Monday, October 30, 2006

Best $5 bottle of wine I've ever had...


Covey Run Gewurztraminer 2005! ~ on sale for 4.99 @

Slightly sweet (partly attributed to Moscato blended in) but without being sticky and syrupy (i.e. I can drink a glass' worth, rather than a shot) ~ very fragrant violet and lychee flavors, and very crisp finish. Of course, a natural good match for white foods (as well as not-too-sweet desserts), and of course, perfect for affordable everyday drinking.

I should stock up on these while they're still on sale.

Here's the Webpage on their
2004 version, which is highly similar.

Foodventure #9: Opus (Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown)

After the rave reviews from fellow foodies on Chowhounds about this joint (particularly their spontaneous tasting menus, ranging from $30-$90), I just had to check it out - and so I did.

Thankfully, the line was the performance at the nearby Wiltern Theatre, not the restaurant (though many concert-goers do dine here before & after the show.) I arrived just before the restaurant opens (5:30pm) and sat the bar (opens @ 5pm), where a few guys are already slamming down drinks and eating their finger-friendly & eclectic grub - including ancho/chocolate/garlic dips for the pita chips, beef kabobs with mole sauce & confit pork shoulder sandwich.

I started with a glass of pinot noir (Mark West '04) and proceeded to dive into their deep-fried pita chips, which are so addictive all by themselves! Next time - definitely getting a dip to make these lovelies taste even better - particularly intrigued by the sumac-wild thyme yogurt & the ancho-garlic-chocolate.

After a couple sips of wine (overall nice, rather smooth & soft on the tannins, with good cherry & peppery spice notes) I ordered the "three-course" spontaneous tasting menu. That turned out to be a pleasant misnomer, given the extras the chefs prepared and put out, starting with . . .

A shotglass of celery root panna cotta topped with celery seeds & chives - disarmingly delicious, considering I'm always a bit wary of savory-sweet combos (kettle corn aside.) Silky and fresh, this was a definite amuse to my tastebuds. Continuing with the unusually tasty trend . . .

Sunchoke custard with more chives! Sunchoke, a.k.a. jerusalem artichoke, is a root vegetable, and from I can tell tastes like a turnip or daikon radish. The custard was creamy and rich & the burnt sugar top rounds out the flavors. For something so simple looking, it's has a very complex flavor--keeping me intrigued with every mysteriously yummy spoonful.

Course three: Hamachi sashimi with olive oil, chives & herbs ~ again, a wonderful surprise - the fresh, buttery yellowtail paired well with the herbs (the basil & mustard comes on strong) and the distinct olive oil flavor. The combo of flavors (and the mustard) leaves my tongue tingling with glee. So far, so good . . .

and it gets even better with the entree! Braised short rib with a red wine reduction, cream of wheat, sauteed veggies with bacon bits. Yum, yum, yum! The rib is so tender I can easily cut it with the fork alone, and is full of beefiness that's heightened by the sweet-tart wine sauce. The starch & veggie sides are uniquely unbelievable: the cream of wheat (accented with parmesan) bringing back pleasant home-cooked memories, while the vegetables (a combo of brussel sprouts, baby tomatoes and various mushrooms) is just an explosion of fresh, tangy & earthy flavors.

And finishing it all off . . .

A hardy spoonful of chocolate mousse, with a ramekin of rice pudding creme brulee with tart cherries. Almost any "2 desserts in 1" will get me salivating with satisfaction, and this is no exception. Like the custard, the sugar was nicely burnt and melds beautifully into the mildly-spiced up (cinnamon and nutmeg, I think) rice pudding and the tart dried cherries. The chocolate mousse was dense and intense, its confident cocoa taste accentuated even more by the concealed chunks of chocolates within. A great last note!

The damage:
Glass of wine - $10
"Three course" tasting menu - $30
Pre-tax&tip total - $40

The rating:
Decor/Ambience - 4/5 (nice dark tones, great use of candlelights, mirrors and glass - not much of a view outside, however)
Value - 4/5 (felt the mark-up on the wine was a little steep, but the food was definitely worth it)
Service - 9/10 (overall fairly knowledgable, prompt & nice; can't ask for more)
Food - 17.5/20 (Overall yummy, only gripe is lack of texture contrast - everything was at least semi-mushy ~ also, the first two amuses & half of dessert were really similar.)
Bonus/Demerit - +1 for a foodie bartender!
TOTAL - 35.5 (Plan on returning, possibly for their 6- or even 9- course tastings next time around.)

