Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The birds rule over @ Rivera Restaurant

The last time I tried to hit up Rivera (on St. Paddy's Day), it was closed for a private party. I was a bit bummed so I made sure to get a reservation this time. Monday also happened to be the Black Eyed Peas concert at nearby Staples Center, so the restaurant was bustling. Apparently we were one of the few at Rivera that was not attending the concert. Guess we are not that hip.

The bar area is sleek and opens into the main dining room with modern chandeliers, right by a charcuterie bar and open kitchen.

Our host initially seated us in the other more formal dining room with white table cloths on the table but we opted to sit outside in the less stuffy main dining room. It's also a better spot for people watching.

First up, cocktails. Rivera is known for their cocktails. We ordered the Purple Rain which came with a choice of vodka or gin base, with violette, ginger, Thai basil and soda. It was very good, strong but tasted good going down.

The cuisine is mainly Latin influenced and the menu is broken out between small and large plates. We decided to try a couple small plates to share between us two. That way, we were able to get more variety without being stuck with a large heavy dish each.

Bacalao negro fresco (seared black cod with Serrano ham crisp)
The plate was imprinted with spices in the form of a gas mask- not sure what the symbolism was. Under the cod were jicama tasting logs. The fish was cooked really well, on the slightly rare side, however it was bland. I dipped it in some of the salsa and spices but it still didn't work for me. The flavors weren't being absorbed by the fish. Such a pity because the fish itself was soft and buttery.

Chile pasilla rilleno (pickled mild chile, burrata cheese, served chilled)
Really disliked this dish. The chile had a overly sour and bitter skin to the point of it being inedible. The burrata was also not what I expected. It had a horrible consistency and didn't seem that fresh. I took a bite of this dish and was unable to take another one.

We ordered another round of cocktails. Sexy Thyme (gin, aperol, orgeat, golden raspberry and thyme). I thought the thyme was a bit strong but the cocktail otherwise was fine. The other was a concoction prepared by the bartender which I requested vodka and raspberry as the main components. He made a Raspberry Gimlet. It was strong and tasted like lighter fluid. I never usually waste alcohol but I couldn't get it down.

Cordorniz cubana (grilled quail, black beans)
The quail was tender and the skin kept the meat moist. There was a generous potion of two whole legs and the bird was well seasoned. I thought the black beans were delicious with a bit of spice. It had a pasty texture and had loads of flavor.

Pato al vino (duck confit, rioja reduction, cascabel chile)
I enjoyed the duck as well. I liked the crispy skin and the tender meat. The cascabel chile was dry but a little bit went a long way. It added a nice spice to the duck. The sauce on the plate was all the duck really needed.

I liked the meat dishes, both were well executed and flavorful, and served with the right components. The first two dishes unfortunately were disappointing. I thought overall, the food was decent, but I wasn't blown away, given all the raves about the restaurant. I do think however, that it would be a great after-work or pre-Staples joint. They also have a late night happy hour (hello?!? You know those are my favorite) so that could be an option as well. But for me, given the distance from home, I'd probably not be back again if just for dinner.

Hits: quail, duck, purple rain cocktail
Misses: chile rilleno, cod a bit bland
Rating: ***

Rivera Restaurant
1050 S. Flower St. #10
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 749-1460

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Late night nibbling in SaMo @ Bar Pintxo and Blue Plate Oysterette

Saturday late night started at 9.30pm, first with drinks at Copa D'oro, a great cocktail bar in Santa Monica with fun drinks made with fresh ingredients. I got the Ginger Smash (Gin, Berentzen Apple Liqueur, Ginger and Fresh Cranberry) which was strong but delicious.

After our drinks, we headed for Bar Pintxo to catch their late night Happy Hour. Again. Yes, I was just here the weekend before, but I find it hard to pass up on good happy hour deals.

The last time we ordered sangrias, which I thought was a little weak, so we went with wine this time. You can't water these puppies down.

6 pintxos for $6 (i.e. $1 a piece). The last time, I ordered one of each of the six items but this time, we only picked the ones we liked, such as the mushroom crostini, jamon serrano and huevos rellenos.

