Five Guys: East Coast burger meets West Coast appetite

When I was an angsty teenager in Temecula, I got a job at Burger King.  Somewhere in those 2 years, I stopped eating hamburgers.  Maybe it was my failed effort to go “vegetarian” late Junior year or maybe it was over-exposure to frozen beef patties.  Either way, I just sort of fell off the fast-food burger bandwagon, opting only to eat them from sit-down restaurants or indulge in a cheeseburger from In-n-Out on a rare occasion.  Yup, In-n-Out became my one exception to my no fast-food hamburger rule.  I admit, they make a pretty darn good burger but I can’t say I ever reached that fanatical level some people seem to have for the place. But they never had any competition in my book as to where to go for a great and cheap classic burger…till now.  Enter into the ring Five Guys Burger & Fries.  All the way from the East Coast, this franchise is expanding across the States and I have to say, after my first visit, In-n-Out could be facing its first major opponent.

Husband and I decided to try out this place when we saw a sign for it while hitting up IKEA in Carson.  I had seen the sign before but never really took notice until a friend mentioned them to me on FB in reply to an In-n-Out comment I had made.  Husband thought that a burger sounded good for dinner and made an executive decision.  Driving around Southbay Pavilion, it turned out Five Guys was on the other side of the shopping center from where we saw the sign; it’s over by Sears.

Outside

Inside

Register

I was a little doubtful as the place looked a little empty and it was already 7pm.  When I approached the door, I saw a lady walking out with a brown paper bag that had grease stains forming on the bottom.  Hrm…cautiously regaining hope…  When we walked in, the decor looked very In-n-Out with red and white tiles and a simple menu hanging over the registers.   The dining room was about a 1/3 full but it wasn’t exactly a big space.

I looked at the menu; it was divided into Burgers, Little Burgers, Dogs and Sandwiches.  Turns out the Burgers are double patties while the Little Burgers are singles.  The big difference I saw right off the bat…BACON.  Yup, they offer up bacon hamburgers and cheeseburgers.  Husband was leaping for joy, figuratively.  As for the dogs, you can get a straight up Kosher dog, cheese dog, bacon dog or bacon cheese dog.  I did briefly wonder why the rest of the dogs weren’t Kosher…but just for a split second.  😛  The sandwiches are the vegetarian options – veggie with or without cheese (not a veggie patty but rather, various vegetable toppings) and grilled cheese.

My burger, a little smooshed

Let's see what's inside

All burgers are initially plain and there is a list of toppings you can choose from.  Mayo, lettuce, ketchup, mustard, grilled or fresh onions, tomatoes, pickles, bbq sauce, jalapeno peppers, grilled mushrooms, relish, A-1 sauce or hot sauce are your choices and none of them cost extra.  I opted for a little bacon cheeseburger with bbq sauce, jalapenos, lettuce and tomatoes.  Hubby went for a bacon cheeseburger with bbq sauce.

The burger was juicy and flavorful.  I love the fact that sesame seed buns were used.  The bacon was crispy and the ratio of toppings to burger to bun was spot on.  I could taste everything without any one thing overpowering the others…well, until I bit into a jalapeno that was super hot.  I ended up picking them out. I really must be losing my spicy tolerance as I get older… I think I’m going to skip the jalapenos next time and do the grilled onions.  Yum.

Regular fries

Cajun fries

Five Guys offers two sizes of fries done two ways: Five Guys (regular) and Cajun-seasoned. Husband originally ordered a large Cajun-seasoned but the cashier told him that was big enough for 4 people.  He went with the regular size. I got a regular order of  regular fries which could easily be split between two people.  Their fries were natural-cut and cooked in 100% peanut oil.  The Cajun seasoning had a little bit of kick to it, really nice!  Their regular fries were good too and I munched my bucket down to near empty. I am a french fry fiend!!  Husband didn’t fare too well in making a dent in his due to the double-patty burger.  He said next time, he’ll get a single so he could fit more fries in his belly.  Also, they have a little board next to the fryer that states where the potatoes come from.  Kinda of neat!

