Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sugarfish: Nozawa Family Extends Its Tentacles to DTLA

Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa
600 W 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 627-3000


Don't come to Sugarfish wanting a Philly roll, a lobster roll with miso sauce, a simple California roll or anything covered in dynamite or mixed with mayonnaise.  Sugarfish is a sushi purist's delight, simply very fresh fish chosen with the highest standards in mind and prepared one way, Nozawa's way. Nothing more, nothing less.


Sugarfish is the brain child of infamous sushi nazi Chef Kazunori Nozawa, his son Tom Nozawa, Jerry Greenberg and Emanuele Massimini. This group of visionaries became inspired to expand Chef Nozawa's ideals of sushi purism far beyond Studio City's Sushi Nozawa location.


The interior of Sugarfish is beautifully modern and sleek. It mixes natural textures of wood, glass, marble and metal creating a simple space that does not detract nor distract from the beauty of the food in front of you. 


You aren't here to look at photography, a bar crowd, or the Mercedes pulling up outside. Make no mistake, you are here to look at the beautiful fish prepared very simply to enhance not hide its natural quality and flavors. You are here to eat the best sushi in the simplest sense of the word.


Tweeting with a friend who visited recently, she commented she found Sugarfish to be austere in its approach. Typically when someone tells me the fish was fresh but they found the menu boring, this is a sign we are talking about my kind of sushi. Kiyosaku in Palm Springs (of all places) fits this bill, as does Mitch's in Honolulu by the airport. As the Sugarfish menu above states, "Great sushi highlights the quality of the ingredients instead of 'fancy sauces' and rolls." I respond to this philosophy and am excited Sugarfish is 1.5 miles away from my front door and priced accessibly enough for regular visits.


There are three prix-fixe price levels.  See above. On the night in question, D and I both enjoyed The Nozawa. Most nights however, my appetite would be more than sated by the Trust Me/Lite, and D's by the regular Trust Me.


The Nozawa clan cares about the environment by using Natura filtered water instead of disposable bottles. Loves.


And our meal begins. We both nosh on a small plate of eda mame.


Tuna sashimi in housemade ponzu with green onions. Generously sized, delicious.


Round one of sushi.  From the top: salmon nigiri with sesame seeds, snapper with chile ponzu, albacore with ponzu and yuzu.  Important to note is the rice Nozawa edict. Rice needs to be warm and loosely packed in order to match the textures of the fish, to attain that melt-in-your-mouth quality with each bite.  A new batch of sushi rice is made every 20 minutes. Diners are not to dip any previously sauced fish into shoyu.


Round three: yellowtail, halibut with yuzu ponzu, scallop with yuzu ponzu. You had me at scallop, my ultimate favorite nigiri.  Nozawa makes the initial cuts of all purchased fish for all restaurants (Sushi Nozawa and Sugarfish locations) as well as all sauces himself at a central location ensuring consistent quality in all restaurants.


Sugarfish is able to offer Nozawa quality food because Nozawa himself is not constructing your meal himself. The chefs that are making your sushi were not trained at a sushi school, they were trained by Nozawa himself. Nozawa maintains a heavy role in ensuring adherence to his own high standards in every kitchen.


Toro handroll. I love a handroll. However, a Nozawa handroll gives the term handroll new meaning. I will never consider a tuna handroll the same way, my handroll schema has been forever altered.  My sushi universe shifted when I ate this roll. I kid you not. 


Blue crab handroll. The greatness of these handrolls is influenced by two things: the beautifully warm and loosely packed rice within and the quality of the nori.  When each handroll is brought to the table, we are instructed to eat it immediately. I was actually asked not to take any pictures before I ate because the time it would take to set up the shot would detract from the quality of the food I was about to eat. Letting the roll sit causes the nori to soak up the moisture from the rice, lessening the satisfying crunch and toasty flavors of the nori. I shot anyway, but trust me, I am not one to spend 3 minutes setting up a shot. Each shot took < 20 seconds. Not kidding.  When you go, and I suggest you go, don't shoot. Eat.


I have not had better sushi.  Every single bite was perfection. Trust me. The end.

