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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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

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

Urban Solace – comfort food for the stomach

Recently, I had to take a work trip down to my old stomping grounds of San Diego.  While I was there, I decided that a stop at one of my favorite restaurants was necessary; it had been too long since I had been to Urban Solace.  I called up my friend, “Chef” Eddie, and off we went for dinner.  Located in the North Park area, Urban Solace opened its doors a few years ago.  Since then, it has earned much acclaim for Chef Matt Gordon’s wonderful upscale twist on comfort food.  Even though it was a weeknight, the restaurant was packed and there was about a 20 minute wait.  For those who are faced with some extra time before being seated, a large bar area located near the door is a great place to hang out and have a pre-meal cocktail or have some wine or beer (bottled and tap) from the extensive list.

Cheddar biscuits with orange honey butter

One thing that I always tell people they MUST order when eating at Urban Solace is the warm cheese biscuits with orange honey butter.  Naturally, Eddie and I ordered some as an appetizer.  Soft, fluffy, cheesy, these are the epitome of what cheddar biscuits should be.   Paired with sweet citrus butteriness, it’s an interesting flavor contrast.

Spinach salad

I was craving veggies so I decided to get the spinach salad: baby spinach, goat cheese, warm sherry vinegrette, bacon, dates, hazelnuts.  An excellent large salad, this was just what I wanted.  Healthy greens, meaty bacon for protein, hazelnuts for crunch, dates for a little sweetness…very well balanced.  Maybe not the healthiest salad, but I did get my veggies!

Duckaroni

I also was craving mac n’ cheese and heard nothing but great things about the version Urban Solace serves.  The duckaroni is a mac n’ cheese made with blue cheese, duck confit, roasted garlic, arugula, and scallions.  You can order it as a side or as a main dish; I opted for the side since I had the salad.  This was fantastic.  There was a lot of cheese sauce which is a big thing for me as my main complaint for a mac n’ cheese is that it’s not cheesy enough.  I loved the crumb topping.  The blue cheese flavor was surprisingly mild.  The duck was a great addition and the flavor just meshed well.  I’m used to either some sort of shellfish, chicken or bacon/ham being in a mac n’ cheese but duck was a new one for me and I have to say, it was good.

Chicken and Dumplings

Eddie went with the chicken and dumplings and let me steal a couple of bites.  This was excellent and very rich in chicken flavor.  The dumplings weren’t overly dense and soaked in the sauce making for yummy bite after bite.  He polished off his plate for the most part.

We didn’t have room for dessert because all this food stuffed us silly; we even had biscuits leftover!

All the times I have been here, the food has been spot on, both in flavor and execution.  Consistency in deliciousness is just one of the reasons why Urban Solace finds itself on the list of San Diego’s best restaurants.

The service is always friendly and excellent.  As for the prices, I think they are not very expensive for the quality of dining experience you get.

The Catty Critic gives Urban Solace 5 NOMs.  Now if only they would open up here in LA next door to my house…

Urban Solace
3823 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 295-6464
http://urbansolace.net/
Urban Solace on Urbanspoon

Westside Tavern

A few weeks ago, the Husband and I tried to make it to a free showing of “Up in the Air”.  Unfortunately, we arrived too late to get a spot in line.  Since we were already out and about, we opted for Westside Tavern for dinner since it was right there.

Walking in, you get the feeling that the space is a swanky restaurant…a bit out of place considering you’re at a mall but then again, we are in Los Angeles.  The restaurant is fairly large and has a spacious bar area with a large selection of alcohol and wines.

Near where we were seated was a large chalkboard with the day’s specials.  I noticed a butternut squash soup with almonds and pumpkin oil, and scallops with spinach, blood orange and persimmon listed.  Both sounded enticing so I got a cup of the soup for an appetizer and the scallops as my main course.  The husband ordered the clam chowder, another board special, and the Niman Ranch flat iron pepper steak with a Béarnaise sauce.

Butternut Squash Soup

New England Clam Chowder

The soup was amazing.  The butternut squash flavor enhanced with the pumpkin oil and seasonings like nutmeg and cinnamon was simply rich and delicious.  The almonds gave it a nice texture contrast.  I couldn’t stop eating this and wanted more after I was done.  This was a soup that is craveable.  I hope that Westside Tavern adds this as a regular item one day.  Or maybe I don’t…  If they did, I’d be in trouble.

The clam chowder was good with lots of chunks of clam.  The only complaint my husband had was that it was a bit gritty, as if they didn’t wash the clams well enough.  I agree; the bites I had all contained grit.  Not pleasant and took away from the overall enjoyability of this dish.

Scallops with spinach, blood orange, persimmon

Niman Ranch steak with Béarnaise

The scallops dish was great – nice sear and not rubbery (overcooked), with the exception of one of the scallops.  The spinach was sauteed with garlic and packed a lot of flavor.  The blood orange gave a nice citrus note and the persimmon a sweetness to each bite.

