June 2012

Knott’s Berry Farm is know for many things. It really was a farm back in the day — it’s not just a name. Today, kids know it for Snoopy, teens seek thrills on their roller coasters, and adults and old folks know Knott’s for their jams. For me, I am all about the food. Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner is a popular spot for people who want fried chicken. The country style interior and waitresses in olden day attire gives Mrs. Knott’s Chicken a certain charm you can’t get anywhere else. Once you enter (possibly after waiting an hour), you are taken back to when Knott’s Berry Farm first opened. It wasn’t about roller coasters, Snoopy, or fun in the sun all access passes. It was all about food.

I may come here for one thing, and one thing only — their home made biscuits! They are tiny little biscuits wrapped in a cloth napkin. They come on a plate by about 10 to 12 at a time. They are warm and fluffy, right out of the oven. I usually put boysenberry jam on it, and is probably the only time I get to eat that delicious jam. I usually over do it and eat about 3 before the the main course. I can eat these with jam all day, and I would be full and satisfied. If you don’t come here for their chicken, you definitely need to come here for the biscuits.

I always get the fried chicken. Why wouldn’t I? They made their mark on this stuff — I have to order it. I got mine with corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cabbage with ham. Their chicken is light and the batter isn’t too overwhelming. The seasoning isn’t too overdone either and they llet the juicy chicken shine on its own. The sides were nothing special, though it was a good accompaniment to the chicken. If their fried chicken was a lot more crispy, it would probably be the best fried chicken ever.

With the chicken dinner, you get a choice of chicken noodle soup or rhubarb. At the time, I didn’t know what rhubarb was, so I went with the chicken noodle. Though not a fan of chicken noodle soup, this was probably the best I ever had. Thicker than normal, the chicken broth was hearty and delicious. I wouldn’t mind having a bowl of this when I’m sick, or any regular day for that matter. This was thick and creamy like a chowder more than just soup. Maybe that is why I liked it so much.

At the end, I treated myself to a huge slice of boysenberry pie. Boysenberry is a cross between a blackberry, loganberry, and raspberry. Walter Knott’s, owner of Knott’s Berry Farm, and his partner were responsible for cultivating and growing the boysenberry. Without the help of Walter Knotts and coining the name boysenberry, none of these roller coasters and Snoopy might not even exist today. More importantly, the boysenberry wouldn’t have existed, and the jam, and the pie, all of it might not have been around. That is one important berry. The berry is tart like raspberry but sweet like a blackberry. The pie is warm and the boysenberry filling has a perfect tart and sweet balance. A perfect ending to a great country style meal.

Knott’s Berry Farm is special in that everything associated with it has no credit to food, but food deserves all the credit. The restaurant and pie business grew to Knott’s Berry Farm, and it is great to see that food is the driving force for a business. It is a piece of history that I am happy to take part in, though it is through the consumption of fried chicken. Others may see Knott’s Berry Farm as a theme park, but all I see is pies, biscuits, jam, and fried chicken.

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Santa Ana is going through a great urban renovation. Old buildings are being turned into offices, condos and restaurants. At the Santa Ana Arts District, the streets look more lively it seems like. Starting in the mid 90’s, the artists rented out undesired buildings as workspace. Soon after, the area saw a growth in artists and art galleries. This new and hip reinvention of the city also brought along different kinds of restaurants. Lola Gaspar, for example provides great regional food without the pretense. Situated in the historic Santora Building, it is in the center of Santa Ana’s Artist Village. At Lola, they specialize in small plates with dishes made from scratch. Specialized in Latin and European classics, they use only local ingredients. They are open late for those who like to drink and snack late into the night.

I took advantage of their small plates and had a snack. Their smoked bacon wrapped dates were great, and I would order them again. Stuffed with bleu cheese, the inside was hot and creamy. Though I would have liked a more pungent blue cheese flavor, the bacon shined. The salty bacon contrasted well with the subtly sweet dates. The sherry mustard emullsion on the side did a great job in balancing the flavors. It added enough of the extra sweetness that this dish needed. It was a great start. I would just bring my own blue cheese, because we all know how much I love blue cheese.