This was a sponsored meal, courtesy of Team Nozawa. My deepest thanks and culinary appreciation for the meal. See you soon on my dime.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rokuan Chino Hills v. Daikokuya Little Tokyo: Tonkotsu Ramen Showdown

14230 Chino Hills Parkway
Chino Hills, CA

Having a spare 90 minutes to kill in Chino Hills leads one by the nose to such exciting chores as filling the car tank with gas, driving through a car wash, and searching for some non-fast food grub. Right in front of my grubbing eyes, tucked deep into a strip mall behind a Mobil station and next to a tony suburban Stater Bros (you know the kind) hides a little hole in the wall called Rokuan. Extremely unassuming, the sign said simply "sushi". Nearby alternatives include Taco Bell and Jack in the Box.

I was waiting at the front door when they unlocked at 11:29:38.

tonkotsu ramen

Now, I am always looking for Japanese food. Wherever I travel, I brave and suffer all kinds of mealy raw fish, unagi don, questionable chirashi and such in order to discover the sublime in places unexpected. Mediocre Japanese always eclipses good fast food.

Sushi, I was thinking to myself, sounds good despite my sushi feast at Sugarfish downtown the other night. It sure sounded better than the Wasa crackers and avocado I had packed in my purse with some Laughing Cow cheese wedges. However, on that small slightly greasy menu were listed two unassuming items. Tonkotsu or Spicy Black Miso Ramen lunch combinations with half a roll. No other customers had arrived and in the spirit of Ramen Summer School 2010, I braved a bowl of tonkotsu ramen for lunch, no roll, thank you.

tonkotsu ramen

And, ZOMG!  Ramen nirvana. Japanese ambrosia of the noodle persuasion. To die for. Die.

Please observe the opacity, the sheen of silky oil on the surface of the broth, abundance of seaweed, mushrooms, green onions, the thin fairly straight noodles customary of Kyushu ramen. I should have/could have/would have shot snaps of the generously sized pieces of chashu, but I was well aware of the eyes watching me slurp in the empty restaurant and also well aware that not everyone thinks obsessively taking pictures of your food is good manners. So, I ate and you are going to have to trust me.

By the time I walked out at 12:10:28, Rokuan was half full of Asian eaters, I was the sole gaijin.  Mostly sushi was coming out of from behind the bar, and I enviously saw some serious portions of uni dripping over curled pieces of nori. Filing that information away for later referral.

tonkotsu ramen

Now, what does this middle aged food blogging reverse-Twinkie bish know about ramen anyway? I know enough to know I know almost nothing compared to this Japanese couple raised on ramen as children in Kyushu. But I know what tastes good. I won't darken the doorstep of San Sui Tei and I know Daikokuya is better than the ramen I make at home with dried bonito dashi from Little Tokyo Marketplace.  I know the Momofuku broth I made from scratch during 8+ hours on a hot summer day was damn good. And I am pretty sure the simple ramen at Rokuan kicks the ass of all other ramen bowls about town.

327 E 1st St
Los Angeles, California 90012
(213) 626-1680

What do I have to do to prove myself right, to myself anyway? Brave a second bowl of ramen on the very same day my universe was altered by that amazing bowl at Rokuan. 


Enter Daikokuya, the ramen house that sells more bowls of ramen per day than any other ramenya in the southland.  And as much as I love Daik, the huge servings, the crazy wait on the sidewalk with excellent people watching and the friendly servers (I love them)...sorry. Rokuan, FTW.

tonkotsu ramen

The broth here is comparatively light, flavorful for sure. While Daikokuya gives you a marinated egg and Rokuan does not, Rokuan's soup is gifted with two kinds of mushrooms and two different seaweeds. Not to mention the relatively opaque color of Rokuan's coupled with a rich oiliness and salty savoriness that had me querying the owner's wife about the genesis of Rokuan's recipe. There are so many layers of flavor in Rokuan's bowl that my mouth is watering thinking about it even after yesterday's ramen-a-thon.

Daikokuya lies 2.5 miles from my house, so naturally at the last minute, on late nights and given any spontaneity whatsoever I will continue to eat their bowl of very good ramen. But given any planning and forethought and someone willing to chauffeur the 35 miles between Echo Park and Chino Hills, it is Rokuan that I prefer. We're going next week, if you want to come.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bimbimquinoa, a Health Food Approach to Bimbimbap I Copied from Someone Else

I cannot take any credit whatsoever for bringing you this recipe, readers. I stole this idea from Rants & Craves ("Eating & Bitching My Way Around LA" is about the best tagline in the history of taglines). Her dish is even super cutey McCuter because she uses a fried quail egg and her photography is prettier than mine. However, this was such a hit at my house I wanted to share. Easy to make vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous.


