Monday, March 31, 2008

Cobras and Matadors

Cobras and Matadors

(323) 932-6178
7615 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Adequately Fed: $30
Green Lentils Sauteed with Jamon Serrano**
Bacaolao Salt Cod Cakes with Aioli***
Roasted Game Hen in a Catalan Sweet and Sour Sauce***
French Toast*****
(Out of Five Stars)

As part of Los Angeles' Restaurant Week, Cobras and Matadors features a prix fixe menu for $25 a person for a three-course meal usually priced around $30. Not much of a discount, but enough to make this place a good value. For more information on Restaurant Week, visit

For each course, appetizer, main course, and dessert, there are three options to choose from. My companion and I chose different items to share to try to get a small plates tapas experience. Tapas are a wide variety of Spanish appetizers that can be combined to form meals. I suppose it would be the equivalent of Iberian dim sum. Looking at our selections however, I don't think most of these are traditional tapas dishes. But I won't let that detract from my opinion of an excellent plate.

Both of the appetizers, cod cakes and lentils, exhibited the qualities I like to see in each respectively. The cod cakes had a crisp exterior with a juicy interior topped with aioli that did not overwhelm, but complemented the fish. I have never eaten lentils outside of a soup, but this dish sauteed with Spanish ham gave me quite a surprise. Contrary to what I thought, they were crunchy and not mushy. The flavor had hints of Balsamic vinegar that made these legumes tart and sweet. It was excellent in small quantities, but it felt too heavy to finish.

Cod cakes and Lentils

I once roasted a game hen brined in papaya nectar that turned out tender and sweet. Cobra and Matador's game hen reminded me of my own experiment. Though the sauce was good, with a fruity flavor of apples or pears, it was too sweet. The chicken was overcooked and relied too heavily on the sauce to convey flavor. It could have used a longer marination if it had any at all. The paella had a creamy risotto consistency with mussels, clams, prawns, chorizo topping saffron rice. I love good paella that does not feel dried out or grainy. The texture of this dish fit that description, though it was a little sour for my tastes. The chorizo gets a special commendation for taste.

Game Hen and Paella

To finish off our night, we sampled the flan and French toast desserts. My first forkful of the flan was strangely unfamiliar. I don't know if it is because I haven't had flan in a long time, or if it was somehow different. But with each successive bite, I found myself more and more enamored with this caramel custard. The whipped cream was excellent. It always pleases me when restaurants pay attention to such details as these. Bad whipped cream always seem to be a distraction from an otherwise good dessert. The French toast also came with whipped cream and a plump strawberry. It had a great flavor as well.


Overall, the amount of food was just right. I left the restaurant feeling great without being weighed down by the food or lightened by my emptier wallet. The service was friendly; the buser even offered to take a picture of us when he spot us taking pictures of the food. The venue is small but picturesque. It seemed to fill up around 8:00, but with a reservation, you should be fine. My gripe is with the tight seating, tables almost side to side. Also, the acoustics were terrible, making a cacophony of overlapping conversations. I really did not care what my neighbor thought of her pets. But even this was not enough to deter me from giving Cobras and Matadors a good review.

Recommendation: Valet is $5.50 so look for side streets. Not cheap enough to go often, but delicious enough to treat yourself from time to time.

A special thanks to my photographer, my lovely girlfriend Yoko.

Gardens of Taxco

Gardens of Taxco

(323) 654-1746
1113 N Harper Ave
West Hollywood, CA 90046

Adequately Fed: $25
Tortilla Soup***
Chicken Enchilada***
Shrimp in Cilantro Cream Sauce***
Banana Cream with Cream Sherry*****
(Out of Five Stars)

The Aztec city of Tlacho is the modern Mexican city of Taxco and inspiration for this Los Angeles restaurant. The unassuming exterior is off of the main drag Santa Monica Boulevard, but a large sign will direct you to turn onto the correct little street. Inside, the atmosphere is crowded and dark. I don't know if that's common for Mexican restaurants in Mexico, but it a tad too dark and warm to be comfortable. A musician with a guitar roams the premises playing La Bamba and other songs for the drunken gringos.

The catch with this place is that it has no menus. A waiter comes over and announces the entrees. Each meal is five courses; you have a choice of several different items. Beef, chicken, shrimp, and fish, there are a few different preparations for each type of meat. If you're a vegetarian, your options are severely limited if available at all. Their main sauce is a cream cilantro that seems to come available on anything and everything. The waiter really makes ordering a theatrical experience, but it is difficult to keep track of everything and make a decision.

With a pitcher of pineapple margaritas, chips and salsa, and Mexican pickles, we waited for our food. The first course quesadillas came out with guacamole, a great way to start your meal. Secondly, comes a tortilla soup with Mexican meatballs called albondigas. It was a simple soup, a good way to round off a multi-course meal, but nothing spectacular. Third, a chicken enchilada with a cheese sauce similar to nacho cheese. It is delicious in small proportions such as on the appetizer, but in large quantities would be overwhelming.

Now the entree is where each dinner's fare diverges. I had the shrimp with the oft mentioned cilantro cream. It came plated with refried beans, rice, and a dallop of guacamole. Personally, I've never been a fan of refried beans or Mexican rice, but the shrimp was decent. The sauce was a bit of a letdown considering how well the waiter spoke of them.

Dessert consided of a small banana cream, smooth in consistency and a small glass of creme sherry to be poured on top. The combination of the dessert and alcohol was a splendid way to top off the meal, bringing the dining experience together as a whole.

In general, the food was decent, no dish a major disappointment. For multiple courses like this, I'd like to see each course working better together to complete the meal. They do serve you a large amount of food; be prepared since you can't really order less. Overall, a solid restaurant and good place to go with friends.

Recommendation: Listen very closely to the waiter when hearing about the entrees. Be decisive and don't dwell too much on what you're ordering.

Father's Office

(310) 393-2337
1018 Montana Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90403

Adequately Fed: $20
Office Burger***
Sweet Potato Frittes***
Red Seal Pale Ale****
(Out of Five Stars)

When Joel Stein mentions you in a TIME Magazine article, you know you've made pop culture status. This week's TIME had an article about famous chefs new focus on gourmet burgers. Chef Sang Yoon of Father's Office treats his burgers seriously.

Father's Office is a bar, with elements of a restaurant. You must be twenty-one to enter the tightly packed room with over thirty beers on tap. Overwhelmed? I was. That's why I asked my bartender for a recommendation. The Red Seal that she gave me was very drinkable with a fruity after taste which I enjoyed. For the uninitiated, the scene is rather intimidating. Once you go inside, find an unoccupied bartender and ask for a menu. They have their beers listed along with their food selections. Order directly from the bartender, pay for your food, and take your plastic number placard to whatever free space you get.

Stein's article describes Yoon's $12 burger as having caramelized onions, Gruyere, Maytag blue cheese, bacon compote and arugula. Frankly, I could not taste much beyond the sweetness of the compote and the occasional leaf of lettuce. Combined, the sauce just tasted like a simple barbecue sauce and not much more. The meat was tender and cooked to order, but it lacked the meaty taste that I expect when paying so much for a burger. It went down well, but having no ultra distinguished tastes made it not worth my money. In my opinion, burgers should be simple. Made with wholesome ingredients of the finest quality, just a patty, bun and cheese can beat all the other creative things people put on ground beef nowadays.

The Office Burger

"A la Cart" Fries and Sweet Potato Fries

Electric Karma

(323) 653-6445
8222 1/2 W. Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Adequately Fed: $23
Lamb Tikka**
Lamb Curry***
Tandoori Platter***
Lamb Makhni***
Rice Pilaf**
(Out of Five Stars)

Electric Karma truly has an electric atmosphere. Unfortunately, the food is not quite so lively. The restaurant itself was tastefully furnished and appealing to the eye and ear. It helps to have a projector playing Bollywood music videos played to what sounded like bossa nova on the stereo. The mirrors on the walls are placed well enough to really convince you that this place is larger than it actually is. The room in back had a wonderful Buddha mural and floor seating romantically lit by candles. Along one wall is a large bar with an impressive wine selection.

