Thursday, November 1, 2007

Second L.A. dinner OR "Google, You my only friend!"

by Xani


After all that comfort food at Tracht's, we thought some lighter fare might be the way to go for our next dinner in LA. Returning from a long day of work, I fired up the laptop and tried to figure out where to get some damn good sushi. Like most major cities in the US, LA has a LOT of sushi places! How was I ever going to pick one? I was surfing through Chowhound posts, Zagat ratings, etc, all while cross-referencing against a map of LA (remember, we've got the whole traffic-factor to consider). In the midst of all this, a distant memory swam to mind...

I have been here before.

I ate great sushi.

It came to me as if by magic.


All of a sudden I remembered my last visit to Los Angeles, almost four years ago. I remembered eating at a tiny sushi joint in the Japanese section of town... and I wanted to go back. I remembered having a great meal there, and enjoying one special dish in particular. But the name was long forgotten; how would I find it again? Well, this sushi place had a very distinct feature, sometimes known as "Robot Sushi." Not sushi made my robots (although that sounds kindof awesome), robot sushi is prepared by human chefs, then placed on a conveyor belt which runs in front of customers seated at the bar, who then choose whatever they like as it moves along (final bill is tallied by adding up the number of plates one has collected over the course of the meal, different color plates have different prices). So cool! The only thing cooler is this place I once went to in San Francisco, where the sushi bar was surrounded by a little moat, and the sushi floated by on tiny boats! But I digress... I was now on a mission to find this robot sushi joint. I began Googling various nonsensical search strings such as "robot sushi LA japantown" and "conveyor sushi los angeles little japan." Finally I managed to track down the place, whose (potentially offensive?) name was immediately familiar to me.


Ah, Frying Fish Japanese Seafood and Sushi Bar-- how could I forget! Frying Fish is located in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles. We had another relatively traffic-free cruise up to LA, and after a couple of quick detours (read: we were lost for an hour) we arrived and grabbed a couple of seats at the bar. Here's a little video of the sushi going by (the first BCD video!)

video

We were pretty hungry after our little detour which brings up another great thing about robot sushi (besides general awesome-ness)-- immediate food. Just seconds after sitting down we were digging into a couple of starters, some very decent wakame (seaweed) salad and some excellent octopus salad, before we got down to the real business...


Wakame Salad



Octopus Salad

In addition to the sushi shuttling by in front of us, the friendly and skilled sushi chefs were there to whip up anything that didn't happen to be on the conveyor belt (this happened to be a lot of things-- it was near closing and the belt was pretty empty, but the chefs were happy to prepare fresh and delicious dishes off their menu.) One dish, as I mentioned, I was excited to have again. I had remembered it fondly from my last visit, and I was nervous they wouldn't have it this time. But then, there it was, right on the menu: Honeymoon oyster.





This, Dear Reader, is pure heaven to me. I mean, any dish that I remember from four years ago has got to be something special! It has so many of my favorite things: raw oyster, uni (sea urchin roe, my favorite sushi ingredient), masago (smelt roe-- the little orange eggs you are probably used to seeing on the outside of your California Roll), and uzura, or raw quail egg, on top. OK, raw quail egg is not necessarily one of my favorites, but it totally works on this dish. I nibbled a little of the uni and masago with my chopsticks, then picked up the whole oyster shell and slurped it down. Amazing-- it perfectly balanced the richness from the egg, briny-ness from the oyster, salty crunch from the masago, and the indescribable flavor and texture of uni; one absolutely perfect bite. I told co-worker Mike, who bravely ordered a Honeymoon oyster of his own (and enjoyed it!), that if I am going to pay $5 for one bite of food, I want it to taste as good as that bite, every time. Delicious.


Next a couple of tasty rolls: one whose name I can't remember, but it was spicy tuna on top of a California roll-- we'll just call it the Frying Fish Roll because honestly they just make those names up anyway, right? and the Rainbow Roll. Both were excellent. The spicy tuna had quite a bit of heat but not so much that it completely overwhelmed the tuna flavor. Rainbow roll was gorgeous and featured shrimp (cooked, unfortunately), tuna, salmon, himachi, and at least one "mystery fish." Didn't scare us though-- we ate mystery fish and lived to tell the tale!



