Sunday, December 18, 2011

Milo & Olive - Good Concept, So-so Execution.

Affiliated to other good establishments (Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Sweet Rose Creamery)? Check. Newly Open? Yep. Hyped? Yessss. Over-hyped? Possibly. Being in the infancy stage, Milo Olive has room to perfect execution  and to be better than how I’m going to remember it for a while.
I’m torn over this place. I like it but don’t love it. My sister said that our palates might be spoiled so we expect to be wowed by each dining experience.  The spot is cute and chic- very modern with its community seating and as small as your dorm room dining space, very open kitchen, complete with breakfast bar and pizza oven. The food is what I call “good but could be better”.  I’ll explain.
lunch menu (starts at 11 am)
Sis and I arrived at 10:40, since we wanted to try breakfast items and order off lunch menu starting at 11 am. 
We started ourselves off first with whole wheat cheese curls, quiche and cappuccino. The cheese curl is a fancy cheese croissant, and served at the room temperature, which marked the first “could be better” moment. If they had warmed it up a little, I could have loved it. Alas, I did like it. With the poppy seeds it’s an adult cheese pastry. The quiche was good, rich and rather dense. Ham and the goat cheese give it salty, and tart tones to it. Could have been better with more ham and if warmed up! It was a little cold and cold pastry/ pie bottom isn’t much to be desired. The cappuccino was more like latte, with not enough froth. The critical sis wasn’t impressed. 
On to the lunch stuff: White Bean Soup (Coleman Farms Cannellini Beans, winter vegetables, Parmigiano Reggiano) and Branzino Ceviche (branzino white fish, fennel hearts, jalapeno, scallions, lime, sea salt). The ceviche portion is small, so be warned that it is not the best value, but it tasted great. Just enough salt, lime and olive oil. Jalapeno wasn’t overpowering. I could eat more of this! The white bean soup is topped by kale, which elevates the dish. But other than that, even the parmesan did little to flavor the soup. Thank goodness for salt on the table. We used that liberally, and it still didn’t quite fix the issue. But at least it wasn’t bland anymore. Once was enough for this dish. 

White Bean Soup
I took some pastries to go: Blueberry crumb pie and donut holes. Both were good, especially after warmed in the oven at home. 
From top (clockwise): Cheese curl, donut hole & Blueberry crumb pie
I might (who knows) return to try the pork belly pizza. For now, my verdict stands—that I could grow to like it a lot. A lot more. That, however, remains to be seen.
Milo & Olive is located at 2723 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90403 (310.453.6776)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hole In The Wall. Quite Literally.

I’ve been on a long hiatus, I know! Laziness got the best of me, and this cumbersome thing called work. It’s totally working my arse off! Won’t bore you with the 30 meals I’ve missed writing about, but let’s see, I got a new phone just 2 months ago, so yay to better quality pictures! 

Since I lost all the yummy looking photos from the old phone, I’m picking this up from when turned my back on the iPhone and got myself saddled with an HTC android phone. (which by the way, I don’t hate, I don’t absolutely love, but takes great pics and is fast with the 4G, so whatever. Oh, and listen to me.. Stick to your iPhone!) 
The phone camera made its debut in this hole in the wall burger joint aptly called.. drumrolls.. “Hole In The Wall”. The place is tough to find, not too conducive for big groups, cash only, and very easy to place an order from with its checklist form, it’s almost as easy as ordering off numbers at Mickey Dee’s. It is a poor man’s version of ‘the Counter’, but not at the poor man’s prices I expected. 
You get to the door, and pick up from the stack of forms, your very own. Then just check what you want: types of buns, meat, cheese, toppings (basic: tomatoes, lettuce, onions, etc), premium toppings for extra (bacon, fried egg, mushrooms, onion strings, etc), dressing (also a simple selection of ranch, aioli, mustard, etc), optional sides of regular or sweet potato fries (for $2.50 extra) and drinks ($1 for canned drink).