Other notes:
- Valet available, street metered parking may or may not be abundant dependent upon the Wiltern.
- Reservations highly recommended (again, due to Wiltern)

Opus Restaurant
3760 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Foodventure #8: Jazz Cat Cafe (Alhambra)

During cold weathers (well, as cold as Southern California can get), few meals warm the soul and bring people together like the cook-while-you-eat stuff: shabu shabu, fondue, hotpots, etc.

Of course, along with these meals, there's always the question: "OK, whose piece of meat/veggie is that?"

Some places try to solve that with different-colored skewers (e.g.
The Melting Pot chain) ~ others, like the restaurant of this post - gives you a pot all of your own!

Jazz Cat Cafe (on the corner of Valley & 7th in Alhambra) is a Taiwanese-style restaurant specializing in mini hot-pots, fired up by sterno flammable gel. Choose your own meat, your preparation (ranging from a light veggie broth to a more rich cream & cheese soup and even a Korean kimchi stock,) wait a few minutes and voila! a mini hot pot all your own w/o fussing with other peoples' utensils or worrying about fishing out mysterious items that you didn't put in yourself.

Today, I opted for a "European curry" style base with beef, along with a "brown sugar iced milk tea":

The milk tea is definitely one of the better ones I've had, something I can definitely attribute to the toasty nutty hint from the brown sugar. Of course, getting an extra-large version served in a carafe only sweetens the pot - literally.

Then my meal arrives:

Good portions of beef along with the hot pot veggies (daikon, cabbage, carrots, leafy greens, etc.) some seafood balls & a raw (soon-to-be-poached) egg, some uncooked vermicelli, dipping sauce and a bowl of rice. Perhaps most unusual of all is that bamboo scooper of meat paste -- which I best guess as "making your own meatballs." Well into the pot these items go . . .

Of course with no timer and a heat source that's unadjustable, it's a bit hard figuring out what's ready & what's not -- but all in all, my eyeballing approach worked well.

The make your own meatballs turned out pretty good - reminiscent of dumpling fillings. The beef and veggies all in all was decent - though I wish the broth had more curry flavor and more spicy. I've also tasted my friends' soup bases (cream and cheese & "the original") and found them similarly bland. But at least no arguing about unidentified floating, boiling objects.

The bill:
$10.95 for mini hot pot
$1.95 for drink (slightly cheaper if ordered with entree)
Subtotal: $12.90

My ratings:
Ambience/Decor - 3/5 (orderly rows of tables and boothes, clean & efficient but not much else)
Value - 4.5/5 (generous portions, good deal for food you get)
Service - 7/10 (again, efficient & quick, not particularly friendly or hostile)
Food - 15/20 (could've put together a better hot pot myself ~ particularly a more flavorful broth, but everything's not bad)
Bonus/Demerit - N/A
TOTAL - 29.5/40 (will probably return when I get a hot pot craving and too lazy to setup one myself & clean up afterwards ~ from my other visits, their appetizers, including fried chicken pieces and taiwanese-style sausages with garlic, are pretty yummy.)

Other notes:
- parking on Valley or the side streets is easier than manuevering in the dinky, usually-full lot behind the restaurant
- I don't believe they take reservations, so prepare for a wait especially when dining during peak hours

Jazz Cat Cafe
640 W Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA
(626) 293-8999

The Providence Fund

While my other friends are saving for the next generation of gaming consoles (Wii seems to be making a sweep here) or their next vacation or the next upgrade for their computer -- I am starting the Providence Fund. Basically, a beer mug that I feed with ones and fives every now and then until I can afford the 9-course tasting menu dinner at the restaurant ($95, or $140 with wine pairing -- plus tax & tips.)

At my current rate of contribution, I should have a fully-funded beer mug by April (and hopefully not one I'll have to empty to pay taxes.) I'll update this post & definitely be bringing my trusty camera (a somewhat old & klunky but very reliable Cybershot 3.2 megapixels) for a photo-studded foodventure.

