Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Recipe Time #10: "Holiday Coffee" Pecans

Inspired by Bon Appetit's Candied Espresso Walnuts recipe, these pecans are lightly sweet with a wonderful, aromatic nuance of sweet spices and finely-ground coffee - great as a party snack or as quick 'n easy homemade gifts!The ingredients:
10 ounces raw pecan halves
1 egg white
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. finely ground coffee (or instant coffee)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees; combine sugar, coffee, ginger, cinnamon & nutmeg in a bowl.
2. In a large bowl (big enough to toss the pecans in), beat the egg white until frothy, add vanilla extract
3. Toss raw pecans into the egg white until thoroughly coated, then add the sugar mixture and toss again until the pecans are covered in the mixture.
4. Spread on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet on a single layer, bake in the oven for about 5 minutes.
5. Take out of oven, give the pecans a turn and a flip, pop in oven again to bake for another 5-7 minutes.
6. Remove from oven, let it cool and serve or wrap!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Foodventure Sins of 2007 Series: Me

Ok, I figure I might as well start the confessional series with my own list of foodie sins, so here goes:

1) Honey Walnut Shrimp (and variants thereof) available at
Panda Inn, PF Changs & other Americanized Chinese restaurants - I am not even sure why I am so addicted to this dish. It sounds yucky (battered fried shrimp tossed in a honey-laced, mayo-laden sauce with a few candied walnuts for garnish) but it's such a nirvana-like (though guilt-ridden) pleasure every time I pop one of these sweet, heavy, crispy suckers into my mouth.

2) The Tamale Cakes at Cheesecake Factory - probably because it's a "savory" dish that appeals to my sweet tooth and my fat cravings; the masa patties are super-sweet and it's topped with obscene amounts of avocado, salsa verde, sour cream and a chipotle-ranch-like sauce. On the up note, I can eat this "appetizer" alone and be full, though I'm sure it's packed enough calories for all three meals.

3) Frozen Pot Pies from ConAgra Marie Callender's - nevermind what hormones & antibiotics those animals were possibly injected with, they are the perfect instant comfort food swimming with vegetables in a gravy like sauce and covered in an artery-clogging crust. And unlike some pot pies which try to deceive you with only a top crust, I can be assured that the gravy-sogged side & bottom crusts are there for me in these individual sized fellas (the box may say 2 servings per pie -- but who really shares these anyways?)

4) Pudding Milk Teas from various "boba" places - having worked at a Tapioca joint for almost two years in college, I am utterly sick of those damned pearls. But I still can't get enough of the custardy pudding that you can slurp up through the thick straws. If it's any less sinful sounding, I do prefer to get my teas from joints that fresh-brew them to order (and not let them sit in a vat for half a day), such as Monrovia's Aloha Boba.

5) "Rolly Sushi" - Yes, there are occasions when by "let's eat sushi" I mean the grossness that's dripping with teriyaki sauce and mayo and stuffed with avocados, shrimp tempura & imitation crab. More the reason for me not to post a photo up . . . which will likely wound up on a "Wanted" poster at real sushi bars all over the city. Also a word of caution to future dining companions, double check with me on what I really mean when I go "let's eat sushi".

Alright, I've spilled my beans of shame -- now it's your turn :)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Need Your Help for My End-of-Year List Series!

The end of the year is around the corner, and we all know what that means in the world of media: lists, lists and more lists. There's even a list to endorse lists! So I'm going to put one up before '07 rolls out, with your help!

As Sarah from "The Delicious Life" pointed out, we foodbloggers and foodblog followers don't always eat out at the hottest, trendiest & tastiest restaurants, nor do we whip up fancy meals fitting for saliva-inducing photos every single time. I'm going to take her point one step further: hell, there are times when we love eating stuff that we hate to tell to our acolytes.

"You, my epicurean muse? Like that?!" Yes; here's a tissue.

You may try to hide it, but the clues are there... orange chicken sauce stain on the shirt, the cheets caught under fingernails, or that rapid-fire order for a strawberry daiquiri. How 'bout the "Cheesecake Factory" receipt (for a party of one) that fell out of the billfold? Oh the horror!

But think of the cathartic release you'll get by confessing your favorite anti-foodie edibles & potables to me for my series of "Foodventure Sins of 2007"! (If you've read this far into my entry, consider yourself tagged to reply) Simply comment to this post or send me an e-mail with your list of Americanized, chain-y, mass-produced, adulterated, corporate and/or semi-homemade stuff that you just can't resist but also can't fully bring yourself to admit loving. A few words about what keeps drawing you back is appreciated too!

I'll be posting the series till the end of the year (because, of course, next year we'll all repent and learn from the errors of our ways and just cold turkey all that junk off . . . or so we would say.)

And I will be putting up my foodventures sins list shortly, so stay tuned . . .

If you feel like restoring the balance by also proclaiming your love of swanky & respectable joints - send it to Dana from the "The Knife" for the Kindest Cuts series (including one submitted by yours truly).

Did I mention you're already tagged if you got this far? ;)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Holiday Themed Friday Quickie #10

With all the holiday menus & food gift ideas that are zipping into my e-mail, I figure now's a good a time as any to fire off a few quick holiday food thoughts:

- Dining Out during the Holidays. Of course, I've gotten a whole lotta e-mails for prix-fixe menus on Christmas Eve & New Year's Eve. Not sure if I'll go to one, given the pretty high price tags on most of them. But I hope everyone who's already made "Eve" dining out plans are going to play nice, the staff are essentially giving up their holidays so that the non-cooking, non-serving people can have one. And having worked holidays foodservice in years past, the allure of big tips and overtime pay falls way short of having to work on a day when everyone else is celebrating or getting R&R. Yes, there still should be an expectation of appropriate service and food, but for all the "little things", be generous and cut a little slack.

- Now for a much more affordable prix-fixe event that I'm excited about, American Express & are hosting a Restaurant Week from Jan. 27 to Feb. 8 (except for Feb. 2) -- with many happening Los Angeles restaurants doing three-course menus that doesn't burn a hole through your wallet; lunches are $15 or 22 and dinners are $25 or 34. Some of the places I plan on checking out are Grace, Noe and Angeli Caffe. For a full list of participating restaurants and what they're serving, go here.

