Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Grilled Cheese Sandwich Tasting at Meltdown Etc - CLOSED

Last September, I set up a tasting of the ultimate comfort food, grilled cheese sandwiches at Meltdown etc in Culver City, a part of town that's starting to be quite a foodie mecca. Our ooey-gooey-cheese fest started with the perfect accompaniment, a tart tomato soup, which definitely paired well with the first three sandwiches we partook in.

We started off with their Classic Three Cheese sandwich, which consisted of sharp cheddar, Meunster, Fontina, Roma tomato on sourdough bread. For this particular sandwich, there are different variations to its ingredients. The three cheeses stay the same, but you have the option to add separately or together, a roma tomato and/or applewood bacon. For our tasting, I opted to include the tomato, simply because I like how it added a fresh, juicy acidity to every bite of the sandwich.

Up next was their Cheddar, Ham and Apple sandwich that was made up of sharp cheddar, smoked ham and apple butter on sourdough bread. In truth, the apple butter seemed a strange bed partner to the other two ingredients, but I was willing to give it a whirl. Surprisingly, it was a total hit with me. Usually, I don't like ham because I find it too salty for my taste, but the sweetness of the apple butter actually counter-balanced that saltiness so much so, that I could have happily eaten a whole sandwich without complaint.

Just around the corner came the Turkey Melt with brie, oven-roasted turkey, arugula, cranberry-horseradish mustard on walnut bread. Of the three savory sandwiches we sampled, this was my least favorite. Usually, I'll pick turkey over ham any time of the week, but not in this case. What I found lacking or should I say missing was the cheese. There just wasn't enough of it. The turkey portions were generous, but with the word "melt" being part of the sandwich name, cheese is an important part of equation and unfortunately, it was MIA.

Also, while I loved the addition of the arugula which added a nice peppery kick, I was a little disappointed in the cranberry-horseradish mustard, which I expected to add more oomph to the sandwich and it didn't.

With three of Meltdown's savory grilled cheese offerings under our belt, it was now time to experience two of their "Sweet Melts". First up was their Goat Cheese, Fig and Honey sandwich on walnut bread. What's interesting about this sandwich is that if you are someone who doesn't like goat cheese because of its pungency, you may actually be able to eat this sandwich and even like it. The sweetness of the fig preserves and the honey cuts into the piquancy of the cheese, which may make it more palatable to goat cheese naysayers.

Last, but not least, came the Brie and Apricot sandwich, also on walnut bread. I've actually had this sandwich before and at first, I couldn't quite equate melted brie mixed with apricot preserves as being a good combination. My first bite; however, made me a convert. The mildness of the cheese was a perfect foundation for the tart-sweetness of the apricots.

Overall, this was a fun little tasting and I think we were able to get a good sampling of Meltdown etc grilled cheese sandwiches. For those of you who weren't able to join us, I guess you'll just have to live vicariously through my photos below. :-D

To see pics, go to:

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

Pita! Pita!

With Pita! Pita! being one of my favorite restaurants a few years back while it was still in Old Town Pasadena, I was curious as to how the "new" location on Colorado Boulevard would compare. One day, I dropped by for lunch to check it out.

Changes were obvious right away. This second rendition had a much more casual ambiance than its predecessor and the wait staff was replaced by counter service. None of this phased me because the quality of the food is far more important than the restaurant atmosphere. As for my meal, it consisted of a side of hummus, pita bread as well as my main entree, a spicy chicken dish.

I was fine with the hummus, but not as happy with the fried pita bread. It was a little burnt and also a little hard. Considering that the name of their restaurant is Pita Pita, I would think they would have taken more care in how their namesake is served.

When it came to the spicy chicken dish, which was almost like a stew or soup, I was definitely a much happier camper. The restaurant was generous with their chicken pieces, which I appreciated. The chunks of tomato and onion added additional flavor to the already tasty broth and I liked how that soup had just the right amount of heat and kick.

As for the sides, they were almost expendable. The tabbouleh needed a bit more tartness. I found to the rice to be a little watery and as for the beans, I couldn't quite understand why they were even included on my plate. I kept on wondering where the franks were.

Overall, you can't compare the old vs. the new based on just one meal. I'd say that for the most part, the delicious spicy chicken reminded me why I used to enjoy dining at the old location so much. However, the sad sides that accompanied that chicken makes me want to turn the clock back to tastier times.

In general, I wouldn't go out of my way to have a meal at this Pita! Pita!, but if I were in the neighbornood, I'd be more than happy to try other things on their menu.

