Delectable Surprises in Sacramento’s Little Saigon

2010 was the year Sacramento officially designated Stockton Boulevard between Riza Avenue and Fruitridge Road, Little Saigon. And anyone visiting the area should definitely stop by for an authentic bite at one of the scores of Vietnamese restaurants located in the area. We found a real winner in Quan New Ninh Hoa, located at 6450 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95823.

House Special No. 1, at the very top of the menu, is a fun opportunity to roll your own Vietnamese summer rolls. An abundant assortment of tantalizing morsels show up on your table and you get to organize them any way you choose. First pick your protein, which can be Charbroiled skewers of  pork, chicken, shrimp or fried fish. We went with the traditional BBQ pork and were beyond thrilled.

Also on the plates delivered, you will find slim fried egg rolls, angel vermicelli sheets, fermented pork with garlic, assorted greens, pickled radish and carrot salad, green onion, crushed peanuts, a homemade, mildly-sweet dipping sauce and an ingenious rice paper softening system that we wanted to play with all evening.

To start the process, remove a dried rice paper wrapper from the side pocked and gentle dip it into the warm water bath section. The firm rice disk will begin to gently soften while being turned in the half circle mini tub. Be sure to turn at a slow, steady pace. It doesn’t take long and you don’t want to leave the translucent sheet in the water for an extended period. Allow it to soften and become flexible before removal from the water. Place the rice paper on your plate where it will continue to relax just a bit more.

Fill the now pliable wrapper with sheered off pieces of protein, one egg roll, an herb selection, pickled and fresh vegetables. Then roll like a burrito, being sure to turn in and secure the ends prior to the last fold so the filling doesn’t fall out.

Dip you cigar shaped package into the sauce, add a smear of chili paste from the table condiments if a spicy kick is your preferred flavor profile.

Your hard work will pay off when you bite into your crispy, smokey, fresh roll which is a texturally complex flavor bomb of pure pleasure.

Another specialty of the house found on on every table in the restaurant is Banh Beo which on the menu is referred to as Banh Bot Loc La. This well loved rice cake dish is served in small white ceramic cups and topped with bright orange pureed shrimp, green onion, fried shallots and pork floss.

They are eaten by topping with a bit of fish sauce, using your spoon to release the steamed rice from the dish and slurping the entire contents into your mouth for a creamy, crunch, savory, rich bit of umami goodness. These two traditional dishes are great representations and an opportunity to savor a bit of Vietnam right here in Sacramento, California.

Istanbul & Beyond Champions Uncharted Turkish Delights

Stunning, slice-of-Turkish-life photos by David Hagerman and recipes from remote regions of Turkey, are the focus of Robyn Eckhardt’s latest cookbook, Istanbul & Beyond. The two spent 18 months digging deep into “one of the most gastronomically complex countries anywhere”, as Robyn so eloquently states it. The diverse terrains combined with interactions with neighboring countries has produced a richness that can only evolve through centuries of experimentation with local ingredients.

The breath of the book is expansive and no single recipe defines the cuisine. We found it best to follow our whims through the dense contents. The purple basil cooler is a great place to start with its anise back-notes and cool, sweet refreshment. Robyn tips us off to the fact that alcohol enhancement produces a wonderful cocktail.

Turkish red pepper paste and flakes can be found piled high at almost every market in Turkey.  The liberal use of this important element of Turkish cooking requires chefs to decide on a preferred flavor profile from deep and smokey to fruity spicy and every combination in between. Red pepper flakes elevate the Spicy Egg Salad on page 260 to a dish that complements every meal or snack served throughout the day.

Do not miss Robyn’s green olive salad with pomegranate molasses, a pomegranate reduction, which can be found in middle eastern stores. The recipe is from Hatay in southeastern Turkey, which was just honored by UNESCO for its exceptional cuisine, and after tasting this salad we know why.

Frangrant Orange Cookies from page 75 are just that, and so addicting we are actually afraid to make a batch for fear of not being able to stop at just a few.

