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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

LC’s BBQ

Posted by Austios on October 20, 2011

LC’s BBQ

As many of you are aware, I recently moved to Kansas City, Missouri, not to pursue a cooking opportunity, but to take a break from cooking in order to go back to school. I am taking a music program from a small bible school in the area. It is by no means a career change, while the plan right now is to return to cooking when I finish school, but who knows what’ll happen while I’m out here.

Any way, just because I’m in school doesn’t mean I will be not cooking still, whether it be at home for myself or to bless a classmate. Same goes with my writing. I enjoy writing and while I probably won’t have as much time (or money) to go out as much as I’d like, that will invariably affect the amount of time and material to write about. But I will do my best to occasionally post when I can.

Anyway, when I first arrived in Kansas City, my friend who had driven with me out here (yes, we drove) and I were taken to a nearby BBQ spot by a friend we both know out here who lives in Liberty. We had the burnt ends (Google it) at Oklahoma Joes a couple of days prior, and our friend told us that burnt ends at LC’s is much better, so we decided to work that into going there for lunch before I had to take my friend to the airport.

It was raining a little bit as I pulled up to this hole in the wall that was on the verge of being a shack. Not literally a shack, but it just kind of gave you that feel. There was a billow of smoke emanating from the chimney of the restaurant, meaning the BBQ pit was hard at work. That was a good sign.

Walking in, the place seemed kind of divey, but not in a bad way. I suppose that gave the place character. Everybody working there is African American, and I don’t know about you, but I hear that around these parts, black people know their “Q”.

I waited for my friends before ordering. Our friend told us the rib tips were good too, so my friend decided to get the burnt ends with a side of onion rings while I got the rib tips with a side of fried okra and then we would just pick off of each other’s plate.

One by one, our food was ready and we sat down and began to dig in. Everything smelled really good.

I picked up a rib tip with my fork and proceeded to work the meat off of the bone. The meat was really tender, had a nice smoke flavor, and was good both with and without the sauce. Yes, it was a little bit of a hassle with the bones, but I mean hey, that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

I tried the fried okra and that was good too. Now, I personally like okra, but I can understand why people don’t like it. These were good because instead of whole or larger pieces, these were sliced into ½ inch pieces.

Last but not least, I eventually got to the burnt ends. Oh man, overall, these burnt ends are better than at Oklahoma Joes. The pieces were larger, the meat was more tender and overall had a better flavor. Yes, some of the pieces were a little fattier than what they had at OK Joes, but man I loved these. Both these and the rib tips were served with Texas toast and white bread. The onion rings were good too… not super thick batter or oily.

Next time I come, I will definitely get the burnt ends for myself, but I want to try their ribs and their brisket. Maybe I should bring a couple of people so I don’t look like a fatty ordering all this food for myself. That or I’ll just have to keep going back, which I actually have no problem doing.

LC’s Bar-B-Q
5800 Blue Parkway
Kansas City, MO 64121
(816) 923-4484

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And the Winner Is….

Posted by Austios on August 5, 2011

Thank you to all who participated in my Plate by Plate 2011 ticket giveaway contest! It was quite competitive, but I’m proud to announce that the winner of the contest is Tammy Tu!!

Tammy is a personal chef in the Los Angeles area and you can follow her on Twitter here. Tammy and I have mildly gotten to know each other on Twitter, so its nice to see the tickets go to someone I know. Not that giving them to some other stranger who won fair and square would’ve been worse, I’m just saying. =P

I will be emailing the grand prize winner, as well as the 1st prize winners. If you did not win anything, I still highly encourage you to come support our efforts in helping AYC achieve their goals for 2011 and buy purchasing tickets for the event. If you cannot attend but would still like to donate, please visit www.platebyplate.org for more information on that.

Thank you again to all who participated and I hope to see you all This Saturday at Vibiana Cathedral!!

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Plate by Plate 2011 Ticket Giveaway Contest!!!

Posted by Austios on August 2, 2011

*tap tap* mic check… 1.. 2…. 1.. 2..

I would like to make an announcement. As many of you know, I am heavily involved with Project by Project, a 501(c) non-profit organization who’s mission is to partner with a fellow non-profit who is looking to create more awareness for themselves among their community. We accomplish this through aiding in their programs, helping to market and advertise their mission, as well as fundraise on their behalf.

I am proud, with 2011’s theme being “Education”, that our partner is AYC Youth and Family Services in San Gabriel. They provide social services to their local community through educational programs, after school programs, and recreation. www.asianyouthcenter.org

Project by Project’s marquee event, Plate by Plate, for 8 years, been one of Los Angeles’ most popular tasting events. All of our net proceeds from the event go directly to our partner. Our committee has been working tirelessly for the past 7+ months organizing a fantastic event for the general public, our friends and family can enjoy, but we all still have to remember that ultimately, it’s to benefit our partner as we support them in their cause.

This year, on August 6, from 7-10 PM, Plate by Plate will be held at the gorgeous Vibiana Cathedral in Downtown Los Angeles. We have pushed the envelope and will have nearly 40 restaurants and dessert purveyors, and over 15 beverage vendors, including Jar, Picca, Church & State Bistro, M Street Kitchen, Charlie Palmer, Fraiche Culver City, Plush Puffs, Guelaguetza, Starry Kitchen, Haven Gastropub, Gorbals LA, XT Patisserie, Maximiliano, Raphael, and many many more!! We also will have Julian Cox from Sotto pouring his signature cocktails and Chef Walter Manzke cooking up some tasty bites at our VIP reception.

With that said, with the event just a few days away, I am announcing that like Kevin_Eats, I will be giving away two (2) general admissions (unlike Kevin who is giving away VIP tickets) for the event this Saturday. The contest will run through this Thursday evening. I will be announcing the winners Friday morning at 8 AM. The grand prize will be the 2 tickets, which includes admission to the event, which of course is open food and open bar, as well as free priority access to our afterparty at Exchange LA. I will also have five 1st prizes (no limit), which will be an exlusive $25 discount code on the regular ticket price admission to the event.

To enter, please enter the following 5 trivia questions about some of our participants. Please send your answers by 11:59 PM PST to austin.szu@projectbyproject.org with “PbP 2011 Ticket Giveaway” in the subject line for your chance to win! Please consult of our list of participants for possible answers. The first person to answer all of the following questions (or as many as possible) correctly will receive the grand prize, with the following 5 individuals receiving the 1st prize.

1. The chef/owner of this participant was just named Food & Wine’s best new Chef for 2011.
2. This participant is among a list of great chefs who were formerly the Executive Chef at the now shuttered Bastide as well as Patina.
3. This participating restaurant is located right next door to the owner’s other restaurant.
4. This participant holds an annual tasting benefit in Healdsburg, CA, with proceeds going towards Share Our Strength, and organization focused on fighting and ending childhood hunger.
5. This participant’s owner also has a restaurant in Venice, CA that has been there for 20 years.
6. This participant’s chef/owner was a past contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.
7. This West Coast beverage participant isn’t even based in California.

Please keep in mind the answer must be in restaurant’s name as it appears on the list of participants.

Good luck! Once again, submit your entries to austin.szu@projectbyproject.org by 11:59 PM Thursday 8/4. Winners will be announced Friday 8/5 at 8 AM.

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DineLA at Fraiche LA

Posted by Austios on March 26, 2011

A few weeks ago I donated some blood platelets to UCLA Immunogenetics for research (FREE MONEY!!!) and is actually the 2nd time I’ve done it in the past 9 months, but unlike the first time I did it, Ben Bailly wasn’t at the helm of Fraiche in Culver City. As most of you know, he just recently took over and has since done WONDERFUL things with the menu. I even was invited by him personally to come in to try some of his new menu items. That was a great meal in itself and was definitely in contention for meal of the year.

For one who lives in the San Gabriel Valley and have done so my entire live, more or less, I rarely go out to West LA for anything, except for food or a woman, but I digress. With that said, I decided to make the most of my late morning appointment at UCLA and decide to stop by the restaurant to reward myself for the good deed. Plus, I had to replenish those blood cells 😉 It also happened to be the 2nd week of Winter 2011 DineLA. Not that I would have had any problem paying full price, but I’m just saying.

Ben kinda knew I was coming because I had tweeted him the day before, so I asked the hostess to let him know I was there. As nice of a day it was, even though the tarps were down, I decided to sit and eat outside on the patio. Ben came out and was actually a little surprised to see me, to which I said “didn’t you see my tweets?”

