Friday, June 19, 2009

Duong Son BBQ -- yummy Chinese close to home

Duong Son BBQ
9081 Bolsa Avenue
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 897-1269

It's been a really long and hard road in trying to find some decent Chinese food in OC and especially a place where the food is reasonably priced as well. Duong Son is run by Vietnamese Chinese folks and their homestyle Chinese cuisine is by far some of the
best I've had in the area. It is not fancy, but very hearty, comforting if you will. Something your mama might make at home.

The meal starts with complimentary Chinese soup which changes daily. To me, this is the best part of going for Cantonese food because the soup usually is a great indicator of how the meal will follow. If your soup is bland and watery, your meal won't be much better either.

We ordered a BBQ combo plate which includes steamed chicken, roasted duck and bbq pork. The latter was very tasty and not too fatty. The duck and chicken were also good, but I don't think I would order those again on subsequent visits since there is just so much offered on
the menu to sample.

Steamed rock cod was tender and just what I was craving. I love steamed fish Chinese style with scallion and soy sauce. I did think they needed a tad more soy sauce as it wasn't salty enough, however, the fish was very fresh which made up for whatever was lacking in the sauce.

Fried tofu is absolutely fantastic -- served with a chili soy sauce -- and it was apparent
because my son devoured the entire plate on his own minus two pieces which we took. This is definitely a keeper.

Chinese broccoli (gai lan) with beef was perfectly cooked and seasoned. Tender pieces of beef stir fried with gai lan with a hint of garlic and ginger -- highly satisfying.

We also ordered salted fish and diced chicken fried rice. Ordinarily, this item is very s
alty, but for some reason, the version here was just right. You could eat it on its own without fear of having a thirst attack later on.

When you're done with your meal, complimentary Chinese dessert is brought to the table. On our visit, it was red bean and sago and in true Chinese tradition, it wasn't super sweet.
Even I, who traditionally stay away from these sorts of things, ended up polishing off my little bowl.

Best of all, the entire meal only set us back around $40 (tip not included) and we still had food leftover to bring home.

If you're feeling like some non-pretentious Chinese food, definitely give Duong Son a try!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Utopia Cafe -- Claypot rice and more

Utopia Cafe
139 Wav
erly Place
Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 956-2902

Why does Chinese food always taste so much better in San Francisco? I have no clue, but it just does. My absolute favorite thing to eat is clay pot rice (boh jai fan) and Utopia Cafe specializes in it. The last time I was here, I dined alone, so all I could order was the clay pot rice. This time, there were three of us so we were able to order a few more items.

Ground pork pattie with salty fish clay pot rice appeals to all in my family so we ordered that one. We also got some garlic pea sprouts, salt and pepper tofu cubes, and an order of shrimp and pork wontons.

The wontons were really good -- not as good as what one might find in Hong Kong, but still, very good nonetheless -- in a dried fish broth with a few sprigs of choy sum. Use some of the chili oil they have in the jar on the table if you like spicy stuff as this will enhance the wontons eve more.

Salt and pepper tofu cubes were such a hit with all we ate those up very quickly. Garlic pea sprouts were lovely as well, but ask for the garlic cloves instead of minced garlic as they use jarred garlic and not fresh.

Clay pot rice take
s a while to cook so was the last to arrive. They give you a bowl of their house special soy sauce to drizzle over the rice when it arrives. My favorite part of the rice is the charred, crusty bottom. There is nothing like it in my opinion!

Service isn't the best in Chinatown, but the staff are ready to help if you need it, and because I speak the language, they are really nice, especially when hubby praises them on the food. If you spend $30 or more, they will validate your parking at Portsmouth Square G
arage for 2 hours.

Wish they had something close to this in Orange County!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

HK Causeway Bay -- A hankering for Chinese

HK Causeway Bay
111 E 4th Avenue

San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 342-8388

In all honesty, even the most mediocre dim sum in the Bay Area is better than the best dim sum in Orange County. Frankly, there isn't a place I'd really go for dim sum in OC when I'm hankering for some. HK Causeway Bay is another example of the tons of dim sum restaurants available in the Bay Area, and in San Mateo alone, there are at least a handful which does the job when you've got that craving for some BBQ pork buns or har gow.

I came here with my aunt, uncle and cousins. We ordered quite a few dim sum items as well as some specials including a bamboo pith with Shanghai bok choy in broth with goji berries, steamed tripe served with a special soy sauce and a rice vermecelli with bean sprouts and
fried anchovies (they call it silver fish here) and a fried sweet potato dusted with salty egg yolk.

