Saturday, June 30, 2007

Meltdown Etc. - CLOSED

There's just something about comfort food like grilled cheese sandwiches that give me the warm fuzzies. I'm just reminded of growing up as a kid and having my Mom making them as a snack. She even would cut the crusts for me. What a great mom!

But now I'm all grown up and I appreciate that Meltdown offers grilled cheese sandwiches that are grown up as well with cheeses and ingredients that go beyond the American processed plastic wrapped cheese of days gone by.

For my first time meal there, a friend of mine and I ordered a variety of items to share. Let's talk sandwiches. First up was the Market Melt, which had herbed goat cheese, fontina cheese, grilled Farmer's Market vegetables, caramelized onions, walnut pesto on ciabatta bread. For this particular sandwich, the vegetables which were fresh, delicious and crisp were the real stars of the show with the other ingredients, including the cheese playing supporting roles.

When you're able to take advantage of locally grown produce, it doesn't make sense to overpower those seasonal flavors with too many other ingredients. You really have to find a good balance of flavors. With the Market Melt, the sweetness of the onions, the nutty flavor of the walnut pesto, the slight pungency and saltiness of the two cheeses enhanced and not overwhelmed the vegetables' natural flavors. That's how it should be and that's why this sandwich was such a bit hit with me.

The second sandwich we tried was the Classic 3 Cheese with the Applewood Bacon. The three cheeses were the sharp cheddar, muenster and fontina, all on a sourdough bread. When this sandwich arrived, the cheese was already oozing out of the bread. It was actually a little messy and oily to eat, but I still loved every bite. How can you not love biting off strings of oooey-gooey cheese from your sandwich?

Along with the savory grilled sandwiches, there are also what Meltdown refers to as "Sweet Melts" and course, we had to try one of those and we settled for the Brie & Apricot Melt. Wow! What a great dessert sandwich! The smooth creaminess of the brie cheese combined with the tart-sweetness of the apricots and than you throw in the nuttiness of the walnut bread was a perfect marriage of flavors.

Along with the sandwiches, we also ordered a couple of sides. One was the Fennel-Red Onion
Slaw, which I found cool, refreshing and crunchy. My only one little complaint is that there was just too much dill, but other than that, it's a delicious salad. The other side was a special soup for the day, a cold potato leek soup with spring garlic. The soup had a nice herb flavor to it, but I didn't really taste any garlic, so that was the only thing I found lacking.

In general, I think the food is fantastic at Meltdown etc and I look forward to returning and trying other items from their menu really soon.

To see pics, go to:

Meltdown etc
9739 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 838-6358

Cru - "In the Raw Trio"

So ends my Raw Cuisine journey! Having never really experienced raw food before, I decided to make more of an effort to check it out. I first visited Leaf Cuisine, which I actually thought was fairly good, so I definitely had good expectations going into Juliano's Raw. Unfortunately, I was really disappointed. My third attempt at Raw Cuisine was at Cru, which didn't reach the level of disappointment I felt at Juliano's, but didn't knock my socks off either.

While I liked the serene intimate setting and the quiet ambiance of the restaurant space, the evening already started off with a sour note because it took so long for our waitress to take our order and just in general, the service was just really slow the whole evening.

Our group started off with sharing an appetizer, which was a herbed cashew cheese and fig plate with flax crackers and olive bread. I actually liked the cashew cheese and fig mixture. It had sweet-salty flavors that were appealing; however, the flax crackers were chewy as opposed to light and crisp. The olive bread was too rich and to tell you the truth, I didn't taste enough "olive" in the bread itself.

Before my entree, I also ordered their Winter Citrus & Avocado Salad. It was a pretty good salad. The slight bitterness of the greens balanced well with the sweetness of the citrus and the slight tartness of the lemon poppyseed dressing. I also appreciated that the salad wasn't over-dressed. There was just the right amount of dressing.

