Sunday, August 31, 2008

Too Much is Sometimes Too Much at T Burgers

Awhile back, I decided to check out T Burgers in Monrovia. Although I heard good things about their burgers, for my first visit, I decided that a BLT with avocado, when paired with onion rings, was my idea of the perfect lunch. So I placed my order and when I heard my number called, I happily walked up to the counter to pick it up. However, when I first laid eyes on it, I thought that perhaps I forgot to bring a friend with me because it was certainly big enough to feed both of us.

But no, it was just me, so I took that substantial sandwich and sat down for my meal.
Looking at it, I wasn't quite sure where to start, so I ate an onion ring or two while I planned my eating strategy. By the way, the onion rings were quite good. Crispy and crunchy, without being oily. But I still had that BLT in front me, waiting to be eaten. Finally, I just decided to go for it. I definitely knew that you can't really take one big bite out of that sandwich so I ended up taking smaller bites, which meant that I wouldn't always get a taste of all 4 ingredients at one time. That was a bit disappointing, but not a deal breaker.

In general, the ingredients tasted really fresh which I couldn't help but appreciate; however, less is sometimes more. I managed to eat my way
through half of the sandwich and had 2-3 bites of the other half, but ended up just picking out the bacon and eating that, leaving everything else behind. There was just too much of everything, but even then, it was still a pretty good sandwich. I was still curious about their hamburgers, so I decided to make a return visit.

My second time around, I went for their Avocado Bacon Cheeseburger. Avocado again, I know, but I just love it. Sometimes, I'll even just cut one in half and eat with a spoon. Yum. Too bad, I don't have one right now. Anyway, I digress, let's get back to the Avocado Bacon Cheeseburger. Given how substantial my BLT was, I had a feeling that my burger was going to be the same and yes, it was. It was huge. I was amazed that they fit all the ingredients that they did. To eat it, you really had to keep the wrapper on and peel it away as you ate it into or else everything was going to pop out onto the table. Just like the BLT, it was all about small bites.

Again, the ingredients were pretty fresh, except for the avocado. It had some browning which wasn't too appealing, so I picked some of it away. I also ended up removing some of the lettuce, just to make for easier eating. As for the hamburger meat itself, I thought it was dry and a tad overcooked. The only moisture it really got was from the avocado.

Overall, I liked the BLT better than the Avocado Cheese, but in both instances, while I appreciated that T Burgers didn't skimp when it came to ingredients, which were the most part really fresh tasting, as I said earlier, less is more. For both sandwiches, I ended up taking out some of the ingredients just so I'd have an easier time eating them and that just seems a waste. However, if bigger is better in your book, than T Burgers will certainly do it for you.

To see pics, go to:

T Burgers
226 W Foothill Blvd

Monrovia, CA 91016

(626) 357-4844

T Burgers on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Timeless Tradition and Artisan Food Making at E. Waldo Ward

So what's the deal with E. Waldo Ward, you may ask? Well, let me fill in you in with a little bit of history and it all started with marmalade. Edwin Waldo Ward was a luxury food salesman from New York who had a dream, specifically to make an English-style marmalade. Why English-style marmalade? Apparently, it was one of his best sellers and he felt that it could be made just as well in California. To that effect, he imported and planted Seville orange trees after he purchased 10 acres of land in the city of Sierra Madre.

Ward began experimenting with recipes in 1915 and two years later, built a factory and started making marmalade. His biggest customers were the railroads and Fred Harvey (famous for his restaurants and hotels along the railroad lines), for whom Ward made "ringlet" marmalade, which contained an artful array of round Seville slices. Eventually, Ward's business thrived and he purchased another 20 acres of land for a total of 30 acres where he grew the citrus for his marmalade. He also added other food items like jams and hand-stuff olives from Spain to his product line.

