Monday, September 28, 2009

The Burger and Banana Pie Battle: Pie N Burger or Apple Pan?

A neighborhood landmark. Countertop service. Ageless menu. Aging servers. Both Pasadena's Pie 'n Burger and Westwood's Apple Pan have their own supporters, but which side do I fall under? Between Apple Pan's old waiters (I've had the same waiters for the last 5 years, I swear) and Pie 'n Burger's waitresses, between a big daily pie menu or a small but lauded pie selection ... it's time for me to make that comparison.

Being a former Bruin, I've naturally blogged about my love for Apple Pan, their hickory-smoked burger, and of course, their banana cream pie!

But I'm a beaver now. And beavers sometimes go to lunch at Pie 'n Burger around the corner. Most patrons sit on a long counter, but a couple of tabletops are also available. The place is bigger than Apple Pan with a bigger burger/sandwich and pie menu. There's always a wait here during lunch time.
A burger runs you $6.50 here (add $0.25 for cheese).
Nicely grilled meat and buns (although the buns could be better quality, it was at least nicely grilled), topped with lots of crisp lettuce and their thousand island dressing. A good and satisfying burger over all, although it's priced rather highly. In comparison, Apple Pan's Hickory sauce seems more unique and special.

Pie 'n Burger offers dozens of pies, but I love my banana cream pies, so I opted for the banana meringue pie here (they don't have the cream option). Shown here is half of an order - I was splitting with Kung Food Panda.
Good cream, good meringue, good crust. But. I wished there were more bananas in the pie - chock full of them like Apple Pan's banana cream pie.

So don't get me wrong. I'm very happy with having Pie 'n Burger around the corner of my school. I like their burger, and I like how many pie varieties they offer. But at the end of it my heart belongs to Apple Pan.

Pie 'n Burger
913 E California Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91106
Pie 'n Burger on Urbanspoon
Pie 'n Burger in Los Angeles

Friday, September 25, 2009

Balinese Dirty Duck Diner: Crispy Duck with a View

One last meal in Bali took us back to Ubud, home of Babi Guling Ibu Oka and Nuris bbq ribs. This time we visit the famous Bebek Bengil restaurant, a.k.a Dirty Duck Diner.
We were greeted by a decidedly Balinese entrance and valet parking, already suggesting that this place probably has quite the ambiance and won't be cheap (relatively speaking).

Indeed, Bebek Bengil offers the option to dine on the balai-balai, the wooden sitting platforms available around the restaurant. You can, and probably should, reserve these platforms beforehand. We didn't, but after waiting a few minutes managed to score the best seats in the house, a small balai right next to the rice paddies.
We all got the famous crispy duck, Bebek Bengil, which was rather heftily priced by Indonesian standards at Rp.67,000 (about $6.70) a plate. Then again it is Bali and one always pays for great ambiance.

Shoes off, sitting on the platform lesehan style with pillows, just shooting the breeze while staring at the verdant rice paddies, this ambiance is certainly hard to beat.

Our plate of crispy fried duck and rice finally came, to be eaten with our fingers.
The duck was fried to a crisp in palm oil, after being seasoned with bay leaves, lime, ginger, galangal, coriander, and other herbs and spices.
Under that deliciously crispy skin was lean, but tender and full of flavor duck meat.
This was served with some urap made with green beans and bean sprouts cooked in coconut milk, galangal, and chili.
The urap had a nice flavor that accompanied the duck perfectly. We were also served some amazing house-made chili sauce made with chili, shrimp paste, onions, and other good stuff. Even I could not avoid dipping everything in that sauce.

Needless to say, I cleaned all possible skin and meat off the bones. The portions here aren't big and the price is rather high, but chilling in the breeze after licking the duck bones clean was heavenly. Oh yes, we could definitely eat like this everyday - if only Bali was just a drive away.

Bebek Bengil (Dirty Duck Diner)
Padang Tegal, Ubud.
Bali, Indonesia
Phone: (62-361) 975.489
Fax: (62-361) 975.546

Bali, Indonesia - Restaurant Reviews

Babi Guling Ibu Oka (Suckling Pig)
Naughty Nuri's Warung
Bebek Bengil (Dirty Duck Diner)


Warung Made

Not Really Food:
Trisna Bali Agrotourism

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Save the Date: Truffle Dinner at Minestraio Trattoria Oct 19

Last year I enjoyed an all-truffle prix-fixe meal at Gino Angelini's former La Terza, to the dismay to some readers who said the would definitely have gone if only I had let them know in advance!

