Soba Pop at Breadbar on 3rd street

蕎麦  SOBA

…is Japan’s soul food.  Full of history and tradition, these simple but satisfying buckwheat noodles are loved by Japanese people of all ages.  Soba is an important part of the Japanese diet, making frequent appearances as classic kamo nanban lunches, warm nameko soba dinners, quick morisoba eats on a train station platform, and even take-out zarusoba packs at convenience stores.  Many holidays and celebrations embrace soba as a part of the festivities, and New Years Eve is not complete without a bowl or two of toshikoshi soba to bring in the new year.  Soba is rich in amino acids and antioxidants, only one of many reasons for its popularity in Japan.  Although I grew up eating soba like most Japanese people, I have to admit that as a child I always preferred udon noodles.  It’s only recently that I’ve started to really appreciate the craft, tradition and flavors of soba.

To get a glimpse into the world of soba, I recently took a soba making class with soba master Akila Inouye and soba teacher Sonoko Sakai through their website called mazumizu.  Learning about the complexities of soba making and taking on the challenge of trying to make these delicate noodles from scratch gave me a whole new perspective on this food.  The bowl of duck and eggplant soba that I had at Sonoko’s house at the end of the class was one of the most delicious and enjoyable bowls of noodles that I have ever tasted.  I was ecstatic to hear that they were sharing their passion and their craft with the people of Los Angeles in a 1-week pop-up restaurant event at the Breadbar.

Akila Inouye, the Founder and Master Chef of Tsukiji Soba Academy in Tokyo, Japan, has been teaching soba making for more than 15 years, and has trained many soba artisans who have gone on to open their own restaurants.  Sonoko Sakai is a bilingual and bicultural cookbook author and food writer who learned her craft from Akila.  Together they brought over 8 suitcases full of ‘shin soba’, the first crop of this year’s Kitawase buckwheat flour from Gunma prefecture in Japan.  Organically grown stone-milled buckwheat flour was made into two types of soba for the event, the typical Edo (Tokyo) style Nihachi soba, which uses a blend of 80% buckwheat flour and 20% wheat flour, and Kikouchi, which uses 100% buckwheat flour.  Sonoko and Akila, with the help of soba student volunteers, have been working extremely hard to make this rare and special dining event possible, staying up till 4 am with prep work, and making fresh soba all day.

Considering that it was their first pop-up experience and first restaurant venture, I was nervous for them when I saw the long and comprehensive soba menu.  Pop-ups often consist of limited menus, offering maybe 10 items at the most, but Akila and Sonoko boldly opened their Soba Pop event with a 16 item menu with different types of dipping sauces and 2 desserts.  Perhaps a little too ambitious, but they really wanted to take this opportunity to show Angelenos how wonderful, delicious and diverse soba can be, and they managed to pull it off beautifully.

Sonoko brought out most of the dishes to the table, including an amuse bouche of farmers market vegetables with puffed soba.  Purple potatoes, fingerling potatoes and Japanese pumpking kabocha were prepared simply as an amani, slowly cooked with just a small amount of sugar and salt to retain the natural sweetness, flavors and vibrant colors of the vegetables.

No part of the soba making process goes to waste, as seen in the bowl of soba chips.  The uneven ends of the folded soba sheets that are left over after cutting were quickly deep fried and salted to make crunchy aromatic chips that made for a great otsumami snack while drinking beer.

Roasted nori seaweed made by a shinise long-standing historical establishment in Japan, that has been making nori for over 300 years, was brought to the US by Akila and Sonoko as part of their 8 suitcase caravan.  These pleasantly crisp seaweed wedges, full of ocean aromas and deep flavors, were served with freshly grated wasabi.

I loved the asazuke summer pickles made with Japanese cucumber, turnips and radishes, and the carrots that were pickled in miso.  Green yuzu rinds added a sensational level of aroma and freshness to these crisp and refreshing pickles that made me want to reach for a warm bowl of white rice.

Braised donko shiitake mushrooms, carrots, kinusaya snow peas and konnyaku were served as a traditional nishime dish, simmered in soy sauce, mirin, dashi, sugar and sake, and served on age tofu slices.  It was such a pleasant surprise to be able to enjoy simple Japanese comfort food at this event.  These are the every day dishes that nourish families in every household in Japan.

Cold artisanal tofu, or hiyayakko, was handmade that morning for the event and served with a heap of sliced green onions, bonito flakes, ginger and soy sauce.  The soft silky texture and creamy rich soy flavors of this freshly made kinugoshi tofu is something that I wish everybody could experience- it’s completely different from store bought tofu.

Rounding out the appetizer menu were marinated soft boiled eggs, ajitsuke tamago, served in a cold soy-bonito broth, and melt-in-your-mouth Kurobuto pork belly kakuni with carrots and kinusaya peas.  For a soba pop-up event, they really went above and beyond in preparing an extensive non-soba menu full of traditional Japanese soul food.  Everything was cooked perfectly, preserving the exact flavors of how our mothers and grandmothers used to make them.

We started our soba dinner with the most basic way to eat soba, mori soba, where the Nihachi soba is served on a bamboo basket with cold soy-bonito tsuyu dipping sauce along with grated daikon, scallions and wasabi for garnish.  This is the perfect soba dish to enjoy on those hot summer nights with a cold glass of beer.  I love the simplicity of mori soba where you can really taste the soba flavors in its most pure state and experience the koshi texture and nodogoshi of how the slippery noodles glide down your throat.

Hanamaki soba was served in a bowl hiyagake style where cold soy-bonito broth was poured over the Nihachi soba and topped with a generous heap of aromatic cut nori seaweed.  Wasabi and scallions were served on the side, but we really didn’t need those extra garnishes, as this bowl of soba was perfect on its own.  The broth was a katsuo dashi base made with bonito flakes, koikuchi shoyu dark soy sauce, mirin and zarame sugar to give it a round gentle flavor.

In a tribute to the bountiful and scrumptious local Southern Californian vegetables , Akila and Sonoko created a cold vegetable soba dish for their menu, full of fresh Farmers Market vegetables like Japanese cucumbers, asparagus, Japanese pumpkin, heirloom tomatoes, scallions and shiso leaves.  Soba granules were sprinkled on top for added texture, homemade pickled new ginger for a little flavor kick and a dollop of toasted saikyo miso for depth and aroma.

One of my favorite sobas of the evening was the cold duck soba for the wonderful caramelized shigure-style ginger duck that I would love to eat everyday on rice, bread, pasta or even salads.  Cold tsuyu broth was poured over Nihachi soba and topped with deep fried eggplant, soft boiled egg, scallions, fried tofu, crunchy soba granules, shiso ribbons and chopped asatsuki chives.  Full of flavors, colors, textures and so many toppings, this bowl of soba was simply amazing and delectable.

What’s a pop-up event without some unusual and new interpretations on classic dishes?  Chicken and eggs are usually served over a bowl of rice as one of Japan’s most quintessential comfort foods, the oyako-don, which literally translates to ‘parent and child donburi’ in a playful twist of ‘which came first?’  Seasoned jidori chicken, soft boiled eggs, asparagus and scallions were served over soba in a hot broth for a comforting bowl of Oyako soba.

Toro toro pork soba with braised pork belly, nameko mushrooms, scallions, wax beans, yellow bean sprouts and mitsuba delivered what it said it would- toro toro pork that melted in my mouth.  In the same way that ‘pow’, ‘bam’ and ‘zip’ indicate onomatopoeic expressions of sounds, ‘toro toro’ is a phenomimetic Japanese word to describe how something easily melts like liquid.