Besides the decorations, I'd also give Electric Karma good marks for the pleasant service. The waiters were attentive and always refilled my water, a perk too often overlooked. Based on those factors, this place would be a great location--except I always base my reviews primarily on the food.

The menu had a large selection of foods appealing to the unexperienced Indian eater. The common selections of curries, vindaloos, and samosas are a solid staple. For an appetizer, we ordered samosas, the fried vegetarian turnover. The came only three to a plate and were not worth the $7. Among the lamb entrees, the curry was fine but nothing exceptional. The makhni is tandoori lamb in a heavy tomato saffron sauce. The sauce tasted exactly as it is described, heavy doses of tomato but again nothing wholly spectacular.

The tandoori platter, a mix of lamb, chicken, sheesh kabob, served with naan resembled an Indian fajita. It came out on a sizzling platter over a medley of grilled onions and bell peppers. The lamb tikka also came out similarly dressed. Neither were very flavorful or juicy. My lamb felt dry, definitely overcooked parts of an animal past its prime. The naan however, was fluffy and well made.

My biggest problem with this restaurant wasn't so much the quality of the food, but rather it was that they charged us extra for rice. I have never been to an Indian restaurant that served a curry dish with rice separate. How do you eat a curry without rice? Not only did we have to order rice separately, but it was also $5 a plate. Overall, this restaurant is not worth returning to. We did spend an hour or so after finishing our meal enjoying the ambiance, but at a $100 dinner for four people, I can enjoy my company elsewhere.

Recommendation: I'm just glad this is an Indian restaurant not named Taj Mahal Palace or some derivative of that. Otherwise, this place is impressively designed and a comfortable dining experience.

Sanuki no Sato

(310) 324-9184
18206 S Western Ave,
Gardena, CA 90248

Adequately Fed: $30
Octopus Salad****
Green Tea Ice Cream***
(Out of Five Stars)

Sanuki is an area of Japan famous for its udon, hence the name of the restaurant Sanuki no Sato. As such, I expected their udon to be extraordinary, and on a cold day like tonight, I was not disappointed. The walls around the entrance are plastered with pictures of Japanese celebrities on their visits, a tacky but meaningful promotional technique. When in doubt, always check what the "locals" eat.

The Udonski is a communal hot pot udon set filled with seafood including crab, scallop, shrimp, and clams. The combination of seafood made an excellent soup base great standalone but even better when used to cook the separate items that come with the meal. Tofu, mochi, napa cabbage, shitaki and enoki mushrooms were among the items on the vegetable plate. The udon comes separately to add and cook at your leisure so as to preserve the integrity of the noodle. I can only assume they make their own udon by hand because I have never had any better udon anywhere in the world. I feel like Italian pasta has no idea what al dente really is compared to the elasticity of the udon. The consistency made it not only a pleasure to eat, but also fun. Though the udon was excellent, the Udonski set meal was too expensive in my opinion. There are plenty of individual udon bowls for $10-12 that are more reasonable.

Each diner was served a bowl of octopus salad of kelp, octopus, and lemon doused with rice vinegar. A great appetizer to cleanse the palette and prepare for the entree. After the udon, the Udonski comes with a choice of vanilla, green tea, red bean, or cappuccino ice cream, a wonderful contrast to cool you off from the hot soup.

We were seated in the private dining room so I did not experience any problems with service. The tatami room was made for privacy with a little service bell to call for a waitress.

Recommendation: This place is named after an udon famous province for a reason--get the udon!

Fisherman's Outlet Restaurant and Market

(213) 627-7231
529 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Adequately Fed: $15
Lobster Bisque***
Charbroiled Sea Bass (Garlic Butter)*****
Charbroiled Atlantic Salmon (Garlic Butter)****
(Out of Five Stars)

Following a lead on the Yahoo homepage, I found Fisherman's Outlet, one of the highest ranked seafood restaurants in Los Angeles. Although I frequently complain about living in LA, the traffic, the sprawl, the superficiality, yet I'll have to admit that the food scene is eclectic and outstanding. This restaurant is an example of good inexpensive food, the type of closely held secret that only the locals know about.

First off, Fisherman's Outlet is barely a restaurant in terms of atmosphere. Like Pink's you navigate through long lines to order at the counter and eat at tables in the patio. On my visit, I arrived at 10:30 in the morning on a Saturday so I did not have to wait unbearably; at this time, there were still a good amount of customers. From what I hear, the restaurant does become incredibly busy during lunch hours, especially on weekdays when the downtown crowd comes by for some seafood.

Second, the major drawback of this place is the location. Nestled in downtown Los Angeles, at the end of a pleasant drive through skid row, Fisherman's Outlet is not in a good neighborhood. That's probably a good reason that they are only open for lunch 10-3:30 Monday through Saturday. But on the plus side, there's plenty of street parking and an accompanying lot. Whether you want to park on the street though, that's up to your discretion.

Since this is attached to a fish market, the fish is fresh and plentiful. The menu has much variety to satisfy the seafood aficionado. It looked like anything that swims or crawls in the sea is offered either deep fried or charbroiled. Though I did not try the fried offerings, the batter looked crisp and golden brown. My sea bass was unconfirmed Chilean, but then so many people lie about the actual origin I never know for sure. It came off the broiler with a moist interior and a crispy crust. The garlic butter sauce was nothing special, but paired with the fish, made a good accompaniment. In truth though, the fish was so delicious, it could have been eaten without any of the three sauces offered with the broiled fish, Cajun, garlic butter, or teriyaki. I've never been a fan of salmon, but their take on this all too common fish was also well-prepared.

Each dish comes with either fries and coleslaw or on a bed of rice. Make sure to tell them you want the fries or the default is rice. Biting into a golden crisp fry, I considered how successful their business could be just selling those tasty morsels. The coleslaw was too dependent on mediocre mayonnaise for flavor. My bowl of lobster bisque was unfortunately not very satisfying. I was expecting a hearty soup capturing the essence of the crustacean, but instead the flavor fell short on overwhelming hints of wine.

I do intend to come back and try some fried offerings. Although my visit was pleasant because of the time, I have considered how bad it would be if I had to wait in a long line and fight other hungry patrons for space at the tables. But looking at the experiences of other people, I'd say this place is worth whatever wait you need to endure.

Recommendation: Lunch only Monday through Saturday and make sure to come early.


(213) 484-1265
1911 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Adequately Fed: $21 (sans wine)
Clam Chowder****
House Salad, Vinaigrette**
Braised Short Ribs****
Roast Chicken*****
Orange Sherbet**
(Out of Five Stars)

I'll admit it. I'm a foodie who has very limited experience with French cuisine. In my lifetime, I can only remember going to two exclusively French restaurants, besides my trip to France. Even worse, I took Spanish in high school and my command of French pronunciation is terrible. The issue with French food is that it always commands an air of prestige, what French restaurant is not fancy? Last night's dinner at Taix (pronounced "Tex") showed me how delicious and non-pretentious French food can be.

Opened in 1927, Taix is a part of Los Angeles history. Walking into the restaurant, I felt a wave of nostalgia for simpler times, despite the fact I have not lived in "simpler times." The decor reminded me of an old village inn and there are multiple banquet rooms for large parties.

The menu is short and straight forward. Many of their dishes are on a weekly rotation, so besides a soup of the day, there is also an entree of the day. It seemed to me that they hid their best items like their filet mignon on their rotating menu to encourage customers to come on days like Monday. The staple items of the menu were simple homestyle French dishes like roast chicken, short ribs, pork chops. They have kept to traditional dishes rather than opting for the trendy fusion cuisine that has marred so many French restaurants.

