Friday, December 28, 2007

Griddle Cafe: It’s cheesecake…no wait, it’s French toast…no wait…

There are only two things in the world that can make me wake up voluntarily at 7am on a holiday. One is to go on vacation (I prefer morning flights) and the other is...

Breakfast. I love breakfast food (and not only just during breakfast time. I love breakfast at any hour of the day). I will wake up at 7am and take a bus across the city if that’s what it takes to get good breakfast. No joke – Kenji and I used to always meet up for breakfast at the Flying Pan back home. And the Flying Pan was #1 on my list for breakfast. That is, until today where it’s dropped to #6 on the list. The first 5 spots are now taken by The Griddle Café.

(The magic begins with the Creme de la Creme French toast)

I. LOVE. THE. GRIDDLE. CAFÉ. Really. I love it more than I love daisies and little puppies. You know how there are some places which are really hyped up and you go with high expectations only to find that it’s really not as good as everyone says it is? Well, the Griddle Café was NOT one of those places. The Griddle Café was 100% genuine, down-to-earth, KICK-ASS food. It’s no wonder this place is such an institution.

When we walked in though, there was a mildly attractive but horribly rude waitress to greet us. She cleaned the table for us and when I smiled and said ‘thank you’, (note: though I am usually an unpleasant person, I am strangely really nice to strangers) she just looked at us, and in an impatient and pretty demanding tone, told us to “sit”. She was probably an aspiring actress who was working at the Griddle to pay the rent. I guess she was being bitchy because she didn’t get a callback…probably because she gave the audition panel attitude as well.

Bernard and I were pretty put off…that is, until our serving waitress came up to our table. Hmmm…how should I describe her? She was like the love-child of a rainbow and a beam of sunshine…not to mention, she looked like a (pretty version of) Cameron Diaz. She flitted to our table and sprinkled her magical good-service fairy dust over our heads and we were all happy again. I was soooo glad bitchy-girl wasn’t our waitress! So if you ever go to the Griddle Café and get shitty service, don’t write it off just yet – you were probably just unlucky and got the bad-egg server.

After looking through the menu (which has a huge selection…with everything – seriously, EVERYTHING – sounding really good), I decided to go with the Crème de la Crème French toast ($10.95) and Bernard got the Golden Ticket pancakes ($10.95). My French toast was amazing…like cry-worthy amazing. I’m not even being over-dramatic – I definitely felt some small tears welling up at the back of my eyes. I mean, I’m no stranger to French toast – I’ve had a fair share in my time – but this was definitely something special. Two slices of thick French toast covered with graham cracker crumbs and then topped off with powdered sugar and the magic ingredient – the Griddle Café’s cheesecake topping. It’s a cheesecake disguised as a French toast! And what I’m about to say next is completely honest – not only was this French toast better than all other French toasts I’ve had, it was also better than most cheesecakes I’ve had! Bernard’s Golden Ticket pancakes were light and fluffy, yet every bite was packed with brown-sugared bananas, caramel, streusel, and walnuts. I would’ve taken more of Bernard’s pancakes but I was just too enamored with my own French toast. I also ordered a pot of their dark roast French-pressed coffee ($3.35) which came in a French-press to keep at the table. The coffee was so friggin’ awesome and was especially good for washing down all that sweet sweet sugar. If you like coffee – DEFINITELY try their French-pressed coffee. Yes, it’s a little pricey but you get a whole pot to yourself (with complimentary refills).

(The MONSTER-sized Golden Ticket pancakes could hardly fit on the plate!)

Word of warning: portions are big large huge FUCKING GARGANTUAN. There should be a law against the sizes they serve up. Just one slice of my toast was bigger than two slices of what they serve at most other places. Even with that, the size of the French toast didn’t seem that ridiculous anymore when compared to the pancakes. The pancakes must have been at least 10” across…and there were THREE to a plate. The food here is dirt cheap when you consider the portion sizes (seriously, we could live off the leftovers for the next 3 days). You can tell that the restaurant EXPECTS people to box up their food because there was a giant shelf of white take-away boxes near the kitchen. A couple sitting near us grinned when they saw Bernard admit defeat to his pancakes and told us, “we’ve been here a few times so we’ve learnt to only order one to split”. Smart people. One of their pancake servings could probably feed a family of 5.