Dim sum comprised of the usual offerings: bbq pork buns, har gow, chicken's feet, w
u kok (taro puffs), seen juk guen (tofu sheets wrapped ground pork), mushroom cheung fun, mochi balls (lui sa tong yuen) and steamed sponge cake (ma lai goh).

I thought the chicken's feet were fantastic, flavorful and off the bone tender. Wu kok was also fabulous, so light on the outside and nice and mushy on the inside. The only thing I had a problem with was the rice noodles which were too thick and not delicate enough, and the wrappers for the har gow which uses the same rice flour as the cheung fun. Everything else wasn't bad.

Service is really awful at times even when you shout out in Cantonese to them. I think the bus boys were better at getting your tea or water refilled if you were lucky to flag one of them down. You can pretty much get an above average meal here if you know what to order.
We came back for dinner another night and again some of the dishes were hit and miss.

During our dinner visit, we had the snow crab done two ways: with scallion and ginger sau
ce as well as the legs steamed with vermecelli, string beans, salt and peppered pork chops, yuk tze tofu with a mushroom medley, steamed fish, stir fried gai lan in a wine sauce, sticky rice to finish. Most of the dishes were okay except the pork chops which had an over abundance of soda powder (generally used to tenderize the meat) which gave the pork a 'fatty' texture. I hate this texture because it causes the pork to not resemble meat anymore.

The yuk tze tofu was really good as was the sticky rice. The snow crab wasn't too bad and the fish was good too. Eating with a group means you can try more dishes and that's exactly
what we did -- eight adults did some major damage, but without hurting the pocketbook too much!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ambrosia -- An elixir of the cyanide kind

801 N Main St
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Tel: (714) 550-0811

It was supposed to be a happy evening spent with friends in celebration of a birthday. What transpired was not only bizarre, but an experience I had never encountered, until tonight, in 15+ years as a professional food writer, cookbook author and now, blogger.

As soon as we walked in, we knew it was going to be an interesting evening. The dining room was kitschy like one would find in a 70s restaurant, complete with lounge singer and another accompanying on the piano and synthesizer. The plastic foliage should have been a dead giveaway, but we were marveling at how a restaurant only 3 years old could be so dated in every possible way.

Our server Cesar was the start and end to our problems. The minute he offered us water -- sparkling or still -- and heard we were fine with tap, was the start to the ill-treatment we received. His immediate response was to remove all the wine glasses from the table before we’d even had a chance to peruse the menu or wine list for that matter. Such pre-conceived notions perhaps that maybe, people who like to drink tap water are somehow too gauche to want wine with their dinner is why he removed the wine glasses in the first place?

With the wine glasses, he also promptly removed the a la carte menu leaving us with only the prix fixe version. He then informed us that we all had to order the prix fixe or the a la carte menu—there was no mixing and matching allowed, but if we were to order the prix fixe, then side selections from the a la carte were acceptable.

He started with me when he took the orders and after I had selected my appetizer and entree, proceeded to ask what I would like for my dessert off the prix fixe. I asked him if I had to tell him right now and his answer? ABSOLUTELY YES! I sighed and gave him my response.

Our appetizers of flambed shrimp and beet salad were so-so. It didn’t blow us away, but they were just average. The general manager who flamed our shrimp is an eccentric Frenchmen who actually gave a damn about our dining experience. He was pleasant and inquired about our meal a couple of times throughout the evening.

However, when our entrees arrived, we realized that every one of our meals were cold. The plates they were served on were cold. Not only that, but the steak frites was ordered medium and arrived rare. The most bizarre thing was that the meat tasted off. It had the gameyness of unfresh meat. I immediately spat it out.

Incredibly, the braised Colorado lamb was not gamey at all, but I was surprised that it arrived like a ragout served with undercooked pappardelle which only needed a minute more in the water for it to have been perfect. Such a waste of homemade pasta too.

I found it strange that seabass could be overcooked since it’s such an oily fish. I cook it all the time at home and never have I found seabass to turn out dry. But there is always the first time for everything.

When a busboy inquired about our meal we informed him that the steak was not edible. His immediate response was an apology, followed by a ‘what would you like me to do’, and then ending with the shirking of responsibility off to the kitchen stating he took no part in preparing the meal. He did say he would send a manager over.

What we got was Cesar who says to my friend “I see you’re going to take your dinner home”. My friend with the steak shook her head and told him no. He then replied “that’s good news since we’ve run out of ‘to-go’ boxes and I was going to suggest you finish it since you won’t be able to take it home”.

