Saturday, January 31, 2009

Discover LA: Bungalow Heaven Home Tour in Pasadena

Other than being a great foodie town, LA has much to offer and while this blog will still be primarily about my culinary experiences, I also wanted to share with you other things about LA that have definitely made me smile, think, chuckle, appreciate and so much more and hopefully, they'll also help you discover an LA you've never known before and may want to know better.

If you have a love for historical homes, than you should definitely try to make it to the yearly Bungalow Heaven Home Tour in Pasadena. Bungalow Heaven is a neighborhood where the people living there actually worked to have it declared as a Landmark District. So why a Landmark District? Well, considering that Bungalow Heaven contains a rare and mostly intact collection of over 800 homes built from the 1900s through the 1930s, you can see why.

The architectural significance of Bungalow Heaven is that the homes reflect the start of the Arts & Crafts movement a la the Gamble House. As many of you may know, the Arts & Crafts movement rejected the ornateness of Victorian homes for simplicity in architectural style and a use of more natural materials.

This particular tour is self-guided and at your own pace, but what's so fantastic about it is that you get to visit the interior of 6 to 8 California bungalows and you'll also get a booklet detailing the particular history of that home. I was just amazed that at the time some of these homes were first in existence, a couple thousand dollars would get you the home of your dreams. That's certainly not the case now.

The tour runs $15 to $20 and happens every April. I think the tour is worth every penny and what better way to spend a spring day than exploring beautiful homes.

To see pics of the tour I went on and to read about the histories of the houses in the pictures above, go to:

For more information on the tour, go to:

Friday, January 30, 2009

I'm In the Mood for Dessert!

I'm in the mood for something sweet! So let's share a virtual dessert together.
Does anything below catch your fancy?

Dulce de Jicama
(candied jicama with cinnamon in a creamy sauce)
from La Casita Mexicana in Bell, CA

Rice Suman
(sweetened rice cut in squares and topped with fried coconut and flan)
from Alejandro's in Eagle Rock, CA (Now Closed)

Timbal Elysee
(pure vanilla bean ice cream in a cookie tuile with fresh berries topped
with a caramel dome and served with a raspberry & vanilla sauce)
from Maison Akira in Pasadena, CA.

Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich
(topped with Pears poached in tequila)
from La Huasteca in Pasadena, CA (Now Closed)

Indonesian Dessert
(with shaved ice, fruit and sweetened beans)
from Indonesian Outdoor BBQ in Duarte, CA

To check out my Flickr Photos (foodie and otherwise), please click here!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Home Run and Then a Strike Out at Pollo Campero

I think half the fun of writing a blog is coming up with interesting blog titles. Don't ask me why I worked in a reference to baseball. The title just seemed a great one-line description of my experience at Pollo Campero. By the way, if you didn't know already, Pollo Campero is a Guatemalan fried chicken chain. For this particular write-up, I'm focusing specifically on the location in Long Beach.

When Pollo Campero opened its first location in Los Angeles, I heard that lines were around the block. When I heard news like that, my curiosity was definitely piqued, but time passed by and I soon forgot about until I started working in Long Beach and found out there was a Pollo Campero location down the street from me. Fate was definitely working on my side, so I decided to check it out for lunch one afternoon.

I walked through the doors, up to the counter and after a quick glance at the menu, I ordered a three piece fried chicken with rice and yucca fries. While I was waiting, I loaded up on some salsas at their salsa bar. When the plate was finally placed in front of me, I have to say that it looked good and it smelled good, but did it taste good? The answer was a resounding YES in big capital letters.

The skin was wonderful and there was just enough batter to form a "cracker crust". What I meant by that is when I pulled the skin from and off the chicken meat, it seemed wafer-thin and crispy like a cracker. The chicken itself was tender and juicy and very well seasoned, which doesn't translate to being spicy, just full of flavor. A little peppery. A little bit of a kick. All of which made me one happy chicken eater.

The chicken was definitely the star of the plate although the yucca fries would have been a complete thumbs up for me, if they hadn't been so salty. As for the rice, they didn't really add much to the meal. Overall, I was pretty happy and was looking forward to have Pollo Campero as one of my regular lunch stops.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it back until a few months later, but I was still anticpating a great meal. Too bad, I didn't get it. I wish I could share pictures, but as luck would have it, I didn't have my camera with me. I ended up ordering almost the same thing I ordered last time, but this time I replaced the rice with black beans, which were a definite improvement over the rice. However, the yucca fries, while wonderfully crispy, were still salty. I would have been fine with whatever sides I ordered, as long as my chicken had been up to par. Oh my, it wasn't and saying "Oh my" is putting it mildly.

