Birthday Dinner at Providence: Dessert

My wonderful husband arranged a dinner with friends at Providence to celebrate me turning 21 for the 10th time in my life. You can read about the first part of the meal here.

After that delicious dinner, it was time for dessert, the real reason all of us were there.  😉  Despite starting to feel full, I still went for the full 8 course dessert tasting menu.  I didn’t know when I would be back so…*shrug*  Can you blame me?

Cocktails

First up was “Cocktails”.  Three different drinks manipulated via magic (okay, more like molecular gastronomy) into morsels that you pop in your mouth.  From left to right was a grapefruit concoction,  gin & tonic and mojito.  The grapefruit and mojito were contained within a very thin bubble that burst in your mouth.  The gin & tonic was turned into a jellied substance.  I can’t say I was an avid fan of any of the drinks mainly because I don’t care much for grapefruit, dislike gin and prefer my mojitos on the sweet side.  But texturally, this was quite a new and fun experience for me.

#2 kalamansi gelee - one of my faves

Next came the Kalamansi Gelee, which was my favorite…I think.  It’s a bit of a tie between this and the 4th course.  The kalamansi gelee was a first for me.  Turns out it’s a fruit that looks a lot like a lime and is popular in the Philippines.  Surrounding it was a soup of white chocolate coconut milk with tiny tapioca balls.  On top of the gelee was a litchi-shiso sorbet and coconut.  Now, I’m not at all a fan of coconut.  I usually avoid anything with the stuff, which is ironic given that I used to gnaw on raw coconut as a kid growing up in the South Pacific.  This dish wasn’t overly sweet nor was it strong on coconut flavor which is probably why it appealed to me.  It was also light and refreshing.  I think one of the reasons that I loved this dessert so much was the nostalgia the ingredients inspired in me, what with the coconut and the tapioca balls which reminded me of my boba-slurping days as a college student…

#3 mandarin-rose sorbet

The third course was the mandarin-rose sorbet.  There was a cute little pistachio macaron, some fluffy bits of yogurt cake and cardamon.  I believe under the sorbet was a raspberry gelee.  I’m not sure where the “mandarin” comes in but I did taste the rose and smelled it too.  It wasn’t too flower-y and went well with the raspberry and yogurt cake which reminded me a lot of angel food cake.  Macarons seem to be popping up all over the place nowadays which is fine with me because I love them.  And mini-versions are just adorable which makes me love them even more!

#4 sweeter side of panzanella

Another favorite, the sweeter side of panzanella came next. This had burrata ice cream on one side and strawberries marinated in basil and balsamic vinegar with a pan-fried frangipane.  I think the outstanding part of this dish was the strawberries.  The basil, balsamic and strawberries all melded together into something delicious yet I could still taste each individual component.  I am going to try and recreate it at home…but I’m sure I’ll probably come up with only a poor cat’s version.

#5 caramel pudding - oh so salty!

Caramel pudding was fifth on the list.  This dessert consisted of a cup filled with salted caramel pudding topped with a sprinkle of apricot, caramel popcorn and a chocolate peanut.   I love the whole salt and caramel combination so when I started, I was pleased.  However, when I reached the bottom, I found the pudding to be overly salty, so much that I really couldn’t finish it.  Sadness…

#6 dark chocolate mousse

Up next was the dark chocolate mousse with kumquats, ginger and goma ice cream.  Goma, it turns out, is sesame seed.  While it wasn’t as strong in flavor as the black sesame ice cream I had at Tsuruhashi, it was still quite enjoyable.  I think sesame seed ice cream is something that needs to become trendy so I can eat more of it.  Then again, my hips are already too wide…

#7

Next was the affogato.  This was pretty fabulous.  It’s an Italian ice cream dessert that’s topped off with a shot of coffee or espresso.  This version had canele ice cream with over a hazelnut streusel.  The bitter of the coffee was softened by the sweetness of the ice cream and the streusel helped give a nice textual contrast.  It was just a harmonious dish that I enjoyed.  I think this was my next favorite dessert from the tasting after the kalamansi and the panzanella.

