Saturday, May 30, 2009

NYC: Gramercy Tavern

I've been making my Michelin rounds in NYC. Gramercy Tavern was another amazing dinner from my last NYC trip back in November. With a much more casual ambiance than Jean Georges or Le Bernardin, this was the perfect choice for our big group dinner, as we can all talk and enjoy ourselves.

Gramercy Tavern only had one big table (bigger than 6) so the only time we were able to snatch a reservation for 8 was at 5:45 pm since there was another party coming later that night. We stayed waaay late and felt bad for the incoming party, but they didn't rush us at all. Instead of the tasting menu, we went with the prix-fixe $86 for 3 courses.

As usual, some of the first courses made it around the table so we can all sample.
Veal Cappelletti (Cauliflower and sage)
Tender and flavorful veal with al dente pasta. I liked the slightly herb-y sauce due to the sage. In a cold night in NYC, this was one satisfying comfort food. This was a good start and a good intro to the Gramercy Tavern meal. Simple, flavorful, well-executed.

Black Tagliatelle (chorizo, mussels, and calamari)
The black tagliatelle is typically made black using squid or cuttlefish ink, which also adds another layer of flavor. I only had a bit of this dish but really enjoyed it. The calamari was nice and chewy and went very well with the pasta.

Lamb Pappardelle (Olives, lemon confit, swiss chard)
This was another great dish with shreds of tender lamb. It was very flavorful, if not a tad salty. As a warning, the last two pasta dish was definitely a little on the salty side, but not overwhelmingly so.

For my second course, I ordered the Sea Bass (spaghetti squash, sherry sauce)
This is rather unlike me to order a fish (instead of my usual red meat), but boy was I glad I did! In my opinion, this was the best dish of the night! The fish was very moist and had a great texture, and I absolutely loved how it paired with the spaghetti squash! Compared to the first courses, the sauce here is slightly more delicate but still has a lot of flavor. This was definitely a hit.

As far as desserts go, there were two that stand out. The first stood out because it's unique and interesting:
Coconut Tapioca (Passionfruit and coconut sorbet, passionfruit caramel, and cilantro syrup)
I thought this was a creative and well-executed dessert. The flavor is fairly light. I like the flavor combination - the cilantro added a refreshing kick for me (though I know some people don't like cilantro).

The second stood up simply because of how awesome it was:
Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding (Cacao Nib ice cream)
It was warm. It was a gooey rich chocolatey goodness. It was comfort food dessert to the max. Simply put, it was an amazing chocolate bread pudding.

We finished off with a nice little plate of petit fours.
Gramcercy Tavern was a no fuss meal. No foam, no spherical liquid. Just straight-up a delicious and satisfying meal you enjoy among friends. It's a total comfort food for me back in that freezing New York "fall".

Gramercy Tavern Reserve Now!
42 E 20th St
New York, NY 10003
(212) 477-0777
Gramercy Tavern on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 29, 2009

Justa Taste, Justa Laugh!

Just letting you guys know about the fundraising event coming up next week for the California Women's Law Center ! My advisor has been going to this since its inception and takes his female students with him (he told me to bring "any rich boyfriends [I] have available" to participate in the silent auction :P ).

Called Justa Taste, Justa Laugh, this fundraiser features food samplings of various restaurants (with women chefs and/or women-owned!) in LA and free-flowing wine. Last year's event even had an oyster bar!There will be a silent auction going on benefiting the CWLC. Last year's auction includes items from children's toys, restaurant gift certificates, all the way to an original sketch by Picasso, Miro, Degas, etc. The comedy show (this year featuring Latina lesbian comedian Reno) will start at 8:30.

Tickets are $125 and includes all food and wine and comedy show.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Kyoto-style Oden and Yakitori at Torihei

I'm glad Kung Food Panda dragged me to Torihei. After Bincho and a quick live-uni-stop at Quality Seafood, the five of us went off to Torihei for some yakitori and Kyoto-style oden.

