Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lawry's The Prime Rib - Prime Rib Steakhouse - Beverly Hills, CA

If it wasn't for the part of my brain that thinks I should eat somewhat "healthy" (whatever that means, anyway) from time to time, I would probably be as close to a full fledged carnivore as a human can possibly get. No, not an omnivore that east everything, but a full fledged, practically meat only carnivore...well, with the exception of a side of rice or potatoes or some kind of starch to wash it all down. Being a meat-eating maniac, for some reason i've never been a big fan of prime rib. Not that I dislike prime rib or anything...it just has never been my favorite cut and I'm not exactly sure why. Prime rib to me has always been a very tender cut, but for one reason or another I have always thought that prime rib lacked some of the flavor found in some of the other cuts. That is, until I tried a proper prime rib...

Some good friends from back east were in town last week for work related training. Needing a break from their hectic training schedule, a good meat-centric dinner was in order and Lawry's seemed like the perfect place. With my wife and I in the South Bay and our friends coming from Woodland Hills, Beverly Hills seemed like an ideal meeting place...being somewhat centrally located between our two areas. Now, I must take a moment here to voice one of my gripes with the LA area...the figgin ridiculous traffic. We made the mistake of taking the 405 to the 10 to get to the restaurant, and what should have been a 25 to 30 minute drive ended up taking us almost an hour and a half. Technically, I believe it is only about 20 miles door to door so anything over an hour is absolutely ridiculous. Aaahh...now I remember why I live 2.5 non-freeway miles from work...

By the time we got to the restaurant, I was a little grumpy from the drive (if you can call sitting in traffic driving) but luckily not feeling extremely hungry. Or so I thought. When we got escorted from the lobby into the dining area that all changed...drastically. The second I stepped into the dining room, the smell of superbly cooked meat assaulted my senses and vigorously stirred the beast that lurked within. By the time we arrived at our table, I had gone from feeling moderately hungry to feeling completely famished. It's amazing how strongly the sense of smell is tied to the stomach and the desire to feed. Time to tame the beast.

Lawry's specializes in USDA certified, rock salt roasted cuts of prime rib beef. There are 5 different "cuts" available...differing only in size from one to the other. Every dinner comes with Lawry's spinning bowl salad, yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes w/ gravy, and their famous whipped cream horseradish. They also have a selection of additional sides like sauteed mushrooms and creamed corn that you can order with your dinner. After much taunting from my fellow tablemates to order the Beef Bowl cut (their largest cut), I settled on the Lawry's Cut...their original (since 1938) generously sized cut that measures approximately 10 ounces without the bone, cooked medium rare. For accompaniment, I ordered the creamed corn as well as an order of the sauteed mushrooms for the table. After a short wait, and some scintillating conversation the prime rib chef made a visit to our table with his shiny, apparently world famous, prime rib cart chock full of perfectly roasted prime rib.

Like I said previously, I ordered the Lawry's Cut. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take pictures of my dinner as I was completely and utterly distracted. What was I distracted by? No, it wasn't the insane hunger that seethed through my being. It wasn't the enjoyment of being around old friends. Instead, I was distracted by the fact that one of my tablemates ordered the Beef Bowl Cut (the pictures contained herein are of said Beef Bowl Cut). Like I mentioned earlier, the Beef Bowl Cut is the largest cut that Lawry's has on the menu. According to our waitress, it measures about 22 ounces without the bone. That, by itself, isn't distractingly amazing but then you have to take into account that the tablemate that ordered said Beef Bowl is of the feminine persuasion. Not only is she female, but she is a very small, petite female. And she finished most of it too...save for a good amount of meat surrounding the bone. Impressive. I have an appetite of legend amongst my friends and I have to admit, watching her eat that Beef Bowl kinda made me glad I didn't order it as well as I would have been forced to finish it for fear of looking like a pansy.

Anyway, everything on the menu was good. The Prime Rib....fantastically rare...just the way I like it with loads of flavor that seems to be lacking at most other prime rib places. Why is that? Could it be the special Lawry's seasoning salt? Could it be that they sprinkle crack on as a special seasoning prior to cooking? Who knows!, but whatever it is they're doing at Lawry's that's different from the other places definitely makes a difference. I'm not saying that i've been converted to prime rib as my personal favorite cut but it definitely has jumped up several notches...all thanks to Lawry's.

