Wood Spoon – 3/25/10

Wood Spoon
107 W 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015

I first heard about Wood Spoon on “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” probably my favorite show on TV today. On it, Giada De Laurentiis talked about the best chicken pot pie she’s ever eaten, at a place in downtown LA. I had never heard of the restaurant before, so I was shocked to hear about this place in my own backyard. Recently, the restaurant has gained a lot of buzz on Yelp as well. Being a fan of chicken pot pies, I had to try this one out.

We started out with the Mix Plate – Coxinha (chicken-filled dumpling), Potato Croquette, Portuguese Croquette (potato with salted cod), Pastel Portuguese (dumpling stuffed with shrimp) & Kibe (dumpling of bulgur wheat, mint & ground beef).

These were delicious and a great way to start the evening. The Pastel Portuguese, filled with shrimp and coconut sauce, was my favorite. The Coxinha was rather disappointing, as I found it rather dry.

Next came another dish highly recommended on Yelp: Pork Burger – roasted cabbage, onions on toasted potato bread and yam fries.

Pork Burger. Not something you see every day on any menu. I thought this had potential to be like  lot of turkey burgers – tough, dry, flavorless. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tender and moist, the burger had a lot of flavor as well. The potato bread was very soft – the whole bite was great. Definitely eye-opening.

Next is what I was anticipating most: Brazilian Chicken Pot Pie – hearts of palm, olives & roasted corn.

The pie came out hot from the oven with a simple side salad to go with it.

Breaking over the pastry crust, it was filled with a creamy gravy, chunks of white and dark meat chicken, corn, hearts of palm, potato and a subtle olive flavor. Comfort food at its finest – it was rich and savory, full of flavor. I love a bite of crispy crust with savory gravy.  The best pot pie I’ve ever eaten? Quite possibly.

Wood Spoon did not disappoint in the least. The Pork Burger may have been the most surprising dish of the night, but the pot pie lived up to my very high expectations. I am very often disappointed with the pot pie I get at restaurants, but this one really fit the bill. I’ll definitely be back.

Sushi Sasabune – 3/15/10

Sushi Sasabune
12400 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Spontaneously, my friend and I decided to get our sushi fix at Sushi Sasabune on the westside. I’d never been here before, and it was a good opportunity to try something new since I had gotten off of work early.

The interior was surprisingly large, with dozens of tables, a long sushi bar, and an open kitchen.

As with most well-regarded sushi restaurants, we decided omakase was the way to go in order to sample a lot of the restaurant’s specialties and freshest fish. Amusingly, we were offered the ‘American’ option or the ‘Japanese’ option. The ‘American’ option is directed towards that exact clientele, with more typical sushi. If you’re not averse to eating anything, the waitress recommended the ‘Japanese’ option. So, we told the restaurant to give it all to us and went for the ‘Japanese’ omakase.

First, housemade pickled ginger and fresh wasabi was presented.

The first course was ono sashimi, marinated in soy. This was very tender, and the soy was not overpowering.

Next up was a sashimi of Japanese razor clam (Tairagai). The flesh was pretty firm, kind of chewy, and a little sandy. Not my favorite dish.

Next began the sushi, and what better way to start than with tuna and fatty tuna, toro. The tuna was good, though not melt-in-your-mouth tender. The toro was a little disappointing as it was very tender but a little mushy. Both had good flavor.

Snapper and halibut came next. Both of these were quite good.

Baked green mussel and oyster.

Salmon and yellowtail were next. The salmon, topped with marinated kombu, was tender and flavorful. The yellowtail was just as good.

Next came what was likely my favorite dish of the night: two kinds of sweet shrimp, the large one from Alaska, and the smaller one from Boston. The larger shrimp had a great bite to it, was a little juicy, and mildly sweet. Very good. The shrimp from Boston was a little bit slimey, and didn’t have the great bite that the larger one did.

Spanish mackerel and regular mackerel were next. The regular mackerel was topped with the marinated kombu, while the Spanish mackerel was topped with a ponzu sauce. I thought the Spanish mackerel was much better here, tender and more flavorful.

Uni and salmon roe – a great pairing.  The uni here was delicious, very fresh and not fishy at all. The roe was also tasty.

Next, we were served jumbo clam and orange clam. Clams aren’t my favorite sushi options as I find them too chewy or dense for my liking. These two were no exception.

Next we were served a fried fish head and marinated fish roe served in its body – definitely not featured on the ‘American’ menu.

The fish head was great, as it was perfectly fried and had a nice shrimp flavor. The shrimp roe is definitely an acquired taste. I don’t think I’ve had it before, but it was marinated in a citrus sauce that was a little overpowering.

