Brunchin’ with the Girls in Pasadena

It’s a mix of insomnia, hypomania, and a lot of love that gets me up in the morning to build this little thing we often refer to as UG. But on this particular morning, I woke up in a bunk bed in Malibu! The problem, however, was that I was supposed to meet Carina, Roni, and her bud Caroline who was in town from Sweden for brunch at Central Park in Pasadena!

We’ve been there only once before. Funny thing about that place is that when we went last time, Carina’s then-boyfriend said this of the pic of us: “Dude, you guys look so hungover!” Don’t be quick to judge – we were and he was right. Therefore, our memory of this place was a little fuzzy. It wasn’t a first choice place. The non-UGs were coming from the monthly Rose Bowl flea market and we were looking for a brunch spot in Pasadena. Carina wanted to try Maison Akira’s $38 French-Japanese buffet brunch. Caroline wanted something a bit more traditional and I, being jobless, didn’t want to spent that much on eggs. Go figure, right? If I could have yolky eggs on everything, I’d be a satisfied woman. But since there aren’t many brunch places in Pasadena, we opted for Central Park.

We had met Roni a couple times before through Arun, the Mayor of Downtown, and she has always intrigued me. She’s from Tel Aviv, a Harvard grad, runs a math club, is a blogette peer, and fronts a band (which she just fired everyone from). Only two words can describe this girl: F-in awesome. When talking to her, you get this feeling that this girl is running her own one-man pirate ship; she is no marginal character. We learned a lot from her and chitchatted about everything from books, movies, music, dating, and life in general. The place was packed so we talked for a bit, and well, we could’ve talked for hours more. It was nice.

Here at UG, you get a more playful and, often times, less sophisticated worldview of food. Admittedly, our blogosphere buds do this just as passionately, but more beautifully and probably a lot more couthly than we do. I’ll try my best to explain. We sat down and were all super hungry. After indecisively narrowing my entree down to waffles and eggs, an impulsive urge for a turkey club came upon me as I coveted my table neighbor’s food. Carina ordered the eggs sardu, Roni the croissant french toast, and Caroline ordered the shrimp pasta.

The meals got to us and they looked edible enough to tickle our pickle. We dove in. I try to write as honest and true as possible so that anyone sitting at the same table before me, at the same establishment, about to eat the same food can relate on some level – albeit without the company. And perhaps it was our excitement, our hunger, or the lack of Pasadena brunch spots – but these butter loving babes didn’t melt.

In fact, it sucked. I mean it was only a slight notch above typical diner fare for probably double the price.

But fear not. Like any loyal dater, we’ll just have to give it another shot. Plus, this brunch place does impress more with a hungover body…so I am sure this can continue to be a morning after place. However, after a whirlwind weekend in Malibu, it just simply didn’t stack up.

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!

Wanna Know How We Roll? Come to the Beef Roll Crawl!

Photo courtesy of Ron Diggity on Flickr

The Minty is one of our favorite foodie friends, our leader, and our Food Ballin Team Captain. We are merely her fans, followers, and crawlers. We are thrilled that this month, next week to be exact, she is organizing a Beef Roll Crawl for all of our friends.

I first had a beef roll in July at 101 Noodle Express and here were some highlights from my first time:

While I was waiting for my order an older Chinese woman who was dining alone received her order of a beef roll and was in astonishment. I was so impressed by her comment I quickly sent out a tweet that said, “At 101 Noodle Express for the beef roll and a woman just got hers and yelled ‘Oh my gosh so so big.'”

It was truly the greatest reaction ever and Tony C. (aka Sino Soul) responded to my tweet by saying, “Did you go: ‘I’ll have what she’s having’?” Luckily, I already had that big roll coming my way.

How can I describe the beef roll? Like the baby of the best of Mexico and the best of China wrapped in a cute snugly onion pancake. Ok so, backstory my best friend is from Tokyo and when she was first in the US she discovered a  love for burritos and referred to the tortilla portion as the burrito skin. It was an adorable phrase and she loved the tortilla best but that was always my least favorite part. I am a corn tortilla girl and always find flour tortillas to be sub par and low quality. So imagine my excitement to have the beef roll wrapped in a delicious puffy onion pancake with depth and amazing taste. The stuffing was simple, it was just tender beef and cilantro. However, there was something else, something sweet, soft, and delicious inside and I couldn’t figure out what it was. My first guess was caramelized onions but alas I was wrong it was the fat from the beef. Why the hell do people cut that part off? It is the best part ever, so soft and so sweet.  This roll was phenomenal and why this isn’t THE dish offered at every Chinese restaurant is beyond me.

