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

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

The Gumbo Pot

Just part of the menu...

A few weeks ago, my artist friend, Tanya Bjork, and I paid a visit to the Farmers Market at The Grove.  We decided to have lunch at one of the many eateries there.  Since we had been talking on and off for a while now about how long overdue we were for a trip to NOLA and how much we missed The Gumbo Shop in the French Quarter, The Gumbo Pot called to us.

Located in a back corner of the Market, The Gumbo Pot boasts a menu featuring Creole and Cajun specialties like gumbo (of course), jambalaya and red beans & rice.  There’s blackened catfish, po’boys, muffelatas and even alligator!

Muffelata

Cornbread Muffin

I opted to get a muffelata and a side of the cornbread.  The Gumbo Shop’s version of this sandwich consists of a thick sesame crusted bread, ham, salami, some other meat that I forgot the name of, provolone and an olive tapenade.  The bread was a little dry and the olive tapenade was quite strong and a little salty.  The bread to filling ratio was leaning towards a little too much bread.  While the flavors were good, it wasn’t quite up to what I had when I was in the French Quarter.  The cornbread was good though – moist and speckled with bits of pepper for a little bit of kick though for my tolerance, there wasn’t much heat.

Tanya went with a blackened catfish sandwich.  It was massive.  She decided to take the filling from one half and double up the other half so she wouldn’t fill up too much on the bread.  I didn’t get a taste but she seemed to like it. Looking around at other customers, I could hear chatter about how good the gumbo and jambalaya were.  Those, along with alligator, will have to be ordered on my next visit…

Beignets

The Gumbo Shop also serves up beignets and cafe au lait.  We couldn’t resist and got an order of those yummy fried dough bits.  The beignets here were a little denser and oiler than what we got at Cafe du Monde but our memories could be a little biased since we were, um, intoxicated when we were there.  We noticed that the chicory coffee was courtesy of cans from Cafe du Monde, though!  Maybe the beignet mix was from there as well…

Over all, I wasn’t blown away by my meal.  I guess the muffaleta isn’t their specialty.  But there were many other things on the menu that I would come back for sure to try them.  I’ve never had alligator and my curiosity is piqued…

The Gumbo Pot gets 3 NOMs for the Catty Critic’s first visit.

The Gumbo Pot
6333 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90036-3190
(323) 933-0358
http://www.thegumbopotla.com
Gumbo Pot 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