Birthday dinner at Providence (Part 1)

Providence

Ever since I read Gastronomy’s post about the dessert tasting menu at Providence, I’ve been mentioning it on and off to Husband and whoever else would listen.  Along comes my 10th 21st birthday and Husband arranges to have dinner and dessert here with some friends.  Awwww…what a keeper!  🙂

My first birthday cocktail

Husband's girlie drink

Husband and I arrived about 20mins early for our 8pm reservation due to misjudging just how bad traffic would be on the side streets…  Turns out, our side-street route was faster than the freeways!  Muhahaha! LA traffic can’t stop us!  Anyways, there was a private party at the bar area so we couldn’t hang out there but our table was ready so we were seated….in the middle of the room. It was a little conspicuous being just the two of us at a table for 10.

We started off with a couple of cocktails while we waited for the rest of the group.  I don’t recall the name of our cocktails or even what went into them (bad me!) but mine was something a little fruity without being overly sweet.  Husband got something I consider more “girlie” due to the fact that it was in a martini glass with a little flower.  I don’t think he liked his as much as I liked mine, though, because he switched to something else as his next drink.  I stopped after one since I figured I was going to end up driving home.  Plus, I was getting a bit fuzzy from it.  I’m a lightweight.  Plus, I came with an empty stomach.

I did notice they had a Dark & Stormy on the list which is a drink I want to try due to friends raving about various versions they’ve had.  It was also recommended by one of our waiters.  Next time….

Roll and nori focaccia

Once everyone arrived, we started perusing the menu.  A variety of bread was served – warm bacon rolls which were quite good, regular rolls and a nori focaccia that was yummtastic!  A plate of butter and a little bowl of salt with the cutest little scoop accompanied our bread.

Despite knowing that I was about to down 8 courses of dessert, I decided to indulge.  After all, I only turn 21 for the 10th time once…  I ordered oysters as a starter and the foie gras ravioli as my main course.  Husband opted for chowda and the prime New York steak.  Most of our table ended up ordering  just an appetizer to save room for the dessert tasting menu.

Amuse Bouche

Before our orders arrived, everyone at the table was served an amuse bouche.  This consisted of a house-made marshmallow dusted with wasabi, a cheese-stuffed bread bite and an incredible little glass filled with fish (I think the waiter said trout?), caviar, some crunchy little bits and edible gold.  The marshmallow was a pleasant bite with the wasabi being a sweeter version than the more familiar hot one. The cheese bread was delicious, a little tart.  The concotion in the glass was one of the highlights of the evening’s meal for me.  I absolutely adored this…so much so that I ate Husband’s and another friend’s since they weren’t fans of the fish.  I think I would have licked the glasses clean if I weren’t in public….

I am the Walrus...

Chowda

Our appetizers showed up a short while later.  Oysters! *slurp slurp slurp*.  There were 6 oysters in this order, served on ice with seaweed decorating the plate.  Very fresh, a little briny, and served with two different vinegars, these were excellent.

I stole a couple of bites of Husband’s chowda and oh my gosh, so good!  Thick, creamy, just like a proper clam chowder should be.  There was definitely a good amount of clam and it was grit-free.  I don’t know how many times I’ve ordered clam chowder only to encounter a little grit here and there…or a lot.  Seriously, nothing ruins a good chowder like grit…

Heavenly cheese cart

Cheese please!

There was a cheese cart that we spied that had all sorts of amazing looking cheeses so some of our table ordered a plate to nibble on.  The selected cheeses were served with bread and complimentary fruits like fig, apricot and apple.  The variety was quite impressive – sheep’s milk, blues, soft and hard cheeses, an herbed goat cheese, cheese with truffle bits in them.  I tasted one of the blues which was mild for a stinky cheese.  The herbed goat cheese was okay but not my favorite.  I adored the truffled cheese though.  So   delicious…

Beautiful fish dish

One of the couples split the Hawaiian Yellowfin Tuna.  I have no idea how this dish tasted but if appearances are anything to go on, this must have been a spectacular dish!  The tuna looked to be barely seared, just kissed by flame.  The sungold tomatoes and blossoms really added nice color contrast that makes this bowl look more like a work of art.  I’d be hesitant to dig in…but only for a split second.