As most of you know, I had just visited the restaurant back in November of 2010, not even a month after he had taken over the restaurant, in which he has revamped and retooled, putting his own personal touches on, including the beloved truffle burger.

I normally do not look at the menus for DineLA, but for this, I just had a peek. A lot of sounded good, but eventually went with the arugula salad as a starter, the grilled salmon as my entrée, and the ever popular caramel budino for dessert.

The salad came out and looked great. Lightly dressed, peppery arugula with finely diced chorizo, shaved manchego cheese, marcona almonds, and dried cranberries. Everything was a nice contrast to the arugula, with some saltiness and smokiness from the chorizo, a different saltiness from the cheese as well as the almonds, and then a touch of sweetness and tartness from the dried cranberries.

My salmon entrée came out and it looked really good. Cooked to medium rare (the way I like my salmon), on top of a bed of a sauté of farro, wild rice, and arugula. The rice was cooked nicely and seasoned well, and the tangerines and tangerine sauce added some nice mild acidity that helps bring out the flavor of the salmon

Lastly for dessert, the caramel budino. You really gotta love the Italians. They do justice to the awesomeness of a custard. Take the butterscotch budino at Pizzeria Mozza. How can you NOT love that? This one though, simply presented in a white ramekin with some sea salt and vanilla mascarpone, the growing trend of combining salty and sweet was just a perfect way to end a casual lunch. I actually wouldn’t have mind ordering another one, but I had to be good.

I don’t have to go on and on about how awesome this restaurant is and how much I love Ben Bailly and his food. I really hope I can continue to go time and time again, and that he will be there for a long time.

Fraiche LA
9411 Culver Blvd,
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 839-6800

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Burgers Burgers Burgers! Part 2

Posted by Austios on January 25, 2011

If you’re just joining us, the following is Part 2 of my “Ode to Burgers”. You can read Part 1 here

Portland

We next move even further North to Portland. I had heard good things about the food in Portland and I had the opportunity to visit in May 2009, when my brother and sister in law were living there at the time. My 2 ½ days were filled with some good food, such as breakfast at Sanborn’s, pizza from Flying Pie, and the awesome sandwiches at Bunk Sandwiches, but this is a burger post after all! The one and only burger I had while I was up there was at a little small hole in the wall type place, called Giant Drive-In. The burger was pretty decent for a hole in the wall and reminded me of something I would get at a diner.

Las Vegas

We finally head away from the West Coast and hit up Sin City, Las Vegas. In a city famous for its buffets, plethora of shows and concerts, and its fair share of quality fine dining and more upscale eateries, it still has plenty of places to get a burger. I am specifically talking about, and I had briefly mentioned it earlier, Chef Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar. Keller is known worldwide for his flagship restaurant, Fleur de Lys, in San Francisco, with a 2nd location in Las Vegas (which I happened to dine at 3 months after visiting Burger Bar). The restaurant itself, located in Mandalay Bay, is actually quite casual and looks like your typical classy sports bar or pub. I think the words I used in my Yelp review were “Daily Grill meets sports bar”. If you were to tell me Hubert Keller didn’t own this place, I would believed you. I liked it though.

On one side of the menu, they had a list of signature burgers, including one that used American Kobe beef and had truffles and foie gras, with a price tag of $60. On the other side, you have the option of building your own burger, with an array of different meats, including buffalo and turkey patties. Topping and condiment options were pretty standard, such as things like avocado, caramelized onions, and chipotle aioli, but a few had the Hubert Keller touch, such as seared foie gras, black truffles ($30 for 1/3 oz.), and red wine and shallot reduction.

I opted to get mine with Monterey Jack and provolone cheeses, caramelized onions, aioli, and proscuitto on an angus patty with a plain white bun. When it came out, it smelled and looked great, and fortunately, it tasted great as well. Probably not the most perfect topping combination, but still good nonetheless.

Chicago

Our last destination before I return to LA is none other than Chicago. In a land of Chicago dogs and deep dish pizza (which I had there as well), there are still plenty of places to get a good burger.

The first place, while by no means is it “good” in any positive sense of the word, my first stop in Chicago, literally within an hour of landing on Friday evening, was to one of the many Whitecastle burgers in the region. I have the movie, Harold & Kumar Go to Whitecastle, to thank for that. (Did you know they chose Whitecastle because none of the other corporations such as McD’s or Burger King would agree to do the movie?)

Again, by no means is this burger really that good, so it was more of the cult following the movie got. And no, under any circumstances, do I do any marijuana or any other recreational drug for that matter. End of story. But I think between my friend and I, we got probably like 20 burgers and cheeseburgers? You count them…


*Note – I think we may have been missing 2 or 3 boxes….

The next burger we had in Chicago is the infamous Billy Goat Tavern. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, you can go Google it for details, but basically in 1945, the owner of the tavern was asked to leave a World Series game at Wrigley Field because his pet goat was causing a disturbance, in which he supposedly cursed the Chicago Cubs from ever winning another World Series game. While there have been moments of the curse seemingly about to be broken, the Cubs have never prevailed since. Anyway, about the Billy Goat Tavern and the burger. This place actually sits below Michigan Ave, and as soon as you walk in, before you can even reach the bottom of the mere 6 steps, the grill cook is yelling at you from across the room, “Double cheese?! Double cheese?!”, and if you agree, essentially starts cooking your burger before you even “order”.

The burger is pretty simple. No vegetables, just some mustard and there is a station off to the side in which you can add onions, pickles or relish. I liked the burger and it was really fresh. If we weren’t on our way to a couple of other spots to grab some bites, I probably would have ordered another burger. I may have to go there again should I ever find myself in Chicago again.


apologies for the poor quality… I didn’t have my SLR with me that day

The 3rd and final burger I was able to get my hands and lips on, I actually had coincidentally seen on Food Network a few weeks before my trip to Chicago. Located in one of the cities’ many suburbs, Hackney’s on Harm has essentially an inside-out bacon cheeseburger, in which the cheese and chopped bacon in sandwiched inside 2-1/8 lb patties. It was a creation I maybe had never seen prior, and as soon as I did, I texted my friend and told him we had to go there. It was a little out of the way for us, but I’m grateful that we did. The burger apparently is not on the menu and I had to ask for it. When it came out, I sliced it in half and it looked and smelled pretty good. The burger with the oozing cheese and bacon bits was good, but I felt the bun wasn’t as soft as it could have or should have been. Maybe that’s just me talking.

Out of all burgers I’ve had in various cities across the US, I would probably have to say my favorite, if not one of my favorites, is the burger from Hash House A Go Go in San Diego (another location in Las Vegas), followed closely by the Squeeze burger at Squeeze Inn in Sacramento.

Other burger places across the country that I would like to try, and I have mentioned a few already, but places such as Crown Burger in Salt Lake City, Flip Burger in Georgia, Good Stuff Eatery in Washington DC, Love Shack in Texas, and Shake Shack in New York. If you have any other worthy suggestions, please feel free to let me know.

Los Angeles

We finally arrive back in the City of Angels. I’ve got to say, overall, we really do have our good share of some of this countries’ best food. I don’t care what people will say about Los Angeles compared to other food cities in the US, we’ve got some dang good food. Burgers are definitely up there.

I first start off with a burger that I actually grew up on and had a lot going through high school and even junior high. I am talking about Islands. Yes, I know it’s a chain and I’ll admit I have a slight aversion to most chain restaurants, but Islands does their burgers pretty well. The other food is just ok, so I stick with the burgers. I would say out of the at least couple hundred times I’ve been to Islands in my life, 95% of the time, I always get the same thing: the Maui burger on white with American cheese (normally comes with Swiss). The Maui burger has guacamole, and for those of you who don’t know, I’m a little bit of a guacamole-phile. Not that I would rub it all over my person, that’s just a waste of perfectly edible guacamole, but I LOOOOOVE guacamole. It ranks right up there with ranch dressing in terms of the world’s all-time best condiments. Islands recently introduced a couple new burgers, sort of, by just basically slapping a couple pieces of bacon and giving it a different name. The Maui’s younger but sexier (because of the bacon) sister is called the Rincon. I’ve gotten that a couple times and yes, bacon still makes everything better.

