Filipino Food Fight ~ Traditional vs. Fusion. What are your thoughts? Does it have to be one or the other or can they both represent the best of Filipino flavors, regardless if the food is prepared in the classic Filipino style or with a modern Filipino style?
Monday, June 27, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Today, I was in the mood for a burger and all the burger options in Duarte were basically all about fast food and that wasn't going to do. In-n-Out was also a possibility since it was just a 10-15 minute drive, but my picky palate said no because it was craving a new burger experience. In the back of mind, I remembered hearing about a restaurant in Monrovia called The Market Grill that is supposed to be known for their burgers so off I went.
The Market Grill is actually not a stand-alone restaurant. You'll find it inside the Monrovia Market, but as you pass the restaurant window, take note of the housemade burger buns that are on cooling trays. Once you walk inside, go down a few steps to your left to the restaurant itself where you'll see a counter in front of you where you can place your order and tables to your right that will seat about 12 people total. Yes, it's a small place, but there's also additional counter seating by the window for a few more people.
Inside the restaurant, there's are vintage food signs on the wall and also a shelf of really fun salt and pepper shakers like kissing pigs, frogs and more. Apparently, owner Alex Ramirez, would put these character salt and pepper shakers on the table and customers caught on and started donating some of their old ones to the restaurant. Currently, the customer donated shakers are just for display, but as one of the table ones are broken, they're replaced by a display one. I thought that was a cute side story.
So now it's burger time and for lunch that day, I went with a 1/3 lb. Bacon Burger with with whole leaf lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles and a swipe of housemade Thousand Island. I had a choice of Provolone, cheddar or Swiss and decided to keep it classic with cheddar cheese. For a side, I opted out of the French fry route and instead went for their Minted Lemon Potato Salad. One thing that I liked about their side choices is that you could also choose Fresh fruit instead of the fries or potato salad for those of you trying to lessen your carb load. Another plus is that they actually ask you how you want your meat cooked and Medium was the answer from me.
Before I talk about the burger, I just want to mention a couple of other things. First, they make a Minted Lemonade, which I absolutely loved. Not that I don't mind tart lemonade, but some places take it overboard. With their Minted Lemonade, I still get the tart, but it's softened and rounded with the mint flavors. Mint-lemon must be their thing since they also have Minted Lemon Potato Salad, but it is awesome. I liked the fact that the lemon wasn't overwhelming, that the salad had a smooth texture plus the addition of fresh mint added a nice hit of freshness to the salad.
As for the burger, it hit the spot and then some. The burger meat was cooked perfectly and perfectly pink and it was deliciously juicy. One thing to add is that they also grind their own meats. Kudos to them! Generous with their bacon, you got two thick slices of smoky goodness and I think that more burgers should use red onions as opposed to white or yellow onion. It added a nice little hit of sweetness that I enjoyed,
The market freshness of all the vegetables really reinforced to me that the Market Grill cares about what they feed their customers. Although the housemade burger bun was soft and even a bit fluffy, it held its own considering the amount of food between the two buns. One little nitpit is that burger meat itself needed a bit more seasoning, a dash more salt and/or pepper, but still it was pretty darn good.
The Market Grill also has daily desserts, which are all baked by Tracy Ramirez's Mother. Tracy is the wife of Alex's Ramirez and the co-owner of The Market Grill. I certainly enjoyed my Butterscotch Cookies after my burger main event. Apparently, on Wednesday, they have bacon cookies. Guess where I'm going to be next Wednesday?
Overall, I really, really enjoyed my meal at The Market Grill and I look forward to returning and trying more items from their menu, especially their New England Hot Dogs, which I read about on the foodies: a southern california food blog. Be sure to click that link because it's definitely unlike a classic American hot dog that you're used to seeing.
The Market Grill
525 South Shamrock Avenue
Monrovia, California 91016
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011
As a fan of Ricardo Diaz's Cook's Torta restaurant in Monterey Park, I was really looking forward to when he'd open his new venture called Guisados. For those of you who don't know, a guisado is a type of taco where the filling is stewed or braised and simmered until done, whether it's a filling made with meat or just vegetables.