Update: my Providence foodventure here :)

Mini Foodventure #7: Cafe Surfas (Culver City)

Was doing some volunteer work in Santa Monica, so what better excuse opportunity to go back to Surfas market in Culver City to pick up more of my beloved Vosges bars (still a $1 off from their regular $7) ~ and this time they have the Red Fire available!

This time, feeling proud and a little dogged-out from my half-day of volunteering, I decided to head into the adjacent
Cafe Surfas for a little pick-me-up. After one look at the place, I'm wondering "how the heck did I miss *this* the last time I was here?" From roasted tomato paninis with grilled figs to lavender lemon bars and strawberry basil sodas, this place definitely is blasting with delicious flavors in all the most eccentric-but-tempting combinations.

And so, I got a . . .

Chocolate brownie (which has been screaming my name since I set eyes on it) and a raspberry violet italian soda. The soda, flavored with
Monin syrups from France, was a fizzling delight on my tongue: the fresh, slightly-tart taste of the raspberries were wonderful against the fragrant violets... so good that it convinced me to buy a bottle of their rose syrup @ the market (around $8.50 for 750mL) for my own personal use.

As the brownie, Amazing! So dark, rich, fudgy and decadent and packed full of walnuts and semi-sweet chips within... this is a brownie worth running a mile for!

All in all, a fun trip - and can't wait to return (during my next excursion out West) to discover more of their Cafe delights.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Foodventure #6: WheatBerry Bakery Cafe (Pasadena)

The WheatBerry on Lake Ave. has always intrigued me -- for the longest time I thought it was a health-foods store and restaurant (wheat berry, in fact, being the naked form of the grain before any grinding or processing.) Only recently did I find out that it is a fast casual bakery cafe with *real* cakes and breads, not any of that vegan no-flour stuff.

Naturally (heh), I had to go in --

The cafe environs actually reminds me of the bakery-cafe chain
Panera Bread, but with darker woods and tones, a more casual feel and overall more inviting. And Panera's sweets (breakfast pastries, mostly) holds no candle to this!

and oh gosh - THIS!!

Alas, not wanting my heart & pancreas to simultaneously pass out, I skipped on the French-styled strawberry shortcake tonight and ordered their sandwich & soup combo. For the sandwich I had the pesto chicken, on a press-grilled ciabatta bread with provolone cheese and mushrooms. Soup of the day was clam chowder:

Visually bland, but holy cow were they ever salty! The clam chowder, while having substantial chunks of clam meat and potatoes, tasted like it's been heated all day long (which it probably might have), and on the the pesto sauce on the sandwich was just disappointing - barely any basil/garlic flavors (not sure this came from too bland of a sauce and/or too little sauce on the sandwich.) As an extra kicker, the chicken breast used for this sandwich was unbelievably thin! I wish I can revive that lady for the Wendy's commercial to holler "Where's the Beef Fowl?" The ciabatta bread though, was nice and airy.

Thankfully, my final impression ended on a high note:

Vanilla bean cupcake! with a smothering of coconut flakes -- not too sweet, the whipped frosting was pillowy and nice vanilla flavors throughout. Maybe the forte here is in their baked goods . . .

The bill:
Sandwich + Soup combo: $7.95
Cupcake: $2.25
Pre-tax/tip Total: $10.10

My rating:
Ambience/Decor - 3.5/5 (decent for a fast casual type of place)
Value - 3/5 (indifferent - didn't feel like I got a deal nor ripped off)
Service - 7.5/10 (overall pretty nice - service was relatively fast)
Food - 11.5/20 (the cupcake was good and the other desserts look tantalizing, but the soup & sandwich were a flop)
Bonus/Demerit - N/A
TOTAL: 25.5/40

The overall score might look abysmal, but I think this is probably an OK place for just sweets (they offer a cake & coffee combo for $4.50, not too shabby) and I do intend to come back to try a few of their cakes & tarts. But as far as savories are concerned, I'm taking my business elsewhere.

WheatBerry Bakery Cafe
165 S. Lake Avenue

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Recipe Time #1: Wonton sundaes

Sinfully good and wickedly easy to make, this is a great (and quick) finisher for a romantic dinner or a potluck where you can use the kitchen.