In the same way, ‘kari kari’ describes the high pitched crunch and crackle of an object, in this case the crispy gobo fried burdock chips and dried shrimp that were generously topped over a meaty tempura onion ring, deep fried Japanese kabocha pumpkin, and yuzu over Nihachi soba and hot bonito broth.

My favorite soba dish of the evening was the Kikouchi soba, the only soba made from 100% buckwheat flour (all of the others were made with Nihachi soba, an 8:2 blend of buckwheat and wheat flour).  Gluten-free kikouchi soba is made with pure buckwheat flour and water only with no binder, making for a delicate and unstable soba that really tests the skills of the maker.  Done right, Kikouchi has an intense nutty fragrance and rustic flavor that is unlike anything that you’ve ever tasted before.  Due to the extreme difficulty in making Kikouchi, the Soba Pop event at the Breadbar was limited to 10 servings per day.  The Kikouchi was indeed intense and full-bodied, going especially well with the ground walnut mori-tsuyu dipping sauce that augmented the nuttiness of the soba flavors.

We finished our extravagant soba pageant with 2 desserts, a plum wine umeshu jelly with blueberries, white currants, Okinawan brown syrup and crunchy soba granules.  I brought a large bottle of Choya umeshu for the soba event, as it was BYOB, and this umeshu jelly tasted even better than that.  The other dessert was a Dattan soba jelly with blueberries, Okinawan kuromitsu brown syrup and soba granules.  Coupled with the soba granules, this savory jelly was like a vast field of beautiful golden wheat farms exploding in my mouth and perfuming my nares.

There are many ‘pop-up’ restaurants and events springing up in all parts of LA, introducing everything from street food to molecular gastronomy based cuisine to fine dining.  Soba Pop is an entirely different experience- it truly is a limited-time engagement that cannot be replicated, as Akila and Sonoko use the fresh new shin-soba crop of buckwheat flour from Japan that is only available now.  You can’t get delicious Kikouchi and Nihachi soba using shin-soba outside of Japan, and it’s a rare treat to be able to experience these delicate artisanal noodles at our local Breadbar.  Soba Pop is only open until Saturday August 28th, so hurry and come experience the wonderful aromas and flavors of real soba from Japan, made by a real Japanese soba artisan.

Mazumizu website

Log on to Akila and Sonoko’s Mazumizu website to register for their upcoming soba making classes

Breadbar

8718 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
310 205 0124

Random trivia:  Did you know that Dattan soba, also called bitter buckwheat, is a super food or sorts, containing 100 times more Rutin than buckwheat flour?  It is also believed that Dattan soba contains an element that suppresses the production of melanin, the cause of age-defining freckles, sun spots and skin splotches.

Hatchi series at the Breadbar- Makoto Okuwa

That time of the month has come yet again, the exciting Thursday night Hatchi dinners at the Breadbar in Century City where a guest chef is invited to present 8 dishes for $8 each in a one-night solo venture (Hatchi means 8 in Japanese).  This wonderful event, created by Ironnori concepts in collaboration with the Breadbar, has been on a successful roll for the past year, introducing local chefs to enthusiastic patrons who get the unique opportunity to sample adventurous and innovative cuisine for a bargain price.  In return, chefs experience complete freedom in an open environment where they can push the creative envelope and translate their imagination onto plates while enjoying intimate interactions with diners.  I’ve had some spectacular and memorable dinners at the Hatchi event this past year with chefs Remi Lauvand, Marcel Vigneron, Ricardo Zarate, Saul Cooperstein, Brian Redzikowski and Walter Manzke, and I always look forward to the upcoming events.

I was especially excited for July’s Hatchi dinner called ‘Power of Miso’ by Chef Makoto Okuwa, a Morimoto protégé who began working with the famous Iron Chef in Philadelphia, and has helped to open Morimoto restaurants in New York and Tokyo.  Okuwa, originally from Nagoya, began his culinary career at the tender young age of 15 working in sushi restaurants in Japan.  After gaining a solid foundation in sushi philosophy and execution through his many years of training there, he moved to the US where he learned new ways of putting a creative twist on his food.  His career has skyrocketed through his apprenticeship with Morimoto, learning fun and innovative approaches to arranging traditional Japanese ingredients with local produce.  He recently competed on Iron Chef America, and although the kitchen arena was a comfortable and familiar place for him, having cooked with Morimoto as his sous chef on numerous Iron Chef competitions, he lamentably lost to Michael Symon on a sea urchin battle.   Good fight Makoto-san!

Regardless of the loss, we are proud to have this talented chef in our city where he can be seen in the kitchens of Sashi sushi and sake lounge in Manhattan Beach.  As executive chef, he brings his traditional Japanese training as a sushi chef, his avant-garde execution learned under Morimoto, and the intensity and precision required of working in a pressured Iron Chef environment all together into one beautiful restaurant space that is graced with a sensual yet confident touch unique to Makoto Okuwa.  Sashi stays more true to traditional flavors, offering robata-yaki items and sushi, but in the Hatchi event he took a more bold approach to give diners a glimpse into the creative direction that he is taking his cuisine.  In true Iron Chef style, he even chose one food ingredient as his dinner theme- miso, fermented soybeans that define the foundation of Japanese cuisine.

The Hatchi events are BYOB but recently the guest chefs have been offering unique one-of-a-kind cocktails that reflect their theme.  For the first time ever, we tried all 3 cocktails at the ‘Power of Miso’ event, and the sensational drinks almost made us forget about our wines.  Okuwa Watermelon, a dainty pink concoction of watermelon juice, shochu, lemon and gomme syrup served in a martini glass, was a tad bit too sweet for me, but the familiar Japanese flavors in the Shiso Mojito were perfect for our summer al fresco dining experience.  Fresh shiso, yuzu and lime were mixed with rum, cachaça and agave for a vibrant and refreshing drink with an added tart kick and textural gusto from the umeboshi pickled plum and ground white sesame seed shirogoma rim.  My favorite, pictured below, was the Nihon Teien (Japanese garden) with Grey Goose Le Citron, agave, apple juice, fresh cucumber and a zen minimalist landscape of dark green leaves quietly floating on a cloud of cucumber foam. Its serene and enchanting beauty moves me to write a haiku…

Melting frost

the silent quiver of leaves

An uguisu beckons

I was pleasantly surprised to find my favorite dish of the evening in a cold fish dish, which is unusual for my warm-blooded carnivorous palate.   A tender and beautifully fatty harami cut of miso butter-poached Loch Duart salmon was served with feta cheese purée, coarse and grainy pesto powder, refreshing tomato foam, kumquat confit and microbasil with plump tomato caviar and feta cream biscuit garnish.  The marriage of Japanese and Mediterranean flavors was a success, especially with the sweetness of the kumquat kinkan bringing everything together and the crunchy pesto powder and delicate saikyo miso chip adding hints of delightful texture to the mix.

Another enjoyable and fun dish was the Asian taco made with tender chunks of smoked lobster, diced donut peaches, pistachio, cold miso frozen yogurt and paddle fish caviar all nestled neatly inside of a hard sweet potato taco shell.  The loud crunch of the sweet crispy shell, a satisfying bite into succulent lobster meat and the tantalizing rush of chilled cream finished off with the saltiness of black caviar pearls, all in celebration of summer peaches at its peak- this delightful dish was a haiku in the making.

