Monday, March 31, 2008

"Dim Sum of the Month Club" at The Kitchen

Next up for the "Dim Sum of the Month Club" was The Kitchen in Alhambra. Sitting down at our table, I spotted something that already I've never seen before at Dim Sum, a call box. Yes, a call box. Hmmm...dim sum on demand?

I like that; however, with ordering from their picture menu in combination with the wait staff carrying around trays of food coming around on a fairly consistent business, we didn't do much buzzing. It did come in handy though when we wante
d more water, tea and eventually the bill, but enough about the buzzer, let's talk food and be sure to read towards the end about my roast duck story.

For this dim sum excursion, we checked out 15 different dishes. You're not going to get new wave fusion concoctions at The Kitchen, but what you will get is food that just tastes pretty darn good. Examples included their Chive and Shrimp Dumplings. The won ton skin was delicately transculent; yet, managed to help the fillings retain a nice hit of moisture. Taking a bite, you get sweet shrimp complimented by grassy chives, all in a nicely wrapped juicy package.

Another standout was the Shui Mai with Crab Meat. In simple words, succulent and delicious. Enough said. Being a turnip fan, I'm always on the lookout for pan-fried turnip, but this time, we opted for the Soft Turnip Cake with Scallops. I'm not sure where the cake reference came from, because it looked more like scalloped potatoes in a bowl. Regardless, I liked the dish's smooth texture, with the flavor of the onions and scallops keeping it from being too plain tasting.

In the scheme of things, there's nothing really special about Chinese broccoli, but up to this point, this was the only dim sum place I been to where they actually cut them in half for smaller portions. For those of you who know the struggle of trying to bite off a pie
ce of this sometimes long vegetable while using chopsticks, I think you'd appreciate that little nicety.

One item that was a bit unusual were their green tea dumplings and of course, we had to order that for the table. When it arrived, it had a greenish-white bumpy exterior. I took a bite and was surprised that the black sesame filling was runny and although I liked the slightly bitterness of the green tea dumpling paired with the sweetness of the black sesame filling, that runny filling was a little off putting.

Now we get to my roast duck story. We were craving it but it wasn't on the menu and when w
e asked our waiter about it, he said that it won't be available until later in the day. I guess he must have sensed that we were really disappointed, because about 10 minutes later, the manager came over. After just a little persuasion and maybe because he felt bad looking at our woebegone faces, he actually decided to call one of his chefs to come in early just to make roast duck for us. Now that's service. Of course it may have also helped that I brought in a group of 20, so he was looking for good word of mouth.

He certainly got that after our duck showed up on our tables about an hour later. Let me tell you, the begging and the wait was worth it. I've had my share of roast duck over time, but this was one of the best I've ever had. The skin was golden and crispy and the duck meat was tender and juicy. My mouth is just watering thinking about it.

Overall, I enjoyed the dim sum at The Kitchen and when a restaurant goes out of their way to take care of their customer wishes, that goes a long way in my book.

To see pics, go to:

The Kitchen
203 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Foodie Quote

"All sorrows are less with bread. " - Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lunch at Chico's

On my way to an LA Conservancy Walking Tour of Highland Park, a bright, colorful yellow building caught my eye and considering it was on a street running parallel to the one I was driving on, I probably shouldn't have been taking a peek. I did make a mental note; however, that it was a Mexican restaurant and that maybe, I'd check it out after the tour. Lo and behold, our tour ended right across the street and I knew it was fate.

Before I walked across joined by others from the tour,
I did notice the remnants of an old sign with the words "Cafe" on it, attached to the same pole as Chico's Restaurant sign. It seemed so somber in color and out of place sitting over a building that looked as if a rainbow exploded over it; yet, keeping that old sign seemed almost as an homage to what was past was actually pretty cool.

Entering the restaurant, with a blue sombrero touting "Respect Your Hood"
painted above the door, I went into a dining area with red and green striped booths and with walls showcasing painted murals of Mexican life. It's not a very big space, but I really liked the vibe and soon a very friendly waitress came our way with menus. Even the menus were a little different than what I've seen before. These weren't pages filled with computer fonts neatly typed. Instead, the menu pages contained illustrated images and even the text, except for one section, looked like they were drawn with a feeling of liveliness. From the outside to the inside to the menu, Chico's was definitely a visual experience.

