Morton’s The Steakhouse – Beverly Hills, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

My dad loves steak, and my parents love to visit us here in LA and check out the awesome restaurant scene that Martin and I often take for granted. So it was with much excitement and enthusiasm that Martin and I decided to treat them to dinner at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Beverly Hills for my dad’s birthday last month.

Mmmm steak....

Mmmm steak….

The service was stellar, the ambiance enchanting, the food phenomenal, and the company simply the best. (Sorry, no alliteration for that last one. How about fantastic familia? Now I’m just trying too hard…)

Soy Sauce Chicken and Sticky Rice Stuffing [Thanksgiving 2012]

Main Dishes, Recipes

Martin and I are both only children of Vietnamese parents who immigrated to America around the 1970s. I never had a so-called “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the trimmings (and neither has he) but I remember that as I was growing up, I would pester my mom about it. Her compromise? A roast chicken. Looks the same, tastes better, and size-appropriate for our humble family of three. Now that we’ve become a combined family unit of 6, a turkey still doesn’t feel quite right, so this year, we decided to do a roast chicken using one of my favorite recipes from Martin Yan’s cookbook. Yup, that’s right – I grew up watching Yan Can Cook. And if Yan can cook, so can you! (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)

Voila -- roast chicken with sticky rice stuffing

Voila — roast chicken with sticky rice stuffing!

All of the credit goes to my mom, and to Martin Yan for the inspiration. After a few years of following the recipe, then tweaking and tweaking again, she finally settled on a fantastic marinade this year that blew me away. It was really that good. No, I’m not biased at all – why would you say that?

Without further ado, here goes the recipe for preparing your own soy sauce and garlic marinated roast chicken with sticky rice stuffing, a Nom Nom Cat Thanksgiving.


1 whole chicken (3-5 lbs)


4 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons thick soy sauce (it comes in a jar, not the liquid-y kind in the bottle)

5-7 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Sticky Rice Stuffing

1 tablespoon oil

2 links of lap xuong (Chinese sausage), diced

1 cup of dried shiitake mushrooms, diced

3 tablespoons dried shrimp, whole

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce (or more, to taste)

1 teaspoon brown sugar

3/4 cup glutinous rice (gạo nếp)

1/4 cup green onions, chopped

1) Game plan – the night before you plan to serve the meal: prepare the marinade, let the chicken do its thing, and soak the sticky rice. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the ingredients for the marinade. Muddle the garlic a bit with the back of your spoon to really get the flavors out. Evenly drizzle over your cleaned and prepped chicken. I like to peel back the skin on the breasts and make sure some marinade soaks into the meat underneath. Let the marinade work its magic overnight in the refrigerator. In a large bowl, soak the sticky rice in enough warm water to cover the rice by at least an inch.

Marinated and ready for the oven!

Marinated and ready for the oven!

2) Game plan – 4 hours before dinner time: Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of warm water and the dried shrimp in a separate bowl of warm water. Let soak for 1 hour.

3) Game plan – 3 hours before dinner time: Prep the sticky rice stuffing. Drain the soaked mushrooms and shrimp; chop the mushrooms. In a large sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil on medium-high heat. Toss in the garlic and Chinese sausage. Fry until the cubes look toasty. Then add the mushrooms, shrimp, and seasonings. Stir to combine and add pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the rice will “dilute” the overall flavor. Drain the rice and add to the pan, cooking until the rice starts to turn brown and roasty-toasty. Mix in the green onions. At this stage, add one tablespoon of water and continue to cook on low heat until the rice becomes somewhat softened. Take the stuffing off the heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Sticky rice stuffing

Sticky rice stuffing

4) Game plan – 2 hours before dinner time: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. A 4.5 lb chicken will take at least 1.5 hours to cook, possibly 2 hours. Stuff the sticky rice stuffing into the chicken’s cavity. Truss the cavity closed using long skewers, turkey trussing skewers, or put your arts & crafts skills to work with a little twine and stitching. Drizzle the remaining marinade over the top of the chicken.

If you don't have fancy trussing tools, you could try toothpicks and hope it doesn't explode too much!

If you don’t have fancy trussing tools, you could try toothpicks and hope it doesn’t explode too much!