Boy had the beef, with regular bun, raw red onions, pepper jack cheese, bacon and regular fries. I had the beef on Pretzel bun with Swiss cheese, mushrooms, fried egg and sweet potato fries. Total was around $30. And this kinda threw me off since I was assuming to be paying less than that, for this hole in the wall. (yes yes, I am cheesy with the puns. Noted and not caring). The orders came fast (5 minute fast), in doggy-paper bags. It makes for no fuss easy cleanup, for sure, and you can just throw it back in there if you decide to take it to go. So we took a seat outside, unwrapped the burger from its white paper, and then the fries (also in small white paper wrappers), and dug in. Boy’s burger is plain and nothing to sing about. It is easily replicated, and replicated better, by moi, so it was a letdown to me. But Boy wasn’t complaining, giving me one of his standard “it’s ok”, “it’s not bad” or “it’s pretty good” responses to almost everything he consumes. This time it was “it’s ok” and “it’s not bad”, which translates to it’s not great, but not bad, and it’s a burger with meat, cheese and buns, so I’ll eat it because let’s face it, burgers are burgers and they will all go down the same way and come out as the same stinky thing too.

Beef Patty, onions, bacon, on regular bun, with Fries.
My burger is better, but not by much. The pretzel bun made the burger to me. It is hearty and dense, so it stood up to the juicy patty and the fried egg, which strangely was rather soggy/ wet, as if they didn’t fry it in oil hot enough so it was dripping with part egg juices and grease. The swiss cheese went with it ok, so did the mushrooms. As far as burgers go, they aren’t in the same league as the Father’s office, or Rush Street, or In-n-out. This was closer to the bland offering ‘the Counter’ serves as burger. Overall the Counter has more toppings, and dressings selections so you have better chances to get all fancy with your burger. The quality of ingredients I’d say the Counter is beats HITW (hole in the wall). But where HITW lacks, it makes up in seasoning, as in HITW seasons their patties whereas the Counter doesn’t. This is a HUGE deal for me. It is one of my biggest food peeves: forgetting to use basic salt and pepper in anything. I’ve stopped going to the Counter because they forget about rule #2 in cooking 101, after rule #1- know how to turn on your stove- which is know to season your food. HITW doesn’t use any fancy salt; they just simply use some to begin with. Goes a long way. So yea they are dead even in my book. 

Beef patty, mushrooms, fried egg, on pretzel buns and sweet potato fries.

The fries were good – both regular potatoes and sweet potatoes. HITW serves its own homemade ketchup, along with homemade ranch. Their ketchup I can do without so I stuck to the good ol Heinz kind. It was rather watery and just simply not Heinz. I am not picky about Ketchup but I like mine the way my taste buds know it and it happens to come from the number 1 ketchup brand in the world. So there! Their ranch dressing however was a very awesomely-herby-dilly goodness. I kept going back for more, and it was so made for the sweet potato fries, I wept inside. I tasted dill among other herbs, making the rich dressing vibrant and fresh tasting. Strange since ‘fresh’ and ‘ranch’ are not usually seen in the same sentence. 

Would I come again? Yes, if I am in the neighborhood and craving a burger. Which brings me to the next point, that is I’d hit up a few burger spots over HITW, and HITW over a lot of mediocre diner and fast food restaurants, but I don’t frequent diners or FF joints, so HITW would have to get in line.  

Hole in the Wall is located at 11058 Santa Monica Blvd  Los Angeles, California 90025.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Elite Restaurant- Dim Sum, Dim Sum, Dim Sum! and Durian?!