- Finally, this X-mas I've actually been shopping for my own wishlist (just so I don't get too sore if I happen to get crappy foodie gifts), including a mandolin slicer, citrus press and a Boston cocktail shaker + strainer set. There are still a few more things I would like but I'm happy with what I got myself now, and there are already lots to celebrate and be thankful for. I may post up my wishlist this weekend, if only as possibly inspiring (and last-minute) gift ideas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mini Foodventure #47: Mode (Downtown)

Too bad a restaurant like Mode wasn't around when I was in college. Delicious bistro-y foods at an affordable price AND 24/7 service would've been mighty useful during my "crammin' over ramen" days. But hey, I still pull an occasional late/all-nighter now, so a nice go-to place for decent grub anytime is still a welcoming thought; thus, I've been keeping an eye on Mode like a kid outside the candy store that's just about to open . . .
. . . or maybe not. Originally slated to serve right after Halloween, Mode's schedule got sidetracked quite a few times, all the while promising to open "soon". Finally, after a month of unexpected delays and broken promises, Mode went into a light opening mode this past weekend, serving its dinner menu on a 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. schedule -- and that's good enough for me to take an early peek before the weekend swarms.
For a place that's pretty casual, Mode has a pretty swanky vibe with its trendy white furniture, designer-ish ceiling lamps and a cool electronic blue catwalk leading up a projected screen of muted ModTV showing off all sorts of trendy and pricey wearables. Watching all those beautiful people strut and prance was an interesting way to regulate my appetite, and I found myself not wanting a heavy dish like goat cheese ravioli with browned butter.
The front-of-house that day are a pretty well-groomed and fashionable bunch too, but are also very friendly folks who eagerly look forward to going 24/7 this coming weekend. I'm sure a whole slew of downtown clubbers are too.

As noted before, the menu is primarily French bistro-ish foods (Moule Frites, Quiche, Osso Bucco, Cheese plates and the quintessential French Onion Soup with Gruyere) with a bit of Californian-fusion touches (Paninis, Calamari with a Harissa mayo, Seared Tuna Steak with Bok Choy); none of the dishes are outlandishly creative/weird, but that's understandable since most never-close places are going for a broad appeal. In fact, compared to the other always-open eateries around, Mode is actually kinda edgy. Also mentioned before, the prices are pretty reasonable, most of the entrees are in the $10-$16 range, and the priciest thing on the dinner menu was a N.Y. Steak Frites with Bernaise sauce for $24.

Feeling more French than Fusion, I went for the Croque Madame & Pomme Frites . . .
which turned out very well, the seasoned fries were fried well, and the sandwich was made with toasted brioche that had the perfect combo of slightly crispy exterior with a pillowy texture within, the slightly-nutty emmenthal cheese went well with hearty slices of black forest ham and rich mornay sauce. And of course, the over-easy egg with its liquidy yolk goodness drenching all the layers.
not bad for $11. Ok, probably not the best value in town but it's still a better and tastier deal than what most places are serving up, especially in the wee hours of the night.

In short, this place made a nice first impression on me and I can't wait to return again in the near future, since there were some other light dishes that were highly recommended but I wound up being too full to try after the sandwich. And of course, I can't wait for it go open all night and, if other items taste just as good, become my default "Plan B" place for food in downtown. Hope everything is smooth sailing from here on out for them.

916 S. Olive St. (between 9th and 10th Streets)
213.627.4888 (according to OpenTable, but the URL's defunct)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Special Foodventure #46: LA Luxury Chocolate Salon

Never thought I'd say this, but I definitely had too much of a good thing the LA Luxury Chocolate Salon, which I was invited to (i.e. I got in gratis). Who'd thunk that an event with just 20 tables could offer up so many cocoa products?
There were chocolate bars, chocolate truffles, chocolate chips and cocoa powders and even "goo", chocolate dipped fruits, chocolate liqueur, single-origin chocolates, eco-friendly fair trade chocolates, chocolates infused with wines and teas and herbs and spices and, of course, the ubiquitious (white) chocolate fountain. There was even a chocumentary.

Being a "luxury" chocolate event, the chocolatiers showcased items that are more exotic, eccentric and, yes, expensive than your average Hershey's, but a small piece of the good stuff easily outweighs those one-pound bags of fun-sized bars.

Anyways, without further adieu, here's a few of the my favorite chocolatiers at the event:

- L'Artisan du Chocolat: A French chocolatier designing bonbons in-line with current upscale chocolate trend: ganaches of unusual flavors and with modern, artsy print designs on top. I decided to skip over the various flavors (including rose petals and hibiscus) and went straight for the pure 72% dark chocolate ganache, which clinched the deal for me -- a very intense cocoa flavor perfectly balanced with sugar and fat, with a dry texture and a pretty clean finish. Definitely shows off the chef-owners mastery of the confectionary arts.

- Chuao Chocolatier: I was so glad to see them make an appearance at the salon, as I fondly remembered the truffles I brought back from their Irvine boutique store. As expected, all their unusually flavored chocolates exceeded my initially-skeptical expectations, from the Modena balsamic-strawberry caramel chocolate pods to the mildly aromatic Earl Grey bergamont milk chocolate bar, the latter a shock really, since I usually dislike strong, pungent smell of Earl Grey teas. Also very happy to find out that Omni Hotels (including the one in downtown LA) is partnering with Chuao and serving its eclectic hot cocoas in their caf├ęs - sounds like a wonderful way to warm off Jack Frost.

- E. Guittard: Ok, considerably less artisanal than most, but props to the guy who was tabling, who was very well-versed in the various chocolates sampled and offered very helpful notes about what to look for in quality chocolates as well as flavor, texture and aromatic differences between chocolates of different origins. A nice mini-lesson about cocoa and pretty delicious bars to taste and learn as well, and definitely landed their brand in my book if I'm looking for some cooking/baking chocolates.

- L'Estasi Dolce: Definitely adventurous with edgy flavors such as the Asian-inspired lemongrass-ginger and wine-enhanced pinot noir and mimosa truffles. I particularly like their wine truffles since the wine flavors are not overpowering (as is the case with most alcohol-laced truffles I've tried) but just enough to complement and enhance the ganache. One taste and you'll say sayonara to those gimmicky alcohol-filled milk chocolate grossness that's been sitting on store shelves for goodness-knows-how long too.

There were also interesting lectures and demonstrations taking place as well, from making a chocolate martinis using pure ingredients (and an unusually large amount of cashews) to truffle-shaping techniques to get that perfectly round bonbon. So all in all, a wonderful event despite eating enough chocolate to actually make me feel a little sick (unlike wine, I doubt a spit-out would be as well-received).

Nonetheless, I eagerly anticipate its return next year!