My braised short ribs were excellent in their juiciness and flavor. I always fear that braised dishes will be overcooked, but this was not the case. The grated horseradish also added a unique flavor to the beef. It was the mashed potatoes that stole the spotlight though. They were whipped to a fluffy consistency not weighed down by garlic or herbs but allowed the potato flavor to shine. Their roast chicken, a signature dish, also showcased the great food that kept this place in business for so long. Portion were large by French standards. I hate excessive plating, but these dishes were served in large plates filled to the brim. For $4, you can make any entree into a prix-fixe set including a salad, sherbet, and all you can eat soup du jour. The drawbacks in the food were few. My salad was soggy and not very appetizing. Also, the sherbet tasted generic and scooped from a tub.

Besides my shame in not appreciating French food, I also carry the much deeper shame of not liking wine. As such, I did not order any for my dinner last night. But besides my own personal preference, I was impressed by their extensive wine list worth seeing for the oenophile.

Recommended: Portions are large if you want to get a full six-course meal. Be prepared to eat.

Hide Sushi

2040 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Adequately Fed: $25
-Hotate Special*****
-Spicy Tuna**
-Ume-shiso maki**
(Out of Five Stars)

First off, I'll note that the items I gave low star ratings to are only because of my personal dislike for that item, but in reality, everything was excellent. This was my first opportunity to order "omakase" myself, which is a term used in sushi restaurants roughly analogous to "chef's recommendation." The sushi chef chooses his best of show and places each sushi in front of you until you tell him to stop. The pricing is left entirely to the will of the chef, so only do this if you are willing to pay for it. If you refer to my photo album marked "Sushi in Taiwan," you will see another fancier omakase experience.

All the fish was fresh as you can tell by the popularity of the restaurant. Nightly, there is a sizable crowd waiting for seats either at the bar or in tables. I have frequently been asked for a sushi recommendation in the area, and of all the places on the West side, Hide has never disappointed me.

The staff is friendly and Japanese. Frankly, I never believed that being Japanese is necessarily a prerequisite to being a sushi chef, but there's something unsettling about being served tuna by a Mexican as once happened to me in Reno. Not only do the chef's serve you, but they also joke around and like to have a good time. I know that to many, the bar is intimidating to approach, but come up sometime and you can experience the way sushi was originally intended to be served. The interaction with the chef is an integral part of the dining experience, something too frequently neglected.

Hide does not feature any special rolls that have dominated the American sushi scene. You're not going to find elaborate monstrosities of fish, avocado, and tempura. The California rolls here are actually made from real crab. If you go to Hide, do it right and order sushi. This is not to say that they do not also have a fairly decent menu of non-fish staples like teriyaki and tempura. But once you step inside, you can tell by what's on the tables of the other clientele that sushi is really their specialty. Here, you're going to find many more traditional sushi items frequently left off other restaurant menus like Ankimo (monkfish liver) and ume-shiso (plum paste and perilla leaf).

There is valet parking behind the restaurant. If you come here, expect a long line. Yet sushi moves fast; you should be seated soon.

Recommended: Keep in mind that they only accept cash. Knowing that sushi can by pricey, bring a good sized wad or make use of their in-store ATM.

New York Food Fest List of Meals and Addresses

8/28 Mangia e Bevi (800 9th Ave, Cross: 53rd) - Veal Saltimbocca, White Sangria
8/29 Kossar's Bialys (367 Grand St, Cross: Essex) - Onion Bagel w/ chive cream cheese
8/29 Turkuaz (2637 Broadway, Cross: 100th) - lamb w/ yogurt
8/30 Mamoun (119 Macdougal St, Cross: Minetta) - Chicken kebob pita
8/31 Four Dishes and a Soup? - Chinese fast-food
8/31 Klong (7 St Marks Place, Cross: 2nd & 3rd) - Klong Pad Thai (egg white omelet, shrimp, squid, "ancient royal recipe"), Singh Beer
9/1 Gray's Papaya (2090 Broadway, Cross: 72nd) - Recession Special (2 franks, Banana Daiquiri) Coconut Champagne
9/2 The Lobster Place (75 9th Avenue, Cross: 15th & 16th) - Lobster bisque
9/2 Havana Central (22 E 17th St, Cross: Broadway & 5th) - Media Noche (ham and swiss sandwich)
9/3 Big Nick's (2175 Broadway, Cross: 75th) - American Cheeseburger 1/2 lb, "spicy" waffle fries
9/4 New World Grill (329 W 49th St, Cross: 8th) - Nut-covered Cajun chicken strips w/ honey mustard, grilled shrimp skewers on rice noodles w/ coconut sauce
9/5 Ray's Pizza (856 8th Ave, Cross: 52nd) - Sausage and peppers pizza
9/6 Woo Ri Jip (12 W 32nd St, Cross: 5th) - buffet line
9/7 Taj Mahal (318 E 6TH St, Cross: 1st & 2nd) - Eggplant fritter, tandoori chicken, lamb curry, coconut pudding
9/8 Grimaldi's (19 Old Fulton St, Cross: Water St) - Plain pizza, white pizza, sausage and onion pizza
9/9 Hearty and Hale (927 8th Ave, Cross: 55th) - Curried Chicken Chowder, Tuna Salad Sandwich
9/9 Cafe Centosette (160 2nd Ave Cross: E 10th) - Bruschetta di pomodoro, lobster ravioli w/ saffron cream sauce
9/9 Veniero's (342 E 11th St, Cross: 1st & 2nd) - Cannoli, New York cheesecake
9/10 Cafetasia (38 E 8th St, Cross: Greene St) - Basil udon noodles, chicken and shrimp shumai
9/10 Serendipity 3 (225 E 60th St, Cross: 2nd & 3rd) - Frrrozen hot chocolate, steak and egg sandwich, cole slaw, sundae

New York Food Fest 2007

Hordes of hungry people lined up along the sidewalk against the backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge. The door swung open with a deliberate forcefulness. A muscular arm shot out from the door beckoning seductively towards the crowd.

Thinking about my two week trip to New York, the one image that stands out most in my mind of New York food is the manager of Grimaldi's waving in more eager customers. I never intended for food to be the main drive of my trip to the Big Apple, but if food was my religion, this would be my pilgrimage.

The various cuisines I encountered gave me a taste of the extreme variety available in a truly cosmopolitan city. The many cuisines I sampled included Italian, Kosher, Chinese, Korean, Thai, American home-style, Turkish, Indian, Cuban, Middle Eastern and Pizza. Yes, pizza is a type of cuisine; at least it should be in New York.

Here I have listed some categories with restaurants worth mentioning. Below, I have wrote a few words on all the restaurants I went to in the city. The reviews are long, so feel free to just refer to these categories for a quick rundown.

Best Value: Gray's Papaya
Most Worth the Wait: Grimaldi's
Most Over Hyped: Veniero's
Most Courses for Your Money: Taj Mahal
Most Impressive Menu: Big Nick's

Italians have long maintained a dedicated presence in the New York food scene and as such, I expected great things from the Italian places I did visit. Mangia e Bevi, translated "food and drink" in English, offered a variety of seemingly authentic Italian cuisine at the border of Hell's Kitchen. My veal saltimbocca topped with a delicious brown sauce and prosciutto did not disappoint. Well, with a pitcher of white sangria, it's hard to disappoint. Alcoholic judgment impairment aside, this was the second time I came to this restaurant and for good reason. I specifically chose this one to return to because of its great atmosphere and food.