Like any red-blooded Chinese, I love my Chinese food, and some good dim sum. (That would be the equivalent of brunch, for the Americans, and Tea Time for the Brits.) Not the imposter half-assedly-done ones, but the real kind that I grew up on. Monterey Park- San Gabriel area is not short of restaurants and ones serving dim sum, but finding one that serves a wide variety and serves them well, is a little trickier. I’ve tried about a couple handful of such establishments, and a couple is impressive enough to return to. But hey, this girl can’t ever resist the challenge of finding a restaurant better than the one before. And if she can secure another place to get her shiu mai, har kow and jellyfish fix, then that’s just good ol’ insurance! Smart girl (pat myself on back).
Apparently I am behind in times. Words spread fast over newly open restaurants in this part of the city. What I’d thought to be a fairly new joint has been open for maybe a year and has garnered too many fans. This means I had to haul my ass off bed earlier so I could make it here by 10:30 am on a fine Sunday morning. Man I miss the days I could lazily head for dim sum at 11:30 or noon. And when we arrived, there was still a wait (there’s been one since 10 I think). It’s like a race, this whole experience, one that surely tests your family bond and your virtue. You race to get out of the house, race to drive over, race to find parking, race to get to the host table to get a number, and then race to sit when they yell out your lucky number. My peeps (and my fam) take their food seriously. No shame in that. Just some disgruntle, I guess. Could be worse.
Usually we’d still be racing to get at the food in carts, before the next table sees them. But upon sitting, disappointment came over me for a minute. No carts! In place of that, there are menus and you order the items with the wait staff. BLASPHEMY! Dim Sum without the carts, being pushed and shuffed around, and the yelling, just aren’t quite the same. This place is a little too cultured. The rush, pleasure and high I get from peeking into the carts, and picking out what I want (from purely seeing how the food looks) were not there this day. I just secretly wished the food was fantastic enough to make me miss out on those carts.
Turns out, I didn’t miss the carts much. Sure the excitement level was somewhat low, and the ordering process too quiet and smooth and refined for the usually loud and unruly dim sum experience. But who needs all that, when the food spoke for itself? Elite delivered in almost everything we tried. Only one thing we won’t be craving again, so that’s an accomplishment.
The meal started with the Beef Chow Fun. Since everyone was hungry and too eager to wait before jumping in, i forgot to snap for pictures. Whoops! Let me try to do justice to it: The beef was sliced perfectly thin, well seasoned and charred enough. Bean sprouts, eggs and the beef slices mix well with the noodles and are wok-fried to greasy goodness. I should warn you that 90% of things you get at Dim Sum are oily and greasy, and unabashedly so. That’s why we have tea people, to cut the oil. Oh, and I don’t know why not more Asian people are fat! Stop asking me that. Maybe the tea just flushes the oil out of the rear end?!?!
Back to food, yes. The small plate of jellyfish came next. It’s one of my all time favorite items to eat at Dim Sum. It is springy and jelly-like (ok, that’s somewhat cheating) but rather crunchy. If you close your eyes and nose, and don’t know better, you’d guess some kind of crunchy vegetable, like a radish. But it is more hearty and seafood-y. I’m doing a very poor job explaining. So I’ll just say this: try it once, if you don’t like it, fine. If you know what I am talking about then I’d just say that as far as jellyfish goes, this tastes how it is supposed to, slightly salty, slightly sweet and slightly spiced. Umami. Sorry I devoured this too, and forgot to take pictures. Yes, sue my ass.
The BBQ buns disappeared off the table fast, and comments from the table were all good. The Pork Spare Ribs simmered in black bean sauce is another one close to my heart. But the cut of the meat was very fatty. I had to eat around the bone and fat, and didn’t quite enjoy not getting much of the meat. The sauce is good, but lacking in the traditional black bean flavor I usually associate with this kind of spare ribs. Not the best I’ve had, but it’s worth ordering. My main issue is with the fatness of the meat, which could be just the batch they had that day, or the plate we received. 
spare ribs- half plate gone. Sowry!

Then these mini empanada-shaped fried thingies came out. They are filled with bbq pork and shrimp and delicious. Not sure what they are called, but they are meant to be dipped in clear broth, which I thought was strange. Skipped the broth, and ate them by themselves. Delish. The crispy spring rolls were generously filled with pork and again with shrimp, and were another hit at the table. The shrimp balls coated with slivered almonds are soft in the inside, crunchy when you bite into it from the almonds. This is something you see in many, but not all, Dim Sum restaurants. So when it’s offered, we tend to order it.   
spring rolls

Shrimp balls
 Then they came, the true test of how legit a Dim Sum joint is: Siu Mai and Har Kow. I had the urge to just grab the metal containers and hold on close, so no one else could share them. The Har Kow’s clear skin was a tad too thin and sticky, so as you try to remove one from the rest, it tears easily. They could have done a little more work to perfect the skin. But the 3 shrimps inside more than made up for the skin. *moans* The Siu Mai are the best thing I had there all day. They don’t skimp on shrimp and pork, and each is topped with a good burst of bright orange tamago (fish roe). Very pretty and very very toe-curling. *MOANSSSSS* 
Clockwise from top left: siu mai, fried pork thing, and har kow

that thing to the right of the fried pork thing at the top: 1 durian puff, waiting for me