Frying Fish Roll



Rainbow Roll




Finally the belt stopped spinning, the music went off, and we had had our fill of sushi, anyway. The waitress came by to count our plates, the bill ended up being extremely reasonable (even including the enormous bottle of Asahi beer I drank!), AND they validated our parking. We headed back to our hotel (without getting lost) and even managed to find a ColdStone Creamery to get a little after-sushi dessert (my new favorite flavor combo: sweet cream w/coconut). So far, we're two for two for LA eats!

X

P.S. I was able to dig up the video I took last year in San Francisco of the sushi on boats. For your viewing enjoyment:



video



Second BCD video!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Why Yes, Halloween is Our Favorite Holiday! Thanks for Asking.

by Xani and Erin

So last year we did Haunted Gingerbread Houses. I bet you have been unable to sleep wondering what those crazy BCD girls had in mind to celebrate Halloween this year, right?? This year, we let others throw the parties (thanks Hayley, Kim, and Sarah!) and decided to focus on one of our other passions: crafts. And not just any crafts, edible crafts!

Not sure exactly where we got the idea, but sometime, oh, maybe July-ish, we started thinking about our Halloween crafts (doesn't everyone?). We both fondly remembered the grade-school treat of a Dum-Dum pop wrapped in a tissue with eyes drawn on to make a spooky ghost, so we decided to go with a more "sophisticated" (and infinitely more complicated) version: Caramel Lady Apple Ghosts.

We had it all planned out: on Sunday, not only were we going to create dozens of Caramel Apple Ghosts, we were ALSO going to cook BCD Dad's birthday dinner and dessert (post to come) AND carve jack-o-lanterns. An ambitious plan? Yes. An impossible plan?? Evidently, yes. These caramel apples were trouble from beginning to end, and took a lot longer than we thought! Eventually we got them all made, and had a delicious dinner, but sadly the jackos got the boot. There are only so many hours in a day!!

Our first step on the caramel apple project was to get the ingredients (Erin had already gotten all the necessary crafting supplies, or so we thought...). We wanted to use lady apples because they are smaller (and therefore cuter) and also because smaller apples means a higher surface to volume ratio, therefore a greater caramel to apple ratio, and therefore more delicious caramel per bite! BCD parents had dutifully checked for lady apples at the H-Mart a couple of weeks ago and even brought us back a few samples to make sure they were exactly what we wanted. So we were confident in our supplier. On the day we were to make our delicious crafts we confidently strutted into the produce section and quickly found... nothing. NO LADY APPLES ANYWHERE! Apparently they "ran out." We immediately panicked, we couldn't just use regular apples-- they aren't cute enough! So we called BCD Mom. If anyone knows where to find obscure grocery items, it's her! She let her fingers do the walking, and after calling a number of specialty and gourmet markets with no luck, tracked down the apples at Lotte market, a Korean market which happened to be on our way home. We rushed over there, grabbed the apples, then headed back to BCD headquarters to get started...

Before we got to cooking, we of course needed to create and apply adorable little labels to the Popsicle sticks which would go into each apple (our friends had to know who they were from, of course!). We have a habit of going a little clip-art crazy when it comes to this type of project, not to mention the fonts, format, phrasing, etc, etc. Finally we ended up with these:

Check out that spooky font! And the BATS!

Gellie wants to help

After stabbing each apple with its labeled Popsicle stick, and chopping the peanuts, it was time to make the caramel (also known as Disaster Sauce). We were using this recipe from Martha Stewart. Doesn't it look deceptively simple?? Yeah, well, it's NOT. Making caramel, or any candy-making, really, is hard. (We now appreciate so much more our Aunt Gloria's homemade candies from back in the day!) It's complicated, requiring exact measurements of ingredients and temperature, and it's hazardous, as the hot melted sugar is the same approximate temperature and consistency as napalm (but more delicious, I'm assuming).

