Monday, August 22, 2011

Fat Dog Gastropub: where dogs and booze do mix

With a name like Fat Dog, I just wanted to like the gastropub. It's also located on my way home from work (at Fairfax and Melrose). The menu looked promising with items such as crispy rock shrimp, lobster roll and short rib french dip sandwich. The place is also dog friendly although I didn't see any when I was there.

The space is pretty cool, with a cute outdoor seating area. Inside, there's a bar, communal tables and booths.

The menu had quite a lot of options. When I'm at a bar, I usually prefer to share appetizers/small plates with my party. Unfortunately, over half the appetizer menu were vegetarian and not really that exciting (hummus, salads, cheese plate, potato skins). They do however have a nice mix of drinks including craft beers, cocktails and wine.

Chili almonds were served with our drinks.

Baby Greens were the only way to get some vegetables in us. Nothing special here.

Crisp Rock Shrimp with scallions, sambal aioli and lemon
I was excited to try this because as someone that lived in Singapore, I'm all about sambal. It didn't taste like sambal to me though. I was hoping for some minced garlic or shallot flavors in the aoli. The rock shrimp was actually disappointing. The coating wasn't crispy and tasted soggy.

The Flight mini burgers: bacon & guacamole, mushroom & swiss, caramelized onions & gruyére
I liked that they offered a trio of sliders so that we could get a variety. Unfortunately, both the bun and patties were dry. We also thought the meat lacked seasoning.

Jalapeño Mac And Cheese (with bacon and crab supplement)
I was pleased with the chunks of crab which tasted fresh. However, similar to the slider patties, the Mac and cheese tasted bland. Even the spice from the jalepeno and the salty bacon bits were not enough to add flavor to this dish.

Braised Short-Rib French Dip Sandwich gruyére cheese, caramelized onions and "au jus"
This was our favorite dish of the night. The French dip was served in a skillet, which I thought was a cool rustic presentation. The meat was juicy and well seasoned. The sweet onions and the salty au jus were a nice combination. I also enjoyed the bread which was perfectly buttered and toasted. A side of onions rings were layered underneath the sandwich. What a nice surprise, and all the jus dripped on the rings.

The Fat Dog all beef grilled hot dog
Possibly the longest hot dog I've ever eaten. The presentation was pretty cool, with an array of toppings (pickle relish, diced tomato, onion, pepperoncini, ketchup and mustard). I liked the selection of toppings but the hot dog was pretty ordinary.

I love the space and am glad that there's a new bar in the neighborhood. However I thought the food wasn't memorable. Perhaps we ordered the wrong dishes but I don't feel the need to rush back to sample more items from the menu. I was there when it was still fairly new, so perhaps they've made some improvements in the kitchen. They do have a happy hour with $3 beers, $4 wines, and bites for $3-6.

Hits: cool space, french dip
Misses: bland patties and mac & cheese
Rating: **1/2

The Fat Dog
801 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 951-0030

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mama D's, Hermosa: Good ole no-frills Italian food

There are quite a number of Italian restaurant in Hermosa Beach in the South Bay. One of my favorites is Zane (great ciopinno). There's also Bottle Inn and Fritto Misto. But the one that is close to my heart is the casual, no-frills, homey Mama D's. Located a block from the beach, this restaurant almost seems out of place in the area. It's does not have a beach vibe and is not at all collegiate. Mama D's also has a location in Manhattan Beach.

The menu is rather large, with the usual Italian staples. Many dishes are served with a side of pasta, and you can choose from a variety of pastas and sauces. They also have gluten free and wheat pasta options. Hey, every bit helps.

No fancy wine glasses here. They have no corkage Mon-Thur, and a modest $7 fee per bottle on weekends.

Their bread and garlic dipping sauce is to die for. Definitely plan on garlic breath afterwards. The waitress does a great drop of refilling the bread basket.

Seafood Lasagne was the special of the day. The dish is rich and very filling. It's a huge casserole of pasta, seafood and topped with their popular creamy pink vodka sauce. There's ample seafood including shrimp, clams, scallops and squid.

