Friday, March 30, 2007

Cru, raw food cuisine

Cru is located at 1521 Griffith Park Blvd, right off of Sunset Blvd. in Silver Lake.

I am a novice when it comes to raw foods. In fact, when my friend artist Robin Strayhorn invited me to Cru, I anticipated another challenging culinary experience based on my first raw food meal a number of years ago. After that first meal, my body continued to de-tox for the following two days.

I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the food was at Cru. We ordered the ravioli, Thai salad, drinks and a banana split. It was expensive. The final bill was a little under $70, Yikes! I almost never spend that kind of money on lunch.

This is a place that pays attention to detail and clearly spends a lot of time in the preparation of the food. It was delicious, satisfying and memorable. I would definitely go back but not soon. $70 would pay for new drum heads on my Ludwig kit.

Ciros Mexican Food

In East LA at 705 North Evergreen Avenue is Ciros. It's across the street from an elementary school, just south of the famous El Tepeyac where they used to offer $50 to anyone who could finish their largest burrito in one sitting.

Ciro's is also a couple blocks north of the Evergreen Cemetery. It's one of the coolest cemeteries in town because as you walk around and read the old school tombstones, you get a history lesson in what LA used to be like.

Ciros was introduced to me by Rober Semon, when we used to run the mural program at the Social and Public Art Resource Center in the early 90's. We were all over the City and so we got to discover some great places to eat, Ciro's being one of them.

The first thing they bring you is a bowl of salsa with big chunks of avocado. I love avocados so this always puts me in a great mood.

The menu is huge with soups, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, quesadillas, and other combination plate specials. I've sampled most of them in the seventeen years I've been going there but I keep going back to the Chicken Mole, $10.00. Other favorites are the Huevos Rancheros, Huevos con Chorizo, Steak Picado (chopped steak) and Chile Rellenos (stuffed peppers).

The food has been consistently delicious, homemade like and it'll make you sleepy for the rest of the day, a sad reality on your drive back to work but worth it.

LA Menu Munchies DVD

A group of LA LA based artists and I produced a portrait of LA LA using food as our subject matter. It's a DVD that is like a magazine. You click on the links and explore various artists food portraits. Learn more about it at:

I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Eastside Market Deli

in 1990, I was working on a project in Chinatown with my friend. Well, it turns out that his family was one of the original residence of the area now known as Chinatown. He was half Croatian. Chinatown used to have not only a Chinese population but also a Croatian, Mexican and Italian population. One day, it was lunch time he said "you want to get a meat ball sandwhich?" We found our way to Eastside Deli, 1013 Alpine Street, 213-250-2646, ( which is kind of hidden in the hill of Chinatown. It is still run by an Italian family and has some of the best Italian style deli sandwhiches around. Their eggplant parmesan is a favorite of mine too.

What I love about the place is the guaranteed quick but long lines, the tomato sauce on most of the hot sandwhiches and the old school rough and ready service.

A sandwhich will run you around $7.00 and you can be in and out of there in less than an hour. Which is great because a lot of government worker types are there for lunch.

I've been going there for over seventeen years now and I haven't brought anyone who didn't fall in love with the place. I even brought a Eastcoast friend of mine once who was so surprised he almost cried while eating his meatball sandwhich. He couldn't believe something like this exisited in LA and it made him homesick for New York. Sweeeeeeet!!!!!!!

Pictured is a recent shot of artist Jeffrey Mohr, ready to enjoy his Eastside Deli perfection. Go Jeff, go!!!!


LA LA, maybe not known for pizza per se. I've had great deep dish in Chicago at Duo's and delicious thin crust in Queens, New York. We used to have a great place adjacent to the Capitol Records building in Hollywood but it closed in the late 80's I think.

I was told that a new place opened up on the corner of Melrose and Highland so I went to go check it out. FYI, make reservations, this place gets packed.

I'm writing this for you because it was amazing. I'm not going to flower it with words, just go if you like pizza and have some money to spend. it ain't cheap (

Rumor has it that it was started by one of the Iron Chef's and one of the co-founder of La Brea Bakery. Even if it's not true, it makes for great folklore and great folklore is what it's all about.

Nothing mythical about the pizza at this place. It's called "MOZZA", 6602 Melrose Avenue, 323-297-0100.

It's not a big place, the people are super nice and the smell when you sit there will melt your heart. I highly recommend you sit at the counter. That way you can see your pizza being made and everyone Else's for that matter. One of the pizza's I ordered was the mushroom pizza that had several types of shrooms and in the first bite, I had visions that they were picked that very morning.

The Apple Pan

I am not a vegetarian. I like to eat vegan sometimes. I was once upon a time in college for about two or three years. Something in my body turned meat away. What brought me back was a sudden desire for a Tommy's Burger. You know that feeling?

