Having been initially inspired by Diana of Diana Takes A Bite, I am sitting here looking back at the year that was 2009. By no means was this year a perfect one, as there truly is no such thing as “perfect”, but it has definitely been a good year in many areas of my life.
Many of my friends got married, few more had children, and a even a few more became pregnant for the first time.
This was my first full year serving on the worship team as a bass guitarist at my church. Music has been a big part of my life and it’s great to be able to have an outlet for it in that capacity.
I probably catered more parties and events this past year than I did in the previous 3 years combined. It gave me hope that, despite the economy, things might be ok.
My mom turned… oh wait, I probably shouldn’t say, but it was significant.
I’ve also lost over 30 lbs in 4 months after having gained all that since graduating college.
My travel destinations included Portland, Sacramento, and Las Vegas twice. Those 2 Vegas trips should hold me off for awhile because I RARELY go to Vegas. I should go more, not to gamble, but to eat at all the restaurants the city has to offer. Seriously, I’m not a big gambler, so if I ever go to Las Vegas, it’s to eat. If I am going to spend away my money in Sin City, I’d rather it be on a delicious meal than losing it in the casinos. But that is just me.
I still haven’t gotten back into a restaurant full-time yet, but as most of you know, I had a chance to work with our beloved Ludo Lefebvre in his latest rendition of Ludobites. I also staged at some of arguably LA’s best restaurants, including Craft, BLT Steak, and Grace Restaurant.
However, as a chef and a reluctantly self-proclaimed “foodie” who obviously loves food and loves to eat, I appreciate food like a musician appreciates a finely crafted instrument. Going out to eat is one of my favorite hobbies and one of the many food-involved passions I have. By now you should know where I’m going with this. Thus now begins my review of some of the best meals and dishes I had in 2009. I apologize as I don’t have photos for everything.
January – I guess it’s only appropriate I’m starting this list off with something such as breakfast. Situated in the “green” neighborhood of Los Feliz, Alcove Bakery & Café is a brunch hotspot that has been around for years and attracts folks from all over the greater LA region. I of course went for the most expensive item on the menu: shrimp and lobster omelette.
While the seafood was a little overcooked, the overall flavor of the omelette with the tarragon hollandaise (might as well be a béarnaise, which is hollandaise with tarragon and shallots) was more than enough to make me forget about mildly overcooked seafood. The crispy home fries and bountiful toast were perfect carbolicious accompaniments.
Honorable Mentions: Carne Asada Nachos from Los Tacos in Pasadena; Grilled Cheese panino with caramelized onions at Bacaro Winebar in Downtown.
February – Most of you know about my deep passion for the consumption of a side of cow or pig. Hae Jang Chon in Koreatown is no different. One of the literally dozens of all-u-can-eat Korean BBQ joints in this small 5-square mile area of LA, the wonderful service here made the already really good quality of meat extra tasty. The panchan (banchan) wasn’t the best, but I usually only go for the meat anyway. The pork belly was probably one of my favorites. Of course, when is pork belly NOT a favorite?
Honorable Mentions: 6-cheese mac & cheese at Showbiz Ribs in Downtown; pulled pork sandwich at The Oinkster in Eagle Rock.
March – My birthday is in March, and while more times than not, I haven’t really done all that much in terms of going somewhere nice in terms of restaurants, this past year, I wanted to try something new. Considering my parents were going to join me, I needed something that I knew would be good, and would be wallet friendly for them. I decided on Honda Ya Izakaya in Little Tokyo. While all the dishes were good, the standouts were the beef tongue, the pork belly, and the meatballs. How can you go wrong with meat on a stick?
Honorable Mentions: Goatcheese flatbread pizza with strawberries and grapes at Lola Gaspar in Santa Ana; Pastrami Chili Cheese Fries at Tops in Pasadena
April – I ate well this month. I have a tie between Kushi Shabu in Little Tokyo and Sanborn’s in Portland, Oregon. Kushi Shabu is an AYCE shabu shabu restaurant and I had awesome company over a great meal.
The quality of the meat was good and all of the vegetables were very fresh. We were fortunate enough to dine in one of their tatami rooms, making the experience all the more “authentic”.
I went to Sanborn’s on my first full day visiting my brother and sister in law in Portland, which according to them, is arguably one of the best breakfast spots in town. The place was small and quaint and the service wonderful. While I wanted just about everything on the menu, I opted for the chorizo and eggs, served with a shortstack of bluecorn pancakes.
