Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fortune Favors the Bold... And Those Who Dine at Panda Express

The Sunday night babysitting gig isn't complete without a trip to Panda Express. When I have them to myself, I have these pipe dreams of introducing Seiji and Kenzo to the gastronomic delights of "grown-up" Los Angeles, like Reuben sandwiches and borscht at Canter's or saag paneer and jackfruit entree at Samosa House.

Kids and darned near every living being between here and Pluto love the orange chicken. I will eat the eggplant tofu or whatever the latest beef dish is.



Orange you glad that pandas don't do the actual cooking?

Like many restaurants, Panda Express has begun to list their calorie counts for the items on the menu. The Wok Smart menu is heartening, but then you realize that most people go for the tastier high carb items like the aforementioned orange chicken. Plain steamed rice comes in at a horrifying 380 calories for an eight-ounce serving; fried rice is a whopping 450 before you even get to an entree.

But no matter. The metabolism of a six- and eight-year-old is very forgiving. We celebrate our easy companionship and love of the Westside Pavilion - we made the happy discovery of a new Toy Mandala location on the second floor - with kid-pleasing Chinese food and the requisite fortune cookie.



Would Virgil have preferred kung pao chicken over broccoli beef?

If "Fortes fortuna adiuvat" means that Fortuna is likely to favor those who take risks, she must love the folks who eat at places like Panda Express on a regular basis. A steady diet of such food is a viable gamble on developing obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

Furthermore, the little paper messages inside the fortune cookies are often more like affirmations or admonitions than predictions. Nevertheless, one cannot help but be curious about them and even rip open the cookies (my fault, I encouraged them because I was finished eating!) before one is done with dinner.

I thought that Kenzo's was pretty appropriate: "You are a deep thinker with a knack for problem solving."

Seiji's was again, spot on: "Your magnetic personality will draw people to you."

Mine however, turned out to be along the lines of sage advice for the perennial bachelorette: "Judge one not by his charms but by his qualities." I think for now I'm pretty safe with my two dining companions, who despite their childish palates, are rather discerning about food. They've got to be - we're related. But my favorite delis can wait. S + K are growing up much too fast as it is.

And my not-so-cryptic fortune doesn't apply to them. They are both very charming but possess some very wonderful qualities. So does the carton of key lime graham cracker gelato that I brought home.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The World in a Cup: Chawan-mushi at Casa Arigato

The first time I ever had chawan-mushi was with Hata-sensei at Casa Arigato. The second and third times I had it were also with Hata-sensei at Casa Arigato. Jolene, who has eaten at almost every Japanese restaurant in the Los Angeles area, has only encountered this dish in Japan. It is a very home-style Japanese comfort food that is somehow missing from that cuisine’s bill of fare in the good old U.S. of A.

The savory steamed egg custard – whose name translates to “tea cup steam,” - is usually served in those lovely covered cups that you see in stores that sell Japanese housewares. Casa Arigato’s version of chawan-mushi arrives at the table in a blue and white teacup reminiscent of Delft pottery from the Netherlands, with a windmill painted on it and a small wooden spoon with which to eat the warming treat.



Even in this year's November heatwave, the warming effects of chawan-mushi are still welcome.

Hata-sensei informed me that this presentation may be in homage to the Dutch colony of Deshima, an artificial island that was established in the bay of Nagasaki in the early 1600s. He said that although the Edo period of shogun rule from 1603 to 1868 isolated Japanese culture from outside influences, the Dutch were welcome because they were the only foreigners who did not send missionaries in order to convert the Japanese to Christianity. Instead, they brought silk and other goods from Southeast Asia, and exported Japanese ceramics to Europe.




Dutch treat: more than two centuries of retail therapy.


What’s inside the cup, however, is 100 percent Japanese. The silky texture of the egg custard has a texture similar to soft tofu. Within it are suspended one large shrimp, shitake mushrooms, spinach, an herb called honeywort – also known as mitsuba - and the ubiquitous gingko nut, a sign, says Hata-sensei, of authenticity.

As a yonsei (4th generation Japanese American) growing up in East Los Angeles, Hata-sensei says that he never ate chawan-mushi until he lived in Japan when in his early 20s. He was incarcerated at the age of three with his family at Gila River, Arizona during World War II, from 1943 to 1945. He says that his parents – who were Nisei - the first generation born in America to Japanese immigrants – “cleansed us of any Japanese identity, any ties to ancestral heritage. That’s what World War II did to us.”

Fast forward to Hata-sensei’s graduate studies in Japan in the late 1960s. He studied there on a Ford Fellowship, ironically financed by the National Defense Education Act of 1958. Before he became the revolutionary and history professor that he was – and deep down, still is – he was just another American grad student standing on a street corner, puzzling over a Japanese map of Tokyo after having misplaced his English map.

A deep-voiced man in a Jaguar XK- E asked him if he needed some assistance. He told the man that he was an American student, looking for the Foreign Ministry Archive. The man in the Jaguar gave him directions to his destination, asked for his meishi, and drove off.

About a month later, Hata-sensei’s landlords – a retired brigadier general and his wife who rented him a tiny geshuku - told him that a wealthy family wanted to hire him as a live-in English tutor. He was asked to meet someone at the Imperial Hotel, Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous work in Japan, which at that time was still located in its original spot before being demolished in 1968.

“On the appointed day, I go,” said Hata-sensei. “The maître d’ sends me to a table in the back where a very handsome woman asked me questions in slow, elementary Japanese.”

The young student was told by his interviewer that his presence would be required at mealtimes, during which he was expected to converse with the family – a father, mother, and two sons – in English only, the better to bring their disparate conversational skills in this foreign tongue to a collectively equal level. After another month, his landlords informed him that the wealthy family had sent for him to live with them.

Hata-sensei strapped his few belongings – a bookcase and steamer trunk – onto the back of a motorized bike that served as a taxi and was taken to an imposing English Tudor-style house. He was welcomed by a distinguished looking gentleman who he assumed was the family’s butler. The man served him a brandy before going out into the rain to fetch his luggage. Finally, Hata-sensei recognized him.

“It was Toshirô Mifune,” he said. “He was about my height and had scoliosis also. He and I sat there for two hours talking.”

During the year that Hata-sensei spent in the Mifune household, there were a few adjustments to be made, particularly for a Japanese American college student who had to adapt to the communal household bathing ritual.

