Thursday, May 31, 2012

Farewell to Foie at Takami Sushi with Montes Wines

At least with the impending foie gras ban, there are many more chances to indulge in foie at numerous restaurants in Los Angeles until then. Takami Sushi and Robata in downtown LA also has a rotating foie gras special until July 1. I was recently invited a tasting of the foie dishes paired with Montes wines from Chile, hosted by Takami and Montes Wines. Chilean wines are much more affordable than the European or Californian counterparts. Before the dinner we were served a crisp and refreshing Montes Chardonnay that runs about $11 a bottle.

The first course was a Vichyssoise of foie gras


Naturally the soup was rich and smooth. It was topped w seared foie, which was a bit gritty.
The soup was paired with a 2011 Montes Cherub Rose of Syrah
The richness of the soup and the acidity of the wine neutralized each other nicely.

Seared foie gras, caramelized mango, rose reduction.
Paired with 2010 Montes Alpha Chardonnay
The seared foie here was much better and smoother than the one in the soup and it went really well with the sweet, tender mango!

Braised daikon, foie gras w shallot butter broth, paired with 2010 Montes Alpha Pinot Noir
I love this since it was a more unique combination and a fitting one for a Japanese restaurant. The daikon was very tender and sweet. Each bite was wonderfully savory and creamy and paired nicely with the pinot.

Next: Nigiri of Ahi tuna and foie gras with eel sauce
I've had foie gras sushi before, but not tuna sushi further topped with foie! Double the rewards.
This was paired with the only California wine of the night, 2007 StarAngel by Montes, Syrah, Paso Robles.

The last savory course was a filet of beef and foie gras with black truffle in veal stock reduction.
How can you go wrong with this trio? The beef was very tender, and combined with the oh-so-fatty foie and a generous piece of truffle it was a heavenly bite. I wanted a big serving of this!

Paired with 2009 Montes Alpha Carmenere

The final course was a couple of Foie gras truffles, fresh berries, and butter wafer, paired with their dessert wine: a 2010 Montes Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer
I didn't really taste the foie gras but these may be the richest and creamiest truffles ever!

The foie gras dishes will rotate in and out of the menu at Takami until the ban on July 1st, so get them while you can!

Takami Sushi and Robata
811 Wilshire Boulevard #2100
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 236-9600

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Yellowstone National Park

I'm on vacation! So I'll probably be a little slower in updating my posts :)

In the meantime though, here are some shots from the beautiful Yellowstone National Park. I highly recommend everyone to go there. The major sights are accessible by car and minimal walking, and there are so much to see!

In order below: the Grand Prismatic Spring, The Old Faithful geyser, a geyser next to Lake Yellowstone, the Opal Pool, and the Mud Volcano.

These are just some of the things you can see there. I also saw baby bisons that were just born next to a river and half a dozen waterfalls.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Flagship Mendocino Farms in West Hollywood Opens May 31

Mendocino Farms, the beloved sandwich shop, is getting ready to open their flagship location on 3rd and Fairfax, just across the street from The Original Farmer's Market.

This fifth location is their swankiest (being the flagship and all) with a kid's corner, communal table, outdoor seating, and a lit-up "EAT HAPPY" sign above the kitchen.
They're also trying to have beers that are more interesting than the ones at the Marina del Rey location and will be selling those that have been selling well at Blue Cow Kitchen.

We tried small portions of various sandwiches during the press preview, from the classic to the seasonal sandwiches. All the sandwiches are served on breads specially developed for them by Dolce Forno (Celestino Drago's bakery).

Here are some highlights of what we tried
Spanish chicken: shaved, roasted chicken breast, housemade Manchego pimento cheese, romesco, paprika vinegar, house marinated red peppers, roasted tomatoes, Scarborough Farm's arugula on ciabatta
Summer Cubano: slow braised carnitas, prime honey ham, Mendocino mustard, housemade dill pickles, Cuban mojo sauce, drispy plantains on Dolce Forno's soft roll
They have finally "perfected" their cubano sandwich using the new mojo sauce developed at Blue Cow Kitchen, and topping it with fried plantains

Try also the "Not so fried"chicken sandwich: roasted chicken breast in Mendo's krispies with herb aioli, mustard pickled slaw, tomatoes, pickled red onions on toasted ciabatta with chipotle BBQ Sauce.

