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Sometimes I crave beef….and since I like my beef grilled (who doesn’t?) I’m always looking for a place that serves up either perfectly grilled rare meat, or which provides the ingredients and utensils for me to grill it myself. Hikari was so perfect that I was hesitant to try another Japanese BBQ place. Whereas Hikari is the old school Japanese style, Tamaen BBQ is the modern US influenced style. Different flavors fit different people, so depending on your taste and budget you might opt for one over the other. The service at Tamaen was excellent, as in keeping with the American style of fast, efficient, and friendly; my waiter had worked there for 10 years and was an expert in both service and knowledge. They even have take away meals for those who wish to grill at home!

They have built in table grills and use the good (expensive) charcoal, added with gas underneath.

I got there early, but by the time I left, the place was packed.

Since many of their choices were for 2+ people I chose the beef heart small portion to grill. The also offer grass fed beef versions of some cuts of beef for slightly more $. They offer American Waygu and some offals like liver, as well as sushi and Korean pickles, so you can create the fusion meal you desire here. Their drink selection is very diverse as well, offering an entire menu of drinks from different countries and grades. I chose the beef heart  with salt instead of  miso based on my server’s recommendation, but it didn’t have enough salt for me (I really should carry my own in my purse), so I asked for more and they obliged with a small plateful. The heart was tender, but the flame was a bit too low, so my server adjusted it to give it the perfect sear. The small order was about 100 grams and just enough to be an appetizer to my oxtail ramen.

The oxtail ramen was the reason I came in because it was a special and I love oxtails. The soup was full of vegetables, and the oxtail was very tender. A good portion for the small price under $10, but I would have preferred a larger price with a larger portion. The flavor was well rounded, but I would have appreciated a bit more oomph of seasoning or spice, but that is me, I know many people who would love this soup the way it is.

I loved this logo (also on the server’s hats) and that their tables all had bibs/aprons (I thought it was a napkin at first until I saw the napkins on the table). so that you don’t splatter your clothes! Even walking in, you can check in electronically, and every table has the call waitstaff button so you don’t have to try to flag someone for a condiment or your bill. For service and variety alone, I would recommend this place!

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I do not have a BBQ, so when I crave grilled meat, I either have to go to a restaurant or convince a friend to fire up their (usually gas) grill. Hikari may be a bit out of the way, but every bite of grilled meat I ate was a mouthwatering morsel of tender juicy happiness.

The grills here are not gas powered, so the flavor of whatever you grill has the added carbon component. If you allow you meats to sit on the grill (they provide metal tongs and scissors) until they are properly seared, you will be rewarded with flavors that will make you smile:)

I chose the thick cut beef tongue for $13, which was scored and marinated before being brought to my table.

Once on the grill, the fat dripped into the coals

and resulted in this gorgeous result.

I was still hungry so asked my waiter whether he suggested the ball tip or the hanger and he said hanger for $10, so that is what I chose for my next course. It was a much larger serving than the tongue and it came with a ginger and scallion sauce for the meat to be put on after grilling. Hanger is one of my favorite cuts of meat, and this was perfectly marbled quality meat that may convert any filet mignon lover into a hanger lover.

Hikari was so good, I had to go back with friends, so that I could taste more of the items on the menu. I went back the next week with two non-Asian friends who are foodies (and not intimidated being the only non-Asians in a restaurant). We started with the fried chicken, a nice rendition, nothing exceptional, nothing amiss.

On my recommendation ,we ordered the thick cut tongue and hanging tender, which they loved 🙂

 We had to order a vegetable, so we chose the stuffed mushrooms, and we were glad we had eaten other items because it took awhile for these to cook….

But they were worth the time to get a burst of cheese, garlic, and mushroom in a juicy bite!

 

So many Yelp reviews raved about the carbonara that we had to try it. With pork belly and watercress, this delectable combo was the epitome of great fusion on a plate:)

The last order of the night took the longest to get to our table, but it was worth the wait for the rib fingers. Rib fingers are the pieces of meat between rib bones, so they are the meat you love usually attached to ribs you gnaw, but at Hikari, you get the meat sans bones in their fatty, wonderful moist pureness with a side of minced garlic to enhance the grilled meat.

 

 

I don’t know how we made it out the door, but after 5 orders and 2 large Sapporos for the adults and a soda for the teen, our bill was only $100 including tax and tip. Our waitress came outside as we walked out to thank us for visiting 🙂 I am sure will will be regular visitors!