Bake at 375 degrees for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the dark meat juices run clear. Keep a watchful eye on the chicken and if it starts to darken too quickly, create a foil “tent” and loosely cover.

Cookie keeping a watchful eye on the chicken.

Cookie keeping a watchful eye on the chicken.

We hope you’ll enjoy our recipe for an Asian fusion holiday dinner. You can easily scale down the marinade (or follow the recipe and save the leftovers in a jar or reduce in a saucepan to drizzle over as a glaze) to accommodate smaller chickens, chicken parts (like boneless skinless chicken breast, if that’s your thing), cornish hens, etc. This meal always reminds me of Thanksgiving but the hearty, family-style nature of the roasted poultry is appropriate for any of the winter holidays (hint: just 5 days until Christmas!) or any time of the year really!

Our humble family

Our humble family

From our home to yours, we want to wish you all a very happy holiday and many good things to come in 2013!

Ennar Calasian Grill – Fountain Valley, CA

Food Adventures, Orange County

My parents don’t claim to be foodies, but I’m convinced they are because they always seem to catch wind of new restaurants opening up in Orange County. A few months ago, it just so happened that a family friend opened up a Vietnamese-Japanese fusion yakitori place and my parents came to visit within weeks of their opening. Having enjoyed their visit, they invited us to check it out this happenin’ hot spot – Ennar Calasian Grill – for Happy Hour. (Yes, it’s an interesting experience going out for HH with one’s parents, in case anyone was wondering…)

Ennar Calasian Grill – Fountain Valley, CA

To them, Happy Hour isn’t about cheap drinks (although we did start with a round of discounted Sapporo) — it’s about cheap food! The HH menu at Ennar is full of assorted yakitori-style skewers and izakaya-like starters. I’ll be honest, I was caught a little off-guard trying to order yakitori with a menu that only had English and Vietnamese on it (like asking for lưỡi when I would usually order gyutan). We spotted a few items that seemed a little out of place (roma tomato bruschetta?)  so we steered clear of those. Still, we ordered a good variety of what the menu had to offer so without further ado, we present everyone’s favorite part… the food.

I love checklists!

Cabbage Salad

Crispy cabbage and julienne strips of carrot tossed in a sesame vinaigrette, this was a great refreshing starter for a meal of grilled meat and fried foods.

Squid tentacles (râu mực) x 4

Tender and flavorful, the squid tentacles charred nicely on the grill, making these the perfect morsels to accompany a cold glass of beer. A must-have skewer when my dad goes out for yakitori!

Edamame with Garlic Sauce

Edamame appetizers are pretty standard in these types of restaurants, but Ennar makes theirs a little extra special by tossing them in a garlicky sauce and sprinkling with sesame seeds before serving. The sauce was tasty but a bit oily. It reminded me of eating flavored roasted sunflower seeds, where all the flavor is on the shell so you end up sucking on those before extracting the bland seeds in the middle…

Crispy Rice with Pork Belly

This was probably the best example of Japanese & Vietnamese fusion at work – a thin yakionigiri-like patty topped with a saucy pork belly that had the flavor profile of mom’s homemade thit kho.

Okra (not the bacon-wrapped kind)

I know, I know… bacon makes everything better. But I love plain ol’ grilled okra so I couldn’t resist. Grilling is a great way to prepare okra to minimize its sliminess, and this crispy green offers a welcomed break from all of the meats.

Gyutan (beef tongue, or luoi)

Mmm this is my must-have when going out for yakitori, yakiniku, really any place that offers it on the menu (I will also order lengua when given the opportunity). The gyutan here was a great texture – not too tender, not too chewy.

Pork belly, pork cheek, and bacon-wrapped quail eggs

I remember a conversation I once had with foodie friend Irene about food “buzz words” that automatically entice us to order items off any given menu. One of those buzz words is definitely pork belly. Seriously, who could resist that? The pork belly here was not as charred or caramelized as I would like, but each morsel melted like butter. The pork cheek was a bit fatty but a great cut of meat. We did get the uzura (quail eggs, trứng cút), Martin’s favorite, wrapped in bacon… and yes, bacon did make it better although the pork fat was a little too rich when paired with the boiled egg yolk.

