July 2013

Piccolo Venice – Truffle this and Wagyu that

by Franklin on July 29, 2013

Piccolo was an awesome experience. Thanks to Dine LA, going for a multiple course experience was a must. I saw some amazing dishes that included truffle this and wagyu that — I had to splurge and go here. To celebrate Melanie and my 4 year anniversary, and of course to eat good food, this was the perfect place to go. Situated in the midst of Venice Beach, the feel of the restaurant didn’t match its surroundings. Once you enter though, all the “crazy” of Venice Beach kind of disappeared. It is just you and the food, and they just keep coming.

The bread service was nice. There was a trifecta of focatia, white and bread balls. They were a bit on the salty side and didn’t seem freshly baked. Look at me already nitpicking! It was still good dipping into the olive oil.

First Course
The crudo was amazing and fresh, as it should. The venison carpaccio had a very mild taste that just melted in your mouth. The marinated shimeji mushrooms were a perfect pair to the soft meat, and the sort of fermented grappa blueberry emulsion completed the dish nicely.

The conchiglie was definitely my favorite of the night. Thinly sliced marinated raw sea scallop folded in sea urchin. The lemon thyme pesto gave the bright flavor throughout each bite. The sea scallop was so amazing, and the feeling inside the mouth is indescribable. It sort of takes over your whole mouth, and then the uni flavor kicks in and then it just kind of lingers. From the texture of the slightly sticky and smooth scallop and complexity made this my favorite.

Second Course
The most decadent was the ravioli plin. Filled with a house made fontina, the ravioli was filled with something special. Coated with a parmesan butter sauce and summer truffle shaving on top, the ravioli inside and out was so creamy and buttery. Each bite had an unctuous nature that was complex and delicious.

Third Course
The agnolotti ravioli was more of what I am used to eating. Filled with oxtail, the agnolotti had a beefy flavor. The flavors were pronounced quite nicely and the little strands of oxtail were still present inside. Covered in a slow roasted oxtail sugo, the sauce was more close to a tomato sauce. The green peas gave the dish some nice color.

The pappardelle made with squid ink was interesting. Though the seafood taste was a bit lacking, it did have a lot of sea salt flavor. The wide noodles were in soup of baby octopus sugo. This had the mere essence of baby octopus. It was funky, “seafoody” and delicious. The noodles in it of itself didn’t have much flavor. Once married with the sauce, it was complete.

Fourth Course
Being a natural born carnivore, the tagliata was a favorite of mine. Perfectly seared natural Australian wagyu NY steak was thinly sliced. The sear on the outside was on point and the inside was a perfect medium rare. My favorite was the maldon salt on top, and the lemon thyme pesto on the side gave the dish the acidity to counter the beef. A pile of micro greens helped to liven up the dish and a polenta cake acted as the starch.

Ordering fish, other than sushi is rare for me. When ordering the branzino, it was to go along with the seafood theme. The baked branzino was so delicate in flavor. It wasn’t fishy at all. The filet was wrapped and inside was a delicious grilled eggplant mix. Sitting on a bed of spinach, and with a side of roasted tomato saffron sauce the flavors all worked perfectly.

Fifth Course
For our last course, the dessert course, I had the Semifreddo. In a mix of ameretto cookies and soft frozen cream, the semifreddo looked like cookies. They were cold (semi frozen) and creamy. It was like eating ice cream but more airy. The side of amaretto caramel was a nice touch and sweetened the dessert.

We also had the Bicchierino. Bicchierino in Italian is drink, or a glass of drink, probably alcohol. The Bicchierino was similar to tiramisu, which has brandy in it. Is that why it’s called Bcchierino? The dessert had mascarpone cream, similar to tiramisu. Mixed with chocolate ganache and nougat, it was especially good eating it with the espresso savoiardi (ladyfingers). Not to mention, eating with a wooden spoon was just cool.

This experience at Piccolo Venice was fun. Going with my fiancé to share two 5 course meals, we essential had about a 10 course meal between us. Eating the deliciously prepared food and snapping some nice shots along the way, it was a food bloggers dream. Being right next to Venice beach, it is in an odd location. The valet parking was off to the back, and walking to restaurant meant a trip on the boardwalk. The vibe at Venice Beach and Piccolo Venice are quite contrary to each other. To me though, it was all well received.

