November Writing Challenge Day 12: Happy Hour

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

My wife and I recently discovered a late-night happy hour at a local ramen restaurant called Noods Bar. The ramen isn’t all that, but the appetizers and small bites are good, especially during their late happy hour from 9pm-midnight on Friday and Saturday.

We like the mini chashu bowl which is the pork belly served over a small bowl of white rice. I call it their “adobo” since the consistency and flavor reminds me of one of my favorite Filipino dishes.

We’re also big fans of their shishito peppers, which are stir-fried and served with a cream sauce. These peppers are interesting: about 1 in every 10 are spicy, while the others tend to be a little sweet. The quick stir-fry gives it a little smokiness, too. Michelle and I always laugh when one of us “gets lucky” and bites into the spicy chili.

My favorite appetizer, though, is the Elote. Inspired by the Mexican snack found at roadside vendors throughout Southern California, the Elote at Noods is deep fried corn kernels with a yuzu cream and hot Cheetos crumbs. It’s not too spicy, since the sauce acts as a cooler, but it sure is delicious.

The name Elote is a misnomer, though; elote refers to corn on the cob, while esquites is the corn removed from the cob and served in the bowl. Thankfully, I love elote and esquites equally so I don’t mind eating this tasty misnamed dish.

King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo

Last year our local library sponsored a game night that my wife and I really enjoyed. One of the games we played was King of Tokyo, which was a first for us.

We took to it right away. The theme was a throwback to my childhood, when KTLA (or was it KCOP?) would show Japanese monster movies every Saturday (I’m not sure when Kung Fu theater became a thing, but let’s say that monster and martial arts movies were a huge part of my childhood).

For our first game I picked Gigazaur, the generic, non-copyright-infringing version of my favorite movie monster, Godzilla. In the base game of KoT, all of the monsters are the same, with no special abilities except the ones you buy during your turn, so you’re just looking to grab the coolest monster for the match.

Play is basically Yahtzee with fighting, which explains its great appeal. The roll-up-to-three-times mechanism is familiar, even if all of the symbols on the dice are not. If you roll a set of three numbers, you can score those points (three 2s, for example, scores 2 points). Roll the claw and deal damage to your opponent(s). Roll a heart and restore one of your hit points. Roll a lightning bolt and take an energy cube, which is required to buy the special abilities cards.

If you’re in Tokyo, then any damage you deal goes to all of your opponents and you’re not allowed to heal; that’s the price you pay to be king. Players outside of Tokyo only deal damage to the monster in Tokyo and they can heal themselves. However, after being attacked, the Tokyo occupant can yield their spot to their attacking opponent.

Special abilities like bonus energy cubes, extra damage, extra healing, and more keep the game from being a monotonous dice roll fest. It’s fun teaching this game because almost everybody has played Yahtzee so it’s not difficult to learn. I’ve taught this to young and old alike and after a turn or two they know exactly how to play.

This isn’t the most complex game, obviously, but is it fun? Of course it is! Roll those big chunky dice, smash your opponents, and earn those victory points. Last monster standing (or the first to 20 points) wins. King of Tokyo flies when it’s only two players and even though the interaction is better with more players, it slows the game down so we usually play to 15 points or the last monster standing.

I Love L.A.

View of Downtown from Pershing Park.

View of Downtown from Pershing Park’s Ice Rink.

No matter where I live, I’ll always be an Angeleno at heart. I love L.A.’s diversity, its energy, and its SoCal vibe, which is a lot more laid-back than other big cities. My wife and I took an East L.A. food tour in 2014 and our guide, who was a Chicago transplant, was asked what he liked about Los Angeles. As he answered our group, I nodded my approval when he quickly pointed at me and said, “THAT is exactly what I love about L.A.! The chill attitude.”

My wife and I decided to do our own food tour this morning, something we like to do every now and then. Some of our best Date Days/Nights are like this, where we explore a neighborhoods’ food and culture (be sure to read my post from last year on 5 Inexpensive Was to Rock Date Night).

We love to take advantage of the MetroLink $10 Weekend Day Pass, which allows us to ride anywhere on the MetroLink, Metro Rail, or Metro Bus all day Saturday or Sunday. It’s the best way to save on gas money and parking fees as well as avoid traffic-induced headaches and road rage.

So we took the train into downtown and walked over to Grand Central Market, which was opened in 1917 and is now home to lots of buzz-worthy eateries. In other words, it’s a hipster foodie’s paradise. There was one place that we’ve been wanting to try for a while: Eggslut.

The Slut at Eggslut.

The Slut at Eggslut.

Eggslut’s signature dish The Slut was really good, a unique blend of poached egg and potato puree (with grey salt and chives) that melts in your mouth and contrasts well with the crunchy baguette slices. Was it worth $9? Read my Yelp review here.

Next on our food tour was RiceBar. I’d heard the news about its opening last summer; it’s not often that a Filipino restaurant opens downtown. Most of the Filipino eateries in Southern California are located in suburban areas and this one was generating a lot of hype because chef/co-owner Charles Olalia left his executive chef position at the highly regarded, Michelin-starred Patina to open RiceBar.

