Birthday Dinner at Providence: Dessert

My wonderful husband arranged a dinner with friends at Providence to celebrate me turning 21 for the 10th time in my life. You can read about the first part of the meal here.

After that delicious dinner, it was time for dessert, the real reason all of us were there.  😉  Despite starting to feel full, I still went for the full 8 course dessert tasting menu.  I didn’t know when I would be back so…*shrug*  Can you blame me?

Cocktails

First up was “Cocktails”.  Three different drinks manipulated via magic (okay, more like molecular gastronomy) into morsels that you pop in your mouth.  From left to right was a grapefruit concoction,  gin & tonic and mojito.  The grapefruit and mojito were contained within a very thin bubble that burst in your mouth.  The gin & tonic was turned into a jellied substance.  I can’t say I was an avid fan of any of the drinks mainly because I don’t care much for grapefruit, dislike gin and prefer my mojitos on the sweet side.  But texturally, this was quite a new and fun experience for me.

#2 kalamansi gelee - one of my faves

Next came the Kalamansi Gelee, which was my favorite…I think.  It’s a bit of a tie between this and the 4th course.  The kalamansi gelee was a first for me.  Turns out it’s a fruit that looks a lot like a lime and is popular in the Philippines.  Surrounding it was a soup of white chocolate coconut milk with tiny tapioca balls.  On top of the gelee was a litchi-shiso sorbet and coconut.  Now, I’m not at all a fan of coconut.  I usually avoid anything with the stuff, which is ironic given that I used to gnaw on raw coconut as a kid growing up in the South Pacific.  This dish wasn’t overly sweet nor was it strong on coconut flavor which is probably why it appealed to me.  It was also light and refreshing.  I think one of the reasons that I loved this dessert so much was the nostalgia the ingredients inspired in me, what with the coconut and the tapioca balls which reminded me of my boba-slurping days as a college student…

#3 mandarin-rose sorbet

The third course was the mandarin-rose sorbet.  There was a cute little pistachio macaron, some fluffy bits of yogurt cake and cardamon.  I believe under the sorbet was a raspberry gelee.  I’m not sure where the “mandarin” comes in but I did taste the rose and smelled it too.  It wasn’t too flower-y and went well with the raspberry and yogurt cake which reminded me a lot of angel food cake.  Macarons seem to be popping up all over the place nowadays which is fine with me because I love them.  And mini-versions are just adorable which makes me love them even more!

#4 sweeter side of panzanella

Another favorite, the sweeter side of panzanella came next. This had burrata ice cream on one side and strawberries marinated in basil and balsamic vinegar with a pan-fried frangipane.  I think the outstanding part of this dish was the strawberries.  The basil, balsamic and strawberries all melded together into something delicious yet I could still taste each individual component.  I am going to try and recreate it at home…but I’m sure I’ll probably come up with only a poor cat’s version.

#5 caramel pudding - oh so salty!

Caramel pudding was fifth on the list.  This dessert consisted of a cup filled with salted caramel pudding topped with a sprinkle of apricot, caramel popcorn and a chocolate peanut.   I love the whole salt and caramel combination so when I started, I was pleased.  However, when I reached the bottom, I found the pudding to be overly salty, so much that I really couldn’t finish it.  Sadness…

#6 dark chocolate mousse

Up next was the dark chocolate mousse with kumquats, ginger and goma ice cream.  Goma, it turns out, is sesame seed.  While it wasn’t as strong in flavor as the black sesame ice cream I had at Tsuruhashi, it was still quite enjoyable.  I think sesame seed ice cream is something that needs to become trendy so I can eat more of it.  Then again, my hips are already too wide…

#7

Next was the affogato.  This was pretty fabulous.  It’s an Italian ice cream dessert that’s topped off with a shot of coffee or espresso.  This version had canele ice cream with over a hazelnut streusel.  The bitter of the coffee was softened by the sweetness of the ice cream and the streusel helped give a nice textual contrast.  It was just a harmonious dish that I enjoyed.  I think this was my next favorite dessert from the tasting after the kalamansi and the panzanella.

#8

For our last course, we were treated to a plate of mignardises – bite-sized desserts that are a type of petit four.  Mini chocolate macaraons, caramels and what I think were blackberry jelly candies graced our platter.  We chowed down on the macarons and the jellies but most of the caramels were collected and taken home to be savoured later.  These caramels had some salt in it and it was just right this time.  I wish I had taken them all!  😛

Another almost too pretty to eat thing...