“I was the second oldest male in the household,” he remembers. “As such, I got to go second in the bath, even before the sons and Mrs. Mifune. I took my bath and pulled the plug on the hot water. Later on, the maids told me not to do that.”



"You did what?"

Hata-sensei did, however, adapt well to other customs while living in Japan, including the long-denied authentic Japanese cuisine and the still-elusive chawan-mushi. As much as I enjoy Casa Arigato and have returned there with my family, it’s become the place I associate with him and our conversations, which always leave me feeling a bit smarter, more curious about the world’s workings, and almost capable of negotiating peaceful exchange between any two nations - especially if they have good food in pretty dishes to offer.



Hata-sensei digs in with gusto, as always. Banzai!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Scarborough Fair: Do Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme Belong in Chicken Soup?

When life gives me chickens, I make chicken soup. This week, we had not just one well-meaning rotisserie chicken from Costco languishing in the refrigerator, but two, since Mom sent one home with me yesterday. As I was perusing the fresh herb aisle at Whole Foods, the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” ran through my head. I decided today’s soup challenge would be to find out if “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” actually could work together in a broth.



Just one word: Soup.

Whole Foods is also the only place where I have been able to find alphabet pasta. Even better, it’s Eden Organic’s 60 percent whole grain vegetable pasta. The tiny, colorful letters bear only the vaguest resemblance to the starchy, pillowy letters that dotted a bowl of Campbell’s Alphabet Soup when I was a kid. They’re about half the size of the old-school pasta letters when cooked, and like most print these days, I need glasses to read them. But I thought they would add a certain je ne sais quoi to the soup.



"Message in a Soupbowl" probably wouldn't have the right ring to it.

I have a love-hate relationship with Costco’s rotisserie chicken. As with most food cravings, the longing begins with a vague memory of the last time you had the object of your nostalgic desire.

Too often however, attaining the morsel can result in a bittersweet victory. It ends up being not as good as you remember. Or as in the case of the rotisserie chicken, I guess I’ve had too many of them. It’s a quick and easy dinner unless you factor in the lines at Costco, where on any given weeknight, hungry and crabby people run over for their roasted bird after work. It’s economical - a three-pound chicken for under $5. And it’s really very good. I’m not a big chicken fan, but I make an exception for this one, which is not as salty as the ones in the supermarkets, and very moist.

Sadly, after an average of two chickens a month for the last year, I have to admit I’m burned out on them. Yet I still bring them home, hoping that the family will eat what’s left after my chicken craving is sated by tearing into the crispy bronzed skin and juicy breast. My favorite thing is to put the chicken on top of salad greens with a little olive oil and lemon, topping it with whatever is in the fridge: organic garbanzo beans from Trader Joe’s or olive tapenade. In the summer, Jolene and I dress our salads up with avocados, or fresh fruit like peaches or figs.

But it’s fall, and the day before Halloween to be exact, so playing around with a little animal carnage seems appropriate. I start to dismantle the large chicken only to realize that more than three-quarters of the bird is there, disqualifying it as actual leftovers. It’s more like the food equivalent of that dress you wanted, wanted, wanted. Once you bought it, you didn’t want it anymore.

I set the meat aside and cover the bones with water. I assembled a bouquet of the herbs and threw it in. The chicken’s carcass lay in its final watery resting place, looking like that famous Pre-Raphaelite painting of “Ophelia,” its pale and gristly breastbone just under the water with herbs floating around it like so many dead floral tributes.



This one didn't make it to the nunnery soon enough.

I boiled the carcass down for nearly an hour and lifted the lid of the pot. The aroma was amazing, but the sips of broth I tasted were nothing to shout about. I boiled it for another half an hour and peered into the pot again. A lovely golden color was developing, but the flavor still wasn’t there. I tossed in another handful of the herbs, feeling reckless after the tentative bunch that I initially used and started to work on the mushrooms.

Sautéed mushrooms with shallots can save almost anything. I chopped up four large shallots and almost burned the olive oil in the pan while looking for a bottle of wine. We’re not big drinkers here and usually the only booze in the house is from gifts or something bought for a recipe. I rooted around in the “liquor cabinet” – which also holds a blender and about 50 cookie cutters – and found a bottle of 2006 pinot noir which was amusingly named "Jargon." Thankfully, the bottle had a screwtop since a) I am terrible at opening wine bottles and b) I wouldn’t know where to find a corkscrew in this house of teetotalers.



A jug of wine, a bag of sliced mushrooms and thou...

The scent of mushrooms and wine added to the olfactory overload in the kitchen. I strained the bones out of the soup pot, added the diced chicken, mushrooms, shallots, and a quart of chicken broth. I added a small palmful of damp grey sea salt and some freshly ground pepper and set it to simmer for another half hour.

When I went in for another sample, it had started to take on more of the mushroom flavor. However, I wished it was more “chickeny.” I added about a cupful of the alphabet pasta to cook in the broth and remembered how hard it was to find the stuff last year when I was trying to come up with a blog post for “Deadline Delight – Or How to Procrastinate on a Freelance Assignment and Make Soup Instead.” I did make the soup, and sadly, it was not that great. And I ended up with procrastination upon procrastination by not writing a post on the experience, but still have photos of steaming pots and dimly lit ingredients to remember it by.




Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble... And more procrastion from writing... old habits die hard!


I interpret the removal of plain old-fashioned alphabet pasta from grocery shelves as another sign of the full-fledged attack on the English language as we know it. Perhaps a more international approach to language in today’s United States might bring it back as the staple it once was. It would be great to have kanji to grace Asian noodle soups, Hebrew letters to give even more di treyst to classic “Jewish penicillin,” and the Cyrillic alphabet to float atop a bowl of borscht.

And if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. A text-message version of alphabet pasta, complete with emoticons, would be some real KAW in a cup of instant soup.



Bowl of Babel.

The soup is now cooling in the refrigerator. I’m hopeful for that overnight magic that often occurs when flavors are allowed to blend and intertwine after an evening’s labor.

I’ve just started reading “Twain’s Feast: Searching for America’s Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens.” Food writer and historian Andrew Beahrs starts off by recreating a typical Mark Twain breakfast, replete with aged beefsteak and biscuits from scratch. The book takes Beahrs and the reader through a journey to find the origins and the reason for the disappearance of foods that were once standard fare in an America, a nation that once raised its own game, baked its own bread, and raised produce for flavor, not size.

