Friday, December 29, 2017

A Whole New Look of Filipino Cuisine at Irenia

What's the hottest cuisine that is getting the makeover for 2017? Believe it or not, it's from our good neighbor from the Southeast Asia... the Philippines!

The F-Food have been massively getting a cool makeover and more progressively into a health consciousness mind of the consumers. Just maybe a few years ago, it was unfathomable that Filipino food can be delicious without looking greasy for some of our unaccustomed eyes. However the movement to modernize the cuisine that have influences stretching from the time the Spaniards introduce their cooking with the local ingredients of the Chinese, has always been met with skepticism.

To the initiated, we only thought that the food may best resembled from the buffet line of your local all-you can eat joint or worse: a bastardized version of Panda Express minus the federal guide line of healthy calories count. Not to worry, the consumption on the F-Food are now more manageable healthy, but to modernize it for the general public?..that's a challenge.

Hence the challenge is being met by a restaurant in the heart of downtown Santa Ana. Opening up a F-Food restaurant is hard as it is, but to introduce something that people might not understand, that gets more unappealing difficult.

Adobo - Slow roasted pork belly with adobo jus, ginisang mung beans, braised turnips, spring onion

I can get the adobo dish, which is meat marinade with sauce made of ingredients from paprika, oregano, salt, garlic, and vinegar. Here's come the catch: how do you fancied that dish? If you were the talented kitchen staff from "Irenia", not too hard apparently. In fact, with careful consideration, they even made it looked like a pleasing dish I would get from some of my favorite bistro place when I want a pork belly dish. With the tenderness of the pork and the unique taste of the adobo sauce, this becomes instantly my favorite dish of the night.

Bistek - NY Steak, Bistek Jus, Onion Purée, Garlic, Red Onion, Toyomansi

Now comes even the harder part, how do you dressed up the ever popular bistek? Think of flatten sirloin steak with salt and black pepper seasoning. I won't lie, that is popularized by Yoshinoya with a steamed version. For the F-peeps, this is served in sizzling hot plate with a variation of quick and easy to do it well done (oh eek, if you have seen what I seen in a buffet).

Luckily for us tonight, this was glamorized with a touch of medium rare that you want to order in an upscale steakhouse. For me, I was relieved it wasn't a mushed version of our fast food joint of the "Yosh".

Bibingka - Coconut Rice Cake, Candied Peanut, Caramel, Whipped Cream, Cured Egg Yolk

Based on what I said earlier about the challenges and the difficulty of trying to refine a not-so popular southeast Asian cuisine, some of the staff was doing their best to educate about the Filipino cuisine and on what those dishes might entails.

It looks like they get a ton of questions on what those dishes would looked like. Kare Kare, Pancit, Sisig, Lechon, and such gets the uninformed crowd a muddled look at times. I do understand because of this place is not the first Filipino restaurant that needed to help the diners assimilate to their cuisine. I really pity some of the them as they do get the harder time than our Italian or Japanese pals.

Manila Mule

Purple Drank


For a cool, live crowd, there's also an outstanding cocktail program that delivers a good sample of mixology drinks here as well. The Purple Drank (think ube) and the Manila Mule (well play on the Moscow name) can be had here to satisfy the Saturday night stragglers who is looking for a fun night.

I will go on to say that this is something that is sorely needed in our days where this cuisine was badly represented with a bad version of Panda Express reminding us that many of those dishes probably was inspired by it. This was not the first F-Food modern dining I have visited and I will definitely now be on the lookout for the next wave of Filipino restaurants that hope to catch that hot trend of 2016 - 2017.

Seriously hoping it can continue if it is done like this location.

Irenia
400 N. Broadway
Santa Ana, CA  92701

Irenia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Re-Invention of Taiwanese Cuisines at Kato

There's seemed to be a modernification going on in the world of dining these days. Where else can you find comfort food being remade into something along the lines of fancy dining? Maybe it's the chance to make something simple into a delicious work of art and upcharge the thing like crazy.

Think avocado toast or grilled cheese sandwiches these days

Recently I was made aware in that Taiwanese food was being re-imagine by a few restaurateurs in town. First, I think I heard of "Pine & Crane" in the Silverlake area, who somehow was able to cater some simple dishes to hipsters in that part of the town with some of the easier to do Dim Sum dishes (not Taiwanese, but many smaller plates are Taiwanese).

Smoked Hamachi with cucumber and charred scallions


Then I heard on the westside in Mar Vista, a place called "Status Kuo" was opened up with a cocktail bar and fancied up some traditional Taiwanese for those clientele who are not familiar with the street fare of ROC. The location changed its name to "Little Fatty" with the bar attached called "Accomplice". Then in Chinatown, another addition called Lao Tao" opened up with a huge fanfare for all those craving for a higher tasting than the standard popcorn chicken that you get in a Boba Tea Cafes.

All those above places I have mentioned will be on my future post (if I don't take another sabbatical), but they all didn't take the challenge of a place I am going to write about, which have stood out to take it a whole new level.