To see pics, go to:

Pita! Pita!
927 E Colorado Blvd # 101
Pasadena, CA 91106
(626) 356-3099

Pita Pita on Urbanspoon

Manja Resto - CLOSED

Open only two weeks at the time, I walked into a fairly empty restaurant when I decided to have lunch at Manja Resto, a new Indonesian restaurant. Missing Paradiso, also an Indonesian restaurant, that closed and was replaced by Manja, a part of me was worried that I wouldn't get the same quality dishes that I used to get before. So with some trepidation, I took a look at the menu and placed my order.

Not wanting to stick to my usual standbys of satay, nasi goreng (fried rice) or the beef rendang, I decided to try some new dishes that I've never had before.

First up was the Telur Balado which are fried boiled eggs with spicy sauce. While I tend to be more of a soft-boiled egg person myself and found the inside of the egg a little dry (go figure, it is boiled and fried, of course, it'll be a little dry), I still really enjoyed this dish. I counter-acted the dryness of the egg by slathering it with the chili sauce and it was delicious and wonderfully spicy. As an after thought, I could easily imagine frying bacon, chopping these eggs and mixing the whole thing with rice and just eating that out of a bowl. Now that's the breakfast of champions!

The second dish was the BBQ Chicken that was marinated with sweet soy sauce and hot chili sauce. Apparently, the hotter the better is how people tend to like this dish, according to the owner, but I decided to stay with "medium heat." What I liked about this dish was the layers of sweet, salty and chili flavors. When you first take a bite of the chicken, you get the sweet first, but as you chew, you get a little bit of that salt and than finally, a bit of heat. I also liked how the chicken was soft and moist.

The last dish was the Ketoprak, a dish made up rice stick noodles, bean sprouts, fried tofu with garlic peanut sauce and crackers. The Ketoprak was a bit of a harder sell for me. I liked the flavor of the peanut sauce, but I found the sauce consistency really, really thick. The delicate rice noodles stuck together in clumps and when I took a bite, it felt like I was chewing and chewing, as if I had a clump of peanut butter in my mouth.

I actually asked the owner about it and she said that the thick consistency of that peanut sauce is a preference of the Indonesian palate. Since I've never had a dish before that is served with this peanut sauce at other Indonesian restaurants I've been to, I'll have to take her word for it.

Served with my meal was the El Teler dessert drink that I ordered that had avocado, jackfruit, coconut milk and was topped with condensed milk and syrup. Given the heat and the intense flavor of the dishes I've been eating, this dessert drink was nice and cooling. I didn't care too much for the large chunks of ice in the bowl. It just seems like there should be a better way for this to be served cold, but how can you go wrong with those sweet, refreshing ingredients.

Overall, I liked my meal at Manja Resto and am looking forward to trying even more dishes and in doing so, may even one day raise my 3-star rating to something higher.

To see pics, go to:

Manja Resto
1206 E Huntington Dr #A
Duarte, CA 91010
(626) 359-7564

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ondal 2

My name is Abby and I'm an Ondal 2 Spicy Crab Soup Addict. Don't laugh. I'm serious. Generally, when I re-visit a restaurant, I never order the same thing twice because I like exploring the menu. During my second visit to Ondal 2, I didn't even look at the menu. #2 has been embedded in my brain since my first visit, so #2 for the Spicy Crab Soup was coming my way and not soon enough.

So why so much love? Well, even before the soup arrives, our meal starts off first with a salad and then a tasty onslaught of about 9 different panchan dishes, which were all delicious and flavorful. Than out comes out the raw chili crab, the grilled pike fish and thinly-crisp Korean pancake with leeks and carrots. The nice family that runs Ondal 2 definitely did not want their customers to leave hungry.

While we savoring our way through the dishes above, out comes a pot with beautifully red crabs, greens, bamboo shoots and oyster mushrooms in a spicy broth. It cooks for awhile on our tableside burner and the aroma is quite enticing. Soon after, the waiter arrives to break down the crab and not only pour its insides inside the pot, but also cracks the claws for easier eating.

With a flourish, he spoons rice, soup and bamboo shoots into the empty crab shells, which serves as our actual bowls and also makes for a lovely food presentation. The soup itself is richly satisfying and also has a kick because of the owner
's secret chili powder recipe. What's great about this soup is that while it definitely can pack heat, that heat compliments the crabby flavor and doesn't overwhelm it.

