Dining on the Edge: Dinner with Chef Keven

There’s carnal pleasure and then there’s food pleasure. I’ve never endangered my life for carnal pleasure, but for food pleasure…I do it on a daily basis.

Growing up I was deathly allergic to many things, and over the last few weeks I had gotten mild symptoms of a severe allergy. When I decided to visit my doctor he did a few tests and referred me to an allergist. Later that week, I met with the allergist; he took one look at me said, “Have you been eating shellfish?!” I admitted that my frequent visits to the SGV for Asian food had exposed me to many fish-based sauces. He told me to cut it out for my own good, but I relented. After all, I wasn’t in the hospital. It was just shellfish and I could endure the few moments of discomfort for a few moments of food pleasure. When I got my allergy test back, it said I was severely allergic to a long list of things. The most severe being: most types of seafood, peanuts, wheat, soybeans, and many others. FML. However, I will continue to eat what I want in the sake of food and I will die a king. Not very smart, but a girl has got to have her priorities in order. Such was the case at the swanky Hollywood Hills supper club that Veronica and I attended last week.

Veronica’s a  hip lady (far cooler than I) and she had a plus one to a private 5-course meal in a private home overlooking all of LA. She asked me and I jumped at the opportunity after she told me that the chef cooking was going to be the very talented Chef Keven Alan Lee of East in Hollywood.

As a woman who still, to this day, works in a busy kitchen, I admire Chef Keven’s attention to detail. His staff is disciplined and well-trained at what they set out to do. I saw the look on their faces as we ate what they had prepared for us, and they took pleasure in our pleasure. Kudos.

Below was the night’s menu:

Thai Eggplant Larb
Fried Tofu, Pickled Shallots, and Thai Peanut Sauce

Shitake Crab Poppers
Lump Crab, Garden Fresh Vegetables,
Seared & Roasted Shitake Mushrooms, Shitake Aioli

SUPER JUMBO Turkey Tofu Meatballs
Fire Roasted Tomato & White Bean Ragu

Dragon Style “Big Eye” Tuna
Thai Green Curry Rice
Dragon Torched Live

Cheven’s Signature Bread Pudding
Chololate Toffee and milk Chocolate Ganache

My favorites of the night were the Turkey meatballs, the tofu, and the bread pudding. The meatballs were obscenely fresh and soft but not as to fall apart. The tofu was fried into little adorable packets and garnished with some edible flowers.

And then there were the shitake crab poppers. I knew I’d be the one paying for it later, but its just one one of those things you have to do for yourself. So, I selfishly took a bite. It was perfection. Later that night, the taxation for my small bite was a mild swelling. That crab was worth every bit of pain. However, I think I’ll take it easy for sometime… Maybe.

Chef Keven has been asking me to shadow him and do “A Day in the Life” kind of a piece for the blog. He tells me that his day starts off at the farmer’s market, goes from town to town to find the best ingredients, and that he, a Jew, even speaks fluent Spanish. As a Latin gal, I can vouche for Kitchenese as it is actually very good. I may do the article, but I think that the cooking in the kitchen part should be left to the true professionals. After all, the rule of any good cook is to try all of the food you prepared and for me that is a deadly option.

The cocktails were also great, although maybe just as poisonous. If they’d been any stiffer, I would’ve probably woken up next to someone I didn’t know. Thank God I stopped when I did. The drinks were all mixed by Minx in Glendale. Chef Keven has recently started working with them to perfect the new Minx food menu. I will definitely have to check it out soon. Who’s in? I may even try and kill myself again for the sake of delicious food.

My Time at the 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational

Last year, I attended the 1st 7th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational and I had an absolute blast. There was no doubt that I would attend this year’s festivities. The last time around was also the first time our friend Arun and I really got to hang out and know each other. Arun is the so-called Mayor of Downtown and is a vegetarian that gets such joy from bread, butter, and cheese. He had secured himself as my date months ago and despite a new woman in his life, I was still kept as his official date. I arrived 15 minutes before the event started and the line was already quite long. We walked into the Los Angeles Studios and it was immediately reminiscent of the actual 1st annual LA Street Food Fest at the same location.

