Sura - Providence, RI

A quick post about this spot in Providence, RI we came across while walking around. If you know anything about me, I get that itch for some comfort food while I'm on the road. While I'm all for some bacon mac and cheese, nothing can replace my craving for some good ole Korean food. Sura, fit the bill for some good ole deliciousness.

What is "bibimbap"? It's rice topped with all sorts of goodies from spinach, roots of various kinds, some sort of protein, and an egg. Then you pour over it a sweet and spicy pepper sauce. It's a great one bowl meal.


Shoya Izakaya - Doraville, GA

Atlanta, Georgia . . . The city seems like a huge metropolis to someone like the likes of me from Durham, NC. In fact I consider it to be one of the top 10 biggest cities in the US. Maybe I'm just naive. Atlanta is currently only the 33rd largest city in the US by population but packs more quality restaurants than some of the big boys. Shoya belongs in the big city, it produces super fresh seafood and yakitori while seemingly at full capacity at all times.

This is a long post so bear with me, I promise that some of these foods, as bizarre as they may seem, are truely delicious and deserve your attention if you stop by this strip mall eatery.

You may or probably have no clue what I'm talking about when I talk about Izakayas. Think of an izakaya like your local sports bar that you frequent that also sells fresh grilled chicken hearts. Izakayas are drinking establishments through and through, they just happen to serve up substantial Japanese eats. But don't come around here looking for wings and/or fries or you'll be sorely disappointed.

Tako Wasabi - Raw octopus with marinated with pickled wasabi leaf
I will say this, the order that these pictures show up are purely the order that we ordered this gargantuan meal. My cousins know how to eat. My girlfriend Em, she knows how to eat. We start with the palette cleansing raw octopus that has been marinated with pickled wasabi leaves. It's pungent to the nose, but nice and subtle to the palette. Think of it like drinking ocean water while someone shoves wasabi up your nose. It's pleasant, trust me.

Sea Cucumber Sunomono - Variety of seafood, cucumber and seaweed with vinaigrette
A lot of what Asian food is is texture. A lot of times we use the main piece in a dish as the medium for the sauce that surrounds it. If the main piece has a great texture it's like a win win for us. Sea Cucumber is light in flavor when fresh, and almost crunchy while being soft at the same time. The classic soy vinaigrette that comes with this dishe is nice and over powering to work in harmony with some of the "interesting" flavors of the sea cucumber.

Mountain Root Salad - Shredded mountain root, scallion, daikon radish, baby greens, and seaweed
And speaking of texture, sometimes, the texture of some dishes is just too hard to swallow. This is one of those that is a bit much for me. My cousins seem to love it, but I just can't seem to get around the consistency of the mountain root. It seems all crunchy like an Asian pear when you bite in to it, but then the slimey, mucous, consistency starts right in. It's like the inside of an okra without the seeds.

Ankimo - Steamed monk fish liver with ponzu sauce, scallion, and chili radish
I know the idea of eating a steamed fish's liver seems a bit far fetched. After all usually the experience we have with fish liver is cod fish liver oil. Supposedly really healthy for you but also some of the fishiest nauseating smell, am I correct? Well ankimo doesn't hold true to this assumption. The flavor is very mild, and the texture is much like a firm pate. This dish is extremely rich so don't go popping several into your mouth or you may just ruin your meal. The flavor is very much like a particular, but once you forget that it's monk fish liver, you actually start to like it a lot.

Ko Mochi Shishamo - Grilled half dried smelt fish(with eggs) with sea salt
I don't know how to explain to you that these dishes are not as odd as they seem. If I didn't grow up eating fish roe, then the idea of eating an impregnated fish would seem far fetched and gross. But I know how delicious fish roe is. Yes these fish are grilled whole with their egg sack intact. Yes they still have the head attached. But trust me, if you get beyond all of the aesthetics of it all, it's an extremely delicious dish.

Gindara - Grilled marinated silver cod with dashi soy sauce
I just realized I may have come to the first "normal" dish on this list of food. Silver cod is a nice oily fish with tons of flavor and there is an almost molasses-y sweetness to this fish. I can only say one thing umami(delicious).

Shishito Peppers - Served with lemon and sea salt
I wonder if these thin skinned peppers are in season. Eating Shishito peppers is like playing Russian roulette. You may or may not get one that's really spicy and will turn your mood south. At the same time though, maybe you can just consider it a reason to keep eating! There isn't much much that needs to be done with shishito peppers, just pop them in a broiler and get them a little charred sprinkle some sea salt and a squeeze of lemon and that's it. Simple.

