Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Dim Sum of the Month Club" at Ocean Star Seafood Restaurant

In May, Ocean Star was the fifth place I visited as a part of my 12 month odyssey checking out a different Dim Sum restaurant a month all over LA County. Previous visits were to Triumphal Palace, Capital Seafood, Sea Harbour and Mission 261.

At Ocean Star, it's all about the carts and there were quite a few bustling around the tables on the morning we were there. Unfortunately, even with all the carts, there wasn't much variety in their dim sum offerings. In fact, I can safely say that my dim sum at Ocean Star was one of the most boring dining experiences I've ever had.

Of course, there are certain "staples" you expect to see and order, like shrimp har gow, shu mai and flat rice noodles, but there's also the expectation or hope that you'll get to try items that you have never sampled before, especially in a group setting, when it's easier to be more adventurous. Don't get me wrong. Nothing tasted bad, but when all you get is plate after plate of items that look similar in color and shape and certainly didn't impress taste-wise, that's pretty disappointing. Considering that we had 15 dishes, saying that almost nothing stood out is kind of sad.

I guess if I had to point out some positives, I'd say that the pork and shrimp shau mai wasn't bad. I remember biting into it and tasting a bit of the pork juices which gave the shau mai a nice meaty flavor. I remember liking the chewy texture of the noodle wrapped crullers. I also liked the seafood dumpling, although please don't ask me what the filling is because I can't recollect it.

Other than that, both versions (steamed and fried) of the BBQ pork buns didn't have a lot of filling and seemed dry. The soup in the xia long baos was MIA. One food item had a "cute" factor since it was shaped like a chick, but cuteness wasn't enough because people didn't even finish it after they took a bite of it. Dessert choices were limited and two of the ones we ordered had the same filling, so no originality there, that's for sure. Whatever else I didn't mention was just okay.

Even as we were leaving and I saw that dim sum carts were now including dishes that weren't available earlier in the morning, there was still nothing that wowed me. Everything still looked all the same to me. Would I go back to Ocean Star? Probably not. There are just way too many better dim sum restaurants out there to choose from.

To see pics, go to:

Ocean Star Seafood Restaurant
145 N Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 308-2128

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wolfe Burgers

Having driven by Wolfe Burgers for a number of years now, I finally decided to check it out for lunch. Once inside, it took me awhile to order just because the menu had a good bit of variety. Finally, just because I love avocado, I settled for the avocado burger and chili cheese fries.

When my food arrived, I dug into the chili cheese fries first. There were two things I was disappointed in. First, the fries themselves were too mushy. Granted, fries topped with hot chili may lose some of its crispness, but even the fries that were to the outer side of the paper tray were softer than I would have liked. Second, the chili was bland. Not that was I expecting it to be fiery, but some oomph would have been nice.

Now on to the burger. At first glance, it looked impressive. It was served open faced and right away, you can see that they weren't shy about giving you enough avocado. It looked like a whole half of an avocado resting on the cheese.

So than I put it all together, cut it in half to make eating easier and took my first bite. I was very underwhelmed. The burger itself was dry, but what really bugged me was how the avocado kept sliding out of the bun.

The cheese on the burger was a little bit greasy and the avocado was resting on that oil slick. I'd take a bite and some part of the avocado would come out. It was really annoying. Finally, I just removed the avocado and just ate it on its own. As for the burger, I only finished half of it. I didn't like it enough to even finish it all.

To be fair, I've only been there once, so maybe, a different order would make for a tastier meal. But with so many other really great burger joints out there, a repeat visit to Wolfe Burgers won't be happening anytime soon.

To see pics, go to:

Wolfe Burgers
46 N Lake Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 792-7292

Wolfe Burgers on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mexican Outdoor Food Stands in Boyle Heights

Every Thursday through Sunday in Boyle Heights, from 7pm to 10pm, you can feast on a variety of sopes, gorditas, huaraches, pozoles at food stands that line Breed Street, across from the Big Buy Foods grocery store. You may even encounter some things you won't normally find at regular sit down Mexican restaurants.

For example, there's the pambazo, which is a special bread (white bread with a crust) dipped in a red guajillo pepper sauce and filled with something like potatoes and Mexican sausage or refried beans and than is garnished with shredded lettuce, salsa, cream and queso fresco. By the time, we got to a stand that sold that, we were already too full, but there's always next time.

