Wednesday, February 24, 2010

So LA: SBE invades Mammoth @ Hyde Lounge

If you hang out in Hollywood or watch The Hills on MTV, you're familiar with SBE. SBE is the large entertainment company, headed by Sam Nazarian, that owns numerous hotels, restaurants and hot club spots in LA. SBE's Hyde Lounge on Sunset Blvd in LA was the cool, exclusive it-bar a couple years ago. Not so much these days, especially after Paris Hilton turned domesticated as of late. Since SBE is all about creating the next hot spot, it made sense to invade the winter resort of Mammoth Mountain by setting up an outpost of Hyde right in the Village. Horizon Air flying from LAX twice daily and the ritzy Westin Monarche by the Village both attract the perfect demographic for SBE's nightlife: the trendy, LA club goer who is completely fine with $200 bottle service. That's not me, but I did want to check it out so I headed over for apres ski.

They only have Happy Hour specials from Sunday through Thursday. Their menu is Asian influenced and mainly small plates, and they are not joking when they mean small plates. But I wouldn't have expected anything less of SBE. It's so LA.

They have a bar, couches and tables during apres ski. I assume the tables would be cleared out when they turn into a club in the evenings. The crowded bar area had numerous plasma TVs. So LA. Thankfully, the crowd was not very SBE. It's very Mammoth a la families and people in snow gear.

The ceiling is decorated with skis. The lounge also has exposed ducts and had a very industrial feel to it. They also have a huge screen that was projecting the Olympic games on the wall.

Just like any LA bar, Hyde had a fun cocktail menu and similar to LA prices.

White grapefruit Cosmo with grapefruit vodka, freshly squeezed lime juice and white cranberry juice

Cucumber Fresh with Vodka, Sake, muddled cucumber and freshly squeezed lime juice

Pigs in a blanket, pork sausage and sweet spicy mustard sauce
Haven't had one of these in years so it was fun to order. I thought they were good but would have liked for the pastry to have been more buttery and airier.

Onion rings in Mammoth Ale batter and bacon ranch sauce
We loved this. The onion rings were large and perfectly breaded. However presentation was more form over function. The onion rings were too large for the dipping bowl so you had to break up the rings to get to the sauce. The sauce though was heavenly and not to be missed. The bacon was a nice addition to the ranch dressing.

Another round of drinks: Mammoth double nut brown and a glass of wine

BBQ Pork sliders with slaw. A typical LA gastropub dish. The pork was fatty, tender and delicious. I also liked the toasted brioche bun. The slaw however was a little bland and could have used a bit of seasoning. Overall, this is something I would order again.

Grilled short rib tacos with peanut dressing and crispy shell
Don't be fooled, these are tiny tacos. I did like the flavors and deep fried wonton skin that acted as the shell.

BBQ pork bun, similar to what you would order at a dim sum restaurant. The flavors of the sweet BBQ pork were good but I had the same critique as with the pigs in the blanket, in that the pastry was not as buttery and light as I would have hoped.

Lollipop wings, spicy szechwan and salted peanuts. My least favorite of the plates. Sounded good in theory but the sauce was strong and overly sweet. I can handle spicy food but it was more pungent than spicy. I love fried chicken but the fact that we were not going to finish the last drumette was a sign that it was forgettable.

I enjoyed the food and drinks at Hyde. I also like that there is other dancing option in Mammoth, especially one that is in between alleged cougar bar (Whiskey Creek) and college bar (Lakanuki). Yes it's a little LA. It's not that warm and cozy local mountain bar but I was glad to see that it wasn't that clubby during apres ski. And as much as some locals may scoff at the trendy establishment, Hyde Mammoth really isn't as pretentious and exclusive as its LA counterpart. It's still rustic, casual (to some degree) and you won't need to wear those slutty outfits and high heels to get in. In that respect, it's so Mammoth.

