Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Poutine, bikes and beach- yes they go together

I'm a planner. I like to be prepared. I like to "train" for activities. I surfed everyday for weeks before my Costa Rica trip last year. I hiked every weekend before our Yosemite trip a couple months ago. I do a lot of squats before the start of every snowboarding season. So you would think I would be better prepared for our bike ride from Venice to the South Bay. Unfortunately, I hadn't gotten on a bike since my last ride to Temescal that ended with a lovely brunch at Bin 73. I was a bit nervous of our bike ride to the South Bay because I am deathly afraid of bicycles. But nothing that home cooked french toast and mimosas in the morning couldn't fix.

After breakfast, we rented bikes and made our way south. Here's another tidbit about me. I'm also very goal oriented. I need an end point, something to attain to. Something like a bar in the South Bay with mimosas waiting for me. We decided to bike to Redondo Beach Cafe. It's kind of a hodgepodge of things- it's a bit of a Canadian bar (with the Canadian Flag hung proudly on the wall) but it's also known for its Greek food, and their menu is also reminiscent of an American diner.

Mimosas and ice cold Molson. The mimosa was more OJ than bubbly. Guess that's what you get for $4.29. Their beers were $3.99 which included Blue Moon, Guinness and Heineken.

Their menu is extensive and they serve breakfast all day. There are a handful of healthy dishes which they have flagged and for which they list out the nutritional count. I like that they offered healthy options because often times, you really want to know what you're consuming.

Montreal smoked meat
Aged beef brisket on rye with mustard. Apparently this is a classic Montreal dish. For the growing boys out there, you can also order double meat. Looked just like a pastrami sandwich to me, although with a smokier flavor.

The sandwich came with a side of poutine. Our table was littered with bowls of poutine because my other friend ordered the poutine as his meal, and the owner generously brought out another order for free. I love Canadians. Poutine is french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. We ordered the traditional Montreal version but they also offered Italian poutine (topped with meat sauce) and another one topped with smoked meat. This photo doesn't do the poutine justice because it didn't capture the additional gravy that we poured over the fries. The fries were also pretty darn good. They were crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Buckwheat pancakes.
This was listed as one of the healthy items with only 155 calories. I doubt that included the butter and maple syrup. There were 3 pancakes which was more than enough food. It didn't taste bland or dry so you would never know that you were ordering something healthy. I like that - when a restaurant can prepare something healthy but still tastes like something you would normally order.

Philly cheesesteak sandwich with grilled sliced beef, peppers, onions, mushrooms, mozzarella cheese served on a french roll.
The thin slices of beef was nothing special, they were a bit dry, Thankfully the sandwich came with a side of jus which made it all better.

One of your friends in our party is Canadian so the owner brought by Canadian chocolate for us to share. I love chilled chocolate.

Service was good, our waitress came by right away when she saw my mimosa was running low. Plus, we got free poutine and chocolate :) The prices were also very affordable. This is a great place to grab a bite and watch the game as they had flat screen TVs with the football game on.

After refueling, we made our way back to the Westside. I think I can confidently say that I'm no longer petrified of bikes. Yes I am still a bit wobbly but I think I kicked ass on it and zipped back in just over an hour. In fact, I'm already thinking of my new bike purchase with a cute little basket and perhaps a bell. Maybe on a bike, I'll be more inclined to venture out of the Westside and visit the South Bay on a regular basis, where poutine and mimosas await.

Hits: poutine, service, healthy pancakes, prices
Misses: dry steak sandwich
Rating: ***

Redondo Beach Cafe
1511 S. Pacific Coast Highway,
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
(310) 316-1047

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It's NOW OR NEVER to save on Extravaganza for the Senses Food and Wine Event

This year, I've been to a few food and drink events. There's been the LA Wine Fest, LA Beer Fest, Santa Barbara Vintner's Festival and Taste of the Nation. Taste of the Nation was my favorite because it combined quality food from top restaurants and wine from numerous wineries. The 13th Annual Extravaganza for the Senses Food and Wine event benefiting The Saban Free Clinic (on Saturday July 17, 2010) is very similar to Taste of the Nation. The event will offer food samples from LA restaurants and wine from California wineries. Event details below.

Why this event?
- It's for a good cause. 100% of the proceeds will go towards The Saban Free Clinic which provides free medical, dental and social services to those in need, including the homeless, uninsured and the poor. Not everyone is as fortunate to have $20 co-pay like most of us do.
- Representation from over 40 renown restaurants including Jar, Angelini Osteria, Susan Feniger's Street, Delphine, Chaya and many others. This is a great time to sample food from restaurants that you've been dying to try. Trust me, you won't leave hungry.
- Over 100 wineries will be present to ensure that you maintain a nice buzz (please arrange for a designated driver or grab a cab home).
- They've been doing this for 13 years, they are no amateurs. Rest assured you'll have a great time.
- It's a night event so you won't be boiling in the summer heat, unlike other food festivals.

