Monday, December 19, 2016

The Best Ramen Bowls in LA #4: Fujin Ramen

Looking at the map from Discover LA's "The Best Ramen Bowls in LA", I remember being surprised at the two ramen shops in East LA.  Most of the stores that I had been to, or enjoyed were all in West LA, if not down south.  Nonetheless, as with all my other visits, I had to figure out an excuse or at least a reason to be so far east.  As it happened, I was visiting friends at the Claremont Colleges and decided to go out for dinner.  I decided that we should check out Fujin Ramen, in West Covina.

I was actually looking forward to this ramen bowl as it was unique in that it was one of a few miso (fermented soy-bean paste ramen bowls.  Most ramen stores in LA feature tonkotsu (pork bone) or shoyu (soy-sauce) or just shio (salt & oil) based broths.  Miso ramen is usually tonkotsu mixed with the miso paste to give a more savory flavor to the broth.  While tonkotsu broths are usually quite creamy and filling, miso broths are savory and smooth. Miso ramen is my favorite and it's actually quite difficult to find good miso ramen outside of Japan.  Nonetheless, I had high hopes for this restaurant.

The store was actually quite large, bigger than I expected.  Most of the ramen joints in LA are small, and tight; probably only fit 15-20 people at most.  This restaurant could easily fit 35-40.  Ambiance aside, the food looked good and they had quite a bit of options.  As always, I order what the writer of the article recommends, with minor adjustments of course.  I ordered the Fujin Ramen with miso, and requested the "medium wavy" noodles to be firm.  I had planned to order my bowl just as the writer did in the article, but unfortunately, by the time I visited, they no longer offered the "spicy chopped garlic", "kimchi chives" or special "miso paste.  The bowl did however come with chashu, half a soft boiled egg as well as fresh garlic, bamboo, corn and wood ear mushrooms

When the bowl came, my heart sank a little.  The presentation was not very appealing.  Because I had also requested the kotteiri, which is extra oil, there was a visible sheen to the broth.  Mainly, the bowl looked like the elements were just frivolously placed into it, and not carefully allocated as if to highlight the different ingredients.  While presentation is not a big factor when it comes to my reviews, it does set a tone for how the bowl is then consumed.  

The bowl did taste very good though.  The broth was amazing.  You could taste the melding of flavors between the savory miso paste and the sweet richness of the tonkotsu.  The broth wasn't as creamy as typical tonkotsu, but there was a definite mellowing deepness to it.  Because I added raw garlic, there was a slight kick to the broth.  The medium wavy noodles were really filling and satisfying, though not as firm as I'd prefer.  The wood ear mushrooms provided a nice contrast in texture with the crunch.  The bamboo tasted a bit processed, but was also crunchy.  The chashu was surprising in that it was quite thin, but it was still bursting with flavor.  The corn was canned, so it had a bit of sweetness, but wasn't too special.  

Overall, I think it was one of the weaker bowls of ramen I've had.  The presentation was really disappointing and all the standalone ingredients didn't seem to combine together very well.  The saving grace was the miso broth.  Granted, I am slightly biased towards miso, but it the broth was quite good.  Ultimately, I probably won't come out to West Covina for this bowl of ramen.  It just doesn't seem to be on the same level as any of the previous ramen places I've been to.     

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Best Ramen Bowls in LA #3: The Ramen Joint

I cannot believe I'm writing another post already.  I had planned to have ramen today as I was going to be around LAX, but I didn't expect to go Friday night.  Today, I visited The Ramen Joint, another one of The Best Ramen Bowls in LA, by Discover LA.  It's only about 5 to 10 minutes north of LAX off Sepulveda Boulevard on 6220 W 87th St, Los Angeles.  As I've stated before, I usually only go out of my way for these places when I plan to be in the area.  Either that, or I come up with an excuse to go.  In this case, I was picking up my aunt from LAX as she had a quick layover.

Now, there really isn't much around in that area, at least off that specific side street, except for a Thai restaurant, so safe to say, the line that forms is due to a lack of other choices.  Nonetheless, like any other ramen restaurant in Los Angeles (it would seem), the restaurant itself was quite small, probably could only seat about 15-25 people with only one table for four people.  It's atmosphere is quite minimalist, where menus aren't even handed out, instead your attention is directed to a blackboard with all the choices.  If you're elderly and can't see, hopefully you have friends who can relay the contents orally.  As recommended in the article, I ordered the Shoyu Tonkotsu ramen, in which I also asked to have a seasoned boiled egg and crispy garlic chips.