I opted for the Veal Marsala which was another giant portion. The thin veal cutlets were sauteed with fresh mushrooms and marsala wine. The dish was served with veggies and a side of pasta, with the pink sauce of course. To make it a bit healthier, I opted for the wheat penne pasta.

Freshly baked cookies came with the bill, and they were really good cookies. Crunchy on the outside, and warm with gooey chocolate chips in the center.

Mama D's offers good ole comfort food, at affordable prices. You definitely won't leave hungry. They load you up with bread and occasional food samples, and their portions are large. My chicken marsala made for a great dinner the next day. The service was also warm and attentive. This is the type of place that makes me want to go back and support the business. Truly a gem in the middle of a partying beach town.

Hits: prices, service, complimentary bread & cookies
Misses: you'll be painfully full
Rating: ***1/2

Mama D's
1031 Hermosa Ave
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
(310) 379-6262

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kings Row: A great gastropub and brunch spot in Pasadena

Pasadena has always been that faraway land where the temperature is 10 degrees hotter than the Westside. I hardly venture over unless something is absolutely worth it, like meeting Michael Voltaggio *drool*. So when my friends invited me over for a housewarming party in Pasadena, we decided to make a weekend trip out of it by booking a hotel room for the night (we're not big on drinking-and-driving).

I don't know much about the restaurants and bars in the area, but I quickly found a newish gastropub that opened up in Old Town.

The restaurant has a few dining areas - the bar, the dining room and the outside patio. We grabbed seats at the bar which has high ceilings, numerous plantation fans (thank goodness!), exposed brick walls and ample light from the rooftop glass ceiling. Love the space!

They have a vast selection of craft beers.

We opted for the Allagash White and a floral Saison.

The lunch menu is broken out into salads, sandwiches and pub fare. I was hoping for more appetizer/starter options for sharing. I also didn't see any sides.

Pulled Pork sandwich
A rather delicious burger which was comprised of juicy and tender pulled pork that was slathered with pomegranate BBQ sauce. The sauce was just right - not too sweet or too messy. The burger was topped with crispy onions and served with fries.

Merguez Corndog
I was a bit disappointed with the corndog. I love lamb but I found the merguez sausage to be extremely gamy. I did however enjoy the root beer batter which had an interesting texture (almost like cornmeal) and had a slight sweet flavor.

The next day, we went in search of our usual weekend tradition - mimosa brunch. Coincidentally enough, a quick search online for bottomless mimosas led us back to Kings Row. By the way, the website says that they open at 10.30am on Sundays. They actually opened at 11am. Apparently they have a "Country Line Sunday Brunch" with live music and whiskey. We got there too early for this (phew. not a big fan of country music).

The brunch menu actually looks better with more appetizing items such as the shepherds pie, duck egg benedict and french toast made with homemade pound cake.

Bloody Marys and mimosa are $3 each, while all you can drink mimosas are served in carafes for $12.

Crack Mac with gouda, parmesan, white chocolate and truffle

I really liked the golden cheesy crust on the mac and cheese. I also appreciated that the cheeses were mild - no gorgonzola or stinky cheeses here. Unfortunately the truffle flavor was not noticeable and the mac and cheese lacked flavor. It needed additional salt or some spice like jalapeno.

Ham & Cheese Omelet
This was almost like a meatlovers omelet with three meat ingredients (continental brat, bacon and black forest ham). The meats added lots of flavor and meatiness to the omelet. My favorite was the breakfast potatoes which looked ordinary but had a crispy exterior and were soft in the inside.

Chicken & Waffles
This dish was outstanding. Every element on the plate was delicious. The chicken was juicy even though it was white meat. I enjoyed the buttermilk breading which was nicely seasoned and crispy. I thought the two pieces of chicken were also a generous portion. The buckwheat waffle was also very good. One of my favorite parts of the dish was the mixture of maple syrup with stewed kale, bacon bits and a sweet corn emulsion which were layered on top of the waffle. Absolutely flavorful with a nice balance of sweet and savory.