Anyway, the UG girls are crazy about beef rolls and next Sunday, March 28th, we are hitting up 5 beef roll places in 4 hours. For a full list of the spots and times check the Minty’s schedule and RSVP on Facebook.

Sunday, March 28

Doe Jon Station 11 a.m.
46 W Las Tunas Drive

Arcadia, CA 91006
(626) 821-2088

101 Noodle Express 12 p.m.

1025 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007

(626) 446-8855

Mandarin Noodle Deli 1 p.m.

9537 Las Tunas Drive
Temple City, CA 91780

(626) 309-4318

Michelle’s Pancake 2 p.m.

706 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776

(626) 293-8098

Mama’s Kitchen 3 p.m.

1718 New Ave
San Gabriel, CA 91776

(626) 289-8984

If you wanna roll like a real food baller, then you must come to the Beef Roll Crawl! Don’t be a square, be a beef roll!

Boiling Crab: My Favorite Restaurant EVAH

B.C. is an abbreviation that to most stands for Before Christ. I have always been self-involved and have always used it to stand for “Before Carina.” In fact, whenever I am with a guy that I am dating I am normally am forced to ask, “B.C?” To make sure he isn’t talking about another girl after he has already met me. I will blame my youth on being so self-involved. I have always assumed that only when I have kids will I be truly humbled, as I have never been a strong believer in g-d. So at some point in the future I have thought that B.C. would stand for Before Children.  Life is a funny thing and B.C. has ended up taking on the abbreviation of something that I am a million times in awe of something that truly brings me to my knees. B.C. now refers to my favorite restaurant in the world, Boiling Crab. Everything about this place is brilliant and it has the richest story. It started in Texas with a Vietnamese-American husband and wife began serving Cajun food up in a town with only 2,000 people. Since that humble beginning in 2003 they now live in OC and have 5 location including my closest one in Alhambra and one only miles from where I was born in San Jose, CA. It is one of those amazing American stories that brings together love, different states, different cuisines, and creates something that is truly delicious.

I have been to Boiling Crab several times and every time the food is perfect and exactly what I expect it to be. If it was up to me I’d be going every week or so but alas my other UG 1/2 can’t eat shellfish and despite making it a New Years resolution every year I still can’t eat alone. Therefore, Boiling Crab is always a place that I have to wait to have either dates or friends to go with me. A month ago I was having lunch at C & S with Minty and her friend and I got the obligatory, “What’s your favorite restaurant?” question. I, of course, answered that it was B.C. Her friend had an upcoming birthday and was interested in trying it. I invited myself to the b-day dinner and we were joined by the climbing couple (CliminChiro and ClimbingDancer) that also share a B.C. love. B.C. always has a line and a strict rule that you can’t be seated unless everyone in the party is present. You can imagine how bad I felt being the last one to arrive, I may have been only 6 minutes late but when you walk in to this place and think about what you will soon be devouring it feels like a lifetime. I have been through most of the menu and now know exactly what to order. The beauty of this group is that they have also done the same search and we are all now on the exact same path. A little over a pound of shrimp a person whole sha-bang style, throw in some corn on the cob, and add sausage slices. If you are still hungry grab some fresh oysters and sweet potato fries. This group totally knew my drill and I was pleased to introduce them to the $3.00 apple/pear hard ciders that always complement the meal.

So what makes B.C. my favorite restaurant? Let me try to explain, in life I am a fairly lazy person. I like drive-thrus and being waited on and stomp my feet at establishments where I have to stand up to order and yet when it comes to eating my food I like to be involved. The more tactile the better. Crab and artichokes are probably my top two foods and I love picking at and eating it. Also, I am a food tearer (or terror) as I break apart pieces of any sandwich, burger, or pizza I eat and I constantly squish all my fries in search for a limp one (What can I say..I like my fries like I like my men. Or as VeronicainLA told me last night there is some Freudian thing about me liking limp fries) Anyway, this restaurant gives you no utensils, just a roll of paper towels, and a bib. They put the perfectly seasoned bag in front of you and you get to go to town. The whole sha-bang brings together the cajun, lemon pepper, and garlic butter seasonings all in to one and as you rip off your shrimps exterior you re-dip and enjoy. I have had all the shellfish at B.C. from crab to crawfish (or as I like to call it, lobster for poor and small people) but the work to reward ratio of the shrimp can simply not be matched. On this night we, 5 people, had 6lbs of shrimp, oysters, crab for the birthday girl and a lot of fun.