I remembered the book while I was boiling the chicken bones and when I was surprised at how little flavor the broth had. I don’t know if it’s because I tried to make the soup in such an abbreviated amount of time – doesn’t soup from scratch take hours and hours? Or because my prized poulet from Costco is bred for size and yield, with a flavor that only comes through when served in its intended form - roasted en masse with Costco's secret seasonings.

Epilogue: Another Art Garfunkel song fits my inspection of the brimming pot of soup. “Morning Has Broken”, and so have my taste buds. I lift the lid expectantly and find that what little fat there was has risen to the top. I skim it off and take a spoonful of the soup. If revenge is a dish best served cold, my soup is no exception. I can taste the herbs – mostly the sage – and really like the richness of the mushrooms. The chicken is in there, somewhere.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

To Market, To Market: Turning Japanese at Mitsuwa

Warning: Anyone who is overly sensitive to political incorrectness should stop reading here. This is a tongue-in-cheek account of what happens when people who have been raised in mainstream American culture are assumed to be knowledgeable about aspects of their ethnic background. They (let’s face it, I mean me) often realize that they are often clueless about their own cultures. In short, I’m a stranger here myself.

I was recently invited to serve on a committee to rejuvenate the Asian Pacific Studies program at the university where I work. It doesn’t matter that I don’t eat balut or realize that “Domo arigato” is not just a lyric in a Styx song. But somehow displaying photos of half-Filipino, half-Japanese nephews alongside a small kokeshi doll collection has somehow given me street cred as an authentic Asian.

But don’t ask me if I know a good place to buy authentic Japanese tea, which Sheela did a few weeks ago after purchasing a fancy hot water dispenser for her office. The only place I could think of was Yamamotoyama at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Torrance.

I like matcha with its slightly soapy flavor and grassy green color that is often used in desserts and pastries. I enjoy genmaicha, which is the best tea to drink with a meal. But my cha of choice is Trader Joe’s Organic Green Tea, which comes in (gulp) tea bags and which I make with a cup of hot water (2 minutes and 50 seconds on the office microwave) at my desk.

We oohed and aahed over beautiful Yixing clay teapots and mysterious porcelain accessories, and puzzled over mounds of dried tea leaves that were displayed in acrylic cases and sold in prepackaged portions. Sheela chose a light variety called sayama-cha. And the requisite bag of 100 tea bags simply labeled “green tea.”



That mission accomplished, we each had a cup of green tea with apple and strolled throughout the Marketplace. Mitsuwa is a national chain with stores everywhere from Costa Mesa to Edgewater, New Jersey. However, in the Los Angeles area - including eight-year-old Seiji, who is impressed by the assortment of Japanese toys, books, and magazines offered - agrees that the Torrance outlet is the best one. Along with the main Mitsuwa Supermarket, there are smaller merchants with everything from curry-filled doughnuts to Utsuwa- No-Yakata, an upscale but affordable outlet of Japanese ceramics.



It's a doughnut. It's an entree. It's wicked good.

We started to go through the grocery store and were amused at some of the brands of products that were clearly named to mimic Western food items. I had a “Beavis and Butthead” moment laughing at cream-filled wafer cookies called, “Coque d’Asses.” And I called Jolene to ask which instant coffee she favored the most. She recommended the ubiquitous Blendy, which I have to say will change your mind about instant coffee.



"Heh, heh. She said, "asses."


Sheela said we should check out the baby food because she had read an article about Gerber products in Japan. They didn’t carry Gerber, but had several jars of a Japanese brand that reflected the more native tastes favored in Japan. Instead of peas and carrots, Japanese babies are started out with daikon, fish, and hijiki.



These sound good to me now, but probably would have seemed strange to me as a child. But then again, I’ve had them in solid form.

My sister made most of the food that Seiji and Kenzo ate as infants, pureeing traditional Japanese foods like kabocha and saba with rice.

What we eat as children undeniably guides our palate later in life. Sheela, who is an Indian American, doesn’t like barfi, the colorful Indian sweets made with condensed milk and a variety of nuts and flavorings. I don’t like halo halo, which could be considered the national dessert of the Philippines with its syrupy fruits and again, the sweetened condensed milk that seems to be the dessert topping of choice throughout Asia and Southeast Asia. We both like the traditional Japanese sweet mochi, which ironically is now made with “exotic” ingredients like good old American peanut butter.



Wonder what this would be like with grape jelly.

While Sheela and I were both weaned on solid American diets – she grew up in Ohio, she had no choice – what we did both gain was a hybrid sensibility toward food. Although we might not always embrace our parents’ native cuisine, the exposure to it does make us more adventurous toward any food of other cultures.

This is a laudable quality in others as well. I often wonder what it would be like to live in a place that didn't have the exotic culinary options that Los Angeles offers, where the mingling of many cultures results in culinary assimilation. We explore and bond over other cultures. Case in point: Sheela bought a box of Giant Pocky for her Mexican-American friend who learned about the chocolate-coated cookies from her Chinese stepmother. As John Mellencamp would say, ain't that America.



The prize of the day for me was a chocolate covered doughnut from Hamada-Ya Bakery. While this may sound fairly pedestrian, it is the size of a small tire, a light but not-too-greasy ring topped with a very thick confectioner’s quality chocolate glaze. Only a cross-cultural exchange of ideas – namely the Asian obsession with French pastry – can bring us all together. It’s a small world, after all.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pei Wei's Big Adventure

A weekday dinner at Pei Wei Asian Diner can be most illuminating and amusing. In Los Angeles, home to numerous and authentic opportunities to experience food from throughout Asia, it is kind of amusing to see a menu that boasts "something foreign, yet familiar." You realize that it is familiar because elements of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese are blended in a Disney-esque attempt at creating a small world - or a least a small continent - on your plate.

Eleanor says that she read somewhere that red dishes make you eat more than you should. For me, red dishes with good food on them is what does the trick. Despite my snarky observations, Thai wonton soup with tofu and pork dumplings hit the spot. So did the Mongolian beef with scallions. I don't know what Genghis Khan would have thought of brown rice. But as it was a bit undercooked, he probably would have considered it a warrior-worthy test of gastronomic fortitude.