Kato is situated in a plaza with no signage indicating this place does exist. If you called in to make reservation for their weekend tasting menu, the person on the phone will indicate you might get lost and proceed to give you the stop by stop instructions on how to get to this restaurant. It does occur to me in that they might have experienced high volume of people who had gotten lost finding the place.


Guava shaved ice with buttermilk pudding (swipe the right arrow button to see the Trout)

One thing I learned about this Taiwanese inspired dishes that is trained in Japanese cooking method, was that there are no boundaries to the imagination of some the dishes I was so accustomed to. Taiwanese food has never looked so fancy!

Seafood Congee with uni and Dungeness crab

I came by a few times trying out their tasting menu which was reasonably priced at $55. It depends on the week's California farm to table ingredients the restaurant was able to acquired. Menu items can range from seafood fare to a few poultry dishes and ends with a dessert inspired by a mix of Sino-Japanese sweets.

Fried chicken sandwich

The few times I went, I was able to get the regular menu scheduled Smoked Hamachi dish and the corn porridge dish. When you think the homeyness and the street food versions, you couldn't imagine how these food would look if they were able to find ways to dress it up and make it more appealing.

Beef flavored noodle soup with pork belly with soy egg

After the desserts, you can also put in one of the "supplements" they are offering in addition to the tasting menu. Most of the time, I imagined it was the fried chicken burger, but I lucked out on one occasion to get the beef noodle soup which turns out to be a fantastic treat. The chicken burger has many variations, so be on the look out for that as well.

My overall impression of the dining experience was that they use a clean minimalist look for the dining experience with an interesting music selection. The early part of last year and this year also expose to me in that they haven't gotten their liquor license yet, but they were anxious in getting the restaurant in full mode that they will serve certain Taiwanese soda beverages and restaurant made teas for your refreshments.

I come out with a good sense that there are ways to modernize Taiwanese dishes and this place does a wonderful upscale dining without sacrificing the origins of their dishes.

Now if only we can get more fine dining in Taiwanese fares instead of more boba tea shops cafe style food......

Kato
11925 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Kato Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, December 25, 2017

Best of the Best of 2017 - Bestia

I guess it's so cliche to do an end of the year list of best bites or best places you have gone to. Ever since so many of the end of the year lists are coming out with their own best places to visit, I was tempted to do one myself. Alas, it's just not meant to be.

The criteria I was thinking of was do one I have visited this year, regardless if it was opened this year or in the past year. Regardless of type of cuisine as well. More importantly, which place would be the one I can go back without a hesitation of a 2nd thought?

There was only one.

Bestia, considered by many as the standard bearer of Italian restaurant that is being measured upon for both its excellence in taste, but more importantly how it is compared for its buzz and energy that is captured on the place by its patrons. It's easy to judge by the taste and the decor, but it's harder to capture the feel and the liveliness of the places when people wanted to enjoy the night out.


Roasted Marrow Bone - spinach gnocchetti. crispy breadcrumbs. aged balsamic. 
People tend to go for the most newest and most decorative ambiance, but for a place that has been considered the highest revenue generated restaurant in Los Angeles, this place has all the menu of what people expect for Italian cuisine.

If you must order anything, you must go for their pasta dishes as the dish that are must order. All of the pastas are handmade at the restaurant with the ingredients you can only find at true authentic Italian locales. Under duress, I would chose the lamb ragu of Pici al Sugo di Agnello as my choice of pasta dishes. 

Pici al Sugo di Agnello - Lamb ragu with Saffron and Capra Sarda

32oz Bone-in Dry Aged Prime Ribeye 


Clam pizza. Burrata, Mozzarella, chili flakes, fresh oregano, and paprik 


Burrata Pizza (san marzano tomatoes, castelvetrano olives, oregano, fermented chilies)

The Pizza itself was the made of the quality of the highest order. You can tell that was the dishes we wanted to try the most in a city that is full of many pizza options. I must say this was on top of any pizza lover's wish list. Try the clam pizza, the acidity of the burrata with clam was just right.

Coffee & Donuts - Spiced Chestnut Zipole, Whipped Cream, and Coffee Ice Cream

If there's a dessert that is must try is their ever popular donuts that are made at the restaurant with ice cream and whip cream. It made look ordinary, but I assured it's not. Absolutely a try if you must.

Overall I do think it's a place I have no hesitation in going as you can see by the many dishes I have able to taste, but I do want to stress one thing about this place. You do need a reservation for dinner or expect the long wait for any possible chance of cancellations by others. If you are waiting for the almost impossible cancellations made by others, you are going to waste at least a hour or two. So be smart and booked a ressie in .... a month in advance.

Bestia
2121 E 7th Place
Los Angeles, CA 90021

The Link Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Friday Night Out at Rossoblu

Let's get some suggestions on where to go on a Friday night! Luckily for us Angelenos, there are plenty of options, but it's just hard to pick one that stands out.

A chic place opened up on industrial section of downtown have come on strong lately in that it caught the buzz of many critics and was on so many blog's to go list for 2017. To be quite honest, I was skeptical for only one fact.... it's in the boon dock portion of the town. OK, it's been gentrified where that part of the town are now home to many top restaurants, but it still kept me alarmed.

