Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Their menu is limited for now, but they had the two things that was of definite interest to me, Pho and Banh Mi. Yaay! So for my lunch there, I started with their Shrimp & Pork Spring Rolls. I liked the fact that the ingredients tasted very fresh and they certainly didn't skimp on the filling that's for sure. I only wish that there was less noodles and a little more veggies and while I liked the shrimp, I thought the pork tasted a little bland.
Since I was craving Banh Mi, I ordered their Grilled Beef Banh Mi. While the dough isn't made there, they bake the bread there and so the baguette was nice and warm when it came to me. I thought the bread was good. I would have liked it to be a bit more crusty, but it was soft and warm where it should be. The grilled beef was excellent. It had great flavor. Again, the veggies were fresh and I loved the addition of cucumber spears. The cucumber added a nice light, crunchy moisture to the sandwich that was really appealing.
While I was waiting for my meat pie, which they were baking, I had their flan. Wow. That flan was one of the best flans I ever had. It was light, delicately sweet and there was a flavor that was familiar, but I couldn't identify until the owner mentioned that the flan had almond flavoring. A great summer dessert.
Soon after my meat pie arrived and it looked gorgeous. It was a nice golden color and cutting into it with my fork, I found it wonderfully flaky. The pork filling was moist and flavorful. My one complaint was that there was something a tad salty about either the pastry or the filling. I couldn't quite tell.
Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at Xa and am looking forward to trying their Pho next.
To see pics, go to:
Xa Vietnamese Grill
15652 Arrow Highway
Irwindale, CA 91706
Friday, April 20, 2007
It started off pretty good. Entering the restaurant, you could see that there was an attempt to give it some style. There were actually napkins and place settings at each of the tables, which is more formal than I've ever seen at any other Filipino restaurant I've visited before. Expectations rose, but alas appearances were deceiving.
For our meal, we shared six dishes. The first was oysters with veggies in a spicy vinegar, which suited my Filipino sour/tangy palate and was tasty; however, spicy, this vinegar wasn't. So that's already a tiny ding.
I also think the garlic that was missing in our garlic rice must have been hanging out with the missing vinegar somewhere in the restaurant, because our "garlic rice" certainly didn't taste that garlicky to me.
Than the Crispy Pata came to the table. Deep-fried pigs knuckles that are definitely not good for your arteries but good for your soul. Ok, maybe, I'm being melodramatic, but some of you may know what I mean. The skin of that Crispy Pata should have been more golden brown, but from the dark brown tone, it was easy to see that it was fried for too long. The meat that should have been moist and tender was not, still good, but not great.
I think in general that there was a heavy hand in the kitchen when it came to frying because our lumpia shanghai was also over-fried. The meat inside was more dry than it should have been.
Our soup which came more towards the end of the meal came in a cute little silver pot with handles that it was cooked in. The sinigang broth itself was wonderful, but you definitely have to hunt for your veggies. There were hardly any in the soup. Vegetables aren't that expensive. I don't see why they should be so limited. As for the pork that came with the sinigang, they were all basically chunks of fat, which probably contributed to the soup's great flavor, but some actual meat would have been appreciated.
Our last dish which was snow peas sauteed with pork and shrimp is hardly even worth mentioning. That's how boring it was. As for dessert, I opted for Halo-Halo which normally comes in a sundae type glass, but instead was served in a way I've never seen before in a Filipino restaurant. It was in a bowl. This way of serving the shaved ice seemed more similar to a Thai or Southeast Asian shaved ice dessert, than the Filipino version. I still liked it, but it just wasn't the same.
Overall, I thought the food was okay, and maybe, with corrections to the dishes I mentioned above, okay could be good, even great, but for now, I wouldn't consider Fiesta Sa Barrio a destination Filipino restaurant just yet.
To see pics, go to:
Fiesta Sa Barrio
4411 Eagle Rock Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90041
But first, a little explanation about XLBs, which I took from wikipedia.org. So what exactly is "Xiao Long Bao?" To start, xiao long bao (literally "little basket bun"; also known as soup dumpling) is a type of baozi (filled bun or bread-like item) from the Southern provinces of China, including Shanghai and Wuxi.
