Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hatfield's: A LA Birthday

Dad was going to celebrate his 57th in LA so I wanted to go somewhere special. Like, REALLY special. My first instinct was to call up The Bazaar but, no dice – after that four star article in the LA Times, everyone and their mother decided to pay Jose Andres' LA joint a visit and they were booked up all the way until May.

For a while, I played with the idea of Michael Mina’s XIV but they changed the menu for spring and upped the tasting menu prices so I volleyed instead between Grace and Hatfield’s. It was a tough decision but LA Magazine awarded the latter one more shining star than Neal Fraser’s restaurant so Hatfield’s it was for April 16th.


Hatfield’s was a solid experience. My first impression of the place was that it was exactly the kind of restaurant I love – understatedly elegant; laid-back but refined. There was none of that pretentious your-waiter-is-going-to-have-a-‘tude-because-you’re-not-in-louboutins situation (I can’t stand that shit). And of top of the fantastic atmosphere, this place is a STEAL. No joke. Their Spring Special prix-fixe is $49.00 for a top-notch three-course menu – no skimping whatsoever. Good stuff. And as if that wasn’t enough of a steal, every dining party gets to enjoy Quinn Hatfield’s amuse bouche of deviled quail eggs with cream of celeriac. Presentation was so beautiful – eggs served in a tiny silver spoon and the soup was put into a shot glass. This was definitely a welcome opener to our starved stomachs.

(Fatty Foie Gras)

Hatfield’s was off to a great start. The menu is so decadent. For my appetizer, I was eying the pan roasted diver scallops, marinated artichokes purée, saffron vanilla emulsion but mom and dad both had their hearts set on that so, instead, I opted for the roasted Bobo farm foie gras, pain d’epice crust, beluga lentils, apple rosemary purée. Our appetizers appeared before us in their generous portions and art-work-worthy presentation. Personally, I’m not a big fan of foie gras ALONE but foie gras with the perfect accompaniment is a piece o’ heaven and Hatfield’s nailed it. The sharpness of the pain d’epice crust worked amazingly with the creamy texture of the foie gras. I was a very happy camper.


(Duck Breast)

And onto the entrees. Mom went for the garlic and parsley crusted Alaskan halibut, zucchini coulis, roasted sunchokes, sautéed squash blossoms; dad went for the branzino filet, roasted haricot vert, red onion soubise, dried apricot, crispy almonds and caper crunch and for myself, I decided to have a poultry related fiesta so I went with the pan roasted duck breast, quinoa and maitako mushrooms, butternut squash, whiskey prune smear. Again, portions were huge and presentation was right on the spot. The duck was cooked to perfection – juicy and tender with a layer of moist fat and plump duck skin. Nothing to complain about but I guess because I’m really not that big of a poultry person after all, I wasn’t wowed away by the dish. I enjoyed it A LOT but wasn’t blown away. Plus, the dish may have been a little TOO decadent for my Asian palate – I ate the skin off the first piece but it became too much and I had to skin the rest off. Mom and dad both enjoyed their fish dish (HA – RHYME! I guess my English major wasn’t a complete waste) but also said that they’ve had better. I guess I get where they’re coming from – Hatfield’s is perfect execution but it’s not something I would crave.


But even if I wasn’t WOWED by the food, like I said before, I was definitely wowed by the value of the meal. The dessert menu kept with the theme of non-skimpy decadence. I happily sold my soul to the ‘fuck-calorie-counting’ club the second I saw the words “chocolate and peanut butter truffle cake” on the menu. This turned out to be a chocolate cake with a molten lava PB center…mmmmmmmm. It was NEAR perfect – texture was right on BUT it was a tad too sweet and a tad under-salty for me…oh well, it was good anyways. But what WAS perfect was the accompanying salted caramel ice cream with roasted peanut butter peanut toffee. Mmmmm…so good. They should make that a dessert in itself.