Foie gras ravioli with shaved black truffle

Prime New York steak

It was main course time.  My foie gras ravioli dish was placed in front of me and the waiter shaved a black summer truffle over it.  Um…more, please?  In fact, I’ll just take that whole truffle…  😀  This dish was amazingly decadent but didn’t feel heavy considering what was in it.  The pasta was the perfect thickness and cooked beyond al dente without being mushy.  The little bits of vegetable in the sauce added a crunchy texture contrast.  It was fabulous.

Husband’s steak didn’t wow him.  It was good but it was too “fancy” for his taste and didn’t care for any of the veggies that garnished his plate.  The bite I tried had was cooked at the requested medium well and wasn’t melt in your mouth but was still tender and moist.  But I think I agree with Husband that the best steak is still at Mastro’s.

Black winter truffle risotto

And the prawns were parted...

One of our friends ordered a black winter truffle risotto while her boyfriend got the salt roasted Santa Barbara spot prawns.  Like the foie gras ravioli, they shaved truffle over the risotto.  The prawns were quite impressive.  They came out in a skillet covered with salt.  Rosemary had been added as well and you could smell it.  Everyone at the table was taking deep breaths because it was just so deliciously fragrant.  Each prawn was fished out and split table-side.  I was offered a bite and these were fantastic.  The prawns were cooked perfectly and you could taste the rosemary.

At this point, I was pretty much full but dessert was still to be had!  Stay tuned for part 2 – the 8 course dessert tasting menu!  Yup, I still went for it…

You can find more pictures on my Facebook page.

So far, Providence gets 5 NOMs in my book.

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

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Hawaii, Day 1: The scenic route to a Luau

The Big Island of Hawaii is pretty diverse when it comes to the landscape and weather.  In fact, it’s a bit like the continental US.  The West coast is arid and dry while the East coast is lush with greenery…and humid.  Also, rain spurts…   There were a few surprise showers during our trip, but it didn’t matter too much since we were already drenched from the humidity.

There are 3 ways you can take to get from one side of the island to the other.  You can drive via the north route, go south thru the Volcanoes National Park (longer), or cut thru the middle of the island on Saddle Ranch Road, which is 2 lanes wide and chock full of tummy-tumbling dips.  Considering what kind of rental car we had, guess which one we took when we ventured into Hilo…  WHEEEEE!

Our rental car...vrroooom vrooom!

One of my favorite places while living in Hilo was Liliuokalani Gardens.  My parents used to bring me here and I would use a bucket to scoop up little tiny fishies and bring them home for my “aquarium” aka a big jar with holes poked in the lid.  This park is located right across the road from the ocean which feeds the lagoon.  There’s quite a few fish in the water and little black crabs scrambling along the rocks.  There’s also mongeese living among the bushes.

Liliuokalani Gardens

More of Liliuokalani Gardens

Mongoose!

Since we had reservations for a luau at our hotel, the Hilton Waikaloa, we didn’t spend too much time in Hilo. We did stop in at Cafe 100 for a snack (you can read about it in the prior post).  We took the northern way back to Waikaloa and pulled off to take the scenic route which involved driving thru a rainforest.  Apparently, hidden away on this road is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens.  Husband wanted to stop and we had a little extra time so we did.

Entrance to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Turns out this garden is rather large and goes all the way down to a beach or something…about an hour or two depending on how leisurely you want to take it and how you handle hills.  We didn’t have that much time so we just hiked to Onomea Falls (about 30mins round trip).  Of course, it rained on us as we came back up…  Rain forest, indeed.

Baby pineapple!

