Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dots Cupcakes (City Mouse) vs. Violet's Cakes (Country Mouse)

This past Saturday, I went cupcake sampling in Pasadena, first at Dots Cupcakes followed by Violet's Cakes. After experiencing both within an hour of each other, the best analogy I could come up with to describe the whole experience was that of the City Mouse vs. the Country Mouse.

In one corner, you have Dots Cupcakes, which to me was the City Mouse. The storefront looks pretty sophisticated. The building is pink with a brown awning and that same color scheme is utilized for their company logo. Inside, the cupcakes are presented through these white cut-outs, which strangely enough reminded of the cells within a beehive where the honey is deposited. Perhaps something subliminal is happening? As for the interior of the cup cake shop, it was orderly. Everything was in its

As for the cupcakes themselves, they were quite pretty looking and when put into the box with the brown and pink polka dotted tissue paper, they made a nice presentation. I took home some for a chocolate potluck I was having that evening, but before I left, I went ahead and tried two cupcakes at the shop, or at least half of each one.

First up was the Pina Colada Cupcake. They definitely did not skimp on the coconut portion of this cupcake and that coconut was quite good, moist and with just the right amount of chewiness. According to the website, the coconut was supposed to be toasted, but that didn't seem to be the case. As for the "Pina" in this cupcake, it went AWOL, unless the pineapple flavor is supposed to be really subtle. I think that calling this a Pina Colada Cupcake was quite a misnomer and calling it a simple Coconut Cupcake would have been more accurate. Based on it being called a Pina Colada Cupcake, I was disappointed, but thinking of it as just as a Coconut Cupcake, I was able to like it better.

Following this so-called Pina Colada Cupcake, came the Red Velvet Cupcake. I was definitely more pleased with this second offering although not necessarily wowed. While I liked this cupcake better than the first, I think the cake part should have been a little sweeter, but perhaps that was done on purpose because of the cream cheese frosting. When tasting that cream cheese frosting by itself, I found that it was actually pretty sweet, but when eaten with the cupcake, everything came together fairly well.

I found that the actual cake part of both cupcakes were a little dryer than I would have liked, but at that time, it was fine. What I found interesting is that when I had the other halves of these cupcakes much later on in the evening, both of them were even drier than when I first got them. I just took a couple of small bites of each and threw them out.

From Dots Cupcakes, I made a trip down the road to Violet's Cakes and by just looking at the entrance, you already got that "Country Mouse" feeling. When entering the shop, you'll see a lot of hustle and bustle in the open kitchen behind the counter and on either side of of the shop, one table had some crafty stuff that the owner apparently was using to make something crafty and the other table had flyers and business cards on top of it.

When looking at the case, it was even more obvious that the Dots Cupcakes and Violet's Cupcakes were night and day. Violet's cupcakes were a little smaller and had that homey, just baked in the kitchen with grandma look whereas Dots Cupcakes looked like they could have been made by a Pastry Chef.

I was quite disappointed with Dots, so I wasn't sure what to expect with Violet's, but let me tell you, Violet's did not disappoint and in fact, surpassed expectations. The two that I decided to sample were the banana cupcake with dark chocolate frosting and their French Toast cupcake.

The banana cupcake had great flavor. It actually reminded me of good banana bread. Unlike Dots' Pina Colada Cupcake which seemed to be missing the "Pina", I could taste the banana in Violet's banana cupcake. Isn't that as it should be? Also, that dark chocolate frosting was so creamy, so filled with chocolate goodness, that I could have had it by itself without the cupcake.

As for the French Toast cupcake, wow, I loved it. I can't tell you that it tasted exactly like French Toast because it didn't have that eggy flavor/texture you'd might associate with this particular breakfast treat. However, you could really taste the spicing in this cupcake that could be associated with French Toast like cinnamon, allspice and/or nutmeg and when you top it off with a creamy, maple frosting, I was in cupcake heaven.