P.S. Did I mention a lot of food journalists & bloggers sightings as well? Teenage Glutster, Pleasure Palate and Eater LA were there, just to name a few.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Quickies #9: Foodie Events of Past, Present & Future

I've definitely been enjoying my share of Season's Eatins', hopefully you all are as well :)

So here's a brief & eventful Friday Quickie -

Past: 16th Annual Indio International Tamale Festival - again, a gastronomical journey that was well worth the two hour drive and shlepping. Having already blogged about it last year, I didn't do much note-taking and photo-snapping since everything looked pretty much the same. Of course, I had to visit Grandma Lupe's stall again, and glad she's still going strong and the tamales still moist, fluffy and wickedly yummy. A new contender I'm particularly impressed with is Temecula Tina's, which had a succulent chile verde-pork tamale and a delicious apple tamale with a caramel center.

After sampling my fill, I brought back about 30 in an icebox to share with friends and slowly polish of myself. But already I'm counting down the days till the next one . . .

Present: Thanks to a tip from Caroline, I'm heading out to the Chivas Studio for a charity event and practically free drinks. Hopefully I learn a few more whiskey cocktails (i.e. beyond Manhattans and Old Fashioneds) as well as a better appreciation of the spirit. But my dining/drinking companion and I are heading to Luna Park beforehand for dinner so we don't get too tipsy too fast (though chances are probable that we'll probably have a drink at Luna Park too!)

Future: Meeting up with friends, and possibly Abby, at this Sunday's LA Luxury Chocolate Salon; with lots of chocolatiers that will be selling and sampling their goods (along with some wineries and spirits too!) Definitely a fun event for any cocoa-phile or anyone looking to polish their chocolate palates beyond the likes of Godiva & Ghiradelli, and not a bad deal either for $17.50 advance or $20 at the door. Hope to catch you there ;)

Anyways, about time to take off for Luna Park & Chivas Studio, so here's to a good and tasty weekend!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fire & Spice . . . but is everything nice?

After last year's tasting, I was jalloping for joy when Kettle Chip "People's Choice" rolled around this year. With the bracing cold of winter (okay, as cold as SoCal can get) ~ I'm sure their theme of "Fire and Spice" is welcoming for those looking to heat things up.

In the name of R&D for this blog, I've ordered a pack and gorged taste-tested all five flavors. Here's my two cents:

1. Wicked Hot Sauce - surprisingly good and tasted like a hybrid of salt & vinegar potato chips and Flamin' Hot cheetos, the combination of vinegar tang, moderate spiciness and garlic-onion made for a very bright and flavorful chip. My second favorite of the five.

2. Mango Chili - I'm definitely well acquainted with the sweet-savory food trend of Kettle corn, Sea Salt Caramels and
Bacon Chocolates, but how will the trio of sweet, savory AND spicy fare? In a word: OMGDelish!! (Nevermind that this isn't even an Urbandictionary word... yet) Even though the mango flavor wasn't really there (I just picked up more of a generic tropical fruit scent) the sweet aroma and taste was a wonderful complement against the salt and the habanero & cayenne heat. This one definitely gets my vote as the fave!

3. Jalapeno Salsa Fresca - For those into spicy tomato sauces, this one's it: it had a pronounced sun-dried tomato flavor with a splash of lime and a significant kick from jalapeno and cayenne peppers. But personally, this chip just didn't quite hit the spot for me. It tasted pretty similar to Twisted Chili Lime from last year's competition (which I also deemed to be the mediocre one of the bunch) but definitely not bad -- so again, it gets the middle-of-the-road third place.

4. Orange Ginger Wasabi - Oh, where did the R&D go wrong? I had such high hopes for this very unique-sounding flavor but this just tasted disgusting -- the wasabi wasn't strong enough to produce that wonderful endorphin-induced tingle, and combined with orange, ginger & salt made for something that tasted like swamp water samples. (I re-tasted the chips a day later and had the same exact experience, so I threw out the rest of the bag . . . believe me, it's gotta taste pretty bad for me to not finish it off.)

5. Death Valley Chipotle - Definitely one for the heat-seekers, this chip is packed with a serious smoky spice punch of peppers - chipotle, cayenne and habanero! It starts out deceptively mild, but the heat creeps up on you and lingers (as I found out, with even more pepper-laced chips in my mouth)! Have a glass of milk handy for this one. This chip was only OK for me, too spicy for my personal taste, though I can always be optimistic about this and think of it as sensory portion control... ahem.

The wasabi swampwater chips aside, this year's pack is a pretty good bunch (and the Mango Chili is right up there with my last year's fave - Dragon 5 Spice and Royal Indian Curry). But don't take my word for it,
order a pack, host a tasting party or try them all by your lonesome! Oh yea, and vote for Mango Chili ;)! I will order another pack in 2008, after the contest is over and Kettle lets customers mix-and-match the year's contenders, if only to avoid getting another bag of swampwater chips.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Foodventure #45: Traxx (Downtown)

Yes, it's the Union Station restaurant; but no, it doesn't feel grossly overpriced nor does it taste unremarkably bland like any other airport, train depot eatery that everyone has encountered (pun intended). And yes, I have to explain that to every potential dining companion that contemplated dining there.
Opened ten years ago, Traxx's decor and menu is a delightful fusion of the classic and the modern, indicated by both its design and menu. The ambience, with patios that spills into the Union Station interior and also in the lush courtyard, has an updated art deco look, juxtaposing soft white lights against the sharp corners of dark geometric designs.

The menu struck a similar balance traditional and modern with updated classics such as beef tenderloin with a tarragon-merlot sauce and mussels in a tomato-saffron broth with couscous; having fairly light appetites that day, my dining companion and I shared an appetizer, entree and dessert.

To start off, we got their famous Louisiana Jumbo Crab Cake with Chipotle Chili Remoulade, easily a top contender as one of the best in L.A. Lots of sweet, succulent and lightly-seasoned crabmeat with minimal binder, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried for a light and satisfying crunch. The mildly-spicy and rich remoulade was a wonderful complement to cake as well as a flavorful dressing to go with the mixed greens on top.
Next up is their Wild Alaskan King Salmon with Asparagus & Violet Mustard Beurre Blanc - a solid dish with a perfectly-cooked piece of fish: flavorful, buttery meat with its crispy skin on alongside tender and mild baby asparagus spears. But both my DC and I were lost on the sauce, which barely had any mustard flavor and none of the (would have been delightful) violet aroma. A mild downer but a disappointment nonetheless since it's promoted as such on the menu.

