How big is your wok? Mongolian BBQ at Big Wok

Husband is a big fan of Mongolian BBQ.  When we discovered an all-you-can-eat place in Manhattan Beach during one of our exploratory drives, he was ecstatic.  Big Wok has now become one of our “go to” places for when we don’t feel like cooking and want something inexpensive and filling to eat.

Wok me, Amadeus

This place is pretty popular, especially during the dinner hours.  We usually try to get there  earlier so that we don’t have to wait in lines to get our food and have it cooked. We’ve never had to wait to be seated and are always greeted quickly by a smiling waitress.  Service here has always been great.  Parking on the other hand…

Meat, meat, meat

Just some of the veggie offerings

Big Wok operates like any other AYCE Mongolian BBQ.   You grab a bowl, fill it with semi-frozen slices of meat, vegetables and noodles.  Then you top it off with various sauces and hand the dish to a cook who gives you back a plate of steaming hot yummy eats.  The selection at Big Wok isn’t as big as other places I’ve been to but it has enough variety to make for interesting combinations.

The meat section offers turkey, chicken, pork, beef and lamb.  I usually do a  combo of chicken, beef and lamb, sometimes pork.  There’s also tofu for the vegetarians.

As for veggies, there’s your usual culprits – zucchini, green onions, celery, mushrooms, chopped green and red cabbage.  There’s also spinach, tomato, water chestnuts, baby corn…well, you get the idea.

Pick your sauce

There’s a good variety of sauces.  Regular BBQ oil, spicy BBQ oil, garlic water, ginger water, curry sauce, lemon water, chili oil…  There’s a card with a few combinations but, like all other Mongolian BBQ places I’ve ate at, I find it best if you at least double the number of spoonfuls.  Otherwise, you end up with a bland dish.  I like to use the spicy BBQ oil, garlic water (be sure to add in the garlic chips), a little ginger water and a spoonful of chili oil.  I think I may have to add in more chili as it never comes out as spicy as I want.

There's meat under all that...

Mmmm mmmm....

I don’t usually do noodles as I prefer rice.  I’m not sure why.  I do like noodles but I never get them at Mongolian BBQ places.  Maybe it’s because I don’t want to fill up on them when I know I’m also going to get “mana biscuits”.  Husband, on the other hand, is the opposite.  He loads up on meat and noodles.  Completely skips the veggie section…*sigh*

Oodles of noodles

Hey, where's the greens?

Mana Biscuits

Back to the “mana biscuits”.  What I’m talking about are those Chinese flat sesame-crusted bread thingies.  Husband and I used to play a lot of WoW and talked about having a guild party at our place and doing a WoW themed menu.  We decided that these bread items would be perfect “mana biscuits”.  I know, we’re dorks…  I love these things, though.  Husband doesn’t eat them since he’s got oodles of noodles on his plate so I always gobble them up.  There’s a nice crispness on the outside; the inside is warm and a little chewy.  I like to wipe the plate with them…so good!

Our total bill, tip included, ranges from $25-30 depending on if we get drinks or not.  Big Wok also offers some sides like fried shrimp, kimchee, soup and wontons but I’ve never ordered them and never seen anyone else with those dishes on their table.

I give Big Wok 3 1/2 NOMs!

Big Wok
250 N Sepulveda Blvd
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310) 798-1155
Big Wok Mongolian BBQ on Urbanspoon

Subway, eat fresh for breakfast

If you watch TV or follow food news, you may have heard that Subway is trying to break into the fast food breakfast scene.  Earlier this week, they offered up free English muffin melts as a promotion.  I stopped in at one that was located in a gas station before work.  I had to fill up…

Muffin melt

Egg whites, ham, cheese and tomato

Subway’s approach to breakfast is the same as lunch – Eat fresh and eat healthy.

Their muffin melts use light-wheat  English muffins which aren’t bad but like other wheat breads, a little dry and rough.  Subway offers several different meat options – ham, bacon, sausage – or you can just do a plain egg melt.   Egg whites can be substituted for no extra cost which is something I don’t think other fast food chains offers and a definite appeal to those trying to be more health conscious.