As for drinks, it’s only fountain drinks, no shakes.  That really made me sad.  One of the things I look forward to when I’m about to indulge in a greasy burger is a delicious shake.  Cuz, you know, if you’re going to be bad, you mind as well be evil.  But Five Guys does get points for having cherry Coke…

While we were eating, more people did come in.  It seems that the majority of them did to-go orders though.  So while the dining room wasn’t crowded, business seems to be going well for Five Guys.

A neat thing to note is that on the receipt taped to the bag, it numbers each burger and the burger wrappers have a sticker put on them with a number so you can tell which burger belongs to who.

In case you were wondering, yes, I was doing a comparison between Five Guys and In-n-Out in my head the entire time I was nomming.  I have to say, the burger at Five Guys squeaks ahead because of the sesame bun and the bacon option.  I think the burgers here are a little bigger too and have a little bit more flavor.  As for fries, Five Guys is way better than In-n-Out.  They are cut thicker and were crisper and more cooked thru.  Five Guys does lose points with me, though, for not having any shakes.  Price-wise, I think the two are comparable.  The Little bacon cheeseburger costs $4.69 while the double is $5.59.  As for wait time, Five Guys is much better as every single In-n-Out that I have been to or driven by here in LA is always packed inside and out.

I think Five Guys wins over In-n-Out.  Is that blasphemy?  Please don’t sic the Spanish Inquisition on me…  Send it over to Husband.  He can’t stand In-n-Out.

4 NOMs for Five Guys!

Five Guys Burger & Fries
20700 Avalon Blvd
Carson, CA 90746
(310) 515-7700
Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

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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

The Grilled Cheese Truck

I love cheese.  One of the best ways to enjoy it is via a grilled cheese sandwich (GCS).  As a kid, I used to come home from school and eat a GCS or two as my “snack”.  It was also one of the first dishes I learned to make – margarine, 2 pieces of wheat bread and a Kraft Single.  As an adult, though, I’ve moved on to more “gourmet” versions and higher quality ingredients…like -REAL- cheese…hahaha.

I’ve been chasing the Grilled Cheese Truck around LA ever since I heard about it months ago.  My first two attempts to partake in the ooey gooey yumminess were thwarted by crazy long lines.  But when I read on Twitter that they would be at South Bay Mini in Torrance for some promotional event a couple of months ago, I told Husband that we were going and dammit, I was going to get me a GCS, even if I had to run people over (preferably in a shiny new Mini)!

Line at Grilled Cheese Truck

When we got there, there was already a line.  Fortunately, it wasn’t anywhere as bad as the last two we encountered.  Sure, we still had to wait about 40 minutes before getting to the order window but I was on a mission. Even the threat of getting towed didn’t deter me; I just sent Husband to move the car instead….  Such a good spouse!

Specialty Sandwiches

The Grilled Cheese Truck offers up several pre-made combinations and a list of ingredients for a build-your-own sandwich.  Bacon, cheddar, gruyere, basil, and tomatoes are just some of the choices you have.  There’s also a “sweet” section for a dessert-y grilled sandwich – banana, nutella and marshmallow!

Pictures speak louder than words

Now, another way I enjoy eating cheese is in mac n’ cheese form.  Imagine my delight when I saw the Cheesy Mac Melt.  OMG…mac n’ cheese in a GCS?  Sure, it sounds like carb overload but what a brilliant idea!  Two of my favoritest cheesy things in one…

I opted to add in the BBQ pork and caramelized onions.  Husband went with the original Cheesy Mac Melt.  I also got an order of the Harvest Melt.  Hey, I didn’t know when I would get to visit the Grilled Cheese Truck again!

Cheesy Mac Melt with bbq pork and caramelized onions

Wear your stretchy pants when you eat Grilled Cheese Truck’s food because they don’t make skimpy sandwiches.  My Cheesy Mac Melt was heavy, rich, delicious Southern comfort in between two slices of crispy, butter-toasted bread.  I devoured this beast but it conquered my hunger so the Harvest Melt waited a few hours before consumption.  After sitting around in a foil bag, the sandwich was still good but the bread had lost its toastiness.  This was a great vegetarian option, full of fall flavors.  I’m not sure which I enjoyed more, which is surprising because I do like my proteins…

Chipmunk??!?! Is that Grilled Cheese speak for chipotle?

