Monday, September 29, 2008

Lattitude Has the Right Attitude

Okay that title is a bit of a misnomer. The food at Lattitude was special, but not because of any perceived attitude. In fact, the appeal of the restaurant was because it lacked the bold in-your-face style of so many Thai restaurants nowadays. It was just too good/bad a title to pass up.

More after the jump...

A former intern at FoodDigger recommended Lattitude to me a few months ago but it had thus far stayed on my Try List. I complain often about the quality of Thai food nearby Westwood where I live, but in all honesty, I never really try to seek out good Thai. I think that my Thai palate is much more Americanized than my other Asian palates. I can order the uncommon, off-menu items at Chinese, Japanese, Korean and, to a certain extent, Vietnamese restaurants, but never Thai. Sadly, my knowledge of this Southeast Asian cuisine is usually relatively limited. Somedays I just feel like Thai, but only when I feel like being overwhelmed with food that's heavily sauced and often too sweet. I started with the crab rolls appetizer, served with a sweet relish dipping sauce and fried to perfection. Each roll tasted captured the essence of crab and built upon that flavor with a crispy shell.

Crab rolls

My impression of the food at Lattitude was a clear adherence to good judgment. Rather than serving what they think customers would like, they serve what customers should like--food that showcases the ingredients. I've heard that Thai cuisine emphasizes balance in the five flavors of savory, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter, but this doesn't mean that there should be an equal amount of each in every dish. The food at Lattitude didn't try to be everything at once. The balance was in the total meal and not each individual plate. My white seabass with plum sauce illustrated this point perfectly. Since seabass is one of my favorite fish, I knew I had to order it off the specials menu. The fish came steamed and served in the steaming broth. I only slightly detected a hint of plum, not the overwhelming flavor of it masking the fish. A light bed of ginger complemented the white fish nicely.

Steamed white seabass

The prik khing with stir-fried beef and tofu didn't taste like the usual green beans at most places. The chili paste wasn't nearly as thick and dominating. This was actually a case where I would've preferred more flavor though.

Prik Khing

My major disappointment with the dinner was my Tony Jaa inspired tom yum goong. I love this soup so much, it's a rare occasion for me to leave without ordering it. In fact, I almost forgot the soup but ordered it after finishing the rest of the dishes instead. Unfortunately, the soup I had was completely unrecognizable as tom yum. I don't know if it was due to error or regional differences, but my soup was undrinkably sweet. I couldn't taste any of the sultry fish sauce, mouth-puckering kaffir lime or tamarind. The waiter told me the soup was different depending on the area of Thailand. Despite his amiability, I didn't really trust his competence of Thai cuisine though. But even with an epic failure of a soup, I would still come back and try again. If only the soup could get a little bit of a Lattitude adjustment.

Too much? That felt a little forced.

Tom yum goong

Lattitude Thai
2906 Lincoln Boulevard
Santa Monica, 90405
(310) 396-4726
Around $10 a dish; small to midsized portions


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Community Building through Food: 5x5 Dinner at La Terza

Almost all of the tables were cleared and silent, a clear contrast from the commotion of earlier in the evening. The hordes of diners who had made service a nightmare were no where in sight. However, even though the upstairs dining room had cleared out, the commotion had just moved to the bar and transformed into banter and camaraderie. A successful night had finished, raising money for Special Olympics, and now the chefs celebrated the last of their 5x5 series.

More after the jump...

The 5x5 dinner is about fostering a sense of community among chefs and restaurateurs in the Los Angeles area. I met up with Tangbro and his two friends who often eat together at some of the best restaurants in LA and OC. These three knew how to eat, having a dining list that is my dream dinner wish list. We talked about future dinners, including a night at Urasawa and other big events. Eating with them, I felt comfortable, not ostracized for taking notes and pictures before each first bite.

Artichoke in casserole, octopus with fava bean puree and squid ink gelatin, scrambled egg with summer truffle – Gino Angelini, La Terza



Scrambled Eggs

Artichoke, octopus and eggs, three ingredients I’m never that excited about. In fact, outside of breakfast, I typically hate eggs in any form. Even at breakfast, I can only have a few eggs before I start feeling sick. These three little bites were a gentle introduction to the marvels ahead. My first taste, the artichoke, reminded me of a wonton. The leaves of the artichoke were soft, and the olive oil added a slickness that felt like pulling Chinese dumplings out of soup. The octopus was very tender, so much so that I could hardly recognize it as octopus. However, it was strangely fishy, not the best attribute for this cephlapod. My redemption came from the unlikeliest place—the scrambled eggs. A crispy square of toast held the fluffy eggs elevated by the presence of summer truffle. I don’t know how Gino made his eggs taste this good, but I would love to try a La Terza breakfast one day.