Torihei does not take reservation and we waited for about 15 minutes before getting seated.The interior of Torihei is actually pretty stylish - unlike the usual yakitori places you find in LA.

Kung Food Panda had studied Torihei's menu from Exile Kiss' and inomthings' posts, so we pretty much knew what we wanted to order.

Oden is a classic Japanese winter dish consisting of various ingredients (usually daikon, boiled eggs, fish cake, and konjac) cooked in dashi broth.

We started with some daikon/White radish ($1.95)
This is the first part where the sharing gets hard ... imagine cutting this with your disposable chopsticks! We managed anyway, and this was a good dish to start off with - like an introductory oden dish. The radish was sweet and the dashi broth was nice and light.

Fuwa-Fuwa (soft) chicken ball ($2.80)
The soft chicken balls was a welcome change in terms of dividing the dish up to five servings. Soft and moist, this was another simple but satisfying dish.

"Hanpen" fish cake ($1.95)
A light and delicate fish cake. This can even be called "fluffy" as fair as fish cakes go. It did not have an overpowering fish flavor but definitely still have a nice flavor to it. Kyoto-style oden is supposed to be lighter and more delicate, and I thought that this was a nice representative of it.

"Konjac" yam cake ($1.95)
If you happen to be sharing with a few people, like we were, and are about to try cutting this thing with your wooden, disposable chopsticks: be warned. Konjac does not yield easily under flimsy chopsticks. I think I splashed dashi broth on everyone attempting to do so.

The konjac I thought was okay and was nothing special.

Next up was perhaps my favorite dish of the night: Whole tomato ($2.80)
Amazing. Just amazing! The whole tomato was so sweet and juicy and the broth was topped with mashed potatoes and soy milk, giving it the creamy taste and texture. The best part, though, was drinking the broth afterwards, with some of the tomato juices seeping into the broth after we dug into it, making the creamy dashi broth sweeter. A definite must-try.

Another highlight of the night: Half raw egg w/ cod roe ($1.95)
The egg was flash boiled, and the half-raw yolk inside was this moist goodness. To top it all off with the flavors of the cod roe ... this was a big hit with everyone at the table. At the end the broth was enhanced with some yolk and cod roe that had fallen into the broth as we were trying to divy up the egg. Do drink the broth! That end product was phenomenal, I wouldn't mind not sharing ...

Torihei also offers some izakaya-style dishes. This time we only ordered the Fried Jidori Chicken ($6.95)
The fried chicken was tender and flavorful, but since we just came out of Bincho, we agreed that Bincho's fried chicken was better.

Done with the oden and side dishes, we moved on to the yakitori.
Chicken heart ($1.80 each)
They were out of their special heart yakitori, so we ended up with the regular heart. These were still very good, with a very chewy and flavorful taste of the heart muscles.

Chicken liver ($1.80 each)
I am typically not a big fan of chicken liver because of the offal-taste (though I totally eat chicken liver mousse and foie gras and pate ...), but here the livers are flavorful and does not have that pungent taste. Also, the sweet teriyaki sauce really adds a lot of flavor while also masking much of that offal taste, making this dish very easy even for "beginners" to eat.

For the dessert, I saw annin tofu on the menu, which I thoroughly enjoyed during my meal at Yakitori Totto in NYC, so naturally I ordered it here too.
Blanc-manger aux amandes "Annin tofu" ($4.50)
The almond tofu pudding is always a lighter way to end the meal and I always enjoy it. The annin tofu here is not as good (not as smooth and creamy) as the one at Totto, but still pretty nice and lightly sweet.

The other dessert we ordered because it sounded quite interesting: Baked cheese cake with blueberry sauce ($3.95)
The texture was denser compared to most cheesecakes I've had - since this one is baked? A rich and dense cake that for me did require the blueberry sauce to cut all that richness.

