Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shin: Does it stand up to Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori? (Torrance)

Bar View @ Shin

After living in Torrance for a few years, Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori had become my frequent yakitori establishment of choice until I noticed Shin about a year back and loved my visit. If I love a place, I'm the type that would go back over and over again (Of course, if I did that with Urasawa, I'd be a very poor broker). This time, I decided to take my eating companion for the night *Hi Tammy!! =)* who has never tried Yakitori before. Where else could be better than Shin, my new found favorite Yakitori place in the South Bay, right?

(From Left: Pork Belly Wrapped Asparagus, Chicken Heart)
(Top: Beef Tongue, Bottom: Pork Belly wrapped Enoki Mushrooms)
(Left: Chicken, Right: Liver)

I'll start by saying, the beef tongue was delicious. It was meaty, tender, and cooked just perfectly. The liver, my favorite organ meat was also done very well, as it remained flavorful and moist like I had remembered. One skewer I did not enjoy was the pork belly wrapped enoki mushrooms. While I like both ingredients, the combination at Shin was good compared to the version at SSG, and sadly, they didn't have my favorite of pork belly with shiso that evening......

Grilled Shrimp
Grilled Shitake Mushroom w/bonito
(Left: Chicken w/spicy cod roe, Right: Chicken w/wasabi)
Grilled Shishamo
Onto next set of orders, which I have to say I wasn't very impressed with. The best of the lot was the grilled shitake mushroom, as I enjoyed the "woodsy" taste of the grilled mushrooms, and the bonito flakes complimented the dish quite well. The two chicken skewers I thought was a fail. The meat was dry, and in the case of the wasabi, it didn't have a strong kick I was looking for. The shrimp as you can tell was pretty average, I don't recommend it.

Towards the end of the yakitori portion of our dinner, I remembered that they had this crack-like avocado dipping sauce, but sadly, it was nowhere to be found. The avocado sauce was one of the three dipping sauces Shin used to offer, but strangely, it wasn't found on any of the dining tables around us.

Chicken Karage
Tako Yaki

After being mildly disappointed with the yakitori portion of our dinner (I think my dining companion enjoyed it for the most part), we decided to get some fried goodies. Hey, what doesn't taste good fried right?? :) We ended up getting the Chicken Karage and Tako Yaki. The chicken karage was done well (not as good as Izakaya Bincho's version) and the Tako Yaki was just a step below the tako yaki found at Asa Ramen. While the last 2 food orders wasn't disappointing, it just didn't stand out.

While I still think Shin is a solid Yakitori restaurant in the South Bay, Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori is just the better option between the two. However, if you do not want to deal with the crowd and the noise (Shin is quiet, a bit too quiet), then Shin might be the place to visit. However, when I have visitors from out of town, I know the best place to take them for beer and meat, and unfortunately, it is not Shin. While I'll go back, it won't be for awhile....

*Note* These shots were still taken by my p&s, so the clarity can be a bit iffy. Sorry.

Final Grade
  • Taste: 3 out of 5
  • Decor: 4 out of 5
  • Service: 4 out of 5
22807 Hawthorne Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90505

Shin in Los Angeles

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Soon Du Bu showdown in Koreatown (Los Angeles)

Soon Du Bu (From So Kong Dong)

In the three years I've been down here in Los Angeles, one of the things I was able to count on was the weather. Maybe I got spoiled by living in the South Bay where it was always sunny, dry, and all in all, the perfect weather. Although I told most people I missed the rain up North, but seriously, why would I complain about the So Cal weather? Well, I guess I asked for it. Once I moved to the SGV, the next thing I know, rain, snow (up in the SGV mountains), and Nor Cal like weather became the reality. However, one good thing came out of the change in the weather, my ability to eat various soup dishes, and Soon Du Bu has always been one of my favs over the years.

Now, there are many places to choose from, especially in Los Angeles' Koreatown, let's see which locations meet up to my standards!

First we have the ever popular BCD Chain:

As many have heard and probably tried BCD in the past, it's really just average at best Soon Du Bu. The best part of the meal is probably the fried fish given as part of the 반찬 (banchan) and the stone pot rice for the (noo-reung-ji), post Soon Du Bu.
My take on BCD is comparable to eating a burger at Burger King or Carl's Jr. While it hits the spot (especially if you're here after 2AM like I've done previously), it's just not a place you'd write home about (but I can blog about). The flavor of the soup is a bit bland and the ingredients used was a bit off. The clams and oysters tasted a bit muddy and slightly lacking. The best reason, and the ONLY reason I'd recommend BCD is the fact that it's open 24 hours (along with Nak Won and Hodori on Vermont). Come on, don't tell me you'd rather eat garbage food at Denny's than average Soon Du Bu like this:
Soon Du Bu @ BCD