Seared monkfish liver and golden snapper were the final nigiri preparations. Both of these were quite good, especially the monkfish liver. It had a fantastic melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Lastly, we had blue crab and toro cut rolls. The crabmeat was sweet and tasty, and the toro was good as well.

Lastly, we finished with an assortment of mochi: green tea, mango, and strawberry. I’m pretty sure these were not made in-house as the strawberry one tasted particularly artificial.

Overall, the meal was a pleasant experience, and a little cheaper than anticipated. I wouldn’t say the best sushi in the city is here, but there is a lot of high-quality fish that is more than suitable for a sushi craving.

Steak – 3/14/2010

To me, there aren’t many things better than a good steak. A couple of months ago, a new butcher shop opened up in the Los Feliz area called McCall’s Meat and Fish Co. Owned by a husband-and-wife team with experience at restaurants such as Sona in LA and Daniel in NYC, it appeared to be a very promising place to get some gourmet meat and fish. I finally went, and was not disappointed. They offer a pretty good selection of meats (dry aged steaks and roasts, quail, kurobuta pork cuts, and anything else they find that’s good) and a vast selection of  fish. I came away with a 21-ounce dry-aged Angus ribeye. The whole roast is shown in the display, and it’s cut and trimmed for you upon order.

As usual for a steak, I kept the seasoning simple, with salt, pepper, garlic powder, a little rosemary, and olive oil.

I got my cast iron pan as hot as possible, and seared the meat.

On both sides, in order to develop a nice crust.

I finished the steak in the oven to an internal temperature of 130 and let it rest. Beautifully browned, the steak really developed a nice crust.

While it rested, I blanched some broccoli and finished it in the cast iron pan in the meat drippings. As the pan was still really hot, I was able to get some good caramelization quickly.

Time to eat! I was happy to see I got a very nice juicy pink with the steak, and a crusty, seared exterior.

The steak was very tender, as I expected. Even better, it had a nice beefy flavor, no doubt enhanced by the dry-aging process, which draws moisture out, and condenses the flavor of the beef.  This process had the effect of a noticeably more-developed flavor to the steak. At $27 per pound (bone-in), it wasn’t cheap – but I do think I got what I paid for. The quality of the meat, including the dry-aged process, really separated this steak apart from the common supermarket variety, and was also better than what many steakhouses serve.

In all, I was very pleased with my buy. Likely the best steak I’ve ever cooked, I can’t wait to get back to McCall’s to try out more of what they have to offer!

Old Vine Cafe – 3/6/10

Old Vine Cafe
2937 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

On a rainy day in Southern California, I found myself at Old Vine Cafe in Costa Mesa, the first leg in a day of eating in Orange County, which would include Old Vine, A & J, 85 Degrees Celsius Bakery, Andrei’s and Pizzeria Ortica. Located in a unique shopping center called the Camp, it serves seasonal American food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant fits in with the rest of the theme of the Camp with a woody cabin-like exterior.

We decided to order a small sampling of the dishes across the breakfast and lunch menus, starting with:

Caprese of Mozzarella Buratta – Imported Buratta, flash fried Arugula, Grape Tomatoes & Citrus Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A beautiful dish here with the burrata and tomato base, a large handful of fried arugula and on top, and a drizzling of olive oil. The interplay of the colors was just fantastic. I thought the burrata could’ve been a little creamier, but it was good. The tomatoes were excellent, as well. However, I thought there was kind of a lot of arugula, and the fried flavor of it overpowered the dish if you took too much in one forkful.

We tried something from the breakfast menu, which was quite simple and well executed.

Gourmet Sausage & Eggs – Eggs Cooked Any Style with choice of Natural Sausage: Spicy Santa Fe or Chicken Apple

As I mentioned, this was a really well-executed dish. The eggs were perfect, and the sausage was delicious. We had the Santa Fe sausage, which had a little bit of spice and a lot of flavor. The Spanish style potatoes were good as well, well seasoned, but maybe could’ve been a little crisper. Really a very good breakfast dish.

From the lunch menu,

Beef & Truffles Panini – Thinly Sliced All Natural Rib Roast & Italian White Truffle Cheese with Garlic Aioli

This dish was a bit disappointing. The meat was cut pretty thin and small, so there wasn’t a lot of meat chew to this – no texture. The truffle was included as part of the cheese, and was pretty mild here. The homemade potato chips were good, but not spectacular.

Old Vine Cafe today was a bit hit-or-miss. I like the homey feel to the restaurant, with a lot of simple, seasonal cooking. I’d definitely come back for breakfast if I was in the area, or maybe to try it for dinner, as I’ve heard good things about their dinner as well.