Some new salads are also coming out for the summer, full of healthy grains like this Fregola Salad.
Starting May 31, you don't have to drive to Marina del Rey or downtown for their popular pork belly banh mi anymore.

Mendocino Farms
175 S Fairfax Ave
 Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 934-4261
Mendocino Farms on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sunday Brunch Buffet Extravaganza at TAPS Fish House & Brewery (Brea,CA)

When I think of brunch buffets, I think of the expensive $70+ ones at fancy hotels with fresh seafood and unlimited mimosas. At TAPS Fish House and Brewery, however, $35.99 gets you a buffet of over 100 items and your choice of beer or sparkling wine (2 TAPS beer or unlimited sparkling wine).

The owner Joe Manzella so loved the brunch he had in New Orleans that he was determined to replicate the fun here, with a balloon lady and all. He didn't know how well it would do but now TAPS does about 700 covers every Sunday brunch.


There's a DIY Bloody Mary Bar, though for our media tasting they had gone ahead and prepared some for us, complete with pepper, olive, and a cocktail shrimp as garnish.

There are over 100 items in this buffet. Where to start? Start with the fresh oysters, of course!
In this station they also had ceviches and dungeness crab salads. Then, move on to the made-to-order omelets

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Beachside Cocktails at KuDeTa (Bali, Indonesia)

When drinking in Bali, you'd want to drink by the beach, with an ocean view. You can do exactly that with good cocktails on a beach lounger at KuDeTa. KuDeTa is situated in the Hotel Oberoi. To the left is the dining room, the more casual bar is to the right, while the middle section opens up to a set of loungers facing the beach (you can go down to the beach via a set of stairs guarded by a security guard).

The cocktails are much better than the bar in Kuta but they also cost a lot more at Rp.110,000 (~$12). Still, I was happy to see some tiki classics like Blood and Sand and Mai Tai on the menu - happier still to find out they were done well.
To relax on a sunny day, and especially if you can snag some seats during sunset, KuDeTa is currently my bar of choice.

Jalan Hotel The Oberoi Indonesia
036 173 6969

Monday, May 21, 2012

Happy Hour at Casa Vega, a Restaurant with a History (Sherman Oaks)

How old on average are the restaurants you know of in Los Angeles? Chances are, not that old. Even what we consider to be old have probably been around for about ten years. Well, Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks has been in business for more than 50 years. There's something to be said about that!

I was invited there recently to check out their happy hour. There's no separate happy hour menu, just $4.95 house margaritas, 20% off other drinks, and 50% off appetizers. The happy hour also runs from 2:30-7pm daily (in case you want to get your drinking on early in the day).

Other than the house margarita, they have other variations such as the blood orange (with blood orange soda though) and some frozen blended ones like the coconut margarita - think pina colada with tequila (regular price $7.95).

Coconut margarita
The food menu is extensive since long time customers complain when the restaurant tries to take their "favorites" off the menu, so it just kept growing. Most of them are the "typical" Mexican food you encounter, but they have quite a few interesting items as well. We tried a few appetizers. For me, the highlights were these two:
Queso Fundido (regular price $8.75)
Queso Fundido
A bowl of hot melted Jack and Cotija cheese, what a perfect food for drinking.

Lobster Quesadilla (lemon garlic lobster, jack and cheddar cheese, guacamole, sour cream - regular price $14.95)
Lobster Quesadilla
They actually use chunks of lobster in the quesadilla. The quesadilla itself was pretty inexpensive for lobster, plus half off? Quite a deal.
Mexican coffee For desserts they have flan and churros, but you can get an after dinner boozy drinks like the Senior's Famous Mexican Coffee. What's in it? It's apparently a "secret recipe" but it's sweet and strong.

