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There used to be a strange sounding Chinese restaurant bearing the word “Denmark” in its name and serving steak on their menu. I wasn’t ever curious enough to try it out but when it shuttered and a new Hunan place sprung in its stead, I was game.  If there was going to be a good Hunan restaurant near my house, I wanted to be the first to know.

On my first visit there, the restaurant was a little disorganized.  I saw that the table seated next to me got an interesting fish dish that I wanted to try too, but when I attempted to order it, the waiter admitted that they couldn’t make another serving because they couldn’t defrost the fish quickly enough.  When I asked if the corn in the corn and pine nuts dish was fresh, he said of course it was fresh — they get a fresh bag of frozen corn with each produce order.  The waiter was amazed when I told him it was possible to buy corn by the cob.

Although my conversation with the waiter left me a little apprehensive, I ordered food anyway.

Hunan Spicy Taste

The star of that meal was the hot and sour stir fried tendon.  Its rich, savory flavor was heightened by the powerful chili peppers and slight dash of vinegar.  The tendon itself was not melt-in-your-mouth soft, but had a satisfying chew.  I ordered this medium spicy and it had enough kick to give me pause.  By the time I got halfway through this dish, I was in pain but couldn’t stop eating it once the heat in my mouth died down.

Hunan Spicy Taste

Will ordered a few modified-to-be-vegetarian dishes that were decent.  The sliced tofu stir fried with green pepper was simple, but good and with a moderate amount of heat.  The stir fried napa cabbage with chili peppers was surprisingly good even though it sounded boring.  The fish-fragrant eggplant was supposed to be made vegetarian by omitting the meat, but it came with ground pork on it anyway.  Even with the pork, it didn’t taste that good.

Hunan Spicy Taste

The second time I visited, I ordered another round of the tendon, also medium spicy and it was even spicier than the first time.  As usual, I couldn’t stop eating it even though my mouth was in serious pain.

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Because we had more diners at the table, I was also able to order one of their specials: steamed fish head.  It was gigantic, with a good amount of meat on the head.  Picking the tender, perfectly spiced meat off the bones reminded me of eating tender fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs.  If there’s more than 3 people in your party who likes fish, I would recommend getting this dish.

For the vegetarian at the table, we got the stir fried cauliflower with chili peppers.  The florets were tender but still had a little bite to them and the chili gave it a different flavor than I’m used to when eating cauliflower. I thought the spice went well to cut down on the slightly stinky sulfur taste of cauliflower.

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We also ordered the water-boiled preserved bamboo, which had a good flavor, but was a little tough to chew in some spots. I don’t know if some of the bamboo was too dry or if the dish was supposed to be that chewy, but the pieces that were tender were pretty good.

Hunan Spicy Taste

Then there was the marinated Hunan noodle, which came with one type of noodles the first time I ordered it, and then came with a different type the second time.  I preferred the noodles from the second time because they were a bit thicker and had a chewy al dente texture that highlighted the cold, tender slices of braised beef laid on top.  If I were dining on my own, I’d probably just order that dish for a comforting lunch.

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There were some inconsistencies amongst dishes the two times I’ve visited Hunan Spicy Taste, but it’s close enough in the neighborhood and new enough that I’m willing to give them some leeway.

Hunan Spicy Taste
120 N San Gabriel Blvd
Ste C & D
San Gabriel, CA 91775
(626) 285-2966

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It may be presumptuous to say I’ve tasted the best burger of 2014 and it is Bel Campo’s cheeseburger, but hey, if I end up tasting a better burger, it will be a good problem to have.

This burger was the best I've had in a long time. Bel Campo knows how to make a good patty.

This $12.50 burger without fries was well worth it.  Happy, until humanely killed for their flesh, cows do taste better.  The patty was a loose, chopped patty that held together very well, but still managed to taste light.  The cheese enhanced rather than distracted from the beef flavor (I’m looking at you, Father’s Office blue-cheese-bomb burger).  The bun was airy but solid enough not to fall apart halfway through the burger.  The whole thing was juicy without being greasy (like an Umami burger).

In the guise of eating something more healthy, I ordered the spicy fried broccolini, which were the best broccolini I’d ever had.  The green was deep fried so the floret was crispy but the stem was still tender.  Tossed with an assertive, lemony and spicy dressing, it was the perfect foil to a perfect burger.  I didn’t even miss not having fries.

The only bad thing I can say about Bel Campo is that it makes choosing another sandwich from the menu or  anywhere else to eat in Grand Central Market very difficult.

Belcampo Meat Co.
Grand Central Market
317 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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Disclaimer: LA Weekly is comping me 2 general admission tickets.

Tacolandia Flyer

Do you like tacos? Yes? I do too. That’s why I will be at Tacolandia in June.

Who: LA Weekly Tacolandia
What: 40+ Taco vendors.
Where: El Pueblo de Los Angeles (DTLA)
When: 3-7pm on June 28th
Why: Because tacos are delicious.

