July 2011

A birthday dinner has to consist of two things:  good food and good company.  Luckily, I had both.  I had some amazing food that I would never eat on a daily basis, and my favorite person next to me, who treated me out for my birthday. A birthday doesn’t get any better now does it.

Located at Venetian, Bouchon has a sense of class and ambiance that is so pleasant.  This place is located on the “Bouchon” floor.  Pretty cool.  Once you walk in, you notice the decor isn’t really chic or modern, but has more of a relaxed European (French?) feel to it. Nobody does French better than Thomas Keller.  He is world renowned and is quite possibly the best chef in the world.  I dream of eating at the French Laundry before I die.  Though this isn’t his actual restaurant, until then, Bouchon will have to do.

So the birthday boy, me, wanted some meat.  I ordered the steak frites, minus the frites.  My girlfriend ordered the Croque Madame, which comes with fries already. I switched out my fries with their mac n cheese.  No harm in having a big boy steak and a kid like mac n cheese.

My steak was a pan seared prime flatiron, the cut of a cow right near the neck.  This meant that it had a beefy and livery flavor, but in a gentle way.  There was no sign of caramelizeation of the meat, which was weird to me.  Maybe the maître d’hôtel butter and caramelized onions covered up all the sear.  The taste of the beef was like no other.  It had a grainy beef flavor — it was strong, but it was good. The flavor was just plain unique, in a good way.  Cooked to a perfect medium rare, each bite was juicy and delicious.

Before this amazingness, we shares a grilled octopus salad.  This was the best octopus dish I have ever had.  Not only was the octopus tasty wit the lemon vinegarette dressing, it wasn’t chewy. I was surprised that the octopus wasn’t chewy.  They achieved this by taking the skin off before they cook it.  The soft octopus meat and the tasty salad was such a good mix.  This was fine dining at its finest.

My girlfriend’s Croque Madame was actually more tasty to me.  It was basically a ham sandwich made into an open faced sandwich.  It had toasted ham and cheese on top of a brioche slice.  On top stood a fried egg and mornay sauce. And remember, there was a side of french fries.  The sweetness of the brioche played nice with the ham.  The mornay sauce was very rich and creamy.  It tasted like a mix between a hollandaise and a cheesy cream sauce.  The dish was very tasty, and I would order this again if I ever had a chance to dine here a second time.

A birthday dinner is nothing without a good dessert.  The Marquise au Chocolat was a perfect ending.  The dark chocolate mousse was very strong and not too sweet.  I am a dark chocolate enthusiast and this really hit the spot.  The burnt orange cream was a nice touch to the dessert as well. I am not really a fan of chocolate and citrus fruits, but this one worked well somehow.  It’s not a birthday cake, but this definitely will do.

What an amazing birthday dinner this was.  Not only was I at Vegas, I was doing Vegas right.  Eating at the right places makes all the difference. Vegas and fine dining just go together.  Bouchon is one of the best fine dining spots in Vegas, and The Venetian is a premiere casino and hotel. Off the see the Blue Man Group after an amazing dinner here, and you can call it a night.

Bouchon (Venetian) on Urbanspoon

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You are in Vegas.  It is late, and you don’t quite want to call it a night.  A light night snack is in order.  Where do I decide to go?  Aria.  I never seen City Center, and I wanted a cold drink and dessert. I decided to go to Cafe Vettro to kill two birds with one stone.

The interior was kind of interesting.  The rocks and the futuristic pillars randomly scattered throughout the dining area was kind of a cool contrast. The large panoramic windows and high ceiling were very attractive.  There was loud music playing from the club that was supposedly underneath the restaurant. The cool atmosphere really didn’t do it for me, because well, the food and service was not at par with the decor.

We ordered a drink and a chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream.  This was good, but not great.  I wasn’t expecting much, I was half dead, and this wasn’t really a knock out. The chocolate wasn’t chocolatey enough, and the ice cream tasted like cold tasteless cream.  Like I said, I wasn’t expecting much.