Octopus Salad

I saw that the octopus salad got mixed reviews from diners on Yelp, but the owners of Ennar said that this was one of their signature menu items so we had to try it. I enjoyed the octopus, which (I believe) was parboiled and still a bit chewy. The salad had a light vinaigrette that complemented the octopus well.

Chicken Hearts

There is no shortage of offal when it comes to yakitori. The chicken hearts here are tender, perfectly charred, and served hot off the grill. Definitely try this one!


This was actually my first time having gizzard. It’s not that commonly found in the yakitori places in LA (and if you’ve tracked it down, please let me know where I can get me some!), but my dad spotted it on this menu and had to have it. The flavor was similar to the chicken hearts, but the texture is a bit chewier (in a good way).

Fried Tofu

Crispy on the outside, silky on the inside, and dusted with togarashi — this one’s a winner!

Lamb Chops

I enjoyed these chops, which were cooked perfectly to temperature (we ordered 3 rare and 1 medium) and coated in a fragrant herb marinade. They were served with a mustard sauce but I didn’t think the gamey lamb needed any condiments.

Tempura Soft Shell Crab

Martin and I agree that this was our favorite dish of the evening. The crab was succulent and perfectly fried with a light, crispy coating of the tempura batter.

Oyster Mushrooms

Mushrooms are so wonderful when they’re grilled, especially when you have hearty, flavorful ones like these hiratake or even shiitake.

Beef Tenderloin

Can’t go wrong with grilled tender cubes of filet, especially when they’re cooked perfectly to temperature!

Bacon-wrapped Enoki Mushrooms

This too came highly recommended by the owners, and I was very curious to see how such a stringy mushroom could be put on the grill. These smoky, juicy, decadent bacon-wrapped bundles were delicious!

Grilled Shrimp

These were pretty awesome. Salty, succulent prawns served whole.. just twist off the heads, suck out the juices, and peel & eat. So good!

Salt & Pepper Grilled Rice Ball (yakionigiri)

Yakitori isn’t just about meat… Martin and I love our carbs so we always look forward to some crispy charred yakionigiri. The rice at Ennar is seasoned with salt and black pepper, so much so that it has a bit of a spicy kick. Very nicely done.

Grilled Half Quail

Quails are small, bony birds but Ennar serves their quail more or less boneless (of course, they leave the fun parts like the wing and “drumstick”). The only thing that would have made it better is if the skin were crispier but isn’t that golden brown skin just gorgeous?

Baked Mussels topped with Caviar

I’m not the biggest fan of cheesy baked mussels, but these are hot and fresh and when they were placed on our table, the wafting aroma tempted me to dive right in. The green onion garnish (and the cheese) overpowered the caviar, but the overall flavor was good. It was definitely the most attractively plated dish of the evening and a nice way to end the meal.

The chefs at work

I love the open kitchen with the transparent panels to let visitors see the goings-on in the back of the house. The food was prepared well; my only gripe is that everything (and I mean everything!) was covered in togarashi. When I inquired about it, I was told that these “red sprinklers” are their signature touch. I still found it a bit unusual until I revisited another yakitori favorite and realized that they too have togarashi but set out little shakers for patrons to help themselves. Personally, I prefer having the option to take it or leave it. The togarashi was good on the first few skewers but then the flavor just got redundant and overpowered the natural goodness of the grilled meat. That could be just me.

All in all, the meal was very enjoyable as a “California” (and Vietnamese-fusion) rendition of yakitori. They don’t claim to be authentically Japanese and that’s perfectly OK. The staff was friendly and Ennar really seems like an up and coming hangout, especially during their Happy Hour! If you’re in the OC, be sure to stop by, grab an ice cold beer, and check out a skewer or two or three. They are situated in the far corner of a strip mall, so if you blink, you just might miss them. Just look for the bright neon script adjacent to the Saigon Performing Arts Center.


Check out Ennar Calasian Grill:

16161 Brookhurst St
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

See their Yelp reviews here!

PS: They’re closed on Tuesdays.

Happy Lunar New Year from Nom Nom Cat!


