A good exhausted

Back in town after two of the most unforgettable games of my life, this was a day to decompress after what happened in Chicago. We got back late, didn’t get to sleep till about 4 in the morning and I got about six hours sleep. My wake-up call was room service. Yes, I went from one hotel in Chicago to another here in Los Angeles. The lease for the place I was renting was up at the end of September.

My body is sore and exhausted, but it’s a good exhausted. We had a workout at Dodger Stadium today. This club is relaxed and ready to take care of business tomorrow, at home, in front of our fans.The Cubs will come out fighting. There’s no reason for us to get tense or uptight. We’re in a good situation.

But that’s what the Cubs thought when the series started. I can imagine how they’re feeling now. In ’06 it was like that for us, when we fell behind the Mets, 0-2. You have a great year and just like that, your backs are up against the wall. It’s not a good feeling to be in. But nobody feels sorry for you.

When I leave the stadium, I’ve got dinner plans with some friends at Park’s Korean BBQ in Koreatown. The best. Spicy beef soup. I’m hungry just thinking about it.

When Mannys Happy, Everybodys Happy

Before every getaway game, Manny makes a dugout announcement:

“Let us have a happy flight,” he says, and that means we better win, because flights after a loss are no fun. He said it tonight just before the first inning and we’re going to have a happy flight home after beating the Cubs again. I’m sure guys will be giddy, because we’re going back to Cali with a chance to win this series.

We’re an excited team right now, but the clubhouse is probably a little quieter than it was last night. We still have to take care of business. We haven’t won anything yet. We’ve got a flight home and a long day tomorrow with a workout and the next game isn’t until Saturday night.

You had to like the way we won tonight. Zambrano stuck it to us in the first inning and the crowd was going absolutely wild and we bounced back and turned the tables in the second inning and completely took the crowd out of the game. It got silent again, like it did last night when James hit the grand slam.

And another thing you had to like was that second inning, we did it without Manny. We can’t expect him to do everything every game. The guys were picking each other up and making his job easier. That’s just the way we’ve been playing for the past month and it’s why we’re in the position we’re in.

 

 

Silence is Golden

One of the writers tonight asked me what we can do for an encore after the way we won Game 1 of the Division Series against the Cubs. We just have to wake up tomorrow and get ready to do it again.

Of course tonight, we’re going to enjoy this one. It was one of those games where the score wasn’t indicative of all that went on down on the field. We had many chances tonight and we didn’t take advantage of them and earlier in the season, that would have been costly. Then all of a sudden Dempster makes a mistake and James crushes the ball to center and the game completely turned around.

And the thing I remember before that was the buzz in the stadium from the Cubs fans. You could just feel the energy. And then you could just feel the energy get sucked out when James homered and the place got so quiet. It’s a great feeling doing something like that on the road, because the home crowd gets real quiet but everybody in our dugout is going crazy.

And the Cubs still had an opportunity to come back, but D-Lowe pitched his way out of it in the bottom of the sixth. Then we added even more runs and put it away.

Tomorrow we face Zambrano and they’ll be ready to play. We’ll have a game plan, but the playoffs are a different mentality and you don’t know for sure how he’ll come at you. We just have to be aware of the flow of the game and let it come to us.

 

 

Where champions are made

We just had our workout at Wrigley Field. It was cloudy and cool and the place was empty and I can imagine what it’s going to be like tomorrow when the playoffs start. We flew into Chicago yesterday and I had a four-hour flight to think about what this team has done and what we’ve gone through to get to this point. You could just sense from the way the guys were acting on the plane that this wasn’t just another trip.

Last night I had a steak at Hugo’s on State Street with some friends and when I got back to the hotel the Twins were just rolling in for their playoff game with the White Sox and I ran into a couple of their players that I know, Nick Punto and Delmon Young. I got up to my room and around midnight I got a text from Dustin Pedroia. We went to Arizona State together. He had just gotten to Anaheim for Boston’s series there. He sends me a message, ‘This is where champions are made — Let’s go.’ Dustin’s always got corny sayings, but they’re at the right time. He put this in perspective when he used the word, champion. That’s what this is all about. We’re one of eight teams left and one of us will be champion.