Istanbul and Beyond delightfully champions hidden treasure dishes that have made Gaziantep and Antakya cities of noteworthy gastronomy according to the United Nations Creative Cities Network. You are unlikely to find these gems in your local Turkish restaurants. So thank you Robyn for sharing these recipes that we hope to have the good fortune of tasting in Turkey, but until then we’re covered.

Deborah Madison Shares From Her Own Cozy Kitchen


When searching for answers to life’s questions we like to defer to the masters, and Deborah Madison certainly falls into that category. She was cooking from an enlightened perspective long before it was fashionable or even acceptable in many circles. From the San Francisco Zen Center to Chez Panisse, Madison has taken every opportunity to engage in the deepest examination of vegetarian cuisine.  And now a lifetime of expertise has been condensed into her latest book, In My Kitchen, a collection of favorite vegetarian recipes she serves at home.

We must start by highlighting the mouthwatering Romanesco sauce inspired by a trip to Spain. This deep, complex, sunny blend is oh so satisfying. We added a big dollop to soup, but honestly we want to slather this winner on everything in the kitchen including the roasted cauliflower recipe she pairs it with in the book.

A crisp, sweet, spicy citrus and avocado salad with lime-cumin vinaigrette atop shredded greens is the definition of invigoration and the ideal accompaniment to heavier dishes of beans or animal protein. Deborah is not interested in pushing lifestyle choices down anyones throat and is thrilled that in this day and age one can choose to be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or omnivore on any night of the week it calls to them.

That is not to say that vegetarian and vegan dishes can’t be supremely satisfying.  Their hardiness is clearly demonstrated in her potato and chickpea stew with sautéed spinach. It’s a memorable bowl sure to warm the hearts of all who dive in.

Deborah’s rubarb-rasberry compote couldn’t be easier and the tangy, tart, mildly sweet flavor is a winner served with cookies, over ice cream or as a side dish, transforming any weeknight dinner into a special occasion. It is beyond scrumptious and all we had to do was throw a few easy ingredients together, 3 to be exact. We made a triple batch and enjoyed it for a full week before finally scraping the bowl clean.

Worried Deborah’s healthy style will deny you sweet treats? No need, her walnut nugget cookies pair surprisingly well with the rhubarb and raspberry compote.

While encouraging readers to nourish themselves in the fashion that best suits their mood, Deborah makes the process surprisingly easy and we greatly appreciate that. Those ready to dive into a healthy dose of mother natures best would be wise to pick up Deborah Madison’s, In My Kitchen and transform their cooking with instruction straight from the cozy kitchen of one of the shining stars of the culinary world. Bon Appetit.

 

Turkish Treasure

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The hard to find cuisine of Turkey has a new roving venue in Kuzine Foods Co., brought to us by Los Angeles and Orange County caterers extraordinaire, Eda Akarsu Smith and Hülya Nigar Aksu.

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The authentic flavors and dishes of their homeland are tastefully presented, allowing those planning parties to set a beautifully hospitable Turkish table.

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The exceptional baking skills of the Kuzine chefs is evident with each mouthwatering bite of the freshly baked traditional Turkish breads.

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Açma sometimes referred to as Turkish bagels, come plain or stuffed with Nutella, an inspired melding of sweet and savory.  Po?aça, often sold by street vendors, are stuffed with cheese, olive or potato as well as served plain wth tea at breakfast or as a snack. Catal, are a slightly sweet and savory pretzel shaped pastry that is also great for breakfast or snacks with tea.

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The Borek of Kuzine is loaded with tender spinach and tangy feta that simply melts in your mouth.  It is our dream snack and honestly we have been having a hard time finding versions this tasty anywhere in Los Angeles.

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Tabouli from Kuzine Foods is a well balanced mix of greens, onion, tomato, dressing and a sprinkling of bulgur, making for a most refreshing salad we could eat all day long.

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Cemen, a spicy red spread, explodes with the famous Turkish red pepper paste, tomato paste, ground walnuts, olive oil, garlic, cumin and bread crumbs.  This famous dish is not to be missed for its traditional taste of Turkey.

