How big is your wok? Mongolian BBQ at Big Wok

Husband is a big fan of Mongolian BBQ.  When we discovered an all-you-can-eat place in Manhattan Beach during one of our exploratory drives, he was ecstatic.  Big Wok has now become one of our “go to” places for when we don’t feel like cooking and want something inexpensive and filling to eat.

Wok me, Amadeus

This place is pretty popular, especially during the dinner hours.  We usually try to get there  earlier so that we don’t have to wait in lines to get our food and have it cooked. We’ve never had to wait to be seated and are always greeted quickly by a smiling waitress.  Service here has always been great.  Parking on the other hand…

Meat, meat, meat

Just some of the veggie offerings

Big Wok operates like any other AYCE Mongolian BBQ.   You grab a bowl, fill it with semi-frozen slices of meat, vegetables and noodles.  Then you top it off with various sauces and hand the dish to a cook who gives you back a plate of steaming hot yummy eats.  The selection at Big Wok isn’t as big as other places I’ve been to but it has enough variety to make for interesting combinations.

The meat section offers turkey, chicken, pork, beef and lamb.  I usually do a  combo of chicken, beef and lamb, sometimes pork.  There’s also tofu for the vegetarians.

As for veggies, there’s your usual culprits – zucchini, green onions, celery, mushrooms, chopped green and red cabbage.  There’s also spinach, tomato, water chestnuts, baby corn…well, you get the idea.

Pick your sauce

There’s a good variety of sauces.  Regular BBQ oil, spicy BBQ oil, garlic water, ginger water, curry sauce, lemon water, chili oil…  There’s a card with a few combinations but, like all other Mongolian BBQ places I’ve ate at, I find it best if you at least double the number of spoonfuls.  Otherwise, you end up with a bland dish.  I like to use the spicy BBQ oil, garlic water (be sure to add in the garlic chips), a little ginger water and a spoonful of chili oil.  I think I may have to add in more chili as it never comes out as spicy as I want.

There's meat under all that...

Mmmm mmmm....

I don’t usually do noodles as I prefer rice.  I’m not sure why.  I do like noodles but I never get them at Mongolian BBQ places.  Maybe it’s because I don’t want to fill up on them when I know I’m also going to get “mana biscuits”.  Husband, on the other hand, is the opposite.  He loads up on meat and noodles.  Completely skips the veggie section…*sigh*

Oodles of noodles

Hey, where's the greens?

Mana Biscuits

Back to the “mana biscuits”.  What I’m talking about are those Chinese flat sesame-crusted bread thingies.  Husband and I used to play a lot of WoW and talked about having a guild party at our place and doing a WoW themed menu.  We decided that these bread items would be perfect “mana biscuits”.  I know, we’re dorks…  I love these things, though.  Husband doesn’t eat them since he’s got oodles of noodles on his plate so I always gobble them up.  There’s a nice crispness on the outside; the inside is warm and a little chewy.  I like to wipe the plate with them…so good!

Our total bill, tip included, ranges from $25-30 depending on if we get drinks or not.  Big Wok also offers some sides like fried shrimp, kimchee, soup and wontons but I’ve never ordered them and never seen anyone else with those dishes on their table.

I give Big Wok 3 1/2 NOMs!

Big Wok
250 N Sepulveda Blvd
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310) 798-1155
Big Wok Mongolian BBQ on Urbanspoon

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New Seoul BBQ

New Seoul BBQ

Over the Christmas break, the Husband and I met up with my parents for lunch in Orange County.  The last few times we’ve done this, we’ve gone to New Seoul BBQ, an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ Buffet.  The reason…meat-fest!

Unlike Manna, the place we frequent up in LA, New Seoul is a self-serve buffet.  This is more convenient since there is no time wasted trying to flag down a waiter and put in an order for meat.  Also, New Seoul has a wider variety of choices than Manna’s all-you-can-eat menu.  I think the meat is better quality as well.  It is more expensive, though.  Since my parents always paid, I never got a look at the check but I’m guessing $20ish/pp for weekend lunch.

New Seoul BBQ - banchan

When you walk in, you’re greeted by a long bar.  On one side, various banchan and a salad bar await your consumption.  Different kinds of kimchi, spinach, bean sprouts, tofu are just some of the choices.  Overall, the banchan is of decent quality.  They have a lot of the things I like to eat, including pickled shredded daikon and almond jelly.

