Wednesday, December 29, 2004

We're All Connected

Very little positive news have been heard or read about the tsunami/earthquake that took place earlier this week. Villages wiped out, babies left orphaned, decomposing bodies buried in mass graves for the sake of the living. However, light is finally finding its way as lives are found amongst rubles and desolation. Seeping between the death and devastation toll are stories of humanity and courage. And for scientists, this can of worms is proving to be good bait. Scientists are learning we are all literally connected. A affects B affects C and so on. They're learning more about the earth works and what makes it tick, rock, and shake. We're one big connected world. And if our technology would've been more connected, many lives would've been saved. Had an email or telephone been been made in as short of a notice as ten minutes, the devastation would have vastly been different.

Unlike the Pacific Ocean, where it's outlying denizens can afford to pay for alert systems, the Indian Ocean doesn't have one. Along most of the Indian Ocean's shores are farmers and developing industries, mainly tourism. In this joyous holiday season where most of us get to be with family and friends, take vacations, and have much to look forward to in a new year, inequality still exists and devastation still occurs. We may turn off BBC/CNN, NPR, the internet and read only the food, classifieds, and crossword sections of our newspaper, but the world is still there, all connected back to us. The world needs our blood, our extra pennies, and our thoughts.

The good news is if you're reading this post, you're already of likemind and have done your part in helping our connected world. However, I still write out of my own sense of humanity and inner obligation and I hope you forgive me for my on-going indulgence.

Happy New Year and may we stay connected!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Christmas Eve Dinner

This year we celebrated with a quaint Vietnamese dinner on Christmas Eve after midnight mass (well, my parents went) and before tearing into gifts.

Mom & I shopped at this humongous Asian superstore, buying all different kinds of fresh herbs and produce.

And the result: Grilled to eat beef and shrimp, beef wraped in herbs (Bo La Lot), eggrolls, papaya salad with jerked beef, fresh extra thin vermicelli with fried scallions, salad and herbs, rice paper to roll ingredients in.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Everyone celebrates differently

Some people go to churches with Shell signs on them as seen while I was driving around Huntington Beach, California.

Others, bike around the beach in Santa costumes. It was about 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Growing old in front of my very eyes

This New Year's Eve is going to be like no other. Being it's my favorite social celebration, my options were endless: go to Giant and roll with 17,000 of my closest friends as I've done in the past, go to Jen + Maki's for a more intimate but equally festive party, count down wildly with New York friends, drink abundantly with Minneapolis friends, go to Palm Springs with Denny + Greg, or as I've decided, join Steven and his entourage at the ranch to participate in a gourmet weekend. I'll be doing the honors and cooking for a dozen of us.

To opt for caviar and creme fraiche, hearth and board games rather than glitter, stilettos and little pink tabs is new for me. It's going to be different waking up on the first and making breakfast for friends rather than binge insomnia (not by choice) and having no memory of where I left shoes, ID, coat, camera, phone, credit cards.

You know how else I know I'm getting older? When some friends asked if I bought my ticket to Giant. I said no, but I did buy season tickets to the LA Phil for 2005. Frightening! Yet, I'm so happy! I'm looking forward to enjoying Veuve in real champagne flutes and not straight from the bottle or in plastic cups. I'll be wearing slippers and a t-shirt, not stilettos and a boa. Finally, I'll go to bed the same way I woke up, by myself, in fresh laundered pajamas, and having brushed my teeth the night before.

Here's to getting older and enjoying the moment to come rather than comparing it to expectation.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Dinner for Friends @ Denny's

My boyfriend and his family came over for dinner at Denny's (as in my friend Denise, not the restaurant). An energetic Maverick, armed with recent piano lessons, a gameboy, and new embarrassment for showing affection in public, brought along his parents and my friends, Maggie and Ken, and Mav's four months old sister, Lily. We told silly stories and Maggie (as in designer Maggie Barry) promised to help me with costuming/uniform for the restaurant's staff.

