Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Super Bowl — T.O.T.

T.O.T. (Teishokuya of Tokyo)
345E. 2nd St.,
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 680-0344
Google Local Info

Over the past holidays, I had the dubious pleasure of serving jury duty. You'll be happy to know that I sent a probable gang-banger home to his momma for Christmas. (Yes, he was a gang-banger; no, the prosecution did not prove their weapons-possession case.) But more importantly, I pledged — for the edification of you, my readers — to visit a different Little Tokyo eatery each day of my service. I visited Suehiro Cafe for the seventh or eighth time, and decided that despite foodie claims to the contrary, it's really not very good. It's gritty, and not in a good way. I visited Sushi Go 55. And on the third day, I stumbled into the sleek confines of Teishokuya of Tokyo, thankfully abbreviated to T.O.T. I never made it to another restaurant.

The photos says it all. I've gone back several times over the past few months intending to take my camera and post about it, but the food is so good, I keep forgetting to snap a picture before diving in! I've finally given up. So let's just consider the half-eaten photo here a "cross-section" shot of T.O.T's genius: the humble rice bowl.

I suppose that in Japan, this would be donburi by any other name. But where all the donburi I'm familiar with involves chicken, beef, or perhaps fried chicken tonkatsu, T.O.T presents a stunning array of different combinations of ingredients, a couple dozen in all. I've worked my way through many of them. It's usually safe to go for the first item on any ethnic menu, and T.O.T. is no exception. The "Tuna-Tuna Bowl" is a ring of lightly seared albacore tuna, with a scoop of sushi-style Spicy Tuna on top, all on a bed of perfectly seasoned rice with a dusting of seaweed and sesame oil. The "Dragon Bowl" takes one of my favorite sushi combos — avocado and baked sea eel in a sweet sauce — and puts it over rice. The "Tuna Avocado Bowl" is spicy tuna and fresh chunks of avocado on a bed of fresh lettuce laid over the rice and drizzled with a sesame soy sayce and a delicious and tangy wasabi mayonnaise. The "Spicy Chicken Bowl" is utterly addictive, the savory chicken leg meat in a perfectly balanced blend of sweet and spicy. Baked scallops with egg is creamy and swathed in a subtle sauce that will have you coming back the next day for more. Only the Carne Asada Bowl, with grilled beef and guacamole, felt entirely out of place.

They make a decent udon, too, and I've seen plates of enticing chicken curry go by as well; but I'll be working my way through every bowl on the menu before I bother checking it out. Lunch bowls are in the $7-8 dollar range, and include a tasty salad, miso soup, and orange slice for dessert, all served up in tastefully lit, stylish surroundings by eye-candy wait staff. Throw in validated parking in the Little Tokyo Plaza lot, and it all adds up to, for my money, the best, healthiest dining option in Little Tokyo.

If anyone manages to take a picture of the bowl before beginning to consume, please share!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Pulitzer Prize for Jonathan Gold!

The 2007 Pulitzer Prize winners have been announced, and it gives me great joy to see that L.A. Weekly restaurant critic Jonathan Gold has become the first food writer ever to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Mr. Gold's work -- including the "Counter Intelligence" column at the Weekly and his book Counter Intelligence: Where To Eat in the Real Los Angeles -- is certainly my favorite writing about food, and some of my favorite writing in general. The man can describe garlic in a way that actually leaves your pores reeking. In fact, you could call me, in my Food Crazy guise, a Jonathan Gold wannabe.

Congratulations to the granddaddy of L.A. food writers.

You can check out the announcement from L.A. Weekly, and some of Mr. Gold's recent articles, here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Neon Crab — Won Jo Kokerang Agurang

Won Jo Kokerang Agurang

3132 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(323) 766-0007

When you're truly food crazy, every restaurant sign is a siren song. "Here," each one sings to you. "I am the one... the best restaurant in the world that no one else knows about." But in the world of food blogging, there are very few restaurants no one else knows about. No matter how off the beaten track a place may be, I usually a find that a blogger, or Jonathan Gold -- damn you and your lifetime of experience! -- has already written it up. But aside from one reference to "that dancing crab place" on Chowhound LA, I can't find a single review of Won Jo Kokerang Agurang. Perhaps this is because no one has been brave enough to try to write out the name?