Next place is a place that I (maybe ironically) frequented while I was in culinary school because it was right across the street and was cheaper than the food at the school café. I’m talking about The White Hut. While the place is not literally a hut, I think? the building is white, underneath all that ivy that has grown over it, but this place is quite small, with diner style counter seating for maybe 8 people inside and a couple of white plastic patio tables outside. For about $6.50, you could get a fresh cheeseburger, fries, and a soda. If you frequent this place enough, the owner will remember you and remember what you ordered last time and ask if you want the same thing. You really cannot go wrong with a super fresh and piping hot cheeseburger with all the fixings. Sadly, I have not been back since I finished culinary school in ’04. Writing this is making me want to go there. I think I’ll go this weekend.

UPDATE: I did not end up going to White Hut that weekend I wrote that… #FAIL

The next burger I’m quite fond of and have no problem going back again and again for is the ABC burger at B-Man’s Teriyaki & Burgers in Pasadena. Their teriyaki bowls are pretty good, as are their spam misubi and chicken curry fries (a meal in itself), but what I really love there, and have sometimes gotten two, is that ABC burger. A juicy beef patty with lettuce, tomato, onion, your choice of American or Swiss cheese, teriyaki sauce and avocado: it hits the spot every single time. It can get messy with the teriyaki sauce, but it’s just really good.

Next place I want to mention, and is among the array of places that allow you to create your own burger, is The Counter. The first time I had this was a few years ago in Irvine, back when The Counter had only a couple of locations and was still new. Hearing about the plethora of options you could make there, I was actually quite excited to try it. Unfortunately, because of the length of time it’s been, I cannot remember, for the life of me, what I had that afternoon. All I remember is the creation I came up with was actually quite fantastic and that I liked their sweet potato fries better than their regular fries. I have since been to different locations a couple of times, and the burgers have been good as well. I firmly believe you have to actually be careful as to what you put on your burger. A not so good combination can lead to a mediocre burger and prevent it from being an outstanding burger. Its nice to seem them offer a turkey burger and a veggie burger for those who are a little more “health conscious”

Next burger, which I first had at their Montana Ave. location, is the Office Burger at Father’s Office. I actually was questioning if it was worth our long drive from Pasadena. I will have to tell you, it definitely was worth the drive. The burger, which is actually a little oblong than a round patty, is incredibly tender and juicy (trust me, get it medium rare), and topped with balsamic caramelized onions, apple wood smoked bacon compote, gruyere and Maytag bleu cheese, arugula, on a French roll. That first time I had it, I devoured it faster than I should have for my own good. The other times I’ve had at their Culver City location, it’s been just as good. While the rest of the food there is just ok, I’m fine with that because you go to Father’s Office for the beer, not the food. The burger is just a delightful added bonus.

Moving along, next we have is 25 Degrees in Hollywood. I actually have been here twice. The first time, I built my own burger into what I dubbed an “Italian style bacon cheeseburger”, topping it with smoked mozzarella, proscuitto, caramelized onions, and arugula. Using 100% sirloin, the patty was a bit on the dry side, but overall still a solid burger. The 2nd time I went, however, the burger was actually quite a letdown. In the wake of having Slater’s 50/50 burger, I attempted in creating a burger with a similar flavor profile, once again building my own burger with bacon, avocado, a fried egg, and aioli. While I achieved the goal of creating a similar profile, as I mentioned, the burger itself was a letdown. The patty was overcooked (I hate sending food back unless it’s REALLY bad, especially with a large group of people, which we did) and the bun was not soft like the first time. It was definitely one of the very few times I’ve been disappointed by a burger like that.

Moving down our list, we come to a place with not one, but 2 notable burgers, and is also a restaurant I happened to work at recently. I am speaking of Westside Tavern in Los Angeles. The burger was consistently the number one selling dish of the evening and on weekends, would sell more than 100 just during dinner. The burger is relatively simple yet very delicious and I know used quality ingredients. Using a half pound all beef patty, topped with cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, arugula, and aioli, served on a toasted brioche bun. We would constantly snack on this while on the line during service. Though I was working pastry, I sometimes jumped in to help the grill cook to plate his sometimes 7 or 8 burgers. I think even once or twice, I cooked and sent out a burger all by myself. Easily one of my top 5, if not top 3, burgers in LA. The other burger on the menu was actually a salmon burger, using fresh ground salmon trimmings (we had a grilled salmon dish on the menu), mixed with quite a mix of ingredients including garlic powder and various other spices, chopped dill, Dijon mustard, and a few other ingredients I can’t recall (I may have helped make the patties once). Served a sun-dried tomato and caper vinaigrette, dill pickles, arugula, aioli, on a whole wheat bun, it was one of the more popular dishes on the menu as well. Both were delicious and is something I would order on return visits. Ironic though, in my time there, I never had the chance to have dinner there (though my family did a couple times), nor do I really have the urgency to now. Not because they are a former employer, but because being in West LA, I rarely am on that side of town to begin with and if I am ever out there, honestly Westside Tavern would not be my #1 dinner choice.

Continuing on, a burger that I actually liked, but unfortunately the restaurant is no longer, was the short rib burger from Blue Dahlia, which was in Little Tokyo. That burger was made from a combination of beef and tender short rib, giving it a texture unlike any other burger. I have since forgotten what else comes on the burger, but it was pretty good. I do kind of miss that place because it made for a quite date spot (not that I took a date there, just saying), but as they say, “c’est la vie”

This next burger, and definitely in my top 3, maybe top 2 burgers, is Ben Bailly’s truffle burger at Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City. I never had a chance to have this burger while he was at Petrossian in West Hollywood, as I only dined there once, but I definitely wanted to take advantage of it at Fraiche. I had even actually tweeted about it, and coincidentally, a few days later, he happened to invite me for dinner, in which he fed me very well. I did no ordering the entire evening, trusting him to send me out a wonderful progression of dishes. As for the finale, he sent the truffle burger, normally a lunch item only, that I had tweeted about just days prior. The burger was juicy and seasoned well, served with onion marmalade, boschetto, and truffle aioli. I devoured every single bit of it, despite being incredibly full by the time it arrived at my table.

Next restaurant, which has arguably my favorite burger in all of LA, are the burgers at Umami Burger, with several locations throughout the city. I have only been to the original location on La Brea Blvd, so I cannot comment on any of the other locations. I’ve had the Manly burger, which is basically a glorified bacon cheeseburger, the triple pork burger, with the patty made from ground pork, bacon, and chorizo, and the truffle burger. The truffle burger was really good and I can’t really compare it to the one at Fraiche. Out of the ones I’ve had, my favorite has probably been the triple pork burger. Only further affirming the recent realization that I may love pork more than beef, it was just incredibly flavorful and full of awesomeness. Below is a picture of the truffle burger

Next, which I know some people will say this and that about, is none other than In N Out Burger. I practically grew up on these burgers as well, first having one probably back in Junior High School. There’s not many things better than a piping hot double double with whole grilled onions (or sometimes Animal style), with fries, and a drink. For the longest time, I used to get 2 double doubles. Yes, I think I was trying to shorten my life. I can’t even count how many different locations I’ve been to and how many double doubles I’ve had in my lifetime, but probably more than I should have. However, I will continue to devour In N Out for the rest of my life and make sure to get my future kids addicted to it as much as I am. Yes, I think I’m diabolical like that sometimes.

Moving along, there were a few burgers I, unfortunately, were not at all impressed with. The first worth mentioning is the burger I had at 8 oz. Burger Bar in Mid City. Now, I think Govind Armstrong, though relatively under the radar in LA, is a great chef and I wish I had a chance to eat at Table 8 before converting it to its current form, but this burger was underwhelming. I got the burger with sautéed mushrooms, grilled red onion, bel paese cheese, and roasted garlic aioli. While the toppings helped save the burger, the bun was near burnt and the patty was overcooked. Even if the burger was cooked to my liking, it might have been a decent burger at best, but as well could have still been an underwhelming burger. Sorry Chef Armstrong.

Next underwhelmer was a burger from a sport bar in Hollywood by the name of Stout. I had a burger they call the “Six Weeker”, which has brie, fig jam, arugula, and caramelized onions. I ordered it because while the fig jam was an interesting thing to have in a burger, I knew it would pair well with the brie cheese. However, when the burger arrived, it lost major points on presentation. It was plainly served on a single piece of butcher paper on a school cafeteria style plastic plate. The burger wasn’t much better. The bun was a little dry, the patty itself was ok, but I could hardly tell there was any brie. The saving grace was what they call an “Island Hopper”, which is one of their ground chicken burger. It had smoked mozzarella, artichoke spread, arugula, and tomatoes on a toasted wheat bun. This was much better.

