Friday, March 29, 2013

Where to Eat for Palm Springs Restaurant Week: Catalan (Rancho Mirage, CA)

Catalan in Rancho Mirage opened in 2012 by father and son Mark and Drew Davis. Drew had worked in New York and moved to Los Angeles to be a private chef to Steven Spielberg before finally deciding to open a restaurant in the Palm Springs area. Catalan is a Mediterranean restaurant, emphasizing on Italian and Spanish influences.

For Palm Springs Restaurant Week, Catalan is offering a $38 menu that has not been determined and will probably change between the 2 weeks of May 31-June 16, in line with their policy to use local, seasonal products. We tried a lot of great dishes during our media visit, though, and you can probably expect the same for the prix fixe menu.

The entire table loved the Chicken liver flatbread, caramelized onions, roasted pears, smoked mozzarella ($17)

I mean, you eat chicken liver with bread anyway right? So why not put it on top and bake it together, add on some roasted pears and caramelized onions as "condiments"? So good.

More chicken liver? Why not! Especially when they're fried, like these Buttermilk crispy chicken livers, manchego polenta, wild mushroom port reduction, herbs ($15)
I wondered if the typical Palm Springs audience is adventurous enough for chicken liver but either way I'm glad the chef isn't shying away from it.

Greater Palm Springs, CA

Catalan Restaurant (Rancho Mirage)
Dish Creative Cuisine (Cathedral City)
Mastro's Steakhouse (Palm Desert)

Sights and Activities
Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Garden
San Andreas Fault Tour

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Under The Radar: Buffalo Club (Santa Monica, CA)

Buffalo Club is a fine dining restaurant in Santa Monica that's been around for 19 years, and yet not that many people these days seem to know about it.

The exterior looks like a dive bar - that's because it used to be before the current proprietor bought it and reinvented it as a restaurant. Walking in, though, especially after the recent renovation, reveals an interior much different from the outside - an elegant, dimly lit, quiet, dining room. After the latest renovation, there are now two dining areas: the white tablecloth Iroquois dining room and the more casual (and cheaper) Garden Courtyard.

The chef and part owner, Patrick Healy, has been at the restaurant since its inception, a rare feat for fine dining chefs in LA these days. Healy trained in France under Alain Ducasse and other 3-star Michelin chefs before opening his own restaurant and later joining Buffalo Club.

We let the sommelier, Brayner Ferry, pair everything for us and he welcomed us with a brut rose from La Maison du Cremant de Bourgogne.
Our dinner was off to a great start with the Dungeness crab salad, avocado wrap, asparagus, Belgian endive, spicy gazpacho ($23). Pictured here is half of the portion, the restaurant split them for us.
The precious crab salad sits atop the gazpacho and covered by fresh, creamy slices of avocado. It's not quite salad, not quite soup. Either way it was a great, light way to whet your appetite. None of the flavors were too strong as to overpower the crab, instead they come together well.

Crisp duck confit, frisee, arugula, red onion, haricot vert, duck fat potatoes, Bing Cherry gastrique ($19).
While I've had duck confit salads before, it's the first that the duck was this crispy. The meat was rich, but nicely by the greens and the gastrique. This was paired with a classic Chardonnay for Carneros, to cut the richness.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

LA's Ultimate Tempura Bowl: Hannosuke

Tempura had always been an accompaniment to soba or udon for me, not a meal to order by itself .That is, until Hannosuke opened inside the food court of Mitsuwa Marketplace on Centinela. Hannosuke is an outpost of the tempura specialist in Tokyo, and the thing to get here is the Edomae Tendon ($12.95) (meaning Edo-style, Edo being the other name for Tokyo), a tempura rice bowl that comes with miso soup.

This upgrade from the Original Tendon that's $8.95 gets you anago (seawater eel) from Tokyo. See the longest piece of tempura up there in the bowl? That's the anago! Well worth the extra spending.

Both the seafood and vegetables inside and the batter outside are much better than other tempura you' d find in the area, and the tendon comes with a deep fried, soft-boiled egg that just brings everything together once you break it. Hannosuke is definitely the place to go for tempura in West LA.

3760 S Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 398-2113
Hannosuke on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 21, 2013

25-Layer Pork at Kimukatsu (Honolulu, HI)

With the number of Japanese tourists swarming Hawaii every year, it's no surprise that Honolulu would have great Japanese food. From ramen to handmade soba, you can find pretty much everything here. One of the places I had my eye on was Kimukatsu, famous for their pork katsu made by stacking 25 layers of pork slices, then deep frying it. This way, the katsu is supposed to retain more of the juices than a thick piece of pork cutlet.