The Grilled Cheese Truck also serves up tater tots as a side and for 50 cents extra, you can get a dipping sauce.  We got an order each and opted for the chipotle and nacho cheese sauces.  Turns out, a single order of tots would have sufficed for the two of us.  Not the best tots I’ve had, these were a bit on the greasy side and were a little soggy.  The chipotle dip packed a bit of a kick but paired with oil-heavy tots and a heavy cheese sandwich, it was too rich for my stomach.   The nacho cheese dip was actually better and lighter.

Last weekend, the Grilled Cheese Truck was back at South Bay Mini so Husband and I stopped on our way to the Del Amo Mall to indulge in some GCS goodness.  This time, I tried their double-cream brie and pear with turkey while Husband went for the Cheesy Mac Melt again, but opted to add in bacon.  Last time, we both felt that the original needed some sort of meaty product to offset all the starch.

I keep forgetting that I’m not a big turkey fan.  I want to love turkey but at some point, my tastebuds and stomach go “DONE!”.  The brie and pear were a great combo, with the brie not being overly strong but still having that bite to it.  But at some point, the turkey did me in and I stopped enjoying the sandwich.  I think next time, sans turkey.  Or maybe I’ll try the Cheesy Mac Melt with bacon because it looked awfully good…and Husband didn’t give me a bite even though I kept giving him the “look”.  He was too busy eating to notice, I guess…

Price wise, Grilled Cheese Truck isn’t the cheapest; our 2nd time eating their food cost us $18. A bit high for a “food truck”, but the sandwiches are fancier with better restaurant-quality ingredients so I don’t be-grudge the hit on my wallet as much.

4 NOMs for Grilled Cheese Truck!

The Grilled Cheese Truck
http://twitter.com/grlldcheesetruk
Grilled Cheese Truck (food truck) on Urbanspoon

Townhouse – a trip into Sherman Oaks

The Husband and I ventured up to Sherman Oaks to have dinner and watch “The Wolfman” at the Arclight there with my wedding planner friend, Kristeen, and her husband. The movie wasn’t so great but dinner was! We decided to gnosh at Townhouse Kitchen & Bar at the Galleria.

Deviled Eggs

Calamari

Since it was a Friday night, the place was packed so we had about a 1/2 hr wait. When we were seated, we started off with some cocktails and appetizers.

I had the strawberry basil martini as well as the berry mojito, both specialty cocktails. Sweet alcoholic goodness.  Kristeen tried the fire & ice martini which had jalapeno in it…spicy!

The four of us split devilled eggs ($5.99) and calamari ($9.99).

The eggs were good but nothing exciting or out of the ordinary…just your standard devilled eggs.  The yolk was creamy and the touch of Sriracha sauce gave it some heat which I enjoyed.

The calamari was nicely done – light crunchy batter, not overly oily and not overcooked. It was served with the standard cocktail sauce and a lemon caper habañero aoli sauce – spicy but a bit heavy.  Combined with the fried coating, it was too much for me so I could only do little dabs.

For our main course, the boys ended up ordering the lobster macaroni n’ cheese ($18.99) while the girls went with one of the specials – seafood risotto ($20something).  I loved these dishes.

Lobster mac n' cheese

Seafood risotto

The risotto was great – creamy, rich and just slightly “al dente”.  The lobster wasn’t overcooked but it was a little hard to get out of the shell.  The scallops were wonderful – buttery and had a nice sear on them.

As for the lobster macaroni n’ cheese…om nom nom nom. A simple but excellent classic-style mac n’ cheese with only lobster to “gourmet” it up.  I appreciated the use of shell pasta which was drowned in cheesy goodness.  This was one of the better versions I’ve had so far in this town.

We split the trio dessert sampler – chocolate bites, blondie sundae, fresh berries. I think I enjoyed the fresh berries the best with the whipped cream and chocolate shavings. The chocolate bites dessert was a rich delight while the blondie, a mix of yellow and chocolate cakes, was a good compromise for couples where one is not an avid chocolate fiend.

We had an excellent server who was friendly, un-intrusive and attentive.  Cost-wise, Townhouse is fair for the food quantity and quality.

I think the only issue I had with the place was the lack of noise dampening. The place was full that night and it was pretty hard to hear each other over the din.

Townhouse gets 4 NOMs!  And now I’m craving mac n’ cheese…

Townhouse
Sherman Oaks Galleria
15301 Ventura Blvd
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
(818) 453-9900

Townhouse on Urbanspoon

Dim Sum Truck

Introducing...Dim Sum Truck!

