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Welcome!

Welcome to my blog, and all things I consider good eats. This blog serves to chronicle where I’ve been in the food world, launched in November 2009.  I’ve been into food since around 2004,  and I thought it was about time to start documenting some of my ventures.

I’ve separated my posts into categories on the right, mainly into “Dining In,” “Dining Out,” or “Festivals,” as well as a particular region (for example, Southern California).

An index of posts is shown below for ease of navigation:

Dining Out
Northern California:  Ad Hoc [2] | Aziza | Bottega | Quince | The French Laundry | The Restaurant at Meadowood

Southern California: Bottega Louie | Bouchon | Church & State| Craft | Drago Centro | Old Vine Cafe | Pizzeria Ortica

Dining In
Christmas 2009 | Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake | Steak | Steamed Fish | Thanksgiving 2009

Festivals
Gold Standard | LA Street Food Fest

Old Vine Cafe – 3/6/10

Old Vine Cafe
2937 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

On a rainy day in Southern California, I found myself at Old Vine Cafe in Costa Mesa, the first leg in a day of eating in Orange County, which would include Old Vine, A & J, 85 Degrees Celsius Bakery, Andrei’s and Pizzeria Ortica. Located in a unique shopping center called the Camp, it serves seasonal American food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant fits in with the rest of the theme of the Camp with a woody cabin-like exterior.

We decided to order a small sampling of the dishes across the breakfast and lunch menus, starting with:

Caprese of Mozzarella Buratta – Imported Buratta, flash fried Arugula, Grape Tomatoes & Citrus Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A beautiful dish here with the burrata and tomato base, a large handful of fried arugula and on top, and a drizzling of olive oil. The interplay of the colors was just fantastic. I thought the burrata could’ve been a little creamier, but it was good. The tomatoes were excellent, as well. However, I thought there was kind of a lot of arugula, and the fried flavor of it overpowered the dish if you took too much in one forkful.

We tried something from the breakfast menu, which was quite simple and well executed.

Gourmet Sausage & Eggs – Eggs Cooked Any Style with choice of Natural Sausage: Spicy Santa Fe or Chicken Apple

As I mentioned, this was a really well-executed dish. The eggs were perfect, and the sausage was delicious. We had the Santa Fe sausage, which had a little bit of spice and a lot of flavor. The Spanish style potatoes were good as well, well seasoned, but maybe could’ve been a little crisper. Really a very good breakfast dish.

From the lunch menu,

Beef & Truffles Panini – Thinly Sliced All Natural Rib Roast & Italian White Truffle Cheese with Garlic Aioli

This dish was a bit disappointing. The meat was cut pretty thin and small, so there wasn’t a lot of meat chew to this – no texture. The truffle was included as part of the cheese, and was pretty mild here. The homemade potato chips were good, but not spectacular.

Old Vine Cafe today was a bit hit-or-miss. I like the homey feel to the restaurant, with a lot of simple, seasonal cooking. I’d definitely come back for breakfast if I was in the area, or maybe to try it for dinner, as I’ve heard good things about their dinner as well.

Pizzeria Ortica
650 Anton Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

I had high expectations for Pizzeria Ortica, which, to me, resembles an Orange County rendition of Pizzeria Mozza. The restaurant serves a number of Italian specialties, focusing on pizzas and pastas. As always, I love an open kitchen and being able to the kitchen at work.

We tried just a few dishes, as we had dinner at Andrei’s just prior. To begin with:

Pappardelle al sugo d’agnello – Pappardelle pasta, braised lamb ragu, sheep’s milk ricotta

Disappointing. The pasta, made fresh in house, was good and prepared al dente. The lamb shank was a little gamey, but just mildly so. However, I was really missing the ragu here. I was expecting a rich  sauce to bring everything together, but instead it seemed like just chunks of lamb on top of pasta on top of ricotta. As a result it was a little bit on the dry side.

Salsiccia – House-made sausage, caramelized fennel, mascapone, red onion, buffalo grana

Sausage is probably my single favorite topping on a pizza. The sausage was good here, but the pizza disappointed. The crust was rather chewy instead of crispy, and the cheese did not really stand up to the rest of the toppings

Milanesa – Fontina, asparagus, Parmigiano Reggiano, fried egg

The Milanesa was a little more unique, topped with asparagus and a fried egg. The toppings were pretty good, but I found the pizza a bit salty, and it struggled from the same crust problems as the above.