Lastly, and probably the most underwhelming burger I’ve recently had, and I think coincidentally the most recent of the 3, was Apple Pan, in West LA. It just… incredibly underwhelming I almost wanted to walk out. I mean, it was so underwhelming that it was mind-boggling to me as to why and how this was supposed to be a Los Angeles institution. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the ingredients were fresh, but overall, it just didn’t do it for me. Agreeing with what someone recently said on Twitter about this place, I would rather have Johnny Rockets than Apple Pan. And for you Apple Pan fans out there, I apologize.

As we end our journey, I just briefly want to mention some burgers I have heard of around town that, for the life of me, have not been able to try yet. These burgers include Comme Ca, The Golden State, and Five Guys Burger & Fries. I’m sure there are others out there that I can’t think of off the top of my head right now. For sure there are many other burgers I’ve tried around in the area, but if I were to include every single one, I might as well write a full length book (not that I seemingly already haven’t). Plus these that I have written about above are the noteworthy ones.

If you have any other suggestions as to where to get a killer burger around town, I am all ears.

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Burgers Burgers Burgers! Part 1

Posted by Austios on January 24, 2011

For those of you who really know me, while I enjoy my fine dining, and a majority of my posts on here have featured fine dining establishments, I’m also simply a burgers and pizza kind of guy. I’m just as happy going down the street to a local joint as I am driving half way across town (and sometime through traffic) to dine at one of Los Angeles’ best restaurants. I mean, for crying out loud, my facebook profile picture is me with a burger.

One of my favorite foods, as you can probably already gather, is hamburgers. Yes, America’s food, the burger. Which is quite interesting because the hamburger was arguably not invented here in America, but rather in Hamburg Germany. But regardless of its origins, the point is that Americans have embraced the hamburger, as its national food. According to Fast Food Nation, Americans eat an estimated 13 BILLION hamburgers each year. Holy mother, that is A LOT of beef. I myself, on average, probably have 1-2 hamburgers per week. Probably closer to 1, but there have been times when I’ve had 2 or 3 in a week.

Why are burgers so good though? I mean, it’s simply ground meat between 2 pieces of bread. What else you choose to put in there is completely up to you, but the meat and the bun is the core. Some would say it’s the portability of a burger. It’s a lot like a sandwich. Having the ability to take it wherever you go and eat it with your hands and have a minimal mess makes the burger one of the most convenient things ever.

However, what makes a good burger great is a debate in itself. Factors include what kind of meat is used, the size of the patty, the cooking method, down to what other ingredients go onto the burger and even into the patty. People will argue about what kind of cheese to use, whether or not to use condiments, and which and if at all vegetables to add to your burger. Everybody, I personally believe, is entitled to their opinions and preferences, so don’t think I will sit here and try to convert you on how I like my burgers, nor do I want you to try to convert me on your preferences. I think the differences we have in that aspect help make this country great. I’m just saying.

Burgers, however, aren’t limited to just beef. Living in such a health conscious city (relatively) where everybody lives in the shadow of the glitz and glam of Hollywood and the plastic surgery filled area code 90210, there has been an ever increasing demand for non-beef alternatives, such as pork, chicken, turkey, and even vegetable burgers. Personally, as for that last one, you deserved to be flogged if you like or even order a veggie burger. It’s just wrong. Don’t argue with me, it just is.

Burgers also are no longer a fast food chain nor hole in the wall kind of food now. There are many chefs both here in LA and across this nation that have introduced a burger onto their menu and have taken their own version to a higher level. Here in LA, we have the likes of Govind Armstrong (8 oz. Burger Bar) and Eric Greenspan (Foundry) putting their own personal touches on a burger that is on their menu. In other cities, Hubert Keller, one of the world’s best chefs and owner of Fleur de Lys in both San Francisco and Las Vegas, has taken a more casual dining approach with Burger Bar, with locations in SF, Vegas, and St. Louis, MO. If I ever find myself in St. Louis, I know where I’m going. In several cities in the South, Chef Richard Blais, most notably of Top Chef Chicago, has a series of nostalgia-esque diners that goes by the name, Flip Burger. In Washington D.C., Spike Mendelsohn, also from Top Chef Chicago, has a “hamburger joint” called Good Stuff Eatery. In the Dallas area, Chef Tim Love’s Love Shack serves up burgers and other comfort American fare as the more casual experience of his handful of restaurants.

As you can probably gather, I LOVE burgers, of the meat variety of course. I may be Asian, and while I still love Asian food, as well as just about all ethnic food, I am still American deep down and as I said before, a burgers and pizza kind of guy. If it wasn’t going to kill me when I’m 35, I would eat burgers every day of my life. And if it wasn’t going to kill me, I would rapidly deteriorate every part of my physical and physiological body, as evidenced by Morgan Spurlock’s ludicrous 30 day McDonald’s binge in the movie, Supersize Me. I love burgers, but I’m not crazy enough to perform a stunt like that.

While I haven’t had every single burger there is to have in and around Los Angeles and other parts of this country, I still have had quite a few burgers both in LA and other cities around this country and on my travels. This post is to highlight those burgers and just simply a celebration of my love for the meaty creation.

Orange County

Instead of beginning in my hometown of LA, I will actually end in LA, thus I will start just down the 5 freeway in Orange County. I actually have not had that many burgers in Orange County, that I can really remember anyway, but the 3 places that I do remember are actually in each of the 3 different categories I consider about 99% of burgers to be in: 1) Hole in the Wall Burger, 2) Casual Eats Burger and 3) Restaurant Burger.

Again, we begin in Orange County, well, North Orange County, in Anaheim Hills and Slaters 50/50, which I consider to be category #2: Casual Eats. I first had this burger at the Yelp OC Bacon Bash Elite event at the OC Fair, in which this place was one of vendors the OC Community Manager was able to book. Their signature burger is the 50/50 burger, a even mixture of ground beef and chopped bacon. Yes my friends, bacon. It is as they say, bacon makes everything better. Though to feed ravenous Yelpers, they cut their burgers into quarters, however that didn’t stop me from going back so many times I could have formed 1 ½ burgers. The first ¼ burger I had was like a stick of dynamite going off in my mouth. The bacon provided a slight textural contrast than if you had a normal 100% beef patty, and the guacamole, fried egg, and chipotle aioli all worked in harmony.

Many months later, I was able to visit the restaurant with a handful of friends. The place sells itself as a sports bar, in which when I went, they had 2 large flat panel televisions at the bar, but were in process of adding more TVs all around the restaurant, given away by a series of short length of white coaxial cable protruding from the wall at equally spaced spots. Among the other foods we ordered, I decided to get the 50/50 burger again.

To be completely honest, the burger was not as good as I remembered it. I am not sure what it was, but everything seemed to be the same, yet it wasn’t as good. I was unfortunately underwhelmed, yet it was by far not the worst burger I have ever had.

The next OC burger worth mentioning falls under the first category: Hole in the Wall. I’m talking about TK Burgers in Costa Mesa. A rather unsuspecting kind of place just across the street from The Lab and across the freeway from South Coast Plaza, this burger was actually not too bad considering the kind of place it was being served at. The burger is pretty standard, but its obviously good if I can actually remember it.

The final burger we see in Orange County was found at Sapphire Laguna Restaurant, in Laguna Beach. I was actually visiting a chocolatier shop next door, owned by someone my mom knows, and I wanted lunch beforehand. I was not aware there was a restaurant next door but as I was looking up places nearby, being next door made it quite convenient. The restaurant seemed like it was pretty popular lunch spot, as evidenced by a crowded outdoor patio. Of course when you’ve got a view of the Pacific Ocean, you want to take advantage of that. The dining room itself was not very crowded though. I sat down and while a lot of the dishes looked and sounded quite appetizing, I eventually ended up getting the burger, which was advertised as being an American Kobe beef burger. It was served with melted cheese, caramelized onions, tomato and arugula, on a brioche bun. The burger was pretty good and all of the elements worked well with each other. I’m not enough of a Kobe beef expert to tell if it really was Kobe beef, but I still liked it.