In addition to Maverick and his family, Denny and Greg (the hosts), I was finally showing off my latest skills to good friends Rob and Ed. Again, I have to thank Denny for being a generous host and best sous chef, helping me get dinner on the table before midnight.

We started with summer rolls, grilled buttered steak and tofu paired with two sauces, a coconut-hoison sauce topped with fresh crushed roasted peanuts and nuoc mam garnished with fresh carrot pickles. Then we had a grilled shrimp and crisp persimmon salad.

Lemongrass steak served over gingered sweet potatoes, side of bok choy, topped with caramelized onion and red wine soy reduction sauce. (Robbie enjoying, I hope.)

And we finally finished with ginger-lemon-pear galettes. (That's Maverick, making fun of my galettes, or as I explained to him, rustic tarts.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Good-bye Main/Westminster (Venice) Location

After pursuing leasing procedures for this property, I received bad news today that the owners do not want a restaurant to open in that place. So, again, I'm moving on. I'm still looking for a consultant (and posted for one on Craigslist) to check out the feasibility of properties. I obviously would not sign a lease without approval from both a contractor (for building/fire safety) and kitchen architect.

Good news is I'm done with culinary classes for the year and have to decide if I want to do a degree program next semester.

Thoughts...lots of them today.

On a brighter note for Secret Society of Cupcake Eaters, Hayley made me these cupcakes. I devoured the first one in about thirty seconds; the second enjoyed with more restraint. They're plain white cake (with a definitive egg taste like a madelaine) and sugar frosting. Hayley named the blue one Winter Sky and the purple one Liza Minnelli. Yum-yum.

Monday, December 13, 2004

James & Vikki Held Hostage @ the Bazaar Bizzare

James & Vikki came up yesterday and I held them hostage while I forced leftovers down their throats and dragged them to the Bazaar Bizzare at the Ukrainian Community Center. James asked if we had to be Ukrainian to be admitted, and we told him yes. Afterall, we have election woes in common.

It was rather crowded. Look at all the Ukrainians.

A cake walk. This is my kind of bazaar.

This woman made my new wallet. It's printed with a figure skater and has pink handstitching. Isn't it delightful? I was a dingbat, too excited about my new art-for-one, and I forgot to get her name.

Up to my druthers, I'd take the whole place home with me. Some favorites are bird in a skirt, Read Red, Scraps, Things that are Square, Krystin Dors, A Little Horse and Marcel DeJure.

Oh no, you don't! The hostages are trying to get away.

Alas, I gave up when James was bored of pretending to be Ukrainian.


After taking James & Vikki hostage, they turned around and kidnapped me the rest of Sunday. We ate junk food and James convinced us to go shopping. Of course, he ended up with nothing while Vikki and I made out like bandits. (I picked out a holiday gift for Vikki & James to get me -- what horrible, but practical, holiday etiquette). I bought myself a Nuala yoga skirt (you're right, whatev MHP), more American Apparel shirts (my uniform), and very fun Marc Jacobs sandals. Ooh la la. I love them but am feeling a bit guilty about the price tag (even on sale). It's hard kicking a shoe habit. I promised James & Vikki I would wear the sandals to my culinary final -- let's see how long before I kiss the concrete.

What did we eat? A Rocky Mountain candied apple that tasted like apple pie. How do they do that? It's deadly. Stay away from processed mall food. But, not before having a buttery Auntie Anne's pretzel. See guys, I'm not above mall food. Fun stuff.

We ended the day at Hurry Curry. We're surmising the place changed owners and altered recipes. Everything tasted off -- too oily, sweet, and runny. And, no croquettes. I ordered Tokyo curry specifying "very spicy." It was neither spicy in flavor nor temperature. It'll be a while before we go back. Sorry, James, I know it's one of your faves. At least you're happy riding Herbie!