Anyhow, we followed the recipe and managed to get all the apples dipped in caramel and peanuts despite 1) a boil-over scare which threatened to burn down the house AND horribly disfigure both of us for life, and 2) the caramel changing consistency once it reached its final cooking temperature, meaning it quickly went from a smooth sauce which easily coated the apples to a slimy, oily paste that slid directly off the apples and back into the pot-- what's up with that??

This is why caramel tastes so good... butter, sugar, cream, & corn syrup.

Disaster Sauce in the making

You can see how close we came to a boil-over...

With apples dipped and fires/burns avoided, it was time to get crafty. We had grossly underestimated the amount of cheesecloth we would need to turn our little ladies into spooky ghosts, so BCD Mom came to the rescue again-- she went to two different stores to track down more (THANKS MOM!). Then each apple needed to be wrapped in a cut-to-size piece of waxed paper, then in cheesecloth, and THEN tied with jute (also known as "spooky rope"). What a process! Finally we drew on eyes and a mouth, and they were ready to go! Here's the final product, what do you think?

BOO!

This Halloween season flew by, but we got to indulge in our favorite things: costumes, parties, cooking, and crafting. Time to start thinking about next year!

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Xani and Erin

P.S. Please enjoy some Halloween pictures!! See Xani as WWII icon Rosie the Riveter, and Erin as a witch who's been burned at the stake!

We Can Do It!

I won't be burned!

Eyeing some delicious cupcakes at Kim's Halloween Party

It Burns!

Xani as Rosie and Hayley as a Jedi

Tannor hates being Yoda

Biggie makes a great Ewok!

The whole Jedi family

The punch was STRONG!

Ooooh... science.

Trick or Treat!

Monday, October 29, 2007

FINALLY, Someone Thought I Was Famous

by Erin

A few nights ago, I went to dinner at The Helmand, a famous Afghan restaurant in Baltimore. I had heard about The Helmand and how amazing it was from many people, and when I did a little research on it I found that it had won Best Middle Eastern Food in 2004, 2005, and 2006 in The City Paper's Best of Baltimore, plus a whole host of other awards. When my dinner plans with law school buddies Veronica and Kerry were solidified, I was excited to say the least.

When we first arrived, we had to wait a bit for our table but were soon seated at a prime table in the middle of the dimly lit and ornately decorated dining room. Our waitress came and took our drink orders (I got a glass of Chardonnay; Kerry and Veronica got glasses of Beaujolais) and then gave us a basket of bread and butter. In my usual blogger mode, I whipped out my camera and began snapping shots (although as you will see, it was very dim so my pictures are not great). Then, suddenly a friendly man (a manager of the restaurant, maybe?) came up to me and said "Would you like to see how the bread is made?" FINALLY, someone thought I was a real food critic or writer or something equally important! It was such a rush! The three of us were guided to a corner of the restaurant behind the bar, where the man explained what another man, the breadmaker, was doing. First he took a ball of dough from a container (maybe it was rising, maybe just resting) and rolled it out into a large sheet, about the size of a full sheet pan, and about half an inch thick. Then he folded the dough over a rolling pin and carefully placed it in a wood-burning oven. During the time it took to bake (about three minutes) the baker popped a few bubbles that were forming in the bread with a long metal skewer-type tool. Then he took the bread out, posed for a picture, and proceeded to cut it up into small pieces for the bread baskets. So cool! Clearly this man has made a lot of bread - he made it look so easy! We were totally honored and thrilled to have gotten invited to see the bread-making. We're practically famous...

Anyway, when we returned to our seats, we got down to business and began perusing the menu. I really enjoyed dining with Veronica and Kerry because they are good eaters - they'll try anything, and they love to SHARE. So, in the spirit of sharing, we decided to get five appetizers and three mains and share the wealth.

