Friday, October 30, 2015

Mexican Brunch at Cocina Condesa (Studio City, CA)

by guest blogger @iam_robot

Los Angeles might be a beautiful melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, but its diverse residents all have one thing in common: we’re all suckers for good Mexican Food. Being a Los Angeles transplant the last 15 years of my life, I’d think I have tasted all the greatest Mexican food this world has to offer. But after trying out new places every week, I’m still constantly flabbergasted with the infinite variations, craftsmanship and dedication from all these great taqueros/ taqueras. Sure I have my favorite joints for certain Mexican food but when I discovered a new place with less predictable menu, I can’t help but thinking how many more bewildered moments like this I’d encounter living in this city.
Just for good measure, I’d like to share my brunch experience at Cocina Condesa in Studio City. 
Situated strategically on Ventura Blvd, this bright yellow Restaurant features hearty Mexican street food and modern libations crafted by David Rubin..

No, this place is not your typical Mexican Food – you won’t see tacos-bean combos or brick size burritos with enchilada sauce. Instead, Executive Chef Eddie Garcia features finer specialties we rarely get enough of – ceviches, aqua-chiles, sopes, street corn, machaca, questo fundido, and braised chicken mole.  But Brunch is the way to go! I can’t specify a genre but the lineup leans towards a Cal-Mexican cuisine with some emphasis on healthier eating.
The vibe inside Cocina Condesa is festive and vibrant.  Huge red-framed windows are featured in the dining room to circulate the evening breeze while the wooden table and high-chair suggests a significant landmark (bar or saloon) you’d see in Mexico or other South American countries. Love how eclectic and kitschy the wall décor is – so many random things to look at: old Mexican hero sepia pictures, bullhead skeleton, antique guitar, Day of the Dead dolls, wooden Mexico map, sombrero, etc – you’ll always have a topic for conversation.  

Back to the brunch menu. My absolute favorite item is the Mayan Chocolate Pancakes. Three hearty warm fluffy pancakes topped with seared plantains and crushed Mayan Chocolates and Sugar.    
Mayan Choc Pancakes
And instead of drizzling the pancakes with ordinary maple syrup, you’re given Piloncillo Syrup, a homemade maple syrup made with brown / white sugar, cinnamon, and water. Definitely lower in calories!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

WOW Air Flight Review: Boston - Reykjavik - Paris

So I recently took WOW Air, the budget airline from Iceland. They currently fly to New York, Boston, and Baltimore (and soon adding Toronto) to Europe via Iceland. They have sales with prices that will make you go "Wow!" including $99 one way to Paris, which is the one I bought.

It's not exactly $99 each way, though. I did get $99 from Boston to Paris, but the return flight is slightly more expensive. Still, on select dates they're still pretty cheap and I ended up paying $309 for a round trip flight from Boston to Paris. Not bad at all!

As with other budget airlines, there are a lot of caveats. First, you only get 1 carry on bag free, up to 5 kg (11 lbs). I was only going to Paris for 3 nights, so I actually managed to carry everything with me.
They don't provide drinks or food on board, you have to buy whatever you need, including water. They cost about the same as water at the airport, so whatever. It's still a $300 ticket to Paris, I'm not complaining.
Wow Air
I think because they're a newer and a budget airline, they usually taxi to a spot not directly connected to the airport buildings. Passengers had to take a shuttle bus from airport to the plane at all three airports I flew into. Just keep that in mind when you pack, because you have to be outside for a brief moment, but Iceland can be cold and raining or snowing. Pretty much all three happened to me.

I like the cheeky touches of WOW Air. The plane itself looks like a character out of Pixar's movie, with a grin on its face, wearing an aviator.

So how's the flight itself? Well, on the first leg from Boston to Reykjavik, I got really lucky! Window exit row seat, baby.

Wow Air
Best seat in the house

Monday, October 26, 2015

Amsterdam Falafelshop, a Cheap and Quick Lunch in Fenway-Kenmore (Boston, MA)

Boston University students are lucky to have Amsterdam Falafelshop close to them in the Fenway Kenmore area. This place is perfect for a quick, cheap, and satisfying lunch (or dinner).
The menu is simple: you get falafels either in a pita or in a bowl, either small or large. There's also fries. But after you order you can go crazy with the toppings.

Amsterdam Falafelshop

Amsterdam Falafelshop has an impressive topping bar with hummus, garlic sauce, fried eggplant, various salads, sauces, and all kinds of other goodies to bury your falafel under! If you order a pita, you can fill it with as much topping as you desire/ can fit in. If you order a bowl, then you pay by weight.
Amsterdam Falafelshop

A small pita with 3 falafels is $6, and if you're good with fitting in your toppings you'll already get a filling sandwich. That's why this place is great for students (and postdocs like me)!

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Little Door in Santa Monica

by guest blogger @btsunoda

Driving through Brentwood on 26th Street, you would never know that a restaurant exists at 246 26th Street. The front wall of the establishment is beautifully wood stained with decorative wrought iron and grape ivy. With the absence of a sign, it wasn’t apparent that a restaurant is just behind the little door in front.

