Sunday, June 28, 2009
When I heard that one of my favorite Filipino restaurants, Asian Noodles, had closed, I was really disappointed and I had to admit to feeling a bit of an unfair grudge against whatever restaurant took its place. Then I found out that the new restaurant now called Noi, was also a Filipino restaurant and the news put a smile on my face. I could only hope that the food would be as good, if not better than its predecessor. Really happy news finally came my way when a friend of mine told me that Noi was actually still Asian Noodles. Although the restaurant name changed, apparently everything else stayed the same, including the management and cooks.
After hearing the good news, I knew that I wanted to check out Noi as soon as I could and as luck would have it, I was able to have dinner there with a couple of friends before catching the Cirque Berzerk Yelp Elite Event happening at a near by location. With only three of us, we kept it simple with 4 dishes that we shared, but man oh man, there was really enough food there for 3 other people. Before the food arrived, we enjoyed a calamansi drink. Calamansi , which is both naturally sweet and sour, is a popular fruit in the Philippines that is used in a lot of Filipino cooking and can also be made into a "lemonade" type of drink.
One of the dishes we shared was a bola bola siopao which came with sauce that is made up of soy sauce, sugar and other ingredients. The siopao is similar to a Chinese bao and in fact, the siopao is attributed to Ma Mon Luk, a grade school teacher from Canton, who came to the Philippines to make his way. Ma Mon Luk also introduced Mami, a Filipino noodle soup inspired by a similar Chinese dish, to the Philippines. Traditionally, Filipinos will have the siopao as a side to their Mami Soup. Siopao fillings are either chicken, pork or a combination of pork, sausage, chicken and a salted egg. The last configuration is referred to as Bola Bola.
Unfortunately, this bola bola siopao was disappointing. The bread was dry as was the filling. Also, I didn't see much evidence of the salted egg and it's because of that particular ingredient that I'll order the bola bola in the first place. The thick salty/sweet sauce it came with helped a little bit, but not enough.
As for the other three dishes, two of them were seafood based. First, there's the Bicol Express, which is seafood cooked in a spicy coconut sauce. While not that spicy, there was definitely some kind of seasoning that cut into the sweetness of the coconut milk and also added a lot of flavor to this dish. Another bonus is the generosity when it came to the seafood ingredients. Clams, mussels, squid and shrimp all came to the party.
The other seafood item was Pansit Palabok, which had rice noodles, shrimp, squid, hard boiled eggs and was topped with crushed chicarrones. As for the sauce, it is generally made of shrimp juice, flour and atchuete oil. Most Filipinos eat these noodles with a squeeze of lemon or calamansi. I really liked how the squid was battered and deep fried, tentacles and all. Even with the shrimp juice sauce, the flavors weren't erring too much on the seafood side and in fact, the chicarrones added a nice hit of salt while the lemon juice gave this dish a nice tartness in flavor.
Last, but not least, was the Filipino Fried Chicken. When it comes to Filipino Fried Chicken, it's never coated with any type of batter. Generally, it's simmered in a mixture of soy sauce, black peppercorns, vinegar and a bay leaf or two and than it's deep fried to a dark golden brown. Usually, the chicken is deep fried for so long that the chicken itself may seem a little dry, but what you get out of it is the deliciously crispy chicken skin. Besides, the chicken is usually served with banana ketchup. Dip your chicken in that sweet sauce and I guarantee you'll be a happy camper.
Whether Asian Noodles or Noi, I'm glad this restaurant never actually left and I'm already looking forward to my return visit and re-acquainting myself with their wonderful food.