Finally, my entree, the Bento Box arrived, which had sesame bok choy, cucumbers, mushrooms in a spicy chili sauce, two spring rolls, rutabaga noodles, cilantro, sprouts & lime. The vegetables
were very fresh, which was a good thing; however, the spicy chili sauce had a weird flavor. I couldn't identify what that flavor was. I just knew that I didn't like it. The spring rolls which were wrapped in thinly sliced daikon radish didn't work for me either because the daikon radish had a slight bitter after taste to it that was off putting. Overall, the Bento Box was nothing special, but as mentioned, at least the vegetables were fresh.

After having tried 3 different Raw Cuisine restaurants this year, I can safely say that I'm a cooked food kind of girl. There's just something about food, veggie and/or meat, when it is sauteed, fried, grilled, steamed, etc., that really brings out its wonderful flavors that I just don't get from Raw Food. I'm glad I gave it a chance, but I don't envision dining at any other Raw Cuisine restaurants anytime soon.

To see pics, go to:

1521 Griffith Park Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 667-1551

Cru on Urbanspoon

Juliano's Raw - "In the Raw Trio"

My second foray into trying out Raw Cuisine was at Juliano's Raw and I have to say that while the restaurant setting was pretty, the food was just not that impressive to me.

I think the only thing I really liked was their chocolate milkshake that consisted of sapote / cherimoya carob w/ cocoa, fresh Vanilla bean, honey & macadamia milk. It was thick, creamy and yummy. The one thing was annoying though was when I asked for a straw, I got a somewhat snide remark from the waitress saying that they prefer that we use spoons since the paper from the straw is so wasteful. Please. A shake and a spoon just did not work for me, so I got the straw anyway.

Instead of getting an entree, I settled for two appetizers, a "sushi plate" and dessert. My first appetizer was the zucchini fries. I ordered it because I wanted to see if they can get that "crisp" factor usually associated with fries. They didn't. The zucchini was cut in short strips and were dehydrated. They were more chewy than crispy. It's just not the same. Now batter-coated and deep-fried zucchini fries would have been more my preference but we are eating in a "raw" restaurant after all.

The appetizer I had was their spring rolls. Unfortunately, I don't remember what the ingredients were. I just remembered that I didn't like the dish that much. It was too hard to bite the spring roll without the somewhat squishy filling coming out of the wrapper. Quite a messy dish.

My sushi was called "Mighty Aphrodite" and it had pumpkin and other fillings. I apologize for my vagueness the ingredients on some of these items. Usually, I'll take pictures of the menu and/or write down what I ordered, so that I can better review what I'm eating, but it wasn't possible that time.

Anyway, the "sushi rolls" I ordered came in a bowl, which I thought was odd and with it was a red cabbage salad and also some other veggies (broccoli and greens) which I think were dehydrated. Weird. Why would they do that?

For dessert, I had their chocolate parfait which was kind of like a pudding, but I found this dessert a little bitter and not as sweet as I would have liked.

Overall, Juliano's Raw was quite the disappointment and I don't plan on returning anytime soon.
Juliano's Raw
609 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 587-1552

Juliano's Raw on Urbanspoon


With so many restaurant choices available to me on the Eastside part of town, I rarely need to make a trip out to the Westside to get a good meal, but a friend of mine has been raving about Orris for a long time now and lured me out that way so that she could treat me for my birthday. So off I went.

Joined by other friends, we walked in a little after 5:30 and already, there weren't any tables to accommodate our group of 5, so we sat outside instead. Although a bit windy, the sun was out and overall, it was a pretty spring evening, a great setting for a delicious meal.

With Orris being a small plates restaurant, we shared 9 different dishes. 6 of them were savory items, 3 were desserts and each dish was a delight to both my eyes and my palate. In fact, the food looked almost to pretty to eat, but we got over that really quick.

We started off with the Seafood Salad, which was light, refreshing and I really enjoyed the fresh citrusy-herby flavor of the vinaigrette dressing. This would be the perfect salad to cool you down on a hot summer day.

Then came the roasted beets with the Basque sheep cheese. What did it for me was the deliciously earthy resonance of the tender beets when eaten with the cheese which had a slight pungency to it. It was a wonderful contrast to the first dish.

