July 2012

After having my first Dog Haus experience at the Alhambra location, I had to see the place where they serve alcohol. The vibe inside is geared towards the drinking crowd. There were TVs everywhere, it’s dark, and there was alcohol everywhere. Not a big drinker by any means, I took advantage of their happy hour menu. I came here for the delicious sliders. I mean, making sliders on King’s Hawaiian bread is pretty standard nowadays, but Dog Haus seems to get it right each time.

Their sliders are so simple, but so delicious. I crave them. With only a beef patty, cheese, mayo, and grilled onions, these mini burgers don’t seem special, but they are. The beef patty is fully cooked all the way through, something I usually dislike. Surprisingly, the meat still retained its juciness. It was the juciest well done burger ever! You must be thinking to yourself, “well, that means it has a lot of fat”. Well, yes it was greasy, and it was delicious. The grilled onions were perfect as it gave it a nice crunch and savory flavor. Topped off with melted cheese, it was gooey and crunchy perfection — with a little mustard inside of course.

I was intrigued by their Grand Slam dog, so I ordered one. If the name doesn’t give it away, the Grand Slam dog is their rendition of a breakfast style hot dog. With bacon, hot dog, tater tots, and an egg, the whole thing was pretty much breakfast on top of a hot dog. It was tasty on its own, but together wasn’t anything special. The egg was awkward just sitting on top, and the bacon and hot dog clashed a bit. The addition of the tater tots, which were soggy inside, was just too much starch. A little sauce could have helped a lot on this, maybe I should have put some ketchup on top. I know, I hate putting ketchup on a hot dog. Maybe my stubbornness made this one not as tasty, but I will never put ketchup on a hot dog. Never!

One interesting thing I had was the sweet potato tots. If the name doesn’t suggest it enough, these are tater tots made with sweet potato. Genius! If sweet potato fries are popular, sweet potato tots are sure to be a hit. You know how sweet potato fries are never really that crunchy? The story doesn’t change for the tots. Though fried, it still never got crispy on the outside like their normal tater tots. It was a bit mushy and wet inside. The taste was very mild — not too sweet, not too savory. A nice sauce, maybe ranch or some kind of cinnamon pumpkin dip would have been perfect. Still worth a try I guess.

Having a Dog Haus in Alhambra was a blessing. I mean, yes, it is only a few minutes away, but the drive to Pasadena can be annoying. When you are in need of a drink though, Dog Haus Biergarten is the only one that serves alcohol. The atmosphere and vibe there is more about drinks than food, which isn’t a bad thing. They offer the same goodness as Dog Haus in Pasadena and Alhambra, but with the convenience of a bar. I’m sure there are a lot of happy hungry people out there.

Dog Haus Biergarten on Urbanspoon

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Summer is birthday time. Most of the people I know, including myself have their birthdays in and around summer time. My birthday dinner? Mine was at L.A. Prime. After much debating and planning on where to go for my birthday, L.A. Prime was a nice fit. It was a steak house, and a carnivore like me would be happy here. It wasn’t one of those steak houses of all steak houses houses (STK, Mastros, Mortons). It was inside the Westin Bonaventure on the 35th floor, which meant the views were spectacular. Just the elevator ride alone to the 35th floor was memorable. I drive by this building almost every single day, and not once have I stepped foot inside. It was cool to see Figueroa from atop and realize, that is where I make a right turn. You notice a lot when you are up this high. I realized I am so blessed and lucky to live in a great city and to be able to eat great food.

We started off with their complimentary bread. The bread was plenty (they refilled it for us) and had a variety. They had a regular french bread, pretzel type bread, herb crisp, cheese bread, and a fruit and nut bread. On the side was butter an an olive tapenade. The bread was a nice start of the meal. My favorite was the pretzel type bread. It was soft and chewy, kind of like a bagel. It was nice to eat some fine bread and butter with a nice cup of sparkling mineral water, overlooking the city.