Some of the vendors I’m looking forward to:
Chichen Itza, Colonia Taco Lounge, Coni’Seafood, Mariscos Jalisco, Rocio’s Mole De Los Dioses.

General Admission tickets: $25
(Use the pre-sale code NAKEDSUSHI if you’d like to purchase tickets as early as Tuesday the 22nd.)

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The dearth of upscale vegan restaurants in LA should have been a reason for me to visit Crossroads earlier, but I got put off by the distance and price.  Since we mostly go to omnivore restaurants when we want cloth-napkin food and so far, they’ve been stellar (Providence, AOC, n/naka), I didn’t want to take the risk of paying a lot for a vegan meal that was less than satisfying.  It’s funny because we both really like Tal Ronnen’s Kite Hill cheese, but not enough to try his other cooking. When I read that Ricardo Zarate was going to do a Sunday Supper at Crossroads as a guest chef, I finally decided to give it a try. I loved Mo-Chica when it was in its original location and have always wanted Will to try it.

Eggplant ceviche. Zarate does vegan at #crossroads #sundaysupper. So delicious. Wish he'd put more vegan items on the regular Mo Chica menu.

They called the first course an eggplant ceviche.  The eggplant had a wonderful charred, smokey taste and the spicy, acidic dressing did make me think of traditional ceviche.

Then we had a plantain-based cake with sauce topped with what I think was a shiitake chip that tasted like bacon.  The plantain had a chewy,  dry texture that went really well with the slightly funky sauce.

Next were grilled vegetables on a plate of quinoa, which sounds boring but these were probably the best grilled vegetables I’d had in a long time. They were still firm and crisp, but had a wonderful charred taste. Will and I always make fun of quinoa because it’s so good for you, but tastes so boring, but Zarate’s quinoa was wonderful. It was fluffy, flavorful, and interesting thanks to the crispy quinoa sprinkled throughout.

Then came both my favorite and least favorite part of the meal. I think this was some sort of bulgur or barley stew that was so rich and creamy that I couldn’t believe it was vegan.  I could have a giant bowl of this topped with pickled onions and be happy. The bad part was the meatball topping. It clashed with the rest of the dish and tasted like an Ikea meatball or one of those soy meatballs I used to get at Trader Joe’s. I’m not one who thinks every meal should have something meaty or fake-meaty, so I would have been happy with some assertive tasting vegetable on top instead of the meatball.

Dessert were these fried pieces of dough which were satisfying and chewy. They were sauced with some sort of fig reduction which while good, was a little too sweet and cloying for me.  Will had no problem jumping at the opportunity to finish my dessert for me.

I’m so glad I went to Sunday Supper when Zarate was cooking.  It was nice to finally introduce Will to his type of cooking and flavors, but now it makes me sad that we won’t have a meal like this ever again. The tangy, spicy, assertive taste of Peruvian cooking is something that we both like, but it’s so hard to find Peruvian dishes that are also vegan.

Crossroads Kitchen
8284 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 782-9245

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Poor Will has to accompany to places like Class 302, Fluff Ice, Blockheads and Pa Pa Walk and watch me eat delicious shaved snow.  Because he’s vegan, places like those don’t have much in the way of cold desserts for him. That’s why when I read about Snow LA Shavery, I knew we had to visit.

Fluff Ice claimed to have non-dairy shaved snow, which one would think is vegan, but what they call non-dairy still contains dairy, if you ask to read the ingredients list on their blocks of shaved snow.

His and hers shaved snow. Chocolate for me. Vegan banana shaved snow for him. #snowlashavery

Luckily, Snow LA Shavery, the K-town shaved snow spot is more accurate with their non-dairy shaved snow — going as far as calling it vegan.  Their banana snow cream is a creamy almond-milk based shaved snow with a lot of banana flavor.  Adding the banana was a smart choice because it gives frozen vegan stuff that a rich creaminess without relying on dairy.

I got the chocolate shaved snow and it was fantastic. A rich, chocolatey flavor that wasn’t too sweet and was very light and fluffy in texture.  I got mine topped with a combination of dulce de leche and chocolate syrup as well as some walnuts and almonds.  It was perfect.

I like that the place has the self-serve toppings bar, like the frozen yogurt shops so that you’re free to add as many or as few toppings as you want.  They weigh it when you’re done to calculate the total price.

On the one hand, I’m sad that Snow LA Shavery isn’t in the SGV and on the other, it’s a good thing it’s a further drive away. If it were closer, the temptation to eat shaved snow all the time would be too hard to resist.

SnowLA Shavery
3470 West 6th Street #2B
Los Angeles, CA 90020

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Ferberizing, attended cry it out, progressive waiting, no matter what you call it there are those who claim any form of cry it out is tantamount to child abuse.  After a week of sleep training Robin thru the Ferber method, all I have to say is, “What was I afraid of??”

For the first five months of her life, Robin slept in bed with us.  It was easier on all of us when we co-slept. At around four months, she ran into sleep regression. How she could regress in sleep when she never progressed in sleep is beyond my understanding. Anyway, she would half wake-up and fuss every hour or hour and a half and want to comfort nurse. The only way to keep her happy would be to pop a boob in her mouth, which meant I was waking every hour or so the whole night for four weeks. It was not sustainable, especially since I was also working full time during the day, so it wasn’t like I could nap when she napped.