Why buy tickets NOW??
- If you purchase tickets before July 1, it will only cost you $80 ($200 for VIP which includes a special seating area, valet parking and an extra hour of grubbing before the common folk arrive).
- After July 1, tickets increase to $100 ($225 for VIP).

13th Annual Extravaganza for the Senses Food and Wine Event
Saturday July 17, 2010
Sunset Gower Studios
1438 North Gower St.,
Hollywood, CA 90028

6-10pm: VIP
7-10pm: General Admission
To purchase tickets, call 323-330-1670 or visit

Monday, June 28, 2010

A day in San Diego: skydiving, beers and Stone Brewery Bistro

This weekend, I went skydiving (yes, I'm still alive!). Since we were jumping in San Diego, we decided to make a day of it by planning a brewery crawl. I love pub crawls and San Diego is the best venue for that- it's home to many of the country's best microbrews. The great thing about San Diego is that it's far enough to be considered a weekend getaway but still a close enough drive from LA (at just over 2 hrs). The idea of a brewery crawl was my friends (I'm more of a wine drinker), but I planned the itinerary for the day, cuz you know.. I'm type A like that.

Before we could even get to sample any beer, we had to jump out of a plane (don't worry, we had plenty of mimosas before hand). We decided to skydive at Skydive San Diego because it came recommended by a friend's friend who is a regular skydiver. It's not a fancy establishment by any means but it's very efficient (we were in and out in 1.5 hrs) even though we were told to plan to be there between 2-4hrs. Hey, that just meant more time for beers! BTW, skydiving wasn't scary. I was expecting my heart to drop a bit (like during the freefall ride at Magic Mountain) but it was actually quite peaceful and therapeutic to be cruising in the air. It was also a bit anti-climatic. We hopped off a plane, flew in the sky, landed, then jumped in our car and headed off to the first brewery.

Ballast Point
Ballast Point wasn't on our initial schedule but since we were an hour early before meeting up with the rest of our crew, we decided to squeeze in a brewery. As we soon came to realize, breweries are very different from wineries. Most were located in business complexes instead of free-standing buildings on large compounds.

Ballast had a bar area that was pretty cool, with a TV showing the football game where US lost to Ghana.

There was an option of two beer tastings. Our favorite was their wheat beer.
Even though we didn't like all the beers (I'm not really an IPA gal so I didn't care for their seasonal Sculpin Ale), we enjoyed the ambiance at Ballast Point best amongst all the breweries we visited. It seemed like a cool joint where neighbors gathered to drink beer and watch a game. There was a very welcoming vibe. A gentleman offered chips and homemade Gouda and Stone Pale Ale cheese dip that his wife prepared. Another couple also gave us some menu recommendations for our dinner at Stone Brewery later that evening.

When we asked the woman at the counter for some dining recommendations and she mentioned Carl's Junior and Subway, we cringed a bit. Hey, don't get me wrong. I'm not a fast food snob. I love my Mickey D's and KFC, but we we looking for something more satisfying. But when the same woman mentioned that there was a sandwich shop that was popular with the locals, we knew that was the spot.

Chez Nous
It's a casual sandwich joint that is known for their spicy chicken melt. So casual that it's cash only.

You order at the counter and the kitchen prepares your sandwich fresh. Prices are also affordable.

Even though for a split second I was tempted by the chicken salad sandwich, I had to go for the spicy chicken sandwich. We all did. OMG what an amazing sandwich. I am a super picky sandwich eater (I only eat turkey and wheat with no condiments or sides) but this was perfect. I had it sans cheese and tomatoes of course. I ordered the chicken regular spicy but my daring friends went for the extra spicy which apparently numbed the tongue for minutes after. The men ordered double serving of chicken. The chicken was surprisingly tender and juicy even though it was white meat. You could tell that it was good quality chicken. The lean chicken was mixed with a sort of sriracha sauce that seemed to be mixed with yogurt that gave it a mild creaminess. The chicken was sandwiched between thick, buttered jalapeno cheese toast. The sandwich was simple yet every bite was perfection. We were all still talking about it for the rest of the day. We also recommended it to some of our friends that we met up with later, who decided to go off to get themselves some.