Dinner & Scrabble - Part Deux

Saturday night, I cooked dinner for Drew and SK (Karen, who flew back to NYC yesterday). They, respectively, beat me in two rounds of Scrabble, but it's okay. I fed my friends and that made me happy. Hold on, did I just concede? Don't worry, the snarky competitor is still in me. Wait until I whip my peers' soufflés (as a matter of speaking) in our culinary arts final tomorrow.

I'm getting hassled by other guy friends about continuing to cook for Drew and not them. Don't worry, your meal is being planned and I promise to cook for you soon. Nothing gets me as excited as a jealous guy.

Using all organic ingredients, from produce down to butter, spice and sugar, here was our meal.

Starter: Summer rolls with tofu and herbs, served with a plum-peanut sauce. Tossed mandarin salad, topped with sweet-pickled carrots.

Entree: Steak layered over grilled eggplant, wasabi mashed potatoes with wasabi caviar, topped with caramelized onion, shiitake mushroom wine reduction sauce.

Dessert: Warm pear tart topped with fresh whipped cream + berries.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Secret Society of Cupcake Eaters

What a great luxury it is to have like-minded girlfriends with flexible schedules. Two of my wonderfully creative girlfriends, Christie Birsa and Lela Lee, and I started getting together for tea every so often, always midday, midweek. Entitled people without the entitlement. Sometimes we have cupcakes, but today I made crepes filled with fried bananas, topped with coconut sauce. We laughed, we's exactly what you'd expect, pillow fights in our underwear (this is what their husbands think).

I told them about this site and my restaurant plans for the upcoming year. I went through location options and Lela had a great idea -- hire a Feng Shui consultant. Done.

Bookclub Girls

Last night was the annual holiday party with my bookclub girls. We gathered in the patio of La Cabana, each bringing a $15 white elephant gift. Our agenda, as always, was to catch up, hang out, reflect past, look forward. Unlike years past where the white elephant gift exchange with lots of "stealing" was the highlight of the evening's laughter, our smaller and tighter group relished in friendship and support. We drank less, left earlier without an ounce of love lost nor enthusiasm waned.

As usual bookclub modus operandi, we did not get around to discussing the book we read, David Schickler's "Sweet & Vicious." We have a whole lifetime together, why the rush.

Jen Spencer, Jenny Price, Courtney Juerge

Resource: Property Info. on ZIMAS

Chris Baker forwarded me this very useful website for LA properties. You punch in the address and it gives you land use, zoning, and other information on the property. Thanks Chris.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

K Chocolatier

Another decadent afternoon. Chris Baker called this morning to convince me to lunch with him by dangling stories like candy in front of a kid (i.e., "I think I'm quitting my new job of eight days and moving to Vegas"). He even upped the stakes by saying he looked especially hot. Oh, that Chris. I agreed to meet him (and called SK to meet us) at Le Pain Quotidien, Beverly Hills. They moved across the street, so no more "look for the yellow awning." Chris had the soup of the day, red bean with vegetable, and roasted turkey tartine (with pesto). SK had the curry chicken with cranberry chutney, and I, for once, ordered what everyone else wish they had. I had the quiche Lorraine, which was perfectly brown on top and oozed with French cheese and bits of ham, plated next to a mesclun salad. Chris did look adorable and his stories a delight, but the quiche Lorraine made the trip worthwhile.

But it gets better. After lunch, SK & I stepped next door to K Chocolatier and visited the fame Diane Krön who was Jacqueline Kennedy's personal chocolatier and whose husband, Tom, invented chocolate covered strawberries. Looking at the 150 sq ft. retail shop, she spared no detail in creating a home for her chocolates. The presentation and package design were exquisite as her warm service and stories, told only as a veteran could. Her passion for chocolate exuded as we learned that she has relinquished all control of her franchises and only maintains this one store. We sampled marzipan chocolates and fresh made truffles before walking out with a lighter pocketbook. Delightful!

