Bruxie (Orange, CA)

Bruxie
292 N Glassell St
Orange, CA 92866
Dining date: 8/12/11

Bruxie opened late last year and quickly became one of the most popular restaurants in Orange County. The concept here is based on waffle sandwiches…think fried chicken & waffles in a sandwich form. It seems like such a logical idea I’m surprised it hasn’t inspired some large fast food chain to follow suit. As far as I know, Bruxie is the first to base a restaurant on the idea…at least in this area.

business card

Usual suspects such as a burger and fried chicken sandwich are featured, as well as some more interesting ones like prosciutto & gruyere, smoked salmon & dill cream cheese, and a bacon/egg/cheddar. Of course, there’s a variety of sweet waffle sandwiches to go along with the savory.

I’ve been to Bruxie once (camera-less) and enjoyed that visit. An afternoon work meeting in Orange was the perfect opportunity to pay another visit. Clearly, it’s still a popular place (picture taken at 11:30).

exterior

Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Waffle Chili Honey and Cole Slaw, 100% Pure Maple Syrup

chicken waffle

Even though the menu has a number of intriguing options, each one of us (party of four) couldn’t resist getting this one. I first tried the waffle: warm, crispy, light and airy – excellent. The chicken was fried to a nice crisp and was surprisingly moist for breast meat. If I had one complaint, I wanted just a little bit more flavor in the chicken..maybe in a brine?  The accompanying cole slaw added a subtle acidity, while the honey really stepped it up a notch for me, adding a hearty sweetness.

I’m not sure how we forgot to order the waffle fries (waffle fries…of course), but I had them in my prior visit and liked them a lot.

Liege Waffle with Caramelized Pearl Sugar Nutella

<liege

I found the sweetness level to be right, but I wanted the exterior to be a little crispier. It may have been because the waffle sat out a little bit (all items came out at once and we ate the chicken sandwich first), getting slightly soggy.

Seasonal Créme Brulée Classic Vanilla Créme with Burnt Raw Sugar and Seasonal Fresh Fruit

creme brulee

The seasonal fruit in this was strawberries. Tasty. I’m not sure where the burnt sugar was, so this was sort of like a custard sandwich for me. Rich custard, light crispy waffle, and sweet strawberries. Good way to end the meal.

Bruxie offers food that is playful, comfortable and delicious. And given that everything on the menu was under $8, it was easy to see why it’s so popular. I’d come back if I am in the area again; I’d love to try more of the waffle sandwiches.

The Spice Table (Los Angeles, CA)

The Spice Table
114 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 7/27/11

The Spice Table opened a few months ago, one of the latest additions to the ever-growing Little Tokyo/Downtown LA restaurant scene. Although chef Bryant Ng’s background includes being opening chef at Pizzeria Mozza (as well as working with Daniel Boulud and Roland Passot), the cuisine here is half a world away. Inspired by the streets of Southeast Asia, the menu consists of small to medium-sized plates meant for sharing. The restaurant’s name is no misnomer – spice is king here.

Pate & baguette

I enjoyed the pate – smooth, porky with a deep savory spice blend. The baguette was fine as a vehicle for the spread.

Bone marrow, prawn sambal

Like butter. Rich and creamy, I thought the prawn flavor of the sambal brought a nice flavor profile creating a sort of surf & turf interplay.

Lamb belly satay

I tend to associate the belly with a fattier, more tender cut. However, this was a little chewy with some cartilage-like bits in it too. Hm. The flavors were there though; the building spice foreshadowed what was to come.

Beef tripe satay

One of the specials of the day. Really tender, squishy almost, with a nice sweet-spicy sauce. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Grilled eggplant, chile sauce

The eggplant’s texture was rather mushy and sort of creamy. On my first bite, I could taste the chile flavor, really the main flavor component. On the second bite, the heat had me rushing to my beer.

Black pepper crab toast

Loved the large chunks of flavorful crab on top of the crusty toast. A little bit of lime was a perfect complement. The heat of the pepper was slightly uncomfortable for me at times.

Pig tails

You know, I’m not sure I’ve ever had pig tail like this. Kind of like a miniature version of oxtail. Tender and flavorful meat with a lot of gelatinous bits, the richness was countered by the cool basil and lettuce accompaniment.