So here goes my advance notice. La Terza is now replaced by Minestraio Trattoria but Chef Gino is still throwing a truffle extravaganza. Last year's 7-course black truffle menu for $75 is now replaced by a 4-course menu for $90. Less courses, more money? But wait! This year's menu includes ... can you guess? White truffles.

Here's their full menu for the night:

First Course
Pure of Leeks with Scallop and Summer Truffles
Second Course
Ossobuco Agnolotti with White Truffles
Third Course
Beef Tenderloin Tagliata with Parmigiano Sauce and Summer Truffles
Fourth Course
Black and White Chocolate Mousse
Menu $90
Exclusive of tax, gratuity and beverage
Reservations required 323/782-8384

Minestraio Trattoria
8384 W. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Just don't say I didn't tell you.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Spanish Suckling Pig Feast at Lorca (Tijuana, MX)

Spanish suckling pig seems like the perfect post to follow-up Balinese suckling pig. The suckling pig at Lorca was our first meal on the 2nd day of the Baja FAM Media Trip. The Tijuana Convention and Visitors Bureau wanted to showcase not just the Mexican food scene of TJ but other higher-end options around.

Lorca is a showcase of Andalusian cuisine in a cozy and rustic setting. Rumor has it we originally went there for the Paella Valenciana, featuring clams, shrimp, chicken, mussels, and saffron rice.
The paella at Lorca is a dry paella version, but flavorful and full of great fresh seafood.

We did realize that this was only our first (out of seven) stops of the day. We knew we should eat light and pace ourselves.
But what were we supposed to do when they brought out a whole suckling pig??
I had suckling pig at Ford's Filling Station before, but this one here was much more impressive.

Fragrant, succulent, moist. Crisped skin.
Balinese suckling pig is more flavorful, but Spanish suckling pig is more tender. Try them both. We all aimed for the cheeks and of course Deep End Dining went for the brain.

The meal was accompanied with garlicky potatoes.
Needless to say, we ate too much for this meal. Especially considering we had 6 more restaurants to go to.

8611 Brasil street
Col. Cacho
Tijuana, Mexico
Ph.(664) 634-03660

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bali, Suckling Pig, Paradise Island.

I had forgotten how beautiful Bali is. When it was so close to 'home' (Surabaya - 30 minutes by plane), you kinda take it for granted. But this trip reminded me full force.

There's of course the beach. Kuta beach was cleaner than I remembered, still as crowded as ever though, but we had ample space to sit and take in the breathtaking view of the sunset.

There are the beautiful tiered rice paddies everywhere, and seeing the workers everywhere in this developing country remind you of where your food came from. And why it's so cheap.

But, of course, we're here for the food. Not to be outdone by Anthony Bourdain, our first meal in Bali was perhaps Bali's most famous dish - at its most famous restaurant, suckling pig aka Babi Guling Ibu Oka.

Tourists and locals alike flock to this place. Most of the seats are lesehan, which means you sit on the floor (on a pillow), barefooted. Even then we had to wait 20 minutes or so to get seated.

As soon as we walked up we were greeted by a suckling pig on a tray, where they are cutting the meat and skin off. Eye candy. We were already hungry, but the drool-worthy view made the craving even harder.
The "babi guling special" comes with rice, suckling pig's meat, crispy skin, deep fried skin, blood sausage, and urap made with green beans.

This Rp.25,000 (~$2.50) plate is satisfaction incarnate. What makes Balinese suckling pig so special is that it had been stuffed with herbs and spices and cassava prior to roasting over an open flame, making it so full of flavor. The meat is still rightfully tender, and the meat is only the start of it. There's the oily crispy skin, and the delightfully crunchy fried skin, not to forget the chunky and flavorful blood sausage and the spicy vegetables.

All this goes down perfectly with a bottle of Indonesian Pilsner, Bir Bintang (For those interested, Bintang is pretty light with a slight hoppy finish).

The only thing that might be a problem for some people is that Ibu Oka's suckling pig has now become less spicy (though you can get more chili on the side), perhaps to 'tone down' to tourist level of spice. Better for me I guess, since I could eat it without breaking too much sweat.