Hamachi crudo, heirloom tomato sorbetto, celery and blood orange oil – Walter Manzke, formerly of Bastide

Considering this dish took an hour to arrive, I had high expectations. It was a crudo after all, how much preparation can go into it, but my first impression upon seeing the plate put me at ease and silenced my complaints. Beautifully composed, balanced in symmetry as well as color, this dish exuded gaiety in plating. I eagerly snapped several pictures before picking up my fork, somewhat distraught at the thought of having to break up this masterpiece. The problem with a dish like this, there were so many components to keep track of that I wasn’t quite sure if I got the right combination of tastes all at once. Therefore, what follows was a confusing array of sweet sorbet, oily hamachi, acidic tomato, and fruity olive oil. On the texture side, there was not nearly as much contrast considering most of the ingredients were the type to dissolve on your tongue. While I had high expectations because of the impressive plating, the flavors were too unbalanced and scattered for me to form a coherent taste. However, I do commend Chef Manzke for trying to creating flavors following form; but while his colors blend together to make a symphony, the dish left a discordant flavor in my mouth.

Roasted scallops, Montbazillac and pistachios emulsion – Alain Giraud, Anisette

Though the scallops were listed third on our menu, the waiters accidentally brought it out second. Disgruntled, we told them that our crudo hadn’t arrived yet. With an apology, the scallops were gone as quickly as they arrived. At this point we felt that we should’ve kept the extra scallops as reparation, and when we finally did try them, we definitely would’ve asked for more. Easily my favorite dish of the entire night, I adored every aspect of this masterfully crafted dish. Admittedly, a large sea scallop seared in a little butter is one of my favorites so Giraud had it easy. But the things he did with the wine and pistachio sauce and his superb technique in judging the doneness of shellfish brought my understanding to a whole different level. I judge a good chef to be one who can introduce me to a new food; I judge a great chef to be one who can take my love of a food to a whole new level. The scallop had the strata of a beautifully grilled steak—rare and delicate in the middle and crisp and browned on the surface. Big specks of sea salt added to the texture of the crust as well as bringing out the natural flavor of the shellfish. The creamy sauce makes my mouth water now recollecting it. Often times I wonder how well I can actually perceive umami in a dish, but there was no doubt for the scallops.

Sweet corn agnolotti, cockles, guanciale, rosemary and matsuatake mushrooms – David LeFevre, Water Grill

Having just had a shellfish course, I was surprised to see another so soon. After all, looking at the picture, you can hardly see the agnolotti, a type of ravioli, and only see the large shells of the cockles, a type of clam. I’ve always been a fan of foams; even though they have no real substance, they convey much flavor and playfulness. What LeFevre did here was inspired. Using the foam, herbs and shells, he created a beach scene on my plate. The shells of newly discovered clams with lapping foam of the sea…and pork. Who said a beach scene can’t be improved by a little porcine discovery as well? Guanciale is a strongly flavored Italian bacon similar to pancetta and in this dish played the major savory role. The counterbalance to the intensely salty bacon was the sweet corn, gently wrapped in sheets of pasta. I detected hints of ginger too that combined well with the rosemary, which contrary to my initial concerns, didn’t overpower the dish.
At this point my companions and I had the pleasure of meeting Food She Thought at the neighboring table. As she astutely points out in her entry, the staff did seem to conveniently tuck us away out of sight and out of mind. However, it gave us a chance to connect and talk over the differences between clams and cockles. Finding out she was also on Foodbuzz, we traded blog info and favorite restaurants while waiting for our next course.

Wood grilled Hawaiian Big Eye tuna, fresh cranberry beans, squid, basil and munak ranch tomatoes – Michael Cimarusti, Providence

The most underwhelming dish of the night was still much better than anything at most restaurants. I felt that the tuna had not been seared at high enough temperatures and there wasn’t opportunity for crisp enough crust to form. The result was not as favorable as a sharper delineation between browned exterior and rare interior. I don’t know much about cranberry beans, but they tasted no different than fava beans which didn’t belong with the fish. The squid was limited to a single tentacle that seemed out of place in both presentation and taste. My favorite aspect of this dish is the green moat surrounding the tuna. My companions and I had the hardest time figuring it out until the waiter finally explained that it was parsley derived. No wonder, who ever eats parsley? It was a flavor that was so familiar to all of us yet ultimately unidentifiable.

Lamb loin and shank, eggplant-potato “parmesan,” lamb jus – Josiah Citrin, Melisse

For those of you who have been with me to Mediterranean restaurants before, my love for lamb is no secret. I would choose this fluffy creature over any other terrestrial creature on any menu. Therefore, you can expect my delight in seeing this course on the menu. Meeting Chef Citrin, I could easily see how his bold personality came out in his dish. The three pieces on this plate all had strong flavors, any of which could be the dominating flavor of the course. The loin was remarkably uniform in doneness and slightly gamey, but I love gamey. Our waiter described the eggplant-potato as a terrine. My impression was that it tasted like a hash brown. The sweet onions inside of it were a delightful surprise though. For the shank, I would’ve liked to taste other notes rather than just the overwhelming lambiness.

