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Grand Central Market has evolved into a food mecca, with far too many great options to try all in one day, but a friend and I tried to eat our way through the market anyway 🙂

We started off at Belcampo with their $14 lamb burger, made with garam masala aioli, tamarind chutney, mint, cilantro, and red onion on a wonderfully soft bun. I love that all their meats are grass fed and that they have complete control of every aspect of their operation from raising the animals to processing and butchering them. Yes, the prices here are higher than your local chain grocery store, but I prefer to buy less from places with practices I want to promote, than feed the corporate machinery.

We split the medium rare burger and loved the textures and flavors. If we had not planned to try other places in the market, we would have eaten one of these each!

We also shared a plate of the sweet potato fries, seasoned with celery salt, and they were so crisp, salty, and sweet that we fought over the last fries!

Ramen Hood was our next course. It was the only vegan ramen I’ve ever tried, with sunflower seed broth, king oyster mushroom, bean sprouts, scallions, and chili threads, we added a vegan egg for $2 more making the total bowl $12. It was much better than we imagined, with full flavors and the “egg” not only looked like an egg, but the texture was very close to one. A satisfying bowl, but next time I think I would try the spicy version that I saw my neighbors eating at the counter simply because I think some added heat might enhance the flavors even more.

We were pretty full but wanted to try a small bite at Madcapra, made with locally sourced organic ingredients, so we got just the green falafels for $3.50. They were dry and bland on their own, but once we added the dipping sauces, they were good.

Sticky Rice serves organic locally sourced Thai comfort food, like this rice noodle plate with beef that was so big I had to take half of it home! The assortment of condiments was a very nice way to add heat and zing to any dish on their menu.

We ended our eating spree with a walk to the now closed Fabrique for some lattes; I chose the lavender, which was smooth and creamy

and my friend had the rainbow latte, a beautiful ending to a great day of food:)

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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.

August in Paris means the locals are gone and the tourists are in town; it also means finding any place to shop or eat on a Sunday becomes even more of a challenge than usual, requiring the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes. After a bit of research, Sherlock @John8600 pointed me in the direction of Hokkaido. Even though it’s Summer, the days are rainy and cool enough that eating ramen is still a pleasurable experience, at least it is for me, a Southern California transplant:)

I got the Champon Ramen, which was packed with vegetables and a few thin slices of pork in a clear broth. The vegetables were very fresh, and the noodles were decent. After eating the ramen at Dosanko Larmen, I had hoped for soup comparable in depth of flavor, but the broth here did not have much flavor and even after using the condiments on the table, I couldn’t doctor it up enough to take more than a few sips. The portion is huge (for Paris) so if you want a filling dish, this would fit the bill.

The menu special of 11 Euros included 5 gyoza which were very good; crisp on one side, tender tasty filling, and not greasy. I would definitely order these again, but maybe instead of ramen, I would try one of their noodle or rice dishes, both of which looked good on other tables. Service was very pleasant, and even though it was packed, the food came out rapidly.

Even when it’s not Sunday or August, finding a place that is open between the usual lunch and dinner hours here of 3pm-7pm, is so challenging that restaurants advertise if they are open “nonstop” as an enticement. Udon Jubey usually has lines out the door during the peak meal times, so if you don’t want to wait, or want to eat during the afternoon, this is an excellent choice.

I think that until you’ve tried something done well, you can’t really say you don’t like it. I used to say that I did not like udon, but this bowl changed my mind 🙂 The springy noodles in the flavorful broth with the green onions and seaweed are a classic preparation, yet I had never tasted such a symphony of simplicity; every note was perfect, and the music of slurping sounds could be heard throughout the restaurant.

As part of their set menu of 16 Euros, you get the udon and a choice of sides like this Katsu and omelette slices over shredded cabbage

with a small bowl of chicken rice with pickles. The Katsu was crisp with a nice sauce, and the rice had the benefit of richer flavors from being cooked with broth.

The small portion of Katsu with the set menu was so good, I went back for a full katsu on another visit, which was almost more than I could eat; I saw plates of tempura which looked tempting too, but I had no room to eat anymore!

Besides the warm service, and the delightful food, they had something on the tables which literally made me smile: bottles of red pepper condiment 🙂

When I went to Ramen Week in January, I passed by Dosanko Larmen. I saw the tiny kitchen through the street window turning out six bowls of ramen at a time to the line of people snaking around the block, and I made a mental note to return. It only took me a 10 months, but I finally kept my promise to myself 🙂

The nearest metro station is Quatre Septembre, which features the classic old style signage, and sits opposite several beautiful buildings.