643 N Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Friday, June 26, 2009
Chicken Feta Spinach Sausage
- The Comfort is Always Here
Sweet Pea and Spinach Soup
- Kayotic Kitchen
Fresh Spinach Reginette Pasta with Walnut Pesto Recipe
- Ms. Adventures in Italy
Spinach and Sardine Cupcakes
- Dog Hill Kitchen
Spinach Laced Brownies
One of things I love about LA is our weather and how patio dining is something that can be pretty much done all year long and when the dining itself is due to happenstance because of my own forgetfulness, it's a win-win situation. It was a Tuesday night and I was dragging a friend to an Examiner.com cocktail party at the Bonaventure Brewing Company. If you didn't know it already, I am currently an Ethnic Restaurants Examiner for that website. Anyway, we arrive, only to find out that I had my dates mixed up and that the event was actually on Thursday. Go figure. Well, we were already parked and hungry, so instead of calling it a night, we opted for dinner across the street at Ciudad.
Cool weather, sunny skies and being able to watch the tall office buildings glisten from the sun's rays as it set was the perfect reason to sit at the patio and as luck would have it, it was also Tuesday Paella night. Of course, we had to have that as our main entree and it also came with a crab cake appetizer, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, let's talk drinks. My friend went for the White Wine Sangria and I chose the Minty Lime Cooler which was made with fresh mint, lime, splash of soda and touch of sugar. I actually had the Minty Lime Cooler for the first time when I went to the 2009 Planned Parenthood Los Angeles Guild Food Fare last March. It was refreshing and tart then and it was refreshing and tart now.
We decided to order appetizers to share and when we weren't able to come to a decision between two of them, we decided to just go for it and order them both. First, we sampled their duo of Argentine Empanadas. One had a spinach, pine nut, raisin and Manchego filling and came with a salsa verde sauce. The other was a wild mushroom empanada with chipotle sauce. Both empanadas were subtle in flavor and as such, they both paired well with their individual sauces which had more of a kick to them, especially the chipotle sauce.
Our second appetizer was the Watermelon Salad with baby watercress, Oaxacan string cheese, pedro jimenez reduction, macadamia nuts and marash chili. At first glance, the ingredients may seem like they wouldn't play together well, but amazingly they did. There was a nice interplay of flavors that included sweet, juicy, salty, nutty, a little bite from the watercress and a hint of earthiness from the marash chili, which make for an unusually different, but delicious kind of salad.
With the paella also comes a crab cake appetizer, which was quite tasty. With it being deep fried, it wasn't greasy and the batter had a light, but crunchy texture to it. The crab itself may have been mixed with sweet red peppers and some kind of herb. Maybe cilantro? The crab meat had good flavor and was seasoned just right.
Now for the main event, the paella. Just an FYI, at $29, the paella is a fairly good sized portion. So if you're a light eater and/or watching your pennies, split it with your dining parter. Add an extra appetizer to go with the crab cake and the meal can be quite reasonable. Now when it comes to how the paella tasted, it's a solid dish. There's nothing about it that was mind blowing, but you get a nice portion of clams, mussels and sausage and while the rice was saucy, it wasn't mushy. The flavor was okay, but it really needed something else to take it up a notch. Perhaps, more saffron? Pepper? Overall, not bad.
Even with everything we ate up to that point, there was still room for dessert, especially since the Goat Milk Cajeta Flan mesmerized me when I saw it on the dessert menu. I was curious as to whether the goat cheese would cut into the sweetness of the flan. Without a doubt, it did. The goat cheese added just the right amount of pungency to soften; yet, not overwhelm the sweet caramel flavors of the flan.
To end, it was a nice evening. I definitely enjoyed the ambiance of dining outside amongst tall office buildings and both the food and service was good. A couple of things to mention is that Ciudad is currently promoting a 3-Course Steal Prix Menu, which is basically a 3 course meal that costs $24 for lunch and $38 for dinner. Also, as we were leaving, we were presented with a $20 gift card off of our next meal of $50 or more. I'm not sure how long they'll be giving this gift cards away, but it's certainly a nice incentive to return for another meal.
