China Poblano (Las Vegas, NV)

China Poblano
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 3/27/11

China Poblano is probably Jose Andres’ most unexpected concept. When I first heard about this place, I thought he was going to be creating Chinese-Mexican fusion. Dude. Weird. However, that’s not the case. The cuisines are kept separate here, just presented together. That means Chinese noodles, dim sum and other small plates served side-by-side with Mexican tacos, ceviches and guacamole. How would this work?

Andres is shooting for authenticity here – I’m sure I’m not the only Asian person really skeptical about this. He’s got help though; Andres has hired (imported) chefs from Mexico and China to help him out.

We started with the “cold tea.”

Cold “Tea” for Two a punch-like creation of green tea, tequila, and beer

I thought the tequila was rather strong in this. It just wasn’t noteworthy at all.

Happy Buddha Vegetable Spring Roll cucumber, carrot, zucchini, water chestnuts

We started with these vegetarian imperial rolls. These were okay, nothing special.

Shrimp Mojo shrimp, sweet black garlic, roasted poblano peppers

The shrimp here were cooked well, with a  nice depth of flavor from the garlic. The poblano was a tasty accompaniment as well.

Like Water for Chocolate fried quail, dragon fruit, rose petals, chestnut, dragon fruit sauce

This was one of the strongest dishes of the evening. The skin of the quail was quite crispy, while the meat was juicy and flavorful. The dragon fruit added a refreshing sweetness, which went really well with the quail.

Swallow a Cloud Hong Kong wonton, shrimp/pork, bok choy

Next was our $16 wonton noodle soup. I thought the filling of the wonton was soft like it was pureed to a very smooth texture – I would’ve preferred to still have a little bit of density. However, the flavors were there and the noodles were pretty good. The light chicken broth was the perfect soup.

Dan Dan Mien hand-cut wheat noodles, spicy pork sauce

I haven’t had a dan dan noodle dish since Lukshon’s highly controversial one. I found the noodles to be fairly mushy, and the flavors of the sauce to be muddled. I didn’t get a lot of pork flavor, nor was there any spice really. Odd.

We also ordered up a few orders of tacos at $9 a pair.

Pescado Frito fried fish, Mexican salsa

The fish of the day was mahi mahi. The fish was fried perfectly – delicately crispy with light, moist flesh. There was a little bit of heat here too, which I thought was a nice touch.

Pollo a la Parrilla grilled chicken, mole sauce

Next was this chicken taco. The mole was pretty good, though the chicken wasn’t too moist…I wouldn’t quite call it dry though.

Barbacoa del Res Oaxacan-style barbecue beef, guajillo chile, pickled cactus paddle

The barbacoa taco (shredded beef) taco was quite good, though a bit on the oily side.  I thought the onions and poblano added some welcome flavor, though.

Carnitas braised baby pig, pork rinds, spicy salsa verde cruda

This was easily my favorite taco, and one of the best I’ve had in the recent past.  Tender, moist pork was topped with crunchy chicharrones and a salsa verde. Everything here was executed well – extra flavor and crunch from the chicharrones, as well as from the salsa verde made for some delicious bites.

There were misses, but in all, I was pleasantly surprised with the food. I don’t consider myself anywhere near an authority for Chinese or Mexican food. Anyone who is looking for really authentic Asian or Mexican – look off the strip. The food here was tasty, and for the most part, had the Chinese and Mexican flavors I was looking for. It was on the expensive side, but I understand there is a premium for being on the strip, as well as for having Jose Andres’ name on it…even if this isn’t the type of food people typically associate him with.

Magnum: Pal Cabron (Los Angeles, CA)

Pal Cabron

3337 1/2 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
Dining date: 2/16/11

The Magnum pop-up is the brainchild of David Haskell and Joseph Mahon. Haskell is one of the city’s more notable wine personalities and handles the alcohol pairings, while Mahon (who handles the food) is a chef with a fine dining background, most recently at Bastide. This is their second version of the pop-up, with the first being focused on Korean cuisine. While the location is technically in Koreatown, the focus of this iteration is on Mexican.

Pal Cabron is a self-described hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant specializing in cemitas and clayudas (kind of like Mexican burgers and pizzas). It was interesting seeing the juxtaposition of having very refined dishes being served in an atmosphere without tablecloths or linen napkins.

Onion Apple Custard Poached Shrimp, Chicharones

I liked this starter – the shrimp was plump and sweet, while the chicharones provided some nice crunch.

Pozole Romaine, Mint, Radish, Lime
2008 I Favat: Fiano di Avellino, Italy: Fiano

I also liked this soup – perfect for the cold, rainy weather we’ve been having. The soup had a deep and hearty meaty flavor, which went well with the mildly sweet corn.