Oh by now you should realize that if you are allergic to shellfish, Dim Sum can be a limiting experience. But I’d stab myself with an Epi-pen any day, if it means I don’t have to give up my seafood! I know my priorities. (But thank goodness, I am not allergic to anything. Blessed me.)
A nice surprise was the Claypot rice with the ground pork and salted fish. The rice at the bottom is slightly burnt from the claypot. You eat that with the fragrant fluffy rice from the middle, the topping of pork and salty hint from the salted fish, you get a very substantially satisfying dish. 
claypot rice.
 Somewhere in the middle of all these, the yam cake appeared. I usually like them okay, but these, while looking good, don’t taste like they look. The yam seemed undercooked and too starchy. Seasoning was off. We didn’t finish this. This was the throwaway item of the day. 

Also, somewhere in the middle of the goodness and the one not-so-good thing, was… drum rolls… DURIAN! No effin way! Ok, all the fellow Asians who love Durian, but can’t share that feeling with many others, I get you. I love Durian with a passion but when I admit that aloud, I get either “wha?” or “Eew weird!” Elite pays homage to it with the Durian Puffs, and I am one to join in the celebration for this King of all fruits, so I jumped in on a couple of those pastries. The filling is unmistakably durian- that liquor-ish taste, that sweetness unique to the fruit- oozing and warm. That smell, fragrant or stinky, depending on who you ask.
You should know I am utterly offended by the common description “stinks like rotten feet”. If you ever smelled one of those rotten feet, then you are hanging around the wrong people. If its from your feet, then you should saw them off. And if you ever talk to me and tell me that durian smells like stinky feet or stinky anything, I’d make you lick my stinky flip flop, I swear.
Ah, Dim Sum, always hitting the right spots. 

Elite Restaurant is located at 700 South Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754. (626) 282-9998

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Le Petit Four- Leaving Quite a Bit to be Desired...

I’ve been coming here, sporadically, since my days at UCLA. The food seemed so delicious then and I kept coming back, especially for their desserts (cakes are on a large tray, paraded from table to table requesting to check out dessert. Imagine!). Then I had a slight black out on Le Petit, and only recently returned after my 3 years absence. It still sits on the same spot on Sunset, its tent still brightly yellow, and business looks to be doing well, so it couldn’t have changed much, could it? Well, apparently it could. A newbie might have no comparison to the old Le Petit, but from this past regular, and one who has tried many more good establishments since then, I sadly admit Le Petit no longer touches me in the way it used to. And damn it, I wanted to be touched the right way~
We came here for mom’s birthday, and she liked her salmon dish. But though the birthday girl has no complaints, I had a slightly higher and perfectly reasonable expectation of the food being more consistently good. Of the 5 entrees, one was very good, one was just good, two were average, and one (which ironically was mine) was not bad enough to return, but not good to finish even half of. Yea, you get the picture.
These were what the table ordered: Lobster Ravioli, with lobster sauce (daily special), Steak Au Poivre (sirloin sautéed with green peppercorn sauce and fries), Norwegian Salmon (grilled with lemon butter herbs, served with rice and vegetables), Barbecued Chicken Pizza (with grilled red onions & smoked mozza cheese) and Breast of Chicken Tandoori style (with basmati rice, curried garbanzo beans, cucumber yogurt raita and mango chutney). 

Dad seemed to love his Lobster Ravioli. Took him about 8 minutes to lick the plate of four raviolis clean. Not wanting to come between the man and his lobster, I just tasted the sauce and topping. From that, the dish seemed well-rounded, though not sure if worth the cost. Oh me, ever so stingy. The sister’s steak au poivre isn’t my cup of tea, and its preparation is not my liking of all steak preps. The peppercorn comes out, and the sauce was good, but the steak seems haphazardly taken from their chiller, thrown onto the pan and cooked. Not much else to it, and I’ve had way better steak. I expect to get goose bumps from my perfect cut of steak, and I didn’t get as much as an “hmm” from this one. Mom enjoyed the salmon but I found it on the overcooked, dry side. The sauce was predictable- tart, buttery and lemony, something I can easily throw together in 2 minutes tops. But hey- we knew what we got ourselves into here, so I ain’t blamin’ nobody. The side of rice was just there to fill the plate, but the mashed beet/ potato was delicious. 