For our appetizers, we ordered:

  • Kaddo Borawni, pan-fried and baked baby pumpkin seasoned with sugar and served on yogurt garlic sauce
  • Aushak, Afghan ravioli filled with leeks and served on yogurt-mint topped with ground beef sauce
  • Banjan Borawni, pan-fried eggplant seasoned with fresh tomatoes and spices baked and served on yogurt garlic sauce
  • Mantwo, homemade pastry shells filled with onions and beef, served on yogurt and topped with carrots, yellow split peas and beef sauce
  • Shornakhod, potatoes, chickpeas and spring onion salad served with cilantro vinaigrette dressing

Banjan Borawni (pan-fried eggplant with tomatoes)

Shornakhod (potato, chickpea, cilantro salad)

Kaddo Borawni (baby pumpkin)

Aushak (leek ravioli with ground beef sauce)

Mantwo (pastry filled with beef and onions, with beef sauce and yellow split peas)

All of these dishes were so amazing! But, we had to pick a favorite, and it was a tie between the Kaddo Borawni (the sweet pumpkin with yogurt garlic sauce) and the Shornakod (salad with potatoes and chickpeas). The pumpkin dish had been recommended to me by Xani (her only words of advice: "Get the pumpkin thing!") and it was so delicious - it was sweet with a little bit of salt from the sauce, and the pumpkin was very delicate without being mushy. Also, very seasonal with Halloween coming up! The chickpea and potato salad was AWESOME. It was really fresh and light but still substantial - like I could eat a whole big bowl of it for dinner if given the opportunity. In addition to the cilantro vinaigrette, the salad had a cilantro paste on top, sort of like a pesto, and it was so intense and flavorful, and DELICIOUS. I want it right now.

After our yummy appetizers, we moved on to mains. Veronica requested that we have at least one lamb dish, and that we did! We ordered:

  • Dwopiaza, seasoned tenderloin of lamb cooked with onions, sauteed with yellow split-peas and tossed with onions lightly marinated in vinegar; served with pallow
  • Sabzy Challow, spinach sauteed with chunks of beef and Afghan seasonings; served with challow
  • Koufta Challow, combination of lamb and beef meatballs seasoned with sun-dried baby grapes, paprika and tumeric in hot green pepper, great peas and fresh tomato sauce; served with challow

The mains were also quite delicious. The Dwopiaza had chunks of lamb which was marinated and nicely cooked, which was served with vegetables and a cilantro sauce on the side. It was also served with pallow, which is rice that is seasoned with spices (the only one I could clearly detect was cinnamon) and that was so delicious and unexpected.

The Koufta Challow was also quite good. The meatballs were yummy and the rich tomato sauce served alongside made a great accompaniment. This dish was served on challow, which is rice seasoned with savory spices and herbs. It did not have as much of a distinctive flavor as the pallow but that was okay since the meatballs and sauce had a lot of flavors going on.

The Sabzy Challow was my favorite main dish. It sort of reminded me of the Indian dish Palak Paneer (you know, the one with the spinach and cheese - yum!). The spinach was so delicious, and the beef was really flavorful and tender, and a little bit fatty. Also served with challow, it was absolutely fantastic!

Though we were just about ready to fall asleep from fullness, wine, and happiness, we took a gander at the dessert menu. Saying "I'm just curious to see what they have" is the kiss of death! After a bit of a debate, we ordered the Afghan Ice Cream, which was vanilla ice cream with dates, dried figs, fresh mango, and spices. It was delicious and unique, and just the right amount of sweetness to end the meal. In addition to dessert, we needed some caffeine. Veronica ordered a Turkish Coffee, Kerry got a cappuccino, and I got just straight up coffee. Yummmm...

Coffee

Cappuccino

Turkish Coffee

Afghan Ice Cream

It was a delicious and super-fun meal! The only criticism we had of the experience was that our waitress was not very friendly and seemed a bit bothered with us, especially when we were not ready for her to take our order (too much chatting!). It's unfortunate that she was such a sourpuss because everyone else we encountered (manager who took us to see bread baked, baker man, host, other waiters) was very sweet and gracious. Too bad! I would definitely go back though, no doubt about it. I need those chickpeas!

Thanks to Kerry and Veronica for being such fabulous and patient (while I snapped my pics) dinner companions! You guys are the best! We love the Helmand! (Especially because they thought we were important!)

Happy eating,

EP

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