Thursday, May 27, 2010

Aureole, Las Vegas: where the (wine) angels dine

Since we had dinner reservations at Joel Robuchon the next night, we were looking for a good, light and somewhat casual dinner for our first night in Vegas. I was very tempted by the affordable Taste of Wynn prix fixe special menus but decided it was a bit unnecessary to chow on a three course meal the night before a 16-course meal. After searching online for small-plates options, Aureole popped up. I have to admit, I don't know much about chef Charlie Palmer. I know he's earned numerous awards and accolades for his restaurant Auerole that originated in NY. I also know that BravoTV's Top Chef's Voltaggio brothers trained under him. Aureole NY has earned a Michelin star the past couple years, and the Las Vegas venue held a star as well until 2010 when the Michelin Guide stopped awarding stars to Los Angeles and Vegas restaurants. Recession, they say. Apparently it's only temporary which I hope is the case because LA and Vegas have some pretty exceptional restaurants that deserve the recognition.

Aureole is located at the Mandalay Bay. They have a formal dining room, a bar area and the coveted swan court that overlooks the pool and fountain.

They are known for their 42 foot high wine tower that holds about 10,000 bottles where "wine angels" have to rappel up to to grab the wine. The tower must house very expensive bottles of wine because I only saw her fly up once.

We grabbed a table at the bar and must have just beat the wave because just five minutes later, the bar area filled up just past 8pm. It pays to be the early bird or not have a gambling habit.

The small-plates menu had less than ten items and some cheese offerings. You are also able to order from the dinner menu at the bar.

Even though they had a tempting selection of cocktails, we opted for wine which was surprisingly rather affordable for a high-end restaurant.

Bread was served. Nothing special. I was eyeing the pretzel bread that my neighbor received and I was envious.

Crispy Soft Shell Crab with ponzu dipping sauce
This photo was actually taken after I ate a piece of crab, so in fact the serving was much larger. These were rather large-mutant pieces of crab. It had a nice crunchy breading that was seasoned well. The ponzu went well with the crispy crab.

Grilled crab stuffed beef roll with fingerling potatoes and chimmichurri sauce
The beef was a teeny tiny bit tougher than what I had hoped but it might have been necessary to hold the crab together. The home made potato chips were good. A little oily, crispy and seasoned with a little salt. Wish they could package these suckers because I would definitely purchase them.

Each bite consisted of a healthy serving of fresh lump crab with no fillers and instead was seasoned with spices and bell peppers. The crab itself tasted fresh and did not have an ounce of a fishy taste.

Duo of veal loin and crispy sweetbreads with potato latke, mushroom ala creme, bloomsdale radish
This was from the dinner menu and not cheap at $42, but if you're splitting it, it doesn't hurt as much. The pieces of veal were a bit inconsistent, some were tougher while others were tender. But I'm willing to dismiss this because the sweetbreads made up for it. They were luscious, lightly breaded pieces of veal thymus gland. You know some sweetbreads really taste like thymus glands. Not this one. These were well executed, supple and did not taste a bit chalky. I enjoyed the sauce which was flavorful. The latkes were also delicious and reminded me of hash browns.

Side of sweet corn and bacon succotash
I am soooo glad I looked at the side dishes and ordered this. Usually I ignore my poor veggies but if it's married with bacon, it definitely deserved a second look. It's the kind of thing that I could eat all day. Mostly cause its DROWNED in butter! The dish had a nice balance of sweetness from the corn and saltiness from the bacon. The dressing was citrus which really freshened up the flavors.

I'm actually glad we opted for the bar area. It wasn't formal and you wouldn't feel guilty for sharing dishes. Eating at the bar also allows you the opportunity to sample dishes at a lower price point and also make it a lighter meal. Service was great, the manager came by to check on us and he also beckoned a younger waiter to assist us when we were asking for bar recommendations. I enjoyed our meal and thought the food was flavorful. Prices were also reasonable for a fancy award winning restaurant. The dinner menu was pricier but the items on the small-plates bar menu were priced in the low teens. In fact, this meal came up to the same price as our brunch at Bouchon and I can say with certainty that the food at Aureole was miles ahead. Yes I know they are completely different animals: different cuisine, different meal services, but it's amazing how the same $ can get you something much more memorable and satisfying at Aureole. Perhaps I was paying for the Keller name at Bouchon. At Aureole, it seems I was paying for the food and service.