Like their subs, you can add on toppings and dressings and specify the type of cheese you want, if any.  And if you don’t feel like a muffin, you can get a 6″ or flatbread (different cost).

I added tomato to my ham, cheese and egg white melt.  I think the sandwich would have benefited from some sort of sauce to balance the dryness of the English muffin.  It didn’t fill me up but paired with fruit or yogurt, I think I would have had a decent, well-proportioned and balanced breakfast.

The muffin melts range from $2-3 and at a 160-170 cals and 3.5-4g of fat, are a heck of a lot healthier for you.

3 NOMs for Subway’s breakfast melts.

Subway
Various locations

Alice in Wonderland tea set @ Royal/T

Yes, I’m going thru my backlog of pictures…*phew*….

Back in March, I heard that Royal/T, the Japanese maid cafe in Culver City was offering an Alice in Wonderland tea set for the month.  Since Husband works down the street from the place and he worked on the movie, I insisted we go one day for lunch.

I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking..er…writing?

Outside Royal/T

Wall o' tea canisters

I know what I'm ordering...

Anime-ish Alice n' friends

Maid to order

It said "Drink me" so I did...

The complete tea set

Canapes were cut up into card suite shapes

These canapes were pretty good. The bread was a little crispy from toasting and all the toppings were flavorful. I’m always a smoked salmon fan. There was also an egg salad, tuna salad and one other thing I can’t quite recall.

I adored that little mushroom...and the macaron

The sign did say purple macaron but, as you can see, I ended up with a green one. It was vanilla flavored and really good.  There was a mini chocolate cupcake with a small “Eat me” sign, just like the big one on top.  The mushroom was a meringue, I think, and so cute.  They even painted the bottom with little stripes to make it look as mushroom-y as possible!  I was hoping for a Caterpillar to come along, sit on top of it with his hookah and ask “Whooooooooooo are yoooooooooooooouuuu?”

Why yes, I think I will...

This cupcake was vanilla flavored with a cream cheese type frosting and cinnamon. Looking at another version of the tea set someone else had ordered, they ended up with a chocolate one and a mini vanilla one. While the cupcake was moist, I found it had too much frosting.  But then again, I’m not a huge frosting person to begin with…

Husband ordered one of Royal/T’s beers and the Kobe beef burger sans the veggies.  Apparently, the burgers have gotten juicier since our first visit.  My little slider dribbled down my hand and Husband had a slightly messy time.  His coworker ended up having some juice fall in his lap.

beer

Kobe beef burger

I’ve always had a great meal at Royal/T and this time was no exception. I really enjoyed the tea set and admired the attention to detail that was paid to the decoration and execution of it.  While it did satisfy my hunger, the amount of food didn’t fill me up. $25 was a little bit pricy for what I got, I think, but for the novelty and fun I had working my way thru eating it, I was okay paying the price.

Service this time around was a little better but still, lunch here can run over an hour due to waiting around for your order to be taken or food to be served.

4 1/2 NOMs for an awesome special tea set!
Royal/T gets an upgrade from 3 NOMs to 3 1/2 NOMs.  Service here can still improve and the prices, while not unreasonable, do fall on the high end for what you get.

Royal/T
8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 559-6300
http://www.royal-t.org/
Royal/T Café on Urbanspoon

La Sirena Grill

On Sunday, Husband and I were running around doing errands for the new house.  Since neither of us had breakfast (bad habit), we decided to try out La Sirena Grill in El Segundo since we were in the area.

Dining area

Bar Area

Salsa

Pomegranate Margarita

When we walked in, the place was about half full.  We were quickly seated and presented with a basket of just-made tortilla chips and some spicy green salsa which I enjoyed.  The heat was enough to make my lips a little tingly by the time our meal was over.