Closer to Union Square on the East side of Manhattan, Cafe Centosette is a dark Italian restaurant serving some common Italian dishes. The bruscetta di pomodoro, only four pieces for $7, failed to qualify for that seven dollars. My lobster ravioli with saffron cream sauce definitely was defined by its sauce, a little salty, but good. However, I would have liked the taste of the ravioli itself to stand up without the excessive use of sauce.

Veniero's, the 111 year-old Italian bakery famous for its cannolis and other Italian pastries, failed to impress me. The cheesecake was much better than the cannoli, but that could just be because of my abhorrence to orange peel which tasted like an ingredient in the cannoli. The service was despicable and in itself a reason to avoid this neighborhood classic.

When I mention kosher, I meant specifically the kosher bagel shop I visited in the Lower East Side near Chinatown, Kossar's Bialys. Following a tip from Zagat's, I arrived at the shop surprised by its draconian interior. They really are just a bakery; they even only sold cream cheese separately and not included with the bagel. My onion bagel was soft and moist, but it lacked the critical crispness of a fresh bagel. I supposed that was my mistake for arriving late in the morning, but otherwise it was still delicious. If you do decide to stop by, pick up a dozen or so and a good tub of cream cheese. I recommend the chive cream cheese.

Flushing, the new Chinatown of New York located in Queens has the feel, and unfortunately the smell, of all the other Chinatowns in the world. Except perhaps the Chinatowns in Canada, I hear those are spectacularly clean. In a quick adventure here, I walked in for a quick, cheap bite at a Four Entrees and a Soup restaurant. In true Panda Express fashion, you take a tray, load it with four things, then grab a soup at the end. And, as in true Panda Express fashion, the food was terrible. Enough said.

Apparently, the Korean district of New York consists of only one street, W. 32nd. Coming from LA, home to one of the largest Korean towns outside of Korea, I did not expect much from this miniature Seoul. Woo Ri Jip, a Korean equivalent to Famima with a buffet line, made me reconsider New York's Korean populace. The buffet food was not spectacular, but for the price, you can get a good amount of different foods.

Thai cuisine fits into American taste buds so readily because of its exoticism and overindulgent sweetness. In truth, good Thai food is supposed to be a balance of the five Thai flavors sweet, savory, spicy, sour, and bitter, but I get the feeling that American Thai restaurants weigh heavier towards our sweet tooths. Klong, in St. Mark's Place, with its signature Klong pad thai wrapped in an egg white omelet, satisfied me with its flavor balance. Its calamari appetizer even made a believer out of a previous squid antagonist.

Near NYU, a popular thai brasserie Cafetasia features low prices for decent food. While their basil udon was too soupy and their service lackluster, my biggest complaint would be the lack of air conditioning. It did not please me to wait so long for a table only to be melting as I ate my meal. The beverages did not even arrive until after the appetizers and entrees. Still, for a standard price of $7 for an appetizer and entree combination, it might be worth it to check it out again.

Upon the recommendation of a resident New Yorker, I went to Big Nick's for a half pound burger. Wanting to evaluate the burger on its simplest merits, I ordered the plain American cheeseburger. What I got was more than I expected. The beef is Angus beef that puts McDonald's new Angus burgers to shame. Cooked to order, Big Nick's burgers made you feel good to eat so much cow meat at once.

Serendipity 3, with a name like that, I never would've expected an $80 check for a group of three. I would consider Serendipity to be the Fenton's of New York, for all you Bay natives. The focus is on the dessert, although they are certainly not cheap. Their signature Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, actually a trademarked name, seemed no more special than a chocolate milk slushie with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. The sundae was also nothing spectacular. There is a $1,000 sundae on the menu that is supposedly covered in edible gold leaf, but that was beyond this food critics purview. I will admit though, I did enjoy Serendipity's coleslaw tremendously.

Hearty and Hale Soups is a chain of soup based fast-food restaurants with numerous locations in Manhattan. Their soup menu changes daily with the impressive claim that one could eat there everyday for a month without repeating a soup. My curried chicken chowder had the appeal of a creamy chowder with a spicy twist.

On that note, for a great lobster bisque, the best I have ever had, go to the Lobster Place in the Chelsea Market. It has incredible depth of flavor and aroma. The Lobster Place is a fish market offering many varieties of seafood all looking relatively fresh and delicious.

New World Grill, North of the Theater District, is a small indoor dining area with a large patio. The food was unmemorable, but if pushed, I would say that the grilled shrimp with coconut sauce is bland and unimaginative.

Up until this trip, I had never went to a Turkish restaurant before. Turkuaz, in the Upper West Side, captured my adventurous side. In a decor designed like the inside of a large tent, the waiters dressed in colorful Turkish vests. My lamb dish with Greek yogurt reminded me of so many other Middle Eastern lamb dishes, but left a mark of its own. The bread they served warm was fluffy and worth a trip on its own.

Nestled in a row of Indian restaurants with similar names, Taj Mahal stands out. As generic a name of an Indian restaurant gets, this one makes an impact with its dinner special. For under ten dollars, I got a drink, soup, appetizer, entree, and dessert. Each course was delicious on its own, but together, made for an even more delightful experience.

Havana Central, with several locations throughout the city, was a pricier Cuban restaurant. The ham sandwich I had for lunch there was one of the better ham sandwiches I have had at Cuban places before. Otherwise, this restaurant was not spectacular.

Mamoun, with at least two locations, one near NYU and one in St. Mark's, is cheap falafel. I had a chicken kebob pita there, but it was still under $5. Other than the price, I did not see anything else worth mentioning.

While in New York, I knew I needed to try this famous pizza that true New Yorkers swear no one else can get right. I went to two places, the first, Ray's Pizza did not strike me as anything earth-shattering, but the second, Grimaldi's, redefined pizza for me. Waiting in line in Brooklyn for more than an hour, I thought that Grimaldi's must be overrated. After all, this was the first restaurant I had ever seen awarded an extraordinary Zagat rating. Upon insistence that I try the plain pizza, I ordered one with no toppings. A good pizza dough and great tomato sauce really do make the pizza. But having discovered that, there was no reason why I could not add some sausage and onions to my next pizza that only improved on the original. Grimaldi's is worth the wait, trust me on that.

Of all the places that I went in New York, only one place did I go more than once. Gray's Papaya, a hot dog chain that specialized in specialty tropical drinks, enchanted me. The drinks that I had, the coconut champagne, pineapple juice, and banana daiquiri (all non-alcoholic) were festive and original, but the true charm came in the hot dogs. While not quite as great as Pink's in LA, Gray's hot dogs had a smoky flavor to them that added to the crunch of the sausage. At $3.50 for two hot dogs and a specialty drink, this deal can't be beat.


(310) 385-0880
176 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Adequately Fed: $90
Crispy Soft Shell Crap with Indian Spices****
Pan Roasted Maine Monkfish*****
Apricot Soufflé**
(Out of Five Stars)

Spago is the flagship restaurant of Wolfgang Puck, the famous Austrian freezer chef. I had heard of Spago long ago as one of those mythical Beverly Hills eateries once impossible to get a reservation, but now the hype has cooled and I managed to get a reservation on a Tuesday night.
The atmosphere and the decorations of the restaurant were tastefully done as strange ‘70s and ‘80s rock piped in around me. Our waitress came by, a little overly friendly and helpful, but she was knowledgeable of the menu and offered great suggestions. In fact, the menu is updated almost daily with different rotating entrees so each time you go, you may discover something new and exciting. The menu consists of one column of first course appetizers and one column of main course entrees. The first course dishes range from $16 for Chicken Bouillon to $135 for Osetra Caviar, and the main courses go from $32 for the famous Spicy Beef Goulash to $58 for the Prime New York Steak. Most of the dishes have elements of Italian, French, Japanese, and Chinese cooking with even a few home-style Austrian dishes from Wolfgang’s childhood.