San Diego

Our next city, we go further South to San Diego. I love it down there for its clean air, relatively light traffic, and the chill atmosphere. Plus, it’s not LA, and a brief change of scenery is nice once in awhile. Most of the times I went down there, we ended up going to Tadashi Sushi, and the rest of time, we wouldn’t really eat much of anything else. However, one time I went down there, my friends and I came across Hash House A Go Go on a whim. We had just come from Extraordinary Desserts just down the street and we were all experiencing a sugar high, so we were craving some salty. We just happened to drive past, as 5th Street is a one way street coming from ED, and decided to stop and give it a try. This place serves traditional American fare with large portions, including massive 2 patty-l pound burgers. As full as we were from the cakes we had at Extraordinary Desserts, the 4 of us decided to share one burger, making 4-1/4 lb burgers, which is ideally the amount of meat you want in a serving, but I’m not trying to be a health nut here.

I wish I had a picture of the enormous burger, but it was darn delicious. The one we ordered had guacamole and thick applewood smoked bacon. It was definitely a great burger and while it was the only burger I’ve had in all of the greater San Diego area, it is definitely my favorite down there. I definitely will go there next time I’m in San Diego as the last couple of times I’ve been down there, I haven’t been to Hash House. Their breakfast is also really good.

Sacramento

We next move up to Northern California and to, no, not San Francisco, but instead more inland to the state capitol of Sacramento. The first burger we start off with is at Ford’s Real Hamburgers. The place is your typical, run-of-the-mill window walk-up corner burger joint, and I ordered a standard cheeseburger, with onions, lettuce and tomato. This burger was supposedly voted best burger by the Sacramento newspaper, but apparently their food critic didn’t really know what a good burger is because the burger was just ok. The bun was a little dry. If I remember correctly, I enjoyed the steak fries more than my burger.

The next burger I had in Sacramento (on a separate trip), was at Jim Denny’s diner near Downtown Sacramento. This place was recently on Man v Food, but was featured for their breakfast. However, when my friend and I went, it was almost time for lunch and while we probably could have still ordered breakfast, we were in the mood for lunch. Plus, when I had gone, it was long before Adam Richman even had probably considered visiting Sacramento for the show, so I didn’t know they were known for their breakfast. The burger was a little better than what I had the previous year at Ford’s, but I still enjoyed it. The accompaniments were the same: caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and pickle. One thing I liked about that place, despite the smallness of it, was the fact that you could smell everything coming out of the kitchen because it was just that small, and where my friend and I were sitting, we were just across from the flat top, essentially guaranteeing us a fresh burger because we were sitting right there.

The final burger destination we see in Sacramento is the famous Squeeze Inn. I first saw this place on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dive’s, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it. Luckily my friend I was staying with was kind enough to do what I wanted, and he even told me they had opened a 2nd and much larger location about 20 minutes away. I had heard the original location was pretty small, hence the name, so while going there would have probably been a more “authentic” experience, we opted to go to the larger location.

As for the burger itself, if you’re not familiar with the burgers at Squeeze Inn, what they’re known for is their large cheese skirt. A cheese skirt is the cheese that melts off the sides of the burger and gets slightly crispy on the griddle. It’s just about as good as cheesepaper if not better. This is achieved by a heaping amount of shredded cheese that is placed on the burger as its still cooking, then covered, so the cheese is allowed to melt and steam. The amount of cheese they use if definitely more than one needs, but again, how else will you achieve the cheeseskirt? Exactly.

The burger was really good and hot and juicy. The cheeseskirt is what I imagined it to be, but overall, I think I may have over-hyped the burger for myself. I mean, it was still good and ranks up there as one of the better burgers I’ve had, especially with a nice soft bun, but yes, I think I may have over-hyped it to the point that prevented a good burger to being a great burger.

Please come back tomorrow for Part 2, as we continue with visits to Portland, Las Vegas, Chicago, and here in Los Angeles!!!

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Fraiche LA: New Place, Same Ben

Posted by Austios on January 8, 2011

For about a year and a half, Chef Ben Bailly had been wowing both his loyal followers and his patrons at the wonderful Petrossian Café & Boutique in West Hollywood with signature dishes such as the Napolean tartare, truffle mac & cheese, and truffle burger. I was fortunate enough to dine at the restaurant during his tenure there and meet the man in person after having only interacted with him via Twitter prior.

In early November, I personally first heard word, from the man himself, that he was leaving Petrossian and moving on to somewhere else within LA. That night, he would not reveal where he was headed, but it was only a mere few days after did the news begin to spread that he would be taking over the kitchen at Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City for Jason Travi, who was the chef/co-owner prior and is now the corporate chef for Jeffery Best, who is the proprietor of Firefly in Studio City, Mesa in Costa Mesa, and Darkroom on Melrose.

For the past couple of years, I had always wanted to go have dinner at Fraiche, but being out in West LA and for me living in Pasadena, it was a little bit of a trek and I never made it out. However, as much as I love Chef Ben, I knew I had to make an effort to go try the new menu as well as visit a friend. It actually wasn’t long until I had gotten my wish. One random day, Ben invited me into the restaurant to try the food and check things out. After a brief dialogue, I decided to go on a Monday evening, when I knew it wasn’t going to be terribly busy.

Fraiche is located in the heart of Downtown Culver City, which is actually quite a nice neighborhood relative to the surrounding areas. There also is quite a nice mix of eateries as well, including Kay & Dave’s, Libra Brazilian Steakhouse, Tender Greens, Akasha, and Ford’s Filling Station, as well as many others.

The restaurant itself is gorgeous with a warm and welcoming color scheme, a cozy bar and lounge area, and a beautiful open kitchen. The hostess told Chef Ben I had arrived and he briefly came out to greet me. He asked if I was hungry, to which I subtly concurred and he said to just have a seat and that he’d take care of me. I was seated in the back corner of the dining room, relatively near the kitchen and took in the beauty of the restaurant. And yes, I was by myself.

Ben came out again and told me I didn’t need to order and that he would just send me out various dishes. I trusted his judgment and after our essentially 7 course meal when he was at Petrossian, he had an idea of how much I could eat.

My server, Gustavo, came by and I ordered a glass of the Venica & Venica Pinot Grigio from Italy. I was first presented a “bar snack” of almonds and olives tossed in olive oil and some orange rind.

My wine arrived soon after that, and not long after that, my first course arrived. I was presented with “Vitello Tonnato”, or Veal Steak Tartare. The tartare was tossed in tonnato sauce, then topped with arugula and parmesan cheese. This was incredibly delicious and a great way to start with the meal. My wine actually paired quite well with this dish. Unintentional wine pairing, how sweet is that.

When I finished the tartare, the sommelier, Paul, stopped by and having been informed that Ben was going to just send me out random dishes, he asked if I wanted a wine pairing with my dinner. I paused for a second, but then told him maybe not every course, as I was thinking about needing to drive home afterward.

Next course to come out was the Housemade Agnolotti, stuffed with mascarpone and ricotta cheeses, served with crimini mushrooms and a truffle butter. The truffle butter permeated wonderfully and was a nice rich finish to the awesomeness of the agnolotti. Paul paired this with a Trefethen Chardonnay, from California. It was not too crisp and was slightly buttery, to compliment the truffle butter.

Next dish sent out was the Basil Risotto, served with chewy escargot, lemon oil, and tomato. The risotto was cooked very nice, and the escargot provided some added richness while the lemon oil and tomato provided subtle acidity to bring great harmony to the dish. Paul came out prior to the dish arriving, as he did with each course, going with a Sancerre from Domaine Cherrier in France. Another wonderful pairing. *Note – I was actually starting to get a little full at this point

Slightly to my amazement, the next course was yet another pasta dish, this time the lamb papardelle, with tomatoes, olives, and gruyere cheese. The lamb was nice and tender, the papardelle perfect, and dish having great balance and flavor. I, for one, love lamb, so this was a great dish, even though a third consecutive pasta dish nearly had me wishing I had worn my fat pants. Not that I have fat pants, but I could have uncouthly unbutton my belt. Not that I would have, but you know…

Not knowing how many courses Ben was planning on sending out, and starting to get really, really full, I was hoping there wasn’t much more. Ben took a short break from cooking, as it was getting into the later portion of service, to come out and check to see how I was doing. I complimented him on how everything was great, but conceded that was getting pretty full. He said he had one more dish to send out, then dessert, so at least I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

Paul came by and brought the last wine, a Close du Prieur Pic St. Loup, from France, saying its earthiness would hold up to the truffle burger. Once he said truffle burger, I got really excited because that was the one dish I really wanted to try. I actually had tweeted about it like a week prior and I guess he remembered I had wanted to try it. Caroline was insanely jealous because she was actually a table over from me but did not receive the burger and had left long before it arrived at my table. The burger was just absolutely perfect. It had onion marmalade, boschetto, and truffle aioli. I devoured yet simultaneously enjoyed every morsel of that thing, and I polished off the fries as well, even though I was incredibly stuffed.