Don’t be fooled by the newness of Aria.  Yeah the actual hotel and casino is really nice and is a great addition to Vegas.  I would recommend to stay away from Cafe Vettro. It isn’t good nor is it special.  One should go elsewhere for a late night snack.  City Center, 1.  Aria, 1.  Cafe Vettro, 0.

Cafe Vettro on Urbanspoon

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There is nothing greater than stuffing your face with everything and anything for 40 bucks. I mean, that is what Vegas is all about right? Prime rib here, some macaroni here, sushi and sashimi here.  Anything you want, you got it. I know everyone has their favorite buffet at Las Vegas.  Some are die hard Bellagio Buffet fans, and some go for the biggest one which is at Rio.  Though the Wynn buffet isn’t my most favorite, it is the nicest.

The decor here is really nice.  The main dining area is actually really attractive, with bright sunlight coming in and exotic looking trees and plants. The fun stops there, because once you enter the external dining area, it is just plain and normal.  Though they do kind of trick you, the main kitchen area is really bright and inviting.

The food was just average — I mean, it’s a buffet.  Never have I went to a buffet and said to myself, “Wow, this is the best _____ I ever had.”  Some may have come close, but never the best. My favorites here were the squash risoto, strawberry and banana creme fraiche, and the desserts.  I was sad to find out that they did not serve crab legs for brunch.  I usually make my money’s worth with crab legs, but this time, I felt I came out on bottom.

Of all the buffets in Vegas, Wynn has the best dessert selection — of course second to Wicked Spoon.  My favorites were the tiny colored cups of gelato and cakes.  One of the best of the desserts were the cupcakes.  They were so simple and so small, but the cupcakes were so delicious. I don’t know if it was the sweet frosting or the edible glitter, but these cupcakes were amazing.

Vegas wouldn’t be Vegas without a day of face stuffing.  Gluttony is the reason they call Vegas Sin City, right?  The Buffet at Wynn has a good selection of food, and the inside is inviting. Just remember, if you want your money’s worth, go for dinner.  And eat extra crab legs for my sake.

Buffet (Wynn) on Urbanspoon

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Sometimes you enter a place, and you are instantly happy.  The colors and the decor just pop and makes you somewhat feel like a kid again.  This feeling I am talking about is the feeling you get walking into Disneyland or in my case, Walking into Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie.

Visually this place is stunning.  The mellow pastel colors just make you melt as you walk in.  It is almost like walking into a fantasy cartoon land.  All the treats and desserts displayed behind the window just makes you want to eat them all. The most fascinating thing is the chocolate fountain.  Not only is this a grand fountain of sweet melted goodness, it is record breaking.  It is the largest chocolate fountain in the world, circulating 2 tons of chocolate! Interesting to know that the largest chocolate fountain in the world is a the Bellagio in Las Vegas.  Check out the short video to see it all in action.

The decor and design is amazing, how are the pastries?  The selection they had was too much, not a bad thing.  I wanted to try them all, but only stuck with 5 things: dulce de leche brioche, nutella brioche, cheese danish, chocolate macaroons, and banana muffin.  My favorite were the brioche. Inside was a gushing amount of dulce de leche or nutella — almost too much.  By far, the nutella was better than the dulce de leche.

I was sad that they did not serve the gelato in the morning.  I just got some pastries for the road before checkout.  These pastries made the drive back to Los Angeles a little better.  AC on my face, taking a little bite of everything as I drove back home. The cool thing is, you can get a lot, and just stash them at your place back home.  Every pastry is a memory of Vegas.

Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie (Bellagio) on Urbanspoon

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An avid fan of all things Food Network, and a personal fan of Bobby Flay, it was a special time at Mesa Grill. My girlfriend took me here for lunch on my birthday and it was special.  I don’t know if I ever ate at a famous chef’s restaurant before. Located at Caesars Palace, the walk from our hotel at the Bellagio was a bit of a drag — the Vegas heat was not kind.

The decor and furniture in the whole restaurant was amazing.  It seems like everything in Vegas has be to decorated so perfectly, and Mesa Grill was no exception. Cow hide lined chars, dark wood table tops, and an open kitchen, was just a few of the accents this restaurant had.