Following the beets was the smoked salmon on potato pancakes, but it was the grilled hearts of romaine with Parmesan cheese that really enthralled me. I've never had cooked lettuce before so I wasn't sure what to expect. I do have one word to describe this dish. Wow! I liked the slight smokiness of the romaine itself and the fact that it still had a crunch when you bit into it. No wilted leaves on this plate and you can take that to the bank.

I remember the dressing to be quite mild but what was sheer perfection for me was those large Parmesan cheese shavings that topped the romaine. That cheese added just that right amount of saltiness that put this dish over the top for me. In one bite, there was just so many textures and flavors. Who would have thought that something as "simple" as roasted romaine and Parmesan cheese could prove to be such a revelation?

Next up was the fried chicken with sweet and spicy sauce. The fact that the chicken was deep fried and not greasy or oily truly is a feat worth applauding. The last of our savory dishes was the foie gras with Japanese eggplant. Now that was an interesting experience.

I've never had foie gras before, primarily because organ meats don't really appeal to me, but tonight, I decided to have just a taste. I was surprised at how creamy it was. I tend to think of liver as more of a meaty item, like a thin chewy steak. The consistency of the foie gras reminded me of a creme brulee or maybe, a pudding, which was a little strange to me. I'm glad I tried it, although it's not something I would order on my own in the future.

After the foie gras, it was time for dessert. We shared a Berry Won Ton, a flourless chocolate cake and an apple tart Both the cake and apple tart were tasty, but the Berry Won Ton was definitely the star of the show. This was one interesting dessert. It was more like a won ton sandwich than a filled won ton and just like the grilled romane had a lot of wonderful textures and flavors.

In this one dessert, you can experience the sweetness of the pears, the crunch of the won ton "sandwich" slices and then the slight tartness of the strawberries mixed with some kind of sweet cream. Kudos to the Pastry Chef for coming up with this unusual dessert and not just unusual, but absolutely delicious.

Overall, I can see why people rave about Orris. I'm already counting my days when I can go back for my next meal.

To see pics, go to:

2006 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 268-2212

Orris on Urbanspoon

My Secret Recipe - CLOSED & Cafe Mak

Octopus has never been a must try for me and in fact, it's usually a must avoid food for me. The thought of eating tentacles just was never that appetizing. So I surprised even myself when I agreed to check out My Secret Recipe, a restaurant known for its primarily octopus dishes, with friends one Friday night. I guess I was feeling adventurous. :)

When we arrived and sat down, we were served iced barley tea and a cold cucumber "soup" to start and soon after, we were given menus, I have to say that I was completely glad that the friend who offered to take us on this culinary journey, has been to this restaurant before. She knew the ropes and even if she didn't, the fact that she was Korean and could read the Korean only menu still would have been very beneficial. Our small group put our fates completely in her hands.

We didn't have a clue as to what she ordered when she spoke to the waitress, but soon after, a large pan came out filled with lots veggies, bean sprouts and hidden underneath the greens were hints of bright red which were the marinated baby octopus. Two other plates also came out with one containing noodles and chili and the other pork belly meat. Our waitress dumped both noodles and pork into the pot to let it cook for awhile.

While everything was cooking down in the pan, we were served some very flavorless panchan: beans, cabbage and noodles. Thankfully, that was the only major disappointment of the evening.

Soon, our waitress returned with tongs and a scissor and before our astonished eyes, she pulled up one of the baby octopuses from its head and while its tentacles were dangling in the air, proceeded to cut it into pieces with her scissor back into the pot. Then she did the same with the second one. We had thought the octopus was already cut up, so seeing it whole was a definite surprise and actually was quite the cause for the giggles. After the unexpected show, she started stirring everything in the pan until the food took on a bright red color.

A few minutes later, we were finally able to dig in. Although we had ordered medium hot, the octopus and veggie casserole definitely still had a punch. I'm glad we stuck with medium, because I think hot would have been way too much to handle for me.

Finally, I took my first bite of the octopus. It was a bit chewy and the texture of the tentacles was a bit strange at first, but after awhile, I started to like it and of course, the fact that it was cooked in a zing in your mouth chili sauce, made it even better.

