Sunday, October 21, 2007

Izakaya: A Tokyo Memory

So, this was going to be about Izayoi, this seriously delicious izakaya in Little Tokyo, but as I was writing it, I kept thinking back to the first time I went to an izakaya, in actual big Tokyo (ie, the one in Japan), and kept getting more excited about that. So we'll deal with Izayoi another day, and lay some authentic izakaya groundwork today.

That first time, in Tokyo, was the quintessential izakaya experience: cozy and festive at the same time, with more beer and sake than we could stomach, and small plates of interesting, satisfying, food alongside.

That first time, I was a sad sack. All four of us were. We had been walking up and down the streets of sleepy Asakusa*, in the rain, in the dark, schlepping all our luggage, lost, looking for our hotel (which, if you're interested in cheap lodging, Andon Ryokan is awesome -- think traditional Japanese inn meets Blade Runner). We finally made it there, put down our stuff, and set out to find food. Luckily, Take (TAH-kay), the friendly guy who was running the place (whom we'd eventually befriend and take along to an unbelievable local street festival, a great story for another day) directed us to this spot, only a short drizzly walk from the Andon.

This place was a relief: warm wool paneling and an extremely friendly staff -- who generously overlooked the fact that we were drenched, boorish Americans -- made us immediately feel welcome and comfortable. They took our shoes and umbrellas (for the umbrellas, they had an ingenious contraption that sheathed each one in what can only be described as a protective plastic umbrella condom! Ahh, Japan...), and led us to our table. We sat on the floor, but there were trenches underneath the table so our legs could dangle comfortably. And although the place was pretty big, walls sectioned off every couple tables for an intimate feel.

This was one of the most fun nights of our trip to Japan. We went from damp and dejected to drunk and delirious over one meal. Small plates kept coming: yakitori, tempura, whale and horse sashimi (!!), tofu, and on and on. And the drinks! First came a bottle of cold sake. For each of us, a small glass was placed into a sake box, and the waiter poured until the glass overflowed and sake filled the box as well. When one person in our party asked for tea, the waiter laughed and told him to drink sake instead. It was that kind of night. Then came frosty, frothy steins of beer as big as our heads. By the end of it, we had forgotten how tired we were, and were laughing so hard, we were crying.

I write this here as a reference. Lately, Japanese-style pubs are sprouting up all over Los Angeles. This experience, to me, was the platonic ideal: these places were designed to whisk you as far away from your harried day as possible. Flowing food and drink, and friendly, festive vibes are perfect to take the edge off, whether it's on a rainy November night in Tokyo, or a balmy November night in Los Angeles.

* Sing it with me: "mama-say mama-sa asakusa". (Yeah, yeah).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Foodgeek Fame for Fairfax: 2 Dudes Catering

When T on Fairfax closed, we all were really sad. But then we learned that the space has been taken over by the Food Dudes, a couple grungy hipsters who actually can really cook. And now, those scruffy dudes, Jon Shook and Vinnie Dotolo, have made that little stretch of Fairfax Avenue (a little) famous. They have their own reality show on Food Network, 2 Dudes Catering, so in the premiere last night, they kept showing that space (before it was painted neon green) on my TV! There's Supreme in the background, and the old Schwartz Bakery sign. And there's that muttering homeless guy who grabbed my ankle last Sunday (ok kidding about that one).

How's the show? It's alright. Food Network capitalizes on the LA-ness of it all: catered birthday party for the daughter of one dude's dentist, a small gathering in a gorgeous modern mansion for which the dudes buy a grand's worth of sushi-grade fish, cursing back and forth on cell phones as they are stuck in traffic. Yep, that's about right. The team doesn't have quite the lovable charm of Duff's quirky crew on Ace of Cakes, but this is LA, not Baltimore, so there you go. Nevertheless, it's fun to watch these guys, who are both clearly very good at what they do and who have a solid relationship that goes back over a decade, work together. There's a low-volume mumbling of cattiness, disagreement, even a little competetiveness, but you can see the underlying love. They maintain a solid balance, and churn out really delicious-looking food.

Yeah, that stretch of Fairfax's claim to fame might currently be on a more urban, hip-hop bent, but I'm glad that my neighborhood is getting a wee bit of food fame. I'm excited to see what their restaurant will be like. We can definitely use a casual delicious spot right there.