Their baked flatbread was interesting and honestly, I kind of thought it would be better. Everything was fine. The cured chorizo was exceptional — it had a smokey, yet complex flavor. The mozzarella was fresh and left me wanting more — the goat cheese tasted gnarly and strong as heck but still added to the experience. My only gripe about this flatbread was the dough. Their dough sucked. They put all these marvelous ingredients on top of a flatbread dough so plasticky and uninspired. It was as if they just got water, flour and oil and made some kind of makeshift dough. I really wanted a good bite on the dough and sadly didn’t get it. If it weren’t for the dough, this would have been an amazing experience.

Lola Gaspar is a great tapas style eatery with a nice bar and outside seating. Drinking my favorite juice, grapefruit, and eating small plates, I was experiencing the full Santa Ana Arts District environment. Amidts all of the night’s wonders and lights, the history of it all filled me with a feeling of ease — the simple flavors and organic ingredients surrounding me all culminated into something special. I realized then that the food itself was only half of the whole. Once you are in the area, you are taken to a different place. This is what Santa Ana Arts District is all about. Using the old to push the ideas of the new in a classical way, restaurants here like Lola Gaspar keep the history alive. Come for the history, come for the scenery — For me, I came for the food.

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It’s Friday, the work week is done, and you just a bit to eat with your coworkers. That is how it usually goes down, and I have to say, Happy Hour isn’t in our best interest. Some how, some way, we always end up at Daikokuya. That is officially our go to spot. Someone suggests that we grab some dinner after work and ideas start floating in the air — happy hour, burgers, a new restaurant, a quick bite in Koreatown. After a nice hour of indecisiveness, we decided! And no, it wasn’t Daikokuya. We were headed to our destination, which was actually in Little Tokyo. We found parking instantly right in front of Daikokuya (by fate), and we noticed that there was no line. The one time we decide not to go to Daikokuya, we found parking without hassle and there wasn’t a wait. We took this as a sign and went to our usual spot — Daikokuya.

As usual, I ordered the ramen combo, and it was filling. After finishing it, I was stuffed. Comparing it to the one in Monterey Park, the original one in Little Tokyo just tastes better. Maybe it is because its the original, or it feels more authentic, but the ramen just tasted better. One thing I did notice was the egg. The Monterey Park location has the egg over easy on the inside, but the egg temperature on was cold. The egg from the Little Tokyo location was warm. This may sound like nitpicking, but it makes a huge difference. Eating cold egg yolk is not a good feeling.

One new thing I tried here was the gyoza. The gyoza were nice and fried on one side, steamed on the other. The skin was nice and thin, yet tender, and the filling was filled with meaty, oniony goodness. Dipping it in the soy sauce, the bite I had was delicious. The contrast from the fried side and steamed side is what pleasured me. You have a crunch of something crispy, and the mouth feel of something chewy. This combines into a perfect bite with the succulent meaty filling. This was my first time trying the gyozas, and am now a fan.

Daikokuya in Little Tokyo is our go to spot. Sit at the bar with no wait, and you are transported to Tokyo. Chefs rigorously cook the noodles, fry the rice, and cook everything else in between — all in front of you. This fairy tiny ramen shop is popular amongst the Los Angeles community. Lines start forming at dinner time, so it is best to go early or man up and sit at the bar. Either way, get ready for some good/authentic ramen. For more reviews on Daikokuya including other items, check the post on the Monterey Park Location.

Daikokuya on Urbanspoon

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After glowing reviews about a new, hip sandwich spot in Downtown, I immediately put Blue Cow Kitchen in The List. Having eaten at Casa, the restaurant the preceded Blue Cow, I was a bit skeptical. I wasn’t too fond of my last visit to Casa, and finding out that it went out of business didn’t surprise me. It was exciting to find that Mendocino farms is venturing out and starting a sandwich spot / bar. Ultimately, I was hungry and wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.

When I read that a New-American happy hour joint was serving pork belly bahn “mini” sandwiches, I was surprised. The bahn xeo taco shells were made of some kind of crepe batter. The filling of pickled vegetables, herbs and sweet aioli were familiarized by my taste buds, but the taco look alike made this fun to eat. The pork belly was fatty, though not too fatty, and the meat was tasty. This was a perfect little package.