#8

For our last course, we were treated to a plate of mignardises – bite-sized desserts that are a type of petit four.  Mini chocolate macaraons, caramels and what I think were blackberry jelly candies graced our platter.  We chowed down on the macarons and the jellies but most of the caramels were collected and taken home to be savoured later.  These caramels had some salt in it and it was just right this time.  I wish I had taken them all!  😛

Another almost too pretty to eat thing...

Dark chocolate ganache

Not everyone partook in the tasting menu.  Husband and another friend opted for only one dessert but their one dish were just as fabulous as our tasting menu.  Husband went for the dark chocolate ganache which is a chocolate lover’s heaven.  I am not sure what my friend ordered but it was beautiful…an edible marble-looking ball filled with something yummy; This was a sophisticated version of those chocolate eggs or something like that.  Everyone was ooing and aahing when it arrived.

Overall, Providence has to be one of the best meals I’ve had so far.  The dessert tasting menu is definitely a bargain, I think, and I encourage you it out, especially if you are a lover of sweet!

5 NOMs for Providence!

Providence
5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170
Providence on Urbanspoon

Natas Pastries – Portuguese in the valley

Natas Pastries

The same weekend we visited Portugal Imports, we also ventured into the valley to try Natas Pastries.  Tanya Bjork, artist extraordinaire, found out about this place from her mother and researched it.  The bakery was founded almost 5 years ago by Fatima Marques who was homesick for her native pastries.  Not finding a single place in Los Angeles that offered pasteis de nata (also called “natas”), she spent years studying how to reproduce these delectable desserts the authentic, old-fashioned way and went so far as to import an oven from Portugal.  Besides offering traditional favorites like queijadas (tarts filled with a mixture of cheese, sugar, cinammon), pasteis de coco and Portuguese sweet bread (similar to Hawaiian sweet bread), Natas Pastries also offers other European desserts like eclairs and Napoleans.  It is also a small restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Tanya and I decided to do Sunday brunch here and dragged our significant others.

Dining room

Dining room

Natas Pastries is a small space divided up into two areas – a dining room furnished with about 8 tables for 4 and the bakery front.  There are a few tables and chairs outside as well.  Inspired by the Portuguese style of using of blue and white glazed tiles, the dining room incorporates this aesthetic and accents it with dark wood furniture and tapestries reminiscent of Old Europe.  It was nice because it really did remind me of places I had seen when in Lisbon.

When we got there, the dining room was full as were the few tables outside.  People were going in and out of the door with boxes in hand.  Apparently, Natas Pastries is popular.  We had to wait around 15 minutes to be seated.  This gave us plenty of time to oogle the pastries on display and decide what we were going to get on our way out.

After our group was seated, we perused the menu and decided our meals.  I got the breakfast sandwich on Portuguese sweet bread with cheddar and linguica.  Tanya opted for the Sandes de Atum (Portuguese tuna salad sandwich).  Husband got the chocolate chip and Oreo cookies pancakes and Tanya’s boyfriend, Derek, got an omelette with artichokes, Cajun smoked sausage and feta.

Breakfast sandwich

I liked my breakfast sandwich.  The eggs were fluffy and not over-cooked.  There was plenty of cheese and linguica.  I wish the linguica was spicy but a bottle of hot sauce solved that issue.  The in-house Portuguese sweet bread was great – soft and thick.  The rolls do look thick but with the amount of egg and cheese, it all balanced out.  And the subtle sweetness of the bread added a little bit of contrast with the salty fillings.

Pancake Mountain

Husband’s pancakes were quite a plateful.  I’m not sure if this counts as breakfast or dessert.  Frankly, when this dish arrived, my teeth started hurting.  3 ginormous (yes, I had to resort to a made-up word) pancakes topped with powdered sugar, whipped cream, chocolate syrup and crumbled Oreo cookies sat before Husband.  Definitely not Portuguese… He had filled up on the mocha he ordered to drink so the husband barely put a dent into this.  I stole a few bites; the pancakes were thick and fluffy and definitely sweet with all the dessert-y toppings and syrup added.  Not a dish for me as I’m not a fan of over-the-top sugary stuff but for kids or people with a penchant for dessert, this is a winner.  I’d order just the pancakes, though.