Unlike the Dots Cupcakes, I finished up both Violet's cupcakes without even a thought. Not only did both have great flavor, I also found both cupcakes to be moist unlike their drier counterparts at Dots. I also brought home cupcakes from Violet's for my chocolate potluck and actuallly had one left over. When I had that leftover cupcake the next day, it still tasted just as good and the cake was just as moist.

While Violet's may not have the City Sophistication of Dots, what they do have is dreamingly delicious cupcakes. In the end, pretty presentation will only go so far if the flavor isn't there and Violet's cupcakes definitely have that flavor.

Dots Cupcakes
400 S. Arroyo Parkway
Pasadena, CA 91105
(626) 568-3687

To see pics, go to:

Violet's Cakes
21 E Holly St
Pasadena, CA 91103
(626) 395-9821

To see pics, go to:

"Nicaraguan Feast" at El Gallo Pinto

Last January, I set up a 12-course sampler dinner at El Gallo Pinto in Azusa and my oh my, was it delicious. We started off with their Mondongo Soup, which owner, Jose, makes himself every weekend. This particular dish is a Nicaraguan specialty and apparently, Nicaraguans will drive for miles to for this soup because it reminds them of home.

The Mondongo Soup is a hearty tripe soup with chayote, corn, yuca and other ingredients and after doing some research online, I found out that many Nicarguans value it because they feel that the soup has healing powers. I actually really enjoyed this soup and considering that it was a cold evening, it really hit the spot. The broth was rich and flavorful and just really warmed me inside and out. The only thing that put me off a bit was that the tripe. It could have been cut in smaller chunks. They were just too big to eat in one bite.

Following the Mondongo Soup came the Nactamale, which is basically a tamale that is steamed in banana leaves with about 14 different ingredients including capers, olives, raisins, rice, potatoes, onion, mint, marinated pork, jalapenos, etc. According to the owner, the banana leaves are more than just simple wrappers, they actually are important in adding flavor to the tamale. The Nactamale had a lot of different "tastes". There was sweet from the raisins, a little salty from the olives, a kick from the japalenos. It felt like an adventure eating it because you never got the same bite twice.

Following the Nactamale, came an appetizer platter that included fried marinated pork, green and ripe plantains as well as gallo pinto. Gallo Pinto is a mixture of fried rice with onion and sweet pepper and beans boiled with garlic and is a definite must have anytime you come visit El Gallo Pinto, this dish's namesake. Also with the appetizer platter came the Vigoron, which is yuca, cabbage, tomatoes and deep fried marinated pork. There's really nothing fancy about these dishes, but for being basically fried foods, they were good.

Mincemeat, the dish that followed wasn't anything to write home about. Basically, this dish is chopped boiled beef with bell peppers and onions. I had it before and wasn't too impressed with it the second time around. It still had the same problem. It's actually a pretty bland dish, even when you squeeze lime on it. It didn't really come to life until you mixed the Nicaraguan salsa with it and considering that the Nicaraguan salsa is a mixture of sour orange juice, onions and peppers, you can see why it added a lot of great flavor.

On to the chicken that was covered with an olive, caper and a tomato-based sauce. A very tasty dish which had a nice hit of saltiness from the capers and olives; yet, wasn't overwhelmed by them. Then then there was the whole boneless tilapia fish cooked with onions and bell peppers with a tomato-based sauce flavored with vinegar and bay leaf. The sauce was wonderful. I liked the acidity of the tomatoes mixed with the sour flavor of the vinegar.

Still we press on to the home stretch where we end with the fried green banana chips, the shrimp in special sauce and two desserts, the bunelos and the rum cake. I can't for the life of me remember what was in the sauce for the shrimp, but it was quite good. I remember it being a little spicy, but than I could be wrong. I'll have to go back and try it again.

As for the desserts, I really liked both of them. The bunelos are deep fried pastries stuffed with yuca and cheese with caramel sauce poured over them. You can never go wrong with caramel sauce plus with yuca and the cheese not being really sweet, the caramel made this dish seem more like dessert.

The rum cake was also really good. I honestly don't remember if I tasted any rum, but I just liked how moist the cake was and how the sauce just permeated its pores. Yummy!