Dark chocolate ganache

Not everyone partook in the tasting menu.  Husband and another friend opted for only one dessert but their one dish were just as fabulous as our tasting menu.  Husband went for the dark chocolate ganache which is a chocolate lover’s heaven.  I am not sure what my friend ordered but it was beautiful…an edible marble-looking ball filled with something yummy; This was a sophisticated version of those chocolate eggs or something like that.  Everyone was ooing and aahing when it arrived.

Overall, Providence has to be one of the best meals I’ve had so far.  The dessert tasting menu is definitely a bargain, I think, and I encourage you it out, especially if you are a lover of sweet!

5 NOMs for Providence!

Providence
5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170
Providence on Urbanspoon

Advertisements

My first Yelp party

Yelp Elemental party @ J Lounge

Recently, I was invited to become a Yelp Elite member. Shortly after being inducted, I got notice of Yelp’s March party – Elemental at the J Lounge in Downtown LA. I decided that would make a nice break from moving and decided to take Husband along as my guest.

Food trucks to whet our appetite

When we got there at 7pm for the Elite hour, there was already a line out the door waiting for entrance.  Fortunately, Yelp had hired several food trucks to keep us occupied – Flying Pig Truck, Fresser’s and Buttermilk.  I grabbed a pastrami sandwich bite and some ube (sweet purple potato) and red velvet pancake bites from the latter two trucks.

Lounge area in the patio

J Lounge is a swanky two-story space with an outdoor patio.  Kitchen 12000 had set up the patio to look like an airport/airplane; girls dressed up as stewardesses wandered around and some passed out little boxes with short ribs, mashed potatoes and green beans.  Kitchen 12000 also set up Pho King, Killer Kabob and Coffee Clinic booths around the area for food samples.

Chicken kabob from Killer Kabob

Husband and I grabbed a box of the short ribs early on and some Killer Kabob samples later on in the evening.  The short ribs box was a little cold.  My rib barely had any meat on it.  Overall, it was okay but nothing great.  The chicken kabob, served with rice and tzatziki sauce, were a bit more flavorful.  Husband wasn’t keen on his beef one but he didn’t have it with the tzatziki.  I tried it sans sauce and he was right; it was a little bland.  Still, I thought this was better than the short rib box.

Picture time!

Coffee Clinic

Dollhouse Bake Shoppe mini cupcakes

There was a photo booth set up where attendees could put on silly hats, glasses, etc and get their picture taken.  While in line, I picked up some goodies from the Coffee Clinic people – an espresso brownie and a coffee flavored rice krispie treat.  Both were really good.  I’m not a coffee drinker but I do like coffee flavors in sweet things so this was awesome.  I wanted more of the rice krispie treat…  The bitterness cut back on what is normally an overly sweet dessert.

Since it was a little cold, Husband and I decided to explore the inside of the building.  Waitresses from J Lounge were passing around goodies like bacon wrapped dates (YUM!) and other vendors were set up around the venue.

We visited the Dollhouse Bake Shoppe table.  They were serving up samples of their adorable and deliciously moist bite-sized cupcakes, cookies and other dessert items.

Flying Pig Truck - smoked chicken and spicy pork tacos

There were a few palm readers/psychics around.  There was also a swag table.  Grabbed a bag and a couple of shot glasses with the Yelp logo on them for our collection.

We also got to play with the Miracle Fruit.  After rolling around the fruit on our tongues for at least two minutes, we sampled lemons (tasted like lemonade) and apple cider vinegar (tasted like apple juice with a little bit of tanginess).

Still hungry, we visited the Flying Pig Truck.  They were all out of their pork belly buns, sadly, but they still had some smoked chicken and spicy pork tacos left.  I got one of each and have to say, these were pretty darn good.  The spicy pork actually packed some heat!

Feeling satiated, Husband and I headed back in and explored the upstairs of J Lounge.  A dance floor with a DJ had been set up and we found a couple more vendors as well as a hookah and cigar lounge. There was also an extensive bar taking up one of the long walls, bringing the total number of bars I saw to 3.  One thing you can be sure of, you’ll always be able to get a drink somewhere in J Lounge…

Plush Puff marshmallow

Plush Puffs had samples of their flavored marshmallows on skewers and little fires going for toasting them.  I adored the lemon flavored toasted marshmallow.  They also do gigantic marshmallows!  A perfect gift for the marshmallow lover in your life…  Apparently, they also do catering, a great idea for a special occasion party or wedding reception dessert stand.

L'artisan du Chocolat chocolates

Out on the upstairs patio, there was a chocolatier that I absolutely fell in love with – L’artisan du Chocolat.  French-trained, Whajung and Christian combine chocolate and various flavors like mango wasabi, Aztec chili, Korean garlic and anis honey to create exotic and delicious morsels of melty heaven.  I sampled the bacon which was amazing, one of the best versions I’ve had so far, and the Korean garlic, a strange yet yummy combination.

