I am SO FULL of BEEF. Fan and I went to Vietnam House tonight with great plans to partake in Dac Biet Bo 7 Mon – Special Seven Courses of Beef. I’m normally not a great meat eater – I’d easily opt for a croissant or bread pudding over a good hunk of steak, but sometimes you just really crave meeeeeeaaat. Today was one of those days.

So here was our plan, one order of the Dac Biet Bo 7 Mon ($12.95) and a Banh Xeo ($4.95). Banh Xeo is the Vietnamese interpretation of a crepe stuffed with sliced pork, shrimp and bean sprouts galore. The ideal Banh Xeo batter made from rice flour and coconut milk, should be moist on the underbelly but bear a crisp, flaky skin. Vietnam House’s take on this specialty was heavy and somewhat soggy, save for the crispy edges which we quickly finished first. However they were generous with the filling, wonderfully fatty pork blending in with the cooked bean sprouts and shrimp. I first cut off a piece, fold it in lettuce leaves and quickly dip into the nuoc nam, which in addition to serving as a flavoring agent, helps to cut out the grease. This dish is fine example of how Vietnamese food seamlessly blends fresh produce with all dishes, even heavy ones, so that you’ll always end up with a balanced meal, intended or not.

Then came Course #1: Bo Nhung Dam, three slices of raw beef to dip, fondue-style into a vinegar and onion broth.

After you cook the beef, place a rice paper wrapper on your plate, pile it with fresh lettuce, cilantro, basil, mint, then pickled carrots if you so desire, sliced cucumbers and bean sprouts. Roll it up and dip into a blend of fish and peanut sauce with sliced garlic.

Courses #2,3,4 and 5 come all in one plate. At first I was like, aww man, this is cheating, sending out so many courses in one plate. But then after I started eating…well if everything on the plate is good, then maybe it’s not cheating? heheh. We begin on the bottom left with Bo Nuong La Lot, it was my favorite of the bunch, beef wrapped in lot leaf (tastes a lot like the laulau leaf!) and charbroiled. It was so juicy that one bite into the tender rod, breaking in through the leaves, released a gush of savory meaty juices. I intended to wrap it with the rice paper, but found it so much better with just lettuce and cucumbers. Right above it is the Bo Sate which, strangely enough, did not taste of sate at all! Nonetheless, it was still tender (especially when you got down to the steamy hot innards part) though not nearly as juicy as the Bo Nuong La Lot. Hiding under the shrimp chips is a trio of Bo Mo Chai, rounds of beef steak seasoned with just enough five spice for recognition and grilled in their own heavenly right. The big ball is Bo Cha Dum, a massive steamed meatball, so soft with yet tightly packed with peas, mushrooms and vermicelli adorning the fatty meat. I loved how it was so tender and easy to chew, almost effortless, really, and comforting…you know, in that way that Vietnamese meatballs make you feel?

The Bo Salat came next, a simple dish of peppered grilled beef with red onions over lettuce in a simple vinaigrette. I found it to be tasteless save for the tang of the dressing, and somewhat repetitive of the beef fondue.

Just when I start to think I can’t handle any more beef, we were brought Chao Bo, a bowl of beef jook. A nice, lighter way to interpret beef. Warm, very simple garnished with ginger and green onions, it was exactly as you’d expect…except for the tiny pieces of star pasta hidden inside! I almost didn’t notice it, but there they were, innocently buried among the grains of rice. It’s like a little surprise at the end of your meal…surprise! hehe, well I thought it was funny.

So I am totally beefed out, especially considering the fact that my diet is mainly based on starch and sweets. Before we left, I ordered a cup of ca phe sua da to go. Odd thing is, even though Vietnamese coffee is reported to be much stronger than American, I can go sleep after a cup or two of ca phe su da, yet just a tall starbucks mocha will keep me wired for the entire day. Odd how the body works isn’t it?

Well, I’m going to unbeef myself with a taro-mochi bun tomorrow morning. It was an adventure and a very delicious one at that, but I’m going to lay low heavy meat for a while. I’ll take a picture of the bun and promise to let you know how it tastes!