I had been craving their whole tomato and half-raw egg oden dish ever since we went here, and I just can't wait to go back. Where else can you get Kyoto-style oden, especially one that's this good, in LA? Their yakitori was also much better than their LA counterparts. If you're in the area, or don't mind making the drive to South Bay, there's no reason not to go to Torihei!

1757 W. Carson Street, #A
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 781-9407
Torihei on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 22, 2009

Being Healthy at M Cafe de Chaya

Even a (gourmet) pig occasionally feels like she wants to eat something ... healthy. Light, even. Maybe even ... vegetarian? But a pig doesn't know many places to go for that. Luckily fellow food blogger H.C. from LA & OC Foodie and now, Foodie Fitness, does. So I was sent to M Cafe de Chaya in Culver City, a macrobiotic restaurant.

Being the procrastinator that we are, we got there 30 minutes before closing and only a handful of people were left. Offering a variety of deli items and also some hot items like teriyaki bowls and bento boxes, M Cafe de Chaya seems like a good place to grab a quick lunch, if only I work in the area.

I've read wonderful things about the kale in spicy peanut sauce, so naturally I got that. We also got red quinoa salad.
The peanut sauce was not spicy, so let that deter no one. The kale in "spicy" peanut sauce dish though, was deliciously addictive. I meant to take some home. But I ate the whole plate that night. It was that good! But so much for a light meal ...

The quinoa was also pretty good. Nice texture and flavorful. I was too busy paying attention to my kale though.

The entree choices were actually fairly limited with only bento boxes and teriyaki bowls available, for the most part. I got a miso black cod bento box (the macrobiotic diet allows fish - so this place isn't exactly vegan).
The cod comes with rice, salad, and various vegetables including burdock roots and seitan. Fish was actually pretty good, pretty moist and tender. The salad dressing was overwhelmingly salty. The vegetable's sauce was also rather salty, but at least I can wipe it off with the rice, and it was quite tasty. I enjoyed eating the chewy seitan.

Lots of food, I was stuffed after my kale and this. So much for a light meal. At least it was healthy?

My friend got the teriyaki tofu bowl with vegetable tempura.
The tofu was good, but ... I have to say there isn't much tofu here to speak of for something called a "tofu bowl".

Man, writing this I'm really starting to crave that kale with peanut sauce again. I should get a pint to go ... Do give it a try. If you're the type to like kale, this thing will make you addicted.

M Cafe de Chaya
11301 Culver Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 838-4300

M Cafe de Chaya on Fooddigger

M Cafe de Chaya on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Want ... the Perfect Teamaker!

I'm in the middle of preparing for a huge exam, so not blogging much. Wait til the 27th! Then I'll start putting out routine reviews! In the meantime, I'll do one here and there :P

And now ....

I'm gonna whine and ramble!

This Teavana teamaker looks neat ... I want one. Need one so I can have my tea fix while working. Anyone wanna buy it for me? =P

Teavana Perfect Tea Maker, 16oz

Ever since getting into loose leaf tea, I've bought a tea strainer, a french press (don't drink coffee - purely for steeping tea only), and some chinese travel bottle with a built-in tea strainer. I'm not 100% satisfied with any of them and then there's the issue of having tea in the car or making it at work (built-in strainer in travel bottle leads to oversteeped tea).

Saw one of my professors with one of these things and I got gadget envy ...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Blogger Blowout at STK

A month or so ago, STK held a media dinner (organized by Pleasure Palate) for a bunch of bloggers who got way more than what we (at least I) imagined we would. When I say a bunch, I do mean a bunch. Throughout the night I met some bloggers I haven't met before like streetgourmetla, Matt Bites, Tara Met Blog, Alli411, Seeking Food, Food, She Thought, and Gastronomer. And then almost everyone else on my blogroll: Wandering Chopsticks, Kung Food Panda, Mattatouille, Choisauce, Teenage Glutster, Sinosoul, and The Liquid Muse. (Am I missing anyone? There were so many of you!)