I really enjoyed our meals at Kings Pub, especially brunch. I was impressed with the quality of the ingredients which are sourced locally. They even served fresh homemade strawberry and blueberry jam. And most importantly, they have a great mimosa deal! This is definitely the type of place that I'd return for either a lunch of pubfare, or a brunch with mimosas.

Hits: ambiance, beer selection, pulled pork sammie, chix & waffles, mimosas
Misses: bland mac, gamy corn dog
Rating: ***1/2

Kings Row Gastropub
20 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91105
(626) 793-3010

Monday, August 1, 2011

Taste of the Nation (Better late than never...)

Oh what a difference a year makes. Last year, I was on top of my blogging. I wrote up my TOTNLA post within a week after the event. This year, work is ramping up so this post is coming to you over 2 months late. At least our strategy for tackling the event has been refined. Last year, we left the place uncomfortably full and even had to forgo some of the stands because we were too full. We foolishly had breakfast at home which consisted of seared foie gras and brioche. This year we skipped breakfast and even opted for a lighter dinner the night before. Last year, we also each had a bite from every stand. This year, we shared the same bite so we were able to hit almost all the stands.

Taste of the Nation is an annual charity food & drink event, where restaurants, bars and winemakers come together to raise money for the charity Share Our Strength. Of a handful of food events that I’ve been to, this has been my favorite because it’s very well-run, the restaurants present are all very reputable, and it never seems too crowded because they hold it at the Culver City Media Park with almost 50 restaurants.

Some of my favorites:

Culina ~ Grilled lamb chops
This was probably my favorite bite of the day. Perfect finger food and easy to eat. The lamb chop was juicy and cooked to a perfect medium rare. It was served with cous cous, sweet corn and saffron mint pesto.

Street ~ Kaya Toastwith coconut jam and dark soy custard
Susan Feniger’s take of Singaporean street food. The kaya toast, made with coconut jam, was delicious and decadent. This is getting me excited for my trip to Singapore in 19 days!

Public~ fried pig skin crispy on newspaper
Public’s dish was a porchetta sandwich which was sold out by the time I got there, but they had some leftover pork which they served up. Perhaps the best thing I ate all day. The fried skin was greasy and porky in flavor. Tasted like suckling pig skin.

Bazaar by Jose Andres - olive sphere, grilled octopus taco
There were a few octopus dishes at the event but this was by far the best. The octopus was grilled to perfection. It was tender and well seasoned.

Joe's Restaurant - Paella with chorizo, mussels and chicken
I love Joe Miller’s other restaurant, Bar Pintxo. Their squid ink paella is to die for. This seafood version was delicious. Bonus points for cooking it up on the spot.

Michael Voltaggio’s upcoming restaurant Ink was set up in the VIP tent, serving a cocktail that tasted like a Pimm’s Cup.

Ink ~ Wagyu beef tongue cold cuts with pumpernickel and drizzled with mustard snow
The tongue was so delicate and buttery. It was served with pickled radishes and a pumpernickel beignet which tasted like pretzel bread.

Other bites:

Fig ~ torta de lengua with breakfast radish and escabeche
The thin beef tongue was spicy with its juices abosrbing into the bread.

Jitlada ~ Crying Tiger Pork, Pork Belly Green Beans
Flavorful and delicious but extremely fiery. I’m glad they served it with rice which helped to dissipate some of the heat. I thought the pork belly was a bit too greasy, but overall, a very delicious dish.

Patina ~ Lobster and Fresh Almond Gazpacho
Light and refreshing for a warm day. There was a crunch in the gazpacho.

Harfields ~ Tropical tres leches cake topped with lime curd, coconut crumble, marinated strawberries, and a coconut filo wafer

Hatfield's - Spanish Octopus Salad
I thought the salad needed additional seasoning and the octopus was rather rubbery.

