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Monthly Archives: August 2012

The celebrity chef phenomenon. I don’t like it. In particular, Bobby Flay. Something about his voice and demeanor. But save that talk for another rainy day.

Driving or walking by K Street, I’ve noticed, for a while now, “Bobby’s Burger Place”. Oh hell no, I thought. There it was, one the latest expansions of the vast culinary empire of America’s best-known celebrity chef. But every burger deserves a tasting, even if it means pitching in my share to Mr. Flay’s evil empire. Burgers are serious business and should not be swayed by personal opinions and emotions regarding their surrounding politics, values, situations, backgrounds, and even chefs.

So I walked in.

Skip the ambiance and interior (although the long, wavy snake-like “bar” was worth a glance), and get to the burger.

I love avocados and anything made with avocados. Hence I ordered Bobby’s “L.A. Burger”, my eyes still voraciously staring down the other not-lucky-enough-to-be-chosen-today options. Everything with avocados seems to be called “California something” or “L.A. something”. But guacamole and juicy beef patties go well with each other, so L.A. it is.

The guacamole itself (or I think Bobby called it something else) was great. Rich and creamy, with just enough kick and lime juice. The patty was made with high-quality meat, and it was cooked right to a medium (warm pink center). But it could have used more fat. Bland, I would say. Burgers need a bit more fat dripping from them.

Bobby had laid out his own “Burger Sauce”. Intrigued, I gave it two or three taste tests. I wasn’t as pleasantly surprised as I had hoped, as the sauce just seemed like a last second mixture of standard BBQ sauce and a few other jars in the corner of your pantry.

As I walked out, I realized that I should have taken some shots of the sweet potato fries. Because above all, from Bobby’s Burger Place, Bobby’s sweet potato fries shined outright. I don’t know what kind of oil he fried them in, but Bobby’s fries were perfectly crispy on the outside, moist and vaporize-in-your-mouth silky inside.

Bobby, good work on the fries.

 

If coffee is the highlight of a three-course meal, that says something. About the coffee.

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The interior is refreshing, with generous splashes of white decor and sparkling glass and stainless steel. Out in the calm Sunday streets, slight bits of rain drizzle here and there, but the rays of sunlight beaming through the tall windows bounce across all corners of the quaint and modern dining area.

Anyone with any taste in jazz understands how despicable “smooth jazz” is, also affectionately known as “elevator music”. If one was in a pissy mood, if the clouds were gushing rains instead of drizzling, if St. Regis Hotel’s Adour’s executive chef wasn’t known for his immaculate cuisine, then yes, what rings in my ear could be classified as elevator music. But not today. Today, the same tunes shall be ordained as “chic” and “modern”, to accompany the furniture and ambiance.

The quality of a restaurant’s bread basket is indicative of its overall sophistication, and this batch is divine. Perfectly crusted, just enough salt, nutty aroma, two types of butter. Don’t even need olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Bread for bread’s sake.

Monkfish is not something you see everyday on menus across town. The creature’s cursed appearance may alienate cooks and foodies alike, as its alien-like countenance does not exactly spell out haute cuisine. But i kid you not, monkfish, when handled and cooked correctly, offers some of the most delicate and flavorful eating excursions known to our species.

The best parts of the beast are not its flesh, but its skin, cartilage, and everything gelatinous in between (in fact, the liver of the monkfish is the most prized delicacy, but too rare to expect at Adour). The white flesh is firm but mild in itself, and tastes best when eaten together with the skin.

Woe is me, there lies a white fillet with no skin, no gelatinous goodness. The portion is pitiful, but I have hope in the yellowish golden sauce caressing the sorry fillet and entourage of greens. And I am not disappointed. The mustard seed-based sauce is superb, with just the right amount of acidity to enrich the otherwise bland fish. And the perfectly cooked pearl onions are a bonus.

As I always preach, the first sip of coffee is most critical. It is the alpha and the omega; it tells all of the rest of the cup and the pot. My first taste of La Colombe, and I am transported to Corsica. Cocoa darts out first, then various notes of nutty and fruity flavors. Bold but not burnt like Starb__s. The depth of flavor is profound. The acidity is just enough to dance around on the tip of your tongue, yet still strong enough to enclose your tongue and drench it thoroughly. The aftertaste is light, automatically sending your hand and mouth for sips to come.

The chocolate and hazelnut praline is the perfect compliment to this perfect cup of liquid gold. Alternating between forkfuls and sips, my mind wanders, to nowhere in particular.

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I lay down my cotton napkin and push my chair in like a learned gentleman. Monkfish or no monkfish, I say to myself, long live La Colombe.