Another shortcoming here is the service, which is somewhat friendly but excruciatingly slow, especially considering that less than half the tables are occupied. It took almost half an hour for actual food to arrive, which wouldn't have been a big deal except for being ignored by the front-of-house with no reassurances or apologies of any sort for the unusually long wait. It was only a slight peeve for us, but I can only imagine the irritation of actual train passengers who have only so much time before they have to board.

But our gripes were assuaged with the comparatively quick arrival of the Chocolate Pot de Creme, a smooth, silky, cocoa-intense custard that's so sinfully delicious that I even forgot to take a picture upon arrival. But we did finish the pot and were **this** close to licking the ramekin clean.

Overall, I still am rather fond of Traxx (as long as I don't have a tight schedule) dining on modernized classic dishes in the classic atmosphere of the Union Station evokes a sense a nostalgia for the early 20th century--and the relaxed pace and quiet station definitely offers a calm respite from the hustle and bustle of Downtown L.A.

The Bill:
Crabcake - $14
Salmon - $25
Pot de Creme - $7
Pre-tax/tip total - $46

The Rating:
Ambience: 5/5 (Surely one of the strong points of this restaurant is its location and decor that throws diners back to the 1920s era)
Value: 3/5 (Slightly overpriced for portions, but definitely a better deal and much better tasting foods than restaurants at other transportation stops)
Service: 6.5/10 (Friendly and knowledgable staff -heard them go into extensive details about the wine list- but extremely slow and somewhat lax)
Food: 16.5/20 (Everything we had was good, but not as creative as we'd hoped)
Bonus/Demerit: none
Total: 31/40 (Worth at least one trip, esp. for those arriving in LA by way of train, but not so much for those departing for obvious reasons . . .)

Other notes
- Free valet when you dine here: two hours for lunch, three for dinner (believe me, you may just take that long); nonetheless a good incentive to eat here when picking up a friend, given that even self-parking costs a significant chunk of change at Union Station.

800 N. Alameda Street
Los Angeles

Thursday, November 29, 2007

(Liquid) Recipe Time #9: Triple Citrus Drop

Inspired by Cocktail on the Fly's unique and yummy drinks made with fresh ingredients, I decided to take advantage of the delicious tangerines I've got lying about to make a triple citrus drop that's vibrant in color and flavor!

1 tangerine
1 shot citrus flavored vodka (I used Modern Spirits' Grapefruit Honey)
1/2 shot
limoncello, substitute with more citrus vodka if you do not have
1 oz. lemonade
splash of simple syrup
sugar for rimming (bar/baker's sugar preferable)
ice cubes (the larger the better to minimize dilution)

1. Ice down a cocktail glass (put in the freezer or fill with ice water)
2. Peel the tangerine and separate the segments, saving a finger-sized piece of the peel and piercing the outer skin of each segment by chopping in half or peeling one side off (easier to extract the flavors and juices later when shaking);
3. Gently scrape the outside of the saved peel with a grater or a serrated knife to help release its aromatic oils.
5. Put the tangerine segments (setting aside one or two for rimming & garnish) and scraped peel in a cocktail shaker, add the other liquids and the ice last.
6. Shake vigorously for a minute (so the ice cubes can break up the segments & peel and help release their flavors).
7. Get the cold cocktail glass (and empty it out if using iced water method); rub the saved tangerine segment on the edge of the cocktail glass and rim it with sugar.
8. Strain the cocktail into the glass and enjoy!

Customization Ideas:
1. To make the drink a little more eclectic in flavors, add a few slices of raw ginger or a few drops of vanilla extract ~ even a slice or two of pepper for a bite!
2. Blend some tangerine zest from the peel with the sugar to make a slightly colorful and very fragrant rim.
3. Also great with any other fresh citrus in season (limes, grapefruits, etc.) adjust portions accordingly.
4. It's great alongside the
tangerine-vanilla panna cotta ;)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mini Foodventure #44: Daikokuya (Downtown/Little Tokyo)

I may not be a ramen expert - but I know when I taste a good steamy bowl of noodles & soup and I (and half of Los Angeles, seemingly) had fond memories of Daikokuya's ramen a few months ago. However, the long lines were always a turn off and always to be expected. But after my dining companion that night told me that the waits are shorter as of late, I decided to brave the potential mob for another hit of noodles, hoping that the crowds had thinned out because of the restaurant's expanded hours and not because of a drop in quality . . .

There were, indeed, unusually few people waiting outside the place, we still had to loaf around for a good half-hour before being seated. But after we were, service was the usual cordial but swift.

While the restaurant's claim to fame is their ramen bowls, made with kurobuta pork chashu and a tonkotsu stock that has been simmering for a day, I opted to go a little more experimental and went for another one of my favorite Japanese homesytle dish: oyakodon!

Juicy chicken and egg simmered with onions in a slightly sweet dashi, mirin and shoyu sauce over steamy fluffy rice . . . is what I expected. What I got was dry chicken and near-rubbery eggs, possibly from overcooking and/or not enough sauce. Adding insult to injury, the rice, which was just OK, could've really used the flavoring from the sauce.

My dining companion smartly decided to stick with what she knew and ordered the bowl of ramen alongside a mini-unadon--

Fortunately, the eel donburi fared better than my chicken/egg one; my DC thought it was too sweet for her but I thought it was a great complement to the moist and rich unagi. And OK rice was much better here since there was all that leftover sweet unagi sauce to mix them in.

And the ramen? . . .

. . . still solidly good, the broth was savory, meaty and nicely accented with negi, the noodles are substantial and tender, and the wonderfuly marbled chashu almost melts onto my tongue. All in all, a decent (and generous) helping of noodles.

As yummy as the dish was, it wasn't as great as I remembered it, though I'm not sure if the quality actually went south since they accomodate more people now, if my memories were playing tricks on me, if it seemed tastier when I have to wait in line for it or if I'm just influenced by
recent reviews that aren't as optimistic. Nonetheless, it's still on my list as a place to go if I'm ever craving ramen (and not oyakodon!), though I'd easily look for another eatery if I discover the wait-list has entered the double-digits.