Hits: sweetbreads, crab, corn, service
Misses: pricey dinner menu
Rating: ***

Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89119
(702) 632-7401

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bouchon, Las Vegas: Where one croissant just ain't enough

Thomas Keller is arguably the most revered American chef with two Michelin Three Star restaurants: Per Se in NY and The French Laundry in Yountville. Unfortunately after a couple weeks of dialing in for a reservation at TFL, I finally gave up. It is essentially the holy grail of restaurant reservations. Hard to get ahold of a live person and if you are fortunate to do so, reservations are most likely all booked up. Keller also owns Bouchon restaurants and bakeries in NY, Vegas, Napa and Beverly Hills, as well as Ad Hoc Restaurant in Napa. We brunched at Ad Hoc last year and actually walked away unimpressed. Yes, granted we were hungover from the many Irish car bombs we had the night before, but I thought the food was not well executed (bland breakfast dish and overly sweetened dessert). Ad Hoc was a relative FAIL but I had heard really good things about Bouchon. We had tried for reservations when we were in Napa but they were booked up. So we decided to hit up the Bouchon outlet in Vegas. Someone had mentioned that they preferred the brunch over dinner so we decided to go for that. Unfortunately, Bouchon does not take reservations for brunch (only dinner) so we decided to take an early flight out of LA to avoid the lines at the restaurant. We're that hardcore when it comes to food.

Bouchon is located in the Venetian Hotel. It took us a while to find it because Vegas casinos are mazes, constructed to keep you lost in its premises. After getting poor directions from a very strung out cocktail waitress, we finally found our way to the restaurant. It's pretty nice inside, typical of a very modern brasserie. Reminds me a bit of Anisette in Santa Monica with high ceilings, patterned flooring, mirrored walls and a lovely display at the entrance, showcasing fresh seafood including oysters and langoustines. It's interesting that given their fine reputation for baked good, there wasn't a boulangerie in the restaurant or at the very least, a display case for their pastries. It would be a good strategy to tempt customers into purchasing more food while waiting for a table.

The wait was minimal at 5 minutes so we decided to start at the bar for some bubbly. They had a pretty good and reasonably priced wine list and good beers on tap like Delirium and Dogfish. Soon after, we were seated outside on the patio overlooking the pool.

The brunch menu included typical American breakfast fare such as french toast, waffle and eggs. I was almost tempted to go with the chicken and waffles until I noticed that the chicken was roasted not fried. I'm on vacation, goshdarnit, I'm going to have something relatively unhealthy.

We had to ask for bread when we saw our neighbors being served one. The bread was hard as rock and quite ordinary. It was very disappointing since the Bouchon brand is associated with awesome baked goods but I would not consider this bread to fall under that category.

Oeuf and Boudin blanc
The white sausage was served with scrambled eggs and a butter croissant. The sauce was a beurre noisette. The boudin blanc was pretty good and is something that I don't see enough on menus. The croissant was heavenly. Initially, I was discouraged when I saw that it wasn't warmed up as I figured it might taste a little stale. However, it was buttery and crumbled upon touch. The eggs however looked blah, a bit like airplane food. The plating was just very unappealing and not something I would expect from a Keller restaurant.

One of the specials was the oeuf du jour.
Scrambled eggs with biscuits and homemade gravy with forest mushrooms. I thought the brioche would be fluffy and buttery. Instead it was dry and hard. The dish actually looked really offensive with the gravy poured all over the eggs. I actually lost my appetite just looking at it. The gravy was a horrid shade of paste. It also had a disturbing seafood flavor which I didn't like at all. I mentioned it to the waitress when she cleared my plate which I had left touched, but all she said was "I don't think there's seafood in the gravy". I wasn't expecting it to be taken off the bill (although some places would have done so and you would think a Keller joint would) but a simple "I'm really sorry or can I get you anything else" would alleviate the situation.