Than there was this unique and absolutely delicious salsa that I've never tasted before. Basically, it's salsa de semillas (seeds) and was made up of peanuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chile de arbol and peanut oil. It was nutty, flavorful, spicy, but not in an overboard sort of way. Truly amazing!

As for the various foods I tried, along with my 2 other fellow foodies (one of whom introduced us to this foodie lover's find), we started with a sope with tinga (spiced pork and beef stew), It was topped with refritos (refried beans), cabbage, crema mexicana and cotija cheese. By the way, a sope is like a thick cornmeal shell that "cups" the fillings.

It was with the sope that I first tried the salsa de semillas. The sope was absolutely delicious on its own, but I think the salsa de semillas took it to another level. I also found the meat to be tender and flavorful.

For our second round, we had a quesadilla with a potato and chorizo filling topped with lettuce, cotija cheese and a guajillo chile sauce. This quesadilla, by the way, is not the regular fan-shaped, folded flour tortilla that you're used to. True Mexican quesadillas are typically circles of uncooked corn masa folded in half and filled with cheese and other ingredients, sealed at the edges, then cooked (or in our case deep fried) until ready for eating.

Just an FYI, while online, I found out about a dish called "sincronizada" (Spanish for synchronized). Apparently, the sincronizada is a tortilla dish frequently confused with quesadillas by tourists because it is what is typically called a quesadilla in most Mexican restaurants outside of Mexico. Sincronizadas are made with a flour tortilla covered with cheese (and other ingredients) and then covered with another flour tortilla and than grilled or fried. A rose by any other name...well, you get the picture.

In my case, I've had previous experience with a Mexican quesadilla so I wasn't thrown by the appearance of the one we ate. Unfortunately, I wasn't too enthralled with it. The filling wasn't substantial enough and comprised more of potatoes than chorizo. Also, after the boldness of the salsa de semillas we had previously on our sope, this dish seemed almost bland in comparison. I would order this again, but with a different filling and a stronger salsa topping.

Third up was a gordita with squash blossoms. The squash blossoms were fried with tomato, onion, garlic,chile poblano and epazote.We topped it with both a salsa de aguacate (avocado) and a chile costeno sauce. For those of you who are unfamiliar with gorditas, think of them as thick corn tortillas that can either be folded over like regular tacos or served as a top and bottom to a sandwich, which is what we had.

Sides included a complimentary nopales salad and onions with habanero sauce. Speaking of nopales, usually, I can't tolerate them because I don't like how slimy they can get. Apparently, when prepared properly, you can say good-bye to slimy. This was the first time I ever enjoyed a nopales salad. I also loved the vinegary heat of the onions!

As for the gordita itself, it was tasty. The combination of the thick corn goodness of the tortilla and the flavorful squash blossom filling was a definite hit.

We ended our feasting with Red Pozole Soup. This soup starts off as white pozole which is a chicken-based broth. White pozole becomes red pozole when a sauce made from dried chiles is added to the soup. Our sauce had California chiles (either guajillo or ancho) that are soaked in hot water until softened.

The chiles are then pureed with onion and garlic and cooked in oil. This is added to the white pozole after adding the meat. The meats added to our particular soup included carnitas, pigs feet and pork skin. Additional flavors are added when you top your soup with chopped onion, radishes, chile de arbole, lime, etc.

Of everything I had, I totally fell in love with this soup. Every spoonful was pure heaven. I could taste the pork, the chile sauce, the lime. I'd go back just for that Red Pozole.

Overall, this was definitely an awesome street food experience and one I'm looking forward to experiencing time and time again.

To see pics, go to:

Food Stand Location:
Big Buy Foods
2233 E Cesar E Chavez Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90033

The food stands are directly across from Big Buy Foods on Breed Street, which crosses the street address mentioned above.

High Tea at Cafe Pacific in the Trump National Golf Club

At the beautiful Trump National Golf Club, there are 3 restaurants that you can dine at, but if you want afternoon tea, Cafe Pacific is the place to be. With its pretty painted ceilings, plush seating, a view of the water and the name Trump attached to this establishment, I had high expectations for a wonderful tea experience and for the most part, it wasn't bad.

When we were seated, we were first asked if we preferred champagne or orange juice, almost all of us opted to blend the two beverages and have mimosas. So far, so good. Soon after, out came individual tea pots and cups. Inside the tea pots was hot water. Hot water??? I was about to say something until I noticed the assorted tea bags in a silver container sitting in front of me.