Before even placing our orders, we were served the proverbial chips and salsa, but that salsa was really good. The flavors were as fresh as the ingredients were vibrantly colorful. When it came to ordering a drink, I skipped over the soft drinks and opted for a strawberry agua fresca. I have to say that while I like ague frescas, I've had them in the past where they were too sweet, too sugary, but the one I had a Chico's was just right and very refreshing.

While others in the group went for the tacos and burritos on the menu, my taste buds had a hankering for the pork chile verde and that's exactly what I got. My taste buds picked a winner. The tomatillos in the chili verde sauce added a nice tangy-grassiness while the chilies added a little kick to the fork-tender pork, which made not only for happy taste buds, but also for a happy me.

Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at Chico's, but more than just good food, Chico's is definitely a visual feast. Coming from a graphic design background, I can't help but appreciate the fun colors and the quirkiness of this restaurant space. I bet even in the gloomiest of days with pouring rain, Chico's bright yellow facade would still be a beacon that hungry customers can find their way to and with the good food waiting inside, who could blame them?

To see pics, go to:

100 N Ave 50

Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 254-2445

Chico's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Culinary Byte

History of Crepes Suzette

Probably the most famous crepe dish in the world. In a restaurant, a crepe suzette is often prepared in a chafing dish in full view of the guests. They are served hot with a sauce of sugar, orange juice, and liqueur (usually Grand Marnier). Brandy is poured over the crepes and then lit.

The dish was created out of a mistake made by a fourteen year-old assistant waiter Henri Carpentier (1880-1961) in 1895 at the Maitre at Monte Carlo's Café de Paris. He was preparing a dessert for the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII (1841-1910) of England.

According to Henri Charpentier, in own words from Life A La Henri – Being The Memories of Henri Charpentier:

“It was quite by accident as I worked in front of a chafing dish that the cordials caught fire. I thought I was ruined. The Prince and his friends were waiting. How could I begin all over? I tasted it. It was, I thought, the most delicious melody of sweet flavors I had every tasted. I still think so. That accident of the flame was precisely what was needed to bring all those various instruments into one harmony of taste . . . He ate the pancakes with a fork; but he used a spoon to capture the remaining syrup.

He asked me the name of that which he had eaten with so much relish. I told him it was to be called Crepes Princesse. He recognized that the pancake controlled the gender and that this was a compliment designed for him; but he protested with mock ferocity that there was a lady present. She was alert and rose to her feet and holding her little shirt wide with her hands she made him a curtsey. ‘Will you,’ said His Majesty, ‘change Crepes Princesse to Crepes Suzette?’ Thus was born and baptized this confection, one taste of which, I really believe, would reform a cannibal into a civilized gentleman. The next day I received a present from the Prince, a jeweled ring, a panama hat and a cane.”

Taken from What's Cooking America

Ethnic Food Word of the Day

akara, akra / ock'-uh-rah / [West African] fried bean cake, a flavorful appetizer or snack food made from ground black-eyed peas (with the skins removed) served with hot sauce and sometimes shrimp or fish.

Taken from Pocket Dictionary of Ethnic Foods

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The words "fine dining" and "train station" aren't normally something you'd associate with each other, but for the past 11 years, Traxx Restaurant, appropriately named, has found its home inside the historic Union Station in Los Angeles. On the oft times I've found myself inside the Union Station and walking by Traxx, there's been a bubbling curiosity as to what dining at Traxx would be like. One day, that curiosity finally boiled over and I joined members of my dining group there for dinner. Wanting to do some people watching that included checking out the filming of an episode of the tv show, Monk, we dined in the indoor patio outside the restaurant.