Piccolo Venice on Urbanspoon

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Mastro’s to me is just another steak house. Just like Fleming’s or Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s offers a very classic steak restaurant. Visiting Vegas, I made a decision I shouldn’t have made. Not to say that going to Matro’s Ocean Club inside the Shops At Crystals was a mistake or a bad experience. I just have a dining out rule when I’m in Vegas. “If there’s one in LA or OC, don’t go there.” Well, I broke my rule, but it was all for a birthday celebration. I figured, I probably won’t be going to Mastro’s anytime soon, so might as well. And the bird’s nest really attracted me. I was really happy with my decision for the most part.

We started things of with bread service. They offered pretzel, crouton, baguette, dinner roll, and wheat bread. The breadbasket had variety all were quite good. My favorite was the pretzel — it was soft and airy.

I had some of the Caesar salad to start. I needed some kind of greens to soak up all that meat juice. Their Caesar salad was near perfect. The dressing was nice and creamy. The addition of parmesan cheese and cracked pepper made everything better.

I was ready for the main event, the 22oz bone in rib eye. The rib eye is one of my favorite cuts because of the even fat marbling and soft texture. Mine was cooked perfectly medium rare, though a bit more on the rare side. This actually caused the meat to be a bit tough. This cut did have some nice fat running through the steak. This helped with the tenderness and mouth feel of the meat. Even though this wasn’t the best steak I have had, the help of the amazing sides made it all better.

The real reason I came here wasn’t the steak. Well it is, and it isn’t. The real reason I came here was for the lobster mashed potatoes. I mean. It is Mastro’s Ocean Club — Ocean, meaning seafood is in order. This side dish was rich as can be — full of butter. I believe the potato to butter ratio is near 1 to 1. With a whole lobster tail carefully chopped up and placed in a pool of butter, the potatoes were creamy and flavorful. The pure essence of the sea was encased in butter, and mixed with potatoes. Eating this with steak was pure bliss. The kid in me wanted to order the mac and cheese. made with gorgonzola, the flavor was very rich. Another cream heavy and dairy heavy dish, the mac and cheese was delicious. My favorite was the layer of melted cheese on top.

My favorite was dessert. We were celebrating a birthday, so they gave us a chocolate birthday cake. The cake was rich in chocolate and eating just a few bites was enough for me. The best thing about this dessert was their home made whipped cream. Served on the side in a bowl, the homemade whipped cream was so dense and fluffy. The cold cream and the chocolate cake was a perfect mixture. Honestly though, the whipped cream was the best thing ever. I wanted to take it all home.

Eating at Mastro’s Ocean Club was a great experience. The location is a bit awkward. As you are enjoying your expensive meal inside an amazingly architectured “bird’s nest,” you look out and you see people shopping. That is cool and all, but you can’t help but think you are inside of a mall — Well, you are inside of a mall, and this Mastro’s makes sure you know that. I couldn’t help but think I was at a very glorified food court at a mall. When I eat at a nice establishment, I want to feel secluded from the world. I just didn’t get the at from here. The food is great, though as far as steakhouses go in Las Vegas, you can do a lot better. I guess I can only break my rule once. Never eat at Las Vegas where you can at home.

Mastro's Ocean Club on Urbanspoon

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Crossroads – A Rant by a Voracious Carnivore

by Franklin on July 22, 2013

Have you ever been tricked by a restaurant? I have. Many times actually. Though I wouldn’t say Crossroads, the all vegan Mediterranean restaurant duped me, I felt like I did. (I don’t have anything against those who are vegan, or those who have dietary needs of gluten free foods. I don’t want to offend anyone here, but this is more of my issue. I mean, if you are a vegan, I guess this is just the post for you. Trust me, there aren’t lots of posts like this for you. Anyways, back to my rant.) Not only was their Dine LA menu wrong online, but I had no idea going in that the restaurant was all vegan. I guess the latter part of that rant was my fault, but man oh man was I surprised. My logic was, a 5 course meal for $25 — that was a legit deal. To my surprise, they only offered a 4 course, and all were vegan dishes and portioned out smaller than normal. Honestly, I had reservation to The Spice Table, and blew it off for Crossroads — a lot more of a drive, but at the time, I thought it was worth it. The next night, I went to The Spice Table and my angst was all gone.

