Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Church & State

Church & State had been on my "to try" list for some time, but after the change in chef's I heard the food was not as mind blowingly good.  In addition to that, RCM and Triple T went there and said it was just OK.  So Church & State got bumped down on the list. 

My friend, MC BowTie had been itching to try the bone marrow dish from Church & State.  So together with Mrs. BowTie and Hates Asian Food, we traveled to the far depths of Downtown LA.  When I say "far depths" I certainly mean it.  When I imagine downtown LA, I think of anything within a 1 mile radius of Little Tokyo and the Staples Center.  Church & State is just outside of this vicinity.  It's where all the strip clubs are!  You know what I'm talking about, the Play Pen, Speariment Rhino, etc.  I was worried we would get ambushed by dirtbag pervies and crack whores as we searched our way to the most random location for a nice restaurant. 

As you can see, the place is quite nice as are the surroundings.  I actually think normal people live here.

My attempt at an artistic shot.  Salt anyone?

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Osteria La Buca

I love to catch up with friends and use that as a pretense to try new restaurants. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the company of my buddies, but I also enjoy EATING. Killing two birds with one stone is how I like to think about it. So when it was time to spend some quality time with LoMa-Linda, I suggested trying Osteria La Buca. I had heard great things about this place, but apparently it hasn't been as amazing since "Mama" left. Who is Mama? I dunno, but apparently Mama makes all the good food and she decided to open up her own restaurant, Osteria Mama, which I will certainly be trying one of these days.

The place is two stories and we were seated on the 2nd floor. It felt like a cozy place, although I didn't appreciate the fold-up nature of my chair. We started off with the calamari which looked delicious at the table across from us. It was lightly breaded and delicately seasoned, served with a marinara sauce and a creamy tangy sauce.

Surprisingly, or not suprisingly, we finished the whole dish pretty much. Was it the best calamari I had? Probably not, but it was solid.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010


The last outting with Dumpling Man's friends was at Osteria Mozza. How do you follow up that?!?! EXACTLY! There's no follow up to Osteria Mozza. Nothing even comes close. Josie had the unfortunate luck of being our next spot for dinner. Not that I was ever really comparing Josie's to Mozza. It's totally different cuisine, but man did the reviews really mislead me. Josie was no bueno, only because we expected so much more.

From the outside, you wouldn't expect fine dining cuisine. Upon entering inside, you see all the stuffy old white people with their grown children in tow and then you know that only fine cuisine must be served here. There is something classic and comforting about the decor, sorry I didn't get a good picture.

I am disappointed with the quality of the pictures. The lighting was poor and I had to do some editing afterwards to lighten up the picture and they just look grainy =(

One of Dumpling Man's friends have the tendency to run late. So in our hungry wait, we ordered some truffle fries. At first they just taste like some quality fries, good crunch, hot, lightly salted, but deeper down in the basket the fries really have this great umami truffle essence. They were delicious and definitely special.

The amuse bouche of mushroom and gruyere quiche. This was also a nice start to our evening's meal. The crust was flakey and buttery. The gruyere was not overpowering. I was left wanting another slice.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cafe Brasil

Who doesn't love meat? Well, I suppose vegetarians don't, but the rest of us usual enjoy dead animal to feast upon. Who does meat best? Well I guess that's just a debate for the ages. Is it Koreans? Brazilians? Americans? Argentinians? Ah who knows, but I enjoy it all!

I went to try a new Brazilian restaurant that had been on my to-try list for a while. My go to Brazilian place has been Bossa Nova (very solid btw) but I wanted to try Cafe Brasil since it was so highly rated on Yelp. I went with the Nancy Rheeee and my brown friend who does not have a name yet. It's the first time I had seen my brown friend since he left for NYC and discovered that gas pumping was not as fun as mental masturbation. It was a good reunion with good food.

It was a bit confusing on how to order. Do I order at the counter? Do I get a number? Do you call my name? Do you bring it to my table? Is the bill separate? Since the place was totally not crowded it didn't turn out to be such a mess, but if I went here again I still would not know what to do.

Miss Rhee and I were waiting for our other friend to show up, so we ordered some appetizers. I got the pasteis which is a Brazilian empanada with beef and my friend got the pao de queijo (cheese bread made with yucca root flour and cheese).

Do not order these things. They weren't poisonous or anything, but just not very good. Do you know how sad I was to cut into my empanada to find it to be 80% air and 20% meat!

The meat wasn't even all that tastey. The dough part wasn't even all that crispy. These things are not made to order so they're sitting around under a heat lamp. The pao de queijo, although usually deliciously chewy, cheesy, and addictive, were nothing to write home about here. Enough said.