Perhaps it was just as well that my friend didn’t understand his sarcasm but it wasn’t lost on the birthday girl who was quietly seething away. We didn’t even know how angry she was until the general manager stopped by before she let loose her contempt for Cesar.

Not having a good meal happens sometimes. Kitchens have bad nights, it’s totally understandable. But if you’re working at the front of the house, it’s your job to make sure your diners are having a good time regardless of how the food is. Not only did we have a subpar meal, but the blatantly rude behavior of Cesar just pushed us over the top.

Although the GM ended up comping out meal, it was too little too late. The birthday celebration was ruined. The birthday girl was devastated, and birthdays only come around once a year!

*I have never been so distracted that I didn't even feel like taking photos, but as you can see there is only one photo to accompany this entry and a shoddy one at that*

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pizzeria Ortica -- molto bellissimo

Pizzeria Ortica
650 Anton Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

(714) 445-4900

I had driven by this place several times and often wondered what it was all about, so when my son wanted pizza today, I suggested we try this place out since it seems to be a pizzeria by its name.

Upon entry, I immediately took to the long dining room, something one hardly sees out here in southern California, but quite prevalent in New York City restaura
nts. Our server was a really lovely gal named Justene who was knowledgeable about the menu and was pleasant throughout our entire meal.

We ordered salsiccia e finnocchio pizza, Angelino panini and two starters, polipo e patate and verdure al forno con burrata to share. Foccaccia is brought to the table with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. My son immediately loved the olive oil. He said it was good olive oil and he would know since we've been to other Italian restaurants where he's said the olive oil was gross. The balsamic wasn't as aged as it could've been since it was a little too tart on the palate.

Our appetizers arrived shortly. The polipo e patate, or charred Mediterranean octopus served with Yukon potatoes, capers and celery hearts didn't look pretty but it sure tasted good. We loved the tartness of the dressing and the chewiness of the octopus. The
grilled vegetables with burrata comprised of zucchini, red peppers, sweet peppers and cippolini onions and a nice lump of burrata. We loved this immensely.

We came for the pizza and when it arrived we were not disappointed. This is the type of pizza I like, with a nice crust and not too much toppings. I really dislike American pizza because the toppings overflow and the pizza is greasy as hell. Here, the toppings are used sparingly like they do in Italy, just enough to flavor without overkill. The house made sausage was nicely flavored, but what I loved most about this particular pizza was the caramelised fennel.

Angelino panini comprised of a very moist piece of chicken breast with oven roasted tomatoes and crispy pancetta. I thought the panini bread was too soft which resulted in the sandwich becoming soggy too quickly. The bread was also too thick which made it hard to bite into the entire sandwich. Other than that, it tasted delicious. If they could figure out a way to keep the bread intact, this would have been an almost perfect sandwich.

We were even tempted enough to have some dessert -- ricotta al forno -- ricotta cheese cake topped with berries and served in a fig sauce reduction. The first thing which struck me about this was that it wasn't sweet at all. I would've loved it had the ricotta cake been softer and moister. Ricotta is on the dry side so without adding anything else to it would mean that it had a crumbled texture rather than a smooth texture. I like how they were true to using only ricotta, but texturally, it wasn't to my liking.

Service was great. I really liked Justene and I hope when we return again, we'll have her serve us or have someone equally good. There is validated parking in the back as well so it makes it convenient for diners not to have to circle around trying to find street parking. The portions are European-style, which means you're not going to get gargantuan proportions, but it also means that your final tab might be slightly higher than you anticipated. However, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal here and we'll definitely be back to try some other things on the menu.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lotus Chinese Eatery -- a different kind of Chinese

Lotus Chinese Eatery
16883 Beach Blvd
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Tel: (714) 848-4940

In China there is a small population of people who are Muslim and this means they don't eat pork or pork by-products. This means, lots of beef and of course, lamb! Naturally, t
he cuisine is highly reflective of the region and its people.

It took us a long time to find a favorite place for Muslim-style (halal) Chinese food after moving to southern California. We used to eat it a lot when we lived up north so after eating a lot of uninspiring halal Chinese, we finally found a place which has consistently served us great food.

Lotus Chinese Eatery is interesting in that they have the authentic dishes along with the regular "American-friendly" dishes for those who might not want to venture into unknown territory.

Our favorite items to order at the spicy beef tendon or the beef tripe. It is nice and spicy here and utilizes a seasoning using Sichuan peppercorns. In fact, we try to order a lot of the spicier items on the menu except for the braised tofu with vegetables which we always order because our son loves it.