His: onion rings, pork slider, onion rings, cocktails
Misses: lollipop chicken, no Saturday drink specials
Rating: ***

Hyde Lounge in Mammoth
6201 Minaret Rd #240
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
(760) 934-0669

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thanks to Bar*food for introducing me to Bimi

I've written at great length about my favorite neighborhood bar, Bar*Food, that currently offers all day happy hour that includes beer, wine and great Irish/English pub fare. Unfortunately last Thursday, Bar*Food was unusually crowded. Apparently there was a party going on that brought in some 120 people. To avoid the crowd, we decided to find alternate dinner plans. My steak and kidney pie would have to wait. We ended up a block away at Japanese restaurant, Bimi. It's been around over a year and I've been meaning to try because I had read that they once served sea urchin fried rice (unfortunately not any more). When we walked in, I was delighted to find that it was still Happy Hour. Monday through Friday from 5.30-9pm, and Saturday from 12-5pm. Score!

It's clean, bright and the decor was modern. They have a sushi bar with a few chefs on hand.

Happy Hour includes drinks (Mimosas, beer, Sake, saketini and wine). Food specials include a good selection of handrolls for $2.50 and a couple small plates. Their regular menu includes sushi, hot dishes and noodles, with very few items priced over $10.

They also have a wine fridge stocked with bottles.

I can't decline mimosas at $5. They didn't skimp on the bubbly either. Since they have happy hour on Saturdays, this would be a great brunch spot.

Fried asparagus with a trio of dripping sauces: spicy mayo, mustard and ranch.

Roast duck breast with yuzu and mustard. This wasn't on the happy hour menu but was affordable at $8. I liked the spicy yuzu sauce with the tender duck breast.

Fries with dipping sauces (ketchup, mustard, aioli). The fries were breaded in a thicker batter than usual, but was not greasy or heavy.

Happy hour handrolls. We ordered unagi/eel and spicy tuna. The sushi was fresh and at $2.50 per roll, a good deal.

Happy Hour chardonnay for $4.

Pork belly with pickled slaw from the regular menu. The pork belly was fatty and tender. I thought the tartness from the slaw was well paired with the salty belly.

Happy hour pop corn chicken. The chicken was tender and juicy and served in respectable pieces. I like fried chicken and thus enjoyed this. They sure do love their dipping sauce. This time, mustard, ranch and ponzu.

I'm pretty excited to have stumbled upon this neighborhood gem. Service was swift and friendly. The food was delicious and the seafood was fresh. Sushi can be pricey so this is definitely a good deal. It's well priced even if you weren't there during happy hour. Sometime when life throws you a crowded bar, you find another great local joint with cheap, good food and drinks.

Hits: HH prices, HH runs late and on Saturdays, mimosas, pork belly, fried asparagus
Misses: nothing
Rating: ****

Bimi Restaurant
11917 Wilshire Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 479-2464

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dining in with Shrimp Pasta and Breakfast Quiche

Dining out on Valentines is not my idea of a romantic night. I eat out a lot on weekdays so on weekends, I prefer to stay away from the restaurant crowds. Also, my expectations are pretty high for food, service and ambiance so it would be a culinary letdown to celebrate VD at a restaurant that forces an overpriced prix fixe menu on you. It's more fun to stay in and cook up some pasta. The key is to buy or make fresh pasta. It makes a big difference.

I love one-pot-cooking. Throw in some garlic, shallots, shrimp and mushrooms into a saucepan and saute with salt, pepper, paprika, cumin and freshly squeezed lemon juice. When the mushrooms are soft and the shrimp almost cooked, add cooked pasta to the pan.

Top the pasta with fresh Parmesan cheese and voila- a simple, delicious meal. P.S. they make great leftovers to take in to work for lunch.

Bottle of French Chardonnay to accompany the pasta.

The best part is waking up to an aromatic breakfast (specifically bacon related).

The quiche included onions, turkey bacon, mushrooms, broccoli and Gruyere cheese from Switzerland. The best part about quiches is that you can pretty much throw in your favorite ingredients or even leftovers such as chicken or crumbled sausage. The quiche was surprisingly rather light because we used skim milk over half-and-half. My favorite part was the buttery crust.

