Sunday, January 12, 2020

Corgis Welcome At Cafe in Alhambra

Theme restaurants seem to be popular in Asian locales such as China and Japan, but we've seen only a few examples here in California of themed Chinese restaurants, and perhaps mercifully so.  There's Indian Theme Restaurant in San Gabriel, where waitresses dress up as squaws, the departed Jurassic Restaurant in the City of Industry with its dinosaur and caveman (well actually cavewoman) theme, the former Amazon Restaurant in Alhambra with its waitresses dressed up as Amazons (notice a pattern here?) and also departed from the City of Industry, the Magic Restroom Restaurant, the less said about the better.

Less over the top is Cafe with its original location in Artesia that recently moved to Alhambra at 1411 S. Garfield Ave., Unit 101.  At Cafe, an otherwise typical boba, pancake and Taiwanese snack place, the theme is corgis,  but the restaurant itself looks normal except for all the corgi displays.  The main display is what I call the shrine to corgis.  It abuts a seating area that is "reserved" presumably for corgi lovers and well as corgis themselves who are apparently free to accompany their human friends into the restaurant.

I'm not sure if all the items in the shrine are for sale or not, as some, but not all of them have price tags attached.  Adjacent to the reserved seating area is a special corgi menu, presumably for corgi owners, not corgi diners since it includes a $16 chocolate lava pancake.  $25 gets you a drink, a pancake, and a "corgi mystery box."

At the other end of the dining room are more corgi related products in a display case, many of which carry pricetags.

And check out these corgi figurines on the counter looking into the open kitchen.

While all this might seem gimmicky and one might question how successful a corgi themed boba shop might be, the fact is that Cafe has been around for 2½ years would seem to indicate it's a winning combination.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

How My Taiwan Night Market Photo Ended Up on the Tung Ying Tattoo Parlor Webpage

For those of you who followed my real time Instagram and Twitter posts of one or two dishes from each eating venue on our Taiwanese tour from late last year, you might be interested in my upcoming 15-part pictorial essay of all the pictures I took of our meals on the tour.  They'll be coming out in a few weeks and might be released all at once Netflix style.  Interestingly, one of the pictures I posted live was this one showing cooked squid for sale at the Ta Tung Night Market in Tainan City.

So how did this picture become part of an amalgam of pictures taken at the Tung Ying Tattoo parlor in Tainan City? 

Well, it's all about geotags, the little bars that appear when you "Add Location" to the Instagram photograph you're about to post.  Generally when you "add a location", the closest registered location to where you are at the time you post the Instagram picture appears first.  But you can't just blindly choose the first listed box.  Perhaps your location has not yet been geotagged, there are multiple overlapping locations, or sometimes the geotag information goes haywire.  Once while in Spain, I was getting geotag choices for Oporto, Portugal.  Another time here in Los Angeles I was getting geotags from Reno.

And of course, if the geotag locations are under a different writing system, e.g., Chinese, you have no idea if the first choice is correct.  So knowing of the issue involved, I still figured it was still better to choose the first location listed and hopefully get many correct locations, instead of using no geotag or a more general one (e.g., name of the city).   Even if it meant mistakenly saying that I was at the fried squid counter at the Tung Ying Tattoo Parlor.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Dinner At Spago

Wolfgang Puck's flagship restaurant Spago in Beverly Hills is likely the best known restaurant in the Los Angeles area, but it's always been a place that I've never dreamed of visiting.  But when you have foodie kids you never know where you might end up eating, so that's where we ended up recently on a Sunday night.  We were afraid we couldn't access the restaurant since it was on the other side of the street as we drove down Canon Dr., but at some point in time Canon had been blocked off and turned into a cul-de-sac, making it convenient to stop right in front of the restaurant.

Spago turned out to be dimly lit, as an expensive celebrity hangout would be expected, but it was noisier than I would have imagined.  We ordered the $155 tasting menu which was delivered much, much slower than I would have expected or liked.

First came the signature tuna tartare which was as good as advertised.

This was followed by a number of counterintuitive appetizers, like the marshmallows topped with cheese, not a bad combination.

Also, surprisingly good was the chicken liver mousse.

On the other hand, a bomb (as opposed to "the bomb" was the awful Bloody Mary bon bon.

We then got the kitchen tour with perhaps the star of the night, the pork belly macaron.

If you can see this, it's the seared sea bass.

The interesting chawanmushi Japanese egg custard with caviar served in an egg shell.

Supposedly another highlight dish, the agnolotti was OK but nothing special.

Next to the pork belly macaron, the wagyu beef was the other superior dish.

Not a big fan of octopus, but the charred octopus was quite good, though the same couldn't be said of the nearly raw squab.  And just a morsel of New Zealand snapper.   All in all, a less than inspiring dinner given the price tag.  The slightly more expensive Providence tasting dinner was far better.