A stylized ikameshi came in the form of California baby squid stuffed with crab meat on a carpet of dark seaweed and scallion paste that tasted like Gohandesuyo, a popular nori purée that is frequently enjoyed on a bed of white rice.  A tender cube of sesame and nori crusted tuna, the powerful splash of tangy sumiso or nuta made with vinegar and white miso, a resting twig of salty sea bean at the mercy of a crumpled wakame chip and a side of pickled myoga added dramatic levels of flavors and textures to complement the squid.

Breadbar’s signature epi bread came out warm, soft and pillowy with 3 types of miso butter- white miso, red miso and a barley miso called moromiso.

Who would have ever thought of deconstructing ramen, especially when we love this dish for its signature simplicity of noodles in broth?  Chef Okuwa left the spicy miso broth intact with slivers of kikurage wood ear mushrooms and asatsuki Japanese chives, although he put an enhancing twist on the soup with black sesame paste and lemon verbena.  The noodles in his version of Taiwan miso ramen emerged as compressed round patties that functioned as burger buns for the ground beef steak hamburger, topped with classic ramen garnishes of ajitsuke tamago in the form of a soy marinated quail egg, pea shoots instead of moyashi bean sprouts, thin slices of pink and white naruto fish cake, and chopped bamboo shoot aioli using menma.  This playful slurp-less ramen dish was an absolute joy to figure out and a wonder to devour.

四海巻き ‘Shikai Maki’, which means ‘Four Oceans roll’, is a square-shaped futomaki sushi roll that is often served for special occasions and celebrations in Japan, as its axial cut reveals a unique geometric pattern that depicts the waves of the four oceans of the world.  Instead of traditional ingredients, Okuwa made this Shikai maki with cucumber, tuna and Fontina cheese in a soy paper wrap in celebration of the vibrant colors and flavors of summer- drapings of thinly sliced prosciutto, a dramatic swipe of yellow miso emulsion paint, blood red sriracha dots, splashes of strawberry powder, kidney and garbanzo beans, bitter baby watercress and sprinklings of sweet yellow corn completed the cheerful canvas of summer bounties.

A miso feast is not complete without a dengaku dish, a rustic preparation of grilled vegetables, tofu and meats coated with miso paste.  田楽 dengaku, which means ‘field music’, finds it roots in rice planting and harvesting rituals.  Okuwa took this opportunity to celebrate his Japanese heritage using a trio of miso with various mediums.  A buttery cut of braised Wagyu beef chocked full of tender gelatinous collagen, perhaps from the cheek, melted in my mouth along with a dark red miso that tasted like tenmenjan and a lingering aroma of summer truffles.  A less intense white miso paste found a perfect partner in atsu-age crispy tofu with a garnish of peppery kinome leaf while a cube of polenta and a slice of kabu Japanese turnip celebrated its union with a chorizo moromiso blend.  A thick slice of Japanese eggplant and a miniature cube of konnyaku topped with shichimi togarashi, usual suspects for dengaku dishes, came along for the ride in the nude.

Miso as dessert seemed inconceivable and preposterous, but it actually worked in this dish of caramel miso cream with almond cinnamon crumble, apricot sorbet, buttermilk foam and pistachios.  The miso ice cream in its solitary form was nothing to ride home about, but a magical chemical reaction occurred when consumed with the tartness of apricots and the sweetness of buttermilk.  Somehow the three flavors came together as one to create an exciting and inspirational revelation.

The final dessert didn’t fascinate me like the previous one, but I was amazed with Okuwa’s mastery of miso in both savory and sweet preparations.  Long bars of pliable yuzu curd weaved through a dashing display of bright pink candied raspberries, chocolate sponge cake, sweet miso chips, a dome of white coconut sorbet, cocoa nibs and a sprinkle of dry miso powder.  It was a busy dish with a lot of traffic going in all directions, but every bite was alive with flavor and energy.

In a bold and daring move, Makoto Okuwa took on the challenge of creating 8 savory and sweet dishes of miso, and he emerged an undeniable champion, proving his understanding and mastery of this classic Japanese ingredient.  There were many discerning Japanese diners at the Hatchi event, a tough crowd to please, but both his traditional and radical takes on miso dishes won their hearts over.  An explosion of creativity, an elegant illustration of finesse, a lively parade of artistry and an undeniable demonstration of skill- all in this young, handsome, kind and humble chef who put the sexy back in miso.  His memorable miso event moves me to write another haiku…

Warm salty broth

A loud slurp, a lingering sigh

The power of miso

Breadbar

10250 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 277 3770

Sashi Sushi & Sake Lounge

451 Manhattan Beach Boulevard
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

(310) 545 0400

Random trivia:  Did you know that miso is made by fermenting rice, barley and/or soybeans with salt and kojikin, a type of filamentous mold called Aspergillus oryzae?  A. oryzae is also used in the fermentation process to make sake, shochu, soy sauce and rice vinegar, making it the most important Japanese ‘fungus among us’.

Hatchi series at the Breadbar- Walter Manzke

There’s nothing I love more in life than traveling and eating.  I love my hometown of Los Angeles, but on any given day I’d rather be overseas exploring foreign lands and sampling exotic delicacies.  Both through work and for fun, I’ve somehow managed to travel to over 15 countries in the last 2 years- and this doesn’t even include my annual trips to Japan to visit my family.  Traveling the world is exciting, but with unpacked suitcases and travel gear perpetually scattered all over the floors of my house, even this enthusiastic globetrotter can feel weary of planes, trains and automobiles sometimes.  Fortunately, at the most recent Hatchi dinner event at the Breadbar in Century City, I was able to take a virtual trip around the world without packing my carry-on or even leaving my zip code.

The Hatchi dinner event, created by Ironnori concepts in collaboration with the Breadbar, has been introducing a guest chef every month for a special evening of 8 dishes for $8 each (Hatchi means 8 in Japanese).  With past appearances by both up and coming chefs and already established chefs, enthusiastic diners have had the opportunity to enjoy innovative and delicious food for a bargain price while chefs have enjoyed complete freedom to showcase their vision.  I’ve had some spectacular dinners at the Hatchi event with Remi Lauvand, Marcel Vigneron, Ricardo Zarate, Saul Cooperstein and Brian Redzikowski.  For June, in a rare motion of featuring a well established and already famous chef who really doesn’t need such a venue to promote himself, Hatchi featured Walter Manzke, formerly of Bastide and recently the anchor behind Church & State.  Since leaving the restaurant a few months ago, Manzke has been searching for a new place to call home, amidst much talk and anticipation from his LA fans who fell in love with his hearty bistro fare at Church & State.  His Hatchi dinner, called ‘Around the World…in 8 dishes’, featured dishes that represented flavors from 8 different countries, from the Far East to just south of the border.
As we perused the menu, an amuse bouche of shrimp cocktail shooters came to the table.  Lightly grilled shrimp on skewers were sweet and succulent, while clear cocktail sauce in a shot glass went down quite easily, surprising us with its unexpectedly deep and complex flavors.  The lack of color at first tricked my brain into assuming that the liquid was going to taste like something watered down, but how surprising that it tasted just like refined cocktail sauce with a clean tomato water-like flavor.

Warm and toasty Breadbar epi bread was offered for an extra charge with either French Echire butter or foie gras butter, and without hesitation or even a second thought, we ordered the rich and decadent block of what almost tasted like pure foie gras coated with honey gelée and accessorized with gold flakes to up the bling factor.

The first stop on our global Manzke tour was south of the border in Mexico, represented by a yellowtail ceviche dish with tomatillo sorbet, a dollop of avocado cream, microgreens and citrus wedges.  The cold tomatillo sorbet was surprisingly refreshing and light, working in unison with the citrus to complement the fattiness and juiciness of the tender yellowtail sashimi.