Breakfast Quiche
4 eggs
1 cup milk, preferable half-and-half
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup sliced onions
1 lb assorted mushrooms, sliced
8 rashers of turkey bacon, cooked and chopped
Salt and garlic powder
8 oz shredded cheese (Gruyere, Swiss or sharp cheddar)
1 package frozen chopped spinach
1 cup broccoli crowns, chopped
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Hand whip eggs, milk and flour in a medium mixing bowl.
Saute onions, mushrooms and bacon in a saucepan. Combine with remaining ingredients and the egg/milk/flour mixture.
Pour into an unbaked 9-inch, deep pie crust.
Top with additional cheese.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the top is golden brown.
Let the quiche sit until the center settles (about 10-15 minutes) before serving.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Short rib (sandwich) for lunch @ Larchmont Larder

We decided to head over to Larchmont Larder in Hancock Park for lunch. It's a cute little house that holds a cafe, marketplace and even offers cooking classes. They have a small parking lot but I was able to get metered parking on the street, although I think the meter gypped me. It's supposed to be $1/hr but I ended up dropping in 8 quarters for an hour. Humph...

They have an open kitchen with a rotisserie chicken oven at the back.

You can choose to sit at the cute little cafe area or outside.

They offer relatively healthy and organic food. There is an array of salads on display which are not your boring Caesar or garden salads. Choices include wheat berry salad, Thai chicken and albacore tuna salad among others. You can opt for a duo of salad for $9 or a trio for $12. I like the option of sampling different salads. They also offer entrees including miso salmon, meatloaf, meatballs and sandwiches. On Wednesdays, they have a Humpday menu that changes weekly and serves 4.

I decided to go for the half sandwich and soup. I mean, who can resist that selection of sandwiches that include meatloaf, grilled steak and pulled short ribs?!?

The soup was Swiss barley with pancetta and chives and was cream based. The soup was hearty yet didn't feel too heavy on the tummy. I loved the barley that reminded me of sago/tapioca pearls. My half sandwich was the pulled short rib which came with caramelized onions, gruyere cheese & whole grained mustard on brioche bread. The brioche was airy and buttery, kind of like a grilled cheese that is buttered up and grilled. Nice touch over regular bread. The pork was shredded, tender and juicy. I also enjoyed the caramelized onions. The half sandwich and soup is a great combo because I think a full sandwich might have been overkill for lunch. This way, you can also get a flavor of two dishes for the price of one.

This is definitely a place that I would return to. It's a great lunch option especially for days when you are looking for something healthy but yet appetizing. The salads look so great that I'd be willing to give up my meat cravings on occasion.

Hits: sandwich, salad choices, healthy options
Misses: parking lot is tiny
Rating: ***

The Larchmont Larder
626 N. Larchmont Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 962-9900

Recipe: Miso Cod and Soba noodles

What to cook for someone who doesn't eat four legged animals? Guess I have to throw that shepherd's pie and spaghetti bolognese recipes out the window. I don't love fish all that much but miso cod is the exception. It's pretty simple and quick if you follow this recipe that I found online, with slight modifications. You can also choose to broil the fish which will yield a caramelized coating but this preparation is good if you are worried about drying out the fish. Use parchment paper or banana leaves instead of foil for a better presentation.

For some starch, I decided to make Soba noodles with shiitake mushrooms. It's pretty simple, quick and is great for leftovers. I used chili garlic sauce which gave the noodles an added punch.

Miso cod with mushrooms en papillote

2 cod fillets
1 small eggplant or several baby eggplants
2 servings of your favourite mushrooms
1 bunch of green onions

1/4 cup white miso
1/4 cup mirin
2 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Marinate the cod overnight with the miso marinade.

Cut up eggplant into pieces and soak them in water with a little salt for an hour. Remove and dry.

Layer eggplant onto parchment paper or foil and lightly season with salt. Place the fish on the bed of eggplant, green onions and top with mushrooms. Wrap everything up en papillote, and bake it in the oven (400°F) for 12-15 minutes.

Spicy Soba noodles with Shiitake

Spicy chili sauce:
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup soy sauce
2-3 teaspoons hot-chili sauce (like Sambal or Sriracha)
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 clove minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

Soba noodles:
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 inches fresh ginger
4 cloves of garlic
10 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 package soba noodles
1 cup frozen shelled edamame

Stir together all sauce ingredients until brown sugar is dissolved, then set aside.