Laksa (spicy noodle soup)

Luckily for me, this wasn’t as a spicy as I had feared. There was a creamy richness to the soup, featuring chunks of pork and shrimp. Homey and comfortable. I enjoyed the noodles, but wished they were longer…and perhaps with a little more chew.

Marinated ribeye

Another of the daily specials. I could get the garlic, sugar and soy marinade flavors in the steak, which was tender and cooked well. Probably not one of the more unique items on offer, though.

Milk tea softserve

The restaurant features a ‘daily flavor’ of soft serve each day, though it’s been the same flavor on both of my visits. But seriously..milk tea?! Being a huge fan, this was a must-order. I thought this was a pretty good softserve, with a strong milk tea flavor really showing though.

Kaffir lime custard, lychee

While the first dessert was very sweet, this was quite tart. The strong lime flavor was actually sort of refreshing (I could have used some during some of the spicy entrees), light and creamy.

I didn’t dislike anything, but I didn’t love anything either. The Spice Table’s food was solid and full of flavor, but I’m not sure I fully appreciated it due to the fact that I can be kind of lame when it comes to spicy food. I will say that the meal was a little more expensive than I thought it was worth. North of $70 per person with just one beer each, it wasn’t cheap. Still, I don’t come across this type of cuisine too often (especially in a more upscale atmosphere), so I’m glad I was able to try it.

Pork Chop

Dining date: 7/30/11

I’ve been trying to cook more pork. It’s a pretty reasonably priced meat (able to be eaten on a regular basis) but I really don’t cook it too often.

I grew up not really liking pork, especially the chops. My earliest memories are of thin, lean pork chops being cooked well-done, yielding a dry and mealy meat. Of course, there were the occasional ribs, carnitas or bacon, but the pork staple at home would be these well-done chops. My mother would often mention the words E. coli or salmonella whenever I inquired why, and she had the government on her side – until recently, the USDA recommend all pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees (in May, it was reduced to 145 degrees).

Once I started dining out more often (for the longest time I never, ever ordered a pork chop), I realized how tasty these loin cuts could be. A thicker cut, cooked to a medium temperature, could be a delicious piece of meat. I’d be lying if I said I preferred a pork chop over a beef steak, but it’s a nice change of pace and usually much cheaper.

I found some good looking pork chops at my local Bristol Farms and decided to take some home to cook. I often get confused on some of the cuts by name – what I took home was akin to a beef t-bone, which I think is also known as a center cut chop or a loin chop. There’s also the rib chop from the rib section and akin to a beef rib-eye.

I opted for a brine. Salt, sugar, bay leaves, rosemary, fennel seed and garlic.

Like with my steaks, I often like to sear on really high heat and finish in the oven. No different here. I patted the pork with garlic salt, pepper and some fennel and seared on cast iron. The rest of the cooking was done in the oven – I was looking for an internal temperature of around 135 degrees upon removing from the oven. Resting the pork would take it up to the low 140s.

There was a good deal of fat left in my pan and I knew exactly what to do with it. I parboiled some potatoes and crisped them up in the fat!

I’ve been a huge fan of corn season and I love cutting the corn off the cob and sautéing it. I did that here, with a little bit of spinach.

I thought the pork turned out pretty well. I wish I achieved more of a sear, but it was tender and juicy. Clearly, the brine did its job. Loved the potatoes, crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, while the corn was sweet with just the slight bite I was looking for.

Plate by Plate 2011 (Los Angeles, CA)

Project by Project’s Plate by Plate 2011
Vibiana
214 S Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 8/6/11

Project by Project is a national nonprofit focusing on issues in the Asian-American community. They host an annual benefit called Plate by Plate (this is the 9th) which features a host of local restaurants and drink purveyors. Each year there is a different partner beneficiary; this year it’s the Asian Youth Center, a group focused on the needs of youths and families of Asian immigrants.

The event was held at Vibiana in downtown, which was a really nice venue with an outdoor and indoor area. A big plus: it’s walking distance from where I live! This was my first time attending this event, but I don’t think it will be my last.

Picca chicken cau cau

This was a comforting chicken soup with shredded chicken breast and a lingering heat. Pretty nice.