I will admit that I have always been a sucker for soft shell crab so my eyes went directly to that appetizer. It came with a salad of marinate cucumbers, baby haricot vert, toasted almonds, argula, mint, cilantro, and a lime pickle vinaigrette. The crab was fried to be crispy, but not weighed down as most fried foods are. There was also a sauce of distinctive Indian flavors of tamarind and chutney. The crab itself was good, but nothing spectacular; however, the sauce and Indian spices did make this a dynamic taste experience.

I based my main course choice, the Maine Monkfish, on my personal failure in preparing monkfish. Last year, I had gone to Santa Monica Seafood Co. and brought home a monkfish filet. Wrapping it in bacon and sautéing it did not turn out too great. So seeing monkfish on the menu, I knew I needed to conquer the fish once and for all. For those who have not seen monkfish before, look for a picture on the Internet. It is possibly the ugliest fish commercially fished in the U.S., but the flavor of its flesh has been coined the “poor man’s lobster.” When the fish came, the first thing that struck me was the pleasantly sweet aroma. The fish had been cut into thick slices and places on a bed of little neck clams, cipollini onions, carmelized sweet corn, and Spanish chorizo. The aspect of the dish that most stood out was the sauce made of a puree of white corn and marjoram-clam emulsion. Each bite topped with that fluffy white sauce stood out with the sweetness of the corn and the soft clam flavor. This was one of the best dishes I have encountered thus far in my culinary experiences.

Each dessert was tastefully plated and garnished, but my apricot soufflé struck me as much too sweet. Although it was a soufflé, I still felt that it lacked any depth, if not in substance than in flavor.

Overall, I highly enjoyed my dining experience. Yet, the highlight of my night had to be the hand I felt on my shoulder as I waited for my entrée. To my surprise, I turned around to Wolfgang Puck himself asking me how everything was. Stunned to silence, I only managed a meek smile as he shook my hand. If anything, that one experience was enough to make my night, but it was the food that would bring me back again.

Recommended: This place is extremely pricey so only come here if you are celebrating something or if your company is subsidizing your meal.

Pan-roasted Monkfish

Sawtelle Kitchen

2024 Sawtelle Blvd
West Los Angeles, CA 90025

Adequately Fed: $24
Umeshu (Plum Wine)****
Fried Yams with Plum Mayonnaise*****
Penne with Tomato, Garlic, Eggplant and Shiso****
Lamb Shank**
Blackberry Champagne Sorbet*****
(Out of Five Stars)

I had been waiting to go to Sawtelle Kitchen for months upon a recommendation by my Aunt and Uncle. Unfortunately, it had been under renovations for months and so I only recently had an opportunity to go. The place looks great, although I had not seen it before the new expansion. It's decorum reflects its cuisine, a deep Tuscan feel. Despite being located in a Japanese area and having many elements of Japanese cuisine on the menu, the food must be more correctly characterized as European.

The most striking characteristic of this restaurant upon first entering was the abundance of wine. We ordered a glass of plum wine which was deliciously sweet, but maybe not dry enough for serious wine drinkers. Looking at other reviews, we ordered the fried yams appetizer. The yams themselves were fried well, but the highlight of that dish was the plum mayonnaise, which I expected to be sickeningly sweet, but in fact was subdued and intricate. The potato croquettes were nothing spectacular.

The pasta was a light penne which looked like an eggplant heavy dish on the menu, but in fact, the eggplant brought nothing to the dish. Despite this, it was well combined with the other ingredients adding onto each other and building a complex flavor. Shiso is the herb perilla most commonly known by its Japanese name. In this dish, the shiso complemented the tomatoes without overwhelming them.

The disappointment of the night would have to be the lamb shank, advertised as braised for five hours on the menu. For lamb cooked this long, I expected a flavor explosion, but received only a fizzle at most. It had no distinguishing flavors and even the lamb flavor had been sadly destroyed.Braised Lamb Shank

At least the dessert was redeeming. Choosing between the green apple and the blackberry champagne sorbets, the waiter recommended the latter. It reminded me of the black raspberry yogurt at Ben and Jerry's, a deep berry taste with a splash of champagne crispness.

The waiter was extremely helpful, though he had a hard time explaining how Japanese meatloaf differed from American meatloaf. Although the particular dishes I got this time didn't reflect that well on the restaurant, I would considering returning to try some of its other menu items including the various grilled fishes.

Recommended: The decor makes this a great place to bring a date, just don't expect Japanese food or you will be disappointed.

Electric Lotus

4656 Franklin Ave
Hollywood, CA 90027

Adequately Fed: $15

Vegetable Samosas***
Fried Calamari*****
Chicken Vindaloo***
Lamb Mint Curry***
(Out of Five Stars)

I'm always suspicious of restaurants that are darkly lit. Regardless of the romantic mood of dinner by candlelight, I wonder what imperfections in their food they're trying to hide. Electric Lotus, located on Franklin and Vermont has just the kind of lighting Spider-man, Batman, or any other superhero with a light adverse motif would appreciate.

Besides the lighting, the restaurant looks as though it is under construction with some tasteful decoration, but also elements, such as unpainted ceiling, that leave you wondering where the construction crew is. Of course, I never judge a restaurant by its ambiance.

We ordered two appetizers, samosas, common fare in all Indian restaurants, and calamari. Unfortunately, Electric Lotus does not serve complimentary naan, which is like a French restaurant that doesn't serve bread. It does however, have a wide selection of different kinds of naan on the menu in the range of $3-5. Personally, I rarely eat samosas, but the order (which came with three samosas) was rather plain. They weren't as crispy as I expected, though the spiciness in the filling gave them some personality. The calamari, interestingly tempura battered, were excellently fried. More interestingly was the tamarind dipping sauce that came with it, which added a crisp sweet tang. Sadly, the order of calamari was $12 and certainly not enough for more than four people at most.

Their curries come in cute individual bowls with a separate bowl of basmati rice. The vindaloo was good and filling, but nothing spectacular. I chose the mint curry with lamb because of how well the flavors of mint compliment lamb, but the dish did not fully utilize this herb. The mint was more of an afterthought, resulting in a tasty, but unimaginative dish.

Recommended: Boon for you unfortunate looking people, this place is so dark inside that you'll have to make out your date's features by candlelight.


Scorpions on Shrimp Toast

3221 Donald Douglas Loop S
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Adequately Fed: $18

Singapore Style Scorpions**
Garlic Noodles***
Mongolian Beef***
Fried Banana****
(Out of Five Stars)

Approaching the restaurant, my companion makes an astute observation, it definitely felt like I was in the middle of some rampage-driven video game and this was one of the stops for the next mission. Typhoon is located on the second floor overlooking the tarmac of the Santa Monica airport. Its location is unique but provides a great dining experience with a wide view of planes taking off and landing. The bar and the tables are also furnished nicely with an open-view kitchen.

This is one of the most diverse pan-Asian restaurants that I have encountered. The menu heavily favored Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisine and even incorporated Filipino food, a cuisine typically unseen in restaurant fare. Most of the menu items however, were typical of any Asian restaurant with the particular stand-out of a section labeled "Insects." Among the scorpions, which I ordered as an appetizer, there are waterbugs, sandworms and ants.

Paying $10 for an order of scorpions, I asked the waiter what the portion size was for that item. He responded that there are only two scorpions and they are not too filling. When the dish came, I was disappointed by the barely visible scorpion sitting on a bed of bland shrimp toast. The scorpions were fried beyond recognition and so tasted as such. It is a nice novelty, but certainly not worth the money.

To supplement my scorpions, I ordered the garlic noodles. The noodles were not as heavily flavored as I would have liked, but the addition of chile peppers helped. The Mongolian beef was over-priced as well for a dish I could have enjoyed at the mall for six dollars. It came with some toasted buns, but they still do not add that much value to the dish. The portion was large however.

