Around The Horn: Family style eats

Chun restaurant courtesy of

Chun restaurant courtesy of

In Shanghai -Huangpu area/French concession there’s Chun – a tiny hole in the wall on Jianxian lu that fits about four small tables and a kitchen.  Despite its modest decor, it’s not street food cheap – about 250-320 RMB for two people.  But it is always packed and has already been much written up about via local blogs, the Wall Street Journal and Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’.  But despite the notoriety, it is still a no-fuss place for well to do office workers or civil servants who live on their own and crave a home style meal that satisfies without threatening the digestive system.

Ms. Qu of Chun courtesy of WSJ.

Ms. Qu of Chun courtesy of WSJ.

Around the Horn: Where’s James Bond?


I recently saw the trailer for the next James Bond installment SPECTRE and felt a sense of sadness because I could no longer recognize James Bond as James Bond. The franchise has noticeably been moving in a moody, forboding direction – more of an action-noir than escapist romp. But now he feels less like James Bond and more like the lovechild of Jason Bourne and Chris Nolan’s iteration of Bruce Wayne/Batman…Where’s the international playboy? The indulgence in the lifestyle? Bond savoring a martini that’s shaken, not stirred. Hot women coo-ing “Oh…James” after a nightcap? Are those escapist elements a staple of a bygone era that no longer has relevance today? Has the 2008 financial meltdown sobered us all up including Bond? And we just can’t let our spies have fun while saving the world without thinking about our wasted tax dollars?

I do miss the old James Bond films and I think the best ones have the title song that captures the decade. The cheeky 60s GOLDFINGER, the psychedelic 70s LIVE AND LET DIE. And even the trashy 80s VIEW TO A KILL. Though that film is not the best from the period (I prefer the campy MOONRAKER) I give them pop culture cred for using Duran Duran for the title song and Grace Jones for a hench-woman cameo.

Which is your favorite Bond film? Do you think the playfulness and indulgence of that character is no longer relevant?

Around the Horn: Nostalgia Food


Even though I did not grow up in Hong Kong, I went there often as a child as my father’s side of the family is from there. One of my favorite places to eat was the Chinese diner or “Cha Chaan Teng” – essentially a “tea canteen” that served Cantonese street-food classics (bbq, noodles, etc) along with western food done Chinese style to Hong Kongers. My favorite meal that I would share with my grandmother would be soy sauce roasted quail (with a dark caramelized, crispy Peking duck-like skin and itty, bitty drumsticks that I’d gnaw on like Sylvester the cat), borscht soup (more sweet than sour), and chestnut paste layer cake – these were probably the most refined items on the menu which suited her Shanghainese tastes.

If I was craving comfort food, I’d dig into their baked rice or noodle dishes which essentially was a protein on top of starch drowned with a rich sauce and baked in the oven to perfection. So that means either ketchup fried rice or spaghetti noodles with baked pork chop in tomato sauce or, “portuguese chicken” which is basically a coconut curry chicken baked in rice. And to wash it all down, I’d slurp down either a HK milk tea (basically strong black tea with sweetened cream), ovaltine (the malty British iteration), or a red bean icee (tall glass with red beans, crushed ice and sweetened milk). I have a big sweet tooth so the intense combination of sweet and savory and more sweet put me in my happy place. Also the fusion of east and west, kid food (noodles plus ketchup, ovaltine) and grown up food (Cantonese classics and baked rice) all mixed up – is both a reflection of my identity and palate so there’s a certain gastronomic synchronicity that makes me feel just at home.

Around the Horn: As Seen on TV


The Magic Bullet, the Slap Chopper, the Forman Grill – we’ve been likely either the recipients of one of these ‘AS SEEN ON TV’ devices or seduced into buying one after binging on Doritos on the sofa while getting sucked into the zone of late night tv or flipping channels while landing a minute too long on the Home Shopping Network. Probably the only item I’ve not regifted at a ‘White Elephant’ party gift exchange and actually continue to use is the ‘George Forman’ grill. It does everything from take the place of a fry pan to an expensive panini maker when you just don’t feel like cooking but can’t bring yourself to eat something microwaved.

What ‘AS SEEN ON TV’ item have you bought or been gifted that actually has held up to it’s infotainment promise? And what has merely served as entertainment value or dust magnet in the closet?

Around the Horn: Simple Genius

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the close up shot. I ate the pizza too quickly to shoot it.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the close up shot. I ate the pizza too quickly to shoot it.

Last month I went to New Haven, CT with my husband who was raving about the pizza. It’s been many years but he had been dreaming of going back specifically to enjoy the white clam pizza from Frank Pepe’s – a local joint that has been much lauded for being the best pizza in America (out of the top 101).  He had built up so much anticipation that I was expecting to be slightly underwhelmed. But I gotta say, the first bite was a spiritual experience for me.  The pizza was perfectly charred, crisp on the bottom with a bit of chew to the dough.  The cheese was brimming with briny puddles of clams that packed an umami punch and miraculously did not make the crust soggy.  Seasoned with touches of fresh garlic and oregano, this pizza was so simple, so pure and satisfying.   The pies are wonderfully rustic and oblong, fitting perfectly on an industrial aluminum cookie sheet the size of 24”  flat screen tv.  And, I ended up eating half of that flat screen tv.