Final Grade
  • Taste - 2.5 out of 5
  • Decor - 3 out of 5
  • Service - 3 out of 5
3575 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Tel: (213) 382-6677
Onto the next stop, the famous So Kong Dong

After eating at BCD numerous times over the past few years, for some odd reason, I never made it to SKD until recently. What can I say other than BIG mistake! While one cannot expect gourmet food here, it was by far the best Soon Du Bu I've had. First of the all, the 반찬(banchan) here were a definite knotch above BCD, and included was the famous raw crabs.
반찬 (from Top Left: spicy cucumber, bean sprouts, raw crabs, kimchi, fish cakes)

Time for the main course, the soon du bu. The top picture will be the mild version, while as usual, I went with the extra spicy version:
(Top: Mild Combination Soon Du Bu. Bottom: Extra Spicy Soon Du Bu)

While there was a noticeable color difference, the extra spicy to me had just the right heat. At $8.99, (which was the same price for all 3 locations) it was a great meal. Unlike the version at BCD, the clams, and oyster were definitely much fresher and the soup had better flavors as well. After eating at SKD, I can definitely say I've become a fan. Unless I'm in Koreatown after 11PM, I don't see myself eating at BCD. The picture below shows the final product after mixing in the egg:
Now, after having what I can think is the best Soon Du Bu in Los Angeles, can Beverly Soon Du Bu top it??

Final Grade
  • Taste - 4.5 out of 5
  • Decor - 3 out of 5
  • Service - 3.5 out of 5
2716 W Olympic Blvd
Suite 104
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Tel: (213) 380-3737

Finally, let's hop across the street (literally) and try Beverly (Tofu House) Soon Du Bu!

Outside Beverly

As with every Korean Restaurant, we were served the panchan after ordering our dishes. One panchan that stood out was the individual tofu appetizer given to each patron. I guess each Soon Du Bu place has its own specialty side dish (BCD: Fish, Beverly: Tofu, SKD: Raw Spicy Crabs). The tofu as shown below, was refreshing and delicious.

To make sure my test was fair, I went with the combination Soon Du Bu, extra spicy as usual. The main gripe I had with Beverly was the fact the stone pot wasn't used for the noo-reung-ji at the end of the meal. After eating Soon Du Bu, the noo-reung-ji or the rice porridge really hits the spot. Below was the order of Soon Du Bu @ Beverly:

Soon Du Bu @ Beverly

Overall, the Soon Du Bu here was delicious, much much better than BCD. Yet, I think as a personal preference, I enjoyed the Soon Du Bu at So Kong Dong a bit more. Maybe I had a gripe about the lack of a stone pot rice (not really), but while Beverly makes a mean pot of Soon Du Bu, It's inches behind the competitor across the street. While that said, I personally think the service at Beverly was better (friendly ajumas) and the tofu starter was delicious. Honestly, you can't really go wrong with either Beverly or So Kong Dong.

Final Grade
  • Taste - 4 out of 5
  • Decor - 3.5 out of 5
  • Service - 4 out of 5
2717 W. Olympic Blvd.
Suite 108
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Tel: (213) 380-1113

To recap the 3 restaurants: BCD, I'd only recommend it if you're looking for a late night snack, post bar/club grubbing, or hell, if you're craving that fried fish appetizer, otherwise, stick with the power duo located on Olympic Blvd. There are ample parking at both restaurants, and street parking are available also. Before the weather gets any hotter here in So Cal, go get yourself a pot of Soon Du Bu!

While on the subject of Soon Du Bu, check out the video listed below:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Let's all take a dive into Lake Spring! (Monterey Park)

Front of Lake Spring

Lake Spring, one of the many Shanghai style restaurants that has been popping up along Garvey Avenue in the Monterey Park area in the year 2008. My first visit here was with a few friends and had a pleasant dinner (a then 30% off special helped quite a bit). Subsequently, I came back to Lake Spring to a dinner hosted by Tony C. and the group of us feasted on various seafood dishes and their famous pork hocks done 2 ways. While there were some misses, my overall take on the place was: Solid Shanghai style cuisine, at an affordable price.

Well, this is San Gabriel Valley, and not West LA. Expensive, poor quality Chinese will not cut it here!

With that said, on Chinese New Year, when all the restaurants around town are bustling with families (what recession??), my friends and I decided on Lake Spring after seeing the god awful lines at Newport Seafood on Las Tunas. What should we order??? Well....you can't forget the most important item in any Chinese establishment, the tea.