They also do a sesame scallion bread which takes a little while to prepare, so if you're interested in ordering this dish, make sure you do it the minute you sit down, even before you order your dishes because otherwise, your bread will come out at the end of the meal rather than with your meal. We like the thin version -- which isn't thin at all! It's still about an inch thick.

I suggest ordering any lamb dishes is the way to go. We love the lamb with leek or lamb with green onions. However, if you're not a fan of lamb, you can have them substitute any lamb item with beef. They're happy to do it! You won't get the gorgeous aromas that lamb gives off, but it'll suffice.

It is of course best if you go with a group of six or more so you can order more items to share. On one occasion when I've come here with friends, they've ordered this tofu omelette dish which comprised of soft tofu in a brown sauce topped with an omelette. I liked their combined textures but I am not sure it's my favorite dish here.

Once the sesame scallion bread arrives, our son likes to use it like bread in a sandwich. He'll take any of the dishes we've ordered and put it in between the slice and eat -- quite innovative for an 8-year-old if you ask me!

Don't expect excellent service, after all, it IS a Chinese restaurant. However, I've never received bad service here. The ladies are hilarious since they speak Cantonese to me and love to come o
ver for a chat. They are also quite quick to help us order, often suggesting new items we've never tried before.

Another thin
g that's different about this place is that you'll notice that apart from the Chinese diners, there will be a lot of diners of other backgrounds enjoying this fare. After all, your regular Muslim clientele can't well walk into any Chinese restaurant for a meal. Oh no! Pork is one of the largest staple of Chinese food and that would be a huge no-no for a devout Muslim to consume. Here, at Lotus Chinese Eatery, they can indulge in tasty Chinese food without worrying about the possibility of cross contamination!

If you've never tried it, give it a go. It's positively delicious!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mariscos Puerto Esperanza -- marvelous-o

Puerto Esperanza
1724 N Tustin St Orange, CA 92856
(714) 998-3599

I never thought I was going to say this, but this is a Mexican restaurant like no any other I've ever experienced. The decor was wonderfully festive with vibrant colors and the warm welcome we received from the server added to the experience. This place specializes in seafood but they offer meat dishes as well.

Chips and salsa are brought out quickly as well as drinks if you're having them. The salsa is smokey and flavorful with a good kick to it. We had to get this refilled three times, that's
how good it was.

Since a friend of mine steered me towards this place, I went ahead and ordered something she recommended -- the bistec encebollado -- for my son since he's not a fan of seafood
. Hubby and I got fish -- him, Salmon Yucatan, me, Pescado Zarandeado Robalo (striped bass). Both fish dishes are cooked on banana leaves which not only makes for wonderful presentation, but also, an aroma that enhances the dish further.

We started off with ensalada fiesta, a simple salad comprising of romaine lettuce, julienned carrots and jicama, tomato wedges, and the main attraction -- grilled nopales or cactus. The citrusy dressing was outstanding. It was simple and that's what makes it so special.... nothing too complicated or heavy. Just some olive oil with some citrus and jalapeno.

It took a while for our entrees to arrive and we knew they were cooking it with care. We could see them doing it at the open kitchen, the two chefs giving the food their loving touch. When our entrees arrived we were first blown away by how lovely the dishes looked. This is new for us since we usually go to hole-in-the-wall Mexican establishments where food tastes good but may not be as appealing on the eye. But none of that here. Everything was beautiful and tasted just as delicious if not better. Bistec encebollado was grilled to perfection. An ample piece of pounded steak topped with sauteed onions, peppers and salsa fresca served with your choice of rice -- and there are two types -- or black beans and grilled vegetables.

My striped bass was huge. In fact, it was enough for two. This isn't a cheap dish at $15
/lb and my fish alone was $25, but it was well worth it. The orange sauce was tart, sweet, salty, the perfect accompaniment. Served with salsa fresca and pickled onions and carrots with sliced avocados, the mix of all the flavors come together like a burst on your palate.

I'm not a fan of salmon so I did not enjoy hubby's dish as much, but then again, I would never order salmon so it doesn't matter anyway. His dish was a little sweet since it was topped with a roasted corn and grilled cactus relish but he enjoyed it very much.

The server brought out a separate dish of sides for us to share -- I thought that was the nicest gesture! The portions were huge so we couldn't finish everything. But one thing's for sure.... this is on my top three places for Mexican food!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Manhattan Supper Club -- money not quite well spent

Manhattan Supper Club
202 S Main Street
Orange, CA 92868

(714) 978-6161

If you're tired of restaurants in strip malls or restaurants in big malls, then try this place. It's definitely not in a mall. In fact, it is housed in its own 'cottage' which gives it a charming feel. The minute we were seat
ed I felt like I was dining in someone's home. The man helping us was friendly, perhaps a little too comfortable the way he approached me and the way he touches your shoulder or your back when he addressed me. Things like that don't really bother me but I know it bothers some people I know.