Before our dessert, a lone fellow wanders over to our table. He saw Tangbro and I snapping pictures and immediately recognized us as bloggers. Apparently, he follows food blogs including Oishii Eats and even flattered me by telling me that he had heard of GildedPalate before. We discussed our impressions of the dishes that night, comparing our favorites and universally complaining about the service. I gave him my last Foodbuzz business card and invited him to e-mail me if he would like to meet up some time for another dinner.

Babá with rum and strawberries – Gino Angelini, La Terza

I was mildly confused by our dessert. What was this massive cake that looked like an elongated muffin but glistened with a wet sheen? The menu description didn’t say much, but I suppose I was just uneducated in the realm of French desserts. A babá, or baba au rhum, is a rum soaked cake made from a batter of eggs, milk and butter. This thing sitting in front of me was massive, easily the largest item of the night. Sticking my fork into its side, I prayed it wouldn’t have any density, lest I die immediately from a heart attack after eating it. To my amazement, the flavor was intense, and the texture thankfully light. In fact, biting into it I could only imagine this was what it felt like to eat a cloud heavy with rain and about to pour. Each mouthful had slight rum flavor but without any harshness of alcohol. The cinnamon sprinkling and candied lemon added more dimension, but ultimately it was still too sweet and much too large for a dessert.

Event after event should have soured my mood for the night. Our waiter forgetting our second course, taking an hour between courses, promising to make it up to us with a bottle of Pellegrino (wow!), and being stuck in a deserted corner of the restaurant. I should have left disappointed, even furious that I had paid $150 to be treated more like a nuisance than a customer. But at no time was I unhappy. We came down the stairs after paying for our meal and wandered into the spontaneous after-party for the 5x5 series. Chef Citrin waved us over and asked how we enjoyed our food. He introduced me to the firm handshake of Chef Cimarusti, looking happy if not a bit haggard. Chefs LeFevre and Manzke were the quiet ones, but they responded positively to hearing our applause for their food. Walking out of the kitchen, Chef Angelini could have been a stern disciplinarian at work, but he greeted me with amity. Most notably, Chef Giraud made the most impact on me that night. He personified the garrulous French chef, talking happily about the success of Anisette and inviting us all over. Having met the people who designed me food, I had another layer of appreciation for my dinner.

I walked out of La Terza having met all the chefs, another blogger, two new fellow diners, and a blog reader. The dinner didn’t just create a community producing food, it created a community consuming it too. This is one instance where the food actually inspired me to write great things about it, even for the dishes I disagreed with but could still appreciate. For the total experience more than the food alone, the 5x5 dinner at La Terza was the best meal of my life to date.

From left: Me, Angelini, Giraud, Citrin, LeFevre, Manzke, Cimarusti


Sunday, September 21, 2008

7 Courses of Beef You Wouldn't Want to Miss: Vietnam San Gabriel

Admittedly the title is a little unclear, but then so is the name of the restaurant. Feeling like I deserved a treat after the mind-numbingly boring auditing training, I hopped in my car and followed Jonathan Gold to San Gabriel for my first experience with Seven Courses of Beef.

More after the jump...

For awhile, I've heard about the famous Bo 7 Mon or Seven Courses of Beef from my mom and several Vietnamese friends. I've rarely seen it in restaurants however, finding out that it's usually served for special occasions or in high-end restaurants. Of course, when I eat Vietnamese, it's hardly ever high-end. Even $7 pho is too expensive for me. When I read Jonathan Gold's Counter Intelligence article on Vietnam, I knew I had to try it. Since this is a Vietnamese heavy entry, I'd appreciate the help of Wandering Chopsticks for any corrections.

The generically named restaurant seemed a little odd considering it didn't contain the words "pho, Saigon" in the name or end with a number. But I suppose coming from a rich history of restaurants, the food and experience of the proprietors can speak for itself. Michael Le, whose parents own the famous Golden Deli, runs Vietnam, and it was him that took my order. Explaining that this was the first time I had Bo 7 Mon he graciously helped me with the rice paper wrappings and introduced each course. Of course, finding out that I wasn't Vietnamese, he was much more patient with my pronunciation.

My mis en place for meat with bo nhung dam in the center

A young Vietnamese waiter with broken English brought out the rice paper, herbs, do chua (pickles) and sweet dipping sauce to accompany the beef. First up, the bo nhung dam described as "beef dip in vinegar broth" in the menu. My first instinct was to dip my soup spoon into the boiling pot. After all, it was crystal clear with a few onions, nothing that looked particularly flavorful. Of course my assumptions associating color with flavor were completely wrong when I tasted the sharp astringency of the vinegar. Dipping my thinly sliced pieces of steak into the broth briefly, keeping the meat rare, I wrapped it haphazardly in soaked rice paper with the pickels, basil, cilantro and topped it with some light sauce. Although the spring roll was a colossal disaster, the pieces I managed to get in my mouth were well worth the embarrassment (keep in mind, at this point they still thought I was an extremely inept Vietnamese).

