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Fame and fortune are fleeting in life, especially here in Los Angeles, but a taste of the unctuous fatty brisket from Maple Block Meat Co. will be indelibly seared into your memory, making you salivate for more long after you have left the premises, unlike the name of someone who is well remembered for only 15 minutes.

The fatty brisket is so good that I almost headed out the door one night when they ran out, but as you will see, it was good that I stayed to taste some of their other menu items.

If you go at lunch they offer a $13.50 lunch box special with a sandwich, side and drink that makes it a great deal for any carnivore. The brioche bun is the perfect vehicle for delivery of the juicy tender morsels into your mouth. I chose the greens as a side to help balance out all the meat 🙂 The close up picture shows how the chopped brisket is literally fall apart tender.

Another good choice for lunch box sandwich is the old school smoked sausage. The only issue I had with this wonderful meat was the casing was a bit tough so I ended up scraping the sausage out of the casing and putting it back in the sandwich with the whole grain mustard, creamy cole slaw, and pepper spread, the additional sauce was unnecessary, but I loved the vinegary slaw as a side.

I went in one night just as they ran out of brisket 😦 Rather than trek somewhere else, we ordered half a pound of the smoked prime rib for $18 with a pickle plate for $6, and a large market chopped salad for $11. The prime rib was so good that by the end of the meal we were glad that they were out of brisket so that I was “forced” to try it 🙂 Of course I got the rarest cut they had, but they do offer more well done cuts for those of you who are not blood red raw meat eaters. The pickle plate was abundant enough to take some home, and the chopped salad was nicely dressed in a red wine vinaigrette that helped make the meal easier on the digestion. The salad was so big we took half of it away in a doggy bag, and it held up pretty well as lunch the next day.

I will always be a fan of people who choose quality ingredients and who also possess the skills to render them into bites of heaven:)

There are some great BBQ spots in Los Angeles, and one of them is Moo’s Craft. They are so well known for their BBQ that the lines at Sunday’s weekly Smorgasburg are usually over 30 minutes long. The Sunday I went, TWO of my chef friends also went and we all feasted on their glorious beef rib and fatty brisket. The bark and smoke were masterfully done and the meat was perfectly tender and moist. They are now my favorite beef rib place in Los Angeles!

A few stands down is Ugly Drum, the best pastrami I’ve eaten on the West Coast (as an ex-NYer that is the ultimate statement! The uglies (ends) and their sandwiches on Bub & Grandma’s bread with perfect mustard and giant pickles, makes for a nostalgic trip back to NYC without the hassle of planes, time changes, and weather 🙂

For pork ribs, my favorite is at Bludso’s, where even their Bloody Mary comes with a hot link and pickles!

 All the sides are as fresh and well made as their BBQ

Definitely over order on the pork ribs, get some tips, and take some home with extra BBQ sauce (I mix the hot and the regular)!

After this meat spree, I’m ready for some raw kale…

A small family run restaurant is always my preferred choice Nanban-kan has been a yakitori (grilled skewers) favorite of mine for years, so I was happy to introduce a local to this hidden treasure that almost literally requires a treasure map to find. Most skewers are in the $4 range and include 2, so you can mix and match several to match your appetite and sense of adventure. With choices ranging from chicken hearts and tongue, to the pork belly wrapped asparagus and seabass, I chose a bit of everything 🙂 My favorites were the chicken hearts and sea bass, with the asparagus coming out third, I found the beef tongue a bit tough and dry, but still decent.

My friend ordered the comforting chicken and rice dish since he was getting over an illness. It came with a colorful array of pickles and miso soup, so a perfect remedy for those with sensitive stomachs or a compromised immune system.

 The stuffed shitake mushrooms were filling but not vegetarian since they were stuffed with ground chicken.

We tried the daily special of yellowtail collar and found it a bit over cooked but very fresh. The owner is the hostess who rules the roost with a very fair system and a warm smile, making sure clients who reserved were seated promptly, but those who arrived late were asked to wait. Walk-ins were offered the front tables with the same impeccable service as the main dining room. I was very happy to to found quality and service still prevail in this small enclave of hospitality and great Japanese grilling.

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!

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

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