April 2012

Sushi, especially sashimi is my favorite food.  Hands down.  Having the freshest fish, eaten raw is so delicious.  It is buttery, fatty, and dipped in some soy sauce and wasabi is such a perfect match.  Even sushi, rapped in rice is so convenient to eat and a perfect bite of food and flavor.  It is safe to say that I like my fish raw, not cooked. At Akasaka, I was pleased to find a quaint little Japanese restaurant.  They served up some awesome sushi, and it was packed too.  Odd, because you wouldn’t expect so many people in this unassuming location.  The cool part about this experience is that I took pictures with a DSLR, a first for my blog.  Hopefully, you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed the meal.

The Chirashi bowl is probably their most famous item on the menu.  Everyone was ordering this thing.  The Chirashi bowl a bowl sweet vinegar rice, topped with mounds of sashimi, fresh ginger, and wasabi.  Some of the fish include tuna, spicy tuna, salmon, albacore, and yellowtail.  The variety of goodness doesn’t stop at just fish.  It was also topped with masago, sweet shrimp, unagi, and even uni. This was a huge bowl, and is enough for two people to share.  The fish chunks were fresh and large and was perfect with the vinegary rice.  Dipping the fish in the soy sauce and wasabi, then eating the rice was a perfect combination.

The Rainbow roll was huge, so we ordered the half size.  Each roll couldn’t be eaten in one bite.  Well, I could try to fit the whole thing in my mouth, but I would look like a mad man. Though it was large, and full of raw fish, I didn’t like how they added a chunk of imitation crab inside.  You do order this for the size, not really the taste.

It was a great Japanese meal.  The fish was fresh and the interior really felt cramped, but in a good way.  The sushi bar area seemed fun and interesting.  Maybe next time, the bar is where I will be. Who knew this establishment would be next to nothing else.  Thanks to the internet and word of mouth, Akasaka has become popular.  Sushi is indeed one of my favorite things to eat, and the Chirashi bowl is what I’ll get.

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Clue number 1, Chicken. Clue number 2, purple turnips. Clue number 3, and this is the kicker, garlic sauce and hummus. By now, if Zankou Chicken isn’t alarming in your mind, you probably haven’t had it before. Heck, did you even read the title? Zankou Chicken is as Middle Eastern as can be. It all started in Beirut, Lebanon in 1962 by the Iskenderian family. In 1984, the family having moved to Los Angeles, opened their first Zankou Chicken in Hollywood. They are all about fast food that is all natural and fresh — and in the end of it all, it really isn’t fast food. They have served the diverse city of Beirut, and what better place than to serve a diverse city like Los Angeles. They are known for their Mediterranean Middle Eastern food, and their secret garlic sauce is their signature item besides their chicken. Being healthy and delicious is what they strive for.

Ordering the half chicken, I was excited to eat. As usual, their chicken was perfectly roasted, and eating even the breast meat was tender and juicy. The skin was nicely caramelized on the outside, it was almost as if it was fried. I would split open the pita to a pocket, stuff it with hommus, chicken, lettuce, and garlic sauce. Each bite was an explosion of flavor, especially with the accompanyment of the pickled purple turnips and yellow peppers. What made this pop was their secret garlic sauce. A bit zesty, and white as snow, I can never have enough of that stuff. Would I ever eat at Zankou Chicken without this stuff? Maybe. Their garlic sauce is what makes Zankou Chicken so special. Put that on anything, and it turns the dish into a flavorful mouthful. the secret recipe is coveted by other, and loved by all.

Shawarma is the preparation of stacked meats on top of each other. Heat is applied to the sides and the meat is cut off as it is cooked on a rotating spit. Their shawerma wrap had slices of marinated USDA steak. Inside hommus, tomatoes, onions and sesame sauce. The meat was much too dry as was the pita bread — hence, the mangled looking wrap. I immediately thought I should have ordered the chicken. The sauces didn’t seem enough because it didn’t help with the dry beef. You are better off ordering the whole chicken and making your own wraps.

At a placed called Zankou Chicken, the chicken is what you should order. Amazingly fresh and clean, the taste of the food is as delicious as can be. The food doesn’t try anything spectacular or over the top. The simplicity of everything just shines. Fresh ingredients and classic recipes make Zankou Chicken one of my favorite casual eateries. Eating here, I am always taken for a trip to Lebanon and the Middle East.