(Incidentally, Eater LA's got an interview with the dudes with photos of them and their space.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day. Fifteen thousand blogs all over the world will publish a post about the environment today. Tiny blogs like mine, as well as behemoths like Lifehacker, the Google blog, and my own of-late-neglected WiseBread will contribute their unique voices to inundate the internet with a common message. Pretty cool, and pretty important.

Here at All Kinds of Yum, I bring you two posts. I will ramble on about how all the cool kids, including my mother, are going green. But I'm more excited to report, we have a guest blogger today! My dear friend Brad Brauer, an engineer who may someday use his expertise to make environmentally friendly stuff, has done the hard-hitting research, and offers us a a really informative post about what's behind the momevent towards local, organic foods. We've all heard the buzzwords -- local, organic, sustainable -- but Brad gives us the reasons behind the buzz. Thanks Brad!!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blog Action Day: Why Go Local and Organic?

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action DayBeing a friend of Tannaz means reading about food. Sometimes I try to give her suggestions about articles to write, mostly because I want her to cook for me. But she threw me for a loop when I told her about Blog Action Day.

You see, this was a one-way facet of our relationship, and I was happy to continue in that vein, but this time she asked if I wanted to be her second guest blogger. Realizing that saying no was tantamount to self-induced exile from Persia (in the cuisine sense at least), I set about trying to figure out an appropriate post. The conclusion is a short list of reasons why there is such a big fuss over local organic farming. This post is by no means inclusive -- if anyone has more specific info, or differing opinions, I would be very interested in hearing about it.

I think there are a lot of misconceptions about organic farming, both local and far, but there are a few simple reasons why it is such an attractive alternative to our current food system:

Close Food vs. Far Food

Transportation costs. This is a fairly easy one, just think of the salad you ate today: was the lettuce grown in a huge corporate farm in Salinas or a small farm in Corona? The distance between these to locations is roughly 350 miles. It is not hard to imagine further distances, especially when food is imported to (and from) other countries. Transportation uses energy, which contributes to air pollution and other bad ecological problems.

Locally adapted varieties. Most corporate farms use the same varieties that maximize yields. Losing local varieties decreases genetic diversity, which could result in losing important beneficial traits between varieties. From a taste perspective, this means the homogenization of fruits and vegetables (imagine if there were only one kind of apple?).

Organic vs. Non-organic

Pesticides. Organic farming, especially polyculture, reduces the needs for pesticides. Also, there is the energy cost to produce the pesticides (especially nitrogen, which must go through an intense heating process).

Sustainable Agriculture. Organic farming usually implies (although this is not universally true) more sustainable agriculture practices. Farms and soil are better taken care of in order to decrease the effects of soil erosion, and degradation of soil health. One popular method of sustainable agriculture is to rotate different crops; planting crops for sale on the market and other crops that naturally replenish nutrients in the soil. Polyculture takes it another step forward by planting complementary crops at the same time.

Farming Techniques. Another exciting benefit of small organic farms is that they are able to experiment with farming techniques on a smaller scale that might not be feasible on a larger farm. Polyculture is one example, but other methods include planting more trees to increase soil stability and shade, and to provide a habitat for birds.


A major reason that people do not consume as much local organic produce is that the prevailing wisdom is that is much more expensive than “regular” produce. In a sense this is true; if your local supermarkets stocks organics they are typically about 10% more expensive than the same non-organic varieties. Farm subsidies artificially keep our food costs down, and until the subsidies are the same for the small farmer as they are for the large, then it will be harder for local organics to achieve the same price performance.

So what’s the takeaway? Our food system is not built for everyone to start buying 100% organic food at their local Farmer’s Market. But the next time you’re at Ralphs or Whole Foods, notice that they have a lot of organic options. The more you buy, the more they sell, and more will be available in the future. And if you’re at a Farmer’s Market, you don’t have to insist on organic. By supporting local farmers you are helping decrease the energy cost of agriculture. The best of both worlds is buying local organic produce. But you know what’s even better? Getting Tannaz to cook it for you.