Lawry's The Prime Rib
100 N. La Cienega Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 652-2827

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Recipe - Chinese - Cantonese Style Walnut Shrimp

Two good Chinese-American friends of mine got married several years back, and of course they had a traditional Chinese Banquet as part of the Nupital celebration. The banquet was held at a fairly large, authentic Chinese Restaurant, kind of local to the Washington DC area. On the menu at the banquet were some of the more traditional Cantonese dishes (No General Tso's here...much to the dismay of the Best Man) as well as a few, more "off the beaten path" dishes like roast pigeon, jellyfish, etc. While all of the food was authentic and amazing, through the smorgasbord of Cantonese culinary delight there was one dish that I had never had previously and that really struck a chord in my palate...the creamy Walnut Shrimp. MMmmm...butterflied, battered and deep fried shimp covered in a creamy, tasty, probably really bad for you, sauce. What more could one want other than a steaming hot bowl of white rice to accompany it? Seeing as no other restaurant in the area around Baltimore (that I knew of at least) had Walnut Shrimp on the menu, I was forced to learn to make it myself to satisfy my new-found craving for this culinary masterpiece. This recipe is the result of that small journey into "How the hell do I make Walnut Shrimp?" land...

At the time, I figured it would be easy to find a recipe for the dish online somewhere (this was back in '01). I thought, "How hard could it be to figure out, really? The sauce is definitely mayonnaise based." Now, I was right with the mayonnaise base, but it's the other ingredients in the sauce that really bring out the flavor (and the brilliance) of this dish. At this point, I must make a small point and disclaimer. I am no Chef by any stretch of the imagination, nor would I ever refer to myself as a "Chef". I am merely a food fanatic that kinda knows my way around a kitchen and likes to try and make things myself when it isn't readily available to me. At best, i'm a "cook". In my opinion, the title of "chef" is best reserved for people that are formally trained in the culinart arts...people that have spent years mastering their craft. It's a title that deserves respect in the food world. Unfortunately, it's a title that I think is used way too loosely these days. But I digress. Time to step down from the soap box.

My first few attempts at this dish failed miserably. On my very first attempt, the shirmp was good, but the sauce was a nightmare. For that initial trial run, I used solely mayo as the sauce...heated up in a saucepan then mixed in with the battered and fried shrimp. While the first bite may have tasted slightly similar, it definitely was far off the mark, and by the 3rd, 4th, and 5th bites I started to feel downright ill from the excess concentration of mayo swimming around in my belly. Over the next few iterations, I added ingredients that I picked up from different sources until I finally got a sauce that I liked...that tasted the way I remembered it from the banquet. So, on to the recipe!

Here is my list of ingredients. Serves 6 (or 4 really hungry people like myself):

2lbs of uncooked shrimp (of whatever size you fancy)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup corn starch
1 cup Japanese "Kewpie" Mayonnaise
1/2 can (14oz can) of sweetened condensed milk
15 drops of lemon juice
1 head of broccoli (used mainly as a garnish)
1/2 bag of whole walnuts (also a garnish)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup water

Again, I must say that I am no chef. There is probably a right way to do the steps involved in this dish (like candying the walnuts). This is just the way that I, an untrained "cook" do it because, frankly, I don't know the proper way to do it. I just kinda wing things based on how I think it might go down. If you know a better way, feel free to knock yourself out...

First off, the shrimp. I usually choose a medium size shrimp, or whatever is the largest I can get a good deal on. They need to be uncooked so we can butterfly and de-vein them before frying. If your shrimp is shelled, first remove the shells. Then, take your handy kitchen knife and make a slice, lengthwise in the center down the back of each shrimp from the head to the tail. The slice should go almost all the way through the shrimp. This serves two purposes. First, it de-veins the shimp (the main vein runs down the top of the back of the shrimp). Second, it causes the shrimp meat to curl when cooked...creating the nice, butterflied shape. After cutting all of the shrimp, prepare a pot (big enough to fit all of the shrimp) of boiling water.
Once the water boils, drop the cut shrimp into the boiling water for a few seconds (only for a few seconds! We're not trying to fully cook the shrimp yet). The shrimp will change color and attain that aformentioned butterfly shape. After the few seconds have passed, pour the shrimp into a strainer and run them under cold water to cool them.

Next, we'll batter and fry the shrmp. Set up a pot with cooking oil (the oil should be at least 2-3" deep) on med-high heat to fry the shrimp in. Mix the flour and corn starch in a bowl. This mixture will serve as the batter for the shrimp. In a seperate bowl, scramble the 2 eggs. Once the pot of oil is hot enough (you can test it by dripping a little bit of egg into the oil), dip the shrimp (I usually do 5 or 6 at a time to make it more manageable in a small kitchen) in the egg, then in the flour/corn starch mix, and drop it (one at a time so they don't stick to each other) into the frying oil. Fry the shrimp till they attain a nice golden color (see picture) then fish them out and put the shrimp onto a paper toweled plate (to absorb some of the excess oil) and set aside.