We were given some bread to eat before our meal.  This was the best array of breads we ever had at a restaurant.  Most places give the normal sourdough or french bread and butter.  Don’t get me wrong, that is great stuff.  But at Mesa Grill, they gave some jalapeno bread, corn bread, and muffins. Not only was it a variety, all of them were really good.  My favorite was the jalapeno bread — it just woke up my taste buds.

For our start, we had the tiger shrimp tamale.  It had roasted garlic and tamale sauce with bits of corn on top to form a creamy sauce. The shrimp inside was amazingly seasoned, and the masa was perfectly fluffy and moist, something I don’t see a lot in other tamales.  I didn’t get the garlic flavor a lot, but this tamale was tasty either way.

We shared the New Mexico spiced pork tenderloin sandwich.  It had grilled peppers, arugula, and ancho chili mayonnaise.  The sandwich was good, and the pork flavor was really clean and pleasant.  Not one of the best sandwiches I had, but it did pack a lot of flavor. The south western fries were kind of soggy, and the seasonings were kind of over powering.

I like sausage and pork, so we ordered the side of chorizo.  It was smokey and flavorful. Interestingly, it was quite lean for chorizo, which is a good thing.  The best part was the spices inside and the smoke flavor from the chilies.

We ended our meal with the blue corn buttermilk waffle.  It had blackberry bourbon syrup and was topped with vanilla creme fraiche.  This was probably the best waffle I have ever had.  The blue corn and bourbon syrup really made the flavors so complex and interesting. It wasn’t just a simple waffle with sweet syrup, fruit, and whipped cream.  Every aspect was different, and the creme fraiche just topped everything off.

This was definitely a treat for my birthday.  Not only was I at Vegas, I got to eat at one of my favorite star chefs’ restaurants. This is definitely a good spot to be for lunch or dinner.  It keeps you in the Vegas spirit, but also takes you away from it all.  My girlfriend topped it all off and bought me one of his books — It has a bunch grilling recipes and is full of great food.  I hope to get Bobby Flay to sign it one day.

Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill on Urbanspoon

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Every city or town has their own breakfast spot.  They are usually busy on weekends and are popular amongst locals.  Plum’s would be the equivalent to that for Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. Their food is classic American breakfast food spun up in a classy and delicious way.

What was for breakfast?  Or was it brunch?  I don’t quite know — I do know we had a humongous meal.  For the lady?  Smoked salmon hash. Sadly, the salmon was a bit dry, but eating it with the poached eggs and potatoes was really good.  The creamy dill hollandaise was really helpful with the dryness. The dish would have been perfect if the salmon was fresh and juicy.  Maybe I am being a bit too hard on the salmon.

As for me, I had a Shirred Egg plate. It included baked eggs on top of a split baguette and it was covered with parmesan cream.  This was more of what I wanted.  The baguette on the bottom was nice and soft, and the potatoes were really good.  The best parts were the garlic spinich and tomato relish — it was a perfect addition to the dish and worked well together. The best part was the runny egg on top.  You all know that runny eggs is my weakness — I can’t express that enough.

For the ending, we had the Dutch Baby —  It’s a pancake baked inside of a griddle.  This allowed the ends to pop over and form some kind of bowl shape.  It was humongous!  It was dusted with powdered sugar, squeezed with some lemons, and served with some syrup and butter, all on the side.  The taste of this is like no other.  It was definitely not your traditional pancake batter, as the cake itself was very dense.  It almost had a custard like consistency.  The kicker was the lemon — it brought the dish together perfectly. Without the lemon, the Dutch Baby would not be.  Some bites didn’t need any syrup as the lemon juice and powdered sugar made a syrup of its own.  All in all, this was a perfect ending to a great breakfast brunch.

I can tell Plums Cafe is the breakfast hot spot in Costa Mesa, and possibly the Orange County.  They serve great breakfast with fresh ingredients and delicious flavors. I will definitely be coming back here for a second serving of some their amazing breakfast.  It’s safe to say that this is one of my favorite spots for breakfast in Orange County.