The only good thing about the dish were the side of potatoes which the waiter forgot to serve with the rest of the meal and only brought it out when we were pretty much done. The potatoes were good and not starchy. The inside was soft and pipping hot with a slight crisp on the outside. It was sufficiently seasoned as well.

I was so disappointed with my egg dish and was starving while watching everyone eat so I ordered a chocolate and almond croissant. It was actually pretty darn good. Somehow the croissants really shined although it left me wondering why the bread and brioche were a letdown. Similar to the butter croissant, this was also flaky and buttery with a melted chocolaty filling. It's pretty hard to eat this elegantly and I was left with traces of powdered sugar and chocolate residue all over my face.

When we left, there still wasn't a line so it's good to know that we could have slept in a bit longer and hopped on a later flight. The food was surprisingly very unimpressive except for the croissants. It was also pricey for the quality of food at $26 for the horrendous egg dish with funky gravy and dry bread. The presentation was also lackluster and made the dishes look even more unappetizing. I really expected more from a Thomas Keller establishment. The only thing worth going back for IMO are the croissants. And for the $55 that I spent on my brunch which included a mimosa, I could have bought 13 more croissants instead of the egg dish that was left untouched. Now that would have been an epic Keller brunch.

Hits: croissants, boudin blanc
Misses: eggs, gravy, brioche
Rating: **1/2

3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 414-6200

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Vegas, for the atypical Vegas traveler

We've been talking about a Vegas trip since graduating from business school last year, sort of a way to treat ourselves with the epic 16 course tasting at Michelin Three Star restaurant Joel Robuchon. Somehow even with a convenient short 43 minute flight, we got distracted with other things such as business trips and a Mammoth condo for the winter. Now that the snowfall has subsided, we decided to make our Vegas trip happen.

Here's the thing, I don't really like Vegas *gasp*! I don't really gamble, don't particularly like the club scene, hate laying out poolside. But people, Vegas ain't all that, so I've recently come to realize. There are many other attractions that too can make your trip memorable. So for all of those girls who hate dressing up in tight mini skirts and getting hit on by creepy guys at the clubs, for the guys who hate waiting in long lines and paying cover or $1,000 for bottle service, for those of you who have bad luck at gambling and for those that are too pastey for the pool scene, here are some suggestions, taken off my Vegas itinerary from this weekend.

1) FOOD!! reviews to come.
As a foodie, Vegas is paradise city for me. Lots of dining options and many well known chefs have set up shop here, albeit they might rarely make an appearance at the locations.

Brunch at Thomas Keller's Bouchon at the Venetian. We had to try it since we weren't able to get reservations when we were in Napa.

Casual dinner at the bar at Charlie Palmer's Aureole at Mandalay Bay. We were looking for something along the lines of small-plates, so Aureole fit the bill.

And most importantly, the sole purpose of our trip, dinner at Joel Robuchon at the Mansion.

Hey, I'm not only all about high-end. Sometimes, I gotta stop for snackies like a Krispy Kreme Original Glazed donut. Oh, and throw in a jello shot while you're at it.

2) Partying
Bars (vs. clubs) are really my sort of thing. Somewhere loungey, nothing too fancy and preferable with decent music.

I grabbed a cocktail at Baccarat Bar at the Bellagio while my friend ventured off to the blackjack tables. Yes, I'd rather spend $14 on a cocktail vs. at a slot machine. This was the Bellagio Cocktail, with sparkling wine, Alize red passion and fresh passion fruit puree.

You can also hang out at a cool spot such as Minus5 Ice Lounge at the Mandalay Bay where you donned a winter coat, drank an icy cold vodka cocktail in an icier cold cup made of ice, in an even icier cold lounge. Kind of a fun thing to check out for one time only.

