Friday, February 16, 2018

Chick Chick Boom: Thai Food in Central Square

I've been told by many of my Boston friends that they don't "care" about my food reviews in other places (I'm looking at you MARK).  As a result, I've been hard-pressed to visit and write more reviews about some of the restaurants in Boston.  I wrote a very short review of my visit to Chick Chick Boom, a Thai restaurant specializing in chicken dishes with a special focus in Thai-style chicken wings.  I visited this restaurant during the "bombogenesis" winter storm that occurred in early January.  The restaurant is located a few blocks away from Central Square's Massachusetts Ave.

As most know, I'm a sucker for South East Asian food whether it's Singaporean, Malaysian and sometimes Thai. What drew me in was Khao Mun Ghai, the Thai variant on Hainan Chicken Rice, a rice dish with steamed chicken and wonderful sauces to compliment.  The differences between the two dishes are very subtle and yet, Hainan Chicken Rice always ends up as being my preference.  Khao Mun Ghai tends to have more intense accompanying sauces that play into the muted flavors of the chicken. 

I was a little disappointed though. The plate is listed as 14.99, but what was served was a decent serving of rice, but only five pieces of breast meat. Mind you, the breast wasn't dry and in fact was very lovely to eat, but the price point is what kills me a little. Everything tasted wonderfully and I was treated very well but to me for that price, it could've been more.  In a typical serving of Hainan Chicken Rice, there's usually a mix of both white and dark meat to offer variety of textures and flavors.  As I said, the food was indeed good, it's just the portion to price ratio was very disappointing.

The other item I ordered was the Thai Green Curry chicken wings. I had 8 wings which was priced around 8$ and it was amazing. It was a very thick coating of curry that had all the wonderful components of heat, acidity and lots of ginger flavor.  While the chicken wings were coated a thick sauce, the wings still maintained a definitive crunch.  In hindsight, I probably should've ordered the wings entree which comes with a plate of wings and a fried rice or noodles entree that comes out to around 9-11$. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was just too hungry to not enjoy my meal.

I have been jumping back and forth between giving this establishment a 4 or a 3 out of 5 because the food tasted amazing. No doubts there, but the pricing is still throwing me off.  In the end, I decided to rate the restaurant a 3 on Yelp.  Nonetheless I plan to return and enjoy this restaurant and hopefully make the smarter choice.

The Best Ramen Bowls in LA: #6 Tsujita Annex

One of my greatest regrets after graduating was not finishing my series on LA ramen bowls.  I had been to five out of the twelve that were listed, some were good, some were ok, and some blew my mind.  Thus when I returned to visit LA this past December, I knew I had some places I needed to visit, and there was some that I wanted to.  This was the latter.  After visiting the original, Tsujita LA, I had dreamed about making a visit to their annex shop: Tsujita Annex, half a block down.  Also listed on the Discovery LA site: Best Ramen Bowls in LA, the Annex was a ramen only joint that served similar but also different ramen bowls.  At their original store, I ordered their Tonkotsu Ramen and thoroughly enjoyed it.  At their annex, I decided to order the famed Tsukumen, or dipping ramen.  As always, I ordered with firm noodles and a soft boiled egg.