There’s something relieving about pounding a wooden mallet on freshly steamed Maryland blue crab. In season, just caught out of the Chesapeake Bay, plump with savory meat with just the right amount of sweetness, the females with bright orange roe, and of course, plentiful tamales, the sexy mixture of green crab innards and organs.

Our SUV just made a sharp right turn, into a narrow two-lane road, seemingly leading to a residential neighborhood covered in ancient trees and shrubs. As we were searching for one of the most well-known crab houses in the area, I was expecting a bustling seaport, a dock overrun by streaming tourists and tour buses. The trees and shrubbery were a pleasant surprise.

The drive through the greenery was nostalgic, conjuring distant memories of from my childhood, when Grandpa took me through the mountains of rural Korea, in search of the best goat stew the country had to offer. The narrow roads, the trees and shrubs, and the anticipation – all was simmering in the cupboards of my mind.

Finally, we break out of the green tunnel, and there it was, the infamous crab house. The crowd was light, the parking plentiful. The old building sat right on the Bay, and as we jumped out of the SUV, the whiff of the Bay stormed into our nostrils.

Smothered in Old Bay seasoning, a dozen fresh blue crabs were strewn out in front of us. No plates, and only the absolutely necessary silverware. A large sheet of brown paper to cover the table and on go the crabs.

Grab the crab, and first tear open the lid to dive into the tamales. A spoon might be necessary here. The green mixture tastes of the ocean floor, of minerals and sea salt. The innards hone the absolute essence of the grab, all in one. As they spread onto your tongue, the sweetness and slight bitterness combines perfectly. Earthy.

Grab the claws, grab the mallet, and pound away, but not too savagely. You mustn’t destroy the tender claw meat. A dash of melted butter maybe? Don’t go too heavy on the cocktail sauce or the malt vinegar. As for me, the natural sweetness of the claws are heavenly as a solo act, untouched by man-made condiments.

The leg and body meat come last, and the seasoning has penetrated perfectly. Through late August and September, the Chesapeake crabs are plump and flavorful, and quite filling.

Walk out a content man. Plentiful crab and Diet Coke packed chaotically in my belly, the Old Bay scent permanently etched into my fingertips, the ever so slight residue of butter on the corners of my mouth – oh the satisfaction.

We drive out, bidding farewell to Cantler’s, already gazing towards next season’s catch.

The package arrived a few days behind schedule, and my anticipation had reached its limits. I tore open the box, and there it was, my first Lomo lc-a camera. What a thing of beauty it was.

That was seven years ago. Day and night, my Lomo was on my fingertips, accompanying me to mountains, lakes, restaurants, parking lots. What attracted me was Lomo’s portrayal of color.

The Lomo soaks up primary colors in their most complete and robust form, to later spit them back out in the most dream-like manner. Some cameras are better at spewing reds, others are better at greens and blues. Handled correctly, you obtain the “tunnel effect”, where the focus is sharpest towards the center of the shot and and edges are darkened and blurred.

I haven’t touched my Lomo at all lately (years). As I rummage through some old shots, the Lomo’s portrayal of the sky still shocks me as inspirational, genuine, majestic, warm, cold, cunning, thoughtful, provocative, pure and dreamy.

So I share with you some of those cuts.

The sky is said to have a thousand faces.

I actually considered becoming a journalist.

Or, more accurately, I considered majoring in journalism in college. Working as an editor for my high school yearbook was a kick-ass job – the endless bagel runs, the pranks, the drama, even the weekend late-nighters. Perhaps that’s what drew me to journalism school. Nevertheless, I chose business management as my major (sigh) and went to law school (sigh). I am not saying I have regrets, for I like to consider myself as forward-thinking, not past-fretting. But after of four years of management courses, three years of law school, and a tiny bit of experience in the real legal world, I guess I have sort of a crush on journalists and writers. I envy the ability and luxury to create free-flowing works with words, with an ever-abundance of topics and themes at their disposal. Words are powerful, and journalists and writers wield those words.

Then I come across something like this: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/20/business/media/journalists-plagiarism-jonah-lehrer-fareed-zakaria.html?_r=1&src=dayp

David Carr states it beautifully. “It may not have made a difference: journalists are tasked as seekers of truth. Fabulists find the truth quotidian and boring, insufficient to convey them to the renown they seek.”

There is a fine line between lying and colorful reporting. Plagiarism and journalism should not be mentioned in the same sentence. Come on! As Carr points out, social media heat and blog traction have been launch pads to journalistic fame and glory. But let journalism be journalism – seek the truth, and when you find it, tell it as is. The so-called “fabulists” would be the end of journalism as we know it. It’s reminiscent of all the celebrity chef havoc that has ballooned the current Food Network empire and has watered down cuisine to delis and barbeque (not that there’s anything wrong with delis and barbeque). And cupcakes (Cup Cake Wars, are you kidding).