Even though I don't like dance clubs, sometimes you just gotta go with the flow. Ladies really have it good in Vegas. We were on the guest lists, didn't have to pay cover, got walked right to the front bypassing the lines and were showered with free booze. Some of the places we hit in our two night stay were Mix at TheHotel at The Mandalay Bay (lovely view from the 64th floor), RokVegas at New York New York (didn't care for the music or scene but this came recommended by two locals) and Vanity at Hard Rock Hotel (it didn't really feel rocker enough to be at the HRH, I much prefer Wasted Space where the DJ plays awesome rock tunes from yesteryear).

3) Gambling
I know I said I don't like gambling, but you gotta do it, even if it's just for an hour. I mean, it's actually a very sound investment. $60 (which is what I spent) gets you entertainment and free drinks for about 1.5 hrs (unless you really suck at Blackjack, which I do, but I had my friend on one side and a kind male stranger on the other side to help me out). I ended up ahead so basically I got paid to drink and socialize. Not a bad concept. You just gotta set yourself monetary limits and walk away when you reach them.

4) Day trip to Hoover Dam
Alright, I'm a dock, I know I should be laying out by the pool at Rehab, but I'd rather do something more constructive. Also, my mom would not be happy if I returned with freckles and a darker tan. After doing some research, we decided to spend the morning at Hoover Dam. The Grand Canyon was too far away. There were a few options that we found. Bus tours were about $40 which included pickup from your hotel. Unfortunately we had early dinner reservations so we needed a more flexible departure time. We ended up with the Hoover Dam Tour on a Hummer for only $30 more, but with our own private guide and a comfy ride.

Pretty impressive structure. The dam was built in the 1930's for irrigation and to maintain water supply during the flood and drought seasons. It was completed two years before schedule and under budget. Try doing that these days. The cost of the dam and its annual operating costs have broken even through the sale of electricity from its power plant.

5) Hit the gym
If you're going to order the tasting menu at Joel Robuchon and consume countless units of alcohol, it might be a good idea to go for a run. It's a great way to flush the bad stuff from your system so that you can fill it up with more bad stuff. If you don't want to hit the gym, walking along the strip and dodging unsavory characters make a good workout as well.

Apart from the clubbing, this was quite a different Vegas trip from what I'm used to. Guess that means I'm growing up...

Monday, May 24, 2010

LA Wine Fest, June 5-6

You don't have to make the 3 hr drive to Santa Barbara or get on the plane to Napa Valley to sample some good wine. Come June 5 and 6, hop into a cab or grab a designated driver and make your way to Hollywood at Raleigh Studios. This ain't a small time production. There will be representation from over 130 wineries. Don't care too much for wine? They also have beers and spirits. And for the foodies, food trucks and select restaurants will be present as well.

Get your tickets now for one day or both at $65 a day or $100 for a 2 day pass. Use promo code Stephanie to get you $15 off.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papa's

The hottest event in town isn't tickets to the Lakers Western Conference Finals or tickets to see the hot experimental indie band Broken Bells concert at the Music Box (which BTW was actually was a pretty sick concert last night), it's a dinner reservation at LudoBites. Reservations were booked up instantly as soon as news broke that the reservation systems were opened. Thankfully my normally-procrastinating self was on the ball this one time so we were able to snag reservations for two months to the date. LudoBites is the pop-up restaurant of acclaimed French chef Ludo Lefebvre. After training under renown chefs Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Passard in France, he made excellent marks at L'Orangerie and Bastide in Los Angeles, garnering awards and accolades. Since then, Ludo has been popping up all around town, never really staying in one place. His first two LudoBites popup events which usually runs from 1-2 months, was at Breadbar, it then moved to Royal/T Cafe and the latest location is at Gram & Papa's in Downtown LA. He also served up his popular fried chicken via truck at the LA Street Food Festival. Shortly after, he also did fried-chicken-cookoff at Foundry with its chef Eric Greenspan for one night only and another fried chicken night at Akasha. You may also know Ludo from his appearance as a cheftestant on Top Chef Masters Season 1 and 2. He was that intense and slightly obnoxious French chef on the show.

