Japchae

Japchae was the first Korean dish I tasted when I first tried the cuisine years ago as a teenager. It became one of my favorites but I rarely order it at a restaurant anymore because I’ve learned to cook it at home.

This recipe is laborous but the results were restaurant quality and totally worth the payoff. Don’t substitute these sweet potato noodles — they’re worth seeking out for their chewy, slippery texture that soaks up all the flavor. Best of all, japchae reheats well and tastes just as good the next day.

Japchae

Ingredients:

1/2 pound beef sirloin, cut into thin strips
3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water to soften and cut into thin strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 egg
6 ounces spinach, washed and drained
6 ounces dangmyeon (sweet potato noodles)
3 green onions, sliced into 2 inch long pieces
1/2 onion (1 cup), thinly sliced
8 white mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 small carrot, cut into matchsticks
black pepper
salt
vegetable oil

Directions:

1. Put the beef and shiitake mushrooms into a bowl and mix with 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon sugar, ΒΌ teaspoon ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil with a wooden spoon or by hand. Cover and marinade in the fridge.

2. Crack the egg, add a pinch of salt, and whisk with a fork. Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to a heated nonstick pan. Pour the egg into the pan and tilt around so the mixture spreads thinly. Let the egg cook on low heat for about 1 minute. Flip it over and let it sit on the pan for 1 more minute. Remove from heat, let the egg cool, and slice into thin strips.

3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch for 30 seconds, then drain and rinse under cold water to keep from cooking further. Squeeze to remove any excess water. Coarsely chop spinach and place in a large mixing bowl. Mix with 1 teaspoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon sesame oil.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and put the noodles into the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Stir noodles with a wooden spoon to keep them from sticking together. Partially cover the pot and keep cooking for another 7 minutes until the noodles are soft and chewy. Strain and cut noodles in half with kitchen scissors.

5. Put the noodles in the large bowl with the spinach. Add 2 teaspoons sesame oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Mix well.

6. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil and add the onion, green onion, and a pinch of salt. Stir-fry about 2 minutes until the onion is translucent. Transfer to the bowl with noodles.

7. Heat the skillet again and add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Add the white mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Stir-fry for 2 minutes until softened and the mushrooms have released a little juice. Transfer to the bowl with noodles.

8. Heat the skillet and add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil. Add the carrot and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Transfer to the bowl with noodles.

9. Heat the skillet and add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Add the beef and shiitake mushroom mixture and stir fry for a few minutes until the beef is cooked through and the mushrooms are soft. Transfer to the bowl with noodles.

10. Add 1 minced garlic clove, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, egg garnish, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil to the mixing bowl full of ingredients. Mix all together by hand, transfer to a large plate and serve.

Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles

Does Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles really even need a review? I used to visit the Roscoe’s on West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles back in the early 2000s, and it wasn’t until last year that I tried out the Roscoe’s in Long Beach. It was Nishan’s first time in Los Angeles, and after a long day of sightseeing at the Griffith Observatory and Beverly Hills, we stopped at Roscoe’s for some fried chicken.

Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles

For those who have visited, you already know that the menu at Roscoe’s is primarily countless iterations of magical fried chicken served alongside heaps of whipped butter, waffles, and or collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread. I’d sung Roscoe’s praises to Nishan for years, but it wasn’t until he tasted it for the first time that he understood what I’d meant.

Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles

We had reservations at Jose Andres’ Bazaar the following night. I am not at all ashamed to say that we cancelled our reservations and went back to Roscoe’s for dinner again. When in Rome, eat all the Roscoe’s. Wait, what?

Griffith Observatory

Come to southern California for the sights, stay for the Roscoe’s.

Hama Sushi

I was in Long Beach last year for a conference, and whenever I’m anywhere near Los Angeles’ radius, I have to go to Little Tokyo for sushi. I’m a proud Bay Arean, but LA has us beat when it comes to Japanese cuisine.

Albacore sashimi

Hama Sushi is a tiny little restaurant along East 2nd Street in Little Tokyo, and it’s my favorite. There are signs telling patrons to not to ask about teriyaki or tempura; this simply isn’t that kind of place. The long wait is well worth the reward and once we were sitting at the sushi bar, I began ordering in earnest. We began with the albacore sashimi, which was delicious, gorgeously presented, and did I mention delicious?

Nigiri

Next came a parade of nigiri and I quickly lost track of what kind of fish we were eating; retaining only that they were all sublimely flavored and incredibly fresh.

Perfect uni

We capped off our feast with some of the best uni I’ve ever tasted in my life. The only other uni that comes close is what I’ve had in Tokyo. This uni was creamy and mind blowingly flavorful. More of this, please.

Hama Sushi may be a no-frills type of joint, but it delivers like no other. Space is limited, and ordering is fast and to-the-point, but Hama Sushi does not mess around.

Korean-Style Mixed Green Salad

This isn’t a green salad, per se. This recipe came about one evening when I had an abundance of Persian cucumbers and not being quite sure what to do with them, I turned to Maangchi, my favorite Korean food blog. Gutjuli, or mixed green salad, is typically leafy, but I adapted it to be heavy on the cucumbers and light on the leaves. Either way, this dressing packs a punch and works well with nearly any fresh salad vegetable.

Korean mixed green salad

Ingredients:

2 cups mixed lettuce greens
3 Persian cucumbers
1 green onion
1/2 clove garlic
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon gochugaru (hot pepper flakes)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sesame oil

1. Slice cucumbers thinly and add to a large bowl along with the lettuce. Thinly slice the green onion and add it to the bowl.
2. Prepare the dressing by whisking together soy sauce, gochugaru, sugar, sesame seeds, and sesame oil. Mix the vegetables with the dressing and serve.

Pyeongchang Tofu House

After Sura Korean Cuisine closed in Oakland a couple of years ago, I was convinced I’d never find another Korean restaurant in the East Bay with the same dedication to quality ingredients.

I was wrong.

Pyeongchang Tofu House

Pyeongchang Tofu House is just a stone’s throw from where Sura used to be, in Oakland’s Temescal district. Specializing in, well, tofu, Pyeongchang Tofu House churns out bowl after steaming bowl of tofu soup, or sundubu jjigae. I often get the kimchi tofu soup with beef, but the mushroom tofu soup and dumpling tofu soup are in regular rotation too. They all come bubbling hot in cauldrons filled with creamy, housemade tofu and fiery broth. A steaming bowl of rice helps cool things down. Pyeongchang Tofu House isn’t limited to just tofu, though. Their dolsot bibimbabp is also top notch.

Pyeongchang Tofu House

My favorite thing about Pyeongchang Tofu House is actually the banchan. The selection isn’t huge, but it’s always rotating, seasonal, house-made, and impeccably fresh. The kimchi is outstanding, as are the namul and jjim. So healthy, so delicious.

The service at Pyeongchang Tofu House is wonderful, too. The staff is always friendly and happy to explain what makes their spicy kimchi different from the others, or how to best remove the crispy rice at the bottom of a hot stoneware bowl.

Looks like I have a new favorite Korean restaurant in the East Bay after all.