Friday, April 29, 2011

Torrance: il Chianti

There's something about Japanese Italian pasta that just draws to me. Maybe because it is the simplicity of it, combining fresh and quality ingredients from both culture that not only works, but can be considered as one of the most successful meshing of different cuisine in my eyes.

In South Bay, there are many of these Japanese Italian eateries and one of the stand out is Il Chianti. The original is actually in Japan but they have expanded to the Torrance/Lomita area and have been a mainstay for a couple of years already. Popular during lunch with professionals and housewives, with patrons of all kinds during their dinner service.

Il Chianti
24503 Narbonne Ave
Lomita, CA 90717

oil dip & bread
To start off, bread with infused EVOO dip.

Two types of bread: white & wheat.

oil dip
EVOO with balsamic onion confit. Yesssss.

Very cool menu. Very "personal."

Of course, gotta order a Chianti Classico. Ruffino is actually a huge label from Italy and you can find Ruffino at most places. Decided to upgrade from the winemaker's usual traditional Chianti and went for the Aziano, which is their Chianti Classico made with more modern techniques.

clam in butter garlic sauce
One of my favorites at Il Chianti: Garlic clam in butter sauce. Which part of that doesn't sound good?? After you finish all the clam, take some bread and soak your bread in that buttery goodness :D

squid ink rice pilaf
Another one of my favorite: Squid ink rice pilaf. First time I tried this was when I came for lunch and they had lunch sets (like all Japanese restaurants), and this was part of it. Absolutely delicious. Think of a fried rice, except flavored with squid ink and heavy on the garlic!

cod roe pasta
Alaskan Roe Pasta. A perfect example of Japanese + Italian. No more than 5 ingredients but tastes like much more.

Bolognese. For some reason I just like bolognese made by Japanese so much better (like at Spoon House).. Noodles cooked perfectly al dente too.

veggie pasta
Mushroom pasta with Garlic sauce and you can taste a little of the white wine coming through. the sauce

These pictures actually don't do this place justice since there's a lot of good stuff on the menu. In the future, pizzas!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Torrance: CoCo Ichibanya

CoCo Ichibanya has finally hit the States! Luckily, they decided to open one here right in Torrance! Well, actually there's already a location in Hawaii but that doesn't count :P

If you don't know what CoCo Ichibanya is, it is a huge chain that specializes in curry, similar to Curry House. It's all over Asia, from Japan to Taiwan to Thailand to Hong Kong. What makes CoCo Ichibanya so popular is that you are able to customize your own curry to be as extravagant as your heart desires or to be as simple as it could possible be. You want just curry? Sure. How about 4 different toppings? No problem! Mini, small, standard, large, or XL? Level of spiciness from 1-10? Everything has a set price, so it can be a cheap meal for less than $5 or a $20 curry plate.

I've actually been to CoCo around 5 times since it opened so below is just a compilation!

CoCo Ichibanya
2455 Sepulveda Blvd Ste C
Torrance, CA 90501

CoCo! They are definitely using LED sign lighting :P Good job.

menu book

Endless possibilities! Lots of toppings that's normally not expected like kimchi and cheese (click to enlarge).

History of CoCo and the locations.

green salad
They have salads there for around $3-4 and it always with the same base with different toppings, or you can just get a green salad.

The salad dressings here are so good! You get to choose between two kinds: shouyu-base and wasabi-base. The shouyu is your typical Japanese dressing using soy sauce as the base, while wasabi is more creamy and has a hint of wasabi. I actually like both so I'll add shouyu to the salad then drizzle some of the wasabi.

calamari salad
Calamari salad.

karage salad
Karage salad.

karage salad with dressing
With the dressings added :]

shredded chicken
One of the simplest curry you can get there, shredded chicken curry. The curry itself is pretty good, about the same as Curry House, but not as good as Curry Club.

katsu & mushroom
Curry with katsu and mushrooms. To add katsu it is $4, but they give you a huge piece and it's thick too! I also got these at spice level 4 and I gotta admit... I was sweating like mad. Don't think that because this is a Japanese place the spiciness shouldn't be anything!

karage, gyoza, sausages
Curry with karage, mini sausages, and gyoza. I was super hungry that night so decided to go 3-toppings. Gyoza as a topping! So genius!

mini sausages
The mini-sausages are great too since there's a great bite to it.

spinach & shredded beef
Curry with katsu, shredded beef, and spinach. Added spinach to make it a little healthier :P

sausages & mushroom
This is actually a small plate of curry with mini-sausages and mushrooms. You can customize your curry, including the size.