Once again, these nondescript streets were filled with people, food trucks, vendors, and a ton of high energy. The sea of people wasn’t quite as large and the judging area with all of the really interesting sandwiches was off to the side. I had entered as a judge several weeks ago and I was glad that my group and I were all approved as judges. The most exciting part of the GCI is the competition. You get to see some truly unusual concoctions. The first round is called the missionary and is supposed to be just standard bread and cheese. This may sound like boresville but the possibilities are endless.

There was some slight variation in this round, even though I am not quite positive that it was actually allowed. My favorite of this round was one on Russian Rye with tomatoes, relish, and onions added in the sandwich. I don’t know what it was about this dish but it just totally worked for me. It was like a meatless strange version of a reuben that made this a grilled cheese favorite for me.

After the first round we took a break and went to the common area for non-judges. There was all you can eat free Tillamook grilled cheeses, potato chips, tomato soup, and Izze sparkling juices. There was also numerous trucks including 2 Grilled Cheese Trucks, World Fare, Cool Haus, Border Grill and specialty sandwiches from some of LA’s finest chefs. I wasn’t quite ready to stand in line so I went up above to buy a beer.

If I had to make one complaint it would be that there were no drinks being sold or given out in the judging area. I got so desperate for a Diet Coke (remember I am a Diet Coke head) that I walked to the front of the Grilled Cheese truck and grabbed one and laid cash on the table. There was a ton of people in cheese costumes and other silly outfits and the atmosphere was fun the entire time. There was cheese calling contests, grilled cheese poetry, cheesy costume contests and speeches from the official Mayor of Cheese. When we returned back to the judging area it was the Kama Sutra round, which means the sandwiches got a little crazier.

The judging this year was much smoother than last year. The lines were shorter but you still got the distinct idea that you had to beg for your piece of the grilled cheese. One sandwich that I was camped out to get was being made at the end of the table with such care. It was the Duck, Duck, Goosed grilled cheese. It had duck confit, foie gras, a fruit jam for sweetness, and a cave-aged gruyere. It sounded incredible and it tasted even better! In line, I heard a girl that sounded disgusted ask, “Eww, duck feet?!?!” Apparently she only heard half of the “confit’ word. The guys that made the sandwich weren’t exactly amateurs, they were from The Oaks Gourmet Market in Hollywood. It was the last sandwich I tried and it was definitely the best! I was in love at first bite…

Josie didn’t attend last year or this year due to her Saturday catering job but she was at the first couple GCI events that took place in a loft in Downtown. Despite only seeing the last two years the upgrade in this event is remarkable. More people, more sponsors, more vendors, and way more enthusiasm. The tagline of the GCI is “Bread-Butter-Cheese-Victory” and I can, without hesitation, say that they nailed them all. The event was a complete success. I, on the other hand, disappointed myself by only making it 3.5 hours, but it IS a 6 hour food event. You were a true UG hero if you made it through all of the rounds. Anyway, that was my experience and my favorites, what do you got? I want all the cheesy details.

Office Bonding Buffet: New Delhi Palace, Pasadena

The picture above is reason enough for you to believe me when I say, I absolutely and totally love my job. For all you Uncouth Gourmands fans out there, I’m Meryl aka the CFO: nice to meet you. I love trying out Indian cuisine in LA; I moved here from India two years ago, and I’m constantly on the prowl for any semblance of the food I dearly miss. So when Carina mentioned Indian food, I was ecstatic!

The UG team (missing two members: Lea and Maria) set out early to the buffet at New Delhi Palace. I liked the vibe here; they had statues and ethnic decorations all over. I picked up the camera and got clicking, while the rest of the team headed over to the buffet, which definitely did not lack variety. I found the salad particularly amusing, it was a combination of potatoes, corn and carrots among other food items, but I don’t think I’ve seen this anywhere back home.

I was delighted to see the ‘basmati’ fried rice, always a favorite, which went hand in hand with the ‘Dal Makhani’ (a creamy lentil delicacy). The ‘Chole’ (chickpeas) was not as spicy as I would have expected, but then most Indian food I’ve eaten here is toned down on the spices front. The Chicken curry was simple and delicious, cooked in typical North Indian style, and along with the ‘Palak’ (spinach) curry, worked well in combination with the ‘naan’ (Indian oven-baked flat-bread).