Plums Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Yeah, there is nothing like having ice cream on the boardwalk.  It is as American as apple pie.  On a nice warm day, with the ocean in front of you, what is better than a nice big ice cream cone?  Nothing. I was at Long Beach — I was literally just driving around LA, and before you knew it, I ended up at Long Beach.  Enjoying the nice weather in this crazy city, I decided to get some ice cream.I treated myself to the biggest thing they had.  It was a chocolate covered, chocolate sprinkles covered waffle cone.  I chose rocky road, cookies and cream, and pistachio.  Those were pretty good together, and I think I made a good choice on the flavors. I could have lived without the sprinkles though.  I realized that I am not a huge fan of sprinkles on anything.

Long Beach is a great city and has one of the best boardwalks in the Los Angeles County.  Maybe someday you will end up here and who knows, maybe you will be in the mood for some ice cream. Summer is officially here, and ice cream is perfect to cool you down.  A bunch of ice cream on a huge waffle cone?  Yes, please.

Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt on the Boardwalk on Urbanspoon

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Why try one dish for dinner when you can have 5, maybe 6!  It’s all about the tapas at A.O.C.  Small plates, appetizer style — a good amount is about 2 to 3 plates per person.  This place is well known for their amazing wine selection and cheese bar.  Imagine some fine wine, a great cheese plate, and charcuterie from the finest. Despite all that goodness, we had an unforgettable dinner here.

With a restaurant named A.O.C., the cheese and wine has to be good.  A.O.C. stands for Appellation d’Origine Controlee. These regulations were made in France to determine the quality of certain products like cheese and wine.  For a cheese to get an A.O.C. stamp, it needed to meet certain criteria.  This type of process can only lead to quality products and good food.

I came here to celebrate my girlfriend’s birthday.  We were pretty much the first ones there, and we were seated all by ourselves in the upstairs dining area. It was very peaceful and romantic.  It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves with our personal waiter.  Los Angeles didn’t exist.  The cars, the traffic, and all that noise outside did not exist.  It was just us — that was the beauty of it all.  Being able to eat some delicious food made it that much more beautiful.

We were served some complimentary bread and harrisa.  Harissa is a Tunisian hot chili sauce that is a mix of grounded spices and chilis with oil. The flavor was very rich and complex.  It was a bit strong, kind of like mole, and it wasn’t spicy at all.  The sauce was very tasty with their sourdough bread — it was something I had never tried before.  It definitely was a great start of a wonderful meal.

We ordered the clams with sherry and garlic toast.  The broth was wonderful, and soaking the toast in the broth was perfect. These clams were cooked perfectly, and they were very satisfying.  We may have over done it with the bread and broth, because we were nearly full from it all.

Next up were the bacon wrapped dates.  One order came with so little, but good things come in small packages.  The bacon on the outside was crispy and salty, and the dates were so sweet and caramelized perfectly — It tasted like candy. I savored each and every bite.  Sadness struck when the last piece of the meaty fruity concoction was swallowed.  Little did I know, happiness was just around the corner.

When I think of good dishes, delicious dishes, it has to leave a lasting impression on me.  After taking my first bite of the arroz negro with squid, I knew it would stay with me forever. The squid was cooked perfectly and not too chewy — it literally dissolved in your mouth.  Though a bit salty, the saffron aoli rounded out the flavors very well.  The black squid ink, which I never had before had such depth.  I will definitely order this again next time I go to A.O.C.

One of my least favorites was the brioche with prosciutto.  The bitter greens on top of the brioche was a bit flavorless. I also couldn’t really taste the Gruyere. The prosciutto and the egg on top was good, but come on, its prosciutto and a runny egg. This one sounded good on paper, but after eating it, I wasn’t really impressed.  Maybe if the bread was a buttered sourdough toast and the greens were covered in some sort of vinaigrette, it would have been better.