We first tried some techniques from the No Cry Sleep Solution book, but for us, they were all More Cry Sleep No-Solutions. Everything seemed to wind her up and make her cry more. She would get mad at us for not giving her what she wanted: to comfort nurse.  I was apprehensive about progressive waiting aka the Ferber method, since it seemed like a huge jump for Robin to from sleeping with us in our bed and nursing every hour or so to sleeping by herself for long stretches of the night. It didn’t seem possible without days of crying and screaming from her, but by then, I was desperate for anything that would give me more than two hours of sleep at a time.

Being an engineer, the Ferber method appealed to me. There were clear instructions to follow and logically, it made sense.  We modified it so that during the comforting part, we would pick her up. So I guess our sleep training was a combination of the Ferber Method and Pick Up / Put Down.

The first night, we used the 3, 5, 7, 10 minute intervals.  Robin cried for about 25 minutes (with us checking in between intervals for 1 minute), then fell asleep.  She woke up to nurse once during that night, I put her down in the crib and she went right back to sleep for 2 hours. After that, she woke up, nursed again, and wouldn’t calm back down when we put her back in the crib, so we brought her back into bed with us at 4am.  Although she didn’t sleep as long as I had hoped, I was amazed that she slept as well as she did.  If that first night hadn’t gone so well, I probably wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about continuing the sleep training that way. As it was, I was paranoid that it was beginner’s luck!

The second night, she fussed a few minutes, babbled, and then fell promptly asleep. Woke up before 12, ate, then slept for more than 7 hours straight! In the morning, I had to wake her up because I was worried she’d gone too long without eating.

The subsequent nights went roughly the same, with us increasing the waiting intervals each night up to the 15, 17, 20 minute intervals.  While Ferber recommends going longer, that was about as long as I was willing to let her really cry.  Overall, we didn’t let her cry for more than an hour (with check-ins). It seemed like if she didn’t wind down after that amount of time, she wasn’t going to wind down at all.

The improvement wasn’t at all linear. For example, she did great the 5th night and cried only 5 minutes before falling asleep, but on the 7th night, she cried hard for 15 minutes, Will went in to comfort her, and then she cried for another 15 minutes.  I read somewhere that sleep training is like a dance: a few steps forward, a few steps back.  That’s an accurate way to describe it. On the 8th night, I put her into the crib and she didn’t cry at all and went promptly to sleep! The same had been happening after her middle of the night feedings.

That’s not to say the Ferber method is for everyone.  Every baby is different.  If Robin hadn’t responded so well the first night, we probably would have tried something different. But with the extra sleep she was getting, she seemed much happier in the morning when she woke up on her own. Because we were flexible about the entire plan, willing to comfort her early if she was crying really hard, it turned out okay and we don’t feel guilty at all about it, like I worried about going into this.

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Sometimes, what you’re looking for is right in your backyard. In this case, what I was looking for was right in my parents’ backyard and had been for years.  Since the winter heat wave, I’ve been craving the refreshing acidity of good ceviche.  An internet search yielded El Pollon, a Peruvian shack a stone’s throw from where I grew up in Montebello.

I met up with my cousin and we coordinated about what to order from the menu. We both agreed that the ceviche and lomo saltado were musts.  She mentioned a seafood chowder she had when she went to Machu Picchu and we found something similar on the menu, so we ordered that as well.

Ceviche mixto from El Pollon hit the spot.

The ceviche mixto was a hearty serving of lime-cured fish, shrimp, squid, one mussel, and maybe some scallops.  This dish could stand alone as a meal. They even helpfully included cooked sweet potato for those who want some starch to round out a meal.  The seafood tasted fresh, the marinating liquid was tangy and salty, and the crunchy corn bits and sliced onion added a nice contrast to the dish. I loved it.

Lomo saltado from El Pollon. So savory and garlicky!

The lomo saltado is probably enough to feed two people.  It comes with a healthy mound of garlicky rice to go with the soy sauce and spiced strips of beef.  In case the rice doesn’t have enough carbs, there’s also a bed of once-crisp fries on the bottom of the beef to soak up the sauce from the stir fry.  I thought this dish was fine, but I’m no lomo saltado expert.

Seafood soup with coconut milk and a poached egg. El Pollon.

The chupe de camarones that came out really sealed to our gluttony. It was a soul-warming stew of shrimp, a poached egg, and rice.  The milk in the broth gave it a satisfying creaminess but wasn’t overly rich thanks to the spicing in it.  I could imagine downing a giant bowl of this in cold weather.

The star of the meal was definitely the ceviche, but the other dishes were tasty as well.  I’d come with a couple of friends though, because I said, the servings here tend to favor those with healthy appetites or people who are sharing.

El Pollon
5100 E Beverly Blvd
East Los Angeles, CA 90022
(323) 265-1500

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