The steak dish was alright but not spectacular.  It could have benefited from some seasoning like salt and pepper.  The Béarnaise sauce was served on the side, fortunately, because neither my husband nor I liked it.  I haven’t had Béarnaise before so I’m not sure if it was made badly or if I just don’t like it.  The fries served with the steak were decent, nothing spectacular or noteworthy.  I did steal quite a bit from Husband, though, since those fried potato pieces are a particular weakness of mine…

Half-eaten S'mores Parfait

Since this was our first time to Westside Tavern, my husband deemed it necessary to try a dessert in the interest of this blog.  I think he just wanted an excuse for dessert.  We decided on their S’mores Parfait – chocolate pudding with a crumb topping and toasted house-made marshmallows.  This was really delicious and a nice ending to our meal.  The crumb topping provided a nice crunch to offset the smooth and chocolate-y pudding.  And the toasted marshmallows….mmmmmm.

Our service was excellent.  The prices were a bit high; dinner ended up costing us about $100 (tax and tip included) though we did have a carafe of wine with it.

I would have to give Westside Tavern 3 1/2 NOMs for our first visit.

Westside Tavern
10850 West Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90064
310.470.1539
http://www.westsidetavernla.com/
Westside Tavern on Urbanspoon

333 Pacific – A Restaurant Week Sneak Peek

Tuesday night, “Chef” Eddie and I were treated to a sneak peek of 333 Pacific’s Restaurant Week menu.

Entrance

333 Pacific is one of the newest members of the Cohn Restaurant Group.  If you aren’t familiar with the Cohn name, you should be.  The Prado, Corvette Diner and Gaslamp Strip Club are just some of the restaurants they own.  Their commitment to providing delicious fare and excellent service has made this family of restaurants quite successful and 333 Pacific is no exception.

Vodka List

When I arrived, I noticed that the venue was already filled with quite a few customers.  Upon entering, I could see why.  The large bar area, decorated with dark wood and light blue counters, is an inviting and hip place to enjoy happy hour.  The restaurant boasts a rather long list of vodkas and several vodka-based specialty cocktails to match its casual sophistication.  Also, with the Oceanside Pier and beach literally across the street, 333 Pacific is a prime spot for a meal with a view.

We were greeted warmly by the hostesses and quickly seated on the enclosed and heated patio.  Unfortunately, it was already dark so no sunset ocean view for us; not a big disappointment since I was there for the food.   Our waiter, Thomas, showed up a few moments later and was the epitome of a fabulous waiter – friendly, helpful with recommendations and attentive without being intrusive.

Detoxitini

Based on Thomas’s comments, I opted for the Detoxitini, a mixture of Pearl blueberry vodka and “good for you” juices such as acai and pomegranate.  Upon tasting this concoction, I discovered a new favorite cocktail.  The vodka is the first to hit your palette but then the surprising sweetness balanced with a little tartness of the juices quickly follows.  I could drink this all night long…

Since we were sampling the Restaurant Week menu, our choices were limited to 3 options each for appetizer, main course and dessert.  I almost wished we weren’t constrained since the regular menu offered some delicious sounding items such as Seared Maine Diver Scallops, Saffron Seafood Stew (calamari, shrimp, halibut, lobster clams, mussels, saffron-fennel broth) and Surf and Turf Ravioli (Wagyu beef and Maine lobster).  I can’t forget to mention the various cuts of steak offered on the menu with the option of adding Alaskan Crab Legs or a lobster tail.

Cararmelized Onion roll with Maple Syrup butter

While we were waiting for our appetizers to arrive, we enjoyed warm caramelized onion rolls with maple syrup butter.  As Eddie, who has dined here before, said when receiving his roll, “These are evil.”  The onions are baked into the roll but I never noticed them texture-wise.  Flavor-wise, they really turned plain bread into something delicious.  Coupled with the amazing maple syrup butter, which was strong in flavor but not syrupy sweet, it was a tasty morsel to tide us over.  It was so good, we opted for seconds despite worrying that we would fill ourselves up too early.  I found myself wishing that 333 Pacific would package the maple syrup butter and sell it.  It would be a wonderful thing to have at home to put on french toast or pancakes and use for cooking…

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

Beef Tenderloin Sashimi

For our first course, Eddie opted for the Creamy Butternut Squash Soup while I went for the Beef Tenderloin Sashimi.  I had a spoonful of the soup which I found to be mild in flavor and smooth in texture.  While it was a really well-made dish from a technical standpoint, I wished there was a little more seasoning.  The portion was generous.  The Tenderloin Sashimi was delicious. Don’t let the term “sashimi” fool you as the beef is seared rare than served raw. And tender indeed…it was melt-in-your-mouth perfect. The mixture of cabbage and peppers gave it a nice crunch.  The ponzu was a nice light dressing.  Overall, it was a refreshing dish and a great appetizer.