Finally, we arrive at dessert. I actually was hoping Paul would come out with a dessert wine, but alas, no dice. It’s ok, I probably had enough to drink anyway. What came out was the pistachio crème brulee, a dish I had at Petrossian, served with apricot sorbet and a rosemary shortbread crumble. The crème brulee was great like I remembered it, although the layer of burnt sugar was quite thick. The apricot was a nice pairing with the pistachio and the rosemary shortbread provide a hint of savoriness to the dish. It was garnished with a caramel sugar deco that was supposed to look like the wings of a dragonfly. *shrug*

Way beyond stuffed, I thanked Chef Ben for everything. I knew it would all be delicious, and I, in a way, wished I had been to Fraiche during the Travi days to have some sort of comparison, but Ben really delivered. We joked with each other during the later courses of my meal that I would probably need to sleep at the restaurant because I was so full and felt like I couldn’t move.

I cannot wait to return to try more of the food. Merci Chef!!!!

Fraiche LA
9411 Culver Blvd,
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 839-6800

Fraiche in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Fraiche Culver City on Urbanspoon

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2010 Year in Review

Posted by Austios on December 31, 2010

I actually hadn’t thought about doing this, or rather, it slipped my mind. But thanks to Josie of Uncouth Gourmands, I was actually inspired to put out a sequel to my 2009 in review.

Looking back at 2010, it was again not the perfect year for a lot of things in my life, but I’m still here in this world doing what I love and having had another year filled with great food.

But let’s get right to the point, shall we?

January


I started this post with what actually might have been my best meal of 2010 if not in the top 3. As you all know, our beloved Ben Bailly has recently left his post at Petrossian Café & Boutique to take over the kitchen of Fraiche in Downtown Culver City. However, back in January of this year, Ben had only been at Petrossian for less than a year but was doing wonderful things with the menu. Ben and I had been following each other for just a few months but what I especially loved about him was his presence on twitter. He was very interactive and tweeted a lot, and he seemed like a really great guy, so I didn’t hesitate to tell him we were coming in for dinner during the first week of DineLA. I was originally supposed to come with Felicia, Andee and Anisha, but after some traffic issues, it ended up being only me and Felicia.

The entire meal was fantastic and I don’t think there was one dish that I didn’t even remotely enjoy. Everything we had that night was delicious but probably our favorite dish was Ben’s glorious truffle mac and cheese. It was just… *sigh*

Honorable Mention – Bone Marrow at Church & State and Pork Belly at Road to Seoul.

February


February was a very busy month in terms of the food I ate. I took my one and only trip of 2010 up to San Francisco and the bay area, in which I made my way in and throughout town eating what I could, and I probably didn’t even hit half of 1% of what the city has to offer. I literally was all over the place, spending my 3+ days equally between the City, Berkeley, and South Bay/San Jose. While my entire trip was filled with great food, as I usually try to whenever I travel. However, one of the many highlights, if not THE highlight of the trip was having dinner at Alice Water’s Chez Panisse. For those of you who haven’t been or are familiar with Chez Panisse, they change their menu daily, as a sign of their commitment to put the freshest ingredients possible onto your plate. That evening, there seemed to a seafood theme throughout the menu, capped off by a grilled stripped bass with a black truffle sauce, celery root and sunchoke puree, chanterelle mushrooms, and braised escarole. That piece of fish might as well have been swimming when I arrived at the restaurant. You know the fish is fresh when it still tastes like the sea that it came out of. Not only was it obviously very very fresh, it was cooked PERFECTLY. Fabulous dish that could not have been executed any better.

Honorable Mention – Pork 2 ways at Gary Danko, Banana Cream Pie at Suzanne Tract’s Jar, and the Fried Chicken at Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen in Berkeley.

March


For those of you who know me, I may be Taiwanese, but I actually prefer down home American food. Burgers, pizza, chicken wings, steak, and sandwiches. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that March goes to none other than the Grilled Cheese and Short Rib sandwich from Joan’s on Third. I first learned about the sandwich when I received my February 2010 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, with aforementioned sandwich immediately beckoning me on the front cover. I just about near drooled on the fresh magazine when I saw this bad boy. I made a mental note of it and luckily a few weeks later, was able to convince Andee to join me for lunch.

The sandwich was just as good as it looked and it was a perfectly harmony of the tender short rib, melted cheese, arugula, and onions on buttery toasted bread. It was so good that I was even contemplating getting another one to go. I have since converted a handful of people onto that sandwich, including 2 of the Boobs4Food.

Honorable Mention – Beef Noodle Soup at Won Won Kitchen in Temple City, and Thai Slaw Dog at The Slaw Dogs in Pasadena.

April


April was a relatively slow month for eating, at least compared to January and February, with the exception of the first of two trips to Ludobites 4.0 at Grams & Papa’s in Downtown Los Angeles. Chef Ludo Lefebvre is Los Angeles’ other beloved French Chef, and along with his wife, Krissy, they have made such a booming sensation out of Ludobites, having had 2 more successful runs this year as well as launch the LudoTruck. While every dish that evening was wonderful, my favorites were probably the squid carbonara as well as the foie gras croquet monsieur, which actually was not on the menu that night but Krissy sent a couple out as a thank you for letting her switch our reservation to make room for Gordon Ramsay and his party, who actually ended up being a no show anyway.

Honorable Mention – Carne Asada burrito at El Metate in Pasadena and the Taiwanese Pork Chop banh mi (and just about everything else there) at Starry Kitchen in Downtown Los Angeles.

May


Not to sound a little redundant, but I would have to say my best meal of May 2010 was again at Ludobites 4.0. Yes, I went a 2nd time. There were some dishes that were the same, but there were a few different ones, including a soft shell crab cornet. That was really good and probably could have eaten about 5 or 6 of those on my own.

Honorable Mention – Combination burrito with carne asada at Tonny’s in Pasadena, a return visit to Road to Seoul in Koreatown, and the Honey Pork at Daisy Mint in Pasadena.

June


June was actually a pretty good month as well. As for the best meal of the month, I feel it was a tie between dinner at Grace and the Hatchi Dinner Series with Walter Manzke at Breadbar in Century City. Dinner at Grace was in fact their final night of service at their Beverly Blvd. location, as they are scheduled to reopen in the rectory building of the Virbiana Cathedral in Downtown LA sometime in 2011. Well, that is the plan but we all know how restaurant openings go. I was fortunate enough to attend this dinner courtesy of Kevin and was joined by Mike, Darin and Diana. We all indulged in the Chefs’ tasting menu with wine pairing. One of the highlights for me that evening was the roast suckling pig with potato gnocchi, chanterelle mushrooms, white asparagus, and pork jus. Pork perfection.

The Hatchi dinner with Walter Manzke was great as well and offered a great variety as the theme of the menu took us around the world. As well, all of that food that night was just magnificent, but the highlights for me was the white corn curry soup with mussels and tapioca. Great depth of flavor and balance.

Honorable Mention – Lamb Pita at Bella Pita in Westwood and the Katsu Curry with Rice at Suehiro Café in Little Tokyo.

July


The highlight of July was probably the double cut pork chop at Bistro 45 in Pasadena. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with sautéed apples and a red wine reduction. I was trying to decide between this dish and another, and without hesitation, our server told me to get the pork chop. I personally love pork chops, so I’m so glad he told me to get it. Service at the restaurant was magnificent as well.

Honorable Mention – Sun-dried tomato, spinach, and artichoke pizza at Nonna’s Pizzeria in South Pasadena and the Nasi Bungkus at Simpang Asia in Culver City.

August
By far the highlight of August was when I went to Searsucker in San Diego, which is Chef Brian Malarkey’s (Top Chef Season 3) new restaurant. I am a big fan of Chef Malarkey and I love it down in San Diego, so I made sure I made time to go there for dinner. The space is massive but very beautiful and the food was great. The highlight was my main course, braised pork butt with bacon emulsion and peaches. The touch of thyme on the peaches was great and my pork was very tender and very flavorful, having been braised in a concoction containing both peach schnapps and peach brandy.