Overall, there are definite things I'd try again and others I'd skip over, but in general, I'd say it was a pretty good meal and when you add that it's a family-owned, family-run restaurant where the owners really take care of their customers, I'm always very happy to dine there and recommend El Gallo Pinto to anyone who's interested in trying Nicaraguan Cuisine.

To see pics, go to:

El Gallo Pinto
5559 N Azusa Ave
Azusa, CA
(626) 815-9907

Scarlet Tea Room

For those of you who have never been to the Scarlet Tea Room in Pasadena, I encourage you to make a visit. Just standing in front of the entrance, you already get a sense of something unique when you're faced with a red shimmery door. Once you enter, you're transported to an elegant space with a gold and cream color scheme and when you look up, you'll see beautiful crystal chandeliers.

Once you're seated, owner, Karen, comes out to tell you what to expect with the Scarlet Tea Ceremony. Her descriptions of the delectable treats to come really raised expectations and believe me, we weren't disappointed.

The Scarlet Tea Ceremony consists of five courses:

- signature sorbet
- fresh homemade curd with lemon curd, seasonal preserves and signature "Scarlet" cream
- assorted tea sandwiches (4 for each person)
- assorted mini desserts
- strawberries Romanoff
- choice of loose tea

We start off with a beautifully red or dare I say "scarlet" strawberry-orange sorbet, which had a nice hit of tartness and also a great consistency, not too icy, not too slushy. What a great way to cleanse your palate for what was to follow.

Along with the sorbet, tea service began and for our large group, we had three different teas to choose from. Unfortunately, I don't remember the names of the teas, but we had a black tea, a green tea and a decaffeinated herb-infused tea.

Soon we all ooohed and aahhhed as the tiers of scones and sandwiches started arriving at our tables. Everyone reached for the scones and what heavenly creatures they were. I liked that they still had a bit of the crumble factor; yet, the bread had some good moisture to it and wasn't as dry as a dessert. The lemon curd that came with the scones was so good, I could have inhaled it and the cream, oh that whipped cream, was light, fluffy, fresh and just so divine.

Once we made short work of our scones, we started digging into the sandwiches. There was quite a variety so not one person had the same exact four sandwiches. For my selection, I had the roasted red pepper and olive tapenade, egg salad, ham and cheese and proscuitto and roasted red pepper sandwiches. While I found the egg salad sandwich uninteresting, my other three choices had lots of great flavor. My favorite was the roasted red pepper and olive tapenade sandwich. Sometimes tapenade can be too salty, but this one was just right and complimented well with the sweetness of the roasted red peppers.

After our sandwiches, out came the tray of mini desserts. They all looked so colorful and delectable, it was hard to choose. After sampling the lemon sponge cake, the pistachio cake and one of the smaller candy coated cakes, nothing really wowed me. While all the cakes were moist, there was something missing. Up to that point, we experienced many different tastes, tart, savory, buttery, salty (a good kind), but the desserts seemed a little bland in comparison.

Finally, at the end of the tea ceremony, we were treated to the strawberries Romanoff, which is a dessert consisting of strawberries that were soaked in a citrus liquer mixed with whipped cream that was light, creamy and delicious- a perfect end to a wonderful tea.

Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at Scarlet Tea Room from the service to the food to the ambiance and I would definitely make a return visit.

To see all the pics, go to:

Scarlet Tea Room
18 W Green St
Pasadena, CA 91105
(626) 577-0051

Leaf Cuisine - "In the Raw Trio"

Every time I tell people who don't live in LA about "Raw Cuisine", I usually get the "Only in California (or LA)" comment. For those of you who don't know specifically what "Raw Cuisine" is, please read on.

A raw food diet consists fully of foods which have not been heated above a certain temperature. The maximum temperature varies among the different forms of the diet, from 92ºF to 118ºF. Raw food diets may include raw fruits, raw vegetables, raw nuts, raw seeds, raw unpasteurized dairy products such as raw milk, raw meat, raw eggs, and raw honey. Those who follow a raw food diet typically believe that the greater the percentage of raw food in the diet, the greater the health benefits.