Foccacia is brought out to the table -- warm -- with a soft spread should you wish to use it. This was indeed a hit with everyone, especially my son who was famished. After ordering, the first course arrived in great time as everyone was ready to dig in. My French onion soup was pretty decent with nice chunks of onions in a hearty soup base. It's not as good as the one at Pescadou Bistro, but it's still tasty. Beet salad was lovely, although for some reason, I prefer chunks of beets in a salad rather than sliced, which is how they do it here. It
may just be me, but I find that it gives a completely different appeal to the taste of the beets themselves.

Butternut squash ravioli were really salty. It was obvious that they were seasoned with sea salt, which would have worked well had it been a little less heavy and more evenly distributed. Wild mushroom risotto on the other hand was under seasoned, which is better in my opinion since you can add salt to your dish. It's impossible to remove salt when it is already on your food.

Interestingly, the girls at the table all ordered fish while the guys all ordered steaks. I tried two of the steaks: the 14 oz prime New York and the 24 oz Cowboy Rib Eye. You would think that the more expensive steak -- the rib eye at $55 -- would have more flavor than the New York -- $42 -- but that wasn't the case. I found the New York to be very agreeable in flavor -- meaty and s
ucculent -- while the rib eye was bland and unimpressive.

Macadamia nut crusted halibut was well executed with the fish being flaky and moist. I'm not a huge fan of fruit as an accompaniment whether it be in a sauce or on the side so this dish is not one I would choose since it comes with a dollop of fresh mango atop the halibut. This dish reminds me of something Roy Yamaguchi would serve in his restaurants.

Sesame crusted ahi tuna was plain disgusting. The quality of the ahi was not good enough to serve it so rare. The strong fishiness of the ahi made it almost impossible to swallow. This confirms my philosophy of not ordering ahi or salmon at a restaurant. I don't eat ahi tuna or salmon unless I'm at a high end sushi restaurant and these are the only two types of fish I don't like cooked.

My friend's blackened mahi mahi was very salty so she sent it back. All I tasted was salt and nothing else. I could
n't even taste the fish. The man serving us -- which I presume is one of the owners -- came and took it away and brought back a freshly cooked one without the copious amount of seasoning. This time, the fish was perfectly cooked with really good flavors. I was able to distinguish the natural taste of the fish instead of just salt. The second time around was perfect!

Idaho trout (apparently on the lunch menu but they were very obliging and made if for me anyway when I requested it) was my favorite out of the four fish dishes. Although it was topped with so much cherry tomato halves and asparagus sprigs you couldn't even see the fish when it arrived, once I tasted the trout, I was very pleased with my choice. The fish was tender and moist and there was a lot of garlic which is a plus for me since I love it so much.

Manhattan Supper Club is a nice romantic spot to bring a date you wish to impress. The menu is a hit and miss, but from what I gather, if you order the right things, you could very well have an outstanding meal. Order the wrong items and your experience could be disastrous.

Apart from a few hiccups such as not bringing my trout with the rest of the party's entrees and screwing up the charges on two credit cards, I would say they tried their best to accommodate us without much fuss. Prices are on the steep side -- not quite on par with the food you get, but like I've stipulated before, it's a great place if you want to impress. If you just want an excellent meal which you won't have to pay an arm and a leg for, then this isn't for you.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Capital Seafood -- ushering in the year of the ox

Capital Seafood
2700 Alton Parkway, Irvine, CA 92606
(949) 252-8188

Chinese New Year 2009, year of the Ox. For me, Chinese New Year has never been the same since I moved away from Asia. The first day of new year is always a time shared with family, friends and relatives, enjoying good food and great
company. In America, it is a day like any other, most people have to go to work and there isn't that feeling of celebration in the air. I was about to just spend it at home when a friend asked us to go to dinner at Capital Seafood which had recently opened in Irvine.

I was surprised at how 'luxurious' the restaurant looked on the inside. It reminded us of how restaurants looked like in Vegas. The servers were very polite -- maybe a little TOO poli
te as they came over to take our order. Everyone had ideas as to what they wanted to eat so we ended up with a lazy Susan full of food.