The Royce wagyu beef ‘au poivre,’ baby yukon-pearl onion herring tiede

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of this, but it was a standout dish. Tender and beefy, the meat came with a sauce actually made with squid ink (made to look like a sauce au poivre).

The Gorbals tongue

The tongue was tender, complemented well by the romesco-like sauce.

Night + Market grilled isan sour sausage, bird eye chile, ginger, coconut sticky rice

I liked the sausage, though I didn’t exactly find it sour (which was a good thing, for me). The flavors were there, especially the ginger and chile.

Chaya hamachi mole pressed sushi, aji amarillo aioli

This was actually one of three dishes Chaya had on offer. I’ve had this hamachi sushi before, but I liked it a lot better here. The hamachi was complemented by a slightly sweet aioli with a subtle depth of mole flavor. The rice had a nice flavor as well.

Raphael escolar tataki

A really smooth and tender piece of fish in a creamy sauce.

Le Saint Amour boudin noir with cipollinie peach relish; boudin blanc with shitake mushrooms

I enjoyed the boudin noir with peach relish – the rich minerality of the boudin noir was spruced up by the sweet fruit. I found the boudin blanc to be overly earthy though, and was looking for something to brighten it up.

Bar Pintxo tostada of mussels, roasted piquillo peppers, shallots, garlic, sherry vinegar, lemon

There were a number of components here but I thought they came together well – the sweetness of the pepper, acidity from sherry vinegar and the lemon, and the texture of the cracker.

Wood & Vine homemade charcuterie platter

I tried the rabbit ballotine and homemade chorizo – both solid.

Starry Kitchen malay coconut pineapple chicken; pandan donut holes

I passed on the chicken since I’ve had it before, but indulged on one of the donut holes. I really liked the flavor and subtle sweetness, though found it a little more dense than I would’ve liked.

Church & State eggplant caviar with tomato compote on toasted baguette

Laurent Quenioux lamb sweetbreads, chipotle glaze; hamachi, uni russian salad, yuzu kosho

I liked both of these dishes. The lamb sweetbread had a texture similar to escargot with a mild spiciness. The hamachi was cool and refreshing, with a really nice citrusy heat from the yuzu kosho.

Maison Akira cote seared house smoked salmon, broccoli yuzu kosho coulis and mozuku aspic

Charlie Palmer foie gras foam with spiced cherry compote

I liked the creamy, rich foie gras foam paired with the cherry. Sort of a classic flavor combination, but presented in a different form. A light cracker lended the necessary texture.

Haven Gastropub hiramasa crudo, ruby red grapefruit, fresno chili, pickled shallots, micro peppercorns; pork rillettes, housemade beer mustard, micro dijon

La Cachette Bistro braised kurobuta pork belly, beluga lentils; soupe de poisson provencal

I enjoyed the fish soup and its rich shellfish flavor, while the pork belly was outstanding – really tender and very flavorful.

Jar chopped salad

Suzanne Tracht often serves her pot roast at these festivals, but I enjoyed the change of pace here with a cool chopped salad.

M Street spicy ahi tuna sliders

Four Seasons Catering spicy korean braised chicken with potato; kimchi and mozzarella rice

Maximiliano genelli with marinara meatball sauce

Chef Andre Guererro said this would be the best pasta I had here. He was right, but it was also the only one. Loved the meatball, but the pasta was overcooked.

Aburiya Toranoko marinated albacore hand roll

These made-to-order albacore hand rolls were pretty delicious.

Ciel Maitre Chocolatier cognac truffles

I was pretty impressed with these chocolates – there were a ton to select from and I had the Ti Kuan Yin oolong truffle and a fleur de sel caramel. Both were quite good.

Stone Brewery and The Bruery

There were a variety of drinks on offer from sodas to sakes to wines. For some reason, I opted to stick to beers: Stone had their IPA, Smoked Porter and Arrogant Bastard and the Bruery had Mischief and Trade Winds. I had a pour of each throughout the night.

I thought this was a great event. From a patron’s perspective, I thought it went pretty smoothly with lines kept to a minimum. A number of restaurants did run out of food kind of early, but I was able to try just about everything I wanted to.

