Alina’s LA Whirlwind

Hey everyone! Since Marika and I are on different schedules with residency interview season headed into full swing, we will be sharing some eats with you from our travels and everything in between! I was recently in Los Angeles for a mere 36 hours for Step 2 Clinical Skills. As the name suggests, this is the second part of our board exams: 8 hours consisting of 12 timed standardized patient interactions and note-writing after each encounter. It was quite the day, but fortunately I had the opportunity to taste some signature LA fare during my short visit. I stayed with an old med school roommate who is now a first year resident at UCLA, so she showed me some of her favorite spots.

DAY 1

The night before my test, we went to Tsujita, a ramen noodle restaurant whose specialty includes tsukemen, which is a type of ramen where you dip your noodles in a separate bowl of broth before eating. At Tsujita, they simmer their tonkotsu broth for 60 hours (DEDICATION) before adding seafood for a subtle sweet flavor and thickness. I ordered their standard char siu (barbecued pork) tsukemen with an ice cold matcha green tea. 🙂

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Thick, udon-like noodles with char siu
Thick, udon-like ramen noodles topped with char siu
Rich tonkotsu broth with a hard boiled egg
Rich tonkotsu broth with a hard boiled egg

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That broth… should be pictured in the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition for umami. It was thick, creamy, rich, and bursting with savory flavor. On point, Tsujita.

We also ordered the negi ramen, a more classic ramen bowl with tons of thinly sliced green onions and a soupier broth. Also delicious. If I came when I was less hungry, I would definitely go for this.

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To wash it all down, my refreshing iced matcha green tea.

Check out that green!
Check out that green!


DAY 2

Of course, you can’t go to LA without trying some Korean BBQ in Koreatown. So after my exam, we hit up Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. According to my friend, this is the best K-BBQ in the US; some say even better than the BBQ in Korea!

They’re known to have long waits, but luckily we were able to snatch a table right away (thank goodness, because I was starving). Our table had already been set up with multiple banchan: kimchi, a bean sprout salad with gochujang (sweet-spicy red chili paste), a bowl of broth with pickled radishes, pajeon (scallion pancake), and a large slice of kabocha squash topped with syrup and nuts.

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If there is one thing I’ve learned from eating Korean food, it’s that they never skimp on sides: little morsels and bites here and there to go with your main dish. In addition to our small dishes of banchan, the grill was encircled with a trough divided into four sections. One contained more kimchi (because no such thing as too much kimchi), another contained corn topped with shredded cheese, another with raw peppers and onions, and lastly, a server came and poured an egg mixture into the final section as our grill heated up. As we continued to dine, the cheese melted over the corn, the egg mixture turned into velvety scrambled eggs, and the vegetables cooked down.

For the meat, we ordered the beef combo, which included marinated short rib, brisket, boneless short rib, and marinated pork collar. We each were given a small dish of a dark vinegary dipping sauce with fresh jalapeños, onions, and a smear of wasabi on the side to to mix in. The combo also came with a hearty seafood tofu stew, which was excellent. LA doesn’t get many cold days, but it was one of those soups I could picture myself cozying up with in the heart of a Michigan winter.

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The restaurant was bustling!

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The brisket, my favorite
Pork collar
Pork collar

Undoubtedly, this was the best Korean BBQ that I’ve ever had. All of the meats were perfectly marinated and exquisitely tender. Between three of us, we finished every last bite. We certainly left with full and happy bellies that night.

But not too full! After dinner, we drove to the 85C Bakery in Gardena, since I had never sampled their baked goods before. They’re known to make some of the best Asian baked goods out there, so of course I purchased a large assortment to bring home to my roommates for us all to try (though I may have played a major role in finishing them all, oops).

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So many to choose from!
So many to choose from!

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My favorite was the one that looks like a giant muffin — fluffy milk bread with a blueberry cream cheese filling. One “taste” turned into gobbling up the rest of the pastry in less than 60 seconds. Also pictured: chocolate chip loaf, milk bread with raisins, milk bread filled with white chocolate, coconut cream roll, honey loaf, matcha red bean roll, sugared cream cheese brioche, and chocolate bread with chocolate chips. Talk about carb nirvana…

All bundled up for the trip back to Ann Arbor
All bundled up for the trip back to Ann Arbor

It was all-around a great trip away from chilly Michigan, and I was very sad to leave LA. The few tastes I had assured me that I will NEED to be back again! But before I close this out, no trip to California is complete without In-N-Out. I had never been, so we took a late night jaunt on my last night to round out my visit. Animal fries anyone?