The dessert, fried banana by a name I cannot remember, was excellent. It was fried in an egg-roll wrapper, making a crunchy texture balanced by the soft banana. The addition of the whipped cream was also a welcome change of texture and a slightly different flavor emphasis.

Recommended: Do not succumb to the hype; certain dishes are not worth the money. If you recognize a dish as something you can order in Chinatown for half the price, you are probably better off ordering something else.


3103 W Magnolia Blvd.
Burbank, CA 9150

Adequately Fed: $8

Garlic Bread*****
Greek Salad*
Veal Parmigana**
(Out of Five Stars)

First off, this is more deli than restaurant. You go up to a counter and order from items placed out in steam trays then bring your food to a table. This restaurant is actually attached to the Monte Carlo deli. From what I understand, Pinnochio is Southern-Italian cuisine.

The food is not particularly appetizing. It is better than Italian fast-food like Sbarro, but not by much. The salad was soggy and under-flavored, probably as a result of sitting in the large tray for too long. The veal was plain and unexpressive for so delicious a meat. However, the saving grace of taste was the garlic bread. Hot from the oven, this was the best garlic bread I have ever had. Two pieces come with your order, but I would not be adverse to ordering extra. At least the mediocre food comes cheap with each entree under $10 and the sandwiches even cheaper. You really do get what you pay for.

Although I would not recommend Pinnochio for its steam tray entrees, I would recommend it for its gelato and sobrettos. For $2.95 you can get five small scoops of any flavor. Between our two five-scoop samplers, I had amaretto, chocolate hazelnut, vanilla bean, tiramisu, dulce de leche, pistachio, mango, passion fruit, coconut and a cherry flavor that I have forgotten. In retrospect, I would not recommend you get five separate flavors, but rather focus on a few choice combinations so as not to get overwhelmed.

We took home two supposedly homemade cannolis. They were deliciously crisp with chocolate chips. The baked goods are highly recommended.

There was a small parking lot in the back as well as available street parking. The servers were helpful and in good spirits.

Recommended: Either come here for a quick, affordable lunch or stop by after dinner for gelato and cannolis.

Fassica - CLOSED

10401 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

Adequately Fed: $15

Fassica Special****
Honey Wine***
(Out of Five Stars)

Ethiopian cuisine has yet to hit mainstream stomachs for the most part, but this quaint little restaurant across from the Sony Pictures Studios is quite a find. This Mom and Pop establishment has a homey feel to it with the tacky decor, but the ambiance is hardly enough to deter the true food enthusiast. Having only been to two Ethiopian restaurants before, I cannot really compare Fassica to other Ethiopian eateries, but evaluating it for the food alone, I have good things to say.

We ordered two glasses of their tej, honey wine, following the recommendations of several online reviews. The wine is homemade and tastes relatively high in alcohol content. The aftertaste is pleasant with the aroma of honey without the saccharinity.

For two people, I recommend ordering the Fassica special. This dish is a sampler of a variety of menu items including beef tibs (saute), lamb tibs, chicken wat (stew), collard greens, lentils, a cottage cheese that our host insisted was freshly made that morning, and several other items. This is a great size for two people and is served with injera, a pancake-like flatbread of spongy consistency. Since this is a sampler platter, it gave us a great sense of the variety of their food. The tibs were sauteed well and most of the other sides were stewed. Although most stewed foods tend to be bland or overcooked, Fassica serves these dishes up well.

The food is eaten with the right hand, so be prepared to get a little messy. If you run out of injera, just ask for more.

Being a small family operation, there was little service. However, when we went, there were few customers so the hostess who served us adequately tended to our needs. In fact, she was especially cordial and ready to help us out in any way, including explaining the eating method.

Recommended: Because this is a communal dish, pick a dining partner in whom you can trust his/her hygiene.


Black Sesame Ice Cream

(310) 787-7344
1725 W Carson St
Torrance, CA 90501

Adequately Fed: $20

Harusame Salad****
Hamachi Sashimi*****
Tofu Nuggets**
Takana Meshi (mixed rice)***
Kabocha (pumpkin dip)*****
Kurogama (black sesame) ice cream with kinako*****
(Out of Five Stars)

Japanese Tapas-- that is how this place seems to be described the most, an appropriate description of the small dish style dining inspired by homestyle Japanese cooking. With this style of dining, bring a large group of friends to try the most things. One person could probably easily finish 2-3 dishes; now multiply that by the number of friends you have and you can get a better idea of the variety of the cuisine.

We arrived at the Torrance location at 8:30 on Friday night and still had to wait 15-20 minutes for a table. We were seated at the large communal bench in the center of the restaurant. At first, I was not too keen on the prospect of sitting with so many strangers, but I realized that it was a great way to see what everyone else was ordering.

We started with a harusame salad, a glass noodle salad served on a tostada. It did not suffer from the often greasy feeling of Korean Jap chae. Considering this was not a sushi restaurant, the yellowtail sashimi was beautifully presented and wonderfully fresh. The fish was well-marbled, resulting in a buttery mouth feel. The pumpkin dip came surrounded by saltine crackers. I would not have ordered this normally, but at the request of my dining partner, I was well rewarded for taking the risk. The pumpkin was sweet and refreshing, a great party food. However, its best attribute is also its downfall seeing as how we were only two people. Eventually, it just got too sweet.

The tofu nuggets, modeled after chicken McNuggets are exactly what they sound like. They look like, and to a certain extent, even taste like chicken nuggets. It came with a sweet-sour dipping sauce and a mayonnaise sauce but after the novelty of nugget shaped tofu wore off, the dish itself did not warrant much more excitement. Takana meshi is a bowl of fried rice with nori and pickled mustard greens. The flavor was a little underwhelming, but as a rice dish, that was fine. This is an intensely Asian dish however, so those Panda Express junkies may not enjoy it as much. Dessert was black sesame ice cream, well-plated with soybean flour, strawberries, caramel, and whipped cream.

Our waiter that night was particularly friendly and helpful. I always appreciate ethnic waiters that can speak both a native language and English fluently. He reminded me of a drug dealer, in the way that he can make you feel relaxed and easily order more food.

There is also another Musha location in Santa Monica.

Recommended: Although the restaurant itself is not particularly large, this is a great place to bring large groups.

Bossa Nova

7181 W Sunset Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90046

Adequately Fed: $18

Guarana Soda***** (The waiter described this as a mix of ginger ale and cream soda, but I don't think that does justice to this. It's fruity and delicious)
Fried Cheese Shrimp Appetizer** (I forgot the actual name of this, but it tastes a little like a cheesy crab cake. Only drawback is that they give you one per order. Not worth it)
Grilled Lamb Platter*****
Grilled Seasonal Vegetable Platter***
(Out of Five Stars)

I don't know if I would go to Bossa Nova for Brazilian food, but I would definitely go for what I would consider Brazilian/Italian/American
fusion. First, find a parking spot then most likely settle down for a lengthy wait. This place has a large customer base for good reason. The seating area itself is relatively small but my main complaint is the discomfort of the metal tables and chairs. They do not allow enough room to sit comfortably for an extended time.

The menu consists of many sandwich, pizza, and pasta items. In fact, I had to look hard to find anything that sounded Brazilian. Most of the dishes had Brazilian elements, but I'd be hard pressed to actually call this a Brazilian restaurant. We ordered from their grilled platter section. The portions were gigantic and very diverse. Each plate had pico de gallo, black bean, fried plantains (or fries), rice, and cornmeal. The cornmeal was dry and took a lot of the flavor out of the food, but of course it is optional. Strangely, the lamb plate came with more grilled vegetables as well, and even better vegetables than the veggie platter in my opinion. So keep in mind that each plate has vegetables if you plan on getting the veggies alone.