Today I walked the Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile, picked up some gifts for myself and my family and enjoyed a really nice Chicago day, without the tension and anxiety of a game day. Just took a breather. Tomorrow I’ll just try to go through my normal routine, a little breakfast, lunch before going to the park, then gear up for the atmosphere and excitement. I’m sure it will be building as the day goes on.

Pizzeria Mozza

There comes a time when you can try a version of a food for the thousandth time and still cannot decide if this is actually the way you like it the most. When you try this new take on it, it seems like you can always compare it or find somewhere where it was just as good. For me, I am always in search of the best version of the foods I love and when I find it, I become addicted and find myself coming back again and again to see if it holds up to the first time and leaves me with that same “wow” feeling.

To me, pizza is one of those foods that can be tweaked and contorted too many ways and be messed up on appearance and taste. A good slice of pizza starts with its looks. If it is a jumbled slice that does not have evenly spread toppings and cheese with grease pooling in certain spots, than the rendezvous ends abruptly. Also, I am a thin-crust guy (I know, I know, but the argument ends there with me. There will be no discussions or persuading me on this. I just don’t see the point to overwhelm a slice with all that bread). Anyway, carbs are out people! Get with it…thin’s in. The battle on this topic will rage on, but I won’t hear it!

When I first arrived in LA and began my restaraunt search, I heard hoots and hollerings about this certain pizza joint that serves up a great slice. Well, not just great but “the best in LA.” I knew I had to try this just because of the claim alone. I began to collect my info on this place and soon found out that it was one of the tougher reservations to get for lunch or dinner. This only led me to believe that this might be one of those “in” places where celebrities and so-called celebs have shown up and caused this reputation. Not the food though…at least that’s what I thought.

I had carefully planned out my method for getting a seat at this place (hint: I showed up between lunch and dinner…I am sneaky, I know, but you guys can have that tid bit. Just don’t everyone use it all at once or we we’ll create the same problem as lunch and dinner).

As I pulled up to the corner of Melrose and Highland (around 3 o’clock), I was pleased to see no line outside, so I decided to go for it and pulled up to the valet. He asked if I was here for Pizzeria Mozza and of course, I said that I was. I walked in and was pleased to see many open spots and was given a choice between a table or sitting at one of two bars. I chose the bar that surrounded the kitchen, as I wanted to see this operation up close. I was presented a menu and began my inspection of the place.

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The menu has 15 or so pizzas ranging from squash blossom tomato sauce and burrata cheese (below) to the typical meatlovers of sausage, salami and prosciutto. I picked the one most resembling my favorite – the Fresno chili, salumi salami and mozzarella.

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This isn’t your typical pizzeria…the apps are to die for and don’t disappoint.

But first up was the fried squash blossom stuffed with ricotta…one word – UNBELIEVABLE! This is one of those addicting foods that is a favorite of mine now. I will have to avoid this place in the offseason because of this dish alone!

Next up was Mussel al forno with Calabrian sauce and if you’re a mussel lover like me, then come for these. They rank up there in my top two spots to get mussels — the other being Tomaso’s in Phoenix but that’s another review.

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Now to the pizza. It comes out of that oven piping hot and picture perfect. I could still hear the sizziling as it sat in front of me – that oh so good popping and crackling that teases you to try a bite. But, an experienced diner knows this will only ruin your meal because your taste buds and tongue will burn and make it a bittersweet meal.

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So I finally sank my teeth in and I began to analyze — it’s really good. Bite after bite, I experienced and discovered a new taste. The expectations that I had built up had gotten me wary but at the end of devouring the entire pizza, I was impressed by every bite, especially the crust which is very crunchy on the outside but chewy on the inside.

Well, if you can’t tell, I have really grown to love this place…like they say, love at first bite! It is not only a great pizza they serve up, but I have tried almost every appetizer and they are all great. It is definitely a must-visit when looking at your dining options in LA, so take my advice on this one and give it a try. Who knows, you might see me there…that’s how often I eat there now!

La Paella

I know everyone has been anxiously sitting at their computers staring at my website with their hand on the refresh button clicking to see if I have have done another review of one of my great culinary finds….

Well, click no further. Your prayers have been answered.

It was such a difficult decision for me to choose my next spot since it would be so hard to top the pure greatness that Shabu Hachi provided in my first review. It took some great contemplation from the comments left and disscusions with some of my closer dining confidants to come up with the place I choose next. One thing I hope the readers of my site will take from it is that I do not discriminate in my food selections. It is based on what my palate is craving from past experiences or what I am so eager to try for the first time.