Roasted Beet Salad Crispy Veal Tongue, Wild Arugula, Pumpkin Seeds, Creamy Feta Dressing
2009 Luigi Giusti “Le Rose di Settembre”: Marche, Italy: Lacrima di Morro

The veal tongue was great here, adding a little bit of meatiness and crispiness to this dish of beets. The arugula was a good addition as well, adding its characteristic pepperiness.

Scallop Crushed Avocado, Chickpeas, Spicy Tomato-Mussel Broth, Cilantro
NV Drusian: Valdobbiadene, Italy: Prosecco

The strong dishes continued with this large, perfectly-cooked scallop. I liked the meatiness of the avocado pairing, as well as the tomato-based broth and prosecco pairing to cut through the richness.

Chilled Poached Shrimp Cabbage, Grated Horseradish, Tomato-Ketchup Sauce, Orange, Peanuts
2009 Valle Isarco “Südtirol-Eisacktaler”: Aldo Adige, Italy: Pinot Grigio

The shrimp was cooked well, leaving it nice and plump. This was similar to a “constructed” shrimp cocktail, essentially. I liked it, though it wasn’t quite as interesting as the others.

OG Foie Gras Cemita
Oaxacan Mezcal

Haskell poured this next pairing, a mezcal, out of a plastic gas can. The mezcal had a strong, smoky flavor which paired brilliantly with the rich foie gras and avocado, as well as the barbecue sauce. Very nice.

Poached Egg Fried Pig Ears, Black Beans, Scallion Creme
Francesco Rinaldi: Grignolino d’Asti, Italy: Grignolino

It’s hard to beat a perfectly poached egg. Here it was paired with some flavorful beans and scallion cream, which made a very nice combination. The fried pig ears added the texture – but too much. I found them too hard and chewy to be enjoyable.

Kevin had the clever idea of ordering some toast (typically for the cemitas) to mop up the sauce. The bread here was money.

Squid Chorizo, Cucumber, Jicama, Sesame Seeds
2005 Tenuta Badia di Morrona “Vinsanto”: Terricciola, Italy: Trebbiano, Malvasia Bianca, Colombana

The squid was cooked perfectly, yielding a very tender texture. The chorizo had a strong flavor, almost overpowering the squid, but I thought it worked well. Finally, the cucumber and jicama adding a little texture and freshness to the dish.

Flank Steak Cactus Salad, Chilies, Grilled Corn Sauce
Valle Dell’Acate “Il Moro”: Sicily, Italy: Nero d’Avola

I think flank steak is a very underutilized cut of meat. It’s a relatively reasonably-priced cut of beef, but it packs so much flavor. No exception here, and I liked the sweet grilled corn sauce pairing. The cactus salad was interesting; it had a sort of slimy feel to it, similar to okra.

Flan Pineapple, Vanilla-Carmel Sauce
Hakutsuru Brewing Company “Sayuri”: Nigori Sake

This was a little bit of a richer, denser flan than ones I’ve had before. However, I liked the sweetness of the pineapple and caramel sauce to pair. Lastly, a milky sake was paired with this dish, which I enjoyed.

I thought my first meal at Magnum was a large success. I enjoyed the food – it was refined, imaginative and executed well. The wine pairings did not disappoint either, and I had high expectations given Haskell’s pedigree. However, I did think the cost of the food ($92 before tax/tip) was a little higher than I expected in this setting.

Playa Rivera – 2/10/11

Playa Rivera
7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Playa is John Rivera Sedlar’s (Rivera) new Latin-inspired restaurant, which has taken over the old Grace spot on Beverly. Interestingly, I dined at this location on Grace’s last night of service, so it was fun to come full-circle and check out the the new spot. Members of the mailing list for the now-defunct-but-soon-to-return Test Kitchen were invited to come try out Playa a day before the official opening. Luckily, I was able to join a reservation with Christina of food, je t’aime, Matt of Mattatouille/Scoops Westside, and Caroline of Caroline on Crack.

The space is rather small, though strategically-placed mirrors actually made me think it was much larger at first. The bar is stunning with its wall of spirits; cocktails are crafted by mixologist Julian Cox.

A variety of cold/warm small plates and big plates were on offer, as well as some sides. We opted to stick with the small plates, giving us a few more tastes to try.

Octo-Palm grilled octopus, palm hearts, scallions, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, oven-dried red onion

A couple of people had recommended this dish, so we had to try it. The octopus was a little bit chewy, but not overly so, and were complemented with the dried red onion and palm hearts. The oven-dried cherry tomatoes were juicy and delicious…and almost stole the show.