Herb Roasted Whole Game Hen

Grilled Prime Top Sirloin

As the main course, Eddie chose the Grilled Prime Top Sirloin. I selected the Herb Roasted Whole Game Hen. The cooked perfectly to medium-rare sirloin was a very thick cut but still came out moist and juicy. The wasabi mashed potatoes were creamy with a strong horseradish flavor that I enjoyed. Apparently, some bites were a little too strong as Eddie experienced a few moments of nasal assault. My dish consisted of a nicely cooked piece of poultry – crispy skin but moist meat. The winter squash hash was a treat for me as I love squash and the sautéed greens were wonderful. The only thing about this dish that threw me off was the blue cheese vinaigrette. While I didn’t hate it, I don’t think I loved it. In fact, I’m still a bit puzzled…  The blue cheese flavor was not so strong as to overpower the dish but it gave a “cooling” factor to each bite that I couldn’t get over.  I feel as if I have to eat this dish again to figure out how I truly feel about the blue cheese.

Chocolate Silk Tort

333 Signature Caramel Corn Sundae

Finally, dessert… This was perhaps my favorite part of the meal and it had to do with Eddie’s selection. He went for the chocolate silk tort which was heaven on earth for anyone who loves chocolate. Usually, I avoid chocolate desserts as I find them too sweet; I opt for fruit-based tarts or sorbet. However, the tort at 333 Pacific, I would order in a heartbeat. Rich, chocolate-y, smooth, fluffy, this was not cloyingly sweet but decadent. Served on a shortbread crust with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I could not stop stealing bites off his plate. My dessert, the 333 Caramel Corn Sundae, was a fun presentation that made me feel a little childish in a good way. Vanilla and chocolate ice cream on brittle, covered with a drizzle of caramel and garnished with a handful of caramel corn, it was an adult version of fair dessert food.

Overall, this was a fantastic dining experience…what I expected from a Cohn restaurant.  The food on a technical and taste level is superb; the service, excellent.  If you are looking for a place to try for Restaurant Week, or for any occasion, you won’t go wrong with 333 Pacific.  This place offers North County the hip atmosphere and fine food found in the Gaslamp Quarter without the drive and struggle for parking.

5 NOMs from The Catty Critic for 333 Pacific.

333 Pacific
333 N. Pacific St.
Oceanside, CA 92054
(760) 433-3333
http://www.cohnrestaurants.com/restaurants/333pacific/
333 Pacific - Steak + Sea on Urbanspoon

Crepevine

Many many months ago, a high school friend and I went up to the Bay Area to visit another friend.  Naturally, many of our outings involved eating.  One of our excursions involved a stop at Crepevine for brunch.

Menu board at Crepevine

Located on Church St., this restaurant is a cute little eatery that boasts a huge menu of breakfast and lunch items such as omelettes, scrambles, pasta, sandwiches and, of course, crepes of the sweet and savory varieties.

When we arrived in the late morning, there was already quite a crowd inside.  All the outdoor tables were occupied as well.  Luckily, a large party was just leaving so we snagged their tables. Ordering was a bit confusing as we were given menus by a guy who seemed to be filling in the rolls of host, waiter and bus-boy but it took him a while to come back around to take orders.  There was a guy behind a register so I’m guessing we could also just go up to him and place our orders as well.

Crepevine - New Orleans Benedict

Perusing the menu, I decided on the New Orleans Benedict – crabcakes on an English muffin with poached eggs and spicy Cajun hollandaise ($9.50).  I know, I know…I’m at a place called Crepevine and I don’t order crepes?  I just wasn’t in the mood for them and honestly, I’m a huge fan of benedicts.  The crabcrakes were calling to me!

These were de-li-cious.  The English muffin was perfectly toasted; the eggs nicely poached with a requisite runny yolk.  The crabcakes were decent.  I don’t think they were freshly made but they tasted good, especially with the Cajun hollandaise.  It had a little kick but not a lot for me.  I would have like a little more heat.  The house potatoes were nothing special to write home about…the normal diced fried potatoes you can find at places serving breakfast.

Crepevine - Spicy cornbread with jalapeno jelly

Closeup of cornbread

Listed on the menu under “Sides” was a spicy cornbread with jalapeño jelly ($3.95).  I couldn’t pass this up so I ordered it.  I was expecting a normal sized muffin, not two toasted slices the size of Texas!   This could easily be split between two people.  The cornbread was crispy on the outside, moist on the inside.  As far as cornbread goes, this was one of the better ones I’ve had.  The toasting really gave it some character.  You can see in the close up the pieces of chopped peppers they mix into the batter to give it a supposed spicyness.  Once again, I found a lack of heat.  The jalapeño jelly was nice and gave it a little bit of the extra kick I was looking for.  Unfortunately, I was stuffed from my eggs benedict so I couldn’t finish it all.

Everyone ordered different things so here are some photos…

Crepevine - La Suisse French Toast

One of Crepevine's sweet crepes

Crepevine - Huevos Rancheros scramble

Looks yummy doesn’t it?

For the amount of food and the taste and quality, the prices are decent, almost borderline bargain.  There’s really no host so seating was a little confusing.  And during peak hours, large groups will be hard-pressed to find seating together.  Also, the service was a bit spotty but this place didn’t quite seem like a full-fledged sit-down restaurant.

The Catty Critic gives Crepevine 4 NOMs.

Crepevine
216 Church St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 431-4646
http://www.crepevine.com
Crepevine on Urbanspoon