The other side offers up various marinated meats and seafood.  The usual suspects – bulgogi, kalbi, chicken and pork bulgogi – are present but so are pork belly, tripe, beef tongue, baby octopus, mussels, and whole shrimp.

There’s also stations offering up hot items like udon, fried rice, japchae, egg rolls, fried mandoo, steamed egg.  The japchae is average though the noodles are sometimes overcooked, maybe from sitting under the heatlamp for too long.  The steamed egg is not that great.  They also have a couple of types of nigiri sushi but I usually pass as the one time I tried it, the fish didn’t taste fresh; it had a strong fish taste.  For dessert, there’s fruit, jello and a yogurt machine as well as a persimmon-rice drink.

New Seoul BBQ - Various meats on the table grill

Whenever we’ve gone, the service has been good.  We seem to always get the same table everytime.  The booths are big and spacious, giving everyone a lot of elbow room but still keeping them in arm’s reach of the grill.  The waitresses bring the rice (white or “brown” (purple, actually)) to the table instead of us getting it ourselves and they also cut the meat. They are pretty good about checking in on us as well.

While the price may seem steep for a buffet, for our family it is a decent deal since we can pack away the Korean BBQ.  Just be careful as they will charge you for any meat you leave behind.

Everytime we have come here, the place has been fairly empty.  I don’t know if it’s the cost that’s prohibitive for lunch or if people prefer to come here during the dinner hours.  It works out nicely for us as we get good service and there’s no line at the buffet.

The Catty Critic gives New Seoul BBQ 4 NOMs.

New Seoul BBQ
9902 Garden Grove Boulevard
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 537-9292
New Seoul Korean BBQ Buffet on Urbanspoon

Manna

So this past Saturday was the Korean BBQ Festival in Koreatown.  The husband and I had plans to meet up with friends there and eat some yummy meat.  However, while we were driving down Vermont (in horrendous traffic), our friends called up to say they were already there and that it was…well…not really worth it.  We decided that our money would be better spent going to Manna and having our own private Korean BBQ festival.

Entrance

Entrance to Manna


Manna - Where's the beef?

Manna - Where's the beef?

Manna is a “restaurant” on the corner of Olympic and Gramercy that boasts a $16.99 all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ that you cook yourself at a grill on your table.  The exterior of the building doesn’t really make it obvious this place is a restaurant so it’s easy to miss.  When you walk in, you realize that you’re actually still outside; you’re just in a covered patio area.  The actual kitchen and restrooms are in the building.  Long rows of tables with built-in grills fill the space.  It’s not uncommon to have several large groups at the same row of tables.

Our group of 6 arrived early (around 6:30pm) enough to not have trouble getting a table.  However, Manna gets filled up quickly so reservations are recommended if you have a very large party or want to eat later.

We ordered one of everything for our table – bulgogi, kalbi (boneless), beef brisket, pork belly, BBQ pork and BBQ chicken.  K and I also decided to split a large Pineapple Soju.  Our drinks and banchan arrived.  Apparently, the Soju was intended for four people.  o_O  It was a rather large carafe.  However, it wasn’t terribly strong which was okay with me since I’m a lightweight and I had an extremely empty stomach.  If you are a fan of pineapple juice, this is a good drink for you.  There was also a Lemon Soju as well.  A funny quirk about Manna is that if you want water, you have to ask for it and there are signs posted on the walls stating so.

Manna - Banchan

Manna - Banchan

Our banchan consisted of rice paper and daikon wrappers, japchae, shredded daikon kimchee, regular kimchee, spinach cooked in sesame oil, potato salad and a pot of boiled egg (not pictured).  There was also a salad that we noticed other tables getting so we asked for some towards the end of the meal.  It had a really nice cold ginger dressing on it. The banchan was all decent and flavorful.  The kimchee, while strong was not spicy.  I really enjoyed the spinach; it is one of my favorite banchan dishes and Manna’s version reminded me of my Mom’s.

Manna - cart o' meat!

Manna - cart o' meat!


Manna - bulgogi

Manna - bulgogi


Manna - plate o' meat!

Manna - plate o' meat!