Hamburgers are sold all over the world. It's a relatively simple dish derived from the German beef dish. Once it was Americanized into a sandwich, "Walla!", a yummy hand held meal.

One of my favorite places to get a burger in LA LA is Apple Pan, 10801 West Pico Blvd, 310-475-3585. It's across the street from the Westside Pavilion, a block east of Pico and Westwood Blvd.

The shop is a return to the past with its' screen door, painted wood exterior and very cool neon sign. Inside is a three sided booth surrounding the "kitchen" in the center. Almost everyone can watch there burger being made. There's an Original and a Hickory flavored burger. The cheese is old school and thick.

The fries are delicious and they serve the water in those fun cone like paper cups that sit in their holders. Sometimes I order a rootbeer but I usually order a coffee with my burger. I am not a coffee drinker but for some reason they tast really good together. When your fries come, they slap a paper dish infront of you and squirt a mound of ketchup into it. It feels like a teammate slapping you on the back. "Good job mann, way to go".

Why's it called Apple Pan? Because of their homemade apple pie. They have a cream pie too that's great but I'm partial to the apple pie Ala mode. Why not? I got my coffee already.

I often wonder, sitting at the counter, if the food is served the same way from when it first opened back in the day? Is that why it taste so good? It's pre the fast food era or at least it feels like that.

The burgers are not from a dollar menu. I always end up spending near $20 for everything but isn't that cheap for thirty minutes of heaven?

You don't want to spend too much time hanging out once you've eaten. Along the front and side walls are people standing waiting patiently for there turn to sit-order-and fly in LA LA.

1999 LA Times Article

Wednesday, October 6, 1999 Home Edition Section: Food Page: H-1 Cover Story

"As You Like It"


Alan Nakagawa has fond memories of okonomiyaki from his childhood. Make that memory, singular. When Nakagawa, who grew up on the western edge of Koreatown, was 9, his mother sent him to a friend's house one day after school.

"My friend's mom cooked okonomiyaki in a skillet," he remembers. "She said, 'It's a Japanese dish like a pancake or pizza. I thought 'Wow! What is this? This is really good.' " Nakagawa didn't see okonomiyaki again until he was in his mid-20s, when he went to Japan on a Monbusho scholarship. Today, the MTA senior public arts officer and multimedia artist is an okonomiyaki fanatic. He regularly prepares the soulful dish for family and friends on a hot plate at the dinner table so that everyone can watch the savory pancakes cook. To Nakagawa, this participatory aspect of okonomiyaki is half the fun. What exactly is okonomiyaki? According to John Nathan, Takashima professor of cultural studies at UC Santa Barbara, the word literally translated means "the honorable as-you-like-it grilled thing."

The "as you like it" part is key. You can put practically anything into okonomiyaki. Nakagawa, for example, has eaten okonomiyaki with seafood, with natto (fermented soy beans) and kimchi, with sausage and with yakisoba noodles. The adventuresome cook even prepared okonomiyaki topped with black mole, a variation you most definitely will not find in Japan.

The options are endless, but several components are nonnegotiable. These include a simple batter, usually a combination of water (or water combined with dashi, bonito stock) and Japanese flour, which is finer than most American flours, whole egg and cabbage. Most recipes, which are difficult to find in English, also call for katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and aonori (dried green seaweed flakes) as condiments. And then there is the requisite okonomiyaki sauce, a sweet brown sauce similar to Worcestershire but thicker.

Otafuku, the first company to manufacture okonomiyaki sauce in Japan (beginning in 1950), has offices in Torrance. Two final additions to most styles of okonomiyaki--we'll get to the variations later--are Japanese mayonnaise and hot Japanese mustard. It is best to use squeeze bottles for the mayonnaise and mustard in order to make decorative designs on the finished okonomiyaki. So why isn't okonomiyaki more popular in the United States? (In the Los Angeles area, there are only two okonomiyaki restaurants, Tombo in Torrance and Takoyaki Gen in Little Tokyo).

Certainly the dish is ubiquitous in Japan, where there are 13,000 okonomiyaki-ya (specialty restaurants). At many of these family-run spots, patrons cook their own okonomiyaki on teppan-style grills built into the tables. One theory for okonomiyaki's obscurity in this country is that it is a relatively new dish, dating to the late 1940s, after World War II, when rice supplies in Japan were extremely low and people had to turn to other food sources, such as flour. In addition, says Nakagawa, it was considered a poor man's dish in its early years. Over time, as food supplies in Japan grew more bountiful, people began to add pork, seafood and other luxurious extras. But even today, okonomiyaki is considered a proletarian dish, especially popular with students. Consequently, when Nakagawa travels to Japan on business and tells his hosts he would like to eat okonomiyaki, he gets curious looks and is taken not to okonomiyaki-ya, but to more upscale restaurants where okonomiyaki is just one item on the menu.