For entertainment throughout the evening, Yelp had performers from Zen Arts LA out on the patio.  Aerialists, belly dancers, burlesque and vaudeville performers and Capoeira demonstrations oohed and aahed the crowd.

Overall, this was a pretty fun event and totally made me want to attend more.  Husband was quite adamant that he get to come with me.

Thank you, Yelp!

You can see more pictures on the Catty Critic facebook page.

K-Zo

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

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

K-Zo sushi bar

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

Cocktails and an Asian Parmer

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

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

Salmon, Hamachi, Monkfish liver

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

Monkfish liver (ankimo) nigiri

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

Braised pork belly

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

Popcorn shrimp

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

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

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

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

Purple people eater

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

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

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

3 NOMs for K-Zo.

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

Mastro’s, a Valentine’s Day treat

Last month, Husband had a “boys’ night out” and splurged on a dinner with friends at Mastro’s, a fine-dining steakhouse in Beverly Hills. He came back raving about the filet mignon he had as well as the mac n’ cheese and the warm butter cake dessert. My husband doesn’t really care for dessert unless it’s chocolate and even then, he’s not a “must have dessert” kind of guy. So him going on and on about a non-chocolate dessert really had me wondering just how good it was…and giving him the pouty sad-kitty look for eating something yummy without me. I don’t begrudge him a night out with the guys but if he eats at a good restaurant I haven’t tried before, he HAS to take me there. It’s in our marriage vows. So for Valentine’s day, I got a fancy steak dinner!

When we arrived, we were seated in the upstairs dining room. A piano sat next to the stairway and a long bar stood against against a wall. Thick curtains covered the opposite wall of windows, making the room a dimly lit, posh space. Waiters in white jackets wandered around servicing their tables. Since our reservation was fairly early in the evening, the restaurant was mostly empty.

Our waitress quickly arrived to take drink orders and was very friendly and laid-back. She even joked around with us thru the night. It caught me a little off guard how casual they were with their customers given the type of establishment we were at. I actually liked this approach as it made the place less intimidating and “hoighty-toighty” and lightened the mood of the dark room…very different ambiance compared to BOA Las Vegas.

I ordered a cucumber melon mojito while Husband went for a Margarita. While I didn’t get any cucumber melon flavoring, the mojito was sweet, just the way I like it. It was also strong as I quickly started feeling the effects (well, I am a lightweight as well). Luckily, we had a basket of bread to soak up the alcohol. Rustic white rolls, crispy cheese crostinis and pretzel rolls which were very good – fluffy inside, nice baked crust and just the right amount of salt.

For our shared appetizer, Husband and I agreed on the vanilla-battered shrimp, mainly because everything else consisted of seafood he didn’t eat. There were quite a few things that sounded appealing, from raw oysters to an ahi tuna stack to crab claws. There was also an option to build a “seafood tower” by combining several choices off the menu. Ah well, vanilla battered shrimp sounded interesting. When the dish arrived, 3 very large shrimps sat on the plate; these were more like baby lobster-sized. The batter was light and nicely fried, not saturated with oil. The subtle sweetness of vanilla in the breading complimented the shrimp.

Both of us ordered the petite filet (8oz) as our main course, medium-well for him and medium/medium-rare for me. Marinated in a 15-ingredient rub and cooked w/ butter, this was perhaps the best steak I have eaten in my life. Mine was cooked perfectly – a nice seared outside with a warm pink middle. This was a tender, juicy, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth fine piece of beef. A simple, elegant steak…the way it should be! Husband and I played the guessing game as to what went into the rub based on what we could taste. Garlic, onion, salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper were confirmed by our waitress but beyond that… Someone with a more refined and trained palette can crack a guess.

To supplement our steaks, Husband ordered the mac n’ cheese, the creamed corn and the lobster mashed potatoes.

I was keen to try the mac n’ cheese since all the boys were going on and on about it. Mastro’s version is very classic – elbow macaroni with a 5-cheese sauce topped with a layer of more cheese. It’s baked and served in a skillet and comes out hot and bubbling. Fontina, Gorgonzola and Gruyere were just some of the cheeses that went into the mix. The Gorgonzola was what I tasted the most, though. While I like this strong cheese in moderate amounts, it was a little overpowering for the dish. It is a great mac n’ cheese but I can’t claim it’s my absolute favorite like some of Husband’s friends do.