Finding good BBQ in France is like trying to find a great baguette in the US; it’s possible, but rare. Some foods are best in their native land, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some “low and slow” hardwood BBQ.

I’d wanted to try Bludso’s since they opened three years ago in Hollywood, but trying to find the time to drive to Hollywood on one of the nights when they had their beef short ribs was too much of a challenge right before my move. One of the perks of living in LA is that there are several delivery services which will bring you any meal you wish from nearly any restaurant you wish, all for a price. I am NOT recommending the service I used because they advertised a $2.99 delivery, then tacked on an additional $15 of “other” charges AFTER they processed my order, bringing my delivery total to about 30% of my total bill, and that was before my tip for the driver. The price was worth the lesson to either pick up a take-out order myself, or go eat at the restaurant.

I ordered the BBQ Beef Short Ribs, only offered on the Thursday-Monday dinner menu, a half rack of four for $20, and a half rack of the pork ribs for $16. There were two containers of BBQ sauce, one spicy and one mild, and even though I usually like spicy, I combined the two 🙂

with a side of collard greens $8 for a pint,

and a piece of cornbread for $1.75

Even though I had waited until a week-end night just to get the beef short ribs, I preferred the pork ribs. The amount of black pepper rub on the beef ribs overwhelmed the meat. Although tender and smoky, the beef short ribs needed the spicy sweet BBQ sauce to enhance the flavor, but I could (and did) eat the pork ribs without any sauce. They could stand by themselves on texture of the meat (not falling off the bone, but easily taken off with a bite), and the rub and smoke both married to the meat in a happy combination.

I was grateful that the collard greens were not cooked to death, and that they still retained some vibrancy along with their rich pork infused flavor. The cornbread was classically and simply made, instantly perked up with some honey or butter; they provided a container of “honey butter” but I preferred using my own.

I’d like to go back to try the beef brisket and pulled pork, but now that I’m back in the land of BBQ, it will be awhile before I go back to one I’ve already tried when there are so many other choices beckoning with masterful techniques and tantalizing aromas.

When chef Molly asked me if I wanted to meet her at a Korean BBQ place, the only correct answer was “Yes”! Manna may be located in in Little Tokyo, but it is quintessentially Korean BBQ with the American twist of all you can eat for $25. Aside from Brazilian Churrascarias, I don’t frequent “unlimited food” places, mostly because the food is usually not anything I would eat even small quantities of, much less eat enough to warrant a limitless supply.

Manna offers Angus and KOBE beef and KOBE pork selections for $25, along with all the side dishes, a hot and cold buffet, and a relatively smoke free space (smoke from the grills not from tobacco). For $18 you can get a smaller selection of meats without the Kobe choices. Aside from the SIX birthdays loudly announced over the loudspeaker throughout our meal, it was a very pleasant experience. If you go alone, they do have a set menu, but it is much more fun to share with a group of friends. If you can round up just one other person, the unlimited deal prevails (if you prefer shabu shabu they offer that as an unlimited option also but it was 90 degrees at night and definitely BBQ weather).

They have validated free parking (park on the 4th floor to cross the footbridge) and they also have waitstaff (conveniently summoned with buzzers on the table) who will bring you kimchee, steamed rice, and whatever meats you wish. I ate about three plates of the kimchee by myself! All the other accompaniments are at a self service hot & cold buffet.

Some of the other small plates:

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Salad was also brought to the table in a large bowl and had a light dressing.

Condiments are all on the table, and Chef Molly made me a great sesame oil and seasoned salt dip.

This is a steamed egg bowl that you can order (no extra cost).

The self service buffet tables were full of classic choices.

If you wanted “sushi” or rice noodles, they were available at the buffet bar as well.

For starch there was fried rice and potatoes, as well as the rice paper wrappers and rice bowls that are served with your orders.

Fried tempura looked the least appetizing of all the food at the buffet.

We got about six orders of marinated kalbi beef and two of marinated chicken (they will replace the grills and replenish the meat as many times as you wish).

Pork belly can be grilled to crisp bacon.

The marinated Kalbi was definitely my favorite, but the beef tongue was good too (with some seasoned salt). It amazed me that I kept up with Molly in the amount of food eaten (she weighs a little more than I do, but is at least 8 inches taller)! I know most people would love to have the problem of putting ON weight, but she literally loses weight overnight, even eating like this nonstop!

