Bottega Louie – 2/26/10

Bottega Louie
700 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Bottega Louie has been extremely popular since it opened up almost a year ago, just recently being called a “Best New Restaurant 2009” by many publications, including Los Angeles Magazine. This is a large restaurant, and the lines can be hours long, a testament to the popularity of the establishment. So what’s the draw? It’s trendy, has a nice decor, and offers a menu with a wide array of dishes. And of course, the food is good too. It keeps within a fine balance, being both a nice and casual restaurant, housing people dressed to go out, and people in a t-shirt and shorts.

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and also contains a marketplace, bar, and patisserie on their own. The pastries offered is seemingly endless with many different cakes, tarts, breads, cookies and candies available for purchase.

Cupcakes, macarons, croissants, as well.

The decor is minimal. High ceilings, white walls with gold trim, and large windows letting in a lot of natural light. It’s lunchtime, and a line has already started to form.

The exposed kitchen is towards the front of the establishment. I love being able to see the kitchen at work.

The menu is wide-ranging Italian with salads, soups, pastas, pizzas and a large selection of ‘small plates’ and various entrees. Click on the image for a larger version.

We were told by the server that the portobello fries are one of the most popular items on the menu, so we had to give them a try.

Although I really don’t like mushrooms too much, these were pretty good. The portobello was battered, fried, and tossed with herbs and parmesan cheese.

Next up, the sausage pizza. Earlier in the week, I had read an article from someone who claimed that Bottega Louie had the best pizza in the city. The pizza was wonderful, and pretty authentic Neapolitan. It had a light, thin crust, a tangy and sweet tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and a delicious fennel sausage. The only thing I didn’t like was that it was a little wet towards the middle of the pizza. Potentially the best pizza I had all week, and I had Mozza this week.

Mussels and claims in a white wine broth. A very generous portion here, with some nice crusty bread to sop up the broth. The seafood was very fresh, and the broth was delicious as well.

10-layered Lasagna with a lamb and veal bolognese. I like a lot of noodle in my lasagna, so when I heard “10 layers,” I was totally on it. However, this dish was just okay. There was probably just too much noodle, and not enough meat and cheese for me . Another generous portion.

Although we were quite full, we weren’t leaving without the souffle. It’s a chocolate souffle, made-to-order, with a side of creme anglaise. To me, there aren’t made dessert combinations better than chocolate-vanilla, and hot-cold. This is a really good souffle.

I had a very pleasant experience at Bottega Louie, and could easily see why it’s so popular. The first time I came, the service was rather mediocre, and they knew it (complimentary dessert came at the end). However, that was when they first opened, and they’ve really streamlined the process. While I think some of the dishes can be hit-or-miss, as there’s just so many options on the menu, there are probably more ‘hits’ than ‘misses.’ I’d definitely just come back for the pizza.

Steamed Fish – 2/14/10

One of the best simple dishes I prepare is a Cantonese-style steamed fish. It’s pretty easy to make – it requires only a few ingredients, allowing the clean fresh flavor of the fish to stand out. I like to use a white-fleshed fish for this (I often use tilapia) and I strongly recommend using a whole fish. It’s cheaper to buy whole fish, and the flavors are better whenever you cook anything on the bone.

For Chinese New Year, I got a whole tilapia to steam. I’m using a recipe largely in-line with my grandmother’s, adapted a little bit to my tastes.  I first packed the body of the fish with slices of ginger and green onion. Then I scored the fish on both sides, drizzled a little soy sauce, and inserted ginger into the cuts. Time to steam!

It doesn’t take too long to cook a whole fish, maybe 10-12 minutes. When it’s ready, I top it with green onions and ginger, and pour steaming hot canola oil over the top. Hot soy sauce is poured over as well.

And it’s ready to eat. You have to be SO careful with a whole fish not to eat the bones. I’ve found the best way to eat all the meat from one side, removing the chunks of  fish and leaving the bone intact. Oh, and, don’t forget to eat the cheek.

Then, try to carefully remove the whole bone in one piece. If successful, you’ll get the whole bottom fillet, as shown below.

Quite simple, and pretty healthy. I like to serve this with steamed rice and vegetables, creating a really healthy, balanced meal.

LA Street Food Fest – 2/13/10

LA Street Food Fest
LA Center Studios
500 S. Beaudry Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90017

The biggest recent trend in the Los Angeles food scene is probably the revolution of the food truck. Decoratively-painted trucks serving gourmet food has been a huge success. So, why not gather 35+of them in one place to offer sampling-size versions? Well I’ll tell you why not – because too many people will want to go.

