Shisen Ramen, Torrance – A Szechuan-Style Ramen Shop

August 7th, 2009 by Dylan
Shisen Ramen, Torrance
I think my appreciation for ramen came after my friends and I went to Japan for the first time. We weren’t particularly hunting for ramen, but more so, let the smells and signage of a ramen shop attract us.  And we fell in love. Japan made it really easy for us to find food through one simple principle: cook nothing but delicious food.  Every shop we went to was simply solid.  From light, salt-based and soy sauce-based soups (shio and shoyu) to thicker-stock soups (tonkotsu), they were all good.  For a while, the ramen shops on Sawtelle row represented the ramen capital.  And it wasn’t until coming back from Japan, that we realized that those noodle shops just didn’t cut it.  We reminisced and lamented for a while.  We tried to find a place that offered a more rich-style broth other than salt and miso paste.  
Then came Shin Sen Gumi (Gardena, Costa Mesa & Rosemead) and Daikokuya (Little Tokyo) opened, creating this pork-bone soup craze that changed the Los Angeles ramen scene.  Shortly after,  a wave of new ramen shops hit the Los Angeles area after 2000, introducing more and more varieties of ramen.  Santouka, Asa, California and Gardena ramen to be exact.  Our friend Rameniac really helped define the differences in the shops available here and really made ramen a hot topic.  
After class, Jeni and I continued our ramen adventures in the South Bay area.  We had a really tasty experience at Shigetoshi “Sean” Nakamura’s California-cuisine/ramen experiment – in which he combines farmer’s market ingredients like heirloom tomatoes and cheese in ramen.  A combination that would surely raise the eyebrows of any pre-nisei Japanese, but has somehow got both Jeni and I craving it.  And we find ourselves here at about 10 pm – at a ramen shop offering Szechuan-style ramen.  Funny when you think of it, since it was the Chinese that inspired Japanese ramen.  FYI, ramen means ‘pulled noodles’, and it’s pronounced ‘la mian’ ( 拉 麺 ).
I was so stoked to try this because we had a similar dining experience in Yokohama, Japan, shortly after visiting the Ramen Museum.  Ridiculous, I know. Basically, take your traditional Chinese dishes like BBQ pork, black bean sauce noodles, mabo tofu or sesame paste noodles and dump it on top of noodles and soup… voila Chinese-style ramen. But it’s actually more complicated than that as you’ll see.
Shisen Ramen, Torrance
We sat down and took a look at the menu.  The main feature was the shisen ramen, which is Japanese for Szechuan.  We were about to order from it until we saw tonkotsu and a special ramen called the Garlic Black Shisen which got us wide-eyed.  A few months ago, I was at Ippudo Ramen in New York begging the chef to make a ‘burnt soy sauce’ ramen (kogashi) I had heard about.  My friends had just gotten back from Japan and bragged about it – I couldn’t take it!  I was declined in New York but suddenly reminded of that style of ramen when I saw the Shisen special.  One please.
Shisen Ramen, Torrance
Garlic Black Shisen Ramen ($9.80)
Although it looks like a mini Exxon oil tanker ran into some rocks, this was one promising bowl of noodles.  We both took a whiff of the ramen – the smell of fried garlic was marvelous. Thinly-sliced scallions, bamboo shoots and a few pieces of pork… we were ready.   The soup was really excellent, but super oily.  That’s expected out of any tonkotsu-style soup.
Shisen Ramen, Torrance
They used yellow noodles, which had just the right texture to it.  I usually go for medium cooked noodles because I like more bite to it.  I am actually craving this bowl of noodles right now.  They’ve had this on special since July and the servers said that they do change frequently.  I would go eat this ASAP.
Shisen Ramen, Torrance
Tonkotsu Chashu ($7.50)
We also ordered the tonkotsu chashu ramen to really gauge the restaurant.  We do this all the time with pho restaurants.  If the pho isn’t any good, chances are, it’s not their focus or they really need a new chef.  I looked at the broth and kind of hesitated.  After eating that Black Garlic ramen, I was a bit greased out.  But it was everything but oily, and packed with a strong flavor of pork, salt and a lot of ginger.  I even dumped in some of the pureed garlic offered by the restaurant.  This was really good.  Except for…
Shisen Ramen, Torrance
the overcooked noodles.  Aye.  It could have been a stellar bowl.
Shisen Ramen, Torrance
But to make up for that, Shisen Ramen is quite generous with the chashu portions.  It was almost too much for me since the pieces were pretty fatty.  
Shisen Ramen, Torrance
I also noticed in the chashu photo, an uncanny resemblance to Scarecrow in Batman Begins.  Not the most beautiful photo of chashu, but I promise it is very palatable.
We also ordered gyoza and paiko for appetizers (not pictured).  The gyoza (in Chinese ‘jiao zhi’ or  ‘gao jee’) were tiny as hell, but fried beautifully.  You know you’re eating a good gyoza when you have that tiny crunch from the crisped up wrapper – something the Japanese are masters at making.  The paiko here (in Chinese ‘pai gwut’ or ‘pai gu’) are very similar to the fried pork chops sold in Taiwanese joints, but nothing comparable to it.  They were fried nicely with a nice dash of five-spice powder and served with a Sriracha-based dipping sauce.  
I am already thinking about my next meal here.  Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

Shisen Ramen
1730 Sepulveda Blvd. #6
Torrance, CA  90501
(310) 534-1698

Ricky’s Fish Tacos – The One Man Stand

August 2nd, 2009 by Dylan
Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake
***UPDATE: Ricky’s Fish Tacos has moved to 4100 N. Virgil in the Virgil Village area, just south of Hollywood/Blvd. Wed – Fri 11:30 – 4:30 and Saturdays & Sundays 11:30 – 6 pm . Check his twitter updates as his scheduling does change.