Chicken Heart and Japanese Conch - Served with lemon and sea salt
This was only my second experience with an izakaya. My first time was at Yakitori Totto in NY, NY. And my first time I had to eat chicken hearts as well. Remember I was talking about texture and how important a roll it plays in asian cuisine. Well, chicken hearts are nice and chewy and have a very meaty flavor to them.

Funny enough these two dishes came out at the same time and seem to have very similar textures. Though the flavors couldn't be farther apart, the texture is very similar. Conch tastes a bit fishy but in that steamed clam sort of way. Not offensive, just good.

Chicken Meat Ball - With Cheese
Funny enough, when I was going through these pictures to create this post, I got to this picture of the chicken meat balls and was more grossed out than any other dish. Just the thought of putting american cheese on what looks like a glorified hotdog made me a little grossed out. I can say though that this meat ball is safe for the kiddies. They'd probably love how it comes on and stick and has cheese on it. Very juvenile, but also comforting in the same way.

Pork Onigiri - Two rice balls with bbq pork
Onigiri comes in all different variations with all sorts of fillings. I obviously gravitate towards anything pork. I am what I eat I guess. I wasn't so fond of their preparation of this onigiri. I was expecting a grilled rice ball with a nice crusted outside and a smokey flavor, but instead these were wrapped and grilled and lacked all that I love about grilled rice balls. However, another not-so-difficult to eat dish. Easy on the palette and the texture is quite easy to stomach even for beginners.

Chicken Skin - Served with lemon and sea salt
How many times have you wanted to eat the chicken skin off of a nice fried chicken wing only to be told that it will give you a heart attack? Well this dish is for all those times. It's just what you think it tastes like. Crispy, fatty, goodness. And oddly enough, it's not as rich as you would think. In other words, they remind me more of a potato chip fried in lard (YUM!) than a stick of butter.

Chicken Gizzard - Served with lemon and sea salt
If I were to hand you a skewer and said "here eat it, it's chicken gizzard." Would you? Well I guess that's not fair, you'd be out of your mind to eat a skewer of chicken parts from who knows what source and eat it. I digress. Anyways, what I'm trying to say is, if you don't give it a try on your own account, then you may never know the wonders of odd chicken parts. The gizzard is almost 100% texture. The flavor is light and what flavor you do get from it can easily be covered with the lemon and salt that goes along side the dish. The texture is crunchy though. At first you don't think that any meat product should be so crunchy but then you forget what you're eating and the next thing you know you're snacking on gizzard.

Tonkotsu Ramen - Egg noodles in creamy pork soup with roast pork, boiled egg, and more
And so we get to the final two courses, noodles and dessert. Kind of. So it's no secret I love noodles. So easy to eat, filling, and portable. These are the japanese versions of the famous ramen noodles. Don't get the water boiled out and set your timer to 3 minutes for these bad boys though. You're never going to get the richness of creamy pork broth without a ton of effort and time. I want to believe that tonkotsu ramen is one of the more classic ramens because I love to eat it at any chance I get. The broth is nice and creamy and the trimmings are superb. Now if I could just get this to dehydrate well.

Tan Tan Ramen - Egg noodles in spicy soy-chicken soup with pork, boiled egg, and more
Just based on the flavors going on in this ramen dish, I would venture to say it's influenced by chinese cuisine. The broth has more kick and the ground pork reminds me of chinese dan dan noodles. Either way, I'm in love with this dish and would probably go back to Shoya just for these noodles.

Okonomi Yaki - Japanese pan cake with pork, egg, and vegetables
The first time I heard about okonomi yaki was when I was studying to be a food lover watching Anthony Bourdain's show, No Reservations. His episode on Japan really opened my eyes to a lot of Japanese cuisine. I called this dessert only because it was so late in the game showing up to the table, what else could it be? Think of okonomi yaki as a japanese "Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity". It's a pancake of sorts, filled with all sorts of savory goods, fried on the griddle, and topped with bonito flakes and japanese mayo. I also like to call it a cardiac arrest. It's dangerously decadent and probably should come with a warning label for the roof of your mouth.

Anyways, I'm sorry you had to sit through that one. It was a long road but you've made it. Now go out and get some good eatin' done!