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Red or Green? A Southwestern Foodie Adventure.

Hi all! Marika here. It’s been far too long since our last post, but third year of medical school is no joke! We spend too many hours to count in the hospital, caring for patients, learning clinical skills, and taking endless exams. Sadly, there is often little time to eat so that means grabbing whatever is quick and portable in the cafeteria (chicken tenders anyone?!).

Needless to say, we haven’t been in the kitchen much lately. But the most wonderful time of medical school has arrived: fourth year! Yes, there are residency applications and interviews, but there is also precious free time. For the bogged down medical student, that means traveling, getting back to our beloved hobbies (cooking!), and cramming as much fun as we can into these few short months of freedom.

So, let me give you a glimpse of my most recent food escapade during a trip to my home state: New Mexico! The state’s official question is “red or green?” You can tell a native from a tourist by either their quick response or their puzzled stare. We are talking about red or green CHILE. New Mexicans put chile on everything, and I mean EVERYTHING.

My personal preference? Green! And I ate as much as I could during my three day trip.

First up, the beloved breakfast burrito. I have never found a breakfast burrito like the ones in New Mexico. They take hash browns, bacon or sausage, cheese, eggs, and chile — frying all the ingredients together on the grill to meld the flavors and then wrap it in a soft flour tortilla. Always order it SMOTHERED (aka covered in more chile and cheese). This one was from Palacio, a tiny, family run restaurant in Santa Fe. The authentic food is enhanced by the warm and welcoming couple who bus the tables, take the orders, deliver the food and man the register!

IMG_9316Next stop? An Albuquerque staple, Flying Star. It has everything from buddha bowls full of stir fried veggies and brown rice to green chile cheeseburgers and the best rhubarb pie I’ve ever had!IMG_9447

But to reach my goal of most green chile eaten in one weekend, I had to order the green chile stew. Their version is thick, hearty, and full of spice. I was so overwhelmed by the dish in front of me, I mixed in the cheese and sour cream and took a giant bite before realizing I hadn’t taken a picture yet!

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A stop in Albuquerque’s Old Town isn’t complete without visiting The Candy Lady. This chocolate and candy shop has been around for over 30 years, and the white chocolate red chile fudge is a sweet and spicy treat that leaves your lips burning.

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IMG_9467Next up, a place that was a childhood staple. The one place my brothers and I never disagreed upon for breakfast, and the restaurant I stop at every time I’m back home, without fail. Weck’s.

IMG_9460If I had to choose one last meal to have on this earth, it would definitely be the Papas Original at Weck’s. This is a mountain of fried hash browns, bacon, sausage and ham, topped with two fried eggs and smothered in cheese and green chile sauce unlike any other. A fresh flour tortilla cuts the heat and sops up the extra green chile. It is my own personal nirvana.

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I took half with me to the airport as my final taste of home before heading back to Michigan, where green chile is a mysterious condiment rarely seen outside the canned food aisle of the grocery store.

And with that, I promise more regular posts to come as Alina and I rekindle our relationship with the kitchen (and all-around good eats)!

I’ll leave you with a view of the Sandia (watermelon) mountains, the backdrop of my Albuquerque home, known for their spectacular pink color at sunset.

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The Black Pearl: No Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom, but just as Delicious

For day two of restaurant week, we decided to do a ladies’ night with some classmates at The Black Pearl, a local seafood and martini bar — best fish tacos in Ann Arbor! Note: their lychee martini is also difficult to rival. The restaurant was completely full tonight: always a good sign.

Appetizer: Choice of watermelon gazpacho with strawberry, fresh garden vegetables, and herbs, or wild mushroom risotto with shitake, oyster, and portobello mushrooms. We went with one of each.

20130610_204547The watermelon-based gazpacho, with chunks of fresh cucumber, was cold and refreshing without being overly sweet. It was also ever-so-slightly spicy, which gave it a nice kick. A good summer starter.

20130610_204636Mmmmm…what’s not to love about risotto? Rich and creamy as a comfort food should be, this savory mushroom risotto left us happily ready for the main course.

 

Main course: Choice of their famous fish tacos (tortilla crusted tilapia dusted with cumin and topped with spicy cabbage slaw, chipotle mayo, and pico de gallo), seared rainbow trout with sautéed green beans and topped with almond brown butter sauce, or St. Louis style pork ribs with buttermilk mashed potatoes and spicy cabbage slaw. We went with the fish tacos (obviously) and the ribs.

