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Many people have tried Chinese Hot Pot, but it’s usually a communal pot where everyone dips whatever they wish into the common broth and then everyone personalizes their dipping sauces to their taste. Hai Di Lao gives everyone an opportunity to choose their own personal broth in heated stations at the table, ranging from mushroom, to miso spicy, to spicy. There are many ways to customize each soup base ranging from level of spice to kind of spice, and in some cases adding double umami to the mushroom base.

Their location in Arcadia is in the Santa Anita Mall and has lines on par with Din Tai Fung, so either go very early or very late. The ordering system is nearly completely automated, so you will be ordering from an iPad (with pictures) at the table, as servers bring you any drinks, extras, or perform the special custom noodle dance for you! There are aprons/bibs for everyone and they are meant to be so soft and cute that you will want to buy one…like hotel robes that are extra fluffy 🙂 They sell several of their items both online and in the restaurant, so if you want to try making your own at home you can.

This is a high end, high quality ingredient place, so expect to pay around $50 per person. The value is good for the choices, which range from wild Mexican Shrimp to kurobuta pork on the protein side, to yam noodles and assorted exotic mushrooms.

My choice of spicy soup base (I chose MEDIUM) was so spicy I had to have it changed out the mushroom. The smart waiter saw me suffering and said, “This is your first time here?” I learned after the fact that most people never order this hot pot base and only a few use it as an extra soup base. Even after rinsing off my meat in the mushroom base later, I was still tearing up from the spice 😦

One of my friends ordered the miso spicy soup which was what I would do if I wanted spice. It was hot enough for a spie lover, but still edible.

The meat was incredible! The quality was evident in every bite; we got both the pork and New Zealand Lamb

This is the full spread for 3 of us, including from the top, the assorted vegetables, egg noodles, rice cakes, New Zealand lamb, exotic mushroom assortment, Mexican Wild Shrimp, and the kurobuta pork in the center.

We also had 2 glasses of decent wine, a non alcoholic drink, and we gorged on the sauce and dessert bar, which featured everything from macaroni salad and rambutan fruit, to mini fried sesame balls.

It was a very fun evening out, with a noodle man pulling acrobatic noodles for nearby tables (you may order him for your table), then a dragon parade and magician giving the restaurant a festive show for young and old alike. For a celebration, this is a fun place with high quality food and presentations than most hot pot places. I would not come here alone or for a quiet meal, but definitely will be back with a group for more fun and food (and we will order the noodle man)!

French food is my comfort food, but for visitors from NYC who came to town, finding a spot worthy of two picky palates became a foodie challenge, especially when one of them is a working chef. Sadly few good options are on the westside of town, and not wanting to trek east on a week-end night, I remembered that I had tried take out from Cathay Palisades at a dinner party, so a quick text later, the restaurant welcomed us as friends of their regular customers (it always helps to be referred). We had enough people to try several things and I’m happy to say everything was fresh, flavorful, and we cleaned all the plates 🙂

The mushroom medley for $13.25 was served with steamed broccoli. It is great as a side dish or main for vegetarians, with a nice assortment of mushrooms in an oyster sauce.

The salt and pepper shrimp for $19 was a crowd favorite for nostalgic reasons, but although the shrimp were fine, I found it lacked anything to rave about.

Another group favorite were the garlic noodles, but again I found them good, but not outstanding.

One of my favorite dishes was the calamari with bok choy for $18.50, with perfectly cooked tender calamari and lightly stir fried bok choy that used only the tender baby bok choy.

My other favorite dish was the shrimp with snow pea pods for $18.50 which featured the high quality shrimp once again, but this time with the pea pods which had been painstakingly defibered so that every pod was tender and crunchy without any strings. The hallmark of any good food is the care and attention they take to ensure fresh quality ingredients, but the extra mile of proper preparation and technique add to the enjoyment of the diners who reap the benefits of taste and textures that make for happy eaters.

Everyone who came in was welcomed by name, so they obviously have a loyal regular base of customers who appreciate their food, as well as very efficient and friendly service. It was a pleasure to share the comfort of good Chinese food with friends, locally and from afar.