--Joe Kwon

For more info on Shoya click on this link.

Lola - Seattle, WA

English pea, summer squash, feta omelette, bacon, toast
I had the pleasure of getting to eat at Lola the last time I was in Seattle, and I have to say it's a spot that I could find myself going back to over and over again. The food was all fresh, delicious, and portions, just right.

I'm a sucker for omelets. However, they can often be boring, overcooked, undercooked, etc. Lola, seems to have this one down. The english peas are so sweet and have a great texture that just pops when you bite into them. The squash adds a nice earthy flavor to the dish while the feta adds a nice savory bite. And then, I got to the fresh dill on top and there was an explosion of flavor in my mouth. If that was it I would have been a happy camper. But the dish comes with "Smashed Potatoes" as Lola calls them, which are potatoes that have been boiled, squashed, rolled in herbs and spices, and then fried to finish it off. They are delicious and worth going to Lola for.

House made granola, greek yogurt, fresh fruit
For the health nut, there are a couple dishes on the menu that fit your bill and are everything but boring. The greek yogurt and house made granola are delicious enough to make for a light meal before your arduous day, and you won't feel guilty about eating either. Although, I can't really say I've ever had much food guilt. I probably should sometimes!

Tom’s big breakfast: octopus,green beans, sweet corn, sumac yogurt, poached egg, bacon salt
When I was reading through the menu I was instantly pulled towards this dish. "Octopus for breakfast!?" you may ask. And yes, octopus for breakfast. I can't tell you all the flavors that are going on in this dish, from hints of lemon, sweetness from corn, bacon salt! It has it all and it all masks any trace of fishiness from the octopus. So don't be scared, give it a try. You'll love it!

Steel cut oats, flax seed, blueberry compote, sugared almond clusters
I don't really like oatmeal. I've tried to because how "good for you" everyone says it is. I just can't do it. It's just too healthy or something. I seem to have a hard time putting a bowl of it down unless I stick two pads of butter in it and some fresh cream. That being said, I think I could have eaten this whole bowl. It tasted like a lightly sweet blueberry dessert.

I sometimes wish I could live in Seattle or somewhere in the Pac-NW because there are so many great fresh food offerings. After all, there is a lot of growing going on in the area and it's so easy to find a restaurant that is getting their ingredients locally and supporting the community that way. It's not a bad thing at all.

Anyways, get out there and eat and hit up your local farmers' market.

Conti - Brunswick Head, NSW, Australia

We arrived at Colongata Airport early enough in the morning the day of our first performance at Byron Bay Bluesfest to stop off at a nice spot for lunch. The beauty of the country side here really struck an accord with me right away. It's unlike the country side you see in NC but more like what you'd see in Hawaii. The lush trees are spotted with bright colorful flowers and the air smells sweeter for some reason. Conti (short for continental) was recommended to us by our artist liaison from the festival.

Everything here just seems a bit fresher. The seafood obviously comes out of the water and has to travel a shorter distance from water to plate so I'm sure that has something to do with it. There's something so tropical about this place. Conti is a nice little restaurant situated among a short row of small independently owned shops all in the open air. We sat down not knowing what to expect but certainly enjoying the pleasant sounds of rain hitting the ground around us. Sipping on a cup of ginger beer I sat back and remembered how lucky I am to be doing what I do.

Bundaberg Ginger Beer
The spaghetti had a spicy broth containing charred zucchini, tomatoes, onions, and fresh squid. It tasted like a smokey, rich, spicy, oceanic, cup of ambrosia. Truly amazing!

--Joe Kwon

Local Eats: Vietnam Grille - Charlotte, NC

Now I'm new to the Charlotte restaurant scene, so I definitely needed some guidance in the area and who better than Helen Schwab (Twitter: @helenschwab), restaurant reviewer for the Charlotte Observer. I think she was a bit nervous about recommending a place for me not knowing my tastes but she hit this nail right on the head.

The Chef at Vietnam Grille is a displaced Northerner who owned a restaurant in Philly's China Town. After a short stint owning a nail salon, he came down to NC last year to open an amazing restaurant. I'm so glad he did, because this place had great food and the service was excellent.

So I hope you'll have a chance to check this place out if you are in/near the Queen City. I know I'll be back soon. Hope you enjoy this post and get some ordering ideas!