Maybe, I'm just a tea snob, but it seems really cheesy to have tea bags for a "High Tea." I could do tea bags myself at home, after all. I don't think it was too much to expect brewed teas, especially for the $38 we each paid for this experience.

Ok, enough tea bashing, let's talk about the food, which consisted of a three tier tray with plates of the following:

1st tier - five different sandwiches:

. Cucumber Mint Cream Cheese on Sourdough
. Curry Chicken, Celery Mayonnaise on Croissant
. Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper, Chives on Wheat
. Prosciutto, Swiss, Lettuce, Tomato, Grain Mustard on Sourdough
. Egg and Watercress Sandwich

2nd tier - mini scones with homemade strawberry preserves and fresh whipped cream:

. Pecan
. Apricot

3rd tier - five different desserts:

. New York Style Cheesecake
. Fresh Fruit Tarts
. Double Fudge Chocolate Brownies
. White Chocolate Mousse Cups
. Fresh Lemon Square

What was lacking in the tea department, at least you got it back in a fair amount of food with quality ingredients. In general, I thought the food was fine, although of everything I had, I found the sandwiches to be really lacking in flavor and originality.

For example, I didn't really taste any mint-iness in the cucumber sandwich with mint cream cheese. Also, how can you get any more boring than the prosciutto sandwich where the only ingredients were Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomato? At least there was some attempt to do something different with the curry chicken salad croissant, but I still found it to be kind of bland. Of the bunch, I only really liked the smoked salmon sandwich, primarily because of the addition of the roasted red pepper because it added a nice zing of flavor.

I actually wouldn't change anything about the scones. I liked the fact that they were small in size and in regards to the bread's texture, while they weren't cake-like which is my normal preference, they weren't so hard that they could be used as golf balls. Believe me, I've had my experience with hard scones earlier in the year at another tearoom and don't want to repeat it anytime soon.

As for the desserts, while there wasn't anything unique about them, they were prettily presented and they were enough to satisfy anyone's sweet tooth. Of the five, the lemon bar was the least successful simply because the lemony flavor was MIA. I really enjoyed both the fresh berry tart and double fudge chocolate brownie.

In general, this isn't a tea I'd go out of way to do again, especially considering that it's an hour drive from where I live. Even if I lived close by, I probably still wouldn't be a regular tea goer to Cafe Pacific. Having tea bags as opposed to brewed tea is something I find really ridiculous for a "High Tea" experience. Also, if I'm going to pay $38, I want food that is flavorful and a little more original and for me, this tea wasn't worth the price in that respect.

To see pics, go to:

Cafe Pacific
Trump National Golf Club
1 Ocean Trails Dr
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275
(310) 265-5000

"Dim Sum of the Month Club" at Mission 261

In April, Mission 261 was the fourth place I visited as a part of my 12 month odyssey checking out a different Dim Sum restaurant a month all over LA County. Previous visits were to Triumphal Palace, Capital Seafood and Sea Harbour.

At Mission 261, there are no carts. Instead, you order from a picture menu that offers a pretty good variety of steamed and pan-fried items as well as congee and more specialty items that can only be ordered after 10:30 am.

Our meal included 12 different items. 9 were savory dishes and 3 were desserts. Of the 9 savory
dishes, 3 really stood out for me. First, there was the Steamed Sticky Rice Sui Mui. Wrapped in a tofu skin, the filling included the sticky rice, bits of Chinese sausage and green onion. It was a delicious combination of flavors and textures.

The second item is something that many may find a bit too glutinous, but I enjoyed the fact that it was a bit gooey anyway. It's referred to as an Imperial Dumpling and it's wrapped in a banana leaf with a pork filling.

Then out came one of the more unique dumplings on the menu which were the Steamed Abalone Mushroom Dumplings. By the way, these dumplings were green. Don't ask me why because I don't know why, but I just don't want you to be surprised if you decide to order them yourself and you really should order them. Not only is the filling substantial, it was was moist and tasty as well.

As for the other 6 savory items, while 2 of them were fine as they were, I was disappointed in varying degrees with the rest of them. Both the Shrimp Har Gow and the Pan Fried Shrimp and Chives Sten Cakes that we ordered were on the dry side. The Fried Rice Noodles with Greens and Beef was really greasy and the Steamed Rice Pancakes with Dried Shrimp and Scallion was really bland. All the dishes were beautifully presented, but if they aren't tasty, what's the point?