327 E. First Street
Los Angeles
Web site

What do others say?
Abby also enjoyed the rich, meaty broth that "takes no prisoners"
Colleen is left in awe by the "toro of pork"
DailyGluttony adds this place to her legion of (ra)menwhore ;)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday Quickies #8: Post-Thanksgiving

As noted last week, I cheated my way out of Thanksgiving dinner and settled on a Turkey Dinner from Whole Foods -- here's how everything turned out:

The bird: I got half a pre-cooked
Diestel Ranch Turkey (almost four pounds); while I liked the free range & no chemicals fed/injected aspect of the bird, taste-wise this variety has gotten some unfavorable reviews -- which I confirmed. The breast meat was OK, but the fowl was overall too gristly and gamey for my liking. I can't even put together a decent leftover sandwich with the dry and chewy meat, even after I generously slopped on the gravy.

Gravies: We actually got two kinds - the original turkey gravy and the organic vegan mushroom gravy, my fellow diners & I actually liked the latter better, it was more flavorful and aromatic and lot less salty.

Starches: Another downer, the mashed potatoes were kinda mealy and an unappealing tartness (as if sour cream were mashed into them) and the rolls tasted unremarkably 'white bread' and bordering on stale.

Stuffing/Dressing: My second favorite dish in a Thanksgiving feast, the apple-mushroom stuffing I got was quite delish. I couldn't detect any apple, but there was a good amount of earthy mushrooms and the stuffing was well-seasoned.

Veggies: Green bean casserole (yes, fried onions included) and roasted vegetable medley of squashes, pearl onions and carrots - along with my homemade sauted brussel sprouts with truffle oil. All the veggies were delicious but not particularly outstanding.

Sweet Stuff: I only had a taste of the cranberry sauce (planning to save it for a dessert topping this weekend) but I loved it immensely, not too sweet and not too tart. For Thanksgiving night, our dessert was a gianduja torte that was wonderfully rich and bursting with toasty hazelnut-chocolate flavors.

All in all - an OK Thanksgiving meal ~ I don't think I would get a whole meal from Whole Foods again, given some major misses on major courses. But at least it lets me throw out some of the stuff with a clean conscience . . .

Oh yea, since this is the day after -- here's a good article on what to do with the leftovers.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Quickies #7: Moving & Cheating Thanksgiving Again . . .

I'm Moving!: I've been moving this week so things on food front have been slow for me this week (awful, actually, with me alternating between "inventive" dishes out of the remnants in the fridge and noshing junk food), but I do have some banked images / foodventures so can't wait to share once I settle down over Thanksgiving week, and speaking of which . . .

I'm Cheating . . . Again: I opted to order a takeout holiday dinner from Whole Foods, but plan on making a few side dishes of my own (sauteed brussel sprouts with pancetta and mixed mushrooms braised in red wine are high on that list.)

Finally, the Michelin Guide: As noted on my twitter, I wasn't too excited about its debut (maybe that would change if I was selected as an inspector or invited to the launch party ;) ) --since all the starred restaurants aren't in my typical dining budget and I'd sooner trust my tastebuds to fellow Angeleno foodbloggers & chowhounders than this more-touristy guide. At least it's not a quote word salad like Zagat (but the writing still leaves much to be desired.)

Just in case I don't get to update the blog until after Turkey Day, wishing that y'all have a great one with lots to be thankful for and lots to look forward to!

P.S. Oh yea, the East L.A. Tamale Festival this past weekend was a disappointing bust. Going on a Saturday afternoon, there were about 10 food vendors (and about 5-7 tamale boothes), 3 of which are Mama's Hot Tamales. Add that to long lines, meager selections and "meh!" foods made for a not-very-fun foodventure. But at least this confirms my attending the Indio Festival again this year to redeem my palate!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Quickies #6: Whole Foods, Two Chances to Meet J Gold, Blind Tastings

Whole Foods Western U.S. flagship in Pasadena: Keeping it short and sweet since every blogger, foodie community and media alive covered it already; astrounding variety and impressive quality - just set aside two hours to explore, go check it out and gawk at all the features of this 77,000 sq. ft. two-story behemoth of a market, from the freshly roasted nuts counter to the shopping cart escalator to the wine & tapas bar and all the ready-made foods available, including a very aromatic meat smokehouse. That being said, I personally wouldn't come here on a regular basis (as I did the Wild Oats, R.I.P.) -- it's just too easy for me say sayonara to my shopping list & wallet here and spend too much time and money. I can hardly believe that an hour and a half disappeared when I barely skimmed the aisles and sections on its grand opening day (which wasn't as crowded as I anticipated, thankfully). However, I would still swing by here from time to time if I'm shopping for a special occasion or looking for a unique ingredient (or maybe just to take a swig of wine & a sampling of cheeses.) For some fantastic photos of this place's offerings, go to Clare K's blog.

Two opportunities to meet Jonathan Gold: How he looks is
no secret on the internet, but if you want to meet the Pultizer-winning LA Weekly food critic in person you'll have two chances at it: on November 17 he'll be at the Great Los Angeles Walk providing handouts of his favorite Pico Blvd. eateries, and on November 15 he's the guest of honor at the Society of Professional Journalists' Fall Mixer at the Redwood Bar & Grill (FYI, the mixers are not restrictive to journalists only and typically there's a significant crowd of other types such as *cough cough* PR folks and others "interested in journalism". However, regardless of your profession, do make the courtesy of letting them know you're going.) Both events are free to attend, except for whatever you'll be buying to drink and eat.

Going blind for wines?: Slate's wine critic Mike Steinberger wrote a nice
piece about the supposed gold standard of "blind tasting" to evaluate wines and made a few good points about why that's not always the best method of appraisal. Give it a read and share your thoughts! (Speaking of wines . . . I had my first cork-tainted bottle last night~ a 2004 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon that I had saved for awhile (and no, the label didn't prepare me for a damp cardboard nose, ecchh!) and forgot where I bought it from, so no dice for attempting to return it, boo. I believe the bottle was around $8-10 so it wasn't too tragic a loss.)

Finally . . . I'm heading to the
East L.A. Tamale Festival tomorrow (around 11 a.m. - noon), hope you masa lovers can make it this weekend too ;)

Ok, finally for REAL this time: I've been following
The Next Iron Chef, can't wait to watch the finale this Sunday! The series started out pretty weak, but got better as contestants got eliminated, giving more air-time of the remaining contenders as they prepare and present their dishes.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mini Foodventure #43: Wonton Time (Alhambra)

Sweater weather rolling in also mean it's an appropriate time to play homage to a Cantonese classic comfort food: the wonton noodle soup. Last week, my search for the delicious trinity of pasta, dumplings and broth took me to Wonton Time in Alhambra.
Like most other casual "everyday" Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, it's a no-nonsense operation with furniture picked for functionality and value. However, unlike other places with menus that runs above and beyond a hundred items, the selection here is pretty "keep it simple":
Basically, you choose your noodles, how it's prepared and what type/combination of toppings you want (wontons, fish cakes and/or sliced beef). For another two bucks you can get vegetables of the day in oyster sauce too. Quick and easy.