The bowl comes with pork chashu, woodear mushrooms, green onion, bamboo shoot, and wild perilla seed.  The noodles themselves were very similar to the ones served at Shin-Sen-Gumi, thin and white.  Now I usually prefer my noodles to be firm, as they offer a better texture when it comes to chewing, but I've come to realize that unless the restaurant offers the choice, don't bother asking.

When the bowl came, I was excited.  All of the ingredients were prominently displayed, waiting to be devoured.  From the dark swirls of the woodear mushrooms, to the beautiful sheen of the egg.  To my chagrin, there seem to be a distinct layer of oil in the bowl, about 0.5mm.  It was a little bit disconcerting, but I wasn't too worried.  To begin with, the broth was quite flavorful, almost overpoweringly so.  You could taste the shoyu and tonkotsu mixture based on the saltiness but also the deep pork bone flavor.  Most tonkotsu broths leave a creaminess sensation to the bowl, in contrast, the broth was smooth.  The saltiness of the shoyu and the sweetness of the pork bone really combined beautifully.  The woodear mushroom provided a great earthly contrast of flavors, and help cleanse the mouth in between noodles and broth.  The pork, well not as soft as other restaurants, still packed a punch when it comes to flavor.  It was a sizable piece both in thickness and length.  Later as I explored the bowl, I found that the oil didn't really seem to affect me other than noticing it visibly, and that if anything, it helped showcase a depth of flavor that seemed stronger than most other bowls.  The biggest surprise was the egg.  Typical soy-sauce marinade, the egg was hard on the outside, in the sense that it was solid, however the inside blew me away.  Somehow, the chef recreated the poached like softness on the inside, the egg white enveloping the golden sweet pouch of the yolk.  I was enamored.  It reflected great skill and care in the preparation.  As I bit into it, I enjoyed the sweet and savory yolk with immense satisfaction.  The garlic chips were a little bit unsatisfactory though.  Clearly prepared in advance, there was a bit of a staleness to it and the burnt flavor of the garlic was a bit overpowering when not paired with noodles (as I had run out by the time I poured the rest of the chips in).

If anything though, I was a little bit disappointed with the serving size and I find that the problem lies in the noodles.  With the thin noodles, there's a lack of filling, the portion sizes were smaller than I expected and it didn't feel like I had enough. I finished all the noodles with about half of the soup left, when I usually like to have about 1/3 left to enjoy.  I felt a little bit unsatisfied because I wanted more, but couldn't bear to dish an extra 2$ for more.

Overall, for about 12$, it's not as much as you'd hope, but the quality and the flavors certainly make up for it.  With such a small little business, it seems like a secret gathering.  With only 5-8 people waiting outside, it felt like the restaurant was just waiting to explode with people.  Yet with such a small staff on our visit, they too struggled to keep up with the demand.  There seem to be more to-go orders than in-house dining.  If you're in for a quick layover at LAX and want something other than In-N-Out, I would recommend The Ramen Joint.  You'll leave satisfied, and your appetite just about sated, though I would recommend extra portions of the noodles.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Daikokuya Original Noodle & Rice Bowl (Little Tokyo) Review

I love coming to Daikoyuya Original Noodle & Rice Bowl (Little Tokyo) Not only is it an amazing place to eat, but it also has a great deal of nostalgia factor for me. It was one of the first places I visited as a first year in college.  I remember borrowing a bike from Oxy Bike Share, taking a ride down and having an amazing bowl of ramen.  Looking back, I remember that first bowl quite fondly.  I remember walking into the shop after chaining up my bike nearby, sitting at the bar and just delving into a bowl of delicious ramen.  The tastes, the smells, even the atmosphere, brought me back to my brief childhood in Japan.  I loved it.  I've explored other stores for ramen in L.A. as evidenced by this blog, but Daikokuya is always fun to go back to.

When I go, I always order the Daikoku Ramen with firm noodles and the kotteiri flavor, which is added oils to make the ramen richer and thicker.  Daikoku ramen is their "famous tonkotsu soup base, infused with their secret blended soy sauce."  It comes with chijire style egg noodles, kurobuta pork belly chashu, soy sauce marinated boiled egg, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, green onions and sesame seeds.  To make it a satisfying meal, I always get the combination which adds a salad and a rice bowl of your choosing.  I get the Oyako Don, or Japanese Chicken & Egg rice bowl.  They have the option to add your own minced garlic and benishoga (pickled ginger).

The quality is always the same, superb.  The tonkotsu, or pork bone broth is simply fantastic.  There's a depth to the flavor that is indicative of a broth that has been cooked for a very long time.  With the added oils, it adds a bit of creaminess that adds another degree of satisfaction.  I always add some minced garlic to help accentuate the broth, but also add a subtle kick that really completes the bowl to my liking.  The firm noodles add a degree of chewiness which I prefer, as it provides a contrast in texture between the crunch of the bamboo and the bean sprouts as well as the soft pork belly.  Finally, the soy sauce egg is sweet and satisfying, that helps wrap up the bowl.  As I finish the broth, the garlic I add reveals that spiciness and kick that helps finish the meal.  

