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

Food Network Magazine’s Cinco de Mayo Celebration

Let's get this party started

Last week, Husband and I, along with a couple of other friends got to attend the Cinco De Mayo celebration hosted by Food Network Magazine at The Spanish Kitchen.  Chef Aaron Sanchez (Chefs vs. City, Chopped, The Best Thing I Ever Ate) was on hand and free margaritas and food flowed.

Since we got there a little early, we crossed the street to have a drink at The Belmont.  When 7pm rolled around, we headed back.

The  Spanish Kitchen was a cute space, decorated with a lot of rod iron and tile.  The split level floor plan nicely separated the bar area from the dining room and there was a small patio with tables as well.

Time to get drinking!

First up, margaritas.  There were several offerings: Palomino, passionfruit, pineapple-chili and jalapeño.  Since there were four of us, we each got a different one.  I opted for the Passionfruit.  Not bad…  I tried the pineapple-chili as well.  I liked this one better.  The sweet with the spicy coupled with the acidity of the fruit made for a nice combination.

Freshly made guacamole

We grabbed a table and helped ourselves to the chips and salsa bar.  There was also guacamole so I took a heaping spoonful since I LOOOOVE the stuff.  Fresh, chunky, really good!  Appetizers were also being passed around by waiters.  We tried a shrimp with green sauce, fried artichoke and this potato-olive thing.  The shrimp was perfectly good but I wish I could taste the sauce more.  The fried artichoke was nice, lightly breaded, not overly greasy.  The potato hors d’oeuvre was okay but very briny.  Not a fan, though.

Barbacoa slider, tacos, tamale, chile rellano (clockwise from top)

Chef Aaron Sanchez took the mike and welcomed everyone and then the buffet opened.  Chile rellanos, tamales, beef tacos and barbacoa sliders were on the menu.  I didn’t think the rellanos were that great.  I liked the tamales which were on the sweet side, though the rest of my group were so-so about it.  The beef tacos weren’t disappointing but they weren’t mind-blowing either.  The sliders were really good though.  Moist, great flavor and served with a slaw for crunch, we all went back for more of these (except Husband who ended up eating chips for most of the night since all the food was “tainted” by vegetables).  I think we were also fairly drunk at this point, too, thanks to the free margaritas.  Oy!

Tres Leches cake

Dessert came around, served by waiters.  There was a cup with a chocolate and vanilla pudding mix, topped with Chambord and served with a chocolate-dipped cookie.  Everyone else at the table loved this but I thought it was just okay.  I really fell in love with the other dessert, the tres leches cake.  It was dense, super-moist and just sooooo yummy.  I couldn’t stop eating it even though I was about to burst.

Chef Sanchez chatting with D

Chef Sanchez was going around saying hi to the guests and stopped at our table and chatted with us for a bit.  We all exchanged stories about how we met our significant others.  He was a really cool guy, funny and amiable.  🙂  Later, when I read a wiki to find out more about him and his culinary history, I found out that he competed on Iron Chef Season 2 against Chef Morimoto and TIED.  Massive kudos as I think Morimoto is the supreme Iron Chef and always seems to blow his competition out of the water.

When we left, we were handed goodie bags that included a copy of May’s issue of Food Network Magazine.  Turns out, all the food and margaritas were recipes featured in the magazine!  I can make those sliders and that tres leches cake at home!!

You can find more pictures on my Facebook page.

Almond Strawberry Cake

Kirbie, a fellow food blogger in San Diego posted a wonderfully yummy sounding recipe for an almond tea cake last week.  Thanks to Costco, I had 4lbs of strawberries in my fridge that needed to be consumed quickly so I decided that I would try this recipe and add strawberries to it.

Talk about a quick and simple recipe…  Break out a bowl, whisk and spatula and you’re good to go.  I put together this baby in about 5-10 minutes this morning.

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
sliced almonds for sprinkling

I added:
1 cup strawberries, cut into small pieces
Sliced strawberries for decorating

Mmmm strawberries

1. Set the oven to 350°F.
2. Grease a 9″ pan.  I used a springform pan…my first time ever!
3. Whisk the eggs into the sugar one by one and then add in the salt and extracts.  Mix well.

Mix the egg and sugar

4. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the flour.
5. Fold in the butter and strawberries.

Batter is all done...

