Monday, February 19, 2007

Mini Foodventure #28: Lu Din Gee for Chinese New Year's

Since there were no giant Chinese New Year's feast about for me, I decided to do what any crazy Angeleno did -- make a reservation at a soon-to-be-fully booked Chinese Restaurant. And what better place to be packed like a sardine than one of the hottest spot for celebratory meals - Lu Din Gee.

For those not acquainted, Lu Din Gee is a San Gabriel restaurant famous for their Peking/Beijing Duck - which was featured in Los Angeles magazine in October '06 and a rave review from LA Weekly's Jonathan Gold, not to mention the point of discussion (generally positive) for countless Chowhound threads. Of course, like any place with significant good buzz, service is bound to be a bit shakey with influx of customers - so my friends and I weren't holding out much hope for being treated like V.I.P.s.

Alas, when we arrive (around 6:45p) the restaurant wasn't packed (soon to change) but there were several large parties already there - including an approximately 30-person group seated on three large round tables. And as such, we got very little love from the servers, who were busy trying to synchronize serving that large group before taking care of our lil party of three.

And this was also the reason why I have no food pictures (and thus not a full foodventure) -- we were so ravenously hungry by the time the grub arrived I didn't even remember to take photos, but the very least I can do is refer you to the LA Weekly photo of the wrapped up duck here. Anyways, our dinner menu included:

- Of course, the Peking Duck ($29.95) chopped up with skin separated from the meat, served with thin pancakes barely thicker than crepes, hoisin sauce, slivers of scallions, julienned cucumbers. Sweet-savory-fatty goodness overall, though my friends noted they preferred the version served with mantou-like buns instead of pancakes. Since there were only three of us and we wanted to try other dishes, we opted out of this dish being prepared "two- or three-ways" (which would include duck bone soup and/or duck meat + bean sprout stir-fry, for about $6-$10 extra.)

- Scallion pancakes ($4.95 for one, eight wedges)- warning for vegetarians, these contain strips of salted pork within - but were the crispy, flakey, drug scallion laced deliciousness that we expected them to be. Unfortunately, these arrived with the Peking Duck (we were expecting them as appetizers).

- Dragonballs, ($7.95 for 12 of them) and no, not these:
but actually breaded and fried fish paste meatballs with a mildly-spicy shrimp center, served with sweet-sour sauce. Interesting dish (that we were also expecting as apps, but came with the duck), and my friend got an extra order of this to bring home. (and no, we didn't have to travel the world fighting spiky-haired, beefy supervillains for them either.)

- Snow White Rice Wine ($8 for a light-bulb shaped bottle, enough to pour about 12 shots worth) - milky, smooth, sweet with a little grassy scent - though my friend thought it was a bit flat (I don't know much about rice wine, so couldn't comment on that part)

All in all, a filling and decadent Chinese celebration dinner that wound up about $20/person, which is not bad at all even for Chinese food standards. Yes, the service was kind of sucky but improved a bit after the large parties were taken care of (i.e. so drunk they're just making random toasts instead of bugging the poor servers for this and that.) And we at least took some mildly evil glee that by the time we left, around 8:30p, the restaurant was packed and there were dozens of salivating folks outside.

Note to people planning to go: If getting the duck, call at least an hour in advance - since it takes that long to prepare (I would even advise at least a day ahead of time.) Also one duck order (prepared one-way, by itself) is generous enough for two people to eat, but can adequately feed up to 4-5 if other "side dishes" are thrown in.

Lu Din Gee Restaurant
1039 E. Valley Blvd, B102

San Gabriel 91776
(626) 288-0588

Saturday, February 17, 2007

It's the Year of the Pig, Oink oink...

In case you somehow miraculously miss all the news, firecrackers, dragon/lion dances and martial arts demonstrations that's been taking place around the city lately - this Sunday (Feb. 18) is Chinese New Years' -- bye bye doggie, hello---piggy!
While there are probably numerous Chinese New Year festivals around L.A., the one in Monterey Park was the one I passed by, so I took a brief stop and snapped a few shots:
The giant banner on the performance stage - I find the "Floral Street" part confusing since the festival takes place on Garvey Ave. near Garfield, and the fact that there's actually a Floral Drive in MPK that's nowhere close to the festival.
And of course, what festival is complete without the assorted food boothes . . .
and more food boothes . . .
even some that aren't Chinese or remotely Asian - though I would love me some Mama's Hot Tamales if they were open. There are also funnel cakes, roasted corn and the usual carnival fare, along with lots of vendor booths selling unidentifiable Asian spices, faux designer purses and various Chinese New Year's related trinkets for good fortunes all year 'round.
And of course, what celebration of the upcoming Year of the Pig won't be complete without a Spam-mobile? What pig doesn't aspire for immortality by being chopped up, reconstituted, plugged full of chemicals and stuck in a can? I'm just glad the truck didn't "crazy tasty" crash into a shop or restaurant there.

