Bandera – 6/26/10

3201 E Coast Hwy
Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Bandera is part of the Hillstone Restaurant Group, known for restaurants such as Houston’s and Gulfstream, and having a no-corkage-fee policy. I had been here before, but was summoned back to celebrate a friend’s new job. The restaurant always seems to have a lot people waiting outside – the comfortable American food is one of the main draws.

To start with, we had the skillet cornbread, one of their well-known appetizers.

Skillet Cornbread with jalapenos

The cornbread is nice and moist on the inside, with a crispy crust on top. The jalapenos give it an extra dimension of flavor. Unfortunately, this is a very filling dish – small portions are best.

Bandera-Style Roasted Chicken with green rice

This chicken is cooked on the rotisserie, and had a nicely browned skin. However, it wasn’t crispy at all, which was a disappointment. The meat was not quite as moist as I expected, but had some good flavor.

Sliced Leg of Lamb with Red Chile Sauce and Escabéche

I preferred this meat to be cooked a little bit less. The leg is cooked to a medium-well, though it wasn’t dry or tough. The lamb was mildly gamey, and the chile sauce added a little heat.

Barbecue Beef Back Ribs served with mashed potatoes and coleslaw

One of Bandera’s most notable dishes is the beef ribs, and for good reason. These ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender, with a rich barbecue glaze that works well with the meat. Deliciously succulent.

Aged Prime Rib Slow Roasted on the Bone served with mashed potatoes

We also ordered the prime rib, which came with a side of au jus. This is one of the best au jus I’ve had in recent memory; we even asked for some to go. The prime rib was tasty and cooked a nice medium-rare, though I often find it’s hard to distinguish a good prime rib from a great one. The au jus here, though, really elevated it.

House Made Oreo Ice Cream Sandwiches made with creme de cocoa

When I first came into the restaurant, I saw this dessert being served and immediately thought to myself “I must have this!” And it did not disappoint. It’s a rather simple dish of homemade Oreo ice cream sandwiches, in a chocolate sauce with a subtle espresso flavor. Being a huge fan of both ice cream sandwiches and cookies and cream ice cream, this was a great match. One of the best desserts I’ve had in a while.

We had a pretty solid meal at Bandera, with a few clear highlights (the beef ribs, prime rib au jus, and ice cream sandwich come to mind). The service was really exceptional from start-to-finish, only making the experience better. I’ve been craving that ice cream sandwich ever since, so I’ll be back soon…at least for dessert.

Mako Sushi – 6/25/10

Mako Sushi
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St. Ste 307
Los Angeles, CA 90012

One of my friends is a regular at Mako, and he recommended giving their omakase a try. Located in the same Weller Court plaza as the infamous Orochon, its third-floor location doesn’t get a whole lot of foot traffic. Thus, I am calling this a hidden gem. We went with the $70 omakase, the higher of the two levels ($45 and $70) offered.

The first dish to come out was a cucumber and seaweed “salad” topped with sesame.

With its light, fresh flavors, this was a good start to the meal. Next up was an avocado filled with salmon eggs.

This avocado was very nicely ripe, and the salmon egg provided a nice saltiness to pair with the richness of the avocado. Next, a very interesting dish with sticky yam, okra, tuna, quail egg, seaweed and wasabi.

This dish was stirred up, and created a little bit of a gooey pasta-like dish with the yam. Quite good. Next came our first cooked fish – Hokkaido sea scallops with green beans, and matsutake and enoki mushrooms.

This came out with a dipping sauce.

I enjoyed this dish, though my last scallop was rather overcooked. This may have been my fault – I probably should have taken it off the sizzling plate sooner. Continuing with the cooked dishes was a tempura oyster and cod served with katsu sauce and a tartar sauce.

Both the cod and oyster were nicely cooked and pretty moist – especially the oyster. Up next was a sashimi course – Spanish mackerel, halibut, red snapper, toro, yellowtail stomach and salmon.

I was looking forward to our first raw fish preparation. Overall, all of the fish was very solid. The toro did not have as much of a melt-in-your-mouth feel as some others I’ve had, but the flavors were there.