Flying across the Pacific Ocean, we arrived in the Land of Smiles, Thailand, for one of my favorite dishes of the evening.  Although I love a good mussel dish, I’m rarely ever impressed with any restaurant rendition- this one was different.  The perfectly cooked mussels were plump and savory in the white corn curry soup which was silky, sweet and bursting with flavor.  Little round tapioca pearls and whole peanuts hiding inside of the white soup added playful textures to each spoonful of coconut milk heaven that I hastily ladled into my mouth down to the last drop.

Manzke’s interpretation of the classic Vietnamese banh mi sandwich came in little slider buns hugging a thick juicy wedge of deep fried breaded pig trotters with fresh crisp vegetables.  The braised trotters were made into a juicy croquette that exploded with fatty flavors into a molten pool of heaven inside my mouth, and I almost wished that there was a bigger presence of pickled vegetables and an addition of jalapeño to cut through the heaviness.  Sriracha and aioli dots on the white plate were so small that they didn’t quite function as a sauce, although the small dip that I managed to get on my banh mi was excellent.

 Jetting across the Asian continent in a non-stop flight to Europe landed us in one of my favorite countries in the world, Spain.  One of the highlights on my trip to Barcelona last year was the scrumptious plate of gambetas at Tapaç 24.  Little did I know that I would get so close to that heavenly plate of sweetness here in Century City in Manzke’s dish of Santa Barbara spot prawns fried in garlic sherry sauce and garnished with a heap of chopped green olives, almonds and tomatoes.  The key to a perfect plate of shrimp is using fresh shrimp, and I could tell that these crustaceans were still alive in the kitchen when they hit the hot pan because of its plump flesh, delicate flavored orange eggs and green innards that I sucked clean off the shell.  Table manners went out the door as I used the entire palmar surface of my flattened index finger to sweep the sauce off the plate into my mouth.

A quick high-speed train ride on the TGV with a transfer in Paris Gare de l’Est landed us in Alsace, close to the French German border, for a savory tarte flambée made with caramelized onions, bacon and gruyere.  The tarte was pre-cut into square pieces so that we could dive right into these wonderful delights made on the perfectly baked thin crispy canvas.

Going down south into the Italian boot using a summer Eurail pass, we enjoyed our molto bene pasta dish of English pea ravioli with parmesan cheese shavings and a soft poached egg that oozed rich yellow yolk all over the dish.  The pea ravioli filling was creamy and sweet, although a bit boring after the modernized banh mi and spot prawn dishes.

Instead of taking the transatlantic route back home, we went through Southeast Asia to the Philippines for some leche flan with molecular sweet coconut pandan.  The dense and sweet caramel flan was topped with crunchy rice crisps, coconut ice cream, heavenly and luscious coconut foam and a shard of sugar glass that we all enjoyed.

What’s a trip through Asia without a stop at Narita airport?  The final destination on our global tasting tour was my home country Japan, Land of the Rising Sun.  There really wasn’t anything Japanese about the chocolate fondant with Bing cherries, black sesame ice cream and arare rice crisps, nor the hot chocolate in a shot glass topped with green tea foam, but we didn’t really care at this point- as with any long journey, we were getting full and saturated, and ready to head home.

Taking a trip ‘Around the World…in 8 dishes’ means that we come right back to where we started.  As we were winding down from dessert, we got a fellow visitor to the table who presented us with a first class ticket back to the Americas.  My good friend Bill Esparza brought over a bottle of Volcán de mi Tierra tequila that whisked us right back to Mexico where we commenced our exciting journey with a fantastic dish of yellowtail ceviche.  I closed my eyes as I felt the heat of the smooth tequila spreading through my esophagus into the core of my body to intoxicate me further into a state of bliss.  When I opened my eyes, I was back home in Los Angeles.  8 countries in 3 hours- was it a dream, or did it really happen?  I smiled as I looked down in front of me and saw the proof:  like stamps in a passport, the colorful food and wine stains on my Walter Manzke Hatchi menu were evidence that I indeed made this culinary journey around the world.

Breadbar at Century City

Century City Mall
10250 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 277-3770

Upcoming Hatchi events:

July 29th- Makoto Okuwa: Power of Miso

August 26th- Chicks with Knives: Love & Kisses & BBQ!

September 30th- Steve samson

Random trivia:  Did you know that falling coconuts kill approximately 150 people every year – 10 times the number of people killed by sharks?

 

Yatai Ramen at the Breadbar

Yatai (屋台) – a small, mobile food stall in Japan typically serving ramen, oden or other hot street foods.  The stall is usually open from the early evening until the early morning hours, and serves comfort food with beer, sake or shochu to students, office ladies, housewives and salarymen from all walks of life.

One of my fondest memories from my crazy teen years growing up in Tokyo is when my friends and I would wind down from a night out in Roppongi with a warm and comforting bowl of ramen at a street stall.  No matter how late it was or how drunk we were, we always ended our night of partying with an obligatory stop at the Akasaka Ramen yatai for shio, shoyu or miso ramen as a nightcap.  Back then, this favorite dive of ours was literally just a wooden mobile cart with a few stools on the sidewalk, and a brightly lit red paper lantern as its unmistakable sign.  “You kids again?  You shouldn’t be out this late you know,” the ramen master would grumble to us every weekend with a furrowed brow as we sat on the rickety stools, but being regulars, he knew exactly how each of us liked our ramen and ordering was never necessary in our established relationship of unspoken understanding.  Some years later he abandoned his mobile yatai for a restaurant, and it was around the same time that we graduated from adolescence into adulthood.

For a 6 week limited engagement, the Breadbar on West 3rd street in Beverly Hills is putting up their bright red noren during the evenings to invite people into their lively ramen yatai.  Like past LudoBites and monthly Hatchi dinner events, Chef Noriyuki Sugie of Ironnori Concepts has created another evening pop-up venture at this venue, this time in collaboration with Chef Kazuo Shimamura to introduce both traditional and unusual ramens to Angelenos.  With a 6-pack of cold Asahi Super Dry in hand, I met up with a few ramen-loving friends on a warm summer evening for what I hoped would be a trip down memory lane.  It’s hard to get really good quality ramen in Los Angeles, despite the large population of Japanese residents and a thriving Japanese restaurant community, and I was excited to see what this event would offer.  With my cold sweaty glass of Asahi beer and chopsticks in hand, I was ready to slurp to the background music of Dreams Come True and other J-pop tunes.

The Ramen Twist menu at the Yatai event is fairly straightforward.  Classic Ramen includes 4 choices of shio, shoyu, miso and spicy miso, all served with marinated poached egg ajitsuke tamago, kurobuta pork belly chashu, nori, menma bamboo shoot, kikurage black wood ear mushrooms, and Tokyo negi scallions.  Twist Ramen choices, which are the nontraditional and revolutionary ramens, are tomato, Vietnamese pho style with raw beef tenderloin, ox tail and foie gras.

We started off with the 2 types of gyoza pot stickers that they offer, the pork feet and kale gyozas.  The pork gyozas had generous chunks of fatty and collagenous pork trotters, and pan fried at the end with a bit of flour and water to create a hane or wing crusting effect.

The kale gyozas were fried in a similar hane-tsuki gyoza manner with a delicate thin brown crust around the bottom, but were otherwise surprisingly mushy and soggy with hardly any kale flavor.