Bisteg Tagalog at RiceBar.

Bisteg Tagalog at RiceBar.

Chef Olalia’s passion for his food was evident the minute my wife and I sat down at the counter. We ordered the Bisteg Tagalog and absolutely loved it. Read my Yelp review here.

Finally, for the third place to cross off our imaginary Foodie Bucket List, we went to Bottega Louie for dessert. It was a beautiful restaurant with its vaulted ceilings and its New-York-hustle-and-bustle atmosphere.

Macarons at Bottega Louie

Macarons at Bottega Louie

We wanted to try their famous macarons and that’s exactly what we did. Michelle got the grand cru (chocolate ganache made with Valrhona dark chocolate) and I got the pistachio (Sicilian pistachios & Valrhona white chocolate ganache). Both were tasty, but I preferred the pistachio.

After we were done feasting, we walked around Pershing Square and admired the public art and the view of the city (shown above). Downtown has changed a lot since I worked down here decades (!) ago and it’s so much more accessible thanks to the train system, which didn’t exist when I was a regular in the area. Nowadays, a morning or afternoon spent here can make for a memorable, affordable, and walkable date.

Day 331: KISS Mini Golf

KISS by Monster Mini Golf

KISS by Monster Mini Golf

While I haven’t played the iconic Pebble Beach golf course yet, I have played miniature golf at a KISS-themed course. I’d like to think that it’s an icon of another kind, either of rock band merchandising or Las Vegas excess.

In either case, it was an awesome experience.

As a kid growing up in the late ’70s, KISS was everywhere. I remember seeing the KISS Alive II poster in my cousin’s room and being scared yet fascinated by the four characters, especially the blood-spewing Gene Simmons.

Whatever shock value they had in the early part of the decade was gone by the time I was listening to them in elementary school. They had their own comic book and starred in a terrible made-for-TV movie, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. After the disco-influenced Dynasty album (the poster of which I had hanging in my room, which led to my parents questioning my sanity), the band went into a down period before resurrecting itself in the mid-’80s.

I saw the band twice during the ’80s and grew out of them shortly thereafter. But the second my wife bought a Groupon for a round at the KISS by Monster Mini Golf experience, I was ready to Rock N Roll All Nite (and Party Every Day). We joined my brother’s family during the Thanksgiving week for a trip through our past as we introduced the kids to KISS’ music through the miniature golf course, which is a sentence I never thought I’d ever write.

It was an absolute blast. While the kids enjoyed playing glow-in-the-dark golf, I was loving all of the details on the course, highlighted by the ongoing KISS music blared throughout the place. Every hole had some kind of KISS or rock music theme to it, from maneuvering around Peter Criss’ drums to putting right through Ace Frehley’s Les Paul. There was even an animatronic KISS band at the center of the room that would occasionally come to life.

Of course, the only way to end a KISS round of golf was at the 18th hole’s tongue ramp into the Gene Simmons face (shown above).

Day 311: Sherry

Rancho De Philo Winery

Rancho De Philo Winery

We went to the Rancho De Philo Winery today for the opening day of their annual sale. Rancho De Philo makes one wine, an award-winning sherry. It’s a delicious dessert wine, something to be sipped and savored on special occasions.

The winery is on a beautiful property in Rancho Cucamonga and the family still lives there, so it’s only open to the public for about one week each year. Although I’m not much of a wine drinker, I always look forward to our yearly visit. It’s also my yearly wish to play Donkey Kong at the winery.

Day 305: Street Food Cinema

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

A few years ago my wife and I experienced our first Street Food Cinema in Hollywood. It’s a terrific event of live music, food trucks, and a classic movie shown outdoors in different parts of Los Angeles. I love the picnic atmosphere; it’s family friendly with a laid-back  vibe.

For Halloween last night, my wife scored tickets to the final event of the season at Exposition Park for one of my favorite movies: Shaun of the Dead. Since we’d already dressed as zombies this year, we decided to do a DC/Marvel crossover with my wife going as Spidergirl and myself as Clark Kent-changing-into-Superman (an easy costume for me since I already have the eyeglasses).

We arrived in time for the last song of the band, found a spot near the front to lay down our picnic blanket and beach chairs, then did a quick scan of the food trucks before deciding on our dinner: shish kebabs for my wife and a shrimp po boy and chicken/sausage/corn bisque for me. The food was delicious and we cracked open a bottle of a wonderful wine for the movie.

I was surprised that more people weren’t dressed as zombies or the characters from the movie, but there were some terrific costumes. I particularly liked the McDonald’s Hamburglar I was in line with for dinner.

The crowd seemed to enjoy the film as much as I always do. Shaun of the Dead is such a smart, funny movie, brilliantly versed in its zombie cliches as it pokes fun of itself and the genre. The weather was perfect last night and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend Halloween.

Day 289: French Friday



There wasn’t anything particularly French about today, but my wife and I played Carcassonne so that gave me a chance to use the alliterative post title. After an early dinner we watched Book of Life (good animated movie), went out for ice cream, and came home to play the game.