One of Alex's helpers

Sunday, the Husband and I were invited to attend a sneak peek of Los Angeles’s newest food truck, Dim Sum Truck!  I had tried a couple of their items at the Food Fest and liked them, so I was looking forward to tasting more of their menu.

Founded by Alex Chu, a young entrepreneur and graduate of USC, the Dim Sum Truck seeks to bring this classic Chinese cuisine to the streets of Los Angeles.  Those familiar with the food scene in this city know in order to get the “good stuff” when it comes to dim sum, one has to trek all the way to the San Gabriel Valley.  Not an easy thing for those who live on the west side, like me.

When we got to the truck, there was already a small crowd.  Not a problem as Alex and his crew already had food ready to go.

Har gow, shu mai, shrimp n' chive dumpling

First up were dumplings – har gow, shu mai and shrimp n’ chive.  Right off the bat, I noticed that these pieces were a little bigger than what I was used to getting at the restaurants.  The taste of each was on par with what you get at the restaurants, too, though.  Not a surprise given that Mr. Chu started his food career at a dim sum restaurant….

Baked BBQ pork bun

Chicken and ginger steamed bun

The sauce served with the trio of dumplings was salty and garlicky but lacking in the heat for me.  I didn’t mind because it complimented the flavors very well.

Next up was a duo of buns – a steamed bao filled with ginger and chicken and a baked bbq pork bun.  I tried the bbq pork first.  Stuffed with familiar sweet porkiness, this bun was quite good, though personally, I prefer the steamed version better because I like the texture and flavor of the steamed bread more.  I thought the bao was going to also be filled with bbq pork since char siu bao is a classic dim sum dish, so I was surprised when I tasted chicken and ginger.  The flavors were really good; I loved the ginger. But it was a little skinny in terms of the filling as you can see.

Zongzi - sticky rice with pork, sausage and mushroom

Dim Sum Truck was also serving up zongzi, a dish consisting of sticky rice with various fillings steamed in lotus leaves.  This version had pork, chinese sausage and mushrooms.  There was a nice earthy flavor infused into each bite from the leaves.  The pork was a little dry, though.  I did love the one piece of chinese sausage, juicy and intense.

Egg custard tart

Sesame ball

For dessert, there were egg custard tarts and lotus paste-filled sesame balls.  To caramelize the top of the tart, Alex broke out the kitchen torch.  The filling was smooth and perfect but the crust was not as flaky as I would like; it was a little soggy.

I’m used to the sesame balls being filled with a red bean paste.  The lotus version was a little less sweet but it was still good.  The shell was not oil-saturated and had just the right amount of chew to it.

Based on their website, Dim Sum Truck will also be offering up dim sum-Mexican fusion dishes like a roast duck taco,  which I tried at the Food Fest (yum yum yum), and a spicy tofu mulita.

Dim Sum Truck info

All in all, this was some good eats and I give them 4 NOMs!

Congratulations to Alex Chu for starting up a great truck!  I’m looking forward to encountering Dim Sum Truck often on the streets…

Dim Sum Truck 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

XIV

A few weeks ago, Dine LA hosted its Spring Restaurant Week (well, actually 2 weeks).  This is a prime opportunity to sample some of Los Angeles’s fine dining restaurants without breaking the wallet.  My friends, Kristeen (proprietor of Kristeen LaBrot Events) and Suzy, accompanied me to XIV.  We’ve talked about this place for a while now and were finally lured in by the offer of a $44 prix fixe 3-course dinner menu.

Bar at XIV

XIV, owned by Michael Mina, is pretty much what you’d expect a hip LA fine-dining establishment to be – posh decor, a large bar serving unique cocktails, fashionable patrons and, of course, the occasional sighting of a celebrity or three.  Oh yeah, can’t forget the looooong wait for a table, either, despite having a reservation.  We waited over 40 minutes to be seated.  The host did comp us a round of drinks for the inconvenience, though.  Suzy, who is warming a bun in the oven, was quickly accommodated with delicious mocktails.  The saying “you get what you pay for” holds true for XIV…impeccable service on all fronts.