Omomea Waterfalls

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

When we got back, it was luau time! I didn’t take too many pictures of the food since we were at a table with strangers; only one really came out. Since we were sitting in the “VIP” section, we had our food served to us instead of having to brave the buffet line. The appetizers consisted of salad, 2 kinds of rolls – Hawaiian sweet bread and taro, Ahi tuna poke, Lomi Lomi salmon, cooked baby ferns, a cold meat dish (some sort of ham?), poi and some other things I don’t remember. I really enjoyed the poke and tried not to eat all of it. Tangy, not fishy at all, very flavorful. The Lomi Lomi salmon, unfortunately, was a little fishy. As for poi, I’m not a fan. I do enjoy taro though. We used to get some from the grocery store, microwave them and then slather them in butter. The baby ferns were…interesting. Very “planty” in flavor with a little bit of crunch. Not really a fan but I’d eat this over the poi any day!

Appetizer food at the Luau

The main course consisted of kahlua pig, teriyaki pulehu (hawaiian style short ribs), chicken, mahi mahi, Hawaiian sweet potatoes and a few vegetable side dishes. It was a lot of food and I had already semi-filled up on the poke so it was hard to try everything. I did go for the meat though! The kahlua pig was tasty, very tender and moist. The short ribs were similar to kalbi, its Korean counterpart. The chicken and mahi mahi were meh…not horrible but not fantastic.

For dessert, fresh fruit and a variety of little cakes and cookies were served. I was stuffed by this point so I really didn’t try much and what I did didn’t stick in my mind.  Since VIP ticket holders got access an open bar, I satiated my sweet tooth with mai tais and lava flows (strawberry piña colada type drink).

The show itself was entertaining. There was a host that was very…lounge singer-y. The hula dancing was great; they demonstrated a variety of Polynesian dances from various islands. And, at some point, they pulled up a bunch of guys in the audience to hula dance with them. Husband was one of the [un]fortunate ones. Hehehehe…  I’ll spare him any embarrassment by not posting the video and pictures I took while he was on stage.

Hula Dancers

Fire dance

End of the show

It was a great first day…

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

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

333 Pacific – A Restaurant Week Sneak Peek

Tuesday night, “Chef” Eddie and I were treated to a sneak peek of 333 Pacific’s Restaurant Week menu.

Entrance

333 Pacific is one of the newest members of the Cohn Restaurant Group.  If you aren’t familiar with the Cohn name, you should be.  The Prado, Corvette Diner and Gaslamp Strip Club are just some of the restaurants they own.  Their commitment to providing delicious fare and excellent service has made this family of restaurants quite successful and 333 Pacific is no exception.

Vodka List

When I arrived, I noticed that the venue was already filled with quite a few customers.  Upon entering, I could see why.  The large bar area, decorated with dark wood and light blue counters, is an inviting and hip place to enjoy happy hour.  The restaurant boasts a rather long list of vodkas and several vodka-based specialty cocktails to match its casual sophistication.  Also, with the Oceanside Pier and beach literally across the street, 333 Pacific is a prime spot for a meal with a view.

We were greeted warmly by the hostesses and quickly seated on the enclosed and heated patio.  Unfortunately, it was already dark so no sunset ocean view for us; not a big disappointment since I was there for the food.   Our waiter, Thomas, showed up a few moments later and was the epitome of a fabulous waiter – friendly, helpful with recommendations and attentive without being intrusive.

Detoxitini

Based on Thomas’s comments, I opted for the Detoxitini, a mixture of Pearl blueberry vodka and “good for you” juices such as acai and pomegranate.  Upon tasting this concoction, I discovered a new favorite cocktail.  The vodka is the first to hit your palette but then the surprising sweetness balanced with a little tartness of the juices quickly follows.  I could drink this all night long…

Since we were sampling the Restaurant Week menu, our choices were limited to 3 options each for appetizer, main course and dessert.  I almost wished we weren’t constrained since the regular menu offered some delicious sounding items such as Seared Maine Diver Scallops, Saffron Seafood Stew (calamari, shrimp, halibut, lobster clams, mussels, saffron-fennel broth) and Surf and Turf Ravioli (Wagyu beef and Maine lobster).  I can’t forget to mention the various cuts of steak offered on the menu with the option of adding Alaskan Crab Legs or a lobster tail.