Now for the sauce...that oh, so dreamy sauce. The basic ingredient of the sauce is mayonnaise but I must specify that I prefer to use Japanese style mayo. Why you ask? Japanese mayo is smoother, creamier, and tastier than regular mayo so it is the perfect basis for this sauce. I've never tried making it with regular Mayo though so I have no idea how it would turn out if done that way. If you try it with regular mayo, do so at your own risk...but let me know how it turns out. I'm curious. Anyway, in a mixing bowl mix the japanese mayo with the lemon juice. Then add the condensed milk, slowly mixing it all together. Taste it as you mix the condensed milk in. You can add as little or as much condensed milk as you like depending on your tastes. I prefer it to be a little on the sweet side so I ad the condensed milk till it tastes just right.

Next up, the garnishes. The dish is garnished by broccoli and candied walnuts (as pictured). Cut the broccoli and boil it in a pot of water for a few minutes or till it is the consistency you prefer then strain and put aside. Then, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the brown sugar and water. Let the sugar dissolve in the water first then add the whole walnuts. keep turning the walnuts in the sugared water till most of the water boils off (this also cooks the walnuts a bit). Once it has gotten pretty thick and sticky, remove from heat and keep stirring and turning the walnuts till it is cooled enough that the walnuts are no longer sticking to each other and they have an even coat of candying (note: pics are of a whole bag of walnuts. You will have less walnuts in your pan if you follow the ingredients list).

Now it's time to put it all together. Mix the fried shrimp into the sauce (you don't have to use all of the sauce if you so desire) and place the sauced shrimp onto the middle of an appropriately sized serving platter. Dress the outer edge of the platter with broccoli and garnish the entree with the candied walnuts and it's ready to serve. Oh, and please, please, PLEASE...whatever you do, do NOT serve this with anything other than a side of proper steamed white rice. And proper definitely means it shouldn't come from a box that is either made by an uncle named Ben, or as a treat from San Francisco if you know what I mean.

Anyway, that completes the first recipe installment for my blog. I hope you enjoy making and eating this dish as much as I do. It makes a great party dish that is always a big hit with the masses. If someone asks you where you got the recipe, feel free to point them here. Also, feel free to post comments or feedback on his dish too...I'd love to hear it. Enjoy!

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Monday, September 3, 2007

About "The Monster"

My name is Alvin. I'm a professional BMW Certified Automotive Technician, Automotive Fanatic, and full-time Foodie turned nightime food blogger (I do most of my writing at night because that's currently the only time I have available). I started this blog to share my food experiences and love of food with the world in the hopes that others could benefit. If someone reads this blog and it encourages them to eat somewhere they wouldn't have eaten before or didn't previously know about then i'd call this blog a success.

The internet is swamped with food blogs of all shapes and sizes. Some written by trained chefs and authorities on the subject while others are authored by people that are merely passionate about food and the pleasures gained from eating said food. To which of these groups do I fall into?

Well, I definitely am not a formally trained chef, nor would I consider myself an authority on food or eating by any stretch of the imagination. I do, however, have 30 plus years of experience in pleasing my taste buds so I guess that puts me in the latter of the two aforementioned groups. Also, I pretty much need to feed what seems like every hour, on the hour so within those 30 plus years I have definitely racked up quite a number of meals. Hopefully that earns me a little bit of credibility on the subject.

What can you expect to find here on Foodie Monster? Well, for starters, I love foods of all types, shapes and sizes. I'll try anything once...twice if I like it and you can be sure i'll tell you, the reader all about it! I'll be reviewing all kinds of restaurants from the fine dining gourmet places to the total dumps and dives. Nothing is out of bounds. If I can get my grubby little hands onto it (and I LOVE eating with my hands!) you can bet it will end up on here sometime. I'll also be posting some recipes I love that i've picked up over the years as well as reviewing new recipes from various sources. Bottom line: I want to share my passion for food with the world and help others feed their inner foodie!

What's in a Name?

I sat in front of my laptop for quite a while brainstorming for name ideas for this food related blog. I wanted a name that was appropriate to the topic at hand (food) as well as something that relates to me directly. I also wanted a name with a little bit of humor built-in and something that was catchy and easy to remember. After sitting there for thinking about it for what felt like an eternity, it finally dawned on me! Foodie Monster!