Going in, the decor was actually nicely done on the modern side of upscale power luncheon. In fact, the energy in this room was abuzz with allure of important people socializing and catching up on the ongoing of today's events. More so than taking a date on a romantic evening. It can be done, but this is more of settlers going in to shoot the breeze than dress to impress kinda night.

The restaurant itself serves a modern Italian fare with recipes of traditional ingredients from local farm to table ingredients. I just have to check out the famous Nonna’s Tagliatelle Al Ragu Bolognese (Beef, Pork, Not Too Much Tomato Sauce)

This did not disappoint in one bit. I was pleasant surprised by the fresh hand made pasta. I was told it better be good because this is what it is known for. I can also guess that probably got more ordered than any other dish at any given night. The dish may look ordinary, but I assure you it's not. It pops with so much flavor, you will keep putting these in your mouth without any worries in the world.


Nonna’s Tagliatelle Al Ragu Bolognese - Beef, Pork, Not Too Much Tomato Sauce

The other sure fire hit among the diners seemed to be hand made meat ball. The sauce and the bread that came out with it seemed to be very unassuming as well, but let me tell you in that nothing was simple or ordinary. There were too fabulous for words. If you can make something that looks easy to make, but wound up psyching people out, you're doing a fine job.

Braised Pork Meatballs - Tomato, Grilled Polenta, Bread

I also think dessert and drinks were a winner here as well. Their cocktail program seemed to be inspirational and with subtle touch of creativity on their side.

Molto Forte

Hey Mambo


Overall, I believe this place is right up there with Bestia and Officine Brera as my go to place for an exciting meal on a Friday night. The buzz and energy of people watching is too much to pass up. I definitely would come here for a drink in the bar on any given night as well. You will turn down a chance to come here if any of your friend suggest it.

Rossoblu
1124 San Julian St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015

Rossoblu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Tea Master Matcha Cafe & Green Tea Shop

There were things to contemplate now that I am somewhat back.

First, I looked over some of my old...very old...posts I had written years ago. I do admit some were super outdated. For an odder reason, I even have posts "draft" of old places I was going to publish and never did. Now I definitely won't publish those. C'mon 7 years later and majority of those places are dishes were cease to exist.

I even now asked if it is worth putting posts as a musing, straight on review like I did before, or go totally in different format? It's a toughie for me and I still can't shake the rust I had completely.

To be quite fair, I'm a lone wolf now with maybe a few colleagues I kept in touch with. Majority of them venture off to something else altogether. They all seemed to disappear around the same time as I do. Which was quite a bummer for me. Not depressing, but more to a fact of "oh well".

Coming here to this dessert/coffee/tea joint, a very minimal kind of store that probably can probably swapped to a donut shop in a quick hurry if things were going down. The Tea Master as a name gave an indication that they are a tea shop. 

Yeah...... good luck with that. 

Tea shops selling tea leafs are going to get really tough as it is, but I realized that that's not what kept this shop going. It's the soft serve matcha ice cream (dairy flavor). With a topping of matcha powder and hint of green tea flavor, this was an online sensation among people looking to share photos. They don't show the latte (no latte art to show off), definitely won't show off any tea (no fancy tea cups to show off), and no pastries to speak off.

No, their attraction is just one simple thing. This matcha soft serve comes only in one size and one flavor. It's a take it or leave it kinda deal and was a sensational phenomenon that gets volume of small foot traffic sporadically throughout the day.

Hence that's why I was thinking of doing something similar to what Tea Master is doing. Going small until you can really grow or expand. If a donut shop type store can make it in an expensive lease plaza in little tokyo with just one minor dessert, it gives me a bit an array of upbeat feel for the day.

Cheers. May the little guy grow!

Match Soft Serve - $3.75


Tea Master Matcha Cafe & Green Tea Shop
450 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Tea Master Matcha Cafe & Green Tea Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, December 15, 2017

Return II

Short and Sweet.. I'm back for the 2nd time.

To be honest, I don't know what happened. All I can tell you was that the sabbatical was about finding my mojo and more importantly.... the will in wanting to do this. Blogging is just hard. Do people still do this at all?

I can always eat, but to dedicate energy and effort into something that was flamed out years ago was simply a trying time. So much had happened since my last post. I will try to get back into it. Maybe ease into it.

Since then, I have done anywhere from Twitter, to Facebook, and now I'm actually semi-popular in Instagram. I love taking photos of food, restaurants, and people dining. To put it into words was just ... dog gone hard!!

If you want to follow me on these social media. Please do. I'll post the link to it. In the mean time, I will try to ease back into something that I think it's now being abandoned by many of my old colleagues and friends. They probably now do captions like I do in Instagram or 140 letters with photos on twitter. 

C'mon, those are just not insightful. Am I right? Or am I trying to go back into something that got outdated? We'll see...

Instagram (Where I'm most active)
FaceBook (Just started)
Twitter (I'm ranting at 140 letters or less)