Ludobites was conceptualized around the time when Ludo was looking to open his own restaurant but hadn't found the right place. He decided to rent the space at Breadbar instead because he still wanted to continue cooking in the kitchen but did not want to commit to a lease, location and equipment. Despite running high end, expensive French restaurants in the past, Ludobites is a fresh departure. It's about fresh ingredients, refined dishes prepared with classic French technique but at accessible prices.

I remembered when I made the reservation in March, May seemed so far away. But before we knew it, I got a reminder email from the event. Gram & Papa's is a casual lunch spot located in Downtown, thankfully away from the Staples Center so there was lots of free parking on the street. They didn't have to do much to convert Gram & Papa's into a Ludo-centric spot apart from just hanging up some LuboBites posters on the wall and displaying his pictures and books. The restaurant was lively and bustling and had sort of a New York feel to it, definitely less formal than Ludo's past restaurants.

He seems to like the open kitchen layout at his pop-up locations. We like it too. It's fun to see the kitchen at work.

The LudoBites menu is mainly small plates and served family style for the whole table to sample. Because of Ludo's extensive French cooking experience, this menu leans towards French cuisine. It should be noted that he also cooks international fare such as his Asian inspired menu at LudoBites v3.0 at Royal/T Cafe. The menu is appetizer-heavy with about 12 choices, 4 mains courses and two dessert options. The menu changes regularly so some of your favorite dishes may disappear the next time you are there.

The best part of LudoBites is that it's BYOB. Heck yeah! Unfortunately I was too busy at work to hit the wineshop so we had to make do with a bottle of Pinot Grigio that I had in my office, which I was saving for one of those days.

I liked the wine glasses, the logo was a wine bottle holding a wine glass. I wanted to snag it but refrained.

Tartine plate "Warm Baguette" with honey lavender butter and smoked lard
The bread was fresh, hot with a dash of salt sprinkled on top. Unfortunately, I didn't care for the spreads. The honey lavender had a strong scent and was too flowery. I felt like I was eating perfume or potpourri. I usually love me some lard spread but this was too smokey. Typically, I'd have a BIG issue with paying for bread at a restaurant but you get unlimited refills so I guess it's not too bad for $4. Bread is so key at LudoBites because there are always amazing sauces that you'd like to soak the bread in.

Scallop, spinach, yogurt-curry, spring garlic, violet flower
This was such an elegant dish. The scallops were cooked perfectly cooked, which some kitchens can tend to mess up on. I loved the curry broth which had a bold flavor. The edible flower also added a nice color to the dish. There was a lot of bread-dipping action going on at the table.

Marinated king salmon, German butterball potato, red wine vinaigrette, Creme Fraiche
The salmon was cooked perfectly. It was poached and seasoned with cracked black pepper which sounds so simple but was perfectly executed. The colors were vibrant and you just couldn't help but be in a good mood after eating this.

Seabream ceviche, heirloom tomato, Jalapenos, Myer Lemon paste, cilantro flower
The fish was fresh and its mild flavor worked well with the spicy jalapeno which added a kick to the dish. The Myer lemon contributed a tartness which was a bit too sour for my taste.

Black foie gras croque monsieur, cherry amaretto chutney
This is LudoBite's signature dish (apart from his fried chicken). Given my cheese aversion, I was nervous about ordering this. The waitress had to check with Ludo with regards to what type of cheese was in the croque monsieur. It was Lamb Chopper Sheeps milk. Is it mild? She had to check back with Ludo. Yes, mild it was. I was worried that Ludo was going to spit in my food. I could just imagine him saying something like "I cook ze food, you eat ze way I prepare it". Everything about this dish was perfection. The bread was infused with squid ink. It was buttery and crumbled in your mouth. Yes, the cheese was mild, thank goodness. It seemed to me that its main purpose was to hold everything together. The foie gras was a nice generous portion. It was thick, rich and melted a bit under the warm bread. I thought the cherry chutney would be too sweet but it was just right. It was imperative to the dish as it cut the fatty foie flavor. This was the priciest starter at $29 but was worth every penny.

