Archive for I'm Just Here for the Food (Restaurants & Recipes)

I’m Just Here for the Food: SUGARFISH by Sushi Nozawa


I used to think I loved sushi.

Then, I went to SUGARFISH for the first time and discovered that I’d never really had sushi before.

SUGARFISH is a restaurant of sushi chef Kazunori Nozawa. Nozawa is affectionately known as the “Sushi Nazi,” and is renowned for his keen eye for good fish and for his uncanny ability to give you exactly what you want without your even having to ask.

He’s famous for his Omakase (chef’s choice) menu, delighting his customers with whatever it pleases him to make for them, and politely but unceremoniously tossing out those who would question his choices. At SUGARFISH, the menu’s as simple as it gets:

  • The TRUST ME: a starter of organic edamame, followed by tuna sashimi, two pieces of albacore sushi, two pieces of salmon sushi, one piece of yellowtail sushi, one piece of halibut sushi, a toro hand roll, and a blue crab hand roll
  • The TRUST ME/LITE: edamame, tuna sashimi, one piece each of albacore, salmon, and Nozawa Shrimp Sushi, and a toro hand roll
  • The NOZAWA: edamame, tuna sashimi, two pieces each of albacore, salmon, yellowtail, and halibut sushi, a toro hand roll, a blue crab hand roll, and a two-piece “Daily Special”
  • SUGARFISH tuna sashimi

    The tuna sashimi is a revelation (photo credit: Foodie Universe).

    If you want more than each of these prix fixe menus give you, you can order random rolls and sushi as well. The rules at SUGARFISH are a bit more relaxed than at Sushi Nozawa.

    The sushi here is served with warm sushi rice, which makes all the difference. The warmth of the rice awakens your taste buds to the delicate flavors of the fish. Even my sister, who pooh-poohs my propensity to get teary-eyed about food, had to admit that the sushi at SUGARFISH made her get a little verklempt.

    But the real star of the show at SUGARFISH is the FISH. Nozawa is a master of fish selection. Every single piece of fish here is of the highest quality, and just melts in your mouth. Certain dishes are served with light sauces, but these sauces serve only to enhance the flavors of the fish, and not to cover it up as it would at lesser sushi restaurants.

    SUGARFISH brentwood

    I’ve had lunch at the Brentwood location and dinner at the Downtown location (makes for the ULTIMATE pre-opera dinner, yo), and the restaurant’s mellow, trendy ambience and décor is quite memorable until the sushi comes out and you forget everything else in a haze of delicate, yet powerful flavor.

    I thought I loved sushi before, but my past devotion pales in comparison to this new passion for sushi awakened by just a taste of the real sushi to be had at SUGARFISH.

    Do yourself a favor and save up as much as you can for one night of unforgettable sushi at SUGARFISH. It’s worth every penny.

    SUGARFISH by Sushi Nozawa
    11640 W. San Vicente Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA 90049
    (310) 820-4477

    I’m Just Here for the Food: Jangmo Jip


    If you’re Korean, the phrase “chicken soup for the soul” does nothing for you. But talk about sullungtang, and you instantly recall the comfort that a hot bowl of beef soup, noodles, and thinly-sliced beef served with sea salt, green onion, and radish kimchi brings on a cold day.

    The sullungtang at Jangmo Jip (which translates to “Mother-in-Law’s House,” by the way. HA!!) is tops, providing maximum flavor for maximum comfort.

    It’s a simple establishment, and because their menu is so simple, you get your food almost before you even order it.

    Get the traditional white noodles. They’re the best.

    One of these days, I’m going to write a book. I’ll call it “Sullungtang for the Korean Seoul,” and it’ll be filled with pictures of sullungtang and kimchi from Jangmo Jip. Koreans will shed emotional tears over it; I guarantee.

    Jangmo Jip
    4877 La Palma Avenue
    La Palma, CA 90623
    (714) 402-7212

    I’m Just Here for the Food: Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant


    Appearances can be deceiving. Looks like nothing but a hole in the wall, doesn't it?

    In my lifetime, I’ve known two different kinds of Mexican food: the Americanized stuff that is covered in cheese and the authentic kind that you can only get at some hole-in-the-wall with sticky tables.