Either way, Babi Guling Ibu Oka is still one of the best (if not the best Balinese meal).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Baja Winery Bed and Breakfast: Villa del Valle

Baja is not all about the parties, the beach, and the food (oh and how we love the food), but they have also seen a surge in wineries in the Valle de Guadalupe area. Just like Napa and Temecula, besides selling wines and holding wine tastings, some wineries also function as a cozy bed and breakfast.

One such place in Valle de Guadalupe is La Villa del Valle, a beautiful British-owned bnb/winery and one of the very few such places in Baja so far.

Perched on a hilltop, this B&B provides a magnificent view of the valley.
It only has a pool and a vegetable garden patrons can walk through.

Our group had our wine tasting in the cozy and swank living room (leather covered couches and tables - PETA would go nuts).
The wines that La Villa del Valle produced are called Vena Cava, and we tasted two-three of them.
The Vena Cava wine is organic and self-sufficient. As such, their white wines also tend to be unfiltered. This gives their Chardonnay a cloudy appearance which may turn some people off, but in reality this wine has more flavor and depth than your typical chardonnay.

We were also served some small bites during the wine tasting, including this zucchini fritter with kumquat sauce.
We thought the kumquat sauce was not only great but also creative.

Another appetizer I really enjoyed was the ground ostrich meat wrapped in kale.
Staying at a b&b in a wine country means you'd have to drive rather far for outside food and nightlife, but naturally La Villa del Valle offers dinners. We were served a few small bites of appetizers during the wine tasting, and if they are any indication, dinner here should be quite good.

La Villa del Valle
Valle De Guadalupe, Baja, Mexico

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lousin's Mom n Pop Arakadz(Armenian) Cuisine

Lousin's Arakadz cuisine caught my eye at the last sale. Right in Pasadena by the 210, it was a (ok, two) stone's throw away from Caltech but I've never heard of it.

A lot of people now know about - get a $25 gift certificate to restaurants for only $10 may seem enticing enough, but then you find out that they regularly hold crazy sales. The current sale is 90% off from 9/9/09 til 9/13/09. That's $25 for $1 if you don't want to do the math.

So most of the restaurants listed are usually not cheap and not that exciting, but occasionally you'd find some exciting places pop up temporarily, like FIG, so I've gotten into the habit of checking the list whenever the sale is going on.

Lousin's is actually quite the opposite of FIG. A hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall right by the freeway, we could hardly tell it was there when we arrived.

The place was empty when we came for lunch, with the exception of the wife who runs the place and two teenage girls who were probably her daughter and a friend.

We seated ourselves and got a paper menu. Besides the expected Armenian staples, Lousin's also offers $9.99 new york steaks and lamb chops and $2.99 turkey burger third pounders.

Oh, did I mention we came with a $10 gc off of a $20 order? Cheap? I felt like we were cheating them.

Lousin's is run by a lovely couple and yes, they are the only two working at the restaurant. Our lunch didn't end up being a quick one, but understandably the wife was doing the order taking and cooking since the husband did not come until later that day.
We also got a side of pickled cabbage on the house.
Leaving the steaks and burgers for another time, we shared some typical Armenian dishes, starting with the Beef Shawarma Plate ($6.99)
Served with a salad rice pilaf, this was a good-sized portion for the price. The shawarma was tender and well-seasoned and the rice was quite fragrant.

The lamb dishes are typically $1 more expensive than similar items, but we like lamb anyway so for the second dish we got the Lamb Shish Kebab Plate ($7.99)
This was also served with a pita, which we removed to show you the meats! Still well seasoned though not as tender and since it's also not dressed, it was a bit dryer than the previous. But this was still good with the grilled vegetables.

We also got the Lamb Loole Kebob Wrap ($4.99 -- the beef/chicken are 3.99)
Unlike the shish kebob, the loole kebob are made of seasoned ground meat. We were so full we couldn't finish this so we split it and took it home. I had my half for lunch the next day and it was still moist and flavorful. Luckily the wrap is not doused with salt so I didn't have to worry about the pita getting soggy overnight.

Lousin's is a nice place for a cheap lunch with solid food, though granted it wasn't that quick of a lunch, and they definitely deserve more business than they seem to be getting. Come now, help out the mom 'n pop shops!