I was sitting on the plane (row 27, seat d – in case you wanted to know) during one of our recent road trips, and was watching one of my favorite TV shows “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain. It is a food based show where Anthony travels around the world experiencing different cultures and trying the true indigenous cuisine. Through this show, my adventorous appetite has taken off. 

This episode was about the many different tastes of Spain, which caught my attention for the lack of me actually knowing what Spanish food really was or tasted like. The search was on.

 


front of restaurant.jpgLa Paella
, let it sink in a minute….no, it is not a Mexican food restaurant. It is, what I have been told by one of my so-called dining confidants who happenened to live in Spain for six years, the closest thing to authentic Spanish food in LA. Well, I said, if that’s the case, I will not have to go to Spain now to try those mouth-watering dishes I saw while watching the episode of No Reservations.

No pressure Kenji!

So I set a date to go try this place recently after one of our games. Of course, I had a few people accompany me to share in the conquistador’s delights. We arrived at the restaurant, which is located at the intersection of La Cienega and San Vincente. I know, I know. Don’t worry. I didn’t go all Beverly Hills on you. It still sits on the Hollywood side of the road, which, if you weren’t aware of, Hollywood does have some of the best hole-in-the-wall quick-bite places per square mile (not an actual fact) that I have come to find. But that is another review.

Back to Spain.

The restaurant sits in an old converted bungalow house between a couple of other business and from the outside, it resembles nothing like I would have though a Spanish restaurant would look like. Then again, I don’t have any idea what that would be. So, we walked up a few stairs and entered the restaurant and we were greeted instantly by the hoste, who asked if we had a reservation. We did, so he looked us up and went off to prepare our table.

As we stood there for a minute it gave us a chance to look around the place.

There was soft Spanish music playing in the background. The interior walls of the place were all white, adorned with Spanish pictures and paintings and shelves with little nick nacks that represent Spanish lifestyle.

The host rushed back and quickly sat us. We were put in the front of the dining area in a nice quiet corner. This is one of those rare cases in which I was at a restaurant with a group of people and was not familar with anything on the menu, so needless to say, I felt a little out of my element when it came to deciding what to eat.

We sat for a moment and looked over the menu. Each of the items on it were in Spanish which, if you don’t speak Spanish, might cause a problem. But, they also had each dish in English right below the entree. Well, in this case I delegated the ordering to the person who claims to have lived in spain and is familar with Spanish fare.

We sat for a few moments looking over the tapas menus (some of you might already be familiar with Spanish food so you know what that is…if not, keep reading). Kenji made some recommendations and we agreed anxiously, just due to the fact that we were starving and needed some type of nourishment. And of course, we let Kenji order a couple of his favorites that might be a little more intimidating to someone unfamilar with the menu.

After we ordered our tapas selections, me and Kenji got into a very in-depth discusion of his time spent in Spain and the reasons that he went and stayed so long, since he is an LA native. It also provided a great learning experience for me to get to know a little bit of the history of Spain and where some of the dishes might have gotten their influences from. Ten minutes might have gone by and our tapas began to arrive at the table.

tapas.JPGTapas are similar to appetizer portions but many of them can be ordered to be eaten as a meal. Having a few amigos accompany me gave us the chance to try many of them.

First was Champiñones con chorizo (let me get out my Spanish/English dictionary to translate). It is mushrooms with Spanish red sausage. This was a great mix of sausage and mushrooms (a vegetable I can tolerate). The mushrooms soaked up the flavor nicely but unfortunately, the grease too. That would be my only complaint about this dish — that the sausage resembled Mexican chorizo without the spice but with the same grease.

 

con chorizo.JPGI moved onto the Croquetas de pollo, what can simply be described as ground chicken deep fried in a corn meal. Nothing too special to say about this than other than that they do the job and stopped the hunger pains.

 

croquetas.JPGThe Patatas Bravas might be the only dish that resembles Mexican food and that is because of the red spicy sauce smotheing the boiled potatoes. The little kick was a nice change from all the rest of the dishes, mainly because of my love for spicy food.

 

patatas bravas.JPGThis next one is somewhat of a typical appetizer dish (except that its octopus and not fried, which, on a side note, what’s really the difference between the two? Same taste and chewieness). Pulpo a la Gallega. The octopus was boiled and topped with olive oil.