XLBs are traditionally steamed in bamboo baskets, hence the name. It can be filled with hot soup and meat and/or vegetarian fillings, as well as other possibilities. The fillings are wrapped in something like a jiaozi wrapper that turns almost translucent after being steamed. Shanghai steamed buns can be recognized by their unique design, as the filled wrapper is gathered up into fine folds at the top, prior to steaming.
To eat XLBs, first take the dumpling and deposit it into a Chinese soup spoon and if desired add the vinegar and soy sauce. Some places may also have shredded ginger. Take a small bite of the skin and suck out as much of the flavorful broth as possible. Then eat the rest of the dumpling from the spoon.
Our first "XLB" journey took us to J&J. By the way, what we may refer to as XLBs shows up as "Steamed Pao" on their menu. We didn't know that until we asked the waitress. Our group ordered a total of 9 dishes. Two them were the Steamed Pao with Crabmeat and the Steamed Pao with maybe a Pork/Crab mixture? I honestly don't remember, but what I did remember was that both were tasty
In general, here's my take on the J&J's XLBs. The thing that I didn't like was the thicker, chewier wrapper. It just seemed more difficult to bite into it the without the broth already starting to come out. Maybe, just a little bit thinner? I thought that the fillings were great - very meaty, very juicy, not as refined as you would find at Din Tai Fung, but more rustic, something a Mom would make in her kitchen. That somehow gave it more appeal. Overall, I liked the XLBs at J&J and it's nice to have more than one alternative for certain foods that you like.
As mentioned, the XLBs weren't the only items we ordered. There were 7 more dishes that were a part of this meal. Standouts for me included their Green Onion Pancake which was light, flaky and with lots of great onion flavor as well as the Eggplant in Brown Sauce, which had a sauce to die for.
The pan-fried dumplings were also amazing with a meat filling that was just as juicy and flavorful as the XLBs. Finally, the Fried Crab Shanghai Style was finger-looking good and the sauce had a nice hit of heat without being overwhelming.
The XLBs at J&J are definitely quite delicious and apparently, some of the other items on the menu are tasty as well. I'm just glad that J&J isn't too far from me because I certainly want to make a return trip sometime soon to check out some of their other dishes.
To see pics, go to:
301 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91804
Since I had no expectations, I was ready for anything. So after perusing the menu, which included everything from burgers to tacos and burritos to even Teriyaki choices, I settled on a three taco combo that came with rice and beans and with a medium horchata came to around $7.60. With it being a beautiful day, I sat down on one of the benches to enjoy my meal.
When I opened the Styrofoam container, I have to say that the tacos looked pretty good. I started off with a bite of the Mexican rice, which was a bit dry, but not as dry as it could have been. Then I dug into the tortilla chips and the re-fried beans. I have to say that I'm not always a re-fried bean fan. I've had it at places where the consistency seems almost chalky. What was nice about these re-fried beans is that cheese was melted into it, which gave the beans moisture and a little bit of a creamy texture. My tortilla chips were quite happy or maybe, that was just me.
Now on to the main event. What I liked about all the tacos is that the tomatoes, cilantro and onions tasted really fresh. The tomatoes were firm, the onions still had a bite to them and the fillings were substantial. There was nothing skimpy about those tacos. I also liked the lightness of the tortillas. They weren't heavy or dense.
The first taco I tried was the carne asada. The meat looked like and tasted like it was marinated the night before. That marinade gave the beef a good flavor and the meat itself was relatively tender. I didn't find myself battling with the carne asada in the taco as I took bites out of it. The only thing I really found lacking was that I would have liked the carne asada to be more juicy, but then perhaps it's just a preference since I prefer my meat cooked medium as opposed to medium well or well done.
Then I went on to the chicken. Like the carne asada, I think the chicken was also marinated which gave a mild lemony or citrusy flavor to the meat. With the use of dark meat as opposed to white, the chicken was moist and had lots of flavor. Even when I tasted a little bit of the chicken without all the sauces, it stood alone just fine.