Ingredients you'll need:

Wonton wrappers (available in Asian grocery shops or the Asian aisle of supermarkets)
Vanilla ice cream
Strawberries (or your fruit of choice) - frozen or fresh
Chocolate Syrup (I personally prefer the magic shell for less mess & interesting texture contrast)

Step 1:

Heat oil in a skillet or wok & pan-fry wonton (shouldn't be more take more than 45 seconds - remove just when it's starting to brown on edges) ~ repeat with as many wonton sundaes you want to put together. Lay on paper towel or napkin to soak up excess grease.

Step 2:
Pile on the good stuff! (I prefer putting strawberries first and weighing them down with ice cream so they don't slip and slide and to buffer the ice cream from the still-warm wrapper)
~ top it all off with syrup!

Step 3: Enjoy!

For a more impressive treat, stack the wonton sundaes to build a little dessert pagoda.

Pretty simple recipe but I hoped you enjoyed and will give it a try at home -- look forward to more occasional home cookin' from me soon!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mini Foodventure #5: Bowery & Magnolia (Hollywood)

Finding myself on the corner of Sunset & Vine at Hollywood and absolutely starving, what better thing to do than to check out some diners & restaurants.

Instead of opting for my old standby
The Hungry Cat, which is tried and true for good seafood, I opted instead for two pretty well known eats across the way (and next to each other), the Bowery & Magnolia.

Feeling more into casual dining, I opted to head to the Bowery first, a no fuss bar & bistro serving equally simple, comfort foods with just a little twist. At the bartender's suggestion, I had their "Bowery burger" with the works ($12-13) with a side of sweet potato fries ($3 with entree, otherwise $5.) Plus a manhattan ($11) , one of the most masculine cocktails that I can actually down with a straight face.

The drink was well-made, just potent enough to give my throat a tingle -- not a burn. As for the food, all in all it's pretty yummy stuff. Extra mad props to the fries - the best sweet potato versions I've had yet (and arguably one of the best fries period.) Perfectly salted and absolutely crispy with the right proportion of crispy exterior to starchy, slightly sweet insides and of course, great with ketchup; absolutely a stark contrast to my past sweet potato fry experiences, which often tend to be soggy, too sweet, and too much flesh in comparison to the skin.

The sirloin burger, topped with caramelized onions, grilled mushrooms, grueyere and bleu cheese and bacon (a.k.a. the works) on toasted English muffins- was decent. The meat was a little dry (but that could've been due to cautious me ordering it medium-well,) the toppings were a bit an overkill - covering up what little beef flavor there was, but it's overall a hearty and tasty burger that pretty much filled me up. The mixed greens and tomato salad with honey mustard was pretty good (though I wasn't sure if that's a mini-side salad or if I was suppose to stack them on top of my already huge burger.) Not sure if I'll go for the burgers again the next time (esp. since
Lucky Devils still have my undivided devotion as far as upscale burgers are concerned) -- but definitely will be back for those sweet tater fries!!! Maybe next time I'll go for their other popular orders: the ale-braised short ribs and their lighter take on the french dip (chicken breast meat and chicken jus.)

Took a walk afterwards (along with photos of the restaurants' exteriors, above) so I can get a little bit more appetite for a magnolia dessert I've been eyeing from their online menu --

Wild strawberry cake layered with mascarpone cheese ($7) and was I glad to get this. The strawberry flavor is subtle but definitely there (could've been more pronounced if there weren't other berries around), and the dessert overall tasted like a mix of strawberry shortcake and strawberry cheesecake -- rich enough to be satisfying and not heavy at all. I definitely likey! If I was more in the mood for dining in magnolia (a bit more elegant in atmosphere compared to Bowery), I would've definitely made a meal out of two lighter dishes: the baked mac 'n cheese (a weakness of mine, also served at the Bowery) and either their steak salad or their chicken & beef satays. Oh well, there's always next time . . .