Husband, about to face a few hours of shopping, went straight for some booze and ordered a pomegranate margarita.  Since one of us had to stay sober to drive and make wise purchases, I just stuck with my usual water.

La Sirena’s menu isn’t very extensive and lists items that sound more fusion than your classic Mexican fare.  They claim to use fresh and quality ingredients like grass-fed beef; the prices reflect the use of better quality ingredients.  There were also advertisements on the table touting happy hour specials throughout the week as well as tequila tastings.  A menu listed quite a few varieties…

On the appetizer menu, I spotted a porcini and truffle quesadilla served with a salad of baby arugula ($9).  Sold!  Asking about the size, I decided that it wouldn’t be enough for a meal so I also got the cerviche ($10).  Husband went for carne asada enchiladas with red sauce ($14-ish, carne asada was extra I think…).

Porcini and truffle quesadilla

Cerviche

The quesadilla was fantastic.  The porcini mushrooms were earthy and the chewy texture went well with the crisp tortilla.  I really enjoyed the flavor of this and would totally order this plate again.  Yes, it’s not very “Mexican” but tasty is tasty…

The cerviche was a little disappointing.  While it had a generous portion of scallops, shrimp and avocado,  I was hoping for a more tangy flavor, more acidity.  I got that when I reached the bottom of the plate but the top was just…meh.  Perhaps mixing it up to get the juices from the bottom to coat the top may help next time.  A little hard to do on such a small plate but worth a try.  I could always ask for a bowl, I suppose.

The service was great.  I never once had to ask for a refill on water; the waiter was very ninja about keeping it filled.

Overall, a positive first dining experince at La Sirena Grill.  I’m sure Husband and I will be back as the Happy Hour specials piqued our interest.

3 1/2 NOMs for La Sirena Grill!

La Sirena Grill
710-D Allied Way
El Segundo, CA 90245
(310) 640-6170
La Sirena Grill on Urbanspoon

BLT kick

I’ve been on a BLT kick lately.  It’s a pretty simple sandwich but when done right, can be all kinds of yum.  I think what I like best about it, besides the bacon, is the crunchy texture.  Toasted bread, fresh lettuce and crispy bacon all combine to give it this snap when you bite into it but it’s balanced with juicy tomatoes and mayo for moistness.

On Tax Day, we took our friend, artist Tanya Bjork, and her man to The Counter in El Segundo.  They had never been but had heard Husband and I sing its praises.  They ended up happy with it.  Another convert!

BLT

I decided that I wasn’t in a mood for a burger and opted for the BLT instead.  The bread was nicely toasted and, while thickier than normal store-bought bread, wasn’t too much.  The amount of bacon was perfect to get the flavor of it in each bite.  The tomatoes were juicy and the (Romaine?) lettuce was chopped which made for a slightly messy sandwich.  Instead of mayo, The Counter uses garlic aoli which definitely is tastier.

Fries smothered with a ton of Tillamook Cheddar

On a side note, Tanya ordered the grilled cheese which ended up being a monster of ooey gooey 3 cheeses.  They put so much cheese that it was just oozing out from between the two pieces of bread.  I bet it would be awesome with bacon and tomato added…  😉

We ordered some cheddar fries to share between us and these were demolished, though I think I did most of the nomming.  Eeks.  As an avid lover of french fries and cheese, cheddar fries are to me what fish treats are to kitties…  The cheese was nicely distributed but by the time we reached the end, it had solidified into a mass.  Which I promptly devoured with a fork.  *sigh*

The next day, Tanya and her man got hitched at the courthouse (CONGRATULATIONS!!!) and we all, along with other friends, celebrated with dinner and drinks at Tompkins Square in Westchester.

