Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An Omu-Napo @ Spoon House - Gardena

The Omu-Napo or Omu-Naporitan. I may need two steps to explain this one. First the strange ketchup and butter flavor wok'd Japanese spaghetti Naporitan, can be read about a little here. I'm not sure if the Naporitan is a fusion as it is more an adaptation but either way the Omu-Naporitan is a result from further fusionization with the concept of an Omurice (omelet-rice), an adapted Japanese Yoshoku dish itself.

Spoon House was hard to miss along West Redondo Beach Blvd. The bright blue facade faces Marukai Pacific Market on the other side of the street. When I first walked by, the restaurant was absolutely packed. I could see through the large windows everyone's oversized plates of Japanese fusion pasta (the few garnished with shredded kizami nori an easy giveaway). Along with Sakae Sushi around the corner it would be a place I would be coming back to check out.

I visited the following weekend and found browsing through their menu a bit overwhelming where a dense two column page is dedicated to solely pasta with a battery of options (the other page of the minimal three pager translated into Japanese).
Familiar fusion classics such as butter and cod roe, manila clams and shimeji mushrooms, were easy to spot but are offered along additional combinations such as with sea urchin, wakame seaweed, and natto. Italian classics, Bolognese, Carbonara (but eggs cut with cream) and Vongole Bianco were listed as well though I imagine them probably skewed to Japanese tastes as well.

The bakery component of the restaurant as far as I can tell is about their fresh baked French loaves (sold for $3 up front). It is what's given out in their complementary bread basket with every meal. Wasn't warmed but the flavor tasted fresh enough with the center being a very soft moist texture.

I thought a Japanese Naporitan would be nice and the listed pan-fried Spoon House Napolitano caught my eye but reading its description (and confirmed with the waitress) this wouldn't be a true Naporitan as it was flavored with tomato sauce and not ketchup. I was then pointed to their Spaghetti Omelette ($8.25) if I were to have my ketchup spaghetti fix. Choice of chicken or bacon.. I went for the chicken thinking of the standard Omurice's filling the chicken rice.

The chefs with great synchronized teamwork knew exactly what they were doing as I watched wanting to witness the wad of butter tossed midway into the thick large cast iron skillet. In another separate pan a flat omelet to be was prepared with a barely scrambled marble pattern of yolk and whites.

Slices of bell peppers and onions with a par crunch and button mushrooms.. Simple but yummy. Oh and the chicken. Huge chunks that were surprisingly really tender and moist especially for breast meat.

The bacon or better yet a choice of wieners may have made it more "nostalgic" but the perfectly cooked pasta had too much tooth to be it anyhow, haha. I mean it was great, but Naporitans are known for their expanded overdone noodles. Still I really enjoyed this updated al dente version and the pan-fried lightly sweet ketchup and butter flavor is not the least cloying. At least to me. ;)

Spoon House's One-Dollar Salad was minimally simple but very fresh. Torn lettuce with thin slices of cucumber and tomatoes. The dressing was interesting where it seemed like white onions pulverized in a blender with a pinch of garlic and some light ponzu.

The portion here is pretty large by the way. As it was my first meal of the day I didn't have trouble finishing.

I've since been back and tried their Hamburger Steak ($13.95, came with rice, tea and ice cream).

It was only ok. The description of the pork/beef aibiki ground made it sound promising but the hamburg was minimally fillerized and wasn't chopstick-cut tender. (It is usually smothered in tomato sauce here but I asked for it on the side.) Was nice to sample their meat sauce spaghetti though. Surprisingly wasn't as sweet as I imagined and the tanginess of the tomatoes flavored more towards western tastes I thought.

The Plum and Shiso pasta that a person next to me got smelled divine. I think I'll be sticking to that portion of the menu next time. You know with Kimchee, Chinese Chicken Salad and even a Mexican Spaghetti offered, Spoon House has really stepped beyond and has its own Japanese/Italian/Californian pasta fusion character. They may not all turn out to be my cup of tea but what a neat thing! :)

An Eye Spy L.A. article on Spoon House here.

Spoon House, 1601 W Redondo Beach Blvd, Gardena, CA 90247

There was a really old school barber or "clip joint" in the same building and Leo the owner was nice enough to let me take a few photos. I think he mentioned being in business since 1962. Actually his original response to the question was "Way before you were even born!.." ;)

Thanks Leo! :)

Leo's Clip Joint, 1601 W Redondo Beach Blvd, Gardena, CA 90247

Monday, August 30, 2010

August Random Ramblings And Two California Burgers

Hey there. I have a couple more Gardena posts that I'm looking forward in sharing but thought I'd slip in something in between as a break. I have a dislike/hate relationship with the writing component of blogging and I'm particularly going through a phase where my brain seems to have gone on vacation without prior notice. I usually find my random ramblings much more enjoyable during these times so it's been a while but catching up on random food related stuff, and will be rambling about two burgers while I'm at it.... :)