The Blue Cow Mendo steak sandwich was better than I thought it would be. Grilled to a perfect medium, the steak wasn’t tough at all. I always don’t like steak sandwiches that don’t bite off with your teeth. You are left pulling the steak from your teeth like a barbarian –this sandwich wasn’t so. The meat was tender and flavorful from the marinade and super thick. Topped with roasted tomato, and caramelized onions, it gave it enough complexity. The candied bacon was lacking, but the arugula and cilantro spread rounded out everything well. Grilled rustic white bread was a perfect choice for this rustic sandwich. Pickles, picked carrots, and cauliflower in between bites made this a perfect steak sandwich.

My carnivorous side kicked in, and I wanted more meat. We ordered the Pitman Farm’s duck wings. Intrigued at first, I was a bit disappointed in these. The duck wings confit are grilled with an aji amarillo glaze. The glaze was tasty, and the dipping sauce was a nice accompaniment. My only gripe about this dish was that it came out looking half eaten. Maybe it was because it was so “off the bone” tender, but all of the meat was literally off the bone. I honestly was looking for something like regular chicken wings, but from a duck. Nonetheless, the meat was buttery smooth and delicious.

The name got me — pink eggs and ham. These eggs marinated in beet juice, outer egg whites turned pink. Using Mendocino mustard for the filling, the taste was exceptional. These were up there with some of the best deviled eggs I ever had. Topped with double smoked bacon and candied jalapenos, it was a delight, rich with flavor. I’m glad the name caught me because I would have missed out have I not ordered these.

After an interesting “small plates” kind of dinner, there was something called Ooey Gooey Cake. It isn’t on the menu, but something called Ooey Gooey cake has to be good. It was almost like a tres leches cake, without the wetness. The creme fraiche and strawberries were a nice addition to the cake. The cake itself was dense, yet fluffy, and not too sweet. It was a great ending.

I was surprised with their dishes. The small plates made it easy to try a lot of different things. The atmosphere is nice inside and outside. I felt like I didn’t fit in. Everyone was in suits and business attire, and there I was with jeans, and a t-shirt. It didn’t matter because the vibe of the whole place wasn’t stuffy at all. Even at the end, the waitor gave us the check and a little sketch book to draw in. I flipped through and saw a bunch of doodles and writings everyone did. One in particular caught my eye — it was a duck without its wing because, well, we had duck wings confit. I thought little things like that made this place so relaxed and was a fun dining experience. This new sandwich and happy hour hot spot gets crowded after 5 PM. I came for the food, but most come to drink. Either way, you come, sit, and “Eat Happy”.

Blue Cow Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Whoever Kimmie is, I never tried her coffee. I don’t even think the restaurant specializes in coffee. I do know that if you are in need of a sensible breakfast with a feel of a diner, Kimmie’s is the place to go. They are all about good food and service all at a place where you can call home. Everything is cooked to order with the freshest ingredients — nothing pre-packaged. Their love and care for the food shows in their food. Once you walk in, you know you will be taken care. It is peaceful, and the yellow color scheme really makes you smile and want everyone to be your friend. Maybe I was in a good mood that morning, but it was just a feel good place. The food was down to earth and everything was genuine and from the heart.

I am a breakfast sandwich degenerate. McDonald’s in the morning with the sausage egg McMuffin, or the 2 for $2 biscuit sandwiches from Carl’s is my easy breakfast. It’s salty, fattening, and who knows that is in those once frozen sausages. It is a guilty pleasure of mine, and I don’t care what you say, those things are great. It’s warm, it’s salty, it’s what every man wants in the morning. My girlfriend ordered the country patty sandwich and I realized what I was missing all my life. My fast food sausage biscuit sandwiches started to taste like crap in my mind. Their home made patty sausage was the best part! The scrambled eggs, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonaise, served on rye with that home made sausage patty made all the difference. Maybe it was the vegetables that made it fresher and healthier. At first, I thought the rye would have been a bit off putting for a breakfast sandwich, but it perfect. The hash browns were great too. It was crispy on the outside and nice and warm on the inside. None of these grease balls of hash brown nuggets. This was the real deal, and since then, my morning visits the drive through window have been put to rest.