This was the problem this year, for the “1st Annual” event. Far too many people were interested in attending the event, and too many were let in. The line to enter the festival stretched for blocks, and was over an hour long at times. The lines inside weren’t much better, with lines at almost every truck nearing or over an hour.

When I first heard about this event, I figured it would be crowded, but not this crowded. I wanted to try as many new trucks as possible, including Buttermilk and Coolhaus. However, when I found out LudoBites would be making a special appearance to serve fried chicken, I knew I had to try it. Scroll down for more on Ludo.

When I first got to the area, I saw the line for entrance stretching up the block, around the corner, and as far as I could see. Wow. Luckily, a friend had waited it earlier, and got us tickets – so we went right in.
View of the crowd while inside.

It was basically a who’s-who of food trucks inside. Here were some of the highlights:

Qzilla BBQ.

Komodo food truck.

King Kone.

Get shaved (ice).

This is one of the more popular trucks of the day – the Flying Pig truck.

Louks truck serving Greek, with LA Weekly food writer Jonathan Gold on the left.

Uncle Lau’s Island BBQ serving Hawaiian.

Yum Yum Bowl truck serving Thai rice bowls.

India Jones truck serving up Indian food.

Another of the more popular trucks of the day – the Grilled Cheese truck. I heard the lines for this truck were over 2 hours at times.

Slice truck serving up pizzas.

Sweets truck offering desserts and candies.
Coolhaus and their ice cream sandwiches looked very popular throughout the day, probably because it was so warm out.

Buttermilk truck. I’ve been wanting to try this truck for a little while, and finally got the chance! There was a very long line for this one as well, around 2 hours.

The condensed sampling menu on offer:

Below are the red velvet pancake bites. I thought the red velvet flavor was a little subtle, and there was nothing really special with these.
The cake donuts were fluffy on the inside, and had a nice crisp glaze on the outside. I thought these were great.

The buttermilk brick: hash browns, egg, biscuit and chorizo gravy.  Definitely very savory and pretty tasty. This is some really good late-night drunk food.

I had been to Frysmith before to try their Rajas Fries and was immediately a fan. We tried a sampling of dishes here, after an approximate 2-hour wait.

The menu, served in sampling sizes:
Here, clockwise from top left, we have the Kimchi Fries, Foie Gras Fries, Sweet Po Fries, Chili Cheese Fries, and Rajas Fries.

The Kimchi and Chili Cheese Fries were the most flavorful and, basically, more exciting. The chili was very oily, however. The Sweet Po fries didn’t taste like anything really. The Foie Gras fries were disappointing. The Foie Gras mousse did not have a very strong flavor at all, and did not add much to this dish.

Last, and definitely not least, the one-time only:

The LudoBites truck, serving fried chicken. Ludovic Lefebvre, former chef of L’Orangerie and Bastide, and contestant on Top Chef Masters, no longer cooks at a permanent restaurant. Instead, he pops up at various restaurants for short periods of time, serving small plates he calls LudoBites. One of the most popular of these is his fried chicken, and this was a unique opportunity to try it. Having still remembered Ad Hoc’s chicken a couple months ago, I had to compare them.

I got in line at 1:37. The line was..long, I can’t even estimate it. A little over an hour in, one of the staff came out to the line to tell us that the line was probably another hour or so, and that when we got to the window and placed an order, they would give us a ticket to come back in another hour. What. Basically, this truck would make-or-break the festival for me, so I opted to stay in line. At about 3:30, I placed my five orders of chicken.

At 5:07, 3.5 hours after I first started waiting in line, my chicken was ready. I over-ordered.

De-boned chicken thighs are rolled up into loose balls, breaded, and fried with rosemary and (I think) thyme.

It’s served with a sweet and spicy (not really) piquillo sauce.

The first bite is just delicious. The chicken, fresh out of the fryer, is so moist and juicy. It’s a little bit fatty inside, on purpose. The breading is very crispy, and the herbs work really well with the chicken. I did not think the sauce was necessary, really, as it was just kind of sweet. Due to my over-ordering, I ended up eating 7 of these thighs. There was no way I wasn’t gonna finish all of them!

How did it compare to Ad Hoc? Very favorably, and it’s really close, but I can’t say it’s better than Ad Hoc’s. It’s actually pretty similar in terms of the herbs used, and how moist the chicken was. The chicken here was, I think, fried better (Ad Hoc’s was a bit dark), and was a little bit fattier.  A very delicious chunk of meat.

