Friday, July 29, 2011

The Rockefeller: An upscale bar in Hermosa Beach (yay!)

Hermosa Beach is essentially a beach town where the standard attire is shorts and flip flops, bars are filled with partying coeds and most meals you'll get there will consist of potato skins and buffalo wings. I'm a Brentwood girl and my boyfriend is a Hermosa guy. Therefore, I was so excited to hear about our new compromise: new gastropub The Rockefeller a block from the Hermosa Pier. The Rockfeller is trying to target a mature crowd with their selection of over 30 craft beers, wine and upscale bar food.

The place is bustling. We attempted to check it out on a Friday early evening but it was already packed, so we returned the next day for lunch.

The menu is rather limited for a gastropub. Even though the menu itself looks long, half of it comprises of breakfast items and sides. The lunch/dinner items are mainly a small selection of starters, sandwiches, salads and a burger option.

The outdoor patio is the place to sit but the restaurant has a very open layout so the seats inside still get a good view and ocean breeze.

Special of the day was the deep fried risotto fritter which is essentially an arancini. The risotto was cooked nicely and mixed with wild mushrooms, salty parmesan and bits of truffle. My only critique was that the arancinis weren't hot and tasted like they had been sitting out for a while. I also wished the truffle flavor was stronger.

Giant onion rings were pretty good. They had a crispy breading and weren't greasy. Each side comes with a choice of dipping sauce which includes chipotle mayo, lemon thyme vinaigrette and roasted tomatillo. We opted for the lemon saffron sauce which was an aromatic citrus aioli.

The side of portobello mushrooms was served in a tin can. Similar to the onion rings, these weren't oily. The mushrooms had a nice textural breading (almost panko like) and were not mushy. The side of spicy ketchup had a tangy Worcestershire flavor.

Gourmet Grilled Ham and Cheese consisted of a selection of cheeses (aged cheddar cheese, jarlsberg swiss and mascarpone), black forest ham and pesto on whole wheat bread. The sammie was oozing with cheese and sweet caramelized onions. You can tell that they select good ingredients for their sandwiches, however the homemade pickle was nothing special and tasted like a jarred pickle.

The Grilled Chicken Sandwich was a refreshing and light sandwich. It had arugula, watercress and wild mushrooms. The chicken was cooked nicely and well seasoned. The mushrooms and salad was definitely very fresh.

The food overall was decent and tasted pretty healthy. However I found the menu to be limited and the food items did not seem to jive with what a normal gastropub would serve. They mainly serve sandwiches, salads and a burger. I fell that they should serve food that pairs well with beer, perhaps some flatbreads or gourmet mac and cheese. If they wanted to stick with sandwiches, perhaps a pulled pork sandwich would be more appetizing than a salmon or chicken sandwich. But at the end of the day, I am still glad that we have Rockefeller in the neighborhood. I think it has a lot of potential - it already has a great location, decor, layout and beer selections. Now all it needs is to throw some more beer-compatible hearty pub food items on the menu.

Hits: arancini, mushrooms, dipping sauce selection
Misses: not really a bar menu
Rating: ***

The Rockefeller
418-422 Pier Ave
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
(310) 372-8467

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yakitoriya: secret (shhhh) special cartilage skewers in the Westside

Yakitoriya on Sawtelle in West LA is one of my oldie but goodies. I don't go often (it gets pricey for Asian food) but I always leave extremely happy. Yakitoriya specializes in yakitori (Japanese skewers) but they also offer other more filling dishes on their menu. It's pretty authentic here, the staff speak little English.

They also have daily specials that are posted on the wall.

The restaurant is small, with an open kitchen where the grand master grills up the skewers.

The skewers aren't cheap ($2.50-$3.50 per stick) and are not that filling. There is also a minimum order of 5 sticks per person. They also offer non skewer items such as duck & mushroom ravioli (really good), deep fried gizzards and soboro rice. When we go, we always order from the special menu, which includes a limited supply of unique sticks such as chest bone and chicken knee. All cartilage. Unfortunately they only make a few special sticks a day so we always call in advance to order. They'll take your credit card number down and will charge you if you don't show.

Gyoza ~ A nice start to the meal. The chicken gyozas were perfectly crispy on the outside.

The fried chicken was perfectly fried. The chicken was piping hot and tender, with a well seasoned breading. I just cannot get enough of Japanese fried chicken. So much less greasy than the western versions.

Gizzard skewer ~ From the regular menu. This had a bit of crunch and chew, and lightly seasoned with salt. A small sprinkle of spicy salt gives the skewers a needed kick.