It was a gray drizzly day, and after a fully day in the craziness of DTLA swerving to avoid pedestrians weaving in and out of numerous encampments of tent cities, I felt nauseous, both emotionally and physically. The new Playa Vista enclave Runway is nearly the polar opposite of DTLA; from the manicured play spaces for children and pets, to the wooden plank walkways that meander through restaurants and shops, this was like a breath of oxygen after being submerged in smog. I am not saying that I would want to live in Runway because I prefer a less curated environment, and one in which there are shops and restaurants which have no other sibling outposts across the city, state, or globe. I am glad I finally visited, walked, and ate here, and I would again.

We ate at R.O.C., which has the much smaller sibling on Sawtelle. Service was fantastic, and the food definitely had a Californian take, using fresh ingredients with middle of the road dishes and flavors that don’t venture too far into unknown anglo territory. It was not Michelin star quality, but better than many other Taiwanese restaurants.

Because I was feeling queasy, we began with an egg flower soup with tofu, bamboo shoots, and fresh herbs. It was a perfect comfort soup for a gray day, and it promptly settled my stomach enough to eat the chicken soup dumplings.

The tips of soup dumpling were a bit thick and hard, drying out and hardening more as they cooled, but the flavor was nice and they served it with freshly cut ginger with tableside black vinegar and soy (but you had to ask if you wanted any chili oil).

The vegetable potstickers came with pure hoisin sauce and chili sauce on the side. They were crisp and VERY hot, but the filling was a bit bland and definitely anglified chopped greens.

The stir fried baby bok choy were crunchy and tender, but the flavor was very light on the garlic and slightly sweet.

The pickles were fabulous! Brightly acidic and slightly spicy, we ate nearly the entire dish.

We also ordered the three cup chicken, which was done with all dark meat, and quite tasty, even with the slightly sweet sauce, it married the peppers, onions, and basil well.

It’s fun to explore the extremes of Los Angeles, from the frenetic pace of skid row to the fantasy land of a complex built to create a new neighborhood. There are good and bad aspects in both, just as there are good and bad aspects of all humans, wherever they live, play, and eat 🙂

Ever since my friend Georgia introduced me to Boston Lobster, we have made it a tradition to go for her birthday 🙂 This year we included one other friend, so of course we ate more than we usually do! The house special lobster comes in three sizes and we always get the small (4-5 lb) which was plenty for the three of us to share.

As a vegetable, we ordered the small pea shoots with garlic, which was on the happy hour menu for only $6.

 A small side of clams with black bean sauce was also on the happy hour menu.

After devouring all of the dishes, we still had room for the fried sole, a perfectly crispy flash fried tender fish, and nearly demolished it aside from a few bites.

The total came to about $50 per person including wine, tax, and tip, so it was a bargain for a feast with friends!

So many of my places in my old neighborhood are gone, so seeing a familiar facade drew me back to Hop Li at their Pico location. I went with two others who had been customers and were also returning for the first time in many years. 

We specifically went for the crab with ginger and green onions, and while the crab was very fresh, it tasted somewhat bland, as if there was not enough seasoning, ginger, and heat when it was flashed into the hot oil to give it a nice sear. The freshness of the crab made up for it, but we were disappointed with what used to be a favorite.

 We had no better luck with the dry beef chow fun. Thankfully it wasn’t greasy, and the beef was tender, however the noodles were not wok charred and again it lacked seasoning. We had to chili crisp to it to liven it up.

We tried the orange shrimp which were nicely presented, but the broccoli was not only unseasoned and plainly steamed/boiled, but they were lukewarm/cold. A sad combination of flavors for a pretty plate.

The string beans with XO sauce were the most flavorful dish we ate, the only true winner that evening.

Dessert was the standard orange slices with added canned lychees that were surprisingly not overly sweet. One of us took the plentiful leftovers home to add some life to them.