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Refreshing salads and starters abound on the vast meze table presented by these talented kitchen enchantresses.

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After salads and appetizers, the Turkish table is famous for its kebab and meatballs.

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Formed patties and skewered meats are available in a variety of styles based on what the host feels will be best for each particular event Kuzine will be catering.

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And of course no meal is complete without a sweet and what better way to finish off a meal than with flakey, butter layers of walnut baklava.

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For a new spin on a dinner party or event, the traditional preparations of the mesmerizing cuisine of Turkey is presented with grace and exceptional skill by the highly recommend Kuzine Foods Co., www.kuzinefoods.com    818-484-0757

 

 

 

Ramadan Celebrations

It is with immeasurable sadness and compassion regarding the continued attacks on Turkey, that we send prayers to all those suffering and choose to forge ahead with open hearts and minds. We desire to learn and share our personal experiences during the holy month of Ramadan which ends today, July 5, 2016.

Ramadan each year corresponds as closely as possible to the month Muhammad, the founder of Islam, received the Qu’ran from God. During this most sacred time of year, Muslims all over the world fast during daylight hours, observing with no food or liquids, from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. Ramadan is a time for reflection and prayer, allowing the devout to contemplate their relationship to God and focus on positive attributes of the human experience. It is not only an introspective time, but also quite festive, with Iftar (breaking of the daily fast), welcoming a spirit of celebration among family and friends.

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We were fortunate to partake in an Iftar celebration at Orkide in Gaziantep, Turkey. The restaurant and patisserie is committed to perfecting their craft, as evidenced through a vast array of awe-inspiring fresh pastries, sweets, baklava and colorful puddings.

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Led to beautifully set tables, we could barely control our excitement as we began the memorable experience of a traditional Iftar dinner. A wide variety of meze (appetizers and salads) are laid out and we joyfully united with the Muslim patrons prior to sunset, awaiting the evening prayer call which signals the beginning of the meal just as the sun dips below its horizon.

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The Turkish table, especially in Gaziantep, is renowned for its meze, and we were dazzled by small plates of herb based salads, the freshest vegetables, olives, cheese, pickled dishes, savory stuffed pastries called borek, nuts, dried and stewed fruits, a rich clotted cream called kaymak and some of the freshest breads we have ever tasted.  Orkide is at the top of their game in this arena offering soup, refreshing greens and a full table top of traditional starters to the delight of guests.

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Another uniquely Turkish dish we have fallen deeply in love with is the cig kofte (pictured above), a bulgur, herb and spice mix formed into distinct peaked portions that diners douse with fresh lemon juice and roll in lettuce leaves, before biting into each spicy, refreshing packet.

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The main course changes nightly, but is always hearty and followed by their delectable sweets assortment.

We are huge fans of Orkide for their extensive talents showcasing Turkish cuisine, along with an infinite willingness to open their arms to those of us hungry to learn about their abundant table of delicacies. Thank you to the Turkish people and Orkide for sharing with us the heart of Ramadan celebrations and the true nature and generosity of the religion that encourages the best qualities of mankind through love, hospitality and a spirituality that nourishes in every way.

Orkide Pastanesi – Four locations in Gaziantep, please visit the web site to find the location most easily accessible to you.

Cooking Classes Celebrate Culture and Cuisine

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We find cooking classes to be one of the most enjoyable and interactive ways to learn about a new country, city or cuisine. Where else can we get insider information on local dishes, ingredients, customs, family life, manners and setting a traditional table?

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In Istanbul we were eager to expand our understanding of Turkish food and signed up for Turkish Flavors, Sephardic cooking class which delves into founder, Selin Rozanes’ family recipes. After an introduction to Turkish seasonings at the spice market, we were ferried across the Bosphorus where a car shuttled us to her handsome home with its well designed teaching kitchen.

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We went right to work with Selin’s expert guidance on techniques, spice mixes, variances in Turkish red pepper pastes and advice on how to procure the freshest local ingredients.