Pizzeria Ortica was rather disappointing in general. What really shocked me most is the pizza and the crust. Perhaps it was an off-night for the dough/kitchen? Whatever it was, it didn’t live up to the pizza at Mozza or Bottega Louie of the week prior.

Gold Standard – 2/28/10

Gold Standard 2010
Petersen Auto Museum
6060 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036

The second annual Gold Standard, hosted by LA Weekly’s own Jonathan Gold, is a sampling is some of Jonathan Gold’s picks for the best tastes in Los Angeles. A number of restaurants and wineries converged on the Petersen Auto Museum to offer their signature bites and pours. One of the biggest criticisms of the year was the cramped space and long lines. I was worried about that this time around, but the Petersen Auto Museum was supposed to be a bigger space that resolved these issues.

On the way to the festival, we saw a couple of trucks parked, which would be a sign to come. Below, the Kogi truck – finding it without a line of people is a rare sight.

Urth Caffe would be serving up a selection of coffees and teas throughout the afternoon.
The first thing we approached as we entered was the line to get in.  Holy crap. This reminded me immediately of the LA Street Food Fest a couple of weeks prior, which was a huge concern.


However, the only thing we could do was wait, and in about 30 minutes we were into the event. While waiting, we strategized the priority restaurants at the event within the program. I was surprised by the number of wineries (about 55) that were present, as they were not advertised initially at all. Click on the below image for a larger picture.

Once inside, we were greeted with a whole lineup of restaurants and wineries, with lines that were much less than expected.

The ever-popular Mozza, headed by Nancy Silverton (below, middle), served a Ricotta Crostone with Peperonata.

Mozza always tends to serve dishes that showcases their cheeses at festivals, and this was no exception. The ricotta was light and flavorful, and the pepperonata lended a nice sweetness to the dish.

Sona offered a dish  of salmon sashimi over a rice cracker. Very good quality fish here, and the mixture of textures with the cracker played out well.

Next up, LudoBites. No fried chicken this time, and no 3.5 hour waits. Ludo served up a cold chorizo veloute with a cornichon sorbet. Definitely one of the more refined dishes of the night, it was a success as well. A good, but not overpowering chorizo flavor in the soup paired well with the sorbet. When talking to Ludo about the next LudoBites, he said it would be downtown in April – can’t wait!

Next up, Pollo a la Brasa, known for their Peruvian rotisserie chicken. I was really looking forward to this dish, as I had been hearing a lot about it. Unfortunately, I found the meat dry. I had two servings, one of the breast and one of the drumstick, and they were both a bit overcooked. I’ll attribute this to the fact that they have to cook their chicken ahead of the festival, and keep it warm until serving. The chicken had a really nice, strong smokey flavor to it.

BistroLQ was one of the most popular tables throughout the night. Unfortunately, I don’t remember exactly what they served, but there was oxtail and a slider, as well as tapioca below.

Lotteria grill was offering up a selection of tacos, including this lengua with avocado. Quite good.

Babita was another restaurant offering up tacos, this one with carnitas and onions. Good as well. It looks like the chef is pleased with how his tacos came out.

The now well-known Kogi truck was in attendance at the festival. I was eager to get a chance to sample something unique without having to wait in the line. Well, I got a little more than I bargained for.

Kogi offered up vegan tacos, with lettuce as the wrapper and tofu as the filling. While I definitely would have prefered a meat dish here, this one wasn’t too bad. If I had to eat something vegan, this wouldn’t disappoint.

Mo-Chica has sort of been an ‘underground hit’ this year, as it’s definitely not on the beaten path. Located in the food court of a Mexican market in the USC area, it’s not exactly something many will stumble upon. However, lots of reviews and word-of-mouth have really drawn attention to this establishment. On this night, they were serving an albacore ceviche with sweet white corn. A really fresh fish here, it was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Palate food & wine was offering up pork belly and pig ears banh mi with kumquat, pistachio and lardon. Another of the more popular dishes of the afternoon; however, I thought the bread was a bit too crunchy/chewy, leaving the filling to squish out.