Venice - 1301 Main Street

Area: On S/W corner of Main Street/Westminster in Venice, One block from Abbott Kinney, near the circle (Windward), near production houses, one block from the beach, next to Dog Park, blocks from Main Street strip.

This space is small, but the location is ideal.

About 680 sq ft. + small patio.

This would be more a takeout joint than a restaurant which might be a good idea for a first venture.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Day with Karen Bennett

My friend Karen Bennett's in town from NYC (and brought the weather with her). She hates this, so I just have to start off by stating she's a Brooklyn D.A. in the gang unit, so she can kick some ass in her Blahnik boots. We call her SK as in Sister Karen because we know her through her brother Gregg. However, friends of mine who don't know Gregg still call her SK.

I started off our day together by dragging her to look at a property on Main Street in Venice before roaming around Abbott Kinney. We looked at furniture, clothes, books, jewelry, knick-knacks. Karen bought herself a gorgeous rose quartz necklace designed by Sandrine at the Goddess before buying me a late birthday gift, Donna Hay's "The New Cook." It's a beautiful (and very useful) cookbook with a bad title. I've been carrying it around with me for the last two days, whipping it out with the slightest mention of book or food.

As the sun was coming out for the first time in days, we relished our time walking from one store to the next. We finally took a break, planting ourselves in the patio at Lilly's. We both had the special of the day: Grilled chicken with ratatouille and pesto rice. We started with pureed vegetable soup. The orange-yellow liquid was mellower than I had expected, but decent. The entree was perfectly served and proportioned. It's hard to go wrong at Lilly's.

We walked around a bit more, had a coffee and shared an almond croissant at Abbott's Habit before heading to Surfas. SK was delighted that she can buy a kilo of lavender at a time there. I'd love to see her get stopped at the airport for that.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Downtown - 1315 S. Flower Street

Sunday morning, in the incessant rain, I dragged Robbie (close friend & real estate guy) to check out properties I had seen earlier. He put to rest any hopes I had for the loft on Berendo which for him was also love at first site. He agreed it was a great place but not for my intents and purposes of converting into a restaurant. He was quick to point out no back exit/delivery door, exhaust system, etc. It was sad to put that dream to bed, but I must move on.

I took him to the downtown property (loft building on Pico/Flower - 1315 Flower Street) which he agreed had lots of potential. He did advise that the unit on Pico, facing North (the Staples Center) is better than Flower (facing East) for sunlight and be brighter/warmer energy in general. The building is residential lofts on top, retail downstairs. They're hoping to have four retailers. So far there is independent record store (opening in January) and possibly a designer furniture store. Perfect neighbors for me, since all of us have the same young urbanite demographics. Downtown is on the verge of exploding, or so we hear. Of course being down there, you see it. The units range between 1100-1300sq ft.

Typical Interior (app. 1100 sq ft., railroad style)

Unit on Pico, facing North to the Staples Center

General area: Staples Center, Flower Street Lofts (Yellow Bldg.), Ralphs grocery (2005), Palm Restaurant, lofts, Standard Hotel, Office bldgs, Convention Center

Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, Linner, Dinner, Snack

Saturday was a food fest. I started the morning by making french toast topped with sautéed bananas. The phone rang and I met Kristin for coffee and a croissant for brunch. Then Denny (as in Denise) came by and we went to Divine Design to benefit Project Angel Food. I bought holiday gifts, L.A. Eyeworks glasses and a skirt for myself.

Denny was craving The Counter, so we shared a chocolate malt shake, french fries/fried onion, mini hamburgers. The mini hamburgers were about the size of a half dollar, two inches thick. So cute! We sat at the counter as I started the Saturday crossword puzzle. Denny tapped on my arm and whispered, "Doesn't that look like Owen Wilson?" I craned my neck and there was an unshaven guy in a brown/rainbow ski vest. I whispered back, "It's because it is Owen." We waited for him to come sit next to the empty seat next to Denny, but alas, some other guy did.