First course:
I love kale, and this kale salad was good, but I wish I had more of it. Just because it’s Dine LA, doesn’t mean you can just give a taste. I like that the pine nuts gave a good crunch and currants gave some sweetness. With a lemon thyme vinaigrette, the salad was very intense. Each bite gave you a little shock and woke you up.

The Pee wee potato salad was interesting. The Haricot Verts were crunchy and baby arugula gave it depth. The whole grain mustard was a good addition, but the tarragon vinaigrette was too obscure for me. I guess they needed to impart flavor somehow.

With the appetizers being so small, by appetite just grew exponentially. If they aren’t going to give me a 5 course meal, I guess I was going to have to make it that way. We ordered the artichoke oysters which were off the Dine LA menu. These were kind of cool to look at and cleverly plated. The artichoke acted as the oyster shell. A fried oyster mushroom sat on op of artichoke puree and a yellow tomato béarnaise sauce. On top sat kelp caviar. I mean, the whole thing looked better than it tasted, but it was interesting to see how the chef creatively created something oyster-like without any.

2nd Course
The wood roasted okra was my favorite of all the things I ate that night. First off, I want to say that okra is actually my top 5 worst vegetables on my list. However, the way they prepared it was magical. It had a nice crunch to it and the sweetness from the calabrese peppers and tart from pickled ramps and Spanish sherry vinegar was an amazing mixture. The crunch from the Marcona almonds finished everything off.

The spiced chickpeas was a bit uninspired. The oven dried tomatoes and parsley had a nice spice to it. I liked the garlic whip on top of the dish. It was creamy and had lots of flavor, and the spice was an added kick that helped as much as it could. At the end of the day though, I felt like I was eating tomato sauce mixed in with chickpeas. This needed cheese or some kind of cream sauce, which I guess is not allowed.

3rd Course
I don’t know how Pappardelle Bolognese is on the menu at a Mediterranean restaurant, but it is, randomly. The 3ish noodles of pappardelle were chewy and over cooked. The bolognese was just tomato sauce. That is all.

The scaloppini piccata was pretty good for being meatless. The picatta was a dredged and fried slices of protein “meat.” The piccata was zesty and flavorful. The caper and lemon sauce mixture was a bit too sour, but the creamy sauce and the meatless meat was a good combination. Again though, this was the main dish, but there was too little of it.

4th Course
The chocolate ganache tartlet was surprisingly awesome. I like eating the mildly sweet spiced caramel popcorn on top. The mascarpone and chocolate went nicely together. The tarlet with the chocolate ganache was rich and imparted deep flavor.

Their sorbet was also good. The cucumber lime made a nice balance of not too sweet flavors. The cucumber essence really shined in this sorbet. The candied watermelon rind on top was subtly sweet and delicious.

At the end of the day, I can’t be mad. Though they did switch up the menu last minute, I chose the restaurant on my own. The restaurant inside is exquisite — classy chic with a bit of comfortable. The servers and staff were all nice, though it was a little slow that night. Honestly, this may be a rant from a voracious meat lover, but any vegan or anyone staying away from gluten could appreciate this restaurant. This just wasn’t for me.

Crossroads on Urbanspoon

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Mohawk Bend – Echo Park Doing a Complete 180

by Franklin on July 18, 2013

Echo Park is getting there. In the past years, the sub city has been making strides to beautify and clean up the mess. Echo Park in the 80’s and 90’s was terrifying. As a child, I remember visiting my grandparents who lived in Echo Park. Those were some rough memories, but still fun. Today, the remnants of that era still linger, but in a beautiful way. Boutique shops and restaurants popped up all over Echo Park — on Sunset, west of Alvarado at least. One such restaurant, Mohawk Bend is one of many that turned something ugly into something amazing. Owner Tony Yanow turned the 100-year old Vaudeville Theater into what Mohawk Bend is today. For awesome pictures and to learn more about the architecture, check out Freshome. Mohawk Bend is a restaurant and bar that sources everything locally. They appeal to meat eaters like me, to vegans and vegetarians. It opened it’s doors on August 1, 2011, and has been a popular spot of the neighborhood ever since.