Toast sesame seeds in a dry 12-inch heavy skillet (not nonstick) over medium heat, stirring, until pale golden, then transfer to a small bowl.

Saute the minced ginger and garlic in oil until they're softened. Add the mushrooms and saute until they're brown. Add about half the sauce and saute until it's reduced.

While the veggies are cooking, boil water for the soba noodles. Cook the noodles and the edamame together until the soba noodles are al dente, about 6 minutes.

Drain the noodles and edamame then toss with the rest of the sauce.
Mix everything (soba, edamame, veggies) together.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Catching Bastide before it suddenly shuts down again

Over a year ago, we were about to make a reservation for Bastide but procrastinated as usual only to find out shortly after that it had suddenly closed down. It was unfortunate but come to think of it, not all that surprising. Bastide had been filled with drama over the years with scenes that played out like a soap opera including internal strife between owner Joe Pytka and his chefs, sudden closures and firing of chefs and the staff being locked out of the restaurant only to find out it was closing for good. Bastide recently reopened in December after a year hiatus, serving only lunch at the time. When we heard that they were open for dinner last week, we quickly made reservations for fear that the restaurant might abruptly shutter on us.

Many great chefs have called Bastide home such as Ludovic Lefebvre (L'Orangerie, LudoBites), Alain Giraud (Citrus, Anisette), Walter Manzke (Patina, Church & State) and Paul Shoemaker (Providence). The old Bastide was a Classic French fine dining establishment. The latest Bastide incarnation is a casual bistro + bookstore. Gone are the tasting menu and formal atmosphere. The new chef in place is Joseph Mahon who has spent time at Sona and Bouley.

Bastide shares the space with French publisher Assouline. The space includes various rooms including the coveted spot in the courtyard.

Another dining area is the library decorated with bookshelves and a fireplace.

We were seated in the Garden room that was dark but lit with candles.

We started with a bottle of wine. The bottles of wine on the wine list were very reasonably priced.

Even though they no longer offer the tasting menu, our waiter shared with us that they can actually prepare a tasting menu upon request and if we had called ahead. The ala carte menu is simpler with a variety of salads, starters and entrees that include a typical selection of pasta/risotto, fish, steak and chicken. We opted for a starter and entree each.

Homemade bread, choice of focaccia, wheat, walnut raisin and baguette. Served with lightly salted butter and radish. Delicious, freshly baked and warm. My favorite was the walnut raisin and focaccia. The butter had an interesting texture that had a bit of a panna cotta consistency. In any case, it was soft and buttery.

Spinach tart with pancetta, creme fraiche, hazelnuts and frisee salad
Lovely colors. The pastry crust was flaky and buttery. I liked the crunch from the hazelnuts and the sharpness from the onions.

Frisee salad with crispy fried chicken, bacon, poached egg and buttermilk vinaigrette
I don't usually order salad to start but the fried chicken won me over. They served the dark meat that was breaded, perfectly fried and not greasy at all. One piece was de-boned and the other piece fell off the bone easily so it wasn't a messy dish to handle. The poached egg added another thick rich layer to the well dressed frisee. There's nothing I would change about this dish, it was perfect.

Braised lamb shank with coco beans, preserved lemon and arugula sauce
I love it when lamb shanks are served with the large bone intact. It's all very rustic and primal. gnarrrr. The meat was tender and fell off the bone. I also liked the beans that were cooked al dente and the texture was a good contrast to the soft meat.

Steak frites with anchovy butter.
They served the anchovy butter on the side as the chef is aware that some people may find the anchovy overwhelming. The steak was cooked perfectly, medium rare on the side of rare upon request. I loved the skinny fries that were crispy but soft at the same time. They were definitely fresh french fries, not the starchy, frozen ones. The winner however was the anchovy butter that was fishy, salty, creamy and buttery all at the same time. It was so heavenly that we had to ask for more bread to spread the butter on. This is the type of thing that should be packaged and sold at a premium.