Checking out Casa Vega was fun for its history. The decor and the food is more of the mainstream/typical Mexican restaurants as opposed to some of the more regional specialists that are starting to emerge these days, but remember this place was opened more than 50 years ago! For the Sherman Oaks or Studio City locals, happy hour is a pretty good deal, especially when it goes on at 2:30!

Casa Vega
13301 Ventura Blvd
 Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
(818) 788-4868
 Casa Vega on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Citrus Lee: French Cuisine in Surabaya (Indonesia)

High end Western cuisine in Surabaya, Indonesia is few and far between and I'm usually pretty skeptical about trying them. Some of my cousins have been talking about a fairly new French place called Citrus Lee, and it looked pretty good. Turns out the chef is a regular at my mom's restaurant, Kogyo, so we decided to go there for my birthday dinner.

The menu at Citrus Lee comes as a set (when he didn't do set menus, some people would make a reservation and come to eat salads - it was all about showing off that you dined here) of three or four courses. The prices vary depending on your choice of main course and you can go as low as a three course chicken dinner for Rp.175,000 (US$19-20) - not bad compared to US prices! But it does go up to about $80 for 3 courses with a lobster entree. With the amuse bouche, palate cleanser, and all, it ended up being a substantial amount of food and a pretty good value.

First came a trio of seafood-centric amuse bouches: smoked salmon, scallop, etc

Although it's a French restaurant, Citrus Lee incorporates a lot of Chinese flavors. It isn't quite fusion but probably just enough to cater more to the Asian palate.
For my first course I chose the Tiger Prawns with Leek-Potato Bacon Prawn Cream Bisque Soup Infused with Shaoxing (a traditional Chinese rice wine)

The foie gras addition is expensive compared to the US, though. The seared duck foie gras with apricot vanilla puree and star anise costs an extra Rp.265,000 (about $30) - oh well, it had to travel farther to Indonesia.
It was a good sized piece of foie gras and nicely done. I was missing foie gras and was glad I could have a good version for my birthday in Surabaya! This was also the first time my mom tried seared foie gras - and she liked it!

Sauteed Wild Mushroom Brule with Brown Butter and Beets-Orange Wedges
Wild mushrooms are one of the things I miss when I'm in Indonesia, and this was the first time I encountered them here. Turns out he gets them from a small local island, and they were wonderful.

A shot glass of juice and a bowl of granita as palate cleansers follow between courses.

For the entree, my brother ordered the Pan-Roasted Angus Tenderloin with Chinese Aromatic Spices and Bordelaise-Shaoshing Sauce
Tender, medium rare pieces.

My mom's order: Crispy Duck Margaret Confit with homemade preserved orange navel with duck-bacon spiced dressing
The duck in Indonesia is decidedly leaner and gamier than  in the US, so I thought the confit is not quite as fatty as what I'm used to - expectedly so and it was still good.

Marinated oven-roasted seabass with sesame-miso and black truffle-infused soy-corn coulis
Indonesians tend to fry their fishes whole, so the flaky texture of a roasted seabass is a nice break - but really, I ordered this to get a whiff of truffles.

Roasted lamb rack marinated in green curry, garlic mint butter with layu-spices mint chutney
Tender lamb rack, flavorful "curry" sauce. This was a great dish.

Pan-seared Jumbo Scallops with miso mustard sauce and sauteed Chanterelle mushrooms
Another thing I tend to miss in Indonesia: scallops. I'm talking jumbo scallops. I mean, sure we have scallops at street stalls but they tend to be tiny. The scallops at Citrus Lee are the ones I miss, and they were seared nicely.IMG_6000

The chef at Citrus Lee is Hendry Sedjahtera whose parents own a Chinese restaurant in a neighboring city, Malang. Hendry studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and worked at a few restaurants there before opening Citrus Lee in 2009.

The desserts at Citrus Lee are all made by his younger brother in Malang and shipped here. A family of chefs who work together! The dessert menu is pretty small here. With the tasting menu you get a choice of two flavors of creme brulee and another item that I can't remember right now ... There's also a flourless chocolate cake and some specials, but they cost extra.
Happy birthday to me!