Having never experienced "Raw Dining", I thought that it was time to check out some restaurants that specialize in that kind of non-cooking. :) My first experience happened last month at Leaf Cuisine in Culver City.

Standing outside the grass-green painted building that housed Leaf Cuisine already made me feel like I was around a more "natural environment." When you walk in, you can see that the restaurant interior boasts of the earth's colors: green, brown, orange. There was just something very soothing about the restaurant space and the laidback vibe, along with the counter person with his orange bandana seemed fitting for what Leaf Cuisine is supposed to be about.

My meal started off with trying a mock salmon nori roll. The salmon was like a creamy pate and in this case was made up of avocado, carrots and sprouts. The roll did have a "salmon" taste to it, but just a taste. I actually think that the carrots lent itself to the sweetness of salmon meat, which is why you "taste" the idea of that salmon without eating the actual salmon. I actually enjoyed these rolls and would order it again if I had a chance.

Following the salmon nori roll, I had the raw slaw which is made up of cabbage, carrots, herbs & a creamy seed cheese dressing. In retrospect, there wasn't anything that unique about this salad. Coleslaw consists of raw veggies anyway. The veggies were great. I really like the crunchiness of this salad; however, the dressing had a vinegary taste and after taste to it that I disliked a lot, so I barely even made a dent in it.

For my main entree, I had the Veggie Sunburger Wrap. First off, I really liked the kale leaf wrapper. The leaf was dense, hearty and had a nice bite to it. The sunburger itself needed a bit more work. According to the menu, the "meat" of this burger should be crispy on the outside due to it having been dehydrated. That crispness was lacking. Now if it had been fried.....but of course, that wouldn't happen at Leaf. As for the flavor, I liked the nuttiness of the veggie burger, but felt like it needed something to crank it up a notch. Not sure what. Just something more.

Dessert was the Oraweo Pudding. Yummy! Now this was a good pudding. The menu mentioned this pudding as being a gooey mess of coconut cream, cacao nibs and chocolate and they weren't kidding, but it was a gooey mess that really took care of my sweet tooth without drowning it.

In general, my foray into "Raw Cusine" wasn't a resounding sucesss, but it wasn't an abject failure either. Generally, it was hit or miss for me at Leaf Cuisine but it may be a homerun somewhere else, so time to check out some more "Raw" restaurants.

To see pics, go to:

Leaf Cuisine
11938 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA, 90066

The Kitchen in Alhambra

With all the buzz I was hearing about The Kitchen, I decided to check it out with a couple of friends last month. Upon entering the space, I felt like I was the whole room was awash in this yellow light and in fact, it was. I heard that the Kitchen was an off-shoot of an upscale Hong Kong restaurant that's based up North. Upscale in decor, it certainly wasn't, but then I was there for the food.

With only three of us, we stuck with 5 entrees. Unfortunately, while I love my two friends dearly, they're not always very adventurous when it comes to dining, so while there were quite a few items on the menu I would have liked to try, we kept it simple.

The first dish that hit the table was the Crispy Roasted Chicken. Nothing fancy, but I really liked that the chicken skin was brown and indeed, crispy. The chicken was nicely cooked and not dry and over-cooked.

Surprisingly I was able to get them to agree to the Bitter Melon Salad, which followed the chicken. The bitter melon was perfect. Not too bitter to render it inedible, but still had a nice bite of flavor to it. The dried salted fish that topped the veggies probably also helped cut down the bitterness as well.

A few minutes later, the Golden Seafood with Tender Green Soup joined the other two dishes on the table. Very yin and yan presentation. The soup was very thick and bland, but the addition of soy sauce added some much needed saltiness to it. I wish I could tell you what the soup was made of exactly. We ended up just ordering it, but didn't really ask what it was. Hmmm...maybe, my two friends were actually more adventurous than I thought.

The last two dishes consisted of the Chinese Broccoli with garlic and the Fried Rice (Fujian Style). The Chinese Broccoli was unusual in that it was actually cut smaller which definitely made for easier eating; however, more garlic would have given it more flavor. The Fujian Style Fried Rice which is basically fried rice topped with a dried scallop gravy was pretty good. The sauce had a little sweetness to it and it actually reminded me of Japanese curry.