Journalists and columnists are the brethren of a beautiful profession. Don’t ruin it for your own fame and glory. And don’t copy and paste.

Charisma has fueled modern civilization through much of the past centuries.

From the Caesars of the Roman Empire to Napoleon to Hitler, our leaders usually possessed and exhumed charismatic energy from their speech and actions. They spoke, and we listened. They bellowed “Follow me!”, and we followed. Crowds were drawn, and in turn, reacted to whatever was uttered from the worshiped mouths of the leader and his select few.

I call this the T-Rex leader. The T-Rex thrived on one-way communication. He ruled from on high, on the likes of Mount Olympus, and his input thundered downward to be engraved upon the minds of his minions at his feet. Thought was not required. Like lemmings strutting down meaningless paths, simple actions were valued, questions discouraged. The T-Rex knew it all and had it all, so why question? Surely, T-Rex would look out for the common good.

This T-Rex is now extinct.

As the twenty-first century welcomed in a new wave of information technology, the minions became empowered. Knowledge is no longer a delicacy of the few, tucked away in T-Rex’s castles and chests. Knowledge and information is now a shared commodity, openly traded, sometimes for value, sometimes for free. Knowledge has become power, the power to question, the power to observe. Today, the T-Rex may bellow and beckon a following. The empowered minions inquisitively observe the T-Rex and think, asking “Is this T-Rex worthy of a following?”

The T-Rex must upgrade itself, to T-Rex Squared.

One-way commands, downward in nature, are now void of value. Pyramid organizational structures are crumbling left and right. They are ineffective and wasteful at best. The new motto is “From Vertical to Horizontal”. T-Rex Squared understands the value of two-way communication. He is a leader that dwells amongst his peers, breathing the same oxygen at that sea level. He lives and breathes the organization, and his mind is saturated (in a good way) with the overflowing creative juices of his empowered minions, now companions.

T-Rex Squared builds a web of communication. Input comes and goes in all directions. T-Rex Squared knows his limits, both intellectually and physically. He acquires the expertise of former minions and encourages them to freely create. Professional fields, segregated and holed up in the past, merge to create synergistic new fields and values. Information is shared, and knowledge is maximized through cross-references and communication.

Perhaps most strikingly, T-Rex Squared need not bellow. He just acts. Others examine him critically, and if he is deemed worthy of a following, they follow. T-Rex Squared is the ultimate catalyst, drawing broad boundaries and fueling thought and creation with moral and financial support.

As we head into election season, we must sense this societal change. Needs have changed. Survival criteria have changed. The definition of value has changed. From this day forth, our leaders must change as well.

Scene One: Melt-In-Your-Mouth Spicy Beef and Tendon

When you think of Annandale, VA, you think Korean food. The usual suspects of various grill joints, tofu houses, bakeries and grill joints next to bakeries. Then the occasional Japanese establishments and Peruvian chicken gigs (which, by the way, is a taste of heaven, especially in Annandale).

Just the thought of coming face to face with authentic Chinese noodle soups…not the kind you find in shopping mall food courts, but the real deal with local feel. The rule of thumb is, go where the locals go. The Korean grill joint where Koreans flock to, must be something there. The pho house that the Vietnamese gather in, must be doing something right. That’s the case at A & J in Annandale.

My first time around, I tried the peanutty Dian Dian Mein, surprisingly think and spicy (both good things), and the fried chicken noodle soup (perfectly seasoned and fried). But I had my eye on a dish in particular, the spicy beef and tendon noodle soup, Szechuan style. So began my blissful eating.

First, the aroma. It was deep, and I could feel the spices emanating from the broth. Kind of reminiscent of five-spice, but much more complex, even a hint of herbal medicine. I first taste the reddish-brown broth, and that aroma hits my senses in liquid form. Not too oily, but deep in flavor, with all that spice and beefy goodness. The sheer amount of beef and tendons was ridiculous (generosity in portions is a must for me in restaurants). The beef had the perfect fat content to allow it to melt in my mouth, and the tendon was perfectly cooked. The wide noodles matched well with the overall thick flavor.

If you’re into the best parts of meat, like innards and tendons, this is a must.

Scene Two: Jjambbong is the Name

Not many have heard of the place. Even the local Koreans are not familiar with it. Inside the quaint food court area of the Lotte Mart in Fairfax, VA, there exists the best Korean-Chinese joint in town, Tian. Most of the Korean-Chinese places are in Annandale or Centreville (like everything else), but most of those joints are overrated. I’ve been a usual at Tian since my law school days, and in particular, I’m a sucker for their jjambbong.