My top choice of the buffet would definitely be the ‘Baingan Bharta’ (eggplant curry). It had just the right blend of sweet and spicy although I think they took the liberty of changing it up by adding potatoes. Anyway, it tasted just right with the fried rice. The ‘raita’ (a traditional yogurt side dish) was good, but the ‘Tandoori Chicken’ was a bit of a let down though the chutneys were appetizing. They had a mango pudding and rice pudding for desert, which were both great, but I guess I was hoping for the more traditional ‘Gulab Jamun’ or ‘Halwa’.

I think among all of us, Josie had the best time (refer to food plate above). I lost out on the garlic naan, and had to settle for the regular naan as I was too involved with getting the right pictures for my first post on this prestigious blog. But Josie and Carina both argued that it was in good faith: they didn’t want me to be embarrassed just in case I did get kissed anytime soon(!). Below is a shot of the rest of the team; to the left is Ian, our website designer, on the right is Kristiana, our marketing intern, and that’s me in the center. Overall, it was nice team lunch and good bonding time; we all had our fill and blissfully drifted off to sleep in Carina’s car on the way back to the office. In light of our food comas, I doubt we will be returning anytime soon, but I do know the buffet selection is changed daily. A definite must-try!

Girls Night Out and a Happy Birthday to Yxta in Dwtn LA!

Monday night was GNO and the UGs were in full-force. There were five girls, one boy, and one birthday. Jesse’s baby, Yxta, in downtown turned one on Monday and the gals thought it would be a great night to paint the town red. We all showed up at around 6:30 and Jesse had provided free apps and $5 margaritas. Jesse, despite being a Princeton grad, decided that his life’s calling was to be a restaurateur. He’s a native Angelino and, in fact, his family owns El Arco Iris in Highland Park. I’ve been to El Arco once before, but my good friend, Krissy, has been going there since age 10 and loves it. We were Yxta’s first customers a year ago at their soft opening, so when I heard about the birthday party, I had to round-up my ladies and trek off to 6th and Central for a drink.

It was a great GNO. I won’t disclose any names but one chickadee referred to her vagina as a Skittles bag because she discriminates against no color skin. Veronica, a bit drunky and as foul-mouthed as ever, commented by stating “It’s a small world… in your vagina.”

FYI – It looks like these urbanites will be starting a Podcast with stories detailing dates, restaurants, and uncouth moments. You may just have to listen for it. Not to mention that our TV teaser should be out sometime next week. Holler at me if you’d like to be a part of the focus group. It will take place next week over what else? Cocktails.

Yxta, uncouth gourmands, guacamole

Yxta is off the beaten path in downtown and all my local downtowners really enjoy it. There’s always ample parking and the bartenders are always super cute and super nice. We got there right on time and met with our newest bestie. She was already at the bar, had ordered a drink, received a complimentary appetizer, and had guacamole ready for us. We LOVE her! The place was packed like I’d never seen in before and the staff was busily maneuvering through crowds and filling glasses. We decided that the gang of girls were not going to fit inside so we moved our stuff and relocated outside. It was a beautiful day and we decided that picture quality and space would be best suited outdoors.

The rest of the girls arrived and we ordered a round of drinks. We waited quite sometime for drinks but were laughing and being merry so it wasn’t a huge deal. (I assume they were not anticipating the large crowd.) Jesse was sweet though. He apologized and sent over some more guacamole to make amends. Food and kind words were exchanged and he was forgiven. A boy I used to date and I often frequented Yxta together and it was always like clockwork: He’d always order the same enchiladas and I the Pollo al Pastor. However, this time I changed it up and ordered the calabasitas platter, which was delicious. I was left secretly craving the Pollo al Pastor, but I suppose old habits have to die at some point. Carina and Ashley ordered the Albondigas soup . Veronica in LA ordered the potato tacos, an a Mayor Arun fav, which could be a very viable vegetarian option. We shared a taco platter, which I recommend because it was delicious!

Charles, our only male bestie that evening, was mortified by all the girl talk. Frankly, I can’t blame him. I imagine we are worse than the boys when talking about “girl stuff.” He went to the bathroom and when he sat down Carina started talking about menopause. He shook his head and was a good sport the whole night. For God’s sake, truffle making is his hobby – He must possess a lot of patience.