The service is this place's biggest downfall. An overanxious waiter approached us for our order before we even opened the menu. Then throughout the night, he tried to compensate by hardly coming by our table at all. Bossa Nova is understaffed for its large turnover rate.

I have also heard, on good authority, that the coffee is excellent.

Also to note, there is at least another location of this restaurant. For the purposes of this review, I only based my observations on the location in Hollywood.

Recommended: Adequate date restaurant. The slow service gives you time for idle date chit-chat.

Gaby's Mediterranean

10445 Venice Blvd
Culver City, CA 90034

Adequately Fed: $15

Leban* (yogurt drink, not sweet at all if that's what you expected like me)
Jillab****(raspberry date drink, tastes like you're drinking a Bath & Body Works)
Baba ghanoush** (resembles eggplant hummus, too intense without sufficient pita bread)
Lamb Kabob****
Chicken Shawarma****
(Out of Five Stars)

First impression: "where the hell's the restaurant? Oh, it's this tent looking thing in the parking lot." Gaby's Mediterranean does indeed consist entirely of outdoor patio seating. On the particular night we went, it was a little cold for outdoor seating, but the tent was well heated with multiple heat lamps placed throughout the complex. The outdoor atmosphere was conducive to the hookah that the table next to us was using however.

We were served a basket of pita bread with a side of something resembling bruschetta. They refill the basket, so make sure you don't fill up completely on that. I ordered the baba ghanoush because I always wondered what it was. It complimented the pita quite nicely, but it gradually became overwhelming.

The portions of their entrees were generously large. This is when you should have heeded my warning before and avoided eating too much of the bread. Both the chicken and lamb came with salad and rice. The chicken dish had a dallop of what I conjectured to be garlic paste and sour cream, but it went excellently with the chicken. The lamb was well-marinated and grilled to perfection.

For a little Mediterranean tastes away from the overpopulated Italian peninsula, consider what Gaby's can offer you in Lebanese food. From what I understand, Gaby's is also opened late. It would make an excellent place to get good food after normal dinner hours.

Recommended: Good place to hang out with a group of friends. Go on a warm night however.

Yai Restaurant

5757 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028

Adequately Fed: $12

Crab Rolls***
Fried Tofu**
Papaya Salad**
Red Chicken Curry****
(Out of Five Stars)

I'm not going to pretend to have any expertise in Thai cuisine so I won't go into the authenticity of this hole-in-the-wall restaurant. However, speaking as someone who loves food, the cuisine at Yai Restaurant will leave you heartily satisfied, whether or not it's authentic.

This is the kind of restaurant you look for when you want food that isn't overly glamorous or pricey. Located conveniently next to a 7-Eleven and a donut shop, this restaurant is adequately clean and suspiciously well-lit. Parking was not too difficult on a Sunday night. At least parking was good enough that my car had somewhere to break down.

We had to wait about ten minutes for a table and the service left much to be desired. I figure the waitresses adopted an Asian custom of tending to customers the bare minimum, and so I adopted the Asian custom of tipping the bare minimum. But I'm not looking for excellent service or decor (which, by the way, was tastefully furnished with promotional Thai beer posters), I'm looking for good food at a reasonable price, and both these prerequisites were satisfied and exceeded.

Recommended: Great for "I dont want to cook" nights. Not so great a date restaurant unless you manage to get your car towed.

Heat Transfer and Browning Foods

Yesterday, in one of my lazy moods, I succumbed to the microwave pizza dinner. Opening the box, I noticed the instructions mentioned placing the frozen pizza on a shiny, metallic disk but only if I used the microwave and not the oven. This got me thinking about the effect of the disk on the pizza and so I did a little research on the browning of foods.

But first, a look at cooking methods and an examination of how each method affects browning.

Cooking, at its simplest definition, is preparing food through the use of heat. The different methods of cooking or heat transfer are broken down into conduction, convection, and radiation. Every method of cooking involves one or more of these heat transfer methods.


This is the exchange of thermal energy through direct contact between a heating element and the food. Different materials result in different heating times and temperatures. Please refer to the article “Equipment and Gear: Common Materials of Cookware” on for a complete breakdown of materials that directly affect conduction.

Pan-frying or sautéing are common forms of conduction. The pan heats up and, through direct contact with the food, cooks the food. Fat or oil used in the frying provides uniform contact with heat, lubrication to prevent sticking, and some flavor of its own. Oddly enough, cooking in oil is considered a dry technique because the oil acts more like a cooking material than anything else. The moisture in the food will still be contained because it will not mix with the oil surrounding it.


Whereas in conduction heat is transferred through direct contact, in convection, heat is transferred by the movement of molecules in either gas or liquid. The fast moving molecules of the convection medium collide with the slower molecules in the food and heat them up. Baking and roasting are common forms of convection cooking. The heating elements within the oven heat the air and that comes in contact with the food. Boiling and steaming are also forms of convection with water or steam acting as the convection fluid. In deep-frying, the oil envelops the food, like a fluid pan that completely encases the food and heats the surface evenly.

Convection relies much on the density of the fluid. Liquid convection, either through boiling, steaming, or deep frying, is a much more effective transfer of heat than gas convection. This is why boiling a potato is much faster than baking. The denser the fluid, the more often the molecules collide with the food and the fast the food heats up. Therefore in convection methods involving air such as baking, the temperatures must be much higher than in liquid convection. This is why you can stick your hand into a 500°F oven without burning yourself but you cannot stick your hand into a pot of boiling water at only 212°F.


While conduction and convection are heating methods through molecule to molecule contact, radiation is the transfer of heat through waves of pure energy. Most of the heating energy comes from the infrared radiation below visible light. When you hold your hand near glowing coals or a stovetop burner, the heat you feel is infrared. Technically, everything emits thermal radiation including you and me, and so every cooking method has an element of radiation.

Grilling and broiling, the former with heat below the food, and the latter with heat above, are two methods of radiation cooking. Of course there is convection from the air in between the heat source and the food and conduction from the grate, but the heat is primarily radiated.

Microwaves are below infrared waves on the spectrum and so carry much less energy. Infrared waves have enough energy to heat up almost all types of molecules, but microwaves tend to only heat up polar molecules such as water, sugar, and fats. Foods containing water are heated by these microwaves which penetrate about an inch into the food’s surface. The interior of the food is still heating by conduction of the heat from the surface into the interior.

Cooking Method: Grilling/Broiling
Heating Method: Primarily radiation from heat source, secondarily conduction from grate and convection of air between food and heat
Wet/Dry: Dry
Browning?: Yes

Cooking Method: Baking/Roasting
Heating Method: Primarily convection of air, secondarily radiation from oven walls and conduction from baking pan
Wet/Dry: Dry
Browning?: Yes

Cooking Method: Boiling
Heating Method: Convection
Wet/Dry: Wet
Browning?: No

Cooking Method: Steaming
Heating Method: Convection of steam and condensation of vapor
Wet/Dry: Wet
Browning?: No

Cooking Method: Pan-frying/Sautéing
Heating Method: Conduction of pan and oil
Wet/Dry: Dry
Browning?: Yes

Cooking Method: Deep Frying
Heating Method: Convection of oil
Wet/Dry: Dry
Browning?: Yes

Cooking Method: Microwave
Heating Method: Radiation
Wet/Dry: Dry
Browning?: No

The Browning Reactions: Caramelization and the Maillard Reaction

Heating foods intensifies flavors already latent within the foods; however, browning creates new flavors that are intrinsic to the cooking process. This is why a poached salmon and a grilled salmon both tastes identifiably like salmon, but you can also easily distinguish one food as poached and the other as grilled. There is flavor within the cooking method itself created by caramelization and the Maillard Reaction.