Barbecue chicken pizza at a Mediterranean-French restaurant? I snickered a bit at reading it off the menu, and mockingly laughed a little when Boy ordered it. Bless his heart for following it, because when it was brought out, it looked amazing and tasted even better. I admit that my assumptions sometimes lead me wrong. Boy had the best sense of all of us to order a dish easily the cheapest at the table, and yet the best of the night. It was big for a single portion, and more than substantial. The chicken serving was generous and everything else, from the red grilled onions to the cheese, was in moderation, as how a pizza should be. The crust was nicely thin, and in some parts charred from the high heat pizza oven, I bet. Should have ordered that! Yep, still kicking myself over my misstep. BAH!

Now, the most anticipated and yet biggest let down of the night: my entrée. It was something that I consciously and deliberately picked out, which was why it made me more irritated. The Tandoori- style Breast of Chicken, with piles of sides surrounding it, made up a plate equivalent to jail lunch platter, in appearance. When I asked the waitress what she thought of it prior to ordering, she’d convincingly said that if I like spicy and don’t mind messy (due to the bone in breast), then this dish, and I quote, “is a solid choice”. I like the sound of solid and spicy, so I went for it. I couldn’t care less that the chicken breast was bone-in and I had to use my hand somehow to pick and pull.  The tall heap of stuff on a plate came, and I immediately mentally called the chef stupid for not using a bigger plate. The chicken breast sits on top of basmati rice. Around these are: a side of salad, a little bowl of mango chutney, too much garbanzo beans and a little bowl of raita (cucumber yogurt sauce). Now let’s dissect this dish. The salad is such an afterthought, with no sauce, and it tasted weird with both the raita and the mango chutney, so I barely touched that. Garbanzo beans can be filling and this one, while curried and seasoned, is cooked too soft for my taste, and there was too much of it, that it lost its luster quickly. The mango chutney wasn’t bad, but didn’t quite go with anything. Trust me, I tried. The raita was cooling and though bland, was easily fixed with salt. I used that mainly for the dry, entirely not seasoned chicken breast (hello, chef! Did you forget flavor?!). Hallelujah salt and sauce, because that helped me swallow down the chicken. I didn’t get to pick and pull at it, since I didn’t eat enough to get to the bone part. Not worth getting your fingers dirty over. One side of the rice has soaked up the curry sauce on the beans, and the other, well, has not. I wish I could say the juice from the chicken has seeped through, but alas, no juice came from this chicken. What a lackluster dish, from presentation to taste. If this is “solid”, then that waitress, I fear, is delusional. 

I should have stuck with what I know I’ve loved in the past- the Maine Black Mussels steamed with white wine, shallots, parsley and cream. I convinced myself to try something new and exciting-sounding (WHY!), and I got burned. If that didn’t teach me a lesson in sticking to what I know best and that it’s ok to be predictable and albeit boring, then I don’t know what would.  Self, please just follow your heart with what you know and not what your koo koo head is trying to prove otherwise. 

Le Petit Four is located at 8654 W. Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood CA 90069

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rush Street- Never failing to have me rush over (Yes, pun ABSOLUTELY intended)