Alas, coming from a 5K run and not wanting to waste all those calories burned, and inspired by this Chowhound post on wontons, I decided to skip all the greasy grub and walked into Har Lam Kee for a takeout of their wonton & dumpling soup...
Won't say much about it now, since I plan on doing a write-up on this in the near future, but I'll show y'all a wonton close up. Yes, cruel - I know.

The Chinese festival will take place the rest of today and tomorrow along Garvey (on Garfield). Good excuse to sample a lot of different dishes, and maybe even pop over to HLK for rice porridge or wontons, or Shau May for Taiwanese Shaved Ice.

For more info about the festival (entertainment schedule, special parking zones), check out Monterey Park's festival site here.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Mmm... Skooby's *hic*

After a night of margaritas in Hollywood (at L'Scorpion) on a weekday, there are few places better than Skooby's for cheap, greasy, late-night grub to sober up to . . .
. . . and true to the theme of the evening thus far, I got a chili cheddar dog (with Guiness-infused chili), a skoop of their famous seasoned skooby fries (accompanied by an addictive, drug-laced aioli dip) and a bottle of root beer.
My less alchy friend got their original dog, with perfect lines of dijon mustard & ketchup. Latte art, take a hike . . . try doing perfect condiment squirts AND not make flatulence noises from the bottles.

Skooby's Hot Dogs
6654 Hollywood Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) HOT-DOGS (they also have another location @ Hermosa Beach; be sure to check out their not-so-secret "secret menu" as well.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Special Foodventure #27: Edison Bar (Los Angeles / Downtown)

Disclaimer: I was invited to this event, so pretty much everything was gratis (save for tips)

After hearing the Edison buzz from EaterLA, I knew I had to check it out on its grand opening on Feb. 9. So I made a few correspondences and got myself in (alas, unlike EaterLA I was not paid a personal delivery of the invite by the nice-looking man, which, by the way, deserves a pat on the back for a neat PR/marketing campaign.)

An ultra-lounge situated in the basement of 108 W. 2nd Street (same building as the downtown Pitfire Pizza Company; it's no Mozza, but has gotten pretty good buzz, and I digress,) upon entering I give mad props to the layout - which, true to its name, had an old-school-yet-classy industrial power plant theme with furnaces, generators and spiraling chandeliers with old-style light bulbs (think Power Company card/square on the Monopoly game.) The restrooms were also uniquely designed, with a communal fountain-style hand sink and a side table where, if you wanna get your game on right, you can grab some Eclipse breath mints, slap on some hand-softening lotion, and spritz on one of a dozen varieties of perfume/cologne, all for a contribution to the tip jar.

There were also giant screens playing silent flicks, pool table, jukebox and stage where a jazz band were bellowing out some lively tunes.

But onto the part we all care about: drinks & food! Like all events where the alchy's free, the bartends at both bars were going beserk stirring, shaking and swizzling it up. When I approached the bar at 9:15 p.m. (fifteen minutes after start time) - there were already empty Liter bottles of spirits being swapped out by the bussers & bar assists.

Thankfully, even with all the bustle, bartender Deanna had some time to show off some of Edison's house specialty drinks:
The Edison - lavender-honey & pear liqueurs + pear nectar -- reminds me of a fruity and lighter Manhattan.

Lady MacBeth - sparkling wine with port "the color of blood" (I can only assume it's a
ruby) - a nice bubbly cocktail that can easily rival those made at French 75s. Alas, I didn't go crazy and ask for someone to be rubbed off.

Peeled Apple Buck - not your usual overly sweet & fruit appletinis (and for a real one, go to
Lola's, which lay the claim for inventing it) - this is made with apple brandy & ginger ale, smells and tastes like a fizzy spiced apple pie.

Steel Trap - gin, kahlua, vanilla vodka + tonic - despite the ingredients involved, it's a deceptively dangerous & delicious drink.

Others worth mentioning (but I haven't tasted, for the sake of my driving WAY later in the night, and oh yea-- my liver!) included the Hot Blooded (a blackcurrant cosmopolitan with a flamed orange wheel), the Hemingway with absinthe (not sure if it's the real green fairy deal, since its importation is prohibited in U.S.) and an enough-said Marlowe Would Roll Over. Also, an impressive Scotch catalog.
As for the food, the menu consisted of pretty standard classic bar fare: burgers, salads, sandwiches, etc. Not sure if the passed around canapes came from their own kitchen or a catering company from afar, but the tasty bites included soba in sesame sauce (pictured), deviled eggs topped with caviar, mini paper cones of fried calamari, smoked salmon & horseradish cream on bread and oyster shooters that weren't particularly spicy - undecided on whether it's a good thing, since I'm used to more fiery shots but the oysters in this one turned out to be really fresh which would've been otherwise masked from the heat.

But all in all, it's a pretty fun place that I would swing by if I'm downtown with some moolahs to spare (it's fairly upscale) and perhaps after a heavy meal from Little Tokyo that's a few walkable blocks away. And while I'm still ambivalent about the gentrification of the neighborhood - the city's moving forward with it anyways and it practically is screaming for a place like this. And now, it's here!