Yxta – Good food and a great place to take your ladies to have a drink and a laugh.

Yxta Mexican Cocina
601 South Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90021-1050
(213) 622-5540

South Indian Food with the Mayor of Downtown

As you know I LOVE my grub, and admittedly, I sometimes feel like a pretentious poseur because there are days when I am humbled and I learn so much about what I am about to eat. Modesty and uncertainty are not things I love to acknowledge in my life, so when the casual moments arise when I recognize that I know little and understand even less, it feels just as good as being right. This feeling was especially pronounced on Saturday night at the party of our favorite downtown friend, Arun.

Arun was celebrating his 10th year in LA and this particular get together had more significance and substance than just any random party. Arun’s family is a strong supporter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and to help raise awareness (and thankfully, my South Indian food knowledge), Arun’s mom, Meenakshi, hosted a dinner. You don’t get very many opportunities to taste South Indian food in LA and Meenakshi made everything herself. We always hear about Meenakshi’s delicious dinners, but since Arun never invites us to his house (and believe me, he’s doing the right thing), we deemed it mandatory to attend this dinner.

By the end of the night I had no complaints. Ms. Carina was sick so she throughly enjoyed the lentil soup with clarified butter and rice dumplings (a mental hiccup is not allowing me to recall the name of this rice concoction, but she loved it). I, on the other hand, REALLY enjoyed the meatballs. In fact, I was left wondering how I survived 26 years without them. They were great. The chickpea vidai was also a fried packet of fantastic.

It’s been almost a year since we met Arun (April 15th, to be exact) at the Royal Clayton’s for trivia night, and since then we have become very good friends. Whenever we go out with Arun, he seems to know everyone and we always end up playing the six degrees of Arun Bacon. Thusly, he is referred to by his close friends as “The Mayor of Downtown.” There’s absolutely no arguing with the logic of that candidacy, so when his friends decided to pitch in for t-shirts that support the incumbent, we enthusiastically joined the “Arun for Mayor of Downtown” fan club. Below is the good-looking campaign team in their tees.

Carina has always said she’s Asian (not to mention a gay male and 50 years old) in her heart, and now I’m beginning to believe I am a bit Indian in my heart. After an Indian lunch in Pasadena today (nothing of which compared to Saturday’s meal), Arun’s friend, Roni, from The Band From actually wrote this to us on Twitter:

@uncouthgourmand i’m convinced you only eat Indian food!

I think she’s right. I’m planning my next vacation and maybe it will be India. I will keep you posted as I am sure I will need some local recommendations.

Many thanks to Arun and his mama, Meenakshi, for expanding the circumference of my South Indian food knowledge. If you can donate to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, please do so. Your UG girls will most definitely have your first drink if you do.

Since South Indian food is rare in LA, there may be another charity dinner in the near future. Your UG girls love you so much that we’ll most definitely keep you posted.

And lastly, cheers to Arun! Here’s to another 10 years.

Beef Roll Crawl: A Variety of Friends and A Variety of Rolls

I have just returned from the Beef Roll Crawl and I have a lot to report back. First of all, the goal was 5 places in 4 hours. We ended up hitting the 5 places with a slight variation (see Kings Cup section) in just shy of 6 hours. The day was an absolute blast and the best part of all was that each roll was totally different. Not to mention that everyone on the crawl spent less than $20 for the entire day, average price per place was under $4.  Minty is an expert crawl leader and when us, UG girls, started to become close friends with her we asked her if she could do a special UG crawl for us and this is what she came up. The beef roll was perfect as it had the delicate couth pastry side stuffed with uncouth beef and cilantro. The whole thing is rolled up into deliciousness and while you can use your chopstick, it is the perfect thing to just grab with your hands. On this Sunday morning, I found myself crawling with more than 15 foodie friends and while we were all surprised by the variation of rolls, I received a very personal surprise (see Mandarin Noodle Deli section.)