Manna

Manna- beef brisket and onions cooking

One thing about Manna that I noticed is that they do not serve rice.  This allowed us to eat a lot of Korean BBQ, definitely more than $16.99 would have gotten us at a standard Korean BBQ restaurant.  When our meat arrived, it was on a cart with other tables’ orders.  The waiter immediately dumped the plate of bulgogi on the grill and then handed us a large plate of BBQ chicken and another even larger plate piled with beef brisket, kalbi, BBQ pork and a large slice of pork belly.  They also handed us a pair of scissors so we could trim down the larger cuts.  Manna is a very “do it yourself” type of restaurant.  Hey, for the price, I’m not complaining.

The bulgogi was good here though very fatty (hey, more flavor!).  The marinade was on the sweeter side, a bit sweeter than I prefer, but still tasty.  This was the table’s favorite dish as the boys ordered 2 more plates of the bulgogi after we finished off the first delivery.  I think by the time we were done, we had eaten a whole cow or what equated to a whole cow weight-wise.  The bbq chicken was good as well, marinated in the same thing as the bulgogi but the sweetness worked better for the chicken.  The beef brisket was served plain but we had two dipping sauces – seasoned sesame oil and a soy sauce-based one.  I liked to dip the beef in both and then wrap it either in the rice paper or the daikon with a little bit of the spinach.  I can’t recall anything about the BBQ pork though I know I ate some.  The pork belly was fine though unseasoned as well.  They only served one slice of the pork belly.  The kalbi was good as well.  I am used to the 3-bone short rib cut but here, they had trimmed off the bone so you only had to deal with the meat.  All the meat cooked up nice and tender which was a plus.

Each table is equipped with a bell that you can ring and the waiters know that you require service.  They’re pretty good about responding promptly.

For $16.99, Manna’s all-you-can-eat is a bargain and totally worth the trip.  You don’t even have to worry about parking in K-town because the restaurant has their own private lot that supplies “free” valet parking (tip at least $2).

I give Manna 3 1/2 NOMs.

Manna
3377 W Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 733-8516
http://www.mannakoreanbbq.com/

Manna Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon

The Melting Pot – Torrance

With the impending birthday, my husband arranged a dinner with some friends at The Melting Pot in Torrance Saturday night. For those of you not familiar with this place, it’s a fondue restaurant.  The menu at fondue restaurants is relatively simple, at least for the two places I have been to.  There’s a 4-course meal option which consists of:
– choice of cheese fondue
– salad
– choice of main entrée
– choice of chocolate dessert
The menu also allows for a la carte ordering so if all you want is cheese fondue or chocolate fondue, you can do that.

Since it was a special occasion, Hubby n’ I decided to splurge and went with the “Big Night Out” which was The Melting Pot’s four course option.

For the cheese fondue, we went for the quattro formagio which was a delicious mixture of Fontina, Grùyere and Gran Queso cheeses with roasted garlic, basil and tomato pesto and mozzarella Perlini.  As one friend put it, it was cheese fondue with the “essence of Olive Garden”.  This was seriously delicious and rich with garlic and pesto flavors.  It went best with the variety of breads and vegetables but not so much with the Granny Smith Apples.

Since the mister doesn’t eat salads, I got to sample 2 different ones on the menu.  There was a caprese which was average.  A little more fresh basil would have been nice.  The California salad was mixed greens with Roma tomatoes, walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese and a delicious raspberry walnut vinaigrette dressing.

photo

The Melting Pot - Fondue Fusion

There were 3 different choices for the main entrée.  We opted for the 2nd one which was titled “Fondue Fusion”; it consisted of lobster tail, filet mignon, limoncello balsamic sirloin, shrimp, sun-dried tomato chicken, orange fennel pork tenderloin, fresh vegetables (potato wedges, broccoli and mushroom caps) and  little pasta purses stuffed with porcini and portabello mushrooms. As for the broth to cook in, there were 4 choices and we opted for the Coq au Vin – burgandy wine with herbs, mushrooms, garlic and spices.

The way this works is you skewer the meat and stick it into the broth and let it cook for several minutes.  Then you eat it with a variety of sauces.  There was a teriyaki sauce, a ginger-plum sauce, a yummy curry-yogurt, something called the “Greek Goddess” which was my favorite (greek yogurt with a mixture of seasoning and scallions), especially with mushrooms, a spicy cocktail sauce and something that was Thousand Island-y.

