Friday, April 28, 2006

Review: Mike & Anne's Restaurant, South Pasadena

While perusing the internet a couple months back, my husband stumbled upon news of a new restaurant opening in South Pasadena. He told me that it was scheduled to open in April and we were both excited at the prospect of a new, "nice" dining place so close to our house.

Grilled asparagus

Mike & Anne's Restaurant opened this past Monday, so we decided to give it a try after strolling around the Thursday Farmer's Market and buying waaaay too many grapefruit. We walked in at around 7:00 pm and a few tables were occupied in the airy, modern and well-lit place. We were seated promptly and given the menu. We had checked the menu online and were disappointed to see that the current menu is about 50% smaller although I'm sure they plan to increase the number of items soon.


We decided to start with the Zucchini Parmesan Fritters. My husband ordered the Vegetable Cassoulet with Grilled Ciabatta as his main while I chose to have two starters- the Grilled Asparagus w/ Manchego, Black Pepper, Sherry Honey Vinaigrette and the Grilled Bratwurst w/ Mustard & Red Cabbage. Our very nice waitress opened the Cotes-Du-Ventoux which we purchased at Nicole's earlier. The restaurant does have a small wine list and charges $10 corkage, although they have a Monday-Tuesday special of free corkage on any wine purchased at Mission Wines, right down the street.


We sat back and awaited our appetizer while trying to see what other people were eating. The portions looked generous and we were excited for our meal. We were given a small bread plate with three slices of nice French bread and creamy unsalted butter. Shortly thereafter, a different waitress came up with three plates saying "vegetable cassoulet?" I told her that we had ordered the fritters to start and she just looked confused. I told her again so she took everything back into the kitchen and started talking to the chef. After a minute or so, she came back with the same three dishes (our mains) so I once again asked about the appetizers. Finally, our waitress came over and apologized about forgetting to put the order in for the fritters but that they would be brought out soon.

Vegetable cassoulet

Our dishes looked very nice, and we dug in. The cassoulet was well-flavored although the portion seemed small for a main dish- we looked around to see other customers noshing on very large portions of the pork chops and John Dory. Anyway, my bratwurst came cut into 4 pieces and resting on a long, narrow and thick piece of grilled ciabatta which was topped with the braised red cabbage. It looked nice, but it just didn't really work. The bread was rock solid and difficult to cut and chew. The bratwurst was fine and the accompanying mustard and apple puree were nice but I guess when someone orders a bratwurst, you expect a nice hulking link of sausage (stop laughing) -not an unstable, arty presentation of one. My grilled asparagus was again, fine, although there was only a fine sprinkling of grated manchego and the vinaigrette was overly sweet. We got the fritters which were deceivingly golden brown since they provided no crunch at all and had the texture of clouds, which usually wouldn't be a bad thing but aren't fritters supposed to be crispy on the outside? We finished off the meal with their cheese plate which I thought was excellent- the St, Augur Bleu, Garlic Black Pepper, Aged Gouda served with Fig Jam , Micro Arrugula and Chestnut Honey were all delicious.

Cheese plate

Although it wasn't the best dining experience, I have to say that I can't be too hard on a place that just opened a few days ago. The service was sincere and they even comp'd the fritters since they came at the end of the meal. I think we will give it a month and try again- hopefully it will turn into a great neighborhood restaurant.

1040 mission street, suite 102
South Pasadena, CA

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Crispy Baked Chicken

I will be the first to admit that I scowl at recipes which include ingredients like Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup or other packaged, processed foods. There's a series of commercials called "Food Bites" that annoys me to no end- "Want an easy dinner? Take a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, mix it in with your favorite mayonnaise, spread it on some salmon filets and bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve with a side of green beans. A quick and easy dinner your family will love!" 'Scuse me? What family are you talking about coz my family would probably toss that salmon out of the window. I'm all for quick and easy but I'm not about to open a packet of powder, dump it on some meat and call it dinner.