Special heart ~ I really enjoyed the hearts (don't think about how many chickens this came from..) The hearts were very tender and not rubbery. They were drizzled with a sweet soy sauce.

Eggplant with chicken was a good way to get some greens in. The chicken was a thin slice that looked almost like bacon.

Neck ~ This was from the special menu, something that we had not ordered before. For some reason, we thought it would be neck bone, but instead it was the neck meat. It was tender and tasted like chicken thigh. Unfortunately no bone here..

Chest bone ~ This is from the special menu. I love the chest bone of any bird. I love trying to get every piece of meat off the bone. Thankfully, this was easy. It was all meat and crunchy cartilage.

Knee Bone ~ Another one of my favorites from the special menu. Who knew chicken had knees?? I really love the crunch of the cartilage. So much fun to eat. There's a bit of meat attached to the bone.

Skin ~ Totally indulgent skewer that's all skin. The skin was crispy, and reminded me of the skin of a roast sucking pig. There's a bit of crispiness, a bit of fattiness. Amazing combination.

Chicken Wing ~ Always a fun skewer to eat. Lots of skin, meat and bone. The skin was crispy with a slight char.

Their homemade ice cream is one of my favorites. The flavors change daily but I was so excited when I saw my favorite flavor black sesame was one of the choices. The chestnut was another good choice, which I ordered a scoop to go. I love the texture of the sesame in the ice cream. Similar to their special sticks, their ice cream runs out quickly.

Always a great meal at Yakitoriya. The special sticks are my favorite, specifically the tender special hearts and the crunchy chest bones. The only downside is that the bill does add up quickly. We spent about $100 for 2 (with only one glass of wine). You can keep the bill lower by ordering more substantial dishes such as the soboro rice. But Yakitoriya is worth the splurge when you're feeling the need for some original and unique skewers.

Hits: chicken knee, special hearts, ice cream
Misses: can get pricey
Rating: ****

11301 W Olympic Blvd # 101
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 479-5400

WP24: Wolfgang Puck's Pricey Asian restaurant

I’m always hesitant to dine at an upscale Chinese restaurant. It's fine to shell out the bucks for a fresh piece of uni or wagyu beef, but somehow it’s hard to spend $100 per person on Chinese food when you can get a better meal in LA for a fifth of the price. But I was keen when my friend suggested Wolfgang Puck’s newish upscale restaurant WP24 at the Ritz Carlton, at the LA Live in Downtown.

When we first walked in, we sat at the bar waiting for our table. The space is huge, with the outside dining and bar area completely empty. Diners were escorted into the separate dining room with wraparound windows and a gorgeous view of downtown.

While sitting at the bar, I had a glass of bubbly which our bartender kindly filled it up.

The food is served family style and only offered as a three or four course menu. The three course meal costs $80 and includes a starter, main course and dessert. We requested to replace one dessert for another starter, and supplemented the meal with a side of noodles.

Gotta love an Asian restaurant that serves an amuse bouche. The prawn toast is also offered in the lounge menu. There was a large plump shrimp within the buttery deep-fried toast.

The second amuse bouche was seafood turnovers. The pastry was buttery and the filling was well seasoned, although I thought this needed a dipping sauce.

Tasting of Dumplings ($8 supplemental)
This consisted of chive dumpling, dan dan dumpling, tiny dumpling, scallop-shrimp shu mai and shrimp har gow. My favorite was the dan dan dumpling which had a spicy kick and crunchy peanuts. I appreciated that the dumpling skin was fresh and not gummy, and that there was a good serving of shrimp in the filling. However I thought the dumplings tasted almost similar and didn’t offer anything unique from dumplings you can find elsewhere.

Cheow feung rolls with braised kobe beef cheeks, with chile, scallions, cilantro, crispy garlic, hot sesame oil
Once again, I was impressed with the wrapping. The beef cheek filling was tender and spicy. The rice noodle rolls were tasty but I wouldn't have known that it was filled with beef cheeks. The meat tasted almost like braised short ribs.

Crispy suckling pig, quince apple puree, sweet bean, chinese 10 spice
The crispy suckling pig was cooked nicely with layers of fat and a crispy skin. I liked the combination of the salty seasoning and the mildly sweet apple puree.

Singapore Style Chili Prawns, fresh crab, fried garlic, chili, scallions, shallots, pickled ginger
As a Singaporean who has grown up on chili crabs, I was rather disappointed with this dish. While the flavors were fine, I was expecting the layered flavors of a traditional Singapore chili sauce. I was expecting the sauce to have lots of garlic and a zing, perhaps from some homemade sambal. Instead the chili tasted like sriracha. While the dish had good Asian flavors, it did not remind me of anything I’ve had in Singapore.