Alas, no ratings here since I didn't quite eat or stay long enough to make a rounded opinion; but both experiences were pretty good and if I'm in the area, I wouldn't mind paying a re-visit -- unless the Hungry Cat's got my seafood-crazy tongue! (and if I don't count desserts in the mix, it'd definitely be a tough call between Magnolia & Bowery)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Foodventure #4: 561 Restaurant (Pasadena) Vodka Pairing Dinner - Part Deux

( . . . continuing from Part Une of this Foodventure)

After 3 absolutely delicious appetizers, I'm getting ready for the entrees -- but not before being served the intermezzo:

Cantaloupe granita - simple, refreshing -- good genuine cantaloupe flavor, kinda wish there was more of that going on -- it was a bit more bland than the other granitas I've had here.

Refreshed with the intermezzo & a glass of iced water, my cleansed palate is ready for the flight of entrees, starting with . . .

Seared diver scallop on top of pastrami & cabbage hash, with a side of whipped cauliflower & smear of wild sunflower honey: oh yes! scallop! (my favorite of seafoods) and a perfectly seared one too (crunchy caramelized exterior quickly giving way to its firm yet creamy meat)!! The cauliflower were surprisingly good, and taste like airy mashed potatoes. The savory pastrami & cabbage hash were wonderful when dipped and contrasted with the honey (which tasted like a toned-down orange blossom honey with a little something extra.)

The drink to go with was a "salty dog" made with their grapefruit honey vodka. It's a great beverage (love the citrus-accented salt on the rim) but really didn't make the connection between that and the dish. Oh well, moving on . . .

Shockingly, service from this point took a bit of a nosedive - for the courses following, I wound up having to flag down servers for a missing accompaniment (paired drink, utensils, etc.) A former server myself, I understand things can get chaotic in the dining area (and it doesn't help that I have no regular server to turn to, typical of 561) - but having to flag down someone 3-4 times in one night was a bit annoying.

But onwards to entree #2

Roasted duck breast slices with duck-confit gyoza, served with tea-infused swiss chard & pomegranate gastrique and a glass of tea vodka: another amazing dish, the roasted duck (along with its super-crispy skin) was excellent eaten with the tea-flavored chard, which in turn went well with the vodka. The gyoza was tasty too, though the duck confit flavors were muted by the pom sauce, which was too sweet.

A better view of the entree, after I ate a few pieces and took it apart:

Ta-da! (yes, hard to tell the breasts (2nd and 4th pieces) apart from the gyoza - sorry again for mediocre pic quality)

For the third entree (and 6th pairing) -

Braised short rib with wasabi creme fraiche, garlic mashed potatoes, shallots & shaved truffles, alongside black truffle vodka: the rib was muy excellente! - tender, juicy, and falling off the bone with the bare touch of my steak knife. The wasabi creme fraiche was a wonderful complement to the rib and its syrupy, gelatinous juices. The shallot and the black truffle flavors were a bit muted in the grand scheme of this course (actually my only well-defined tastes of truffle here was when I was sipping the wonderfully-infused vodka or picking individual shaved strands off the meat.)

And for the grand finale -- dessert! . . .

Vanilla-white chocolate pierogies in citrusy glaze, orange gelato with flambeed oranges, and a shotglass of orange segments and chantilly cream (plus dots of dark choocolate)- yum, yum, yum! Such different sweets for a common theme!! (which itself is matched with their chocolate orange vodka in a snifter) The pierogies were a bit chewy, but once I got to its creamy vanilla-cheesecake-like center, the molar work was worth it. The crunchy, caramelized orange bits was wondrous with the creamy gelato & the shot was a wonderful mix of orange juiciness & rich velvety cream.

Before you (or I) think that was it, the server brought this little number with my bill:

Going from left to right, plum gelee, orange macaroon, chocolate-mint truffle. All pretty good, though the truffle had only a hint of mint in there (I was expecting more,) but no complaints for extra goodies. Mmmm...

The bill: $65 + tax/tip

My ratings:
Ambience/decor - 3.5/5 (it's pleasant for a cooking school restaurant)
Value - 4.5/5 (a bargain for what I got)
Service - 5.5/10 (very nice & knowledgeable servers but they could use better coordination, also rather hard to flag down, missing accompaniments, occasional long lag times between courses)
Food - 17/20 (overall very yummy stuff; a few misses here and there, but something I can overlook for their spectacular creations)
Bonus/Demerit - +2 for effort & originality in dishes & pairing.
TOTAL: 32.5/40 (a good place to check out every now and then for creative dishes at a reasonable price; but do have an adventurous palate when going for tasting menu.)