To go with our bread, we ordered the lobster bisque. Hearing that LA Prime had some awesome lobster bisque, it was a no brainer to order it. The seafood essence was totally overwhelming. The chunks of lobster were plenty, though the lobster flavor was a bit lacking. It looked and felt like lobster, but I couldn’t quite taste it. The creaminess helped a lot with the overall balance of the dish. More spices would have helped with the single noted flavor profile.

We were ready for the main course. The steak! I had my share of steaks, from all cuts of the bull. I am very particular about my steak. It has to be the right texture and have a nice flavor. We opted for the 22 oz. Bone in rib-eye. The steak itself was a nice cut of beef, but I did not like it. The steak was cooked to my liking, medium rare, but there was one huge factor that made me dislike this steak. It wasn’t necessarily burnt, but the steak’s outer crust had a char that was way too overpowering. It had a layer of soot and char, the whole steak didn’t taste like beef at all. It felt like steak, I bit and chewed it like steak, but the char on the outside made it taste very bitter and carbon like. I mean, good barbecue has a nice char-coaled, almost burnt to a crisp outside, but that gives flavor. This was was just all char without the flavor.

The sides were a different story. I am a sucker for mac and cheese, and theirs was decent. Though a bit watery, the noodles were cooked perfectly. It could have been more cheesy, but I can’t complain.

Their creamed corn was different than most, but still amazing. Other places, the creamed corn is more creamy, cheesy, and sweet. This was was more on the corn side as it had a nice crunch. It wasn’t quite creamy nor sweet — more like creamy corn than creamed corn. The creamy corn was a good condiment to the steak.

It was my birthday after all, so the restaurant treated me to a small dessert. This was an amazing treat. The chocolate moose was rich and fluffy, I almost thought it was a really moist cake. The chocolate decor was good to look at and delicious. I really felt special that night.

LA Prime at the Westin Bonaventure is a nice steakhouse. Though their food needs a little bit of a reform, the people who eat here aren’t here the “to die for” steaks and sides — they are here for the view. Yeah, I could have paid almost the same amount at a proper steakhouse, but I would have forgotten about it the next day. Everyone comes here for the amazing view of the city. Taking that elevator ride up, sitting down, looking at the city in the city during sunset, that is what we come here for. That is what I remember. It was a beautiful night, and a wonderful birthday.

L.A. Prime (Westin Bonaventure) on Urbanspoon

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Big Man Bakes – Big Man Eats Mini Cupcakes

by Franklin on July 24, 2012

Being male, baking became a last resort. If I was baking something, that meant I was bored — really really bored. Not to be sexist or anything, but baking seems a bit feminine, especially when we are talking about cupcakes. I mean, let’s look at the Easy Bake Oven — nothing manly about that. Yeah, men can bake a mean whole chicken or roast a prime rib in the oven, when we are talking about baking cakes, I am instantly turned off. For William “Chip” Brown, he makes baking manly. Starting off by selling cakes to colleagues, the 6 foot 5 inch man made a business out of baking and Big Man Bakes was born.

For my birthday, a buddy of mine got me some cupcakes. A nice gesture and so fitting. Big Man Bakes? Well, I’m a big man, who doesn’t necessarily bake, but I liked baked things. I had a bite of the Nutella cupcake and was instantly impressed. The cake was moist and the frosting was deliciously sweet. It brought me back to the amazing Nutella shake I had in Las Vegas (Burger Bar). Though the Nutella flavor wasn’t as pronounced, it was still there. The cake was more crumbly than I’d liked, but it as still moist. I took home a 6 pack sampler of mini cupcakes. I had a taste of the lemon, red velvet, white cake with chocolate frosting, chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting, and carrot cake. All of them were amazingly moist. the frosting wasn’t as decadent as other places, but I always scrape off most of it anyways. The cake, to me, is the most important part. Each bite was so flavorful without an ounce of dryness. My favorite though, was the ever so popular red velvet. The classic flavor is unmatched and the other varieties didn’t hold a candle to this one. I mean, you can’t go wrong with red velvet, can you?