So far, I've been having a good taco day, but it wasn't until I had a bite of the carnitas taco that I found out that I actually had a fabulous taco day. The carnitas meat for my taco was amazing! Can I say it again? AMAZING! Just one bite and I would have sold my soul to the devil for another one. I'm certainly no taco aficionado, but I was just blown away.
The carnitas were moist, tender and the marinade it was soaked in gave the meat an intense citrusy, mildly tart flavor. I just couldn't believe how good the carnitas tacos were. They were so good that I came back the next day and did the three taco combo again, but all with just carnitas tacos. I think I'm going to need a 12-step Snap-E Carnitas Taco program soon because I just might make my way back there again on Monday.
The interesting thing I observed while having eaten there both times is that this little taco joint is actually quite busy. There was a stream of people coming in and out, but instead of eating there, most of them were ordering their tacos to go and since they were pretty quick in the kitchen, there weren't any long waits. Appearances can definitely be deceiving.
Overall, I'm very happy to find such a delicious alternative to the many fast-food burger joints that surround the area where I work and although I've only been there twice, I already consider myself to be a long-standing customer.
To see pics, go to:
Gomez's Snap-E Tacos
205 N Vincent Ave
Covina, CA 91722
Our meal started off with a complimentary fresh veggies and a delicious miso-based sauce. I have to tell you that the miso sauce was addicting, so much so that I asked for more for when my skewers arrived. For the rest of my meal, I had 8 different skewers, two different sides and also a dessert.
Strangely enough, although Koshiji as a Yakitori, serves various parts of skewered chicken parts, other than the chicken meatballs, I ordered other options. The first four skewers that came out for my tasting pleasure included the Pork Belly with Shiso Leaf, Green Beans wrapped with Pork, Duck Breast with Miso Sauce and the Eggplant with Ginger Miso Sauce.
Of those first four, I have to tell you that the pork belly skewer blew me away. Juicy, smoky and just absolutely delicious! I also loved the crunch of the green beans and of course, the meaty flavor of the pork it was wrapped in. The eggplant wasn't too memorable, but I remembered that I liked it while the duck was not a hit with me. It was over cooked and a little chewy for my taste.
Shortly following the skewers came my baked sweet potatoes. I really liked the presentation - standing up tall, almost like tree trunks. Dripping with butter, the potatoes added a nice sweet break between the more savory skewers. Then came the grilled garlic and oh my God, that garlic was just wonderful - sweet and melted in your mouth. I just so love having tastebuds!
Following the potatoes and garlic came the rest of my skewer orders, although technically the Lamb Chop with Lemon Pepper wasn't actually on a skewer. The Lamb Chop was pretty disappointing. Not tender enough and not peppery enough and not to be ordered by me again on a return visit.
Then came the Okra wrapped with pork, Chicken Meatballs and Quail Eggs. The Okra was tasty and you can't go wrong with flavor with the pork wrapped around it. Now the Chicken Meatballs were interesting. They had a spongy texture when eaten while hot, but then got firmer when cooled down. That spongy texture wasn't too my liking, but once the meat cooled down, I liked it much better, especially dipped in that miso sauce I mentioned earlier. The Quail Eggs were pretty good as well.
To end my meal, I had the Coffee Jello and let me tell you, that was an interesting eating experience. The Coffee Jello reminded me of a de-constructed cup of coffee without the cup. You get the coffee in the jello while the frozen grapes are your sweetener and the whipped cream is your cream, milk or half & half. So for you coffee lovers out there, this is something to check out.
Overall, except for a couple of items, the food was excellent. Even with the somewhat slow service, Koshiji is definitely now a Little Tokyo favorite.