This recipe is simply a healthy twist on my Korean favorite dish, dolsot bimbimbap. Dolsot bimbimbap comes in a hot pot still sizzling away. At the table, a raw egg is cracked into the sizzling rice dish which you quickly stir to cook the egg. I haven't had it in years, last time was in a strip mall in K-town where our server spoke no English (to me anyway, I was with a Korean friend). I am craving that dish right now and about to start brushing up on my Korean. The bimbimbap we are riffing on here is regular bimbimbap, a mixture of hot and cold ingredients. Maybe dolsot will be my next stop.


A few people were coming over, so I popped open a bottle. (I do this when cooking alone too, just saying.) Sparkling red from Silverlake wine. This was nice with the spiciness and salt of the dish.


I had all the ingredients I needed already in the cupboard. From left, low sodium soy sauce, sriracha (instead of gochujang, but next time I am hunting down some gochujang), ponzu (which I used in the dish instead of soy sauce), sesame oil peeking around from behind, sea salt, white balsamic for the poached eggs.


Start with your quinoa. I often make quinoa risotto. The recipe I use for this slow cooking dish comes from the lovely Diana at Diana Takes a Bite. She cooks beautiful gourmet health food. Check her out. This is more simple. Cook quinoa in water at a 2:1 water:quinoa ratio. I put the lid on when it reached a boil and waited. The quinoa fluffed up beautifully. After the grain has absorbed all the water, is nice and fluffy and you can see the line of the grain along the side, put lid on and set aside.


I wanted a lot of protein in my dish. The recipe Pam references for cooking the veg suggests using ground beef, but that is a more traditional recipe to begin with. We're shaking it up over here at Casa FST.  I cooked the ground turkey with a little olive oil, garlic, sugar, sesame oil and black pepper.


Most of the veg are prepared similarly except bean sprouts. Upper and lower left. Boil bean sprouts then toss in sesame oil, garlic and salt. Upper and lower right, saute very thinly sliced carrots in sesame oil & soy sauce until al dente.


Zucchini gets the same treatment as the carrots.


Platter o' veg. I also used some shiitake mushrooms. They were a little on the dry side, so I added a little water to the saute to plump them up a little. They were still chewy. In retrospect, the veg recipe referenced above orders you to cook the veg all separately. Next time I am going to stir fry them altogether to make the dish a little faster, more user friendly. It's not authentic anyway. I just want the flavors of the shoyu and sesame oil and garlic...


With all ingredients organized (bowl of simply steamed spinach to boot), your guests can create their own bowl any way they want.

Vegan: quinoa, all the veg, toss with some sesame oil & sriracha.
Vegetarian: quinoa, all the veg, toss with some sesame oil & sriracha, add an egg.
Omnivorosity: quinoa, layer some spiced ground turkey, all the veg, toss with some sesame oil & sriracha, add your poached egg.

To me, cooking healthy is all about intelligent substitution. As Rants & Craves notes, the exchange of quinoa for rice isn't about calories, it's about getting more for your calories. The exchange of ground turkey with a little olive oil for beef is about exchanging a high fat protein for a low fat one. When you add the olive oil, you are adding some needed fat but a fat that is good for your heart, your intestinal tract and supposedly for helping to prevent colon cancer. Who wants to talk about a colon on a food blog? Not me.


I poached my egg nice and soft so the yolk could ooze all over the quinoa and veg. Nom!

I fed four people Saturday night with this dish and took the leftovers on my Sunday road trip to share with Mom before we went wine tasting. It is damn good. Definitely going into heavy rotation over here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Christian Page of the Daily Dose at Test Kitchen; or, I Learned New Things About My Blog During Project Food Blog

9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

The past five weeks or so I have been enmeshed in Food Buzz's Project Food Blog, a 10 week long contest comprised of progressive challenges which each week lead to the elimination of a certain number of contestants.  I was dropped at the end of week five, week pizza. 

*hangs head* 

I am not a pizza master. Either that or I'm not popular enough, or I drink too much in my posts or show too many pics of my dogs or who knows what. But this week it is time to get back to business as usual, which includes more blogging about things other people cook, in addition to ruminating upon the experience.


Last Sunday D and I forced ourselves to leave the cave, head west and have dinner at Test Kitchen (finally) with some damn fine company: Linden of The Gastronomnom and his fiancee Amy. Christian Page was on the second of a two might engagement, soon to be cooking full time at the Daily Dose in the Biscuit Company lofts DTLA. 