What I found interesting about this whole dim sum experience was that it was really the desserts that were the stars of the show. Those desserts were the Sweetened Sago Pudding with Green Tea Flavor, the Sweetened Chrysanthemum and Red Bean Pudding and the Rabbit Dumpling.

What I like about the Sago Pudding was that it was light, delicate and cool, perfect for warm weather. As for the Chrysanthemum and Red Bean Pudding, I liked that the red bean filling wasn't overly sweet and I also enjoyed the eating texture of the chrysanthemum leaves that were embedded in the top layer of this dessert.

As for the rabbit dumplings, they were almost too cute to eat. The presentation of these shaped dumplings definitely made an impression. Once you take a bite though, be prepared for a little mini explosion of custard in your mouth. It's that substantial custard filling that gives the rabbit dumpling its shape, after all.

To end, I wouldn't say that I'd go out of my way to come back to Mission 261 nor would I go out of my way to avoid it either. I really like the elegant setting and appreciated the lovely presentation of the food. Taste-wise; however, I know that there are other better options for me and Mission 261 wouldn't even be in my top 3.

To see pics, go to:

Mission 261
261 S Mission Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 588-1666

Off Citrus

For those of us who live in the Eastside, there aren't many alternatives when it comes to "nicer" restaurants where one can take business colleagues or clients to, other than the ubiquitous chain restaurants or fast food joints that dot the landscape around my part of town. Last year, I discovered Off Citrus and a what a great find it was.

Walking into a dining area with colors reflecting browns and creams as well as having exposed wooden beams up in the ceiling, you already can tell that this restaurant is certainly no neighborhood
Apple Bee's or like the kitschy Elephant Bar. The menu reflects California cuisine and as such, is seasonal. Dishes are swapped out periodically to take advantage of ingredients at its peak.

I've visited Off Citrus a total of three times and for the most part, I enjoyed my meals. The first time I had lunch there, I had their House Roasted Turkey Sandwich with Mango Chutney Sauce. Yummy! Other ingredients included spring mix greens and tomato. The slight bitterness of the greens really complemented the sweetness of the mango chutney.

For my second visit there, I had a stuffed pasta dish which was a special that day. Unfortunately, I don't remember the ingredients, but at the time, I enjoyed every bite. The last time I ate there, I did enjoy my meal, but there were definitely some things I'd change about some of my dishes.

First, I started off with their Yuca Frita. When the dish was placed in front of me, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. There was a lot going on. The yuca was on a bed of dressed spring mix greens and topped with pickled cabbage and carrots as well as Parmesan cheese. It also came with a spicy chipotle sour cream.

The yuca itself was pretty good. The outer part had a nice crispness to it while the inside retained a bit of moisture so that it wasn't too dry. I've had fried yuca in the past that tasted like chalk, so I was quite happy with the Off Citrus version.

I also liked the kick of that sour cream. I do think that less is more though and for that particular appetizer, the
spring mix wasn't really necessary. I didn't even eat it. I was happy enough just dipping pieces of my yuca in the chipotle sour cream and eating a bit of the pickled veggies on the side. I didn't even think that the Parmesan cheese added much value and would have been fine without it.

My second course was a Warm Goat Cheese Salad. The salad, by the way, was dressed perfectly. There wasn't so much dressing that the leaves were drowning nor so little that the salad was dry. As for the breaded goat cheese, while I enjoyed its pungent flavor, I felt that it could have been fried to a more golden crispiness to give it more visual appeal. As it was, the breading on the cheese looked really pale.

Soon, my main entree came out which was a Persian Style Chicken Salad Sandwich. Since sandwiches are a la carte, I also ordered a side of sweet potato fries, which came with my sandwich. Considering that this chicken salad contained ingredients like lemon juice, paprika, oregano, garlic, olive oil, etc., I really expected bolder flavors. I tasted hints of the lemon and the garlic, but overall, this sandwich was much blander than I expected. The chicken itself was also a little dryer than I would have liked. The sweet potato fries; however, were stellar.