All told I think we ordered a total of 12 meat orders for 6 people with multiple trips to the banchan buffet bar for sides, so I can’t think of a better place to take meat loving friends for value; even with three huge beers for the table, our bill including tax and tip was $33 per person. My chef friends always know the best places to eat and Molly’s suggestion of Manna was no exception!

Manna Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon

Having had ribs in Memphis at Central, Corky’s, and Interstate BBQ, it was wonderful to find JR’s BBQ here in Culver City serving great Memphis style dry rub ribs.

This family owned (mom is the J and son is the R) place is warm, friendly, and spotlessly clean, with perfectly cooked meat done over mesquite, white oak and pecan wood. Their secret recipes should be kept in a vault if they aren’t already.

I like the beef ribs dry with just a dab of the hot sauce, which I am happy to say is actually HOT and smoky. The meat is tender, but holds together enough to give it some texture, for those who have tried ribs in Memphis, JR’s is similar to Central BBQ’s style. The quality of the food here makes this place a favorite for fans of Memphis BBQ, and the prices make this place a bargain for big families or groups. For families, the family pack meals serve four people with sides and prices starting at only $24! My half serving was 5 big beef ribs was only $14 and generous enough to feed two hungry people or one starving linebacker.

My friend ordered the pork ribs with a mild sauce, served with beans and cole slaw. I tasted both the tender rich beans, and the crisp cole slaw, and I could have easily made of meal of just the sides.

I had to try the collard greens and I was glad I did because the only rivals to a version this good were from chefs (both from the South) who no longer work in Los Angeles.

It’s a great sign when the details of side dishes like corn muffins are done with a deft light hand.

The piece de resistance was their famous sock-it-to-me cake for $3.75 which was about 7″ long and 4″ wide (for ONE serving). This lightly sweetened streusel cake topped with a thin layer of icing would be a great breakfast pastry as well as a dessert.

Memphis BBQ without a 3.5 hour flight, fantastic sides, and a family who love their clients makes JR’s is a triple winner.

J.R.'S Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Gladys may have taken the midnight train to Georgia, but I took a private jet to Memphis last week 🙂

For the first time, I actually got to spend some time on Main street, watching “Cinderella” carriages amble along the trolley tracks.

Trolleys along Main Street are picturesque ways to promote “mass transit” in Memphis.

I even walked along Beale Street.

Clubs like B.B. King’s were open during the day.

Clubs like this were open during the afternoon, but I’m sure the atmosphere at night was much livelier after dark.

Since I had already tried both Interstate BBQ and Corky’s BBQ on my last trip, this time I went to Central BBQ (based on a local’s recommendation). Central was voted by locals as the best BBQ place and the week-end I was in town, it was their anniversary, so a half rack of ribs was only $10 (normally $15.25)!

They are a “green” restaurant, so they compost and recycle. Products are biodegradable as much as possible and in keeping with this philosophy their sauces are all available from pumps. Vegetarians have the option of a Portobello sandwich here for $4.99, served like a pulled pork sandwich, but I would say 99% of the customers come here for the BBQ meat.

I ordered my ribs wet, but got some vinegar sauce on the side. The meat was tender, and the rub and sauce were both good, but my preference is Corky’s, although this comes in at a close second. Since everyone in Memphis has their favorite BBQ place, I’m still on my hunt for “the best”. Another local told me to try Tops, but I didn’t have time to get there this trip.

My fine dining experience was at Flight. If you’ve ever tried a flight of wine, the restaurant concept is the same, offering smaller bites of different dishes so you can sample and compare different variations side by side.

They offer wine flights and I could not resist the “Make Wine Not War” Bordeaux flight for $11.50. The St. Estephe was my favorite, but the other two complimented my meal very well.
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I began with the Salad flight for $10 which had a small serving of a grilled pear and Camembert salad, made with baby arugula, roasted walnuts and maple walnut vinaigrette (my favorite of all three); a mixed greens, roasted corn, dried cherries, crispy bacon, tomatoes, goat cheese, and cajun pecans topped with a white balsamic vinaigrette; and a baby iceberg salad topped with Maytag blue cheese, applewood smoked bacon and grape tomatoes (my least favorite because it was actually bland, especially compared to the outstanding version at Sixth and Pine in Los Angeles).

