Tuesday, May 6, 2008

What a weekend!

This weekend was not a time to relax for us. Each day was tightly scheduled. Saturday we were expected at a dinner honoring a local music organization, and 50 people were coming over to our house on Sunday for a barbecue. And we hadn't even cleaned the house!

Saturday morning we loaded up the washing machine and dishwasher, cleaned out the refrigerator, and wrote out our shopping list. First stop - Smart & Final. Second stop - Woodland Hills Wine. Third stop -

Ranch 99 Market in Van Nuys. Why travel all the way to Van Nuys to shop? Because Ranch 99 Market is right next door to our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Pho So 1. I am addicted to Pho, Vietnamese beef noodle soup that is part of that universal family of delicious soups that nourish and heal the human soul and body - like matzo ball and borcht and posole, it cures what ails you.

Sometimes I get adventurous and order Pho dac biet, with a variety of beef items including brisket, flank, tendon, even tripe, or explore other items on the menu, like Bun Bo Hue, which is a more complicated, oily and strong porky-flavored brew, that includes a pigs foot floating in the orange-tinged broth. But this time I went for my old standby, the number 19 with rare beef.

If you haven't had Pho before, this is the one to get you started. Mere seconds after you place your order, the server brings a plate of raw bean sprouts, lime wedges, green jalapeno or serrano chile slices, and stems of purple-green Asian basil. A few seconds later, a huge steaming bowl of soup is placed in front of you.

The beef broth is wonderful, hot and fragant, with a touch of spice. Use your chopsticks to tease out the white rice noodles if they're clumped in the middle. The thin slices of beef top round are rare and pink, and as you dunk them in the steaming broth they cook. Squeeze some lime juice into the bowl; add your choice of herbs, sprouts and chile.

I like to mix hoisin sauce and Sriracha - rooster - hot sauce in a little dish and dip the beef into it, or dip my chopsticks in before I pick up some noodles. Chopsticks in one hand and spoon in the other, you can happily slurp away - everyone else is!
After lunch we went shopping! I meant to take photos in the store, but after I took this photo

a store manager came running up and said, "No photos, no photos, please!" So I put my camera away.

I love the variety of Los Angeles' ethnic markets. Ranch 99 is a full service supermarket that targets Asian customers, and the selection and prices are great. There's a section where you can buy prepared food and baked goods; there are cases that offer a huge variety of kim chee and Japanese pickles, and fish cakes, and mochi treats and any number of things I'm not sure what they are. I love the aisle that's full of candies, cookies, and confections that include Indonesian ginger candies, preserved salt plums to crack with your teeth, Japanese fruit-flavored gummy candies, and taffy flavored with red bean.

They have a full service butcher counter. You can buy chickens that still have their heads on!

The coolest thing about Ranch 99 is their seafood section. There's one case that looks like a typical supermarket case, with fillets and shrimp and scallops and the like. But further down, they have on display about 30 different kinds of whole fish. Everything from silvery little smelt to huge coarse-scaled carp. You pick out your fish and ask the guy behind the counter to prepare it for you - they have helpful signs with cartoons and numbers - you can go for the full fillet, or you can just ask them to gut and clean it. Ranch 99 will even deep-fry your fish for you, if you wish!
Since the manager lady wasn't in sight, I snuck out my camera and risked a photo of the fish section:

We bought 4 2-pound red snappers - wild caught from New Zealand - for our barbecue. Here's how they looked the next day, when it was time to cook them:

I stuffed them with fennel and orange slices and sweet onions, and I baked them in salt - which was a little scarey, but it turned out great. I was lucky that one of the guests at the barbecue had experience with the salt-baking technique, and helped me out. The fish was moist and delicious - and looked amazing!

By Sunday evening when the party was near its end, we hung out with the last of the guests, finishing the dregs of wine and cleaning up the kitchen. A two-year old guest, after ransacking My Son's old box of toys, was at my computer. I think he re-set all my preferences. Mr. Lumpy was scarfing up chicken scraps from his dog dish. Some folks were out on the deck, wrapped in shawls and blankets against the ocean fog, swilling wine and chatting. The kitchen looked like this:
Ah, a tilted lampshade! The sign of a helluva good party!


KathyR said...

I have never been to Ranch 99.

--adding it to the list--

DaveyWaveyGoodAsGravy said...

Tilted lampshades may also be employed to insulate one from the ocean fog, and least that's how I've seen them used in the wild... .