One of the specials on the chalkboard was arroz con negro. I love squid ink rice, both the color and the deep, rich flavors. The seafood was cooked perfectly and there was a nice selection of calamari, shrimp and oysters. The best part of course, was the residual crunchy rice at the bottom of the paella pan.

After our quick bite, we decided to catch Blue Plate Oysterette before it closed for the evening.

The original Blue Plate is located on Montana Ave. in Santa Monica, serving American comfort food. The owners opened up the Oysterette by the ocean six months ago.

It's rather quaint inside and looks like it could belong somewhere in Cape Cod with its blue and white decor. The outside seating had the feel of Cannes, where we were just at a year ago. How fitting a location for us to reminisce.

We grabbed seats at the counter, overlooking the open kitchen.

Any place that shows surf videos is a winner in my book.

Fried seafood combo with oysters, calamari and shrimp. The breading was thick but not oily. I prefer fried oysters over fresh so I was delighted with this. It's also tough to find good, fresh fried oysters in restaurants.

We also decided to sample some fresh shellfish, from their Specials menu written on a blackboard that was hung up by the kitchen. We weren't hungry so we just opted for two clams and one oyster. The fresh seafood was served with mignonette and cocktail sauce.

Plump and fresh Gerrish Island Oyster for $3.

Two top neck clams for @ $1.50 a piece. Although fresh clams seem less popular than oysters in general, I like the clams better. They are sweeter and have a firmer texture.

Bar Pintxo didn't fail, once again. The prices were good and the arroz con negro was delicious. I liked the fried seafood platter at Blue Plate but it wasn't cheap at $17. A fun night of seafood nibbles, set by the ocean. You really can't ask for anything more.

Hits: HH prices and arroz con negro at Pintxo, fried platter at Blue Plate Oysterette
Misses: prices at Blue Plate
Rating: ***

Bar Pintxo
109 Santa Monica Blvd.,
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 458-2012

Blue Plate Oysterette
1355 Ocean Ave.,
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 576-3474

Monday, March 29, 2010

VIP Seafood Harbor: Getting your Dim Sum fix if you're unwilling to make the drive East

After filing a police report for my burglarized car and dropping my car off at the mechanic, I wanted to grab food but at somewhere close by that I could walk to. Dim sum came to mind. Yes I know, there is no good dim sum on the Westside. In fact, VIP Seafood Harbor is the only one place that serves it, 7 days a week no less. Yes I know that a lot of Asians are going to cringe that I would even consider this joint vs. making the 20+ mile drive east to Alhambra. Don't hate. If you lived in the Westside, you'd know that we Westsiders don't like venturing outside of our little bubble. VIP Seafood Harbor is a convenient walk for me, they serve all the typical dim sum dishes, it'll satisfy my craving, I actually like the food, this will do the trick.

At least they have carts (although not all the cart-pushers were Chinese), I've been to some restaurants in SF that didn't have them.

It's the weekend, I gotta have my mimosas, even with dim sum.

Rice noodles/cheong fun. Filled with plump shrimp and doused with soy sauce. The noodles were fresh and not starchy so it didn't seem overly filling.

Duck dumpling. This isn't your typical staple dim sum but I was intrigued. It wasn't that great as you couldn't taste the duck. In fact, it tasted like it could have been any other meat.

Siew mai. I usually order the shrimp version but this pork and mushroom was good as well.

Taro cake/wu gok is deep fried mashed up taro and mushrooms. Very greasy but yummy. I like the flaky breading that crumbled so easily.

Char siew bao. BBQ pork bun is probably the most popular dish and seems to be the favorite of all the Caucasians that I know. I like the baos but I'd rather get my carb count from dumplings or rice.

Glutinous rice which is sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf and filled with pork, mushrooms, Chinese sausage and egg yolk. Flavorful and delicious. I especially liked the fatty piece of pork.

I always have to order chicken feet at dim sum. It encompasses all my favorite parts of the chicken: skin, cartilage and bone. And I'm pretty damn skilled at cleaning the bones out. The chicken feet was gelatinous and coated with a spicy, black bean sauce. It's not for everyone but it's one of my favorites.