"It's almost as if it would be an insult if we just ate okonomiyaki," says Nakagawa. Although Nakagawa does not have a favorite kind of okonomiyaki, when he cooks, he makes the Kansai (or Osaka) style, in which the batter and all of the ingredients are mixed together and poured on the grill to form a circle about 8 inches across. (Think individual pizza size.)

Perhaps the trickiest part of cooking okonomiyaki is the flipping. Nakagawa uses two metal spatulas he purchased in Osaka to flip his okonomiyaki in a quick, seamless motion that can inspire awe in beginners. But any sturdy spatulas will do. Even Nakagawa occasionally manages to break the okonomiyaki during the maneuver. Not to worry. The circle can usually be reformed by pushing the errant piece or pieces back in place. Another popular style of okonomiyaki comes from Hiroshima.

More of an assemblage, this style consists of a very thin pancake, akin to a crepe, which is sprinkled with bonito flakes and then mounded with cabbage and other ingredients and topped with thin pieces of pork or perhaps shrimp. After this construction is flipped and allowed to cook a few more minutes, it is placed atop cooked yakisoba noodles (similar to Chinese chow mein noodles). In the final step, the noodle side is placed atop an ultra-thin fried egg. No wonder the chefs at most okonomiyaki-ya in Hiroshima do the cooking themselves. What should one drink with okonomiyaki? Nakagawa recommends chilled Oolong tea or, even better, an ice-cold Japanese beer.

His favorite is Yebisu, a lager that is ceramic cold-filtered instead of pasteurized. He discovered Yebisu in Tokyo at a macrobiotic restaurant and has since found it at several Los Angeles markets. "It tends to be on the light side," says Nakagawa, "and it's a little bit sweet." In other words, just as he likes it. Alan Nakagawa's Basic Kansai (Osaka) Style Okonomiyaki After Nakagawa makes the batter, he usually divides it into four equal parts and adds different items to each. Thus, instead of serving four plain okonomiyaki, he might serve one with mixed seafood, one with chicken, one with eggplant and one with yakisoba noodles. (See variations below.) This way everyone can try a variety in a single meal. Of course, this recipe is delicious without additions. Nakagawa recommends Otafuku brand okonomiyaki sauce and Cupie brand mayonnaise.

These products and others called for in the recipes can be found at Japanese markets. Active Work Time: 30 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 50 minutes 1/2 large head cabbage, finely chopped 2 1/2 cups flour (preferably Japanese flour, which is very fine) 2 tablespoons dashi (bonito stock) 2 cups water 4 eggs 4 tablespoons tenkasu (deep-fried tempura batter crumbs) 4 teaspoons pickled ginger (the dark pink kind that is thinly sliced)1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped Oil for frying 1/2 cup okonomiyaki sauce 1/2 cup mayonnaise 4 teaspoons aonori (dried green seaweed flakes) 4 teaspoons katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) Hot Japanese mustard* Thoroughly mix cabbage, flour, dashi, water, eggs, tenkasu, ginger and onions in large bowl. * Heat lightly greased griddle or skillet over low to medium heat. Ladle approximately 1 cup batter onto hot griddle. If necessary, use back of spoon to spread batter slightly into circle about 8 inches across. Cook until bottom of okonomiyaki starts to color and edges begin to cook, about 10 minutes. Loosen okonomiyaki from cooking surface. Slide spatula under opposite sides of okonomiyaki, so spatulas face each other. Using both spatulas, quickly flip okonomiyaki. Cook until bottom has turned light golden and center is firm, about 6 to 8 minutes. * Spoon or squeeze 2 tablespoons okonomiyaki sauce over surface of each okonomiyaki. Add 2 tablespoons mayonnaise. (Nakagawa likes to make spirals with okonomiyaki sauce, then mayonnaise.) Sprinkle each okonomiyaki with 1 teaspoon aonori, then 1 teaspoon katsuobushi. * Using spatula, cut each okonomiyaki into 4 slices. You may need to use both spatulas to pull pieces apart. Add mustard to taste and serve immediately. Repeat until all batter is used. 4 okonomiyaki. Each of 8 servingsi : 504 calories; 1,153 mg sodium; 112 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 82 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams protein; 0.09 gram fiber. Variations: Consider adding various meats or additional vegetables to the next batch.

