Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Japanese Dining and Mexican Chocolate in the L.A. Times

The L.A. Times Food Section had a great line-up of articles on Wednesday.

In Japanese pop, Linda Burum wrote about one of the newest dining and drinking scenes in the L.A. area: Izakaya. In Japan, izakaya have been around for a very long time. They evolved from street stalls into casual everyday afterwork hang-outs for "salarymen" and other people who want a place to talk, snack and drink without spending a fortune. In L.A., they are serving the same purpose, but with many new twists to the menus. Even if you don't live in the L.A. area (like me), the article is interesting view of Japanese and Angeleno dining trends.

On one of my business trips to Tokyo a few years ago, my Japanese hosts took me to several different izakaya. The simplicity of the food and casual atmosphere was a welcome conclusion to stressful days. Outside of the care of the hosts, my colleagues and I found an izakaya near our hotel and visited it several times during the trip. We were first drawn in by the picture menus (none of us spoke Japanese), and were drawn back by the delicious food, which included a variety of small-plate items like sauteed greens, dumplings, and many items that have disappeared from my memory. It was at this izakaya that I first had shochu, a neutral grain or potato spirit with about 20% alcohol by volume.

In a companion article to Japanese pop, David Lansing writes about cocktails made with shochu (a.k.a. soju), and how they are gaining in popularity in the new wave of L.A. izakaya and other Japanese eateries (These drinks are all the rage).

Switching continents and courses, staff writer Barbara Hansen provides a little background on Mexican chocolate then unleashes some tempting recipes (Dark layers of mystery). In one form or another, chocolate has been part of Mexican cuisine for over two thousand years. Today, Mexican chocolate like Ibarra or Abuelita is a mixture of chocolate, sugar, almonds and cinnamon. Thus, it can't be used as a one-for-one replacement for chocolate in baking; Hansen's recipes use a combination of unsweetened and Mexican chocolate.

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