The special of the day was Jerk seasoned wild boar, so I chose the small plate for $12, the large portion was about $30 and if you want to try a flight, they offer flights of fish, fowl, meat, or seafood from $31. The wild boar had a very nice depth of flavor, but the jerk was not spicy at all, and the tziki like topping was a strange contrast to the robust cumin flavored medley of succotash. It was not noteworthy and not unpalatable. Perhaps I should have stuck to a meat the locals know well, but I so rarely see wild boar on any menu that I had to order it.

It was a memorable trip simply because it was my first trip in a private jet, but the beautiful dispositions of the people in Memphis reminded me that the most important part of any trip,  no matter where you go or how you get there, is the company you keep.

I do my best to give places a chance to fix problems and make improvements, especially when a restaurant is going through growing pains with new management and a new chef. I have known Bob for over three decades, so when he took over at Crossroads BBQ / Bubba Diego’s in June, I went in for an early taste, gave him my feedback, and waited for his new chef Kelly to revamp the menu.

The improvements have been amazing (and yes, I am as harsh of a critic towards my friends as I am towards strangers, just ask Bob about the pie crust I would not eat because it was undercooked). Kelly has Southern roots, and it shows with her light and deft hand at everything from the marvelous fried catfish sandwich to her crab cakes, served here with a side of black beans and collard greens. Both the sides were classic versions done old school style and the crab cakes were full of crab, not filler, nicely livened up with some chopped red peppers and onions.

When some of my friends see chicken fried steak on the menu, they begin to salivate, but it is not high on my list of favorites, so when Robin insisted that I taste this dish I was shocked at how much I liked it! The chicken fried steak is double battered with a second coating of panko to give it a lighter crisp texture, and the steak is not overdone. The haricots verts and sausage gravy elevated this dish beyond diner food to fine dining in disguise.

Will wanted to try all three kinds of ribs (Baby back, Kansas style, and Beef) so he got a sampler with both sweet and hot BBQ sauce on the side. Since Will is a Cordon Bleu graduate, his pronouncement that the ribs had perfect smokiness and tenderness was noteworthy. I tried the Kansas style and loved the flavor and consistency.

We packed up about half our meals to go so we could try dessert. On an earlier visit I tried the mudpie but was not as impressed as my friend who loved it, so we went for three different desserts this time. Robin ordered the lava cake and found although the basic cake was good, it was not spectacular; if you love chocolate you will probably love this cake, but there are better versions elsewhere.

I ordered the apple tarte and I realized after a bite that I may just have bad luck with desserts. Although the flavors were fine and the ice cream was perfect, my tarte was cold, straight out of the refrigerator cold. I wish I could have tasted it warm or at least room temperature.

Will’s creme brulee was the dessert winner with a smooth vanilla bean taste that would have satisfied the pickiest of sweet tooths. The only improvement would have been a bit more brulee crust.

All of this food with two soft drinks was under $80 for three of us, a great deal for very good food. They have a happy hour at the bar where all the appetizers are half price, so even if you order all ten appetizers (I recommend the hot wings and the fried okra) your bills would be only $50 and you would be stuffed!

Go in and tell Bob that Elaine sent you in to annoy him (and since you’re there, go ahead and order some of Kelly’s food:)

IMPORTANT NOTE: I just learned that the owners let Bob go after four months in which time he hired and trained the staff, revised the menu, and started promoting the restaurant on social networks. I would NOT recommend that you support this place with your business in light of how they do business with their employees.

Crossroads BBQ on Urbanspoon

The only part of my trip to Memphis that was pleasurable was that I would finally taste authentic Memphis BBQ. I saw Jim Neely’s Interstate BBQ was at the airport, so this was an easy way to sample one of the top three BBQ places. All the most popular choices were on the menu for either dining in or as take out for flights. Wouldn’t you rather have a chopped shoulder of pork sandwich than whatever packaged plastic food the airline is serving?

I decided to eat in so I could eat the messy ribs at a table with plenty of napkins. There was no choice of wet or dry, so it was a good decision to eat in because the ribs came soaked in sauce. I chose two sides of coleslaw rather than baked beans. The cole slaw was finely chopped and a refreshing counterpoint to the rich BBQ pork ribs ($8.85). The ribs were tender and juicy, but I must say I was disappointed with the flavor of the sauce.