Cararmelized Onion roll with Maple Syrup butter

While we were waiting for our appetizers to arrive, we enjoyed warm caramelized onion rolls with maple syrup butter.  As Eddie, who has dined here before, said when receiving his roll, “These are evil.”  The onions are baked into the roll but I never noticed them texture-wise.  Flavor-wise, they really turned plain bread into something delicious.  Coupled with the amazing maple syrup butter, which was strong in flavor but not syrupy sweet, it was a tasty morsel to tide us over.  It was so good, we opted for seconds despite worrying that we would fill ourselves up too early.  I found myself wishing that 333 Pacific would package the maple syrup butter and sell it.  It would be a wonderful thing to have at home to put on french toast or pancakes and use for cooking…

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

Beef Tenderloin Sashimi

For our first course, Eddie opted for the Creamy Butternut Squash Soup while I went for the Beef Tenderloin Sashimi.  I had a spoonful of the soup which I found to be mild in flavor and smooth in texture.  While it was a really well-made dish from a technical standpoint, I wished there was a little more seasoning.  The portion was generous.  The Tenderloin Sashimi was delicious. Don’t let the term “sashimi” fool you as the beef is seared rare than served raw. And tender indeed…it was melt-in-your-mouth perfect. The mixture of cabbage and peppers gave it a nice crunch.  The ponzu was a nice light dressing.  Overall, it was a refreshing dish and a great appetizer.

Herb Roasted Whole Game Hen

Grilled Prime Top Sirloin

As the main course, Eddie chose the Grilled Prime Top Sirloin. I selected the Herb Roasted Whole Game Hen. The cooked perfectly to medium-rare sirloin was a very thick cut but still came out moist and juicy. The wasabi mashed potatoes were creamy with a strong horseradish flavor that I enjoyed. Apparently, some bites were a little too strong as Eddie experienced a few moments of nasal assault. My dish consisted of a nicely cooked piece of poultry – crispy skin but moist meat. The winter squash hash was a treat for me as I love squash and the sautéed greens were wonderful. The only thing about this dish that threw me off was the blue cheese vinaigrette. While I didn’t hate it, I don’t think I loved it. In fact, I’m still a bit puzzled…  The blue cheese flavor was not so strong as to overpower the dish but it gave a “cooling” factor to each bite that I couldn’t get over.  I feel as if I have to eat this dish again to figure out how I truly feel about the blue cheese.

Chocolate Silk Tort

333 Signature Caramel Corn Sundae

Finally, dessert… This was perhaps my favorite part of the meal and it had to do with Eddie’s selection. He went for the chocolate silk tort which was heaven on earth for anyone who loves chocolate. Usually, I avoid chocolate desserts as I find them too sweet; I opt for fruit-based tarts or sorbet. However, the tort at 333 Pacific, I would order in a heartbeat. Rich, chocolate-y, smooth, fluffy, this was not cloyingly sweet but decadent. Served on a shortbread crust with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I could not stop stealing bites off his plate. My dessert, the 333 Caramel Corn Sundae, was a fun presentation that made me feel a little childish in a good way. Vanilla and chocolate ice cream on brittle, covered with a drizzle of caramel and garnished with a handful of caramel corn, it was an adult version of fair dessert food.

Overall, this was a fantastic dining experience…what I expected from a Cohn restaurant.  The food on a technical and taste level is superb; the service, excellent.  If you are looking for a place to try for Restaurant Week, or for any occasion, you won’t go wrong with 333 Pacific.  This place offers North County the hip atmosphere and fine food found in the Gaslamp Quarter without the drive and struggle for parking.

5 NOMs from The Catty Critic for 333 Pacific.

333 Pacific
333 N. Pacific St.
Oceanside, CA 92054
(760) 433-3333
http://www.cohnrestaurants.com/restaurants/333pacific/
333 Pacific - Steak + Sea on Urbanspoon

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

Back from Hiatus – Tsuruhashi!