With the oyako don, its always simple.  Sweet and savory, coming together in a small bowl that helps sate my appetite.  That soft cooked egg and chick combine with the rice that honestly, makes a satisfying meal in itself.  Not to mention the onions that have been cooked into the bowl that are soft and crunchy in a paradoxical fashion.  It's not too salty, and actually a bit underwhelming in flavor when compared to the ramen.  Still satisfying nonetheless.  

I always recommend Daikokuya to my friends and family who visit because, in my opinion, it's one of the better ramen places in Los Angeles.  It's a mainstay in Little Tokyo, with its walls decorated with old Japanese movie posters and the bar, designed to be like a typical ramen joint in Tokyo.  All that is missing is the vending machine that prints out ramen tickets.  The atmosphere is busy and electrifying as the door spins constantly as patrons walk in and out.  Food comes at a frenetic and passionate pace in order to keep up with the demands of an always full restaurant.  I arrived at 10:00 PM and waited 15 minutes for a spot at the bar.  For 18$ including tax and tip, this is always a must-visit for out of town visitors looking for ramen.  I always leave satisfied.  

Address is 327 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Best Ramen Bowls in LA #2: Umenoya Ramen Co.

Looking at the Discover Los Angeles article on the "The Best Ramen Bowls in LA", it was definitely hard to find which restaurant I should visit next.  The list covers a great deal of geographical distance and a lot of the places that I want to explore are across the county.  That being said, whenever I plan on being in those areas, I try and make it out to one of the joints.  With that, I ventured down to Torrance and went to Umenoya Ramen Co located on 24222 Crenshaw Blvd in Torrance CA.

This was actually my second visit to Umenoya and I had an amazing time the first time I went.  Last time I ordered their Jiro Ramen which was a massive bowl that contained a grand amount of Napa Cabbage and bean sprouts.  It was delicious.  However, today I ordered their Spicy Miso Ramen as it was recommended in the article.

The Spicy Miso Ramen came with three pieces of slow-cooked chashu (pork belly), a flavored boiled egg, chopped onions both white and green, bean sprouts, Napa Cabbage, leeks and shredded dried chili pepper.  I also ordered mine with a preference of having firm noodles.  Because I ordered Combo C, it included a small order of gyoza (potstickers) and a karaage (Japanese fried chicken) rice bowl.  However, I won't be writing about those because those have nothing to do with ramen.

This bowl was absolutely fantastic (you're going to hear me say that word often, almost as if I was channeling my inner "Ninth Doctor").  Despite being an oily looking broth, the soup was just amazing, it had this surprising kick of spice that accentuated the pork bone and miso based flavors.  What I really loved about the bowl was the different textures that came with it.  The chewiness of the noodles, the clean and crisp crunch of the cabbage and the onions, and the melts-in-your-mouth pork belly.  Each bite was different depending on what elements were added.  The pork belly was so soft that you could cut through it just by using the chopsticks, indicative of a long slow-cooked process. The flavors were also so good.  The rich and flavorful soup combined with the clean and crisp cabbage and onions with a slight kick from the garlic and the chili, all made for a well-rounded bowl.  None of the flavors were overpowering, rather carefully measured and allocated in order to complement each other.  Another highlight was biting into the egg, it was sweet almost like caramel that made for a fantastic contrast to the bowl.  It was also perfect in the sense that it was also perfectly portioned, there was no craving for additional noodles.

If I could describe the experience of eating this bowl, I would say that it was like descending through layers and layers of flavor till which you rested on this happy place where everything came together.  From the pork bone base to miso to the spice to the clean and crisp vegetables, every bite and slurp took you deeper and deeper until you finished the bowl, content.  Its bowls like this that solidify my dream to finish all the bowls on the list and inspires me to continue to drive around to visit all the restaurants.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Best Ramen Bowls in LA #1: Men Oh Tokushima

This is the first post of a new series where I'm follow this article's Discover Los Angeles "The Best Ramen Bowls in LA".  Granted there are a lot of different sites that say they have the "best list", but I'm committed to trying all of these.  While I've been to some of these places before, I've decided to only order the ramen they recommend on the article in order to try out the "best bowls".  I'm committed to finish this list before I graduate in May.  Please note that the order in which they are written are not determined in any particular way, rather I just decided to go to that one on that particular day.  