Doe Jon Station in Arcadia was the first stop for the day. I woke up with hardly a voice, which I discovered when I made a morning phone call and then realized I could not speak. That did not stop me, I may be loud and a chatterbox, but my main goal for the day was just simply to eat. As soon as I arrived, I realized that I had been there once before with SinoSoul and FoodIsMyNish. I remembered that they have good dumplings, big buns, and a delicious oyster soup. This time around we were joined by The Minty,  Ian (our web guy), Nicola and her friend Jenny, Shemuell, and Derek Thomas (who I have only ever met at my infamous birthday dinner) and his girlfriend Catherine. We ordered the beef roll, small steamed buns, pork dumplings, and a twisted cruller.

The dumplings were still delicious but the beef roll was like something I have never had. The pastry part tasted identical to sesame bun and I liked that but the beef was dry and not fresh; and I am not sure the two went together. It also was more of a sandwich then a roll. I kept assuring the group of crawlers that rolls are way bigger and better than this. At the end of the day this was probably most people’s least favorite. However, it was Josie that insisted on the cruller after she saw everyone eat this monstrous churro looking thing with their porridge. She went nuts over this fried dough sans powered sugar and I will always like this place for dumplings, soup, and big ole buns.

101 Noodle Express was our second stop. For me and Josie it is was the first place we ever tried a beef roll, so it the measuring stick for how we judge all other beef rolls. This Arcadia location of 101 was much larger and fancier than the Alhambra one. We were spoiled by air conditioning and Mayo4You waiting for us at a large table. We ordered the combo plate of appetizers, beef noodle soup, hand cut wok fried noodles, steamed pork and celery dumpling, fried dumplings, and the beef roll.

I loved the soups and, of course, this beef roll was perfect. It was rolled tightly, the beef was moist, and there is a sweetness that I loved but Minty found to be too sweet. It was a full meal and OliveJina and Limer35 both made cameos at this stop. We ordered the most here and also dropped the most cash, a whopping $6 a person with tax and a 20% tip included. I think that this was most people’s favorite including my own.

Mandarin Noodle Deli was the third stop and we had several crawlers waiting for us including Kane, Matt, and Jessica. Later our favorite Yelpers Jenny, Allen, and Virgina joined in on the rolls. Josie has a ton of memories at MND with her ex so it holds a special place in her heart but when I have been here before to eat I haven’t been impressed. We were stuffed by this point so we just stuck to the beef roll and got three orders. It was loosely put together and this one contained green onion, a lot of green onion. It may have been a good addition if it was a small amount but it was just so much. It was definitely overpowered with onion but we all liked the hoisin sauce that accompanied it.

I was sitting at the other end of the table from Josie and at one point during beef rollin’ she said that an anonymous person she was sitting next to was roommates with the long term girlfriend of a guy I saw briefly. This guy was my grad school crush and someone that was a brief rebound after my boyfriend. At first I said, “That’s impossible” but after a few facts were confirmed like MBA student, job, and car driven I was sure that it was the same guy. I have dated a married man years ago, so I really can’t get angry but it just put a bad taste in my mouth. One of my new friends at the table is as big of a Will & Grace fanatic as me and he kept doing the Jack, “I WOULD DIE, I WOULD JUST DIE” line. In reality, I really don’t care but it was definitely one of those awkward turtle moments. I thought this was a good responsible guy, who could have that an MBA grad student could be such a sleaze bag? Anyway, on to the next stop and roll…

Michelle’s Pancake was stop number four and it was a pleasant surprise. This beef roll had no oil. The pastry tasted just like a thicker mushu pancake. They were totally light and were a favorite of mine. The cilantro was fresh and this one also had some leek thrown in, which I loved. Not only was the roll great but they also had the strongest garlic dipping sauce.

Kings Cup was a surprise in all aspects. We thought we were heading to Mama’s Kitchen, a beef roll hotspot. At the previous stop, I even made an announcement saying that Mama’s Kitchen was supposed to be a kind of disgusting place with no bathrooms and where the only food to order was the beef roll and that dish was supposed to be amazing. However, when we made our way to the last stop we didn’t find Mama but we did find Kings Cup. Different person and different thing. We were all tired and full, so we checked the menu, saw beef rolls and sat down and ordered. The menu had frog fried rice and duck feet and other interesting items but my table stuck with the beef roll while the other table ordered some dumpling and soup standards. This roll was very fried, the antithesis of the last roll. I liked the meat inside but not the roll. The whole dish just didn’t seem cohesive to me, there was just meat and cilantro thrown in. However, Josie really liked this one and said it was a favorite of hers. I could see that as the whole time it kind of reminded me of a flauta (something she also enjoys.)