I've just seen a face. And my fortune - "cookie," that is.

I believe in eating dessert first, whenever possible. Apparently, so does Pei Wei, as they have a basket of fortune cookies at the self-serve drink station. Our fortunes were of course, cryptic. But at least they could be considered fortunes, rather than affirmations and lotto numbers.



A fortune that would have been pretty amusing to receive the last time I ate Chinese food would have been, "You will eat your words." It's hard to believe a whole year has passed since I started the moveable feast that is GMS with nothing but my smartass outlook and an appetite for food adventures.

So here's to another year of soup and sass!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wheels on Fire: Vizzi Truck's Inspired Cuisine Hits Sawtelle

Ordinarily one would not expect a “scene” on a Tuesday night on Sawtelle Boulevard. But the small fleet of food trucks that I noticed last Monday night when I went there for my evening walk after dinner was enough to entice me to return on Tuesday night, without having eaten.

I had to cover an event at work until about 7:30 and Shiho had a meeting in Pasadena, where she sadly, already had dinner. But she agreed to meet me for the working girl wind-down. I got there first and surveyed our choices. About seven trucks were parked on Sawtelle near the Olympic Collection and Nijiya Market. There were a number of the now-typical Asian fusion taco trucks, including the ever-present Nom Nom. There were Middle Eastern wraps, traditional American BBQ, and Happy Cup Ramen, a truck that served its wares in real ceramic bowls to eat with on kid-sized tables and chairs.



Exotic produce at Nijiya Market. I wouldn't know what to do with these - but there are some guys parked down the block that would!

It seemed like serving shaved ice to Eskimos to have so many Asian trucks on Sawtelle, which is known as “Little Osaka.” Fabulous restaurants abound, from traditional Japanese curry (Hurry Curry is my favorite) to the Euro-bistro elegance of Sawtelle Kitchen. Which is why Vizzi Truck, with its “coastal inspired cuisine” caught my eye as something a bit different.



Working girl wind-down. All I need is a mojito.

Upon my perusal of the menu, they pretty much had me at “white truffle popcorn with sea salt” and “gazpacho moderna with heirloom tomato, Serrano chili, and Meyer lemon.” But I wanted Shiho’s vote, as I was going to share this late nosh with her because of my stomach’s way-past-dinner-curfew. When she got there, we walked the trucks and Shiho decided that indeed, Vizzi was the “shizzi.” (Sorry. Thought I’d try and be hip, only succeeded in being soooo 2003. With the same level of excitement that I get when I discover an extra 25 percent off sale at Loehmann’s, I started my rapid fire ordering only to keep asking her, “Are you sure you don’t want a taco?”

At the end of my frenzied exchange with the friendly proprietor Chad, we ended up with a box of the truffle oil popcorn, half a pint of gazpacho, a carnitas taco with blackberry salsa, and lemon thyme and macadamia bleu cookies.

Popcorn is the new potato chip here: my taco rested on a tiny bed of fiery red pepper kernels, which was pretty and tasty. I pressed half of my half-pint of gazpacho on Shiho. Although she kept protesting that she had eaten dinner at Gelson’s before her meeting, she said the soup was very good. She also liked the popcorn - which we both tried to stop eating a couple of times and failed. But the favorite nosh was the buttery cookies. I was a bit surprised - and a little relieved - that the "bleu" meant blueberries, not cheese. I guess I've been in West L.A. too long!



My kingdom for a bowl of gazpacho... especially one this fresh!


This gastronomic shangri-la is not without its dark side. A couple of Los Angeles city councilmembers are not happy with the food trucks, which purportedly rack up parking tickets that they absorb as an operating expense. They also have expressed their concerns that food trucks mean unfair competition to neighborhood restaurants. Earlier in the summer, they authored motions for discussion that would among other restrictions, forbid trucks from parking in metered spots within commercially zoned areas. Since almost every parking spot in L.A. - at least anywhere anyone wants to be - is graced with a parking meter, this may pose a problem for twitter-pated truck followers who may have to hunt high and low for their favorite chuckwagon.



This taco's "the berries".

The truth is that food trucks are good for local businesses. They bring an increase in traffic to the areas where they park, a boon in today's economy. Their patrons have the opportunity to become familiar with new parts of the city they would not ordinarily frequent - or spend money in. They also end up patronizing the local businesses – like Shiho and I did. We didn’t feel like trying to balance our mini-banquet on our laps while sitting on overturned wastebaskets, so we got a table at Beard Papa’s, where she also had coffee and a green tea cream puff.

The food truck culture also encourages conversations with the chefs, something that isn’t usually available at this price point. On the way back to our cars, we met Chad’s cousin Chef Dave and sous chef Zach, who were relaxing on the sidewalk before pulling up stakes for the night.

Dave and Zach said that they patronized the local grocers and businesses regularly for supplies. We raved about the food, especially the cookies, which are a family recipe from Dave’s Hungarian mother-in-law. They told us that they were looking forward to the OC Foodie Fest coming up on Saturday and that Shiho should submit some of her artwork to show on their monitors along with the work of other artists that they promote. It was a great L.A. moment, when creative people with diverse interests got together to share ideas and a common goal: to make the city a better, more artistic, and definitely better-fed place.

I have to say that today’s food trucks are healthier than many other choices that people make, catering as they do to vegan and organic preferences. When the chefs aren’t putting a lighter spin on the traditional “roach coach” fare with grass-fed beef sliders or falafel with a Southwestern twist, they totally eclipse the idea that you are eating food off a truck, and serve restaurant quality creations like Vizzi’s Bistro Salad garnished with shaved fennel and dried figs or sushi that you "design" yourself with the help of the chef and a friendly ninja.

Too old and tired to Twitter, I’ll take my chances and be delighted at the unexpected sight of a brightly painted truck and depending on my hunger level and what lane I’m in, I may pull over for a bite.

In the meantime, my food truck fetish is limited to whatever I can find on the street when I happen to be at one of my haunts, the Third Street Promenade, Chinatown, or Sawtelle. That being said, I’m already planning a second visit to Vizzi next week. Chad says that they're park there every Tuesday night. I’m hoping that the “soup of pan roasted butternut squash, simply created with onions, carrots, maple sugar, cumin, chilis, roasted squash, and finished with a touch of cream” is on the menu. And from the looks of this gourmet recipe, maybe I should "dress for dinner."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

No Place Like Home... Except Maybe Phoenix

One of the best things about visiting Phoenix is the wide open space. You can enjoy views of mountains and clouds relatively untainted by buildings, wires, and such. Not that I have anything against buildings, wires, and such. But they aren't nearly as soothing as a view of Piestewa Peak (formerly Squaw Peak) or the colorful desert landscape.