    Now, don’t get me wrong; I love those sticky-table places. That, to me, is true auténtico. But Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant has showed me what can happen when you elevate Mexican food beyond the taco. I can’t believe that I’ve lived in Long Beach for thirty years and never even heard of this place. I’d driven past it thousands of times, but never even noticed it was there.

    I was out with some girlfriends who just got their hurrs did. Their fabulous stylist told them that they just HAD to try Enrique’s, and we took his advice the next day. BOY, is that Martin gonna get a fat tip the next time the girls go in! Enrique’s is amazing.

    The second we walked in, we saw another diner feasting on the pork shank, an off-menu item that’s legendary on Yelp. We knew that we had to try it. We ended up ordering that, the sea bass, the frog legs, and the carnitas taco.

    As we waited for our food, we nibbled (okay, gorged) on complimentary chips and salsa. Their salsa is something else: it’s like a baja salsa mixed with a pico de gallo. It’s both fresh and saucy, just like us girls.

    Then, the food came. OH, the food.

    The pork shank is the size of your head and swimming in a tangy sauce served over rice. The meat fell off the bone, and was so tender and juicy that we were all practically in tears.

    The sea bass was served over wilted greens with a bit of broth. It was perfectly cooked, and the greens added some freshness to the dish.

    The frog legs were covered in glorious amounts of garlic and served with buttery rice and grilled zucchini. There were four legs on the plate, and they came from a frog that probably told all his friends in a defensive tone that he was big-boned, but, trust me: he was just FAT.

    a froge praye

    "... don't eat me. Even though I'm SO TASTY."

    The carnitas taco was the size of a burrito, contained two fistfuls of meat, and was doused with a healthy serving of guacamole. It was served with rice and a sea of beans.

    By the end of the meal, all of our waistbands were begging for mercy.

    Our server was great; attentive without being intrusive, funny without being obnoxious. He told us that we just had to save room for dessert. When we asked if they served Mexican coffee, he quipped, “No… but the guy who makes it is Mexican.”

    We cracked up and, when we calmed down, he told us that the coffee really was good there. So we ordered two cups of COFFEE to split. He was right; it was really good; rich, but not too bitter. And they serve it with full-on heavy cream. None of that half-and-half crap for Enrique’s! It was the perfect way to end the night.

    After we’d paid, the server came back and told us that he’d see us next week. And, you know, he just might.

    Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant
    6210 E. Pacific Coast Highway
    Long Beach, CA 90803
    (562) 498-3622

    I’m Just Here for the Food: John’s Hamburgers

    john's hamburgers

    Would that I could reach through my computer screen and grabs me a zucchini spear...

    I have a soft spot for John’s. When I was eight, my family started going to church. Every once in a while, my parents would give us money, and we’d go with our friends to John’s on Cerritos and Denni in Cypress, which was just down the street from our church. To this day, eating at John’s reminds me of Sunday afternoon, hanging out with my friends (most of whom I still see every Sunday).

    When they opened a John’s in my neighborhood, I was ecstatic: CHILI CHEESE FRIES every day!!

    The quality of the food at this location is the exact same as the quality of food that I used to get at the old Cypress location. I love their Chili Cheese Fries and Fried Zucchini. Their burgersare all excellent, and their Club Sandwich is an old favorite. I used to eat their Fish Sandwich one layer at a time because it was so thick. I also love the Pastrami Sandwich.

    Now, the food is a touch expensive, but it’s worth supporting a local small business.

    John’s is the taste of growing up to me, and I’ll always have a soft spot for it. Now, excuse me. I think I want one of their famous Breakfast Burritos right about now.

    John’s Hamburgers
    622 E. Spring Street
    Long Beach, CA 90808
    (562) 421-3663

    Cannonball 6: How to Cook Like a Top Chef

    How to Cook Like a Top ChefHow to Cook Like a Top Chef by Chronicle Books
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    ***WARNING: Long, personal anecdote ahead. For the review, skip ahead to the noted section.***

    When I was in my early twenties, we had a Secret Santa gift exchange at my church. We were supposed to give our recipient a small gift every Sunday in December until the big reveal and the final, big gift at the Christmas party.

    Week One went by, and I got nothing. During Week Two, I stood about empty-handed and smiling wanly as my friends squealed over their stocking stuffers, guessing who their Santas were. By the time Week Three hit, I finally received something: one of those 99¢ plastic canes filled with M&Ms. With gritted teeth behind a forced smile, I swore that I would have vengeance if the final gift didn’t make up for the winter of my discontent.

    bad santa

    Who was my Bad Santa???