Vietnam House
710 W. Las Tunas Dr.#5-7
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 282-6327

What I wouldn’t give to move Claremont McKenna College smack dab to the middle of Rosemead. Because then I could drink avocado and durian milkshakes for breakfast, dine on banh mi and a variety of che’s for lunch and do it all over again for dinner. Given my limited budget, I would spend most my time at Banh Mi Che Cali where che runs $1.40/cup in junction with a neverending buy 2 get 1 free sale.

It’s always hard to pick from the rainbow flow of options: mung beans, coconut milk based, ginger syrup, sweet dumplings, flavors of pandan running loose with jellies and longan.

But eventually I settle on three, as we all must. Self-control is an issue here. Can you believe it all cost on $3.03 with tax? How can I possibly return to Starbucks after this?!

I carefully pack my goodies for the long dreary ride home to the Inland Empire, where it is difficult to find well-made che, or in fact, any che at all. Rushing back to the safety of my dorm room, I eat the sweet dumplings in ginger syrup first. It’s still a little warm, thank god, and I revel in the large chewy mochi the size of ping pong balls filled with mashed mung beans, sweetened just enough. Bites of the mochi mix with spoonfuls of heady ginger syrup, the kind that would be perfect to pour over a fresh batch of dofu fa.

And if I’m in the mood, which I usually am, I do not stop there, because foods should be eaten when they’re fresh so why don’t we just eat it all tonight. Maybe I’ll share with my roommate and we’ll move on to the sweet green rice studded with bite size gems of taro. A little cup of coconut milk is offered on the side and we lavishly pour it over. It’s the Vietnamese version of Thai sticky rice/durian/coconut milk. This is best eaten hot, so a minute in the microwave should prove perfect. And you pick up your spoon and dig in, making sure to get a fair balance between rice, milk and taro. And I eat and I’m happy, and I’m like – why this gotta be so good?

My good old standby comes in at the end, to close of my personal feast of desserts. This is a classic, coconut milk with a range of jellies, nuts and so many other things I do not know the name of :) Some look like sweet carrots, some are chewy in shades of green and beige, others are elusive long slippery pods, yet they all bath in a communal tub of coconut milk, so eager to please. Have it hot or cold, depending on the weather, but there’s no way you could or should refuse such an offering.

If your sweet tooth has taken it’s run of che, why not engage it in an array of steamed pandan cakes, banana bread, or savory treats like long sticks of cha or you tiao, and perhaps a round of the flakey pate sou.

But as I’ve said, the ride on the 10 freeway is long and boring, so to keep our tummies and taste buds happy we roll on down Valley Blvd to pick up a few car ride treats from Mr.Baguette. Thai tea for Trisha (who claims she is a borderline addict) and a calorie heavy, but so worth it, avocado milkshake for myself. It’s the ultimate drink, playing king over mochas, teas and even my ultimate sin, oreo cookie milkshakes.

A chilly blend of fresh avocados, condensed milk, regular milk and ice. While it is quite hefty, you won’t feel the least bit sick after downing the entire cup. It’s creamy but not sweet, I daresay it even tastes healthy! And avocados, why they must be the most refreshing fruit in the world, especially when served in chilled liquid form. We also take home a croissant, made in the Vietnamese tradition. More flaky than buttery, it’s quite heavenly with a spread of pate :)

Banh Mi & Che Cali
8450 Valley Boulevard
Rosemead, CA 91770

Mr. Baguette
8702 E Valley Boulevard
Rosemead, California 91770
(626) 288-9166

It was just okay. I wanted it to be more, I really did! After all, I had a fine bowl of ramen at Yotteko-Ya back home, with incredible slices of pork that seemingly disappeared once they met my tongue. And it is ramen weather, shops here should be at full force, executing rich bowl of broth, noodles with the proper give and pork, fatty and rich. But Shin-Sen-Gumi failed in every one of these aspects. Sad, given the reviews read on chowhound and touted by Jonathan Gold and in many food blogs.

Maybe it was my fault, perhaps I should have gone to the original location in Gardena, as opposed to the Rosemead extension. Nonetheless, if you sell ramen under the same name, don’t we have some right to believe that flavors and taste remain at least somewhat consistent throughout locations?

