Friday, December 30, 2011

Beer Belly: A gem of bar tucked away in Ktown

Just a street away from the Wiltern Theatre on Western Street, is the half-year-old gastropub Beer Belly. It may be located in Koreatown, but the food and drinks are not Korean. Here you'll find a nice selection of craft beers. The food menu is not expansive but they do serve up some interesting dishes.

The bar is tucked away on Western Ave and is a bit hard to find. But once you're there, you'll be elated to know that they offer valet - something that is very important in this scarce parking area of Koreatown.

Beer Belly is snug and was rather empty at 6.30pm when we got there. However the hipster crowd started packing in at 8pm. You have to order your food and drinks from the bar, and the waiter will bring the food to your table.

For our beer sampler, the bartender helped us choose a balanced selection of Taps Cream Ale, Stone Vertical Epic Ale, Bootlegger's Chocolate Mint Porter and The Bruery Mischief.

Duck fat fries ~ Smoked Salt, Sweet Onion Sugar, Duck Skin Cracklins, Raspberry Mustard
They also had an option to add duck confit for an extra $2. The fries were pretty darn good. They were crispy and a tad airy. I really enjoyed the crumbles of crunchy duck skin cracklins which tasted fatty and salty. The fries were served with a sweet fruity sauce which wasn't spicy. I thought the sweet sauce was an interesting and nice pairing to the fries.

Brussels Sprouts, Apple, Pancetta, Onions
The slightly charred Brussels sprouts were dressed with a sweet and tangy apple sauce. The sprouts got its smokey and salty flavoring from the large chunk of lardons.

Duck Stewed Navy Beans, Duck Confit, Ground Lamb, Fried Pork Belly, Cassoulet
We were lucky to score the last cassoulet of the night. The cassoulet actually looked like baked polenta. The cassoulet was salty and somewhat creamy. The beans were a mixture of textures: some were mashed and some were firmer. I enjoyed the crispy fried skin and shredded pork belly that topped the dish. Overall a rich and satisfying dish with lots of meaty flavors.

Beer Belly is a great addition to the area. Don't get me wrong, I do like Korean BBQ and Soon Du Bu, but a cool bar serving good food and beer a couple blocks from the Wiltern is truly priceless. Their Sunday brunch menu sounds spectacular with dishes such as duck confit benedict and snickers pancakes. My only issue that night was that the bar area got real crowded, and since you have to head up to the bar for another round of drinks, the hassle of waiting behind a hoard of people while flagging down the one bartender was too much of a hassle on a weeknight. I ended up heading home for my last drink of the night.

Beer Belly
532 S. Western Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 387-2337

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

City Tavern: Another much-welcomed watering holein Culver City

City Tavern is one of many new bars in Culver City that opened in the past year. The area is really becoming a great spot for a night out. The bar is owned by the same owners of neighbouring bar Rush Street, and you can tell the similarities in decor. High ceilings, dark wood furnishing, and a casual yet modern feel to the space.

City Tavern has a great selection of craft beers. If you are lucky, you can grab seats in the booths that are hooked up to your own beer tap.

The menu is your typical gastropubby comfort fare, with selections such as charcuterie, oysters, poutine, burgers and shrimp & grits.

Brussels sprouts with bacon and preserved lemon
The side of Brussels sprouts was delicious. The slightly charred vegetables gave off a sweetness, and were mixed with citrus and smoked bacon. It was a good combination of flavors.

I never order salads but the waiter recommended this. The pear salad was from the specials menu. I liked the salad because it was simple, fresh yet tasty. The sliced pear was sweet and soft. You could tell that they used real fresh fruit here. The dressed salad was topped with mild blue cheese crumbles and buttered fried pretzel crouton which was a nice touch. Wish I could buy a bag of those croutons.

Brew burger with pub cheese, mustard aioli, ale battered onion ring served on a pretzel bread
The burger sounded great on the menu but stumbled a bit on the execution. The patty was juicy but lacking in seasoning. Thanks to the cheese which added some saltiness to the burger. The onion rings also lacked seasoning but I did like the breading which was airy and not oily.