"Why Foodie Monster?" you may ask. Well, I think the "Foodie" part is obvious. I'm definitely a foodie to the core. I don't eat solely as a means of sustinance...I eat for the sheer pleasure of the experience! I don't eat to live, I live to eat. I truly think that one of the finest, simplest pleasures in life is a good meal. And by good meal, I mean a meal that sings lullabies to your soul through your taste buds.

As for the "Monster" part...well, I kinda got that from my wife. You see, when I eat I have a propensity for eating with extreme brevity. In other words, I eat my meals really fast and that's the way I like it. I'm pretty sure if you went around and polled my friends to see who the "fastest" eater they knew was, it'd probably be me (not that that's something to be proud of). In addition, I also have a tendency to eat mass quantities of food as well. I swear I think i'm missing the part of my brain that receives the "stomach is full" signal and instructs the body to stop eating. Or, maybe i'm not missing it...i've just learned to supress it due to my penchant for good food. Now, during many of the meals that I have shared with my wife I've heard her say, "You're a MONSTER!" in reference to my fast and plentiful eating. So, I thought that would be a perfect complement to the "Foodie" term. Foodie Monster. Short, appropriate, and to the point. Perfect!

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Santouka - Japanese Ramen - Torrance, CA

My wife and I have been to Mitsuwa Marketplace many times since we moved to SoCal. However, our trips there are rarely ever to shop in the market...we go there mainly to eat at the food court. Mitsuwa's food court has around 7 or 8 (currently) small food stalls, mostly Japanese with one Chinese place and one Japanese Style Italian place. All of the places we've tried make pretty good food...especially considering it's a food court. On top of that, everything is fairly cheap making Mitsuwa's food court a great, quick, and cheap lunchtime stop. While we've been to this food court on several occasions, for one reason or another I never tried the ramen at Santouka...a place tucked into one of the corners of the food court. What a shame...I had no idea what I was missing...

On previous trips to Mitsuwa I had looked at the menu at Santouka, and everything looked good, but I think my wallet always dissuaded me from eating there. You see, I always walk around the food court, peruse the offerings from the different places, and make the decision of what to eat based on, A.-What kind of a food mood i'm in, and B.-How much cash I have in my money clip at the time (these places are all CASH ONLY!). Now, I don't like to carry much cash around (if I have it my pocket i'm more likely to spend it more freely) so usually I only have a few bucks at my disposal. When I would compare the prices of what I would get at some of the other places ($5-6) to what I would get at Santouka ($11+), that decision would already be made for me. Now, I know what you're thinking...Yes, there IS a Bank of America ATM in Mitsuwa, and I AM a loyal B of A customer, but it always seems like every time I go there and try to pull out cash, the thing is always out of service. Go figure. I must just have crap luck or something.

Anyway, this time was different. This time I had cash in hand and was ready to go. My wife and I were out running errands and happened to be driving by Mitsuwa when hunger and the desire for food struck us both (which practically happens every hour, on the hour for me at least). So, we stopped into Mitsuwa for a quick bite. Just wanting a small snack of a meal, we decided to share a combo from Santouka. We ordered the B-set combination with Shoyu Ramen and Ikura Gohan. The Shoyu Ramen features a soy sauce based broth with slices of pork chashu ad fish cake garnished with a little seaweed and scallions. Ikura Gohan is basically a pile of salmon roe over a bowl of steamed white rice.

I tasted the Ikura Gohan first. Ikura (salmon roe) is a salt lovers wet dream. They're basically little balloons filled with a very flavorful salt mixture. Every bite is met with a delicious little "pop" as the roe bursts releasing it's salty goodness. The rice complements the Ikura perfectly and provides a nice balace to the concentrated salty flavor of the Ikura.
Next up, the Shoyu Ramen. My first bite was a chopstick full of ramen noodles. Mmmm...noodles were cooked well...al dente...Just the way I like them (actually, I take that back, I like them slighty firmer). Good start so far. Next was a sip of the Shoyu broth. MMmmm...more salty goodness. Excitement level rising. Third, was a bite of the Chashu pork. MMMM!...fatty, tasty swine! Ding, Ding, DING! We Have a winner!! Wow, each of these ingredients could easily be enjoyed alone...but put them together into one salty and savory bowl and i'm in heaven. My taste buds received a symphony of textures and flavors that made for an incredible little meal. Nevermind that it's 90 degrees out and i'm slurping down a bowl of scalding hot ramen and broth and sweating my ass off. Whatever, it was well worth it. Wait a minute... are we sitting in a food court? That's proposterous! How is this possible? This just can't be. I must be dreaming.