Other notes:
-They are doing this EXACT SAME tasting menu tonight, so if you like what you see here - better make that phone call.
-They also do tasting menu most weeks of the year (pausing for holidays & school breaks) on Thursdays and Fridays. 8-course tasting menu lunch is around $35 and 9-course tasting menu dinner is around $65 (typically wine pairings are extra)
-They do not open on weekends.
-The culinary school also operates the School Cafe next door, which serves more casual (and take-home) fare - menu changes daily.
-Street or lot parking (watch out for street parking if doing tasting menu for lunch - most are 1 or 2 hour parking so you may risk running overtime.)

Phew! (from the dinner and the image editing and upping and blogging) -- but all of it was worthwhile.

Foodventure #4: 561 Restaurant (Pasadena) Vodka Pairing Dinner - Part Une

It also started with an innocent little email from Litty & Melkon Khosrovian of Modern Spirits --

"Six courses with extra goodies thrown in for $65." ~ which turned out to be nine courses (plus extras) and seven vodka pairings -- you know I' m there!

The vodka-pairing dinner took place at 561 restaurant, the restaurant of the California School of Culinary Arts - bustling with chefs & hospitality staff in training. I've been here before and while I say dishes can be a bit of hit or miss (more due to over-creativity than anything else), I've generally had a good experience here so was definitely looking forward to this event.

Disclaimer/Advanced Apologies: The lighting was a bit funky in there so my pictures looked a little subpar ~ I did tweak them quite a bit with an image editor, though. So yea, these courses look a LOT better IRL.

Starting off my two-and-a-half hour feast was the bread, accompanied by unsalted butter, coarse (sea?) salt and an olive tapenade.

Normally I don't take pictures of the bread course, but the interesting spreads & the variety of breads offered is just begging for photo opp. Of the breads, my favorite is the baguette with garlicky swirls in them, closely followed by the crispy seeded flatbread (which tastes like a nuttier, milder [and more sophisticated] version of Flamin' Hot Cheetos.)

Shortly afterwards, the amuse bouche arrived -

a trio of fingerling potato slices (about the size of 2-3 nickels stacked atop one another) topped with three different caviars (sevruga, salmon, beluga) and a dab of creme fraiche. The dish overall was underimpressive - only in the salmon roe did the briny eggs really stand out ~ the flavor of the other two were easily emasculated by the potato. Of course, being expensive caviars (
beluga being the creme de la creme, and the sevruga a close runner-up) I can understand them using only a small amount, but I think I'd been more pleased with larger amount of a cheaper caviar, or at least a disclaimer to not eat the caviar & potato together. But kudos for such a classy amuse -

Moving onto the first of three appetizers . . .

Kanpachi sashimi slices atop watermelon & topped with micro-greens & ginger sorbet alongside candied ginger vodka + candied ginger on rim: OMG yes! This dish and its pairing was absolutely heavenly ~ the contrast in textures and flavors between the fresh micro-greens, the creamy spicy ginger sorbet, the buttery fish & the refreshing crunch of melon really did a number on my palate. The vodka was a good match for this dish & and no better way to end it all (and cleanse palate) than nibbling that piece of candied ginger on the glass. However, I wound up not caring for the accompanying mini coconut stuffed with salmon roe (lower left on the dish) - the coconut proved too fibrous and tough and I wound out debating whether to just swallow it down or spit it out (wound up doing the former, writing it off as my fiber intake for the day.)

Getting ready for appetizer (and drink) two:

"Lobster roll" buttered spiny lobster with greens on top of a grilled olive bread, with a dab of tangerine aioli on the side - was really pleasantly surprised by this dish, considering I'm indifferent, at best, towards of olive breads, lobsters and weird-combo sauces. The sweet, firm lobster chunks were substantial & the butter tossed in was just right -- enough to complement the lobster w/o making it too greasy/heavy. And somehow, it tastes "right" on an olive bread. The tangerine aioli was very complex -- starting off with that standard garlicky mayo taste, but tangerine flavor develops as you spread it around the tongue -- oh, if I only got a bigger smear of it on my plate!