That said, I do use one ingredient from time to time that might sort of be related to the concept of using a canned soup as a sauce. Corn flakes. Yup- regular 'ol Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Although it is pre-made, I can't say that it's exactly the same as the aforementioned Food Bites type of cooking. Where did I first get the idea to use corn flakes as breading? RICK BAYLESS! That's right- he of the Topolobampo Restaurant, multiple cookbooks and James Beard Award Winning fame. Just call him Mr. Gourmet Mexican Cooking. Now don't get the wrong idea- Rick didn't actually give me the idea like, talking to me on the phone or anything (hello?! Do you think I actually know him?). I was flipping through his Mexico: One Plate At A Time when I came across a grouper recipe that sounded scrumptious. And yes- it was coated with crushed CORN FLAKES. I made it for a family dinner and it turned out to be one of my biggest hits ever.

Keeping that recipe in mind, I once again purchased some corn flakes when I got a sudden hankering for some fried chicken. Since I'm on a pseudo-diet until my trip to Japan in two weeks (trust me- being in a sea of little people makes you feel like a behemoth!) I figured that deep fried meat probably shouldn't be on my menu. After all, I have to save the deep-fried-meat-eating for all of the katsu that I plan to consume once I actually get to Japan!! Anyway, I bought some boneless, skinless chicken breasts, marinated them in buttermilk mixed with garlic, and then dredged them in a mixture of corn flakes, salt, pepper, dried basil, cayenne, garlic powder and dried thyme. After placing the chicken on a baking sheet and spraying them with a bit of cooking spray, I baked them for about 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.


The results? Crunchier than regular fried chicken, it really filled that need for something deep fried. The coating tends to break off a bit if you don't cut your chicken carefully, but the flavor and crunch were really extraordinary and I'd definitely make it again.

Serve with broccolli for a complete meal!

I'm still allowed to turn my nose up at things like the Creamy Mushroom Soup Chicken Bake right?


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Second life: Risotto Cakes

As much as I love vegetables, whole grains and water, I have to admit that I'm a sucker for anything creamy, cheesy, crispy and rich. Luckily my parents raised my sister and I to pretty much eat anything that was put in front of us (although I still can't eat natto) so I love a wide variety of foods. Sure, nothing beats a freshly picked tomato with just a sprinkle of good sea salt and drizzle of olive oil on a hot summer day, but I could eat onions rings any day of the year. Ditto for pizza, tuna toast, croissants or foie gras. Who needs a good excuse to eat fat? This girl needs none, although fear of obesity is a pretty good motivator to keep the fat intake at a reasonable level.

Fry them up in a pan.......

To fulfill my need for creamy, I made risotto for Easter a couple of weeks back. Since there was quite a bit leftover, I simply tossed it in a tupperware and put it in the freezer, knowing exactly what I'd do with it. I think, subconsciously, I made the risotto for Easter knowing that I could reincarnate the leftovers into the one thing I'd been craving for a long time: risotto cakes. I mean, what's to dislike about cheesy risotto, breaded and fried and swimming in a pool of warm marinara?? Nothing, I tell you. Although I've had risotto cakes in various restaurants, I had never made them myself. Now was my chance!!!

I only ate two........for the first serving...

I took the defrosted risotto, diced some of the larger pieces of shrimp in it and added some grated pecorino romano. I also added one small, beaten egg and then patted the mixture into 1/4 cup-sized cakes, which proved a bit messy but I got the hang of it after the 4th one. After dredging first in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, I shallow fried them in some canola oil and then plated them with the marinara. The end result was everything I had ever dreamed of- a crunchy, crispy shell which broke open to release the hot, creamy risotto. I can't even tell you how good it was! I think I will have to make risotto more often simply to have the chance to make these cakes again.

As Robyn would say, "INNARDS!"

Now excuse me while I hit the treadmill;)


Monday, April 24, 2006

Cure-all: GYOZA

Our house has turned into a hospital of late- my husband is recovering from ear surgery and my sister is on pain meds until her back surgery next week. Although I certainly wish neither had to have an operation, it's actually been a nice opportunity to get some quality time in, since no one is running around being busy. Sometimes it's only when you're forced to slow down that you actually do, and the two of them have just been resting up and trying to stay comfortable.

