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

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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

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

The Counter revisited

I heard The Counter had a Kung Pao shrimp burger as their Burger of the Month for September.  Being genetically pre-disposed to loving Asian foods and also being a seafood lover, this sounded nommy.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to try very hard to convince the husband to go with me for lunch one day.

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

I guess I’m a fan of The Counter’s non-beef burgers though I keep telling myself that I will try another beef burger again.  This shrimp burger was quite tasty – grilled jumbo shrimp topped w/ a pickled cucumber salad & fried rice noodles w/ lettuce, onions & a spicy Kung Pao sauce.

There were about 5 pieces of properly cooked large shrimp, enough to register with my taste buds in every bite.  The rice noodles gave a nice crunch to the burger and the sauce actually had a little kick to it.  It was a bit messy to eat and I had to, on occasion, use a fork.  But in my opinion, a good burger is going to leave you licking your fingers.

The Shake of the Month was a chocolate brownie coffee malt – Vanilla ice cream w/ real pieces of chocolate brownie, a hint of coffee, malt powder and topped with  whipped cream.  The husband ordered one so naturally, I drank about half of it.  OMG, this could give the apple pie shake a run for its money as my favorite.  The coffee was subtle and there was a nice balance of chocolate and vanilla.

The Counter is slowly growing on me and I’m figuring out combinations that I like.  If they made the Kung Pao Shrimp burger a regular item, I’d be happy.

This visit earned The Counter an upgrade to 3 1/2 NOMs.

Read about my earlier visits.

The Counter Marina Del Rey
4786 Admiralty Way
Marina del Rey CA 90292
(310) 827-8600
http://www.thecounterburger.com/

Counter on Urbanspoon

The Counter – Marina Del Rey

Having heard of The Counter from Yelp, I finally had the chance to visit the Marina Del Rey location twice for lunch with the husband and some of his coworkers.

Based on the crowd inside, this was a pretty popular joint for the lunch crowd.  The first time, we managed to snag seats at the bar but on the 2nd visit, we had to wait about a 1/2 hr for tables to open up to accommodate our group of 8.

When you get seated, the waiter hands you a clipboard with a menu and a form.  The menu lists sides, drinks and some classic burgers and sandwiches.  The form is if you want to go the build-your-own-burger route.

First visit:

After looking over the menu, I noticed an apple pie milkshake.  SOLD!  This was an amazing milkshake.  Vanilla ice cream blended with real apples, cinnamon, graham crackers, it tasted like apple pie a la mode.  Rich, thick, creamy, this shake was everything a milkshake should be.  DELICIOUS!

Step 1 – Choose a burger.  You have a choice of various sizes of beef, turkey, veggie, and grilled chicken.  All beef burgers come cooked Medium unless specified otherwise.

Step 2 – Choose a cheese.  There’s a large selection of cheeses from Feta to jalapeño Jack to American.

Step 3 – Choose up to 4 toppings.  The list included the usual onions, lettuce and tomato but also had more exotic items like Roasted Corn & Black Bean Salsa and dried cranberries.  There is also a premium topping list which costs a little extra.  This includes guacamole, fried egg, bacon and chili among other things.

Step 4 – Choose a sauce.  From horseradish mayo to spicy sour cream to a sweet bbq sauce, there’s quite a large variety.

Step 5 – Choose a bun: English muffin, hamburger bun, honey wheat bun.  You an also opt to go lo-carb and have your burger served on a lettuce blend or mixed greens.

The Counter - My husband's breakfast burger

The Counter - My husband's breakfast burger

The husband did his usual – beef burger with Swiss, bacon and a fried egg on an English Muffin.  I call it his breakfast burger.  It’s actually really good but ugh, my heart always stops for a moment when I see it.  This falls very much into the “comfort food” category…not to be abused but used for those times when you need a hug via your stomach.

The Counter - my custom burger

The Counter - my custom burger

The Counter - closeup of my burger

The Counter - closeup of my burger

I opted for a 1/3 beef burger, Medium, with jalapeño Jack, lettuce, tomato and scallions, apricot sauce on a honey wheat bun.

When our burgers arrived, I had a mountain of a burger sitting in front of me.  There was no way I could pick up the entire thing and eat it so I had to cut it in half.  As you can see, the toppings all look fresh and the burger moist; however, it looks more medium-rare than medium to me.

The nice thing they do here at The Counter is serve the sauce on the side.