You first enter and are greeted with an exuberant, “Irashaimase!” – which sounds like “HMSA” as far as I’m concerned. It’s loud enough to leave your ears ringing all the way through a dessert of various che’s and avocado milkshakes. Everyone who works here is bubbly and full of enthusiasm, like over energetic cartoon characters come to life.

The order of Hakata Ramen ($6.95) comes quickly enough, though unfortunately at a lukewarm temperature. I dug in for the slices of pork first, eager to experience a savory rich melting fattiness. Inside I bit into a lean, if not tough piece of char siu that require quite a bit of chewing. My “normal” cooked noodles (can also opt for “firm” and “soft”) and “normal” broth (versus “oily” and “no oil”), came as promised, but nothing stood out, noting was great, just a lotta okay. A boring, single dimension broth and noodles that were appropriate, but shone in no way particular. The little mass of pickled ginger made no sense and I found that it only functioned to confuse the flavors of the dish. Pretty, but brainless.

Same goes for the Gyoza ($4.75) – what’s the point in appearance if you are functionless. They are tiny and cute, the skin is paper-thin and the bottom fried to a nice crisp. But attempt to pull them apart and the skin of one sticks to other, ripping off and leaving a half naked gyoza. I hope this wasn’t intentional. You’ll find a mini mound of pork inside, well seasoned and yet so typical, tasting like any one of the gyoza’s you may pick off the frozen aisle in Ranch 99, perhaps even not as good.

However, the staff is so blinded and possibly exhausted from continuously shouting, “Irashaimase!” and attempting to make best friends with all the customers that they forget the purpose here is to serve good food. I overheard our waiter asking the guy at the next table, “Cool shirt dude, vintage or what? I got to get me one. It’s ripping!” And while he might have been sincere, it was overdone and I was truly tired of hearing his voice resonating over the entire restaurant. Come to think of it, I don’t think I hear a word of my dining companion. We got in and out in less than 30 minutes fast. Our waiter even opened the door to let us out.

Luckily our evening was saved by Banh Mi Che Cali and Mr.Baguette – both which I’ll post tomorrow! :)

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen
8450 E. Valley Blvd. #103
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 572-8646

Today, I took myself out to lunch at Aruffo’s in the Claremont Village. I had such a painful and demanding craving for pasta, bread, and cheese since late last night. Why? How did this craving come about? Well, like most of my cravings, it is completely self inflicted. The menu from Onjin’s in Hawaii is posted on my dorm wall which is a very bad idea because I like to read it over and over again and it makes me terribly hungry. Last night I was even reading the menu to my mom over the phone, spewing words of Crispy Calamari and Linguine with Wild Mushrooms, Soy Braised Oxtail. It was no good for my mental state. Even my roommate got mad at me for making her hungry!

So I went to bed, but I did not sleep well. My stomach cried for hearty, cold weather food. A breakfast of Cheerios and yogurt was lame and I could not focus in Accounting Theory. So to cure myself, I did what all normal people do and went a restaurant.

I frequent the Claremont Village often, but usually for baked goods, ice cream, sandwiches, Starbucks and lunch to go. There are but a few “fancy” places in the area, Aruffo’s being one of them. I was the first guest of the day at right past 11am and had cozy seat in the corner of the restaurant facing the street. Today, I said to myself, I’m going to eat everything I want. Which meant starting off an appetizer of Fonduta de Formaggio ($11.95).

What arrived was a massive plate with a attractive arrangement of bread, hot and steamy with just a thin crust dusted in garlic, paprika and parmesan. In the center, a warm pot of fontina based fondue, rich velvety and begging to be dipped. I think I could have just eaten this as an entree given the size and seemingly endless and generous cuts of bread. I went on and on, man it was good, till I reached the bottom of the pot. I felt warm inside already.

Soup or salad comes with every entree. Soup of the day was a Potato Cream, but given all the cream I just had in the fondue, I opted for the salad. A wide range of greens came completed with croutons, shredded parmesan, tomatoes and pasta. The house raspberry vinaigrette was far too sweet for my tastes, overtaking all the simple and fresh elements of the salad. Aside from that, it was fairly composed dish, and as with all simple dishes, ingredient quality plays key.