Going back to an old favorite always comes with the peril of finding it is not as good as it was… 

June Gloom usually starts in June, but this year it came in May, bringing Brigadoon like fog, drizzle, and a chill that called for hot comforting soup. Eboshi Noodle Bar is in the same plaza as Hikari, the fabulous Japanese BBQ place. My local foodie friends said it was good, so I stopped by for lunch one day.

Bullet trains are precisely on time in Japan, and Eboshi is true to their posted opening and closing times, so if you arrive 5 minutes early or late, you will not be allowed inside. I appreciate this kind of precision because it translates to the food that is served by Japanese to Japanese (I was one of only 3 non-Japanese in the packed lunch time crowd).

As you can see from the handwritten menu items, prices are very reasonable, and I loved the variety from grilled beef tongue to fried oysters from Japan, in addition to the full page of ramen choices.

 I chose the classic miso spring onion, and it was a gigantic US sized bowl, loaded with so much spring onions, it was almost an even proportion of onions to noodles! The flavor was deep and slightly sweet, with bits of ground pork, and hearty enough that I was full for the rest of the day. I have no idea how the others at the counter ate an entire bowl AND gyoza too! At around $12 including tax and 20% tip, this was also a bargain.

 

The same friends who told me about Eboshi, also said that Ramen Ko-Ryu was their favorite, so that was my next stop.They are famous for their spicy soup with a board of fame for those who have conquered the challenge, but I was just seeking a warm hearty bowl.

I chose the garlic bomb with spicy miso, at under $10 this flavor bomb combined crispy garlic bits with two thick slices of char siu, green onions, and bits of pork in a mildly spiced broth and springy noodles. Around $12 including tax and 20% tip, this was also a bargain, and it came out literally 3 minutes after I ordered it!

My favorite soups are at Din Tai Fung, with locations across the globe, and three in the greater Los Angeles area. Their shrimp and pork wonton soup has the clean flavor of freshly made tender wontons in a consommé broth that is both light and complex as only masters of soup can execute.

My favorite soup of all (so far) is the braised beef noodle with 3 or 4 big hearty melt in your mouth chunks of tendon rich meat, baby bok choy, and perfect noodles in a heart warming broth, all for an incredible price of around $14 including tax, and 20% tip. I could eat this every week, and will probably be back next week for another bowl 🙂

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.

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?

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:)

A dear foodie friend (hmmm I think all my friends are foodies) invited me to eat lobster with her for my birthday, saying we could take as many hours as we wanted savoring all the nooks and crannies (we ended up eating for 3 hours). She suggested Boston Lobster because she had eaten lobster at another restaurant where the chef used to work and enjoyed it. Knowing that if we went later than 5 pm there would be a long wait, we got there at 4:30 pm and found easy parking, lunch time specials still in effect, and a choice of seating:)

Because the lunch specials were still in effect, we ordered two to compliment our lobster, both were under $8, included a hot and sour soup, and white rice. The soup needed some vinegar but it was tasty and chock full of goodies like bamboo shoots, tofu, and wood ear mushrooms.

We chose the lunch special garlic pea sprouts for our vegetable side dish. It was a generous serving with lots of garlic and lots of stems.

Another lunch menu special were the clams with black bean sauce. We found the sauce a bit runny and the black bean flavor was not very prevalent. If you like your black bean sauce flavor mild, you would enjoy this dish.

We came for the lobster, and it looked like every other table came for the same. Although most lobsters weight around 4-5 lbs ($19 per pound) and there were only two of us, we still managed to eat most of it. We chose their house special preparation, which was also how every other table chose to have their lobsters. The lobster was fantastic, perfectly cooked and obviously freshly pulled from the tank. Next time I would choose my usual preference of ginger and scallion preparation, because after attacking a pound of this beast, the richness of the specialty preparation slowed me down. On a very positive note, we washed it all down with a bottle of very nice Pinot Grigio (they provided an ice bucket for our wine after we asked for one), and changed our plates about 4 times during our feast.

Our waiter came by after about 2 hours and said that we knew how to live, drinking wine and savoring lobster; I couldn’t agree more!

Thank-you Georgia for a fantastic meal 🙂

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