Upstairs cafe offered braised kurobuta pork with crispy leeks and a beet risotto cake.  I found the pork, which I believed to be shoulder cut, to be surprisingly dry.

Jar served a couple of their signature items, which I thought was great. Chocolate pudding was offered, as well as butterscotch.

The pot roast was offered as well, topped with some sour cream. Very tender, and a generous portion. I’m pretty sure they used a brisket here, while the restaurant’s pot roast is of a short rib. Weird.

Jitlada, a Thai restaurant located in Thai town, is best known for having the spiciest dish in LA, according to Jonathan Gold, as well as having solid Thai cuisine. I had been before, and thought I could handle the beef dish they offered. Not true. Dammit, that dish was hot as well. I needed a warning sign before it seared off my tastebuds. The beef had a really weird texture too, being too tender/mushy.

The Hungry Cat was probably the most disorganized restaurant of the night, from what I saw. On the first visit to the table, there was one, sometimes two, people, trying to put something together in the back, and nothing came up to be served, The second time I came around, they were still working in the back, and finally served up this smoked salmon dish. The wait was not worthwhile as it was unimpressive.

Good Girl Dinette’s premise is ‘American diner meets Vietnamese comfort food.’ Hm. Interesting, but I was skeptical. Yelp raves about the cauliflower curry pot pie, and this afternoon they were offering mini chicken curry pot pies. Being a big pot pie fan, I tried one, and I thought it quite delicious. The chicken was in a nice curry gravy with a flaky crust.

Beacon featured the husband-wife duo of Kazuto Matsusaka and Vicki Fan, offering a five spice chicken salad and a pulled pork tostada. Unfortunately, I was not able to try these.

Wurstkuche offered up some of their well-known sausages.’ The three offered were the duck and bacon with spicy peppers, mango jalapeno with caramelized onions,  and the rattlesnake and rabbit topped with sweet peppers. These aren’t as good as in person at the restaurant, as some of the juices are lost when they cut the sausages, and the untoasted baguette used here can’t replace the toasted bun.

Kyochon served up some of their fried chicken wings, spicy and mild. This is Jonathan Gold’s favorite fried chicken in LA. They’re not mine, however.

Little Dom’s offered these fried oyster sliders. A little bit unique, which I liked. And good, too, with a nice juicy oyster.

Let’s be Frank was in attendance. Having tried it before, and knowing that I could try this hot dog anytime at their truck, I decided to save some room and pass on it.

The Ciudad/Border Grill tent served up “California-style tacos,” which were actually vegetarian tacos (featuring breaded and fried avocado). Mary Sue Milliken was serving them up herself!

There were a number of places serving up desserts, including Tiara Cafe. Here were mini black velvet cupcakes.

Saffron spot offered up four different flavors of ice cream. I tried the Saffron Silk and Guava – both good.

Nickel Diner had a bunch of large doughnut holes. I tried the maple bacon doughnut (bottom and right). Interesting, though I don’t think I really like bacon in my sweets.

Some teas were offered here, and you could take teabags. This company specializes in Pu-erh teas.

Huckleberry cafe offered a number of sweets and I tried the maple bacon biscuit. It was a little harder than expected, but not bad.

Bulgarini Gelato had a pretty long line, serving flavors such as goat’s milk with cocoa nibs, pistachio, chocolate-orange and raspberry.

I tried the chocolate-orange and pistachio – both were good.

As I mentioned earlier, and as shown in the lineup program, there were 50+ wineries offering wines to taste, sponsored by the Wine House. I was able to try about ten of them.

A number of beers, including Stella Artois, Singha, Kirin, and beers from New Belgium Brewing Co. were served. Also, whiskey.

It was a great event that exceeded expectations. The lines and crowds weren’t really a problem at all, and we were able to try everything we wanted. Man, that was a ton of food. The number of wines was also a plus. For the $60 price of a general admission entrance, I think it was really a good deal. I’ll be back next year.