I found a mysterious pale strip on my plate with the cucumbers. It was slightly flesh, resembling an trumpet mushroom. Putting a little in my mouth, I drew back immediately. It tasted like soap and somehow immediately drew all the moisture out of my tongue. Odd sensation yes, but not one I'd like to repeat. When I got home, I did a little research and I'm reasonably certain that I had my first experience with raw galangal. Wandering Chopsticks says that this was probably astringent green banana peel since Vietnamese don't eat raw galangal.

Clockwise from top left: bo cha dum, bo nuong la lot, bo mo chai, bo sa-te (sorry for the shrimp chip in the way)

Next came four courses at once. Since I was only one person, there were only a few pieces of each beef course, but still enough for two people with another appetizer on the side. Bo cha dum (baked ground beef) didn't look like much, the essentially large meat ball, had more flavor than anything you find on top of pasta or in the freezer case at Ikea. According to Wikipedia, the beef is rolled in caul fat to protect it during cooking. I don't know how much it protects the meat, but it sure flavored it.

Bo nuong la lot (charbroiled beef in aromatic lot leaf) reminded me of the grape leaf rolled rice in Greek cuisine. In fact, the leaves tasted similar, but also like the lotus leaves used to wrap Chinese sticky rice. It made the beef slightly sweet and uniquely flavored compared to the two preparations I had before.

Bo mo chai (grilled beef steak) surprised me. My first impression was a beef sausage, not too common in Asia. But biting through the sausage, I realized it was actually a tightly rolled piece of grilled steak wrapped around a scallion. Although the simplest in flavor, this course let the essence of the beef shine through without clouding it with other flavors, including that ubiquitous fish sauce.

Bo sa-te (beef in sate sauce) looked much more like a meatball than bo cha dum but had the consistency of a hamburger. The meat was tightly packed, slightly tougher to chew. I'm not entirely sure what "sate sauce" is. A couple contenders could be the peanut sauce used in Thai cooking, or maybe the sacha sauce of Chinese, but the flavor didn't match either one.

Eating all this beef, I needed something to cleanse the palate. Out came the next dish bo salat simply "beef salad." The thinly sliced red onions certainly didn't clean my palate, but it was a break from the meat. This dish was heavily doused in fish sauce and the familiar flavors of grilled Vietnamese dishes returned. Black pepper on the beef gave a nice change of heat compared to the peppers in the other courses.

Michael Le came over and asked how I was doing. We talked, surprisingly, in Chinese for awhile when he realized my true ethnicity. It isn't uncommon for Vietnamese people to speak Chinese or to have Chinese heritage, and in fact, I could pick up on a slight accent. He brought out the last course chao bo (beef porridge). Unlike Cantonese congee, this porridge was thin and soupy with broken rice and ground beef and strands of fresh ginger. The consistency was more like Japanese ochazuke. While a refreshing way to end the meal, I'm not a fan of boiled meat.

My first experience with seven courses of beef went extraordinarily well. Perhaps I picked a good restaurant or perhaps I was just born to eat a cow prepared seven ways. Jumping right into the beef, I neglected to mention the decor of the restaurant. Simply put, it's a Vietnamese restaurant, how different do they get? Surprisingly though, Vietnam takes credit card, not that I needed it. What do you think seven courses costs? Less than $2 per course actually. I thanked Mr. Lee, ordered a pork banh mi to go, and drove off eager to bring someone back with me next time.

It was delicious by the way!

(626) 281-5577
340 W Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel, 91776
Closed Thursday
$14 for seven courses of beef; $3.25 for banh mi


Friday, September 19, 2008

Hardly Any Fair at All: The Mitsuwa Torrance Hokkaido Fair

Due to a strange course of events, I actually ended up at two food events last Saturday. After returning home from the aforementioned LA BBQ Festival, I drove down to Torrance for the Mitsuwa Market Hokkaido Festival. I actually didn't know what to expect, but I heard good things from I Nom Things and LA OC Foodie. What I found when I entered the store, was hardly a fair at all.

See what I found...

Maybe it was the fact that in was indoors. Maybe I just had too high an expectation. Maybe it was just the supermarket setting that threw me. Whatever the reason, I felt like this was more of a Hokkaido Sale than a Hokkaido Fair. Sure, the stands featured seafood and supposedly other treats from Hokkaido, but it just seemed like Mitsuwa was featuring special items. They set up a special seafood section selling fresh fish, beautiful crabs and other assorted fruits de mer. I was still quite full from the barbecue festival however, and didn't feel like springing for a king crab bento box for $20. In retrospect, it might have been money worth spent, but king crab can be $9.99 per pound when it's on sale at Vons.