Pizzeria Ortica – 3/6/10

Pizzeria Ortica
650 Anton Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

I had high expectations for Pizzeria Ortica, which, to me, resembles an Orange County rendition of Pizzeria Mozza. The restaurant serves a number of Italian specialties, focusing on pizzas and pastas. As always, I love an open kitchen and being able to the kitchen at work.

We tried just a few dishes, as we had dinner at Andrei’s just prior. To begin with:

Pappardelle al sugo d’agnello – Pappardelle pasta, braised lamb ragu, sheep’s milk ricotta

Disappointing. The pasta, made fresh in house, was good and prepared al dente. The lamb shank was a little gamey, but just mildly so. However, I was really missing the ragu here. I was expecting a rich  sauce to bring everything together, but instead it seemed like just chunks of lamb on top of pasta on top of ricotta. As a result it was a little bit on the dry side.

Salsiccia – House-made sausage, caramelized fennel, mascapone, red onion, buffalo grana

Sausage is probably my single favorite topping on a pizza. The sausage was good here, but the pizza disappointed. The crust was rather chewy instead of crispy, and the cheese did not really stand up to the rest of the toppings

Milanesa – Fontina, asparagus, Parmigiano Reggiano, fried egg

The Milanesa was a little more unique, topped with asparagus and a fried egg. The toppings were pretty good, but I found the pizza a bit salty, and it struggled from the same crust problems as the above.

Pizzeria Ortica was rather disappointing in general. What really shocked me most is the pizza and the crust. Perhaps it was an off-night for the dough/kitchen? Whatever it was, it didn’t live up to the pizza at Mozza or Bottega Louie of the week prior.

Gold Standard – 2/28/10

Gold Standard 2010
Petersen Auto Museum
6060 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036

The second annual Gold Standard, hosted by LA Weekly’s own Jonathan Gold, is a sampling is some of Jonathan Gold’s picks for the best tastes in Los Angeles. A number of restaurants and wineries converged on the Petersen Auto Museum to offer their signature bites and pours. One of the biggest criticisms of the year was the cramped space and long lines. I was worried about that this time around, but the Petersen Auto Museum was supposed to be a bigger space that resolved these issues.

On the way to the festival, we saw a couple of trucks parked, which would be a sign to come. Below, the Kogi truck – finding it without a line of people is a rare sight.

Urth Caffe would be serving up a selection of coffees and teas throughout the afternoon.
The first thing we approached as we entered was the line to get in.  Holy crap. This reminded me immediately of the LA Street Food Fest a couple of weeks prior, which was a huge concern.

However, the only thing we could do was wait, and in about 30 minutes we were into the event. While waiting, we strategized the priority restaurants at the event within the program. I was surprised by the number of wineries (about 55) that were present, as they were not advertised initially at all. Click on the below image for a larger picture.

Once inside, we were greeted with a whole lineup of restaurants and wineries, with lines that were much less than expected.

The ever-popular Mozza, headed by Nancy Silverton (below, middle), served a Ricotta Crostone with Peperonata.

Mozza always tends to serve dishes that showcases their cheeses at festivals, and this was no exception. The ricotta was light and flavorful, and the pepperonata lended a nice sweetness to the dish.

Sona offered a dish  of salmon sashimi over a rice cracker. Very good quality fish here, and the mixture of textures with the cracker played out well.

Next up, LudoBites. No fried chicken this time, and no 3.5 hour waits. Ludo served up a cold chorizo veloute with a cornichon sorbet. Definitely one of the more refined dishes of the night, it was a success as well. A good, but not overpowering chorizo flavor in the soup paired well with the sorbet. When talking to Ludo about the next LudoBites, he said it would be downtown in April – can’t wait!

Next up, Pollo a la Brasa, known for their Peruvian rotisserie chicken. I was really looking forward to this dish, as I had been hearing a lot about it. Unfortunately, I found the meat dry. I had two servings, one of the breast and one of the drumstick, and they were both a bit overcooked. I’ll attribute this to the fact that they have to cook their chicken ahead of the festival, and keep it warm until serving. The chicken had a really nice, strong smokey flavor to it.

BistroLQ was one of the most popular tables throughout the night. Unfortunately, I don’t remember exactly what they served, but there was oxtail and a slider, as well as tapioca below.

Lotteria grill was offering up a selection of tacos, including this lengua with avocado. Quite good.

Babita was another restaurant offering up tacos, this one with carnitas and onions. Good as well. It looks like the chef is pleased with how his tacos came out.

The now well-known Kogi truck was in attendance at the festival. I was eager to get a chance to sample something unique without having to wait in the line. Well, I got a little more than I bargained for.