Which brings us to the first bowl that I enjoyed: Men Oh Tokushima. Located in a side strip mall in Little Tokyo, it's actually a little bit harder to find as the storefront faces an internal parking lot as opposed to the main roads.  Their address is: 456 E 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

I ordered the Tokushima Ramen, their eponymous bowl. Tonkotsu (pork bone) soup that's been stewed for 16 hours that has been infused with a specially seasoned soy sauce. Their recipe, originating from the Tokushima region features medium sized noodles. Their bowl also included: stir-fried pork belly, braised pork, bamboo, green onion, bean sprouts and a seasoned boiled egg.

For a broth that has been simmering and cooking for over 16 hours, it wasn't very heavy. The broth had a very deep and rich flavor profile but it wasn't heavy to eat. It didn't feel overpowering. The rich pork bone combined with the seasoned soy sauce produced a fantastic sweet and yet clean taste. There was also a slight kick that was attributed to garlic in the soup which made the soup complete. It seemed that the broth was strained and sifted to have that clean clear look with that refreshing flavor. The stir fried pork had an amazing burnt charcoal flavor. It was burnt but not overwhelmingly so. The pork belly was also fantastically juicy and it fell apart at each bite. With a "Facebook like" I was also able to order benishoga (red pickled ginger) which complimented very well with the broth. The acidity paired very well with the richness of the broth. It was a great contrast of flavors that made the dish much more exciting.

Overall the bowl of ramen was very good. It wasn't too big, but filled with immense flavor. What I really liked about it was that the noodles were very filling and the portion size was well done. In some restaurants I order kadaema (extra noodles) because the noodle portion and size, make each portion seem unfulfilling. This bowl was perfectly portioned and I didn't feel the need to go overboard. It was rich, but wasn't that heavy. It felt very complete. This bowl of ramen was very good and it would make sense to be on this sort of list of "best ramen bowls in LA".

Monday, June 6, 2016

LA Food Truck Reviews #1.5: Okamoto Kitchen Revisited

You know, I'd never thought I would be writing another review with @Okamoto Kitchen but after speaking with the owner and trying their "new" Gyu-Don, I knew I needed to revisit it.  For those not in the know, Okamoto Kitchen is a Japanese comfort food truck that ends up on Eagle Rock Boulevard on Monday Nights from 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM.  They do an amazing chicken sandwich: "The Nom Bomb", and their curry plate is amazing.  You can check out my review of both products here.

Anyhow, I had previously ordered their Gyu-Don (for those who don't know, Gyu-Don is thinly sliced ribeye beef and onions, that are slow cooked in a sweet soy sauce and wine mixture, and then topped on rice with sesame and benishoga), just as they were experimenting with it. It had just became a menu item a couple days prior, and I knew I wanted to try it out.  The owner had told me about it on my first visit, and so when I went the second time, I knew I had to try it out.  Unfortunately, it wasn't great.  Basically, the beef quality wasn't great, it was very lean and very tough.  The flavors were there, but the texture of the beef just made it difficult to enjoy.

Today, I had the pleasure of trying their third or fourth iteration of the Gyu-Don.  After speaking with them, and expressing my concerns about their first Gyu-Don, the owner promptly explained that he had agreed.  The owner told me that they decided to switch meat vendors a couple times after feeling unsatisfied with their product.  He graciously then presented a small box of the Gyu-Don to try out and let him know how it went.

*This is not a sponsored review, nor is it contracted, merely expressing my feelings as a result of trying the "new" Gyu-Don.*
The lighting is bad because I took it in the car as
I wanted to get a bite while it was at it's prime temperature.

To put it simply, it was amazing.  You could easily tell that there was a difference in the meat quality.  The meat was more fatty, which allowed it to be much more tender and more flavorful.  You can tell that the beef and the onions have stewed for a long time in their sauce combination because each bite embodies a bit of sweet and salty.  It was just so perfect, the airy and fluffy rice, the sweet and tender beef, the beni shoga (pickled ginger), all combined to make an amazing dish.  I only had a small taste of it, but I can already tell that it is an amazing meal.  For 11$, it is a steal.  To me, this dish shows me that the owner cares about his products.  By taking in feedback and making adjustments, it shows that there is care and dedication placed in his products.  While I'm sure most if not all craftsman have this sense of pride and care to their work, this dish tells me that the Okamoto Kitchen is a place where the food will always be good, and if it isn't, it will be in the future.

Once again, thanks for an amazing night.  I didn't think I would review Okamoto again, but I felt that the "new" Gyu-Don, warranted it's own piece.