Grace/ BLD~ Berkshire pork banh mi
The Banh mi was quite tasty with spicy slaw, fresh herbs, and crispy cracklins.

Border Grill: Cold poached Alaska salmon on a jicama tostadita, topped with tomatillo herb salsa, Alaska crab and quinoa fritters with aji amarillo aioli, piquillo pepper romesco

The Foundry: Grilled cheese sandwich made with taleggio and apricot-caper puree on raisin bread
Pretty similar to what they served last year, the grilled cheese is Chef Eric Greenspan's specialty.

Wp24 ~ Chow fueng roll with braised beef short rib
Probably the city’s most expensive dim sum, I think. I just dined on this at WP24. The beef noodle roll had a non gummy nice wrapper and was stuffed with tender meat.

Mozza ~ porcini rubbed BBQ Creekstone Farms short ribs
The meat itself was well seasoned and tasty, but I thought it was too difficult to eat without a fork.Le Saint Amour~ charcuterie
I opted for the rabbit rillette which was fatty. Also sampled the foie gras and cherry pate.Fathers office/Lukshon ~ Chicken Pops
Really enjoyed this chicken lollipop. The meat was spicy with a sweet caramelization.Red O ~ sope stuffed chile with chorizo, dates and sherry almond sauce; grilled Mazatlan blue shrimp with fresh jicama ‘chips’Whist ~ grilled octopus with smoked potatoesLa Siene ~ Coconut jalapeño with albacore, salmon, yellowtail, and aioli
La Siene is Top Chef Alex Reznik’s new French Asian restaurant. The breaded jalapeño had a really nice crunchy breading. Interesting inclusion of coconut in the batter. The yellowtail was fresh and seasoned adequately.

Loteria ~ Pollo en mole topped with toasted sesame seeds, onion, and fresh Mexican cheese; conchita pibil pork slowly roasted in banana leaf topped with citrus, pickled red onion and chile habanero; papas con rajas, potato with roasted poblano peppers
I loved the fatty lengua. They also made a really fresh tortilla.

Chaya ~ Hamachi Mole Pressed Sushi

Chaya ~ Sukiyaki Short Rib
I liked the combination of the salty short ribs with puree

Campanile ~ Olive oil fried egg on grilled bread with black olive tapenade and tomato concasse
The fried egg was cooked nicely with a runny yolk, however I thought the rest of the dish was rather ordinary.

AOC ~ African salad
A bit underwhelming. Wish they served something more appetizing.

Simon ~ Scarlet scallops and yellow beets Napoleon with green garlic goat cheese

Lexington Social House ~ fried chicken and cornbread
I love fried chicken so I was excited for some of this. A bit dry but I liked the seasoned breading. I also enjoyed the kale which was braised in ham hock and garlic.

Playa ~ tamale chipotle
Playa is John Sedler (Riveria)’s new restaurant. Sadly, I found the tamale to be dry.

Picca/ Mo chica ~ Chicken Anticucho
Richardo Zarate’s new restaurant Picca showcased this chicken skewer which was juicy and flavorful. Excited to try Picca after sampling this bite.

Finally, on to desserts.

Scoops ~ Miso cheesecake and bacon maple
Scoops never disappoints. I love the unique flavors of Scoops and I never feel ill even after eating a pint of their ice cream. Can’t wait till they get Durian flavor back again.

We also got some beer from Golden state (sour cherry cuvee) and made a float from the bacon ice cream at Scoops. Comme Ca ~ strawberry panna cotta
I did not care for this dessert. I found it to be bland with a weird consistency.

Similar to last year, I was impressed with the event. The participating restaurants were all pretty top-notch, and the event as a whole was well-run. There were lots of lengua and octopus this year, some better than others. The only critique I had was the VIP valet line was over 30 minutes long. Regular parking was faster than VIP. But at the end of the day, it's all for the kids. Till next year. Here's hoping it won't take me 2 months to write it up again.

Taste of the Nation
June 12, 2011
Culver City Media Park
9070 Venice Blvd.,
Culver City, CA 90232