(A beautiful concept: PB Truffle Cake)

My only real complaint is their breadbasket system. Instead of having a basket at the table, they have a waitstaff come around before each course to place a roll on your bread plate. That fancy-schmancyness is a little out of place from the “laid-back” atmosphere I was lauding just a few paragraphs earlier. Plus, their bread roll was a little bit too greasy for our Asian tastes. But, not to end this review on a sore note, service in general is great. Awesome even. And, even better, the bill is served with a small plate of mini brownies. So sweet (literally and figuratively). And these brownies sum up what Hatfield’s is all about – small details, unpretentious pampering and a restaurant who wants their patrons to leave with a smile on their faces.

FOOD: 4/5

Hatfield's ($$$)
7458 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 935-2977

The Griddle Cafe: Discovering Coconut


Why the F did it take me THIS LONG to order the scotch on the rocks flapjacks ($10.95)? Coconut, pecans, oats, butterscotch chips --> flapjacks. ‘Tis perfect. The flapjacks were the perfect sweetness and were oh-so-fluffy. It tasted like coconut ice cream almost. Amazing. Speechlessly amazing. And, of course, I never do the Griddle without their dark roast French pressed coffee ($3.35). Just a pot of that makes me a happy, functional person. Yes, their coffee makes me want to contribute to society.

But while I was living la vida loca with my flapjacks, I could tell mom wasn’t really blown away by the turkey and cranberry sandwich. Take my advice, stick to the griddle-cooked stuff or the eggs. Come on, I didn’t even KNOW they served sandwiches. Mom’s sandwich looked pretty I-can-make-that-at-home (ICMTAH) – the bread wasn’t even toasted (non-toasted bread pisses me off).

FOOD: 5/5
SERVICE: hit-or-miss

The Griddle Cafe ($$)
7916 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mandarin Garden: Test Your Tastebuds

Theresa took us to the Korean-Chinese place she’d been raving about so we could try K-style ja-jeung-mien. If there’s one thing that puts a giant smile on my face, it’s when ethnic cuisines fuse together because the lovechild is, more often than not, a thing of pure flavor beauty.

Like 98% of all the other restaurants in Korea Town, Mandarin Garden Restaurant is located in a seedy looking strip mall (think minimal parking and Asian massage store on upper floor) and has an even seedier looking interior. We didn’t really bother perusing through the menu since our hearts were already set on the house special noodle ($8.65). We chomped away on the two measly banchans (OK, I let that slide. After all, the restaurant is only half Korean) for a while before our noodles were brought to our table in a giant white bowl, divided into two halves – one half filled with noodles covered in a dark, thick gloop sprinkled with bits of meat and onions while the other half housed a bright orange soup chock full of seafood and onions.

(Two 'rights' make an AWESOME)

I started with the spicy seafood soup noodles and I absolutely loved it. The spiciness is unassumingly mild at first but builds up after a while. Yes, that’s how they get you hooked on it – it’s seriously addictive and I was slurping up the noodles and the soup even after I was way past disgustingly full. While I preferred the orange side, I wonder if it was a mistake to start on that – the flavor was pretty strong and by the time I got round to trying the ja-jeung mien side, I couldn’t really taste the sauce. That side tasted almost bland to me. Debs and Theresa, however, both started on the ja-jeung mien side and they both said that they liked that more than the soupy side. So I guess it all depends on which version of the noodle you decide to numb your tastebuds on first.

FOOD: 3.5/5

1001 S Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-0075

Amandine: Last Goodbye

Leaving LA meant leaving a lot of good friends and I spent the last few weeks trying to jam in as much “meeting-up” time as possible with people. On this particular day, I met up for the last time with two very important friends of mine – my food and HK film Buddy, B and my Japanese baked goods lover, Amandine.

Being nostalgic, I ordered the same thing from my first day at Amandine – the caramel banana tart ($4.35). The tart was as good – if not better – than the first time I had it. The crumbly cookie crust encased a smooth and light cream filling; the sweet pastry cream and the ripe, sliced bananas complimented the slight bitter twinge of the caramel cream topping. In other words, the tart is a perfect balance of textures and flavors and is both satisfying yet not overly heavy. This perfection paired with a large coffee and good company and conversation – yes, there are some things in LA I’ll miss.