With the depression came some hard times and eventually, he had to sell the majority of his land. Present day, the Ward Ranch sits on between 2 to 3 acres of land. The original Seville trees Ward purchased are on private property elsewhere. What's unique about Ward Ranch is that the original house and barn are still on the property and are over 100 years old. Currently, Jeff Ward, fourth generation is now running the family business and amazingly enough, it hasn't been bought out by larger food companies as what tends to happen with small, family-run and owned businesses in general. Now you have some background, let's talk about their tour.

First, the tours are only during the weekends, but are completely Free. How often does that happen? So a few months ago, I set up one up. They start off inside the factory where Jeff gives a brief talk on the history of E. Waldo Ward. From there, he takes us through the process of how their food is manufactured. He starts with the olives, which are exported from Spain. Their various olives are hand-stuffed with a variety of ingredients, from pimiento to cheese and than hand-placed in the jars. No automation there.

He also mentions some of their other foo
d products, which have expanded over and beyond the orange marmalade E. Waldo Ward started with. The types of products they manufacture and sell now include everything from bbq sauces to pickled or brandied fruits to condiments to unique jams and jellies like the Wisteria Jelly we were able to sample later. In recent years, Jeff has come up with the majority of the new product recipes, so he's definitely the Pied Piper of E. Waldo Ward. While most of their products are under their own label, some are also private label for other food companies.

After the talk, we took a tour of his manufacturing plant, which is isn't very big, but what's so interesting about it is their equipment. Employees work with burners that date to 1915 as well as a 1930 stainless steel citrus-peel slicer with a wall full of accessories. Some of the products are made in
massive kettles, but many of the more delicate items -- say pickled peaches -- are cooked on the antique burners in pots hardly larger than a home-preserver might use. Two of the six kettles date from World War II. They're shiny clean, constantly in use. Pictures were also available so that we could see some of the equipment at work, from one depicting an employee stirring a large vat raspberry preserves to seeing a machine fill jars with the preserves to an employee screwing the lid by hand.

Then we actually got to sample some of their products and they included: wisteria jelly, four berry preserve, seville orange marmalade, sweet orange marmalade and an orange fruit spread. There's actually a difference between jellies, marmalade and fruit spreads, which Jeff explained, but I am drawing a
complete blank. To find out more, click here. Jeff also included pickled kumquats, which were deliciously tart. After the tasting, we went into another room where we saw a conveyor belt. Once the lids are screwed on the jars, the jars are placed in containers and go down the conveyor belt where other employees can pick them up and take them to the building where labels are printed and placed on all the jars.

After we checked out the packaging building, Jeff took us the kumquat trees that lined the walkway to his property and showed us a trick when it comes to eating them since they can sometimes be sour. Simply, roll the kumquat between the palms of your hands to help release the oils of the kumquat skin, then pop the whole thing in your mouth, skin and all. It actually worked and there just something so cool about eating a warmed by the sun piece of fruit right off the tree.

Now that we were educated on kumquats, we were able to check out their farming museum, which is right inside their 100+ year old barn. On the way there, Jeff mentioned that the large barn tower was actually a water tower at one time and apparently haunted. At night, sometimes, there's lights flickering up there. Once inside the farming museum, I had no idea what was what, but it all looked
well-used. So ended the tour. Afterwards, the retail store was open in case anyone wanted to purchase anything. By the way, they also have an online business, so if you can't make it to Sierra Madre, check out their website below.

Overall, this was as a short 45 minute tour, but what a joy it is to be able to visit a place where time-worn traditions are still in place and where just because you can change something, it doesn't mean you have to if what you have still does the job. Apparently, they even adhere still to the original marmalade recipe as created by E. Waldo Ward. Why fix something that isn't broke?

When you get a chance, try and take a tour of this piece of Americana. Come on, how often do you get to visit a small citrus farm and gourmet food manucturing plant right in the middle of the suburbs? If nothing else, you can drop by their retail store to pick up some product and even replicate the kumquat eating trick, but be sure to ask for permission first.

To see pics, go to:

E. Waldo Ward & Son, Inc.
273 E. Highland Avenue
Sierra Madre, CA 91024

Finally! A Food Tour Company in LA is Born! Welcome to Melting Pot Tours!