To see pics, go to:
123 Onizuka St, #203
Los Angeles, CA 90189
Our meal started with the Vy Da's Combination Plate, which consisted of five different appetizers:
Steam Rice Cake with Dry Ground Shrimp
Tapioca Cake with Shrimp and Pork
Thin Rice Cake with Ground Shrimp
Steam Rice Roll with Ground Shrimp
Steam & Fried Dumpling with Shrimp & Pork
While none of them in particular stood out in my head, I remember that they were all quite tasty.
Now the soup we had was a different story. It was a rice noodle soup with fresh cilantro, noodles and shrimp and was absolutely delicious and even more so when I squeezed lime and added peppers to it. I honestly could have just eaten that whole bowl by myself and would have been perfectly content.
My entree was a broken rice dish that included shredded pork skin, egg cake and BBQ pork chops. I've never had broken rice before, so that was a first for me. While nothing on the plate was mind-blowing, I enjoyed every bite. All the flavors went well together. The grilled pork chop and the slightly salty pork skin balanced well with the milder egg cake and than with the "fish sauce" poured all over the rice, I was a pretty happy camper.
In general, my first experience eating in Little Saigon was a good experience and I look forward to trying out other restaurants there.
To see pics, go to:
Quan Vy Da
9950 Bolsa Avenue, #B
Westminster, CA 92683
I think what threw me off was just the notion of Japanese pancakes in general. Like a lot of people, pancakes for me brought up a vision of a stack of sweet bready goodness topped with pats of butter and doused with maple syrup. Somehow I didn't think that Japanese pancakes or okonomiyaki as they are better known as would be the same thing and I was right.
So after doing a bit of online research, I found out that Okonomi means "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki means "grilled" or "cooked" (e.g.. yakitori and yakisoba); thus, the name of this dish means "cook what you like, the way you like". Okonomiyaki is a dish usually associated with the Kansai and Hiroshima areas. The toppings and batters of this savory, not sweet, pancake vary from region to region. While the chefs will cook the okonomiyaki for you if you wish, most customers choose to cook their own at table side griddles found at most okonomiyaki restaurants.
After learning a little more, I went with a group to Gaja, a restaurant in Lomita, and experienced okonomiyaki for myself. Now I went the lazy way and just opted for my pork and kimchee pancake to be cooked in the kitchen and believe me, it was tasty. However, I sat between two grills where I actually got to see the differences between the Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style of cooking okonomiyaki.
To the left was the Kansai-style. For Kansai-style, because the batter is all mixed up together as opposed to the layering done in Hiroshima-style, you really do have a choice of making smaller individual pancakes or one large one. The diners who chose to cook Kansai-style pancakes opted to make smaller pancakes. First, the griddle was oiled and heated and then the shrimp was cooked. Than the batter which consisted of veggies, a raw egg and other items was mixed together and than shaped into pancakes and cooked on the griddle. While one side was cooking, the shrimp was added to the uncooked version. Than the pancakes were flipped over and topped with a sauce. Soon, they were ready for eating.
To the right of me was the Hiroshima-style, which because of the particular cooking style would be one large pancake. After the griddle was oiled and heated, the batter was added to form one large pancake. Soon the veggies, meat and noodles were layered on top and more batter added to the top of those layers. After the first side cooked a bit, the whole pancake was flipped over so that the other side would now cook. While the other side was cooking, okonomiyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter) was added as well as bonito flakes. After a bit, this pancake was also ready for eating.
It was really enjoyable watching the cooking, but it was also just as enjoyable savoring every bite of the pork and kimchee okonomiyaki that was cooked for me. Other than okonomiyaki, we also had a variety of appetizers and dessert.
What was also nice is that the owner gave our group a bowl of Japanese seafood bouillabaisse to try. Wow, that soup was awesome. Spicy, rich and lots of flavor. Definitely a must have for anyone who decides to check Gaja out.
Overall, it was a great lunch. The service was wonderful. The food was excellent. I would definitely make my way back to Gaja again and maybe, I'll even cook next time. :)
To see pics, go to:
2383 Lomita Blvd Ste 102
Lomita, CA 90717
First up was the Siomai Mami Soup that started me off. Siomai is basically a ground pork and veggie dumpling and this particular version of the Mami Soup comes with two large ones. The Siomai itself was just okay. I actually found the meat bland. I also didn't like the noodles. They could have been firmer and in fact, I think they were over-cooked.