Remember, okonomiyaki, by definition, means "as you like it." A basic rule is that you can add 1/3 cup of anything you like to each okonomiyaki. Make sure additions are cut into bite-size pieces. Some of the most popular additions include squid, shrimp and scallops, chicken tenderloins, sausage, yakisoba noodles, eggplant and pork tenderloin. All of these, except the seafood, should be cooked before being added to the batter. To evenly distribute additions throughout the batter, place pieces of it on the skillet throughout an imaginary 8-inch circle (the size of the okonomiyaki) and then pour the batter over the bits. Or, you can mix the additions into the batter, then pour it onto the grill. Naoyoshi Sasaki's Basic Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki Sasaki is president of Otafuku USA. Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 45 minutes 2 cups water 2 cups Japanese flour or all-purpose flour 1/2 cup dashi (bonito stock) or broth Oil 4 teaspoons katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) 4 cups chopped cabbage 1/4 cup tenkasu (deep-fried tempura batter crumbs) 1/4 cup chopped green onions 1/4 cup bean sprouts 12 thin slices pork (often labeled sukiyaki style in Japanese markets) 4 cups cooked yakisoba (stir-fry) noodles Okonomiyaki Sauce 4 eggs 4 teaspoons aonori (dried green seaweed flakes) * Thoroughly mix water, flour and dashi in large bowl to make smooth batter. * Heat lightly oiled griddle or skillet over low to medium heat. Pour 1/3 cup batter onto hot griddle. Using ladle or spoon, spread batter in circle to create thin pancake about 7 inches across. Cook until lightly set, 1 to 2 minutes. * Sprinkle 1 teaspoon katsuobushi flakes over pancake. Next place 1 cup chopped cabbage, 1 tablespoon tenkasu, 1 tablespoon green onions and 1 tablespoon bean sprouts atop pancake. On top of this lay 3 slices pork, forming a sort of cover. Drizzle 2 tablespoons batter over top of pork. Cook, covered, until top is lightly set, 2 to minutes. Do not allow pancake to burn. * Using 2 spatulas, flip pancake and press top lightly to flatten slightly. Cook until pork is cooked through, about 5 to 7 minutes more

Meanwhile, lightly saute noodles on side of skillet or griddle in 1 tablespoon okonomiyaki sauce. * Form noodles into flat circle about size of pancake. Lift okonomiyaki and place atop noodles. Do not flip. Again, press down lightly with spatula. * On side of skillet or griddle, fry 1 egg, spreading yolk to create egg pancake about 7 inches across. Lift okonomiyaki and noodles and place atop egg. Cook 1 to 2 minutes more. * Flip entire pancake. Squeeze okonomiyaki sauce generously over top, then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon aonori. * Using spatulas, cut okonomiyaki into 4 pieces. You may need to use both spatulas to pull pieces apart. Serve immediately. Repeat until all batter is used. 4 okonomiyaki. Each of servings: 497 calories; 1,355 mg sodium; 116 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 84 grams carbohydrates; 17 grams protein; 0.61 gram fiber. Okonomiyaki Sauce If you are unable to find a bottled version, the following is a reasonable substitute. It comes from "Practical Japanese Cooking" by Shizuo Tsuji and Koichiro Hata (out of print). Active Work Total Preparation Time: 15minutes plus 30 minutes cooling 2 tablespoons tomato puree 2 tablespoons ketchup 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce 1 teaspoon sugar 7 tablespoons dashi (bonito stock) 2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water * Bring tomato puree, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, sugar and dashi to boil in saucepan over high heat. Add cornstarch mixture, a little at a time, and cook until thickened to the texture of ketchup. Cool before serving. About 1 1/2 cups. Each tablespoon: 7 calories; 196 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.01 gram fiber. PHOTO: (2 photos) Top, Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, served on noodles. Above, the makings: fried wheat flour, pickled ginger, bonito flakes, dried seaweed, sauce.

PHO 97

Pho has become very popular here in Los Angeles. There are so many places to eat the delicious Vietnamese noodle/broth dish. Pho, pronounced "fa" as in "do, re, mi, FA", comes in several styles, rare beef, cooked beef, meat balls, however I prefer the simplicity of the Shrimp Pho. It's healthy, filling and delicious.

Pho also is served with ingredients that are optional to put into your bowl i.e. bean sprouts, fresh basil leaves and hot sauces.

My friends and I often go to the one in Chinatown called LA Pho 97, 727 North Broadway, Suite 120. It's inside the buildings plaza area. They also have the best spring rolls I've had in LA, that amazing Vietnamese coffee with the condensed milk, Bun Bo Nao, and Boba Teas.

The Pho ranges from $5 to $6 and is made very quickly, so it rivals fast food if you are in a hurray for lunch. There's parking under the building which they validate or you can take the Metro Gold Line, DASH or bus or better yet, ride your bike.

I always finish my bowl to the bottom. It's a habit I learned at a truck stop Ramen place outside of Tokyo. It tells the chef that I was very happy with what she or he made me.