Lipsticks sweet peppers, crab, corn, olive oil, sorbet morado, rosemary oil, sal de colima, citrus-beet pintura

Loved the presentation here. This dish was cool, flavorful and refreshing. I enjoyed the crab and corn stuffed in the chiles, which was a delicious interplay of three sweet ingredients. The sorbet and rosemary oil added extra herb flavor, while giving the dish a cool crispness. Nice!

Flor de Calabaza tempura squash blossoms, Spanish bacalao, veal reduction, chorizo jus, capers, castelveltrano olives

I love fried squash blossoms. The creamy bacalao filling worked well with the crunchy squash blossoms. The olive and chorizo flavors came through as well, though the whole mouthful was a little salty.

Maize Cake Breakfast 63° egg, pan-seared potato, espuma de queso, black trumpet mushrooms, truffle cheese

This would make an excellent breakfast/brunch item…which isn’t to say it wasn’t also good for dinner as well. The earthy flavors of the mushrooms and truffle cheese were most evident; combined with the perfectly cooked egg, this made a delicious and savory bite. Roll this up, and you’ve got a heck of a (messy) breakfast burrito!

Arroz con Pato duck confit, baby vegetable pickles, arroz blanco jus, fresno chiles, chives, micro cilantro

I love arroz con pollo so I was eying this dish beforehand. The duck was succulent and tender, and the rice was good too. The tiny baby vegetables added a nice crunch and acidity as well. I just wish I could’ve had this dish by myself!

Tamalli Chateaubriand wild-mushroom duxelles dumpling, filet mignon, chipotle béarnaise

Here we had, essentially, a tamale and slices of tenderloin. The beef was very tender, with some added flavor from a savory béarnaise. The tamale was a little bit dense, but did have an earthy flavor imparted by the mushrooms.

Cauliflower oven-roasted, indian spices, green chiles, chana crisp

We tried one side – this cauliflower. The roasting provided a nice char to the cauliflower, adding extra flavor. However, the dish was a little bit mushy for me.

Luna Mezcal chocolate cake, chocolate glaze, mezcal ice cream, caramel popcorn, spanish peanuts, hibiscus sauce, blackberry basil, sorbet

Dessert number one. The chocolate cake was good – dense and full of chocolate flavor. I don’t have a lot of experience with mezcal, but the ice cream provided a subtle welcome sweetness. There was another sorbet on top of the chocolate which was reminiscent of raspberry, and countered some of the sweetness.

Pastel Café mocha sponge, espresso crème, toffee honeycomb, colombian chocolate ice cream

Dessert number two. The sponge was just kind of was dry without feeling too dry, but full of coffee flavor. The chocolate ice cream created one of my favorite dessert combinations (coffee and chocolate), and they melded well as the sponge soaked up some of the melting ice cream. Toffee honeycomb added some texture and extra flavor. Delish!

In all, I thought this was a good meal. Sedlar continues to use Latin flavors in interesting, modern “twists” – and, most importantly, they taste good. I actually enjoyed my meal here over my experiences at Rivera – the vibe is a little more energetic and communal.

Border Grill Downtown – 2/3/11

Border Grill Downtown
445 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071

I work in the same building as Border Grill, but I can count the number of times I’ve stepped in on one hand. It just hasn’t been too much of a draw for me and my co-workers; it’s a bit pricey for a casual bite and just not quite as appealing as, say…Drago or Chaya for a more upscale meal.

Formerly Ciudad, it was re-branded a Border Grill in October – honestly, I’ve found it to be pretty much the same restaurant. When dineLA came around, the restaurant offered a $16 3-course lunch with a variety of choices. I figured it was as good a time as any to give it a try.

Every table starts with some warm tortilla chips and a trio of salsas. This is a really nice way to start with fresh tortilla chips, and my favorite salsa is the green tomatillo.

My co-workers ordered the empanada/tamale and soup, while I opted for the ceviche.

Plantain Empanada and Green Corn Tamale roasted plantains, black beans, poblano chile, cotija cheese, sweet corn, sour cream, salsa fresca

Tortilla Soup roasted tomato chipotle, panela cheese, avocado

Baja Ceviche lime marinated sustainable seasonal fish, shrimp, cilantro, jalapeño, crispy handmade corn tortilla, cilantro aioli, avocado

I snuck a taste of the tortilla soup. I didn’t think it had too much flavor, though it was welcome on a cold day. The ceviche, on the other hand, had bright fresh flavors with the lime, cilantro and avocado complementing the fish. A little bit of jalapeno provided the heat, while the fried corn tortilla added some texture.

My co-workers went for the pork taco and enchilada, while I had the Yucatan pork.