Now if you still have room, this soup can be served a total of three different ways. First, just by itself. Second, for an additional $1 per person, you can request that "dough paste" as it's referred to in the menu be added. The "dough paste" is basically a type of noodle that is quickly hand-twisted into the soup by one of the waitstaff. So now you have a Spicy Crab Noodle Soup.

The third way to enjoy this soup is the fried rice way. Again, it's a $1 extra per person, but more than worth it. First, the pot is emptied and than rice, oil, along with other ingredients, as well as some of the broth left over from the soup is added and made into fried rice. Since the soup has been cooking down all this time, the rice that's thrown into the pot definitely absorbs all that crabby-crustacean goodness of that broth it is mixed with.

After feasting on a variety of flavorful dishes, my palate was jumping up and down. So to end the meal, we had a delicious, cooling bowl of Sikhye, which is a sweet rice beverage. It was the perfect end to a wonderful meal.

Throughout both my visits, the service was always friendly, especially during my second visit there where I brought a large group of 18 with me. Even with that large party, everything ran smoothly from beginning to end. I am a true fan of Ondal 2 and maybe, for my third visit, I'll finally try something other than that Spicy Crab Soup, but then, maybe not. :)

To see pics, go to:

Ondal 2
4566 W Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90016
(323) 933-3228

Ondal 2 on Urbanspoon

Tom's Drive-In No. 19

One day, I was really longing for a burger, but didn't want to visit the usual suspects like McDonald's, Burger King, Carl's Jr, etc. You get the picture. So I decided to visit this burger joint on Foothill Boulevard that I've been driving by for over 20 years, but have never stopped in.

I walked into a space with fake leather and wooden booths, a tiled floor that has seen better days and an eclectic menu that included everything from a variety of burger and sandwich choices to Mexican offerings like burritos and tacos to steak and shrimp dinner plates. There was something for everyone, but I just wanted a burger.

So I went ahead and ordered a burger with chili cheese fries. Soon my plate arrived. I found it interesting that the cheese on my fries wasn't already melted, but later on I actually appreciated it. But first, the burger. Looking at it, it seemed like a good size, but that was mainly because of the big hunk of lettuce that was in that bun.

Sometimes I wonder if burger places think that by making the burger look bigger that it somehow adds value or gives more of a wow factor to this simple food. Personally, less lettuce and more burger would be more up my alley. Anyway, I took a bite. Was it burger bliss? Nope. But it's a classic burger with no pretensions and no fancy trimmings and sometimes that's all you really want.

I have to say that I really, really enjoyed the chili cheese fries. As mentioned earlier, I was surprised that the cheese wasn't already melted, but as I mixed that cheese with the chili, stringy gooey goodness happened. What was even better was that the fries still retained most of its crispness. The temperature of the chili itself melted the cheese and that's why the fries didn't turn to mush. I also really liked the chili itself. It had good flavor and even a little bit of heat, which was quite appealing.

Tom's is definitely not a destination burger joint, but if you need a break from fast food and you're in the neighborhood, check Tom's out, if nothing else, for their yummy chili cheese fries.

To see pics, go to:

Tom's Drive-In No 19
880 W Foothill Blvd
Monrovia, CA 91016
(626) 303-0533

Sunday, October 14, 2007

President Square Food Court

Do you ever have that hankering for a Chinese meal, but for the life of you, you have no idea what it is

exactly you're craving? Maybe, pork stuffed bitter melon is tugging at your hunger pangs. Perhaps, you're hot for black mushroom and bamboo noodle soup? Whatever it is, you just know you want it.

Well, if you happen to be in the Eastside, I suggest you check out the President Square Food Court in Arcadia. Inside, there are 7 different food stalls to choose from. If all you're looking for is dessert, check out the beautiful tasty creations of RJ Patisserie. If you're on a mission in search of tea and/or boba drinks, be sure to visit Cloud 9 Station, whose owner was in an LA times article, proudly displayed at the counter.

But if that hungry beast inside of you can't wait any longer, get on over and take a look at the scrumptious offerings of the other 5 food stands, which are all Chinese, except for one stall that is Vietnamese. All of them have hot food all ready to go into the combination of your choice - a combo that will usually include rice and/or soup. However, the stalls also offer menu options that are cooked to order.

The photos, as seen in the link below, show two visits I made there. For the first visit, I had lunch at Zilin Noodle House where I ordered a black mushroom and bamboo noodle soup and what was referred to on the menu as a Leek Vege Box. Both were cooked to order and in fact, I had actually had to wait 20 minutes for the leek dish.