Buttermilk fried chicken with fried green tomatoes, succotash
The fried chicken was nicely cooked with crispy skin and juicy interior. It was definitely a restaurant quality fried chicken that was not dry or greasy. I am not a big fan of tomatoes but my dining companions enjoyed the large slice of breaded fried green tomatoes. I did however enjoy the side of corn succatash which was plated with a side of sweet chutney marmalade.

City Tavern is a good addition to the neighborhood. Love the decor and beer selection. The prices are also reasonable, with entrees hovering in the low teens. Even though there were some misses (under seasoned patty and onion rings), the place has a lot of potential. There were so many items on the menu that I'd like to try - and that's a great sign.

City Tavern
9739 Culver Blvd.,
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 838-9739

Sunday, December 4, 2011

DineLA: Petrossian

This post is late but it was too delicious a meal not to post about.
DineLA Restaurant Week is a 2 week dining event that runs twice a year. I usually try to schedule a couple dinner reservations but since I had just returned from a food-indulgent Southeast Asian trip, I decided to trim it down to one dinner.

After surveying the participating restaurants' menu, we decided on Petrossian. Two words completely sold me. Foie Carbonara. Petrossian, the gourmet shop specializing in caviar, spells decadence.

Caviar Salad ~ butter lettuce, shaved egg, shallot chives, parsley, lemon, dill, creme fraiche
I don't usually care for salads in a restaurant, but this dish was a great blend of simplicity and elegance. The butter lettuce was fresh and light, and the caviar added a right amount of saltiness.

Egg Royale ~ Scrambled egg, whipped cream, caviar
The egg mixture was smooth and nicely seasoned. It was such a fun and delicate dish to eat.

Butternut squash soup ~ brown butter, sage, creme fraiche
I was completely pleased with my soup selection. The soup was poured table side into a bowl that contained a interesting mix of spice and crispy walnut. It really worked, and the crunchy texture was nice. The soup was rich and bursting in flavor.

Foie Gras carbonara ~ home made fettucine, bacon, parmesan
The foie carbonara was everything I had hoped for. I was very impressed with the amount of foie in the dish. The al dente strands of fettucine were mixed up with a foie based sauce, and furthermore, the pasta was topped with a slab of foie. There were bits of bacon incorporated into the dish which added a saltiness and smokiness. The dish was extremely rich and decadent, but worth every single bite. I just didn't want it to end.

Scottish Salmon ~ mushroom, leeks, farro, serrano ham, honey mustard
My friend ordered the salmon cooked on the rare side in a mild flavored mustard sauce. The skin on the fish was crispy but the center was still pink and tender. I really enjoyed the accompaniments which included a nicely textured farro, and crispy serrano ham and leeks.

Caviar gelee ~ vodka, white chocolate mousse
The creamy mousse had a very strong alcoholic flavor. There was a crunchy walnut crumble at bottom of the glass which was mixed with caviar. The salty tones in the dessert really worked.

Vanilla panna cotta ~ espresso pearls, cardamon shortbread cookies
The panna cotta was much thicker than what I was used to but it tasted great.

Almond creme brulee~ russian tea cookie
Pretty standard dessert but still good.

I really enjoyed my meal at Petrossian. The foie carbonara was such a treat - when do you ever get such a serving of foie. I was expecting have only enjoyed the foie carbonara, but I thought all the appetizers were strong. Standout meal.

321 N. Robertson Blvd.,
West Hollywood, CA 90048
(310) 271-6300

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fat Spoon: An Uni-licious lunch

Soon after I returned from my Southeast Asian trip, I started my new job. My new offices are in Downtown LA, so it was a perfect opportunity to check out the lunch dining scene in the area. My friend and I decide to check out Japanese curry house, Fat Spoon, located in Little Tokyo. I am not very familiar with the area, but already knew I wanted to come back to check out Kagaya, Spice Table, Daikokuya, Orochan and Shin-Sen-Gumi.