The chicken didn't have enough batter and it didn't seem like it was fried for that long, which made for a skin that was more droopy than crispy. They also cut back on the seasoning. There just wasn't as much of a flavor punch as before. It was just a disappointing looking and tasting piece of chicken. These are the times when a picture speaks a thousand words and if you are able to see what I saw, you'd know exactly what I was talking about. In the end, I left shaking my head, wondering what the heck happened. I felt like they were trying a new recipe and I somehow became their test subject.

Would I go back to Pollo Campero? I would, but this time I'd check out another location, if only to see if that last experience at the Long Beach restaurant was just a fluke. For now, I'll just try to remember that one good meal and hope that it can be repeated elsewhere.

To see pics, go to:

Pollo Campero
281 E. Willo Street
Long Beach, CA 90806
(562) 981-8938

Pollo Campero on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Food Porn from the Now Closed Macau Street

With all the eating out I do, I definitely get behind on my blogging about my various dining and restaurant experiences. I think that's a problem that most bloggers experience as well. Such is the case with Macau Street in Monterey Park, which is now closed. Briefly, I wouldn't say it was a destination restaurant for me, but I still enjoyed my meal there. Even more so, I liked how my pictures came out. While I may not be sharing a review with you, I hope you enjoy some of the food porn below.

Pepper and Salt Chicken Knees

Tofu Skin with Spinach

Steamed Tilapia

Egg Tart

Red Bean and Taro Tapioca

To see the rest of the photos, go to:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Discover LA: The Bunny Museum in Pasadena

Other than being a great foodie town, LA has much to offer and while this blog will still be primarily about my culinary experiences, I also wanted to share with you other things about LA that have definitely made me smile, think, chuckle, appreciate and so much more and hopefully, they'll also help you discover an LA you've never known before and may want to know better.

Did you know that there is a Bunny Museum in Pasadena? Well, now you know and boy, what a museum it is with over 24,000 bunny collectibles with everything from stuffed animals, salt and pepper shakers, kitchen ware and so much more that it's mind-boggling.

The Bunny Museum is actually the private home of Candace Frazee and Steve Lubanski. So why all the bunnies? Well, it all started when Steve gave his girlfriend at the time, Candace a white, plush bunny (which holds a heart with the banner, "I Love You This Much") on Valentine's Day, 1993 because she called him her "Honey Bunny".

Candace gave Steve a white, porcelain bunny on Easter. At first, they gave each other bunny gifts on holidays, but, Steve not wanting to wait, started their tradition of giving bunny gifts to each other, every day!

Several years later and now married, they decided to open up their home as a Bunny Museum. Over the course of 9+ years of the museum being open, as visitors came to visit, they would sometimes donate a bunny item to the collection, which definitely contributed to the over 24,000 bunny items they have now. In fact, they have so many bunnies, they hold the Guinness Book of World Records for the most bunny collectibles.

To visit the museum, you need to make advance reservations. Just check out the website for more info and even better, it's FREE admission. Now how often does that happen? You are allowed to bring cameras and/or video equipment and you basically have the run of the house (except for their bedrooms and bathroom) and the backyard and your stay can last up to an hour.

I was pretty overwhelmed when I walked in and if it wasn't for the over 150 pictures I took, everything may have remained a blur. Anyway, when you get a chance, pay a visit to The Bunny Museum. It may just one of the quirkiest places you'll ever experience.

To see all my pics, go to:

For visiting info, check out the website below:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I Only Have Soup Love for Taqueria El Picosito

Wherever you work, there's usually opportunities to revisit restaurants in the general vicinity of your office. Since Taqueria El Picosito was just a few miles from where I worked, I was able to visit it on two separate occasions for lunch. From the outside, it didn't look like much, but when it comes to restaurants, I never judge the book by its cover, so I was hoping for the best.

My first meal there was pretty straightforward. It was actually a little cold and cloudy that day and I was really craving soup. Something hot and filling was definitely on my mind when I stepped up to the counter to place my order. The albondigas soup was calling my name, but the taquitos were also doing a little whispering in my ear. I gave in and ordered both.

The taquitos arrived first and were really nothing special. In fact, the tortilla was a little hard, but the meat inside was fairly tender, although it did need a little more seasoning. I did end up scraping off most of the guacamole that the taquitos were topped with because the flavor was too lemony and actually seemed like it was something canned.