Peking duck is on special from Monday to Friday for dinner at a ridiculously low pric
e of $13. I'm not sure how long this will last, but for as long as they have this special, you should just order it. The duck isn't fatty at all and the skin is really quite lovely sandwiched between the soft pillowy buns they give you. Add a dollop of hoisin sauce, a few strips of scallions and take a bite!! It's really quite delicious!

We also tried their barbecued items: roast pork, cha siu and soya chicken. All three were above average although I thought the ginger scallion sauce was very weak. I make a far better one than the one they serve here.

Fish maw and crab meat soup was quite tasty as well. They use real crab although it did taste like it had been previously frozen, but at least they didn't use imitation crab. They were also pretty generous with the fish maw.

Japanese style mushrooms and tofu was delicious! It was served with broccoli florets and drizzled with an oyster sauce. The tofu was so soft and silky while the mixed mushrooms consisted of various Japanese mushrooms like shimeiji, King oyster, shiitake and button

Salt & pepper chicken wings -- a favorite of my friend's -- is an appetizer and they do it extremely well here. The exterior is crispy and dry while the inside is nice and moist. I detected a few chicken 'hairs' as one would at any respectable Chinese establishment, so I as lucky I found one without those extras if you know what I mean.

Honey walnut shrimp is a dish I detest! However, everyone wanted it so it was fine by me. I did try it and I'll have to say it was one of the better ones I've tasted. I do not like mayonaise which is probably why I usually don't like this dish, however, they weren't heavy handed with the mayo and the shrimp were very crispy and fresh. The weirdest part of it all was that there were diced cantaloupe and honeydew melon in this dish as well.

The only disappointing item of the evening was the steamed tilapia. Not only did it take forever to arrive, but the seasoning was just wrong. First of all they didn't use the right type of soy sauce, secondly, they didn't use enough of it, and thirdly they did not use scalding hot oil to drizzle over the top of the scallions to give it that finishing touch. Very very disappointing especially when they had actually steamed the fish to perfection.

We were all quite pleased that Irvine finally has a decent Chinese restaurant and although we weren't happy with the steamed fish, we unanimously felt that everything else we had was very good. We'll definitely have to come back for dim sum next time to see how that compares.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Soot Bul Gui Rim 2 -- eat till you bust

Soot Bul Gui Rim 2
233 S Vermont
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 365-9992

All you can eat. Music to my ears when it comes to Korean barbecue. However, most of the all you can eat places comprise the quality of meat they give you so I'm not all that excited about that either. My friend was organizing a group to eat at Soot Bul Gui Rim 2 and since I hardly ever get up to Los Angeles, I thought I'd give it a try, so I went along for the ride.

The first thing I noticed was how small the place is. Separated into two sections, I was shocked that a guy lit up a cigarette while eating. I thought maybe it was a smoking and non-smoking section, but that would violate smoking laws wouldn't it? Oh well!

For $16.99 (adults) and $9.99 (kids), you get a choice of 16 different items for grilling. Panchan is scarce, only a few items such as kimchi, beansprouts, mushrooms, zucchini, but they do give you dduk.

We chose chadol baegi (brisket), marinated galbi (boneless short rib) and sirloin steak to start. They also use real charcoal here so on the positive side, it makes your meat taste so much better, but on the negative side, you're definitely going to smell terrible when you leave. The quality of meat here is really good. I was really surprised that everything they brought out was of high grade, fresh meat with bright red hues. The steamed egg was really tasty here. I had to ask for another.

We also tried the bulgogi (marinated beef), unmarinated galbi and squid. Everything was good. The more adventurous ones at our table also got some intestines which I chose to pass on. I'm just not a fan of innards.

If you are still hungry at the end of the meal you can get naeng myun (cold noodles) as a filler. It's not very good naeng myun so just eat fill up on the barbecue if you can.

Service is ridiculously awful here. I don't expect good service anyway when I go to Asian restaurants, but this was just even over what I am able to tolerate. You can ask for refills on your panchan but don't expect them to bring it. I think the average was if you asked three times, they'll probably bring it on the fourth try. Another thing is, check your tab to make sure they charged you correctly. Our table had 4 adults and a child and they charged us for 5 adults. Little things like that really brought the experience down. However, if you don't care about service and all you want to do is gorge on meat, then this is definitely the place for you. Great quality meats but that's about it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Uyen Thy Bistro -- bridging two cultures

Uyen Thy Bistro,
9039 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 898-9889

I suddenly realized I've been too focused on a certain type of Vietnamese cuisine -- noodles, salads, rolls, the more ethnic varieties if you may, but I've failed to give the French-inspired Vietnamese food much thought. So today, with a
friend in tow, we traipsed down to Uyen Thy for something a little more Indochine.