Beignets which were freshly fried and served with a trio of sauces, chocolate, pineapple and creme fraiche. The pineapple was surprisingly a very good combination with the beignets as it was sweet and sour. Chocolate was good as expected, but I thought the creme fraiche was a little bland.

The food at Bastide was well executed and delicious. It's a pity that I never got a chance to eat at the prior versions of Bastide so I can't compare but I did like the simple, casual menu. The portions were generous and the prices not exorbitant. It's bistro fare with no bells and whistles- you won't find innovative, avant garde dishes, at least not right now. But you never know, Bastide is all about revamps so that could be in the cards not too far in the future.

Hits: tart, fried chicken, anchovy paste, lamb shank, bread, wine prices
Misses: food was good but wish there was more exquisite dishes such as sweetbreads and foie
Rating: ***1/2

8475 Melrose Pl.,
Los Angeles, CA 90069
(323) 651-5950

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

CNY Dinner at Hop Woo

There was something for everyone to celebrate this past weekend. If you're patriotic, there's President's day weekend. If you are in love, it's Valentines Day with your honey. If you're a single guy, it's a great weekend to prey on those lonely girls searching for that special connection. If you hate your job, you got Monday off. And if you're Chinese (or just someone looking for another reason to eat, drink and celebrate), you rung in the new year of the tiger. We decided to gather a group of friends and family for dinner over the weekend. Living in the Westside, you don't exactly have that many great Chinese food options. Just ask anyone on Chowhound. Despite the odds, I find that Hop Woo is the most authentic Chinese restaurant in the area. After all, what can be more authentic than a Chinese restaurant that has roast ducks hanging in the window and a wait staff that ignores you. Also, Hop Woo has locations in Alhambra and Chinatown - that must count for something.

They wasted no time serving the main star of the night, Peking duck, which was carved table side.

The best part of the dish was the duck skin which was sliced thin and served with buns, scallions and hoisin sauce. Somehow that combination is lovely. The crispy skin, with the soft layer of fat and topped with sweet sauce.

Don't worry, we're served the rest of the duck as well. The waiter chopped up the remaining non-skin pieces. The duck meat and bones were served separately with a side of MSG. There was a lot of gnawing of bones at the table.

French styled Beef of spicy, sauteed beef slices. Well marinated, tender and flavorful but not that special given the occasion.

Pork belly with preserved cabbage
The slices of pork belly were basically large pieces of fat and skin. It was fatty, melt in your mouth and tasted like bone marrow x 20. Some might cringe but I embraced it. Yes, it's an artery clogger but it's a new year and time for new resolutions. The pork belly sat on a bed of preserved cabbage. One tiny spoon was sufficient as it was salty and flavorful.

Fried chicken with fried shrimp crackers. I thought the chicken was a tad bit dry but I sure loved those deep fried shrimp crackers that crackled in your mouth and dissolved on your tongue.

They call it chicken salad but it's actually chicken and jelly fish. Personally, I love this preparation of chicken (boiled, shredded, pink and not 100% cooked through, fatty chicken skin) but it's not for everyone. In fact, some might call it undercooked and slimy. I call it delicious. The jellyfish added another texture to the dish and was well seasoned with sesame oil. I liked how the jelly fish camouflaged with the chicken skin so you never know which is in your bite.

Calamari seasoned salt and pepper. I liked the thick breading which looked more like beer batter than breading. You really can't go wrong with fried seafood.

Pan fried noodles with seafood. This dish never gets old for me. Carbs. check. Crunchy noodles. check. Fresh seafood. check.

The food was delicious and the portions generous. It's not every day that you get to celebrate with Peking duck. The best part of the meal was the price tag at $19 per person. You gotta love Chinese food. Hop Woo offers authentic (IMO) seafood and BBQ dishes. You can also order live lobsters and suckling pig platter at very affordable prices. It's also a great alternative to driving East for Chinese food. Oh, and don't forget BYOB too. Now that alone constitutes a winner in my book.

Hits: location in the westside, Peking duck, noodles, pork belly, prices
Misses: fried chicken could have been more moist
Rating: ****

Hop Woo BBQ Seafood Restaurant
11110 Olympic Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 575-3663