Walking inside The Little Door, it’s almost like a protected oasis within the city. The covered patio area offers a lot of indirect light and you immediately feel like you’ve arrived at someone’s home. A decorative wall mounted water fountain and an abundance of greenery accentuated this feeling.
The Little Door is a French restaurant and a group of us were there to experience their new Sunday brunch menu. They first opened up in West Hollywood and due to popular demand, they decided to open another location in Santa Monica.
We were treated to a champagne brunch featuring Veuve Clicquot. Most champagne served in restaurants is really sparkling wine because France regulates what can actually be called champagne. Veuve Clicquot Brut (a.k.a. Yellow Label) garnered a 90 point Wine Spectator rating and is the real deal. This is a dry champagne with hints of fresh peach. I was surprised to learn that each glass of champagne only has 72 calories.

Veuve Clicquot Rosé is blended with approximately 50% pinot noir and gives it a pink hue.
Wine Spectator also awarded this with a 90 point rating. I actually enjoyed this more than the Yellow Label Brut. It was a bit drier and had notes of red berries. After nibbling on the assorted Cheese, Nuts and Fruit plate, I quickly realized that sometimes the simple things are best.

While the Smoked Salmon and Mini Waffles didn’t appear to be interesting to me at first, I really enjoyed it.
The waffle was crisp and I appreciated the warm premium dark maple syrup. The saltiness of the capers with smoked salmon nicely offset the sweetness of the syrup. The black heirloom tomato was meaty, sweet and very enjoyable.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

20 Years of Burritos at Anna's Taqueria in Boston

There aren't that many Mexican restaurants in Boston compared to LA, but Anna's Taqueria has been going strong for 20 years. In fact, they celebrated their 20th anniversary yesterday! Anna's has 6 locations around Boston now including one at the MIT Student Center, right across the street from my office. As you can imagine it gets quite crowded during lunch hours, but the line moves fast.

Anna's Taqueria
So Anna's al pastor tacos are actually quite good, as they have a trompo in the stores. They serve it Mexico City style with pineapple. OK, I've been spoiled by having al pastor tacos in Mexico City, but at least I can get some in Boston, right? Anna's is primarily known for their burritos, though.
Anna's Taqueria

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Tour of The Rookery Building (Chicago, IL)

There are a few architectural gems in the city of Chicago, and one of the most important ones is The Rookery Building. The building is in Chicago's downtown financial district, easily visited when you are in Chicago.

The Rookery

The Rookery actually has quite a history and is influenced by multiple architects and designers throughout the decades. The building was originally designed by Daniel Burnham and John Root. Before The Rookery was built, this location housed a water tank, and then the City Hall and Chicago's first public library. There are a number of theories about where the name The Rookery came from. Some say the name is because of the corrupt politicians at the city hall that occupied the space, some say it's because of the birds that used to hang around when it was a water tank.
The Rookery

The building was redesigned in 1905 by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Rookery's main focus and also Frank Lloyd Wright's major contribution is The Light Court on the first floor. The original design filled the building with iron and terracotta. Wright encased the iron columns in gilded marble.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Progressive Dinner at Bel Ari and Les Zygomates (Boston, MA)

I recently got to explore more of the Boston restaurant scene with a progressive dinner at Bel Ari and Les Zygomates in the Leather District. Bel Ari and Les Zygomates are just a few doors down from each other and they're actually owned by the same people, so they organized this progressive dinner with Blog and Tweet Boston. Bel Ari was named after the owners' children while Les Zygomates refer to "the muscles in the face that make you smile". 
Bel Ari
While we were waiting for the rest of our party, I started off the night with a cocktail with Bulleit bourbon, lavender infused honey, and limoncello.
Bel Ari
We went back to the private room and kicked off our dinner with a glass of Bellussi prosecco to pair with the first courses.
Bel Ari
Whipped ricotta, honey, pistachios, crispy sunflower cranberry bread
Bel Ari
A great table starter, the ricotta was smooth and cloud-like, I loved it with the honey and couldn't stop eating it.

Monday, October 12, 2015

New Lunch Deal at Del Frisco's Grille

Del Frisco's Grille recently launched a lunch deal dubbed "Grab a Pair". For $12 you get your choice of : any personal size flat bread, half of a chicken avocado wrap, 2 fish tacos, or half of a banh mi. This will be served with your choice of mixed green salad, caesar salad, or cup of soup.

If you want a flat bread with a kick to it, try the Spicy pork meatball with banana peppers, fresh mozzarella and housemade ricotta.

Del Frisco's Grille
The pork banh mi also comes with chips.
Del Frisco's Grille
I think the $12 lunch combo is a good deal given the ambiance and service at Del Frisco's Grille, and the many options make it a good spot for a group work lunch. Even if you don't want to do the $12 deal, there are many choices here from appetizers to salads and entrees.