I ordered the eggs over easy and bacon with the country style french toast. I normally don’t order french toast, but their country style french toast was hard to pass up. The eggs and bacon was a nice side dish and good on its own. The star here though is the french toast. It seems like these days, a regular egg battered french toast isn’t special. People are coming up with new and inventive ways of having that perfect crust on the outside. Some may use a favorite cereal or just straight brulee the outside, but Kimmie’s uses the best method in my opinion. Using rolled oats, they’re crust on the outside of their french toast was perfect. It was sweet enough to be eaten without syrup, but not too sweet. I, for one, used syrup. What can I say? The eggs and bacon was my savory — this was my dessert. The crust on this thing was crunchy and had a nice bite to it. The mixrure of the rolled oats and syrup made a chewy like consistency — kind of like a chewy gronola bar. This did make it a little harder to eat, but it was a good change from all the “mushy” french toast out there. I wouldn’t mind getting these again, this is for sure.

I didn’t get coffee at Kimmie’s Coffee Cup, but I did try their hot chocolate. Warm and chocolatey with a nice foam of whipped cream on top, it was a sweet treat. Too bad I drank it all before the french toast came out — that would have been a nice little combo. This small breakfast spot is hidden in a corner — It is easy to miss. Once you find it, you will be glad that you did. It is refreshing to see a breakfast spot with such character and heart. Though they have multiple locations, the original is still number one.

Kimmies Coffee Cup on Urbanspoon

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This whole experience was surreal to me. You are reading about a guy who never wins anything. Raffle drawings, none — lotto jackpots, never. But this experience, this one was different. All of the stars lined up for this one and everything worked out perfectly. The way it goes is, you tweet any dish you want to chef Diana Stavaridis of BLD. If she chooses your dish selection, you and a friend dine for free Thursday evening and that dish will be Thursday’s plats du jour. It all started on a slow Friday afternoon at work. Me and my coworker were just chatting about technology, food, and the weekend. He was planning a date night to BLD, and noticed the “tweet-a-dish” on their website. He mentioned it to me and I, half joking and not at all trying to win just sent @BLDChefD a tweet. Knowing a bit about BLD and their menu, shrimp and grits immediately came to my head. After a week and forgetting about the whole contest, I got a tweet back from Chef Diana congratulating me! Surprised, I was more honored that they chose my dish than the fact I would be getting free dinner for two. Nonetheless, I immediately called and made reservations.

Walking into BLD, I didn’t know what to expect. Half nervous and excited, I couldn’t keep my hands still — probably why all of the pictures came out so blurry. We were seated instantly and the waiter told us what would be going on. I obviously underestimated winning this tweet-a-dish contest. I was expecting just a free entree for me and a friend, but I was wrong. I was given 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and 2 desserts. Yes, I was overwhelmed. Not only did I get to eat the dish I tweeted, I was able to see the dish on the menu as one of the specials. It was sureel to me to overhear waiters tell other people dining about the featured dish of the day. From a simple tweet, it went to a chef, and from that, it went on a menu, and into hungry patrons. To me, that was more special than a free dinner.

For the appetizer, I had the smoked Cajun mac and cheese and steamed mussels. The mac and cheese to me was interesting. It wasn’t really cheesy or heavy, but there was something to be desired. The noodles were nicely cooked and the taste was cheesy, but without the goo. My favorite part was the topping. Usually, it is a butter heavy cracker or panko batter crust, but theirs was something different. It was crispy and crunchy, almost like class, and it never got soggy — It wasn’t buttery or anything. These things served solely as a textural crunch, nothing more. It was refreshing to eat such a healthy and light mac and cheese. Most, especially mine, are butter heavy, cheese heavy, and gooey. The BLD mac and cheese was a pleasant change in taste and texture.

The steamed mussels were perfectly prepared. Sweet in flavor, the mussels were tender and not over-cooked. I was impressed at how soft and not rubbery the mussels were. They practically broke down in my mouth with little effort. In a broth of tomatoes, white wine, and chilies, the dish was hearty. The grilled baguette was perfect to sop up all of the broth — the broth was a tomato base and the white wine gave it a nice rich flavor profile. It was a solid appetizer.