After my first bite, my first regret was not getting the regular bun.  The honey wheat bun was dry and the taste was akin to cardboard.  As I took more bites, pouring the apricot sauce prior, I realized that the burger itself was fairly bland.  Did they not season the patty?  When I commented on this to the husband, he agreed that his beef seemed un-seasoned to him as well.  Hrmmm…

009

The Counter - Fifty-Fifty

We also split an order of the “Fifty-fifty” – sweet potato fries and regular french fries.  It also comes in an onion ring variation.  The fries and sweet potato fries were both good – crispy, not overly oily.  I ate more of the regular fries for some reason even though I’m a sweet potato fanatic.  The aoli sauce in the back was really good as a dipping sauce.

Overall, the first visit wasn’t as good as I expected.  The concept is smart but the resulting  burger just wasn’t impressive.  In-n-Out has a better tasting burger, I think.  However, I would come back here for that apple pie shake any day…

My first visit to the counter receives 3 NOMs mostly for the awesome milkshake.

Second Visit:

We returned a few weeks later.  This time, I decided to stay away from the beef and go with chicken instead.  I, of course, order the apple pie milkshake again.  I also noticed that they have monthly specials – a burger of the month, a sauce of the month and a shake of the month.  The burger of the month was a lamb burger and while looked tempting, I stuck with the chicken.

This time, I went with a southwestern flair, choosing Roasted Corn and Black Bean salsa as a topping and going with a regular hamburger bun.  I have to say, this 2nd burger was a lot better than the first.  The chicken had more flavor (is that salt and pepper I taste on it?) and was moist and the salsa was delicious.  I may give the beef burger another chance but I would probably try to pick more flavorful toppings as well.

3 NOMs still for The Counter.

The Counter Marina Del Rey

4786 Admiralty Way

Marina del Rey CA 90292

(310) 827-8600

http://www.thecounterburger.com/

Counter on Urbanspoon

Memorial Day Weekend – Solvang

On our 2nd day of vacation in the area, the husband and I decided to venture to Solvang in the morning.  Since my other half detests vegetables, he didn’t eat his breakfast quiche at our B&B, claiming it had been “tainted” and instead, drank an entire carafe of Ghiradelli hot chocolate. (facepalm)  When we reached Solvang, he was starting to get hungry so we had an early lunch.

Solvang - view from our patio table

Solvang - Clock Tower

Solvang, being a tourist destination, does not have a shortage of places to eat.  We decided to stop in at a cafe that had patio seating.  I can’t recall the name of the place but it was near the clock and was part of a little shopping center that had an ice cream shop and a sandwich shop.

Solvang - hot dog

Solvang - hot dog

Solvang - Heineken Dark

Solvang - Heineken Dark

After perusing the menu (which contained breakfast and lunch items), the husband opted to get a hotdog with cheese and fries along with a Heineken Dark to drink.  I went with the split pea soup in a bread bowl and a mimosa.

I don’t know about the rest of you but I never put cheese on my hot dogs.  My husband is the first person I know who does this and it strikes me as odd for some reason even though, thinking about it, it makes sense.  Anyways…  This was a pretty big plump sausage, not your little wimpy store-bought Oscar Mayer wiener.  They were quite generous with the cheese as well.  The other half thoroughly enjoyed it, stating it was a good juicy hot dog.  The french fries were great – perfectly cooked to give them  a nice crispiness and not overly oily.  I can’t comment on the Heine as I’m biased against most beers.  Guinness is one of the few that I will drink.  And only from tap.

Solvang - Split Pea Soup

Solvang - Split Pea Soup

Solvang - Mimosa

Solvang - Mimosa

My split pea soup was disappointing.  I was hoping that being in a Danish town, the soup would have been excellent.  I found it a little bland and grainy.  The bread bowl seemed a little stale so I barely touched it.

The mimosa, on the other hand, was just fantastic.  It possibly could be the best mimosa I’ve had so far.  The champagne to orange juice ratio was perfect for my lightweight self.  However, what really stood out was a sweet, almost honey-like flavor in it.  I asked the waitress if they add anything to their mimosas and she said it was the standard mixture – sparkling wine and OJ.  Hrmmm…

The service at this place was okay.  We were told to sit wherever but it did take a while for our waitress to finally make her way to our table to take orders.

As for cost, the prices here are inexpensive.  I believe we spent around $30-35 for the entire meal.  Would definitely have been less if we didn’t have our drinks but hey, we’re on vacation!

Looking around at other customers’ tables, a lot of people were getting breakfast entrees.  There were quite a number of omelettes that looked tasty.  There were also a number of large sandwiches.  This place also does dinner though I don’t know what is on that menu.

I give this place (if I could only remember the name…) 2 1/2 NOMs.