D and I skulked around the bar checking out the scene and acquiring adult beverages while waiting for A & L to make it west through the inclement weather.


That one guy was bar tending, the one who used to be at Church & State. Not Michel of Neve, the other guy. He makes good drinks too.

My Pear Lady

Sipping a little effervescence (bosc pear, lemon, pear eau de vie, gin, champagne), I thought about Project Food Blog.  This contest is really much more directly aimed at home cook food bloggers than a review food blogger. Now, I dabble in blogging of the home cooking nature, but sparingly and without a high level of proficiency.  I recognize now both kinds of blogging are completely different skill sets.

Testing Cocktail

When Amy arrived at Test Kitchen, she went for a "Testing Cocktail" of the most daring kind. "Pick your poison, choose your flavors and leave the rest to us".  She stated tequila as her booze of choice but when queried as to flavor profile, she declined to state. She left it all to the mixologist. Daring little minx! It was good, whatever it was, and had pomegranate seeds.

bar whatchamacallits

Initial blast-off in Project Food Blog was probably the most challenging post up until the pizza. I had to write about myself, who I am as a food blogger and all that self-reflective self-promotional nonsense that I avoid writing in a diary by writing a food blog. Kinda antithetical? Maybe only to me.

view from the bar

Test Kitchen is super exciting. Very reminiscent of a Manhattan hot spot in a subterranean way, slightly glossy but not overdecorated, big long bar, open-ish kitchen, crowded but not too loud, dark dark dark.  Linden mentioned he has seen really poor quality photos coming out of Test Kitchen (generally speaking) most likely because of the light quality. Definitely because of the light quality. Don't get me wrong, I love a dark room and will happily sacrifice a great photo for a sexy mood. But don't expect to see stellar photos in this post. I was enjoying the company too much to walk my food around the room seeking light. And as we know, flash is the debbil.

bar bites

As soon as we sat down we ordered all the bar bites, there were only three. We ate 'em family style.

Sonoma Eat-Balls: Sonoma lamb, goat cheese mornay, paprika oil, crispy basil

The next four posts on Project Food Blog were all tests of my home cooking and photo taking skills.  We started with non-French/Italian classics. I tackled a couple Hawaiian staples: poke and loco moco.  There were two big learning moments in this challenge. Making decisions (after the fact) about what photos to include, how to format them and realizing I need to learn how to food style. Food styling isn't just about what tastes good together on the fork, but also beauty of presentation, whimsy, and utility of the components. How does it make sense to eat this dish? I also learned that successful home cooking bloggers don't just throw a meal together and snap it right before devouring (my methodology). In many cases they try a recipe more than once to get it right, tweak the ingredients and plating. I made the loco moco three times before I was happy with the results.

Carlsbad Three-Way: Carlsbad oysters, cucumber-habanero granita

Carlsbad oysters are lovely but I tasted hide nor hair of the granita.

Once You Go Grassfed You Never Go Back Burger

If I have an intention toward blogging more home cooking, I need to really care a little more about the posts. And I do care. I found it incredibly gratifying to cook for my friends and family and post about it. Every one of those meals was a celebration for the people who shared it.

off the menu potato chips

Challenge three, the luxury dinner party, was a toughie.  I wasn't convinced I would make it through the second round and therefore didn't want to invest the money in a luxury dinner party until results were posted Friday afternoon. Despite my jubilation at making it through the round, this was stressful. I had a long drive home from the desert on Friday, heading immediately to the grocery store to forage for ingredients to make things I had mostly not made yet.  I'd never thrown a luxury dinner party (my cooking is very casual) so didn't have a backlog of recipes to draw from. What did I learn? When throwing a dinner party, use recipes that are tried and true. Even if you have to try them as a dry run during the week prior. You will be more at ease and your guests will likely be more well fed.


Back at Test Kitchen, D and decided to share one wine pairing between the two of us with the prix fixe, it being Sunday and all that nonsense. I fell to the meh side of approval of the wine pairings. Not bad but nothing to note in your ledger.

le menu

All dinners at Test Kitchen are prix fixe, and not outrageously priced. Five courses, $45 per person. Most items were served family style which I don't love. But thankfully Linden and Amy are clean and have manners beyond reproach. 