Big Man Bakes is an awesome new concept. Yes, cupcake shops are everywhere now, but the fact that these were made from a ” Big Man” may surprise people. Located in downtown, the place is a popular pit stop for cupcake lovers. I can only hope to soon visit the store myself to try out even more delicious bites.

Big Man Bakes on Urbanspoon

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We all have our favorite go to BBQ joints. Some of my favorites, interestingly located in Orange County is Blake’s and the chain, Lucille’s. LA and Orange county is in a position where good barbecue joints are plenty, but truly great ones are few and far between. As of yet, I don’t have a favorite authentic bbq spot. Short Stop BBQ, a mobile food truck serving, well, BBQ was a shot in the dark. I didn’t know anything about it and I didn’t do my research beforehand. I just saw the words BBQ and I went for it. It let me to wonder how a food truck can smoke racks and racks of ribs and slabs of pork. Intrigued, I had to try their bbq.

I ordered the pulled pork sandwich, a common item at any bbq joint. Topped with creamed corn, I was excited to try it. The pork was tender, but as expected, it was a bit dry. The creamed corn, though it helped moisten the pork, it was mushy. Traditionally, pulled pork sandwiches have a slaw of some sort. This gives it a nice bite and crunch with the tender pork. The creamed corn actually added to the pork’s mush. I wanted the corn to have that bite that the cole slaw offered. The bbq sauce, another important element in good bbq was a bit lacking as well. It didn’t have a flavor profile that distinguished itself from the rest. It was neither spicy, sweet, or tangy. Maybe the creamed corn had to do with the taste of the sauce, but it would have been better with a more pronounced sauce. Don’t get me wrong. The sandwich wasn’t all bad. The bread was a perfect, and the pork in it of itself was great, but the sandwich didn’t leave me wanting more. I ate it, and it was immediately forgotten — I didn’t crave it after it was all gone.

I know. It was only one thing out of all of their items on the menu. Still though, a sandwich that is probably the most important when it comes to bbq should be the end all, be all. I would like to give Short Stop BBQ another whirl. Their tri tip sandwich seemed promising with the “bleu slaw” and the burgers with smoked pork belly seems like a winner. Heck, even their bleu cheese and tri tip frites seem delicious. Did I order the wrong thing? Possible. I just know that great authentic bbq is hard to find at any restaurant. That means finding it at a food truck is a near impossible task. But then again, it seems to me that I have a weird and insatiable criteria for bbq. I would have a field day if I ever had a chance to try the great bbq meccas in America, whether it be in Texas, Illinois, Kansas, or the Carolinas. Some day, I suppose. Sadly, those may never reach the west.

Shortstop BBQ (Food Truck) on Urbanspoon

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Los Angeles is changing for the better. Downtown especially, neighborhoods not so hospitable a few years back are now going through metamorphosis. Condos are being built all around downtown and the the urban boom is in full effect. This sudden migration of people moving to the city is good for business as well, especially the food business — people have to eat somehow. The Pie Hole in the Los Angeles Art District is exactly what the urbanites needed. They are a little shop that serves coffees, teas, and of course, pies. Located directly across from Wurstküche, it is around some other popular eateries in the area. With the day’s menu written on butcher paper, and with white walls and concrete floors, they really took the minimalistic approach in design. This type of “charm” suits the area well. This is The Pie Hole.

Having eaten lunch elsewhere, I skipped the savory hand pies and went straight for dessert. I ordered their 2 popular pies — Mexican Chocolate and Maple Custard. Of the two, it was difficult to choose a favorite. The Mexican Chocolate had a very unique chocolate flavor. The filling was creamy and thick, and the topping of whipped cream had a coffee flavor to it. Together, it all worked well. The chocolate had a bitter and acidic flavor. The crust was crumbly and cookie like (think cheesecake crust) — it was great with the chocolate filling. The maple custard on the other hand, had a phyllo dough style crust. Drenched in butter, it was flakey, doughy, and dense. The maple custard filling though, was my favorite. It was gooey and sticky, kind of like hardened maple syrup. Though it was similar to the filling in pecan pie (minus the pecans), the filling wasn’t overly sweet. It was a perfect pie. All I needed was some whipped cream. I guess in the end, I liked the maple custard better.