Walking just one block south, you will find the Passage Choiseul, which is particularly welcome on cold rainy days. There are many options within the passage for lunch, ranging from ramen to wraps, and salads, and none had a line like Dosanko Larmen, so if you are in a hurry, pick a place in the passage. There are also some great shops for stationary, jewelry, and shoes, if you want to shop before or after lunch.

Once you exit the passage, one block to your left (west) is Dosanko Larmen. I learned that Larmen is ramen by doing what everyone does, looking it up online:) The line at 11:30 was about 20 minutes, but by noon it was at least 40 minutes, unless you were dining solo (random counter seats were available).

The first time I went I ordered the large standard white miso, which included bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, chives, ground pork, roasted pork, and a mellow rich broth. It was 10 Euros and HUGE. I ordered a large because 1) I am now used to Parisian sizes being small, so I thought a large would be equal to an American medium, and 2) I was very hungry, so I thought I could manage to eat most of it. I was wrong on both counts. The bowl was about 10″ in diameter and I ate just about half of it.

On another rainy cold day, I returned and ordered a small bowl:) This time I chose the red miso with the addition of egg, corn, black sesame seeds, and two slices of roast pork in addition to all the ingredients in the standard bowl for 13 Euros.

Halfway through, I knew I would not only finish this wonderful bowl, but I would reorder the red miso next time. The flavor was much richer and I loved the perfectly cooked soft boiled egg. They offer menus which include 4 gyoza for 3 Euros more, but the small bowl filled me. They also have a soy and butter (?!?!?!?) option, and curry and rice dishes, but come here for the red miso larmen and you will go back out into the cold with a smile:)

Since the sun sets now around 5pm, a stroll along the banks of the Seine could be a perfect ending to your afternoon:)

Since temperatures last week were in the 30’s-40’s with rain most days, Ramen Week in Paris was the perfect way to warm spirits and stomachs. Maceo was one of several restaurants participating, but it was the place to go if you wanted to see a demonstration by one of the chefs.

The lunch service began at 11 am and by the time I arrived at 11:15am, the line was so long they sent us across the street to continue the line. Since no reservations are accepted, all parties waited for a seat, unless you arrived before they opened service. Many Japanese residents and tourists were in line and working the event. I was greeted by at least five people in Japanese (I do not speak a word and explained to everyone in French that I may look Japanese, but do not speak it:)

Kazuyuki Takei (as far as I know no relation to George Takei) was the Master Ramen maker the day I went. You could watch before or after your meal as he demonstrated his techniques on the second floor as a translator explained his process (in French). Over the week-end, classes were given for children who want to become ramen masters.

He literally beat the dough to make the wavy noodles and had been working all week to make the noodles for the ramen served on his day at Maceo. Like many artisans, he inherited the profession from his father and started working with ramen when he was 19.

The style of the day was Ramen Shirakawa, with a slice of char siu (roast pork), spinach, bamboo shoots, seaweed, soft boiled egg and green onions in a shoyu broth. This was the best ramen I’ve ever eaten. At 10€ (about $13) per bowl, this was a bargain for the quality of the ingredients. Beer, sake, and sodas were available, but this bowl was too good to require any additional liquid.

I walked over to the Galeries Lafayette afterwards to check out the terrace and the view of Paris on the one afternoon it didn’t rain this week.

Even on a cold gray day, a bowl of soup with handmade noodles and a view of the Eiffel Tower does wonders for lifting my spirits:)

People who work with food know where to find great restaurants, and that was how I heard about Pintung on Melrose. I had walked past it a week ago, but with its nondescript market facing the street (look for the sidewalk blackboard advertising Stumptown cold brewed coffee), you would never know that there are treasures to be found in the back patio. Like finding buried gold in your backyard, this new addition to Mid-City makes me smile with delight.

Once I walked into the back patio I literally said, “Wow”! With an enclosed section, and an open section decorated with bamboo plants, the warm and sleek aesthetic was such a welcome contrast to the dark marketplace storefront seating area that it wasn’t even a question as to which space I preferred to eat my meal.

The other customers ranged from hip Japanese in pink hair and working on pink tablets, to television people loudly discussing their projects (probably wanting to be overheard). There were of course quiet, “normal” people (like me:) but this place draws from all the people L.A. is infamous for, so if you want a taste of all the lifestyles in L.A., you can come here and people watch.

The cuisine is a cross section of all Asian cuisines in one place. There is banh mi from Vietnam, dim sum from China, ramen and sushi from Japan, and rice bowls which would probably be the common link between all Asian countries. Because they are in Los Angeles, they also have options like a vegetarian banh mi, and soy chicken with brown rice, but I wanted to see how authentic their Asian dishes were, so that is what I ordered.

I started with the sauteed pea shoots for $7.25, and was thrilled when they arrived spicy, flavored with sesame oil, and perfectly seasoned. It was a big bowl, so with the other dishes, I ended up taking half of it home, but it just got better a day later.