Although we now have an armory of prescription painkillers (no no, there is no party at my house tonight!), nothing makes the body feel better than homemade gyoza. Ahhhhhh, GYOZA, how I love thee so. Your crispy but tender skins filled with juicy pork, plump shrimp.......dipped in shoyu (soy sauce), su (vinegar) and raiyu (chili oil)......*sigh*.

Shrimp before meeting their gyoza fate!

Ok, that was my Ode To Gyoza. Anyway, I decided to make the patients some gyoza last night. Although I have watched my mom make The Best Gyoza Known To Man many times since I was a kid, I somehow never got up the energy to make it myself. It's not exactly a complicated recipe, but filling the skins, pinching them into a half-moon shape and carefully layering them in a dish takes time and patience. It isn't exactly a weeknight type of meal, and since J and I eat out on the weekends, I just hadn't gotten an opportunity to make them. Or, I was just too lazy. Yeah- it's probably the latter.

The shrimp join the rest of the filling...

Put filling in the skin....

Pinch to seal

All in a row....

I don't have my mom's exact recipe, but I have a general idea of what goes into it. I combined 1/2 ground pork with 1/2 minced shrimp, then added chopped cabbage, green onions, garlic, ginger juice and a small amount of soy sauce, mirin and sake. The best way to get this all nicely combined is to just roll up your sleeves, take your rings off and start smushing the mixture with your hand- grabbing fistfuls and letting it ooze in between your fingers so that everything is WELL combined. After doing that for a few minutes, I just put a generous tablespoon of the filling into each gyoza wrapper, pinched it into shape and repeated. And repeated. And repeated. And.....well, you get the idea. Luckily my sister stepped in and helped me. I got the largest frying pan I have and put about a tablespoon of canola oil and a teaspoon of sesame oil and heated it very well before putting down my rows of gyoza. After letting the bottoms brown for about 6 minutes, I tossed in about 1/2 cup of hot water and quickly closed the lid to let them steam. Next, I tried a trick that my parents taught me- I put a cold, wet towel on the counter and set my hot pan on top of it for about 3 minutes- this actually releases the gyoza inside the pan- otherwise you've have shredded gyoza since they tend to stick to the pan. You don't want to use a non-stick since you don't get the beautiful brown crust that you do with a non non-stick. It worked like magic! As soon as you set the pan down on the towel, you hear the "shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" sound of steam, then a few minutes later the goyza simply slides out.

Are you sure this is enough gyoza??

Close up

We all scafed down way more gyoza than any human should consume, but my husband's ear and sister's back got better instantly! Well, not really but we were all pretty happy so I can tell you that gyoza does cure at least the blues of feeling under the weather.
Gyoza, hiyayyakko, green beans w/ miso, pea sprout salad & rice


3/4 pound lean ground pork
3/4 pound raw shrimp, diced
1 cup finely diced green cabbage
1/2 cup finely diced green onion
2 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS sake
1 TBS mirin (sweet cooking sake)
1 TBS ginger juice (put grated ginger in a paper towel or cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice)
1 TBS of minced garlic
bit of salt

1 package gyoza wrappers (usually contains around 50-60)

Canola oil
Sesame oil

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Take a generous tablespoon of filling and put in the center of one gyoza wrapper. Wet finger with water and moisten one edge of the wrapper. Fold the other half over to make a half-moon shape and then pinch the seams to seal tightly. Repeat.

Heat 1 TBS canola oil and 1 tsp sesame oil in a non telfon pan. Wait until oil is hot (but not smoking) and lay gyoza in rows, seam side up. Let bottoms brown for about 5 minutes and then pour 1/2 cup of hot water in the pan and quickly cover tightly with a lid. Let the gyoza steam for about 5 minutes. Take the hot pan off the stove and set it down (lid on) on a cold, damp towel. After about 3 minutes, remove lid and serve. Dip gyoza in a mixture of about 3 parts soy sauce, 1 part vinegar and 1 part chili oil.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Pizza and Vegan Lemon Cookies

I love pizza. Thin, crispy/chewy pizza. What's not to like about dough, tomato sauce, cheese and herbs? I totally get why pizza is so popular- there are so many variations that there's something for everyone. I, personally, prefer the thin crust with the crispy edge and chewy center lightly topped with a good tomato sauce and sprinkled with cheese + some fresh herbs.