Carcassonne is a city in the south of France that I’d love to visit one day, if only to see the actual landscape that inspired this modern classic board game. In my mind it’s a mellow place since that’s the feeling I get whenever I play. Draw a tile, play the tile, place a meeple if you want, and score points if possible. Simple, relaxing, and I have no idea why I let it sit in storage for years before actually playing it.

Day 270: littlemeatsLA

Cast-iron skillet kimchi fried rice with smoked pork belly and 14-hour smoked brisket.

Cast-iron skillet kimchi fried rice with smoked pork belly and 14-hour smoked brisket.

Over a month ago, my Yelp buddy Alex posted some photos from a supper club in L.A. The food looked delicious, but when I saw the 14-hour smoked brisket I knew I had to drive out there as soon as I could get on the list.

I’m a sucker for anything cooked low and slow.

My wife and I made it for tonight’s dinner and it lived up to all the hype and then some. Not only was the food phenomenal, but the company was fantastic. Our host Robin and our chef for the evening Stevie were personable and passionate and it was easy to see how much love went into our tonight’s #EthnicAmerica get-together.

littlemeatsLA was successful in creating a space where strangers could have a family experience. Old school hip hop served as our background music as we got to know our fellow diners. Conversation flowed freely and easily; one minute I was talking to an attorney, the next an owner of a popsicle business.

It was an amazing and inspirational meal, highlighted by the kimchi fried rice with 14-hour smoked brisket. It was comfort food elevated to an art form, with every bite savored and enjoyed by all of us.

On the way home, my wife and I couldn’t stop talking about the experience: the food, the conversations, the sense of community when people get together like this … and, of course, our next visit.

Tonight’s menu:


“Ants on a Log” with Ssamjang butter


Cast-iron kimchi fried rice and accoutrements, with smoked pork belly and 14-hour smoked brisket.


Pineapple shiso sorbet

Day 255: Huy Fong Foods

Special 35th anniversary bottles of sriracha

Special 35th anniversary bottles of sriracha

I was fortunate to score a pass to the Huy Fong Foods factory tour today, the first day of the chili-grinding season at the world-famous sriracha maker. Last year I tried to make reservations too late and everything was booked, so this year once the announcement was made, I immediately booked online and got a 2pm slot for today.

My wife and I took our good friends Dave and Liz, fellow foodies whom I consider family, not just friends. We arrived early and saw lots of people milling around with all kinds of sriracha gear, from hats and shirts to socks and capes(!).

Here’s a pictorial of our day at the factory’s open house and tour (click on the photos for a larger version):

Truck full of chilis.

After checking in and putting on the required hairnets (and a facial hairnet for yours truly), we began the self-guided tour. We walked through the ginormous space filled with crates and crates of sriracha (think the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark) and found ourselves at the loading dock, just as a truck full of chilis pulled up. While none of us could smell the chilis when we got to the factory, we could definitely smell them in this area. It was a sight to see … and smell.

Chili grinding

Chili grinding.

We watched the truck dump its contents into the grinder. So cool! These are some potent peppers and my wife was really feeling it. Once we re-entered the building into the main processing area, she was having trouble breathing. Note to any of you potential tour-takers: the smell is strong inside the this part of the factory. If you don’t do spicy, beware. And even if you do like sriracha (like my wife), it can still be pretty overwhelming.

55-gallon drums of the magic sauce!

55-gallon drums of the magic sauce!

It was quite a sight as we walked a few stairs for an overhead view of the entire operation. There were 55-gallon drums of hot sauce everywhere and I couldn’t help but crack Breaking Bad jokes: “Now we know the secret ingredient: crystal meth!” Later, my wife joked, “There was a fly in there.”

Chinese Lion Dance.

Chinese Lion Dance.

We finished the tour in about 30 minutes. There was a cool Chinese lion dance that wound through part of the facility and continued outside, where the free samples were located.

Free sriracha food samples!

Free sriracha food samples!

As part of the open house tour, each guest received free food samples: sriracha popcorn, sriracha potato chips, sriracha croutons, sriracha beef jerky, and sriracha ice cream. Surprisingly, everybody liked the ice cream the best. Each bite was cool and creamy ice cream with a bit of heat as you ate it. We were all impressed by how well they pulled off this balancing act of flavors.


Free sriracha swag.

Along with the free tour and free samples, we also received a free plastic Huy Fong Foods cup, t-shirt, and bottle of sriracha. Awesome! We stopped by their gift shop, which was filled with sriracha-themed clothing, food, and novelties, all priced reasonably (I scored a $5 shirt for my dad, a $1.50 I Love Sriracha button for myself, and a few other things).

I almost forgot to mention that we got to meet David Tran, the founder of Huy Fong Foods! We all took photos with him and it was an honor to meet this living legend. His sriracha has saved many a mediocre dish for me and elevated a few of my better meals as well.

A fantastic day spent with fantastic people. I could get used to celebrating chili-grinding season like this.