Honorable Mention – The ribs at Phil’s BBQ in San Diego

September


In what is one of the biggest landslides of a “margin of victory”, the highlight of September was my visit to Animal. Yes, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo are speaking my language just simply with the name of the restaurant. My friend and I loved everything we had, but by far our favorite, as evidenced when we got a 2nd order, was the pork belly sliders. The pork belly was perfect melt in your mouth, and I loved the slaw. I am SOOO sad I don’t have a picture of that bad boy. Well, I think my friend has a picture of it on her phone, but she hasn’t shared… yet.

Honorable Mention – Sliced Pork Belly at Daikokuya in Monterey Park and the Cowboy Ribeye at Arroyo Chophouse in Pasadena.

October


October was another relatively slow month in terms of eating, but by no means does that mean that the pork burger at Wood Spoon in Downtown LA was a result of there being nothing better to choose. The pork burger was seasoned with a lot of pepper, but not overpowering, and topped with pickled cabbage. It was very tender and juicy.

Honorable Mention – Kimchi Fries from Frysmith

November


As we begin to wind down my 2010 recap, I look back again at almost everything I’ve eaten and at the places I’ve been to and I’ve noticed, at least for a lot of places I’ve been to, it’s been the year of the pork belly. I’ve probably already mentioned pork belly at least half a dozen times in this post, and I’ve got one more going under the month of December. But I digress.

November was highlighted by a trip to Joe’s Restaurant in Venice. I was invited to my first media dinner ever and was treated to a wonderful array of 11 courses from Chef Joseph Miller and Chef de Cuisine Kris Tominga. Everything was great and Chef Joe Miller and all of the service staff did a marvelous job taking care of us that evening. One of my favorites definitely had to of been the lamb sirloin, cooked to a perfect medium rare, served with a beet risotto and lamb ragout. Aesthetically, the dish was very red, but it tasted awesome.

Honorable Mention – B.L.A.S.T. hotdog at Doghaus in Pasadena

December


Though I technically went in November, it was close enough to December that I’ll consider this (yes, I might be cheating a little) as December. I find it only befitting that as I began this post with a meal by Ben Bailly, I finish it with another meal by him, but this time at his new employer, Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City. While everything he sent out to me that night (I did NO ordering whatsoever) was AWESOME, I can’t thank him enough for sending me out the truffle burger, which is only on the lunch menu. By that time I was incredibly full, but like a true warrior, I finished that burger and enjoyed every little bit of it. Oh man… I still dream of it sometimes. (full post to come soon)

Honorable Mention – Pork Belly Sandwich at Forage in Silverlake and Lamb Shank at Mo-Chica in Downtown LA.

And thus is my 2010 year in review. I hope to continue to have more great food memories in 2011 and I leave you saying Happy New Year and cheers, love, and good food in 2011!!


image courtesy of this

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Joe’s Restaurant

Posted by Austios on November 26, 2010

For over 20 years, Chef Joe Miller has brought the people of Venice, particularly in the Abbot Kinney neighborhood, a casual yet refined take on California-French cuisine with dishes and tastes that have patrons returning time and time again. Over the years, while the neighborhood has apparently transformed into its now indie, trendy self, Joe’s has remained true to its original form.

I had the privilege of dining here not too long ago and was treated to an 11-course dinner alongside a handful of fellow food and writing enthusiasts. We were presented items from their new fall menu, and both Joe and his Chef de Cuisine, Kris Tominaga, both came out for each course to explain the dish in detail. Well, apparently Kris was a little shy and maybe came out twice during the entire meal.

One nice touch of the evening was that our menus were personalized, with a “Welcome ____” and signed by both Joe and Kris.

Glancing over the menu, it definitely did feature a lot of seasonally fall ingredients and all sounded quite enticing.

Starting our progression off was a charcuterie platter of pork, rabbit, duck, proscuitto, and chorizo with pickled vegetables and purple mustard. Between 4 people on my side of the table, I managed only a couple of small nibbles of the pork, chorizo, and proscuitto, but they were all quite good.

Our amuse bouche arrived: chestnut soup with parmesan froth and guanciale. For those of you who don’t know what guanciale is, it is an unsmoked Italian bacon made from a pig’s cheek meat. The flavor and texture of the soup was spot on and the parmesan froth lent out its natural saltiness to balance the subtle sweetness of the soup.

1st course was an Eastern fluke crudo with finger lime, radish salad, salted grape, and saletta. Some sort of 1-2 bite sashimi dish with citrus seems to be a more widely practiced opening course, especially since fresh local fish seems to be more readily available for restaurants. Also, a light fish such as this paired with citrus is just about a near perfect combination. The radish salad and salted grape provide wonderful herbaceous and sweet, respectively, contrasts.

Next came pan seared foie gras with persimmon prepared 2 ways, pistachio butter, brioche, and huckleberry vinaigrette. The piece of foie gras was seared wonderfully, and just being 1-2 bites, I attempted to get everything into one single bite. I will have to tell you, the way each element worked with each other, it just, well…. worked. I personally LOVE foie gras, so even this small 2 bite nugget was such a treat.

Next in the progression was pan roasted dayboat scallops, braised artichoke, sunchoke puree, cauliflower mushroom, and yuzu kosho butter. I personally LOVE scallops, so I was excited to see this dish. The other elements definitely brought a sense of the autumn season onto the plate, and the flavors were complimentary.

Staying in the ocean, we moved onto a grilled Fijiian escolar, with parsnip puree, local squid, crisp pork belly, fuyu persimmon, okinawan purple sweet potato, and pink peppercorn vinaigrette. Yes, quite a bit going on this plate. The fish was perfect, the parsnip puree had good flavor, however I wasn’t able to much of the other elements on the plate. Not because I don’t feel the flavors were prominent enough, but again, I was sharing the family style dishes with 3 other people.

Next course featured slow roasted jidori chicken breast and pistachio roulade, served with chestnut and foie agnolotti, Brussels sprouts, pancetta, and rutabaga puree. The chicken was nice and the pistachio added a wonderful nutty balance. The agnolotti was quite flavorful with the chestnut and a touch of foie gras. However, the brussel sprouts and rutabaga puree seemed to be lost in this dish.

As for a finale of our savory dishes, and what ended up being probably one of the favorite dishes of the evening: Sonoma lamb sirloin, served with a beet risotto and lamb ragout, with bulls blood greens. The lamb was absolutely cooked perfectly with no gaminess (several “Oh my God”s were said between I and one of my fellow diners), and the beet risotto had nice flavor and seasoned well, which was a little surprising because I was expecting the beet flavor to overpower a little. The bits of lamb swimming throughout added further subtle richness to the dish.

For dessert, we were offered 3 different dishes, all served simultaneously. The first of these was a pumpkin crème caramel, or flan, with pumpkin seed streusel, caramel, and chestnut ice cream. The custard had good flavor, but I couldn’t get over an apparent grittiness, however, the streusel and ice cream were wonderful texture and flavor contrasts.

Next dessert I tasted was a warm baked apple, with cranberry-caramel sauce, and allspice crème fraiche. While the flavors and textural contrasts were there (which I look for especially in dessert, I will be honest and say this was my least favorite of the 3. I hate to speak rather unfondly of dessert, especially being a pastry chef myself, but even those with a sweet tooth do not like everything in the dessert world.

The last of the desserts, and definitely my favorite of the 3, mascarpone cheesecake, with figs, candied pistachios, honey-cinnamon sauce, and vanilla ice cream. The cheesecake had great flavor and texture, and the other elements paired with each other quite nicely. I definitely may need to “steal” this idea for potentially future work.

While I heard my fellow diners mention that there were definitely some hits and misses throughout the progression, we all came to an accord that the meal was wonderful and that we all enjoyed it very much. I can now see why Joe’s has been around for such a long time, especially in these trying times and the way our economy has unintentionally forced other restaurants and food establishments to close their doors. Chef Joe’s loyal fans will probably never stop coming back, and I hope to soon dine here once again.

Joe’s Restaurant
1023 Abbot Kinney Ave.
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 392-5655

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Searsucker: What San Diego Needs

Posted by Austios on August 13, 2010

For those of us not in the San Diego area or necessarily enveloped in the food and/or restaurant scene on a national level, we first became beknownst of Chef Brian Malarkey on Bravo TV’s Top Chef Season 3, specifically for his tongue twisting, longer than Padma’s beautiful hair, description of an elk dish in the elimination challenge that would have sent him to the 3 way finale. At the time, he was the Executive Chef at the Oceanaire Seafood Room in San Diego, CA. I had made a mental note to try the restaurant when I was in San Diego. Unfortunately in August of 2009, Malarkey vacated the helm of Oceanaire and in subsequent months, began revealing plans for another project.