Dipping bowl of high intensity soup and broth

At first glance, the bowl of soup was giving me flashbacks to my previous "ramen" experience.  There were visible chunks of pork fat floating among thick slices of chasiu, cabbage/bean sprouts, a soft boiled egg and a citrus-y chili powder in the corner.  This is then contrasted by the bright yellow thick noodles presented right next to it.  After taking photos, I first tasted the soup.  Hot, and full of intense flavor, tsukumen soup was like a punch in the face.  I love tsukumen because there is a distinct fishy flavor to the soup that is very different from traditional tonkotsu/miso ramen soup.  The flavor is almost reminiscent of dried bonito or tuna.  Unlike my previous experience, the fattiness of the soup was cut very well with the chili pepper blend.  The blend had such a powerful spicy kick while also being acidic that helped balance the fattiness out.  As I began eating the noodles, I always forget that tsukumen is not something that is enjoyed hot.  The noodles themselves are flashed in ice water, thus when dipping the noodles into the broth, the result ends up being a lukewarm mix.  The noodles also have a slight acidic flavor that really adds to the flavor profile.  My preference of firmer noodles also plays really well as the chewiness and firmness adds to the various textures presented.  When eating tsukumen, it is not only recommended, but necessary to slurp.  Only by slurping, are you able to enjoy the noodles while also getting soup at the same time.   The noodles themselves tend to also have an acidic flavor that adds to the overall flavor profile.  Tasting the other ingredients in the bowl, the chasiu had a great smokiness while the egg provided a small taste of sweetness that helped mellow out the experience.  I thoroughly enjoyed this bowl of tsukumen because the variety of textures and immersive flavors all work together to create an amazing bowl of noodles.  One of the best parts of finishing tsukemen is adding some more broth at the end to mellow out the dipping bowl and enjoy the expanded flavors in its entirety.  The soup goes from hyper savory, umami bomb gravy consistency, into a well-balanced soup that seeks to help conclude the meal. 

Tsujita LA and Tsujita Annex are both one of the best ramen restaurants in LA.  The lines are always span around the block and to be honest, it's worth it.  While traveling across the city has and will always be a pain, I am never dissatisfied with my experiences there.  Now that I am away from LA, I miss the plethora of ramen restaurants that I had the opportunities to visit and it forces me to look forward to future visits.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Bon Me: Chinese Pork BBQ Banh Mi

Bon Me is a food truck/restaurant business that is based in Cambridge.  They serve Vietnamese fusion cuisine in the form of Banh Mi (sandwiches), rice bowls and other fare.  I was able to stumble upon the food truck almost every day after school by Harvard Yard.  I've been to the truck a couple of times, always ordering a Vietnamese sandwich. 

As is the standard, they use classic French baguettes that have good crunch and flakiness.  At first glance, the sandwich is quite filled.  I ordered the sandwich to include BBQ pork, chashu Cantonese style.  The sandwich is filled with pickled radishes and carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapenos, red onion and a spread of Sriracha mayo and homemade pork pate.  Each sandwich was also given a choice of which protein was to be filled into the sandwich. 

My first impression was the crunch, a very satisfying sound as a result of the bread and the fresh and pickled vegetables.  There was a good meatiness from the chashu pork with a combination of both sweet and savory.  With each bite, a growing spiciness began to emerge as a result of the raw jalapenos and the sriracha mayo.  However, as I continued to eat the sandwich, I realized that each bite had a different taste, meaning there was no consistency in the sandwich.  A huge part of Banh Mi and in any sandwich, is a balance of flavors across every bite.  The ingredients within the sandwich were not evenly placed thus resulting in unbalanced flavors along the sandwich.  Halfway through the sandwich, I finally was able to taste the pate.  Very nice and meaty with the mineral taste from organs and innards.  The pate imparted a nice creaminess that helped contrast the acidity of the pickles. 

I've always been a huge fan of Banh Mi, and I make an effort to order Banh Mi at almost every opportunity.  While I know that it will never compare to Banh Mi's, I've had in Vietnam or other places, but I always try and keep my expectations low.  I've been back to Bon Me many times since my first visit and I tend to still order the Banh Mi.  The consistency of good sandwiches is still not great, but I've had great sandwiches from there.  I look forward to trying out their storefront in Alewife at some point. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Yume Wo Katare "Ramen" in Porter Square

It's ironic that Yume Wo Katare roughly translates to "share your dream" (which I presume is correct because that's what the staff said) because that experience was a nightmare. In a small shop in Porter Square, seating only 18, lies a "ramen" (this is in quotations because I would like to make the argument that it's not ramen) shop that sells an experience much less a bowl of noodles. As you stand in line outside, you're told that the theme of the restaurant is to "share your dream", meaning as you finish you're invited to share your dream or passion or goal. It's an interesting concept that forces you to engage with your fellow diners as supporters of said dream as opposed to just members of a population seemingly enjoying noodles. The seats are positioned in three long tables all facing towards the kitchen where the cooks prepare the bowls.