IMG_5991 Psst, so at Citrus Lee they serve mini mochis after your dessert as a palate cleanser. Guess who makes these mochis? Yup, my family's shop, Mochiko! So of course we loved this course, hehe. We made them miniature-sized and not as sweet as the ones we normally sell, though.

Since there's no in-house pastry chef, there's no house-made amuse bouche. They gave out Valrhona chocolates instead, which are perfectly fine by me.

I wonder how many people were scared to try Citrus Lee because, like my family, they keep hearing about how expensive it is. Well, it can definitely get expensive depending on what you order (like kobe beef), but you can actually have a great meal and be full with one of the less expensive set menus - especially after all the amuse bouche and palate cleansers. There aren't many French restaurants in Surabaya (actually, I think there may only be two), so Surabaya people, why not be adventurous and give it a try?

Citrus Lee 
Jl. Kutai No.12
Surabaya, Indonesia 60241

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Traverse through Italy at A1 Cucina Italiana (Beverly Hills)

The old Il Buco space on Robertson Blvd, owned by Giacomino Drago, is now A1 Cucina Italiana, a restaurant celebrating rustic dishes from various regions of Italy. The restaurant is named after Italy's first highway, Autostrada 1, and run by LA restaurant veteran Danilo Terribili and chef Freddy Escobar who has worked for him at other restaurants including Alto Palato. (Terribili is a photographer too and the restaurant is decorated with his works.)

Danilo Terribili and Freddy Escobar
For appetizers, creamy DiStefano burrata is served with eggplant, onions, tomato, and fennel pollen ragu ($13) - both excellent and unusual (for LA). A1 doesn't shy away from spicy flavors as evidenced by the sauteed squid with caramelized onions and cannelini beans. Similarly, the Coste Pizza with swiss chard, mozzarella, pine nuts, and guanciale are also topped with calabrian hot peppers ($15).

A1 has some pretty unique offerings that you can find in the daily special menu. There's porchetta on Saturdays, oxtail stew on Tuesdays, and veal kidneys on Sundays. If you like tripe, you really have to go on a Monday and get their Trippa alla Romana (stewed beef tripe, tomato, herbs, and pecorino, $17) - the picture below shows half of the regular portion as your waiter would actually divide and serve the dishes on your individual plates
If you normally don't like tripe because it's chewy, all the more reason to try this stew, as the tripe was soft.

My staple order at Italian restaurants is the pappardelle with lamb ragu. At A1 this is done Neapolitan style with the lamb cooked for hours then shredded ($16) - again, the picture below shows half the portion

Swiss chard ravioli in sage butter sauce
Don't miss the meat entrees here either, like the sauteed lamb chops, roasted shallots, oyster mushrooms ($23)
The lamb chops might have been one of the ones I've had recently. They were perfectly cooked and amazingly tender.

For dessert, you have to try the Zuppa Inglese. This is a dessert I have not seen anywhere else before, but if you like tiramisu you will love this. Although the name meant "English soup" the dessert is actually a homemade pan di spagna with Alchermes liqueur (a hard-to-find Italian herbal/spice liqueur), cream, and chocolate ($9)
The cake had been soaked with the alchermes then layered with the cream and chocolate in between. I really liked the spice notes from the liqueur. Apparently Italians make this cake for their kids' birthdays all the time. Lucky them.

You can get good wines for under $10 a glass here including a Negroamaro from Puglia for $8. They also have a couple of nice beers and pairing suggestions (they suggest Allagash Dubbel with the pappardelle). The location being what it is, A1 is not a place you would randomly walk into, but their daily special menu would keep me coming back. I still have to try the veal kidney, for one, and I'm already looking forward to a Monday night with a bowl of trippa alla Romana and a zuppa Inglese to finish.

Read SIV's LA Times review of A1.

 A1 Cucina Italiana
107 N Robertson Blvd
 Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 657-1345
A1 Cucina Italiana on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: this meal was hosted

Gourmet Pigs   © 2008. Template Recipes by Emporium Digital