In general, I wasn't wowed by anything in particular, but than it could also be because we didn't go out on the limb and choose some of the more exotic dishes. The menu interested me enough that I might go back another time and maybe, next time, I'll get more of that wow factor.

To see pics, go to:

The Kitchen
203 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA

Dino's Chicken & Burgers

After reading Jonathan Gold's LA Weekly review about Dino's in LA, the chicken mentioned in the article piqued my interest. When I heard that Dino's was opening a second restaurant in Azusa, which is practically around the corner from me, I booked on over the first chance I got to see what this chicken was really all about.

When I walked into the place, which formerly was Ted's Gourmet Fast Food, the chicken wasn't even on the menu yet. I had to ask the counter person specifically about how I could order Dino's chicken and of course, she helped me out. For my order, I got the half chicken which came with french fries, tortillas and coleslaw. I opted for a to go order.

When my order was done, I walked out, got into my car and sped home. What I found interesting was that even though the chicken was in a closed container inside a plastic bag, there were these pleasing, albeit faint, smells emanating from inside the bag that were tantalizing my nose. Something so mouth-watering that I stepped on the gas even harder.

Once I got home, I plunked my bag on my kitchen counter, opened it up, opened up the container and wow, I was assailed with these strong, pungent smells that made me dizzy with anticipation. Than I looked down at the chicken and gloried in its flesh and skin reddened by the chili and spices used to marinate it in. The french fries, also red-orange, and drenched with the sauce and juices from the chicken also commanded attention. When you look at the chicken close-up, you can see how the spices and pieces of red chili adhered to the meat. Now this was serious stuff.

For a minute, I just stood there and stared, taking in the whole sensory experience of the sight and smell before me. Soon, hunger called and I picked up a piece of chicken and took a bite. One bite was an explosion of flavor of pepper, lemon, chili and a host of other spices. It was amazing. I didn't feel the heat right away but after taking a few more bites, I could feel a litte bit of fire at the back of my throat and it was a fire I welcomed and enjoyed. Eating the french fries, soaked in the fiery sauce, also added a little more fuel to this fire.

This truly was the most amazing chicken dish I ever had. I have no clue what kind of marinade was used, but the various layers and melding of flavors really made this chicken sing. Eating Dino's chicken is akin to a mariachi band for me. Both are colorful. Both are "loud." While one can be loud in regards to the music, the other is loud in regards to flavor. With one note or with one bite, both can get immediate attention.

Having this chicken so close to home is one of the best things of the New Year so far. Perhaps 2007 will hold even more culinary prizes as well. I'm certainly hoping for that to be the case.

To see pics, go to:

Dino's Chicken and Burgers
843 Arrow Hwy
Azusa, CA 91702

101 Noodle Express

Lunch at 101 Noodle Express

On the last day of 2006, I finally got to experience the food at 101 Noodle Express. I liked it so much that I went back a week later, so basically, this review is based on items eaten at both meals. For my first visit, my group and I sampled 7 dishes and of the 7, I'd order 4 of them again.

Of the three that weren't on my hit list, two were dumplings. After seeing the variety of dumplings available on the menu, I was really excited and was thinking that I also found a new dumpling hangout. Unfortunately, I didn't care for their particular style of dumplings. The dumpling skin was too thick, which may have been okay if the filling was good; however, I found both the vegetable dumplings and the pork fried dumplings uninspiring. Both were just bland.

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Lunch at 101 Noodle Express

Lunch at 101 Noodle Express

I also didn't care for the Dan Dan Noodles. Although I liked the spiciness of the sauce, the noodles were just too starchy for me and I didn't like how they stuck together.

Lunch at 101 Noodle Express

There was still plenty to be happy about especially with the 4 dishes that made me a very content diner indeed. Of course, there was the Beef Roll which is basically the restaurant's signature dish. The crispy texture of the wrapper with the tender beef and peppery greens was a wonderful melding of flavors.