Since I wanted to catch the evening news at home and their dining area (which accomodates about 30) is pretty packed, I opted for a to go order of fish cakes & wonton hor fun soup. I paid my $4.50 + tax, waited five minutes, and I was sent my merry way with two styrofoam to-go bowls (noodles are typically packed separately to avoid becoming too soggy and to allow diner to eat them dry with the soup on the side). Thankfully, traffic was kind enough to allow me to get home to enjoy my grub still piping hot.
A little plain to look at, and overall somewhere between 'so-so' and 'kinda good': the chicken broth was flavorful and not too salty (or MSG'd); the big fish cakes were nice and pretty aromatic from the mixed-in parsley. The wontons, however, failed to impress (and shocking, given the restaurant's name)-- they were simply too large and too bland--these are supposed to be one-bite treasures packed with a savory filling, not something whose halves are nervously balanced on chopsticks while I season them myself, all the while hoping they don't slip and dive back into the bowl and splash soup everywhere. The filling was also too shrimpy for my tastes (it's basically three shrimps, whereas I would've preferred a *seasoned* pork-shrimp mixture.)

So overall, perhaps worth a try if you're large, shrimpy wontons and if you happen to be in the that area, but definitely nothing that calls for a special trip. I'd rather take my wonton business to Har Lam Kee.

Wonton Time
19 East Valley Blvd; cross: Garfield
(626) 293-3366

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Quickies #5: Doughboys, Kettle Chips & Easy Foodblogging

Doughboys: Ok, the Third Street location may have a slight health dept. mishap; and their service may not always be consistently good (even for a casual place) -- but my experiences there are almost always positive. During my last dine-in last Sunday at the Hollywood location, my companion and I shared the morning pizza (with globs of melted cheese, caramelized onions, pancetta and fried eggs) that's plain gooey good. I also had their basil chicken salad that was an explosion of flavors with its major chunks of meat, avocado, orange wedges, walnuts and blue cheese tossed with mixed greens in a light citrus vinaigrette. Finishing it off, their famous red velvet cake -- moist, vanilla-y and with lots of cream cheese frosting to boot! Simply heavenly. But maybe I was just lucky with kitchen & front staff, so hoping they get their act together and keep up the good work.

It's Kettle Chips People Choice Time Again: I was excited last year with their worldly flavors, and I'm equally eager about the theme and contenders this year: fire & spice with five hot flavors. I've already placed my order for my sampler back & can't wait to try; for now, I'm hedging my bets for Mango Chili & Orange Ginger Wasabi 'cause I have a thing for the sweet-spicy combo.

Foodblogging's a cinch, but what the . . .: At least three other blogs had their rip on this L.A. times non-story already, but I'll throw in my two cents anyways: OMGWTFBBQ?! How is this a food story? Is the business section going to have a story about the ease of starting a personal finance blog? What about the sports page and simplicity of starting a blog meta-reporting on plays and scoreboards? Simply put, take out all food references, and it *may* be a half-decent DiY article for the tech-unsavvy; or alternatively, with a few edits, a tech manual for how to use WordPress (has it occurred for Regina to check out Typepad, Blogger, Livejournal, etc . . . perhaps a more food section worthy piece would be if she did a comparison of pros/cons of these publishing sites specifically for food blogs.) And finally, geez, to name it FoodFake?!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Foodie Events Alert

Just realized two epicurean events (both of which I've attended in the past) are coming up, so giving y'all heads up:

Slow Food LA just brought to my attention that the Zenshuji Soto Temple in Little Tokyo will be doing its annual Japanese Tea Ceremony this Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A light vegetarian lunch is included and it's a great experience to observe a longtime ritual while sipping on delicious matcha. $40/person and reservations are requried. Click here for more details, including RSVP information, or here to read my write-up of last year's experiences.

The East L.A. Tamale Festival is coming back for third time on Nov. 9-11! If you're as crazy about these masa goodies as I am, bring an empty stomach (as I did last year). Folks at L.A. Foodblogging are also planning a foodie meetup on Saturday, so leave a comment if you want to see how we note-jotting, camera-touting bloggers really look like in person. ;)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Foodventure #42: Seven Courses at Tagine (Beverly Center area)

Having had Moroccan-like dishes, but never a Moroccan-themed meal, before; my interest was piqued when Webquaintances at Biggestmenu want to do a get together at Tagine for their $42 seven-course tasting menu (listed by the LA Times as one of the local "delicious deals" this year). Oh yea, and for the possible celebrity sightings, given that Ryan Gosling is co-owner of this restaurant (and was the waiter when LA Times' S. Irene dined there.)

The dimly-lit environs had an authentic feel to it (at least to me and my pre-conceived notions), a small and intimate dining area (seats about thirty people max) with dark, heavy-looking Persian draperies and comfy, cushy, velvety furniture. The dining crowd that night were a mix of young professionals and trendy Hollywoody types, but no such luck of a celebrity sighting, let alone service from Mr. Gosling. I thought I saw
Tom "Everyone's Friend" Anderson there, but my dining entourage couldn't confirm, given the mostly candle-powered lighting and our more predominant distraction of soaking up the rest of the ambience and the menu.

While waiting for the last of our foursome to arrive, we were given the common upselling trick of "flat or sparkling" on our water, but didn't get any looks when we replied tap. Nor did the staff mind seating us 20 minutes before our last companion showed up, so far, so good on the service front . . .

The last of our group arrived and we all placed our orders for the tasting menu as well as a carafe of red sangria to share. The wine cocktail was tasty, a refreshing, balanced blend of wine and fruit with subtle nuance of tannins, tang and sweet spices.

The courses came out pretty quickly after we ordered. Our first dish was a mozzarella, basil & tomato stack with a beet and bermuda onion salad on the side, both dressed with vinaigrette. I was pleasantly surprised by the beet and onion combo (since I'm not a big beet fan) but was underwhelmed by their caprese, the tomatoes were unripe and there was only a smidgen of basil flavor.