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There was plenty of chopping, rolling, forming, mixing, sautéing, baking and boiling. But with the work spread between our team of participants, and Selin’s lovely housekeeper taking care of all the washing up, it felt effortless, playful and productive.  A little white wine soothed any discomfort we may have felt during the rainy, cold and exceptionally windy day, which turned out to be perfect weather for a cooking class.

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We progressed at breakneck speed and at the end of an hour and a half, had an expansive feast laid before us.

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Turkish dedication to hospitality, beautiful presentation, as well as delicious food was evident and we spent the afternoon leisurely savoring and discussing Turkish food and culture.

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Our main dish, Split Belly Eggplant (Karniyarik), combined ground beef, onions, herbs and spices, which are stuffed into eggplant halves before being drenched in tomato sauce and decorated for aesthetic and flavor optimization.

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Selin is more than happy to adjust the menu to accommodate dietary restrictions and the vegetarians in the group were easily taken care of without depriving the omnivores.

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Carrots in garlicky yogurt and tahini dressing, one of the stars of the class, is an inspired melange of freshly grated carrot sweetness playing off tangy dairy and smooth, rich, sesame paste.

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After savoring a tableful of family recipes, we were rewarded with dried apricots boiled in wine and cloves, stuffed with clotted cream and rolled in pistachios. A most civilized end to a day delving into the Turkish culinary arts. We left with full bellies, open hearts and a recipe book filled with Selin’s top secret recipes.

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Turkish Flavors offers walking tours of Istanbul, cultural and culinary tours in a variety of locations and her famous cooking classes, all designed to make you feel like a native. Bon Appetite.

Old School Italian In Burbank

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We can’t seem to get enough of the old classic restaurants. They remind us of a simpler time, firmly rooted in great food, exceptional value, local community and service with a smile. Pinocchio Restaurant in Burbank has been a neighborhood institution since the 60’s. The restaurant is only half the story. The expansive corner establishment also houses the Monte Carlo Deli, which has been providing in house, locally sourced and imported Italian delicacies to an appreciative customer base for over 40 years.

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The restaurant is set up cafeteria style and we hopped in line to view both the menu on the wall, as well as the steam trays overflowing with freshly prepared, enticing dishes.

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Standing in line we also found sides and salads to accompany entrees, pizza and sandwiches.

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We are huge fans of eggplant parmesan and couldn’t resist an order. The hefty slice comes submerged in their garlic heavy marinara which we chose over the meat sauce. The rich and satisfying layers are enhanced by the soul of tomato, herbs and spices blooming in a sauce cooked down to its thick, chunky essence, that can only be achieved by hours bubbling away on the stovetop.

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Prices on entrees, pizza and salad all fall into the exceptionally reasonable category and dishes share easily.

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The homemade Italian sausage is a fennel punctuated, Italian herb and spice heavy blend that is bliss in a casing. We chose ours with grilled onions and peppers, over pasta topped with their house meat sauce.

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Don’t forget to check the specials board at the beginning of the chow line to see if any additional options call.

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Three vintage dining rooms are warm and comfortable, providing plenty of seating in various configurations, accommodating everything from a dinner for two to a family affair.

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Either before or after your meal a visit to the attached Monte Carlo deli is a must.

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Well organized rows of almost everything one could need or want for an Italian feast are displayed.

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Refrigerated cases overflow with an abundance of pepperoni and salami.

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Dried pasta in shapes that grab on to rich sauces and a profusion of olive oil fill the back of the shop.

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We tried some of the imported chocolate and appreciate the flavors and texture of Kinder brand.

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Behind the deli counter, loaves of freshly baked breads are the precise tools for sopping up the sauces or making garlic bread.

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While the counter itself displays a wide variety of deli meats and sausages for those wanting to fill their homes with the smells and flavors of Italy.

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Surprises line every shelf and counter, so give yourself enough time to search for delicious indulgences.

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And of course no Italian meal is complete without a nice bottle of wine and Monte Carlo has a well laid out selection to chose from.