For those of you who have been wondering where I’ve been, I was flattened by a nasty little bug and then ran over by a final project for my class. But we’re much better (except for a lingering cough) and my project has been turned in.

So where did we leave off? *flips thru photos* Let’s review…Tsuruhashi!

Tsuruhashi is a Yakiniku place on Convoy Street in San Diego. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, think of Yakiniku as the Japanese version of Korean BBQ.  The restaurant is tucked away in a small shopping center filled with plenty of restaurants and very easy to miss.  I recommend you don’t as it was good eats.

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Tsuruhashi - interior

The interior is very small.  It’s filled with about 8 booths like in the picture and 3 tables.  Because of the size, or lack thereof, and the fact that they are only open for dinner, stick to small groups or go early.  Large groups should definitely go early so they can grab the 3 tables which are movable; otherwise, the group will end up being split between booths.  Tsuruhashi does not accept reservations and can get quite busy, especially on the weekends.

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Tsuruhashi - table grill

On each table is a grill.  In case you don’t know, Yakiniku involves you cooking your own food.  You order cuts of meat or seafood and grill them.  At Korean BBQ restaurants, side dishes (panchan) and rice is included.  At Tsuruhashi, you have to purchase these things separately.  My friend and I opted to skip the panchan and just order rice.  The panchan menu consisted of a variety of kimchis, seaweed, marinated garlic, and green leaf lettuce with a miso sauce.

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Tsuruhashi - Meat Special

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Tsuruhashi - Seafood Mix

Tsuruhashi’s menu boasts some wonderful cuts of meat.  There are a couple of US Kobe offerings, several types of USDA Prime beef, pork, chicken and some more exotic choices like organ meats, tripe and tongue.  There’s also a seafood mix and a couple of vegetable-only dishes.  They also offer some soup, noodle and rice dishes.

We noticed a special on the menu that’s offered only Monday thru Thursday before 8pm.  For $23, you get ribeye, skirt steak, boneless short rib and chicken.  My friend and I opted for that and an order of the seafood mix ($9.50).  The ribeye and skirt steak were not marinated. However, we were provided with two standard “sauces” to dip in.  I believe one was sesame-based.

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Tsuruhashi - Chicken and Boneless Short Rib

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Tsuruhashi - Ribeye and Skirt Steak

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Tsuruhashi - Shrimp

The beef had nice marbling and color.  Because the pieces weren’t big (two bites), they cooked quickly.  I recommend keeping an eye on the meat.  Otherwise, you may end up with overcooked beef and that would just be sad.  The ribeye and skirt steak were pretty tender; there definitely is a difference between grades and USDA Prime is gooood.  The short rib was a little tough and chewy, though, so that was a little disappointing.  The chicken was marinated and had good flavor.  This was a decent dish for people who want to sample a few different things or aren’t adventurous in trying the more exotic cuts like tongue.

The seafood was wonderfully fresh.  We grilled the salmon and calamari first.  The salmon was okay and really could have benefited from a marinade or even salt and pepper.  I love mussels and these were great.  The shrimp were huge.  Because they are whole, you do have to peel them.  The scallops seared quite nicely and were plump.  For the price, this was quite a good deal.

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Tsuruhashi - Black Sesame Ice Cream

The amount of food we ordered was decent for a comfortable meal.  However, I was enticed by the offering of black sesame ice cream ($1.50).  Having never encountered it before, I couldn’t pass this up.  I’m so glad I ordered a scoop as this was the highlight of the meal.  It reminded me of coffee ice cream without the acidity.  Not too sweet, creamy…a perfect way to end the meal.

The Catty Critic gives Tsuruhashi 4 NOMs.

Tsuruhashi Japanese BBQ
3904 Convoy St
(between Kearny Mesa Rd & Ostrow St)
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-8929
http://www.tsuruhashibbq.com
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