Having lived in Los Angeles since I was 5, you'd probably think it strange that I'd be happy to see a LA-based food tour company finally make its way here. After all, with me running my dining club, also called Pleasure Palate, for the past few years, I think I have a really good grasp on where to find good eats. Ethnic cuisine, fine dining and everything else in between is no problem. So why the excitement? It's simple really.

To me, the fact that a food tour company is now in LA will hopefully help people (primarily out of the Los Angeles area) finally recognize that LA is definitely a foodie town in its own right. In writing this blog entry, I've googled info about food tours in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, of which I found several in each city. Now if you google food tours in Los Angeles, one tour company will come up and they go by the name of Melting Pot Tours, run by sisters and co-owners, Lisa & Diane Scalia.

Do you know what else is great about having a company like Melting Pot Tours around? Wit
h LA being as big as it is, it's intimidating getting to know the dining scene. What Melting Pot Tours could offer is a way to help local residents get a chance to step out of their comfort zone and/or even their own neighborhood to start exploring the culinary bonanza that abounds in LA County. The same could be said for visitors or tourists, who may share the same intimidation factor of trying to weed through the LA's extensive foodie landscape. With a food tour, they can get a taste of LA to start and like local residents, this opportunity could also springboard them into wanting to learn more about what Los Angeles has to offer to the discerning diner.

After reading about Melting Pot Tours on both Eating LA's blog and Teenage Gluster's blog, I was more than ready to check it out, so this morning I embarked on their Farmer's Market and 3rd Street Food Tour. First off, when I met both sisters, Lisa and Diane, I absolutely loved their energy and passion for what they were doing. The tour started at the original Farmer's Market where we first heard a little history of how the Farmer's Market started and how it came to be in its present state.

After that, the tasting bounty started at Bob's
Doughnuts where we had doughnuts, of course. What was great is that it just wasn't about the food, it was also about a little bit of history and/or information about that particular food stall or restaurant. For example, I learned that Bob's Doughnuts employees start making doughnuts at 4:30 am and that they are made from yeast. At Monsieur Marcel, we sampled cheese, olives and bread, but were also told the strange tale of the Caviar Cheese. Nope, I'm not going to give the story away. You'll just have to find out yourself when you go on the tour. Sampling stops were also made at Thee Bakery where we had Monkey Bread and Littlejohn Toffee for housemade toffee.

We also made some stops where we didn't have a tasting, but we learned a little more information about a particular vendor. For example, at Huntington Meats, they actually bring their lamb in whole from Colorado and break it down there and that way, they get all the best portions for their customers. Huntington Meats is also where Nancy Silverton has a special hamburger blend made just for her, but is also sold to other customers. At Light My Fire, some of their hot sauces are so hot, you actually have to sign a waiver before purchasing them. Blanche Magee of Magee Nut House, noticed the gathering of the farmers to sell their wares in 1934 and was the first to sell them sandwiches. Stop by there to watch employees make fresh peanut butter onsite.

One little tidbit t
hat I learned about Brazilian BBQ that I also want to share before I start talking about our experiences on Third Street. When we got to Pampas Grill, we were able taste their deep fried yuca fries, a couple of their BBQ meats and their cheese bread. However, Diane shared with us from the owner of Pampas Grill that we should split the cheese bread, add a little hot sauce and then put the meat in the bread -- just like a Brazilian BBQ slider. Yum! I'm definitely going to remember that the next time I dine at a Brazilian Churascarria.

Pampas Grill was the last of our tasting journey at the Original Farmer's Market. Afterwards, we took a stroll down 3rd Street where our guides gave us some info on some of the storefronts and the
restaurants that lined the street for future reference. Our first tasting stop on the 3rd Street was at the Little Next Door where we had freshly baked that morning French macaroons. I enjoyed my lavendar macaroon to the last bite. Following the macaroons was a delicious Chinese chicken salad from Joan's on Third and then we visited Le Labo, French Perfumerie.