The first main dish was the braised short rib. At first bite, I could tell this thing was cooking for a long long time. The meat just shredded off and the fat was rendered down, yet it was still juicy. Atop a mound of grits, and an au jus sauce, it was all a cohesive dish that was hearty. The arugula in the dish evened out the beefy flavor and rich sauce. The tomatoes gave it a nice acidic flavor which counter balanced the beef well. It was an impressive dish and I was lucky to have ordered this.

Of course, one of us had to order the tweet a dish plats du jour. Excited to see my dish come, I couldn’t wait to see Chef Diana’s take on shrimp and grits. At first bite, I immediately tasted the BLD(ness) of the dish. Hearty and delicious, it was like no other shrimp and grits I ever had. Yeah, most shrimp and grits are heavy on the butter and salt, but the one I had, my dish, was clean tasting. Without the use of much butter, the flavors of the tomatoes and other vegetables were prominent. The bite of the grits, more rice like than others, was a pleasure. No, the dish wasn’t heavy with oils and cheeses and butter, but the flavors were so clean and fresh, it was an eye opener. I didn’t expect this at all.

As I finished off my shrimp and grits, I began to realize the nature of this restaurant and the cooking Chef Diana does. I don’t think they have butter in the back of the kitchen. I don’t think they know what lard is or what bacon fat tastes like. This is a good thing! Yeah, bacon fat and butter make everything taste good, but to make dishes shine with the actual ingredients, vegetables and all, that takes true skill. I was especially honored when Chef Diana came out of the kitchen to our table to say hi. A simple thing as just saying hi made Chef Diana truly knows how to make a healthy meal taste amazing.

All this good food ended with great desserts. We ordered warm sugared popovers and banana cream pie. The popovers had blueberries baked in. Atop sat a mound of lemon buttermilk ice cream which was hand made. The lemon from the ice cream and blueberries inside the popover worked perfectly together. The bready, cakey popover mixed in well with the ice cream to make each bite delicious. The banana cream pie was amazing — the brownie crust alone had me hooked. The cream and the crust was good in itself, but the addition of bananas and rub caramel made everything perfect. This was a perfect combo of desserts with completely different flavor profiles — it was a nice way to end the meal.

After doing some research on Chef Diana, I was surprised to see that she had a few spots on TV. Her ticotta blueberry pancakes were featured on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate. (Yum! Gatta try those ASAP.) She also guessed starred on The Next Food Network Star. Finding out that she is famous, I was honored to have met and spoken to her at the restaurant. It was nice of her to leave the busy kitchen and converse with her guests. All in all, I felt lucky, special, and honored. BLD is an upscale restaurant without the stuffy prices and atmosphere. Their specials and dishes alike are all affordable and the dim atmosphere makes this a perfect date spot. I am definitely coming back for brunch, as they are known for it, and definitely coming back for those blueberry rocotta pancakes. Until then, Thank you Chef Diana for your great food and hospitality. I will see you on twitter!

BLD on Urbanspoon

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La Brea Bakery should be known as the bread mecca of Los Angeles — to a degree, it is. Focusing on artisanal breads, they sell breads all around Los Angeles, and even some around the world. La Brea Bakery started it 1989 on La Brea Ave. The architects of a historical building wanted a bakery, and that is when La Brea Bakery started. Interestingly Campanile followed suit 6 months after and became their next door neighbor. Nancy Silverton, co founder and head baker at La Brea Bakery is also the head pastry chef at Campanile. Naturally, Campanile along with dozens of other restaurants in the Los Angeles area use La Bakery for their artisanal breads. That comlimentary bread you got with your meal, the reason it feels and tastes familiar is because it’s probably from La Brea Bakery.

Entering the small shop, you can kind of take a step back in time. The layout and feel of the bakery is definately old school. Nothing high tech or modern was inside — just displays of artisan breads and gourmet cheeses. Hungry for some dessert, I got a Hello Kitty cookie and chocolate covered macaroons. Their selection was amazing, and I’d love to come here again to get some bread and cheese.