It was a treat to have tried the pies at The Pie Hole. Certain not your average hole in the wall, The Pie Hole is unique and found a nice little niche in the city. Serving hot drinks and desserts as well as savory items, the menu is plenty yet not overwhelming. They definitely serve some delicious pies — don’t expect to go and get a whole pie for a party either. They are more of a place for orders on the go or a small bite to eat with friends. Thank to this spot, pies are cool again.

The Pie Hole on Urbanspoon

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How often do I eat Taiwanese food? Not often. When I heard of SimBaLa in Rowland Heights, I made it my duty to give it a try. Looking at the picture of the sausage and rice online, I was looking forward to trying this place. Sometimes, going into foreign restaurants scare me, but this time around was more exciting. I actually tried going one day, but sadly it was closed. For some reason, they are closed on Tuesdays. The second time around, we were successful. Walking in already knowing what to order, we were ready to eat!

Of course, I ordered the sausage and rice. I saw it all over yelp and for all I knew, Simbala was the sausage and rice place. Their sausage, though sweeter than I though, was great with the rice. Sometimes, sausage and rice is all I need. The sausage and rice mix was great together, and the corn slurry mix just added to the texture. This is what I came for, and it was almost exactly what I expected.

I ordered the beef soup because it seemed like everyone was ordering it. Honestly, most people will not like this. At first sniff, it smelled terrible. Food does not smell like this. The spices they use for the base was strong and spicy. It had a sour smell that I could not quite get used to — think of hot smelly feet. Being brave, and knowing that it was actually tastier than it smelled, I took a bite. The noodles inside were normal, but the beef was the star. The beef cooked in that broth made is so tender and beefy. If you get over the smell, the taste is quite unique and spectacular.

When you think of pancakes, the thought of oysters don’t really come into play. Interestingly, Simbala serves up a mean oyster pancake, but it isn’t quite what you think. Their oyster pancake is a large circular fried egg mixture with whole oysters inside. The make it a little under cooked so that its runny on the inside. The oysters are somewhat cooked, but somewhat in its raw state. The flavor of eggs, onions, and oysters was an interesting mix, but it worked! Oysters are such a delicate flavor, but this dish would have been perfect with some hot sauce.

We ended the meal with some milk pudding iced tea. I mean, it wasn’t as good as Half & Half, but still good. Simbala was an interesting and new experience. The sausage and rice is what I came for, but I got so much more than what I expected. Some of the flavors were bold, some were familiar. At any rate, Simbala was a perfect spot to give Taiwanese cuisine a try.

Simbala Restaurant ??? on Urbanspoon

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Firefly – Snack Time With a Little Tapas

by Franklin on July 11, 2012

It seems to be that everywhere you go, tapas is the hot new topic. Small plates are awesome. You can have as many plates as you want, and variety makes us all happy. You don’t have to order 1 dish and be stuck with it. If you order one wrong dish, you at least have 3 other ones that are good. Tapas is shareable, and at one sitting, you can easily have tried 10 different dishes. For those saving money or not too hungry, its a good way to save money and just get snacking items. It doesn’t seem like tapas is going away anytime soon. Firefly in Las Vegas, not too far from the strip. They have some of the best tapas in Vegas, and the atmosphere is very relaxing. Stumbling upon this spot, I could only wishttp://www.dinedelish.com/wp-admin/edit.phph it were on the strip, inside the comforts of a resort.

Their stuffed dates were on point. Wrapped in bacon, the salty and the sweet was working perfectly together. Also stuffed with smoked almonds, it gave it a nice nutty flavor as well as a good crunch. A sprinkle of blue cheese made everything round out nicely. When you are talking about tapas, stuffed dates is automatically in the conversation. The ones at Firefly were nothing short or spectacular. The red wine reduction was a nice touch to the stuffed dates. This is a must order when you are at Firefly.