The hand-formed chorizo was full of flavor and the blue corn pancakes were delicious. We also had their buttermilk biscuits were perfectly light and buttery. However the most impressive thing about this place was the fact that they make their lemon hollandaise sauce (which came with the eggs benedict my sister in law ordered) to ORDER. Ballsy in my opinion, but as long as you can pull it off, more props to you.
Honorable Mentions: Banana Nut Bread Pudding at Corkbar in Downtown; Duck Confit Sandwich at Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City; BBQ Chicken pizza with bacon in Portland.
May – If you really know me, you should know that I am a pizza and burgers kind of guy. I could arguably have a burger every day for lunch and/or dinner. Of course, I would die of a massive heart attack at 40, so I don’t. Unofficially on a quest for the best burger I could possibly find, one of my stops led me to Umami Burger in Los Angeles. For $10, these gourmet burgers are arguably on the smaller side, so I did indeed get 2. The first was the triple pork burger, with ground pork, chorizo, and bacon. This burger was simply superb. The 2nd burger was called a Manly burger, which was pretty simple with cheddar, bacon, and crispy onions.
That was good as well but the triple pork burger stole the show
Honorable Mentions: Mango Shaved Ice at Class 302 in Hacienda Heights; Handrolled tortillas at Pelon Taco Stand in Highland Park
June – June saw my cousin’s birthday, and she apparently likes to go big. She is the one that made a reservation at CUT to break her almost 2 month meat fast in December of ’08, so when it came time for her birthday, I knew she’d want to go big. No surprises when she made reservations at Ortolan. I’m actually not the biggest fan when it comes to French food, but this meal was quite good. Chef Christophe Emé was very nice and service was wonderful. One of the many highlights of the meal was the strawberry “caviar” with panna cotta, utilizing a somewhat basic technique in molecular gastronomy.
photo courtesy of Kevin Eats
Honorable Mentions: Frutti di mare at Celestino’s in Pasadena; Chicken pasta salad at California Chicken Café in Westwood.
July – July was the month in which I was able to go to not one, but BOTH Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza. I love Mario Batali and all he does, and especially as a lover of Italian cuisine and pizza, I was especially excited to be able to go to both restaurants in just a couple weeks of each other. Completely unplanned by the way.
While the $10 valet is absolutely next to highway robbery, the simple and casual décor inside lends itself to making a trip to this restaurant as casual as walking in on a Thursday night or as formal as making reservations weeks in advance for your birthday. By the way, I don’t think you can just “walk in”. I ordered the meatlover’s pizza, with bacon, salami, pancetta, and house-made fennel sausage. While the pizza itself was a little flimsy due to the sheer weight of my toppings thus making it a little difficult to eat, the crust was absolutely fabulous. Slightly crisp yet light and airy. Best. Crust. Ever.
Speaking of Pizzeria Mozza, their butterscotch budino is probably one of the top 5 desserts I’ve had this year.
Honorable Mentions: Lamb Gyro at Mad Greek in Baker, CA; Burrata appetizer with bacon, marinated escarole, and caramelized shallots at Osteria Mozza in LA
August – Perhaps one of the top 5 meals of all of 2009, hands down the best meal of August belongs to Chef Ludo Lefebrve in his 2nd coming of Ludobites. Having set up shop at Breadbar on 3rd Street, this actually was right around the time I was hearing about Ludo, which coincidentally was also the same time Bravo was showing the inaugural season of Top Chef Masters, in which Ludo was one of the 24 chefs featured in the round robin episodes. Highlights of the meal were the foie gras croquet monsieur, the lacquered pork belly, and the foie gras cupcake. In fact, I later told him during Ludobites 3.0 that this pork belly dish is what inspired me to create my hoisin braised pork belly I prepared for a 7 course tasting menu I did about a month after 2.0.
Honorable Mentions: Pappardelle with tomatoes, red chili, and mint at Barbrix in Silverlake; Farmer’s Market salad with nectarines, figs, proscuitto, and Boston bib lettuce at Elements Kitchen in Pasadena.
September – Another unanimous vote, Fleur de Lys in Las Vegas. This I would have to consider as probably one of the top 2 or 3 meals of all of 2009. Being in the company of great friends who love and appreciate food just about as much as I do to celebrate someone’s birthday, the meal was arguably perfect. Highlights included the veal sweetbreads and the prime filet mignon. We had an option to add foie gras and truffles to the filet for $25 more, which I regrettingly wish I had after seeing my friends’ filets piled on with foie gras and truffles. They were gracious enough to give me some of their foie and truffles. I was as happy as one could be.