Following was a Spanish mackerel, served cold in a Japanese marinade.

I always find difficult in eating a whole bone-in fish with chopsticks. However, I managed, and was able to eat the succulent meat of the fish, heightened with flavors of mirin and soy. Next up, raw oysters.

These were really delicious. The oysters had a clean, fresh taste to them, which was complemented by the soy and scallions. Next came the only sushi course, made up of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, uni and smelt egg.

Each of these were pretty good – the highlight for me was the uni. Bad uni can be very apparent. Luckily, this was not the case – this uni had a fresh, slightly sweet flavor.

Lastly, we had a bowl of miso soup with mushrooms to finish off the meal.

I was pretty pleased with this meal. Although it did not have as much sushi/sashimi preparations as I tend to be accustomed to, the variety of dishes was pretty great, and presented a pretty good value. The fish used in each course was very fresh, and there really were no missteps throughout our meal.

Yatai Ramen at Breadbar – 6/23/10

Yatai Ramen

8718 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048

There’s a new pop-up restaurant at Third Street’s Breadbar. For six weeks, Yatai Ramen is serving up modern “twists” of ramen, one even including foie gras. Being a big ramen fan, these variations were definitely worth a try.

Four traditional types were offered, including shio, shoyu, miso and spicy miso. The ‘twists’ include a tomato ramen, Vietnam ramen, oxtail ramen, and foie gras ramen.

In addition, a pig feet gyoza and a vegetarian kale gyoza were offered, with a few boba drinks.

We started with an order of each gyoza. First, the pig feet.

The gyoza were cooked beautifully, with a very crispy bottom and just the right amount of chew to the noodle. I couldn’t really tell the difference between pig feet and just..pork; however, these were really delicious.

Next up, kale gyoza.

Nicely cooked again, the kale flavor was bright and worked well in these dumplings.

We tried five variations of ramen – 2 traditional and 3 twists.

Shio Ramen – seasoning with Indonesian sea salt, corn butter

This was a very good bowl, with a deep, rich flavor. The noodles, consistent throughout each bowl, were perfectly al dente. The long slices of pork belly were extremely tender, and very flavorful.

Spicy Miso Ramen – seasoning with blended miso, spicy sauce

The soup base was a very rich red, easily distinguishing that this would be the spicy variation. A little bit too spicy for me – but everyone else in our group enjoyed it.

Vietnam Ramen – Pho style, raw beef tenderloin, asian herb

This one was very interesting, and the first of the twists. This was kind of a beef-based shoyu broth; it really tasted like a combination of the two soups. The meat was nicely tender, however, I felt the soup was a bit salty.

Oxtail Ramen – rich oxtail soup, truffle oil, marinated poached egg

I really enjoy oxtail, so this was a logical choice. A large bone-in chunk of oxtail was put on top of the noodles. The meat was moist and succulent, though there were a number of small bones to contend with – taking away some of the enjoyment. The soup had a rich meaty flavor and was a little bit sweet – the truffle oil was lost in the richness of the soup.

Foie Gras Ramen – rich master stock consomme soup, chopped chives

This was kind of a must order to me. Foie gras…ramen? I had to see what this interpretation was like. The soup was rather salty, shoyu-based. The piece of foie gras on top was nicely seared and perfectly cooked. However, the elements seemed disconnected; it tasted like a seared foie gras on top of a shoyu ramen.

There were some hits and misses at this pop-up. I’m glad I went, as the twists were unique and very different from what you typically find in LA. I would recommend coming to try any of these twists and the gyoza.

Umami Burger, Scoops – 6/20/10

Umami Burger
4655 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027

712 N Heliotrope Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90029

Umami Burger is currently one of the more popular burger chains in LA – founded in 2009, its success has allowed it to quickly expand to four locations already in the LA area (and one more coming to the SF Valley later this year).  Being a fan of a well-made burger, and hey – with a name like Umami Burger – naturally, it was only a matter of time until I paid a visit.