Mexican Bird-of-Paradise, a fiesta of color. I didn't take this photo.


You can take GMS out of the city but you can't take the city out of GMS. While I do enjoy Phoenix for its bucolic charms - like chicken fried steak emporiums - I was delighted to find that since my last few visits it has become a foodie haven, with up-and-coming gems like Postino Central, a place that would be right at home on 3rd Street or Culver Boulevard. Foodies, winos, and hipsters flock here for a variety of gourmet nibbles that complement an array of wines, including the first "wine on tap" to be served in the city.

The lyrics from Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" are painted on a bright yellow wall: "How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?" Our mid-afternoon snack at Postino's was so good that we didn't miss the pudding.

David ordered a wheat beer and I opted for the cucumber honey lemonade, which was definitely the most colorful beverage in the place. The first sip tasted like I was drinking the juice out of a jar of bread and butter pickles but after that, it was truly fabulous and refreshing.



Bug juice, all grown up.

Although the summer heat doesn't usually put soup on my to-do list, the clever heading of "Soup of the Moment" got my attention. I enjoyed the chicken and wild rice soup, which was satisfyingly earthy with mushrooms, but there was bigger game ahead. And I mean big.


The desert might have taken billions of years to develop. But we'll settle for the "Soup of the Moment" at Postino.

Despite the fact that we could choose four different toppings for the bruschetta, I envisioned four polite little oblongs of toasted bread with artfully arranged toppings, just enough for a taste. I was pleasantly surprised when our one-armed server delivered a wooden board that held huge slices of fresh and light sheepherder bread. His left arm was in a sling, probably from hefting one too many orders of bruschetta like ours, which was topped generously with warm artichoke spread, brie and apples with fig spread, roasted peppers with goat cheese, and albacore with gaeta olives.


Everything's bigger in the desert. Even the appetizers.


My low-level Japanese food warning light had been on for a couple of days, so we headed to Hana Japanese Eatery on Missouri Street. David, who was spoiled by ready access to great Japanese food during 20-plus years of living in Los Angeles, has raved about Hana since it opened three years ago. With a menu that includes a full sushi bar and homey favorites like gyoza, kaki oysters, pork katsu and homemade tsukemono, it is the best Japanese restaurant in Phoenix and possibly in the entire state of Arizona.



GMS's"Hashi-Cam" attacks fried oysters and tempura.

We chatted with Lori Hashimoto and Lynn Becker, who with Lori's family, own and operate Hana. Lori twitters food trucks in L.A. regularly and Lynn told us where all of the good Asian markets were within a 20-mile radius. I'm pretty spoiled at home with cities like Gardena and Westminster that offer a comprehensive picture of Asian cuisine with streets full of markets and restaurants. The lack thereof in Phoenix makes a place like Hana a real oasis.



Back to basics. Hana's ramen with yakibuta pork and miso broth.

Thus fortified with tastes of the gastronomic hustle and bustle back home in L.A., I was once more ready to marvel at the natural beauty that surrounds the fifth largest city in the United States. And maybe go for another chicken fried steak.




Too busy taking pictures of food to get nature shots. I did take this one.

Friday, August 20, 2010

By The Time I Got to Phoenix... I Was Cooking

Looking back at my vacation, I didn't do anything all that different from what I do at home. I shopped at Trader Joe's, ate gelato, and sought out the latest and greatest new eateries. The one exception is that I got to cook more than my schedule normally allows while visiting David in Arizona.

David is my version of "The Most Interesting Man in the World," a character in the latest Dos Equis ad campaign. The absurd taglines, such as "He's a lover, not a fighter; but he's also a fighter, so don't get any ideas" and "He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels," could easily be applied to the retired Air Force colonel, who is one part bon vivant - albeit one with an Oklahoma drawl that brings to mind Foghorn Leghorn - and one part action hero.



Boy, I say, boy... have you ever seen a rooster fly an F86?

Really. His calling card does not boast his last rank in the Air Force but simply reads, "David E., Unemployed Fighter Pilot." He flew Sabre jets in the Korean War, an experience that landed him and his fellow fighter pilots the chance to be featured in flying footage in the 1958 film, "The Hunters."




No fighter pilots were harmed in the making of this film. One of them, however, says that he had to keep Robert Mitchum in cocktails at the premiere - on a first lieutenant's salary in 1958.

His many interests include woodworking (his bookcases are oddly reminiscent of a cockpit... and it works!), history, holding forth on the issues of the day, crying over the Dodgers, and cooking.

Now one would not think that a boy living on a farm in Oklahoma who watched his dad fire up a steak on the same forge he used for shoeing horses would someday learn to make Beef Wellington. But that's what we made one night on my visit to North Phoenix, where fine dining is often characterized by an Italian restaurant with a logo that looks like it was stolen from a Chinese restaurant and a place that since 1985 has served 746,481 chicken fried steaks.



Wherever I hang my hat... there's gravy. Thanks to Texaz Grill for the photo and for providing me with the 696,732th chicken fried steak.

Beef Wellington is a celebration of all things politically incorrect: red meat cooked fairly rare, goose liver pate, and antiquated English titles. Although it was popular for its showiness at dinner parties in the 1960s, it is astonishingly easy to make. David took two filets and seared them in a hot oven until they turned a lovely mahogany brown. They were then placed in the refrigerator to await their suits of puff pastry while I chopped leeks and mushrooms for the savory coating.



Beef - it's what's for dinner, in all of its bovine glory.

After sauteing the leeks and mushrooms, we stirred in a can of good old-fashioned goose liver pate. I suppose you could substitute a "healthier" version made of nuts or lentils, but I would experiment first to make sure the seasonings were compatible. After all, you wouldn't paint the Sistine Chapel with Magic Markers.



"You! You left the cap off the blue one!"

Once the pate mixture had cooled slightly, David spread it onto a sheet of frozen puff pastry that was slightly stretched a bit with a rolling pin. By this time, the filets were also brought down to a temperature where they would not make the dough soggy.