FOOD: 4.5/5
SERVICE: 4.5/5


Amandine Patisserie ($)

12225 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

(310) 979-3211

Paulette: A Sweet Final Week

(From top left: coconut, jasmine tea, caramel, pistachio, vanilla)

Like many other bakers, I jumped on the French macaron bandwagon a few years back and it has become di rigueur for me to order these tiny meringue sandwiches whenever saw them sold. In terms of LA, I’ve managed to hit up most of the macaron places – from Jin’s to the Little Next Door. But weeks away from my last day in LA and I still hadn’t visited the no-longer-so-new macaron “boutique” – Paulette – in Beverly Hills.

Well, thank God I have great friends who know me :D The beautiful Sunny called me down from the apartment and surprised me with a small baggie of Paulette’s macaroons. I LURVE her. And of course, she knew my flavor preferences so the bag included my staple macaron trio of (Madagascar) vanilla, (Sicilian) pistachio and caramel. On top of that, the Sun got me the coconut (my favorite favorite dessert flavor) and jasmine tea.

(Innards of the pistachio)

The Paulette macarons were almost too pretty to eat. I took a million photos of those babies from every angle imaginable. I probably have more photos of the macarons than I will of my future children. When I finally got over their prettiness, I took my first Paulette bite. Mmmm…sweeeeet sweet goodness. Unlike the dry, crunchy “biscuit” I had at Little Next Door, the meringue shells at Paulette were chewy and light, though not as well made as Jin’s or Bouchon’s. Paulette did really well, however, with bringing out the flavors of the macarons. The jasmine tea was mild but fragrant and smelled like flowers. They used actual caramel instead of caramel ganache in the caramel macaron which gave it an interesting flavor. It doubled the chewiness of the sandwich and personally, I quite liked that. The pistachio had a very strong nutty flavor. Awesome. But my absolute favorite was the coconut macaron. It was sooooo effin’ good. It was a bite of pure, satisfying coconut-ness. If I could, I would go back and order a box only in that flavor.

FOOD: 4/5
SERVICE: n/a (didn’t go myself but Sunny said the service wasn’t pleasant and the macaron samples were dry)
ATMOSPHERE: n/a (but I’ve seen photos and it looks tres cute <3!)

9466 Charleville Blvd at Beverly Drive.
Los Angeles, CA 90210
(310) 275-0023

Monday, April 6, 2009

Joan's On Third: I.N.D.U.L.G.E (Part 2)

(A box of happiness)

In my mind, Joan’s on Third was about the closest you could get to Dean and Deluca and so, unsurprisingly, it’s been on my “to-go” list even before I moved to LA. Well, since we were in the neighborhood anyways after a super indulgent brunch at Little Next Door, I decided to pop into Joan’s and grab a little something (i.e. a little anything) from their baked goods counter.

I was stuffed from brunch so I was planning on getting just a cookie but, when I got to the counter and saw the little cupcakes, my heart wavered a bit. I asked the cashier if I should get the cookie or the cupcake and even before I finished my complete sentence, she blurted out “the cupcake. Go with the cupcake.” I was sold. Given the size (about half the size of a Crumbs cupcake), the cupcakes are a little on the pricey side at Joan’s ($3.00/each) but, hey, today was going to be super-indulgent day so I whipped out my debit card and got the cashier lady to box up a coconut cupcake, a peanut butter cupcake (peanut butter craving? Check!) and the raspberry filled vanilla cupcake. They all smelt soooooo good.

(Give me a P. Give me a B. But most of all, give me a cupcake!)