Bottega Louie – 2/26/10

Bottega Louie
700 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Bottega Louie has been extremely popular since it opened up almost a year ago, just recently being called a “Best New Restaurant 2009″ by many publications, including Los Angeles Magazine. This is a large restaurant, and the lines can be hours long, a testament to the popularity of the establishment. So what’s the draw? It’s trendy, has a nice decor, and offers a menu with a wide array of dishes. And of course, the food is good too. It keeps within a fine balance, being both a nice and casual restaurant, housing people dressed to go out, and people in a t-shirt and shorts.

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and also contains a marketplace, bar, and patisserie on their own. The pastries offered is seemingly endless with many different cakes, tarts, breads, cookies and candies available for purchase.

Cupcakes, macarons, croissants, as well.

The decor is minimal. High ceilings, white walls with gold trim, and large windows letting in a lot of natural light. It’s lunchtime, and a line has already started to form.

The exposed kitchen is towards the front of the establishment. I love being able to see the kitchen at work.

The menu is wide-ranging Italian with salads, soups, pastas, pizzas and a large selection of ‘small plates’ and various entrees. Click on the image for a larger version.

We were told by the server that the portobello fries are one of the most popular items on the menu, so we had to give them a try.

Although I really don’t like mushrooms too much, these were pretty good. The portobello was battered, fried, and tossed with herbs and parmesan cheese.

Next up, the sausage pizza. Earlier in the week, I had read an article from someone who claimed that Bottega Louie had the best pizza in the city. The pizza was wonderful, and pretty authentic Neapolitan. It had a light, thin crust, a tangy and sweet tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and a delicious fennel sausage. The only thing I didn’t like was that it was a little wet towards the middle of the pizza. Potentially the best pizza I had all week, and I had Mozza this week.

Mussels and claims in a white wine broth. A very generous portion here, with some nice crusty bread to sop up the broth. The seafood was very fresh, and the broth was delicious as well.

10-layered Lasagna with a lamb and veal bolognese. I like a lot of noodle in my lasagna, so when I heard “10 layers,” I was totally on it. However, this dish was just okay. There was probably just too much noodle, and not enough meat and cheese for me . Another generous portion.

Although we were quite full, we weren’t leaving without the souffle. It’s a chocolate souffle, made-to-order, with a side of creme anglaise. To me, there aren’t made dessert combinations better than chocolate-vanilla, and hot-cold. This is a really good souffle.

I had a very pleasant experience at Bottega Louie, and could easily see why it’s so popular. The first time I came, the service was rather mediocre, and they knew it (complimentary dessert came at the end). However, that was when they first opened, and they’ve really streamlined the process. While I think some of the dishes can be hit-or-miss, as there’s just so many options on the menu, there are probably more ‘hits’ than ‘misses.’ I’d definitely just come back for the pizza.

Steamed Fish – 2/14/10

One of the best simple dishes I prepare is a Cantonese-style steamed fish. It’s pretty easy to make – it requires only a few ingredients, allowing the clean fresh flavor of the fish to stand out. I like to use a white-fleshed fish for this (I often use tilapia) and I strongly recommend using a whole fish. It’s cheaper to buy whole fish, and the flavors are better whenever you cook anything on the bone.

For Chinese New Year, I got a whole tilapia to steam. I’m using a recipe largely in-line with my grandmother’s, adapted a little bit to my tastes.  I first packed the body of the fish with slices of ginger and green onion. Then I scored the fish on both sides, drizzled a little soy sauce, and inserted ginger into the cuts. Time to steam!

It doesn’t take too long to cook a whole fish, maybe 10-12 minutes. When it’s ready, I top it with green onions and ginger, and pour steaming hot canola oil over the top. Hot soy sauce is poured over as well.

And it’s ready to eat. You have to be SO careful with a whole fish not to eat the bones. I’ve found the best way to eat all the meat from one side, removing the chunks of  fish and leaving the bone intact. Oh, and, don’t forget to eat the cheek.

Then, try to carefully remove the whole bone in one piece. If successful, you’ll get the whole bottom fillet, as shown below.

Quite simple, and pretty healthy. I like to serve this with steamed rice and vegetables, creating a really healthy, balanced meal.

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