ink.

ink.

Each year, one of my college friends and I have a holiday tradition: I make/bring treats or alcohol, we pick up ¬†our favorite indulgent fast foods (usually involving her fave KFC, McDonald’s and the like) and we exchange gifts amidst watching The Holiday. The film takes place primarily in LA, which makes us not feel too bad that our Christmas really isn’t that white.¬†The tradition has morphed a bit since I’ve moved up to the Bay Area and our stomachs are less capable to handle copious amounts of fast food. This year, we continued the tradition at Top Chef Michael Voltaggio’s restaurant, ink.

It was my second time at ink, my first being in the small private room towards the back of the restaurant. I always feel a special sense of authenticity when seeing the celebrity owner-chef I admired a

To me, it feels like there’s a level of authenticity when seeing renowned owner-chefs in action in their restaurants’ kitchens. It’s as of they not only made that restaurant famous, but still put their dedication into it. I love seeing Nancy Silverton make her famous Nancy’s Chopped Salad at Pizzeria Mozza, Chris Cosentino in his signature black and white striped apron at Incanto, and that night we saw Michael Voltaggio at work in his kitchen at ink.

Like many new restaurants in Los Angeles, ink bears the concept of small tapas-style share plates. What I love most is the interesting pairing of food combinations in each dish, and the curious, fun plating. There were three of us, so we ordered seven dishes and got a good sampling of the menu.

IMG_7700Main course menu at ink. Plates are listed from light to heavy dishes

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My drink for the night, the chef’s favorite¬†Islay Scotch

We began with drinks, mine this Islay Scotch, a smoky flavored drink containing my favorite citrus flavor: yuzu. ink was about unexpected pairings, and this traditional Japanese flavor with such an American style drink was definitely unique. Unlike most scotch drinks that came with many ice cubes, this had one giant ice cube that gradually melted as you sipped your drink, ensuring the perfect consistently (and temperature) for your drink all the way through. This concept was very reminiscent of the drinks I had a few months back at the famous Aviary in Chicago (more on Chicago another time).

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Little Gems (photo credit to my friend Sara): Creamy burrata with lettuce and anchovy crackers. I have never had a burrata this texture before: creamy, but also less stringy than usual. Served very cold, it was delicious. I also couldn’t get enough of these anchovy crackers which reminded me very much of Thai/Chinese breakfast foods.

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Hamachi: Fresh fish with fresh wasabi and the tartness of the green apples that cut through the milkiness of the fish perfectly. Very reminiscent of a ceviche with a clean, fresh taste.

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La Querica Berkshire Ham: When this dish arrived, I truly forgot what we ordered and thought, “I don’t recall dumplings on the menu.” It finally clicked and I can’t get enough of this plating: sheets of beets cloaking a yogurt sauce, paired with this delicious ham.

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Egg Yolk Gnocci: Favorite dish #1 of the night. I kept trying to figure out how in the world Voltaggio managed to get egg yolk into these pillowy gnocchi. I’m a sucker for egg yolk, so this dish, with the pairing of tasty sauce and mushroom, really hit the spot.

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Cereal:¬†Favorite dish #2 consisted of more egg, this time fried, atop fried chicken skin and what was basically grits to create a glorified breakfast dish (get it, cereal?). My friend Qi and I couldn’t get enough of this dish and scraped every bit of it.

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Octopus: I love tako, so this dish was all parts welcoming to me. Served piping hot, the octopus was perfectly smoky and deliciously chewy paired with the fennel to cut through the creamy texture.

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Potato Charcoal: For me, this is the dish that drove me back to ink. The clever plating of the pot, presented with a charcoal grill that’s removed to reveal these curious little lumps next to silky delicious sour cream. To go along with the unexpected pairings, this dish is served with a spritzer of Chinese-style black vinegar, which seems to enhance the smokiness of the potatoes. I can’t help but smile every time i see this dish.

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Apple: For dessert, I ordered this deconstructed apple pie. Equal parts buttery (graham cracker pieces) tarty (the green apple balls) and creamy (that semi freddo shell atop), this was the perfect ending to the meal.

I much preferred ink to Animal, which is also growing in popularity for its small plates and “unusual” foods (pig ears, which are a childhood favorite of mine, are much raved there). Service was swift and the drink menu boasts twice as many pages as the food menu.

Looking forward to a year of good eating and hopefully lots of travels, and wishing you all a very happy, healthy New Year!