I ordered the grilled flank steak served with white rice, black beans, salsa, and fried plantains. The meat, although marinated in "Brazilian spices" tasted quite different from the other Brazilian meats I have tried. There was a subtle mustard taste in the marinade I think. Maybe it was just me. Anyways, it was still tastey and not overcooked. All the sides were pretty standard.

I still think Bossa Nova is a better Brazilian restaurant. But it may be an unfair comparison since that's more of a sit down restaurant with waiter service. Nonetheless, if I lived closer to Cafe Brasil I'd be happy to pick up some food from here on one of the many lazy I'm-too-lazy-to-cook nights. One knock, is that it's probably a tad pricey for food that's served to you on a tray.

Cafe Brasil
11736 West Washington Boulevard
Los Angeles

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vien Dong (The Best Northern Vietnamese Food in Westminster!)

When you think of Vietnamese food, what do you think of? Pho , right? What else do you think of? Spring rolls? The more informed foodies may know of rice noodles and broken rice. And then what? There's a whole other world when it comes to Vietnamese food. I am referring to Northern Vietnamese food. You may be saying northern??? What's the difference. From my perspective, being from a northern Vietnamese family, I'd say a northern Vietnamese cuisine is generally more bland. A whole lot less sugar and heat. And you're probably saying to yourself, "wow northern Vietnamese doesn't sound so good." And I don't expect you to really. It's just a taste I grew up on, so I can't stand going to your average Vietnamese restaurant and being overwhelmed with sugar, sugar, sugar. My mom never used sugar in her cooking, so it's not something I'm used to. So aside from the lighter hand with sugar, northern Vietnamese food is marked by noodle soups that are NOT pho, including bun thanh, bun rieu, bun bung, bun vit sao mang, etc etc.

My family's go-to Vietnamese restaurant for foods that hail from our part of the country is Vien Dong. We've been going to this place since before its relocation to Brookhurst, when it was originally on Westminster and owned by a previous mayor of Westminster. Although Vien Dong serves northern cuisine, I'd still say there's plenty of sugar in the food and maybe they are just catering to the many southern Vietnamese people or maybe I just come from a crazy anti sugar Vietnamese family.

This is a common theme among restaurants in Westminster. In this economy, businesses are hurting. The restaurant industry is no exception.

Bun Cha was one of my favorite foods when we went out to eat. It's very simple and therefore very kid friendly. It consists of grilled pork sitting in a dressed up sweet/tangy fish sauce with little pickled daikons and carrots.

It is served with rice noodles and a medley of fresh lettuce and aromatics including cilantro, mint, and other things which I don't know the English names for. I suppose this is not necessarily a northern Vietnamese specialty, but its done very well here. One downside to this dish at other places is that the pork can be very fatty, so beware!

Northern Vietnamese food is also known for the large of variety of noodle soups. My mom makes better versions at home that taste cleaner, but they do a great job here. My grandma's caretaker makes a great version of Bun Rieu, which is a tomato and crab based soup. It can be very labor intensive to make from scratch using whole fresh crabs, but you can cheat and buy pre-mixed seasonings from a jar, add some eggs, some canned crab meat, and voile!

I always get cha ca thang long from here. It is catfish marinated in tumeric and served on a sizzling hot plate with dill, white and green onions and hot oil. The trick is to take all the aromatics and bury them under the fish so they cook and add flavor.

It is served with the aromatics, lettuce, rice noodles and then a special fermented shrimp paste sauce, called mam tom. It's frankly pungent and a lot of people cannot tolerate such funkiness. But the funkiness is tempered by the addition of sugar and lime juice. You could also eat this with fish dipping sauce. The dish also comes with roasted peanuts and crispy sesame rice crackers. Mixed all together it creates a wonderfully delicious and balanced dish, the savory fresh grilled fish, the herby aromatics, the salty/sweet/tangy sauce, the nutty peanuts, and the light crunchy toasted rice crackers. I believe in Hanoi it is served a bit differently in a sizzling bowl of oil and aromatics, but the idea is all the same.

If you're tired of the same ole things when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine, you should definitely come here and familiarize yourself with Vietnamese noodle soups that aren't pho. This place is a family favorite, and the H.o.P. is picky when it comes to Vietnamese food in Westminster.

Vien Dong
14271 Brookhurst St
Garden Grove, CA 92843

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Portland Food Carts

LA has food trucks. Portland has food carts. What's a food cart? At first, I thought it would be cheap fast food to go, that was not so good, but its more along the lines of the food trucks. Really good food to go, but probably not as innovative as the LA food truck scene. However, it does have one advantage in my mind. The food carts don't move! I'm a foodie, and I'm first to try whats new and hot, but as far as the LA food truck movement goes, I've only tried Kogi. I've totally wanted to hit up all the other trucks but I really cannot handle the fact that the trucks move! I just wish they stayed in one place. It's just a hassle to go chasing these trucks around and then have to find parking at the same time. RIDICULOUS! Carts on the other hand are there when you want them. They're in the same place everyday with predictable hours.