Note: This note was brought to you by Brad Brauer. I (Tannaz) was too lazy to set up an account for him, but really, he wrote it, not me.

[Thanks (nz)dave for the photo.]

Blog Action Day: Momentum is Rising

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action DayEvery once in a while, I get a certain kind of email that I find particularly infuriating. A forward that has made the rounds for God knows how many years, calling me to action. One of those things that, if everyone in the world took part, something incredible would happen. I open the email, skim through quickly, entertain for a half-second how cool it would be if it did actually work, curse the person who sent it to me for wasting my time yet again, promptly hit the delete button, and get on with my day.

But when it comes to the issue of the environment, the 'I am but one man' argument no longer holds water. Books like Jared Diamond's Collapse, and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (yes, this is very much a book about ecology) are national bestsellers. Super-high-profile celebrities like Julia Roberts, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jeffrey Katzenberg are foregoing fancy sportscars to make a very different statement scooting around in Priuses (plus, in the case of Katzenberg, I can tell you firsthand that he takes great strides to make to make the corporation he runs clean and green). An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's impassioned film about the urgency of the issue of global warming, is the fourth-most popular documentary in history at the box office. What I"m saying is, everyone is doing it.

For one, my mom is an environmentalist and doesn't even know it. With zero fanfare, I was raised in a home that, quietly and with little self-awareness, was doing its part. The more I read, the more I come to realize that the idea is to shrink our footprint -- the simpler we keep things, the lower our impact is, the better off we are. When it comes to food, Violet (my mom and I are on a first name basis), stays close to the source. A bowl of fresh fruit is always on the table, processed foods are kept to a minimum, and dinners are constructed -- quite artfully -- from real fruits, vegetables, meats, and rice. She often makes her own preserves and dries her own herbs.

In Violet's kitchen, nothing is ever wasted. Those dried herbs might reside in a jar that once held pickles, old boxes gain new life holding bags of spices, and leftovers sit in yogurt containers that have been washed and reused dozens of times. After a trip to the grocery store, all the plastic bags are folded and stashed for future reuse. You don't run the dishwasher unless it's full to the brim, and same goes for the washing machine and dryer.

I have a few simple ones of my own. I walk to as many errands as possible. I've started taking canvas bags to the grocery store -- I always got frustrated when, even at Whole Foods, they would pack a couple small in items in doubled up thick plastic bags. Now I get an extra smile from the checkout person, not to mention compliments on my rad Los Angeles maptote. The Hollywood Farmer's Market is my new favorite place, and the benefits come back to me in the form of interesting produce I'd never see at the supermarket, and good, good times.

The point is, this is no longer a small niche of wacky hippies flailing about in vain. It's a significant movement, and simple changes can make a difference. Everyone's doing it. catch up! I encourage every one of you to educate yourself, see what simple changes you can make, and if you haven't already, check out your local farmer's market. It's a fun way to spend an afternoon outside, see people, walk around a bit, and get acquainted with your food.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Aww, Lucy: Bake Sale for the Skylight Books Cat

Everyone who knows me knows I am not a pet person. But for years, I've always loved the sweet kitty basking in the sunny window of Skylight Books in Los Feliz. As if a shady tree in the middle of the store and a vast collection of McSweeneys publications were not enough, this cat is the coziness cherry on top over at Skylight. Sadly, Lucy has been diagnosed with feline lymphoma, and Skylight Books is having a bake sale (and you know how I feel about bake sales) this Sunday to help out with her medical costs. (They've also put a donation jar at the counter.) Here are the details:

What: Lucy Benefit Bake Sale
When: Saturday, October 13, 11 am
Where: Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., between Hollywood and Franklin

Ways you can help:
  • Donate baked goods to sell
  • Buy some delicious baked goods
  • Volunteer for an hour or two to man the bake sale table

For more info, call or email Kerry

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I Have a Blog Crush: Figs Olives Wine

Well, it's like a crush in that we're just getting to know each other, this blog and I. But I've already learned so much (by nature, blogs are not a shy bunch), and with every new post, I'm struck anew by the gorgeousness of Figs Olives Wine. Its writer, Amanda Darrach Filippone, is a Manhattanite chef, but her food is pure Mediterranean. She highlights seasonal greenmarket produce in unpretentiously alluring recipes. All of her dishes seem to have that distinctly Mediterranean deceptive simplicity that floors me: she puts together just a few ingredients in a way that seems so obvious, but is clearly quite artful. It's actually a bit infuriating -- recipe after recipe, photo after photo all lead to "why didn't I think of that?!"