Omelette

Tanya and Derek liked their food though Derek did comment that the ingredients he picked out made for a bit of an odd combination flavor-wise.

Omelettes come with house potatoes and choice of toast as well as what seems the be the house-standard fruit garnish of orange and watermelon. Our men quickly off-loaded their fruit onto our plates…

Tuna Salad Sandwich

Tanya claims that the imported canned Portuguese tuna used in the sandwich is more flavorful than the tuna we get here in the States.  I haven’t done a taste comparison so I can’t concur but she has had both quite a few times so I defer to her.

This sandwich is part of the lunch menu.  Served with a side salad and kettle chips, it was a large and filling-looking dish.

Portuguese pastries

European goodies

Selection is something Natas Pastries is not lacking.  Natas, queijadas, pasteis de coco, pasteis de feijão (bean tart), fruit tarts, chocolate covered strawberries, slices of various flavors of cakes, meringue cookies, this place is a dessert lover’s paradise.  And everything, including the sweet bread they use, is made in-house.

For those who have never tried Portuguese pastries before, the variety box is a great way to go – 9 pieces for $16.  I decided to get this since I have only tried natas.  I selected 3 natas, 3 queijadas and 3 pasteis de feijão.

The natas here were really good.  The crust was flaky and buttery while the filling was a nice custard-y texture.  It was better than the nata I had during my trip to Belém, though I did get that nata from some shop cafe and it had been sitting out for a while.  The queijadas were also tasty but the powdered sugar topping made it a little messy.  The cheese-cinammon-sugar filling was yummy without being very sweet.  Again, they make a very good pastry crust here.  The bean tart was also good but the natas were my fave followed by the queijadas.

Overall, this was a great little bakery and restaurant.  I will definitely be back for the tasty desserts.  After all, it’s a lot closer and cheaper to go to Natas Pastries than go all the way back to Lisbon.

4 NOMs for Natas Pastries!

Natas Pastries
13317 Ventura Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423-6212
(818) 788-8050
Natas Pastries on Urbanspoon

Sprinkles – the Shiny of cupcakes

During my recent trip to the Bay Area to visit some old friends, the subject of cupcakes came up since we were reminiscing about a friend’s wedding where they had cupcakes instead of a wedding cake. The talk quickly wandered into the territory of who had the best cupcakes in the area. Our resident friend claimed it was either Sprinkles or Kara’s Cupcakes (he was partial to Kara’s).  Naturally, the talk of this wonderful little dessert turned into a craving so we paid a visit to the Sprinkles location at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto since that was nearest to us.

When we got there, there was a short line and many people inside and out enjoying a cupcake.  At $3.25 a cupcake, I was hoping that Sprinkles’ offerings would live up to the hype and price.  Each day, Sprinkles puts out different flavors though the classics like dark chocolate and vanilla make a daily appearance.  There were some exotic choices like ginger lemon and banana and other mouth-watering pairings like chocolate marshmallow and cinnamon sugar.  I decided to go with one of their most popular flavors – red velvet with a cream cheese frosting.

Sprinkles - Red Velvet Cupcake

Sprinkles - Red Velvet Cupcake

The cupcake was on the larger end of a normal size.  There was quite a bit of frosting on there.  I’m not much of a frosting person since most of it is usually too sweet for my taste.  The cream cheese frosting didn’t prove to be an exception and I ended up leaving half of it on the plate.  It was good frosting, though, so I suspect most people with a sweet tooth will be happy with it.  And for those who are crazy about the stuff, they have a shot of frosting on the menu.