Finally, the albondigas soup arrives with a side of Mexican rice and tortillas. When I looked at the bowl, it seemed more soup than anything else. As the Wendy's ads used to say, "Where's the Beef?" or in this case the meatballs. Once I got my spoon in there and start mixing everything around, that's when I started seeing the good stuff which included small red potatoes, chayote, carrots and the meatballs which had been mixed with diced onion. I even dumped my plate of Mexican rice, along with the onions and cilantro that was part of my order.

That soup really hit the spot. Although a smidge oily, the broth was still nice and light and they certainly weren't shy about their ingredients. Those meatballs were huge. I do think they could have cut their veggies a little smaller, but the smaller they are, the mushier they could become. Perhaps, there's a method to their madness. In general, it was a great bowl of soup and just what I needed to warm me from the inside out.

For my second visit, let's say that second time's not the charm. This time around, it was actually a warmer day, so I didn't want soup. Instead, I was in a seafood mood and decided to check out their Tostado Ceviche and Taco Pescado.

First, let's talk about the Tostado Ceviche. You'd think that fish that's cooked via the acids of lime or lemon juices being squeezed on them would still be pretty tender and of course, would taste limey or lemony. That fish was a little dry. I could only taste hint of of lime and that was it. It was if they squeezed the juice on the fish and than just let it sit on the counter somewhere waiting for someone to order it. I squeezed more lime and added some hot sauce to liven it up a bit, but it felt like a waste of time.

Then there's the Taco Pescado (or Fish Taco). When I had fish tacos in Ensenada, I learned that sometimes they double-fried their fish to give them that extra crispiness. There's nothing wrong with that as long as the end result is still golden brown. The poor fish that came on my taco at Taqueria El Picosito was so over-fried that you can forget about it being golden brown. It was dark brown to the point that it was almost burnt. I've had fish tacos at other restaurants in LA and that's the first time I've ever seen one as pitiful at at El Picosito. Of course, it "tasted as good" (or not) as it looked.

I just don't get it. How can you ruin a deep-fried fish? What was interesting is that I read a Yelp review about this restaurant and that poster had the same experience as me with his fish taco. Why would any restaurant deliberately overy-fry a fish? Like I said, I just don't get it. If I'm ever in the neighborhood and there's no other place to go then Taqueria El Picosito, than at least I know the soup would be good. At least, that's something.

To see pics, go to:

Taqueria El Picosito
5140 S. Long Beach Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90805
(562) 984-7246

El Picosito on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 23, 2009

Who Knew Eating Healthy Could Taste So Good?

In this era of cheap and convenient fast food, it's easy to forgo a sit down, home made meal that's actually good for you and may not be as likely to clog your arteries. Even if you choose to go to a restaurant with tables, chairs and nice linens, the menu may still not offer enough "healthy" options for the diner trying to make a life style change that includes eating better.

One of the things that California is known for, is its culinary focus on natural, organic, local and sustainable foods and that's reflected in the type of eateries you'll find from one end of California to another. Two such eateries that I visited within days of each other were Hugo's in Studio City and A Votre Sante in Brentwood. While both restaurants offer meat options, they're also known for having vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes on the menu as well.

First, let's talk about Hugo's. I've actually driven past the Hugo's location in West Hollywood several times over the years, but based on the restaurant name alone, I really had no clue what kind of food was served there. For some reason, I thought Hugo's was a French restaurant and I didn't even know that Hugo's had a second location in Studio City until I met a friend there for lunch one afternoon. After sitting down and perusing the menu, I have to tell you that I fell in love. There were a lot of interesting dishes from a Fried Green Tomato Napoleon to a Hippi Hemp Seed Black Rice Salad to a Roasted Beet Casserole. While I was trying to decide, I had a glass of their fresh lemonade sweetened with agave, which was nicely tart and not over sugared.

Craving greens, I started with their House Salad which was mixed organic spring mix, tomatoes, carrots and sunflower sprouts topped with sesame-ginger dressing. That salad was a thing of beauty. It had a lush green freshness to it that was appealing to the eye and the taste buds. I also liked how they brought the dressing on the side. There's nothing more unappealing than salad that is wilted from being over-dressed. As for the dressing itself, it was light, nutty with just enough ginger to give it flavor without overpowering it.

For my entree, I went for their Create-A-Plate, where you could choose between three to five options from a list of various vegetables and proteins. I love veggies, so I actually chose three of them, which included the broccolini with garlic, roasted beets and green beans and shallots, but I also wanted a little protein so I went for the Turkey Loaf. The Turkey Loaf was made up of free range turkey with sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, egg and fresh herbs, served with mushroom herb gravy.