In all, the first LA Street Food Fest was a success and a failure in a number of ways. The goal was to get people to try a lot of what the LA street food scene has to offer by getting all of these trucks in one space, and offering smaller-sized portions of their food. It was successful in offering that; however, the sheer number of people at the festival did not make it feasible to try as many foods as desired. Hopefully, a more efficient process will be developed and I look forward to seeing what they come up with for next year.

Church & State – 2/12/10

Church & State
1850 Industrial St
Los Angeles, CA 90021

It’s been a while since my last post – unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of my recent dineLA excursions. The highlights were Jar and Chaya Downtown, Grace was pretty good, and both Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris were disappointing.

Church & State has been one of the most popular French bistros since it opened a little over a year ago. The kitchen is headed by Walter Manzke, formerly of Bastide and Patina. He brings with him fine dining expertise into a more casual, trendy bistro setting. The restaurant is located in an industrial part of the city, east of downtown..where you typically don’t want to be at night. The last time I went, it was at night for dinner, and you wonder where’s the best place to park your car on the street. However, on this occasion, we went for lunch (thanks to a BlackboardEats promo of 30% off).

The restaurant, with its tall glass windows, is housed on the ground floor of a historic building, now converted into lofts.

Purposefully, there’s not much to the interior. The open kitchen is to the left.

The menu is standard bistro fare, for the most part. A variety of tarts, escargot, moules frites, steak tartare, steak frites, and a variety of sandwiches and salads are all on the menu.

We decided to sample a couple of the appetizers and entrees.

Moules Marinière – Mussels, white wine, pommes frites, aïoli

A couple of the mussels were a little fishy, but most were good. The white wine sauce was delicious, especially with the fries. I think these are some of the best fries in the city, cooked in duck fat. Yum!

Rillettes de Porc – Berkshire pork, prune confiture

I’m usually not that keen on rillettes as I tend not to like cold meats. This one was not bad, with a nice accompanying plum sauce.

Steak Frites – French fries, sauce béarnaise

The bistro classic – steak and french fries. The steak was exceedingly tender, but it did not have a large beefy flavor that you would expect at a steakhouse. Cooked a nice medium-rare, I can see why this is one of their most popular dishes. The fries, again, are excellent.

Bouillabaisse – Provençal fish soup, prawns, mussels, clams

The bouillabaisse I thought was a little on the small side, especially compared to the steak. However, the seafood was fresh and cooked well. The prawn on top was excellent. Juicy and succulent, and perfectly cooked.

Chou de Bruxelles – Brussels sprouts, Medjool dates, chili

These brussels sprouts were pretty good, but nothing special. Lots of butter.

Pot de Crème au Chocolat – Caramel, hazelnut, fleur de sel

To finish, we had this thick chocolate pudding with caramel on top, as well as caramelized nuts, including hazelnuts. I feel like I’ve had a lot of chocolate puddings lately (most notably at Jar) and this was a good one. I really liked the caramel to go with it.

Overall I was pleased with my experience. For the most part, the food was executed very well. The mussels and steak frites were probably highlights for me…especially the fries. Service was good in the beginning, but really slowed as the restaurant got busier. They need more staff during the Friday lunchtime service. I would probably still say Bouchon is the best French bistro in town, but Church & State is a more laid-back and down-to-earth spot.

Craft – 1/5/09

10100 Constellation Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Craft is probably best known for being one of Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio’s restaurants.  Tom Colicchio was a renowned chef before the TV show, making a name for himself in the New York restaurant scene with Gramercy Tavern. While many TV-celebrity chef restaurants are pretty underwhelming, I think Craft is one of the better ones. It’s located in Century City with a concentrated business crowd, especially during lunch. The interior is full of natural light, a slick and modern space.

On my last trip to Craft during the October 2009 DineLA series, each member of our party of 5 received a $10 dining certificate to join them another time. As I was the only one who actually lived in LA, I found myself with $50 to use at Craft on my next visit. We elected for the 3-course  prix fixe lunch. The first courses were an option of a soup of pasta. Below is the celery root purée.

I didn’t really care too much for this soup as it tasted too much like celery. I know, that’s the point right? But I had one at Bouchon recently and I enjoyed that one, as it brought about a much more subtle celery root flavor.

The other appetizer was a chestnut agnolotti. Definitely tasty, with the dough having a nice chew. The pasta dough was a little bit thick, however. A relatively smaller portion made you want one more bite.

The first entrée was a hangar steak. Nothing extraordinary about it, but it was good – cooked well with good flavor.