The body of the cupcake was delicious.  Moist, rich, this was one of…no make that THE best cupcake I have had in my life so far.  In the way of red velvet, this was a winner.  The color was a beautiful deep red.  The light chocolate flavor was there and wasn’t too heavy or too transparent.  This cupcake was an absolute treat to eat and I was tempted to buy a box of other flavors to take home with me.  However, I wasn’t leaving till the next day and I didn’t think the airline flight would be kind to them.  These cupcakes are meant to be enjoyed as soon as you get your hands on them.

Fortunately, there’s a location in LA.  There’s a pumpkin cupcake on the menu twice a week along with a Chai Latte flavor…. I believe they are calling my name.

5 NOMs and then some for Sprinkles!  Absolutely worth the $3.25 I dished out for this dessert.

Sprinkles
Various locations around the U.S.
www.sprinkles.com
Sprinkles Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

P.S. I don’t recommend eating the colored circles.  Those are just garnish.

Wa Dining OKAN

Tucked away in a small shopping center is one of the best meals I’ve had in a while.  Not your typical Japanese restaurant, OKAN offers a memorable dining experience for your eyes and taste buds.  OKAN means “mom” in Japanese slang and offers dishes that are reminiscent of home cooking rather than the usual teriyaki, curry, and sushi options.

My work friend and I had heard this place gets quite crowded, especially on the weekends, and because it is small, it would be best to have a reservation.  We didn’t need it for the time we chose to go (around 6pm on a weekday).  When we walked in, the tiny space was practically empty.  There was a large bar-seating area dominating the room with a few small tables along the walls.  We were warmly greeted and quickly seated at the bar which had several large dishes displaying some of the specials.

Ordering at Wa Dining OKAN is sort of like going to a tapas bar (no, not topless… ;P).  You pick several items off the menu and share with the rest of your party.  The portions aren’t large but enough to get a good tasting size depending on how many people dig in.  They have a rather large regular menu but offer several specials as well that are listed (in Japanese and sometimes English) on a chalkboard sign outside the door. There is no shortage of choices and the problem of  what to get is a common one because it all looks and sounds tasty.

Since there were only two of us, we decided to split 6 dishes.  We opted for
– Kabocha pumpkin salad
– Braised pork Nagasaki style ($8.50)
– Roast duck with green onion and yuzu pepper ($8.50)
– Grilled yellowtail cheek with ponzu ($12.95, if memory serves me correctly)
– Tuna and avocado spring roll ($8.25)
– Pudding with black honey

OKAN - Kabocha salad

OKAN - Kabocha salad

It’s hard to decide which was the best dish of the night – the Kabocha salad or the pudding.

Made with Japanese pumpkin and cucumbers, this vegetable dish was simple and delicious.  The pumpkin was soft but firm, perfectly cooked and the cucumber not only was a nice compliment visually but texturally, adding a crunch to each bite.  This is one of those surprise dishes that seem like it wouldn’t be anything special but absolutely wows you with each bite.  I was very tempted to lick the dish clean and wanted more after we were done.

OKAN - Braised Pork Nagasaki-style

OKAN - Braised Pork Nagasaki-style

Next came the braised pork.  I’m not sure what “Nagasaki style” entails other than yum.  I believe there’s a soy-sauce based marinade involved.  Two pieces of pork (roughly about 2-3oz each) with a nice thin layer of fat on each arrived.  The pork was moist and tender and quite easy to bite into since we didn’t have forks and knives to use.  As you can see, we dug right in before I remembered to grab my phone to take a picture.  And you can see the empty dish that used to be filled with Kabocha salad.  I was still contemplating licking it…

OKAN - Roast Duck

OKAN - Roast Duck

The roast duck was one of the average dishes of the night, I think.  While it was cooked perfectly, the flavor was a little bland.  I tried eating it with the piece of grilled green onion but that overpowered the duck.  Adding the yuzu pepper (the little bit of green in the left upper corner) did help.  I liked the dish but I wasn’t crazy about it; there are other items on the menu I want to try before I return to ordering the duck again.