6. Pour batter into cake pan and smooth top with spatula.
7. Place sliced strawberries in whatever pattern you desire.  Sprinkle almonds on top.
8. Bake in oven until golden brown.  The original recipe stated 25-30 mins but I found with the strawberries added, I had to bake this cake for about 40 mins.

Bake a pretty cake...

Ready to serve

My first slice...

Since Husband doesn’t do strawberries…or really any sort of fruit (*sigh*), I baked an original recipe version for him.  He liked it and so did our pug….

The original Almond tea cake a la Kirbie

The strawberry version definitely came out more moist than the original but the original isn’t dry by any means.  Both had very strong almond flavors so if you are not an almond fan (is that even possible???), this is not the cake you are looking for.  But if you are an almond fan, welcome to happiness.

I will be making this again, maybe next week to share with friends!  And I think this would go over well at the upcoming baby shower I’m helping host.  I’m thinking of using a mini-muffin pan to make “baby” versions.  Thanks Kirbie!

Visit Kirbie’s site for other great recipes!

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

Hawaii: Imari at the Hilton Waikoloa

During our anniversary trip to the Big Island, Husband and I stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa resort. This hotel was built when I still lived on the island and I remember taking family trips to this place to ride the tram and boats and watch the dolphins; it was a treat and a trip down memory lane to stay here.

Lagoon

This natural lagoon is filled with a reef and lots of fish.  People can rent kayaks, snorkel gear, paddle boats and other water gear.  Husband and I went snorkeling on our last full day and saw eels, angelfish, humuhumunukunukuapua’a (reef triggerfish) and even a sea turtle!  Very cool…

View from our room lanai

One of the many animals that live at the Hilton Waikoloa

Dolphin at the Dolphin Quest lagoon

There’s a dolphin encounter type type deal at the Hilton Waikoloa.  We didn’t do it due to the prices but we did watch some people and kids take part.

One of the perks of staying here was the availability of several fine dining options for dinner.  Since we arrived late Thursday afternoon, we decided to stay on the resort grounds for dinner.  We chose to eat at Imari which serves Japanese cuisine. For some reason, I thought we ate here on Saturday but apparently not based on the photos’ dates. I’m getting old…

Built to look like a traditional tea house, this place offers a sushi bar, a teppanyaki style experience, or regular table dining. Since we ended up arriving for a late meal due to the time difference between California and Hawaii, we could not partake in the teppanyaki fun and Husband doesn’t do sushi so…

Edamame

Everything on the menu looked really good so I decided to go for the Omakase Bento which ended up being a 3-course meal and had variety. Since I didn’t realize just how much food the Omakase Bento would end up being, I also got a side order of abalone nigiri (something I don’t often see and have never eaten) and the seared ahi tuna appetizer which was a special that night. Husband got edamame to munch on, one of the few vegetables he will eat.

Zaru soba

My first course arrived – zaru soba, a few slices of sashimi and a bit of other stuff – seaweed, tofu, edamame and a crab mixture with a sweet sauce. The soba noodles were perfectly cooked, retaining a bit of firmness without being hard.

Sashimi

The sashimi was fantastic…beautiful fresh cuts of fresh tuna and hamachi (yellowtail).

Japanese "banchan"??

The crab mixture was delicious.  I think the black stuff in the foil cup was a type of seaweed and the green stuff down on the bottom was another type of seaweed salad, both yummy.

Seared Ahi

Abalone nigiri

The seared tuna arrived and oh my goodness! I’ve had “seared” ahi before where the fish was just shy of being fully cooked. This was not the case with Imari’s version. The fish looked like it had been gently touched by flame and had a wonderful peppery crust that made each bite burst with flavor and gave it a kick. It did mask the ahi a little bit, though. I convinced the husband to try a little bite and even he liked it! Shocking, considering he doesn’t like raw/rare and cold meat. This dish was the best one of the meal.

The abalone nigiri was delivered, beautifully plated. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I was caught off guard by the crunchiness of it. But it was delicious, delicate in flavor.

Grilled Hawaiian Opa with sweet potato mash

For my “main course”, I got a piece of grilled Hawaiian Opa with a sweet potato-taro mash, asparagus spear and tempura. The fish flaked easily and had a nice light flavor. I enjoyed the mash but the asparagus was tough.

Tempura

The tempura was lightly battered, crispy and was not heavy with oil.

Stacked dishes with daikon and rice

They also brought out rice and a little dish with daikon and other pickled vegetables.