There are certain things that I know about B.C. First, you never wear cute clothes and always accept the bib. Two, at no point in the eating process should you touch your eyes or any sensitive area (read: wash hands before going to the bathroom). Three, the night after you go to Boiling Crab you will have a hard time sleeping because you won’t be able to stop sniffing your hands which smell like heaven and you will wake up dying of thirst from all the salt and not enough water. As much as I consider myself an expert, the other night I learned a great tip from those that are also part of the B.C. religion. I always end up going through a roll of paper towels but this time I was told by my table mates to not even try to clean off your hands till the end and to ask for lemon slices to squeeze on your hands before washing them. Great advice! Anyway, now you know about my favorite restaurant. I have probably already told you about this in person or on the blog but this is my first time with photographic evidence since I always dig in as soon as the food arrives and don’t let my filthy hands touch an expensive camera. Let me know if you’d like to try B.C. and I will be happy to be your religious teacher and come along for the ride. Also how could you not love a restaurant that has this as their dream:

Their dream – that The Boiling Crab have the “best tail in town” and be the biggest ass-pinching, head sucking venue, this side of Mississippi – has become a reality

The Boiling Crab
Cusine: Seafood, Cajun
Neighborhood: Alhambra
742 W Valley Boulevard
Alhambra, CA 91803
(626) 576-9368

Super Bowl (Hot Pot): Food Ballin Part III

Thank the foodie/blogger gods that football season is over. I am completely depleted of all the sports analogies I know. However, this photo reminds me of the hot pot additions on offensive ready to tackle this two-toned yin yang hot pot of spicy goodness. That’s right after clobbering and gobbling Slaw Dogs and Diana’s Egg Rolls we headed over to Mon Land Hot Pot City. My ex-boyfriend and his friends loved Little Fat Sheep in Monterey Park so that used to be my hot pot place but I have heard better things about Mon Land. The broth is supposed to be better and those medicinal roots, balls, and barks at Mon Land are bigger so can be removed from your soup without accidentally biting into them. Now I have experienced many things in my 20+ years of dining but on Sunday one of the strangest moments occurred. Like at most hot pot places there is a sheet with all of the possible add-ons that you check off from. Our table of food ballers had a system. First, I check off what I wanted and then Josie went and lastly it was Minty‘s turn. Apparently, we went a little nuts because the server came over and said one word, “No!” Apparently we had gone too far in our ordering. You mean ordering every variety of mushroom and tofu is excessive? There was a lot we were unwilling to budge on but we crossed off cilantro as soon as she said there was a full station of cilantro, green onions and red sauce nearby. Holla, this women saved us some money.

All of the mushrooms, especially the one titled “black fungus”, were great soup additions. We had king oyster and regular oyster mushrooms in the mix. Minty was correct that tofu is one of the best add-in. We had bean curd, frozen tofu, and soft tofu, and tofu sticks in our soup and they were absorbent and perfect.

The soup was really good and the spice was perfect. I also have zero qualms about needing an extra table for all of hot pot additions. It was a great food balling day and I love that we ended Super Bowl Sunday with a Super Bowl of Hot Pot. Yes, I don’t really care about sports and would only root for the Colts because Letterman is from Indiana. However, New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in the United States. It gave me the best burger of my life at Port of Call and is truly a giant neighborhood in the midst of a renaissance. Here is my post from when I was there last year and a big congrats to the Saints. However, the only real competition to the the Saints winning the Super Bowl was the the UGs and Minty having a Food Ballin day and Hot Pot at Mon Land Hot Pot City.

Mon Land Hot Pot City
251 W. Bencamp St
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 289-4889

Where My Bloggers at, Dumpling?

If you’re so adventurous you may want to hang with Ms. Minty on Twitter. As you may know she, as well as our fav SinoSoul, have been our cue into the SGV.  So when Minty invited us out to the Dumpling House Restaurant, we gave one unanimous “Hell ya, beeotch.” On NYE we met up with Minty, AKesq, a couple other Yelpies and hit the strip mall establishment on Rosemead Blvd. Upon entering Dumpling House Restaurant one cannot help but notice the feline paraphernalia on the walls. The restaurant’s walls were lined with photographs of animals. The place more aptly resembles someone’s home rather than a dining establishment. There were tiger, cat and even a few horse photographs on the walls. I sensed from this alone, that this was going to be an authentic meal. Here’s what we ordered: six dumpling orders, a pork lunch special, beef noodle soup, seafood mandarin noodles, fried chicken, and, of course, fried bananas.