Not wanting to leave empty handed, I did wait in the unbearably long line for the desserts. From the look of it, the fair was much more popular than anticipated. They ran out of melon pan (melon flavored pastries) and were only serving Hokkaido-style soft-serve and cream puffs. For $3, the cream puff was terrible. For $2, it would be bareable. For $1, it would still be wildly overpriced. I regret not getting a chance to try the melon pan though. On the other hand, the ice cream was a delightful treat. Not cheap either, slightly under $3, it did offer something unique. The taste was undeniably milky, something you can't easily find in the States. All I can say is that it reminded me much of the milk in Asia, but if you haven't had it before, I don't exactly know how else to describe it except "milky." I want to say that it has a vitamin taste to it, perhaps with a powder sensation. Some Japanese milk flavored candies have this flavor and they are much easier to find in Asian markets.

While I left without quite feeling in the fair spirit, it was a nice trip. I'll admit that I may not have had the full experience because I didn't buy any seafood and didn't try the famous Hokkaido miso and butter ramen. Besides the dessets, I also bought some groceries for a great dinner made by my girlfriend and some somen for lunch. It was my first experience with somen and I highly enjoyed it as a light lunch. So even though the Hokkaido Fair was not quite what I expected, this was one time when I didn't complain about life being unfair.


Monday, September 15, 2008

LA BBQ Fest Debriefing

Looks rather grim and not that impressive, huh? I think that's the general sense I got from the long-awaited barbecue festival. Strangely enough, the weather seemed to match the mood of most of the participants. All around me people seemed stuffed, but not particularly satisfied.

See why after the jump...

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't say that the festival was a failure. I just felt that the hype surrounding it definitely deflated some of its impact. For one thing, the vendor list of pitmasters seemed to change several times. Of the eight barbecue tents, there were only three from out of town. Granted, LA might have some excellent meats, but I was looking for something I couldn't get locally. The fair itself also seemed rather small, taking up just a corner of the Santa Monica Beach parking lot. I could smell the smokers from Ocean Boulevard, but there wasn't one sign pointing me down to the festival. If it wasn't for the aroma, I couldn't be sure this was actually it.

I tried three places with HC, Will and Thi: LC's Kansas City Spareribs, Southside's Elgin Texas Hot Sausage and Brisket, and Bandana's St. Louis Spareribs. The crowds of lines were good indicators of which barbecue tasted the best, and LC's line was by far the longest.


As you can see, LC puts a lot of work into their ribs. What I liked best is the care that went into the ribs themselves rather than heavy reliance on heavy sauce. Tender, but still with enough resistance to the teeth is exactly how I like my ribs. Spare ribs tend to have more fat, thus being more tender than baby back, so they are actually my ribs of choice for barbecue. Although you're more likely to get a rack of baby back here, St. Louis and Kansas City have healthy traditions of using the spare ribs. Tastewise, the ribs had balanced flavors that you don't find in most bad barbecue. All too often meat is usually too salty or cloyingly sweet. The spare ribs at LC's tent were savory with a coating mouthfeel and a hint of smoke. Call it umami or call it whatever you want, but these ribs had a ton of it. I'm not sure what kind of recognition LC's has in Kansas City, but they certainly made an impact with their barbecue in Los Angeles.

Bandana's BBQ

LC's was a tough act to follow. They were indeed some of the best ribs I've ever had. I turned to St. Louis for some competition. For some comparison, I got to the fair right when they opened and there was hardly anyone there. We still waited ten minutes or so for LC's line. When I turned to the Bandana tent, the ribs were lined up on the table waiting for the customers to come. If you look closely at the picture, you can see how dry the ribs are. They were overcooked and flaky. It occurred to me that this was not that much different than beef jerky. Only a variety of sauces made it palatable. Yet even with a whole bottle of their spicy bbq sauce, I still would not pay $10 for their ribs again.

Southside Market and BBQ

From Elgin, Texas comes this Southside barbecue truck spitting out hot links and beef brisket. The brisket was terrible; even doused with sauce it was tough and flavorless. The sausage was not as hot as I had hoped. It was definitely greasy though. I thought it was a juicy frank when I bit into it, but it just coated my mouth in oil. Eating it with raw onions helped take the edge off slightly.

Leyna's Babycakes

Although I only had a piece of the strawberrilicious cupcake, it was indeed as light and fluffy as advertised. Even the frosting didn't weigh me down. I wonder what they put in these things to obtain that consistency. As of now, I think Leyna only does catered orders, but maybe one day you'll see a Leyna's Babycakes least until Sprinkles sues it out of existence.