Wrap star: Note the careful cuts at the edge of the filet to ensure a perfect fit. The chef is destined to find his second calling as a professional gift wrapper at Macy's during the holidays.

My contribution to the final enrobing of the beef was a tiny cattle horn insignia made out of a scrap of dough. But it shrank during baking into a tiny Ken doll-sized moustache. And the other Wellington decided to pop open at one end, exposing a beefy shoulder a la Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance."



Go on, admit it... you cut up your sweatshirts too.

Because this was a home cooked meal, the menu had to have at least one homey imperfection. We had picked up frozen potato knishes the day before at Costco. To David, meat without potatoes is an aberration. So we served the beloved Eastern European pastry alongside the Wellington in an effort to achieve multiculturalism on a plate - and to use more of the gravy we had made from the filet drippings.



Food + dough = vacation dinner extraordinaire. Christo would be proud.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Vacation: All I Ever Wanted

After the last concerned colleague asked me if I was doing alright, I decided that perhaps I was remiss in not posting anything on GMS soon after my adventure at the Brotman Arms. Fortunately, I was due for a much-needed vacation.



Don't worry, folks. I never waterski in a tutu without adult supervision.

This started with time with my favorite nephews, Seiji and Kenzo. I do try to wean them away from their tendency to gravitate toward restaurants that offer toys as an appetizer when we go out, which is becoming easier as they become junior foodies in their own right. When I asked them where they wanted to go, they unanimously answered, "Little Tokyo" and when I asked them what they wanted to eat, they also answered without hesitation, "Strawberry Cones." The Japanese pizza chain has become a fast favorite, with its exotic crust of mochi flour and array of unorthodox toppings that include various types of shellfish, corn, teriyaki chicken, walnuts, and mayonnaise.

Alas, the possibility of Japanese pizza was crushed when we entered the Little Tokyo Market Place a little bit before noon to find the Strawberry Cones kiosk tented and Beard Papa's - our default choice for dessert - closed. My nephews, ever astute when it comes to matters of the kitchen thanks to my sister, explained to me that if one shop had to close, they both had to close, due to the fact that they share an oven.

Although impressed by their ability to provide the latest updates on the equipment woes of Little Tokyo restaurant owners, I had to find another option for fickle pint-sized appetites and fast. Jolene was going to tag team me and pick them up from Kinokuniya Bookstore where we had planned to end up after eating lunch.

The only other options in the center were a Vietnamese pho place and the food court in the Korean market, which seemed the most kid-friendly option. We marched down to booth that appeared to serve more American fare. When asked to order, Seiji immediately asked for a cheeseburger. Kenzo nodded for the same. So I ordered their food and two "bulgogi tortillas" - they meant "tacos" - for myself.

Unfortunately, the burgers were a bit of a disaster. Since I rarely eat them myself, I had not thought to warn the boys of the sauces and condiments that automatically appear on a burger unless a cook is told not to include them. So I spent the better part of lunch scraping relish-flecked dressing and plucking pickles off of their burger patties. I felt badly because Kenzo manfully ate most of his bun, which he enjoyed because of the burger drippings. Seiji tried to eat the meat from which I could not fully remove all traces of dressing, but looked tortured. They would have been happy to advance to yogurt, but I knew they had to have some "real food" first. We went back to the charbroiler and got corn dogs, which they wolfed down eagerly.

With lunch out of the way, Seiji and Kenzo raced each other to Cherry On Top, the most recent iteration of the self-serve frozen yogurt bar to hit Los Angeles. I am pretty much over the whole yogurt thing after too many flavor orgies where my five or six dollops of different flavors all ended up tasting the same to my frigid tastebuds and the variety of toppings offered all began to look the same. But when you are six- and eight-years-old, you are like a kid in a candy store at a yogurt bar - literally.

Earlier in the day, I was puzzling over the fact that my nephews, who don't even have all of their permanent teeth yet, have logged a number of cavities disproportionate to their tender years. As I watched them fill their cardboard cups of yogurt, I realized why this was happening. Any health benefits that are touted as froyo's superiority to plain old ice cream are nullified by the choices of toppings that kids prefer - namely every gummy candy known to the Western world.

Both of the boys used the cookies and cream yogurt as a base, then each chose another complement such as vanilla bean or chocolate. Then, to the chagrin of Seiji, who hates it when his little brother copies him, they each ladled on a quarter pound of neon gummy worms, sour belts, canned mandarin oranges, and a dollop of sweetened condensed milk.



Note the one without the brightly colored candy on it. And don't tell S + K about the oatmeal cookie I had after my workout.

Each of the boys has his own ritual for yogurt consumption. Seiji has his own technique, a la Cold Stone Creamery, and blends his froyo, candies and all, into an unrecognizable mass.



Seiji says, "Whip it... whip it good."

Kenzo likes to pick his gummy worms out one at a time and eat them first. Then he starts in on the other toppings, also using his fingers. When I suggested using his spoon, he tactfully countered, "Good idea, but... no."



Brain by the Culver City Unified School District. Body by Kenzo and his healthy appetite.

My nephews are among my most favorite - and most interactive - dining partners. So what if I have to scan their meals for undesirable ingredients, make sure hands get washed before they eat, or choke down a McDonald's yogurt parfait now and then. I get to watch them taste, explore, and form opinions on what is a daily necessity and a sensory pleasure. And for better or worse, I get to leave "the grown-ups' table" for a while, which is a vacation in itself.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Brunch at the Brotman, July 31, 2010

I had come back from the semi-weekly five mile hike with Jose, relaxed with coffee and magazines at Starbucks and was blithely packing up goodies for the volunteer picnic at the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum. Before heading to that event, I was going to have dim sum in Chinatown with my friend Linda, her husband and niece. It was basically, a stress-free morning with fun things to look forward to.

I was drying off in the shower when I suddenly felt a strong, pressing pain in the middle of my chest. At first I thought it was a muscle spasm, then realized that weren’t many muscles in that part of my chest that I would have taxed by raising a towel over my head, so I looked up heart attack symptoms on the Internet. Some of them seemed to mirror what I was feeling: uncomfortable pressure that went away but came back again with a bit of lightheadedness.