108 W. 2nd Street (cross: Main)
Los Angeles

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Help Chefs Help Farmers

To help out the local farmers who have lost crops due to the recent cold snap, some of L.A.'s finest restaurants have banded together for the Chefs Helping Farms taking place this week, with special menus using farmers' produce and donating their proceeds to help those hurt by the recent freeze. The list includes Lucques, A.O.C., Grace and many more - for a full schedule check out Lucques' website or the calendar @ ExperienceLA. Thanks to Curt from ExperienceLA & Jeni @ Oishii Eats for bringing this to my attention. Here's to fine dining, helping your fellow man and spreading the word.

Foodventure #26: Sage Restaurant (Newport Beach)

Again, the full report is filed at Orange County Food Blogs, but here are a few pics & a summary wrap-up of the place:

(restaurant exterior at night - it's quite a cozy place)
(herb-crusted salmon with creamy risotto, mushrooms, pea tendrils, haricot verts, melted leeks & snap peas in a champagne-saffron sauce - YUM!)

The Bill:
Three-course prix-fixe: $26.95
Wine: $8
Pretax/tip total: $34.95

The Rating:
Ambience: 3/5 (A nice, cozy place with nothing particularly remarkable. Tables spaced just a little too close for my comfort)
Value: 4/5 (For this event, I think the prices are more than reasonable -- perhaps less so for their regular menu which I also looked at, where a dinner can run around $35-50 a person, without drinks)
Service: 7/10 (Staff was prompt, efficient and attentive, but not particularly beyond-the-call-of-duty stellar and there was a bit of a lag time between courses)
Food: 16.5/20 (Lovin' it overall! The only downer was the appetizer)
Bonus/Demerit: +.5 for a perfectly-portioned prix-fixe (most others I've had is WAY too much food, this one left me thoroughly satisfied, but not bloatingly full.)
Overall: 31/40 (Worth the trip if in the area or for a slightly upscale occasion.)

Other notes:
*keep your change & small bills at home - ample free parking in the lot (thanks to Ralphs/CVS)
*according to the Website, they also have a small plates, small tastes menu (reminds me of tapas) ~ I didn't notice it when I was looking at my regular menu, so probably best to call them up on it.
*Sister restaurant Sage on the Coast, on the other hand, offers a reasonably-priced prix-fixe menu year round ($30 , $40 with paired wines)

Sage Restaurant
2531 Eastbluff Dr
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 718-9650

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mini Foodventure #25: Scoops (Los Angeles)

While Fosselman's is one of my absolute ice cream faves and much closer to me, when I heard about a gelato/ice cream shop that makes eclectic flavors such as brown bread, orange blossom & rosewater and even vegan varieties that actually taste like ice cream & not sorbetty slosh - my frosty sweet tooth is there, even in the bracing cold snap of winter (OK, as bracing cold as So. Cal. winters can get...)

So, off to a journey I went to Los Angeles (off the Vermont or Melrose/Normandie exits on the 101, and a block away from LA City College) . . .

Scoops is located on a pretty nondescript strip of fast eateries and mini-mart style shops on Heliotrope off Melrose. Pretty easy to miss if you weren't specifically looking for the shop.
The interiors is pretty plain looking as well, off-white walls and floors with sparse decorations and functional chairs and tables; but as soon as my friend and I entered Tai Kim, the owner, bombarded us with friendly greetings and samples of his homemade flavors (there're about 30), from traditional vanilla bean to the adventurous chai tea and the even more unusual blackcurrant/balsamic vinegar. And yes, we tasted the brown bread as well. I wouldn't say I like all the flavors I've tried, but I will say they all tasted better than I expected (especially for the more unusual ones.)

So, after a few frustrating minutes of decision making (and not-so-agonizing samples tasting), I got my $2, two-scoop "small": strawberry cheesecake (top scoop in photo below) and blackcurrant-balsamic, both of which had a nice tang, refreshing fruity taste and above all, super rich and smooth creaminess that rolls & melts in my mouth like liquid silk.
My friend got the brown bread & mocha-oreo ~ which he found delicious in the samples (though even for winter, it was melting faster than he could lick so it was a slightly messy experience.)
Definitely worth a trip back when my palate's feeling adventurous! Keep up the good work, Tai! (as an FYI, he also does ice cream cakes with a day's notice & also has a suggestion box for any new/unusual flavors you think he should make ;) .)

712 N. Heliotrope
Los Angeles, CA

P.S. this is also one of my "Save My Faves 2007" spot -- even though this place has gotten quite a bit of Chowhound buzz (esp. over last summer), my chow buddies & me noticed that this mom 'n pop business seemed pretty slow (even for winter), so I encourage y'all to go, check it out and keep the biz in the black all year round! And it's definitely a place worth re-visiting time after time, given that Tai makes his flavors fresh daily & rotates a LOT!


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