The atmosphere was great. Some reviews said the place can seem a bit pretentious, since it’s a popular hangout for scenesters but we were there at around 9am on a weekday morning so the scenesters were still probably in bed, passed out from last night’s partAy. Instead, the place was filled with people who genuinely like good food (my favorite kind of people) and if you enjoy the blues (think Robert Johnson), you’ll extra-love the Griddle Café. There was no wait when we got there but by the time we left the place (around 9.45am), a line was already beginning to form outside. I also heard crazy stories about the lines at weekends. So, take a tip from me – go before 9.30 on a weekday and you’ll have a ball.

Our final bill came out to $30 for two people (plus a big tip for Cameron Diaz-waitress, NOT bitchy-waitress). Again, dirt cheap for the amount and quality of food we got. Bernard and I could have ordered something to share and that would’ve probably cost less than $15 between us. Oh well, at least we’re educated for when we visit again (and you can be sure as hell we’ll visit again!)

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

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

*Random note: I bought some yellow roses today and they are B-E-A-UTIFUL!! They should be in full bloom in a day or two...I'm so excited :)

(All you need is love...and a bunch of yellow roses to brighten up a room)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's Cold Outside

I hate crowds. HATE them.

So you can only imagine what I felt when Bernard and I walked into Hop Li (proper and full review to come soon) to see forty people crammed up against the front counter. It was absolutely horrible. We waited for over half an hour without even being able to get so much as our names down on the waiting list.

OK, I admit it…it was stupid of me not to make reservations on Christmas night. Really stupid. But still, it was ridiculously crowded! Eventually, we decided to get a take-out order to bring back home instead. It's no wonder Hop Li was crowded, the food is amazing.

After dinner, I made a quick dessert with what scraps of supplies I had lying around the house. I decided to make a batch of Dorie Greenspan’s Korova cookies. Now, I’ve made these before and know that this recipe produces amazing cookies but still, to me, cookies don’t really make a satisfying after-dinner dessert. To get around this problem, instead of making a batch of small cookies, I made two large cookies and served each one with a scoop of ice cream and Christmasy sprinkles (the recipe is below).

The recipe didn’t fail me – the cookies turned out great. The only problem was that, since the cookie is naturally REALLY crumbly (which is one reason why the cookie is so good), it becomes really difficult to remove from the baking sheet in one piece when it’s one huge cookie. One cookie broke into pieces when I tried to put it onto a plate…but it didn’t matter – it still tasted great. The crumbly texture also makes it perfect for eating with a spoon (which we needed to do since I added a scoop of ice cream on top!) I also used white chocolate chunks in my cookies instead of dark chocolate…just because I love white chocolate :)

Good food, no crowds. Merry Christmas.

(Yes, I KNOW fortune cookies are un-Chinese...but they taste fucking great!! I could eat a whole bag of those. My fortune this time said "The world will soon be ready to receive your talents". Awesome, now I just have to find a talent for the world to receive)


Korova Cookies (ingredient quantities makes 2 large cookies…and you’ll have dough left over for about 4 normal sized ones)

156ml all-purpose flour
40ml cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
5 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2.5oz white chocolate chunks