Crispy glazed Cavendish Farm Quails "General Tso", garlic, dried chiles, ginger, black Chinkiang vinegar
This was perhaps my favorite dish. The portion was quite generous (6 pieces!). The quail was tender and juicy, but still had a crispy skin.

Shanghai noodles with fresh chiles, thai basil leaves, slow cooked oxtail
I thought the noodles needed more seasoning. With all the chiles and herbs, you would think it would have been more flavorful.

Passionfruit Semi Freddo, vanilla scented pineapple, coconut sorbet, gold toffeeMarjolasian, layers of dark chocolate, white espresso mousse, cashew nougatine, coffee ice cream

There was a long delay in getting our dessert. We didn’t mention anything but the waiter told us he would be bringing over an extra dessert. I thought that was a nice touch. Both desserts were pretty good, with lovely presentation. Unfortunately, we were both too full to enjoy more than one bite of each plate.

I have mixed emotions about WP24. I thought some of the dishes were great (quail, shrimp toast), but I expected the flavors to be more explosive. When I compare this to my meals at other upscale Asian restaurants such as Lukshon and Red Medicine, I have to say that WP24 does not meet the mark. The prices are high for dumplings and noodles, and the dishes are not as unique as what you can get from the other two restaurants. The service was also a bit spotty. Our waiter brought by an extra dessert but unfortunately, water glasses were rarely filled, and we had to wait over 20 minutes for our table as we were told that we had to 'wait for hostess' to come back from the dining room. The view was great, so while I may not come back for a full dinner, I may stop by the bar for some cocktails and shrimp toasts.

Hits: quail, view
Misses: pricey, chile prawn not Singaporean
Rating: **1/2

900 West Olympic Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 743-8824

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bull Ramen Popup at BreadBar

Ramen Bull is Breadbar's latest new ramen popup, which runs Monday-Saturday until Sept 1. Chef Noriyuki Sugie of Ironnori Concepts is the brains behind the operation, combining hearty meats with steamy bowls of ramen.
I came ill prepared. At Breadbar's Yatai Ramen event last year, we brought our own alcoholic drinks because Breadbar does not offer any. This time, we forgot. However this Hibiscus Tea Soda made with the lime, soda and mint, was quite good. It was refreshing and tasted almost like a mojito, sans alcohol.

The menu is simple. All beef toppings such as short ribs, oxtail and corned beef. You can order additional items either as toppings on the ramen or as sides. We opted for sides so that the additions would not interfere with the original ramen order.
Beef tongue was almost like beef carpaccio. The meat was thin and buttery. It really did not have a strong offal taste so I would recommend this to people that typically avoid offal. The beef tongue was simply topped with ginger scallion dots.
The side of oxtail was incredibly fork tender, with some fatty pieces surrounding the bone. It had a rustic salty taste to it. Eating this really brought back memories of the oxtail stew that my mom would prepare for dinner.
Spicy ramen was extremely flavorful but not too spicy. The marinated ground meat added additional layers of flavor to the already delicious broth.
Because I can't get enough of oxtail, I went for the oxtail ramen. There were two large pieces of oxtail, as well as mushrooms and a soft boiled egg. I preferred this version to the oxtail ramen that I had at Yatai because the soup here was thicker and heartier.

Bull Ramen popup was a great experience. I really enjoyed the meats that were chosen, from the hearty robust-flavored oxtail to the delicate velvety beef tongue. It's a great way to showcase the common household ramen and turn it into something more than just a post-bar drunkard college meal.

Hits: oxtail, beef tongue
Misses: no alcohol
Rating: ***1/2

Ramen Bull at Breadbar
8718 W. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Zengo: All you can eat and drink brunch

Zengo, at Santa Monica Place, has everything you want from a brunch spot. Gorgeous patio seating (with heat lamps if needed). Gret view and ocean breeze. Easy parking at the mall. An exciting Latin-Asian menu that includes small-plate items such as banh mi sliders, dim sum and ceviche. But most importantly, they offer an all-you-can-eat-and-drink Sunday brunch for only $35.

This is definitely a place that you should dine with more than 2 friends, so you can sample all the dishes as we did.

Mimosa and mango mimosa. They also have sake sangria and lychee bellini.

They also offer bloody mary, and a bacon bloody mary.

EdamameBacon fried rice ~ fried egg / scallion / shiitake mushroom
This was a fairly normal fried rice, but I thought it was a good first dish to coat the stomach.