Chuleta de Puerco en Pipian Taco shredded baby back ribs, roasted poblano, cactus slaw, pipian sauce

Chicken Poblano Enchiladas slow roasted chicken, handmade corn tortillas, poblano hoja santa cream, grilled corn, wild mushrooms, roasted poblano peppers

Yucatan Pork achiote pork roasted in banana leaf, grilled onion, orange, cinnamon red rice, black beans, plantain orange salsa, handmade corn tortilla

The pork was pretty tender, though not as flavorful as I expected from a piece of pork shoulder. I liked the variety of sides, though, and the guacamole was excellent.

Next was dessert.

Capirotada warm bread pudding, caramelized apples, cream cheese, roasted pecans, vanilla bean ice cream

This bread pudding was lukewarm. A little bit of cinnamon spice was apparent, and it had a good apple flavor. Not bad, but nothing special.

Goat Milk Cajeta Flan caramel sauce

The flan was much richer than I anticipated, with a strong but not overwhelming goat cheese flavor. I liked the caramel, which added a welcome sweetness.

Our meal at Border Grill was okay. Nothing really stood out strongly in the positive or negative, but I think the meal was a pretty good deal at $16. However, with so many stronger dining options in downtown, I’m not sure when I’ll be back. Maybe for happy hour.

Red O – 5/30/10

Red O
8155 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048

When it was announced what Rick Bayless was going to be involved in a restaurant in LA, it was a big deal. No one knew what exactly his involvement would be or what the concept would be of, but the notion that the most famous American chef of Mexican cuisine would be coming to LA was exciting news.

I remember watching Bayless’ Mexico: One Plate at a Time on PBS a while back, and that show lasted a number of seasons. While already a notable chef, Bayless’ big boost into prominence was his win on Top Chef Masters last year.

While not officially a Rick Bayless restaurant (it’s not part of his restaurant group), he is a chef-consultant, and helped create the menu. My understanding is that this is his food, with his name on it, but he doesn’t have a significant equity stake in the business.

The menu features a large number of small plates to share, as well seven entrees. As my friend is vegetarian, we did not order a large number of plates to share; instead, I sampled some of hers, and ate my own.

Classic Guacamole – freshly made, chunky, with warm chips & salsa

Guacamole is a simple, classic dish. Bayless does it well. It is slightly chunky, and extremely fresh tasting. The chips weren’t quite as warm as expected – I suspect they had been sitting for a little bit as they were only moderately warm.

Mazatlan Blue Shrimp Ceviche – mango, red onion, chipotle-chile

This was a great ceviche. The shrimp were “cooked” perfectly, and again, the ingredients were very evidently fresh. They have to be for a good ceviche. This came with thin slices of fried plantains which, honestly, weren’t even necessary.

Slow-Cooked Sonoma Duck Taquitos – tomato-arbol chile sauce, arugula

For the most part, my taquito experiences have been from fast food restaurants, with often-overcooked and dry results. Obviously, this is a different kind of restaurant, and a different kind of taquito. These were cooked very well, and the duck was really moist. I really liked the mild heat of the sauce, as well as the fresh, peppery taste of the arugula.

Fresh Corn & Goat Cheese Tamale – roasted poblano chiles, corn husk

A delicious tamale! This is what it should taste like, with a very nice, moist interior and good corn flavor. The poblano chiles add an extra depth of flavor to this otherwise-simple dish.

Savory Beef Short Rib Tamales – smoky chipotle chiles, corn husk

Surprisingly, this tamale disappointed a bit, especially after having the vegetarian version. The beef was rather dry on the interior, and even the corn tamale was a bit drier here than in the previous version.

Roasted Garlic Mushroom Tacos – shitake, oyster, cremini & wild chanterelle mushrooms, caramelized onions, garlic mojo, spinach, black beans

This came with a side of small flour tortillas for you to make your own soft tacos. A medley of mushrooms were included here, and they were cooked well, as well as the spinach. A tasty vegetarian dish.

Pollo en Mole Poblano – grilled Mary’s young chicken, homemade mole poblano, black beans, watercress salad

I just had to try the mole here. Just had to. There’s 27 ingredients! And it was good, with a really deep flavor. The chicken had a really crispy skin, and a nice smoky grilled flavor. However, the breast meat was just a tad dry.

Veracruz-Style Bunuelos – salted caramel ice cream, warm Kahlua chocolate sauce

Deep fried dough with ice cream. Every culture has this dish. I was just ‘okay’ on this one. The Bunuelos were crunchy and chewy, but just weren’t that appealing to me. Loved the salted caramel ice cream though – haven’t had this since Bi-Rite in San Francisco.

Overall, this was a very good meal. I was excited for Bayless’ arrival, and, as a whole, it did not disappoint me. There are a number of traditional Mexican dishes executed very well, and some more modern Mexican dishes also done well. I think this restaurant, already looking to be a hotspot due to Bayless’ celebrity, will do well in the foreseeable future.