The filet was cooked just perfectly and potato puree was silky and very buttery. The foie gras and truffles were magnificent and left me wanting more.
Honorable Mentions: Beef Saltados at El Rocoto in Gardena; Deep fried pickles at Slaters 50/50 in Anaheim Hills.
October – DineLA returned for it’s fall/winter edition. While there were literally dozens of higher end restaurants to choose from at a moderately affordable price, my best meal of October came down to 2 restaurants that had participated in DineLA, Craft in Century City, and Grace Restaurant in Los Angeles.
Craft, in my opinion, is arguably (I like using that word a lot, don’t I) the best restaurant in LA. Owned by renowned Chef, Tom Colicchio, also head judge on the hit TV show “Top Chef”, the dining room is amazingly gorgeous and also having staged in the pastry kitchen on 2 separate occasions, the kitchen is just as beautiful, having some of best industrial equipment a restaurant could have. Service was impeccable and the meal being served family style to our party of 6 made it for a slightly more intimate experience. Some highlights were the salmon rilette appetizer and the cinnamon ice cream, which is also sold for $24/pint courtesy of Pastry Chef Shannon Swindle.
photo courtesy of Gastronomnom
All of the ice creams were magnificent but the standouts were indeed the cinnamon and the apple sorbet, which had the intriguing texture of what resembled frozen apple sauce.
Grace was, in many ways, just as good of a meal as Craft, but also stood out in other ways. This was probably the best multi-course menu for the money we spent ever. While service was sub par to Craft, the food was equally as tantalizing. Highlights were the heirloom tomato terrine with passion fruit vinaigrette and herb salad and sautéed Alaskan Halibut.
Who would have though that something as simple as heirloom tomatoes would make for such a fabulous dish? The pairing of the passion fruit vinaigrette and herb salad was perfect and was, in my opinion, plate licking worthy. Of course I did not actually lick my plate, unlike at Corkbar
Honorable Mention: Dover sole with lemon and capers at Malbec in Pasadena.
November – This was probably the “upset” of the year. Yes, while Thanksgiving is always a good meal with all the turkey, ham, side dishes, and dessert, Thanksgiving is a meal we have every year and thus is disqualified from any notable consideration for the sake of this post. No, I would say the best meal I had this month was none other than at Hot Stuff Café in San Gabriel. An unsuspecting locale, in the middle of what I like to call “Little Chinatown”, you would expect a place like Hot Stuff Café to be your old run of the mill Chinese style café, which appearance wise, is with the rather simple décor and Asian servers. However, looking at the menu is actually quite puzzling. The dishes were in fact more French influenced. I later found out the chef is classically trained and has infused the menu with fusion style dishes. Notably, I had the tea-smoked duck breast, with black tea smoked duck meatballs, parsnip puree, and pickled tea leaf dressing. The duck breast was cooked perfectly medium with just the right amount of smokiness, the meatballs were succulent, and the parsnip puree was a well seasoned side dish. I unfortunately do not have a picture of this dish
Honorable mention: Lemongrass Chicken from the Nom Nom Truck; Ruddie Shrimp appetizer from Kingston Café in Pasadena.
December – At last, winter time. Time to be with family, decorating the house with Christmas lights and filling the house with the smell of a fresh cut pine tree, December is always a wonderful time of the year. Just like with Thanksgiving in November, our family Christmas eve meal is something we have every year, thus is disqualified from contention, making Chef Ludo’s 3rd rendition of Ludobites the best meal of December 2009. While every dish is worth mentioning, my highlight was the widely anticipated foie gras beignet, at first with a yellow celery root remoulade, but as his run progressed, the accompaniment changed to a saffron dried apricot puree.
The hot crispy beignet outside was textural perfection with the succulent foie gras, the port wine glaze adding a touch of sweetness and the celery root remoulade being a nice refreshing bite to contrast the subtle richness of the beignet.
Honorable mentions: “Six Weeker” burger at Stout in Hollywood; Alaskan Benedict at Central Park Café in Pasadena; Skirt Steak at Bokado in Studio City
And thus ends my 2009 in review. It was filled with great meals, great dishes, but most importantly, great company and great friends. Here is to an even more delectable 2010!!!
photo courtesy of http://www.istockphoto.com