OKAN - Grilled Yellowtail Cheek

OKAN - Grilled Yellowtail Cheek

The grilled yellowtail cheek was a surprise.  I love hamachi whenever I go to sushi bars and some places have this on the menu but it was always on the pricy side for what you got – a cheek bone with a little bit of meat on it.  So when this arrived, I was quite pleased with the HUGE portion!  The rather large piece of fish was around the size of my hand.  The top skin was nice and crispy while the meat inside was moist; there was no fishy flavor which made me think that this fresh, not frozen.  Dipped in ponzu, each bite was light and mild but delicious.  It was a little troublesome to eat with only chopsticks but we managed.

The next dish ended up being the disappointment for the night.  While a tuna and avocado spring roll sounds delicious, the reality of it was not.  This dish involved wrapping tuna sashimi, some sort of green leafy vegetable and avocado in rice paper. The flavor of the unknown vegetable completely overpowered the tuna and avocado.  It was also a crunchy type of leaf so the texture overshadowed everything else.  Both the work friend and I were not impressed with it.

When it came to ordering dessert, we had heard they had a tiramisu variation that was to die for along with a heavenly pudding with black honey.  The tiramisu was not available so we opted to just get the pudding instead.  Oh my goodness, this was amazing.  The “pudding” was actually akin to flan in appearance, texture and consistency.  But instead of caramel, they used black honey.  I had never heard of black honey so some googling resulted in hits stating it’s actually “sugarcane syrup”.  Well, whatever it is, it is delicious.  Sweet like honey, there’s a bit of a taste to it that reminds me of coffee or something bitter like it.  We got a little bowl with extra black honey to pour over our pudding.  Needless to say, it was all demolished and we were licking our spoons to make sure we got every last bit of sticky goodness.  An excellent way to end a meal on a high, especially after the prior dish.

OKAN also has a decent list of alcohol including beer, sake and shochu as well as plum and yuzu wine.  It’s not a full bar though so you won’t find mixed drinks.  My work friend ended up with a red rice beer – Hitachino – that he liked. There’s also a white rice beer.

Overall, this was a splendid meal and not a very expensive one for the amount and quality of food we ate.  We were both stuffed to the gills; we could have done without the sad spring rolls and still been full.  I definitely want to go back and try other items on the menu that looked enticing.  And eat more Kabocha salad if they have it!!!

I give Wa Dining OKAN 4 1/2 NOMS.  It would have been 5 if we didn’t get that awful spring roll….that was a hairball.

Wa Dining OKAN
3860 Convoy St., #110
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-0941
http://okanus.com
Wa Dining Okan on Urbanspoon

The Melting Pot – Torrance

With the impending birthday, my husband arranged a dinner with some friends at The Melting Pot in Torrance Saturday night. For those of you not familiar with this place, it’s a fondue restaurant.  The menu at fondue restaurants is relatively simple, at least for the two places I have been to.  There’s a 4-course meal option which consists of:
– choice of cheese fondue
– salad
– choice of main entrée
– choice of chocolate dessert
The menu also allows for a la carte ordering so if all you want is cheese fondue or chocolate fondue, you can do that.

Since it was a special occasion, Hubby n’ I decided to splurge and went with the “Big Night Out” which was The Melting Pot’s four course option.

For the cheese fondue, we went for the quattro formagio which was a delicious mixture of Fontina, Grùyere and Gran Queso cheeses with roasted garlic, basil and tomato pesto and mozzarella Perlini.  As one friend put it, it was cheese fondue with the “essence of Olive Garden”.  This was seriously delicious and rich with garlic and pesto flavors.  It went best with the variety of breads and vegetables but not so much with the Granny Smith Apples.

Since the mister doesn’t eat salads, I got to sample 2 different ones on the menu.  There was a caprese which was average.  A little more fresh basil would have been nice.  The California salad was mixed greens with Roma tomatoes, walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese and a delicious raspberry walnut vinaigrette dressing.

photo

The Melting Pot - Fondue Fusion

There were 3 different choices for the main entrée.  We opted for the 2nd one which was titled “Fondue Fusion”; it consisted of lobster tail, filet mignon, limoncello balsamic sirloin, shrimp, sun-dried tomato chicken, orange fennel pork tenderloin, fresh vegetables (potato wedges, broccoli and mushroom caps) and  little pasta purses stuffed with porcini and portabello mushrooms. As for the broth to cook in, there were 4 choices and we opted for the Coq au Vin – burgandy wine with herbs, mushrooms, garlic and spices.