Having heard raves about their Louisiana Jumbo Crab Cake, that became my starter. Sitting on Chipotle Chile Remoulade, the crab c
ake looked fairly substantial for just an appetizer, which made me even more than ready to dig in. After my first bite, I definitely felt those raves were substantiated. What I enjoyed about this dish was that it was packed to the gills with crab and they used just enough batter so that the crab cake had a crispy outside texture. All you have to do is look at the picture I took of it to see what I mean. I also appreciated the smokiness and the heat coming from the Chipotle sauce. This meal was definitely off to a good start.

I continued my seafood theme by ordering the Pacific Roasted Pacific Red Snapper Fillet which came with black rice and topped with a Charred Jalapeno Vinaigrette. Other than some oiliness that pooled to the bottom of the plate, the fish was wonderful. I really liked how the skin and outer part of the red snapper was crisped and golden brown, but that the fish meat itself was moist and delicate. The jalapeno vinaigrette also added a nice kick in flavor. Unfortunately, although the flavor of the black rice was really good, it soaked in too much of that oiliness I mentioned earlier, so points were definitely taken away because of that.

As for dessert, if I had just stopped at the red snapper, it would have been a pretty good meal. Unfortunately, my Orange Blosso
m Panna Cotta with Muscat Infused Citrus Segments was just awful. Unless I missed something, a panna cotta is made by simmering together cream, milk and sugar, mixing this with gelatin, and letting it cool until set. Even if there wasn't cream, milk or sugar, at the very least, I expected something more gelatin-like. What I got was basically citrus soup. The "panna cotta" was liquidy. Again, maybe, there's something I'm missing and if so, I'd love to hear some input because I was just plain confused.

At least, some of the other desserts that the group ordered looked and apparently tasted pretty good, so it's not as if I can say that desserts are something that should be passed over at Traxx, but if you happen to see that Orange Blossom Panna Cotta on the dessert menu, you might want to pass on it.

Overall, I'd say that my meal was pretty good. I certainly enjoyed the ambiance and hustle and bustle of people walking through the station and the added bonus of watching a tv show being filmed certainly added to the atmosphere. I would go back to Traxx, although with the many hundreds of restaurants out there that I still want to try, it wouldn't be anytime soon.

To see pics, go to:

Traxx Restaurant

800 N Alameda St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 625-1999

Traxx on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Korean BBQ That Ended with a Kiss

Usually I'm not very fanciful when it comes to giving a title to my blog entries, but this time I just couldn't resist. As for the kiss, I'll let you know about that a little later, but for now, let's talk Korean BBQ, specifically All You Can Eat (AYCE) Korean BBQ at Mu Dung San in Koreatown.

I love eating Korean BBQ. There's just something about cooking meat to your own specification that's pretty appealing. It also doesn't hurt that instant gratification quickly ensues. Once the meat is done, wrap it in lettuce, take a bite and voila, this carnivore is one happy gal.

While I have my favorite Korean BBQ haunts, I'm always up for trying different places. I can't quite remember how I found out about Mu Dung San, an All You Can Eat (AYCE) Korean BBq joint, but for some reason it stuck in my head so one afternoon, I decided to check it out for lunch. Initially, I wasn't sure if I even wanted to eat there. The last time I dined at an AYCE
Korean BBQ, it was at Manna Korean BBQ and I was quite underwhelmed. However, since I was really craving Korean BBQ and was also a bit budget conscious at the time, the price of $16.99 per person was just right for my pocketbook. I managed to corral corral my niece to join me and off we went.

When I walked inside Mu Dung San, my first thought was that it was smaller than it looked from the outside, but that was before I noticed two other separate dining rooms from the one we walked into. We soon sat down and were handed menus and thankfully, they were in English, which isn't always the case when you dine in Koreatown. It didn't take long to decide, so between the two of us we went for the pork belly and marinated beef (bulgogi) and also ordered the seafood pancake and cold noodles with skate fish to share.

Dishes of various panchan soon came our way, which I didn't find out of the ordinary, but still tasty. Also, out came a large salad with a dressing I couldn't identify, but still enjoyed. Instead of the large lettuce leaves that usually accompany Korean BBQ, we were served square rice wrappers. My last experience with those rice wrappers was at Shik Do Rak, which I found to be too oily. Thankfully, the oil content of the Mu Dung San versions were to a much lesser degree.