Monday, November 25, 2019

What We Ate In Taiwan, Part I

For the most part our vacations have been planned with little attention paid to the food on the trip.  Indeed with most of our foreign travels taken with commercial tour groups our major concern has been how many meals are provided on the trip and when do we have to fend for ourselves.  Aside from a family vacation to Hong Kong in 2015, where I made four blog postings relating to the food we ate, there has been nothing memorable in our foreign eats.

However our November trip to Taiwan was different.   With most Chinese tours, the meal plan is designed with one thing in mind--to minimize tour costs.  The result is that the rule is Chinese tour food is of low quality and limited variety.  However this trip to Taiwan was with the San Gabriel Valley based Super Value Tours, the English language tour arm of Signet Tours.  Where most Chinese tours treat food as a cost to be minimized, Super Value Tours expressly adopts a "Food=Life" approach to dining, without characterizing themselves as being foodie centric.  As future write-ups will show, the tour company made good on their promise of a different approach to food.

As noted above in taking past tours our main interest has been how many included meals are on the tour, so to this extent I was happy off the bat because all meals were provided from the official start of the tour to the official end.  However because tour group members were flying in from all over the US and Canada and arriving at wildly different times, Sunday was an arrival day and the tour didn't start until Monday.  As it turns out, we were the first to arrive at 5:30am, so had an entire day on our own.  Furthermore, hotel check-in time wasn't until 3pm, which restricted our mobility greatly.  We did go for a walk around 10am and fortunately there was a Taiwanese bakery, Mita Fancy Cafe and  Bakery, directly across the street.  Taiwanese bakeries are excellent, and while the Taiwanese based
85°C Bakery and CafĂ© is well regarded in California, what we get in California does not compare to what you can get in Taiwan.   At Mita, we had the green bean cream bun,  hot dog bun and bbq chicken bun, all certainly better than what we get in California, and with such a variety to choose from that there were so many items I couldn't try.   While I general abhor the use of the term "amazing" to describe food, I'm tempted to say that the hot dog bun was amazing, with a sweet and crispy bun.

Since the tour had no night market visits scheduled, we used the opportunity to head out to the Shilin Night Market at dinnertime which was conveniently located just four subway stops away from the red line Zhongshan station which was just a couple blocks from the Okura Prestige Hotel.   Now it's well known locally that the Shilin Night Market isn't what it used to be, and even the Super Value Tour write-up on things to do in Taipei comes right out and says that there are other, better night markets in Taipei.  But back home, Shilin is the only one night market that anyone has heard about so that's the one I needed to visit.  There was supposed to be a large food court near the entrance to the night market, but I sure couldn't find it, so maybe it was temporarily closed.  There were food stands interspersed with the shops, but there was nowhere to sit, making buying something to eat rather inconvenient.

We headed deeper into the night market and we ran into the lady who had given me her seat on the subway ride and asked if there were any more extensive eating areas.  She pointed us down a corridor where we did find a concentration of food booths, some with seating.  However this still wasn't what I was looking for.

Though the candied tomatoes did look quite interesting.

At this point I decided to head back to the entrance and head down Jihe Street, where there was an accumulation of food trucks.

Visually the most interesting was the roasted conch truck, though it wasn't particularly appetizing.

We also saw trucks selling white sausage (which turned out to be rice sausage) and using a blowtorch as a cooking implement.

I ended up with orders of XLB (full order for $3.60) and honey lemon fried chicken.  On our way out of the night market we passed by a stinky tofu restaurant which produced the most vile smell you could imagine, far worse than the stinky tofu you smell in California.  So while I may have missed the food court, the only famous Shilin dish I didn't encounter was the oyster omelette.

Interestingly we checked out of our hotel before the tour begin, because while the first day of the tour began in Taipei, it ended in another city.  We did have the breakfast in the tour hotel, the Continental Room of the Okura Prestige.  Nothing particularly caught my attention as there was a combination of Chinese stir fry and Western items.  Like most hotel buffets in this part of the world, there was a noodle soup station.

The first real meal of the tour was at the original location of Din Tai Fung in Taipei, and will be described in What We Ate in Taiwan, Part 2.  Because there were so many outstanding eating stops on the trip, there will be several single restaurant reports on the trip starting in January.

As a sidelight to the trip, this was my return visit to Taiwan after our honeymoon in 1980.  I have little recollection today of that trip since most of the pictures were buried away in an unknown corner of the old family homestead, unseen for 20 or more years.  Upon my return I made a point to find those pictures and it was successful.   And it was a relief to find that there was a good reason I recognized so few of the venues on the current trip, for as it turns out there wasn't a lot of overlap between the trips.  This trip spent just one day in Taipei and spent the rest of the trip busing around the entire island.  The 1980 trip spent more time in Taipei, and the only excursions out of the area were a bus ride to Taichung and a flight to Hualien.  This trip only went to one temple, in Lukang.  The 1980 trip went to many temples.  The only real overlap were Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake, which in 1980 were accessed by a flight to Hualien, rather than bus.  So I didn't forget as much as I feared.