The night started with a slew of cocktails concocted by mixologist Pablo Moix in the bar area.

A couple of interesting and 'spicy' drinks: Capsicum Mojito (bacardi, lime juice, mint leaves, bell pepper rings - $15)

The winner of the majority vote was the Green Intensity cocktail (aviation gin, lime juice, serrano chili slices, basil leaves - $14)
As someone noted upon first sip, this cocktail "tastes like Thailand in your mouth!" A little spicy for me to drink the whole thing, but definitely unique, memorable, and tasty.

My favorite drink was actually the uva caipirinha (lebon cachaca, red grapes, lime, clover honey - $14). Sweeter than your standard caipirinha because of the grapes, and I also love the taste and smell of the honey. Definitely planning on trying this at home!

The only off-menu item we had that night was the first course - "Tomato 4 Ways"
The most interesting and creative dish of the night, in my opinion. Seems like chef Todd Miller really showcases what he can do with this one. Tomato "tartar", dried tomato, flash fried tomato, and raw cherry tomato. Delicate, creative, very well-executed and nicely presented.

Since we ate sooo much, and I was drinking soo much to really remember and take decent photos of everything, let me give you the highlights :P

Roasted Beets (coriander, micro mint, yogurt, curry - regular price $12)
The creamy yogurt sauce might be a tad too sweet/creamy that it deters a bit from the beets, but otherwise I enjoyed this dish. The beets were amazingly sweet, and the little spice from the coriander and curry was a very nice contrast. And the micro mint ... well, I'm still not sure what a micro mint is.

And then there was my favorite dish of the night: The Li'l Big Macs (Japanese wagyu, "special sauce", sesame bun - regular price $20)
Thick, moist, juicy wagyu patty. Nicely toasted buns. A creamy special sauce and the essence of truffle. My god, this was sooo good. Eating this satisfies an almost (almost? no, it totally does) carnal desire.

Our steaks came pre-sliced - not sure if they do this normally or if this is just because we are sharing everything with a big group. Below is the dry-aged rib-eye.
The meat was pretty tender, cooked medium-rare (just right) and pretty juicy. They were already a little cold by the time I got to them though, so it's hard for me to say anymore (I don't like cold steaks).

Some of the sides were pretty notable, such as these Parmesan truffle fries (regular price $9)
These big, thick fries were the perfect media for truffle oil and parmesan cheese (Yes, that's where my priority lies. truffle>parmesan>potato).

Another side that I really enjoyed was the sweet corn pudding. So creamy, sweet, with a bit of saltiness. If you haven't yet noticed that I have a corn on the cob on all my festival posts, I'll tell you again. I. LOVE. CORN. So you might not want to take my word 100% on how good this sweet corn pudding is.

The dessert is notable because they used Nutella :)
A classy version of a chocolate pop tart, with Nutella.

I haven't paid much attention to STK until that night and I was pleasantly surprised. Pablo Moix's drinks were creative and delicious. The food was also pretty good with good steak and a few great starters/sides, such as the sweet corn pudding. Or like those Li'l Big Macs. Ohh. Must come back!

755 N La Cienega Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 659-3535
STK on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

LA's Best: The Cocktail Edition

In honor of "cocktail week" (although yes, I realize we're at the tail end of it), I thought I'd finally bust out my list of favorite cocktail bars (or restaurant+bar) in LA!

This has been sitting in my draft box for a while - I was hoping to go back to some and take better photos and hit my to-do list. I'll just have to update it later :)
Tiki Ti
4427 W Sunset Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 669-9381
A tiny family-owned tiki bar that's usually packed with people yelling "toro! toro! toro!" while the bartender tops off your Blood&Sands. An uber-fun place like no other, and if you're one of those guys who always forget about dress codes and end up with flip flops when you're supposed to go drinking, then this is your place. Pictured above is my favorite, the Missionary's Downfall.