    The party finally rolled around, and everyone started revealing themselves to their recipients. I stood forlornly in the corner, fuming as the festive air of the room was punctuated with shouts of joy and surprise.

    Then, my friend H revealed himself. He approached me sheepishly. “Merry Christmas, I’m your Secret Santa, hope you like it,” he rattled nervously. He handed me a hastily-wrapped package.

    I carefully undid the paper (I’m not a tearer) to reveal a big, paperback book. Mexican Cooking for Dummies, the cover read.

    I was furious.

    mexican cooking

    Just what are you trying to say about my intelligence?

    I didn’t know how to cook; didn’t really care much about it, and was he trying to say he thought I was stupid? Still, I didn’t want to cause a scene or seem ungracious.

    “Thanks, it’s great,” I managed between bared teeth.

    When I got home, I tossed the book onto a bookshelf and forgot about it.

    But, months later, guilt began to set in. He was still fairly new to our church, and my reception to his gift hadn’t been very gracious. And he didn’t really have to participate at all.

    I thought I’d show him that I really was grateful by putting his gift to good use. It was almost May, and I thought Cinco de Mayo would be the perfect opportunity to put a Mexican cookbook to good use. But I already had plans for the fifth, so I planned a Doce de Mayo celebration instead, and invited H and a bunch of our friends.

    I planned my first-ever meal, complete with appetizers, drinks, soup, main courses, sides, and a dessert. I bought all of the ingredients. I started cooking.


    Whenever there's a potluck, everyone demands that I make guacamole. It's become the last word in guacamole at my church.

    The party was a hit (despite the fact that lunch was served about two hours late), and I was hooked on cooking. And I have H to thank for it. What I thought was a lame gift turned out to be a life-changer.

    And, ten years later, H strikes again. He and his girlfriend (also an H) got me How to Cook Like a Top Chef for Christmas.


    I’ve never before read a cookbook cover to cover, and certainly not in two sittings. But I am a huge “Top Chef” fan, and this book has it all. It’s the latest “Top Chef” cookbook, and it’s filled with recipes, information, technique tips, interviews with chef’testants, and mouth-wateringly beautiful color photos on every page.

    fabio's chicken

    The recipe I'd been drooling for: Fabio's Roasted Chicken with Herb Roasted Potatoes, Caramelized Cipollini Onions, and Grilled Lemon with Leafy Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

    It’s beautiful and glossy, and has recipes that are simple to make for the novice home chef as well as more challenging recipes for the self-made culinary artist.

    My only tiny, tiny nitpick is that there just aren’t enough recipes. There’s plenty of material there for the “Top Chef” fan, but not quite enough for the dedicated foodie. I’d rather have another recipe than read about chef’testants’ tattoos.

    H, H, and I are planning to get together soon to try out some of these recipes. And if the fate of Mexican Cooking for Dummies is any indicator, then How to Cook Like a Top Chef is going to end up a beat-up volume with food-stained and water-blistered pages — true signs of love in the kitchen.

    View all my reviews

    I’m Just Here for the Food: Flame Broiler

    chicken veggie bowl

    Fast food done right.

    Flame Broiler is an unassuming little spot in the back of a big plaza. I rarely visit that plaza; I usually stop at the Coffee Bean across the street and never make it any farther down Spring Street. But my sister stopped here to pick up lunch one day, and came home raving about it. And, one day, she treated me to dinner, on the condition that we go to Flame Broiler.

    We both got the regular Chicken Veggie Bowl with brown rice. I love that they offer you the option of brown rice. I personally prefer the nuttiness and texture of brown rice to white.

    brown rice

    If it's brown, wolf it down.

    I was bowled over by just how much chicken comes with this bowl. At most other teriyaki-type places, I usually end up eating a lot of veggies and rice first, just so that I have enough chicken to last me to the end of the meal. But about a quarter of the way through eating my Flame Broiler bowl, I realized that I was overwhelmed with chicken and would have to start eating it so that I wasn’t left with half a bowl of chicken at the end of my meal!

    The portions are generous, and dirt-cheap. I believe there’s a Sunday afternoon special that scores you a bowl and a drink for $5. Unbelievable!!

