Monday, January 12, 2009

The Completely Addicting, Mouth-Watering Lamb Skewers of Feng Mao Mutton Kebab!

Lamb in all its incarnations has to be one of my favorite types of protein. Whenever I see Lamb on a menu, I tend to gravitate towards that dish, unless there happens to be Pork Belly or Grade A5 Wagyu. (^_~) So when Mr Taster spoke volumes about a new restaurant that specializes in Roasted Lamb Skewers, I knew I had to try it out as soon as possible.

Feng Mao Mutton Kebab is the newly opened restaurant by Owner Jing Cu Hwa, who runs the front of the house with her husband. They and the kitchen staff hail from Jilin Province, China, one of the most North-Eastern provinces that used to be part of Manchuria. They learned the recipes and preparation methods for all their dishes on the menu from their parents in the same village in Jilin, although their recipe for the Lamb Skewers hails from a traditional method from Beijing.

On my first visit, I managed to recruit my good friend Jotaru to come along and sample another potentially great restaurant. :) Feng Mao is a simple eatery, with tables adorned with disposable paper table mats and an open grill with lump charcoal used to cook the different skewers on the menu.

Each table is also adorned with a large basket filled with complementary, fresh, raw Garlic and Shallots, ready for the customer to roast over the open grill if they want to.

Whether it's because the owners are from Jilin Province (which borders North Korea), or the fact they're in Koreatown, Feng Mao serves up some Panchan (simple, side dishes usually part of various types of Korean cuisine), ranging from fresh Kimchi, to Pickled Cucumbers and Boiled Peanuts.

Our first two orders arrived within minutes of ordering: Their famous Yang Ruo Chuan (Mutton Kebab), and Ji Chi Chuan (Chicken Wing Kebab). We quickly threw both of these items onto the open grill, not realizing how fast they would cook.

Within seconds, the Lamb Fat from each Yang Ruo Chuan began to drip onto the open fire and cause flare-ups, which were entertaining and kept the dinner lively. (^_~) Our waitress quickly came over and showed us how to cook these Mutton Kebabs with such a hot temperature: She would keep them on the "lower tier" of the open grill for maybe ~5 - 10 seconds at a time, and then flip them over and keep them on the other side for 5 - 10 seconds as well, and repeat a few more times before moving them to the "upper tier" rack, to let them slowly cook the remaining amount of time (they were essentially done at this point).

And then the moment of truth: We each took a Yang Ruo Chuan (Mutton Kebab) and gently pulled off a piece of the Yang Ruo as well as some of the Roasted Lamb Fat.

Absolutely delicious! (^_^)

Each Lamb Skewer was already marinated with their proprietary blend of spices, led by the most prominent spice of Cumin and
some light nuttiness from Sesame Seeds. Each bite of the succulent Lamb revealed a gorgeous fragrant aroma which was instantly hypnotic and mesmerizing, and far more complex than 818 Shao Kao (another Lamb Skewer Specialist in the San Gabriel Valley). I couldn't stop eating them. Simply outstanding! :)

By this time, the Ji Chi Chuan (Chicken Wing Kebabs) were ready. Unlike the Mutton Kebabs, these weren't marinated, so it was a rather straightforward Roasted Chicken Wing. However, when dabbed in the plate of their Feng Mao Spice Mixture (each diner is presented with a plate of this magical concoction) - made up of 20 different spices, with Cumin being the main ingredient - the Chicken Wings turned out to be another delicious hit.

Our next order arrived, ready to cook sometime while we were busy roasting the Chicken Wings: Yang Hsing Chuan (Mutton Heart Kebab). This was my first time trying out Mutton Heart in L.A., so I was curious and eager to see how this would taste. :)

While we had some assistance and guidance from the waitress for the Lamb Skewers earlier, for the Mutton Heart we tried cooking it on our own and this marked the first challenge with a restaurant like Feng Mao: Knowing when a particular type of Skewer is ready to eat.

The Mutton Heart wasn't marinated (like the Chicken Wings), and with our first time cooking Mutton Heart (and no temperature gauge or clock handy), with some negligence on our part, the Yang Hsing turned out to be well-done, probably a bit overcooked. It was chewy, but with a clean taste (nothing too gamy), like a more rubbery version of Sunagimo (Chicken Gizzard). Unfortunately, the Feng Mao Spice Mixture didn't save the Mutton Heart, but to be fair, next time we'll be more careful and try getting it to about Medium doneness.

Finally, we tried their basic Ji Ruo Chuan (Chicken Kebab). It was marinated in a basic Salt-base marinade, and like the Mutton Heart it was a challenge to figure out the correct timing for doneness. The first few Chicken Meat Skewers were well-done, and as a result, dried out. Looking past the level of doneness, they were really boring and salty.

Later on, we managed to get the Ji Ruo Chuan (Chicken Kebab) down to about Medium-Well doneness (just cooked through), so they were more moist than the first few we attempted, but it was still really salty and one-note. They didn't blend with the Cumin Spice Mixture at all.

Overall both Jotaru and I were quite impressed with Feng Mao, and I couldn't wait to bring more friends to try out other dishes, and to get more of their Lamb Skewers. :)

On my second visit to Feng Mao, as we stepped in, the restaurant was packed. We were lucky enough to get the last open table, and quickly perused the menu to see what else to order.