Ale Smith Brewing Company

You'll walk into an unassuming office building to the back tasting room, surrounded by boxes, crates, kegs and barrels. It was an intimate scene and surprisingly rather packed. I liked that the brewers were present so you could chat up with them and get good recommendations. The Nautical Nut Brown was our favorite. BTW, tastings for $1? Awesome!

The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Company

The venue was much larger than the other two breweries that we had visited previously. Even though I liked the ample seating and beer-keg-tables, I do appreciate the smaller tasting rooms more.

Similar to Ale Smith, tastings here were also $1. It's on an honor system, you come back when you're done and let them know how many you've had. Only in San Diego will this work. Their seasonal Carnivale saison ale was excellent and refreshing, perfect for a warm SoCal afternoon. Their Red Barn Ale was also tasty.

Green Flash Brewing Company

The tasting room was located on their bottling floor.. and boy did it smell like beer and yeast over there.

We got the 9 tastings for $6. Another great deal - so different from wine tasting in Napa which is sometimes a bit snobby and will cost you much more. Unfortunately my favorite Green Flash beer (Summer Saison) wasn't available.

Stone Brewery
We had intended to squeeze in a quick tasting at Stone before dining at their bistro but time flies when you're having fun. We made it just in time for dinner.

The restaurant is gorgeous with huge doors opening out to the luscious garden.

They offer a vast selection of beer as well as wine.

Their cuisine is not your typical brewery fare. It's priced on the higher end and utilizes fresh, seasonal and sustainable products. The menu is kind of eclectic and includes classic California dishes of salmon and steak, but also a tempeh shepherd's pie, yakisoba and bouillabaisse.

Because we were beered out at this point, some of us opted for wine.

We ordered some appetizers to share for the table. The spud buds and mac & cheese came recommended by the lovely couple at Ballast Point.

Spud buds - Stone IPA organic garlicky mashed potatoes, deep fried in Arrogant Bastard Ale batter, served with Stone Smoked Porter BBQ sauce.
I liked the crispy breading and the soft interior of the spuds. I liken this to hush puppies.

Stone-style Soft Pretzels- seasoned with sea salt and served with Stone Pale Ale open seed spicy brown mustard sauce from Carlsbad Gourmet and cheddar cheese sauce.
This was the favorite of the table. The pretzels were freshly baked, and were delicious because they were fried! It was appropriately seasoned with salt and went well with the thick cheddar dipping sauce.

Mac and Beer cheese - Mike's Stone Smoked Porter & garlic beer cheese with sun dried tomatoes, basil, Stone smoked porter sausage
The pasta was cooked to a nice al dente and was lightly coated with the cheese which was viscous and surprisingly not too heavy. The addition of a protein reminded me of ham mac and cheese from my childhood days.

Artisanal sausage with four sausages- Arrogant Bastard smoked cheddar bratwurst, spicy polish, chicken florentine, and hot italian with provolone, served with braised cabbage with spicy brown mustard

Pan roasted scallops - Mano de leon scallops with white truffle pomme puree, Mushroom meadows wild mushroom ragout and cabernet demi
I really enjoyed my entree. I thought the scallops were cooked well but my friend had inconsistent pieces on his plate. One of his was tiny and very dry. The white truffle potato puree was rich and fragrant, and the mushroom ragu was flavorful. Everything on the plate worked well together.

Chicken Schnitzel - Jidori chicken pan fried to golden brown and served with garlic mash potatoes, local organic vegetables and lemon caper cream sauce
The chicken schnitzel was tender and well seasoned with a bit of spice. I liked that it wasn't greasy, however I thought the cream sauce was a bit too heavy.

Wild King Salmon -herb panko crusted fresh Wild King Salmon topped with a horseradish creme and Carlsbad Gourmet's Stone Brewing Cal-Belgique Spicy Brown Mustard sauce, served over poached asparagus and a citrus and apple cous cous.
The salmon was cooked to perfection but the sides were unimpressive. We thought the fish should have been served with something saltier.

Yakisoba - Japanese stir fried noodles with tofu, carrots, snap peas, red onions, mushrooms in a savory dark sesame oil, soy and pepper flakes, cashews
My friend didn't enjoy this dish, she said that the noodles were tasteless. I guess we learnt our lesson - leave the asian food to the experts.

Chicken Tikka Marsala - spiced Jidori chicken breast skewers sauteed with onion, peppers and summer squash, topped with marsala sauce and served with basmati rice.
I liked that the chicken was tender but I was hoping that the marsala would have more flavor. It seemed a bit watered down. I suppose they were trying to cater to the regular American guest and were afraid to make it more authentic with additional spices.

Rack of lamb - All natural California lamb rack, pan-roasted to medium rare, with grilled Mediterranean polenta, sauteed organic broccolini and olive vinaigrette
The lamb was cooked well and did not taste gamy. The polenta was a nice creamy accompaniment.