The shio ramen for $10 was my favorite ramen of the evening with seasonings of Indonesian sea salt and corn butter.  Although it was a little too salty, especially with all of the other salty condiments, I loved the simplicity of the flavoring in conjunction with the succulent and flavorful pork belly and perfectly cooked eggs.

Although tomato ramen is on this event’s Twist Ramen menu, tomato ramen is actually not a novelty in Japan.  Many restaurants all over Japan have been serving tomato ramen in both cold, hot and dipping variations for many years, and even Nissin’s Cup Noodle, the most popular brand of instant ramen, had a Tomato flavor that has since been discontinued, and replaced with Chili Tomato.  It’s the distinct sanmi, or acidity, of the tomato consommé in juxtaposition to the Asian egg noodles and vegetables that appeals to certain taste buds.  The bowl here at the Yatai Breadbar event wasn’t the best tomato ramen that I’ve ever had by any standards, but it was an acceptable LA rendition full of fresh sautéed vegetables like moyashi bean sprouts, green beans, carrots, wood ear mushrooms, napa cabbage and crispy fried garlic, with a sprinkle of white sesame seeds.

The oxtail ramen was interesting.  I loved the tender and juicy chunks of braised oxtail meat and collagen, but with the rich oxtail soup in addition to the hint of truffle oil that was such a far deviation from any type of ramen broth that exists, the only way that I could enjoy this was to treat it as an entirely different dish.  My traditional Japanese heritage hesitated to accept this as true ramen, but my culinary curiosity didn’t mind it otherwise.  Still, once the luscious oxtail meat was gone, the noodles and broth were disappointingly bland and didn’t motivate any of us to finish the bowl.

I was most interested and excited to try the foie gras ramen for its novelty and outrageous concept, even though it came with a hefty price tag of $18.  How will it be prepared and what will it taste like?  Will it be a life changing discovery of a new and wonderful flavor combination that will revolutionize the food culture?  The ramen was served in a consommé soup stock with 2 wedges of seared foie gras, boiled egg, menma bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and chopped chives.    All I can say after eating this bowl of ramen is that ramen and foie gras do not go together.

You know you’re in the presence of a great bowl of ramen when it moves you to lift the bowl with both hands up to your face to gulp it down to the very last drop of broth with a satisfying ‘Ah~’ and give a quiet nod of gratitude to the person who made it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t experience this feeling at the Yatai event, nor was I able to relive my past memories of feeling comfort and peace from a warm bowl of ramen on the desolate sidewalks of late night Tokyo.  Although I’ll stick to my usual LA ramen joints of Santouka and Shin-sen-gumi for now, I still applaud and greatly appreciate how Ironnori Concepts continues to introduce wonderful culinary concepts to the Los Angeles community through their interesting pop-up events that always push the envelope on traditional perceptions of food and keep us on our toes.

Breadbar

8718 West 3rd Street

Los Angeles, 90048

(310) 205-0124

Yatai Ramen Twist event runs every Monday to Saturday from 5pm-10pm until Saturday, July 24th

Random trivia:  Did you know that the earliest evidence of noodles ever found was unearthed from an archaeological site in northwestern China, in a 4000 year old overturned bowl of left over noodles that was buried under 10 feet of sediment?

Hatchi series at the Breadbar- Brian Redzikowski

“Cooking is one of the oldest arts and one which has rendered us the most important service in civic life”

- Brillat-Savarin, famed French gastronome

I was reminded of this quote of ‘food as art’ while dining at the most recent Hatchi dinner event at the Breadbar which featured my friend Chef Brian Redzikowski, Executive Chef of Bond Street Restaurant at the Thompson Hotel in Beverly Hills.  After being inspired by his creative food at a tasting dinner at Bond Street last year, I knew that his Hatchi dinner would be a special evening.  I gathered a group of food enthusiasts for the dinner, telling them beforehand that this was going to be a good one- a feast for the eyes, a true splendor of elegant aesthetics and a demonstration of fine beauty.

It was only a matter of time before Chef Redzikowski would get his opportunity to shine at the Hatchi dinner series, a wonderful monthly dinner concept of 8 dishes for $8 each by a guest chef.  Le Cirque, Le Bernardin, Joel Robuchon at the Mansion, Alain Ducasse, Matsuhisa, Yellowtail in Las Vegas- sound familiar?  It’s not a list of this year’s best restaurants, its the list of previous stints on Redzikowski’s impressive bio.  With brother Frank Redzikowski, another distinguished chef who now works at the Encore in Las Vegas, at his side for the special one-night event,  Brian was ready to prove his true creative potential.  He even brought his own Bond Street crew, clad in light gray suits, to ensure proper tableside plating for his sophisticated dishes.

Food is art, and cooking is love.

Never have I appreciated this concept more than at this Hatchi dinner named Claustro, which is Latin for ‘barrier’ or ‘lock’.  Indeed, Redzikowski broke the barriers of conventional cuisine to unlock every diner’s heart with his innovative and artistic dishes.  As one of my male dining companions put it, every dish was ” just….simply beautiful.”  For me it went beyond beautiful, and each consecutive plate transported me back to a certain painting which has touched my life with its breathtaking and magnificent artistry.

Pickled daikon radish spears accentuated the three-dimensionality of the large succulent cubes of dark red tuna and bright glowing red watermelon by intersecting them at skewed angled planes.  Geometric dark soy dots, halved cherry tomatoes and green pistachio nuggets added colorful elements to the abstract faceting of reconstructed tuna.  Yet, despite the sharp lines and angles, the delicate tomato water film, so gently and carefully draped over the cubes like silky flowing hair, brought femininity and grace to the plate, like Picasso’s ‘Woman’.   Both conceptually and quite literally, this was Picasso’s cubism interpreted in food.

The tips of the tempura battered squash blossoms, deep fried to a perfect audible crunch, were wonderful dipped into the tangy salsa verde.  Once the tips were consumed, I glimpsed inside of the squash blossom flower petals to find soft wet succulent pieces of sea urchin.  The cross section of the long flowing petals cocooning these little orange tongues reminded me of the subtle eroticism of Georgia O’Keefe’s flower paintings, like ‘Calla Lillies on Pink’.

The underlying black framework running through the warm color palette, strewn with dynamic splashes of cream in Brian’s unagi dish was reminiscent of ‘Number 8′ by Jackson Pollock.  A neatly organized plate of sweet unagi with fingerling potatoes, Fuji apples and arugula arrived at our table.  Then the Bond Street crew came over with a block of frozen foie gras and started grating it over the plate in wild dynamic strokes, dripping speckles of savory liver paint in a Pollock-esque energetic dance to create edible chaos.  In an instant the lovely aromas of foie gras from the foam and the shavings climbed into our nares, moving us to deconstruct this vibrant canvas with our forks to enjoy the gustatory interplay of sweet, bitter and salty.

Vivid colors and distinct geometric shapes of Kandinsky’s ‘Solid Green’ were reflected in the New Zealand langoustine dish with succulent pieces of the crustacean alongside earthy rancho gordo beans, chives, arugula, thin prosciutto slices and rancho gordo espuma.  Simple visual identification of the rectangular and round forms enticed my inner curiosity, but further observation of how their relative disposition created purposeful harmony on the canvas inspired a deeper appreciation for the artistic creativity of this chef.  The seemingly abstract disjunction of the dish accentuated by the bold forest green parsley sheets was actually a purposeful expression of his vision through color and form.

wassily-kandinsky-solid-green

Chef Redzikowski’s Halibut dish strayed far away from bold displays of colors and shapes to experiment with an understated creation using subtle gradations of soft colors like Mark Rothko’s ‘Number 10′.  A tender and moist square wedge of halibut was plated against a soft background of vertically arranged white sauces, all blending and blurring into one another with refined grace.  Hojiblanca olive oil pudding, olive oil purée and an incredibly flavorful artichoke foam elevated the flavors of the fish, while a splash of olive oil powder rounded them out with finesse, demonstrating that complex flavors and thoughts are sometimes best appreciated through simple expressions.  Each variation of cream colored savor was exquisitely counterpoised against one another in this fine culinary installation of abstract expressionism.