Although one of my goals is to make the perfect, handmade pizza crust, I don't always have the time to experiment. My first attempt wasn't bad but it also wasn't great for all the time I spent on it. I do plan to continue my quest for the perfect homemade crust, but in the meantime I think I found the best alternative (which is actually waaay better than my first crust) for a nice, homemade-style crust in a hurry. I can't believe I didn't discover it sooner. After all, it is created by the guy who's been there for me over the years- the one who always comes up with creative and delicious ideas but knows that I don't want to spend a fortune. Yup, it's that guy again. Joe. Trader Joe.

Trader Joe's Pizza Dough is sold in the refrigerated section and comes in a plastic bag. It comes in plain, whole wheat and herb flavors- I bought the plain. At 99 cents, you can't beat it. After letting the dough rest at room temperature for about an hour, I just plopped it onto my well-floured board and started rolling. It handled SO easily and I had my round pizza shape in no time flat. I lightly brushed the dough with olive oil and smeared it with some Trader Joe's pizza sauce (again, no time to home make but this one was really, really good. That Joe! He can do no wrong!). After giving it a generous sprinkling of grated mozzarella, my pizza was ready to be put onto the pizza stone in the 500 degree oven.

Just 10 short minutes later, the pizza was bubbling in all the right places so I took it out, grated some pecorino Romano on top and finished it off with a shower of fresh oregano. My sister and I dug in and both agreed- TJ's is Da Man. I definitely want to one day make a crust as good as TJ's, but I have to admit, being able to buy such a great product that requires almost no time (and no money!) makes it difficult to stay motivated.

On a completely different note- I recently made some vegan cookies. No no, I am far from being vegan but I love to bake for my coworkers, and one of them is vegan. She's one of the nicest people and I feel badly that she can't eat most of the baked goods I bring. I made a variation on Vanilla Spritz Cookies from Sinfully Vegan by Lois Dieterly. I've had this book for awhile and I must say- every single thing I've made from it has been absolutely delicious. Personally, I find that a lot of vegan desserts taste the same- they tend to be heavy, and most are a variation on an oat/date/raisin theme, or a date/chocolate one. I purposely chose these cookies because you honestly would not think they were vegan at all. Crisp, buttery and light, they simply taste like a vanilla butter cookie should. To make them a bit more dressed up, I made a simple icing from lemon juice and confectioner's sugar, then topped that with some sparkling sugar crystals. Even my coworkers who normally wrinkle their noses at vegan sweets were asking for seconds and thirds. The lemon icing really complimented the vanilla in the little cookies.

Vegan Vanilla Butter Cookies w/ Lemon Icing
Adapted from Sinfully Vegan

1 cup canola oil margarine
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon egg replacement powder (I used Ener-G)
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons vanilla almond milk (or any non-dairy milk will do, soy, etc)
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
4 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 400. Cream butter, shortening and sugar together. In a small cup, combine egg replacement powder with the water and and all that, the almond milk and vanilla seeds to the butter mixture and stir to combine. Mix flour and baking powder in a bowl and add slowly to butter mixture. If batter is too sticky, add more flour until it forms a soft ball.

Form dough into 2 balls, flatten into discs and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour. Take sections of the chilled dough, roll out to 1/4 inch thickness on a well-floured board and cut with cookie cutters or with a knife. Place on baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on size.

For icing:

2 cups confectioners sugar
2-3 TBS freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 TBS grated lemon peel

Combine until you reach desired thickness. Add more lemon juice to thin, more sugar to thicken.

Once cookies have cooled, drizzle each with the icing and quickly sprinkle with sparkling sugar. Let cookies sit at room temperature until the icing has hardened. Store at room temperature in airtight containers.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Food Segment!

(this lost post just magically appeared again, so here it is!)