Buffalo Ribeye steak -All natural 13 oz Buffalo ribeye grilled medium-rare, chipotle butter, served with Cheswick aged white cheddar organic mashed sweet potatoes and la Milpa Organic's fresh, local and organic seasonal greens
The ribeye could have been cooked a little less because it was rather dry. Such a pity because it was such a good cut of meat. Buffalo is such a lean meat so overcooking it dried it out quickly.

Arrogant Bastard brownie sundae with vanilla bean ice cream, Callebaut dark chocolate sauce, fresh whipped cream and walnuts
Quite a large portion that was enough dessert for our table of 9. I was too full so I did not sample but everyone was satisfied after taking a couple bites.

I thought that the food exceeded that of any brewery but I wouldn't say that it was exceptional. I liked they incorporated their beers in the food menu and also used good quality ingredients. The appetizers excelled while there were some execution issues on the entree front. I liked the ambiance- it had a touch of classiness from the menu to the formality of their service, but yet still casual with bustling dining room and it's welcoming outdoor garden patio. After a day of jumping out of a plane and hopping from brewery to brewery, it was nice to sit down, have a good meal and drink a couple glasses of wine.

Ballast Point Brewing Company
10051 Old Grove Rd. Suite B,
San Diego, CA 92131
(858) 695-2739

Chez Nous
9821 Carroll Canyon Rd.,
San Diego, CA 92131
(858) 566-4766

Ale Smith Brewing Company
9368 Cabot Dr.,
San Diego, CA 92126
(858) 549-9888

Port Brewery/The Lost Abbey
155 Mata Way #104
San Marcos, CA 92074
(800) 918-6818

Green Flash Brewing Company
1430 Vantage Ct.,
Vista, CA 92081
(760) 597-9013

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Garden
1999 Citracado Parkway
Escondido, CA 92029
(760) 471-4999

Friday, June 25, 2010

Breadbar Hatchi with Walter Manzke

When anyone asks me what my favorite meals in 2009 were, Church and State is always on the top 5. Our meal was exquisite from the gougere amuse bouche, to the mouth watering pig's ear and pied de cochon, ending with their lovely fig tart. C&S ignited in me, a hunger for pig's ear. Since that night, I've been on the lookout for pig's ear that were as luxurious as theirs. Still looking. Walter Manzke was the chef at helm at the time but has since departed. He is
supposedly working towards opening his own restaurant in the city. When we heard that Manzke was guest cheffing at Breadbar's Hatchi Series in Century City, we immediately secured a reservation. Hatchi is a series of one-night dining events whereby a guest chef prepares 8 dishes for $8 each. Manzke's menu included dishes inspired by various countries. The first time we attended a Hatchi Series (w/ Marcel Vigneron), we ignorantly ordered every dish each. I was stuffed silly. The food was good but service was BAD. Second time round, we hit up Iso Rabin's night. This time, the service was a tad better but the food wasn't memorable. Well, third time's the charm.

With such a strong culinary resume (he's worked at El Bulli, Patina and Bastide), it's no wonder that the event was sold out and possibly every foodie in town was present. That includes every blogger in town. kevinEats wrote up a great entry with pretty pictures, and I'm sure the rest of the LA bloggers will be posting their entries shortly. Although I'm not in the tight little blogger circle (I'm kindda the newbie, you know.. the gal who starts school in the middle of the semester), everyone I met felt like old friends. I got to meet awesome bloggers SinoSoul, weezermonkey and Rants and Raves and put faces to blogs.

While I was waiting for my friend to arrive, I scoped out the display of baked goods. You know me and carbs. Can't resist them. I love financiers and don't see them sold often so I grabbed the last bag. Financiers are teacakes that are usually shaped like a cuboid (or a gold bar, get it? financier? never mind) and have a mild almond flavor. These were absolutely delicious, so buttery and spongy that one popper just wouldn't be enough.

The menu is simple with only eight dishes offered. You should plan to share dishes amongst your party but the restaurant asks that each person orders a minimum of 4 items each, which can include drinks. They offer a special selection of cocktails for the night as well as wine pairing or wine by the glass.

Amuse bouche - grilled shrimp cocktail
The shrimp was grilled well with sufficient seasoning. The cocktail shot was a warm broth. Our waitress mentioned that there was tomatillo and horseradish in the broth but I couldn't really taste those flavors.