In Los Angeles, a whole vending truck craze started going around, ever since the debut of Kogi BBQ. Not only are there copycat Korean BBQ trucks, Indian food from the Dosa Truck, a Vietnamese banh mi truck in Westwood (Nom Nom), a sushi truck called Fishlips, and a Japanese snack truck called Marked 5, just to name a few. But, for me I prefer the wheels of a stand versus the wheels of a truck. And it’s nice to know that some people are still keeping it real, like this gentleman, Ricky.

After having some friends tell me about this one-man-fish-taco-stand, Jeni and I drove over on a breezy Saturday afternoon to hopefully eat Ensenada-style food. We were told that Ricky showed up sporadically on Sunset, in front of a laundromat, just across from Intelligentsia. The only way to know if he’s there is to look for a sign, or more specifically, a rainbow parasol. My brain has learned that rainbow parasols are often linked to delicious street food together after a visit to the wonderful Breed Street food fair in East LA.
We were fast approaching Ricky’s location but there was traffic, so we couldn’t see anything in front of the laundromat. But good things happen if it was meant to be… there it was, the rainbow parasol. Fish tacos… on the street… on a sunny Saturday…
Like a one-man band armed with his bass drum, harmonica, knee cymbals and trombone, Ricky had his own arsenal of utilities. A deep-fry cart, tongs, his condiments, a griddle underneath the fryer, an Igloo for keeping tortillas warm, a fish cooler and of course, the rainbow umbrella. We walked up to the ‘store’ after Ricky served his customers, he smiled and asked us, “fish taco?” Most definitely. And this is how you make an Ensenada-style fish taco. The way Ricky does out of a small cart on Sunset Blvd. “Two please.”

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake
We watched as he reached into a small cooler. He pulled out a small ziplock bag of fresh fish and took out a few pieces. Ricky, like Joseph of Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada, also uses basa, a Vietnamese catfish from the Mekong river delta. With tongs, he carefully dipped each piece of fish in his special batter. Right before frying, he made sure that any excess batter was shaken off. I’ve had too many fish tacos that were nearly 50/50 batter and fish – gross. I remembered someone on Chowhound saying that the fish tacos at Tacos Baja Ensenada in East LA, are good, but pack on way too much batter. I couldn’t agree more as I ate the fish tacos. There was so much batter that the fish had broken off from the batter itself. If there was ever an audition for a salt shaker position in a Latin band, I might actually have a chance with those babies. TBE, without a doubt though, is still one of LA’s best.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake
Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake
As you can see, Ricky’s got all his settings right. Fresh oil, no overcrowding, no burnt bits and a new cooking technique foreign to me, can only lead to a beautiful product. When the fish is almost ready, he makes a large piercing with his tongs into the center of the battered baby, bringing in a gush of hot oil that not only makes cooking a lot faster, but a nice jolt of flavor. Healthy, by no means. Ricky then pulls out some warmed tortillas from his Igloo and lays the fish down to sleep.
Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake
Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake
Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Finely-chopped pico de gallo and cabbage are then added in a proportional manner. Fans of Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada might have to hold themselves back and let the chef do the work. I myself can learn a lesson or two, as I tend to overload my FT’s with crema and cabbage.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake
For me, one of the things that differentiated BFTIE and TBE was the cream used. BFTIE was a bit sweeter than TBE’s that added a finishing touch to a solid fish taco. I asked him if he used crema mexicana, and he politely said,
“No, I use mayonnaise and milk. It’s how we do it in Ensenada.” This is the word of the lord.
Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake
Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake
Going in for the Kill
For $2.50, Ricky offers a well-endowed fish taco. Not an appropriate adjective to use, but it’s a good size. I had to hold the taco with a wide grip above the taco, careful not to poison the cream with my own palms. When I took a bite, I felt a layer of textures:
- the creamy sauce
- the slightly cold pico de gallo and salsa
- the crispy-battered fish
- the warm tortilla
And all of it made sense. So much sense, that I had to order another one.
Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake
Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

We both really enjoyed the fish tacos served by the extremely nice, Ricky. What’s not to love about a man earning an honest buck selling something that was passed down from his mother. At one point, Ricky stopped during our conversation. He saw the meter maid on Sunset Blvd. and told us to watch his ‘store’ as he fed the meter. Awesome.
Ricky offers two types of salsa but both were really delicate in spice. I think all that was needed was a spicy kick to the salsa, to really make this one fish taco to beat. A very nice customer was kind enough to set Ricky up on Twitter and you can find him on Saturdays and Sundays from 12-4 pm. As we left, I quickly texted some friends to hurry on down to try his fish tacos. They all loved it, and I’m sure you will too.

Ricky’s Fish Tacos

Corner of Sunset & Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Saturdays & Sundays 12:30 – 4pm
Check his Twitter Before You Go

Nutella Fingerchips

July 13th, 2009 by Dylan

This reminds me of what I used to do with those fabulous Bugle chips. Remember those? Anyway, I’d imagine that this genius idea would set off a new trend amongst bakeries/dessert shops. Macaroon fingerchips from Jin Patisserie?