As most of you probably are not aware, I work in the TV business. I love my job but do daydream about being able to one day combine my career with my love of food/cooking. Don't get me wrong- I have absolutely no desire to ever be on the air. In fact, I hate being on the air in any shape or form. When we rehearse certain live shows, I often get asked to stand in for talent while the camera guys and audio techs check the setup- even that makes me uneasy. Seeing myself on the monitor while pretending to talk about red carpet fashion just makes me cringe....and I'm not even on the air! I don't know what it is, but I've just never been one of those people who likes to see themselves on TV. It makes me shudder just thinking about it.

I do, however, have a great desire to control things (ask poor J) and seem to thrive in situations where I can plan things and execute them. Producing a food show would be a dream come true, and I got a little taste of that yesterday. The show that I work on covers what's on television on any given week, and one of yesterday's segments focused on NBC's "Celebrity Cooking Showdown." We booked a satellite interview with Wolfgang Puck and Cindy Margolis but wanted to pair that with something in-studio. We decided to stage our own cooking showdown between our two hosts, D and J (not my husband, but another J) but do a sushi showdown since it wouldn't require any burners. I was excited to help coordinate the segment and got to work.

I knew that there was a new sushi place near my house called Mia Sushi in Eagle Rock so I called them to try and book our "expert guest," a sushi chef. Not only were they enthusiastic about the idea but they also agreed to supply all of the ingredients necessary to stage the contest. That night I went home and washed the three yukatas (summer cotton kimonos) that I have- I wanted to make D and J wear them during the segment.

The next day, the sushi restaurant owner Rudy and the sushi chef, Kazu, showed up with a truckload of supplies. Mounds of spicy tuna, perfectly julienned cucumbers, wispy sprigs of kaiware (daikon sprouts), deep red maguro, flaky piles of imitation crab and enough small dishes, knives and accesories to house a Sur La Table. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating but I started to worry that they would be disappointed that they segment would only last 3 minutes! Kazu-san got to work setting up our table and 30 minutes later, it looked like our own, on-set sushi bar.

Although Kazu was nervous, he did a fantastic job. First, we had him demonstrate how to properly make a cut roll, then had him whip out a stopwatch and say "Ready, Set, ROLL!" Our two hosts were off and running and Kazu stood there making little comments here and there about their maki-rolling prowess. In the end, both rolls looked pretty messed up but D's was the clear winner, while J's barely stayed together after he tried in vain to slice it before securing the roll.

Our host, D, wearing the yukata that my Obaachan made!

Our host, J, wearing the yukata that my dad gave my husband

Sushi fillings.....

Ready to start the segment

So, I guess I kind of fulfilled a mini fantasy of coordinating a food show.....well, at least a food segment. I think it was great because the sushi chef was just himself- he was so nervous at the beginning but ended up being the star of the show. I hope that with the rising popularity of cooking shows (most of them, including the Celebrity Cooking Challenge are just awful) I'll get more chances to participate in food segments on our own little show.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Shrimp Risotto with Sweet Peas, Leeks, and Chervil

Last Saturday night, I had my family over for Easter Eve dinner. You didn't know there was an Easter Eve, did you? It's the one that is always held on a Saturday so that everyone can drink to their heart's desire and still have one more weekend day to recover....I mean relax. It's no fun getting all festive the day before everyone has to go to work early.

Initially, I thought I'd make a nice lamb roast, but then realized that my parents were bringing over the foie gras that J and I got them from France last summer. I didn't think a big hunk of meat would be the best thing to consume right after eating copious amounts of duck liver potted in duck fat (YUM). I needed to make something a bit, meaty. Since almost every recipe I've made out of Alfred Portale's Simple Pleasures, Home Cooking from the Gotham Bar and Grill's Acclaimed Chef has been a winner, I once again consulted my trusty copy. I decided on the Shrimp Risotto with Sweet Peas, Leeks, and Chervil since it fit well into Spring.

Mise en place

The risotto was so easy to put together- I managed to get a good 15 minutes of foie time with my family before even starting the main dish which took about 30 minutes total. In addition to the duck liver we had some beautifully gooey Roquefort filled with crystals and a nice, mellow goat cheese to go with the dried onion crackers. I did prepare my mise en place earlier in the day which freed me up to socialize. The foie gras was rich and delicious and went so well with the '98 Dom Perignon that we finally opened since receiving it on my birthday (thanks Debra!) two months ago. It was my first Dom and I have to say it was excellent!