Well, I did say we let Kenji order for us and he wasn’t afraid to sneak this next one in, since he said it is one of his favorites. Boquerones en Vinagare. There is no disguising this one — it is sardines raised in vinegar from tadpoles to fish. I don’t know about the raised part, but if you like vinegar and that unique sardine flavor…enjoy!

 

sardines.JPGAll of you familiar with Spanish food might have caught on to the name of the restaurant, La Paella, which is a famous Spanish dish. It is truly the reason we came to this place…not for the tapas that everyone raves about. I personally didn’t see the big deal about them. I am going to start a new wave and from now on, start calling them tapatizers.

I didn’t mention before that we ordered this paella dish because I wanted some of you to be suprised that Spanish food is more than this tapatizer stuff! Paella Valenciana was the one that Kenji ordered. It is a dish based on rice and the seasoning of saffron and combines a little surf and turf for the substance. For the turf, it was chicken drumsticks that were boiled then sauteed with the rice and seasonings. For the surf, it was steamed muscles and clams with shrimp done up the same way as the chicken. Mmmm….

 

paella.JPGThe paella was great! It tasted as great as it smelled, which in many cases can be deceiving for food. (I hate when food smell good but lacks the flavor to go with it —  a one-punch fighter!) But in this case it delivered.

For my Spanish experience, it was worth the visit and trip to the restaurant. It is definitely a place and cuisine I’m glad that I have tried, even though paella looks kind of like a done-up hamburger helper meal!   For this place, if you have not tried a complete Spanish meal then come here to do so. But if you have, you know what it’s about and even though Kenji won’t agree, it’s a one time visit for me.

Andre

P.S. The photos of all the tapas and paella are on my camera back in Arizona so I’m hoping to add them in the next couple of days.

UPDATE: PHOTOS ARE OBVIOUSLY NOW ADDED

Shabu Hachi

In my brief couple years that I have spent in Los Angeles, I have had the opportunity to explore the city for good places to eat. Anyone who is familiar with LA knows that that can be challenging due to all countless places that are lined up on every street you drive on.

As you might be aware, most of the restaurants that line these streets are not your typical chain spots, so it adds to the difficulty of determining what to try and what not to. For me, it took a little time to gather up the courage to be adventurous and go out on a limb and just try one of the spots that smell so good but look…well, not so nice.

Now, I only hope that the readers for my reviews share the same interest I do in these great finds that I have come across here in LA.

I have developed a liking for Japanese food since I have had many a great dining experience with Takashi Saito and his native cuisine. When one might think of Japanese food, everyone always comes up with sushi. I know I did until I went to a few authentic Japanese places with Takashi and got the chance to experience the true Japanese food.

I was introduced to Shabu Hachi by Takashi a  few weeks ago. It sits on Olympic in Santa Monica in one of those oh-so-typical LA corner strip malls. From the outside, you have two Japanese restaurants to choose from – one being the typical sushi place and Shabu Hachi, a place offering up some of the best shabu shabu I have had and I think Takashi would agree. 

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As I entered the restaurant, I was greeted by Taka, the owner. He had a table reserved for me and my party. Meals of this magnitude are best shared with other people because of the amount of food that comes with shabu shabu.

We were seated at a table containing a heating coil for boiling water that would be used to cook our meal. Shabu Hachi is a small place with five tables for four and a bar seating eight. If you are considering having a party larger than four, I would recommend reservations or if you want to be seated immediately, just call ahead.

As we sat down, we discussed what to order, or rather left it up to me because I was the only one somewhat familiar with what was on the menu. All too often at ethnic restaurants, people get embarrassed about what to order for lack of knowing what actually is being offered on the menu. The simple solution is just to ask the server to explain each dish and what they like. And don’t forget to be adventurous, since hey, you’re already here anyway, right?

So we asked Taka, the owner, who was also acting as our waiter (since there is only one waiter anyway) to recommend some starters. Taka recommended the salmon capaccio and albacore tuna sashimi for appetizers. We agreed, since they both sounded great. Then we sat and took in the simple Japanese décor for a few minutes and not long after were presented two great dishes.

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The salmon carpaccio we tried first, which was made of thin sliced raw salmon asparagus, white onion with extra virgin olive oil and ponzu sauce. It was excellent — not any overwhelming taste — just a great new twist on an old Italian staple.               