As for the soup itself, it was just very milky looking. From the Mami Soups I've had in the past, the soup which is chicken broth should be more clear. Maybe, if the Mami King soup tasted out of this world, I might have gotten over the its milky appearance, but honestly, I didn't even taste any chicken in that soup.
With the soup, I had a Bola-Bola Siopao which is filled with steamed ground pork, salted egg, Chinese sausage and Chinese mushroom. This was quite disappointing. While the filling was fairly substantial, it was dry, which meant that you just got more of a not so good thing.
We also ordered a side of deep fried chicken wings, which I didn't think were crispy enough. Granted, there was no breading on this chicken, but the chicken wings I've fried at home. also without breading, were certainly much better than what we got there.
Dessert was Halo-Halo, a mixture of tropical fruits and beans cooked in syrup served with crushed ice, milk and ube ice cream. The Halo-Halo may have at least ended the meal on a sweet note, but alas, it was not meant to be. Usually, the ice served in the Halo-Halo is more shaved, as opposed to crushed. Crunching on small ice particles was not to my liking at all and that definitely downgraded this Halo-Halo for me.
Overall, it was quite a disappointing meal. Perhaps, other Mami King locations, of which there are a few, will yield tastier versions of the dishes I had, but I don't plan on finding out anytime soon.
To see pics, go to:
1512 E Amar Rd
West Covina, CA 91792
On a side note, Santa Monica Boulevard going through WeHo is home to a host of awesome Russian delis. After our lunch at Traktir, we actually did a Russian deli crawl and some of the food we saw in those delis were amazing, from breads and pastries to salads and various cooked meats. Definitely check it out when you get a chance.
Anyway, on to the food. While the primary draw was the Borscht soup, we all started our meal with a compote. When I went home, I did an online search for what a compote was and according to wikipedia, it is a light refreshing drink most often made of dried fruit (raisins, prunes, apricots, etc.) boiled in water with sugar and left to cool and infuse. The compote really was as the description said, light and refreshing. It reminded me of fruit ice tea.
For an appetizer, I ordered feta cheese and kalamata olives. When the dish arrived, I was surprised to see a whole bunch of cilantro on top. It seemed like a lot just for garnish, but then I was told by someone in the know that you actually eat the cilantro with the olives and cheese.
So I ended up doing a Korean BBQ thing, wrapped the leaves around a piece of the cheese and olive and eat them all together. The peppery cilantro really added some great flavor and green freshness to the mild saltiness of the cheese and the olives. What a great combo.
Soon after the borscht arrived. This was my first time having borscht and given that I love beets, I was really looking forward to this soup. While the soup was quite tasty, I was a little disappointed. I expected more of a "beet" flavor to come through, but in some ways, this particular borscht reminded me more of a chunky tomato soup and tomatoes weren't even part of the ingredients. It was still a good soup, but just not what I expected.
From the soup, I shared an order of Russian Vereniki (dumplings) with another diner. Our order consisted of three different verenikis:
Potato Vereniki - Russian style dumplings with potato filling
Meat Vereniki - Russian style dumplings with ground meat and spice filling
Mushroom and Sourkraut Vereniki - Russian style dumpling with mushroom and sourkraut filling
I didn't think any of the three Russian dumplings were anything to write home about. The meat dumpling had some good flavor, but the potato dumpling was bland and I couldn't even tell that there were mushrooms or sauerkraut in the mushroom and sauerkraut dumpling. At least the sauce for the dumplings were good, but without that great sauce, these dumplings would have been a waste of time.
Overall, I'd say that lunch at Traktir was okay. I'd go back to check out some of their other dishes at another time, but be warned. Parking is a pain. There's a small parking lot, but primarily it's metered street parking and you know how much fun that is.