The accompanying drink was a pleaser as well - their lighter variation of a bloody mary made with celery peppercorn vodka, spiced tomato water, and a "virtual olive" (olive juice encased in some gelatinous goo). It went very well with the lobster.

The yumminess continues in the next appetizer:

Roasted foie gras on brioche topped with chopped roasted pear & Italian plum in a mulled-cider reduction with pear-lavender "cabrioletti" - again, quite impressive ~ the crispy, melt-in-your-mouth foie gras goes well with the bread (which soaked up all that delicious mulled cider sauce), the ever-so-subtly sweet pears and the curiously tart plum. For a appetizer so rich with flavors, the refreshing, clean cabrioletti was an excellent match.

For more about this extra-long foodventure, go to Part Deux . . .

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Foodventure #3: Lucky Baldwins Delirium (Sierra Madre)

With an hour to kill for lunch (and under the influence of a recent L.A. Times article about Pub food) ~ I decided to check out nearby Lucky Baldwins (not the original in Old Town Pasadena, their "Delirium" Pub & Cafe in sleepy downtown Sierra Madre.)

To my surprise, even in the middle of lunch rush (around 12:30p) this British Pub is pretty much uninhabited (2-3 tables and a guy on the bar) ~ I was surprised. And though I've never been to Britain before, the interior of this Pub definitely gives off that Old World vibe. It's gotta be that dark wood furniture (well, and one of the patron's distinctly British accent.) Oh yea, the walls are plastered with beer signs and posters of varying shapes, sizes and languages.

But on to real deal - the food ... and the beer!

They boast 63 different kinds on tap (plus quite a few more bottled) & a good number of them are seasonal offerings (right now they have several Oktoberfest-themed beers) - looking back I wish I chose something more unique, or at least their specialty beer:
Delirium (which 1) once won Best Beer in the World ('98) 2) what this particular pub is named after and 3) manly enough for the pink elephants to promote, heh.) Alas, I settled for something lightweight . . .

Blackthorne Apple Cider - which actually tasted pretty good. Distinct apple flavors, neither too dry nor sweet for a cider, and very little (if any) weird aftertaste that I often get from Wyder's.

Now that I'm properly quenched -- onto the food. Just like its environs, this place's menu is pretty authentic to true British pub food (alongside some American fares) -- bangers & mash,
sausage roll, meat pies and
pasties. And of course . . .

Fish & Chips!! - and this is an impressive half-order (and both my stomach & wallet thanked me for not ordering the full version, this turned out to be just enough to get me full and not bloated.) Served with peas (like the UK,) this dish turned out to be pretty yummy too. The fried fish (ale-battered icelandic cod) had a very satisfying crisp, kind of flaky, definitely light and not greasy at all. The fish itself I actually found a bit bland and just not fishy enough, but it tasted alright with the malt vinegar & tartar sauce. The extra-thick-cut chips were great with catsup and the peas are, well, peas (this is honestly the first time I've been served peas with my fish & chips, so I really am just more surprised then anything else, though I was told by a British friend that they serve peas with everything over there.) And again, in hindsight I wish I tried something more exotic but at the time I was just jonesing fish and chips.

The bill for this casual lunch:
Pint of beer: $4
Fish & Chips (half-order - 6oz. of fish): $7.25
Total (pre-tax & tip): $11.25

How I felt about the place:
Ambience/Decor: 4/5 (It's a pub so looking clean is good enough for me)
Value: 4/5 (not a steal, but the prices are honestly reasonable for what I'm getting)
Service: 7/10 (not bad)
Food: 16/20 (everything was overall good, the fish could be tastier - however)
Bonus/Demerit: +1 for lots and lots of beers to choose from
TOTAL: 32/40 (looking forward to a coming back here)

Other notes:
- This definitely looks like a place that has lots of specials going on, so be sure to check out their blackboard and menu inserts, even after you've committed to an order from looking at their online menu.
- Bartender very knowledgeable, feel free to talk/ask beer! (though there is a sign that says "no samples")

All in all, a really solid place to get some comfort grub (British or American), good beers and hopefully great talk w/o blowing a lot of change. Definitely will make a return trip to check out some specialty beers and more British food.


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