Squid "carbonara", pancetta, poached egg (63 degrees), Parmesan snow, chive flowers
We had to get two orders of this because we knew it would be a winner.

This was taken after we broke the egg. The runny egg yolk bound the rest of the dish together. Squid was used in lieu of pasta. I thought this was a smart variation as the squid actually do look a bit like thick rolled pasta but this was low carb, so even better! The carbonara was so flavorful and I liked the nuttiness of the Parmesan. This was a rich dish so I was glad that they used squid instead of starch.

Monkfish, fresh sansho pepper, fresh peas, lettuce, Vadouvan, Yuzu
This was my least favorite dish because the fish was dry, a bit rubbery and rather bland. Thank goodness for the vadouvan which added a bit of saltiness to the fish. Unfortunately there wasn't enough vadouvan to save this dish. The yuzu was also really tart and I thought didn't add anything to the dish.

Flat-iron steak, escargot red butter, shallots jam, roasted eggplant, carrot slaw
The steak was cooked perfectly with that red medium rare center. I also loved the generous topping of tender snails that were cooked in a thick salty sauce. The puree of eggplant had a nice smokey flavor. The only item I didn't care for was the carrot slaw which had a pungent wasabi taste. Overall, I thought this was a good, complete dish. The escargot really made this a unique steak plate.

Strawberry, macaron, lemon-verbena meringue
I thought would be too sweet and envisioned a big sour meringue on top. Instead, the top was fluffy whipped cream which was surprisingly rather light. The macaron had a nice chewy texture and in the center of the dessert were pop rocks.

Dark chocolate souffle, vanilla whipped cream and hot chocolate cream
Perfectly baked souffle which came out fresh and warm from the oven. The already decadent dessert was topped with luxurious hot chocolate cream. This was gone in a matter of seconds.

The service was excellent. There seemed to be a good energy at the restaurant and the staff seem to enjoy working at the event. Everyone was eager and excited about the venture. The food was delicious and the presentation of the plates were beautiful. They looked like plates you would receive at an expensive fine dining French restaurants. LudoBites is really all about a fun, casual ambiance, and a refined menu at decent prices. Our bill came up to $65 per person including tax and tip, not bad for a full meal. You gotta love BYOB. I'm glad that we were able to get reservations, and here's hoping that Ludo will be popping up more often.

Hits: scallops, foie croque, squid carbonara, salmon, desserts, BYOB, parking
Misses: monkfish, pay for bread
Rating: ***1/2

Ludobites @ Gram & Pappa's
227 E. 9th St.,
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 624-7272

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bite Bar & Bakery: You had me at croissant

Bite Bar & Bakery opened a few months ago on Pico in Santa Monica, taking over the space of Jared Simon's small plates establishment Violet. I was sad to see Violet shutter but glad that another restaurant (instead of a commercial shop) was taking its place. Bite was commented to death on Chowhound, everyone raved about their croissants. As a self proclaimed croissant crack addict, I had to go see for myself.

Although I've been meaning to check it out, it was tough to coordinate brunch plans with friends given our busy weekend schedules. Despite that, I've managed to make it to Bite twice to-date, none of which was planned. The 1st time, I was driving back from surf and in order to circumvent traffic, I decided to roll home via Pico Blvd. As I was approaching Bite, I though.. should I stop?!? Heck yeah!

The restaurant is inviting, the kind of place you would feel comfortable grabbing a newspaper and having a quiet breakfast by yourself. Metal kitchenware decorate one of the walls.

Bite currently serves breakfast and lunch, with dinner and a wine bar coming soon. They use fresh ingredients from the Farmer's market, and everything is made fresh in their kitchen.