The highlight of my meal was dessert, specifically, Aunt Rose's Old Fashioned Spice Cake. Oh...My....You Know What! This cake was absolutely divine. You cut into it with your fork and steam actually was coming out. The cake itself was moist and flavorful and I fell in love with the walnut crackle that topped it. Apparently, there really is an Aunt Rose and thankfully, she was willing to share her recipe with Off Citrus.

Overall, it was a pretty good lunch. While my last meal there wasn't as good as my first two visits (except for that dessert), Off Citrus is still tops in my book and I would definitely go back and just make different choices.

To see pics, go to:

Off Citrus
114 E Italia St
Covina, CA 91723
(626) 732-2834

Off Citrus on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana

Usually when I venture into Monterey Park, it's all about the dim sum; however, on the last day of the recent Labor Day holiday weekend, I found myself experiencing a wonderful tasting menu set up by a friend at the newly opened Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana.

Before I talk about the food itself, let me tell you briefly about what makes this pizza joint different from some of the other pie places in town. In the restaurant name, you'll see the words "Pizzeria Napolitana." What that means is that the type of pizza served at Bollini's is Neapolitan pizza, which has specific guidelines a pizza maker must follow before they can claim that their pizzas are truly Neapolitan.

For example, the specification clearly states that a pizza must have a 0.1" thick base, (a little more than a credit card), must use fresh mozzarella, must be thrown by hand, must use Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and must be cooked in an 800F (or higher) wood-fired oven for no mo
re than 90 seconds. These guidelines are governed by The Verace Pizza Napoletana Association in Italy. Look below for some links you may find interesting.

American Chapter of VPNA

Original Italian VPNA

Detailed English Translation of Specifications

Now that we've got some learning out of the way, let's get on the topic of the food itself. First off, our ta
sting menu was pretty extensive. It included an appetizer, 3 salads, 2 pizzas, 3 pastas, an entre and a dessert and that didn't include the additional 3 pizzas our table ordered. Safe to say, we had to be rolled out the door, but wow, it was worth it.

We started off with fire roasted mushrooms stuffed with crab and Parmesan, which I enjoyed. It was a great starter for the extravaganza to follow. Of the three salads that came our way, my favorite was the Arugula Salad. The bite of the arugula was a wonderful backdrop to the sweet corn, the smoked bacon, goat cheese and the other ingredients that made up this salad.

Being a thin crust pizza lover, all the pizzas rocked my world in that respect. As you bit into the pizza, you'd notice a slight chewiness, but then you'd get to the cracker thin crispness of the crust which I liked a lot. When it came to the pizzas I liked the best, they were all absolutely delicious, but I was really drawn to the Lu-Lu, the Nonna and the Sardinia.

Usually when you think of pineapple on pizza, Canadian bacon is normally the accompaniment, but the ingredients for the Lu-Lu are comprised of a red sauce, cheese, bacon, pineapple, garlic, and basil. The bacon on the Lu-Lu was crispy pieces of appled smoked bacon as opposed to the more ham-like Canadian bacon. I also really enjoyed the addition of the garlic and basil leaves which added a wonderfully different flavor dimension to this classic pineapple pizza.

If you're a sausage and cheese lover, than you should definitely check out the Nonna. With mozzarella, fontina and Parmesan as part of the ingredients, this pizza is a cheese lover's delight and when you taste the sweet fennel sausage, which is Chef Bollini's recipe, this pizza is simply a must try.

From land to ocean, the last pizza I wanted to mention was the Sardinia. Yummy! If you think seafood on pizza is the way to go, you'll enjoy biting into this one with ingredients that include olive oil, calamari, anchovy, capers, onions, olives, tomatoes, mozzarella and black pepper. The flavors were bold and I just loved the savory saltiness that the anchovies and capers added to this pizza.

When it came to pasta dishes, what I liked about all of them was that the actual pasta itself was cooked al dente, more on the firm side. There's nothing more unappealing than mushy overcooked pasta. Of the three we tried, my favorite was the Pasta Del Postino, which was farfalle pasta with chicken, wild mushrooms, asparagus, shallots, peas, herbs, garlic and a gorgonzola crea
m sauce. I was already getting quite full, but I still finished my helping and even went for seconds.

As for the last 2 dishes, both are not currently on the menu but were made specifically for our group. One dish was a Branzino with peperonata and chard. The fish was cooked perfectly. It was light, moist and delicate. Our dessert, also off the menu, was a pastry crust with cinnamon and sugar stuffed with apples topped with ice cream. This dessert was actually cooked in their 800-degree wood-fire oven, which gave this dessert a wonderful carmelization.

