Totoraku

Totoraku
10610 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 838-9881

I truly encourage people to call the number above. It was hilarious the first time I heard it. I know many people will be rubbed off the wrong way already by what some may call pretentiousness, while others may think it adds a certain personality to the chef. As Chris wrote in his post for Yamakase: “By now, most food enthusiasts in town have heard of Totoraku, an invite-only yakiniku restaurant in West LA that takes pride in its exclusivity. Some say that an invite to the restaurant is as hard to obtain as one to Noma; one has to be invited by a friend of the chef or a previous diner who had “earned” the right of a return visit, and said nominator has to personally vouch for you.” I hope I do this place justice because it was an otherworldly experience, especially for someone who prides himself in meat consumption.

For those that don’t know, Totoraku is a BYOBB restaurant (bring your own best bottle), as Chef Kaz is a huge vino but does not serve alcohol at the restaurant. This line up is completely lost on me (although I did have a few sips of the syrah…I won’t even pretend I had a glass). It is also customary to offer a glass to (at least) Chef Kaz, his wife, and daughter-in-law. Also, he will tell you if your wine is no bueno.

A platter of yummy stuff. I wish I took notes but I really couldn’t understand what the girl was saying anyways. I believe starting from bottom left clockwise was caviar with fresh crab, top left quail egg with crab, jelly fish, homemade black sesame cube, don’t remember, soba, salmon with avocado and sprouts, okra, asparagus, and sea urchin risotto (my favorite of the bunch).

Raw Beef

Beef Carpaccio

Beef Tataki and Beef Throat (apparently that’s the amount for one cow).

Beef Tartare (with apple!)

The trio of raw beef dishes made my night. Beef tartare has been done to death but this dish is out of this world. It was also the first time I’ve tried beef throat (I’ve eaten chicken and duck throat when they were presented in their entirety…). Also, you bet I slipped in a “that’s what she said” joke somewhere in there. Beef tataki with a hint of garlic was perfection.

Hot Hot Hot Hot…Dishes

Sauce. I did not employ them much, if at all, unless suggested. Left to right: Sweet soy sauce with sesame, lemon juice, and soy sauce.

Beef tongue with some of its own topping. Never had one this thick before (thaaat’s…never mind).

Beef tongue in action. I am now a thick tongue convert. You would think the tongue would be too tough, but in actuality it melts like butter in your mouth. Did not use sauce.

Filet mignon with assorted vegetables (to be cooked). No pineapple, though. My second favorite hot dish. This dish was accompanied by:

Raw veggies. You may be the consolation champion, but you’re still in consolation at the end of the day. That’s how I feel about vegetables. Just kidding. The vegetables served as a good balance to the meat, although I did not feel “bogged down” at all as I normally do from your everyday AYCE BBQ. I will also go on the record that if all tomatoes were that sweet, juicy, and delicious I’d eat tomatoes more regularly.

Outside ribeye. VERY rich and fat. Goodness. As you can see it was already seasoned with salt and pepper. Perfect.

Inside ribeye.

Skirt steak.

Skirt steak in action.

Spicy soup with egg and vegetables. A bit like Japanese version of “egg flower soup”. Perfect ending to the meat.

Ice Cream

I chose Espresso, over pistachio, white chocolate, lychee sorbet, and blueberry sorbet. Nothing like ice cream to cap the end of a great meal. Other people in the group had dessert wine in addition (not pictured) to finish the meal along with their ice cream.

All in all, it was a great experience. It was not your every day Korean BBQ (even high-end KBBQ like Park’s comes nothing close to this place) nor fancy American steakhouse. As usual, I’m not going to grade the restaurant because I think it’s pretentious to be giving out grades like a teacher. I will rank this place in the same tier as the best steakhouse I visited in my life thus far. (Cut). It is, however, a completely different experience. One is located in beautiful 5 star hotel, while the other is squeezed in a dark “space” with no signs or decor to speak of except for empty wine bottles.

Sushi Shibucho

This will be more than a food post, just as my experience was more than a meal. Food was great but not the highlight of the day. The highlight was definitely the interaction. As some of you know, I have been watching Curb Your Enthusiasm lately and this encounter was straight out of the book. I won’t bore you with a minute-by-minute detail but a broad stroke.

I decided to visit this upon reading http://www.kevineats.com/ review on the restaurant, claiming it to be one of the top sushi restaurants in OC. I thought I’d tried most of the good sushi restaurants in the OC so I decided to stroll over here on a random Thursday night for a meal with Natalie since she had the day off. Last omakase meal I had was with Hei at Kitayama who btw still hasn’t posted his meal yet, lazyass. Anyways so I’ve been craving sushi and decided to try.

Disclaimer: I am a huge fan of sushi/sashimi but by no means an expert. I just love it. Some of these pictures I couldn’t even ID the fish so I needed help from others. In fact, I can’t even be sure all these fish are correct. I’m just going to dump all these photos on here and let you guys figure it out yourself.