This location offers 9 burgers – we decided to give the signature ‘Umami Burger’ a try, as well as the truffle burger. But first, the sweet potato fries and french fries.

The sweet potato fries were solid – nicely crisp on the outside and sweet and tender on the inside.

The potato fries were another story. These thick, block-cut fries were lacking crispness on the outside, and were a bit undercooked inside. In addition, they tasted rather plain and undersalted.

Umami Burger

This burger, their signature, was just okay. The meat and bun were both good, though they did not really stand out. I will note that meat was cooked to a very nice medium-rare, however.  This burger is topped with the housemade ketchup, mushroom, and tomatoes – the mushrooms were a bit too much for this burger, as they were overpowering.

Truffle Burger – italian truffle cheese, truffle glaze

The Truffle Burger, on the other hand, was delicious. Again, the meat is cooked a nice medium rare, and topped simply with a truffle-scented cheese. I really liked the subtle truffle flavor in this burger and gobbled it up pretty quickly.

We saved room for dessert and went to Scoops to fill that void. I’d never been to Scoops before for some reason – with it being one of the more popular ice cream joints in the city, a visit was far overdue.

Scoops offers only a few flavors each day, but they’re usually pretty unique.

The first one we tried here was the espresso coffee and salty chocolate. Both of these were very rich, with a good, deep flavor.

This second one is the coconut Thai iced tea ice cream and chocolate. The Thai iced tea was delicious – refreshing and really reminiscent of the drink.

Lastly we had the brown bread and peanut butter toffee. The brown bread was very interesting – mildly sweet with small bits of crispy cereal. The peanut butter tasted very much like peanut butter. Given that, it was good for the first few bites but got tiring rather quickly.

Most of the ice cream came out a bit softer than I would like, so they melted pretty quick too. I’m not sure if it’s always like this, or if the freezer temperature was just not as cold this day.

Grace – 6/19/10

7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Tonight was Grace’s last night of service in their current location, before moving to a larger space downtown. I was invited by Kevin of kevinEats for their last night, and joined Austin of Living to Eat, Mike of Right Way To Eat, and my friend Diana. Having been established for a number of years, Grace has become a staple in LA’s fine dining scene, winning numerous accolades this year. Chef Neal Fraser was even a challenger on the second season of Iron Chef America (defeating Cat Cora in Battle Pork). My previous three trips to the restaurant, however, have been ‘just okay.’ This last meal would be the best of them all.

We  put ourselves in the chef’s hands and went with the seven course chef’s menu.

Sashimi of Japanese Hamachi fennel, radish, California olive oil, sea beans

A nice, light dish to start out with here – the hamachi was very tender, and I liked the combination with a little crunch of the radish. I could’ve used a little bit of acidity (a few drops of lemon juice would suffice), but overall this was a good dish.

Sauteed Day Boat Scallop English pea risotto, morel mushrooms, asparagus, basil nage

The scallop was perfectly cooked, and equivalent in quality to the one I had at Providence the other day. The English peas provided some nice texture, though I wouldn’t call that preparation a risotto.

Olive Oil Poached Halibut brandade, horseradish cream, sherry gelee

The halibut was cooked well on top, and the brandade provided an extra dimension of fish. The sherry gelee provided nice acidity to balance out the fried brandade.

Sauteed Channel Island White Sea Bass white beans, artichokes barigoule, pistoue

I really enjoy light white fish, seared with a crispy skin. A prime example is the one above. The skin was very crispy, and the flesh really moist.

Slow Cooked Egg spring onions, pork belly, chanterelle mushrooms, white asparagus

This was an interesting dish, as all of our others featured a fish or meat. Here, the perfectly poached egg was the centerpiece, complemented by onions, asparagus and chanterelles. There was a small piece of pork belly as well, which probably was not even necessary. It was a little bit on the dry side for pork belly, largely due to the uncharacteristic leanness of this pork belly.

Oven Roasted Suckling Pig potato gnocchi, chanterelle mushrooms, white asparagus, pork jus

Next up, suckling pig. The meat was mostly cooked well, though it wasn’t tremendously juicy. The corn succotash that came with it added a delicious sweetness.

