The superbly tenderly poached Mary’s chicken is good enough to eat plain, but if you mix the three containers of ginger/scallion, dark soy, and sambal together, you will create the most addictive of sauces. FYI, the rice is cooked with chicken fat, and you are supposed to eat the skin, so this is NOT a low calorie meal, but it is a tasty one! There is also a roasted chicken version that is slightly sweet, if you prefer, and you can specify combo, white, or dark meat. At around $10, this is a great deal,

and you can add garlicky sautéd onchoy side to complete your meal.

I go to malls to eat, not to shop:)

Moving can be a thrilling and exciting experience. Sorting and discarding the old as you prepare for the new possibilities that await is a cathartic process. Moving is also an excruciating experience because transitions are never completely smooth nor simple, especially when moving from one country to another. I am very fortunate to have wonderful friends all over the world because with their help I have been able to retain my sanity through two overseas moves in three years 🙂

As with all moves, once the kitchen is packed, there are certain things that must be modified in order to eat. My wonderful friends and neighbors lent me some silverware and cooking utensils so I could at least make coffee and eat on real plates. Fortunately there were some great options for take out nearby like Happy Nouilles. They serve a mix of Asian food, from sushi to satay, and although they are in a suburb catering to French tastes, their dishes are fresh and have enough Asian sensibility to satisfy my picky palate.

Their garlic shrimp actually tasted like garlic with nice sized fresh shrimp.

The mixed vegetables included authentic Asian ingredients like wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts.

The Thai basil beef had a nice aromatic flavor as well as peppers, onions, and real Thai basil.

Even the side dish of noodles included fresh vegetables and had a nice light sauce.

The shrimp shu mai were a bit bland, but in keeping with French taste preferences.

Because my order totaled over 20 Euros ($22 USD), they included some shrimp chips

and a coconut “snowball” mochi dessert that was quite tasty.

While I still had some furniture, I invited some friends over for one last apéro at my place. It was a French version of a potluck. I provided (bought) roast chicken, sand carrots & radishes. One friend made mayonnaise (she whipped it by hand in a bowl) with avocados and shrimp; a neighbor brought some bottles of wine he had helped harvest; and his friend brought

 cheese that was literally made that morning, along with

with three others:)

We ended the evening with a raspberry sorbet; a sweet ending to a bittersweet evening of au revoir.

I rented a place with AirBnB in Chelsea for part of my stay and my wonderful hosts, Kenny and Romeo, made my trip even more fun. The apartment is on the upper floor of this building in the gallery district, with views of the Hudson, and near many bus and subway lines, so getting around town is a breeze. If you prefer to get to your destination directly, the concierge will hail you a cab.

The lobby is sleek and modern,

with a waterfall in front of the elevators,

and even the elevators are designed beautifully.

A 24 hour gym is in the building and there are sitting areas by an outdoor atrium.

My rental was in the middle of the living area, but my host had his own room, so it was like being in a studio apartment.

The toilet is HEATED and has a built in bidet:)

This view of the sun setting over the Hudson is from my bed!

The rental is walking distance (or two stops by bus) from Chelsea Market, so for a quick bite, I went to Mokbar, behind the spice merchant. I was too early for Happy Hour when they have small plates and discounted drinks, but I was so happy to have a place open all afternoon, unlike in Paris when everything closes between lunch and dinner.

I chose the bulgogi rice bowl for $13, which was loaded with grilled crisp beef and vegetables, but I added garlic spinach $2 anyway. It was a big hearty serving and the kimchee was a perfect spicy acidic counterpoint to the rich beef.

I’d never had Tiger beer ($7) from Singapore and was so intrigued by the name I ordered it, and now I think I may actually like a beer enough to order it again! The Gold Medal awarded beer is smooth and rich, a perfect accompaniment to a hearty bowl of beef. The total with tax and tip was about $28, but as I learned in NYC, everything is a bit pricey compared to LA or even Paris. If you’re looking for  a bite of something less expensive, my friend from LA suggests the taco stand directly opposite Mokbar which sells $4 tacos which are as close to West Coast tacos as you’ll find in NYC.

One of the main reasons I rented a place in Chelsea was because a good friend lives in the neighborhood, so the advantage of being a few blocks away from her place meant we could walk to meet each other at a place like Tia Pol. What better way to start off a reunion than with a glass of Cava? This brut was delicious, so we had two 🙂

She recommended the crispy artichoke and asparagus salad for $13 to start, and it was much tastier than it looks; the crisp artichoke added a nice earthy texture to the tender romaine and white asparagus, and the lemon vinaigrette perfectly dressed the salad. One person could easily make a meal of this if they weren’t very hungry.

Since I love anchovies, I got two of the olive, pepper, and anchovy skewers for $2 each, and they were so good, I forgot to take a photo before eating one:)

The lamb skewers with Moorish spices at $7 for two were perfect little bites of flavorful meat.

The crispy marinated fish with lemon for $12 was a bigger plate and we were very happy splitting the plate that would’ve been too much with all the other plates we had ordered.

She wanted the patatas bravas for $8 with a spicy aioli, and I took a bite just for research:)

The classic flan for $6 was a smooth sweet way to end the night.

As night fell on the city, it was time for me to go to bed,

where Romeo was waiting for me 🙂

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