As we were all enjoying this new treat, the octopus pancake came out. The octopus pancake had a fairly nice brown exterior and some good flavor, but my personal preference is for thinner, crisper scallion pancakes so I found this pancake a little too "eggy" for my taste.

We were all getting quite filled up with the octopus and veggie mix and soon reached a stopping point. Once that happened, my friend called out to our waitress and soon after, she came out with rice, chopped daikon and finely chopped seaweed and added it all to what was left in the pot and proceeded to make fried rice. I thought I was full, but spicy fried rice is hard to resist, so I had a small plateful and it was yummy.

That was definitely quite a meal and almost like a "dinner theater" where the play is actually the cooking of the meal in front of you and than of course, we get to dine on it when it's done. I quite enjoyed my dinner and would definitely go back again. I don't consider octopus one of my new favorite foods or anything like that, but trying it for the first time at My Secret Recipe was definitely a tasty way for a first time experience.

After dinner, my friend who taught us about tasty tentacles drove us over to Cafe Mak, a Korean coffeehouse. On our way there, she explained that for the most part, food and drinks tend to be pretty expensive at Korean coffeehouses because of a certain cultural aspect that surround them. Basically, customers will find their spot and will sit there for hours talking with friends and/or family. So the turnaround time for customers to come in and out is very minimal.

What you get for $5 coffee is time. The wait staff will leave you alone. They won't try to hurry you out and they'll only come by your table if you deliberately signal them to come over. Although I've never been to Europe, that actually seems like almost a European sensibility as well where people get together at cafes for conversation and dialog.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share that interesting tidbit. As for Cafe Mak itself, it doesn't look very big from the front, but looks are deceiving. Along the side of the building, there is outside seatin
g and although there are no heat lamps, customers are provided with blankets.

Inside the building, there are a variety of rooms with various decorating styles all filled with people. We finally found a table and settled inside and just like my friend mentioned, we were ignored until we asked a waitress for a menu.

After our spicy meal, we were in the mood for something sweet, so we ordered a trio of small desserts: mango mousse, chocolate cake tea tiramisu as well as one of those large shaved ice bowls with the red beans. There was really nothing that special about the desserts. They were pretty looking, but I've had better desserts elsewhere; however, the ice dessert was really good.

Eating that ice dessert was like digging for buried treasure. Underneath the ice, you could spoon up the sweet red beans, bananas, melons and all sorts of other goodies, as long as you had the patience, but it was worth if it you did.

Between the desserts and our drink orders, we actually had a bill of around $70 for four people, which I think is quite pricey for what we ordered, but all in all, I didn't really mind that much. The ambiance of Cafe Mak was just right for that evening and sometimes that's all you can ask for.

Overall, it was a great evening in Koreatown and when you're with a friend who is Korean and knows the lay of the land, it can't get any better than that.

My Secret Recipe
4177 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90189
(213) 380-8382

To see pics, go to:

Cafe Mak
612 Shatto Place
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 252-9898

To see pics, go to:

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The T Room

Hidden in the charming downtown of Montrose, there is a tea room that I never even heard of until I went there for afternoon tea with the girls and I have to say that it was a lovely experience. First, I thought the name of this tea room was really cute. Come on, how can you not smile at a tea room actually called "The T Room." I liked the play on letters and words.

You walk in and you immediately see the back wall with over 30 canisters of tea to choose from. Now that's variety. Inside the refrigerated case, there were two too-pretty-to-eat teapot shaped cakes. They were just darling looking. Both inside and out, the table settings were lovely. The flowers and plants on the tables weren't real, but still added some nice color and refinement.

While the inside of the tea room was nice, I absolutely fell in love with the back patio which is where our group had our afternoon tea. It was just so pretty back there with the potted plants and a wall trellis of vines. It's the kind of place that will make you feel girly, whether you like it or not.