I'm still dreaming about that soup. The mushrooms were thick and meaty. They were generous with their bamboo and while the noodles could have been firmer, that was my only minor complaint about that soup. As for the leek dish, it was like an omelet, but firmer. The filling consisted of leeks, glass noodles, tofu and bean sprouts. I really wanted to like it, but it was greasy plus even the use of the spicy red sauce didn't really disguise its strange after taste.

My second meal was at Hsin Hsin Shau May Deli where I ordered a 3 combo plate that comes with soup and rice. I have to tell you that there were so many choices of hot items that I got almost dizzy. I had a hard time deciding. I finally settled on the tofu skin wrapped pork, the fried tofu and a green veggie.

The soup was a simple cabbage soup - nothing too exciting there. I tried the tofu skin wrapped pork first. The pork was more like a "meatloaf" or "meatball" and it was delicious. I found the texture to be light and the meat to be moist. The fried tofu was cooked in a soup of onions, bell peppers and possibly with a little bit of chili because it had a nice kick to it. One thing I found interesting was that the vegetables were served cold, which I didn't find too appealing.

On my way out, I couldn't resist going to Full House BBQ and after seeing that whole roasted pig hanging in the display with its deliciously crispy skin, I ordered some to take home. Even hours later, that skin was still crispy and how can you go wrong with roasted pork? Yum! What I really like about this food court is that you're not going to get Americanized Chinese dishes like you would get from a Panda Express where the food tends to be drowned in overly sweet sauces. Instead, when you walk inside the President Square Food Court, you'll see a lot of Asian customers which bodes well for the food that's sold there.

Still looking for other options? Next door, you can find the Full House Seafood Restaurant and a Ten Ren's Tea Time House. On the other side of this food court, there's a large 99 Ranch Market that also has a section where you can order hot food to go.

So if you're not exactly sure what you want for lunch or dinner, than stop by the President Square Food Court and maybe, you'll just find something that will hit the spot.

To see pics, go to:

President Square Food Court
next door to 99 Ranch Market and Full House
1220 S Golden West Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91066

The Donut Man

When it comes to breakfast, I'm a savory kind of gal. Give me eggs, bacon and toast, but pancakes or waffles with syrup and fruit toppings are just not for me. Every once in awhile, I'll want a donut, but not very often.

One morning, my sweet tooth monster came out of its cave and demanded satisfaction. Who am I to say no? Since I hadn't made my way to The Donut Man before, I decided to check it out. Considering that I've driven as much as 40 miles to have ramen in Gardena, this will be my first time visiting the shop that has been the talk of the donut world and of donut lovers for years. With it being in the neighboring city of Glendora, it's amazing that I haven't visited sooner.

As I park my car, I notice right away that the shop is not very big and definitely has a 70's look about it. I step up to the counter to take a look at my donut options and I couldn't believe how huge some of these doughy concoctions were.

One could probably feed an entire family and their neighbors, too. I ended up getting five of them to take home and I think I spent about the equivalent for what I'd normally spend on a dozen donuts anywhere else. However, these were generous sized donuts and certainly looked unlike anything I'd pick up at my local Winchell's, so I was willing to pay more for uniqueness.

Knowing that these donuts would be pounced upon as soon as everyone woke up, I staked my claim on the peach donut. Looking at it, I wasn't quite sure how I was supposed to eat it. It kind of reminded me of Pac Man, except with a mouth full of peaches. I finally followed the knife and fork route.

I actually forked a peach first and found it to be very fresh tasting and I liked how the glaze gave the fruit just the right amount of additional sweetness. They key is definitely eating the fruit and the donut together because it's a great combination of textures and flavors. The sweet juiciness of the slightly firm peaches contrast well with the more thick cakey texture of the donut itself.

Even as good as that peach donut was, I just couldn't finish it. I ended up eating only half. This is definitely a breakfast better eaten by two or even three other people.

Although I was quite full, I did manage to tear off a piece of the Tiger Tail to sample, which is a long donut twisted with ribbons of chocolate. I felt that the texture was a little airier than that of the peach donut, which I actually preferred and of course, chocolate, whether in the AM or PM is always hard to resist.

Overall, I can see why The Donut Man is loved by so many. It certainly deserves its reputation.

To see pics, go to:

The Donut Man
915 E Route 66
Glendora, CA 91740

(626) 355-9111

Donut Man on Urbanspoon