Steak

dessert

My husband had ordered a steak which was served with mashed potatoes and shiitake mushrooms (which he quickly off-loaded onto my plate). The bite of beef I got to try was flavorful, tender and moist despite being well done (I’m a medium-rare/medium type of gal…).

To end the meal, the Omakase Bento comes with a choice of ice cream flavor. I opted for green tea. I was expecting a small bowl with a single scoop but ended up with a bowl containing 3 scoops and crisp fan-shaped wafers. The smooth and creamy ice cream had really good green tea flavor. Sadly, I was so stuffed that I couldn’t finish off this dessert and ended up leaving half of it. I tried…

If you ever find yourself in the Waikoloa area, I highly recommend stopping in at Imari for dinner. It’s a lovely dining experience. The food is top-notch and the service impeccable. It is pricey, with main courses costing around $35-40 on average. I found the Omakase Bento ($45) to be the best quantity for the cost and it was pretty tasty.

5 NOMs for Imari!

Imari
Hilton Waikoloa Village
69-425 Waikoloa Beach Dr.
Waikoloa, Hawaii 96738
Reservations: (808) 886-1234

Imari (Hilton Waikoloa Village) on Urbanspoon

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

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

Dim Sum Truck

Introducing...Dim Sum Truck!

One of Alex's helpers

Sunday, the Husband and I were invited to attend a sneak peek of Los Angeles’s newest food truck, Dim Sum Truck!  I had tried a couple of their items at the Food Fest and liked them, so I was looking forward to tasting more of their menu.

Founded by Alex Chu, a young entrepreneur and graduate of USC, the Dim Sum Truck seeks to bring this classic Chinese cuisine to the streets of Los Angeles.  Those familiar with the food scene in this city know in order to get the “good stuff” when it comes to dim sum, one has to trek all the way to the San Gabriel Valley.  Not an easy thing for those who live on the west side, like me.

When we got to the truck, there was already a small crowd.  Not a problem as Alex and his crew already had food ready to go.

Har gow, shu mai, shrimp n' chive dumpling

First up were dumplings – har gow, shu mai and shrimp n’ chive.  Right off the bat, I noticed that these pieces were a little bigger than what I was used to getting at the restaurants.  The taste of each was on par with what you get at the restaurants, too, though.  Not a surprise given that Mr. Chu started his food career at a dim sum restaurant….

Baked BBQ pork bun

Chicken and ginger steamed bun

The sauce served with the trio of dumplings was salty and garlicky but lacking in the heat for me.  I didn’t mind because it complimented the flavors very well.

Next up was a duo of buns – a steamed bao filled with ginger and chicken and a baked bbq pork bun.  I tried the bbq pork first.  Stuffed with familiar sweet porkiness, this bun was quite good, though personally, I prefer the steamed version better because I like the texture and flavor of the steamed bread more.  I thought the bao was going to also be filled with bbq pork since char siu bao is a classic dim sum dish, so I was surprised when I tasted chicken and ginger.  The flavors were really good; I loved the ginger. But it was a little skinny in terms of the filling as you can see.

Zongzi - sticky rice with pork, sausage and mushroom

Dim Sum Truck was also serving up zongzi, a dish consisting of sticky rice with various fillings steamed in lotus leaves.  This version had pork, chinese sausage and mushrooms.  There was a nice earthy flavor infused into each bite from the leaves.  The pork was a little dry, though.  I did love the one piece of chinese sausage, juicy and intense.

Egg custard tart

Sesame ball

For dessert, there were egg custard tarts and lotus paste-filled sesame balls.  To caramelize the top of the tart, Alex broke out the kitchen torch.  The filling was smooth and perfect but the crust was not as flaky as I would like; it was a little soggy.

I’m used to the sesame balls being filled with a red bean paste.  The lotus version was a little less sweet but it was still good.  The shell was not oil-saturated and had just the right amount of chew to it.

Based on their website, Dim Sum Truck will also be offering up dim sum-Mexican fusion dishes like a roast duck taco,  which I tried at the Food Fest (yum yum yum), and a spicy tofu mulita.

Dim Sum Truck info

All in all, this was some good eats and I give them 4 NOMs!

Congratulations to Alex Chu for starting up a great truck!  I’m looking forward to encountering Dim Sum Truck often on the streets…

Dim Sum Truck 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
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