As I said earlier, it is my assertion that it is too kind to deem this restaurant a ramen store because the bowl they serve is not ramen. The bowl is very much pork-centric: from the thick slices of pork belly, to the broth that is mostly rendered pork fat, to the actual chunks of congealed pork fat that floats within the bowl. It was hard to tell what the base of the soup was due to the sheer amount of fat and oil blending together. I presume it was a shoyu-tonkotsu mix but it was honestly hard to tell where the broth began and the oil ended. It was almost as if they rendered a massive chunk of pork fat and then served in in a bowl. The noodles weren't your typical yellow chewy bouncy noodles, nor were they thin beautiful hakata style either. To my disappointment the noodles were the run-of-the-mill Chinese Chow Mein, thick and flat. My heart sank when I dug trough the mountain of bean sprouts and cabbage, to only reveal the horror that lay in the bowl. Ideally the cabbage and bean sprouts are there to cut through the fat. Ideally. The final topping was a mountain of freshly chopped garlic that was there to add a bit of heat and variety to an already overwhelming bowl. I should preface by saying that I ordered the "Buta" which was the large that came with five pieces of pork as opposed to the normal two. It was a mistake. The bowl screamed for something acidic to cut through the fat and entice you back with new bites, yet there was nothing.


To call this bowl ramen, is to insult a century or so of creativity and innovation by ramen chefs. There is no combination of flavors that continually entice you, rather it's a shock and awe campaign that's designed to cripple even the most sane diners. As someone who has enjoyed amazing ramen, some even far richer than this, it pains me to see a bowl so horrific. While the food is disappointing, I have to say the people working are one of the most passionate and jovial staff I've ever seen. Part of the charm of visiting any ramen store is the "irashimase" that is yelled as you walk in, and this is no exception. The care that they put into the experience is truly evident. I only wish their food reflected that. I urge future diners to avoid this place unless you fully recognize that the bowl you partake in, is not what you're expecting. It's not ramen, it's a mess.

Please if you're reading this, owners and cooks of Yume. Really take some time and evaluate what you're serving. It's not ramen. Ramen is not just noodles in a soup, it's a beautiful mixture of oils and sauces mixed into a clean and beautiful broth with the right noodles and the right toppings. Something thick and heavy, shouldn't be served with thick and heavy flat noodles. Something already overwhelmingly rich shouldn't be topped with just vegetables and expect it to be a balance. It's not really a dream if it feels like a nightmare.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

JW Chen's: Chinese/Taiwanese food (Closest thing to home in South Bend, IN)

Out of the five or so Chinese places in South Bend, JW Chen's consistently ranks the top in both "word-of-mouth" recommendations and online research.  The restaurant is located on an unassuming strip mall (it's not really a strip mall, but it's the closest thing to it, I suppose, really it's a parking lot with some storefronts linked together in an odd configuration), in between a Papa John's and a large tobacco store.  It's hard to miss if you aren't looking for it, and the restaurant itself is quaint and homey.  It can maybe at capacity seat less than 40.  However, the moment you walk in, you're greeted by this lovely grandmotherly owner named Jean.  She seats you and then proceeds to take a seat with you and discuss what you're eating.

Now, I'm decently familiar with what I like in Chinese food, and I can read Chinese/know what to order.  Yet, even before I had a chance to really read the menu, she has taken a chair, and proceeds to help me decide what I want for lunch.  We settle on 豆瓣魚 (fried fish in chili sauce) and 高麗菜 (Taiwanese cabbage stir-fried with garlic) and some rice.  Within ten minutes, my food had arrived and I was taken aback.  The first thing that hits you is the garlic from the cabbage.  It's a smell that reminds you of any random stall in a wet market in Taipei, where the owners are yelling in the background and banging of spatulas in woks.  That first bite solidifies the image.  The crisp and crunchy cabbage mixed in with extremely fragrant garlic is the best bite of vegetables ever.  I would eat a bowl of rice and cabbage every day if it was made like that.  Then with the fish, lightly breaded and fried then combined with a spicy red sauce that has a hint of sweetness is just divine.  Extremely flaky and surprisingly fresh, each morsel of fish is exploding with flavor.  The spice is hot, enough to make you sweat and replace every other bite with rice or cabbage, but not overwhelmingly so.  As I dine on food that takes me home, I have brief conversations with the owner, other wait staff, and I find myself having a sigh of relief and joy with every pause in the meal.