All in all, some things I would've liked to see done better:
-Display of instructions and banners for the event
-Smaller portions and cheaper prices
-Better representation from outside the area
-Something to cleanse the meat palate. Maybe a salad?
-Other bbq type activities besides just eating

Maybe I missed out by not going to the local pitmasters, but I can always check them out on my own. For more event details, refer to my previous entry


Friday, September 12, 2008

Los Angeles Barbeque Festival

Updated summary

This weekend is the Los Angeles BBQ Festival. I was originally just going to blog about my experience there afterwards, but I realized it would probably be a good idea to let my readers know too.

Click for details...

Saturday and Sunday (9/13-14) at the Santa Monica Beach adjacent to the pier.

Admission is $10 or $50 for VIP. As far as I know, VIP gets you cutsies in lines.
Use the discount code "YELP" buying tickets online to get $5 off general admission and $15 off VIP.
As if the admission is not bad enough, food is separately priced at $10 per bbq item, $4 desserts and $2-5 beverages.

Pitmasters Include:

Parise Pit BBQ - Mac n Cheese
Gus's BBQ - Smoked Brick Chicken and Baked Beans
L.C's BBQ - Kansas City Spare Ribs and Baked Beans
Bristol Farms - Chicken and Vegetable Skewers
Mr. Cecil's California Ribs - Beef Ribs and Cucumber Tomato Salad
Southside Market and BBQ - Elgin Hot Sausage and BBQ Brisket
Baby Blues BBQ - Memphis Baby Back Ribs and Mac n Cheese
Bandana's BBQ - St. Louis Spare Ribs and Potato Salad


Leyna's Kitchen - Velvet Cupcakes
Essential Chocolate Desserts - S'more Brownies

There will also be some music entertainment. For more information, check out


Redondo's Cantina: Ortega 120

Ortega 120
1814 South Pacific Coast Highway,
Redondo Beach, 90277
(310) 792-4120

With a suggestion from my girlfriend's mom, we ended up at Ortega 120. She told me the location had previously been a lobster shack not too long ago, and then an Italian restaurant before that. Guess it must be a bad location.

The restaurant itself was comfortably airy. Tables were far apart, giving you room for just your group. They project some old movies on a wall and have several large TVs showing various sporting events. Noticing loungy couches along the wall, I could see how the place could easily be converted into a night club.

More after the jump...

Positioning itself as a somewhat more upscale, but still festive, Mexican restaurant, Ortega 120 does a great job of walking that line. The food is excellent, created by Thomas Ortega, formerly of Water Grill, Lucques and Patina. In LA, that seems to be the mark of a decent chef. Patina grads seem overly abundant in this town. My carnitas were juicy and delicious. The pork falling apart as my fork cut through the mound of meat. Speaking of mounds, the portions are rather large.

My main criticism comes from the tables and chairs. They have the leather topped tables with the large weaved seating that never seem to fit comfortably at the table. I might be able to bare it at a taqueria, but at a more upscale place like this, I'd like to sit comfortably.

Ortega 120 has everything it takes to be a success. I want to publicize it as much as possible so it doesn't take the route of the old lobster place or Italian joint. As much as it's a shame those places didn't last, the real shame would be to let this new restaurant falter as well.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bland Indian, Isn't that an oxymoron?

Addi's Tandoor
800 Torrance Blvd
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
(310) 540-1616
$20 per entree

Given my frequent visit to the South Bay, I figured I needed to acclimate myself with the available restaurants in the area. It seems that no one eats in the South Bay, at least no one eats anywhere worth mentioning. Perusing some of my favorite food blogs, I am hard-pressed to find reviews in the area. Even FoodDigger and Yelp don't seem to have very much either. Since I felt open to any cuisine that night, I decided to simply go to one of the highest ranked restaurants in Redondo on FD--Addi's Tandoor.

More after the jump...

We made a reservation a few hours before arrival at 7:15 on Saturday night. Good thing we did; every table had a little "RESERVED" by the time we got there. It put me at ease to see many regulars who seemed to know Addi personally and also to hear several British accents. Seeing as how British cuisine is devoid of anything close to flavor, they've successfully assimilated other cultures. India, of course, was no exception. Now London is actually one of the dining capitals of Europe.

Our waiter seemed polite, but it took a good ten minutes or so before he even approached our table. Although he was a nice guy, the rest of the night was also marked by negligent service as he chatted up the other tables. It's one of those situations where I would have been very satisfied if I was on the other side of the looking glass, but since I wasn't, I'll have to dock Addi's for service.

Mirchiwalla Wings

As an appetizer, I wanted to taste how spicy their spicy chicken wings can be. The dish came out colorful and visually pleasing. The interplay between the fiery red of the drummettes against a bed of yellow, orange and green bell peppers made the plate a canvas. A conveniently wrapped lime gave the chicken some last minute zest. I eagerly bit into one of the wings, only to immediately recoil. What was this? I thought I was eating Indian food but it tasted as dry as British humor. Isn't "bland Indian food" an oxymoron? Well whatever came out certain was lifeless and overcooked, such a shame considering how pretty it looked.