But before I talk about the food I tried, I want to share photos first of the quirky wall art at Guisados like the ones below. Chef Diaz does have a sense of humor. :)
By the way, when it comes to Mexican restaurants, a big plus for me is when they make their own agua frescas. For our lunch that day, you had your choice between lime, horchata and jamaica.
Other than the quirky wall art, an interesting thing about Guisados is that they offer a Sampler Plate. On the sampler plate, you get six tortilla chips topped with six different taco fillings. It's Chef's Choice, but what a great way to get 6 small tastes without having to commit to a regular size taco just yet.
My first taste was the Calabacitas which was a filling of zucchini, corn, tomatoes and pepper. It's always good to have a vegetarian option, but I found the flavor to be too bland for me.
Next was the Tinga de Pollo or Tinga Chicken. The chicken was stewed with a chorizo based sauce with onions and cabbage and topped with a fresh avocado. I liked how the mildness and coolness of the avocado paired with the slight sweetness and spice of the meat.
Third was the Steak Picado which were skirt steak sauteed with peppers and onion. I didn't find the Steak Picado very memorable, so I don't have anything to say about it. I'm sure if it was bad, I'd remember it.
My fourth taste was the Chicaron (Pork Skin). My feelings are actually quite divided regarding the Chicaron. On the one hand, I like the flavor of the salsa verde that the skin was cooked in, but on the other hand, I just couldn't get into the soft texture. Chicaron for me is better eaten crispy and dipped in spicy vinegar.
Next was the Chuleta de Puerco with diced pork, black beans, tomatoes and guacamole. I lved that the pork meat was tender and the earthiness of the beans went well with the sweetness of the guacamole and the juicy bite of the tomatoes.
My favorite of all six was the Cochinita Pibil, which is a slow roasted pork in a spicy sauce topped with pickled red onions. If you're looking for heat and a punch of flavor, this is the Guisado to get.
In between bites from my sampler plate, my dining partners and I also shared a Red Snapper Ceviche with tortilla chips and a habenero-based salsa. I wasn't really feeling the ceviche. It needed more citrusy notes or more acidity or something to pop it more.
The sampler plate and ceviche was actually quite filling, but I also wanted to sample actual sized tacos like the Camaron which is a grilled shrimp taco with onions, guacamole and red peppers. Simply prepared, but tasty.
Another favorite was the Chicken Mole taco topped with pumpkin seed and other nuts. The mole had nice layers of flavor between bitter, sweet, nutty and smoky.
Our final taco of the meal was their Pescado Taco. I wasn't a big fan of the fish itself. It was blackened and although the fish was tender, it also seemed a bit bland even with the addition of the cabbage and chili sauce.
As a sweet ending to our meal, we tried some Mexican sweet breads from the market next door, which Chef Diaz has a family connection to. Those sweet breads were awesome. They were actually fluffy and light and not as dense as I've had in the past.
While talking to the manager, he offered to give us a tour of the market next door, so we happily went along. First, we checked out the area where all the masa is made for the corn tortillas and tamales.
Then we went towards the back of the market where a hard working baker was making bread.
Overall, I enjoyed most of the tacos I had at Guisados, but I can definitely say with certainty that for me, chicken and pork were king when it came to my favorite tacos that day.
2100 E Cesar Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Last April, a little email came in my inbox asking me if I'd be interested in attending a hosted Food and Wine Pairing where the food would be prepared by Top Chef Fabio Viviani and paired with Santa Margherita Wines, which are imported to the US by Terlato Wines. Since I hadn't had a chance to dine at either of his restaurants yet, I jumped at the chance to enjoy his cooking at his Toluca Lake outpost, Firenze Osteria. The purpose of this meal was the US introduction of the Santa Margherita Chianti Classico Riserva, which represents an upgrade of the brand’s Chianti Classico, which ranked in the top 10 of all Chianti brands.