Fat Spoon is owned by Michael Cardenas of nearby Lazy Ox Canteen and Toranoko, and is known for their curries and pastas. The prices are reasonable at about $10 an entree. There were so many items on the menu that sounded appealing such as pork cutlet curry, pasta with salted cod roe, but I knew I had to order the uni pasta from the Specials menu.
Uni croquette was also available on the Specials menu.
The croquette had a nice panko breading that wasn't greasy. The mashed potato and uni filling was creamy and rich. I love the strong taste of uni, so I thought that the uni flavor here wasn't strong enough. I wonder if they diluted the flavor a bit to cater to more palates, or perhaps there was more potato than uni. Still a tasty dish but I longed for more of that distinct uni taste.
Uni pasta with mushrooms made up in the uni flavor department. I really enjoyed the al dente pasta that was coated with creamy sauce and mixed with earthy mushrooms and chunks of rich orange sea urchin. It was glorious! I wanted to slurp up every last drop of sauce. I loved the amount of sea urchin in the dish. Even their selection of mushrooms was spot on.

Fat Spoon is a great addition to the area. The restaurant is quaint and homey. I liked the simple menu and how comforting the dishes felt. Sure I wanted more uni flavor in the croquette, but that's a personal preference. I enjoyed my pasta and there are many other items that I'd like to try.

Hits: uni, pasta, prices
Misses: like most restaurants in the area, there is no parking
Rating: ***1/2

Fat Spoon
329 E 1st St.,
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 621-7890

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hong Kong: Ending Southeast Asia trip with one last dining escapade

We weren't even planning to visit Hong Kong. After all, our two-week Southeast Asian trip was already packed, with stops in Singapore, Saigon, Siem Reap, Bangkok and Bali. But since our Cathay Pacific flight back to LA had to stop in Hong Kong, we decided to spend a night with the only goal of eating our way through the city. We were staying in Causeway Bay, and it turned out that we didn't even have to leave the area for our culinary tour.

Our first stop was Tai Ping Koon whose chicken wings were recommended by my friend who grew up in Hong Kong.

Complimentary sweet roll was warm and buttery.

Their famous chicken wings are cooked in a sweet soy sauce. I really enjoyed the wings, the flavors were infused into the meat and skin. Finger lick'in good. I thought it was a bit pricey at US$20 until I realized that I was in Hong Kong, not other parts of Southeast Asia.

Our next stop was for the famous snake soup at Se Wong Yee which came recommended by a local. It was a tiny little cafe with all locals, but they had an English menu available.

Snake soup is supposed to be good for the health. The soup was a savory broth (the same consistency as soup that has been thickened with corn starch) with chicken, mushrooms, wood ear fungus, lemongrass and thin slices of snake that looked like eel. You probably would not even know it was snake in the soup because it was mixed in with other ingredients.

Pig's knuckle was not what I had expected. I was hoping for the stewed pork hock with fatty pieces of pigs feet and lots of skin and bones. This version was like a cold cut. It was still tasty with lots of cartilage, just not what I was hoping for.

After walking off some of our food, we stumbled upon a food stand that was cooking up skewers.

Intestines and fish ball skewers were served with a very spicy sauce that really packed a punch. I love just buying skewers and eating it right on the sidewalk, with the sauce still dripping off the meat.

Just down the street was Tai Woo Seafood Restaurant. We were drawn to it because of the fresh seafood in tanks right at the entrance.

We ordered crab and mantis, which the waiter brought live to our table. The mantis was interesting looking while it was squiggling in the bag.

The mantis is like a giant shrimp but the meat was almost similar to lobster. It was topped with some sort of salt and pepper breadcrumbs.

The crab was small and boiled, so it was rather plain. Would have liked some sauce on it, maybe a chili crab style or pepper sauce.