Then out came the meat and I could already tell the difference from Manna. Manna's meat was ultra thin whereas the pork belly and bulgogi in front of me were more substantial. With the meat in front of us, were definitely ready to get cooking. Ahhhh...there's just nothing like the smell of meat that's grilling. As for the taste, suffice to say that I was very pleased. The marinade used for the bulgogi was flavorful and cooking the pork belly extra long meant you got extra smoky caramelized fat along with the pork meat itself. How can your tastebuds not love you?

When it comes to the rice wrappers, I'm still not quite sure how to eat
with them. I tried wrapping the meat and some of that dressed lettuce into the rice wrapper like a spring roll/burrito, but it had a tendency to tear. Finally, I treated it more like a tortilla, where I would tear the wrapper into small pieces and use it to scoop the meat and lettuce before popping into my mouth. So if anyone can give me the scoop, that'd be great.

As for the cold spicy noodles, I couldn't get into them. The noodles were not very firm and for some reason, they tasted a bit bland. The seafood pancake; however, was a hit. It was thick and "meaty" with ingredients. I Just looking into a cross section, it's very easy to identify the octopus, the crab and veggies that comprised this dish. I also enjoyed the crispiness of the outer edges.

Overall, for an All You Can Eat Korean BBQ place, it's pretty good. I wouldn't consider Mu Dung San a destination Korean BBQ place, but it offers good value for what you get and sometimes that's all you can ask for. $16.99 per person, not including tax and gratuity, is definitely not bad. Something else to note, they give you a pretty good portion for that price. My niece and I found no need to order extra meat. What we had was just right.

So do you want to know about the kiss? :) Well, it's not what you think. I heard about a Korean dessert shop called Ice Kiss and since we had just enough room for something sweet, we drove on over there. The Ice Kiss in the shop's name refers to the fact that their specialty is serving Bingsu, a Korean Shaved Ice Dessert that usually consists of shaved ice and ice cream that is topped with any or all of the following: sweetened red beans, fruits, fruit preserves, syrup, candies, cereal, rice cakes, etc. The shaved ice itself is different than what you'd expect. It has a finer, almost fluffy texture to it.

The ice cream choices include chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and green tea. When it comes to ordering, there are different concoctions to choose from, all with different toppings. It just really depends on what you're in the mood for. Their shaved ice desserts come in different sizes, and if you choose the medium, it's actually served in a dog dish and is enough for 3 to 4 people.

For our visit, we shared a small, but even the small was a pretty good size. I don't remember what it was called, but it was basically chocolate ice cream topped with strawberries, kiwi, banana, chocolate sauce, cocoa krispies and whipped cream. It was very colorful and definitely satisfied my sweet tooth, but in truth, I was a bit overwhelmed.

There was just so many toppings and believe it or not, compared to pictures I've seen of so
me of their other desserts, the one I had was pretty basic. Pricewise, this is no cheap kiss. Expect to spend $6.99 and up. I definitely appreciated the finer shaved ice because I felt like I was eating powdered snow; however, too much of a good thing is sometimes too much of a good thing. If I did go back, I'd ask for less of a deluge in ingredients.

So ends my afternoon at Koreatown. Starting off with hot Korean BBQ and ending it with an Ice Kiss is definitely a good day in my book.

Mu Dung San
1040 S. Western Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(323) 737-9292

To see Mu Dung San pics, go to:

Ice Kiss
3407 W. 6th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 382-4776

To see Ice Kiss pics, go to:

Mu Dung San on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Brunch & Cheese Tasting at Auntie Em's Kitchen

Isn't it funny that sometimes the restaurants that are the closest to you are the ones you take the longest to visit? Not that Eagle Rock is close, but heck, I've driven to Gardena for ramen and Fountain Valley for 8 Courses of Fish. In retrospect, Eagle Rock is practically a neighboring city to Duarte where I reside. When you also take in consideration that I have a friend in Eagle Rock that I hang out with a couple of times a month, it's a wonder that I still haven't paid a visit to Auntie Em's and took her with me. Finally, we went for brunch and also brought another mutual friend for the ride.