Uyen Thy's interior was a little more casual than I had expected since it touts itself as being a 'bistro'. However, it's got that charm one would find at Lulu's Creperie in Laguna Hills or Cafe Casse Croute in Anaheim. We decided upon the chicken curry, beef stew and the fried chicken with two types of rice. Since the chicken was served with rice, we opted for
baguettes to go with the other dishes.

The food arrived pretty quickly since almost everything was precooked and on the steam table. I wish they had served it at a piping hot temperature, so maybe next time, we'll have them heat it up a bit more before bringing it out.

Chicken curry tasted just like the Asian style chicken curries I've had in Hong Kong -- good flavor, but the sauce was a little watery. However, that didn't deter me from dipping it with a piece of baguette and popping it into my mouth. Beef stew looked like its western counterpart, but there was a distinctive difference in the taste and that was in the use of star anise as a spice. Both of these dishes tasted like something my mom would cook. It had that homey effect, something which gave me a sense of comfort, like an old blanket I had grown up with, or a stuffed toy which I had shared a good part of my childhood with.

If you like fried foods, then the ga ro ti (fried chicken) will nevertheless be the piece de resistance to your meal. Three pieces of perfectly fried chicken -- crispy skin with moist flesh -- served with three pieces of fried sticky rice and two sticks of bamboo filled with purple rice. This purple rice is a result of mixing sticky rice with black sticky rice and has a slightly sweet taste to it. My favorite was the fried sticky rice triangles. A garlic soy sauce was served alongside as a dipping accompaniment which you can use for the chicken, the sticky rice or all three.

So even though French-Vietnam may be a thing of the past, the cuisine of this era long gone lingers in the food of Uyen Thy. The menu is large and extensive, French-influenced, Vietnamese, or just plain French, regardless of what you choose, you can be sure the food will be reassuringly good.

(note: MSG definitely detected, but it wasn't overpowering enough to send me into a food coma, but I was very thirsty for hours after)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hue Rendezvous -- Come for only one thing

Hue Rendezvous
15562 Brookhurst Street, Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 775-7192

Came here with a friend of mine who is a regular. She says that although she comes here all the time, most of the items aren't stellar. In fact, she only eats a few things -- the same things -- every tim
e she comes here.

The first thi
ng I noticed was that the owners aren't too excited about servicing their customers. They were all huddled at a table near the register around a laptop, too preoccupied with themselves than their customers. But when my friend came in, one of them hurriedly came over and took our order.

We came here for the com ga bop, a chicken salad dish served with a side of burnt rice. The rice is from the bottom of the pot which is charred and crispy. I absolutely love this stuff. It's like the bottom of a dolsot bibibap pot. It's the crunchy bits I go back for over and over again. Here, chiffonade cabbage, onions, lettuce, cilantro with pieces of steamed chicken is eaten with nuoc mam (sweet fish sauce) with bits of this crispy rice. It is refreshing and very healthy.

Banh beo
or rice cake with various toppings is a filler my friend orders. A crushed rice powder mix is poured into these little plates, steamed, and topped with toppings such as ground dried shrimp, scallions and sometimes, fried pork rind. Put a little bit of nuoc mam into the plate, scoop, eat, repeat. Each order comes with about 10 dishes. These aren't the best I've had, but I like how the layer of steamed rice cake is very thin.

We finished by sharing a bowl of bun bo hue, or, spicy beef noodles Hue style. I actually had bun bo hue yesterday so I was able to do a good comparison. In fact, I love bun bo hue so I think I know what good bun bo hue tastes like. The one here is pretty weak. The broth isn't very flavorful or rich, but the noodles are a good texture. They also don't give you an interesting plate of accompaniment, just some old bean sprouts which I didn't use, and some chiffonade lettuce, two chunks of lime. Generally a variety of herbs are given to add to the flavor of the broth -- more authentic places give you banana blossoms. I wouldn't order bun bo hue again at this place.

If you do come here, just eat the com ga bop. I've never had this dish anywhere else but here. My frien
d tells me another restaurant in lil Saigon has it, but it's better here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cut -- delete steak out of this equation

Beverly Wilshire Hotel, 9500 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 276-8500

Some dear friends from London threw a dinner party while in town for the new year. Some guests even flew in from out of town. Our evening started with cocktails at the bar and then, moved on to dinner in the main dining room. The first thing I noticed were the portraits hanging
on the walls. We were privileged enough to be seated under the one of Barack Obama -- how appropriate considering the group which sat beneath it.