To see pics, go to:
445 S. Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Sunday, June 21, 2009
One of my favorite places to eat in Pasadena was a Jamaican restaurant called Kingston Cafe. A few years ago, it shut its door and I was definitely sad to see it go, but now it's back and I was definitely ready to re-visit an old haunt with a couple of friends in tow. When making the trip to Kingston Cafe, there are a couple of things you should know. First, the building Kingston Cafe is in looks like a small house. The restaurant shares the space with a medical group and in fact, the space Kingston Cafe occupies used to be medical offices as well. As for parking, although the attached parking lot is a paid lot, it's free if you're having dinner. Just be sure to mention to your serving person that you're parked at that lot. I think it's $3 parking at lunch time.
When you enter the restaurant, you'll see about 3 smaller dining rooms to your left. There's a larger dining room towards the back where there's a live band playing Caribbean music. I think that band only plays during the weekend, so if you want a more intimate dining setting, you should ask to be seated in one of the smaller dining rooms. As soon as my friends and I sat down, the ginger beer was the first thing we ordered. I have to say that my palate party really started with this beer. There was quite a kick to it.
We decided to order an appetizer and opted for the Jamaican chicken patty. It arrived topped with a thick curry sauce. The chicken patty had more of a soft bread texture as opposed to a flaky pastry consistency and the filling was ground chicken. I took a little forkful of the chicken on its own and it had heat. When you eat the chicken patty with the sauce, there was a flame or two, but when you drink the Ginger beer immediately afterwards, be prepared for a little bonfire.
As for the entrees, they come with a salad and plantains, which were served in courses. First, our salad arrived in a martini glass. The salad consisted of mixed greens and a mango salsa with a house vinaigrette that tasted a bit citrusy. It was a pretty presentation, but not the easiest to eat out of the martini glass.
Next, we were served a plate of plantains and johnny cakes with crushed pineapple and a walnut dusted with brown sugar. For those of you who don't know, johnny cakes are basically a cake or biscuit made out of corn meal. It was an interesting plate of textures and flavors. The plantains were a bit sweet, but the tartness of the pineapple tempered that sweetness. I liked that the johnny cakes had a firm texture to go along with the softness of the plantains. Then you also had the sweet nutty crunch of the walnut added to the mix.
Soon our entrees arrived. For my meal, I ordered the Escovitched Fish which is fish simmered in fresh herbs, spices, scotch bonnet peppers and vinegar topped with onions and tomatoes. Served with rice and beans, you had a choice of red snapper or salmon. I decided on the snapper. The fish was moist and delicate and I loved the vinegary heat coming from each bite. For more of a tropical flavor and to also cut the heat, add some of the mango salsa which came in a tasting spoon on your plate.
I also got to sample the Jerked Chicken. My friend asked for it to be medium, but medium was still pretty hot. I can't even imagine how spicy would spicy be. The chicken was moist, tender and marinated with a house made jerk sauce.
The other entree to hit our table was the Curried Goat which was stewed with onion and fresh thyme and came on a mound of rice and beans. From the small bite of it that I had, the goat had a slight chew to it and it was definitely well seasoned with some kick to it. As my friend started eating into it more, she mentioned that it was a bit salty, but she still enjoyed it nonetheless.
We ended our meal with Kingston Cafe's housemade Rum Cake, which was dense and moist. After a couple of bites, I felt like I was tasting raisins, but when I asked our server about it, he said that there weren't any raisins in the recipe. My friend, who's from Trinidad, said that the rum cake we were enjoying was actually a Jamaican Black Cake. The ingredients of the black cake could include any combination of raisins, currants, dates and prunes that are soaked in a dark rum. In the end, the cake actually served as a great palate cleanser and soaked up all the lingering sparks left on our tastebuds from our meal.
Overall, I really enjoyed dining at Kingston Cafe. After a brief conversation with a couple of our servers and the manager, I found out that Kingston Cafe still has the original owners from its first incarnation. The main difference is that the family who owns this business decided to be more hands-on than in the past. They've only been open for a month and initially started with just 3 entrees and have just recently increased the number of their entrees to 7. The menu will be seeing expansion in the upcoming months as their new chef works on new dishes and recipes. They are currently open for lunch and I for one, really want to check out their Jerk Burger.