Walking in, I was already liking that the menu was written on chalkboards. What that tells me is that this restaurant probably plans its dishes around seasonal ingredients. Using produce at its peak definitely can make good food great. While waiting in line, I also spied their cupcakes,
both mini and full size. Having heard rave reviews, especially from my Eagle Rock friend, about those cupcakes, I decided to bring some home and try them out for myself, but that's getting ahead of myself.

Let's get back to brunch. Catching my eye was their Strata which had layers of Asparagus, Goat Cheese, Bread and Eggs and along it was going to be a bowl of fresh fruit. Doesn't that sound yummy? With no available seating in the main dining area or outside, we ended up in their Cheese Store next door, which had quite a nature motif. There's a fake tree where the hanging branches are made up of interconnecting square cardstock paper. At the foot of the tree, there's a painting of a wolf. You can also look up to see branches sticking out from the wall holding birds nests. I just really enjoyed the quirkiness of the decor.

Finally, our food arrived. When I took a gander at my plate, what re
ally caught my eye first was the bowl of fresh fruit. Inside were plump raspberries and blackberries, along with the usual pineapple, cantaloupe and watermelon. Those berries looked amazing and definitely looked in season. They tasted as juicy as they looked. Then I dug into my strata and oh boy, was it worth getting up early for, especially since I'm not much of a morning person in the first place.

The top of the strata was browned perfectly and had a nice crispy-flakiness to it, but that first bite of an almost creamy-like texture of egg and melted cheese along with the tender asparagus was just an "oooh" and "ahhh" moment. It was just that good. Needless to say, my plate was almost licked clean. How can you go wrong with fresh fruit and a cheesy egg dish? That strata is definitely worth a return visit, although I'd probably would order something else just because I'd like to sample more of their menu.

Finally, we finished our meals and off we went our separate ways, but I had cupcakes with me. Later on that day, I tried their red velvet cupcake and left the others for the family to sample. I liked the cake portion of it, but I found the frosting overwhelming. From the side, it looked almost the same height as the cupcake itself. There was just too much of it and I also found it too sweet for my palate. I told my Eagle Rock friend when I saw her a couple of weeks later that I actually scraped off most of the frosting, to which she replied that the way she eats her red velvet cupcake is to put it in a bowl and mash cake and frosting together and than eat by the spoonful. Hmmm....forget a bowl of cereal when you can have a bowl of cupcake. Now that's an interesting concept.

While I wasn't much of a fan of their cupcakes, what I did like along with that strata dish was the selection of cheeses inside their Cheese Shop. During our brunch there, I chatted
with Owner,Terri Wahl, and Jody, the Cheese Monger about doing an after hours cheese tasting there at the restaurant and they were quite agreeable.

About 3 months later, a group of between 20 and 25 joined me for what was a veritable cheese buffet where we sampled 9 different cheeses and each cheese was paired with another type of food, whether it was figs, olives, honey or a type of jam or relish. I honestly can't remember all my tasting notes, but the cheeses and the pairings that Jody put together were awesome.

All of them had the distinction of winning awards at a recent competition held by the American Cheese Society. There were two that really stood out for me. One was made by Capri out of domestic goat's milk and was called Wasabi Disc. The wasabi in this cheese added a little heat that really blended well with the punge
ncy of the goat cheese. My other favorite was the Smokey Blue made by Rogue River Creamery. Cold smoked for 16 hours over Northwest -grown hazelnut shells, this cow's milk cheese definitely had a unique flavor profile - smoky, sharp with hints of a sweet nuttiness.

Overall, both of my experiences at Auntie, brunch and cheese tasting, were just wonderful. I still dream about that strata and it's good to know that there is an artisanal cheese store that's fairly local and is headed by a Cheese Monger who knows her stuff.

To see Brunch pics, go to:

To see Cheese Tasting pics, go to:

Auntie Em's Kitchen
4616 Eagle Rock Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90041
(323) 255-0800

Auntie Em's Kitchen on Urbanspoon