Epi with foie butter
There was another butter option (French Echire) but when foie is on the menu, I cannot resist. The bread was surprisingly decent and warm (my expectations were low because I've had pretty crappy bread at one of the prior Hatchi dinners). The foie gras was rich and creamy, and melted onto the warm bread. It was topped with a lavender and honey gelatin, and edible gold leaves. I really enjoyed the combination of the sweet honey and the foie.

Mexico -Yellowtail ceviche, jalapeno, tomatillo sorbet, avocado
I thought this dish was OK, nothing special. The pieces of fish were relatively thick, I would have preferred it to be a bit smaller or thinner. In addition, I didn't really get the citrus flavors of a ceviche. This seemed more like a sashimi dish than a ceviche. The colors were pretty though.

Thailand - White corn curry soup, mussels, coconut tapioca
I was a little apprehensive of ordering this dish because you can get amazing Thai coconut soup at many Thai restaurants around town, however this was delicious. I liked that the broth was light and not thickened with coconut cream which some Asian restaurants tend to do. The flavors were authentic and the mussels were perfectly cooked. I also liked the little transparent tapioca pearls which added additional texture to this dish. The broth was perfect for bread dipping.

Spain - Santa Barbara spot prawn, garlic, sherry
This was similar to a dish that I had ordered at Church and State and both times, I did not particularly care for it. I have to preface this by saying that it's a personal preference. The prawns were topped with a nicoise and I dislike olives. I scraped it off the prawns but the tangy taste remained. The prawns however were grilled to perfection and well seasoned.

Vietnam - “Banh Mi” pig’s feet sliders
I like how banh mis are appearing all around town. Manzke's version is innovative. In lieu of chicken or grilled pork, he breaded up chopped up pig's feet. This tasted exactly like the pied de cochon that I had at Church and State. The pig's feet was buttery, soft and slightly gelatinous inside, and was sandwiched between fresh brioche buns. I also enjoyed the pickled vegetables in the slider. This was my favorite dish of the night.

Italy - English pea ravioli, soft egg, Parmesan
I'm not a pea lover (I still meticulously pick out every pea from fried rice) but I enjoyed the pureed peas as they were sweet and didn't have that raw pea flavor. The broken yolk really bound everything together, adding richness to the dish. The pasta itself, however, was a bit starchy and thick. I felt that the thick pasta buried the flavors of the peas.

France - Tarte flambe, caramelized onion, bacon, gruyere
So yeah, I hate olives and peas. Here's another one, if you don't already know. I don't like cheese either. We were going to pass on the tarte flambe because of my hatred towards cheese but finally decided to order it because it was the French inspired dish on the menu... and Manzke excels in that cuisine. Light on cheese though. I was floored by the tarte flambe. The tarte wasn't heavy because the crust was thin and crispy. I really liked the smokiness of the bacon and the sweetness of the caramelized onions. The gruyere, thankfully, was very mild. I thought the ingredients and flavors worked really well together. Another top dish in my books.

Philippines - Leche flan, pandan, coconut sorbet
Even though I was stuffed at this point (the bread and foie really did me in), I had to order a dessert. The flan caught my eye because I love pandan. Growing up in Singapore, my favorite cake was the pandan cake from Bengawan Solo *Drool* The flan was smooth and had a thickened custard texture. I didn't think it was too sweet which some flans can tend to be. The pandan foam brought back wonderful memories of my childhood. Wish they had made a pandan sorbet instead of coconut. That would have been killer.

There was another dessert on the menu (Japan - Chocolate fondant, Bing cherries, black sesame ice cream, green tea) but there was no way I could consume any more food.

Of the three Hatchi Series events that I've been to, this was by far the best. Not only was (most of) the food delicious, but service wasn't as horrible as some of the past events. I've notice that twittersphere was buzzing (or is it twittering? chirping? I'm a stranger to this whole twitter thing. I want to barf every time I think about how I'll need to learn a completely new set of rules in order to use the seemingly easy-to-use social networking site) about the poor service. But through the last events, I've come to realize two things...
#1 Yes, the servers are NOT going to be knowledgeable about the menu for the most part. It's a one-night event. Some don't care to learn the menu, others probably just can't recall what goes into it.
#2. The plates are going to come out sporadically and will be non sequential to the menu listing. I've already had my beef when I was swamped with multiple meat dishes at the table during a past event. I was livid at the time but eventually, I got over it. It took me a couple months.

I was lucky to experience decent service so it was an enjoyable night for me. I got to relive Manzke's cooking while staying in the Westside (yay!). I got to meet cool bloggers whose blogs I read religiously. The food was delicious and well executed. Banh mi sliders!! And lastly, I got a baggie of financiers to-go that will hopefully last me more than a day. we'll see...

Breadbar Hatchi with Walter Manzke
10250 Santa Monica Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 277-3770