You're probably thinking what does a French Perfumerie have to do with a culinary tour? Well, as explained by our guides, the appreciation we have for our meal is in large portion due to its aroma. If food smells appetizing, that's half the battle. Instead of a food tasting, we did more of a sensory tasting where we got to sniff
oils that are foodie-based and included individual samples of cucumber, cloves, grapefruit and a few others. Le Labo is interesting in that after talking with you, they will recommend a fragrance and than mix it for you right there onsite to take home. By the way, for each city, Le Labo has a shop, they'll develop a fragrance specific to that city that can only be purchased at that particular shop. Their Los Angeles fragrance will be coming into their shop in a couple of weeks, if anyone is interested.

The rest of our tasting tour included visiting the fabulous Cook's Library where you can browse over 7,000 cookbook titles, a tea sampling at Chado Tea Room and finally, soba noodles and sushi at Mishima, a Japa
nese food manufacturing company-owned Japanese restaurant. The entire tour was approximately 3-1/2 hours as was mentioned in their tour description. Dress comfortably and wear comfortable shoes. What was nice is that for those of us who didn't want to walk back from Third Street, Lisa and Diane took care of everyone's bus fares.

Overall, I really enjoyed my experience. Of course, the tasting part was wonderful, but even more than that, the great information that the sisters gave throughout our tour was really helpful. Also having some of the owners of the various shops come out and talk briefly to us about their business and their food was definitely a bonus. In the end, I am really looking forward to finding out what else Melting Pot Tours has in store for all of us and hopefully through them, locals and visitors alike will start getting a better appreciation of the wonderful LA foodie culture.

To see pics, go to:

Melting Pot Tours
P. O. Box 844
Manhattan Beach, CA 90267

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles "La Tia"

Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia

Such is the tale that circumstances can sometimes enable you to stumble upon a hidden treasure while you're just trying to get through your day. Of course, to me, hidden treasure automatically translates to a mind-blowing foodie find. That was the case with fellow blogger, Teenage Gluster, who, by luck, discovered Casa de Moles "La Tia" and did a write-up on his blog. Click here to read that entry. After I read his post, where he was waxing poetically about the unique moles offered by Chef Owner Rocio Camacho at her restaurant like Pistachio, Coffee, Tamarind, Passionfruit, etc., my palate went into over drive. I've certainly had my share of moles in the past, with the most unusual one being a Blackberry Mole at La Casita Mexicana, but never like the ones I read about on TG's blog entry. I knew I had to go. I knew I had to go as soon as possible. Tonight wasn't as soon as I would have liked, but it was good enough.

Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia

Upon my arrival at Case de Moles, the restaurant was pretty much empty, but with it only being open since May, there probably hasn't been enough word of mouth yet. Teenage Gluster was the first to strike that match. Opening the menu, the mole sauce section listed 15 different types of mole sauces. They were all in Spanish, but some I was able to easily translate. Below the mole shopping list were different types of proteins, everything from veal to duck to quail to chicken breast and so much more. While you could mix and match, they also had dishes that they considered to be their specialties like shrimp with coffee mole or their halibut with white mole. Along with the mole dishes, their menu also offered other options like the Cochinita Pibil or Carne Asada.

Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia

While I was waiting for the rest of my party, I ordered the Cucumber Agua Fresca, which is my favorite agua fresca drink and found it refreshing. Since I got to the restaurant early, I had asked the waiter, if there was any way that our group could get a sampling of 4 of the more unusual moles before we placed our order. He graciously said yes, so I chose Pistachio, Passionfruit, Coffee and Tequila. As the rest of my party arrived, Cecilia, my co-host for this outing, talked with him further and soon, we were able to include the Poblano and the White Mole as well to our tasting list.

Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia

Our waiter soon brought out those first six moles along with housemade corn tortillas and we started digging in. As we started sampling them, we were just in awe. Those 6 moles had very distinct flavors. I think our waiter must have gone back to the kitchen to tell Chef Rocio that she had a bunch of intense foodies in her restaurant, because soon after, 9 more dishes of mole sauces came our way. In all, we got to sample 14 of the 15 on her menu.

Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia

My tastebuds went into overload. The flavor profiles were all over the place. Sweet. Smoky. Spicy. Nutty. All of them had such complexity of flavors. Other than finding the tamarind mole a little too smoky, I was in mole heaven. While they were all fantastic, I definitely was leaning more towards the Pistachio Mole (deeply nutty), the Tequila Mole (loved the addition of the lime juice), the Hibiscus (the addition of the red wine was just so unique) and the Coffee Mole (dark and rich). Even with the choices I made, I have a feeling that they could switch up depending on what I'm in the mood for. For example, if I'm looking for something sweeter, how can you go wrong with the White Mole or the Passionfruit Mole?

We could have just sat there all night, dipping the corn tortillas and chips in all those glorious mole sauces, but given their generosity, we ordered additional food. Some opted for salad and soup as starters before their main entrees. I had a taste of the cream of veggie soup and it was light, creamy and delicious. I had the La Conquista, which is made up of fresh baby spinach, queso panela, peanuts, Sesame seeds with a pepita de calabaza dressing. I was a little surprised by the sesame seeds, but was told that it's used in a lot of Oaxacan cooking. The salad itself was pretty good. I liked how they didn't overdress the salad.

Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia

When it came to the entrees, four of us ordered mole dishes. I opted for the Shrimp with Coffee Mole. At first, I thought that the coffee mole may be intense for the delicate shrimp, but actually, the sweetness of the shrimp helped balance out the richness of the coffee mole. One little thing that was off for me was that the shrimp was either overcooked or undercooked. It was a little chewier than it should have been. Still, it was the perfect partner for the coffee mole.

Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia

I also had a taste of the Venison with the Hibiscus Mole. This was a great match because the wine in the Hibiscus Mole really complemented the venison and would probably pair well with other red meats also. I also enjoyed a taste of the Salmon and Pistachio Mole. We all know tasty pistachio-encrusted salmon is, so it stands to reason this would be a wonderful duo as well. Taking a bite of the Cochinita Pibil, I realized that this was no cochinita pibil I've ever seen before. It was highly spiced, not necessarily spicy, but just strongly flavored. It almost reminded me of chorizo. It just may be a dish to order when you need a bit of a mole break.

Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia

All in all, the food was nicely presented and was really delicious. I heard nothing but praise around the table. With us winding down after such an extensive mole tasting and our good-sized entrees, dessert wasn't even in the ballpark. Of course, that was until I heard what they were and that changed everything. Ending our meal were the following:
  • Rice Pudding with raisins soaked in tequila and sitting on green tomatillo marmalade
  • Plantains with Tequila Sauce
  • Flan de Tunanbsp;
  • Cactus fruit flan
  • Cocoa Flan
  • Ancho Chile Flannbsp;
Of the five, the rice pudding was one of my favorites, which was surprising. Green tomatillo going anywhere near rice pudding seems a bit strange to me, but I actually liked the lemon-herbness of the green tomatillo when eaten with a bite of the rice pudding. It added a different dimension to a dessert that can sometimes seem too milky-sweet. The ancho chile flan was also a hit. Considering that ancho chiles have a slight chocolate/coffee bitterness to it, it went well with the flan, which is basically a caramel custard dessert. The addition of the tuna (cactus fruit) syrup added to the Flan de Tuna a fruitiness that I wouldn't normally associate with flan in general. Again, something unique.

Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles La Tia

Overall, our meal at Casa de Mole "La Tita" was simply unforgettable. It affected me so much that normally when I blog about a restaurant, it could be days, weeks or even months after I've visited it before I write about it, but my dining experience at Casa de Mole was just so exquisite, that I wanted to share it with even more people. So if you get a chance, run, don't walk to this ground breaking restaurant. You definitely won't regret it.

Casa de Moles "La Tita"
4619 E. Cesar Chavez Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90022
(323) 263-7842
Moles La Tia on Urbanspoon ^

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

At last! A restaurant that serves my favorite "Filipino" food that is actually "Sicilian!"