It's hard to describe in words how wonderful it felt to be in a restaurant where all the servers and staff spoke Chinese and would take care of you as if you were a member of their family.  Before I left, I let the owner know that I would return in a couple hours, on my way back to Culver, to pick up some take out for dinner.  We spent another five to ten minutes discussing what to order and later returned to pick up 五更腸旺(pig intestine and blood stew), 三杯雞 (three-cup chicken), 炒菠菜 (stir-fried spinach) and some rice.  She then threw in a free plate of 炒米粉 (fried rice noodles) to ensure that I would have more meals to enjoy.  All in all, I highly recommend coming here for meals, but be sure to bring someone who knows Chinese food.  Don't be stuck just having "orange chicken" or "mongolian beef" or "honey walnut shrimp".  Have a good meal and really enjoy it.
More food for more meals!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Best Ramen Bowls in LA #5: Tsujita LA

After hearing about this place from multiple people, reading about it on Discover LA's Best Ramen Bowls in LA, and then dreaming about it, I finally made the opportunity to try the "best ramen" in LA.  I arrived for a late lunch in at Tsujita LA in Sawtelle, as I waited to pick up a friend from LAX.  When I arrived at 2:10pm, there was still a line and the line for Tsujita Annex was even longer.  I was seated within ten minutes of my arrival even though the restaurant was full.

I ordered the Hakata Nagahama Tonkotsu Charsui Ramen, which came with green onions, woodear mushrooms and a seasoned soft boiled egg with hard noodles as always.  When that bowl first came out, the first thing I noticed was the smell.  It was an overwhelming wave of pork bones, pork, garlic and an earthy smell of the mushrooms.  It was glorious.  I knew it would be an amazing bowl just from that first smell.  The broth was intense, and was like nothing I've ever had in a bowl of ramen before.  It was thick and silky and was almost like a consistency of gravy.  It was so rich and deep, drinking it was like letting yourself drown in it.  There was a bit of nuttiness from the noodles, which were thin hakata style that also had a bit of saltiness cooked into it.  Because of the thick broth, each bite of noodles had soup clinging on to it that made the consumption of it so much more pleasurable.  The contrast in texture with the mushrooms provided a satisfying crunch that helped provide variance in the experience.  The pork itself was standard, wasn't too soft but had a great bite.  It didn't wow me like the rest of the bowl, which made sense as the broth it self lived in a meaty pork taste.  The seasoned egg was done perfectly and was also very silky and had a sweet yolky center that provided not only a complimentary flavor profile, but also added a bit of brightness to the dish.  While the broth was a bit oily, the green onion helped contrast that by cutting through it and adding a crisp and clean taste to the bite.  All in all, it makes sense why writers like Jonathan Gold claim this restaurant to have the best ramen.  The flavors are intense and deservedly so, the broth is amazing and the contrast in both flavors and textures help bring this bowl all together.  I'm dying to return and have their tsukemen which I hear is a whole other experience.  You can find their restaurant at 2057 Sawtelle Blvd.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What's Next

It's been a while since I've posted a life update, but seeing as most of my readers come from social media, most already know what I'm up to!  For those who don't, well consider yourself now informed.  This past year, I graduated Occidental College in Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Diplomacy & World Affairs (International Relations) as well as Theater.  I also minored in Economics at the same time.  I will be attending Tufts University in September for my Masters of Arts in Teaching in Social Studies.  As of June, I am working at Culver Academy, a boarding school in Culver, Indiana for the summer, as one of their Theater Instructors and Staff.

One of the things that is important to note specifically for my blog, is that as I am no longer in LA, I won't be completing the Ramen Reviews as I intended.  I still have one more review in my backlog of Tsujita Ramen, but other than that, I have basically began writing reviews about none LA places.  That being said, please contact me if you would like a recommendation of LA restaurants.  I'm still quite knowledgeable, and my blog only reflects a small fraction of the restaurants that I have visited in LA.  I look forward to updating you all on my experience at Culver as well as any further details I may have about my journey.  Until then, look out for my backlogged reviews of various places.