Thursday, February 01, 2007

Eating Ethnic in Los Angeles Part I

But Mom, I said, I really don't want to come to L.A. I just finished losing all the weight I gained over Christmas and I don't want to gain it all back. Oh, LL, my Mother said, we can eat lightly...I there I was in LA with my mother and our good friend AiAi....who were now blithly planning our edible weekend. Guys, I gently reminded them...we only have three days that is six potential eating opportunities for lunch and my count, you are already up to seven restaurants....Seven said Aiai. Perfect for three days!

Our first conquest was a Vietnamese restaurant, Nem Nuong Restaurant (9892 Westminster Ave., Suite R, Garden Grove, CA 92844, Tel: 714 530 1744). You'll never guess where this restaurant is, said my father as I navigated through a bleak looking busy street full of strip malls....see that store? Go into the parking lot BEHIND the store.....where all i could see was garbage dumpsters.. Here? Are you sure? Yup, my father said with glee. And there was another small mall behind the dumpsters, but indeed there was a restaurant and upon walking into the airy modern interior full of chattering Vietnamese, I knew I was in for a treat. This restaurant specializes in Vietnamese spring rolls, which are different from the more familiar crispy fried Chinese version in that they are wrapped in an uncooked rice noodle wrapping and generally served cold. Despite my father's warning that the spring rolls were really not that good, we ordered Bi Cuon, Saigon style Spring rolls filled with shredded pork could i resist? Alas, my father was right. Not worth the calories. Much much better were the Bahn Khot, crispy rice cakes filled with shrimp, and served with the ubiquitous lime chili fish sauce. Next up was a pan fired rice flour cake heavily flavored with coconut and colored bright yellow from tumeric powder and dotted with fried shrimp. Yum. Oscar, my 3 year old son, particularly appreciated Bun Tom, Thit nuong which is BBQ pork and grilled shrimp over rice vermicelli top with roasted peanuts. This is one of my favorite noodle dishes, but with Oscar gobbling up the pork, I barely got in a mouthful. Bahn Cuon Ga Tom, a warm version of the spring rolls filled with shrimp, plus a sprinkling of crispy egg rolls was pretty tasty. Finally, the deep fried fish served with dill and red onions was really tasty. As I have sworn off calorific drinks and normally only have water, a Vietnamese restaurant is one of the only places that I break this rule: Oscar and I easily polished off a large glass of young coconut juice, while I had a Vietnamese iced coffee, which is very strong coffee spiked with sweetened condensed milk for good measure, and I even had room to taste my mother's dessert drink with tapioca pearl, fruit, and gelatin all topped with ice. All in all, a very good start to what I had resigned myself would be a tasty but fattening weekend.

As eating in L.A. necessarily involves excessive amounts of driving, we barely had time to relax at home when we were up and off to the Yellow Cow ( 1835 W Redondo Beach Blvd, Gardena, CA 90247 Tel 310 329 7343), our favorite Korean BBQ restaurant. Korean BBQ for those of you who are unfamiliar is a real treat, particularly if you are a meat lover. Tender pieces of marinated beef grilled at your own table, then eaten with a dipping sauce and either rice or rice noodle pancakes and a flavorful cabbage salad. One of the best things about Korean BBQ is the assortment of little dishes they bring to the table as soon as you have ordered always including kimchee, the famous pickled spicy cabbage, along with beansprout salad, some salty spicy dried little fish, and a very typical macaroni salad drenched with mayonnaise, which I rather like, despite its bland plebian Western origins. While the Yellow Cow does not have the widest assortment that I have had, everything is fresh and tasty. We always go for the beef, although there are plenty of other things to BBQ: fish, shrimps, scallops as well as stranger things like intestines. On our way out, we spied several people eating what looked like big slaps of bacon, grilled and mixed with onions and looked delicious. We should have ordered that, I said. See, said Aiai, we haven't been eating fattening food...if we had ordered the bacon, THAT would have been fattening.

Upon our return home, we sat up to discuss the next day's adventures. Let's eat just some fruit for breakfast my mother said. So that we have more room for for lunch, I noted? Yes! my mother said happily, I found the most fantastic dien sing restaurant, using the Mandarin words instead of the Cantonese dim sum. Meanwhile, Aiai was on a quest to find the best Indonesian restaurant in the greater Los Angeles area....calls were being made all over the East Bay where we lived, while transatlantic telegrams were being frantically sent to the friend of Aiai's sister who lived in LA but was currently in Indonesia. Well, someone recommended this one, but it is really far away, pondered Aiai. That sounds good, ignoring the small matter of a very long drive, said my Mother. She added helpfully, All the food will be too hot and spicy for LL, so that way she doesn't have to eat so much! Yes, Aiai grinned at me, I asked the restaurant if everything was hot and the man had to think about it before he said there was a few things that were not spicy. But she debated, what if it isn't good and we had to drive all that way? I tried to ignore all this chatter and think about how good a nice long run would feel in the morning. Aiai's mobile phone rang, for the twentieth time that one could get a hold of the friend in indonesia...maybe tomorrow said AiAi. On that note, I went to bed.

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