Sous-vide wagyu beef with spring vegetables was a welcomed encore dish from my tasting dinner at Bond Street.  The perfectly medium-rare cuts of beef with a drizzle of veal jus and sea salt sprinkles was indubitably fantastic, but it was the plating of the vibrant spring vegetables, so characteristic of Chef Brian’s style, that awakened memories of when I first admired Henri Matisse’s ‘Le Bonheur de Vivre’, which means ‘The Joy of Life’.  A tender green asparagus spear rested its feet on the soft carrot sphere pillow which glowed with intense orange brightness like the warm spring sun.  Like the playful figures in the painting, an earthy morel mushroom, an aromatic roasted garlic, a sweet cippolini onion, a french onion chip and a miniature bouquet garni all lounged and frolicked on the soft cippolini onion purée lawn as they basked in the idyllic sensuality of an unfettered life.

Matisse._Le_bonheur_de_vivre._1905-1906

Caramel popcorn, preserved cherries, chewy dense caramel nuggets and caramel powder dotted a canvas of incredibly delicious caramel popcorn panna cotta in one of the 2 dessert dishes.  The playfulness seen in the seemingly random yet organized arrangement of colorful sweets evokes the style of Catalan painter Joan Miró as seen in this painting called ‘Women and Birds at Sunrise’.  Bright red tart cherries accentuated the otherwise monotone color palette which excited all diners with the fascinating range of textures, from chewy and sticky to creamy and crunchy.

Joan Miro Oil Painting On Canvas Women and Birds at Sunrise. 1946

All of the dishes were fantastic both in artistry and flavor, but the final dessert dish was the pivotal and defining composition for me.  A glass of vanilla ice cream with sweet drizzles of acacia honey jelly was finished tableside by Bond Street staff with a generous soak of cold Asahi beer to complete the beer float dessert.  Beer with ice cream and honey?  Sensational, delicious, thrilling and fresh.  Somehow the sweetness of the honey muted the alcohol in the beer, leaving behind only the earthy flavors of barley to enhance the luscious vanilla ice cream.  Sipping the infused liquid through a straw highlighted the slightly bitter flavors of the dessert while generous bites of heavenly ice cream and honey with my spoon presented a sweeter interpretation, all the while exciting my senses to this avant garde expression of lager surrealism.  Whose contemporary artistry was this style of pop art reminiscent of?  This dish…was an original Redzikowski.

Look forward to Claustro, a restaurant concept that Chef Redzikowski is working on in Silver Lake.

Breadbar

Century City Mall
10250 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 277-3770

Upcoming Hatchi dinners:

June 24th- Walter Manzke

July 29th- Makoto Okuwa

August 26th- Chicks with Knives

Random trivia:  Did you know that popcorn was the first food to be microwaved deliberately?

Hatchi series at the Breadbar- Saul Cooperstein

The Hatchi series at the Breadbar has had a successful run since it first started in June 2009.  This fantastic dining concept of featuring a different guest chef each month for an evening of 8 dishes for $8 each has been a huge hit in Los Angeles.  ‘Hatchi’ means 8 in Japanese, and this unique event was masterminded by Chef Noriyuki Sugie in collaboration with the Breadbar.  So far I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying delicious creations from notable chefs like Remi Lauvand, Marcel Vigneron, and Ricardo Zarate.  I’ve also enjoyed watching the Hatchi series blossom over this past year- in the beginning it wasn’t unusual to see a couple of empty tables.  Now, not only is it getting harder to score a table, but they’ve also added cocktail pairings, select wines and the occasional live entertainment, not to mention the huge improvement in the quality of service.  I was excited to attend April’s event by Saul Cooperstein (Hatchi event #11) after missing the last 2 events due to my travels.

Saul Cooperstein was an interesting choice for the Hatchi series as he’s not actually a traditional chef.  He comes from a background of investment banking and financial planning.  So what was he doing at the Breadbar?  The Hatchi series featured stellar Bazaar alums Michael Voltaggio, Marcel Vigneron and Waylynn Lucas last year- somehow the Bazaar ball kept its momentum and rolled in the direction of SBE’s Managing Director of Business Development, Cooperstein.  For those of you who have already attended Voltaggio and Vigneron’s Hatchi dinners, the word ‘Saul’s Pastrami’ may ring a bell.  Those juicy marbled succulent cuts of pastrami are undoubtedly ingrained in your gustatory memory bank- at last we can meet the pastrami god himself.

Cooperstein has gathered all of his friends in the food and beverage industry to collaborate with him on this spectacular event named ‘Deli 2010′.  His trusted chefs from the Bazaar have contributed in fine tuning the menu, distinguished sommeliers have chosen the wines and fantastic mixologists, like Devon Espinoza who was in house that evening, created innovative cocktails to pair with the food.  The menu recreated classic deli favorites with a modern and fun twist.

The matzo ball soup was a nice hearty steaming bowl of clarified chicken stock with a smoked matzo ball gently sitting in the center.  Unlike the traditionally ginormous globes of fluff that I’m used to, these matzo balls were dense and compact which I actually didn’t mind.  The robust and fatty soup, filled with adorable miniature turnips and carrots, was balanced perfectly with the tart bite of chopped fresh dill.  Given that Saul Cooperstein hails from the Bazaar family, I expected to see splashes of molecular cuisine in the Hatchi menu, and I saw the first hint in this soup dish.  ‘Chicken Noodles’ floating in the flavorful soup were probably made with agar and pushed through a syringe.

Bagel with lox ‘nigiri’ was a playful and contemporary take on the classic bagels ‘n’ lox.  House cured and smoked wild king salmon was sliced thin into sashimi portions and gently draped over white puffed rice crackers with dill cream cheese, smoked salmon roe and red onion rings.  Like traditional Asian deep fried shrimp crackers, these ‘shari’ rice crackers were crispy, light and airy.  As I dug down into this delectable morsel, I could sense all of the tiny air bubbles in the cracker snap and pop under the pressure of my bite to blend into a heavenly marriage of Jewish-Japanese essence with the fatty salmon.

One of my all time favorite sandwiches, the classic Reuben, was reinterpreted into a tiny bite sized croquette.  Japanese A-5 Wagyu rib cap corned beef, aka Saul’s corned beef, was cooked sous vide into a perfect tender consistency.  Small chunks of corned beef mixed with béchamel sauce, Gruyere cheese, Jarlsberg cheese, sauerkraut and toasted caraway seeds oozed out of the crispy rye bread crumb croquettes like hot molten lava.  The richness of the wondrous Reuben goo was nicely complemented with a dollop of thousand island dressing.  These croquettes were savory, delicious and simply amazing.  I started having greedy thoughts and wished that these tiny bite-sized croquettes would have been made bigger, but they were in fact the perfect size to impart a maximum surface area for crunch.  Instead of hoping for bigger croquettes, we just ordered more.  And more.