Lousin's Arakadz Cuisine
336 N Allen Ave
Pasadena, CA 91106
(626) 793-9955
Lousin's Arakadz Cuisine on Urbanspoon
Lousin's Arakadz Cuisine in Los Angeles

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cafe Pinot: A Refuge from Bustling Downtown LA

The outdoor dining area at Cafe Pinot transports you out of the busy, loud, crowded downtown LA. Next to the Maguire garden, their patio escapes the busy foot traffic and gives you a more tranquil setting for your meals.

This Patina group restaurant offers a pretty good prix fixe deal during lunch time. Their Lunch Spa Menu offers a changing two courses (where you'd typically get two choices for each course) for $24.

We tried this place at the beginning of summer and ordered the Tomato Gazpacho to start our lunch prix fixe.
A solid gazpacho. Nice flavors and cooling for a warm summer day.

For the entree, we ordered the Grilled Arctic Char with miso-based sauce.
The fish was quite nicely prepared. The skin was cripsy while the fish meat remains moist and juicy. We also really enjoyed the sweet miso based sauce pairing.

The lunch spa menu didn't come with dessert but Mattatouille convinced me that the peach crumble here is definitely worth getting, so we ordered one to share.

Warm Peach Crumble, vanilla ice cream, star anise essence ($8)
Absolutely worth ordering. This is one of the best peach crumble I've ever tasted. The focus here is definitely the peach, which was deliciously sweet and is not overwhelmed by the syrup. The crunchy crumble adds a nice contrast to both the flavor and texture. This is something worth coming back for.

I was pleasantly surprised by Cafe Pinot. The al fresco garden patio dining was very enjoyable, the prix fixe quite reasonable and the food well prepared. But as you can imagine, the peach crumble clinched the deal for me. As long as that stays on the menu, I'd come back for sure.

Cafe Pinot
700 W 5th St
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 239-6500
Cafe Pinot on Urbanspoon
Cafe Pinot in Los Angeles

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Brian Redzikowski's Creative Cuisine Revamps BondSt

"Kitchen Nightmares." I wonder if that crossed chef Brian Redzikowski's mind on his first day on the job at Bond St. About a year ago, Virbila of LA Times gave this New York sushi transplant a crushing zero-star review. Moving to turn things around, the owner recruited chef Brian Redzikowski to revamp the restaurant.
Redzikowski is a young chef with an impressive pedigree - a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, during which training he externed at Le Cirque and had monthly gigs at Alain Ducasse. He then worked at Nobu in Aspen where he first really learned the ins and outs of Japanese cuisine and sushi, but perhaps the most major influence on his cuisine was his two years as sous chef at Joel Robuchon in Vegas.

Starting from scratch with an all new staff and new menu (for the most part - Bond St is a chain so some things they can't touch) isn't enough to erase the damages of the past, so in an attempt to get word around and people to try the new Bond St, Chef Brian Redzikowski extended an invitation to some foodbloggers to come check out his show. These days foodbloggers aren't strangers to press invites and media events, but this email came from the chef personally, from his personal email address. A nice touch and if nothing else made me very flattered. Plus the photos from his website certainly got my appetite going.

I also figured out how to get amazing photos without buying and carrying a dSLR :P When I need a +1 for these events, I'll just bring along someone who owns one! The beautiful photos you see in this post are all the works of Mattatouille.

I wanted to try their cocktail, but the only one that looked interesting was the one made with gin & basil.
The cocktail was nice and light - tastes like a lychee martini but spiced up a bit by the basil. Not a bad drink, though the restaurant could definitely benefit from a more interesting and stronger cocktail program. Given the innovative molecular gastronomy going on in the kitchen side, a molecular mixology program would be a nice match.

The wine list isn't extensive but satisfactory, with the cheapest bottle running $40 and a few by-the-glass options.

BondSt is a sushi restaurant, after all, so our first few dishes were interesting takes of sushi, sashimi, and the likes.

We started with the Tuna Tarts with micro shiso and white truffle oil.
A nice start to the meal with great quality tuna and crunchy tart on the bottom. The dish had quite a bit of truffle oil that actually overpowers the flavors of the tuna a bit. On the other hand, I'm one who would drink truffle oil with a spoon if I could ...

Next is his take on the "sashimi" platter. From left: King Crab encased in vinaigrette gelee topped with bacon foam, Hamachi with soy film strip, Salmon Belly with sous vide watermelon, watermelon rind, and soy dots.
The king crab was fresh and the gelee encasing made this a fun bite. The hamachi was very fresh and quite fatty, on par with the fish you'd find at top sushi restaurants in LA, and the soy strip is again a fun molecular gastronomy play. The salmon belly is again fresh and deliciously fatty nicely accented by the sweet watermelon.