Lunch at 101 Noodle Express

We also enjoyed the Shang Dong Chicken, which was a cold chicken dish that had a nice balance of flavor because of the salty and sweet soy sauce that it was marinated in.

Lunch at 101 Noodle Express

To warm ourselves up, the Oxtail Noodle Soup did the trick and also made our palates happy with the rich, meaty-tasting broth and noodles that still had a nice medium texture to them.

Lunch at 101 Noodle Express

The last of this meal involved the House Pan Fried Cake. We actually had no clue what this dish was but ordered it anyway. What we found was a dish that consisted of the wrapper from beef roll that was sliced and pan-fried with bean sprouts and green onions. The texture of the crispy wrapper and the slightly juicy bite of the sprouts went well together.

Lunch at 101 Noodle Express

Overall, it was a great lunch and a week later, I went with a friend to have dinner there because I really craved that Beef Roll. :) With only two of us, we ordered 5 dishes. Of the five, the Beef Roll was again a pleasure to consume. 2 of the 5 were interesting in that the menu description didn't quite match what actually arrived at our table. Shredded Tofu, which we thought was a hot spicy dish, was actually cold tofu "spaghetti" with carrots and green onions. The tofu was tossed in some kind of oil which may have been mixed with something else. I wasn't completely sure, but I just remembered that there was something nutty about how the tofu tasted.

Dinner at 101 Noodle Express

The Leek and Egg Omelette, which we thought was actually leek and egg omelet, came out looking like an empanada which was stuffed with chopped leeks and scrambled egg. The pasty part of this omelet aka empanada was lighter and flakier than a traditional empanada. I actually found this dish to be bland and it was only until I dipped it in a combination of soy sauce and chili sauce that it was tasting better.

Dinner at 101 Noodle Express

My friend and I also shared two different soups. One was the Green (Mung) Bean Porridge and I'm never going to order that again. It was tasteless soup that was really watery when I was expecting a thicker "porridge" consistency.

Dinner at 101 Noodle Express

The second soup was the Sweet and Sour Soup and wow, was that delicious. When we first saw it on the menu, we thought that it was a typo and that it should be Hot and Sour Soup. After taking the first spoonful, this soup really did have a sweetness to it that was surprising, but then you also had the the sour and also the hotness flavors to go with it, which all made for a very delicious soup.

Dinner at 101 Noodle Express

The second foray to 101 Noodle Express had less than 50% success rate food wise, but the dishes that were good really shone.

In general, I really liked 101 Noodle Express. I enjoyed some dishes better than others, but I'd rather recommend a restaurant where there are a few really great dishes than a restaurant where everything was just okay. If you ever get a chance to visit 101 Noodle Express, be sure to order that Beef Roll. It's worth a drive to Alhambra just for that.

101 Noodle Express
1408 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA, 91801
626-300-8654 ^

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dinner at Green Village - CLOSED

After hearing all the raves about Green Village, I finally made it out to dinner there last month. The "fanciness" of the restaurant interior with its gold and orange color scheme lost some of the elegant feel with the addition of flat screen TVs on the walls. What is it with flat screen TVs at Asian restaurants? Shouldn't the experience be about enjoying the food and the company as opposed to watching various Asian variety shows? Oh well, I digress; let's get on to the food.

After being seated and having settled down a bit, we were given the menu. This menu was no short story. It was an epic saga. Endless pages and pages of dialogue or in this case, various columns of Chinese characters on one side and maybe, an English translation on the other side listing the various menu items available for ordering. This was the time when I wish we had a native speaker in our midst to help decipher those items that didn't have any translations.

But we made do and proceeded to place an order for 11 different dishes. For this particular meal, there was definitely more "Yays" than "Nays," more "Oooohs" than "Boooos." Our delectable sojourn into Shanghai cuisine started with a cold appetizer, the Nan Jing Soya Duck. The duck had a soy sauce glaze that was very thick and amazingly enough, its flavor had a duality of sweet and salty. A little surprising, but quite delicious nonetheless.