A super close up of the katsu when I got it with fried calamari.

katsu, chicken, mushroom
This is actually Leonard's curry with shredded chicken, katsu, and mushroom. Good combo!

iced green tea
Refillable iced green tea to wash down everything!

Ever since CoCo Ichibanya opened, I don't think I've been back to Curry House and other curry spots. Who doesn't like to customize their curry to their liking? Maybe next time I'll try a 5-topping combination :]

Friday, April 1, 2011

Taipei: Pork Back Fat - Mon 3/21

For some reason, it's almost a MUST for me to eat McDonald when I travel. Generally I eat McDonald because... well, when you're in a foreign land, let it be Taiwan, China, Europe, or anywhere, McDonald is something that is familiar. Nothing is worse than waking up in the morning and wondering around thinking which of these breakfast spots are clean to eat at in Guangzhou. Plus, it's fun trying out all the different pies. Best is still apple pies though!

I knew I was gonna have a busy day on Monday since my flight was at night and I wanted to take full advantage of it. I had a lot on my agenda: use my free voucher for Taipei 101 observatory, check out the baking convention that shared the share convention hall as lighting, eat at one of the hotspots at Uni-Hankyu Dept. Store, and do some last minute shopping. So to start off the day right, decided to pop into McDonald for familiar Sausage McMuffin!

sausage mcmuffin & hash brown
Sausage McMuffin with a hash brown. I actually also got the milk tea but I forgot to take a picture of it. McDonald's in the US needs a milk tea machine dammit. (10am)

sausage mcmuffin
Like every McDonald, the menu's always different but you can be sure this will be on there. The sausage is a little different and so are the buns, probably due to the ingredients, but different in a good way! Taiwan is known for its pork and the flavor it has.

near entrance
After eating breakfast, got to the Baking Convention. Bread, baked goods, or baking products are a big business in Taiwan. Taiwanese people love carbs, and the bakeries are always trying to out do one another.

Good sized crowd in the morn.

fake croissants fruit juice vendor bread bread
bread bread
Some of the displays and baked goods. Lots of these crazy looking artisan bread that placed in competitions in Taiwan and around the world. Plenty of free samples too! I was constantly sampling bread, desserts, sauces, preserves, waffles, drinks, and anything that could involve what you could find at a cafe or bakery.

The top left picture is actually a display of a flour vendor. Apparently what kind of flour and the yeast type are all thoroughly researched by different vendors and they have displays to show you what it can look like if you use their products.

gelato vendor gelato vendor
Also some gelato/ice cream vendors. Is gelato the next big thing in Taiwan?

ding tai fung
Of course, Din Tai Fung is also there, selling xiao long bao. There were a lot of Chinese tourists from Mainland so they were going crazy over it.

japanese master sugar artist
A master pastry chef from Tokyo doing a demonstration.

choco pcs
Some chocolate pieces displayed.

choco heels
I wonder how many girls would love the chocolate heels hahah.

wedding cake
There are also competition and this was one of the winners in the wedding cake decorating category.

Lots of intricate details.

pulled sugar piece
1st place in the sugar sculpture category.

row of famous pastry
The "famous pastry/baked goods" aisle where you can buy gifts. They have vendors from all over Taiwan selling baked goods unique to their cities and regions. Many offered discounts and samples as well so the aisle was packed.

I couldn't resist these pineapple cakes: 台南関廟 土鳳梨酥 Tainan Guan Miao Pineapple cake. Bought quite a few boxes to give a few away as gifts haha.

So what's so special about it? Well rather filling these pastry with the traditional pineapple cakes fillings, which contains some wintermelon jam as a way to cut costs and give it that sticky consistency, they use sweetened pineapple chunks. There's no fillings in there, just pineapples. It's actually a popular product now and several makers are making it this way.

Don't know if you can tell but it is real pineapple chunks!

My free ticket up the Taipei 101 Observatory! It's actually my first time up there! Too bad the outside deck was closed due to maintenance or something.