Ceviche ~ shrimp / octopus / calamari / aji panca /heart of palm / orange / serrano / bonito
I really enjoyed the ceviche which had a nice spicy-citrus combination. The seafood tasted fresh and was not rubbery. I also liked the crunch of the heart of palm which I don't see enough of at most places.

Sea bass ceviche ~ aji amarillo / red onion / cucumber / apple /tomato / shiso
I preferred the previous ceviche to this. Although this was still tasted fine, I thought there was too much cucumber and the fish needed some flavoring.

Peking duck hash ~poached egg / poblanos rajas / caramelized onion /plantain
I really enjoyed this dish which included a generous serving of tender shredded duck, sweet plantains, caramelized onions and topped with a runny egg yolk. This dish was hearty and was the perfect hangover food.

Shrimp vegetable potstickers ~red chile-dashi sauce
This was a pretty ordinary potsticker but I was pleased to find that the dumpling skin wasn't too thick. There was also a generous filling of shrimp and veggies. Asian Eastsiders may balk at the dumpling and compare it to the ones you can find in Alhambra, but I think it's good enough for someone that's just craving a dumpling and doesn't want to drive 30 miles east.

Pork-mushroom gyoza ~ black vinegar-soy sauce
For a gyoza, I thought these should have been pan fried a bit more. It was missing that crispy skin. But overall, still tasty.

House made meatballs ~ ginger / garlic / tomato / kaffir lime sauce /cilantro / parsley
The meatballs were dense but surprisingly quite tender. Zengo does a great job of meshing Latin and Asian ingredients. The aromatic kaffir lime and cilantro foam was an interesting combination but worked really well.

Thai chicken empanadas ~ chile poblano / oaxaca cheese / mango salsa
The empanadas came out pipping hot, with a buttery and flaky pastry. The shredded chicken was juicy and well seasoned. Flavorful chicken juice ozzed out of the empanada as you bit into it. This was one of my favorite dishes.

Banh mi sliders~ achiote pork / pickled vegetables / citrus aioli
This was similar to a pulled pork slider with a sweet marinade. There was also some sort of a Vietnamese cured ham or perhaps headcheese. The meats were topped with pickled vegetables that was tangy and crunchy. I was quite impressed with the bun which was fresh and soft.

Beef tenderloin benedict ~ poached egg / kimchee / hollandaise
I preferred the previous slider to this. The meat was charred and I hoped it had been a bit juicer. The perfectly poached egg was a nice touch, which added some moisture to the meat.

Thai shrimp lettuce wraps~ chorizo / peanut / cilantro / tamarind chutney
I really enjoyed this version of a lettuce wrap which traditionally is served with only pork. The ground pork was seasoned well, and the shrimps were battered and fried. Included in the mix were spiced nuts and sweet mango mint chutney. The flavors were very unique and bold.

Chipotle yellow fin tuna roll ~ wasabi tobiko / avocado / sesame chipotle rouille
This is a good dish if you are craving sushi but it wasn't as unique as the other dishes on the menu. But Zengo does a good job of offering something for everyone, so this would do well with sushi lovers.

Yucca fries / miso mustard / lemon sake
I actually really enjoyed the yucca fries although some of my friends found the texture odd. The yucca was soft in the center and had a sweet taste. The breading was very crispy and not oily.

Grilled achiote salmon ~bacon / shiitake mushroom / ponzu
The salmon was grilled with a char but I thought it was a bit overcooked. The mushrooms added a heavy, earthy flavor. I liked the use of ponzu sauce, which worked well with the salmon and gave a tart flavor to the fish.

Pan dulce ~ mexican sweet bread / cinnamon whipped cream /licor 43 / star anise
We ended the meal with their only sweet dessert item. The Pan dulce was toasted and airy, and drizzled with a sweet orange agave syrup. I enjoyed the light and spicy cinnamon whipped cream.

I thought an all-you-can-eat meal would result in poor quality and mediocre-tasting food but in fact, the dishes at Zengo were anything but. Some dishes were what you could find at many places (dumplings, fried rice) but they were still tasty. There were other dishes that combined Latin and Asian flavors perfectly, and were quite unique. Apart from the good food, the service was excellent. Our waitress came by often to take our drink orders. She was also friendly and gave us good recommendations. If you love trying different dishes and like to drink, Zengo is definitely a great place for brunch.

Hits: great deal, location/view, service, octopus ceviche, empanadas, duck hash
Misses: -
Rating: ***1/2

395 Santa Monica Place.,
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 899-1000