I think I can speak for all of us when I say that the dumplings were all quite delicious! I LOVED the beef soup which was further augmented by the enormous leaves of wilted spinach floating above the spicy broth. Both were délicieux. The hurdle on the soup front came in the way of the noodles, which were all hand-cut but uber long… In fact, I had to ask for scissors so I could serve everyone. Yes, I play mama bear wherever I go.

The most uncouth part of the meal came from AKesq. AK’s response, “I remember when my first boyfriend in college dumped me because I wouldn’t have sex with him. I payed him back by sleeping with three guys that month.” We love that girl; she’s perhaps more shocking than us. We tweeted her one-liners throughout the meal.

The fried chicken was a crowd pleaser, but was admittedly not my favorite. I like my chicken fried up with absolutely no sticky qualities (reminds me too much of Panda Express – Yuck!), but this chicken was sticky and sweet. I think we all concurred that the lunch special was also subpar. Dessert was fine, but I think we’ve established that I’m not the “sweetest” personality. My predilection is more savory and bitter, ergo, why I’d take craft beer over dessert any day of the week. My companions enjoyed the fried banana dumplings and enjoyed them more when dipped in ice water. FYI – I think Minty puts it best: The ice bath cools the dumplings… What the water does is harden the outside which creates a nice crispy shell. See, you do learn some gourmand things on the site… well, sometimes. And did I mention the $2 Tsingtao and the $1 Budweiser? We decided to pay 100% more and opted for the Tsingtao. Best deal ‘evah, Gina!

The most pleasurable thing to enjoy at DHR are the dumplings and the soup. It’s a damn great price, too. We left almost three hours later and less than $20 poorer. Not bad for a good time and great company.

As you all know my dating life has been a very public failure. With Carina gone this weekend at the Tasty Awards and The Fancy Food Show, I hung out by myself a lot. I managed to see two movies: Youth in Revolt and Tom Ford’s new movie, A Single Man. At the end of each movie I came to the same realization. The realization was that I need to have the confidence to follow my heart. I spent the weekend alone and it helped me recognize that even though I know Josie, I really want to get to know her well. I’ve made the decision to not date for at least three months. That means no match.com and no dates. Wish me luck!

Ramen with The Minty and Friends

We’re so grateful because our favorite new Twitter friend, The Minty, always invites us out for fabulous SGV fare and this outing was no exception. Despite already being full from the new happy hour menu at New Moon in Montrose, we decided it would be a “good” idea to keep eating and grab some ramen with Minty, her friend Jenny, and  our friend Brian. We were a little derailed because my sweet Carina got into her first car accident on the way. I was on the freeway at the same time and walked her and the other car calmly through the process; they were such amateurs. I know the drill all to well, having grown up in LA and  being blessed with only princess parking and not the best driving skills. Being the good UGs that we are, we didn’t let a little incident get in the path of our noodles. We arrived at Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gum a bit late, but luckily they hadn’t been seated. We knew this was going to be good because the line was insane.

Once seated, we started talking to our very chatty (and cute) waiter.  He made a few suggestions that we went along with, as well as each ordering an entree. We ordered the: gyozas, pork belly and kimchi, fried cheese rolls, fried chicken, veggie appetizer, rice balls, and the ground chicken bowl  —-> Those, my friends, were just the starters. We were particularly impressed by the fried chicken and the pork belly and kimchi. They were truly standout appetizers. The chicken was light and battered in my favorite Japanese karaage. The man who fried that baby is a truly gifted man. I kid. Maybe…Either way, I’d recommend trying both.

I ordered the yakisoba, which was excellent! It was accompanied with pickled ginger of course, a nice scoop of mayo. Mayo is such a paradox; I both love it and hate it. Mmm and Ew at the same time. Carina had the Ramen with extra bamboo, which she barely picked at. However, I think her disinterest was more symptomatic of her preoccupation with her car and not the flavors. Minty had the ramen with pickled greens, spinach, bamboo, and extra pork. She raved about the spinach! Jenny opted for the ramen with flavored egg and extra noodles. I was shocked at Jenny’s gluttony. The girl had two helpings of noodles! When one still has broth left adding more noodles just seems logical. Being a true glutton myself, I was impressed.

You will see no out-of-towners here. Although, if you venture into this little place, you’ll be shocked at how crowded it is. Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gum’s patrons are loyal and devoted. They come in, wait an hour to be seated, dine in almost claustrophobic conditions and perspire profusely from the hot breeze of the kitchen; they gladly endure it all for their ramen. The UGs concur.

I’ve always said that the people that have the most fun in LA are the people that are not afraid to drive. Minty is just us like the UG girls – she drives just as far as we do in search for the “perfect” meal. And for the research you do, Minty, our bellies thank you.