“for what it is”

Excitement often follows suit after a good trip away and often we catch ourselves saying, “I really enjoyed  (insert geographical location here), I just love being there, the feeling I get while I was there”. Until a close friend comes around and says, “shut up about the love for a place you just traveled to”, with a smirk, “you just haven’t been to too many places yet”. Truth is, there is a lot of clarity in that.

People are afraid of commitment, people are afraid of uncertainty. Most settle with the comfortable lifestyle and operate with 50 miles of their hood, and many settles for the sense of safety and the comfort within the for sure certainty. Until they put themselves in a place thousands of miles away in a foreign country surrounded by words spoken in a language that brings to similarity and sweating from pure adrenaline alone.

People travel for many reasons, and if you are like me…. you get more excited about food than anything else while you are on the road. Since we are on the subject of food, I truly think it does more than just filling up your empty stomach and provide you the calories needed to keep yourself standing. It is a feeling associated with emotions, a deep emotion that is derived from memories, some, distant memories that have been… forgotten.

Take this bowl of beef noodles, by the looks of it, it is quite… insignificant. Most would say that it is just an average looking bowl of noodles, perhaps average tasting. No surprise here. To a certain extent, yes. But allow me to share with you this story.

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It is 9:07 pm, after 14 hours of work, my buddy who was also the lead for the project that I was working on over the summer, looked at me and said, “bro, time for dinner”.

“oh yeah?”, I was stoked, “bro, hit me with the best shit in town”.

“Dude, don’t worry, I got you”, he smirked back at me, “you’ll get to try the best noodle on this side of the world”.

I held him to his promised as we locked up the store and walked towards a white Volkswagen cross-over, filled with dents on the side doors because his ass can’t drive for shit.

As we are pumping some then really popular song and dancing away like two idiots in a pot, we slowly made our way out of the financial center and towards the outskirts of town.

From tall fancy brick buildings to mid-sized commercial halls, then to single tiered street side dwellings and back on to the busy main street of this town tucked away on the east side. People jam packed the streets, filled with puddles of wet dirty water, used napkins, plastic wrappers and old cigarette butts.

“Bro, prepare for some good shit”, as my buddy parked randomly on to the side of the street with the car’s ass sticking out onto an exit pathway, but you know, it’s China so no one gave a shit. Really. “Let’s go, it’s here”.

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To me, this type of experience has only been on TV screens, where peeps get down and dirty with the locals and truly experience the culture. When I put my foot down out of the car and into the dirty smelly streets of this side of town, I was fucking stoked.

We made our way into a narrow room within a building, there placed a couple of wooden cheap tables and chairs, and a line of locals waiting for a bowl of noodles. There a lady stands, yelling out “what do you want” in Mandarin while flipping her hair back with her fingers, which will make most germaphobe to nuts, but I didn’t care, I like the atmosphere. She was so chill, and… sweaty just like her man standing behind her.

Bowls of noodle with broth and plates of cold cut beef with green onions are ready for pick up soon after my bud figured out the payment issue. Apparently, they don’t take Alipay, wild. HA!

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Picked up a spoon, and sipped some broth, piping hot and filled with MSG. Hmmm, that local taste that you can’t duplicate. Threw in the plate of beef and green onions then dumped in some table side chili paste that a fly probably took a shit on, mixed that bowl up and it was borderline magical. 

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You know, at times it is not entirely about what you shove into your mouth, but where you are and who you are with. This perhaps average bowl of beef noodles won’t make it onto anybody’s page if it was served in your local Chinese restaurant somewhere in a shithole in DTLA, but the fact that it was in a back alley-way filled with trash and the smell of wet dirt and car exhausts, made it a whole different experience.

“Bro, tell me if this is not one of the best bowls of noodles”.

“Bro.”, I chewed with my mouth open.

I wasn’t being untruthful. It was for real. 

Needless to say, almost everything comes at a cost. Whether you exchange an item, or your spend your time working exchange for what you want. In this case, the satisfaction of the experience came at a cost – some out-of-bounds intense diarrhea.

It was all because of I got skewered.