Beet salads ready for pick up!

Headless family photo....

We had the risotto with a green salad with roasted golden beets (again....I know I just blogged about them but are so good I could eat them daily). Although the risotto recipe doesn't call for any grated cheese, I had grated some pecorino romano and set it on the table, which ended up being a good idea. Although the texture of the risotto was perfect, it was missing that little extra punch. Adding the cheese really tied everything together. I also think that by using a very large Dutch oven, I had too much surface space so the rice absorbed the stock very quickly. This resulted in the risotto being done (texture-wise) after using only half of the stock which probably contributed to the slight lack in flavor. Next time I will use a smaller pot. Other than that, I loved the combination of plump shrimp, tender leeks and sweet green peas and will definitely make this again.

Get a little closer......

My sister made a fantastic tropical cake for dessert- I can't remember the exact name but it is an Elizabeth Falkner (of Citizen Cake fame) recipe. The cake was very limey and was topped with freshly whipped cream and dried fruit. We ate it while watching our family favorite, Dotchi No Ryori Show. Wow- I should be a guest on that show since I mention it so much on this blog! I don't work for them I promise. I wish I did if any of the producers are reading this.....;). Actually, we did do a cooking segment on the show that I DO work on...more on that tomorrow!

Anyway, hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Gyu Kaku Pasadena- You Can't Relive the Past

A couple of months ago, my husband and I were walking around Old Town Pasadena when I saw a sign that read "Gyu Kaku, Opening April 2006." I shrieked and jumped up and down, tugging on poor J's (husband) sleeve yelping about how I used to go there often when I lived in Japan, the good times I had there with friends, the great yakiniku and jockey (mugs) of cold beer, etc. I know there are other Gyu Kaku locations in L.A. that have been open for awhile but none even remotely convenient to my Eastside residence so I was extremely excited about the Pasadena opening.

Gyu Kaku is a chain of yakiniku (grilled meat is the literal translation but it's basically Korean barbeque, Japanese-style) restaurants all over Japan. Unlike most yakiniku places, Gyu Kaku Japan is reasonably priced and therefore popular with young people. My coworkers and I would go when we wanted to treat ourselves- again, Gyu Kaku isn't expensive compared to other yakiniku places but yakiniku, in general, isn't a cheap outing. We'd sit and grill our own gyu tan (beef tongue), kalbi (short rib meat) and ebi (shrimp) while guzzling massive mugs (DAI jockey) of beer. It was a festive place with good food and I have such fond memories of our boisterous Gyu Kaku outings.

Last night, we made our maiden voyage to the Pasadena Gyu Kaku. We walked into a half-empty restaurant and were greeted by no fewer than three hostesses and a manager who all seemed extremely flustered. When we asked for a table for two, it seemed to make the already confused head hostess a bit nervous. " you have a reservation? Oh no? Ok, we will get back to you one minute please..." Their inexperience was palpable. NOT the best way to get started but the place sure did smell good, so I was hopeful. We waited for about 10 minutes and were seated.

Our young waiter came straight to the table with a quick explanation of the menu and pointed to a specials sign. Monday through Fridays, you can get a mug of Kirin for $1.99, which I immediately ordered. They also offer one dish per weeknight that is 50% off the regular price. Since last night's special was the ahi tuna w/ salt, we went for it. We also ordered the garlic mushrooms in butter wrapped in foil, garlic shrimp, kalbi w/ tare, sliced roast with garlic and white rice. I was excited to start the meal.

In about 3 minutes, the foil packet containing the mushrooms landed on our table and we threw it on the grill. The tuna arrived next, and I could see why it was 50% off. There were three measly little slices of tuna on the plate- no wonder it's 50% off! It's less than 50% of the regular serving. So actually, it isn't discounted at all. In fact, they're making more money from it. This really, really irritated me. Do they think customers are that stupid? Since it wasn't the waiter's fault, I decided to keep my mouth shut and just tossed it on the grill. It was not even good- it was actually quite fishy. I tried to remain positive but doubt was beginning to creep into my brain.