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Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, I had a lot of Asian eateries to choose from. Whatever Asian I was in the mood for, nothing was out of reach. Having this luxury had its drawbacks. Anything else, I had to choose from a small group of restaurants — No really good burger joints, gastropubs, Italian or Mexican. One place though, Petrillo’s Pizzeria, is one place I do remember in the SGV that isn’t Asian. Naturally, they were known for their pizzas, and I remember they were my favorite pizza place growing up. How I got back here after all of these years was by chance. Boiling crab was nearly a 2 hour wait, and my family wanted to celebrate our little cousin’s birthday. Petrollo’s, though a bit of a drive east, just popped into my head. There, we had an Italian dinner feast.

We started off with soup/salad with bread and butter. The salad was fresh but nothing extraordinary. The bread though, was soft and delicious with the butter. The minestrone soup was average as well.

I, for the last time, ordered the Pizza bianca. In my head, it tasted spectacular, but was not a fan amongst me and my family. Brushed with extra virgin olive oil, it was topped with mozzarella cheese, Romano cheese, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil. The balance wasn’t right. It didn’t have enough of a robust flavor. It lacked taste and nobody really went back for a second slice — nobody even ate their first slice. Yes, my family wasted food.

Before you judge us, we did gobble up the Petrillo’s Specialty supreme combination pizza. Topped with mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, Italian sausage, mushrooms, pepperoni, salami, garlic, onions, and green peppers, this pizza had a bunch of flavor. The ingredients were all fresh, especially the Italian sausage. The mozzarella cheese made a big presents and the flavors worked well all together. Pizza Bianca was out, and the supreme combination was in.

Along with pizzas, we ordered pastas as well. In our family, our eyes are always bigger than our stomachs. My favorite was probably the Canneloni. It was cheese and gooey — the pasta was perfectly cooked. The tomato sauce, though simple was something I desired. It was a classic, simplified and almost genuine tomato sauce.

The classic dish of spaghetti was delicious — the tomato sauce on the Spaghetti was perfect. The noodles were cooked al dente and the sauce was the star. And the meatballs? My cousin praised the meatballs saying they were really good. I didn’t have a chance to try it, and yes, I blame my family for that. Sharing is caring, and with this logic, my cousin does not care about me. All kidding aside, this classic dish deserves a chance.

It was a great time. I felt like a real Italian. With the family gathered all on one table eating and sharing food, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Times like this makes life enjoyable and all of that is centered around food. I don’t need money or a nice car or a big house. With a nice meal and all of my family around the table, life was simple. It was these simple things that I find pleasure in.

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You gotta love pastrami. Its salty, meaty, and delicious. The process to make pastrami is kind of a long process. You have to brine it, get all of the spices right, and cook that thing for a while. Oinkster in Eagle Rock prides itself as having some good pastrami. The once hole in the wall burger joint kind of has a cult following now. I remember going in there and the place would be nearly empty. Today, lines form outside the door. I let the food speak for itself.

Different from the house cured pastrami sandwich, the oinkster pastrami sandwich adds a little more. It had gruyere cheese, caramelized onion, and red cabbage slaw. The caramelized onions gave it a nice savory flavor, and the slaw gave it a nice crunch. The gruyere cheese was a bit shadowed by the other ingredients. To be honest, the sandwich was a bit salty. I don’t know if it was from the actual pastrami or the onions, but it took away the flavor from the actual meat. And even though the mustard is salty, the Oinkster mustard made things a little better in the too salty department.

I was impressed with the belgium fries. They are especially delicious dipping it in their house made sauces. Dipping it in the garlic aioli, it was simply delicious. I would have liked it to be more garlicky, but it was that big of a deal. I normally don’t like ketchup, but theirs is made in house, fresh. None of that Heinz mess. I wish I could have tried their ranch, but definitely for next time. With all of these sauces not from a bottle, I should have ordered some more fries.

The ube shake we ordered was amazing. Having tried ube cake (purple cake is what I called it when I was kid), ube ice cream, and fresh taro, the ube shake intrigued me and ordering one was a no brainer. It was refreshing and not too sweet. The bits of taro inside were nice with a mellow flavor. This rounded off everything and the flavors were so good together.

Oinkster is a popular spot, especially for night time diners. It’s good for any occation — dates, groups, or just having a nice meal out. The atmosphere is friendly and casual as the food is as well. I would come back for the fries, aioli, and shake, but I don’t know about the sandwich. I am a true fan of The Hat and their pastrami. Honestly though, Oinkster has some major followers, and I can see why.