Before my first ever trip to Rush Street, I hadn’t read a single review on it, and I had nothing dissuading me from coming in unbiased. (I found out after that people have mixed feelings about Rush.) I don’t think it would have mattered because it charmed me from the first time, and it hadn’t disappointed me so far. Sure there are the occasional waiter slip ups and sometimes the “special of the day” burger or sandwich makes me wish I’d stuck to my regular order, but overall it’s a rad place. My ex colleagues and I used to have “Friday bonding” here, being close to work and all. That was 4 years ago, and I still get my ass over here about once or twice a month. So I like this place. I like it a lot.
Entering the restaurant always makes me feel like coming home, if home is with a high ceiling, wood structures, clean airy space, good amount of natural light and gives off a laid back bachelor pad vibe. (Thanks for Paulina Rubio & MTV Cribs for the inspiration of my dream house. And yes, back to topic at hand). The pretty hostess would greet you, grab you menus and seat you. The outdoor seating is nice, but I love the booths inside. The Plasma TVs all over the interior of the restaurant are not bad perks to stay out of the sun either (and I typically don’t shy away from the sun!).
Without even browsing the menu, Boy and I rattled off our regular orders: Boy got Rush Street Dry Aged burger (beef, applewood bacon, cheddar, shoestring onions and confire bbq sauce) with thin fries and I got the other burger I tend to go for, if not the dry aged one- Mesquite Turkey burger (turkey patty, avocado, pickled red onion, arugula, chipotle cranberry sour cream and pepper jack) with sweet potato fries. Brioche buns make up both burgers, and all the others I’ve sampled.
First, I am so glad they use good brioche buns for the burgers. They stand up to all juiciness of the patty, and the thick layers of toppings, but not tough that you can’t easily bite through it. Also, it looks more classy and ‘fancy’ than the plain ol’ sesame buns (not that there is anything wrong with that!). By thick, I don’t mean ridiculously so, that one can’t put one’s mouth over the entire height. Eating burgers should be fun and tantalizing (to your buds). Some places wants to “wow” with their 5, 6, 8 inch tall burgers. What’s the fun in getting stuff all over your ears and shirt? 
The dry aged burger is the highlight of their menu, and a personal favorite in for Boy and me. The patty is juicy and seasoned well, cooked to our preferred medium. The 2-3 bacon slices are not the thin pathetic strips or bits you get at a lot of places. These are real bacon, cured with pepper and smoky in flavor. Thick, but not too, and ooh la la.. so good. The cheese and sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce provides another moist element. As any good chef would tell you, texture is key in food composition. The chef here knows, and thus the shoestring onions. I have to admit I was leaning a little toward this burger (over the turkey), but for the sake of variety for this review, I let Boy have that, and had to be content with the more-than-a-couple of bites I snatched from him. The herb-salt sprinkled fries are shoestring, thin and almost entirely crispy but not quite, and strikes a fine balance of soft-crunchy textures. 

In it defense, I love the turkey burger too, not exactly equally, but about 0.5% less, that’s all~ The turkey is most juicy of the typically dry lean turkey burgers I’ve had anywhere else. Not here. It oozes moisture and drips turkey flavored liquid as you bite. The generous half avocado sitting oh so brightly green and smiling at me doesn’t hurt either. I am a big sucker for anything avocado, and this burger is not shy about putting it front and center, and sometimes I think even more so than the turkey. The chipotle cranberry sour cream tie in all the elements of slightly sour pickled onion, the creaminess of the avocado, and the leanness of the turkey. The cranberry isn’t too prominent, but the subtle hint of it reminds you of thanksgiving dinner. Arugula has that tart, earthy and rather peppery taste that gives it an extra something. It is a well thought out sandwich and a delicious one! 

Now, the sweet potato fries deserve their own shout out. I love me some SPF, and I’ve had me lots and lots of SPF, but the ones I get here are still by miles, my absolute favorite. I know, I know.. it’s just sweet potato fried. What’s so special? Well usually it’s not too very complicated and special. But the Rush St. ones are seasoned a little differently and maybe fried in some special oil, pulled perfectly at the right time, so it is not soggy (hate soggy SPF!). The brownish crunch to them is what I haven’t found elsewhere. Dip in some ranch dressing, and I could just have a big mound of this. Though, Rush St. can benefit from making their own ranch, or get better bottled ones.
It is a very solid place for brunch and lunch. I’ve never been at dinnertime, since it is less of a restaurant and more of a sports bar after dinner, or so I’ve heard. But hey, that might not be a bad thing. Get your burger, down your pints, and find new friends after. Whatever your goal is, mine is to have good sweet potato fries and well made burgers. Mission Accomplished. 

Rush Street is located at 9546 Washington Blvd, Culver City CA 90232