The roast came next- the meat was good but again....the plates were very very small. I was expecting the nice amount of thinly sliced beef spiraled onto a large round plate that you get in Japan. Instead, you got about 7 slices (thumb-length) of meat on a small, rectangular plate. For $6, I guess it isn't awful but can you believe that the Japanese counterpart is actually bigger than the American? Hell just froze over. The kalbi was also good but again, was gone in a flash due to the small portion. We got 4 butterflied shrimp for $7.95 and about 1/4 cup of kimchee for $4. When we opened the foil packet, it contained about 1/2 cup of quartered, regular 'ol button mushrooms. I guess I was expecting some enoki or shimeji or some other kind of Japanese fungi.

The main thing you noticed (other than the Lilliputian portions) is that all of the wait staff are YOUNG. I mean, maybe barely 21 (since you have to be 21 to serve alcohol right?). Young and amateur. Every time one of them enters an order into the computer and yells "O-da onegashimasu! (Order up!)" all of the remaining staff yell back "Yorokonde! (with pleasure)" which is cute, but it's so forced that you feel bad for them. You can tell that the staff has been drilled on the Gyu Kaku way: filling up the water glasses every time a customer takes a sip, taking the plates off the table the MINUTE that last piece of meat has been put on the grill and asking repeatedly if you'd like anything else. I appreciate the effort but it's just impossible to relax when you've got more wait staff than customers (honestly- there must have been 35 waiters) buzzing around you constantly. Not only that, but you just sense that each waiter has been groomed to be void of personality and simply repeat the Gyu Kaku chants robotically.

I know it all sounds harsh- and it is probably my fault for hanging onto the dear memories of my many fantastic dinners at Gyu Kaku in Tokyo. My father always tells me that you can't relive the past- even if you go back to the exact same place with the exact same people, each experience will always be different. Life changes, and although you can create many wonderful new experiences, you can never totally recreate ones you've already had. Although I realize this, I guess sometimes I need to be reminded. And that's what my trip to Gyu Kaku Pasadena did last night.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tha-thon tha-thon thon thon.....

Ok, I couldn't resist spoofing The Thong Song- many apologizes. As you can probably tell by the title of my blog, I love my thon. That's tuna in French. Canned, raw, broiled, grilled, sandwiched, pasta'd, pizza'd, cracker'd, salad'd or spread on toast (Tuna Toast!), it's one of my all-time favorite foods.

I think my love affair with tuna started with the gorgeously bubbling and panko-topped tuna casserole that my dad would make for me as a kid. It continued with mom's tuna sandwiches and tuna macaroni salads during the summer. In Japan, I was thrilled to find tuna tomato spaghetti at Caprichosa and ordered it every single time I'd go to any of their multiple locations. For a chain restaurant, they had amazing pasta dishes and pizzas. Bakeries in Tokyo carried beautiful "tsuna pan"- golden, buttery rolls with flaked tuna and Kewpie mayonnised baked right on top. Last summer in Nice, every single pizza I ate was topped with tuna and I couldn't have been happier. Yes, I love the little fishy.

When I spotted a recipe and photo for Bouchons Au Thon on Oswego Tea (by way of Orangette) I knew I HAD to try them. These cute litte wrinkly bouchons were a simple combination of tuna, crème fraîche, tomato paste, gruyère cheese, eggs, onion and parsley. What on earth could sound any better to my tuna-loving ears?!?!

Mixing in the onions and parsley

Ready for the oven

Warm and browned...

What did my tuna loving taste buds think of this creation? Oh, it was love at first creamy, flavorful and tuna-filled bite. Not quite a quiche and not as eggy as frittata, the slightly dense yet surprisingly light bouchon paired perfectly with slices of crusty baguette, a spring salad and a glass of crisp sauvignon blanc.

The salad was made with yet another purchase from last week's Farmer's Market- beautiful golden beets. After wrapping them individually in foil and baking for 40 minutes, they came out tender, earthy and sweet. My husband is as crazy about beets as I am about tuna so we sat and ate giddily as our cat looked on, probably wishing she could have a little bouchon of her own.

A very balanced