    They may not have a drive-thru, but they cook FAST. My meal was ready to go in less than five minutes from the time I ordered it.

    McDonald's fries

    Delicious, but deadly. Confession: I love them anyway. But only on occasion, now that I have better options.

    Even fast food is expensive nowadays. Many of the so-called “Extra Value Meals” at McDonald’s run you more than $5 these days. For the money, Flame Broiler is a much better value, and their food won’t give you cancer, diabetes, or a heart condition, either. It’s a healthy and delicious alternative to traditional fast food.

    Flame Broiler
    6528 E. Spring Street
    Long Beach, CA 90815
    (562) 420-6201

    I’m Just Here for the Food: The Capital Grille


    Sweet, sweet beef.

    Ever since I lost my cushy desk job to the bursting of the housing bubble, I haven’t been able to indulge in much fine cuisine. Who can afford to pay more than ten bucks for a meal? There are two answers to that question:

    1. Not me.
    2. My friends.

    Every year for my birthday, these dear friends treat me to a taste of my former life.

    Fortunately, my birthday usually coincides with dineLA, an event during which Los Angeles restaurants offer a prix fixe menu at a discounted price. This year, I was given a choice of three restaurants, and I decided to go with the Capital Grille.

    Now, we all know how I feel about restaurants that add a superfluous E on the end of “grill” to make it seem fancier, and that made me hesitant to choose the Capital Grille, but I told myself that I ought to judge a restaurant by its food, not its grammar.

    My friends had told the restaurant when making the reservation that it was my birthday, so there was a birthday card waiting for me when we arrived, surrounded by some birthday confetti. It was a nice touch.

    The first thing we asked when we sat down was whether or not the dineLA portions were regular portions or reduced. One of my friends, being a dude, was concerned about whether or not the portions would be filling. Our server reassured us that the portions were the same size as the normal portions at the Capital Grille.

    Han must still have been suspicious because he decided to order an appetizer anyway. The Pan-Fried Calamari with Hot Cherry Peppers was tender and flavorful. It wasn’t overbattered, and the batter that was there was light and crispy. The peppers also added a nice bite of spice and acid to the dish without overwhelming it.

    We then got started on the prix fixe menu. Both of us girls got the Clam Chowder, and the dude got the Field Greens, which surprised me. He said he enjoyed it, but I couldn’t help but to secretly think that we girls had won the first round. The chowder was creamy and silky, and there were plenty of clams in it.


    More beef!!

    We moved on to the main event: the steak. My buddy the dude is a workout freak and his nickname is The Beef. Well, these steak dishes were steaks worthy of The Beef. The Beef and his lady got the Kona Crusted Dry-Aged Sirloin with Shallot Butter. It was done to perfection, and it tasted fine, but I still felt that I had the winner on my plate.

    I got the Filet Mignon, which was served with a red wine sauce, was rich and full of flavor. I enjoyed every bite of that melt-in-your-mouth filet.

    Each dinner was supposed to be served with a little Creamed Spinach and Mashed Potatoes, but since there were three of us, our server gave us a full-sized order of each. The spinach was creamy enough, but I personally thought it could have used some bacon. The mashed potatoes were creamy, too, but I felt myself wanting garlic.

    The service, by the way, was some of the best I ever had. Our server was on point without being a nuisance. He was knowledgable and confidently answered all of our questions. He even suggested ways that we could get more out of our dining experience.

    creme brulee

    Why does burnt cream taste so good?

    We finished with three different desserts. I got the Classic Crème Brûlée, The Beef got the Capital Grille Handcrafted Ice Cream in vanilla, and his lady got the Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake. All three desserts were just about perfect; sweet without giving us a toothache, although I thought it helped that we ate the ice cream and the cake together.

    We left happy and satisfied. I even took home leftovers.

    The dineLA deal was incredible, and, as far as fine dining is concerned, the Capital Grille certainly knows what it’s doing. Someday, when my ship comes in, I’ll visit the Capital Grille again.

    The Capital Grille
    Beverly Center
    8614 Beverly Boulevard
    Los Angeles, CA 90048
    (310) 358-0650

    A Hot Bowl of Italy: Zuppa Toscana

    I originally intended the I’m Just Here for the Food feature to include reviews and recipes, but it’s been an entire year and I haven’t posted a single recipe. Well, that changes today.