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It is not every day you get to eat Vietnamese at a sit down, and it’s not pho.  Usually its spring rolls or a bahn mi sandwich to go, or a nice big hot bowl of pho at a hole in the wall. Brodard in Garden Grove has some of the best Vietnamese food around, especially the rolls.  They even have some french pastries as well.  I wasn’t a real fan of Vietnamese food, until I gave it a chance. Coming here though was a challenge. Their main entrance is actually in the back. You will get lost, like I did, if you assume the entrance is in the front. I don’t even think they have an entrance in the front. Even if they did, the sign wouldn’t read “Brodard Restaurant”. It was all in Vietnamese — or maybe that was an entrance to something else. Either, way, the entrance is difficult to find, and it is in the back. Once you find this place though, you will be glad that you did.

We ordered the Cha Gio (egg rolls).  The crispy rolls willed with pork, shrimp, crab meat, clear vermicelli and vegetables.  It was served with and array of Asian greens and lime chili fish sauce. I wrapped the egg rolls in the Asian lettuce, put some mint and cilantro inside, and dipped it in the sweet and sour sauce.  To say the least, my taste buds were having a party.  Every flavor was present, and the cilantro and mint leaves gave it that depth.  Texturally, it was a treat as well.  This was an all in one flavor packed appetizer that is a must order.

The Nem Nuong Cuon (pork spring roll) is what they are known for.  The grilled pork paste was wrapped in rice paper with lettuce, cucumber, carrot, daikon, and mint.  It was  served with house special sauce.  In my opinion, the sauce made this dish shine.  The spring rolls in itself were tasty, but the sauce is what makes this dish. The house special sauce was some sort of shrimp paste sauce.  It went very well with the rolls.

As a hot dish, we ordered the Bo Luc Lac (Shaken beef)  The dish had filet minon chunks, mixed with onions, mushrooms, scallion and spices.  It was served with tomato rice with a salad.  The filet minion was very soft and tender — not an ounce of chewiness. The vegetables were fine and the rice was alright.  I didn’t really like the sauce it was in as much.  It kind of tasted like bean paste, but milder in flavor.  It would have been nice to have more meat, but we all know how pricey filet minon is.

At the end, we ordered our Vietnamese coffee and it completed the meal.  Not as good as Lee’s, but still very good.  I realized how much flavor Vietnamese food has.  It was fun to see the spring roll making station as workers almost endlessly rolled each one.  It’s no wonder that they need so many people making these things, everyone orders them. If you are in the area, and want some Vietnamese food, Brodard is all you need. There is a Brodard Chateu down the street. I don’t know if it is related or not, but this one is the real deal.

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LA Street Tacos – Nameless

by Franklin on April 10, 2012

On my way home from work, I sometimes see a Mexican taco stand on the sidewalk. This is not a truck mind you, it is straight up set up on the sidewalk. They even had lights for when it became dark. This is totally illegal as they do not hold any permits or licenses — no health and safety inspection, nothing. I see them grilling and selling tacos and what not all the time. This one particular day, I took the bait and I finally stopped for a bite. Let me tell you, this was not a mistake.

I looked around and saw what they had. They had a flat top grill station, charcoal grill, table full of condiments, and even home made horchata. I asked the guy for 2 carne asada tacos and 2 chorizo tacos. The cook grilled up my meats on an open grill, then finished them off on the flat top. I then laid on the sauce along with onions and cilantro — all which were prepared at their home or somewhere else. I ordered a horchata to make it an even 5 bucks. Home made everything tacos and a drink for 5 bucks is amazing.

These tacos were delicious beyond words. The bite of the meat and the onions and cilantro was perfect. Even the hot sauces were good. I liked the smoky flavor that the meat had from the grill. Usually the chorizo I buy at the market is like a paste, but theirs was sausage like. These guys really knew what they were doing.

I was so proud of my find, that I came back the same night with my cousin and brother. My brother got a humongous burrito, and my cousin and I got some more tacos. I liked that they put the rice and meat in the burrito, gave it to my brother to add whatever he wanted — they wrapped the burrito afterwards for us. At this point, I was full, and happy that I had a chance to try this food.

There was one thing that caught my eye. As I gave the guy my money for the food, he was thankful for the business he was getting. He took the money, looked up to the sky, and thanked God for it. Then and there, it really allowed me to appreciate everything I had. To me, it was a measly 5 bucks, but to him, it was a blessing. This really opened my eyes. Food wasn’t just something “delicious” anymore — it was more than that.