So you can probably guess that after a indulgently delicious fondue and well made salad, I was expecting quite a lot from the entree. Still happily basking in the delight of the Risotto Bolognese from Cafe Sistina back home, I ordered the Bolognese over
Boccolotti pasta ($9.95). I was full by this point but still eager to try the pasta. Unfortunately, it was a slighty let down and I only ate a third. If I was presented this dish at another, perhaps more casual restaurant, it would have been fine, but given how they teased me with excellent bread and a perfectly smooth fondue, I was hoping for a bit more. The sauce wasn’t truly meaty, what you would call hearty, but was almost like a thick tomato sauce with bits of beef. The pasta was fine, but in appearance, the dish was lacking overall. On the other hand, how much can you ask for, this dish was only $9.95, and it included a salad that was suitable in size for an entree.

My goal is to visit all the restaurant in the Claremont Village before I graduate. It’s just my way of summing up the college experience – visit all restaurants within walking distance :) I’ll be back again and when I come, I’ll try another dish I was eying, pumpkin ravioli in marscapone.

Man, I shoulda just ordered that today!

Aruffos Italian Cuisine
126 Yale Ave Ste 1508
Claremont, CA 91711
(909) 624-9624

I’ve been back at school for more than a week now, but while I’m pretty good at being in denial, I guess we have to face reality soon enough.
Today, I didn’t start classes until 1PM so spent all morning cleaning my room. I made my bed, put away my books, made a wall calendar….annnnnd….I turned my closet into a FOOD PANTRY! Cool eh? I’d show you pictures, but my roommate left her bras all over the place, and I don’t think she’d like that in the pictures and I don’t really want to move them with my hands.
So, I was trying to decide what I would put in my pantry and here are the items I came up with:

1. Tesco Peanut Butter, compliments of Shann, direct from London! When she gave it to me, Shann said that it tasted “different.” “Good kind different?” I asked. “Just different,” she replied. And she was so right. It is hard to describe, but it’s definitely saltier with a more complex, creamier flavor. The picture is of the crunchy one, but I also got a jar of the smooth stashed away for after this one is all pau.

2. Mini packets of furikake. Six different flavors ranging from cod roe to salmon. Fun, convenient and pretty darn good!

3. Jaffa Cakes from Shann who hit it right on the mark when she described it as a mini black and white cookie, with only the black, and a sploge of orange jelly in the center. It’s so intriguing, this Jaffa Cake and it looks like a mini spaceship but tastes of an chocolate orange cake. I don’t know what to make of it, but I like it.

4. Wow, so far most of my “pantry” is made up of stuff from Shann, including this box of organic dark chocolates. I like to eat one everyday around 4pm, it really jolts me up with it’s intense darkness and smooth texture, right when that afternoon sleepiness hits.

5. Olive Oil Cookies with Hawaiian Ginger from The Big Island Candies company. This company is most famous for their chocolate dipped shortbread, but I got tired of that pretty quick. These cookies are in a whole nother league of their own. A thin disk, lightly crispy with an unassuming taste of olive oil and bits of candied ginger. The oil is kind of haunting, not the most easy flavor to pick out, and works in sweets similar to the way Batali’s Olive Oil gelato does. Butter is still my favorite form of fat, but these cookies are a relief for bored taste buds.

Before Fan went to Disneyland, she asked what I wanted her to bring back. “A Corndog please,” I requested. (You can blame my need for a Disneyland Corndog on Elmo’s post). She came back to school later that evening and said that it would have been too difficult to carry a corndog back, and besides, corndogs are no good when cold. So she got me fudge.

Okay, so this is not a well balanced pantry. But I’ll have you know that I’ve also got a million pounds of brown, jasmine, and japanese rice in there, along with eggs, frozen dumplings from my grandma, soy milk, skim milk, miso dressing, spam, plain yogurt, greek yogurt, mccann’s oatmeal, peaches and pears, soba, english muffins, cheerios, shoyu, hot chocolate, nutella, miso soup mix, tofu, milano cookies, green tea, peppermint tea, black tea, darjeeling tea, vitamin gummy bears, and real normal vitamins.

Now excuse me while I go out and buy a mocha cookie from Some Crust.