The VIP lounge included a few other food/drink options including Walter Manzke and Julian Cox that I missed out on, but the $250 for a VIP ticket was a bit steep for me. I purchased my ticket on the first day, locking in a $100 price promo. The regular general admission price was $150.

LudoBites 7.0 (Los Angeles, CA)

LudoBites 007
Gram & Papa’s

227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 8/3/11

exterior

With a new show on the Sundance Channel, LudoBites continues to get more and more popular (along with its share of haters too, it seems). This is the seventh LudoBites (not including the one-night Ludo Bites America dinner), and a return to Gram & Papas, where I had some of my favorite meals of 2010 (home of LudoBites 4.0 and 5.0). Because of the continual buzz surrounding LudoBites and the limited nature of a pop-up, expectations run sky high and reservations tend to be scarce. As in, reservation-system-always-crashes type of scarce.

OpenTable promised a smooth reservation process this time around, though I’m not sure how many people believed it. While I can’t say it went without a hitch (pages still took minutes to load/did not load), the system worked much better than expected and reservations were all filled within a minute. One minute to fully book 16 tables a night for 22 nights. Crazy.

With a little bit of luck (maybe because it was my birthday), I was able to secure a reservation.

<menu

Love the open kitchen at Gram & Papa’s.

kitchen

Onion Tart, Bottarga

onion tart

This was a pretty large portion to start the meal with. It was a crispy tart, covered with sweet onions and an interesting salinity from the bottarga.

Dorade Ceviche, Cucumber Water, Cornichons, Borrage Flower

<ceviche

I thought the acidity was slightly overpowering here as the fish flavor was pretty mild. I liked the crunch of the cornichons though, as well as the mild complementary heat of the jalapeno.

Salt Cod Panna Cotta, Whipped Fingerling Potato, Smoked Tapioca, Black Olive Bread

panna cotta

I really enjoyed this dish. There was a mild fish flavor in the smooth panna cotta and potato, and I loved the chewy texture of the tapioca. Loved. An overarching smoky flavor really complemented each bite as well. I thought this was a great example of some unusual, complex flavors mixed really well here.

Pig’s Head Compressed with Cheddar, Barbeque Gelée

pig head

Mmm pig’s head. This really looked like a s’more coming out, with the meat and cheddar teaming up to look like melted chocolate and marshmallow. I thought the meat was tender and tasty, while a little bit of crunchy texture came from the cracker. The barbecue gelee (inspired by recent travels to Raleigh?) really kicked it up a notch, adding some extra depth of flavor, as well as some heat.

Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar, Champagne Beurre Blanc, Bagel Chips

egg urchin

The slow-cooked egg was really delicious here, heightened by some caviar. Those were the main flavors I got, as I felt the sea urchin was somewhat overshadowed here. Still, combining perfectly cooked egg with caviar made a combination sure to please.

Tomato Soup, Carrots, Squid

tomato soup

I liked the richness and body of this soup, though somehow its flavor reminded everyone of Chef Boyardee (i.e. flavors of childhood?). I wouldn’t necessarily say this was a bad thing, but it was pretty interesting nonetheless. I enjoyed the tender squid and crisp carrots as well.

Plancha Tandoori Octopus, Yogurt, Cauliflower, Grapefruit

octopus

Excellent dish. I’ve had some excellent octopus preparations at LudoBites in the past, and this was no exception. Tender and really smoky, I found the tart acidity of the yogurt and grapefruit to work really well with it.

Foie Gras Ravioli, Crispy Kimchi, Sake-Black Truffle Cream

foie ravioli

Ah, a foie gras dish – possibly the most anticipated ingredient in Ludo’s repertoire. I really liked the melt-in-mouth texture of the tasty foie gras, though found the pasta to be just a touch mealy. However, all of the flavors were spot on, especially with the earthiness of the cream sauce and crispy kimchi.

Duck, Cherry, Spicy Saucisse, Beets, Radish

duck

I thought the duck was cooked well and was nicely complemented by a slightly tart and acidic cherry sauce. Fresh, crispy beets and radish added some texture as well.

Roasted Beef, Horseradish Cream, Green Beans, Dried Mole

roast beef

The beef was cooked perfectly here, leaving it really tender and juicy. A classic condiment, horseradish, was present in a creamy form – loved the flavor combination. The flavors of a typical roast beef dinner were definitely present, though a little bit more refined here.