Friday, May 27, 2016

LA Food Truck Reviews #4: Kogi Truck

I've had Kogi Truck many times.  Occidental College love to have Kogi come and cater, and for good reason, the food is always amazing.  The famous Chef Roy Choi, has done an amazing job with the fusion between Korean and Mexican food and it's always a pleasure to enjoy the cooking.  This was my first time having Kogi outside of a school catered event, so I was pleased to explore the menu a bit more than usual.

The truck was parked on Eagle Rock Boulevard on a Tuesday night.  If I remember correctly, I got there just when it was just opening, and already there was a long line.  It goes to show you how popular this truck is.  I ordered the Calamari Taco, and a Short Rib Burrito with no cheese.

The calamari taco was an interesting order.  The grilled squid was covered in a very spicy looking sauce, which upon tasting was more of a sweet chili mixture, while still maintaining a nice kick.  The chopped onions provided a nice crunch to the taco and the cilantro helped round the whole thing.  However, there wasn't much flavor to the squid in itself.  It was very tender and easy to chew, but the sauce overpowered the squid.  You couldn't taste the squid at all.  Instead of the sweet chili, it might be more effective to replace the sauce with a lemon jalapeno marinade.  The lemon will lighten the flavor of the squid without overpowering its natural flavor and the jalapeno can provide a nice kick to the mixture.

Now the short rib burrito was something I've been looking forward to for a while.  I've had their short rib tacos before and I knew the burrito would be something of a beauty.  Boy, was I not mistaken.  It was a decent sized burrito, the beef was done very well.  The various components inside all made for an amazing experience.  Great crunch from the lettuce and pickled vegetables, which also produced a tangy flavor.  The scrambled eggs made for a great filling and also helped lighten the burrito.  It was an amazing product.  The sweet short ribs combined with tangy slaw and the egg made for an amazing meal.  What really surprised me however, was the last bite.  To me, you know a great burrito is made when the last bite has everything.  It shows that the placement of ingredients was not done haphazardly, but rather careful consideration to ensure equal distribution of each ingredient.  The last bite really needs to embody the whole burrito and not be limited to one ingredient or the other.  In this case, my last bite consisted of a great final piece of short rib, accompanied by the vegetables.  I was expecting just vegetables or egg, instead I experienced a perfect conclusion.

As Food Trucks go, Chef Roy Choi is amazing.  All the stories about him pioneering this eclectic type of cuisine are all true, and the fact that he does an amazing job of creating fusion cuisine is even better.  Like I said, Kogi Truck is always one of my favorites, and to be able to experience his larger menu, was truly something to remember.  You can find their three trucks on their website, or on their Twitter Feed.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

LA Food Truck Reviews #3: The Crispy Cuban

So its finals season, and I'm taking a break from working on a paper about Marxism.  I'm deciding what to get for dinner, when I glance down at my Twitter feed.  Lo and behold, The Crispy Cuban is on there way to York Boulevard.  From a socialist writer to eating food from a socialist country, is this fate or what!

Anyhow, I get there at around 6:35, there's no line, it's parked in front of Block Party, a local bar.   I'm excited.  Of course I order "The Crispy Cuban", their namesake sandwich which comes with slow roasted pork, house cured ham, thinly sliced dill pickle, imported Swiss cheese (which I opted out of), mustard butter, all on a crispy Cuban baguette.  I also decide to try it "French Dip" style, which is their au jus served on the side for an extra $1.50.

Now before I go any further, it's worthy to note that there's signage that says that this sandwich is what inspired the Jon Faverau movie Chef.

So, first off, it's a pretty decent looking sandwich, about maybe 6-8 inches, cut lengthwise so that you have two halves at 6-8 inches.  This sandwich was really good.  The bread was very crispy/flaky.  It wasn't big, it wasn't stiff like a normal French Baguette.  It had a crust that came apart with each crunch, and a soft inside that didn't stretch or pull, but just gave way.  The sliced cured ham and slow roasted pork was amazing.  The pork had a great mixture of lean and fat, allowing each bite to be different.  The dill was super refreshing and really contrasted with the mustard.  With the au jus, everything is just accentuated.  It's made from the slow roasted pork shoulder and other meats to have this extremely deep flavor.  You could taste a little bit of a tomato base, which the sweetness and acidity really builds upon the sandwich.  I think what would make this sandwich better is a little bit of heat, something that the dill can really contrast on, because the mustard itself isn't that harsh. Otherwise, it was a good trip, $9.50 for the sandwich, and I probably won't get the au jus again, but I really enjoyed it.  If they're around again, I would love to try their fries or bowls.

You can find them at their website or their Twitter feed.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Big News! New Nick!

This is going to be a really long post. So for those who just want to skip to the end: I have gone through a rigorous self-imposed diet and exercise regime that has resulted in me losing about 35 lbs in the last four months. From 120kg (265lbs) to 105kg (231lbs) The goal was to be under 100kg but I realize that goal becomes harder and harder to attain as my workouts change from just intense cardio to now weight training and muscle workouts.


