November Writing Challenge Day 26: Ramen

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.

Nothing beats ramen on a cold night.

My wife and I visited Japan a few years ago while our daughter was studying abroad for a year. It was an awesome 10-day trip and we’re always talking about taking another trip there.

We stayed in Tokyo the entire time and thanks to our daughter we got to explore the city like locals, since she’d already been there for six months when we showed up. The public transportation is efficient and clean, and we never needed to use our non-existent Japanese to ask for directions.

Around the neighborhood where our daughter was staying were a few local ramen shops and we ate at one in particular a few times during our stay. In fact, we ate at a different ramen shop nearly every day we were in Tokyo. I thought we would’ve gotten tired of it, but we didn’t.

Of course, the ramen is better in Japan than back home in the States. Every bowl of ramen was deeper in flavor, fresher in ingredients, and cooked better overall. We liked the efficiency of the local shops: once you entered, there were little kiosks where you entered your order and paid, then sat down and gave the server your ticket. A few minutes later and your piping hot bowl of ramen was placed in front of you.

We learned basic etiquette on the first night we were in Tokyo, like slurping is OK but rubbing your chopsticks is not. We also learned to love the library quiet of all of the shops we ate in. The locals enjoyed their meals with a minimum of chit-chat and there was no music blaring or sports yakking from any televisions.

Besides the ramen itself, it’s the whole dining culture that I miss the most. When we came back home, we noticed how LOUD American restaurants are. It took us awhile to really enjoy a nice meal out, and we’ll still mention Japan whenever we sit down at a local eatery and get bombarded by noise.

The bowl pictured above, unfortunately, is not from Japan. It’s a tonkotsu from our local ramen joint, which would shutter its doors within a week if we were in Tokyo. But we’re in the Inland Empire of Southern California so when we’re craving ramen and don’t want to make the long trek to Los Angeles, this is the best we can do. If it was better we’d probably eat it more often. But even if it was I’m not sure we would: like all of the restaurants here, it’s LOUD.

Inside Vs Outside Voice


My wife and I went to the Eat Play Move event in Los Angeles yesterday. It’s the second time they’ve held it and, frankly, we weren’t fans of last year’s event. Not only was it crowded, but the poorly organized entry point at the Eagle Rock Plaza and the nightmare parking exit made for a less-than-stellar first impression.

We loved the idea behind the event, since it celebrates the Filipino and Filipino-American culture, through food (our favorite, of course), play, and exercise, all wrapped up in the L.A. vibe. Although we were worried about another unorganized mess, we wanted to support Eat Play Move because we believe in its mission.

This year, they changed locations and took over a few streets near Boomtown Brewery in the Arts District. We paid $10 for early entry, which was a godsend since the early start allowed us to enjoy ourselves without having to wait hours in line for food.

We also avoided the afternoon heat, getting up early after a late night watching the Dodgers beat the Red Sox in the longest World Series game ever (18 innings).

As we munched on some terrific oysters and mussels, a local news program came up to me to chat.

Interviewer: “Tell us about Eat Play Move.”

Me (inside voice): “With our current political climate, it’s important to have events like these that celebrate the diversity of our communities. Look around you; there are people from all walks of life enjoying Filipino and Filipino-inspired food, music, and culture. There are no walls separating us here. It’s all about love and community and fellowship. We’re not worried about the divisiveness of our current administration. Here, we share food and stories with our neighbors as well as strangers.”

Me (outside voice): “GO DODGERS!!!”

Note to self: Work on ad-libbing skills.

Epilogue: The Dodgers lost a second straight World Series at home. My time on camera is not gonna age well.

Every Night Is Game Night: La Isla


I’m playing a board game every day this month and blogging about it (I did a similar challenge last year)Feel free to join me during my Every Night Is Game Night: My Daily Play & Blog Challenge. And tweet me with what you’re playing these days!