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For a homestyle taste of Southern Italy, inside a space that feels welcoming and hospitable, Pinocchio and Monte Carlo warm the heart and the soul in a way only Italian cuisine can.

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Monte Carlo Deli & Pinocchio’s Restaurant, 3103 West Magnolia Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505
Phone – 818-845-3516          web site – montecarlodeli.com

Westside Thai With A Delightful Zest

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Always on the lookout for a westside Thai fix similar to what we find in Thai Town, we visited Tuk Tuk Thai and were pleasantly surprised. Located on Pico near Robertson, the small eatery has been in business for 15 years and continues to innovate with a mix of traditional Thai and health conscious leanings.

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The dining room is a bright and pleasant respite from the daily grind and LA traffic.

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Starters include a crab roll which incorporates a melange of ground chicken, crab meat, carrot, cabbage and black mushroom into a won ton skin before deep frying to a crisp golden hue.

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On the plate are lettuce leaves, carrot and mint which can be used to wrap the egg roll prior to dipping in the sweet accompanying sauce. This results in an exciting mix of cool against warm, sweet against savory and smooth interior against crunchy exterior.

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The Thai curry dumplings are steamed and filled with scallop and shrimp that float in a luxurious green curry sauce.

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These luscious bundles of well balanced ingredients provide an etherial experience.

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One of our favorite dishes is the pula goong. The quintessential refreshing salad dresses grilled shrimp, grape tomatoes, dark greens, red and green onion, lemongrass, mint and kaffir lime leaves in a high-spirited, garlic and chili laced dressing that satisfies completely.

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Don’t forget to check out the wall board of daily specials that list standouts as well as seasonal specialties. We are looking forward to their Valentines and Songkran (Thai New Year’s) offerings.

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No Thai meal feels complete to us without a curry, and Tuk Tuk’s gaeng keow wan green curry is made with the protein of customers choice. We went with the tender white meat chicken, which basks in its curry bath alongside thai eggplant and an abundance of fragrant basil for a spicy, slightly sweet, creamy dish that is ideal over rice.

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Health conscious guests will want to take a look at the seafood specialty section of the menu.

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The pla rad prik is a crispy whole fish in a spicy, tomatoey, curry sauce topped with fresh chili and crispy thai basil.

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Vibrant heat and a profusion of herbs complements the mild, white flesh of the pomfret.

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They are more than happy to help dissect fish from bone or customers can have a go at it themselves. For those not wanting to fuss with their seafood, the pad ped tally sautés shrimp, scallops, calamari and white fish with fresh chili, lesser ginger, lime leaf, green peppercorn and thai basil for an ocean extravaganza that is both healthy and delicious.

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A beer and wine license means Thai beer and soju based cocktails abound.

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We prefer to end all our Thai dinners with the famous seasonal dessert, mango sticky rice. But when mango is out of season, our sweet tooth is quenched by an ultra creamy, coconut ice cream served atop sweet red bean and sprinkled with crushed roasted peanuts for a cool, smooth finish to the meal.

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For westside Thai that stays true to the flavors, herbs and spice of the cuisine, a visit to Tuk Tuk Thai satisfies and saves time by relieving us of a rush hour trek to Hollywood’s Thai Town.

Tuk Tuk Thai, 8875 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90035
Phone – 310-860-1872          web site – tuktukthaila.com

Healthy Fast Food Wins Us Over Everytime

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We have become completely aligned with the new fast food model, embracing the ease, abundant variety, freshness and speed through which our meal is assembled. PokiNometry falls squarely into this genre, with a thin sliver of a space at Hollywood and Highland that we saunter through before receiving our self-designed poke bowl.

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The third floor of the entertainment center houses the outdoor food court called The Deck, and those tables or booths provide customers of PokiNometry a space to chow down. Bad weather means we have to pack food to go, fortunately LA has mostly sunny, mild days.

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The protocol is simple. First chose your bowl size and your base. We opted for a large bowl with half and half, brown rice and deep greens.