I, of course, had to order more of the Yang Ruo Chuan (Mutton Kebabs) for my other friends to try. :)

This time, I reflected back on the "intensive training" I had learned on my first visit and was able to cook up some nice Medium-to-Medium-Well Lamb Skewers. :) Like before, they were absolutely amazing, with the Cumin Spice Mixture and bits of Lamb Fat inbetween the delicious chunks of regular Mutton coming together to form perfection! :)

Next up was Yang Gan Chuan (Mutton Liver Kebab). I'm not a Liver fan, but we had one in our group who absolutely adores it, so we ordered some for the table. :)

I wasn't sure how good Lamb Liver would turn out, so I also threw on some of the fresh Garlic and Shallots (note: you reuse the empty Skewers and put on as much Garlic and Shallot as you want), in the hopes they would help with the flavors. (^_~)

Unfortunately, like before, the first few Mutton Liver Kebabs turned out to be overcooked. Each meat has different cooking times, and while I help out at various friends' BBQ parties from time-to-time, I'm not a grill master by any means. In a way, this was really like a Do-It-Yourself Yakitori / Kushiyaki experience. And in light of that, I gained an even greater respect for all the Yakitori Chefs out there. It takes some real skill to properly cook each type of meat or vegetable to the right doneness level without overcooking or undercooking it.

The Mutton Liver wasn't marinated, so what you got was a mouthful of pure, typical Liver flavor: It tasted just like the standard dry, mealy, metallic Liver taste that people love to hate. The Feng Mao Cumin Spice Mixture couldn't save this, either. (We later "perfected" our cooking of the Mutton Liver and got a few skewers to about Medium-to-Medium-Well doneness and it was still about the same, just slightly moister.)

While their #6 menu option - Bull's Penis - sounded... interesting, we decided to go with something a little more tame this time around :), Sohng Rohng Mushrooms (Soungi Mushroom).

The Sohng Rohng Mushrooms turned out to be wonderfully aromatic, woodsy and delicious! :)

Finally, we ordered some Ji Zhen Chuan (Chicken Gizzard Kebabs) to try our hands at making Chinese-style Sunagimo Yakitori. :)

The Ji Zhen Chuan were marinated in their Cumin Spice Mixture and we tried to be as careful as possible to not overcook these final few skewers.

Even with some focused effort, it wasn't as easy to gauge the doneness of the Gizzards compared to the Lamb Skewers. We ended up with a few at Well-Done, but with the rest at a Medium-Well.

Like the Chicken Wings, the Chicken Gizzard Kebabs took to the Feng Mao Cumin Mixture really nicely, and with some Roasted Garlic and Roasted Shallots, made for a good end to the meal. :) Overall, I still prefer a good Yakitori-ya's version of Chicken Gizzard, but this was a good alternative.

Service at Feng Mao is adequate, with Owner Jing and her husband helping out front, along with one other waitress (and no busboys). They're friendly and willing to help cook / instruct if you need it. Their Menu is oddly created, with some Skewers being sold only in batches, and some are sold only individually. Price per Skewer ranges from $1 - $6 (for the House Special Pollack), with most Skewers being in the $2 range. The rest of their Menu has more traditional, simple Northern Chinese dishes like Braised Fish with Brown Sauce, and Shredded Jelly Fish, with those dishes ranging from $4.99 - $19.99. We averaged about ~$18 per person (including tax and tip).

Overall, Feng Mao Mutton Kebab has quickly become *the* Specialist to visit when you're in the mood for glorious Roasted Lamb Skewers in the Beijing / Jilin Style. Mouth-watering, Cumin-infused bites of Yang Ruo with Roasted Lamb Fat make this place worth returning to again and again, but skip the other skewer dishes (besides the Chicken Wings and Chicken Gizzard).

The other types of skewers represent the biggest challenge and weakness for Feng Mao: How to impart the knowledge of how to properly cook each type of meat or vegetable over the close-proximity lump charcoal. Without experience or constant supervision by the staff, it's easy to find your skewers overcooked. While the customer "controls their own destiny" so to speak, it's still quite a challenge, and it proves just how talented master Yakitori chefs are at turning out meat that is moist and perfectly cooked through. Still, in the end, Feng Mao and their Yang Ruo Chuan (Mutton Kebabs) represent the best version of this dish in L.A., and that's something worth celebrating.

Rating: 7.7 (out of 10.0)
(Rating for their Mutton Kebab alone: 8.8 (out of 10.0))

Feng Mao Mutton Kebab
3901 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Tel: (323) 935-1099

Hours: 7 Days A Week, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m. Midnight


Anonymous said...

Just a nitpick. If you're spelling in pinyin without tonal marks, it's 'rou' not 'ruo'. I know where I'm going to be this weekend.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anon,

Thanks for the clarification. :) I'm listing it mainly from a non-speaker point-of-view (just to be consistent in various reviews I'm writing). I'm not a Chinese language expert, so it's more of from a phonetic, non-native speaker angle. But I'll see if I can incorporate tonal marks in the future.

Let me know how your visit goes; I hope you enjoy the lamb skewers! :)

Anonymous said...

What an amazing blog you have EK!

I noticed you're fluent in both spoken Japanese and Mandarin or written Chinese. Are you Japanese or Taiwanese?

Exile Kiss said...

Hi KK,

Thanks for your kind words. :)

Anonymous said...

Bless you, you provided their hours and they are open until midnight! you totally made my day! thanks!
Bad nono

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Bad nono,

Thanks. :) I'm glad the information was helpful. Did you end up enjoying the Lamb Kebabs? :)

Anonymous said...

thanks for introducing us to this wonderful place. went there with some friends and had a great time. the lamb is awesome!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi rick,

I'm so glad you enjoyed the food at Feng Mao. :) I can't stop thinking about their Lamb Kebabs. :)

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