The said project being Chef Malarkey’s first restaurant, Searsucker, which has been quite highly anticipated especially by San Diego locals.

A native of Oregon, Chef Malarkey grew up being exposed to his grandmother’s cooking, who coincidentally had James Beard often as a guest. That led him to enroll in the Western Culinary Institute’s Le Cordon Bleu program in Portland. After graduation, he has held various positions in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Seattle, before ultimately relocating to San Diego in 2004 as Executive Chef of the Oceaniare Seafood Room, in which in a mere 6 years, has won over 60 industry awards, including Malarkey being named San Diego’s Best Chef in 2009.

When talk about his new restaurant arose earlier this year, being from Los Angeles and not San Diego, there actually wasn’t that much I was hearing about it. I do follow him on Twitter, but there wasn’t much going on with that either. Then I believe randomly one day, I get a follow from “Searsucker” and I soon realize Chef Malarkey is attached to it and I realize that is his new restaurant.

Last week when I decided to go down to San Diego on one of my days off as a mini vacay as well as a personal retreat. Long story short, I had a relatively rough week piled on with a few things on my mind, so a little mini getaway was well needed. Plus, it had been several years since I have been to San Diego and I absolutely love it down there, so it was a natural pick. When I was deciding where to go for dinner, this place almost immediately came to mind because I had been seeing numerous tweets talking about the food and whatnot, so it was a clear sign that it was now open for business. I actually made a reservation for myself (though I probably didn’t need it) through Open Table and was set.

After spending a majority of the afternoon in Point Loma and enjoying relaxing at Cabrillo National Monument, I made the 20 minute drive, with a tiny bit of traffic, to the Gaslamp district of San Diego. The neighborhood is actually quite reminiscent of Downtown Long Beach, with a eclectic mix of restaurants, coffee shops, bars and pubs, and other miscellaneous stores and shops. The restaurant is right on the corner of 5th and Market, so it is quite hard to miss. Well, there is no signage outside, but the valet right outside is a good indicator. If you wish to skip out on the $15 valet, there are other options, such as one of the many parking lots and/or structures scattered throughout the area, or if you’re super lucky, manage to snag a spot on the street.

Being a Friday night right at the peak early dinner hour (6 PM), the streets were crawling with people. Upon entering the restaurant, I was greeted by 4 lovely young women. Well, there were 4 of them but I actually only really spoke to 2 of them. Behind them was the restaurant and the space that was inspired by Chef Malarkey’s childhood. This space actually used to be the retail store Z Gallerie, so it’s always impressive to see a restaurant be made out of a non-restaurant intended space. The bar area and lounge occupies about half if not a little more than half of the 7,000 square foot space, while the dining room and completely open kitchen occupy the other half. The transition from one side to the other is relatively seamless, as the only “divider” really is the lounge furniture. I checked in with one of the hostesses with my reservation and I was immediately led to my table, located near the far corner from the kitchen, which actually was ok because allowed me to observe the entire place and people watch. I mean, I was dining by myself, so what else is there for me to do?

Within a quick couple of minutes, my server, Laura, came by to introduce herself and let me know about any menu specials as well as take my beverage order. Looking over the menu and thinking about Malarkey’s concept for the food, his approach is a “twist on classic New-American dishes”. There was also a simplicity that exuded from the words on the menu. “Less is more” I guess you can say. I told Laura that I would just take water and look over the wine menu.

There were no wines, however, that really stuck out to me.

I had previously looked at the website (in which the menu actually was just posted a couple days prior) and 2 items in particular that stuck out to me: duck fat fries and bacon grits. The duck fat fries were an appetizer and the bacon grits were one of the a la carte sides dishes. I also read that one of their signatures was the pork butt. While waiting for Laura to return, I noticed the 2 Caucasian ladies in their 30s or 40s sitting next to me were having these little doughy bites. I looked the menu and I determined they were the cheese puffers, $2. I kindly asked if they were any good and one of them said it was “like a cheesy croissant” and she said they just sent it out and they didn’t order it. I figured for $2, why not. Laura returned and I told her I would definitely be getting the duck fat fries and the bacon grits. I told her I was thinking about the cheese puffers but wasn’t sure, to which she said they would be sending them out compliments of the chef anyway. That was easy. I then told her I was leaning towards the pork butt, but she went right ahead and said it was a very good choice. Again, her confidence in my selections made my life easier.

After a quick couple of minutes, the complimentary cheese puffers arrived. 4 pillowy sand dollar sized discs of cheesy goodness. I suppose aesthetically, when I hear “puffers”, I would imagine these to be, you know, “puffier”. Regardless, they were good and I almost ordered another.

Next, my duck fat fries arrived. Topped with crispy proscuitto “powder” and served with a side of sun-dried tomato jam, these were perfectly crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked on the inside. There actually wasn’t much presence from the duck fat, but the salty bits of proscuitto were nice. The tomato jam was good as well even though it was not really needed.

While I was still working on the fries (I told her to bring them as they came), the pork butt and bacon grits came out. Both looked and smelled absolutely wonderful.

I took my spoon and mixed up the grits. How can you go wrong with anything that has bacon in it? These were really good. Not life-changing good, but really good. I do have to say they were a little underseasoned, but luckily there were salt and pepper shakers on the table. I will have to also say that throughout my meal, as the grits continued to sit, it began to gelatinize a little. Not in an unpleasant way, but by the end, the consistency was close to what would be considered a medium polenta. I mean, yes, it’s cornmeal, it will continue to absorb any moisture even after you’re done cooking it, but I think its still something that can be fine-tuned. I’m just saying.

I didn’t waste any time digging into my braised pork butt. Served with grilled peaches and a bacon emulsion, I was ready to devour the plate. The pork easily pulled apart with slight effort from my fork and I kid you not, upon taking that first bite, my first reaction was “wow”. It was incredibly flavorful, tender and moist. I enjoyed every bite of it. The grilled peaches were a great accompaniment and I loved the touch of fresh thyme on top. Laura later told me the braising liquid contains both peach schnapps and peach brandy, further accenting the summer flavor. The bacon emulsion was great as well, but in all honesty, was not really needed. Laura even admitted the emulsion was not necessarily needed. I hope that comment didn’t just cost her her job.

At this point, I was incredibly full, but earlier that week, I had responded to one of the restaurant’s tweets (which apparently are tweeted by Chef Malarkey himself) that I would try their cinnamon sugar donuts, commenting that we have a similar dessert at the restaurant I work at, so I was determined to stick to my word and order the donuts. I ordered a cappuccino to go along side that.

The cappuccino came first, and was nicely presented alongside a small cast iron pot with cubes of sugar and sugar packets. I thought that was a nice little touch. I’m no coffee expert but the cappuccino was good. There was A LOT of foam though

The donuts finally arrived and while I was probably expecting something along the size that our restaurant serves (a little smaller than a tennis ball), these were actually donut holes. Served alongside a small ramekin of malted chocolate cream, the donuts nice crunchy, bit size pieces of sugary goodness. Because of their shear tinyness, it’s nearly impossible for the middle to be soft and pillowy as you would normally imagine from “normal” sized donuts, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right? The malted chocolate cream appeared to be partially whipped so it had a thicker consistency than what we have at our restaurant, but I was actually really good.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner. Throughout the night, Chef Malarkey took the time to personally go to different tables to check and see how everything was. He also was fulfilling requests for those who wanted to speak with him and/or take a photograph. I actually took advantage of that and got a chance to speak with him briefly and introduce myself. He’s genuinely a really nice guy and doesn’t have any air of arrogance or anything. Not that he has ever gotten that rap, but I’ve met a couple of chefs who I thought were really cool but when I met them, seemed a little arrogant. But then again maybe I just caught them on a bad day. Chef Malarkey left me saying “Tell everybody in LA to come check us out!” really enthusiastically. I love that.

While I am not a San Diego native nor have I frequently any of the surrounding businesses, I can definitely see why some of the buzz surrounding this place claims that this is the type of eatery that the Gaslamp district needs.

I definitely cannot wait until my next trip to San Diego, because yes, I will definitely be making reservations here again.

Thank you Chef Malarkey!

Searsucker
611 5th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 233-7327

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