The filet minon sliders were surprisingly tasty. Topped with blue cheese and fried onion straws, the sliders were rich. The fried onions gave it a good crunch, and the cheese is what gave it a nice flavor. If the cheese didn’t do it in the flavor department, their south western style sauce topped it all off. With filet minon being the patty, you know it was going to be soft and juicy. The patty had a nice crust on the outside, and the inside was juicy and not dry at all. This was a perfect little slider combination.

My favorite was the tierra y mar skewers. Skewers with grilled shrimp, filet minon, and chorizo sausage was a perfect trifecta of flavors and textures. Drizzled with a nice salsa verde on top, each bite was perfectly different on its own. The filet minon was uber tender and though it didn’t have a lot of fat, it contained so much flavor. The shrimp was grilled to a nice crisp and was a match made in heaven when eaten with the chorizo. Everything seemed to work together in this — as if the shrimp had the beef’s back, and the chorizo had the shrimp’s back. Obviously, pork chorizo sausage can hold its own. This is a must order. Maybe a double up would help so that you can have your own plate.

Firefly was awesome. Despite not being on the strip, it isn’t that bad. Basically a block behind the strip, it isn’t too far off. The food is done right and the tapas allowed me to snack on the cheap. Yes. All that was a snack, not lunch. All kidding aside, Firefly is the place to be if you want small plates. I went during the day so it was quite mellow. I’m sure it gets somewhat rowdy at night as it turns into a lounge after hours. Either way, you will get your tapas the most delicious way possible.

Firefly* Tapas Kitchen and Lounge on Urbanspoon

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The Americana has a hefty amount of restaurants to choose from. Most are on the high end, a few are on the mid to low end. Granville aims to meet the upscale style and atmosphere with down to earth cuisine. I thought of it as a non commercialized Cheesecake Factory, though it sets itself up as chain. The design cues are similar to that of local gastropubs or high end restaurants, but the prices of the food are reasonable. I mainly come here for their blue cheese burger, a decent burger in the area. Other items though, I wasn’t not too fond of. Some might have to say that the food is a bit boring, and I would agree. Nothing really stands out. I mean, at least Cheesecake has some dang good cheesecakes. Bottom line is, the food is mediocre — there really isn’t a specialty here, and there isn’t a real cult following.

When I do come here, I get the Granville Bacon & Blue Burger. It is consistently tasty, and blue cheese is my weakness. Put blue cheese on almost anything, and I will like it. Made with 100% fresh, all-natural angus beef, the meat is the star. Applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, organic arugula, blue cheese, and sautéed mushrooms join the party to make a decently juicy burger. The brioche is a perfect bun to hold everything together. Beef, bacon and blue cheese make this a very heavy burger. Home made potato chips come as a side, and is crispy and indulging, especially dipped in ranch. This burger is rich and juicy (fatty) and satisfies my burger needs.

I had a few bits of the ginger salad with shrimp. It had fresh organic spring greens, Asian slaw, soft soba noodles, avocados, mango, carrots, green onions, grape tomatoes and peanuts. This was all mix in with their Thai sesame dressing. The salad was interestingly tasty, and the dressing was light and flavorful. The great number of ingredients melded nicely together. I wasn’t a fan of the shrimp. It was cold and seemed under-cooked. Heavy seasoning and nice sear marks with everything cooked throughout would have made this dish a little more complete.

I tried their mac and cheese because, well, I am on the search for the best mac and cheese in Los Angeles. Though this wasn’t the best, it was still creamy and rich. The cheese flavor was present and the dish was impressive. I liked the touch of the basil on top for decor, though I ate it.

Granville at the Americana is a nicely decorated restaurant with good food. Though not a specialty restaurant, and more close with food from Cheesecake Factory than anywhere else, the restaurant can still surprise you. Their ingredients taste fresher, more organic. Other places, the dish itself may be good, but each individual ingredient cannot stand on its own. Granville strives to use only the freshest ingredients, try to use only organically grown ingredients wherever possible. After a little shopping or window shopping for my case, Granville is a nice detour from everything.

Granville Casual Gourmet Cafe on Urbanspoon

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