I ordered the grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and tomato.  Okay, it’s not a true BLT but it’s a close cousin.  T2, as we call it (it’s owned by two brothers), has a darn good grilled cheese which only gets better with bacon and tomato.  Two slices of thick white bread, Tillamook cheddar, American and Gruyere…pretty classic.  The nice thing is that they put in a good amount of cheese to offset the thickness of the bread.  This time around though, the kitchen didn’t keep the sandwich on the grill long enough to melt the cheese completely.  Forgivable since the place was packed and the kitchen was probably trying to get out orders as quickly as possible.  Next time though…

Classic BLT at Johnny Rocket's

Last night, Husband and I ate at our local Johnny Rockets.  Once again, I went for the BLT.  This was textbook – sourdough bread, bacon, iceburg lettuce, tomato and mayo.  While it was good, it wasn’t really anything above average.  And for the price…almost $9 (includes a side of fries), it seems a little overpriced.

Overall, I think the best BLT I had this weekend was at The Counter…

The Counter – El Segundo is rated 4 NOMs.
Tompkins Square is at 4 NOMs, as well.
Johnny Rockets is at 3 NOMs.

The Counter – El Segundo
700-A Allied Way
El Segundo, CA 90245
(310) 524-9967

Tompkins Square
8522 Lincoln Blvd
Los Angeles, CA90045
(310) 670-1212

Johnny Rockets
1550 Rosecrans Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA90266
(310) 536-9464

K-Zo

I must be missing something…  According to the reviews on Yelp, this place is supposed to be a great sushi restaurant.  But what I found was okay food for a high price…

Husband’s work was showing “Shutter Island” for free so we decided to take a break from packing and catch a flick as well as dinner.  He suggested K-Zo which was around the corner from his office in Culver City.

K-Zo sushi bar

When we got there, it was pretty empty as they had just opened for dinner.  The interior is very stark and modern.  I was amused by the one table that was hidden behind a curtain of beads/chains.  Guess that’s for customers who really want their privacy…  There’s a bar right by the door for cocktails, a row of tables along the windowed wall and a very long sushi bar with 3 chefs working when we were there.

Cocktails and an Asian Parmer

Since the Husband doesn’t do sushi, we sat at a table.  Cocktails were ordered first.  I opted to try a peach sochu cocktail as well as their “Asian Parmer” (green tea and lemonade).  Husband had some sort of cosmo drink.  The Asian Parmer (hahahaaa…) was actually pretty good, with more lemonade than green tea.  I liked my peach drink as well and had a slight buzz going.  What can I say?  I’m a bit of a lightweight…

First thing I noticed when looking at the sushi form and the menu were the prices.  The cheapest nigiri on the list was the Gyoku (egg) and the smelt roe at $4/2 pieces.  Most of the common types like salmon, tuna (maguro), yellowtail (hamachi) and freshwater eel (unagi) were $5-6.  A little bit more than what I am used to paying…  The standard menu is comprised of salads, appetizers and what they called “small plates”.  Think Japanese style tapas.  There are 2 prix fixe options at $58 or $78/pp – hors d’oeuvres, sashimi salad, entree, sushi, dessert and premium tea/coffee.

Salmon, Hamachi, Monkfish liver

I ordered some salmon, hamachi, scallop and monkfish liver (ankimo) nigiri while the other half went with the braised pork belly and popcorn shrimp “small plates”.  The salmon was okay but came out warmer than it should have been…almost as if the rice hadn’t quite cooled down enough.  The hamachi slices looked somewhat mangled and one piece was heavy on the wasabi.

Monkfish liver (ankimo) nigiri

I had never had monkfish liver before; this was my first time seeing it on a menu so I had to try it.  The liver is cooked via steaming.  Layered on a bed of rice and wrapped with seaweed, the ankimo was topped with a little ponzu and scallions.  It was very light flavor-wise and had a velvety smooth texture, sort of like tofu.  Overall, this was a very lovely piece of nigiri…  Not sure if I would order it again, though, due to the endangered nature of monkfish but I had to try it at least once since ankimo is considered a delicacy.