Elevator is is the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest elevator in the world! 89 floors in 35 freaking seconds. Crazy Japanese (Toshiba).

view of city from 101 sun yat sen memorial from 101
View from the top. It has a green tint since the windows are tinted. It's also foggy that day so you couldn't see very far :[

old school pole vault
There was a photography exhibition on the 89th floor as well with pictures showing some important moments in Taiwan's 100 years history. Look how they used to pole vault. No mats!

The famous damper ball on the 88th floor. The 7 ton damper ball is used to lessen the effects of an earthquake. When the building sways from a quake, the ball will go against the sway to balance out. Pretty cool.

damper baby
Of course they cartoonized it and made it into their mascot haha.

coral gemstone owl carving coral gemstone carving
coral gemstone guangong carving coral gemstone buddha carving
There's also a coral gemstone exhibition and some pieces show amazing amount of details. Just imagine how time consuming it is for the artist!

After 101, decided to go to Uni-Hankyu for a late lunch at 2pm. Anzu Katsu was still too packed so decided to try 花月嵐 Ramen, which is a famous chain from Japan. They specialize in garlic ramen with a pork soup base! Garlic!!

fresh garlic
They give you fresh garlic so you can add more into your ramen! I think I'm gonna fall in love with this place...

garlic shredded pork bowl
Since I ordered a combo set, it came with a rice bowl, ramen, and a drink. The pork rice bowl was the most saliva-inducing bowl of ramen ever. As soon as the waiter put it down, you immediately get a whiff of the garlic. They take pork, stir fry with sauce and then added garlic to it. It's sorta like a minced pork rice but with a heavy dose of garlic. You don't see any garlic but oh man, it's in there. Officially my favorite rice bowl now.

spicy garlic pork ramen
The spicy garlic ramen! The crazy thing about the ramen here is that they add PORK BACK FAT. Yes, you read it right. Pork back fat is actually used by Japanese a lot to enhance the flavor of certain things since it doesn't melt as easily so you can still it swimming happily in the thick pork broth. The garlic flavor isn't as pronounced as it was in the rice bowl so I pressed all the garlic they gave me and added it to the soup. You can never have too much garlic! Great fatty chasu pieces as well to complement the ramen.

hua yue lan logo
I like how they use one dried chili pepper to show that it is spicy :P The spiciness actually surprised me a little.

pork back fat
LOOK AT THAT GLORIOUSNESS!! The funny thing is, the ramen is actually not any more oily than some of the other's I've tried. Maybe because it is still in the solid state so it doesn't coat your lips or mouth as easily but the broth is packed with awesome pork flavor. Garlic + pork fat = I drink all the soup till the last drop.

coke zero
Thank goodness for the Coke that comes with the set cause... man I'm sure my sodium intake for the day was way over already.

guang an jie
After finishing my Coke, I was STILL thirsty so decided to get a drink at 廣安階 Guang-An Jie, which specializes in traditional desserts. (2:40pm)

lemon jello drink
Got a 檸檬愛玉 lemon aiyu jello drink. They added real passionfruit which was a nice touch but too much sugar so it was overly sweeet =/ After getting the drink, found a seat in the food court, used my Nook for a little, and relaxed. It was a hectic morning/noon trying to see all of the baking convention as fast as I could.

fresh milk green tea
As I was walking back to my grandma's for dinner, I HAD to get another milk tea, since... well, I'm flying in a few hours so.. XD Went to 聖瑪麗 Merry Cafe, a bakery, and got the fresh milk green tea.

before flight
McDonald??? Yes... for some reason I was also craving a chicken sandwich from McDonald so I went and got one RIGHT before dinner. Not the smartest thing.

chicken sandwich
Spicy chicken sandwich. My favorite McDonald item ANYWHERE. There's fried chicken at McDonald in Taiwan, just like KFC, and I love the spicy fried chicken. Since I just wanted to satisfy my cravings for fried chicken, decided the chicken sandwich is the better option :P

spicy chicken sandwich
Crispy, crunchy, spicy goodness.

This was my dinner on the flight haha. No more upgrades left for me so I flew economy back. Yes, what a big difference. Barely touched it... I still hate airline food.

pork sidedish sidedish
For the breakfast (meal before landing), I got the porridge again but the side dishes were better this time! They had a braised pork with edamame and a garlic pickled vegetable.

After getting back and looking through my pictures, I certainly didn't eat as much as I usually do if it is such a short trip like this due to work, but still glad I got to try a few new things. Too many times I settle the places or the food I know to be on the safe side. For now, bye Taipei, and maybe see you in October!