Anyhow, this post is about my weight loss and the journey it took to get to where I am today. With all great stories, there's a prologue. 

Growing up, I was taught to not walk in one of my dad's footsteps. To not be like him and gain a bunch of weight. His peak was 100kg as a freshmen in university, which he lost almost immediately. I unfortunately broke that peak by the time I was a sophomore or junior in highschool. From there I didn't stop. I justified my unhealthy lifestyle as: this is my body and my life. I wanted to enjoy my life in the way I deemed it. I didn't care about living healthily, or about working out. All I wanted to do was live a good and fruitful life.  

Fast forward to last year. I posted this super inspirational post about this weight loss regime that I was attempting. I was working out 4 times a week and actively building muscle mass. Yet, by the time I posted that, the motivation had died. At the lowest then, I was about 117kg. I felt ashamed any time someone brought up that post, because it felt like a personal failure for not continuing. I hated that as soon as I posted, I basically stopped.  This year, my peak weight flirted around 120kg (265lbs). At this point I've had numerous doctors appointments and blood tests all telling me the same thing. This life is unsustainable. In my last few blood tests, the biggest concern was a high ALT and AST, basically liver enzymes that said that I was developing a fatty liver and that if I continued down that path, I would develop liver disease within the next 20-30 years. Even with this diagnosis I didn't stop.  

Come this January, I'm at our Spring IV leadership retreat and we are studying a parable about how Jesus is the True Vine and how He prunes the vines to sustain the True Vine (John 15:1-11). In our way of responding, us leaders were asked: what can we do to prune our own vines. In that one moment. I committed. I publicly declared to my leaders that I wanted to lose weight and become healthier as a way of pruning my vine. The analogy I used was: "downsizing the mega church" (our body is a temple...etc). So right there and then, I committed.  It was such a spur of the moment commitment, but it stuck.  I started eating significantly less and eating more fruits and vegetables. I cut out sweet drinks completely. I started exercising 4 times a week. Soon I began running 4 miles every other day. 

It was rough. The first few weeks, I was cranky and annoyed. The caloric drop made me angry. I was eating significantly less than what my body was used to.  It made me tired. Made me easily irritable. I no longer could enjoy food like I used to. I no longer could drink sweet drinks and just live this wanton life of enjoyment. Working out was a chore. I hated it. It was a legitimate struggle. What was even harder, was I decided to keep this lifestyle change to myself and to not post about it or talk about it that much. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it like last time and lose motivation. Yet, week by week. It worked. Within the first month I had lost 15lbs. I didn't feel different, but friends started noticing the difference and noticing a slimmer Nick. I personally could hardly tell, but I persisted. Then something happened. 

I woke up one day with severe abdominal pain and drove myself to the emergency room. To make a long story short: I developed early onset appendicitis and required surgery. While my recovery time was quick, I wasn't allowed to exercise for a month. That really killed the momentum. For the longest time, I was stuck. For a whole month and a half I struggle at this one weight and hated myself for not making any progress.  When that month finally rolled around, I hit the ground running. Literally. 4 miles every other day, every other workout smashing personal records. 

You may ask, why are you posting this now? Have you reached your goal of under 100kg? The answer is no. In the last few weeks, I've come close, but I've also increased my weight training and so I've come to the conclusion that being under 100kg and gaining muscle mass will be a whole new challenge. No, I write this as a celebration for tomorrow will be a milestone for me. Tomorrow I will be attempting something I never thought I would ever do. Tomorrow I'm running my first race. 

Granted it's only a 5k, which is about 3 miles, but for me, this is huge. I never imagined this year that I would be "healthier" and a runner and just someone who would do these things. But yea, tomorrow, I will be running my first race. I'm super pumped.

So yea. That's my extremely long post. I'll try and update this as I continue working out and eating healthy and just continue this pursuit of a better lifestyle. I just want to thank some people who have really supported me in this journey. Specifically my friends, Lisa, Eileen, Maxine and Liz.

Lisa: You were the one who always reminded me about my diet. "Are you sure you want to eat that?" and other questions similar kept me in check early on. Seeing a grimace, meant I should reevaluate the choice. 
Eileen: You were the one who always listened. Whether it was: "this workout sucked and I hate my life. Can I just go back to eating fried chicken...etc" or "dang, that felt great. That run was amazing."  You were there listening to me and offering sage kinesiology advice that I promptly ignored. 
Maxine: You were the optimist. Every time I saw you, you would say: "Nick, you look good!" And every time I would deny it, until finally, one day I saw it too. I saw the change and the progress. You reminded me to celebrate no matter what. 
Liz: You, for some unknown crazy reason, decided to take up my offer about running early in the morning, and while I never had a workout buddy, just having someone to run with on the track was pretty cool. I'm glad we got to do it every other day!