Food Carts Portland is a very comprehensive blog mapping out all the food carts. They're all over the city, but I just stuck to the carts that were within walking distance to me. I was too scared to hop onto the public transportation. Me and public transportation do not get along.

Below are the food carts on 10th & Adler. Its seriously a block full of carts, maybe over 20? Some of the carts have not so good food, and some have pretty solid eats. The prices are reasonable, but not dirt cheap or anything. Like a Vietnamese sandwich is probably ~$3-4 while its 2 for $3 in OC. I would say $6-7 + drink will buy you a solid lunch.

With the nice weather in Portland right now, you will find crowds of people out and about enjoying the sun and warmth during their lunch breaks. That would be a downside to the food carts. They are mostly open for lunchtime and closed by dinner =(

So my first day I just went sorta blindly. Just trying the carts willy nilly. Although this did not seem that promising from a taste perspective, I was just attracted by the name.

The problem with Food Carts Portland is that they do not review all those food carts, so its hard to figure out which are the good ones. I just had to try this place because of the concept, dumplings!!

I ordered the sampler. What's interesting about the food served by these carts is that the to go boxes look like they're made from recycled paper. There is no styrofoam used here. Is that just a Portland being green thing? I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised. At the airport, they have special water saving toilets. Pull the flusher handle up for "liquid waste" and push it down for "solid waste."

The dumplings taste like they have been sitting in the steamer for a while. The skins take on this dried out chewy quality, but its not a huge deal. When it comes to dumplings, its all about the fillings.

This is the traditional dumpling with pork, scallions, and ginger. I read that one of the proprietors actually spent time in Beijing and learned to make dumplings from a couple who owned a Chinese restaurant close to her home in the States it sounds like. I think the owners need to spend some time in the SGV to taste better traditional dumplings. This dumpling had waaay too much ginger, but it was a good attempt. Tastes as good as any dumpling I can make.

The cheeseburger dumpling really tasted like a cheeseburger. It wasn't oozing cheese, so I'm not quite sure how they incorporated that flavor in it. You could definitely taste the beefiness of a burger in this one. The special sauce had the kick of cocktail sauce that was reigned in with the creaminess of mayo or something, I can't be sure.

The potatoe curry dumpling tasted like a samosa. It was served with a coconut sauce which was pretty sweet. It was interesting for sure. I think the last dumplings just shows you that really anything can be folded in a dumpling skin and sold as a dumpling.

With so many truck choices, I don't think I'd waste my stomach space on any more Dump Truck offerings anytime soon.

So with 6 dumplings down, I felt like I had room for more. There were just too many choices and I was walking around and around trying to listen closely to what my stomach was saying. I would definitely say theres a majority of Asian food choices. I joke that if there are any Asian people in Portland, they are probably working out of the food carts. Tons of Thai and Vietnamese food carts. Japanese and Korean come as a close second. Then Indian, Mexican, Eastern European, and American varieties.

So the Korean taco fad has not bypassed Portland. In fact there are plenty of Korean food carts that serve all the usual in addition to tacos and burritos. There's even a Korean taco truck up there that is quite popular. So I had to have a try. I went to Korean Twist on 10th & Adler. For $7 you can get a trio of beef, pork, and chicken tacos served with a side of fried rice and salad or kimchi.

The tacos are served with a "special sauce." Any guesses as to what this special sauce could be? Gojuchang! Thats the spicy bean paste sauce that goes in bimbimbap. I am not a fan of this sauce in large quantities. The tacos were slathered in it. It was totally overwhelming and after 3 bites I was already tired of eating the tacos. The meat itself doesn't taste that special, like any pre marinated meat you get at the Korean market. The taco was also too thick. My favorite part of the combo was actually the fried rice which was pretty light in oil and in taste.

I could not figure out what sort of dressing was on this salad. I don't know anything that's purple except taro. I couldn't even figure out what it tasted like. I think my tastebuds were dulled by all that gochujang.

Despite the disappointing first lunch at the food carts, I had high hopes for day 2. There was one cart that had much potential, Nong's Khao Man Gai.

Look at all the publicity!

It's seems like one model of the successful restaurant is having a small menu that focuses on perfecting the few things offered. Take In & Out for example or Luscious Dumpling. Nong figured this out too. All she serves is the Thai version of Hainam Chicken, which apparently is found very commonly as street food in Bangkok.