Chúc mừng năm mới, everyone! We’re taking a quick break from our One Week, Three Cities series to wish you all a very happy Lunar New Year. It’s the year of the dragon (my zodiac year!) and we are looking forward to a fantastic 2012! Lunar New Year is also known as Chinese New Year, which is a bit of a misnomer since many Asian cultures celebrate this time of year with their own festivals, traditions, and customs. This past weekend, we visited my parents for an early celebration of Tết, the Vietnamese word for Lunar New Year.


Steamed Fish with Scallion-Ginger-Soy Sauce

Main Dishes, Recipes

My dad is a master at sampling dishes at restaurants, deciding he could do it himself, and going home to replicate (and most times, improving on) said dishes. I’d like to think that I got that culinary gene from him, but in the meantime, at least I get to benefit from the magician finally revealing his secret (recipe, that is!).

Steamed fish fillets, swimming in a ginger-soy sauce and topped with bright julienned scallions, is a prime example of a simple yet intricately flavored dish found on the menus of many Chinese restaurants. There’s just nothing quite like spooning the sweet and salty sauce over a bowl of white rice and flaking apart the tender fish with my chopsticks to make me feel right at home.

NomCat tip for the ingredients:

The Fish: Costco. My parents love to keep it easy, and once they introduced the frozen, individually vacuum-sealed tilapia loins from Costco to us, we never looked back. It’s easy to pull as many (or as few) fillets as you need, thaw them in the sink, and have dinner on the table in 15 minutes, which works perfectly for us coming home from a long day at work. They are packaged by weight, so one $14 bag will have about 10-12 fillets.

From frozen fillet to this in just 15 minutes:

Picture-perfect steamed fish topped with lots of scallions!


2 tilapia loin fillets, frozen or thawed (you could also use any white fish)

1 bunch of green onions (just the whites, save the greens for another dish)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons cold water

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon minced ginger (or ginger paste)

The fish can be cooked in two ways: in a steamer or (my favorite) in the microwave. Yes, I said it. The Microwave. Maybe it’s because we were college students not long ago, but I love healthy, homemade dishes that can be prepared by microwave. If you have time, you can thaw the fillets in the sink for about an hour or overnight in the refrigerator. If you’re short on time, fear not! Simply adjust the cooking times – it may even be for the better since the fish will have extra time to soak in the delicious sauce.

We like to eat this with white rice, so you’ll want to start by getting the rice cooker going. If you’re using a steamer (or a steam pot?) to cook the fish, you’ll want to get the water boiling. Then it’s time to show off your knife skills by slicing the whites of the green onion into a fine julienne.

Julienned Scallions

I know, mine aren’t that finely cut. That’s okay too. The finer the cut, the better the scallion wilts as it sits over the hot fish. The wilting helps it lose the bitter onion-y flavor. (So yes, by not cutting very well, I literally tasted my defeat.)

The sauce is pretty easy. Just throw the last 5 ingredients together in a small bowl. You may want to adjust the proportion a bit to your own preference. Some like it saltier, some like it sweeter. It’s okay to make it a bit more potent that you’d expect, because the cooking process will let the juices from the fish mingle with the sauce and dilute (and at the same time, add flavor to) the sauce. Whipping it with chopsticks or a fork will be the best way to break up the globules of sesame oil.

(Soy) Saucy, isn’t it?

Now just unwrap the fish fillets, give them a quick rinse, pat dry with paper towels, and arrange them in a microwave safe dish. The Pyrex pie pan is unconventional but perfect for this. Drizzle the sauce over the fish fillets, flipping if necessary to coat them. I like to fish (pun intended) out the floating bits of ginger and lay them over the fish pieces. At this point, it is ready to go into the steamer or microwave. For the microwave route, tightly cover the dish in plastic wrap to create a hot and steamy cooking environment. Steam until the fish is opaque and flakes cleanly. Times will vary depending on the method and whether the fish is frozen or thawed. We did frozen fillets in the microwave for about 5 minutes on high.

Ready to go!

Be careful when opening the steamer or removing the plastic wrap as the steam will be very hot! The sauce will have settled, so baste the tops of the fillets before topping with the scallion. Bon appetit!