Now, Hawaii is also not cheap. An order of pork Katsu set (with rice, cabbage, miso soup, pickles) would be $19 normally but they do have a special menu during lunch. The regular tonkatsu order is not on this menu but you can get a katsudon set ("The Original Kimukatsu Bowl") for $16 or the Kimukatsu Curry for $13.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Eastbound Food Caravan 2: Ashirwad (Upland, CA)

As Eating LA said when we were eating at Ashirwad, the best Indian restaurant in Los Angeles is actually not in LA - it's in Upland! On our latest food crawl, after Taza and Falafel Me, Food GPS led us to this place, following a tip he got from someone he met on an airplane.

Ashirwad, which means "the blessings" in Sanskrit, is strictly vegetarian and features many Gujarati specialties. I'm no expert in Indian food, but I have visited my share of Indian restaurants. Still, I was entirely unfamiliar with some of the dishes here! There are some street food like the Khasta kachori ($4.99)

The khasta kachori is a puri (crispy pastry) stuffed with potatoes, roasted spices, topped with onion, cilantro, yogurt, and a sweet and sour (and spicy) sauce made of tamarind, jaggery, and cumin.

There's also Bhel Puri ($3.99) consisting of puffed rice, papadi (small, deep fried puris), sev, onion, potatoes and sweet and sour chutney.
Both of the dishes above were crunchy, sweet, sour, and spicy at once. They pack a lot of strong and unusual flavors.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Eastbound Food Caravan, Part 1: Taza (Arcadia, CA) and Falafel Me(Azusa, CA)

I wouldn't typically consider going all the way to Azusa, not to mention Upland, but when Carl, the PR for Falafel Me, offers to pick up and drive me along with other bloggers, my answer was "why not!"

Our food caravan started with coffee and breakfast at Taza: a Social Coffeehouse, in Arcadia.


Taza is different than most "coffee shops" in Arcadia and SGV. Instead of boba drinks, they serve Handsome Roaster coffee.
On the weekends, the place gets even more special with pastries and croissants from Sharon Wang's Sugarbloom. Sharon, who comes in only on the weekends to showcase her pastries, had worked for Thomas Keller.

My favorite of her creations was the Spam musubi croissant. It isn't cheap at $4, especially for SGV standards, but it wasn't only the novelty of spam musubi, the croissant itself was perfectly buttery and flaky. I think it's definitely worth a try and worth returning for.
Spam Musubi Croissant

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Smashburger Comes to Culver City

Smashburger is the brainchild of Tom Ryan, who has 20 years as a fast food executive under his belt, from Quizno's to McDonald's. Before all that, though, he had a PhD in Flavor and Fragrance Chemistry, and it showed in all his creative new ideas. You'll see his idea for Smashburger in just a bit.

Smashburger creates a special burger for different locations, and the one we have, the L.A. Burger, happens to be my favorite out of the few burgers I tried. The LA Burger combines the ethnic influences we have in this town with crispy wonton, fried egg, cilantro, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and Japanese steakhouse ginger dressing on a black and white sesame seed bun.

LA Burger
It may sound kind of weird, but this was a delicious and interesting combo. The price point is very friendly as well at $5.99 for a regular (you can also go "big" or "double").

So, back to Tom Ryan's idea and the name of Smashburger. The beef patty at Smashburger is literally smashed. They do this to create space so the heat can percolate up more evenly. The patty is then seasoned while searing.
We tasted the patty on its own right of the griddle and you get this really beefy taste.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Travel: Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

I was initially skeptical upon reading all the recommendations for Recoleta Cemetery as a sight to see in Buenos Aires. Really, a cemetery? But Recoleta is no ordinary cemetery. The travel sites and guidebooks all say it is the resting place of the famous and wealthiest of Buenos Aires, but that still didn't prepare me for what I was about to see.

Think Hollywood Forever Cemetery was impressive? Think again. Cementerio de la Recoleta contains massive rows of stunning, ornate mausoleums that tower over you. Each mausoleum belongs to one family and multiple generations are buried there.

Some are as big as a two-story house with sculptures, mosaics, and paintings.

You can tell which mausoleum is the most famous and visited by the amount of flowers left on the door. It is one of the reasons people visit Recoleta cemetery: the resting place of Eva (Evita) Peron. You won't find her under the name Peron, however, as it is Argentinean custom to bury husband and wife separately.
It is not the most extravagant crypt there but you can spot it by the unusual number of people standing/taking photos nearby, the flowers, and the plaques talking about Eva Peron.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Getting To Know The Wines of Ribera del Duero

I don't profess to know much about wines (yet) but I like attending wine seminars because I learn so much. Most recently I attended a seminar for Ribera del Duero wines of Spain at Red O. The sommelier leading the seminar told us that there are three great wines of Spain: Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Priorat. Ribera del Duero has higher elevation and thus greater diurnal shift. The hot summers ripen the fruit while the cold winters allow retention of acidity. This region is almost entirely planted with Tempranillo, and a third has vines that are older than 50 years.