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Then come the add ons which are unlimited and included in the price, except for the faux crab meat and avocado which after the first scoop are $1.50 for each additional helping.

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We found the scoops included to be just the right amount, but we can’t slight anyone for wanting more avocado.

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Next we chose our fish. The large bowl incorporates 5 scoops of any combination of seafood desired.

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After asking about the freshest available that day, we opted for tuna, albacore, yellow tail and two scoops of mashed tuna. The cooked shrimp adds a different consistency so we kept the bowl strictly raw to retain a uniformity of texture.

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At Station 4 we got to choose our sauces and since we like it hot we let them know.

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Sauces can be added directly to the bowl or served in to go cups for those wanting to add as they consume. We requested the spicy, original Nometry sauce and a couple of cups of spicy mayo and miso just in case.

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The last decisions to be made are about the toppings, again unlimited. We went heavy on the green onion and ginger plus requested extra cups of pickled ginger because we adore the flavor.

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Our alluring bowl was delivered to us exactly how we like it, quickly, efficiently and by a staff that couldn’t have been nicer.

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Drinks and miso soup are also on the menu for an additional charge.

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We found the bowls to be vibrant and enjoyable, with the large containing too much for one lunch, and they happily packed up the left overs to go. Validation at the visitor center kept parking at $2.00 for two hours, giving us a chance to browse a bit after lunch. When in Hollywood looking for a quick, easy and healthy meal, PokiNometry fits the bill swimmingly.

PokiNometry,
6801 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 316, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone – 323-645-7730           web site –PokiNometry.com

Ecstasy Inducing Thai Papaya Salad

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Ruen Pair, is one of the old timers in Thai Town for good reason, they have remained dedicated to the flavors of Thailand. Everytime we return we are pleasantly surprised by the freshness, quality and intense Thai spices, curries, herbs and seasoning that transform their dishes into heaven on a plate.

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Open from 11 AM to 3 AM everyday of the week, they give us lots of opportunities to immerse ourselves into the joys only an accomplished Thai chef can deliver.

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An extensive menu covers a wide variety of diverse classics starting with their beverage page that offers exotic hot and cold delights.

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We can’t resist the Thai Ice Coffee which is not as sweet as Thai ice tea and delivers a seriously creamy coffee punch.

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Jet Tila, the Thai and Chinese food aficionado, declares Ruen Pair as the place to get the best Papaya salad in Los Angeles and we are going to second that declaration.

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No matter how we order the shredded green fruit masterpiece it always tickles our tastes buds in ways that thrill and excite us. A slightly sweet, savory, spicy, combination of green papaya and secret ingredients makes this multi-nuanced salad hit the tongue and back of the throat with more refreshing surprises than we ever expect.

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It can be ordered with or without dried shrimp, salty black crab or raw crab and is always a winner. We requested it this time sans shellfish and it was perfect with lots of crunchy, roasted peanuts playing against the snap of crisp papaya slivers in a dressing that is truly miraculous.

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By no means is Ruen Pair a one trick pony, there is considerably more that shines here. The pad kee mao, also known as drunken noodles, are broad noodles stir fried with chili, basil, egg and we chose chicken for our protein component. Pure comfort food is how we would describe this homey plate.

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The noodles and curry dishes can be enhanced with their condiment tray which offers chili powder, chili sauce, sugar and chopped green chilies in vinegar.  The later which takes the noodle dishes to new heights of oral pleasure.

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Chinese broccoli with crispy pork comes with a dipping sauce but doesnt need anything in our humble option. The chunks of fat laden pork are an enlightened contrast to the still crisp greens.

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We strongly recommend a visit to Ruen Pair to anyone interested in tasting the Thai flavors that helped establish Thai Town in Los Angeles and with pretty much everything under $10 a dish, its an easy exploration of the best of the cuisine.

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Ruen Pair, 5257 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Phone – 323-466-0153          web site – ruenpairthaila.com

or

Ruen Pair Thai Restaurant, 18219 East Gale Avenue, City of Industry, CA 91748
Phone – 626-964-2370