What, you say, is that name again? If there is pho in Vietnam, there is jjambbong in Korea. Friends, if you’re like me and have a constant craving for hot soups full of noodles, meat, and seafood, give this a try. The broth can either be seafood or beef based, and if you don’t mind the heat, it is bold and rich in flavor. Not to mention the heaping mounts of mussels, clam and squid, partnered with cabbage and other veggies.

It has a strong aroma, a kick from the dried peppers and jalapenos. The broth has a deep flavor of the sea from the mussels and clams. The noodles are silky and perfectly cooked. The meal truly warms your innards on a cold day, and nostalgia takes you away to the port towns of the southern Korean shoreline.

This little-known Korean delicacy is a true contender amongst the world of noodle soups.

Scene Three: Oh What More to Say

For those of you who have frequented this blog, I have nothing further to say about pho. Or do I.

It’s something about the fresh bean sprouts, cilantro, and lime that gets me every time. Yes, the beef broth that has simmered for twenty hours is surely divine, and the morsels of meat, tripe and tendon are indescribable. But pho is distinct in this trilogy for its interplay between slow and fast, stewed and fresh. The lively herbiness enhances its flavor triple-fold.

And no, not all pho joints are created equal. In the DC area, I still think Pho 75 is king. But Viet House in Fairfax, VA, is legit. The broth has a deeper flavor, the brisket is soft and has the right fat content, and they are not shy to mount heaps of tripe and tendon, which is what makes a good bowl of pho, great.

‘Twas the end of a perfect road trip with my wife, pounding blue crabs in Annapolis, and what a perfect way to commemorate the weekend. A cold glass of iced coffee with sweet condensed milk, the fresh bean sprouts lightly withering in the steaming broth, the company of my beautiful lady – oh the joys of life.

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Epilogue

I am proud to say that I had the delightful luxury of consuming the Mein Trilogy in the span of two days. There exists many more gastronomical mysteries yet to be discovered in the noodle soup category, and I am destined to search further and deeper. Join me in this calling.

The air in the law school library is dense. The lack of windows contributes mightily to the pungent aroma – a concoction of old books, Tara Thai takeout, coffee. Admittedly, it does smell better than a middle school locker room, by a narrow margin. But the density doesn’t come from aroma alone. It’s the people, the critically intense people, exhuming various levels of gnarly bitchiness.

November as a first year law student is crazy as hell. It should be. More accurately, the Thanksgiving holiday marks the spot for stressed-induced eating comas. You’ve had to read thousands of pages from case books, and you’re weeks away from being asked to regurgitate (with some thought) that information in the form of open-book and closed-book exams.

So, in accordance with the combined wisdom of some 2Ls, you sit there in your cubicle, outlining away – until you realize that your outline just hit 103 pages (#FAIL). If you were smart and lucky, you got a hold of outlines from the stone age to last year, and then you realize that your outline is nearing 200 pages (#DOUBLEFAIL).

One bit of advice. An outline is an outline, and should remain an outline. For open-book exams, the purpose of the outline is to make it easier for you to locate the rule and cite to a few relevant cases that support your argument. The volume of your outline is not indicative of its quality. Your goal is to make a series of useful documents that will help structure your answer come exam time. Your outline is less useful in issue spotting; if you don’t know the issue, you don’t know it, so don’t count on the outline to jump out and spot the issue for you. Tabbing your outline to key issues and cases would help. Yes, there will be some exams that ask you to throw in the kitchen sink. But even in such circumstances, the stuff you throw in the kitchen sink should be organized, concise, and to the point.

You’re on your third bold coffee, maybe a Red Bull on deck for later. This is your third Tara Thai dinner this week. Pad thai with chicken is a reliable choice, but it’s a bit drier than usual today. And a little light on the chicken, aren’t we, cheap bastards. But thank God for Sriracha (or Texas Pete). Wait, why is the bottom of the styrofoam container melting…?? Maybe the lemon juice got to it? Is it supposed to do that? Melt? Oh well, eat on (a Torts hypo maybe).

In front of you, next to the laptop, casebook, takeout carton, coffee, Red Bull, and Trailmix, you have one too many supplementary books. Contracts in a Nutshell, Examples & Explanations, Emmanuel’s, Crunch Time. You try to look through them at 20 pages per minute, but alas, it’s just too much information. And why are there so many differences from the professor’s lecture notes? You ask yourself, who do I trust, what do I need in my outline, what’s going to be on the exam. In the end, you go ahead and make the lethal error of throwing everything in. Can’t hurt, right?

‘Twas that time of year, the air dry and chilly, the trees barren of life, sweatshirts and windbreakers, coffee and Red Bull.

To be continued…

 

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