Now, let's get down to business. Savory braised pork hock or the steamed one? As our group decided to go light, we went with the steamed pork hock:
Lake Spring House Special Steamed Pork Hock - $18.99

To me, this is the best dish at Lake Spring (#2 I think is the fried taro chips with anchovies that we unfortunately didn't order that night). The skin may look fatty, but it was actually quite light. There were plenty of lean meat on the hock and with the vinegar sauce provided (not pictured) it was actually a refreshing dish, especially compared to the other version available, the braised pork hock. While I liked both version, I have to give the steamed version the slight edge as the braised hock can be slightly salty.

House Stir Fried Shrimp - $12.99

This shrimp dish I thought was OK. The best shrimp dish here is the Shrimp done in 2 ways (Green/Red), which was shrimp stir fried in two separate sauces. Green was made from Spinach and Red was a ketchup based sauce. The House Special Shrimp dish was of ample serving and a pretty decent deal for the price.

Fish Fillet in Wine Sauce - $12.99

This dish was the big winner of the night. I'm pretty sure I ate a few extra bowls of rice just due to the fish and sauce. The sauce had a similar flavor to wine brew (酒粱) and the wine flavor was noticeable in the sauce, yet not too pungent. The fish fillet was tender and I'm definitely going to try this dish again in my next visit.

(魚香干貝) Scallops in Garlic/Chilli Sauce - $12.99

(豆香雪魚) Cod in brown sauce - $15.99

The above two dishes were pretty OK. I wouldn't say there's anything to rave about here, but both are solid dishes. The scallops dish was flavorful and the scallops themselves were quite tender. The Cod dish was actually slightly disappointing based on the price paid. The fish itself was cooked well, but I personally didn't enjoy the sauce. This dish has been done better elsewhere, but like my previous trips to Lake Spring, there probably will be 1-2 dishes that'll be considered "misses" during your meal. Going further on the subject, there are two dishes that I would not recommend here:
  • Tea Flavored Duck - What tea flavor? Plus, the duck was dry. A big No-No!
  • Wine Brew (酒粱) - The aforementioned wine brew is actually a dessert, and the version served here was weak at best. It's not worth the money here. Go down the street to Dean Sin World for a better Wine Brew.
Red Bean Soup Dessert

To sum everything up, Lake Spring is a solid Shanghainese Restaurant in the SGV amongst the numerous choices out there. If you're coming here for the first time, do yourselves a favor and order one of the two pork hock options. Plus, I'd check the chef's menu for their recommendations. The servings here are pretty big and the prices are just right due to their constant promotion. As of Late January 2009, they're running at buy 3 dishes get 1 free or buy 6 dishes and get 2 free. While it's not the 30% discount that I received during my first visit, a ~25% discount ain't too shabby in this economy. Plus, like many Chinese restaurants in the area, you can definitely go with BYOB here, but just don't leave your bottles out in the open (FYI). Lake Spring has a good variety of seafood, meat, and poultry dishes, and at under $20/person, you can definitely have a feast here.

Also note, they've changed their "promotion" each time I've been here, so I can't guarantee what the next promotion will be.

Final Grade
  • Taste - 4 out of 5
  • Decor - 4 out of 5
  • Service - 3.5 out of 5
Lake Spring
219 E. Garvey Avenue
Monterey Park, CA 91755
Tel: 626-280-3571

Lake Spring on Fooddigger

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Let's get started!

Is it really time? Well, this might not be a food post nor a restaurant review, but I should say a few words before "officially" start up this blog. Call it a "soft" opening if you like. :)

I've been meaning to start a food blog for awhile now, especially in the past few years living here in Los Angeles. One of the first blog I read was Eileen's blog about food in Los Angeles. Ever since then I've noticed the Los Angeles food blogger community has gotten bigger and more wide spread. Over time, I've became an avid reader of many food blogs around the area and had the privilege of meeting and eating with quite of a few of them. I can't list everyone, but Tony's Sinosoul, Mike's Right Way to Eat, Matt's Mattatouile, Choi's Folie a choisauce are amongst the many I read and help me get through the day at work. (I'll also add Kevin's Kevineats which are my eyes to many of the fine dining establishments around the world....)

Finally, I'm not forgetting about you Kat of Kat9Lives! At least, I got you to try Soon Du Bu! Ha!

Let's get started! Time to break out my new dSLR and for me to start writing and posting instead of wasting my time and posting pics up on facebook. Feel free to drop me any comments and suggestion and this blog is a work in progress.


P.S. Thanks again to Mike for getting on me for writing on this blog. I hope to be updating this thing often!

PPS: I gotta thank my buddy Daniel at work for thinking of this "Kung Food Panda" name. I honestly have zero creative bones in my body.