A good buddy of mine and co-worker decided to catch happy hour — beer was in order. My buddy, @joeschai had the Victory Golden Monkey, a Philadelphia brew that he is more familiar with. It was full bodied and had a great taste. It made my beer seem like water.

Nachoes were on the happy hour menu and it was a great start. The nachos were quite standard though, and the pico de gallo and guacamole were fresh. I’m glad it didn’t have any chili or beans in it, but the cheese could have been more gooey. I am a fan of more of a cheese sauce than just melted cheddar on my nachos. That way, the cheese won’t harden and make it nearly impossible to enjoy. Other than that though, the nachos were quite nice.

The Buffalo-style Cauliflower was interesting. I felt we were ordering everything standard bar food. Beer, pizza, burger, and nachos? I wanted something to spice up our regular items and this seemed interesting enough. For a guy who hates cauliflower, this was a gamble. The cauliflower was a great blank vessel for the buffalo sauce. The most interesting part of this dish was the vegan “bleu cheese” dressing. Blue cheese was made of some kind of soy cheese. It tasted like plastic blocks, but the dressing itself was good. The dish was salty, zesty and full of flavor — not a bad veggie dish, fit for a vegetarian looking for some buffalo wings.

I appreciate a good pizza with a balance of flavors and textures. This flatbread had an amazing balance. The short rib and blue cheese gave the pizza a rich flavor to it. All was countered by the red onions and greens. The kicker was the smoked grapes. This gave it a nice subtle sweetness that this pizza needed. The balsamic reduction on top finished it off perfectly. The crust was decent — not all that great actually. The toppings helped with masking the shortcomings of the dough.

Every bar, gastropub, whatever you want to call it needs a burger. From all of their selections we opted for the one with bacon, short rib, and cheddar. The beef was nicely seared cooked to a medium. The beef was the star — the pure beef flavor from the patty and short rib shined through the burger. The bacon and everything else seemed like an afterthought. The bun was actually better than I thought. Though a burger isn’t a must order at Mohawk Bend, you wouldn’t be doing wrong by it.

I hate to say this, but the concept and interior design of it all is the most impressive part of Mohawk Bend. For them to have carried out a great interior with all of the amenities in a such a rundown property is amazing. Sorry to say though, the impressive interior is not reflected onto the food as well. Nothing I ate was amazing. The only thing that really stood out was the burger, and maybe their selection of beers. Other than that, their dishes were uninspired and boring. This may be a gem in Echo Park, but in the grand scheme of the City of Los Angeles, they are just “okay.” It was still great to catch up with my friend and coworker. Good company always makes things better.

Mohawk Bend on Urbanspoon

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When it comes to Filipino food, there isn’t much selection in Los Angeles. Though more than most cities, my go to Filipino restaurants are slim to none. You have Max’s, though very much a chain, still produce pretty good fried chicken and traditional dishes. One little gem I found in Hollywood is LA Rose Cafe. It is a not so small, not so big Filipino restaurant that doesn’t look like one on the inside or outside. The name hints a small breakfast joint, and the inside looks somewhat like a hotel lobby. The food though, was classic and hit the spot.

To me, tocino and garlic fried rice is comfort food. Though I didn’t grow up in a Filipino home, I still had meat and rice almost daily. The sweet caramelized port goes so well with the garlic rice. The tomato and onion vinegar slaw helped cut down the richness of the pork so perfectly. I just wish it had eggplant in it as well. The egg, mixed in with the rice was a perfect “breakfast” component. This was classically prepared and oh so delicious.

For our “lunch” portion, I had the classic pork adobo. I remember as child, my grandpa would make this whole vat of chopped up pork bits, simmering in a bath of soy sauce and sugar. The end result was a seemingly endless amount of pork and rice. This dish was just like that. The pork wasn’t dry at all form the long cooking process. It kinda just pulled away from each other. It seemed like it was missing something. This dish did need a Korean element — kimchi.