Braised pork belly

As for Husband’s dishes, I found the braised pork belly a little on the dry side.  This piece was chopped up into smaller pieces and the ones more towards the inside were a little juicier.  The flavor was okay, maybe could have benefitted from a touch more salt.  I think what I had at Wa Okan in San Diego was better and easier on the wallet.  The Husband liked it, though, and protested when I took more than one bite.   Hasn’t he heard that what’s his is mine?  Hehehe…

Popcorn shrimp

The popcorn shrimp ($8.50) was great.  The batter was light and really let the shrimpy taste shine thru.  The coating could have been crispier but otherwise, this was awesome.  I didn’t even bother using the aoili dressing they served along side since the nuggets alone were had a lot of flavor.  There was a good amount of shrimp in this basket, also, making it worth the price.

I do not think "fondant" means what you think it means...

Since we were still hungry, we opted to get dessert.  Husband went for the chocolate fondant – a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.  I selected the K-Zo purple potato specialty dessert thingy, a glass with ice cream, sweet purple potato puree, red bean, mochi, almonds and 2 strawberry Pocky sticks.

Husband liked his chocolate fondant (odd name for a pudding-like cake dessert since fondant is something else in the pastry world).  The bite I had was okay.  It was chocolate-y and slightly bitter.  But overall, it was really just an average chocolate dessert.

Purple people eater

I enjoyed my dessert as it definitely had an Asian flare to it with the red beans and mochi…sort of reminded me of the ices you find at the tea shops.

Service was great and our food arrived quickly, though I could see that potentially slowing down the more crowded the restaurant is, especially for sushi orders.

For what we got, quality-wise, I thought K-Zo was overpriced.  While everything tasted okay, I didn’t think it was worth the $100 bill we were handed.  I think I’ll explore other sushi options in the area first before coming back here.

3 NOMs for K-Zo.

K-Zo
9240 Culver Blvd.
Culver City CA 90232
(310) 202-8890
K-Zo Japanese on Urbanspoon

Hawaii – part 1

Last October, Husband and I took a trip to the Big Island (Hawaii) to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. On our 2nd day (first day was recouping from the flight after an afternoon arrival), we drove to the East side to visit Hilo. I used to live here when I was a little kid and wanted to see how much had changed (or not) since I left.

Due to a big breakfast and the fact we were going to a luau later that night, we didn’t want to fill up on a big lunch. Plus, the humidity was killing our appetites. Living in Southern California has spoiled me, apparently. I don’t remember Hilo being –that– humid but then again, it had been almost 20 years since I moved away.

Anyways, I insisted we had to eat something “local”. I had no idea of where to go, though. The only places I remembered food-wise was a cafe next to the Woolworth’s at the mall and a small mom n’ pop market that served shaved ice. We weren’t a family that ate out a lot when I was a kid.

Driving around the downtown area, Husband and I came across Cafe 100. I had seen this place featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” show; they served up loco mocos and plate lunches. Perfect…local cuisine with things Husband would eat.

Cafe 100 isn’t really a restaurant; it’s more like a stand. You walk up to a window, place your order and pick it up at another window. There are tables set up outside along the sides for people who want to eat there.

Halloweenie loco moco special

Little sausages

They were advertising a “Halloweenie” loco moco special (rice covered with gravy covered with a fried egg and topped with several pieces of small weenies). I had to do a little convincing to get Husband to agree to this as he was iffy about the combination. Gravy on rice…with egg? Trust me, it’s actually really good.

This ended up being smaller than I expected but worked out perfectly as a snack split between the two of us. I would have liked more of a crisp edge on the egg but the yolk was nicely runny. A little more gravy would have been preferable as well since there wasn’t enough for all the rice. The weenies were plump and juicy. Taking a little bit of everything for each bite resulted in salty yumminess. However, the gravy alone was a little lacking in the salt so once we ate all the weenies and egg, the rice and gravy was a little bland. Husband was quickly won over by this dish, though.

I wish we had more of an appetite because I would have loved to try their plate lunches and grab a Spam musubi. Oh well…next trip!

3 NOMs!

Cafe 100
969 Kilauea Ave
Hilo, HI 96744
(808) 935-8683
Cafe 100 on Urbanspoon