Which Favorite Restaurants Do You Fear Will Become Extinct?

I heard a few weeks ago that Beverly Hills’ institution – Kate Mantilini’s will close on June 14th due to increased rent.  I’m quite sad as I frequented this special location of Kate’s many times over the years that was perfectly situated near the Academy, WGA screening room, and Wilshire theater.  I patronized this spot for business lunches, meals with friends after or before screenings, had my first meal with my husband there, and many delicious brunches on Sundays where I’d get their Sunday-only Dutch apple pancake or french toast.

Around the Horn: Guilty Pleasures


In keeping with David’s theme of geeking out, what guilty pleasures do you partake in? I want to hear about your most low brow, trashy, ridiculous, cheesy, uncool, or unhip obsessions.

Reality-showise, I got obsessed with Hardcore Pawn when it first premiered on TruTv. It’s set at a family-run Detroit pawn shop. The negotiations are not your typical reality fare where everyone has already agreed on a number and do some limply choreographed wheeling and dealing only to shake hands at the end. These negotiations barely start before they end up in fist fights and bitch slapping. And this pawn shop is not seeing rare memorabilia or antiques, but everything from busted TVs to underwear and gold grills. The father who owns the shop often pits his daughter and son against each other as they compete viciously for business on the floor.

Like all reality shows, it’s probably staged but this is a pawn shop in Detroit so, no matter how you shoot, choreograph, or cut it – it’s still raw and not pretty. I confess, it’s a car accident and I can’t not watch it.

Any Decent Chinese Food West of SGV? (Or in any non-obviously Chinese enclave?)

Ever since VIP seafood on Wilshire/Bundy closed, I swore off any Chinese food on the Westside in LA.  And when I say Westside, I started to feel like that encompassed pretty much anywhere west of the San Gabriel Valley.  But finally after many years, a generous Singaporean friend took me to Joss in Beverly Hills which claims to be healthy but authentic Chinese.

Joss – Fancy pants Hong Kong food in BH

Around the Horn: Mother’s Day

Chinese mother by Bertha Lum

So Mother’s Day is rolling around and I’m at a loss at what to do this year.  As you may have read in my Tiger mom blog, she’s an OSCM (‘Old School Chinese Mom’).  So for her, an ideal Mother’s Day has always involved me visiting her in Oakland and accompanying her on errands to Chinatown while taking her out for a nice Chinese dinner.  It’s a day that’s perfect for her – it’s predictable, all on her terms, and she eats at one of the handful of usual restaurants she knows will not disappoint.

When In Doubt, Throw It Out?

If only my mess was museum worthy. Here's a photo by artist Jeff Wall, 1978 - 'The Destroyed Room'.

After 15 years in the same apartment, I’m finally moving and determined to set new and better habits to clamp down on clutter.  One of those ways will be to live by the rule that if I bring one thing in, I have to take at least one thing out.  Easier said than done for me as I have a bit of my dad’s hoarder gene.  But fortunately now that my papers, books, and scripts are increasingly digital, I’ve been able to get out from under the clutter a bit more.  Do you live by any rules that help you live in clutterfree peace?  How long are you able to maintain it before chaos takes over?

Work to Live or Live to Work?

Recently I was contacted by a young alumna from my college who requested advice on breaking into the movie business.  This woman was different from the usual newbies in that she was contemplating a big career change.  She was a successful investment banker who wanted to leave her job and chase her dream of becoming a creative producer of independent films.  So, I started out warning her as others have done for me when I first started – if you can make a living doing anything else and don’t hate yourself for doing it, then don’t build your livelihood around film as it is such a difficult and mercurial business.But in saying this to her, it got me wondering whether following one’s true calling and being able to make a living at it is a luxury or the only way to be truly successful at anything.  (Following one’s calling while being funded by parents/spouses/sugar-parents doesn’t count as there’s no skin in the game)  Some happiness theorists, consider this experience of being so positively connected to one’s work that you lose all sense of time aka “flow” as a critical component of achieving satisfaction in life (along with strong personal relationships). Granted we all need to work to cover the basics of food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and kids for some.  But to what extent is work a means to an end vs. a basis for our sense of purpose in life?  Do you work to live or live to work?  Or maybe both?
DHH: My 16 year-old son and I were just talking the other day about career choices. He said, “I think I’d rather do something I like than something that makes a lot of money.” I explained that, when I first started wanting to write plays, I didn’t expect to make money from it, and certainly never expected to have shows on Broadway. If you do something you love, you’re more likely to work hard, achieve more, and it won’t feel like work. Then, at some point down the line, there’ll be a decent chance you can find a way to make some money from it.

Work and life, in my view, are inseparable. We spend a huge part of our lives working, right?  So a good work life is a huge part of having a good life.