Before I talk about the actual food and wine itself, there's a couple of interesting tidbits I want to share. To start, here's some wine trivia. Tony Terlato, while on a trip to Italy, discovered Pinot Grigio. After sampling Pinot Grigio at various wineries, he finally decided to introduce the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio to the US in 1979 and Americans fell in love. For 14 consecutive years, it was voted by Wine and Spirits Magazine as the most popular imported wine, red or white, served at our top restaurants.
Second, Chef Fabio mentioned a couple of things before the first course hit the table. One, he explained that one or two ingredients from one dish will be carried into the following dish and so forth so that the transition from one dish is smooth and not jarring. Two, during the pairing, we should first taste the wine on its own and then take a bite of our food and take a sip of wine to see how the flavors of the food and wine either go well together or not.
According to Chef Fabio, Italian meals always start with a glass of Prosecco, so ours started with the Santa Margherita Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, which was paired with two different dishes. Our first course was a Crostini di Pancetta which was toasted bread topped with fresh imported burrata, grilled pancetta, crispy sage and brown butter. As a sidenote, the burrata is ordered fresh every 3 days and the crostini is housemade. The light fruity notes of the wine was a nice complement to the burrata while its crispness helped cleanse the palate from the saltiness of the pancetta.
The second dish to be paired with the Prosecco was Gamberoni in Camacia which was grilled pancetta-wrapped jumbo shrimp filled with gorgonzola served over Parmesan polenta and sauteed shrimp. As I mentioned earlier, the pancetta from the first dish made it into the second dish. The upfront lychee and lemon flavors from the wine was a nice contrast to the rich gorgonzola cheese. My one issue was that the polenta was too gummy.
From the Prosecco, we moved on to the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio Alto Adige, which was also paired with two dishes. The first of those dishes was the Gnocchi Cinque Terre with pesto potato dumplings, basil pesto, pine nuts and Parmigiano cheese. Chef Fabio mentioned that this particular gnocchi dish was served Italian-style, which means that the gnocchi isn't mixed in the sauce, but instead is placed on top of the sauce. I actually prefer the Italian-style where the real focus is on those pillowy gnocchi, which are definitely worth the attention. As for the Pinot Grigio, its bright earthiness paired well with the pesto.
The second dish to be paired with the Pinot Grigio was the Oil-Poached Escolar which is a white tuna that is poached in a light olive oil and topped with with a chunky puttanesca sauce. I loved the contrast of the mild fish with the spicy sauce and the Pinot Grigio's acidity was a wonderful complement.
Our last three pairings were done with the Santa Margherita Chianti Classico Riserva. The first dish to pair with the Chianti was a perfectly cooked and juicy Costolette di Agnello, a herb marinated rack of lamb served with glazed pistachio nuts. While the lamb was indeed excellent, I have to say that I fell in love with the pistachio nuts, which were softened and cooked down like beans. If I wasn't told that they were pistachio nuts, I wouldn't have had a clue. It was such a transformation, but a delicious one. The tannins of the Chianti was helpful in cleansing the palate from the strong flavors of the lamb.
The final savory dish to go with the Chianti was the Trofie con Anatra e Finocchio, which are homemade trofie pasta with duck sausage, caramelized fennel and Parmesan cheese. When it came to the pasta dish, I enjoyed it except for the fennel. Fennel tastes too much like anise or licorice to me and I'm just not a fan. As for the wine, its dark fruit notes went well with the gaminess of the duck.
As for dessert, they were both also paired with the Chianti. First, there was the Torta al Cioccolato, an individual flourless chocolate cake served with vanilla gelato and a chocolate and coffee cream sauce. Second was their homemade cannoli encrusted with pistachios and chocolate chips filled with ricotta.In truth, I was pretty full by this time so I had only a few bites of each dessert and skipped the wine altogether.
Overall, this was a wonderful meal. I think the wine pairings went well with Chef Fabio's food, which was so delicious, that I couldn't believe that I hadn't visited Firenze Osteria earlier. As for the wine, I really liked that the wines worked well with so many different types of dishes. That really speaks well of their versatility and if I need to bring a bottle of wine to meal, a Santa Margherita wine just make it in my shopping basket.
4212 Lankershim Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 91602
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Santa Margherita Wines
Santa Margherita Wines on Terlato Wines
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