My favorite dish of the evening was the lamb pita.  Deboned rack of lamb, cured and smoked with Vadouvan spices, was thinly sliced and served on top of a warm toasted pita round with refreshing cole slaw.  The generous heaps of lamb meat were intensely juicy and luscious, and some of the most tender cuts of lamb that I’ve ever had.  The cabbage cole slaw, flavored tzatziki style with yogurt and lemon, was joyfully refreshing and tart.  I really enjoyed the multiple layers of flavors in each mouthful, from the hints of earthy Vadouvan spices to the sourness of the yogurt.  My palate never tired of this dish, and in fact became more revived and refreshed with each consecutive bite.  The pickled tomato, coupled with a cube of melon on a skewer, was also fantastic.  After we finished Round 1 of the savory dishes, I did not hesitate to request this dish for an encore appearance in Round 2.  Needless to say, Round 2 of the lamb pita was just as good.

‘Sky High Sandwich’ seemed to be the overwhelming favorite at a nearby table of 6 male jocks who looked like their stadium sized appetites were being properly satiated.  Warm veal pastrami, which was a first for me, was stacked nice and high in true Jewish deli style on Pumpernickel bread with a generous slab of sweet & hot mustard.  The veal, in comparison to traditional beef pastrami, was of course more lean and less fatty but still had an astonishing amount of flavor and juice.  The ‘sweet’ portion of the sweet & hot mustard was a bit too strong for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of this sandwich.  All of us at the table were more ecstatic about the salt and vinegar potato chips, sliced so thin that we could practically see each other through them, and deep fried to the lightest and daintiest crisp.

And finally the infamous dish that we were all waiting for.  The incredible meat that has already made its debut at the Hatchi dinner through Voltaggio and Vigneron- Saul’s pastrami.  This is perhaps the most extravagant and luxurious pastrami that exists in this country, and to be able to enjoy this for a mere $8 was flabbergasting.  I’m sure the overhead for this dish was far more than that, for it was made with A-5 wagyu rib steak, the top of the line Japanese beef that’s available in the US.  This meat is already so marbled and fatty enough that one cannot go wrong with its preparation, yet Saul takes it even further by cooking it sous vide to a perfect medium rare.  The result is a tender and buttery texture like the beef shabu shabu at Zakuro in Japan, a blanket of fragile cashmere that is soft enough to swaddle a baby in.  This sandwich was truly amazing, an epic dish that will be talked about and referred to for years.  The fatty juices were practically dripping down my arms, and every bite was full of savor.  However, 1 dish was enough for me and any more would have saturated my taste buds to a point where I may not have had the same opinion about the dish anymore.  For this reason, the lamb pita won my vote over the pastrami.  In true playful Bazaar fashion, the sandwich was served with a sour pickle spherification.

Babka, a yeast dough dessert, born out of Eastern European Jewish tradition, was almost like bread pudding.  Cinnamon babka french toast, served with vanilla bourbon maple syrup and orange blossom ice cream, was dense and pleasantly gooey.  I loved the way that the richness of the babka stuck to my ribs.

Rugelach, small crescent shaped dough rolls that reminded me of mini croissants, finished off the wonderful Hatchi dinner.  I wasn’t amazed by the cream cheese rugelachs that were served with crispy passion fruit meringues.  The dots of passion fruit ‘apple sauce’, which reminded me of the ‘cultivated pearl’ in the scallop dish at Tapas Molecular Bar, had a thick consistency that was like unset toffee.  It didn’t matter that this 1 dessert dish didn’t wow me- everything else up to that point had exceeded my expectations and I was grinning from ear to ear with contentment.

Interesting cocktails being offered that night included the ‘Half Sour Gin Pickles’, featuring cucumber spears pickled with Beefeater gin infused with tarragon, salt, dill seed, black pepper, allspice, coriander, mustard seeds and white wine vinegar.  We tried the ‘Cream soda’ with Krol Vodka, lemon juice, vanilla syrup and club soda.  Taking charge of the cocktails was friendly and charismatic Devon Espinoza, mixologist at The Tasting Kitchen who will be kicking off the Hatchi Mixology Series this Thursday May 6th.

My dining party and I had an amazing time at this ‘Deli 2010′ dinner.  The delicious and creative comfort food brought us all together to a deli happy place.  This is what I love about dining out with good friends- when our shared love and passion for food come together to create stimulating conversation, heartfelt storytelling and joyful laughs.  When certain flavors or aromas conjure up interesting stories and powerful memories that can be shared at the table.  When the meal itself then becomes a happy remembrance that will be talked about on the next culinary outing.  The Hatchi event has become a place of gathering for old friends and a meeting hub for new ones.

Breadbar

10250 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90067
310 277 3770

Random trivia:  According to the IFOCE (The International Federation of Competitive Eating), Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, a California native, holds the world record for eating matzo balls- he ate 78 matzoh balls in 8 minutes.  Oy vey!

Hatchi Series at the Breadbar – Ricardo Zarate

Ever since I started going to the Hatchi dinner series at the Breadbar in Century City, I find myself anxiously counting down the days to the following event, as it only seems to get better and better each month.  Since June 2009, the Breadbar has featured a new guest chef every month at their innovative Hatchi event where these talented chefs serve 8 dishes for $8 each.  Hatchi means 8 in Japanese, and chefs prepare 6 savory and 2 sweet dishes for this one night-only event.  They are given complete freedom to express their culinary creativity and showcase their unique personality and style.  It’s also a wonderful opportunity for diners to sample new foods in a casual environment for a low price.

Past events at the Hatchi series spotlighted distinguished chefs such as Debbie Lee, Michael Voltaggio, Roberto Cortez, Remi Lauvand, Eda Vesterman, Waylynn Lucas and Marcel VigneronJanuary’s event featured Ricardo Zarate, executive chef at Mo-Chica in downtown LA.  Mo-Chica is a small restaurant inside of the Mercado La Paloma that serves contemporary Peruvian cuisine.  Although they’ve been open for less than a year, they’ve already created quite a buzz with their luscious ceviches and hearty stews.  Chef Ricardo Zarate, who hails from Lima, incorporates  local ingredients and fresh produce to create beautiful dishes that stay true to Peruvian culture and flavor.   However, there’s also another side to him.  He’s worked in upscale Japanese restaurants such as Zuma and Tetsuya in London, and most recently as executive chef at Wabi-Sabi in Venice.  I was excited to see how he would express this marriage of Peruvian flavors and Japanese aesthetics into his one night event at the Breadbar, called Peru Mucho Gusto (Peru, Nice to meet you).

I knew it was going to be a fun and special night when I was greeted at my table by young and beautiful Fumi, the Japanese owner of Mo-Chica.  ‘Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!’- Happy New Year! she shouted with a huge smile, as she handed us Mo-Chica keychains wrapped inside traditional Japanese otoshidama bags.  It’s a tradition in Japan for children to receive money from relatives and family friends during New Year’s day, and it’s usually presented inside small decorated envelopes.  Getting otoshidama from all of my relatives was the highlight of New Year for me growing up in Tokyo.  It had been a really long time since anybody gave me one, so I really appreciated this fun act of hospitality. She also passed out roasted peanuts served inside origami kabuto (samurai helmets) made with Japanese newspaper.

We ordered a round of the Pisco Sour 2010 cocktail, made with pisco, fresh lemon juice, orange juice and egg whites. The egg white foam was light and airy, and the balance of tequila with citrus flavors was delicious.