Usually, I’d head straight for the coconut but, like I said, I’ve been craving peanut butter like no tomorrow and since they ran out of the peanut butter cake when I went to Susina yesterday, I headed straight for the PB cupcake. OHMYGOSH, the cupcake was stellar stellar stuff. The crumb is so moist and the cake itself was sweet and light. For some reason, the fragrant smell reminded me of a really well-made donut. The ganache topping wasn’t overly sweet either – it was just prefect. The cupcake had a PB cream filling which was absolutely fantastic. The whole cake just exuded peanut-butteriness and I found myself licking up every last crumb. It was a good cupcake. A VERY good cupcake.

FOOD: 4.5/5

8346 W Third St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 655-2285

Little Next Door: I.N.D.U.L.G.E (Part 1)

I’ve been having massive eggs benedict and peanut butter cravings lately (yes, INDEPENDENTLY of one another). It’s weird, I never really had a big thing for either…I guess personal tastes change when one ages…

Well, to satisfy le eggs benedict craving, we hit up Little Next Door for Sunday brunch. This place is so cute – just sitting there makes me feel as if I’m on vacation. Something about their outdoor patio makes me feel so relaxed; quite literally, I was pretty much lounging in my chair by the end of the meal.

In terms of the food, everything on the menu sounded really appetizing but I was determined to get my benedict fix so it took less than a heartbeat for me to decide on the smoked salmon eggs benedict ($14.00). Debs got the omelet du jour while the Sun ordered the Omelet Lardons ($11.00). The bread basket at Little Next Door is also pretty great. Their French bread is crusty on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside. Mmmm…I always appreciate a good bread basket.

(Omelet du Jour)

(Omelet Ladorns)

Though seemingly unassuming at first, the food portions at Little Next Door are pretty damn big. And thank God they are because the food is pretty dayam kick-ass. My eggs benedict was soooo effin’ awesome. It came with a side salad which was a perfect balancer to the cholestral + carbs side of the dish. Instead of an English muffin, the poached eggs came on top of two slices of thick toast and the toast and eggs sandwiched a VERY generous heap of smoked salmon. The salmon was cured to perfection (not too salty, a la Katz deli but also, not bland at all) and it was absolutely amazing paired with the eggs. The first poached egg was a little too runny for my personal taste (it literally flowed like a river) but it was good to soak with the toast. The second egg I had was cooked to perfection – not so runny that it spills all over the plate. It was, in simple terms, quite gorgeous.

(Mmmmmm-ness: Salmon eggs benedict)

(When runniness = good times)

And to cap off a perfect brunch, I ordered my usual suspect combination of macarons ($1.75) – pistachio, vanilla and dulce de leche (ok, I usually get caramel but this was the closet thing they had on offer). I started with the pistachio which was…SO GROSS. Yes, I was bitterly disappointed. The shell was dry and crunchy. WTF? I’ve NEVER had a crunchy macaroon before. And the filling to shell ratio was way off – half of the macaron was glopping with pistachio ganache while the other half was completely void of any filling. Ech. Disappointed, I moved on to the dulce de leche which, thank God, was a redeemer. The shell was the perfect balance of soft and chewy and the sweetness of the caramel filling balanced the mildness of the shell. Good stuff – I guess the pistachio was just from a bad batch. The last one was the vanilla which was definitely not as good as the dulce but also, definitely not as bad as the pistachio. The shell was a little too delicate – it shattered even before I finished biting into it. So I guess consistency is a little bit of an issue in terms of desserts at the Little Next Door.

(Flourless chocolate cake)

(Panna Cotta)

(The good, the bad and the ugly: Dulce de leche, vanilla, pistachio)

Service is fantastic. The waitstaff are all all-smiles and friendly. Our serving waitress kept thanking us for enjoying our food. Awwww…I love friendly service. The food is pretty pricey though and although I enjoyed every part of Little Next Door (save the pistachio macaron), I think I’ll keep it as a indulgence, lazy afternoon brunch place rather than an “everyday eatery.”

FOOD: 4/5

Little Next Door ($$)
8142 W Third St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 951-1010