The way this works is you skewer the meat and stick it into the broth and let it cook for several minutes.  Then you eat it with a variety of sauces.  There was a teriyaki sauce, a ginger-plum sauce, a yummy curry-yogurt, something called the “Greek Goddess” which was my favorite (greek yogurt with a mixture of seasoning and scallions), especially with mushrooms, a spicy cocktail sauce and something that was Thousand Island-y.

This is a great way to cook meat as it was quick and left the pieces juicy and tender.  I loved the filet mignon and pasta pockets the most.

photo(4)

The Melting Pot - Dessert Dippers

For dessert, we opted for just the plain dark chocolate fondue.  There are quite a few other choices including peanut butter-chocolate mixtures, banana fosters and s’mores.  For dippers, we had rice krispie treats, strawberries, marshmallows, bananas, cheesecake, pound cake and brownies.  As you can see, some people didn’t wait to dive in till after I got a picture (myself included).

photo(6)

The Melting Pot - Ying & Yang Martini

As for drinks, The Melting Pot has a variety of wine to choose from as well as a bar and specialty drinks.  I had their Passion Bellini which was a mixture of Prosecco and fruit juices.  Absolutely yummy.  Dan had a Yin & Yang martini with dessert.

We had 2 fabulous servers, one of whom was sarcastically funny.  The wait, however, was a bit long.  We had a reservation but didn’t get seated till an hour later due to large parties not getting up.  There was a bar area so we chilled in there for some of the time.

The Mister opted to buy the “birthday” package which involved having balloons on the table, held down with a box of chocolate fondue and having the party’s picture taken and framed.

Overall, this was a delicious meal but it is expensive.  The “Big Night Out” option we went with was $94/couple.  Tack on drinks and yeah…you’ve got yourself a nice triple digit bill.  But if you’re looking for a place to have dinner at for a special occasion or want to impress your date, this is a great option.

I give the Melting Pot 4 NOMs.

The Melting Pot
21525 Hawthorne Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90503
(310) 316-7500

CBS Cupcakes

A couple of weeks ago, a couple of coworkers n’ I went to the UTC food court for lunch. I was surprised to see a cupcake vendor had moved in one of the spots. Cupcakes? At a food court? I was curious. We picked up a bakers dozen of the mini size to take back to work and share amongst the team.

Chocolate, vanilla, red velvet and strawberry (special flavor of the day) with the different frostings – chocolate, cream cheese and vanilla buttercream – and a variety of toppings like sprinkles, graham cracker crumbs and gummi bears. We also got 1 key lime as our 13th.

The cupcakes were all pre-made and sitting in a container. The frosting and topping get added when ordered. Some of the cupcakes were a bit on the dry side. The strawberry was probably the most moist and was pretty good if a bit faint on the strawberry flavor. It was at least a little pink. The red velvet was good with the cream cheese frosting. I can’t really remember much else.

These weren’t the greatest cupcakes. I’ve definitely had better. I’ve made better out of a box mix. But these certainly were a lot prettier than the ones I’ve made. And the little toppings added a nice little colorful touch….sorta like Cold Stone without the Fury of Lactose.

Cost wise, it was a $1.change for a single mini cupcake which seems a little on the steep side. And you got no discount for buying a baker’s dozen.

I’d be willing to give them more chances though since it looked like they’re new in business and probably trying to work out kinks n’ stuff.

First visit to CBS Cupcakes == 2 1/2 NOMs.

CBS Cupcakes
4545 La Jolla Village Dr
(in the UTC Food Court)
San Diego, CA 92122
(858) 453-2930
cbscupcakes.50webs.com/