To see pics, go to:
8151 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046
Before I even go into the food, I have to say that the service at this particular location was not very good. It took awhile for our order to be taken plus it took repeated reminders that they forgot our lamb pancakes before we got the dish and even then, we didn't get our order until towards the end of the meal when we had already gotten our check. Asking for and getting water was also a trial in itself. Service to me is a big thing and the poor service at this San Gabriel location of Little Sheep really brought my rating down.
Now on to the food. What was nice is that we got three complimentary appetizers, which were all quite tasty. We had cooked peanuts, daikon which I think was pickled and also little bread pockets. Soon after, we got our soup, half spicy, half mild.
Looking into the bowl, there definitely was a lot of stuff in there. Herbs, roots, peppers, etc. were all floating to the top. I almost asked, "Where's the Soup?" The soup did smell good and as our veggies and meat arrived, we all dug in.
Unfortunately, I didn't like the soup that much. I wanted to and I did eat my fair share of it, but that medicinal taste that I heard about really reared its ugly head. It had a tangy, somewhat bitter taste to it that just didn't appeal to my palate that much. The addition of the vegetables and meat helped somewhat with the soup's flavor, but just having a spoonful of the soup by itself was not very tasty.
At least, a highlight of the meal was the crispy scallion pancakes. Yummy! Definitely light, crispy and with great scallion flavor. I wish I could say good things about the lamb pancakes, but I found them to be very greasy, from the surface of the pancake all the way to the greasy meat inside. Yuck! Those lamb pancakes definitely were not worth the wait.
So would I go back to Little Sheep? No. While I liked some of the sides, the soup just didn't do it for me. So for now, I'm sticking with Mon Land Hot Pot City.
To see pics, go to:
227 W. Valley Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Since my last meal there, there's a new owner plus the menu has been re-vamped and I saw some items on the menu I've never seen before, namely Yak dishes. With Yak being a staple meat of the Himalayas, it made sense for it be served at this restaurant, but that wasn't available under the previous owners.
Anyway, with three of us there for dinner, we ordered 7 different dishes. We started our meal with the House Special Sampling Platter Combo which consisted of 4 different appetizers:
Aloo Achaar - Boiled Potatoes garnished with spring onions, cilantro, chili, turmeric and roasted sesame-seed paste served at room temprature
Himalayan Chicken - tender chicken marinated overnight in Himalayan spices
Vegetable Mo-Mo - vegetable dumplings
Cheese Pakora - deep-fried cheese, battered with chickpeas flour and seasoned with spices.
Of the four, I really liked the spicing of the potatoes and marinade flavor of the chicken. Following this appetizer platter were the Yak Mo-Mos, which are basically seasoned ground yak meat stuffed in dumplings. Wow, those yak dumplings were so good. In fact, they were so good that I just ate them plain because I didn't want any sauce to take away from the flavor of the meat as it was. What was nice was that there wasn't any gamey taste at all to the yak, which may be a concern to some.
We also ordered two vegetable dishes, a spinach and an eggplant dish. There was nothing special about either one. Both were solid dishes, although I did think that the eggplant wasn't cooked long enough.
Other savory dishes included the Sherpa Stew and the Laangsha Sekuwa. The Sherpa Stew is simmered chicken with rice, vegetables and Himalayan spices in this wonderful thick and hearty soup. It's an outstanding dish and is one of those kind of stews that would both warm you and sustain you on a cold wintery day or night.
As for the Laangsha Sekuwa, which was a tenderloin beef that was marinated overnight with Himalayan spices, the flavor of the marinade was great, sweet and smoky, but I think the meat could have been more tender. If it was, this dish would have been perfect.
For dessert, we all shared the Mt. Everest in a Blanket which is ice cream rolled in crepes topped with chocolate sauce. Definitely not a traditional Himalayan dessert, but you really can't go wrong with ice cream and chocolate sauce, can you?
Overall, it was great to come back to Tibet Nepal House and I'll definitely not wait 2 years to come back again.
To see pics, go to:
Tibet Nepal House
36 E Holly St
Pasadena, CA 91103