I didn’t play a game or blog about it last night. My reason is pictured below:


My wife and I had a date night in L.A., compliments of Yelp. We’re fortunate to both be Elite users and occasionally attend Yelp Elite Events, which are always filled with food, drink, and good times. Last night’s was no exception, with a small group of us stuffing ourselves silly at the hot new barbecue spot in Chinatown, Belle Belle’s Cue.

After feasting on smoked brisket, pulled pork, turkey, and ribs with all the fixings (mac and cheese, creamed corn, potato salad, beans, coleslaw, pickles, and white bread), we were in a food coma the rest of the night. The games remained on the shelf, but we did watch a few episodes of Master of None before finishing it tonight (my spoiler-free reaction here).

Today we ate our leftovers, then I met up with my friend Daryl for some boba and board games. We played Ethnos, Stone Age, Kanagawa, and La Isla. Although the boba shop’s air conditioning wasn’t performing at its peak, it was still a nice break from the 90-degree heat wave.

Most gamers call La Isla a Stefan-Feld-light game and it’s an appropriate description. It’s a point salad game with interesting card play, set collection, and area control. It seems like every time I get this to the table I need a rules refresher, but that’s okay. Game play always picks up after a few turns and a two-player match is about 30 minutes.

In La Isla, players are explorers trying to capture animals that were thought to be extinct (the dodo, for example). Animal tiles are randomly placed throughout the island and players use cards and resource cubes to bring their explorer tokens onto the board. If a player surrounds an animal tile, then they add the tile to their collection. Points are earned each turn (and the end game scoring) based on the animals you have.

Players take four actions each turn and three of those are based on the cards they play (three are drawn every turn). Each card is broken up into three sections: the top is for the first action, the bottom left is for the second action, and the bottom right is for the third. It’s always interesting to choose which parts of the cards you’ll use for each turn. Quite often, you’re giving something up to gain something else.

The first action is placing a card into the player’s card holder. This gives bonuses on subsequent actions. The second action is collecting a resource. The third action is moving one of your explorers. Finally, the fourth action is moving a scoring tracker up a space. If you have that animal type, then you score points.

There are several other ways to score points throughout the game, primarily through the action cards that you place in your card holder during the first action. What I like about La Isla is that the card holder only holds three cards, so your bonuses are constantly changing. The set collection element comes into play as you gather animal tiles. For each complete set of five, you get 10 points at the end of the game.

I really like La Isla. It’s not the most intuitive game at first, but once you get into it, it’s a simple and quick Feld. Unfortunately, like other Felds, it has cubes and cards and a board whose colors won’t make it easy on colorblind players. Thankfully, I play with some easygoing people who don’t mind helping me out whenever I have color-related questions.

Award Winner


I’m now an award-winning writer!

My wife and I recently attended a Yelp Elite Event at The Vermont in Los Angeles. One of the vendors was Tabanero Hot Sauce. Although I’m not the hot sauce junkie I was as a younger man, I still enjoy spicing up my food. Back when I could stomach it, the hotter the better. Nowadays I don’t need to be sweating through my clothes in order to appreciate a tasty hot sauce.

We tried Tabanero with deconstructed chicken tacos (basically chicken nachos) and I liked the flavor. It’s not a vinegar-based sauce and it has a little kick to it, thanks to the habanero pepper recipe. I also enjoyed the Tabanero bloody mary mix.

A few days after the event I learned that the company was sponsoring a contest; anybody who attended the event was eligible. All that was required was an “ode to Tabanero” and a lucky few would win a three-pack of Tabanero Hot Sauce.

Summoning my ode-to-hot-sauce writing skills, I came up with this haiku and as they say in the casinos, Winner winner, chicken dinner! My food will be extra spicy for months to come.

Next up: The Pulitzer.


My 2016 Yelp Goal

2016 Yelp Elite badge.

2016 Yelp Elite badge.

Last week I received my 2016 Yelp Elite badge, my fourth in a row. As I’ve written before (here and here), I wear my badge proudly and love all of the perks I’ve received. From free event/concert tickets to awesome parties, Yelp takes care of its most dedicated users. My wife and I have enjoyed some terrific date nights, compliments of Yelp.