Before we were finished, we got served the second course (the first of several rushed servings throughout dinner) - shrimps marinated in moroccan spices served with hummus and cucumber salad. It was a good dish but not memorable: I got the feeling that the flavors were toned down to make it "safe" for less adventurous palates. My companions and I did lament the lack of bread to dip into the hummus.
A little carb isn't too much to expect, right?

After that was bussed I also noticed another service-related mishap, lack of silverware changing or even some sort of dish/napkin to set them down on. Here's hoping the tables were clean enough to drive off pathogens, but not so clean so that I taste sanitizer. (And yes, we had the same fork and knife for all seven courses -- thankfully the dessert was finger-friendly.)
Third plate, striped bass and roasted potato with chamula sauce. Another solidly fine dish, but not outstanding (I actually liked the potato more than I did the fish). I am curious, though, as to what chamula actually is and how it worked its way into the menu (a rudimentary search turned up mostly Latin-American related results), but it tasted like a savory, mildly seasoned pan gravy.
Fourth course is the restaurant's namesake, shrimp tagine: shrimps, mushrooms and roasted cauliflowers in a
harissa cream sauce with a sprinkling of couscous for garnish. Now *this* was something special for my tastebuds, the plump shrimp melded nicely with the earthy mushroom, the slightly-spicy sauce and mildly charred cauliflowers. Again, a dish I wish there was more starches for scooping up the wonderful sauce (or maybe just an opportunity to hide in the darkness and lick the plate clean.) Also mild disappointment that this wasn't served in an actual tagine casserole dish.

Midway through the tasting, we were informed by the server to not take pictures to post up because they would have "presented it better" otherwise. But--shouldn't every dish be plated as nicely as possible? We may not be professional photographers, but what the camera captured isn't a gross misrepresenation of what we saw. Besides, I thought all the dishes were well-plated, so his comments were a double "wtf?" moment for me.
After that, we got each got half a
bastilla, a cinnamon and sugar phyllo pastry with a chicken-egg-almond filling. I think it was an interesting sweet-savory combo dish (a more exotic version of Aussie pies, really) and something I would try again, but one of my companions was a bit weirded out by the contrast.
Number six on the list is a grilled salmon with dried fruits and honey sauce. I was less fascinated with this; it could be due to me not being indifferent about figs and prunes, or maybe I had my sweet-savory cravings satiated with the bastilla, or perhaps the sauce is more syrupy than I expected. It was definitely not bad, but not great either.
Seventh dish is lamb two-ways: oven roasted with lentils and eggplant over couscous, and grilled lamb chop. The lamb was well prepared here: tender, nicely seasoned with only a tinge of gameyness, and couscous was fluffy and tender.
Rounding out the tasting was a mini dessert trio of grapes, baklava and lemon custard eclairs along with sweetened Moroccan mint tea--a nice, refreshing and not-too-heavy finish that left me satisfied but not bloatingly full, and we drank a few cups of tea while comparing notes and talking about our other food excursions. Probably would have stayed a bit longer if we weren't the last table, but we weren't overtly pressured to leave.

All in all, the Moroccan meal at Tagine was a fun, somewhat new experience for my tastebuds and fairly good benchmark to build upon. Can't wait to explore more cuisines of North Africa and see how they compare, and in a rare moment of agreement with S. Irene, I'm curiously wondering why this particular ethnic set is underrepresented in L.A., given all our raves for Meditterranean and small-plated foods.

The Bill
Seven-course tasting: $42
Carafe of Sangria: $25 (for 4) = $6.25
Pre-tax/tip total: $48.25

The Rating
Ambience: 4.5/5 (Nicely designed with authentic-looking furnishings and decorations, comfortable seats. Great for couples or small parties, or possibly celeb-crazy out-of-town friends ;) )
Value: 4/5 (A nice, varied menu for a fairly decent price. Portions are not as filling as I would've liked, but I was left satisfied enough.)
Service: 5.5/10 (Major point dippage for the silverware placed/left on tables, rushed pacing and the "no photos!")
Food: 15/20 (The food is overall pretty good, wasn't as exciting as I expected or as memorable as I wished, and I think they're erring on the safe side in the seasonings/spices of most dishes.)

Bonus/Demerit: +1 for a uniquely delicious spiced sangria & sweetened Moroccan mint tea (free refills on the latter)
TOTAL: 30/40 (Decent place to go for partly-edgy palates and if you can overlook lackluster service.)

Other Notes:
- Valet available, also street parking on Robertson & Wilshire
- It's a small restaurant, plan accordingly for large parties or peak times/dates.
- A good selection of vegetarian dishes available, the staff also seems accomodating of special restrictions & preferences (but our group will eat anything and then some ;) )

132 N. Robertson Blvd. (cross Wilshire)
Los Angeles

Finally, much thanks to Kevin for the photos (he was also my dining companion & photog for my Providence foodventure). I'm sure he spent considerable time doing some major photo shopping, given the abysmal lack of lighting there.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Quickies #4: Mindless Eating, Appetizer Affair, Halloweenie, A Diff. Kind of Taste Test

Mindless Eating: Finally got around to reading Prof. Brian Wansink's fascinating book on subconscious eating cues and how that affects how much we eat--it was a mosty fun read with interesting findings. Some we may already be familiar with (bigger plates, bigger utensils & bigger variety of food generally lead us to serve and consume more calories), others not-so-much (how even the "illusion" of variety encourages eating more, exemplified by his research participants grabbing munching extra M&Ms when colors are mixed together).

Marion Nestle, he generally cuts more slack for the food industry, advocating more personal responsibility for "mindlessly" eating less. Most of his advice to go about that are pretty sensible but already well-known approaches (pre-portion your treats in smaller bags if buying in bulk, don't cut too many calories at once, fill up half the plate with veggies & salad) with a few novel psychological tricks worth trying (e.g. at a gathering, don't bus out the "evidence" of bones, toothpicks, plates and glasses, which makes people more aware of how much they ate and limit themselves.)

My Love/Hate Affair with Appetizers: Speaking of mindless eating and growing portions, as of late I've taken to just making a meal out of an appetizer or two when I go out. On top of generally smaller portions, I love how they usually come out quicker and a bit less pricey. Of course, what's not to like is that variety can be monotonous (seared ahi tuna slices? fried calamari? oh, I've never had that before) and there's a strong tendency for unhealthy cooking methods, since the deep-fry is so fast and easy. Also portions can be unpredictable, with some appetizers being entree-sized (Cheesecake Factory stands out in my mind, the tamale cake appetizer leaves me beyond full every time) and others being teensy-tiny. Asking the server is not foolproof either (don't say "football" if it's more like a tennis ball.)