We have all had caramel candies before, but how many of us realize that those sugary delights are not much more than sugar itself. The caramelization of sugar is the simplest browning reaction happening at around 330°F/165°C. Plain table sugar melts into a thick syrup, then gradually darkens into a light yellow and eventually a dark brown. The flavor begins sweet and clean, but develops acidity, bitterness, and a rich aroma. The chemical process itself is complicated, but the reaction products include organic acids, sweet and bitter derivatives, fragrant molecules, and brown polymers.

The Maillard Reaction

Named for Louis Camille Maillard, the French physician who documented these complex reactions around 1910, Mailliard Reactions are responsible for bread crusts, chocolate, coffee, dark beers, and roasted meats. The sequence begins at about 220°F/115°C when a carbohydrate molecule and an amino acid bind together in an unstable structure, producing flavorful by-products. The involvement of amino acids brings nitrogen and sulfur creating meaty and earthy flavors. These reactions create that crust on seared foods and the brown coloring of a good roast as well as multitudes of other browned foods.

Both caramelization and the Maillard Reaction require relatively high temperatures beginning above the boiling point of water 212°F/100°C. As a result, wet processes such as boiling and steaming will never be able to brown foods because the temperature of the food will only get as high as the 212°F with slight adjustment due to elevation and atmospheric conditions. Dry methods are able to reach much higher temperatures allowing the browning reactions to occur. This is why braised foods are usually seared first to create those flavors and colors that otherwise wont occur in a wet, low temperature setting.

There are notable exceptions to browning above the boiling point. Basic solutions, concentrated mixtures of carbohydrates and amino acids, and long cooking times can create the same reaction. Examples include reductions of stock to create demiglace and brewing beer.

Back to my microwave pizza. Metal placed in microwaves usually creates dangerous sparking through the buildup of electric fields. Very small amounts of metal however can be heated without creating a danger and when this metal is heated, it reaches temperatures far beyond the boiling point of water. This is the function of the metallic disk with my pizza. The disk is placed underneath the crust and so when it is heated by the microwaves, it subsequently heats the crust through conduction at temperatures high enough for Maillard Reactions to occur. This is how microwave pizza makers brown the crusts. The effect can also be seen in Hot Pocket brand stuffed sandwiches which utilize a microwave sleeve slipped around the Hot Pocket with similar metallic coating. The microwave sleeve heats up hot enough to brown the crust of the Hot Pocket.

Proper Frying Technique

In today’s fast-food society fried foods have become ubiquitous. Although it is still much more convenient and relatively cheap to get fried foods from restaurants, proper frying technique at home will greatly expand your food preparation range. The common misconception is that frying, cooking food in oil (i.e. sautéing, deep-frying, pan-frying, stir-frying), is unhealthy and greasy. Now while I have never been one to be concerned about my health with regards to food, I can say that properly fried foods should not feel greasy at all. The fat is just another cooking medium, one that evenly distributes heat and seals in the flavors of the food, provided that it is properly fried.

For the sake of this article, I will limit my discussion to pan-frying and deep-frying techniques. Sautéing, and its cousin stir-frying are so commonly practiced, that they can be excluded.

This technique, done in a shallow pan, is like sautéing done with much more oil and no movement except for a single flip. The target food should be thin, often meat pounded into thinner proportions between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. The thinner the food, the much more evenly it will cook with the inside done without the outside burnt. Chicken and veal scallopine, cutlets pounded thin and coated with flour are excellent pan-fried foods.

Once the food is properly flattened, it is commonly dredged with flour, coated with a batter, or breaded. This outer layer protects the food from the harsh conditions of the hot oil and seals in the juices and flavor of the food. Unless the target food has high moisture or starch content, like potatoes, it should always be coated somehow. When dredging in flour, make sure to coat lightly and shake off excess. Remember to season your food before dredging to ensure that the food itself is seasoned and not just the breading. A common cause of loose batter or breading is a flour layer that is too thick and unable to hold the protective layer to the food.

The pan selected must be large enough to allow a single layer of food without any individual pieces in contact. If the pan becomes crowded, the food can stick and the oil temperature may drop too low preventing proper crust formation. Since temperature control is so important in frying, the pan should be a heavy gauge metal that can maintain and transmit heat evenly such as cast-iron. Heat the pan until it gets reasonably hot before adding the oil because as soon as you add the oil, it will begin to deteriorate. Since the food will be staying stationary in the hot oil, the pan can actually be at a lower temperature than needed for a sauté. Add enough oil to the pan so that it can coat the bottom of the pan and come up between one-third and two-thirds of the food. Much more important than the pan, the selection of the oil is vital. Proper frying requires high temperature and therefore requires a fat with a high smoke point such as peanut, corn, or canola oil.

Lay the food in a single lair in the pan with space between each individual piece. Try to maintain an even temperature by waiting for the oil to reheat before adding the next piece. When laying food in hot oil, always lay the end toward you first and lower the rest of the food slowly. This prevents the oil from splattering onto you. Fry to appropriate doneness and flip.

When both sides are done, evacuate the food to a drying apparatus, preferably not a piece of paper towel that would just hold the oil up against the food. A metal rack baking rack would allow oil to drain. Fried foods should be served soon after preparation to prevent it from becoming soggy. Make sure not to cover fried foods or the steam will condense and moisten your breading.

Unlike pan-frying, deep-frying involves total submersion of a target food in oil. Temperature control is crucial to get a properly cook foods without being too greasy. If you fry often, you may want to consider an electric fryer for convenience and safety. But if you are like me, and do not wish to commit to a fryer, a heavy cast-iron pot or Dutch oven would do the trick also. I attach a fry/candy thermometer to the side of my Dutch oven to maintain the oil temperature. Proper frying occurs between 325°-375°. At this temperature, the moisture inside the food will begin to vaporize and create outwards pressure within the food. As the moisture seeps out, this pressure would prevent oil from entering the food. If the temperature of the oil drops too low, the water will not vaporize and fail to create the necessary pressure to block the oil, resulting in greasy food. Also, if the food is overcooked, it will dry out and there would again be no moisture to create the necessary pressure. Therefore, always bring the oil back up to proper temperature before frying the next batch and try to maintain the temperature throughout the cooking process.

There are two primary deep-frying methods: swimming and basket. Swimming is better for battered food such as tempuras, whereas the basket method is more appropriate for breaded foods that may not be able to handle the turbulence of swimming. When swimming fried foods, gently drop the target food into the hot oil and allow it to rise back up to the surface. Once it floats, you may need to flip it to evenly cook both sides. When using the basket method, place food on a frying basket or spider and gently lower the basket into the oil, then raise the entire basket when done. The basket method is best for large quantities and is therefore is most common in commercial kitchens.

The biggest consequence of frying is oil disposal. Once done frying, allow the oil to cool. Pour the oil through a strainer and coffee filter lined funnel into a jar. Seal the jar tightly and stow in a cool area away from light. Generally, you can reuse oil multiple times. With heavily flavored foods such as seafood, the oil may take on the flavor of the food. If this happens, consider changing the oil. I keep one jar of oil for seafood frying where I do not mind the fishy flavor and one jar for cleaner frying. Every time the oil is heated, the smoke point lowers as it breaks down. If the oil begins to smoke excessively at low temperatures, replace immediately. However, if you replace the oil, keep a small amount of old oil in the new batch to allow easier browning.

Simple things to keep in mind:
1. Protect your food with a flour dredge, batter coating, or breading.
2. Heat the pan or pot before adding the oil.
3. Do not crowd the pan or pot.
4. Evacuate food to a draining rig of some sort.
5. Serve immediately.
6. Clean out as much debris as possible and save the oil for the next frying.

Frying at home can be refreshing and an interesting addition to your food repertoire. With proper frying, the flavors of the food should be sealed inside a crispy exterior and juicy interior. Next time you have guests over, fry up a batch of golden calamari fritti or chicken katsu and impress your friends.