20130610_210159If you go to The Black Pearl, you are obligated to try these tacos. They are undoubtedly the best thing on the menu! The crispy, breaded tilapia is spicy, flavorful, and well-balanced by the chipotle mayo and fresh toppings. The corn tortillas (corn > flour) are lightly fried, which nicely rounds out these fun handheld eats.

20130610_210225Talk about comfort food! We knew these ribs would be delicious as soon as they hit the table. Slathered in a tangy house-made BBQ sauce, the meat fell right off the bone. The buttermilk mashed potatoes were good, but nothing spectacular; then again, it’s hard to go wrong with mashed potatoes. The slaw marinade tasted almost like kimchi, and its sour, spicy flavor paired nicely with the meat. Apparently seafood isn’t the only thing The Black Pearl does well!

 

Dessert: Chef’s choice – Black and Tan: brownie and a blondie served over chocolate sauce with a scoop of house-made coffee ice cream.

20130610_212936Made by the local favorite (and internationally known) Zingerman’s, the brownie and blondie were a pleasant surprise when the waitress brought dessert to our table. The brownie was soft, chewy, and oh-so-chocolatey, and the pecan blondie (Alina’s favorite) tasted like Georgia pecan pie in caramel-y cake form. The coffee ice cream was tasty, but nothing to rave about. Though it would’ve been nice to have an original, house-made dessert, it was nonetheless a delicious end to the meal!

After dinner, we all flocked to our friend’s house to watch The Bachelorette with her [male] M.D. roommate (Who says guys can’t dig the Bachelorette?), which made for some good laughs and entertainment. Juan Pablo anyone? 😉

Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, Night 1: Grange Kitchen & Bar

One of the best times of the year for a foodie — Ann Arbor Restaurant Week! Most restaurants participating in the event offer three-course meals for a discounted set price. We kicked off the week with a couple girlfriends; dinner at Grange, a local farm-to-table restaurant.

Course one: Choice between chicken liver mousse with pickled onions, smoked salmon rillettes with herb salad, or radishes with butter and sea salt. We both went with the rillettes, which were a great choice! The smoked salmon was full-flavored on a crisp, grilled baguette, and the chives and parsley added a nice freshness.

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Course two: Choice of salad made with local greens and goat cheese or a spring garlic and potato soup with house-smoked ham. Marika went with the salad, and Alina had the soup.

ImageAlthough the salad ingredients were fresh, the flavor of the goat cheese didn’t quite come through, and the dressing was lacking. Unremarkable.

ImageThe soup, on the other hand, we liked. Not too heavy, and the flavors were subtle but melted together perfectly. And the salty ham added a savory bite.

 

Course three: Choice of pan roasted chicken with chicken sausage hash, grilled lake trout with wilted greens and almond basil pesto, duck leg confit with cumin-citrus glaze and roasted potatoes, or sliced spring vegetable tagine with yogurt and almonds. We decided to try the chicken and, of course, you can never turn down duck leg confit.

ImageThe hash…oh my gosh the hash…the potatoes were packed with flavor. And each bite of chicken sausage was a bite of heaven. We hadn’t even gotten to the chicken breast yet, and we were in love. The chicken was moist with a crispy skin that had a spicy mix of seasonings. It was idyllic.

ImageAnd just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we tasted the duck. The meat basically melted off the bone, and the glaze was amazing. Cumin + citrus = genius. The spinach and roasted potatoes were a good compliment. Needless to say, we licked the plate clean.

 

Dessert: Not a part of the restaurant week menu, but we needed chocolate. So, we ordered their flourless chocolate cake with dragon’s milk ice cream (stout-beer based ice cream) and house-made deconstructed oreo cookies.

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A chocolate-lover’s dream: the picture doesn’t do it justice. The dish as a whole was a fun play on cake and ice cream. The cake–rich, chocolatey, and moist–was sliced into small bite-size pieces. Small dollops of oreo cookie cream served as a bed for the cake and cookie pieces. The thought of a stout ice cream didn’t initially seem appealing, but it was pleasantly unique and a perfect pairing with the sweet cake.

The night was finished with cleaned plates, full stomachs, and lots of laughter around the table. Overall, this will be a hard meal to beat as we continue our restaurant week outings. If you’re around Ann Arbor this week, definitely hit up Grange!