So I bet the title of this particular blog entry has you wondering what the heck I'm talking about, huh? Well, simply, when I first came to Los Angeles from the Philippines, we lived in this small apartment complex on a street off of Melrose. One of our neighbors that my Mom got friendly with was a Sicilian woman and unfortunately, I can't remember her name. However, it's because of her teaching my Mom to cook one of my favorite dishes, that I will always remember her with fondness.

As a
young child, I considered anything my Mom cooked as a part of Filipino cuisine. The fact that Philippines adopted spaghetti and made it their own made it even more fitting that I would think that a dish that actually has Sicilian roots would be part of my home food. By the way, just a brief note about Filipino spaghetti. It's definitely different from what you'd get from Italy. Our spaghetti sauce tends to be sweeter. Some recipes call for the addition of the Filipino banana ketchup and I've even seen one or two recipes where sugar is added. Apparently, in the Philippines, you can even purchase a sweet-style spaghetti sauce. Also, don't be surprised if you see hot dogs. Yes, chopped hot dogs are always part of the recipe. Ok, enough about Filipino spaghetti.

With my love for full-bodied flavors, you might be surprised that one of my favorite eats is Pasta Con Broccoli. It's a very simple dish, containing only 3-5 ingredients, two of which are optional. Basically, it's a dish made up of the pasta of your choice, fresh broccoli, extra virgin oil with the option of adding lemon and grated cheese. There was just something about the simplicity of the ingredients that was so appealing to my palate. Of course, now I know that there's definitely nothing Filipino about this dish, but it doesn't make me love it any less.

As an adult, I've done my share of dining at Italian restaurants, but never in my culinary travels, did I ever see Pasta Con Broccoli on the menu. Of course, that meant, I'd have to make occasional puppy dog eyes at my Mom so that she'd have enough sympathy to cook it for me. One day, I walked into Villa Italia in my hometown of Duarte, opened up the menu and almost fell out of my chair. Oh my goodness! I saw Pasta Con Broccoli on the menu or actually, it was referred to as Casareccia. So of course, I had to order it.

As I was sitting there, I asked the owner why I've never seen this dish on any Italian restaurant menu. Her response wasn't too surprising. Apparently, Pasta Con Broccoli is one of those dishes that are just simply cooked at home by Sicilian Mamas for their family. Upon reflection, I remembered my Sicilian neighbor having a family with young children. By teaching my Mom this dish, I think she was just sharing a little part of her culture.

When my order arrived, I savored my first bite and every bite after that. Yes, it tasted exactly like the way my Mom makes. Fresh crunchy broccoli. Pasta that's al dente cooked with olive oil. The slight saltiness of the grated cheese that I topped my pasta with. Delicious! Too bad that the other parts of my meal were just okay. The salad that came
with the meal was quite overdressed and the lemon gelato I ordered was refreshing, but was probably more of a sorbet since it was quite icy.

At some of my other meals, I tried their Insalata Mista, a salad made up of olives, marinated mushrooms, tomatoes, onions and romaine, but like the lunch salad was just way too overdressed. Their baked gnocchi wasn't too bad. It could have been lighter and fluffier, but all in all, it was satisfying. Unfortunately, I didn't care much for their Siciliana Pasta,
which is a pasta of your choice cooked with fresh mozzarella, basil, onions, eggplant and fresh tomato. It tasted a little bland.