While they weren't the only ones who were supportive, they really helped me along the journey. I don't know how successful this venture would've been without them. I'm extremely grateful for their care and I don't know how to repay them. 

So yea, that's what's happened in the last few months. Today, I'm 105kg (231lbs) and have felt amazing. These days, I run/weight train: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while I swim Tuesday's and Thursday's. I run about 3 miles and do a series of different weight exercises. The goal is still to be under 100kg, but I'm taking it step by step. 

P.S. I didn't really think abou taking before and after pictures, but this is what I have. Yellow is in January, Red is today. 


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

LA Food Truck Reviews #2: Eat Fig and York (Mandoline Grill, Peaches' Smokehouse, India Jones)

Wow, it was so much fun just writing and eating and writing and eating, that I'm going to do it again!  I ate such good food at my last food truck, that I just had to go find more, and lo and behold, a mini food truck fest right around my neighborhood.  Eat Fig and York, a mini food truck festival in Highland Park, usually showcases about 3-4 different food trucks each week.  This week I had the pleasure of trying out different things from the Mandoline Grill, India Jones Chow Truck and Peaches' Smokehouse.  I went with a group of friends (shoutout to Katherine, Liz and Evan), and got to share/try different things!
Mandoline Grill
Peaches' Smokehouse Truck

India Jones Chow Truck 
I ordered a grilled pork Bánh mì from the Mandoline Grill and a Fried Chicken Sandwich with Waffle Fries from Peaches' Smokehouse.  I'll talk about the Bánh mì and then talk about the Fried Chicken Sandwich afterwards.

Bánh mì from Mandoline Grill
When it comes to Vietnamese sandwiches, Bánh mì, outside of Vietnam, it's hard to find really good ones.  Lee's Sandwich is good, but it's hard to find.  I've been to Vietnam and I've come to realize that it takes a miracle to find truly authentic ones, but if I lower my standards, they're not bad.  Thus I ordered one from Mandoline Grill, and it was great.  The french baguette was quite long and skinny, but there was no skimping of the toppings.  It was a very full sandwich.  All of the requisite flavors were present, with the grilled pork, the cilantro, the tangy pickled vegetables and the heat of the jalapenos.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and my friends did too.  It was big enough for us to share without being super full, and it was nicely filled such that everyone had a bite of everything.  Like I said, it's hard to find extraordinary. super authentic Bánh mì, but even the ones I find here, are just as great.

Fried Chicken Sandwich & Waffle Fries
Now I'm not someone who is that familiar with southern cuisine, and my preconceived notions of them are: it's mostly fried, BBQ, great seafood.  That being said, I had one of the best Fried Chicken Sandwiches ever at Peaches' Smokehouse.  I cannot praise it high enough.  It was a substantial piece of chicken, like a boneless thigh I think.  Very juicy dark meat, not dry at all and the crunch was just superb.  Great flavors all around, from the chicken, to the garlic aioli that was in the sandwich.  It also came with house-cured pickles that acted as a great palate cleanser.  If there was one thing I would complain, is that it's a bit pricey.  Other than that, I truly enjoyed that sandwich.  Honestly, this sandwich is my guilty pleasure.  One that I can only enjoy maybe once a week or less than that.  The waffle fries, were a bit lackluster.  Wasn't that crispy (maybe because it was cold outside), but also didn't get as much as I would've thought, also based on the price.  However, I couldn't eat much because I had to try some of the other things that my friends purchased.

Butter Chicken with Rice from India Jones
My friends ordered things from India Jones, which I had the opportunity to try.  They first had a garlic naan, which was super good.  It was what I expected a naan to be, like from an actual restaurant.  Often times, I'm skeptical of naan outside of a restaurant, but this was just amazing.  It was amazingly garlicky, almost like a garlic flatbread, with such bold flavors.  We destroyed the naan, even before we received our curry.  It was that good.  They also ordered a combo, which came with a curry, butter chicken, and two Indian tacos.  I unfortunately, only had one bite of the butter chicken.  I wish I had more, but from what I can remember, it was good.  The chicken was done quite well, wasn't too dry.  The curry was sweet, but also had a subtle kick to it, much like what I would expect from a butter chicken.  If I see them again, I'll definitely have more than just one bite next time.  The other part, was the taco chaat.  They were two blue hard shell corn tacos, one with chicken and one with lamb.  It was also filled with some spicy slaw, and topped with a really nice sauce and crispy vermicelli.  The chicken had a nice spicy kick too it, and the texture was so good with the crunch of the shell and the vermicelli.  The chicken was also quite well done, with it not being dry and being quite flavorful.  The lamb was a little bit chewy, but had great flavor and also had a nice kick.  Both of them were great examples of the fusion cuisine.
Chicken Taco Chaat from India Jones (not my hand)