You order at the counter which is line with fresh baked goods. Menu items are listed on the chalkboard including some daily specials. The chicken pot pie caught my eye but I got there before lunch service. Unfortunately there were no croissants left and only one pain au chocolate which I quickly snagged to go. The lady at the counter put it in a paper bag and I decide to sit at a table in the corner to scarf it down. I'm not going to feel bad, I just burnt off many calories in the ocean.

Despite rave online reviews for their pain au chocolate, I was disappointed. It was cold, not flaky or buttery, tasted a bit doughy inside, and for $3 it was tiny! Honestly, it was the size of the croissants in Paris that my sister would buy for her 2 year old kid. I've rarely seen this tiny a version Stateside. I walked away let down and even posted a short entry on CH to share my views, wondering why numerous other people had a different experience with their croissants. After this, I wasn't as eager to arrange brunch plans with friends at Bite anymore.

But just this weekend, I was in the area again. Post surf, I headed over to the Farmer's Market on Pico to check out their produce.

Cherries were fresh and not too sweet. I try to support local farmers if I can but it ain't that cheap at $4 for a small basket.

As I left the Farmer's Market, I thought to myself.. Bite is a couple blocks away, should I give it another shot, should I stop? Hmm only if there's parking. As I cruised by, I saw prime parking in front of the restaurant. I flipped a B and parked. It's a sign, Bite is calling me back. FYI you'll most likely always find parking because there aren't that many business and foot traffic in the area.

This time, it was later in the morning but they had more croissant available than during my first visit. Perhaps they knew to make additional batches to keep up with demand. It was also lunch time. Unfortunately they no longer offer the chicken pot pie. Apparently people weren't ordering it because it required a wait of 25 minutes and was too high maintenance a dish. I was bummed because I had read some good reviews of the pot pie. I decided on the next best thing, the toasted crab sandwich. They now offer mimosa and belinis at $6. I asked how long the crab sandwich would take- 10 min. In that case, I'll take a mimosa and a croissant while I wait.

The woman at the counter offered to heat up the croissant. best. decision. ever.

The croissant smelt great. It was flaky on the outside and I slowly pulled apart the warm, tender ribbons in the inside. They really were similar to the ones that are freshly baked from a Parisian bakery. The inside was well seasoned and buttery. Similar to the pain au chocolate, it was a petite size but was surprisingly sufficient because of its richness. I would venture to say that this was really authentic, and after devouring numerous croissants in Paris, I think I am a good judge. I wonder now if the pain au chocolate that I had during my first visit would have been better if they had warmed it up. You definitely should request it warm as it is a world of a difference.

I ordered the crab sandwich to go and they packaged the watercress separately.

When I was ready to eat, I assembled the watercress in between the crab and the bread. When the lady at the counter mentioned that it was kindda like a crab salad, I was nervous because I don't like too much aioli or mayo. Thankfully the crab wasn't mixed with a whole load of aioli but had just enough to bind the crab together. The crab was abundant, fresh and not at all fishy. It was moist and the paprika aioli added a nice flavoring. The panini was pressed thin and the sourdough bread was toasted crispy and buttered. There's something so special about buttered toast. The watercress salad was fresh and lightly dressed with a lemon dressing with an additional squeeze of the lemon wedge. The sandwich was a rather sizable portion. I was only able to eat half of it despite being famished from an ocean workout. I was completely wowed with this sandwich.

I'm a convert! I am so glad I decided to give Bite another shot because I left very impressed. The croissant was everything that Hounds raves about. Yes, we are now on the same page. The crab sandwich was absolutely delicious. Every bite melt in my mouth. I can't express how excited I am about the rest of their menu (hello eggy bread sandwich with maple french brioche with egg frittata, Niman Ranch bacon and Tillamook) and their upcoming dinner and wine bar offerings. This is truly a neighborhood gem that I'd like to make my usual weekend brunch spot because sometimes, all you need is a glass of mimosa and a buttery croissant.

Hits: croissant, crab sandwich, parking
Misses: gotta make sure to warm up the croissant
Rating: ***1/2

Bite Bar & Bakery
3221 Pico Blvd.,
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(424) 744-8658