After the duck came the Shanghai Sautéed Shrimp, which was a hit, but it was the Preserved Vegetables with Bean Starch Sheets that captured my interest next. When looking at the dish, the sheets looked like wide-shaped pasta noodles, but they had a light-chewy texture that really made for interesting eating with the vegetables they were mixed with.

From the Bean Starch dish, we went on to another unique-looking dish, the Hang Zhou Steamed Pork with Sweet Rice. Looking top to bottom, you see square chunks of pork (including the fat), surrounded by peanuts flattening a mound of brown rice. It was a very pretty dish although none of us had a clue as to what the dish was initially when it arrived at our table. Finally, one of us braved a forkful of meat, nut and rice and what was experienced was a first bite of both sweet, salty and savory – a wonderful melding of flavors. That first bite was soon followed by a second one, a third one and more.

After the Hang Zhou Pork dish, out came the Shanghai Fried Crab, Eggplant with Garlic Sauce and the Fish Fillet with Sweet Wine Rice Balls in quick succession. I didn't try the crab, but I sampled the other two dishes. The sauce for the eggplant was bursting with flavor between the garlic, green onions and red chili peppers while the fish fillet was mild and had a nice buttery texture, although for the life of me, I don't know where the wine rice balls were in that bowl because I certainly didn't see them.

Our tasty Shanghai travels ended with Sautéed Eels, Shanghai Style Fried Flat Noodles, Shanghai Pork Spare Ribs (House Style) and the Deep Fried Yellowtail. The eels didn't interest me and the fried noodles reminded me of Filipino noodles, so I skipped over those two; however, the pork ribs and the yellowtail were absolutely delicious.

The glaze for the Shanghai Pork Spare Ribs was spicy-sweet and the meat was cooked just right and the Deep Fried Yellowtail was amazing in that the batter was very light and yet, even with a more delicate batter, the fish meat was tender and moist and didn't get over-fried. This was dish our waiter actually recommended to us and we're glad he did.

This culinary adventure to Green Village was definitely a trip worth taking and I look forward to making a return visit so that I can taste even more unique Shanghai dishes from their extensive menu. Hopefully, you'll visit Green Village soon and see yourself that it's a restaurant being worth being "Shanghaied" to.

To see pics, go to:

Green Village Restaurant
250 W. Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA, 91776

"Ramen Quartet" - A Tasting of 4 Different Restaurants

Latter part of last year, I organized my quarterly "Quartet" dining series for my group and this time around, we focused on checking out 4 Ramen restaurants from October to December. The four places we visited were Koraku, Hakata Ramen, Santouka Ramen and Daikokuya.

First up was Koraku in Little Tokyo. While strictly not a ramen house, what was interesting about Koraku was the sheer number and variety of ramen soups being offered. There was quite a list in the menu as well as special ramens being offered just for that day. For my order, I chose one of the specials called Sutamina Ramen, which had a shoyu (I think) broth and included garlic sprouts, ground pork, green onions and mushrooms.

If you were looking for something warm to ward off a cold day or night, I'd say this particular ramen would accomplish that just fine. It was a good solid dish, if not spectacular. There were certainly misses to it. I would have preferred firmer noodles. The broth was also a little too thin and there was a layer of oiliness towards the top of the broth that could have been lessened.

Also, I don't think ground meat really is a good choice for ramen or even soup in general. The ground pork in my ramen basically weighted itself to the bottom of the bowl. I almost forgot that it was there until I was half way done with my soup and finally started picking the meat up with my spoon. Even with all those cons, this ramen still had some good flavor coming from the garlic sprouts and green onions and that at least was satisfying. Would I come to Koraku again? Yes, if only to try out some of the other options on the menu. I just wouldn't order the Sutamina Ramen again.

From Koraku, we traversed all the way to Gardena to check out Hakata Ramen and it was certainly night and day. I'm a definite carnivore because I just loved the meatiness, porkiness of the Tonkotsu broth that came with my ramen. What I also really liked was being able to customize my ramen eating experience. Firm noodles? Check. Normal soup oil? Yes. Strong soup base? Definitely. At Koraku, I ate my ramen. At Hakata, I experienced my ramen. It was just that good. The broth was rich and hearty. I really felt like I was having meal vs. just soup. I also loved the spice factor of the spicy miso ball that I added to the broth and honestly, probably could have added another one for even more action.