Baby Tai with yuzu, diced tomatoes, shiso leaf.
A gorgeous presentation, for one. The fish is also so fresh and the flavors are elevated by the simple pairing with tomatoes and what tasted like pickled shallots. A lovely dish.

Bruleed Foie Gras over rice crispy, yogurt, yogurt chips, yogurt powder, lemon pepper.
I think a diner would have to try this dish twice to get eating it right. Eating it in one bite gives you the crunchy rice crispy with a burst of foie gras at the end. But perhaps you want to work your way down and savor the foie first? You decide.
This was the first time I've had foie gras paired with yogurt but it works quite well. This dish is quite sweet though, so sweet could be dessert.

Coho Salmon, cabernet sauce, melted parsley, quail egg yolks.
Nicely cooked salmon, moist and tender. I liked the melted parsley in this and the quail egg yolks, although overall it could use a little something to cut the richness.

Sous vide Pork Belly, olive oil powder, artichoke foam.
The pork belly is very tender and flavorful. Mattatouille said it reminded him of asian braised pork belly. Here the powder has a richness that foam does not and adds a nice texture and more 'weight' to the dish.

Next up is the highly anticipated Japanese bouillabaise. After reading the other reviews about this place, I made sure to tell the chef beforehand but I definitely wanted to try this dish.
Our servers brought out this bowl of wonders and poured in the bouillabaise tableside.
Japanese Bouillabaise: Lobster, shrimp, squid, uni rouille, texan butter toast.
This is definitely a dish worthy to be a favorite. If the chef is trying to decide on a signature dish, this one would have my vote. A little spicy but that definitely added a nice kick. The shrimp is reminiscent of amaebi and here it is amazingly good and succulent. Not to mention the creaminess of the uni rouille and, saving the best for last, the plump lobster. One of the top dishes I've had as of late.

Domestic Wagyu Beef, Cippolini Puree, Carrot Sphere
After one off experience with a sous vide red meat somewhere else, I was wary of this dish, but it turned out to be fantastic. Cooking wagyu, known for its fattiness, sous vide, made it very tender. Unlike the amazingly fatty 100% wagyu at Cut that made me think "butter", this one gave me satisfaction of "steak".

We had fun with the carrot sphere too, as when you bite into it, a burst of carrot puree was released. The thickness of the puree made this 'sphere' stand out from others we've had before.

Next they served us a series of desserts to share. The first set was a pair of caramel desserts.
Caramel Three Ways: Sponge cake, Ice Cream, Powder.
The sponge cake is surprisingly light (I expected caramel to be much denser and thicker) and so made it into a nice start to our dessert session.

Accompanying this was the Caramel Popcorn
This was a nice texture play with the smooth and creamy caramel milk with the crunchy popcorn. I had again anticipated a thick and sticky caramel sauce, but this was more like a rich caramel-flavored milk (actually, it's like eating Kashi cereal with sweetened milk). The sweet and salty combination is also a fun play off of caramel fleur de sel.

Mochi Donuts with candied rhubarbs, yogurt, coconut ice cream.
Crunchy and chewy, all in one pop. That's fried mochi donut for you. Small and delicious, this is something you can end up eating dozens of while chatting away. Thankfully there were only three pieces.

Chocolate Caramel Ball with Nutella Powder
You know what's waiting inside, yes, you do. So let's crack it open, shall we?
Creamy caramel milk oozed out of the chocolate ball, blending with the nutella powder. Redzikowski finished strong with the desserts, nothing was overwhelmingly rich or sweet, just a nice and balanced finish.

Redzikowski's dishes are innovative and well-executed. His use of molecular gastronomy is not only fun but purposeful. BondSt is definitely well on its way food-wise. The extensive menu at the moment is hard to navigate but they are working on a tasting menu (which is currently available by request). The hard part now is to get people into the restaurant to give it another try since last year's fiasco, and I think you guys should get in there now before word gets out.

9360 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 601-2255
BondSt on Urbanspoon
Bond Street at the Thompson Hotel in Los Angeles

Gourmet Pigs   © 2008. Template Recipes by Emporium Digital