After our wonderful meal was finished, we were in a hurry to catch our play in downtown.  I asked for the check, and they were taking longer than usual.  The waiter cleared all of our plates, and scraped our tabled off of all its crumbs.  Surprise surprise, they surprised us with a birthday dessert. Nothing but smiles was on my girlfriend’s face, and I was, well, surprised.  I had nearly forgotten that I stated we were celebrating a birthday when making the reservations.

The dessert was a creme pot with a chocolate shell on top.  Two little cookies and a candle.  It was like a creme brulee with a chocolate top crust.  Delicious.

Not only does A.O.C. care about the food, they care about the people.  They aim to please, and I don’t see how people have a horrible time here.  I thank A.O.C. for making us feel special. It was an unforgettable meal, and a great night.  And just in case you were wondering, we made it just in time to the theater.

A.O.C. on Urbanspoon

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Mochilato – Great Gelato, Even Better Mochi

by Franklin on July 2, 2011

Mochilato is gelato inside of mochi.  You’ve seen mocihi ice cream at the stores, but this one takes it a step further and uses gelato.  Whoever thought of these things is a genius.  The mochi around the gelato keeps everything clean with your fingers — it is all in a nice little package. Think of chicken nuggets, but mochi and gelato.

The texture of the mochi is a little weird at first.  It feels like a really thin layer of raw pizza dough. The taste is very neutral, until you reach the gelato center.  I had mochi ice cream from other places, and this place has the best mochi I have ever had.  It is so stretchy and chewy and tasty.  Other places, the mochi kind of breaks off as you chew it.  Mochilato some how made their mochi so fresh and gooey.

Their gelato inside is really tasty.  My favorite is the mango.  I really feel like I am eating a frozen mango, the actual fruit.  It really takes the essence of the mango flavor and puts it in the gelato. The green tea is also one of my favorites.  They offer so many flavors, I want to try them all.

The place is an interesting shop.  It is an ice cream shop and a coffee shop.  They offer coffees and teas and of course, mochi gelato.  Students are there usually studying, taking advantage of their WiFi, or families are enjoying shaved ice. Everyone has their reasons for coming here, but mine is for that tasty mochilato.  Perfect for those hot hot summer days and nights.

Mochilato on Urbanspoon

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I really don’t want to like Lucille’s.  I mean.  It’s a chain.  Albeit, it is a west coast chain covering only California, Nevada, and Arizona, but still a chain nonetheless.  Even though there are a bunch of these around southern California, I am here to talk about the best one — I am talking about the one in Brea, CA. I’ve been to a couple of other Lucille’s and this one tops them all.  The interior is the nicest, and the food tastes best here.  I am easily proven right by the lines here, because on any given weekend, you will wait nearly an hour for a table.

When my carnivorous side kicks in, a trip to Lucille’s Smokehouse is a must.  I usually get the beef ribs. Those things are humongous.  There is so much meat and fat on each rib, all covered in sauce — they are so delicious.  My always go-to item though, is the rib tips.  They have a good smokey flavor and there is not a lot of bone.  I come here sometimes during happy hour and the rib tip plate is really cheap. All I need is that and some of their amazing biscuits.  Top that off with their “muddy water” (lemonade + iced tea) in the cool glass jar, and I am fully satisfied.

I really do like barbecue sauce, and Lucille’s could possibly have my favorite.  They offer 3 different kinds, but I like to stick to the original.  It is sweet and has a little tang, but not too much.  It just has that familiar sweet and smokey barbecue taste that I like.

Good BBQ always need some tasty sides.  My favorites are the garlic mashed potatoes and the the mac n cheese.  My all time favorite side though, is the cheese grits. I never really had grits until I tried it here, and it is delicious.  It has a strong cheese flavor and the texture is really nice.  I’m sure it’s not the best out there, but this is great with the charred meats.  By the way, I need to know where to get some really good grits in southern California.

There you have it, the truth.  My favorite BBQ comes from a chain.  Though that’s not quite true, Lucille’s is definitely one of my go to BBQ joints.  The flavor is just right and the atmosphere is really fun.  Hands down, this is my favorite chain restaurant I like to dine out. And always, the best one of the them, is at little ol’ Brea.
Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ (Brea) on Urbanspoon

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