To say the neighborhood is ghetto would be a correct statement. There were a few non-Caucasian nor Asian people milling around outside. We quickly scurried inside and sat down. There is an older Japanese couple sitting at the bar, which seats 8, already in front of the old chef, while few seats are available in front of the younger chef. I knew they were father-son and there’s a friendly waitress there. So I sat down at the younger chef and said hi. Hot towel and daikon with hot green tea (perfect temp) later, the chef asked us what we’d like. I told him I’d let him choose and had the biggest smile as I was quite excited.

We started off with tai:

After this dish was served I kindly asked how we should address the younger chef. Chef said, and I quote, “Just call me hey. My name is not important.” Hm interesting. So I sat patiently waiting for the next dish. He was dead serious too so I just kept going along.

Next up maguro:

Im just going to put the rest up in order since I can’t be sure what they are and it’d be fun to let you guys figure out what’s what. Sorry for the blurry pictures

I know for a fact I had the following:
roe
abalone
albacore
salmon
squid
clam
mackerel
spanish mackerel
salt water eel, with and without sauce
tuna
uni
scallop
snow crab
red snapper
snapper
kanpachi

In order of served:

In between these dishes the chef was also preparing a sushi chirashi as well as some rolls (!) for two Japanese ladies that came in earlier. I remember I read they don’t serve rolls so it was interesting to see him roll one up. They must’ve been important. Anyways after this (which I know for a fact is anago (salt water eel) I told the chef that Natalie was really full but I was still pulling full steam ahead! So the chef nodded and I kept going. He decided to serve me the next two dishes.

But wait! Natalie saw the chef took out salmon. She loves salmon and can’t pass it up even though she was full. Welp. Since she wanted the salmon I told her she can ask the chef herself. Alas, I was kind enough to explain to the chef and asked him to kindly spare her a piece of salmon. The salmon wasn’t good at all (which he later told us as well). Our faces were flushed and as someone that never gets embarrassed I was sure my face was red. So I used this chance to ask him what his name was and he said, and I quote, “My name is not important.” Hm. okay. So we kept eating. The salmon was rather tough.

So after the squid (which I’m sure is squid) chef told us he had served us everything and if I’d like anything else.

During this time the other couple that was sitting next to us got a couple of grapes so we asked him what kind of grapes they were. He told us and we asked him about his history and how long they’ve been here. He said the restaurant’s been there for 8 years and they were in Japan prior.  Nice. The grapes are from their own garden which they grew. So we asked about what crops and he kept talking. Somehow, he told us about how his dad made him work in the kitchen since 14. He then said, in the most solemn voice, that sushi is the only thing he knows how to do. oooooooooooooookay. Anyways Natalie being the nice lady she is kindly told him he is very good at it. I swear I could’ve taken that sushi knife on the table and…I won’t go into details.

So after the tuna he kindly gave us some grapes! Awesome! Then afterwards, I, for some dumb reason, asked him if there were any desserts. Yikes. He then told us that he only stores seafood in the freezer and no room for ice cream. Even if there were, he’d eat them all before we’d see them. Fine fine fine fine. We told him thank you very much and he told us he’d tell us his name next time we stop by

This is what went through in my head at the time

El Fin

Sushi Shibucho
590 W 19th St
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
(949) 642-2677

Ubuntu

I’ve always fancied myself as a veggie lover despite my love for meats. I was rather excited to eat at Ubuntu after eating at Bouchon and Ad Hoc the day before and ready for some cleansing as well as trying this place in which I’ve heard so many praises about. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement; the food tasted like crap.

We decided to get two 4-course prix fixe menus as we weren’t hungry enough to try the tasting menus (probably the biggest mistake I made). 

First courses:

Second courses:

Third courses:


Desserts


Aside from pretty plating, there really isn’t much to write home about for Ubuntu. Ugh. If possible I’d love to try this again but I just don’t know if I will given the number of restaurants in the area.

Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
1140 Main St
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 251-5656

Ad Hoc

Went to Napa for labor day and needless to say for a non-alcohol drinker such as myself the purpose of the trip was culinary goodness. I’ve wanted to go to Bouchon (haven’t been to a single one) for ages and have heard good things about Ad Hoc so decided to check it out on the first day there (made reservation as soon as I found out we were going). I told Daniel that I was going up and invited him and Liz over for lunch. Little did I know they’d stay for dinner too and somehow we squeezed in a reservation for 4 at 9:30 PM. Everything worked out perfectly as our res for 2 was at 10 PM so we got an earlier time AND have more company, as Ad Hoc serves meals family style.

We got there right on time at 9:30PM after an intense game of mini-golf in which yours truly fist pumped his way in the last two holes to win by 1, fending off Natalie and Daniel who was carrying a purse for half the time. All of us were still full from our lunch at Bouchon (which finished at around 4 PM) so i wasn’t expecting to eat that much (lolol)

Ad Hoc has a prix fixe menu every day for the group. You can’t choose anything but there was an additional salad that you can order.

I went to the restroom and as I came out I spotted Teddy Atlas (i didn’t know the name but i recognized him from TV). He would not be the only famous person we’d see during the meal.