Denny dropped me off at Maki & Jen's and we carpooled to Rowe Traver's birthday BBQ. In retrospect, it delivered beyond Rowe's modest invite:

Saturday, December 4th
Herman Travers will rise like a Phoenix, head into his closet to grab a sweat suit, put his headband on, then crank up the Earth, Wind & Fire Greatest Hits CD before he fires up the grill. Yes folks, it's time for another Travers Family Barbecue in Whittier, California. Dad is very proud of his marinade and grillin' style and he loves to show off.

There was more meat there than I've seen in the last four years. We ate and ate then sat by the fire pit. Just as our stomachs were settling, Rowe's parents sang happy birthday (and we jumped in) and brought out desserts: Peach Cobbler, German Chocolate Cake, Carrot Cake.

We had dessert and sat back down around the fire. And before we were able to leave Rowe's parents, we were given to go containers. It was one good time with the very special Rowe and her amazing parents.

We finally got back to L.A. at about nine and I met Gregg for pizza before coming home for a bite of cobbler to end my day.

That's one heck of an eating marathon.

Birthday Girl & The Cobbler

The Firepit (OC, Jim, Maki, Mel)

Friday, December 03, 2004

Dinner & Scrabble with Drew

I finally delivered my promise to cook dinner for Drew. The night before I had prepared dessert, a ginger crème brûlée, but used half and half instead of heavy cream. The result looked as it should, but as I tasted it, I realized that the low fat content turned the dessert into an omelet. Not so good.

Thankfully, I had enough time to come up with a new plan.

Drew arrived at about 8 and I poured him a glass of mint lemon iced tea. We talked in the kitchen as I prepared the peanut salad. I roasted fresh peanuts, mashed them into peanut butter for the sauce which I tossed with greens, pickled julienned carrots, daikon, green onions and herbs (sweet basil, thai basil, rau ram - a Vietnamese basil, coriander and mint). The salad was topped with sliced guava (outer fruit) and grilled shrimp.

We caught up and took a break before the main course.

I bought some fresh wild ahi steaks (sushi grade) and hadn't thought about marinating them since I had made a sweet soy reduction sauce. After asking Drew what he liked and he didn't care, I sesame crusted and seared them. I then plated the ahi, layered the whipped ginger sweet potatoes topped with wasabi caviar, and steamed vegetables.

We stuffed ourselves then started a pretty competitive Scrabble match. When we were done with our first game, it was time for dessert, but Drew was still stuffed. So we played another game. Alas, I never got to make dessert, bananas foster (Drew's favorite) with coconut milk sauce. (I ended up making it for Robbie when he went to look with properties with me on Sunday.)

I beat Drew the first game, but got killed in the second. Argh! Next time he'll be eating words.

Food wise, I was happy with the timing of the dishes (which is always a challenge), but there was much room for improvement. Mind you, I found all different kinds of unused garnish as I was cleaning the kitchen -- whole peanuts for the salad, fried scallions for the sweet potatoes. I would've further reduced the sweet soy for a thicker glaze. I also would've opted for the fried scallion instead of wasabi caviar to garnish -- it would've been a better match for both flavor and texture. The wasabi caviar and sesame on the ahi somewhat clashed.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Maki's Input

I'm slowly introducing family and close friends to this site and my new venture. Today I told one of my closest friends, the wonderful (and you'll agree, very funny) Jeff Maki. He asked me what I was doing for New Year's as it's one of my favorite holidays. Past memories have been that of Giant or slipping out of town (or down a whole flight of stairs in Gucci stilettos), but this year I plan on being here, working. I told Maki this and I forwarded him this URL.

Maki's response follows (still warming my heart hours later):
Wow. And I was just wondering what I would do when I quit Chiat. I could be a bartender at your restaurant. Or a valet? Or a pianist? Or a bathroom attendant? Or a maitre ‘d?

Wait, I don’t play piano.