Starting counter-clockwise from the left: lentils, lamb khorma, vegetable makhani, basmati rice

The entrees all come either a la carte or with naan, rice, raita (yogurt)and dal makhani (stewed lentils)as a "dinner" option for $5 more. We got all the above, but only because I needed something to eat my lamb with and an order of rice is an outrageous $4.25. I don't care how special your pilaf is, that's too much to pay for rice alone.

For awhile now, I've been ordering lamb khorma at most of the Indian restaurants I go to as my standard measure of quality. It is a rich curry made of ground nuts (usually almonds or cashews), yogurt and coconut milk with other spices, making it extremely rich. As for lamb, I've always loved it. Of the less-exotic meats, it would be my favorite by far. My first reaction with the khorma at Addi's is the intense concentration of lamb flavor. The meat they used must have been an old animal, because the flavors were so concentrated. However, the meat itself was tough. Despite the lambiness, which I admired, the curry was one-note. The vegetable makhani was too sweet for my tastes. Plus I don't like tomato based dishes like makhani.

I'll have to be honest here. I didn't realize it until I got into the restaurant, but I was actually mildly congested that night. Being a little sick, I wasn't able to taste as well as usual so I can't offer a completely unbiased review of the food. I did however, bring some home with me to try again when I was feeling better. Eating it as leftovers, the food definitely tasted better, but still not as amazing as I had hoped. If each Indian household makes its own curry mixes, this is one home in which I wouldn't want to be a guest.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Where to Buy Me Some Banh Mi: BC Deli in Oakland

I am testing out my newly formatted entries thanks to help from Drew of How to Cook Like Your Grandmother. This new addition allows me to create summaries of entries to give you a taste before you jump right in. So for the first entry, I decided to write about a backlogged place that I've been eager to share. It's in Norcal, not Little Saigon in the OC, but BC Deli Sandwiches makes the best Vietnamese sandwiches.

More after the jump...

Sandwich menu

This familiar sight has greeted me ever since high school when I used to come to BC Deli, buy five sandwiches and get one free. Vietnamese sandwiches, or banh mi, are hot commodities in predominantely Asian schools. With their old prices, I used to pay $10 for six sandwiches and sell them for $5 each during lunch. Twenty dollar profit easy. Now that they've raised their prices, the profit margin is not quite as large, but they are still a steal compared to a similar sandwich at any American sandwich chain. Everytime I come here, I always buy six sandwiches at a time, even if it's just for myself. They're just too good to pass up.

My favorites are the grilled pork and the grilled chicken sandwiches. They have a char-siu sandwich as well, but they don't appeal to me that much. Nothing about their meat is particularly great, but the way the mayonnaise, soy sauce and possible fish sauce blend together make each sandwich an umami bomb. Also, they have the best pickled daikon and carrots in the Bay Area. Now they have a special toaster to heat up the baguettes, giving each sandwich a satisfying slightly browned, yet always flaky crust. For the record, can anyone tell me what the Vietnamese name for the white and orange pickles is? I've heard a few things, but many Vietnamese people can't seem to agree on what it's called. One of my friends told me she's only called them "sour things" in Vietnamese. For a while, I kept a picture on my phone to order them visually at restaurants instead of butchering the tongue instead.

Grilled pork sandwich, my trusty #5

Though I always buy six at a time, the right portion is about one and a half for me. I could probably stop at one, but the half inevitably gets eaten as well. Otherwise, the rest of the sandwiches keep well in the fridge. They are fun to give out (or sell) but are amazing the next day too. I've tried the banh mi at some other places including the Lee's Sandwiches chain and I still come back to BC everytime. There's just something magical about their sandwiches.

On another personal note, the pickles are extremely easy to make. Just combine white (or rice) vinegar, sugar and a little salt with carrots and daikons cut julienne and leave them floating in the pickling juice for a few hours. Keep them chilled for a week or two and put them on anything or make your own sandwiches.

BC Deli Sandwiches
818 Franklin St
Oakland, CA 94607

(510) 286-9978

$2.50 average for a sandwich or $12.50 for six like I always get.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Destination Peru #13: Apu Salkantay Puno

City of Puno

We were in Puno to visit Lake Titicaca. Quick, someone tell me something they know about the lake besides it being the highest lake in the world be elevation...yea that's all I knew about it also. However, my mom had remembered reading about it when she was in grade school so we made sure to check it out on our trip to Peru. We arrived after a long ten-hour bus ride with my brother painfully sick the entire time. Too bad for him, he missed out on all the alpaca along the way. When we finally got to the city, I actually thought the town was kinda dumpy and the lake not that magnificent. It wasn't until we got away from the town and went up into the mountains that we got a better view of the nearby lagoon.