Kogi offered up vegan tacos, with lettuce as the wrapper and tofu as the filling. While I definitely would have prefered a meat dish here, this one wasn’t too bad. If I had to eat something vegan, this wouldn’t disappoint.

Mo-Chica has sort of been an ‘underground hit’ this year, as it’s definitely not on the beaten path. Located in the food court of a Mexican market in the USC area, it’s not exactly something many will stumble upon. However, lots of reviews and word-of-mouth have really drawn attention to this establishment. On this night, they were serving an albacore ceviche with sweet white corn. A really fresh fish here, it was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Palate food & wine was offering up pork belly and pig ears banh mi with kumquat, pistachio and lardon. Another of the more popular dishes of the afternoon; however, I thought the bread was a bit too crunchy/chewy, leaving the filling to squish out.

Upstairs cafe offered braised kurobuta pork with crispy leeks and a beet risotto cake.  I found the pork, which I believed to be shoulder cut, to be surprisingly dry.

Jar served a couple of their signature items, which I thought was great. Chocolate pudding was offered, as well as butterscotch.

The pot roast was offered as well, topped with some sour cream. Very tender, and a generous portion. I’m pretty sure they used a brisket here, while the restaurant’s pot roast is of a short rib. Weird.

Jitlada, a Thai restaurant located in Thai town, is best known for having the spiciest dish in LA, according to Jonathan Gold, as well as having solid Thai cuisine. I had been before, and thought I could handle the beef dish they offered. Not true. Dammit, that dish was hot as well. I needed a warning sign before it seared off my tastebuds. The beef had a really weird texture too, being too tender/mushy.

The Hungry Cat was probably the most disorganized restaurant of the night, from what I saw. On the first visit to the table, there was one, sometimes two, people, trying to put something together in the back, and nothing came up to be served, The second time I came around, they were still working in the back, and finally served up this smoked salmon dish. The wait was not worthwhile as it was unimpressive.

Good Girl Dinette’s premise is ‘American diner meets Vietnamese comfort food.’ Hm. Interesting, but I was skeptical. Yelp raves about the cauliflower curry pot pie, and this afternoon they were offering mini chicken curry pot pies. Being a big pot pie fan, I tried one, and I thought it quite delicious. The chicken was in a nice curry gravy with a flaky crust.

Beacon featured the husband-wife duo of Kazuto Matsusaka and Vicki Fan, offering a five spice chicken salad and a pulled pork tostada. Unfortunately, I was not able to try these.

Wurstkuche offered up some of their well-known sausages.’ The three offered were the duck and bacon with spicy peppers, mango jalapeno with caramelized onions,  and the rattlesnake and rabbit topped with sweet peppers. These aren’t as good as in person at the restaurant, as some of the juices are lost when they cut the sausages, and the untoasted baguette used here can’t replace the toasted bun.

Kyochon served up some of their fried chicken wings, spicy and mild. This is Jonathan Gold’s favorite fried chicken in LA. They’re not mine, however.

Little Dom’s offered these fried oyster sliders. A little bit unique, which I liked. And good, too, with a nice juicy oyster.

Let’s be Frank was in attendance. Having tried it before, and knowing that I could try this hot dog anytime at their truck, I decided to save some room and pass on it.

The Ciudad/Border Grill tent served up “California-style tacos,” which were actually vegetarian tacos (featuring breaded and fried avocado). Mary Sue Milliken was serving them up herself!

There were a number of places serving up desserts, including Tiara Cafe. Here were mini black velvet cupcakes.

Saffron spot offered up four different flavors of ice cream. I tried the Saffron Silk and Guava – both good.

Nickel Diner had a bunch of large doughnut holes. I tried the maple bacon doughnut (bottom and right). Interesting, though I don’t think I really like bacon in my sweets.

Some teas were offered here, and you could take teabags. This company specializes in Pu-erh teas.

Huckleberry cafe offered a number of sweets and I tried the maple bacon biscuit. It was a little harder than expected, but not bad.

Bulgarini Gelato had a pretty long line, serving flavors such as goat’s milk with cocoa nibs, pistachio, chocolate-orange and raspberry.

I tried the chocolate-orange and pistachio – both were good.

As I mentioned earlier, and as shown in the lineup program, there were 50+ wineries offering wines to taste, sponsored by the Wine House. I was able to try about ten of them.

A number of beers, including Stella Artois, Singha, Kirin, and beers from New Belgium Brewing Co. were served. Also, whiskey.

It was a great event that exceeded expectations. The lines and crowds weren’t really a problem at all, and we were able to try everything we wanted. Man, that was a ton of food. The number of wines was also a plus. For the $60 price of a general admission entrance, I think it was really a good deal. I’ll be back next year.