Welcome back, Kingston Cafe! I'm so happy to see you back in the Pasadena Dining Scene.
333 S Fair Oaks Ave
Pasadena, CA 91105-2541
Friday, June 19, 2009
I'm sure everyone can relate to having show tickets and trying to figure out where to grab a bite to eat beforehand. That was my dilemma as I was rushing from work to meet a couple of friends and of course, on my way there, I got a call with the inevitable question, "Where should we eat?" Given that the show was at the Pantages Theater, which isn't too far from Thai Town, a Thai restaurant was the obvious choice, but for once, I wasn't in the mood for Asian food.
Still pondering options, I got off the Hollywood Boulevard exit and spotted a sign partially hidden behind a building that said Natalie Peruvian Seafood Restaurant. My tastebuds stood at attention. Thankfully, I also remember from the recesses of my mind reading some good reviews. Yes! I knew what was for dinner and directed my two theater buddies to meet me at the given address. Walking into Natalie Peruvian, the dining room was a rectangular room. It wasn't very big, but I really liked the bright red wood furniture.
Not wanting to linger too long, we placed our order right away. Anytime, I go to a Peruvian restaurant, I have to order a drink called a Chicha Morada, which is a drink made out of purple corn. The one at Natalie Peruvian was a bit too sweet, but still refreshing.
Corn was still on the books for our appetizer which was Cancha or simply, dry fried corn. The cancha were similar to corn nuts, but with a smoother texture. There wasn't anything special about the cancha, but it's a nice salty and savory way to start the meal.
For my entree, I went with the Pescado Sudado, which is a steamed filet of fish cooked with onions, tomatoes and touch of white wine and served with steamed rice. The fish was wonderful. It was delicate and moist. As for the sauce, when they said a touch of white wine, they meant it and that was a good thing. The wine added just the right amount of citrus notes to pair well with the tomato's acidity and it was yummy poured over my rice.
My two dining partners went for the Chicken Saltado and the Beef Saltado dish. The only difference between the two were the meats, but both were meats sauteed with onions, tomatoes and French fries, served with steamed rice. Both their plates were eaten clean. Enough said.
The service was also really nice. When we told our server that we had a show to catch, the food came out really quickly. Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at Natalie Peruvian and am looking forward to trying other items on their menu.
Natalie Peruvian Seafood Restaurant
5759 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028-6719
Be sure to join them in Los Angeles from June 26 to June 28, as they look at the food world through a design lens. They will be hosting panels, live demonstrations and LA's first mobile restaurant row on Saturday evening, June 27. Check out the complete schedule of Square Meal events on their website and for more information about Dwell on Design, click here!
Square Meal: A 3 Day Feast
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Summer is around the corner, which means cones dripping with ice cream will soon be the rule and not the exception, although with me, it could be 20 degrees below outside and as long as I'm warm and toasty inside, ice cream would still be my favorite sweet treat. To jump start ice cream season, I set up a gelato and sorbet tasting for my dining group at Paciugo Gelato in Hermosa Beach owned and run by daughter and mother team, Brittny Thacker and Monien Ibarra, respectively. Before I talk about the 9 flavors we sampled, let me tell you a little bit about Paciugo Gelato.
Paciugo Gelato is one of more than 20 locations in the US and was started by Cristiana and Ugo Ginatta. Cristiana apprenticed at a four-generation gelataria before the family moved to Dallas where they opened their first gelato caffe in 2000. Paciugo pronounced "pah-CHOO-go" in an Italian dialect from Portofino cheekily means "messy concoction" but the ice cream that is served by Paciugo is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
Imported Italian ingredients, machinery and technique are used to replicate fourth-generation Italian recipes that came from Ginatta's and Vincenzo's home cities of Turin and Milan. Currently, close to 250 recipes have been developed since then, with 30 to 38 flavors of freshly made gelato offered in each store daily. Other things to note are that Paciugo Gelato have no preservatives and doesn't include cream or butter in their recipes, which means that their fat content is only 3.5%. Their milk-based gelatos is between 50% to 70% lower in fat than most premium ice creams while their sorbets are fat free.