It was a pleasure to have entered this bakery. Their bread is known all around Los Angeles. Go to Costo or Ralphs, they have La Brea Bakery available. Go to a nice restaurant in Los Angeles, and you are served La Brea Bakery bread as an appetizer. Anywhere you go, you are surrounded by La Brea Bakery bread. Having a chance to go to where it all started, it was a treat. Not only are their breads tasty and delicious, but they have a historical significance in Los Angeles as well. La Brea Bakery is the official bread baker of Los Angeles, hands down.

La Brea Bakery on Urbanspoon

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Waffles de Liege – A Match Made In Heaven

by Franklin on June 5, 2012

Food trucks are an amazing thing. You can get practically any kind of food you desire off of a food truck. Waffles De Liege, for example serves up some awesome waffles. Their waffles are not the breakfast kind, though anyone would be happy to have these for breakfast. According to their website, there are two kinds of Belgium waffles. Brussels waffles, the ones we see everywhere, is the more common kind of waffle. Liege waffles are more rich and sweet. Obviously, the waffles they cook up are Liege waffles. Hence the name, Waffles de Liege. Their dessert waffles are simply amazing and topped with Fosselman’s ice cream — A match made in heaven.

The line for this truck was long. Not too long where we were deterred from waiting, but there was a nice crowd in front of the truck. Looking for something sweet, I knew this was a perfect choice. When I found out they served Fosselman’s ice cream with their waffles, I knew it could not lose. I was honored to find that my hometown ice cream was being served on this truck. I had to have it.

I ordered the toffee ice cream on a waffle with chocolate and caramel sauce. As much as the Fosselman’s ice cream was superb, the waffle was amazing. The outside was crisp and had a perfect crust to it. The inside was nice and cakey and wonderfully soft. The texture contrast of the soft inside and the crispy outside, and of course the creamy ice cream was perfect. I wouldn’t mind eating this every morning by itself. It really held its own as a waffle. The dough was indeed the star of this dessert. It was sweet, but not too sweet. It was perfectly delicious.

When you have something so good, you hold on to it. The Waffles de Liege Truck has something amazing on their hands. Waffles and ice cream, that is the golden ticket. Sauce it up with caramel and chocolate, or make it “healthy” with some bananas and strawberries — it is all good. But really though, that Liege waffle is all I need.

Waffles de Liege (food truck) on Urbanspoon

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Palm’s Thai restaurant wasn’t what I expected at all. Their infatuation with Elivs itself is weird to me. No they are not in Thai Town, but yes they are in Hollywood. Maybe the Hollywood in them gives them the urge and need to be a little out there. Hollywood is full of surprises, and this is clearly one of them. A Thai Elvis in Hollywood I guess shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. Aside from the wacky, their food is what is most important. This is a food blog after all.

I ordered the Kee Mau Noodle. It is a rice noodle pan fried in chili, bell peppers, basil leaves, tomato, and beef slices. It is similar to pad see ew but spicier, and in my opinion better. The spicy taste really popped in this dish and the flavors worked perfectly. Pouring some of the vinegary pepper juice from the condiments tray helped cut the greasiness and added some tang. It’s the only way to eat this stuff if you ask me.

I was feeling like curry and rice so I ordered the green curry. I already had the spice from the noodles, so this mellow and sweet curry was perfect to tame the spiciness. Made with coconut milk, the curry was really sweet, maybe too sweet. It had bamboo shoots, bell peppers, basil leaves, and chicken. The best part were the bamboo shoots. They were fresh and crisp and some of the best bamboo shoots I ever had — I’m not even a bamboo shoots loving kind of guy, but these were great. I would have liked less bell peppers and more basil, but this still was a great green curry. The taste is so complex and flavorful. Eating this with rice, I always think to myself that this is all I need to survive.

Palm’s Thai Restaurant was an interesting experience. Coming here late at night, it was fun to be here. I was sad to not have experienced the live performances by Asian Elvis himself, but it was still a fun vibe. The dining area is large and I can only imagine how crazy it gets with a full house with live Elvis music playing. Valet parking is 2 bucks, and is indoors — not bad for Hollywood and a little convenience. All in all, it was a good Thai restaurant — next time, I’m coming for the show.

Palms Thai on Urbanspoon

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