I went into the kitchen and told Jolene and Hiro what had happened. In the back of my mind, I thought I would just tell them and then drive myself to Little Company of Mary in Torrance. She offered to drive me but was anticipating guests in a few minutes, so Hiro was dispatched to take me to an emergency room. I figured that Torrance was an unnecessary trip so he looked up hospitals in the area and we went to Brotman Medical Center on Venice Boulevard. This turned out to be a better choice because it happens to be walking distance from downtown Culver City and my favorite restaurant, Tender Greens. But there was much to do before I could think about sitting down to a steak hot plate with spinach, hazelnut, and goat cheese salad.

The ER waiting room was far from packed, but the place seemed sparsely staffed. The two or three people ahead of me appeared indigent, if not homeless or mentally ill, a motif that was to continue as I witnessed the travails of fellow patients that afternoon. But I filled out the necessary forms and was finally admitted.

We went into the triage area and they took my temperature and asked me a few questions. They led me to a bed and sent Hiro to wait outside. A technician took an EKG and told me it would be several hours so I sent Hiro home.



Souvenirs of a summer's day: I looked like a UPS package when they were through with me and was still finding EKG stickers on myself when I got home.

As odious as cell phones can be, having one was a boon that day for all of the patients in my room. The exception to this was that I could not reach anyone at the Adobe to tell them that I wasn't a total flake and had a really good reason not to show up with my two dozen deviled eggs and a pan of brownies stenciled with the Dominguez cattle brand in confectioner's sugar. But I was able to leave a couple of messages and had to eventually let it go.

Being in a hospital bed can be frightening when you don’t know what is going to happen. A doctor told me that they wanted to take some tests, so I settled in. Thankfully, after catching up on Oprah Magazine’s summer reading article, I began to get rather distracted by all that was going on around me.

After about an hour or so, I was taken away for a CAT scan, which was set up in a temporary trailer because they happened to be repairing the one in the hospital. It was very strange being carted off in a wheelchair to the trailer, although I was happy to go outside, if even for a second after being cooped up in the hospital during what turned out to be a beautiful summer afternoon. I asked the radiologist if he ever wondered why there were so few windows in hospitals and he said that it would make patients feel better if there were.

I had a CAT scan years ago but don't remember it as quite this scary. You have to be injected with a medium that allows them to photograph the organs in question, which in this case, were my lungs - birth control can cause blood clots in that area and they were trying to rule that out as the cause for my chest pain. I had to sign a release saying it was alright to use this medium, which contained iodine. Apparently, many people have an allergy to this element, which is present also in a lot of seafood.

The radiologist told me the side effects to watch for after he injected me with the medium through my IV. Unlike most side effects that seem to trickle in slowly or not at all, these hit me all at once as the liquid took effect and I slid into the CAT scan machine: a metallic taste in my mouth and a hot feeling in my pelvic area that made me think I had wet myself. Thankfully, it was over quickly.

The radiologist wheeled me back to the room, where I was to wait until all my test results were in and they would decide whether I needed to be admitted or not. I began to chat with my assigned nurse, Ani, who was reattaching me to the EKG machine. She was from Iran, a culture that piques my curiosity when I drive down Westwood Boulevard and peer into the cozy restaurants or listen to the melodic cadence of Farsi while shopping at Sunlight Gems or King’s Beads.

I asked Ani what her favorite restaurant in Westwood’s largely Persian neighborhood was and she lit up with recognition. She named a couple of places, Shamshiri Grill and Baran. She said her favorite thing to eat at home – khoresh fesenjan , which is chicken stewed in pomegranate juice- was not her favorite thing to eat at a restaurant. That would be kebabs, which she said were difficult to make. Being another single girl who leaves the intricacies of the grill to the menfolk, I agreed.

Ani also told me that restaurant review sites like Zagat and Yelp give bad reviews to the Iranian restaurants that Iranians find the most authentic and high marks to the places that these American transplants don't think are very good. I’m sure it happens with most ethnic restaurants, many of whom are trying to cater to an American palate, but it was eye-opening that someone would actually give voice to this fact.

I had recently read "Persepolis," a graphic novel of the Islamic Revolution by Marjane Satrapi. In the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was watching the story of this upheaval unfold on the news, children my age including Satrapi were living – and dying through it in Tehran. To me at that time, the turmoil of Iran seemed to be enacted solely by adults. It was shattering to learn that kids whose main concerns ought to have been schoolwork, friends, and staying out of mischief were also going through the takeover of the government by extremists, bloodshed and thwarted rebellion.



While I was frolicking with "It's a Small World" at Disneyland, the world of Satrapi and her classmates was getting smaller too.


I asked Ani how long it had been since she visited Iran and she said she went home three years ago. She said it was really awful how she and other Iranians were treated coming and going and that friends of hers were denied entry to Iran when officials there found them on Facebook.

She said that her parents were going to be visiting Los Angeles in a couple of weeks and that she had just signed the final paperwork to set her American citizenship process in motion. She will take her test for citizenship in about a year and hopefully, would be able to bring her parents over as residents in another year after that.

I asked her what was on the exam and we giggled over remembering who the presidents were in World Wars I and II, who wrote “Poor Richard’s Almanck,” and the top two cabinet members in line to take over the presidency should President Obama become unable to do the job.

I told her about a recent blog entry where I had admired the eye candy of past American statesmen and presidents on American currency and she owned that yes, Alexander Hamilton was a hottie, and that she always hoards her ten dollar bills. I told her that I had always had a thing for Thomas Jefferson, whom she should remember as the third president of the United States. It's sure to be on the test.

By this time, the beds that Ani had been changing with clean linens while we talked were now being inhabited by new patients. When I was first taken to the examining room, an older gentleman was on his cell phone, roaring at someone on the other end. Later, he ate his lunch from a pile of Styrofoam takeout containers that were obviously not holding hospital food. Finally, he was wheeled away by a police officer.

His place was taken about an hour later by a worried-looking young woman and her much more serene mother. Although they drew the semicircular curtain around her bed area when her doctor arrived, I could not help but overhear some of the girl’s complaints, which had something to do with her chronically swollen feet. I made out the words “depression,” “Lasix,” and “God.”

I offhandedly mentioned to the technician who connected me to my EKG that I was hungry and was looking forward to eating at Tender Greens once I was released. He said that he had tasted part of a colleague’s meal from the restaurant and liked it. Minutes later, Ani appeared with a fistful of snacks: a plain ham sandwich on wheat with packets of mayonnaise and mustard, individually wrapped Chips Ahoy cookies, graham crackers, a banana, and one of those hospital-issue cups of cranberry juice.

