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

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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

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