Just like the salad, everything on my Create-A-Plate tasted really fresh and you can tell that the chefs really know how to cook their vegetables. I've been in places where the veggies are cooked to the point of being way to soft, sometimes even a bit soggy. At that point, why even bother? There was a nice little crunch to the beans, a crispness to the broccolini and I liked how roasting the beets added a little caramelization to it. I was the most surprised by the turkey loaf. I was worried that it would be dry, but it was tender, moist and the herbs and sun-dried tomatoes added wonderful zings of flavor.

The only two things I'd point out is that I wish that the broccolini was more garlicky and although I didn't get much in the way of the mushroom gravy, the turkey loaf was really able to stand alone without it. Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at Hugo's and am definitely looking forward to a return trip.

A few days later, I paid a visit to A Votre Sante in Brentwood. At A Votre Sante, which means "To Your Health", I ordered a starter and an entree. I chose the appetizer simply because one of the ingredients caught my interest. Without it, I would have opted for something else. That dish was their Hummus Quesadilla, which consisted of a whole wheat tortilla, hummus and carrot sauce. I've had my share of carrots in the past, including carrot juice, but I've never tried a carrot sauce before. When the dish arrived, the carrot sauce looked like orange ketchup, thick and a little runny at the edges.

I liked it alot. It was sweet, but not overly so and it reminded me of Filipino banana ketchup, but less sugary. I use banana ketchup sometimes instead of regular ketchup with French fries and will even pour it over eggs and rice and mix it all around. I'm not sure if carrot sauce would work with those foods, but I could easily see pairing it with a variety of savory options. I wouldn't mind having a bottle of it so that I could experiment.

For my entree, I was definitely having a turkey fixation because I ordered their Turkey Chili with ground turkey, lentils, tomato sauce, herbs and spices. Chili in the past for me has always been about the beef, so I was looking forward to what a turkey version would be like and I wasn't disappointed. With every spoonful, I had a taste of the ground turkey and I liked the lightness of the lentils in comparison to the slightly heavier pinto beans that one usually sees in chili recipes. The cheese added the right amount of salt and gooeyness plus the spices they used added a nice bite of heat with every bite. In short, this is comfort food I wouldn't mind having again.

Both restaurants really won me over. Sometimes the words "eating healthy" makes some people cringe, but when food is done well and cooked in imaginative ways, "eating healthy" is a mantra more people could definitely follow.

12851 Riverside Drive
Studio City, CA 91607
(818) 761-8985

Hugo's Tacos on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Discover LA: Frances Kuyper's Mini Cake Museum in Los Angeles

Other than being a great foodie town, LA has much to offer and while this blog will still be primarily about my culinary experiences, I also wanted to share with you other things about LA that have definitely made me smile, think, chuckle, appreciate and so much more and hopefully, they'll also help you discover an LA you've never known before and may want to know better.

If you love baking and decorating cakes, than you should make a point of visiting Frances Kuyper's Mini Cake Museum at the Hollenbeck Home, where you can not only meet Frances, but also learn some cake decorating history.

Known as the Cake Lady, Frances started off in 1950 simply as a self-taught cake decorator and from there evolved into a writer, demonstrator, instructor and consultant for many years in the retail baking industry. She's even appeared in commercials and was even a regular on the Howie Mandal show for a time.

In 1994, she opened up the first Cake Museum in the US as a way to share her knowledge about cake decorating and pass that info to up and coming bakers. The first rendition of this cake museum originally was in a second home that she and her husband purchased to showcase the various cakes that illustrated the many and varied techniques used in cake decoration.

When her husband passed away, she moved to Hollenbeck Home and with Hollenbeck's approval, was able to move the majority of her collection into one of the rooms. That room now holds over 150 cakes from Frances' original collection.

As for the tour itself, it starts with a video demonstration of her actually decorating a cake at the same time giving background history about how she got into the cake decorating business. Unfortunately, she used to be able to do live demonstrations, but due to health reasons can no longer do so.

However, the video is really good. From it, I learned that she's the one who came up with some of the tools currently being used today for cake decorating. She was also self-taught in her earlier years and as an artist, Frances is most well known for her award-winning airbrushed portrait cakes.

After the video, she took us over to the museum, which isn't very big, but there were definitely cakes galore. In regards to the cakes, they are not edible. They're replicas made using non-edible materials. While some of the cakes are hers, some of them are also cakes from other cake decorators and all are there to show various cake decorating techniques, which Frances was happy to point out during our visit to the museum.

Even without the cake museum, it was just a pleasure to meet Frances. What an amazing person. She has just done so much in her life and what I thought was just inspiring is how she took something she was passionate about and was able to parlay it into a career that she loved. I think we definitely can learn from her.