Seven Grand
515 W 7th St Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 614-0737
Known primarily as a whiskey bar, Seven Grand offers the best of that and more. Manned by some of the best bartenders in LA, you won't go wrong with a menu classic like the Mint Julep (left) or a specially concocted Pisco Sour. Oh, and if you're sitting at the bar drinking beer, then I'm the girl glaring at you for wasting precious seats.

The Edison
108 W 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
A cool-looking lounge with some pretty awesome drinks. Pictured to your left is a Pisco Punch. We're talking pisco and absinthe here. Don't miss the happy hour on Thursdays and get your $0.35 classic cocktail.

The Varnish
118 E Sixth St, Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 622-9999

The worst kept secret in LA! "Hidden" in the back room of Cole's, The Varnish has recently been one of the most popular bars around. A small printed menu, but it does include "Bartender's Choice" so you can go a long way.

1050 S Flower St #102, Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 749-1460
Flights of infused tequila? Awesome. Add to that a Latin-influenced, highly creative (and sometimes spicy!) cocktail menu featuring drinks like Purple Rain with ginger and basil (left) and Blood Sugar Sex Magic with whiskey, red pepper, and basil.

Other Bars Worth Checking Out:

  • The Wilshire. 2454 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403
  • FIG Restaurant. 101 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401
  • The Bazaar. 465 S. La Cienega Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA. Molecular gastronomy meets cocktails produce fun drinks like a Magic Mojito with cotton candy and liquid nitrogen cocktails.
  • The Hungry Cat. 1535 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA90028
  • STK. 755 La Cienega, West Hollywood, CA 90069

On my To-Try List:
  • Copa D'Oro. 217 Broadway Santa Monica, CA 90401
  • One Sunset. 8730 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bottega Louie: Continuing DTLA's Revival

I was greeted by the pastry case when I entered Bottega Louie, cupcakes in gold containers on gold trays on white marble counter. I've been hearing about Bottega Louie as a great neighborhood joint so this expanse of sparkly bright white marble space was not what I had in mind. But I liked it. Being a Friday night at a new restaurant, the place was crowded. The wait for a table was about 35 minutes, and all the stools/tables at the bar were taken. Yet the immense space makes it feel relaxed and airy. After about 10 minutes we managed to snatch a table near the bar.

Most of the food is reasonably priced, with $8-12 pastas, $8 appetizers, and ~$15 entrees. The only expensive item seems to be the $40 osso buco.

I ordered a side of Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese - $8
These were excellent beets. Very fresh and sweet. The goat cheese was pretty smooth and creamy and the portion was not bad. My only quibble was that I felt the greens they picked were a bit too bitter for this dish. From this dish I already got the impression that they are using high quality ingredients.

It's hard to say whether or not one pasta dish would be enough for a meal since as it turns out the size of the portion varies between each pasta dish and not really correlated with the price either. This night we all went with the house-made pastas.

Trenne (braised prime rib-eye with Tuscan black kale) -$12
I think trenne gets the name from triangle+penne. The pasta was firm and was actually a bit browned outside - it might've been sauteed. I personally thought this made the pasta too firm and making it tiring to chew ... There was not much meat in this dish but the sauce and the kale was excellent - although some may think it a bit on the bland side. Despite the lack of meat, this pasta could've filled me up for dinner, but our next dish would not have.

Ravioli (homemade pasta stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a light cream sauce with pancetta, sage & peas) - $12
Compared to the trenne, the portion for the ravioli was noticeably smaller, but I did enjoy this dish better. The pasta was al dente but not too firm and the filling was pretty generous. I love the creamy sauce and particularly the aroma from the sage.

The flavors of their house made pasta are subtle. They do not burst with flavor or kick your tongue with sodium, but I found that the taste is lingering and satisfying.

Definitely another great addition to downtown LA, and so close to Seven Grand too! There have been so many new places in downtown recently, I sure hope our city can support them. Bottega Louie is different. The space is nothing less than magnificent and who doesn't want a grab-n-go gourmet market near their office? The food is also held to high standards, though how much to order to get full seems to be a trial and error deal. Still, hope this one is here to stay.