The other entrée was Maine lobster with lima beans and spinach. I liked this dish. Having had some pretty good lobster recently, I was kind of picky and thought the flesh was a little chewy. However, it was cooked well, and I enjoyed the accompanying spinach and beans.

Next up were desserts. The first was a cranberry crisp with cajeta ice cream (a Mexican caramel). I like that most of Craft’s desserts are served warm with ice cream, and I’ve had a couple of cobblers here before and enjoyed them. The crisp was good and warm with a nice crust, and the ice cream was definitely interesting – in a good way.

The other dessert was a sort of banana upside-down cake with banana ice cream. This dessert was definitely banana overload. The cake was nice and warm, and the ice cream was not overwhelmingly banana. However, I probably preferred the first dessert.

Craft is a pretty decent restaurant. I wouldn’t mind having another lunch or dinner here. Prices can be moderately high, however, so one might be better suited trying other restaurants first before coming back. This is my second time for lunch, and I’ve been once for dinner, and they’ve all been pretty enjoyable. The highlight to me are the meats – there’s a wide array of different meats on the menu.

Aziza – 12/27/09

5800 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121

Aziza is a Moroccan restaurant – the only one I know of that has a Michelin star. As a result, I thought this would be a pretty interesting place to try as I don’t eat Moroccan food too often. It’s located in a residential neighborhood in the Richmond District of San Francisco, an unassuming area where you would not expect to find such a highly-regarded restaurant.

The interior is colorful and comfortable.

The menu is a la carte, but the restaurant also offers a 5-course tasting menu which showcases some of the specialties of the restaurant, and also allows the diner a chance to choose some of the dishes on the menu to build their own. We went with this tasting menu, and steered it towards some of the dishes we wanted to try.

The first course was a soup of chicken bouillon with a Medjool date puree and farro.The soup had a rich chicken flavor, and the puree added some texture and substance. Good, hearty soup, but nothing special.

The second courses were:
bibb lettuce, shallots, citrus, tarragon

chicken wings
brussels sprouts, rosemary, almond, apple

I enjoyed this dish, as I do like boneless chicken wings. However, I found the meat a bit soft, there was not a lot of texture to the meat.

grape, jícama, herb vinaigrette

The meatballs were spiced nicely, but were rather small. I got hints of it, but there was not enough in each bite – larger meatballs would have allowed a little more chewing time in the mouth.

The third course:

chicken, almond

I had high hopes for this dish, as it resembles a sort of chicken pot pie.  Interestingly, the size of the basteeya is the same whether you have two people or three (and the price of the meal is the same), so you are much better off sharing this in pairs. The dish did not really come together as expected. The meat was a little dry and got lost in the dough a little bit.

Next were the fourth courses, or the entrees:
atlantic cod
vadouvan, marble potato, leaves

A nice looking piece of fish here. It was cooked well with a nice sear and a moist interior.

lamb shank
barley, prune, cranberry, scallion

The lamb shank was one of the dishes I read a lot about going in. First of all, I could’ve done without the prunes – they were overpowering. The barley was made into a sort of barley risotto, which I don’t recall ever having before. It was rich and delicious, something I hope to see again. The lamb’s presentation was nice, and was a pretty large size. However, I thought the meat was falling off the bone almost too easily – it was lacking some of the texture that meat should have and was almost..dare I say..mushy. I think it was perhaps just cooked too long.

puntarelle, baby leek, saffron, hon shimeji mushroom

This dish was tiny compared to the cod, and especially the lamb (even though this was the most expensive on the menu). It’s really kind of an appetizer-sized dish with two sea scallops and some clams. The dish was good, but was rather unfulfilling due to the size.

Lastly, the fifth courses (dessert):
buckwheat crêpe, apple fritter, ginger ice cream

There was a warm crepe filled with apple and quince, with ginger ice cream. This dessert was pretty good, and the ginger ice cream was subtle enough to not overpower everything.

dacquoise, pear, burnt honey ice cream

I loved the presentation of this dish. It just looks pretty..however, the dish was just okay.

sesame mousse, cocoa spice cake, cranberry

The ‘chocolate’ was a mousse cake, but was rather light in flavor.

In all, Aziza was an interesting restaurant, but it fell a little under expectations. It’s a casual restaurant with a reasonably priced tasting menu ($62) and a flexible wine pairing ($20-40 depending on how much you want to spend). It’s definitely a good way to try a Michelin-starred establishment while trying a cuisine that isn’t mainstream. However, none of the courses really stood out as exceptional, and none were bad. I felt that a number of courses had potential but was just missing something.