And then there's the paragraphs (I love paragraphs). This is not a blog where an amateur waxes sentimental about her love of food (like, say, the one you're reading now). There's an academic expertise here that really appeals to the food geek in me. Her grasp of seasonality is impressive -- she's really mastered that squirrelly issue of 'Where does my food come from?' with monthly harvest calendars and a well-researched knowledge of the New York greenmarket circuit (not to mention the harvests of far-flung bits of Italy, France, Turkey, Greece...). And the stories that precede the recipes often include fascinating anecdotes, taking you from Sicilian breadcrumb slang to the spice-heavy days of the Black Plague to a houseguest hospitality in Cyprus. Delicious.

So, basically, what I'm saying is, check out Figs Olives Wine, swoon over the photos, learn a thing or two about Mediterranean cuisine, and make me some.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Your Neighborhood Gourmet Fruit Stand

Can we talk markets for a sec? Because there are a few around town that are very important to me, and I want to share. I'm only going to talk about one right now, but I think it's a pretty unique place, and these days I really miss it. I'm talking about Marina Farms, a small westside market that despite its diminutive size, never disappoints in the quest for quality, inexpensive produce, and much more.

Back at my old job, on days when the sun was shining just right for a walk, we'd trek a few blocks to 'the fruit stand' for a bag of cherries, or a tangerine -- in one variety at Marina Farms, piled high just outside the door, the fruit was not completely connected to the skin. Shake it around and you'd feel the fruit inside wobbling about inside the lumpy skin. They were super sweet too. The store is about 80 percent produce -- a wide variety, and cheap: all manner of apples and peaches, tiny bananas, plenty of fresh herbs, and more.
But that other twenty percent is not to be overlooked. You wouldn't guess on first glance, but Marina Farms is an unassuming gourmet shop. The back corner of the store houses a small crunch of products like walnut and hazelnut oils, polenta and other interesting grains, this awesome saffron tea from Spain, and more. I like that I can go to a corner store, not at all fancy, and pick up creme fraiche or imported chocolate bars. You get the special ingredients you need, without having to pay a premium for snobbery. They also have a shelf devoted to more health-food-store-like offerings -- nuts, seeds, and candies that they package themselves. (And they even carry my very favorite addictive substance, Have'a Corn Chips.)

Now that I don't work near the Marina anymore, I've been on a mission to find something like Marina Farms farther east. While I've found plenty of fancy gourmet markets, and plenty of pushy bustling ethnic markets, the middle ground that Marina Farms strikes is unique. Too bad.

Marina Farms is at 5454 S Centinela Ave., north of Jefferson. They close at 7, so get there early!

[Thanks to Dan Phiffer and the Del Rey Neighborhood Council for the photos.]

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Top Chef Finale Tonight! Holy Crap!

UPDATE: Ok, so it didn't turn out the way America (or at least I) wanted it to. Tom was surely disappointed with his 'Case', but, hopefully their love affair will remain intact. But, what was the deal with everyone wearing the same clothes as they did the last day in Aspen? Weird, right? And, if they were going to do that, could they at least have chosen something pretty for gorgeous Padma to wear? That dress was so medium. Anyway. More to the point, what am I going to do with my time now?

Friends. The moment of truth looms. Will it be Dale, his mohawk, and his mischievous little-boy face? Will cheeky Hung show the judges that behind that cocky grin and robot-perfect technique lies some hot immigrant soul? Or will it be poised and composed Casey, quietly busting out dishes that make the judges purr, looking all the while like she has a hair and make-up entourage primping consantly her behind the scenes? Honestly, at this point, I'd be happy with whoever won.

(But what I really want is for Hung to mess up. Again. To be so sure of himself, so busy grandstanding and basking in his own glory that he forgets the sauce, or the meat, or something French-sounding. Sweet justice for a salty, salty man.)

Thoughts? Predictions? Bets?