Once we all finished oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the patio, it was finally time for our tea which consisted of a three tier tray with plates of the following:

1st tier - four different sandwiches (chicken lingonberry, English cucumber, smoked egg salad & salmon on pumpernickel bread)

2nd tier - scone (chef's choice) served with Devonshire cream with fruit preserves

3rd tier - tea cookies, pastries and fruits

As for our tea, our three tables shared Peach Melba (herbal tea), Rooibos Bourbon, Jasmine Monkey King (green tea) and St. Marc.

So let's talk food now. Except for 2 exceptions, I found the food good, if uninspired and of course, there were some things I liked better than others. One thing I didn't care too much for was the scones. I found them too hard. Biting into them was a chore. I was also disappointed in the cucumber sandwich. I felt that the cucumbers were cut too thin and I didn't think they were very fresh either. Personally, cucumbers should have a juicy crunch to it when you bite into it. That was missing in these cucumber sandwiches.

As for the other sandwiches, I liked the chicken and lingonberry jam. Now, I've never heard of or ever had lingonberry jam before that day, so that was a first for me. The flavor of the lingonberry reminded me of cranberries, but not as tart. I liked the combo of the tender chicken and this jam. It was quite tasty. Being a smoked salmon lover, I also liked the Norwegian salmon on the pumpernickel bread, although I found the bread to be dry.

When it came to the desserts, nothing stood out except for the one baklava amongst all the cookies and fruit. I grabbed that right away. As it got on my plate, I noticed that it was unlike any baklava I've ever had. The baklava I'm used to comes with a thicker pastry surrounding the filling. I'm not even sure if my baklava had just a really thin pastry shell or didn't have one at all.
It had a consistency of a grainy cheesecake, but I really liked the nutty flavor and even better, it wasn't overly sweetened with any kind of syrup. With this baklava (or not) being lightly sweetened, it was the perfect way to end the tea. By the way, the teas were pretty good, too.

To see pics, go to:

The T Room
2405 Honolulu Avenue
Montrose, CA 91020
(818) 249-6677

"Xiao Long Bao Journey" to Mei Long Village

My search for delicious "Xiao Long Baos", or soup dumplings finally took me to Mei Long Village, known for serving some of the best XLBs in San Gabriel Valley. I was certainly more than willing to put them to the test.

Taking my first bite into the pork & crab XLB, I really liked the dumpling wrapper. It wasn't so thick that I had to chew my way through that first bite nor was it so thin that you didn't feel like you bit into the XLB at all. The wrapper was just right. As for the soup within this XLB, it was fantastic. It was plentiful, which is important, given the type of dumpling an XLB is and it was also flavorful. I also found the crab and pork filling very tasty. Overall, I can see why Mei Long Village gets raves for their soup dumplings.

Other than XLBs, we also ordered 6 other dishes. Following the dumplings came the Braised Fish Tail. What I liked about this dish is that the brown sauce had good flavor, but didn't overpower the delicate fish meat, so everything balanced well.

After the Braised Fish Tail, we savored the light, crispiness of the Radish Pancake. It's a very mild-flavored food, but I enjoyed the texture of the radish filling and I also liked the fact that it wasn't oily.

Two other dishes enjoyed by the table included the Pork Pump and the Lion's Head Meatball in Brown Sauce. The pork pump meat was tender, juicy and absolutely perfect. My tastebuds were quite happy. The Lion's Head Meatball was also a hit due to meat that was moist and also had some kind of spicing that I was unfamiliar
with, but is probably what made this dish uniquely delicious.

As for the last two items we ordered, they were the Jade Shrimp and Shanghai Spareribs. These were actually my two least favorite dishes. While I thought the shrimp was cooked just right, I felt that the sauce for this dish was quite bland. It looked pretty, but that was about it. As for the spareribs, again, the meat was cooked well, but I found the sauce to be a little too sweet for my palate.

Overall, I really loved the XLBs, and I enjoyed the majority of dishes we ordered. I would definitely make a return trip to MLV, if nothing else, just for their soup dumplings.

To see pics, go to:

Mei Long Village
301 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91778
(626) 308-9238

Mei Long Village on Urbanspoon