Dr J’s Vibrant Cafe

By Tsz on July 16, 2013

Dr. J's Vibrant Cafe
Gastrophoria is an organic, veggie-ful meal from Dr. J’s Vibrant Cafe.

A project of love from a mother-son duo, Dr. J’s is a rare find in that it serves macrobiotic, gluten-free, organic and vegan (that’s a mouthful) fare that is also delicious. Or as I like to say, food that you can stuff yourself silly and still feel like a million bucks afterwards.

How can I make this claim? Because I did.

Being an open-minded omnivore, I previewed Dr. J’s with a fellow food explorer where we proceeded to “sample” (devour) a copious variety of vegan-friendly dishes. Brown rice medley with peas, onions, carrots, baked tofu and curried potatoes? Check. Massaged kale toss with kidney beans, carrots and toasted walnuts? Got seconds. The quinoa spring salad with apples, radishes and Persian cucumbers? Yup. Rice noodle wok-fried with mixed veggies? Way ahead of you.

Dr. J's Vibrant Cafe

The most swooned-after dish of the night was their spring wrap. Although they are not lookers, they have the power to end friendships as my dining partner and I couldn’t stop ourselves from fighting over the last one. Crisp carrots and celery match sticks, marinated-tofu and ground almond come together in little rice wrapper packets that are so good that you don’t even miss its traditional, meat-filled version.

Dr. J's Vibrant Cafe
Dr. J's Vibrant Cafe

For dessert, we had the Supersnack and carob brownies—both of which were made without sugar, flour and eggs. How do they do that?! I’ll never know. What I do know is that they satisfied my sweet tooth just as the real deal, without the sugar crash afterwards.

Dr. J's Vibrant Cafe

Though we were both stuffed after the meal, we felt energized instead of comatose. The next morning was even better—without going into details. Thanks Dr. J’s!

Dr. J’s Vibrant Cafe
334 S Main St.
Los Angeles, California 90013

Dr. J's Vibrant Cafe
Dr. J's Vibrant Cafe


Paladar : USC Underground Supper Club Goes to Tribeca Film Festival

By Tsz on April 2, 2013

Gastrophoria is a secret underground dinner made by Paladar.

It seems underground dinners and pop-ups are all the rage these days. While the choices out there are vast, I’ve got a soft spot in my heart (and stomach) for Paladar.

What makes Paladar stand out? Well, for one, it was created and ran out of an USC apartment—go Trojans!

Alex Chang and Robert Kronfli, both class of 2011, were tired of the lack of good food around campus. Instead of driving elsewhere to dine, they took matters into their own hands and started a supper club, Paladar, named and modeled after the South American cultural tradition of home-operated restaurants cooking with locally produced food.

For a kinesthesiology (Alex) and music industry (Bobby) major, they can sure rock it in the kitchen. I’ve had the pleasure of snagging a reservation and was astounded by how magnificent the cooking was, especially when none of them were formally trained.

Scallops were expertly seared and paired with a spring onion puree, yuzu kosho, fresh peas and spring vegetables. The raw oysters—which I was almost afraid to try as a college apartment isn’t exactly the poster child for food safety—were exceptional with the addition of Guanciale (Italian bacon) cubes and fresh wasabi.

There was also squid ink pasta bathing in a pool of Ika-shiokara beure blanc (aka fermented squid innards) with English peas and salmon roe. It’s a rather obscure ingredient used in Japanese sushi houses and to be completely honest, not too appetizing sounding. Yet, in the hands of Alex, the end dish tasted like spring taking an umami-filled vacation.

Dessert featured macerated strawberries and candied basil atop pound cake and creme Anglaise—offering another taste of a spring, this time a garden party.

Since Alex and Bobby’s graduation, Paladar suppers became more of a rare occurrence, which is understandable due to life’s many responsibilities. However, they are throwing a formal dinner dinner this Thursday, April 4, 2013. For menu and info, check out their Facebook page. Seats go fast so RSVP stat!

If snagging a reservation isn’t an option, you can find them on the big screen as the Paladar documentary will be debuting in the Tribeca Film Festival this month! Click here for the official trailer.

Best of luck and happy eating!

More underground goodness:
Come Fly With Me : Cooking an Underground Dinner
Foodbuzz 24×24: Ode to Foie
Foodbuzz 24×24: Fall Uni Harvest
La Source : Cooking for a Cause
Foodbuzz 24×24: 60s Mad Men Birthday Dinner
• A Green Dinner: An Homage to Munchies


Short Order : My Dream BLT

By Tsz on April 1, 2013

Gastrophoria is a pork belly BLT from Short Order.

I’m normally not the biggest fan of BLTs as they’re always too something or another. For example, there’s the classic too-little-bacon, or the too-much-mayo, or the much dreaded too-sour-tomatoes. I’ve never found one that was “just right” till an unexpected encounter at Short Order.

The BLT there is a smartly engineered sandwich. Tackling the too little bacon problem, Short Order features thick slices of applewood smoked bacon and slabs of crispy pork belly. On the mayo front, slices of avocado are added in addition to a thin layer of mayo to give just the right amount of creaminess needed to marry the different elements together. As for the tomatoes, they opted out of incorporating the usual slices and instead, employed the use of a tangy tomato jam. Crisp bibb lettuce leaves and grilled country white bread tie the BLT work-of-art together.

Goldilocks would approve. Happy eating!