Overall, this was an amazing meal and the pizzas were truly heavenly. This tiny restaurant may not look very fancy, but wow, the food is definitely fine dining all the way.

To see pics, go to:

Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana
2315 S Garfield Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(323) 722-7600

Bollini's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 07, 2007

Chocolate Tasting at Edelweiss Chocolates

The event started with owner, Madlen Zahir, giving us a short talk about Edelweiss' history and about chocolate itself. For those of you who didn't know, Edelweiss has been a Beverly Hills landmark for over 60 years.

First, some history. The original owner, seen in a black and white picture on the shop wall, came up with the idea of chocolate covered marshmallows in the first place, which currently are Edelweiss' top sellers. In fact, she actually would make the marshmallow herself after hours, just to ensure the secrecy of the recipe.

After her retirement, the business was sold to a Swiss chocolatier, whose chocolate recipes comprises the majority of chocolates sold in the shop today. For 5 years, Shirley Jones took over but for the past few years, Edelweiss has been in the hands of the Zahir family.

Madlen also gave us a brief talk about how chocolate is made, which I elaborated on in the next few paragraphs to give additional information. First, the cacao beans have to be roasted so that their shells become brittle. Then they go through a machine that will remove the shells and remove the seeds which are now called cacao nibs. Now the cacao nibs have to be ground into a paste called "chocolate liquor."

Some "chocolate liquor" is pressed to remove cocoa butter, which is used to make white chocolate. Further processing turns it into cocoa powder, but it's the unpressed "chocolate liquor" that is used to make chocolate. To make chocolate, the manufacturer blends unpressed chocolate with condensed milk, sugar and extra cocoa butter.

This raw mixture becomes a coarse, brown dough called "crumb." The "crumb" needs now needs to be refined to make the chocolate silkier so it's pressed through giant steel rollers to do the job. You now have a creamier batter of chocolate; yet, it still needs to undergo still another process before it's ready to use. Finally, the chocolate can be tempered (heated) to give it a glossy sheen and smoothness and than used to hand dip various items in or poured into different kinds of chocolate molds.

After Madlen's introduction, we went into the chocolate factory and as she talked more about their chocolate making process and showed us the various "tools of the trade" so to speak, we started our tasting of 8 different chocolates which were:

- Dark Chocolate Caramallow (with an inside layer of marshmallow and caramel) - loved the thick layer of caramel and the sponginess of the marshmallow.

- Milk Chocolate Toffeemallow (with an inside layer of marshmallow mixed with toffee pieces) - a little too sweet for my taste, but I appreciated the toffee pieces.

- Geraldine (ground apricot with caramel) - My favorite of the bunch and with a great story. Apparently, this chocolate had caramel added to the ground apricot by mistake and it was such a delicious accident that they named this new chocolate after that employee who made that error, Geraldine. I really liked the combined flavors of tart and sweet.

- Dark Honeycomb Sponge Chocolate (burnt sugar and honey) - I liked the flavor, but burnt sugar makes for a harder candy interior so be prepared to take a hardier bite.

- Milk Chocolate Coconut Snocap (with moist coconut) - That coconut was definitely moist and better than any Almond Joy or Mounds out there.

- Alpine Snow White Chocolate Truffle (rolled in cocoa powder) - What was nice was that the white chocolate wasn't overly sweet.

- Dark Chocolate Turtle (caramel & pecans) - Apparently a fav of Katherine Hepburn and even mentioned in her autobiography. I really liked the sweet-slight saltiness of this chocolate

- Milk Chocolate Maple Pecan Cream - A favorite of Frank Sinatra and members of the Sinatra family to this day will send out boxes of these chocolates to family & friends. This was my least favorite just because it was just too sweet and sugary for my palate.

...but we weren't done yet....Madlen's husband, Steve surprised as with a 9th chocolate which was dark chocolate with a brandy liquer inside along
with a cherry that has been soaking in brandy for 3 months. I normally don't like these types of chocolates, because I find them overally sweet, but this particular chocolate I wouldn't mind having a second piece of.

Some of the equipment we saw were over 50 years and almost as old as the shop itself. Madlen also showed us some of the various molds used to make their molded chocolates. One last bit of Hollywood history I'll mention before ending is that Lucille Ball, a faithful Edelweiss Chocolates customer actually used the chocolate conveyor belt that's part of the Edelweiss' factory as the inspiration for an "I Love Lucy" episode and I'm sure you know which one.