The first of 8 courses was the Sopa de Coliflor, purple cauliflower soup.  The purple hued soup was garnished with generous chunks of crispy pancetta, a drizzle of feta cheese dressing and cilantro, and offered with a side of crispy croutons.  I loved the smooth and silky texture of the warm soup, and the different layers of flavors in each bite.  There was a hint of sourness in the soup that made it really refreshing, and the tartness of the feta cheese and cilantro kept it alive.  This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

The Causa Trio of peruvian potato salad with 3 different seafood toppings was Chef Zarate’s interpretation of 3 classic sushi rolls.  Here we can see our first hint of how Zarate integrates Japanese and Peruvian concepts.  Each piece had the same base of yellow potato salad that was soft and light.  The one to the left in the photo had a topping of chunky scallops with mentaiko sauce.  Mentaiko is spicy marinated pollock roe, which is commonly used in Japanese cuisine.  The center piece was topped with a mixture of shredded blue crab with mayo and huancaina sauce.  Huancaina sauce is a thick yellow Peruvian sauce made with aji amarillo, or yellow Peruvian pepper.  The preparation to the right featured spicy blue fin tuna with rocoto aioli, made with hot rocoto chili peppers from Peru.  I loved Chef Zarate’s playful and unique Peruvian twist on the popular spicy tuna, blue crab and spicy scallop rolls.

Mo-Chica has made a name for itself through its famous ceviches, and I was curious to see what kind of ceviche Zarate was going to serve at this special event.  Ceviche Mixto that night was made with tairagai, uni and sea bass marinated in leche de tigre sauce.  Although each Latin American country has their own version of ceviche, the Peruvian style is often served with leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) sauce that is made with Peruvian peppers (in this case aji amarillo peppers), lime, onions, garlic and a hint of Pisco.  Of course there’s no actual tiger’s milk in these astringent tart marinades, but its potency is believed to be an aphrodisiac and a cure for hangovers. The chunks of marinated tairagai and fish were nestled inside of a tairagai shell, topped with cilantro and slices of red onion.  Slivers of uni added a sweet creaminess which mellowed the sharp acidity of the ceviche, and the large kernels of giant Inca corn added great texture to the dish.

It was around this time that they introduced the live band and dancers for the Festejo performance. This was a first for the Breadbar Hatchi series to have live entertainment, and we were lucky to have scored front row orchestra seats to this spectacular show.  The general mood at the event was already festive, but the live music brought the energy level up a whole notch.  The drummer beat on the cajón box drum with fire and intent, while the Peruvian flute narrated a tale of Incan history and passion.  The female dancer swirled and twirled very gracefully around the small space in front of the pastry case, smiling happily yet seductively, and the male dancer pounded his bare feet into the concrete with determination and rhythm.  It was an astounding performance, and everybody put down their forks to watch this mesmerizing show.

Tiradito de Pescado was a hamachi carpaccio served with sundried tomato yuzu dressing and topped with a mixture of chopped green onions, tomatoes, Peruvian corn and cilantro.  Tiradito is a Peruvian dish that is more like a carpaccio, and its origins come from sashimi-eating Japanese immigrants who came to Peru.  Although similar in concept to ceviche, tiradito dishes feature raw fish that is sliced long and thin in sashimi style, and is not doused in an onion-heavy marinade.  The hamachi slices were beautifully marbled with light yet flavorful fat, and the yuzu dressing was the perfect complement.


Carapulcra, which is an old Peruvian stew that is traditionally made in clay pots with dried potatoes, chiles, peanuts and spices, was reinvented in a contemporary style with roasted black cod.  It is believed that Carapulcra is the oldest Peruvian stew and that its ancient origins go back to pre-Incan times.  A perfectly cooked piece of moist black cod was topped with a tangy chimichurri sauce and chewy bits of fried pancetta.  The sour and bitter flavors of the chimichurri was a wonderful contrast to the earthy carapulcra made with peruvian sun dried potatoes.  I was in love with the hearty potato stew, and although it was the first time that I had carapulcra, it gave me the same feeling of comfort and warmth that ramen does. The next time that I’m craving comfort food, I’m going straight to Mo-Chica to get me some carapulcra.

Seco de Cordero represented pure traditional Peruvian cuisine.  This lamb shoulder stew was braised in black beer and seasoned with cilantro, aji peppers and cumin.  Peruvian canario beans, which are similar to Italian cannellini beans, added a gratifying dose of heartiness to the delicious stew, while the salsa criolla, made with sliced onions, tomatoes, cilantro and chili peppers, intensified the bursting complexity of flavors in each bite.

The tender chunks of lamb had absorbed all of the marvelous flavors in the stew, and we were literally fighting over this dish.  Now that I know that this dish is on the regular menu at Mo-Chica, I wish I hadn’t been so aggressive with my dining companions in eating most of the stew.  I almost lost myself and my manners in this captivating bowl of cordero heaven.

One of the 2 desserts that we had was titled Selva Negra- possibly after the Selva Negra cloud forest reserve in Nicaragua which is famous for producing great organic coffee, since the flourless chocolate cake looked like a cup of coffee.  The chocolate cake came straight out of the oven and was served nice and warm.  I really enjoyed the bright orange colored lúcuma ice cream with tamarillo sauce.  I had never even heard of lúcuma before this Breadbar event, but it’s an Andean subtropical fruit also known as ‘eggfruit’, that’s mostly found in Peru.  It tasted like a combination of very familiar flavors, and we were all trying to figure out how to describe its taste.  It reminded me of ube, Filipino purple yam, while another tasted sweet potatoes, and yet another tasted maple syrup.  The more lucent yellow tamarillo sauce, made from the tamarillo fruit which is native to Peru, had a tart flavor that reminded me of passion fruit and oranges.  This ice cream was to die for.


Last but not least, the 8th dish of the Hatchi series dinner showcased yet another Peruvian specialty.  Kiwicha Con Leche Y Esencia De Mazamorra was served elegantly in a martini glass.  Kiwicha, also known as amaranth, is a superfood of sorts, an Andean supergrain high in nutritional value that has been cultivated and used by the Incas and the Aztecs.  These fine round grains which almost look like quinoa, are the size of poppy seeds.  It was prepared with milk to make a dessert that resembled tapioca pudding.  The dark sauce poured over the kiwicha looked like rich chocolate, but was in fact made with mazamorra, or purple maize cooked with cinnamon and sweet potato flour.  Although this dessert looked sweet and heavy, it was surprisingly light and easy to eat.  Since I don’t have a sweet tooth, I really appreciated this simple and savory dessert.

And just like that, another successful and fun Hatchi event came and went like the wind.  Chef Zarate’s Peru Mucho Gusto event seemed to be over in a blink of an eye, since we were having so much fun.  With the delicious food, the fantastic music, intoxicating dancing and impeccable service from the Breadbar staff, this was the best Hatchi dinner so far for me.  I really enjoyed learning about all of these new foods and flavor combinations.  I realized that there is still so much out there in this big world that my taste buds haven’t experienced yet.  It motivated me to travel more and open myself up to new experiences and cultures.  Thank you Chef Zarate for introducing me to the dynamic flavors of your beautiful Peruvian culture, and for honoring my Japanese culture in your perfectly integrated dishes.

Mo-Chica

3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007

(213) 747-2141

Breadbar

Upcoming Hatchi dinner events:

February 25th – Iso Rabins, Forage

March 25th – Kuniko Yagi, Burning Sensation

April 29th – Saul Cooperstein, Deli 2010

Random trivia: Did you know that kiwicha, for its high content in protein, lysine, carbohydrates and minerals, is considered to be one of nature’s most potent foods?  This grain is packed with such high amounts of energy and nutrition that it’s part of the NASA energy food pack used by astronauts on their long trips in space.