Short Order
6333 W 3rd St., #110
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: (323) 761-7970

More sandwich goodness:
Recipe Hack : Shrimp Burger a la Umamicatessen
Racion : A Labor of Love
Taza : Waffle Sliders and Coffee
Baco Mercat : Taco/Sandwich Hybrid Win!
Cochon Butcher : Pork Belly Sandwich that’s Worth the Wait
4505 Meats : Fried Chicken for Breakfast


Crunch : 75th Birthday Showdown!

By Tsz on March 30, 2013

Gastrophoria is celebrating Crunch bar’s 75th Birthday Showdown!

To celebrate its momentous birthday, Nestlé Crunch is hosting a sugar-filled bakery face-off, where 15 top bakeries compete by creating sugary concoctions featuring Crunch bars. I was graciously invited to scope out LA’s contenders, which meant an afternoon of chocolate, butter, and sugar! Imagine a kid after eating a full-sized candy bar. Now times that by 10 and that was me!

Here’s a sneak peak of what to expect:

Crumbs’s Crumbs Crunch Cupcake
This is not something you can enjoy in skinny jeans, or any jeans period. This boulder of chocolate goodness includes a blondie base covered with chunks of Crunch that’s baked inside a chocolate cake. Add an inch of chocolate buttercream, a chocolate chip cookie and a whole crunch bar and you’ve got yourself a chocolate buffet.

Sweet E’s Nestlé PB Crunch Brownie
This is like the Two-Face of desserts. Not that it’s evil, but there’s two distinctive desserts going on for the price of one: chocolate chip brownie and PB fudge imbedded with Crunch bits. I ended up splitting them in half to enjoy each on its own.

Casey’s Chocolate Royalty Cupcake
You know the saying how dog owners resemble their dogs? Well, one thing I’ve learned is that same goes for baked goods and their creators! Casey is bubbly and glam and her creation embodies all of it. Her concoction is a devil’s food cake infused with Crunch bar pieces, more Crunch in its creamy filling and then topped with milk chocolate icing, two full bars and a edible glitter party!

Coolhaus’s Candied Bacon Ice Cream Cookie
One of the more austere desserts in appearance but it makes up for it in flavor and texture. There’s brown butter ice cream mixed in with bits of Crunch bar and candied bacon, which is then sandwiched between a chewy double chocolate sea salt cookie and a snack food chip cookie. It was like an ever changing Gobstopper: sweet, then salty; cold, then warm; soft, then crunchy. Though the other desserts all put up a good fight, this stole my heart and is the champion in my eyes.

All these treats are available at their receptive bakeries from now till April 21, 2013. Give them a try and visit Crunch’s Facebook Page to vote for your favorite. You may be a winner of a full-sized Crunch Bar!

Bonus tip: all the recipes for the contenders are available too in case you want to replicate at the comfort of your kitchen. I know I will be making that brown butter bacon Crunch ice cream…

Happy sugar rush!


Racion : A Labor of Love

By Tsz on March 29, 2013

Gastrophoria is a hearty plank of Racion’s caramelized calamari pintxo.

For the uninitiated, pintxo is simply an another word for tapas, most often used to describe foods from the San Sebastian area in Spain. It’s a wondrous place where narrow streets are filled to the brim with countless pintxo bars, each serving small bites of Basque specialties.

At Racion, they take the concept an extra step further and present some of their sauciest pintxos on grilled bread. Simple, yet perceptive. It’s as if they heeded all my unspoken calls for bread from the times I’ve had saucy foods (any dish with mussels, right?!).

Such is the case with their calamari. Instead of the omnipresent battered and fried variety associated with tapas, here they’re lovingly grilled on a plancha and served atop bright lemon aioli and caramelized onions that literally melts in your mouth. Think onion jam. Best part is all of that saucy goodness is absorbed by the wedge of grilled homemade bread below. No sloppy mopping needed.

The duo behind Racion, Teresa Montano and Loretta Peng, graciously invited me to their kitchen for a behind-the-scene look. Turns out this dish requires 2 days to create as they create every element of the dish from scratch—including the bread itself!

Made from scratch daily with a 2-year old flour-and-water starter and proofed overnight, each loaf of bread is given plenty of TLC from Loretta. Just before they start service each night, loaves of freshly risen bread are baked off in their own individual cast iron pans. This creates their signature hearty crust that just can’t be beat.

While the bread is baking, Theresa prepped razor clams that were delivered by Santa Monica Seafood—their fates are to be sauté that night, yum!

When the loaves are well-rested, it was time to finish the dish. On the plancha goes a hefty plank of their homemade bread with fresh squid. The onions are slowly cooked till they’re evenly caramelized and jam-like. When the bread is ready, it gets a nice layer of lemon aioli (house made of course) and melted onions. The calamari are then sliced and arranged on top, follow with a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of parsley.

Now that is labor of love. It’s no wonder Racion made it on LA Weekly’s 99 Essential Restaurant List and celebrated its 1st birthday. Each dish on their menu, big or small, are given as much care as this pintxo.

Same goes for their journey to create open this gem of a restaurant, documented on their blog and how they continue to run the restaurant. Their secret according to Theresa? To always do right by people, whether it be their staff, guests or even vendors. And to cultivate and work with a great team.

Thank you to Teresa and Loretta and happy eating!

119 W Green St
Pasadena, CA 91105
Phone: (626) 396-3090

More behind-the-scenes:
How I Came to Roast 50 lbs of Pork Bellies for 200 People
King’s Hawaiian Bakery : Unwrapped!
Foodstory : Okonomiyaki 101
Grimmway Farms : Where Baby Carrots Come From
My Day in the BLD Kitchen
Come Fly With Me : Cooking an Underground Dinner
House of An’s Noodle Off: How to Win People’s Choice