Menus had the same theme -- each had a photo of a celebrity on the back, although, none were properly labeled. I guess they expected us to know who everyone was. Most of us got one with Arnold Schwarzenegger, including me. My dear friend, who was sitting next to me, had one of Terence Howard, so I stole the hottie from him and gave him the leathery governator instead.

Cut touts itself to be a steakhouse, a steakhouse owned by Wolfgang
Puck no less. I for one am not a Wolfgang Puck fan. I've never been too impressed with any of his restaurants, but I was really excited about the night's dinner purely because it was a gathering of old friends who haven't seen one another for quite some time now, and also, due to all the ooos and ahhhs I got from friends who knew I was going to be dining here.

The selection of steaks is quite impressive, ranging from US corn fed beef from Illinois and Nebraska, aged 21 and 35 days respectively, a hybrid of Kobe and Wagyu from Idaho, and of course, the creme de la creme, imported Wagyu from Kyushu prefecture in Japan. The price ranges from just a tad under $40 to $135 for a tasting of three different cuts totaling 12
oz. If you didn't want steak, there is pork chops, lamb chops, tuna, poussin, lobster, sole and more to choose from.

I thought it strange that they didn't serve bread while we perused the menus. In fact, we had to ask for it before they brought it, but when they did, it was awesome! The onion bread, pretzel roll, pumpernickel, all impressive!

We started off with some appetizers. I can only speak for the ones I tasted -- "warm veal tongue with marinated artichokes, autumn shelling beans and salsa verde" and "Austrian oxtail bouillion, chive blossoms, chervil, and bone marrow dumplings".

Veal tongue was actually quite good -- very tender and flavorful, cooked perfectly. If you're a light eater, this dish could even serve as an entree. Oxtail bouillion was light and tasty with bits of bone marrow in the broth. The dumplings were really rich and heavy so perhaps it wasn't a good choice to start with if you're looking to follow with steak.

Everyone in our party ended up ordering steak and there were a few hiccups because one was ordered medium but arrived rare. Mine was a tad too rare for my medium rare but I'm fine with meat on the bloodier side so I didn't send it back. I could've sworn that they gave
me filet mignon and not NY sirloin as I had ordered. I do not like mignon at all as I find it really tasteless with absolutely no chew factor whatsoever. The piece of meat on my plate was also about an inch and a half thick, not how sirloin is usually served anyway. One of our hosts questioned his cut as well, but after a few going back and forths, the server brought the plate back insisting that it was the cut he had ordered. I tried hubby's Kobe beef which definitely had better taste than mine, but definitely tasted far from the Kobe beef I've had in the past.

I also got bone marrow on the side and what arrived was seriously interesting. White bits of bone marrow, just like the ones in the oxtail soup, were just plonked onto a plate and that's it. I had expected a two inch bone with marrow inside baked and served as is to be served alongside my steak. What a disappointment. This is not how bone marrow is usually served, at least not in Europe. I've never had bone marrow, served with a piece of meat, tasting like a mix between fat and tendon. Needless to say, I didn't eat much of this.

I thought service was really good. Little touches here and there were nicely thought o
ut. I notice these things and my friend was chuckling because he used to accompany me on my food writing escapades when we lived in Hong Kong and he knew I was paying attention to every little detail, whether it was a hit or miss.

The hits: plates were all served simultaneously with multiple serves without missing a beat, fresh napkins replaced whenever someone would leave the table. Wine was duely poured whenever anyone took a sip or two.

The misses: this would've been a hit -- when bread was placed into one of the diner's bread plate, a piece fell onto the table and the server picked that piece up and took it away -- but what followed made it a miss. I kept my eye on the server and instead of throwing that piece of bread away, he turned around, back to the table and put it right back into the bread basket. I kinda chuckled because the table wasn't dirty by any means so it wasn't a m
atter of hygiene, but rather, if you're going to do something, follow through to the end so to speak.

The other miss was that they couldn't keep track of who was drinking still water and who was drinking sparkling water. My glass of still was topped with sparkling and it wasn't until I noticed tiny bubbles in my water that I questioned the young man who was holding the bottle of Voss. He was apologetic and replaced my glass promptly.

In any case, service was still pretty darn good and it was obvious they all underwent rigorous training. However, the training was so good that each server blended into the next not displaying any sense of personality or individuality. I thought it was on the robotic side really, but I guess that's what most of the shi shi diners want anyway.

I think if you were to go to Cut, have the appetizers, desserts and drinks. Stay away from the steaks. They're just not good enough to warrant the price. Desserts were good if you're a dessert fan. I'm not. Souffles were deemed the standouts.