Epoisse Cheese Risotto, Hazelnut, Egg Yolk, Herb Salad

risotto

Wow. Excellent. The risotto was a nice al dente, while the cheese and egg yolk aided in putting together a really rich creaminess. I thought the depth of flavor was exceptional too (with a hint of hazelnut coming through) – delicious.

Peach Melba Vacherin, Lavender

peach lavender

Our first dessert course featured this sweet piece of peach. It had a fresh vibrant flavor, accompanied by a sort of light whipped cream. I thought the lavender essence really elevated the dish as well – loved that part!

Crustless Lemon Tart

<lemon tart

This dessert was just as advertised…it had the flavors of a lemon tart, without any crust at all. I thought there was a good lemon flavor here and I really liked the herbal flavor of the thyme with it. I preferred a little more texture, though (I was craving the crust, or some sort of crumble).

I found LudoBites 007 to be a success. In fact, I liked it quite a bit better than 6.0. As LudoBites gets more and more popular (i.e. reservations get harder and harder to get), I tend to wonder if increasing expectations will be met (especially by first-time diners). I think they will. Ludo’s creativity is always present in his dishes, and I thought the flavor combinations really worked well for the most part. It will only get better as Ludo refines his dishes from opening night. Instantly, I can think of a number of “slam dunk” dishes I’m sure to remember months (if not years) from now, including the risotto, octopus, and panna cotta.

Previous LudoBites posts:
LudoBites 4.0 (2) | LudoBites 5.0 (2) | LudoBites 6.0 (2) (3) | LudoBites America

Din Tai Fung (Arcadia, CA)

Din Tai Fung
1108 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007
Dining date: 7/30/11

Din Tai Fung is the type of restaurant I hear about even when I go home to San Francisco. “Have you heard of this restaurant in Arcadia…” or “you should try this dumpling place called Din Tai Fung.” It’s no wonder why – with three locations in the US and branches all over Asia and in Australia, it’s arguably the most famous place in SoCal to get dumplings (xiao long bao in particular).

Needless to say, a restaurant like this comes with pretty high expectations (and long lines). I’ve found almost everyone fits into one of two camps: love it, or find it overrated and overpriced. If you were to ask me where I fell a couple years ago it was probably the latter; however, today I would say it’s closer to the former.

Upon entering, you can see fresh dumplings being made. Love that.

House Chicken Noodle Soup (Steamed)

This might be my favorite item here. The chicken broth is perfect with its well-salted, hearty chicken flavor. The noodles, made fresh, have a delectable chew. It’s really simple, but it’s something that really resonates with me.

Shanghai Rice Cake with Chicken

I liked the nice chew to the rice cakes, lightly coated in a sauce that I think was oyster sauce. Some onions lended a little bit of fresh crunch too. 

Juicy Pork Dumplings

The pièce de résistance – xiao long bao. The best xiao long bao in LA is a controversial argument…mine are here. The dumplings are always filled with a rich, savory juice but it’s the skin that separates these for me. Thin, stretchy and delicate, I really liked that the dough took backseat to the meat and juice with these dumplings.

Shrimp & Pork Dumplings

I liked these as well. Plump pieces of shrimp made up the bulk of the filling, as well as a little bit of the juice.

Vegetarian Dumplings

I found these to be just okay. Relative to their meaty counterparts, I found these dumplings to be rather dry with a dense, woodsy flavor. Probably pretty healthy, though.

Sauteed String Beans with Garlic

Tasty garlic string beans, cooked quickly in a wok. I liked the gentle texture still left in the beans, but I don’t think these were a uniquely better example though.

Noodles with Spicy Sauce

 

Love the noodles here. They were smothered in a sweet-spicy sauce that I enjoyed.

The perfect dessert was a milk tea from the nearby Ten Ren’s Tea Time. I’m very picky about my milk teas, but this one is one of my favorites.

Din Tai Fung definitely does not present the best value in the SGV as most of their items are at the upper end of their respective price ranges. However, I think the execution is top-notch, and they serve some of my favorite noodles and dumplings in the city. And given the oft-long lines, it’s hard to say they’re charging too much for the food.