It took a lot of work to eat through it because it wasn't sufficiently cracked, but it did have lots of creamy mustard. Soooo good!

Next we headed to the famous Taiwanese soup dumpling joint, Din Tai Fung.

Here, we ordered the truffle and traditional dumplings. Can never get over how delicious these dumplings are. The truffle was a nice fragrant addition to the flavorful soup in the dumpling.

Our last stop was Ho Hung Kee, for wonton noodles. This is the most nondescript Michelin Star place I've ever been. Tiny hole in the wall restaurant that still had squatting toilets! And the food here is cheap.

A tiny bowl of noodle soup was topped with wonton. I liked the noodles and the flavorful broth. The wonton was plump and filled with shrimp and pork.

The pigs feet was exactly what I had been searching for. It was fatty and glutenous. I really enjoyed eating the skin and biting every piece of fat and meat off the many bones on the trotter. Lots of good salty flavoring too.

We managed to do quite a lot of damage in an afternoon. I don't think we needed more than a day in Hong Kong. If you do it right, you can eat through the city in just one night.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bali: Feasting on Indonesian cuisine

On our first night in Bali, we popped by Echo Beach for a bite and drinks.

Bali is known for it's fresh and affordable seafood. We selected the items we wanted, and the chef grilled it up for us.

If you are unlucky, you may stumbled upon pricey and mediocre restaurants in Bali. So for the next couple nights, we decided to stay in for dinner. We had two housekeepers at the villa who cooked up a feast for us. I found their food to be way better than what we would get at a restaurant.

Soto Ayam is Indonesian chicken soup. There was shredded chicken meat, vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, boiled eggs in a spicy chicken broth. I really enjoyed this dish. The broth had very developed flavors, like chicken had been stewing in it for many hours.

Chicken and pork satay were marinated well and juicy. The BBQed meat sticks were served with sliced cucumbers and a spicy peanut sauce.

Gado Gado is an Indonesian salad topped with peanut sauce. There are different versions of gado gado, some with a lot of raw vegetables and fruits, but this version had boiled potatoes, beans, hard boiled eggs and deep fried tofu.

Kang Kong with chili and dried shrimp was spicy to the limit.

Mee Goreng translates to fried noodles. Usually, mee goreng is loaded up with meats when it is served as a main course. This version was simply mixed with vegetables since it was served as a side to be eaten with the curry dishes. The dish was spicy, leaving my mouth was on fire. The great thing about homecooked food is that they can be made to your specification i.e. load up on the heat.

Suckling pig is a traditional Balianese dish that I had been looking forward to. The crispy skin was my favorite part, even though the shredded pork was also tasty. The skin crackled in my mouth and had a thin layer of fat underneath it. I would have been ecstatic with just a whole plate of skin.

The next night, we sampled some more local dishes.

Tom Yum seafood was loaded with shrimp, squid, mushrooms and vegetables. A nice combination of spice and tang.

Wasn't exactly sure what this was called but it was intriguing and very delicious. It was a sort of stir fry with shredded chicken, okra and dried shrimp, young jackfruit and fried shallots. I loved all the textures in this dish, and it was very flavorful.

Chicken curry was spicy with succulent pieces of chicken and potatoes. The curry was fragrant with lemongrass and turmeric undertones.

Sayur Lodeh is a vegetable dish that is cooked in coconut curry. It's usually a more watery curry that is not too spicy. I enjoyed the variety of vegetables and how they were all cooked till soft.

Whole fish was simply seasoned and grilled.

And for dessert, the king of fruits - durian.

Love the creamy and pungent flesh of the durian. I like durian both at room and fridge temperature, but if you are weird about textures, pop it in the fridge first. The flesh will harden a bit, which may be more palatable than the custardy texture when it's lukewarm .

I typically prefer to eat out when I am on vacation, but if you have two amazing local cooks in the house, you'll find a more authentic meal at home. Wouldn't have had it any other way.