Bottega Louie
700 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 802-1470

Bottega Louie on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Street Food, Hollywood-style

The infamous $16 pho. The $10 kaya toast that everyone loved but that I'm used to getting for less than $1 back home. These were all reasons I haven't checked out Susan Feniger's STREET until now. The concept is awesome. Street food from all over the world, all in one spot. In Hollywood. But one kitchen and how many countries? Can they pull it off?

I finally gave in and tried it the dinner suggestions thrown at me were Thai and Indian. Well, let's have both then! Both and more. So here goes. Ain't gonna compare to "real street food". Will just see how is this Hollywood restaurant faring overall.
STREET is hip-casual. Not exactly street-vendor ambiance but, hey, you still don't have to wear a tie. Besides the main dining area, you can also walk-in for the bar or counter or patio or the "lounge" upstairs. They do get crowded around 8 PM so walk-ins = long wait.

When we came we got seated upstairs where I got a nice view of the restaurant. We were also the only people up there so I can go flash-happy shamelessly :P
Besides the food, STREET also offers a variety of cocktails and also interesting non-alcoholic drinks such as three types of lassi, crysanthemum tea, etc.

I opted for the Cantaloupe-Beet Agua Fresca ($3)
I loved it. Loved it quite a bit. Not to worry, there's no strange vegetal aftertaste from the beets as the sweetness of the cantaloupe manages to take care of that. Yet the beet smoothes out the cantaloupe.

We started with some Scandinavian Beet & Apple Salad (black currants, toasted walnuts, juniper vinaigrette) - $9
Maybe it doesn't seem very 'ethnic street food' since it looks like a salad you'll get at a Californian restaurant. Regardless, it was an excellent salad. The beets were fresh and sweet. Yes, this is overall a sweet salad with the beets, apple, and walnuts. On the other hand it's not overly sweet and the texture kick from the walnuts are great.

Stir fried noodles with shrimp (pork belly, chinese broccoli, choy sum greens) - $18
This was the table favorite, but it came at a higher price than the other dishes. Very flavorful with a rather sweet sauce - oyster sauce, perhaps? The thick noodles were slippery and had a nice texture and they were generous enough with the shrimps and pork belly.

Indian Vada Dumplings (crispy dal fritters topped with yogurt sauce, mint sauce, and tamarind date chutney) - $8
Thought these were okay. The dal fritters themselves were pretty bland without the sauces accompanying it.

Vietnamese corn with pork belly - $6
The corn was very sweet and delicious! Personally I thought the pork belly was kind of superfluous. But it didn't detract from the dish, so it's okay.

Mandoo vegetable dumplings (asian veggies, sweet potato noodles, roasted honey yam, sesame dipping sauce) - $9
These were also okay. The filling was pretty small, although the dough was good and the dumplings were cooked well, but otherwise it did not stand out. Also, were these supposed to be Korean? If it weren't for the name, I can't tell.

Lamb Kofta Skewers (spiced ground lamb served over baked white beans, roasted artichokes, grilled vegetable and tomato jam) - $24
The lamb was tender and nicely flavored. The artichokes were also delicious. This was also a hit for our table, though again, came at a high price of $24.

I steered away from the pho. And while you guys should try the kaya toast, I'm waiting to get mine back home very soon since my trip home is only a few months away.

Total bill: ~$100 for 3 people.
STREET is a good LA restaurant and it does provide a fun experience for all diners with their very eclectic menu, both food and drinks. Price point is Hollywood-price, though I thought the appetizers and small plates were much better-priced than the entrees. Oh and you've read the reviews, so you know what to steer away from. Don't expect authenticity but you can expect good ingredients, good flavors with some menu highlights.

Susan Feniger's STREET
742 N. Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 203-0500
Street Restaurant on Urbanspoon
STREET in Los Angeles

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