Now that you the scoop (I know, I know. I couldn't resist) about Paciugo Gelato, let me tell you about the tasting event I set up with them. First and foremost, it was really difficult to narrow down to 9 flavors from over 200 to choose from. It was insane. They had some really unique combinations and I was definitely going back and forth for a while. Finally, I settled on 4 sorbets and 5 gelatos.
Our first taste of Paciugo came in the form of a Lime Cilantro Sorbet. Taking a peek at it, the cilantro definitely showed up for the party; however, the lime completely overwhelmed the cilantro to the point that I couldn't taste it. Still, this sorbet was quite refreshing and would be a great palate cleanser in between courses of a multi-course meal.
Usually, the second flavor would be something to be paired with Mexican food or on its own at a bar or party, but not in this case. I present you with the Beer Chill Sorbet, made with Corona Beer and Lime. At first, the beer taste was quite prominent, but it lessened after a few more spoonfuls. Fun to try just for the sake of trying, but not something I'd have again.
Up to bat next was the Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar Sorbet. At first, I didn't "get" this flavor. The strawberry was prominent on the tastebuds, but that wasn't the case with the balsamic vinegar; however, after a few more tastes, I did "get" it. The role of the balsamic vinegar was to add a depth and roundess of flavor to the strawberry. Even the sweetest strawberry can still have a bit of a tang to it, but the balsamic vinegar did its job and masked it for this sorbet.
Fourth in line was the Lime Chili Mango Sorbet. Eating this sorbet was like eating mangos from a Mexican fruit cart that had lime squeezed on it and was sprinked with either chili powder or had hot sauce poured over it. It was an interesting eat of cold ice cream paired with a combination of tangy and spicy flavors. I'd order this again in a heart beat.
Our fifth offering was the Mediterranean Sea Salt Caramel Gelato. This particular gelato is a customer favorite, but it didn't do much for me. It seemed too one note and I honestly can't even explain what I mean by that. It was just simply okay.
More than halfway there and it was time for the Sweet Corn Thorntree Honey Gelato. This particular gelato was not a universal favorite of the group. I kept hearing the words "Creamed Corn" when referring to this flavor. Corn is actually a popular Filipino ice cream flavor and for me, being Filipina, this gelato was familiar and much appreciated.
The remaining three gelatos were the most unique of the bunch starting with the Violet Chocolate Chip Gelato. It's hard for me to describe what this gelato tasted like. Of course, it had floral notes to it and maybe, a slight peppery flavor? The addition of the dark chocolate chips added a bitter sweetness which I thought added another interesting component to this gelato and one I enjoyed.
What came next was my absolute favorite gelato of this tasting and it was the Black Pepper Olive Oil Gelato. Oh my! Black pepper in ice cream may seem like a strange ingredient, but it worked for me. What was nice was that it wasn't overdone. It's not as if you could see the gelato drowning in black pepper flakes, but there was enough to give a kick in flavor that still lingered on your palate even after eating the entire cup.
Last, but not least was the Chocolate Coconut Curry Gelato. This was easily my second favorite gelato and it was simply fantastic. Prevalent in this gelato was garam masala mixed with coconut milk and Belgium chocolate. With every spoonful, there was a bevy of spices tripping the light fantastic on my palate. Perhaps cardammon? Nutmeg? Cinnamon? I hadn't a real clue, but one thing was clear. It left a lasting impression. Even now, I could almost taste that gelato at the tip of my tongue.
Overall, our time at Paciugo Gelato was a lot of fun. I enjoyed tasting the various sorbets and gelatos that we sampled for our tasting. Unfortunately, I don't live close to their Hermosa Beach location, but Paciugo Gelato is definitely a place I'd recommend that locals and visitors alike should check out for themselves.
To see all the pics, go to:
Paciugo Gelato Caffe
1034 Hermosa Avenue
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254