 Next was the albacore tuna sashimi which was made of raw albacore tuna seaweed salad and garlic ponzu sauce. This was by far my favorite out of the two simply because it was accompanied by the seaweed salad, which is one of the few type of salads I will actually eat.

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As we sat back and discussed the appetizers we just ate, our server came back and began to prepare our hot plate and table for the shabu shabu to come. He first brought out the pot of of hot water which would be used to cook our meal.          

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If you have never eaten shabu shabu before, you need to be ready to cook your own meal. But, it is not that complicated. You simply put the raw food in the boiling water and let it cook to your liking. I like this type of dining because you are allowed to set the pace of your meal and it is always hot.

Before the pork beef and vegetables that we ordered came out, we were each brought individual bowls that contained dipping sauces – one with a sesame peanut sauce and the other a ponzu sauce.

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The sauces are great, but I would highly recommend mixing some of the condiments with them to further enhance the flavor. I personally added chopped green onion, ginger, chopped garlic and hot chili oil.

Beware: After eating these types of sauces, you might be waking up the next morning with that same great taste on your pallet.

We each soon finished creating our own unique concoction of sauces mixed with our favorite sides and the meal arrived to the table. 

By this time, our pot of water was in a strong boil, waiting for our meal contents to be cooked in it. The vegetables were first brought out. They were all raw and may be eaten as is, but to truly enjoy shabu shabu, you must throw them in the pot. The plate came with carrots, tofu, shittake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms and cabbage. You can throw these all in the pot at once and just enjoy throughout the meal…no need to worry if you leave them in too long – they only get more tender and flavorful from the meats they are being cooked with.

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As I sat and looked at all these great vegetables being cooked, I was thinking to myself that this alone could be a great meal. (If you didn’t just catch the sarcasm, now you have. I am a true meat eater and crave a heaping helping of it for almost every meal. I pretty much do not consider it a meal unless there is meat involved).

So finally, for me, came my favorite part of shabu shabu — two separate plates containing picture perfect cuts of meat.

The first was the pork plate, containing business card thin slices and I emphasize “business card thin” because paper thin would just not be right. The pork is a great pink color — almost a salmon tint. It is all lean with the exception of one side which contains a small strip of fat for that little extra flavor.                

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Next was the rib eye plate containing those same business-card thin cuts but this time, the meat was a great red color, almost maroon, with a marbling that any rib eye person would recognize. (For those who might not know what marbling is, it is the lines and swirls of fat that are in the steak).

Everyone at the table began to look at me for some sort of direction to take. It seems complicated when there’s a group of people all sharing one cooking pot for everyone’s food, but it’s simple. I told them to each grab a couple pieces of the meat, throw it in, let cook for a minute or so and then eat!

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To enjoy it all, grab some of the vegetables and meat, dip it in the sauces and eat it together. Mind you, for the authentic feel you should be doing all this with chop sticks! NO NOVICES, PLEASE…SERIOUS INJURIES COULD OCCUR! Just joking, but remember, you are grabbing food out of boiling water.

As we began to develop a system for getting food in the pot and distributing equally amongst the table we began to have people tap out over the seemingly unending supply of food.

Still, this is definitely a meal that you will not want to stop eating, as it is so simple but filled with so many great tastes. The blend of vegetables and meat are enough to feel like you’re not eating one more than the other, but you are surely allowed to consume more of whatever you like.

Overall shabu shabu is a great way to dine and relax over a meal at the same time. It is a set-your-own-pace type of meal — you get to eat when you want to eat and do not have a waiter putting a plate in your face when you might not be ready.

I would recommend that you try this type of meal sometime, especially at Shabu Hachi, a restaurant with a friendly wait staff and an owner who will make your visit very pleasing.

In the meantime, enjoy your culinary adventures and I will have another great find for you soon.

Andre 

An appetizer…

Thanks to everyone for taking a look at my new blog, where I’ll be reviewing restaurants around the Los Angeles area throughout the season. I can’t really call myself an expert or a true food critic, but I love to try new restaurants and so we though it would be cool to show off some of my favorites…or maybe some of those that I won’t be going back to anytime soon.

Keep checking back throughout the year and feel free to leave comments or even recommendations. I’ll do my best to answer them whenever I can.