The creamed corn was A-MAIZE-ING. Okay, bad bad… I have never had creamed corn before but this was a fantastic way to be introduced to it. I actually had cravings for it the next day and day after. Good thing we had leftovers, which were packed neatly and nicely and put in a bag for us. Husband, who doesn’t care for the stuff, liked Mastro’s creamed corn and even helped himself to the leftovers the next day. Apparently, if I want him to like something, I should have Mastro’s make it.

Husband was contemplating ordering the twin lobster tails for us since he really wanted lobster. However, when our waitress listed off lobster mashed potatoes as a “special” side, he ordered that instead. I was pleasantly surprised with how much lobster meat from both the tail and claws was included in this side dish. And it was cooked perfectly as well. No rubberiness! As for the potatoes, creamy smoothness. The cooks in the kitchen really know how to technically execute their dishes. When Husband suggested to the waiter that the lobster mashed potatoes be added to the menu as a regular item, she said that it basically was but they just didn’t list it to make it sound “special”. Hahaha…

At this point, I was pretty full but I really wanted to try this warm butter cake that the guys were all abuzz about so we ordered it. And the Chocolate Pudding Cake because Husband wanted to try it… The butter cake is really a dessert that is meant to be shared between 4 or more people; it’s large and it’s REALLY good. Served with a side of freshly made whipped cream, this was a warm, smooth, rich dessert. It was strangely light and fluffy yet dense at the same time. Turns out, they use cream cheese as a secret ingredient to give the butter cake its texture. We finished about two-thirds of it and I was sad to see the rest go to waste. Such a shame to not finish such a great dessert. I tried though, I really did… The Chocolate Pudding Cake was also a superb choice. Flavored with espresso, the bitterness cut back on the sweetness of the chocolate making it rich without hurting the palette. Visually though, it was not the most appealing looking dessert once the Husband started digging in.

On our way out, our waitress gave us a small box with two chocolate hearts in it, a Valentine’s gift for the customers from the restaurant.

Mastro’s is a great steakhouse with fabulous service and even better food. A dinner here, though, will put a nice fat dent in your wallet. But it’s well worth it, I think.

5 NOMs for Mastro’s, my new favorite steakhouse!

Mastro's Steakhouse 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

Sprinkles – the Shiny of cupcakes

During my recent trip to the Bay Area to visit some old friends, the subject of cupcakes came up since we were reminiscing about a friend’s wedding where they had cupcakes instead of a wedding cake. The talk quickly wandered into the territory of who had the best cupcakes in the area. Our resident friend claimed it was either Sprinkles or Kara’s Cupcakes (he was partial to Kara’s).  Naturally, the talk of this wonderful little dessert turned into a craving so we paid a visit to the Sprinkles location at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto since that was nearest to us.

When we got there, there was a short line and many people inside and out enjoying a cupcake.  At $3.25 a cupcake, I was hoping that Sprinkles’ offerings would live up to the hype and price.  Each day, Sprinkles puts out different flavors though the classics like dark chocolate and vanilla make a daily appearance.  There were some exotic choices like ginger lemon and banana and other mouth-watering pairings like chocolate marshmallow and cinnamon sugar.  I decided to go with one of their most popular flavors – red velvet with a cream cheese frosting.

Sprinkles - Red Velvet Cupcake

Sprinkles - Red Velvet Cupcake

The cupcake was on the larger end of a normal size.  There was quite a bit of frosting on there.  I’m not much of a frosting person since most of it is usually too sweet for my taste.  The cream cheese frosting didn’t prove to be an exception and I ended up leaving half of it on the plate.  It was good frosting, though, so I suspect most people with a sweet tooth will be happy with it.  And for those who are crazy about the stuff, they have a shot of frosting on the menu.

The body of the cupcake was delicious.  Moist, rich, this was one of…no make that THE best cupcake I have had in my life so far.  In the way of red velvet, this was a winner.  The color was a beautiful deep red.  The light chocolate flavor was there and wasn’t too heavy or too transparent.  This cupcake was an absolute treat to eat and I was tempted to buy a box of other flavors to take home with me.  However, I wasn’t leaving till the next day and I didn’t think the airline flight would be kind to them.  These cupcakes are meant to be enjoyed as soon as you get your hands on them.

Fortunately, there’s a location in LA.  There’s a pumpkin cupcake on the menu twice a week along with a Chai Latte flavor…. I believe they are calling my name.

5 NOMs and then some for Sprinkles!  Absolutely worth the $3.25 I dished out for this dessert.

Sprinkles
Various locations around the U.S.
www.sprinkles.com
Sprinkles Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

P.S. I don’t recommend eating the colored circles.  Those are just garnish.