It was a long day, but it was a fantastic day! I saw some old friends, met new ones, and each roll and restaurant had something totally different to offer. I want to thank all of you that joined us and, especially, The Minty for all of her planning. I hate to say it but…if you haven’t been on a Minty Crawl then you haven’t been on a crawl. She prints outs notes and maps and makes it so everything is close enough together and driving/parking is not an issue. You are free as a crawler to just enjoy the food, delve in, and explore your beautiful city. Crawl on folks and continue to Rock and Beef Roll!

Sushi Roku: Dining with Delicious Food and The Delicious

Once upon a time ago when we started our blog, we seldom left Pasadena. After exploring almost every crevice of Pasadena, we went on to downtown Los Angeles and haven’t left. However, when our westsider, The Delicious, told us that she would be in Pasadena, we quickly jumped at the opportunity to stay local on a rainy Saturday night. I was at work, but Carina and Delicious went to Rosso Wine Shop and picked up some bottles for someone’s birthday before going on to Sushi Roku. I had been once before and wasn’t that impressed but I gave it a second shot. So I met them there after work and we ended up staying hours. The place was different, the meal was better, and the service was impeccable. Here’s the yummy stuff that we sampled while there.

Wes, the GM and friend of The Delicious, was tending after us this day and he recommended a few goodies. I couldn’t eat the fish and so the girls had the scallops on a potato chip all on top of some avacado. They enjoyed it. Since I could not have the scallops, I tried the filet mignon wrapped asparagus with soy yuzu dressing. It was a slightly scorched bundle of wrapped joy. (Ok, that sounded vulgar but I really can’t help it sometimes.) But wait, we didn’t stop there, we went for a few more rounds (also called courses by normal people).

Next was an interesting but very tempting sashimi that were served atop with micro greens and parmesan. Delicious, not a fan of micro celery, didn’t have any but I could tell Carina enjoyed it very much – she ate all of it. Next up was a fish-less trio. There were green beans, chicken yakatori, and sesame marinated eggplant. All were to my liking and the girls moved to the endive with tuna filling portion of their apps, which were garnished with edible flowers. Presentation was definitely above what I remembered it being a few years back and much tastier, too.

I’m a big fan of veggie rolls and burdock root. Carina and Delicious are not a fan of the bitterness of burdock so I had the roll all to myself. I was particularly impressed that my roll was wrapped in a cucumber shell. An avid fan of Iron Chef Japan, I know the rigor that it takes to peel a cucumber like that. I’ve seen Iron Chef Sakai effortlessly tackle the arduous skill time and time again with a gargantuan sized knife in seconds. I’ve also tried it before and just ended up wasting a shit load of cucumbers; so the fact that they did it for us made me particularly impressed.

For our entrees (yes, we were not finished), the girls moved to sushi and I got a perfectly cooked NY Rib-eye with buttery mash potatoes and haricot vert. Delicious and Carina thought it was too rare, but I always order rare so it was perfect. (My dad often wonders if I’m really Mexican because he likes his meat cooked well-done. I ask myself if I’m really his daughter.) The butter content in all the components of my entree would disgust some people, but to a uncouth gourmand like myself, it was heaven. I don’t let a little thing like good health get in the way of my hedonistic pleasures and I devoured the whole meal. It was funny because when Wes came by to see if we wanted anything else, I said I wasn’t really hungry and then, of course, I ordered a steak entree with a piece of meat bigger than my head.

For dessert we had the bread pudding with a caramel sauce that was made from, get this, croissants. Croissants are one of my favorite foods, mainly because of the butter ratio, and to see them in a full fledged dessert was magnificent and delicious.

Sushi Roku has changed for the better over the last few years. From the caliber of service to the presentation to the food – it was a pleasure on all fronts. There were a few dishes that were better than others but hey, when you’re in good company those small imperfections fall to the wayside. I hear they have a great happy hour so I’ll most certainly be back to Sushi Roku.

Cuisine: Sushi, Japanese
Neighborhood: Pasadena
One Colorado
33 Miller Alley
Pasadena, CA 91103
(626) 683-3000