Halloween plans: I usually get MAJOR sweet tooth cravings around Trick-or-Treating time, but that has been largely absent this year (I haven't stocked up on the fun-sized stuff yet, if I'm too lazy/forgetful by Wednesday, I hope kids like little baggies of polenta, couscous and grated parmigiano-reggiano.) Likewise, I don't have any solidifed plans for this weekend or Wednesday night asides from a
Walt Disney Concert on Sunday night. In fact, this year I'm feeling oddly un-Halloweeny (maybe 'cause it's on hump day).

Caroline, however, is breaking all out with her wrap-up on spooky cupcakes, summary of (mostly) costumed nightlife events and checking up on what other trendy people are up to.

Taste Test of a Different Sort: Doug from
Blogsoop sent me a kit to test if I'm a supertaster. Turns out that while I'm not a bonafide supertaster like Javier/Teenage Glutster, I am more taste-sensitive than the average joe. But it'll be interesting to see how the bell curve goes for foodies compared to the norm.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Special Foodventure #41: Il Moro (West LA)

This past weekend I was invited by Il Moro's public relations rep to sample their new fall menu (for free, one of my very few). Having remembered their positive LA Times review from last year, and enticed by the press release's description of their seasonal pumpkin tortelloni, I accepted and brought along a friend to bounce ideas and thoughts. (Since we are getting special treatment, this post will not have ratings, but more general notes of the space and food.)

Tucked in an office building, I'm sure the first impression many have of Il Moro is that it's a "business restaurant" for quick working lunches, meetings over drinks and maybe the occasional happy hour and quick bites before the drive home. But, to our surprise, the restaurant was packed on a Saturday night -- the crowd mostly mature and upscale-casual, with a few families and younger couples/groups of friends. A good number of the patrons conversed in Italian too, which looked optimistic.

(Il Moro dining room image provided by the restaurant's PR agency)

The dining area itself is neutral-warm in tones (primarily beiges, blonds and browns) made a little more intimate with dimmed lighting. The space is fairly airy and open, and diners can catch glimpses of the kitchen staff over the partition and easily eavesdrop on conversations from adjacent tables.

Il Moro's cuisine is focused on the Emilia-Romagna region, whose cuisine is focused on rich, zesty flavors and rightfully so. Within the region is Modena (known for its production of balsamic vinegar), Parma (pork products and parmigiano-reggiano cheese) and Bologna (orignator of the bolognese sauce).

Just like the region, if there was one word to describe the entire meal at Il Moro, it'd be bold. Every course we had packed a pretty big wallop on the flavors, which was good most of the time -- though by the end of the seven courses our tastebuds were pretty exhausted from the constant punch and stimulation. Hopefully, for the average two or three course meal this won't be as big an issue. Here's a roundup of what we had (all the dishes were of the chef's choosing):

Salsiccia Casareccia in Umido con Polenta Fresca - housemade italian sausage with a braised tomato and onion stew over polenta. The sausage itself wasn't particularly spicy, but the the stew tasted very fresh with the wonderful sweet-acid balance of the tomatoes and onions, further contrasted with the textured creaminess of the polenta. It was a satisfying antipasti and I could actually see this being more of an entree dish with slightly larger portions.

Tartar di Tonno in Spuma Di Avocado - raw tuna tartare with shallots, lemon dressing, avocado mousse and bread slices. This was the only problematic dish in the meal, we were initially surprised to be served this course since it isn't particularly Italian (and has been argued as a universal appetizer). Furthermore, this dish went overboard with the lemon dressing, making the tartare and the mousse too tart to enjoy the creamy fattiness or the nuances of the seasoning.

The apps were followed by a duo of housemade pastas: Maccheroni al Pettine al Ragu di Coniglio (pettine pasta in a rabbit ragu) and Risotto Mantecato alla Marmellata di Cipolle e Bocconcini d’Agnello (risotto with lamb, thyme and onion marmalade). Both pastas were pretty intense in their own right and they complemented each other well. The ridged pettine was great for picking up the chunky, tangy ragu sauce and the rabbit meat was surprisingly tender and mild-tasting, more like pork than the usual gamey-ness I expect. The lamb in the risotto was similarly mild, and I love the onion-thyme combo, which was woodsy and almost mushroom-like, which worked well with the slightly-nutty rice.

On top of the pasta duet, we also shared a serving of their Fall seasonal Pumpkin Tortelloni, with pumpkin mixed with sweet spices and amaretti cookies in a chicken and veal bolognese sauce, served in a pumpkin bowl.

It tasted as interesting as it looked, with a unique combination in flavors and mouthfeel (savory, chunky sauce against sweet, smooth filling) held together by tender pasta pillows.

After the pasta courses came the Ossobuco d'Agnello al Vino Rosso e Polenta Taragna, lamb shank braised in a red wine-porcini mushroom stew with a baked maize-buckwheat polenta. The polenta was unremarkable (toasty & herby, but too pungent for our liking) but the lamb and the fragrant, earthy mushroom-wine stew was delish, with the properly braised meat meltingly tender enough to fall apart with a fork, but not so overcooked that it becomes a meaty mush.

For the finale, we shared the chocolate creme brulee with strawberry sauce; the dessert is more like heavy mousse cake than a custard, but creme brulee like in that it has a chocolatey sugar crust on top. Nonetheless, it was a decadent, not-too-sweet, not-too-dense treat that had very deep cocoa aroma and flavor. The sauce seemed overpowered by the cake, but was nice with the berries surrounding.

Overall, the experience was pretty positive, despite the tuna-related confuzzlement and our palates being blasted with intense (but mostly yummy) flavors at every turn (thankfully, we had no shortage of water for cleansing between courses). For obvious reasons, our table service was close as it can get to perfect, but we observed that surrounding tables also received immaculate attention from the front-of-house staff too.

I can see why the restaurant received the praise it did from LA Times & LA Weekly (not to mention the packed Saturday night dining room even after 13 years of operation). While dinner is more of a special occasion affair at Il Moro, they also cater to the business and casual crowds with lunch, the more relaxed gastrobar atmosphere, as well as more informal events such as their regular wine tastings and live music nights. As noted by others, it's a hidden gem worth checking out. I know I'll be back to enjoy more pastas & sweets (they have a surprising amount of chocolatey items on there, perfect for a cocoa-phile like me!)

Final note: the Fall specialty dishes, according to the manager, are served until end of December.

Il Moro
11400 Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA


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