Menu

Heirloom tomato salad with crab. Delicious and very refreshing

Endive and green leaf salad. There were hazelnuts in the salad as well that added crunch and tasted like hazelnuts!

Wow. this is the best ribs I’ve ever eaten. I literally couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat the bone. It was so tender but not bloody, and it just melts in your mouth thats what she said. The squash was sweet and fresh. Such great dish

nomnomnoomnom. It was around this moment that I spotted Thomas Keller walking in the restaurant! (or was it earlier?) Anyways i was very star struck but I still ate more meats. I think the girls only had 2~3 pieces each and the men killed the whole plate. whew

This was freaking delicious, except we were too full to eat the cheese. Daniel improvised and spread the cheese all over bread. Very cool idea. I was tempted to walk over to Thomas Keller’s table and pitched the grilled cheese idea to him.

Dessert: peanut butter bars with concord grape sorbet.

This was just an all-around great meal. I’d put this up as 1b to my 1a meal of the year at Cut so far. The ambiance, service (although there were some awkward moments), music (which was excellent that everyone at the table noticed), and most importantly, the food. I’ve read articles that said the restaurant’s casual approach is a bit forced and at times too much, but I respectively disagreed. This would be an awesome place to have a birthday dinner and IMO even more important events *ahemahem*

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2487

Kitayama

This is a gem discovered by my girlfriend. I’ve only been here once before with her family so I ate a ton of food and I was very satisfied but didn’t feel like I could go ALL out (which we did this time around) for our early celebration of 3.5 year anniversary. Since I’m catching a flight to Asia in a couple of hours I will let the pictures do the talking this time.

Interesting note: The two posts I have written thus far include hot pot. Coincidence?

We had some crunchy spicy tuna chips to start things off that I forgot to take pictures of. Oops. Then we had a Han’s pick of sashimi platter: I picked 6 pieces of toro, salmon, and yellowtail each. Toro was amazing. Waitress told me I got two different fats and I felt one was a lot better than the other. Toro is the one in the middle and upper left. Yellow tail was my second favorite and salmon, as much as I like them, had to take a backseat to the other two for the day.

Eel hand roll. Very good

Yellowtail cheekbone. I thought I had ordered salmon but this one was equally good. I had the salmon last time and the meaty part was softer while the fatty part wasn’t as tender. I enjoyed gnawing on the fatty part while the girlfriend enjoyed the meats

Lamb chop. I had the two with the bone obv and there was 0 meat left on them by the time I was done!

Regular beef shabu shabu: by then I was so full already but as a shabu shabu lover I had to keep going!

Shabu shabu udon

Then to top things off, black sesame creme brulee with red bean ice cream. I thought I was going to eat this all by myself (which would’ve been nice) because the gf said she was really full. But i guess she wasn’t as full as she said she was because she ate half of it! Oh well sharing is caring. Using my strategy of “fries -> burger” I applied the “black sesame -> red bean ice cream” given I can eat red bean ice cream pretty much whenever.

I enjoyed this meal very much. I think this restaurant is classified as a Japanese/American fusion restaurant. It was awesome!

Kitayama
101 Bayview Pl
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 725-0777

Shabu Shabu Bar

Eating shabu shabu during summer is the equivalent of eating ice cream during winter: awesome. It’s normally eaten during winter time when the weather is less than ideal and despite having the good grace of living under the 25 latitude my whole life I have become a huge fan of shabu shabu / hot pot. The two are similar in concepts yet completely different in taste. The primary difference being the base that is used in the food. Shabu shabu is lighter in taste, more refreshing while the hot pot varies and more creative in terms of soup base, mostly due to the various regions that have added their own twists such as Sichuan with ultra spiciness or the Northeastern type where super sour vegetables are used. If there is one thing in common, it’s they’re all delicious. Ok fine there is one more thing that is common: they both involve the dipping your goods into various kinds of sauce. Today, I will be focusing on shabu shabu, the Japanese variation. However I’ve been fortunate to try all kinds of shabu before that were mentioned earlier at their locale.

Shabu shabu bar is located in Santa Ana next to a Chipotle. Second time here with mi lady as she took me here the first time for my birthday. I enjoyed it thoroughly so decided to come again for dinner. This time we were celebrating her kicking butt on an exam so I decided to that we should get the kobe beef plate (pictured above) for her while I had the prime beef. I had a few slices of hers and while texture was similar the taste is definitely a lot stronger that makes the other one bland in comparison. I found myself using the sesame sauce for almost all of my dipping. The vegetables were fresh and I learned from the first time they’d make a bowl of udon at the end of the meal with the leftovers so I rationed some of my vegetables and a couple slices of meat for the udon. Yum. Check it out:

No way I could have eaten dessert after the meal after a bowl of rice and ramen. It was a great meal. Shabu shabu / hot pots tend to run on the costlier side for a rather informal experience (expect $20 per person to be full without drinks) but man is it a treat. Most importantly, it’s a healthy treat if you don’t drink the soup. But who can resist the temptation?

Han Hu’s grade: not pretentious enough to have one

Shabu Shabu Bar
1945 E 17th St
Ste 108
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(714) 954-0332