As a treat, we finished off with their bread pudding. This was an impressive and delicious bread pudding to say the least. It was perfect! Soft custard inside, nice crisp crust outside, caramel all over, and strawberries on top – scrumptious. Did I also mention, no raisins FTW! With each bite, I made sure to have some caramel on it. Instead of having whipped cream as the “lube”, it sat on top of a pool of pudding/custard. It was all so sweet and wonderful.

LA Rose Cafe was affordable, and the experience was just pleasant. The servers were so nice and friendly and I just felt comfortable. The decor and design of it all needed a little updating, but I think it gave it a nice charm. I am a sucker for meat and rice, and LA Rose Cafe gave me what I wanted.

LA Rose Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Bouchon is an Icon. Having been to the restaurant in Las Vegas and in Los Angeles, and the bakery at the Venetian, going to the bakery in Los Angeles was on my final to do list. Not that anything is different, but the conqueror of all food in me wanted to just go. Directly below the Bouchon restaurant right across the Montage courtyard is the small Bouchon Bakery. There, a display of cakes and endless colorful macarons catch your eye immediately. With eyes bigger than my stomach, I started to order.

The Boston Cream doughnut was my first bite. All the chocolate got on the bag and left me with a mess…and not enough chocolate. The doughnut was a bit greasy and each bite filled my mouth with oil. I mean, a donut from a pink box is pretty perfect, a glazed donut from Krispy Kreme, even better. This “gourmet” doughnut, on the other hand didn’t have any qualities of a good donut.

Macarons are a must at Bouchon. I ordered the caramel and pistachio flavored macaron. Both were exceptional as always. The caramel had a nice burnt caramel taste. It was sweet and delicious. The pistachio was good and had a nice rounded out flavor. If ordering macarons these two flavors are a must.

Another item to consider is the pain au chocolate. A classic for sure at any French bakery, this chocolate filled croissant was flakey to the max. You don’t want to eat this in your friends new car. What was even more flakey and sweet was their kouign amann. This was amazing. This pastry was filled with layers of butter and sugar. I was almost too sweet, but in a good way.

Did I eat all of these pastries in one sitting? Maybe. Was it an awesome day with perfect weather at the courtyard? Yes! Whenever I go to Bouchon Bakery, I need to get as many things as possible. That way, I can try them all. Most other bakeries, I would just get one item and be happy with it. Here, it’s like I’m at a candy shop and get an assortment of things. Bouchon Bakery is always a good idea. Always.

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

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Farmer Boys – Now that’s a Clean Burger

by Franklin on July 5, 2013

It seems to me that fast food isn’t really covered on my blog enough. For the sake of just having it on record, we can all agree that In-N-Out is the best fast food around, and possibly the best burger for your buck. Now, when it comes to burgers, and you want freshly made burgers that are genuine, Farmer Boys is a good start. Having only one location in Downtown Los Angeles, the majority of Farmer Boys are in the east of Los Angeles and Orange County. The experience was unique and a tasty one.

Their burgers are awesome. The simple nature of the double cheeseburger gave this a familiar and comforting feeling. Nothing pretentious, nothing out of the norm – I was just bread, meat, cheese, and lettuce and tomato. I tasted each and every ingredient perfectly. It is one of the cleanest cheeseburgers I’ve had in a while.

Sometimes, a man’s gatta have bacon. Tis’ the reason I ordered the bacon double cheeseburger. Perfect and simple just like the double cheeseburger, but with 2 unassuming slices of bacon. It gave the cheeseburger the extra saltiness and taste. I mean, it’s bacon. It is welcomed into my house any time of day.

The Chili cheese fries on the side was a must. The fries were pretty standard and the chili was better than expected. Eating this with the cheeseburger was an amazing mixture — Classic and delicious.

Farmer Boys gatta get their game up and make some more locations here in Los Angeles. Though they may not be worth the drive 10 miles east, or for the one in downtown, they are a good alternative of the fast food burger. Every ingredient is so pronounced and great on it’s own. You will never see them start creating wraps or some kind of crazy tortilla taco burger — no funny business here. Everything is classic Americana. Farmer Boys is quite underrated as a fast food joint. I don’t usually blog about fast food joints, but when I do, it’s Farmer Boys.

Farmer Boys on Urbanspoon

Farmer Boys on Urbanspoon

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