The crystal shrimp dumplings were $5.50 (the Asian server told me they were Har Gow when I asked what crystal dumplings were). They were bigger and better than any Har Gow I’ve ever eaten in any Dim Sum place (and I have eaten in dozens from NYC to SF). The wrapping was so fine and light that they literally fell apart when I lifted them up from the steamer basket. They were also at least twice as big as any in a Chinese restaurant, with whole shrimp (not chopped up shrimp mush) and bamboo shoots. The table had dumpling sauce as well as other condiments if you want to dip them in sauce, but they are great by themselves.

The only dish that was a miss was the chow fun noodles for $7.95. I chose beef, but you have the option of chicken or vegetarian. The chinese broccoli had too many woody stems, the noodles lacked flavor (you can doctor it with the tableside condiments, but you should not have to season your food), the beef was tender but scarce, and there was a puddle of oil at the bottom of the bowl. Skip this dish and go for one of the ramen bowls if you want noodles.

Seeing Sticky Rice with Chinese Sausage wrapped in Lotus Leaf for $5.50 on the menu, I had to order it. My Aunt used to make these and send me home with a dozen that I would make last for as long as possible until I saw her again. I haven’t had one since she passed away and I was almost afraid to try one made in a restaurant, but these are wonderful. I could only eat one, so I took the other home (to re steam).

The filling was full of pork, preserved salty egg, shittake, and the rice was perfectly infused with the lotus leaf flavor. One of the packages had more filling than the other, but both were delicious if you like this ethnic comfort food. I’m tempted to order a few orders of this to go and freeze them like I used to with the ones my Aunt made:)

As I told the server (another Asian), I am so very glad to have this place close to home without having to deal with those pesky Asian drivers in Chinatown or Monterey Park; I can say that because it takes one to know one:)

Pingtung on Urbanspoon

Sometimes I feel like Goldilocks tasting food across the city; some dishes are bad, some are just bland, and I keep searching for ones that are just right, hoping to find the best ones. Unlike the notoriously bad review by the New York Times of American Kitchen and Bar, I do my best to post something likeable or hopeful about every place I go, unless something happens so beyond good taste or good manners that I remove a review, which has only happened once (for exceedingly bad manners).

So with all this being said, I will begin with the bad. Jinya Ramen recently opened on Sawtelle and I was looking forward to good broth to rival the excellent Tsujitawhich has lines around the block for a table. Unfortunately when their own press release says the broth is “pumped up with industrial quantities of dashi and dried fish” it means INDUSTRIAL, which a is distinctly different than QUALITY. As a franchise, I did not expect much, but I was appalled to see them using a MICROWAVE to heat up some ingredients! The spicy pork miso I ordered was presented beautifully, but after a few spoonfuls, I could not eat this exceedingly sweet slightly foul smelling soup.

Later that night I had an upset stomach and I woke up with the horrible consequence of having eaten an industrially produced soup stock. It is well worth the wait to eat at Tsujita.

After that experience I had to go get a bowl of something good to put into my system, so I headed over to Urth Cafefor their marvelous vegetarian chili. It is on their menu everyday and my favorite vegetarian chili (besides the one I make myself).

The quality of the ingredients and the blend of perfect spices, make this a filling and savory bowl of comfort food for any cold or rainy day.

After trying something new and something old, I wanted to try something different, so I went to Vino and Tapas in the Valley before a movie screening in the area. They have a Happy Hourfrom 4-7pm with drinks ranging from $4-7 and tapas for only $5. Since they open at 4pm the place was empty, but that was fine with me since that meant I could get in and out before my movie with ease.

I ordered a Kaiken 2009 Malbec which was quite nice, but ended with the much nicer DeLoach Pinot Noir, both $6 each during Happy Hour and served in the perfect glassware for the varietal!

I hardly ever see chicken livers on any menu, so I had to order them. They were a bit overcooked and a bit bland, so I asked for some salt, but even adding seasoning could not save this dish.

I also ordered some mushrooms with garlic, herbs and a Chardonnay sauce which were so delectable that I ate the sauce with slices of bread to soak up every last bite!

To get rid of the taste of the chicken livers, I ordered the meatballs in tomato sauce which had a nice basil flavor and decent tomato sauce. It was not an outstanding dish, but it was executed well and a nice rendition of the classic.

It was wonderful to end on the excellent flourless chocolate cake dessert for $8 with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate sauce. It is a very rare event when I finish a dessert and I finished this one!

I am very grateful to have a happy sweet ending to this week before Thanksgiving, and I am very grateful for all of you who read my blog and for all that I am able to share with you!

Vino Wine & Tapas Room on Urbanspoon

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