--Joe Kwon

Dau Hu Chien (Crispy Tofu). I like to start every meal off with a nice appetizer or 4. Their Crispy Tofu hits the spot if you're looking for something that is light, crispy, and somewhat good for you. And if you're sharing with 16 people you really don't have to worry about getting too full on it. If you don't like tofu, all I can say is, you should learn to. It's such a versatile protein and it's vegetarian friendly!

Goi Tom (Shrimp Salad). I'm a big fan of Vietnamese salads. Mostly because they don't taste like any other salads out there. So sweet and salty in the right ways. And they usually involve cabbage and I just think that's an underestimated vegetable to start with. Show me someone who doesn't love cabbage and I'll show you someone who's never had a Vietnamese salad.

Bo Nuong La (Stuffed Grape Leaves). Helen insisted I try this dish. At first I thought to myself, "Grape leaves? In a Viet. restaurant?" Oh but Helen, you were SO right. You don't really know what to expect when you first grab a hold of these bite sized rolls. What on earth could they taste like.? I've had many a Mediterranean stuff grape leaves in my day. But these were oh so special. Hot and juicy from the meat fat in the middle. Salty and meaty just what you wanted at that moment. That's the kind of experience it was for me. It was so good we ordered another.

Goi Cuon Chay (Tofu Rolls). My appetizer list wouldn't be complete without spring rolls. I really prefer these in the summer when the veggies that go inside are fresh, but sometimes you just gotta have'm.

Bok Choy Xao Toi (Stir Fried Bok Choy w/ Garlic). This begins our dinner ordering. In true Asian fashion we must have at least 2-3 million plates on the table, so we just order more and more sides. Bok choy is a very light mustardy green that is found in a lot of CHinese cuisine. This simple dish is just bok choy sauteed with garlic. So simple and so delicious.

Muc Nuong Xa (Grilled Squid). I'm always skeptical of ordering squid at a restaurant. More often than not it comes out over cooked with the texture of those fat rubber bands you used to get around your produce. This was definitely an exception to that rule. They prepare the squid perfectly and fry it with some nice chili and fish sauce and the texture is like that of firm tofu. Just amazing. If you like squid you gotta try this dish.

Tom Nuong Xa (Grilled Shrimp). It's a gamble to order shrimp on a Sunday, but we're still short of meeting our 2 million plate quota on our table. So we went ahead and tried these. They won't blow your socks off, but they are well prepared and have just the right amount of kick to them.

Bo Tai Chanh (Raw Flank Steak). The chef took the liberty of ordering a couple plates for us and just brought them out. This was the first of such dishes. This dish really stands out in my head as one of those original flavors that I think will stick with me for the rest of my life. Just like the first time I had carpaccio, this dish excited me to the point where I thought I should stop eating instantly because nothing can beat this flavor. There was a definite lime taste with caramelized onions and a sweetness I couldn't place my finger on. Also, don't be alarmed this is a totally raw beef dish. If you get squeamish at the idea of eating raw meat then steer away from this one. But for you adventurous viewers out there . . . you MUST get this dish.

Grilled Pork Chop. This was the second dish that the chef just brought out. He must like how we can finish off a dish before the plate even hits the table. Anyways, the dish itself wasn't my favorite because I feel like it moved away from the Vietnamese style of dish to a more Chinese style. It was heavier than most, even still the pork was prepared very well.

Bun Muc Nuong (Rice Vermicelli w/ Grilled Squid). This is almost the exact same as the Grilled squid app. but this one is served with the vermicelli noodles and a fish sauce based sauce.

These are the fix'ns that go with every Pho dish. They usually include fresh bean sprouts, thai basil, jalapenos, and wedges of lime.

Pho Dac Biet (Deluxe Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup). Kinda like the piece de resistance, Pho noodle soup is the way I judge a Vietnamese restaurant. Without a good broth Pho noodles are nothing. Without the perfect texture of pho noodles this dish is nothing. Without a relatively LOW PRICE this dish is nothing. So . . . how does this Pho stack up? Well, the broth was rich and full of well balanced spice flavor. A lot more anise than most pho broth I've had and a little saltier. The noodles were nice and al dente, and the cost was just in the right place. I think most pho should be between 6-8 dollars and it should be a hefty portion. If you're paying more than that, you're over paying. This was the Dac Biet variety of Pho which pretty much means there are all sorts of animal parts in it. All of which are a great addition to the dish if you can handle eating them.

If you'd like more information about Vietnam Grill please click here.