I tried to only eat just the sandwich and drink the cranberry juice, but they only got my appetite going and I could not stop there. I compromised with the banana and one graham cracker. Even if this were to be my last meal, I would never let it be said that I ate Chips Ahoy on my deathbed. While I thought ruefully of the picnic I was missing, the food was restoring because I had nothing to eat since about 10 a.m. and it was almost 2:30 p.m.

Another new patient had shown up while I was eating, another older gentleman who I surmised had run afoul of the law several times. He looked like an ancient biker with longish hair and a beard. While being examined behind his curtain, he revealed that he had been a drug dealer, but how recently I could not tell. On his cell phone, he left messages for his regular physician and his lawyer.

Although the staff sounded attentive to his needs, during the one moment he was left alone, I heard a barrage of obscenities followed by, “I was born here, now I’m gonna die here.” This was countered by the mother of the girl with swollen feet, who calmly said, “If you do die, you’re going to go to heaven.” He did not respond.

I’ve had a few close shaves in my lifetime, but I always seem to be one of those patients with whom modern medicine cannot find anything the matter. I tested negative for any sort of cardiac issues, but it was recommended that I return immediately if it happened again. I will also have to find a cardiologist to take more exacting stress tests that the hospital was not equipped to perform. In a blur, I signed off on various forms, made my co-payment and flung myself out into the summer sunshine of downtown Culver City toward Tender Greens.



My kingdom for a cup of gazpacho. Hours before, I thought I had given it and bought the farm.

As I carried my flat iron steak – medium rare, always – mint lemonade, and gazpacho that I’ve been craving all summer to a table, I mused over what I would want for my last meal. I guess I would have to think about it, but I have to say that this combination comes pretty close.



Were I at death's door, I would still insist on medium rare.

I fell to my habit of mining bits of goat cheese out of the salad to eat with the Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. I dunked the uber-crouton – a slim oval of hard toasted garlic bread made satisfyingly greasy with olive oil – into the rusty gazpacho. I celebrated dodging a bullet – hopefully. And as good as the ham sandwich in the hospital tasted, I was glad that it ended up only being an hors d'œuvre, not the beginning of a whole new diet of hospital food.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kids Say - and Eat - the Darnedest Things, July 18, 2010

When my nephew Seiji is not keeping up with the latest Goseiger or Yu-Gi-Oh 5DS, he enjoys the gastronomic explorations of pint-size foodie Remy and his website Food Oddities. Another favorite is Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern and his "Bizarre Foods."

The clip he asks to see the most is one of Zimmern eating a beating frog's heart at a street food stall in Tokyo. I asked Seiji about what he likes about watching this. His answer was very matter-of-fact.

"I like gross and it is gross," he said with that eight-year-old candor I have grown to know and love.



Just the facts.

Seiji says that the weirdest thing he has eaten so far is squeaking cheese curds from the Tillamook factory in Oregon. But another kid's "weird" can be another kid's "normal." To the average eight-year-old, squeaking cheese is probably not that unusual compared to other foods that Seiji and his brother Kenzo eat regularly: the odiferous but good-for-you natto or ochazuke a traditional comfort soup - for breakfast.

Politely borrowed from justhungry.com

Like a lot of first-generation kids who are born of parents from other parts of the world, my sisters and I were fed for the most part, what they thought American kids would eat. This meant McDonald's, spaghetti, and thick steaks. Filipino food was optional, experienced mainly on holidays at relatives' homes and dismissed by our parents, who would say self-deprecatingly, "You wouldn't like it."

Being kids we favored sweet and starchy dishes. The Filipino dishes that we did enjoy reflected this: the comfort of lugao or arroz caldo or the afterschool treat of Mom's banana fritters. In retrospect, dishes like dinuguan, which my mom optimistically called, "chocolate meat," was really not that bad despite its main ingredient. And thanks to our dad, we never feared tripe, dried anchovies, or shellfish. We got to taste chayote squash, figs, char siu bao, and tofu long before they became as common in American cuisine as they are today.

Everything my parents served however, was not a hit, and it wasn't always because of a food's exotic origin. I hated Ovaltine, both the malt and the chocolate. We were probably the last generation that had to eat liver. But the unexpected gift here, despite our turned-up noses, is that by the sheer luck of where our parents happened to be born, we had the chance to try things and develop a more global sensibility about food.



Bittermelon - even in snack chip form - is still no deal.

If you were to judge my sisters and I by our school lunchboxes, we were typical American kids. We ate bologna or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, little bags of Laura Scudder's cheese curls and potato chips - which were ironically decorated with flags and children of the world - and the entire line of Dolly Madison baked goods. Our parochial school did not have a cafeteria, but every Thursday a few of the mothers cooked a hot lunch for us in the church's social hall. There I could sample "real" American kid food. Miniature frozen cheese pizzas with their slabs of melted cheese and slightly sweet sauce are still the gold standard of what I like in a pizza. Chili dogs and "home" tacos were my introduction to spicy food and sloppy joes gave me my love of saucy, messy fare.



So politically incorrect. And so good, at least in the third grade. Lifted with envy from fabulous retro Flickr site.

Kids, whose palates are as yet unjaded by a lifetime of eating, have very sensitive tastebuds. When they find something they really like, they seriously consider eating it all the time.

"Udon is my favorite food," says Seiji. "I wish I could eat it all the time."

When I was a kid, I wished I could eat spaghetti all of the time. And when I learned how to cook, I did just that. Curiosity - and finally, a driver's license - led me to explore other kinds of food, guided by what my friends' parents would serve, my obsession with cookbooks and food magazines, and that all-encompassing desire to seem "grown-up." I would drive from my quiet suburb all over Los Angeles in search of the ultimate knish, Southern barbeque, or ramen.



You can go home again... and again... and again. Still crazy about Canter's after all these years.

Seiji and his brother Kenzo are lucky to grow up in a family that celebrates its collective culinary heritage. We are also obsessed with the art of food from around the world and are blessed with a variety of friends who share their traditions and cuisines. I hope when the boys are older they will be curious enough to explore the world through their palates. When I was younger, I thought I could see the world from the dining table - and often, I still do.