Despite what people may say about how VIP Seafood Harbor is not the most authentic place, I still think it's good dim sum. I'd rather eat at somewhere a smidgen less "authentic" instead of making the drive to some over crowded spot in the Eastside. Also, being able to walk home and burn off some of those calories consumed was an added bonus.

Hits: glutinous rice, chicken feet, cheong fun, mimosas available, westside location
Misses: duck dumpling
Rating: ***

VIP Seafood Harbor
11701 Wilshire Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 979-3377

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What a night out in Hollywood: HH at BoHo, Metric concert and nightcap at The Tar Pit

Two concerts in a row, I could be so lucky.. or perhaps not. You'll find out why later. I was stoked for the Metric concert at the Hollywood Palladium. They are a pretty awesome band that I try to catch whenever they are in town. Their shows are energetic and a lot of fun. I decided to happy hour nearby at BoHo prior to the concert.

BoHo is a gastropub conceived by Andre Guerrero (Max/Marche, the Oinkster) and Adolfo Suaya (Surly Goat) and is located by the Arclight Theatre. The decor matches the name. It's eclectic inside and has that thrift store feel to it with its mix and match couches, Tiffany lamps above the booths in the bar area, chandeliers in the main dining room, and diverse artwork on the walls. But I wasn't there for the decor. I was there for their happy hour deals that run till 7.30pm, and their selection of artisan beers.

Their happy hour menu is pretty good. $8 pizzas and $5 draft beers is a steal. BoHo has a great selection of amazing beers and their pizzas are interesting, including pesto chicken, baked fennel and bacon, potato and garlic and a Korean BBQ short rib pizza.

Their vast beer menu.

Dirty martini and a Saison De lente from Bruery.

Kalbi pizza, half light on cheese for me, with BBQ short ribs, fontina cheese and scallions.

Served with a side of kimchee and chili paste.
The pizza was rather large. I liked the kimchee and the spicy paste which gave it additional flavor. The meat on the other hand was a little dry and not juicy, unlike what one is used to at Korean BBQ restaurants. The crust was dry and bland, and could have used a bit more butter and seasoning.

I was feeling something sweet so I ordered the St louis Framboise. I love me some Framboise as it was refreshing.

I ordered another beer then went to feed the meter a couple blocks over at Sunset and El Centro. To my horror, I found my car window smashed. All this happened within an hour, when it was still light.

The suspect took a bunch of electronic goods in my car including my laptop, iPod and GPS system. Jerk.

When I rushed back to BoHo, my Taps Cream Ale had arrived. Not what I expected, thought it would be like a Boddingtons but the beer was missing that creamy head and smooth texture. I gulped as much as I could before rushing back outside where I had seen a cop pull someone over across the street and I was hoping to catch him before he left.

Our ahi tuna was also served. Ahi towers with crispy rice cakes, ahi tartare, seaweed, wasabi tobiko and soy on the side. We packed the tuna to go and by the time we got a chance to taste it (almost an hour later), it tasted a little fishy. That's too bad because I am sure it would have been better if we had eaten it at the restaurant.

We went back to the Westside to drop off my car at home. In all the chaos, I noticed that my concert ticket was missing. The night would have sucked big time if I was left car less, and at home while an awesome concert was playing across town. Thankfully we found out that our friend had an extra ticket. From here, the night picked up, thankfully!

We got to the Palladium right in time to grab a drink while the band got on stage. The concert was sold out so the place was packed. We were able to score amazing spots pretty close to the front and center.

After the concert, our party gathered outside. While we said our goodbyes, a wonderful, greasy, meaty aroma filled the air.

There was a bacon wrapped hot dog stand right outside the concert venue so we decided to split one.

I only had one bite but I enjoyed it. What's there not to like if it includes bacon?! The dog was topped with onions, peppers and condiments including mayo, ketchup and mustard.

When we drove back, we passed The Tar Pit (i.e. the bar, not the fossil museum) and made a game time decision to stop. I stopped by The Tar Pit recently for food and drinks, and really enjoyed their duck sliders and fried oysters. That's not surprising as the chef/owner is Mark Peel of Campanile, and contestant on BravoTV's Top Chef Masters.

We grabbed seats at the swanky bar. The place is sophisticated and classy.