    Now that the weather’s getting chillier (which, in SoCal, means it was 60°F today), I’m in the mood for a nice, hot bowl of soup almost every day. Mmm, soup.

    Zuppa Toscana is one of my favorite soups. Whenever I get unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks at the Olive Garden, I can never bring myself to order any soup but the Toscana. This creamy soup is easy to make at home, and maybe even better because you can make it as hearty as you like!

    Start by chopping up an onion.


    First, lengthwise, then crosswise.

    Then, crush yourself up some garlic.


    Place your knife over the garlic clove, and then... HULK SMASH!!! Then peel off the skin... TADA!! Crushed and peeled garlic.

    Then, put your cubed potatoes, onions, and garlic in a stockpot.

    In the pot!!

    You heard me!! DO IT!!!

    Then brown up some Italian sausage and chopped bacon. MEAT, YAY!!!


    Mmm, bacon. And sausage.

    Now, let’s turn this soup into a soup!

    BOIL, my pretty!!

    Add broth, bacon, and sausage, and boil until potatoes are soft. Add cream and kale.

    Add the cream and kale after the potatoes are soft, and heat through.

    Mmm, soupy!!

    Finish off with some grated parmesan and some freshly-ground pepper.

    It’s creamy. It’s savory. It’s hearty. It’s the ultimate soup.

    Zuppa Toscana

    1 lb. sausage
    1 lb. bacon, chopped
    1 qt. water
    2 14.5 oz. cans chicken broth
    2 russet potatoes, scrubbed clean and cubed
    2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
    1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
    2 cups chopped kale
    1 cup heavy cream
    Parmesan cheese and pepper to taste

    Brown sausage over medium-high heat, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. Brown bacon, too. Set aside.

    Place water, broth, potatoes, garlic and onion in a pot and simmer until potatoes are soft.

    Add sausage and bacon and cook for another ten minutes.

    Add kale and cream; heat through.

    Before serving, garnish with Parmesan cheese and freshly-ground pepper. You can add salt if you like, but I find that the bacon makes this soup salty enough.

    Enjoy! 🙂

    I’m Just Here for the Food: Saladang Song

    saladang song

    If looks are your thing, you're in luck.

    I’ve only been here twice, and, both times, I was with a large group of people.

    On my most recent visit, it was for a wedding rehearsal dinner. The bride- and groom-to-be ordered a bunch of dishes for everyone to share: pad thai, pad see ew, beef salad , yellow curry, and Thai fried rice.

    I have no complaints about the food; everything was absolutely delicious. And the outside patio is beautiful — the restaurant, designed by Peter Tolkin Architecture, was a finalist for a James Beard restaurant design award.

    My only big objection to the place is that it’s so ridiculously expensive. I understand that sometimes, you have to pay for ambiance, but the food just isn’t spectacular enough to merit the cost. I’d be satisfied with a crappier restaurant design and better food.

    If you really want to impress someone with aesthetics, then Saladang Song is the place to go. But if you want to impress them with food, look elsewhere.

    Saladang Song
    383 S Fair Oaks Ave
    Pasadena, CA 91105
    (626) 793-5200

    I’m Just Here for the Food: Islands

    islands burger

    "Unremarkable" doesn't mean "not delicious."

    Some people may accuse Islands of being an unremarkable burger joint, but, for some reason, I always find myself coming back here whenever I can’t think of anything in particular that I’m craving.

    This surf-themed burger joint boasts a menu of burgers featuring toppings including bacon, onion rings, sharp cheddar, mushrooms, and even pineapple (my favorite). In addition to chicken burgers, they also offer options such as veggie patties and wheat buns.

    As I mentioned, I really love getting the Hula Burger (which has teriyaki sauce and pineapple) and the Toucan (the chicken version of the Hula Burger). The Yaki Tacos (chicken tacos with teriyaki sauce and pineapple) are also super-delish. But I also really love the Sandpiper, a savory burger topped with sautéed mushrooms and Swiss cheese.

    They also offer Bottomless Fries, which are really unremarkable for the most part, but still a necessity when you get a burger. What are remarkable are the Cheddar Fries — skinnies fries covered in melted cheddar cheese and green onions. Yum.

    All in all, there isn’t all that much that’s remarkable about Islands’ burgers, but you can bet I’ll be back.

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