Like the hat?

For dinner, we walked along the main tourist drag without any real direction. I had a few restaurants scribbled in my Moleskine, but nothing particular worth searching for. We ended up at the restaurant with the largest crowd, but there was too long a wait so we went across the street to here instead.

Apu Salkantay
JR Lima, Puno

After some extensive research (the kind that involved my Wikipedia search bar), I found out Apu is an honorific term for mountain spirits in Andean culture. Salkantay is the name of one of the Andean peaks. Fittingly, the menu was Peruvian heavily slanted towards Andean cuisine. My dad and I decided on the trout and pejerrey respectively. These are two of the four types of fish indigenous to the lake. Though the English translation of pejerrey on the menu said "kingfish," Wikipedia tells me that it's actually a neotropical silverside. Well whatever fish it is, it wasn't very delicious. The flesh was rather bland and fell apart too easily. It came with vegetables cooked in black bean sauce, seemingly Asian influenced. After trying the dishes, my parents and I were convinced the chef was Chinese. My dad's combination platter, the Fiambre Salkantay, had the aforementioned trout and also alpaca loin and Andean cheese. The loin was among the better alpaca meat I had in Peru. My mom opted French with a lomo a la pimienta, a pepper steak in a brandy sauce. While the reduction was excellent, it tried to cover up the inferior quality beef. Bad meat, bad dish, no matter what you do to it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lunch Around the Corner

Corner Bakery Cafe
1019 Westwood Blvd
Westwood, CA 90024
(310) 824-1314
$7 or so for a sandwich

I've been enthralled with the idea of microliterature, four word movie reviews and twelve word novels. I think that restricting yourself to only four words allows for some amazing bit of creativity. Plus the puns come out en masse and God knows I love wordplay. So from now on, I'm going to try to sum up my reviews in four words or less as the title to this entry suggests.

Corner Bakery Cafes are a chain of restaurants similar to Le Pain Quotidien. The comfortable seating and atmosphere brings a varied customer base of students, business people and bored Bel-Air housewives eager to gossip about the summer after dropping their kids off for the first week of school. When I used to work in Westwood and order my lunch to go, Corner Bakery was usually my top choice. We all know how much food suffers when it is not served immediately or whether it'll even survive the journey from restaurant to desk. But it's hard to completely dismantle a sandwich in a to-go container. My favorites are the DC Chicken Salad on Steakhouse Rye (pictured below) and the Chicken Pesto on Ciabatta. The chicken salad has large identifiable chunks of chicken with light dressing and raisins. The crisp green apples add variety in texture, a satisfying crunch to an otherwise squishy salad. My one complaint about the sandwich is its difficulty in eating. I found myself reaching for the fork to finish off the remaining pieces of chicken. The chicken pesto on the other hand, doesn't suffer from this lack of cohesiveness.

DC Chicken Salad Sandwich

I bought my lunch for take-out today, explaining the photo taken at my desk. First off, it was 10:30 in the morning and I wanted to save it for later. Secondly, I feel awkward eating in restaurants alone. The only exception is fast food which I can purchase, consume and be out the door before the other patrons realize that I'm by myself. The appeal of Corner Bakery is not its uniqueness, there are a million other bakery cafes, but in its familiarity. A wide chain like this must be popular to continue expanding. The public has spoken, and Corner Bakery is in.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Destination Peru #12: Peru has Pizza?

Agua Calientes, in the town square with the Incan fountain

I apologize for the lack of addresses or more specific directions, but this is probably the easiest way to find the place paired with the above photo. Restaurant Amaru is upstairs, providing a scenic balcony view of the square.

View from the restaurant

I wonder if you noticed something peculiar about the sign of the restaurant in the first picture. "Bar,restaurant..." yes those all make sense, "...pizzeria"? Now in itself it may not be quite so strange, but pizzeria is actually a fairly common site in Peru. How many of you knew that Peru has pizza, and lots of it? After passing by many of these places, I couldn't help but try it.

And it was good. In fact, so good, it beats most of the pizza I've had here. Maybe it even holds a candle to NY style pizza. Though they are quite different types of pizza, I'd be hard pressed to choose a NY slice over a Peruvian one. The crust was thin, like a slightly risen cracker but crisp from the wood oven. This pizza is a pizza mixta, with ham, palm hearts, olives, bacon, cheese and oregano. As much as NY pizza is defined by the dough and the sauce, I think Peruvian pizzas are characterized by the cheese. I'm tempted to say it's queso fresco, but I can't confirm that. All I know is the the way the ham paired with the gooey strands made me go back to another pizzeria the next day.

Besides the marvelous pizza, I also had an empanada which I regrettably forgot to photograph. The crust was different than the Argentinian ones I had before. It wasn't flaky as much as it was smooth. I think they messed up my order and gave me a pure cheese one. Ultimately, it was too much dairy for me to handle.