Along with the soup, our group also sampled each other's various side dishes, which included the rice ball (more triangle actually), spam musubi, the mini gyoza and the grounded chicken bowl. I didn't really find anything that special about the gyoza or the chicken bowl. I found the rice ball moist and I liked how they weren't skimpy with mushrooms and carrots that were mixed with the rice. Being Filipino, I was raised on spam, so I definitely felt at home with the spam musubi. I definitely had a great meal there and am looking forward to a return visit.

The South Bay was certainly putting a lot of miles on my car because our next ramen outing was at Santouka in Torrance. I have to say that of all the ramens I tried in this dining series, the shio ramen that I had at Santouka surprised me the most. When researching the differences between all the different kinds of ramen broths, shio was described as being a clear, almost transparent chicken broth. The shio broth at Santouka was rich, milky looking and reminded me more of Tonkotsu (pork-bone) broth. Of course, when I got home and read through Chowhound postings again, there was a reference from "rameniac" stating that Santouka's shio broth was actually a shio-tonkotsu hybrid, so the Ah-ha came into play at that point.

But not having that reference handy, I worked through my surprise and proceeded to enjoy my shio ramen. While the noodles could have been firmer, the broth was fantastic. What I found interesting is that the hybrid version definitely had a cleaner and smoother taste to it, similar to a more traditional shio broth, but I also appreciated the tonkotsu's contribution of a richer, stockier soup. It was practically the best of both worlds. Along with the soup, I enjoyed both the leek rice and the egg that came with my set. The leeks added a nice hit of "green" flavor to the rice while I actually enjoyed the egg on its own without even adding it to my soup.

Finally, the "Quartet" ends at Daikokuya back in Little Tokyo. Daikokuya's claim to fame is that they only have one kind of broth for their ramen and that's the Tonkotsu broth. With having visited Hakata Ramen earlier in this dining series, I couldn't help but compare their version of Tonkotsu broth to that of Daikokuya. Both broths were rich in porky flavor, hearty and definitely mind-boggingly delicious, but there was a subtle difference between the two.

To my palate, the Hakata ramen was more refined. It's the part of James Bond that is sophisticated, cool under pressure, elegant. You can taste the porkiness of the broth but it wasn't completely in your face. Daikokuya, on the other hand, was that part of James Bond that was rough and tumble, aggressive and took no prisoners. The broth of Daikokuya's ramen was more intense, more meaty and definitely made its presence known, and just like Hakata Ramen, I did more than eat this soup, I lovingly savored it. Do I prefer one over the other? No. I really enjoy both. As mentioned earlier, I'm just a carnivore kind of girl. When choosing one over the other, it would depend on whether I wanted to dine with James in a tux or with him while he was interrogating someone.

Since I ordered a combo, I also had a salad and pork over rice with my ramen. I really liked the dressing that comes with the salad. It's a creamy citrus dressing that is a good balance between a little sweet and a little tart. The pork over rice was a miss. It was mostly just fat when I would have liked more meat.

Overall, this was a wonderful "Quartet." It was really fun exploring the world of ramen and its many differences, whether it's difference in broth or in how different restaurants cook and/or present them to their customers. Growing up on packaged ramen, it was only last year that I experienced real ramen when I first visited Daikokuya, so I'm definitely stoked that I was able to check out other wonderful options. My definite favorites were Daikokuya and Hakata with Santouka close behind and while I may not necessarily go out of my way to visit Koraku for ramen, at least, I know if I did, I won't be too disappointed.

Koraku Restaurant
314 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 687-4972

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Hakata Ramen
2015 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., #C
Gardena, CA, 90247
(310) 329-1335

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Santouka Ramen
21515 Western Avenue
Torrance, CA, 90501
(310) 212-1101

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327 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA, 90012
(213) 626-1680

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