Although I’d used the site for years without actually writing a review or posting a photo, this changed in 2013 when I took the Yelp 100 Challenge, which is an unofficial challenge to write 100 reviews in a year. That year I reached my goal and also became a part of the Yelp Elite squad.

As I became a Yelp power user, not only did I get to go to fun and complimentary events, but I also made some new friends along the way. That alone makes it worth the time and effort it takes to write 100 reviews in 365 days.

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 363: A Thousand Words

Best shot I hit all year on the golf course.

Best shot I hit on the golf course in 2015.

I can’t believe I only have two more days until I’ve completed My Quest to Blog Every Day in 2015!

I’ll write more about this on the final post of the year, but for now let me say this: I wish I would’ve written more substantial posts. I didn’t realize how tough this quest would be and I have a greater appreciation for those that publish quality content on a regular basis.

What’s the old saying? A picture’s worth a thousand words? Here are a few photos I took this year. I’m not sure I could write a thousand words for each, but they are a good sample of what I did during the previous 363 days.


Roll for the Galaxy


Premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Wasabi-flavored Kit Kats from Japan


Incredible kim chi fried rice from Little Meats LA

Frontier sign at the Neon Boneyard Museum

Frontier sign at the Neon Boneyard Museum


A summer night at Dodger Stadium


Celebrating the US Women’s World Cup victory at LA Live


Day 362: 85 Degrees

85 Degrees Bakery Cafe

Sad that fantasy football is over? Go eat at 85 Degrees Bakery Cafe.

My fantasy football season ended tonight.

I was on a nine-game winning streak that led me to win my division and lock up the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. I squeaked by my first-round opponent with a 5-point win, then faced the guy who has become my nemesis.

Mike and I met in last year’s championship game, where he beat me. This year, as Yogi Berra would’ve said, was deja vu all over again, as I lost by 12 points to Mike’s team.

In the Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda department, I sat Todd Gurley and his 15 points for Ted Ginn Jr.’s less than 1 point. I didn’t think Gurley would do much against the Seahawks’ defense (the same defense that locked down my other RB Adrian Peterson a few weeks ago), so I went with the hot hand in Cam Newton and his favorite target over the last three weeks.

Of course, Ginn came crashing back down to earth, thus giving me no chance to win my third championship.

I’d be more upset, but I wouldn’t have been in the game anyway if my kicker Blair Walsh hadn’t exploded for 21 points. Plus, having two titles under my belt some of the sting away from the loss. Just a little.

I drowned my sorrows away with some treats from the phenomenal 85 Degrees Bakery Cafe. Pictured above: walnut multigrain bread, cinnamon twist, green onion bread, boroh danish, and calamari sticks. Not pictured: their extraordinary iced sea salt coffee. It’s all sinfully delicious and my hands-on research has proven that it does wonders for one’s mood when the fantasy football season ends.

Day 342: Snack Time

Seafood City Snack Aisle

Seafood City Snack Aisle

My wife and I enjoyed Korean spicy tofu soup tonight and we were craving dessert. She opted for Jolibee’s delicious peach mango pie (think old school McDonald’s apple pie, but better) while I spent way too much time at Seafood City’s snack aisle (shown above).

I wanted Pocky, but they didn’t have the regular ol’ flavor. Instead, there was strawberry, green tea, and some ultra-thin variety that looked like the regular, but I wasn’t in a trusting mood. I just wanted straight-up Pocky.

I went to the knockoff Pockys next, like Pejoy (no chocolate flavor available) and Jack and Jill (I didn’t like these last time). There was even something called Pretz, but when I saw they had pizza flavor, I decided to go with something else: Lucky.

Lucky wasn’t exactly Pocky, but it had a similar taste and it looked like a chocolate light saber, which is all I ask for in any Pocky rip-off: chocolate flavor and a shaky resemblance to a Star Wars weapon.