Every time I pass that spot and look, they aren’t there anymore. Maybe they were given a citation or warning from law enforcement. I don’t know what happened to them, but I always hope that they are there. Either way, I still hold on to the memory of those tacos. I think it’s the place where these tacos come from that make it so delicious. It’s not from some business driven chain or money hungry restaurant owner. These tacos are homemade, brought to the streets, from hard working individuals. They know the true value of the dollar and their passion for food is evident.

I guess I’m not too distressed from their disappearance. I know Los Angeles will lead me to another street tacos once again.

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Chocolate and chocolate. Chocolate on chocolate on chocolate on chocolate. Chocolate. Everyone loves this stuff. Girls devour it after breakups. Guys say they don’t like chocolate, but secretly love this stuff. I am sure chocolate has some kind of chemical that makes us happy. That is we love it so much. Max Brenner, an Israeli chocolate shop, uses the powers of chocolate to entice their customers. From hot chocolates, chocolate pops, and monstrous chocolate chip cookies, chocolate is definaltey the name of the game at this restaurant. Upon ordering off of the dinner menu, my eyes were wide open for the dessert.

I wanted to try the mac and cheese, and I was surprised. Called the Really Cheesy, Really Crunchy Mac and Cheese, the taste was perfect, though not too cheesy. The noodles were al dente, something missed in a lot of mac and cheese dishes. Help from the applewood smoked bacon gave it that salty flavor. Baked in a large skillet, it was enough as a complete meal. The maranara sauce in the flask was interesting, and delicious – It transformed the dish completely, giving the dish a robust flavor profile. As for the diced tomatoes, I did not care much for it. This dish was delicious in itself. Sensing a lack of meat, I ordered some.

Another table ordered the Thai style chicken satay, and I thought it looked good. The chicken were grilled perfectly, and the meat was soft, almost too soft. The barbecue sauce was disappointing — it was like the ones from the dollar store. Fortunately, the hoisin like sauce was more of my liking. The best part of the dish was the That style slaw. Mixed with peanuts, peppers, lettuce, and a sweet sauce, it was a perfect compliment to the chicken.

Now that we had savory out of the way, I was excited about dessert. I decided to order the cold iced chocolate, chocolate pizza with the works, and as an after thought, the chocolate chip cookie.

I was utterly disappointed with the dessert I ordered. The chocolate chunks dessert pizza was lacking in every way. Topped with melted chocolate, hazelnuts, bananas, peanut butter, and roasted marshmallows, it was all a sugary mix. The ingredients would have been perfect if the pizza dough was better. The dough was just a thick piece of dough and didn’t resemble anything pizza dough like. Even frozen microwave pizza had better dough. I imagined and yearned for dough that was like that of a gooey Wetzels Pretzels or a doughnut. I wasn’t getting my chocolate fix at all.

The Pure Chocolate Truffle Granita was chocolate in ice cold liquid form. It was basically dark chocolate truffle blended with ice. At first, I was in remorse after finding out the drink didn’t contain any ice cream, but this turned into a blessing in disguise. The pureness of the chocolate shined with ever sip. A bit on the bitter side, it was a little drinking really good coffee without any creamer. Why ruin a good cup of coffee with creamer? In this case, the ice cream was perfect not in this drink. As for the DRINK ME cup, this was a play on the movie Alice in Wonderland. These whimsical accents made this drink fun and exciting.

The chocolate chip cookie is such a classic, it’s the favorite among the masses. The cookies at Max Brenner are monstrous. Each one costing $5, they are well worth it. Warm and fluffy on the inside, and crispy on the outside, there is no doubt that they were bakes not too long ago. Each bite was perfectly chocolatey and delicious. The chocolate was of the highest quality, and each bite had mostly chocolate. In hind site, these would have been perfect with the iced chocolate drink. How perfect would that have been?

Honestly, this place is all about the dessert. If you plan on eating dinner here, eat elsewhere. Yeah, you will get some good eats, but save this place for a dessert only. Do get their interesting desserts, do skip the dessert pizza, and opt for their chocolate chip cookie. You can get a chocolate over load, and buy some stuff for a chocolate overload for another time. The Israeli know their chocolates. Max Brenner is a true testament to that. Check out their online store here, and maybe you can get a chocolate overload as well.

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