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Eat Fig and York.  The parking situation was super convenient and there weren't a lot of people there, so there were hardly any lines.  I wished there was some seating arrangements, like benches or tables and chairs, but my friends and I were content with just sitting on the lot and enjoying our bounty.  I'll definitely come by next week to try out some new trucks and even revisit some old ones.

Monday, March 28, 2016

LA Food Truck Reviews #1: Okamoto Kitchen

I've been meaning to publish a new post, and here it is.  My first food review on my blog in a long time!  I have recently taken to Yelp to post some of my reviews, but I figured that it was about time to get back into what I missed.  As such, I will try to review some of Los Angeles' Food Trucks, that I happen to stumble upon.

A few months ago, I read a Buzzfeed article on the "19 Best Food Trucks in L.A."  I followed all of their Twitter accounts in order to find out their locations, so that if I were ever in the area of any of them, I would stop by.  Over the months, I've continued to add more accounts to my list of notifications and when I stumbled upon @Okamoto Kitchen, I knew I had to follow.  Today I had the privilege to try them out as they parked by Eagle Rock Boulevard, 3 minutes away from Occidental College.  I ordered the Nom Bomb Sandwich and the Okamoto Curry Plate.
Okamoto Kitchen parked on Eagle Rock Blvd
The Nom Bomb Sandwich is a lightly fried-chicken (or tofu) sandwich with shredded cabbage, teriyaki sauce, tartar sauce and jalapenos on a toasted brioche bun.  It's like the menu says, both sweet and sour, due to the teriyaki sauce and the tartar sauce.  It is/was a good sandwich.  It tasted great, was very filling and had good texture as a result of the cabbage and the fried chicken.  It wasn't really "Bomby", or what I assumed it to be, spicy.  The jalapenos was not spicy at all, and while it did provide a crunch, I expected some more heat.  Maybe a different sauce combination, something that had a bit more kick.  This could be a spicy mayo mixture, or adding sriracha into the tartar sauce, or even something into the chicken.  I liked it though.  This was a good sandwich and would definitely order again.
Nom Bomb Sandwich (not a flattering photo I understand)
The Okamoto Curry Plate is normally curry with some rice and shredded cheese on top.  I opted for no cheese and added a Chicken Katsu to it.  As I was speaking with the owner, he described the curry as being extremely rich and deep.  He said it was their oufuu curry, a Japanese curry that has a more European influence.  Their base is a veal stock that comes together with spices and other ingredients to make this deep and rich thick roux.  It was amazing.  Not sweet, like Japanese curry that I'm used to/grew up with, but full of flavor.  It was very filling and very hearty.  Something I would eat on a cool day like it was.  It had a great subtle kick.  It wasn't overpowering, but I could feel the heat as I continued to eat.  I just wish there was a small palate cleanser with it.  Maybe some Beni shōga or pickled ginger, or even shibazuke, which is pickled cucumber and eggplant (though I may be biased to that choice as it is one of my favorites).  The curry did look a bit oily, but that's only probably because I didn't eat my curry until 30 minutes after purchasing it.  The beef chunks and the chicken was extremely flavorful and worked very well with the curry.  I would definitely order it again.

Okamoto Curry Plate (also not flattering, you can see the oil though)
All in all, it was a good meal.  I probably would've been satisfied with just one or the other, but I wanted to order what I thought were their flagship products and I came away deeply satisfied.  Next time they're around, I would be happy to stop by.  Their website is linked about and their Twitter feed is @Okamoto Kitchen.

Stay tuned for more reviews, books, food, other...

Sunday, March 6, 2016

I'm not dead!

To my non-existent readers, I want to say: "I'm not dead!" At least not yet, but that's a different story. Anyhow, it's been a while since I've blogged and I find myself wanting to write more, except not just life stuff or essays that I've written. I want to get back to the roots of this blog. "The Critic Says". It's been a while since I've written a critique of anything and I want to have a go at it once more. So as of right now, I hope to release two new reviews very soon. One of this book series that I fell in love as soon as I first started reading it: Throne of Glass by Sara J. Maas. The other being a good review of a food truck that I will try out in the near future. 

Despite my lack of presence on my blog, I have written some food reviews in Yelp which I will also link in the near future. Anyhow, that's it for tonight, but stay tuned.