Whatever the case, I believe this is an L.A. Food Crazy scoop...

Driving down Olympic Blvd. at night, as we do fairly often, to a Kings game or to Beverly Soon Tofu, one sign calls to me like a spoonful of smack to a junkie. A red, neon crab, its claws flickering in its two neon positions: up, down; up, down; up, down. There's no English on the exterior signage at all. It's one of those inscrutable Koreatown bunkers that line the boulevard, each one sheltering who knows what culinary delights.

Every time we drive by the Neon Crab, the windows are fogged up. If customers enter or exit as we pass, a puff of steam wafts out the door, through which I glimpse a small spare room packed with Koreans. I tell my wife -- like ten times -- "we have to try that place." Finally I talk her in to it. As we approach, I say, "I'm picturing steaming iron bowls of roiling, spicy crab stew, with noodles and legs stickings out all akimbo."

I am almost entirely correct. There are no noodles, but there is rice.

Oh, there is rice.

The room is tiny. Ten or so tables. No one speaks a word of English. This is a good sign. The menu is small, so don't bother picking and choosing, much less asking whether this or that is good, or whether this or that comes with this or that appetizer, or whether the food is too spicy. Your questions will not be understood. Just order the Spicy Crab Soup. This is the steaming bowl of crab in question. Or, if you hate soup, order the Spicy Crab Casserole (pictured). It's identical to the crab soup, with sauce rather than broth.

As I say, there are no noodles. What look like noodles in the photo are bean sprouts. This is excellent news for those of you who, like LA Food Crazy, are low-carbers. It's true -- people ask me, how do you stay so thin when you eat so much food? To which I have three answers: 1. Low carb diet; 2. I actually only post once a month or so, which doesn't require lots of eating' and 3. Do you really think I look thin!? I love you! This means, btw, that whenever I discuss noodles or burritos or french fries here, I have unselfishly broken my diet and researched meals in excess of 20 carb units just the edification of you, my readers.

But I digress. Back to the meal.

There are panchan (the ubiquitous side dishes that are the bread and butter or chips and guacamole of Korean dining) galore: tangy, refreshing cucumber salad, tsukomono-style bean sprouts, tofu, kimchee, pickled turnips, seaweed, and yes that is potato salad with apple chunks.

Then the lady comes with the crab and the scissors. I've decided American waitresses don't use enough scissors. She cuts up the crab like your crazed third grade teacher attacking construction paper, chopping it into manageable pieces. She makes a little plate for you out of one of the crab's shells, and leaves you to it. (She may also try to embarrass you by placing a lobster bib around your neck. Please, for the dignity of all white people in Koreatown, politely decline it.) You go to town on Dungeness crab, the spicy broth, the bean sprouts and greens and onions soaked in spicy crab sauce. It is probably more crab than you can eat. You drink soju. Oh, the price of the crab soup for two ($45, if I recall correctly -- notes are not LA Food Crazy's strong point, he's too excited about the food to write stuff down) includes a beverage. You want soju. God bless soju, and I don't even believe in God.

But the best is yet to come. You say to the waitress while making a stirring motion over the detritus of your soup/casserole, "fried rice, please."

The waitress comes back with a rack of ingredients: some rice, some seaweed, some sesame oil, some spices. She takes a ladleful of your crab soup/casserole, and mixes it up into a risotto that comes out looking like this.

It is, I guarantee you, one of the best things you have ever eaten. Spicy, savory, with a rendered-down crabby essence... you will find yourself getting out of bed at three a.m. for leftovers, because you couldn't possibly finish the rice right after all that crab.

Okay, so the word is out. I suspect the next time I drive by, and that crab blinks at me, and the door opens, and steam wafts out, that I will see one or two of you, trying to talk to the waitress and asking "what's in the "mixed seafood casserole?" and "do you have noodles?" and "Could you make it medium spicy, please? And do you have a wine list?"

Jeesus, did you not read what I just told you? Seven words:

Spicy Crab Soup.
Fried rice, please.