Is this the best bowl of Ramen I have ever had? Hmm...I dunno about the best, but damn close. It's definitely neck and neck with my previous favorite ramen place...Hakata Ramen. The Chashu pork at Santouka is definitely far and above the pork used at Hakata though. It tastes like it was made at home by a very passionate chef. Fatty, tender, and loaded with flavor. Heavenly. However, I think what I really like about Hakata is the option to customize your ramen (noodle hardness, soup strength, oil, and other toppings). That really is the kicker for me. Regardless, Santouka makes an amazing bowl of ramen...especially considering it is in a food court. Scratch that, it's an amazing bowl of ramen regardless of whether it's in a food court or some fancy restaurant. A good bowl of ramen is a good bowl of ramen no matter where it's made...and this is a GOOD BOWL OF RAMEN! Now I just need to go back and try the Shio Ramen that everyone seems to rave about. People swear it's the best...we'll see about that...

Santouka Ramen
21515 Western Avenue
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 212-1101

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Sunday, September 2, 2007

Aunt Kizzy's Backporch - Southern/Soul Food - Marina Del Rey, CA

Soul food and Southern style cooking has always had a special place in my heart...err, I mean stomach. There's something about that style of cooking that just speaks to my soul...must be how the food got the name. While i've never been to the deep south (other than just passing through during the drive out west from Baltimore) and experienced real, in it's element, southern cooking, I can only assume that it is as good or better than what i've experienced at the random soul food restaurants I have been to over the years. Regardless of my inexperience, I love it none-the-less and Aunt Kizzy's definitely fits the bill...

For almost every style of food that I have had, I usually have a standard dish that I like to order when trying a new restaurant. Having a standard dish gives me a frame of measure for the food that the resaurant makes...a yardstick if you will. For Southern Style food, that yardstick for me is fried chicken...there's nothin that speaks to the soul better than some good friend chicken. And Aunt Kizzy didn't dissapoint.

Wait, we need to back up for a second...i'm getting ahead of myself. Before the entrees, I HAVE to point out one thing...the cornbread muffins. First off, I love bread as a pre-meal appetizer, but I absolutely LOVE good cornbread. And Aunt Kizzy's corbread muffins are king. They're the perfect balance of sweet, moist and chewy. Absolutely delicious. Good thing they only bring a few out at a time as I would surely keep eating them if given the chance. I could probably fill up on the muffins, call it night and be happy...they're that good. The only cornbread I like better is my wife's...and no i'm not saying that out of obligation...

Ok, back to the topic at hand....the entrees. Aunt Kizzy's has a good selection of southern dishes from Chicken & Dumplings to Pork Chops to Jambalaya to Short Ribs to Fried Catfish...the tantalizing list goes on and on. Everything on the menu sounds extremely appetizing, but as I said earlier...gotta stick with the yardstick. So Fried Chicken it was for me and man was I impressed. The Colonel ain't got nothin on Aunt Kizzy! Even Popeye himself is a weakling in the presence of Aunt Kizzy!

This fried chicken is battered and seasoned well then deep fried to perfection. The first bite into my leg was met with a nice crunch from the skin followed by a rush of flavor from the juicy meat inside. Fried chicken doesn't get much better than this. For sides, I got the Macaroni and Cheese, Mashed Potatoes (both also old stand-bys for me) and cornbread stuffing (did I mention I liked cornbread?). All served as the perfect accompanyment to the fried chicken. I was in heaven and my soul definitely wore a big grin at the end of this meal.

My wife, who accompanies me on most of my eating trysts, ordered the Deep Fried Catfish. For sides, she settled on the Collard Greens (she loves Collard Greens), Macaroni & Cheese, and white rice w/ gravy (must be the asian thing). I got to sample her catfish, and thought it was pretty decent. My wife on the other hand just thought it was "ok". She thought it was missing something...maybe lacking a little flavor. For me, it definitely was overshadowed by the Fried Chicken. Had I just had the Catfish by itself, my opinion may have been better but the chicken definitely skewed my taste buds. I guess another trip is in order just to try the catfish or some of the other dishes, but knowing how good the chicken is, it will be hard to order anthing else...

Aunt Kizzy's is rumored to be the best Southern Food in LA. Based on this experience, I wouldn't doubt it. The Fried Chicken alone is worth the drive from anywhere in the LA area....maybe even further. Just make sure to bring your appetite because the portions definitely don't disappoint...especially if you ask for more cornbread muffins.

Aunt Kizzy's Backporch
4325 Glencoe Avenue
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 578-1005

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