For the banh mi they use the same BBQ pork that they use in the Asian street tacos (BBQ pork with Korean marinade, pickled daikon and carrot, cucumber, cilantro, chiles, $10.50)
Del Frisco's Grille
Lollipop chicken wings Buffalo style, avocado ranch dressing ($12)
Del Frisco's Grille

Friday, October 9, 2015

Oktoberfest Burger at Hard Rock Cafe

For the month of October, Hard Rock Cafe will be serving a special burger, the Samuel Adams Octoberfest Schnitzel Burger. This is two pieces of breaded pork schnitzel with a beer cheese sauce made with Sam Adams Octoberfest beer, smoked bacon, sauerkraut, whole grain mustard, arugula, on a Pretzel bun. The burger with a side of fries is $16.95.


Of course, this burger is going to be paired with the Samuel Adams Octoberfest.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Trek-worthy Sandwiches from The Bacon Truck (Boston, MA)

I'm glad I got to take advantage of the summer weather this year by checking out various food trucks around Boston! One of my favorite finds was The Bacon Truck. I've seen this truck around and love their design: so many cute bacon strips doing random things like fishing or reading! The perfect truck for Gourmet Pigs, no?

The Bacon Truck

Anyway, I finally tracked them down at Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Bacon Truck serves various sandwiches - with bacon, of course. They use exclusively thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon from Blackstone St. Smokehouse.
Other than their regular menu, they often rotate specials. Keep an eye out on The Cuban (braised pork shoulder, bacon, garlic pickles, muenster cheese, whole grain mustard, $9.50)
The Bacon Truck
You wouldn't want to miss this sandwich if it's on the menu. It's a non-traditional Cubano, of course, but mighty delicious with tender pork, that thick bacon and the crispy griddled bread.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Preview: Taste of Italy

by guest blogger @iam_robot

The Taste of Italy will be back for its seventh year, and this year’s food and beverage participants include food-scene mainstays like Drago Centro, Valentino, Rao’s, Locanda Del Lago, Pedroncelli Winery, and Peroni, among others. Benefitting The Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, these restaurants will feature finest Italian cuisine and wines on October 10th in Little Italy’s iconic 1869 Pico House, right across from the Union Station. And let’s not forget about cooking demos from some of the most revered Italian Chefs such as Chef Peppe Barone (director of the Mediterranean School of Food and Wine in Italy) and Chef Gianfranco Minuz (Locanda Del Lago). Slated to open later on in 2015, the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles will showcase the history and ongoing contributions of Italian-Americans to Southern California and the U.S. In addition to historical exhibitions, the museum will host film screenings, language classes, and a variety of cultural public programming.

Last week I had a chance to sample many of the wonderful bites and wines to be featured at this premier food event. There were many memorable bites but my favorite was the Baked Little Neck Clams with Italian Breadcrumb Stuffing from Rao’s.
This dish is the ultimate comfort food – It reminds me of Thanksgiving. Maybe in a better way! Clams were pleasantly supple yet the stuffing didn’t mask the inherent brininess of the shellfish. Stuffing was equally delightful - breadcrumbs were warm, moist, and crunchy. I could eat a tub of these!

My other highlight was Rao’s Fiocchi Ravioli Filled with Ricotta Cheese and Bartlett Pears.
Initially I was quite thrilled with the buttery flavor of brown butter but as I chewed through I loved the creaminess of the ricotta cheese and the sweet finish of the pear and dried cranberries. All the flavors meshed beautifully in right proportion.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Meal Kits On the Go from Pantry (Brookline, Boston, MA)

I'm a fan of the meal or recipe kit delivery services (I reviewed a lot of them here), but sometimes I feel like they send too much food/ too many kits at once for my personal schedule (I go out to eat a lot - obviously), or some services don't let you pick what you want, or some days you want to cook but don't have any kit left. That's why I think a concept like the newly opened Pantry in Brookline is a great idea.

Pantry sells recipe / meal kits, as you can imagine, but they sell them at a physical location. Right now, they only have one store in Brookline.
At Pantry, you can choose what you want from a collection of recipes (they have 11 now and working their way to 20) and each one is priced depending on the ingredients (ranging from $16-21 for meals for two people). Want steak? Fish? Salads? Desserts? They have it all. I like how the store is set up, too, as you can browse the recipes and see the ingredients. They do a lot of recipe development, as well, so you can be confident you're getting a delicious meal with seasonal ingredients.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Area Four (Cambridge, MA)

I may have complained a bit about the lack of lunch options at MIT, but actually, if I just go out of campus for a bit, there are some great places - take Area Four, for example, known for their pizza.

The menu at Area Four is short and simple - some appetizers and salads, and then pizza. Area Four's pizza has won many accolades and boasts an older-than-12-year starter, over 30 hours of fermentation, and wood-fired oven. They make a great version of the New England staple, clam and bacon pizza with pecorino, chili pepper, and parsley ($17.50 for a small)

Area Four
I had a very satisfying Little gem salad with tomatoes, blue cheese dressing, and crispy pork belly
Area Four
The crispy pork belly made this salad that much better - it's still healthy right?

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