Jasmine Apricato with Jasmine infused gin, apricot liqueur, lemon juice, topped with champagne.
Gin Gin mule with gin, mint, lime simple syrup and homemade ginger beer.
The drinks were pretty delicious and strong, just the way I like it.

The highlight of the night was when we spotted Mark Peel walk by. We chatted with him and got a photo with him.

It was a fun, eclectic night, starting off with beers and pizza at a casual, bohemian joint, followed by a kick a** concert, some greasy bacon wrapped dogs to soak in the alcohol and to cap off the night, cocktails at a classy joint. The sucky start to the night was now all a distant memory.

Hits: HH prices, great beers and cocktails, Metric, meeting Mark Peel
Misses: ahi tuna, dry pizza crust
Rating ***

BoHo Restaurant
6372 Sunset Blvd.,
Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 465-8500

The Tar Pit
609 N. la Brea
los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 965-1300

Friday, March 26, 2010

Happy houring in Boys Town @ St. Felix

I was going to the Troubadour for The Morning Benders show. The last time I was there, we dined at Dan Tana's next door. Great meal but rather heavy. This time, I was hoping to focus on drinks and a small pre-concert bite. The Troubadour is located on Santa Monica Blvd at the start of where a stretch of restaurants begin. It's also ground zero for gay bars. We decided on Saint Felix as it came recommended, and they have happy hour till 8pm.

Saint Felix is the kind of place where everyone knows your name.. if you are a regular. Let's just say, my friend and I weren't getting as much love compared to the other guys at the bar. We had to wait about 15 minutes for our server to finish chatting with his buddies. Hey, they still serve booze and food, so I'm not complaining. Happy hour includes 1/2 off their specialty cocktails, wine, beer and some food items.

Our first round of drinks were Stockholm Syndrome and Sangria. The former had Bombay Sapphire, rosemary, fresh mint, muddled strawberries, fresh lime and pomegranate juice. Refreshing. The sangria was not bad but could probably use a bit more fruit and wine! But for $4.50, it does the trick.

Kobe beef sliders on brioche bun with maytag bleu cheese, smoked bacon, grilled onions, tomato, lettuce and thousand island dressing. They call this the Happy Meal, and boy did it make me happy, sans cheese of course. It's a tiny slider but still had all the components of a good burger. The beef was juicy and the fat from the bacon soaked into the bun. The buns didn't taste like brioche though. The slider was served with a side of sweet potato fries which were delicious. Not starchy and oily. All this for $5. Not bad, I have to say.

Ahi tuna slider with sesame salad, marinated cucumber, sprouts and cantaloupe with a side of wasabi cream, also $5. I really enjoyed this slider because of the seaweed salad which was sweet and added a nice texture to the slider. It also seemed light, which is a good option especially if you're going to be spending the next cour hours standing at a concert.

Moroccan chicken cups- Chicken with Moroccan couscous salad and tzatziki sauce. Also $5. I liked the spices of the chicken and the couscous. I thought this was unique and not something you would find on most happy hour menus.

Another round of cocktails. Raspberry Bellini with champagne, raspberry puree and raspberry garnish, and Cucumber Dilettante with muddled cucumbers, dill, lemon and Vodka. Both very yummy drinks.

Cubano tacos- Braised pork taco with pickled pepper relish, avocado crema, salsa roja, gouda cheese and shredded cabbage. The meat was well marinated and the selection of condiments worked well together.

I thought the happy hour at Saint Felix was a good deal ($70 including tax and tip for 5 drinks and a five orders). The food options weren't crappy, the sweet potato fries really made my day, the drinks were good, and we had till 8pm to partake of the reduced prices. Plus lots of eye candy. A happy hour winner in my book.

Hits: fries, ahi tuna slider, HH til 8pm
Misses: service a bit slow
Rating: ***

Saint Felix
8945 Santa Monica Blvd.,
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 275-4428

After our meal, we walked a couple blocks to the Troubadour to check out the opening band Miniature Tigers. The show was sold out but given that the Troubadour is tiny, it was still an intimate affair.

The Troubadour is always a great concert venue. There really isn't a bad seat in the house. The Morning Benders (who look like they are 16) did a good job although they mainly played from their new album. Pity, because some of the songs from their older album are pretty darn great.