Exciting, Minh. A restaurant is exactly the right kind of venture for you. Besides the fact that you love food and are a super talented cook, it will be something that you can pour every bit of obsessive compulsive energy you have into. And then you can enjoy a glass of nice wine at the end of each day in your quiet, freshly cleaned place and contemplate how you can improve upon it the next.

Very exciting.
You can be all and I'm going to hold you to it. You so hit it on the head. I'm really excited, but it's already a lot of work and I don't even have a kitchen nor patrons.

It's going to be fun.

I figured, why not now? I will always write, I will direct a feature when the time is right, right now I just want to cook and feed people.
Wouldn't that be a great name for your restaurant?

“I just want to cook and feed people.”

People get so metaphorical and fancy with names, just put it out there. Let people know what you're all about.
In Maki's honor, I'll have to have t-shirts made that say “I just want to cook and feed people." I'll also have to remember my other idea about "Share your food." Will play with that and make t-shirts later. I'm like a sorority sister or mid 1990 dotcom employee: a t-shirt for every occasion.

Kimmie at the helm.

Last night Kimmie, my youngest sister, came up to hang out and see "The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou" with me. The film was an Anderson delight, although I'm thinking this will be his last in the series of over-designed films (crossing fingers) as his talent is far beyond just that (crossing fingers again). Music, as with all of Anderson's films, continues to be a highlight; in this film, David Bowie songs are covered in acoustic Portuguese by the very handsome Brazilian Seu Jorge and Mark Mothersbaugh's contines his great job, great use of the Sigur Rós symphony to end the film.

We got out of the theatre at about 10 and after retrieving my digi camera (which was confiscated by Disney security upon our entrance), we went looking for food. Kimmie's a picky eater as it is, and being especially cold, she added request to eat indoors, knowing my preference to dine al fresco. We drove by Dough Boys, Cynthia's, both crowded. She didn't want Urth, Le Pain Quotidien nor Mishima. We drove by Matsuhisa, still open and fantastic, but we talked ourselves out of spending a few hundred dollars on a late night binge. Instead, we opted for Crazy Fish, barely making it through the doors before the lock clicked and sign turned over. Kim, who doesn't eat fish (yes, we pick on her about that too), had the bento box with chicken teriyaki and veg/shrimp tempura. I had albacore with ponzu sauce, hamachi hand roll with scallions, and spicy salmon tempura roll. All delightful and over-filling. The sushi there isn't the better in town, but a great place for "comfort sushi" and takeout.

Kimmie and I discussed the restaurant as we had over Thanksgiving weekend. When Kim first asked to help, I was hesitant and told her I'd rather her do other things and experience life and later on, if she still wanted to, she can work with me. Although in my heart, I knew it would be great since our aesthetic sensibilities (in art, design, culture) were similar and she's very trustworthy. However, there were a few things I had to think over. On a practical level, our taste buds are very different and she doesn't have foodie sensibilities nor is experimental with it. She's more like Dad that way, additionally, she doesn't eat sauce which turns me into the tyrant sister, wondering where my parents went wrong. On an emotional level, I know the business is going to be a lot of work and think she's too young to have to be committed to it and would like her to gain other life, creative experience. Ideally, I'd like James & Vikki (also very trustworthy with certifiable work ethics) to run the place with me, but I can't ask them to quit their posh jobs with insurance and paid vacation to join me on my latest whim.

After ruminating the details with Kimmie, from layout of the restaurant -- I'm still having a very, very difficult time securing a lease and am continuing to look at different locations -- to the food and down to the color of napkins and chopsticks, I think Kimmie is the right person to join me. She has the charm and calmness to run the front of the restaurant. She is as detailed as I am when it comes to something looking displaced and I can trust that she will make great decisions running the front of the restaurant, managing the host/wait staff. I'd like to concentrate my time in the kitchen and giving the place the fresh, creative energy that I envision.

Dad + Kimmie (c. 1983) - Nice hair. Nice shirt (lack thereof), Dad.