This is a great way to cook meat as it was quick and left the pieces juicy and tender.  I loved the filet mignon and pasta pockets the most.

photo(4)

The Melting Pot - Dessert Dippers

For dessert, we opted for just the plain dark chocolate fondue.  There are quite a few other choices including peanut butter-chocolate mixtures, banana fosters and s’mores.  For dippers, we had rice krispie treats, strawberries, marshmallows, bananas, cheesecake, pound cake and brownies.  As you can see, some people didn’t wait to dive in till after I got a picture (myself included).

photo(6)

The Melting Pot - Ying & Yang Martini

As for drinks, The Melting Pot has a variety of wine to choose from as well as a bar and specialty drinks.  I had their Passion Bellini which was a mixture of Prosecco and fruit juices.  Absolutely yummy.  Dan had a Yin & Yang martini with dessert.

We had 2 fabulous servers, one of whom was sarcastically funny.  The wait, however, was a bit long.  We had a reservation but didn’t get seated till an hour later due to large parties not getting up.  There was a bar area so we chilled in there for some of the time.

The Mister opted to buy the “birthday” package which involved having balloons on the table, held down with a box of chocolate fondue and having the party’s picture taken and framed.

Overall, this was a delicious meal but it is expensive.  The “Big Night Out” option we went with was $94/couple.  Tack on drinks and yeah…you’ve got yourself a nice triple digit bill.  But if you’re looking for a place to have dinner at for a special occasion or want to impress your date, this is a great option.

I give the Melting Pot 4 NOMs.

The Melting Pot
21525 Hawthorne Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90503
(310) 316-7500

Sweet potato + carrots + honey + ginger = yummy mush

I got the urge to experiment in the kitchen again.

I had bought some sweet potatoes (or are they yams?  the white-fleshed ones) and had some phyllo dough leftover from another experiment…hrm…mashed sweet potato cups!  To flavor up the sweet potatoes, I boiled some carrots, added honey and ginger and some curry seasoning and a little bit of milk and mashed it all together.

Phyllo dough is still a pain in the arse to deal with if you are not very experienced with it.  I managed to line a muffin tin with some decent looking pieces.  I scooped the mixture into it and topped with some minced chili-spiced dried mango.  Baked in the oven till the phyllo was nice and crispy-brown.

It came out tasting really good.  There’s a initial sweetness but at the end of the bite, the ginger and curry come out with a little kick.  The phyllo gave a contrast to the mushy texture and so did the minced mango bits.  I think a regular muffin tin was too big as there was too much filling compared to the amount of phyllo.  A mini-muffin tin should make for better bite-sized pieces and textual ratio.

Since the mixture wasn’t blended well, I got a mosaic of orange carrot, yellow mango and white sweet potato.  A little bit of green would help with the visual…maybe sprinkle some garnish…green onion?

You could opt to leave out the phyllo dough and just serve this as a subsitute for mashed potatoes to change things up.

Sorry, no pictures.  My camera batteries were dead.  😦

Bacon is magical – it makes eggplant delicious

I used to hate eggplant. But recently, in my adult years, I’ve grown to like this purple plant.

Wanting something light for dinner, I decided to make a salad. I pulled out a nice plump eggplant that I had picked up from the farmer’s market yesterday and grilled it up with some olive oil and Italian seasoning (a mixture of dried basil, oregano, garlic…the usual), salt and pepper. I also chopped up some fresh basil. Wanting some protein, I cut up and fried some lovely uncured applewood smoked bacon, courtesy of Trader Joe’s. Put them all on a plate with some halved cherry tomatoes and dress with some olive oil & balsamic vinaigrette. Yummy and pretty! This would make a nice starter…

Mint-basil-walnut pesto

Courtesy of Food Network…love their website for finding recipes.

I just mixed this pesto together and it is tasty! It’s a slight variation of one of the recipes I found on their site while searching “lamb loin mint”. It’s got a nice lightness to it as it’s not overly oily. The mild minty-ness is refreshing and you get a hint of sharpness from the Parmesan.

Here’s the recipe:
1 loose cup of fresh mint
1 loose cup of fresh basil
1/3 cup of olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup of toasted walnuts
2 Tbsp of Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp – 3/4 tsp each)

Mix all the dry ingredients in a processor. Drizzle in the olive oil as you continue mixing. If the pesto is too thick to your liking, just drizzle in a little more olive oil until you reach the consistency you like.

I’m going to put this over some broiled lamb loins. 🙂