Next up was a sampling of desserts. Unfortunately, our take-home menu did not clearly detail which of the 5 we got. However, we were able to determine which desserts were which, outside of the donuts.

Honeyed Pain Perdu lavender ice cream, meyer lemon curd, pistachios

My first bite into this reminded me of something like fried tofu, oddly enough. The texture was rather mushy, with a crispy exterior. The meyer lemon curd was a nice compliment.

Chocolate Soufflé Cake Affogato vanilla malt ice cream, toasted almonds, espresso syrup

This was probably my favorite – I like chocolate cake and I like affogato…how could it fail? Essentially, this was a good chocolate cake topped with vanilla ice cream, but the espresso syrup added a deep coffee flavor that really worked well.

Next up were two donut dishes paired with ice cream.

These were both very good, though unfortunately I’m not sure which flavors the donuts or ice cream were in particular.

Sticky Toffee Pudding bruléed bananas, toffee sauce, hazelnut gelato

The pudding was rich, and had a deep caramel/toffee flavor. I did not think the bruleed bananas fit in that well, however. They seemed a little out of place.

Given that this was Grace’s last night for a while, tonight’s meal gave diners a reason to come back when they open up their new location. My meal on this day was easily the strongest of the four I’ve had at Grace.

Petrossian – 6/18/10

321 N Robertson Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Petrossian has been a hot restaurant around town since chef Benjamin Bailly took over the helm of the kitchen. Best known as purveyors of caviar, Bailly has elevated the restaurant to become a dining destination as well. The restaurant has been very popular in the food blogging world, but outside of that, I don’t think it has really caught on. As of the date of this writing, its Yelp review has a measly 60 reviews – an indicator that people simply aren’t paying a visit (though when they do, it’s favorable, given the 4-star review).

The decor is very sleek, clean, modern with stark black-white contrasts.

I was rather surprised that the restaurant was not very crowded at all on a Friday night. Less than half of the tables were occupied. Note the above picture was taken at the end of the night when they were closing.

We decided to try a number of dishes off the menu, which (obviously) emphasizes the use of caviar in a number of its preparations.

Wild mushroom cappuccino

This dish was a playful rendition of a cappuccino, except it was a frothy, rich mushroom soup. I’m not a mushroom lover, so I enjoyed the first few sips but kind of got tired of it.

Crispy Egg cipollini onion soubise, smoked salmon, caviar

This is an interesting course, of a poached egg in a crispy exterior.

When broken, the rich yolk escapes all over the plate. This was yummy – runny egg yolks typically are – and the saltiness of the caviar cut into the rich yolk nicely.

Black Truffle “Mac ‘n’ Cheese” orechiette, bacon, parmesan

This dish was seriously delicious. Loved it, and I typically don’t really even like mac and cheese. Nice al dente orechiette pasta is mixed in with a rich parmesan cream sauce, with black truffle and bacon. That combination is hard to beat.

Petit Petrossian 12 gr. Transmontanus caviar, classic accoutrements

Since we’re at Petrossian, some caviar tasting was in order. This Transmontanus caviar is from California white sturgeon, served here with blinis, creme fraiche, and crumbled hardboiled egg.

The caviar was, of course, salty, seafood-tasting, and a little but nutty. The fresh warm blinis were great as well.

Napoléon Tartare Hand sliced steak tartare with layer of caviar

This dish is a steak tartare, with a layer of caviar running through it. Mixed greens and crostini came along for serving.

This dish was deceivingly large, as the steak and caviar (a generous portion) are pretty densely packed. I think we went through 16-20 crostini before just finishing off the tartare straight. I was a little disappointed by this dish, I thought the flavor was fairly monotone – that of Worcestershire sauce? Also, I got a number of bites of raw steak gristle, which weren’t pleasant.

We didn’t feel like dessert as the whole meal, which didn’t seem like a ton of food, was really filling (notably the mac and cheese and steak tartare). My overall impression of the restaurant is positive, and I’m still surprised more people aren’t coming in.