Eat: ink: 8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA

(Un)Domestic Goddess

(Un)Domestic Goddess

When I was growing up, my mom was a full-time working mother who also was a pretty darn good cook. While she believed in the process and diligence of details in cooking, like making her own coconut milk for desserts, having a full time job while also preparing a full meal for her family each day meant she took some shortcuts. One of the shortcuts I remember best that she still uses today, is chicken broth. While I’m a little more semi-homemade than Mom, I’ve certainly held to the chicken broth shortcut in making soups, porridge, and noodles.

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Noodle soup made with chicken broth, packaged noodles, meat balls, ground pork and pork spare ribs. Thanks, Mom.

I recently visited a new izakaya near my office that converted me to being a clam lover. I eat pretty much anything, except oysters, clams and mussels. Recently, however, I’ve grown to actually like clams and mussels (oysters I still can’t handle). Inshou made a sake clam dish that left me wanting to make asari miso soup, which is actually part of traditional Japanese breakfast.

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Sake clam dish at Inshou. The dish that began my obsession with Japanese-style clam soups. Equal parts sake, butter and oishi (delicious)

Along those lines, I wanted to make a Japanese soup one day that transcended the basic miso soup — no shortcuts. I know miso soup came from more than the freeze dried packages that were my shortcut. I owned the miso paste. But what else was involved in a true Japanese soup? I took to the Internet, of course, to find my answer and a recipe for asari clam soup. I came across the most amazing YouTube channel, teaching folks how to make simple Japanese cuisine.

What fascinated me most was this episode¬†that has basically transformed how I see Japanese soups¬†and clam preparation. The basics for any Japanese dashi broth begins with¬†kombu, a kelp. If you’ve ever had plain shabu shabu and seen a green seaweed-like thing floating in the water, then you’ve seen kombu. After a hearty boiling of this kombu, the kelp is removed and replaced with kasuobushi, a salted, dried fish that is then shaved to paper thin slices I’ve known it as okaka until I was enlightened by the great David Chang. ¬†If you’ve had agedashi tofu or okonomiyaki, you’ve probably had this as a garnish in its pure form. Like kombu, kasuobushi is also the base of any good Japanese broth.

The kasuobushi is boiled for a good 30-45 mins, then strained to create the base of the soup, to which you’d then add the miso. In this instance, I wanted to make asari (clam) miso soup. One of the best tricks I learned from watching the YouTube video was how to get the clams to expel sand: you trick¬†the suckers to thinking they’re in their usual habitat being, well, happy as a clam. ¬†Clams like shallow water, lest they drown, so prepare a shallow tray/bowl (somewhere where you can spread them out) with warm salt water — catch my drift here?

Then, place the clams in the water just so there’s enough water covering them. Cover with something so it’s dark and they think they’ve buried themselves in the sand. Keep it like this for at least 15 mins. You’ll start to hear movement and wonder if the dog’s gotten into your groceries again. Then, you’ll realize it’s coming from the clams¬†and that they’re really alive. ¬†Here’s a video from my Instagram of this whole process, with screen shots below. If you watch carefully, you’ll see one actually spit. This cleaning process happens as you’re waiting for the kashuobushi to boil.

IMG_7625Clockwise from top left: Getting clams to spit sand, boiling kashuobushi for dash broth, boiling the clams, final product of asari miso soup

The first time I made this dish, I swore up and down I wouldn’t make it again. The thought of the clams spitting traumatized me too much. But then, I craved this soup again, and thought about going a step further to creating Shio Clam Ramen one day when my new ramen spot was too full to accept our party (You can still be pretty sure I won’t be cooking live crab anytime soon). Shio broth is also made with a similar process, with the addition of another type of fish on top of the kashuobushi.

IMG_7445Homemade shio clam ramen with larger-than-life (ironically named) little neck clams a la Whole Foods

So, if you’re craving clams or Japanese food, I suggest you high tail to the links below. Ramen talk to be continued…

Eat: Inshou Japanese Cuisine, 2942 S. Norfolk St. in San Mateo, CA

Watch: The Mind of a Chef, Season 1 (also on Netflix – binge watch your way to food cravings!)

For step by step instructions on making asari clam soup: How to Make a Japanese Breakfast (YouTube Channel Video)

Introductions

I love food – but who doesn’t! I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a town with such diverse cultures that have allowed me to experience a variety of flavors from around the world so close to home. As a kid, I never realized the impact these surroundings had on me til I left them.

“You should start a blog,” many friends mused. So here I am, freely speaking not about what I spend most of my waking life doing, but what I secretly think about 3-5 times a day. Thanks for joining me for some musings on food, fun, culture and travel adventures.

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