By the way, tours are by appointment only and are absolutely FREE!

To see pics, go to:

To get more info and plan your own visit, go to:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Bloom Hasn't Worn Off at Mediterranean Garden Grill

Generally, when I write about a restaurant, it's based on a one-time experience. Even if I like it or love it, I may not go back for a variety of reasons. It may be too far or my pocketbook can only handle a yearly visit. Usually, it's because I love eating out and checking out other eateries so much that I'd rather concentrate on new finds as opposed to re-visiting old haunts. However, if a restaurant scores the double whammy of serving delicious food and being close to where I live, than I will take the opportunity to re-visit it. Such is the case with the Mediterranean Garden Grill in Monrovia.

Before I go any further, I want to mention that it's an interesting restaurant space. My first visit there was during lunch time and the dining room had an enclosed patio kind of feel with the windows open to let the air in, but at a later dinner visit, they closed up all the windows and it felt like a regular indoor restaurant.

As mentioned, my first meal there was for lunch. Wanting something a little tart, I started with the beautifully pink pickle plate. Silly question, but why are those pickles pink and are they actually cucumbers or a different pickled vegetable altogether? I've always wanted to know.

While I was perusing the menu, an appetizer caught my eye, so I decided to order the Mouhamana, which is chopped walnuts with spicy red peppers and pomegranate juice. I loved the mixture of flavors that included nutty, sweet, tangy and with a little kick. I could have easily just eaten that with the pita bread or even just crackers and I would have been happy, but soon enough, my lule kebab arrived.

Lule Kebab is lean ground beef mixed with onions and spices, seasoned, skewered and grilled, served with rice, grilled vegetables and a pita bread. Taking my first look at it, I really could see all the seasonings embedded in the meat and with just my first bite, I could taste all the great flavors the seasonings imparted. Surprisingly, even though the ground beef was lean, meaning less fat, the lule kebab still had a little juiciness to it and of course, I loved the texture of its charred surface.

I wasn't even considering dessert, but an enticing photo of their Ashta dessert was just too irresistible. Ashta is sheramoya fruit mixed with whipped cream and rose water and sprinkled with crushed pistachios and honey and this tasty mixture is placed on top of fresh cut bananas. Wow, what an awesome dessert. I'd go back just for this. It was a light and refreshing dessert, absolutely perfect anytime, but maybe even more so on a warmer day.

My first visit was definitely a hit, so much so that I went back a few days later and unfortunately, that was not a good experience. I was seated, got a glass of water, perused the menu and made my choices and than proceeded to wait and wait and wait. The restaurant wasn't that busy. There was only one large group on the other side of the room and me. Granted, I could have waved someone over, but come on. My menu was down and there were waiters walking back and forth in front of my table. One of them could have stopped to ask me if I was ready to order. I decided to clock how long it would take for a waiter and after 10 minutes, I just walked out.

I wasn't sure if a third visit would be imminent, but I really enjoyed the food so I thought I'd give it another try. This time, I brought a friend for dinner a couple of weeks later. I'm not sure if they had remembered me walking out or perhaps, the wait staff was just more attentive that evening, but this time around, the service was much better.

For my second meal there, my friend and I shared the marinated and seasoned black and green olives as well as the Baba Ghanouj, which is basically BBQ eggplant and sesame paste. What I liked about the Baba Ghanouj was that it was full of chunky eggplant goodness and not pureed down to the point that you're not even sure if there's eggplant in the dish.

As for my entree, I ordered the Beef Shawarma, which is basically seasoned and marinated pan flamed beef brochettes served with tahini sauce, rice and hummus. I actually preferred the lule kebab that I had at my first visit. The beef was a little chewier than I would have liked and needed a little more flavor. I did get a chance to sample my friend's Chicken Shawarma and thought the chicken was nicely seasoned and was even tender and juicy. This time, no room for dessert. It wasn't as stellar a meal as at my first visit, but still pretty good.

The very last time I visited, I was in the mood for soup and ordered their Swiss Char Lentil Soup, which is vegetarian. The ingredients for this soup are whole lentils cooked with Swiss char and roasted garlic and the flavor is both tangy and lemony, flavors near and dear to my Filipino palate.

Except for that one major hiccup on my second visit, I really enjoy dining at the Mediterranean Garden Grill and with it being only a few miles away, I can always give in to my Ashta and Swiss Char and Lentil Soup craving whenever I'd like, or at least when the restaurant is open.

To see pics, go to:

Mediterranean Garden Grill
335 W. Foothill Blvd.
Monrovia, CA 91016
(626) 301-0555

Garden Grill Restaurant on Urbanspoon