First, my favorite Food Photo of the Month can be found here. A most lovely Mayonnaise Sandwich posted by Kris Chau. It really made my day! As much as I enjoy occasionally browsing through TasteSpotting and sites alike, unpretentious pics like it are what really puts a smile to my food photo loving face. Thank you Kris. :)

I found Kris Chau, Hawk Krall and Caroline's blog, Drawing for Food when I noticed my sleepy blog spiking on sitemeter last week for visits to my Cleveland Old Fashion Hot Dogs and Steve's Lunch posts. Turned out Hawk Krall who writes for Serious Eats linked them onto his Hot Dog of the Week: Cleveland's Polish Boy article. That was way cool. Thanks Hawk Krall. And BTW, Mr. Krall also does amazing hot dog illustrations like these:

(Images: Serious Eats - Hot Dog of the Week, Hawk Krall)

I hope he doesn't mind me linking his images here to my blog but the prints are all available for sale and can be purchased here. I have a more than a few favorites and having trouble deciding which ones NOT to own.. ;)

So getting two older burger photos out.. This one is from TK Burgers - Costa Mesa. The spot was hip enough but by golly..

I'm not exaggerating, the burger (flame broiled) was simultaneously the most dry, burnt and salty burger I've ever had in my lifetime. It seemed to have been done in such an intentional manner that I actually plowed through more than halfway into the extreme salty/bitterness to see if I'll come out with an unexpected revelation. But at last my conclusion was that probably the good intentioned cooks had taken the "can never over-salt a beef patty" and "good crusty char" concept a bit too far. I feel the rule applies to larger, moisture retaining, higher fat content burgers where the sweating oils and juices washes away most excess salt in the cooking and are also substantial enough to wear a thick crust jacket while remaining juicy inside. Even the fries this day were severely over salted.

BTW, I noticed how much the cactus by their sign has grown compared to what it looked on Monster Munching's 2006 review of TKB. Reading they seemed to have had a similar experience with me so I may want to try one of the other locations since the Shiitake Burger does sound pretty good.. (Update: Also while I know TKB has a Hawaiian flare, because of the basic make up of the burger and with Thousand Island Sauce, I considered it a Californian...)

TK Burgers, 2966 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Pasadena was calling me one weekend (after a few slurps of ramen in Gardena) and I decided to go and drive around for old times sake.

Good old Lucky Burgers was the same as ever while driving across E Walnut through burger row was always fun passing by a half dozen or so burger joints within a half mile stretch. Many familiar like Rick's Drive-In, Top's, In-N-Out (the smallest ever), but a few I didn't recognize, never noticed or simply forgotten about.

I was trying to think where I can relax and hop on a free Wi-Fi connection nearby...

The Pasadena Public Library is one of my most favorite public libraries Evar.

Before I could jump on the net with my laptop I had to reactivate my account. Turned out I owed "three-twenty-five".. After all these years I was so relieved to know it meant $3.25! "Would you like to pay the due now or next time you come in?" Uh, I'd like to take care of it now. ;)

These days you can get the card as a key chain thingy but I just like having that old fashion library card.

*Deeeeep Breathe*.. Ahhhh, I just love the smell of old books. :)

Time was getting close to heading back home and I felt I had enough appetite to do one burger before leaving. Contemplating where to go I decided on Connal's which Damon Gambuto done an article on and a spot I had never been. Connal's full menu here.

You know until Damon and Nick Solares described the existence of the genre of a California Burger, shame on me I never knew such existed. The key distinguishing ingredient seems to be the use of Thousand Island Sauce but it's also the combination of a good portion of fresh vegetables, griddled patty and spongy bun that completes the picture.

Probably the most iconic California Burger (and burger chain) would be In-N-Out. Do all California Burgers more or less taste like an In-N-Out? Well in extremely blunt terms so far maybe yes (that thousand island sauce flavor is pretty distinctive), but like often so the differences are all about the details.

Strangely Damon's burger at Connal's had whole lettuce pieces which I prefer than the shredded that was in mine but in either case it was very fresh. If I were to be further picky I would've also preferred a whole (thin) slice of onion instead of the smaller cut pieces. Still the double patties were adequately beefy and moist (they are flame broiled here). As a whole, the balance of Connal's Double Cheeseburger for my tastes were much better than that of a Double-Double where the DD tends to be too overpowered by cheese flavor for me personally. In fact if I'm not going Animal Style I often order a double patty with single cheese, or two single cheeseburgers even.
One thing In-N-Out did have better was that beautiful crispy bottom their buns get (like that flat crusty surface from a nice grilled cheese sandwich..).

Unlike the slightly pricey but most near perfect execution of Pie 'N Burger's (also in Pasadena), Connal's offers up my Double Cheeseburger Combo with a huge paper bag amount of delightfully crispy fries and also a giant coke for a bargain $5.99.

As I was stuffing my face with the very last fry I can possibly eat (not making much as a dent in the pile), a large Best Buys crew group had walked in and feeling cramped I knew it was time to leave. My tasty meal at Connal's was a dollar well worth spent and I'm sure to be back again.

Connal's, 1505 E. Washington Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91104