When we perused the regular menu, the debate began as to whether we should stick to the Restaurant Week menu or splurge and order one of the tasting menus.  XIV offers 3 levels – 8 courses for $64, 11 courses for $88, and 14 courses for $112.  For those not familiar with what a tasting menu is, the table selects a number of choices from the menu and each person is served a sample portion (usually around 2-3 bites) of that dish.  It is a great way to sample a variety of the restaurant’s offerings but the entire table is required to agree on what the choices are.  While not really a problem for smaller groups, for larger ones, getting consensus could be like herding cats since the menu has a lot of delicious options.  XIV does accommodate vegetarians and vegans as well.

We decided to splurge and went with the 8 course tasting menu.

Nantucket Bay Scallop Tempura

First up was the Nantucket Bay Scallop Tempura.  I was expecting a large scallop that was tempura battered and fried.  What I got was very different.  Little baby scallops dotted the plate, garnished with fried tempura batter bits, cauliflower..  The flavor was delicious and the scallops perfectly cooked.  The crunchy texture was a nice contrast to the butteriness of the scallops.  Even Suzy, who is not a fan of scallops, liked this dish.

Ricotta Strozzapreti

Next on the appetizer list, the Ricotta Strozzapreti.  This is actually a pasta dish with a ricotta and pecorino cheese sauce, porcini mushrooms, turnip greens and sunchokes.  This was one of the best dishes of the night, in my opinion.  The flavor of the cheese was nicely balanced with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the greens added a much-needed burst of color.  After tasting this, I was a little surprised that this is an appetizer; it seems a bit heavy and rich to be a starter.

Crispy Branzino

For our first main course sample, we chose the Crispy Branzino.  The branzino (a type of sea bass found in Europe) was delicious.  The skin was perfectly crisp, the meat moist and flaky.  The butter bean puree that was served under the fish, I found bland even when combined with the other ingredients on the plate.  The chorizo didn’t really come thru for me, either.  While the presentation was beautiful, taste-wise, this was the most disappointing dish of the night for me.

Maine Lobster Pot Pie

Maine Lobster Pot Pie - inside

We selected the Maine Lobster Pot Pie which was next and came with an extra $15/pp charge.  It was more like a lobster bisque covered with a puff pastry and definitely took more than 2-3 bites to eat.  The “filling” had a creamy smooth texture and great flavor.  The puff pastry was flaky and buttery.  While I liked this dish best out of the 3 main courses we tried, I didn’t think it was on par with the Strozzapreti.

Prime N.Y. Steak

The Prime N.Y. Steak arrived next.  I really had high hopes for this dish.  It had a list of ingredients that I love – Kobe short rib, arugula, hazelnut, figs, horseradish.  The short rib, while fork tender, ended up being drowned out by the flavor of the sauce.  The arugula salad with fig and hazelnut was good but nothing special.  Overall, this was an okay dish but not outstanding as I hoped.

XIV Cheese Selection

For our first dessert, we ordered the XIV cheese selection.  This dish just popped in my mouth.  A slice of brie-like cheese with sweet quince (tasted a bit like guava) and Meyer foam, the flavor combination just blew me away.  I adored this dessert and would have been happy eating 8 courses of the XIV cheese selection.  Definitely one of the most memorable things I have eaten in my life…

Nutella Custard

The Nutella Custard followed and this was another superb desert.  Topped with passionfruit foam, toast streusel and popcorn ice cream, the textures and flavors melded together to form delectable, decadent bites.  A must order for Nutella fans, like me.

Chocolate Cream dessert

To end our meal, we had the Chocolate Cream dessert.  It was not the dish I would have wanted to end my night on.  While it was a good chocolate dessert, it didn’t blow me away like the XIV cheese did or make me want to lick the dish like the Nutella custard did.  I would have preferred to start the desserts with this as I thought it was the weakest one.

Overall, XIV both impressed and disappointed my taste buds.  The selections we had from the main course section of the menu were nothing that would draw me back for the cost but the cheese and Strozzapreti were delicious enough that I would come back just to eat those dishes again.  Fortunately, there’s still quite a few items left untasted on the menu to make another visit worthwhile.

The Catty Critic gives XIV 4 NOMs.

XIV
8117 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 656-1414
http://www.sbe.net/xiv
XIV on Urbanspoon