She makes a point of serving it the same way they do in Thailand, simply wrapped in butcher paper.

I like that its served with soup, although I was hoping it would be a chicken stock, but this was a soup of pickled mustard greens. It's a familiar flavor since Vietnamese pickle mustard greens too, but I can't imagine all people liking this.

The chicken was all white meat and quite moist. The rice was delicious but could have been more flavorful. All was forgiven after tasting the sauce. MMMMM!!!

The sauce was definitely the winning component to the dish. I was racking my brain trying to figure what was in the sauce. I could definitely taste ginger, sugar, maybe garlic and onions, and after that I was at a loss. I would assume fish sauce but it didn't have the right color or consistency for just fish sauce. Of course google filled in the blanks. It's fermented soy beans of course! Next time I make my Hainam chicken I am making this sauce!

After feeling quite satisfied with day 2's winning lunch, I was anxious to see what could possibly follow-up Nong's delicious khao man gai. Thai papaya salad was on the menu for day 3.

Again a relatively simple straight forward menu.

I love Thai salads for their tangy, savory, sweet and sometimes spicy dressings. This one was especially well balanced. The shredded papaya and carrots makes for some good crunch. The chicken was forgettable. The sticky rice was an interesting variation. Some of the Oregonians were complaining that the sticky rice came wrapped in a plastic baggy. I think it offended their go-green sensibilities. Apparently its served in a plastic baggy in Thailand too. Overall it was a perfectly balanced lunch. I would highly recommend it.

This won't be my last post on Portland food carts. I have plenty more I need to try. Let's hope they'll be winners like the last 2 carts. I think I forgot to mention how Portland is such a nice, clean, and green city. It really reminded me of SF. It has a laid back vibe, but still metropolitan. It's just a tad on the small side.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Mario's Peruvian

I went to this place a while ago but have never been able to go back. I love lomo saltado. I was quite taken aback when I had lomo saltado for the first time. It was at the UCLA dormitory cafeteria. I was really surprised to find that lomo saltado is like a dish my mom makes, minus the tomatoes. I always thought it was just something she made up when another Vietnamese friend was making it one time. So I guess its definitely a Vietnamese thing, but as for the connection to Peru? I know Peru has influences from Asia, specifically China I think. They use soy sauce and stir-fry technique in their cooking.

Anyways, Mario's Peruvian Seafood makes the best lomo saltado. Its incredibly popular, incredibly crowded, and has incredibly unreasonable hours. I mean it closes at like 8 or 830! After waiting an 45 min-1 hour we finally got a table. To our dismay, they ran out of the bread which you eat with the Aji sauce. We still managed to incorporate the sauce into our dishes, but it wasn't quite the same.

We started off with ceviche de pescado. I think Peruvian's make their ceviche different because this ceviche wasn't like the other kinds I've tried. This one was pure lemon, salt, and heat. I was seriously dying for water after every few bites. It was just too lemony for me, but I kept eating it because I'm a fatass.

And now lomo! I just love the combination of my favorite food products: beef, tomatoes, onions, and french fries. How could anyone go wrong. Don't get me wrong, I still love my mom's version, but this is definitely a tasty change. This time around, I felt the beef was slighly chewier than how I remember it, but no matter. The rice served with the dish is a bit of a carb overload with all the potatoes. The portion size is way more than enough. I always have leftovers enough for a 2nd meal.

So although my friend and I enjoyed ourselves immensely, our other friend who got the chicken saltado, ended up with terrible food poisoning. What was it? Raw fish perhaps? But we all ate it. The chicken? I had some of that too. I guess we'll never know. The other 515 people on Yelp did not get food poisoning. I'd love to try the other things on the menu but I go here so infrequently that when I do come here all I want is lomo saltado. Oh FYI, parking is tough!!

Mario's Peruvian & Seafood

5786 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Harajuku Crepes

That stretch of Little Santa Monica over by Rodeo and Beverly is filled with high end shopping and cute little shops. Before Harajuku Crepes came along, the same space used to be occupied by Fulfilled which was pretty tastey but overpriced and probably led to its downfall. I think Harajuku Crepes could go down that same path. The place is good, but damn those crepes are small and expensive! Although, by the looks of the Yelp ratings/reviews of 4 stars/115 reviews it may be sticking around a little bit longer than Fulfilled with its 4 star/56 reviews.

Behold! Crepe with strawberry, nutella, and vanilla ice cream for $6. I just wish it were 2-3x the size. Maybe I'm a piggy, but I didn't enjoy having to share this.

I think I'd rather have crepes at the French Crepe Company at The Grove Farmers Market. Now those are bomb!

Harajuku Crepes
9405 S Santa Monica Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

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