The view from our back corner booth. Yes, that's Linden's head.

Bread, Butter & Jelly: baguette, pasture butter, preserves, pork rillette

About the time Food Buzz posted advancement from round three to four , the Internet started to buzz quietly with unease about challenge criteria and advancement on the part of bloggers ignoring clear challenge details. The unease was Twittered, Facebooked and commented upon in blog comment sections.  My first thought was sour grapes, but exploring further I did see some merit to the ever loudening buzz.

Fired Up Mussels: oven roasted Carlsbad mussels, grilled ciabatta, compound butter

Page's second course. I have never had more perfectly cooked mussels. Sometimes the edge/vein of the organism has a tendency to get a little tough. These melted in my mouth almost like an oyster. If Page has these on his menu at Daily Dose as the months go forward, I will move mountains to get to them.

off the menu pork belly in gastric

One ever so slightly disgruntled blogger, Foodalogue, wrote and posted an open letter to the Project Food blog people listing some ways she feels the project was kind of unfair. What stands out to me about the contest now in retrospect is this is a contest geared toward driving traffic for Food Buzz and its sponsors rather than being about who necessarily has the best blog or follows each challenge the best. I wouldn't go so far as to publish the open letter here. Although I am not without one or two sour grapes for being eliminated in a round when one advancer didn't even cook (simply listed recipes for pizza, wtf) I don't want to be a sore loser because I did learn so much about myself and the my cooking skills. Cooking skills which run surprisingly deeper than one might have thought.

What're You, Chicken?: fried chicken, honey vinaigrette, chicken leg cassoulet, pistou

Not as crazy about the fried chicken as I was about the cassoulet in the dish above. I wanted to drink the pistou under the cassoulet.

Grass-Fed Hash: coffee-cacao corned beef hash, slow poached egg, paprika oil, greens

This would have been my favorite dish if the hash weren't quite so crispy, a little too crispy. I love that Chef Page uses only grass fed beef. It's supposed to be much better for humans because it's lower in fat, cholesterol, ands calories than corn fed beef.  And the fat that it does have has higher amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids. As my friend David Flick says, shouldn't we be eating food that spends its time eating the food it's supposed to eat? Left to its own devices and without opposable thumbs, cows would not be trying to eat kernels of corn. They'd be hanging out in a grassy green field ruminating on...grass, natch.  We were served "Dey Dey" grass fed beef from the Santa Rita hills in three courses. I learned about John Debruin and his local beef from online magazine, Edible Santa Barbara.

off the menu flank steak

Our last savory course was served off the menu. One of the nice things about dining with other food bloggers is that everyone tends to know someone else everywhere you go, turning almost every experience into a dinner party. Linden and Amy have been to Test Kitchen several times thus Brian Saltsburg (and apparently his hair) spent quite awhile chatting with us about the future of Test Kitchen.  Bill Chait swung by the table, Christian Page made a few visitations as well as the bartenders, a food photographer and a couple other food bloggers. Good times!

French Tickler: brioche French toast, honey/sour cream ice cream, pistachio tuille, raspberry syrup

Um, yeah that dessert? Whoamygod it was good.  

Will I enter Project Food Blog again next year? It depends on a couple things. First of all, where I head with my home cooking/blogging. Will it continue to develop this year? If I strengthen this practice, then yes maybe. Recognizing that this is a popularity contest leaves me feeling a little uneasy about the whole thing when during one challenge we were instructed not to cook French or Italian and the Reader's Choice winner for the week cooked French. I wasn't thrilled with popularity contests when they were all the rage back in high school. Now I just want to eat and cook good food, take photos of it and write about the experience.  I would be much more encouraged to participate next year if greater weight in judgement fell upon the chosen experts (Nancy Silverton, Pim Techamuanvivit and Dana Corwin) rather than driving traffic for sponsors such as Buick LaCrosse. But I would be even more encouraged if there was some expectation that other participants were held accountable to challenge criteria.

Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time. My friends and family who bandwagoned trying to propel me to successive rounds were tireless cheerleaders, loving every minute of it. I love YOU guys, and love that you love me and the blog, I am sure in that order.


Regarding Test Kitchen, Daily Dose and Christian Page? I will definitely be giving them all another shot sometime soon. I hit Test Kitchen again when my friend Chef Jason Fullilove cooks November 9 and 10th, and cannot wait until Page is in the kitchen daily at Daily Dose. Coming right up.