Tempranillo is a thin skinned grapes which is highly aromatic. Apparently delicate grapes usually do not work well with oak but tempranillo is the exception to the rule. For the seminar, we tasted 5 different wines.
Ribera Wines
Bodegas y Vinedos Monteabellon, S. L. Avaniel 2011
This wine is 100% tempranillo all aged in stainless steel, which means it was meant to be drunk young.
Aroma: sourdough. Bright, good finish.

Bodegas Valdubon S. L. Cosecha 2010
The term "cosecha" (or sometimes "joven") means that there's been no oak aging. Just like the previous wine, this is 100% tempranillo in stainless steel, and ready to drink. Aroma: dill.
There's a sweet and sour character on the palate. I liked this better than the Avaniel. They're both 14% ABV but this tastes smoother.

Bodegas y Vinedos Ortega Fournier, S. L. Urban Ribera 2009
This wine has been aged in French oak for 3 months (which is not long enough for the next labeling, "crianza"). According to the sommelier, almost all across Europe, the wines in 2009 have a ripe fruit character, almost jammy. This wine is spicier and a little heavier than the previous, with subtle vanilla and spice notes.

Valduero Reserva 2004
This was even spicier than the Fournier, but still balanced. 

Alejandro Fernandez-Tinto Pesquera, S.L. Pesquera Reserva 2008
This wine was aged 2 years in American oak and a year in the bottle. This was heavier and had less acid than the Valduero but still tasted bright.

Next we had some bites from Red O and tried pairing them with the various wines.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cravings: Goat Stew at Mirak (Koreatown, Los Angeles)

I get inexplicable cravings for the goat stew (yumso tang) at Mirak. I say inexplicable but really, the explanation is easy: it's damn good.

Be it winter or summer, I would still crave this stew. Mirak is (of course) in a small strip mall in Koreatown, hard to find if you don't know what to look for. The yellow sign above the restaurant is all in Korean, but it does say Mirak on the window. Look instead for a sign for "Samil Plaza". There is a parking lot but it tends to be overrun, even when the restaurant doesn't look that busy.

The black goat stew is listed as "Goat meat spicy broth with vegetables served in hot pot". They charge per person, $15 each.

Goat stew for 2
The meat is gamey but the perilla leaves and spicy broth compensate for the smell, and the meat is also extremely tender! The broth is filled with chilies and mustard seed, incredibly flavorful but not overly spicy (if I could handle it, so can you).

Banchan and condiments

After you finish off the stew (if you don't, the ladies working there will heap what's left onto your plates), they will come by and start the finishing touch: kimchi bokkumbap (fried rice) in the pot using leftover broth. Here they make the fried rice with bits of dried seaweed which added a really nice touch.

Usually at the end of a meal for two I will have a container of leftover rice and goat meat, plenty for a meal the next day! Maybe not for office lunch, though. To say the aroma is strong is an understatement. Mirak is one of my favorite places in Koreatown, offering a dish not easily available anywhere else. It hits the spot every time. It's also a good deal for $15 a person, as it usually feeds me for 2 days!

1134 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(323) 732-7577
Mirak on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Dinner at Gus's BBQ, Plus Their New Party Trailer (South Pasadena, CA)

Gus's BBQ is a beloved spot for South Pasadena locals, who keep the restaurant packed every night. When you go, be sure to get the Cast Iron Cornbread ($6.95), made with Sweet Pennsylvanian corn and served with Jalapeno jelly (and make sure to try the jalapeno jelly!)

Photo courtesy of Wandering Chopsticks
NachosA good appetizer to share for a big party is the Pulled Pork Nachos ($10.95): homemade tortilla chips topped with pulled pork, four cheese sauce, bbq baked beans, smoked mozzarella, jack cheese, tomato, red onion, guacamole, and a bbq drizzle. Talk about loaded nachos!

Mint julep
There's a bourbon-focused cocktail menu here with items like Blood Orange Manhattan and Mint Julep. The Mint Julep is served in a proper julep cup with crushed ice. They also have a dozen beers on tap with seasonal selections and some good local selections.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Build Your Own Pizza at PizzaRev (Studio City, CA)

If you're particular about the toppings you want on your pizza, try Pizza Rev in Studio City where you can select the cheese, toppings, and sauce for your individual, customized pizza.

It's similar to 800 Degrees in Westwood but cheaper. In fact, at Pizza Rev your very own crafted pizza will cost $7.95 despite how many toppings you put on, although there are some premium options that cost extra like gluten free crust or burrata (or vegan "cheese").

You go down the line and ask for or point to the toppings you want. It's hard not to go overboard when everything is in front of you.

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