Suffice to say, only the Pasta con Broccoli was the real hit in my
book, but that's totally okay with me. I can probably better renditions of those less successful dishes elsewhere, but so far, only Villa Italia can take care of my craving for this childhood dish I grew up. By the way, I actually took my Mom there to check out "her competition" and after one bite, she pronounced it as good as her own recipe. Strong words from a non-Sicilian Mama! :)

To see pics, go to:

Villa Italia

1028 Huntington Drive

Duarte, CA 91010

(626) 357-3938

Villa Italia Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Amazing Afghani Food at Azeen's

It's funny, how I'll go to a restaurant once and blog about it, but then I won't write about a restaurant that I've been to several times even when I really love the food. Such is the case with Azeen's Afghani Restaurant in Old Town Pasadena. Azeen's is the type of restaurant that really needs some spotlighting, simply because it's hidden away on a one way street that's not anywhere near the busy pedestrian traffic on the parallel street of Colorado Boulevard. I only found out about it because I went to a dinner there with friends a couple of years ago. Ever since then, I've been back a few times and I have to say that for the most part, I've never been disappointed with my meal. So let's get into the food,

When it comes to appetizers, I've had most of them and they're quite tasty. For the particular meal that this post is going to reference, my friends and I shared two of them. One was the Pakawara-e-badenjan, which were batter dipped sauteed slices off eggplant. It's at Azeen's that I've ever had eggplant deep fried and being an eggplant lover, that was already a bonus. I enjoyed the crispiness of the batter, but at first, I wasn't quite sure of the yogurt and meat sauce that topped the eggplant. It seemed an odd combination but the tangy yogurt sauce actually married well with the more highly spiced tomato-based meat sauce.

The other appetizer was the Buranee-kadu. This dish is sauteed butternut squash, also topped with yogurt and meat sauce. The melding of flavors was really interesting for this dish. You get sweet, meaty, tangy all in one bite. While we didn't have them this time, be sure to also check out their steamed dumplings, if you decide to make a visit to Azeen's.

One is the Mantu, a chopped beef, onion and herb dumpling and the Aushak, whose filling include leeks and scallions. Both dumplings have slightly differing sauces. The sauce for the Mantu i
s also yogurt based and the dumplings are topped with mixed veggies while the Aushak has a yogurt and meat sauce, with the addition of mint. What's great about all the yogurt sauces is that they're all housemade, so you know they're absolutely fresh.

When it came to the entrees, we ordered the following:
  • Badenjan Challaw - Chunks of lamb cooked with eggplant, onions and tomatoes.
  • Gulpi - Cauliflower stew cooked with ginger, onions and tomatoes
  • Kabob-e-murgh - Tender chunks of chicken breast
As I said earlier, I've pretty much enjoyed all my meals, except for the occasional dish that didn't do it for me. In this case, I didn't care much for the lamb dish. Compared to other things I've tried in the past, the Badenjan Challaw wasn't as flavorful as I would have liked, plus the lamb was a little too chewy when it should have been more tender. I loved the Gulpi. Cauliflower on its own is so bland, but when stewed with the ginger, onions and tomatoes, it definitely took a flavor life of its own that was very appealing. When it comes to kabobs, the real test for me is chicken. If a restaurant can prepare chicken breast kabob without it being dry, than that restaurant deserves praise. So praises to Azeen's because their chicken breast kabob always comes out moist and tender.

When it comes to the other menu items, you really can't go wrong with any of the side or entree vegetarian dishes. Azeen's really knows how to cook their vegetables. They always have a lot of great flavor to them. The other meat kebobs, beef and lamb, are hit and miss. Sometimes, they're tender and juicy and sometimes, not as much. As for the other entrees, I've always enjoyed the Korma Challaw, a dish with chunks of beef cooked with green pepper, onions and tomatoes. The sauce is so good that I'd spoon it over my rice and eat it, even after the meat was all gone. As for desserts, they serve three different kinds. I always find the baklava and the gelabee, which is fried pastry dough too sweet. When I'm in the mood for something sweet, I stick with their rice pudding, which is served chilled with pistachios and almonds.

Let me end by saying that I eat out a lot and I'm always looking for new restaurants and new cuisines to try. It's rare that I'll return to the same restaurant twice in one year, even when I think the food is excellent. For me, to have gone back 3 to 4 times to Azeen's, definitely shows you more than anything else, how much I truly enjoy dining there. You should check it out yourself one time!

To see pics, go to:

Azeen's Afghani Cuisine
110 E. Union St.
Old Pasadena
(626) 683-3310

Azeen's Afghani on Urbanspoon