Jim Neely's Interstate Barbecue on Urbanspoon

I asked everyone I met to tell me their favorite place for BBQ and unanimously the answer was Corky’s, so I knew I had to find the time and a way to get some Corky’s before leaving for Los Angeles. As I was checking out of my hotel I asked the receptionist where the closest branch of Corky’s was and whether I could walk to it. The wonderful rumor of Southern Hospitality is true as she said she would have the airport shuttle driver take me. I got to Corky’s as they opened at 10:45 am and got my order of two racks to go for less than $35. I got them dry with some packets of sauce because the shuttle driver recommended them that way and who am I to argue with a native?

They double wrapped the ribs in heavy duty foil when I told them I was going to fly out and they said there would be no problem taking them through security (there wasn’t). They even sell the rub and sauce in the airport, so you can pick some up after passing through security and before getting onto your flight. The smell of the ribs was magnificent, making everyone seated next to me salivate.

There is a reason everyone I asked said Corky’s was their favorite BBQ place in Memphis. The ribs were wonderfully tender and perfectly seasoned with a smoky rub that was equally good alone or with some of the fantastic BBQ sauce.

The wonderful thing about Corky’s is that they ship their ribs (and beef brisket or pork shoulder) nationwide and if you call them at 800-9-CORKYS before December 31, 2010 and mention offer code FR1 you will get a FREE SLAB of ribs with your order (with a minimum order of $69.99). The only thing better than great ribs, is a free rack of them, so maybe Christmas this year will include a package from Santa that comes from Memphis.

Corky's Bar-B-Q (East Memphis) on Urbanspoon

Mr. Cecil’s makes my favorite beef ribs. Period. The meat is so tender it literally falls off the bones, and there is a nice bark on the meat that makes it just crunchy and crisp enough to contrast with the rich and tender meat. Although they have two locations, the ribs at the West LA location seem to taste better than the ones in the Valley (I don’t know why since it is supposed to be the same recipe). Even though the regular menu prices are very reasonable at $25.50 for a full rack (6 bones) with two sides, coming during their Happy Hour between 4-7pm makes this a fantastic deal with the same amount of meat minus the sides (if you want sides, just order them on the side). Chicken eaters will love the fact that their BBQ chicken is made with hormone and antibiotic free chicken. Usually when a restaurant has a happy hour it means drinks and maybe a few appetizers at a reduced rate, but at Mr. Cecil’s it means a basket of six ribs (beef or pork) for $9.99, or a plate of hot wings for $3.50, or a plate of Tri Tip Tacos for $8. You can even come with friends who don’t eat meat because they have catfish nuggets for $3.50.


I was hungry when I came in so even though I was alone, I ordered as if there were two other people eating with me. I ordered a wonderful side order of coleslaw ($3.50) which was freshly made and gave me the only vegetables in my otherwise all meat meal. The dressing was home made and everything in the slaw held up to it with a nice crunch. The only bad part was the waiter forgot to give me my order so I asked for it to be packed to go.


I tried the hot wings for the first time and was surprised to find they had a very hot kick that was just slightly sweet. You get a choice of either Ranch or Blue Cheese dipping sauce on the side, but I opted for just the wings. They were fried just crispy enough to hold up to the hot sauce, but still tender on the inside.


The main event was of course the basket of beef ribs, which as you can see was so tender most of the meat fell off the bones. Every bite was tender, smokey and perfect. There are two sauces offered on the table, one sweet and one hot. If you are a sauce aficionado, these ribs might change your mind if try these great ribs naked before you pour on any sauce.


They have a huge sign outside the place that says “Free Bones” for your dog during happy hour. But of course if you order ribs, your carnivorous companion can munch on your leftovers, so enjoy a treat and pass on a treat. I like meat and bone Happy Hours.

Mr. Cecil's California Ribs on Urbanspoon

BBQ usually brings to mind a backyard or a beach setting, but in Beverly Hills’ Peninsula Hotel, the roof is the quintessential backdrop for a casual summer meal, casual for Beverly Hills anyway. So if you don’t want to do the grilling yourself, pay for the $55 menu available from 4 to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. You start with a skewer of grilled duck sausage, charred pineapple, Bard Valley dates and heirloom watermelon, then on to entree choices that include spice rubbed pork ribs, chicken with apricot sauce, Alaskan halibut, or a T-bone steak. You can even get a whole Maine lobster for an additional $15. All the usual sides are kicked up a notch with twists like pepper and corn slaw, and of course dessert is included, even valet parking is included if you go for dinner.

This menu is offered until Labor Day, so go have BBQ on the roof all summer.

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