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Note to self, when traveling, be mindful of the cleanliness and bacteria level of the food and water locally. If someone like me who is traveling to China for the first time in 13 years, perhaps a city center McDonald’s might’ve been the better choice.

But… nooo…. I had to jump into the experience. I also 1/2 blame my buddy for this dick move. But fuck, it was a great meal, and now a great story make.

The point is, travel when you can. The road more traveled, put things in perspective. For someone like me, great stories are always better than a Brand New Fararri. 

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Looking at Here’s Looking at You

The restaurant business is an forever evolving organism to its own. A line cook you worked with could be your El Jefe 5 years down the road. Conversely, your boss now could be your dishwasher after your 90-day probation at your new gig. You would be amazed how inclusive this circle is, everybody knows everybody, there is no escape the constant name dropping whatsoever.

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A former Student Assistant and a former student is now learning and burning his way up the culinary world at this newly developed gem inside the respected K-town of downtown Los Angeles. Chef Jonathan Whitener and his cooks are not shy about flavors, I mean, not at all. The entire menu is designed in a way that takes Asian-inspired cooking to the next level.

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Food provokes memories, and very rarely you’ll come across a dish that leaves your speechless in the moment. “Heritage Pork Belly”, like the drag queen off 42nd in Manhattan, “nuff said, drop em panties”

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It haunts me. Beautiful haunting dreams. Fat loving dreams. It.. haunts me.

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Iconic Tapas Joint

Once is a while you’ll find yourself inside a restaurant with yours eyes rolled into the back of your head and your jaw in an up and down motion while savoring every bit of the bite that was just placed inside your mouth saying, “this shit is fucking delicious. Bit of a Gordon Ramsay moment sometimes.

Wether you’ve planned for a long time before you finally got your lazy ass off the couch and showed up or you simply stumbled upon it thinking – “Oh this place looks interesting”, you’d be speaking to yourself like god is looking upon your face – “this is one of the best thing I’ve had, ever”. Sometime that is all it took for your perspective on food, to be forever changed.

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Bone Marrow, Chimichuri, Caramelized Onions. 

Chef Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo swept the Fairfax restaurant scene with their flagship eatery – Animal. It will take four to five visits before you can decide on your opinion of which dish is the best on the menu.

I, tonight, had one of the best meal in about 4 years, and quite of a pallet reviving in my desire for just straight up – damn good food.

Bone Marrow, Chimichuri, Caramelized Onions. Classic technique with bone marrows. Rain some seasoning onto the bone, brush it with infused butter and throw it into a screaming hot oven and watch it all melt. Hmmm… Anthony Bourdain once said the secret to a lot of good Jewish cuisine is properly caramelized onions, but caramelized onions is caramelized on
ion, in short, it can make my boogers taste like god given joy! Okay, maybe not that much, but along with the herby and garlicky chimichuri this dish is so well balanced between richness and freshness that it is like god speaking to us through food!

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Foie Gras, Loco Moco, Spam, Hamburger. When you have a plate of food that is total completely simplicity – it is a bit of a speechless experience. I dare you to find another Chef that has the balls to put foie gras and loco moco together, and make it taste nothing like you’ve ever tasted before. The foie gras was cooked perfectly where it is almost like tasting little pillow of buttery heaven. Break the egg yolk and mix it all up and you got a plate of goodness that you’ll remember for quite sometime.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 10.59.43 PM.pngBack in the days people dislike sweetbreads and most were thrown away being labelled as disgusting and inedible. Nowadays a small piece will cost you more than the best cut of filet out there.

The server shared with us that one day “Chef was bored, so he made this out of pure boredom in 5 minutes”, and the goddamn thing is so addicting that it makes you say “what the fuck, and how the fuck?”. Crispy, light, sweet asian style soy sauce reduction pair with the freshness of the green onions. It is just so damn good.

Pig ears with the chili lime sauce was good, but not mind blotting like the rest. Braised and deep fried crispy pig years, tossed together with a sunny side up eggs.

Oh and lets not forgetting the opener of Chicken Liver Toast, simple but memorable.