Overall, it was both a learning and tasty experience!

To see pics, go to:

Edelweiss Chocolates
444 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 275-6003

Edelweiss Chocolates on Urbanspoon

Gelato and Sorbet Tasting at Bulgarini Gelato

This summer has been scorching, which is why, I was more than happy to be at Bulgarini Gelato last August to experience delicious gelatos and sorbets at a tasting I set up with the shop. The tasting started off with owner, Leo Bulgarini, giving us some history about how Bulgarini Gelato came to be. What many may or may not know is that he and his wife, Elizabeth spent two years back and forth in Italy trying to someone who could teach them the art of making gelato from scratch. This was actually quite a difficult task since the majority of the gelaterias are industrial. Finally, they met a third-generation retired gelato maker and spent two months with him learning the craft.

Afterwards, they came back to the US and started small with Leo selling his gelato from carts at a local movie theater in Pasadena as well as at the courtyard of the Pacific Asian Museum. Eventually, they were able to open a small courtyard shop in hilly Altadena, which is where we all were that day.

After the talk, we were shown this amazing gelato maker that sits in the corner of the shop. It's over 50 years old and built to last. In fact, that old-timer actually made one of the sorbets that were part of our tasting. As we crowded around that machine, Leo let us peek in as it was mixing and then we watched as he scooped some out with a large white paddle into a container. Then he showed us a large plastic container of fresh kiwi juice that he poured back into the maker to make another batch. Leo mentioned earlier about only using only fresh ingredients in his recipes. You can't get any fresher than fresh kiwi juice. You could even see the seeds in the liquid.

Finally, we sat outside in the shade to start our tasting. The first one up was the pistachio gelato. Before we dug in, Leo told us that the pistachios are directly from Italy and while he could have gone the less expensive route and used California pistachios, he felt that the Italian pistachios were better quality. He even mentioned that to save costs that there were some gelaterias in Italy that would actually use California pistachios as opposed to locally grown nuts. Now that's what I call nutty.

If you love pistachios than the pistachio gelato is a dream come true. The nuts are actually ground before being mixed into the recipe and with every lick; you get a taste of nutty goodness. After consuming this first gelato, Leo actually had us taste the pistachio paste and while giving out a sample, he told us that when the pistachio quality is where it should be, the paste should have the consistency of peanut butter and it certainly did that.

Next was the Kiwi Sorbet, which had a smooth and creamy texture and knowing that it was just made that day was actually cool. As for the flavor, I really liked its hint of tartness. By the way, the difference between a gelato and sorbet is that gelato tends to contain egg yolks and contains less air, which makes it less dense than regular ice creams. Sorbets contain no dairy and are like a creamy ice because it's churned until it's smooth.

Soon after came the Crema de Caffe Gelato. I'm not much of a coffee drinker, but I could see myself starting off the day with a scoop of this as opposed to the liquid version. After the coffee gelato,
we were hit with a gelato and sorbet whammy, all in one cup. On the top was a Chocolate-Orange Gelato and it topped a Golden Plum Sorbet. Let me tell you that plum sorbet was so tart; it felt like I was eating a lemon. I actually thought that it was too tart even for me who tends to like that flavor profile, but when eaten with that chocolate-orange gelato, it was a pretty good pairing. The combined tart-sweet-citrus flavors that came as a result of this duo were actually fun to eat.

There were two more to go and the next on the rotation was the mango sorbet. It was sweet, fruity and it really did taste like a fresh mango. It was definitely quite refreshing. Last, but not least, was the Zabaglione Gelato, which was made up of c
ustard cream and Marsala wine. This was the first time I've ever had gelato or any kind of ice cream where wine was one of the ingredients and I have to say that this Zabaglione was a hit with me. With each spoonful, you could taste that wine, but instead of the "bitterness" I was expecting, it added a softer, more rounded fruit flavor to the custard cream.

Overall, this was a great tasting and Leo was a great host and gave us lots of information. I was already a fan of Bulgarini Gelato, but even more so after this tasting.

To see pics, go to:

Bulgarini Gelato
749 E Altadena Dr.
Altadena, CA 91001
(626) 441-2319

Bulgarini Gelato on Urbanspoon