Beat butter in a large bowl until light and creamy. Add the sugar, brown sugar, fleur de sel and vanilla extract to the butter and beat until combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda. Add this to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. DO NOT overmix…don’t worry if the dough seems really crumbly – that’s what it’s supposed to be like (I know, the first time I made these, I was sure I had made a mistake somewhere since the dough seemed way too dry and crumbly). Add in the chocolate chunks and give it a quick mix to distribute it into the dough. Dump the dough onto a large piece of cling wrap.
Here, Greenspan’s recipe says to roll the dough into a log and wrap in cling wrap but I’ve found that it is next to impossible to roll the “dough” into any shape since it has the texture of sand (no joke). So, instead, when you have the mixture on the cling wrap, wrap it tightly and compress the dough into a ball shape with the cling wrap. Then, gently press and mold the “ball” into a long roll shape with roughly a 1.5” diameter (it’s hard to describe but you’ll get the hang of it when you start making them). Usually, my “roll” ends up looking like some type of slug but that doesn’t matter. Throw the dough, wrapped in cling wrap, into the fridge and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit for about minute. Preheat the oven to 325F and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. How you divide up the dough depends on the size you want your cookies to be. For normal sized cookies, you can slice the dough to about ½” thick. For my big cookies, I split the dough into thirds, with each third making one big cookie. The dough will probably crumble when you slice it up but you can just press the pieces together and press it into a circle shape on the baking tray. Bake the cookies on the center rack for around 12 minutes. The cookie centers will be soft but the edges should be done. Cool on racks…DO NOT touch or attempt to remove (especially the big cookies) until it cools for a bit. The cookie will firm up as it cools so if you attempt to remove from the tray before it cools, it will just break into pieces.

Place a large cookie on each plate. Scoop your favorite ice cream on each cookie and add sprinkles!!

(Large Cookie with triple fudge ice cream!)

I've been baking like crazy over the last week...making gifts to send out to friends and such. And with the end of Christmas comes the end of my Christmas gift making spree. Now let's bring on 2008!!
(Sugar cookies decorated with royal icing. These made their way to Vegas!)
(Dark chocolate-hazelnut truffles)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

City Bakery: Who Needs Men When They Make Cookies THIS Good??

(Soup bowl sized latte + Molten Chocolate Cookie)

I never visit New York without first compiling a “places to go” list. And, of course, by “places to go”, I mean “places to eat”. Last summer, I made most places on my list (Eleni’s, Fat Witch, Grand Central Oyster Bar, Ciao Bella, etc.) but of course, without wanting to drag my family into my crazed eating-around-the-city tendencies, I had to give up hopes of going to every single place on my list.

One of the places I missed out on was The City Bakery. Since I had managed to satisfy my desire for baked goods with the magic of Eleni’s (the patisserie right by my hotel helped a lot too), I didn’t think too much of it back then. Recently, however, I heard that they opened a branch right here in LA at the Brentwood Country Mart.

I knew that I HAD to go.

I’ve wanted to visit the Brentwood Country Mart for some time now but the trouble with living in LA is that it’s next to impossible to get anywhere without a car. I don’t drive, and after a few not-so-pleasant episodes with the Los Angeles public transportation system, I’ve become really reluctant to venture anywhere that’s beyond walkable distance. So it’s a good thing that Bernard came to visit because I’ve been using his visit as an excuse to “go out”. So, on Tuesday, I worked out the bussing route (OK, I admit it – even with my extensive planning, we still got a little lost…but only a little) and I finally got to visit the red barn, and…the City Bakery!!

After a quick browse of what they had to offer, I settled on the molten chocolate cookie ($3.00) and a latte ($3.50). Bern got the chocolate chip cookie ($2.50) and their famous hot chocolate ($4.00?). Sure, it was a little pricey, but it was OH-SO-WORTH-IT! I ordered the regular-sized latte and found myself sipping my coffee out of a soup bowl! Bernard’s cookie was also HUGE…you could definitely fatten a small child with one of those. The hot chocolate and my cookie was a little on the small side for their prices but what they lacked in size, they made up in taste. Their hot chocolate is creamy and crazy-rich…an absolute Chocoholic’s wet-dream! It was definitely a good thing that their sizes were relatively small…I’m sure Bernard would have keeled over and died of a chocolate overdose if the cup was any bigger.

And I’m going to start a new paragraph for my molten chocolate cookie…because it deserves a paragraph of its own. At first glance, it looked like a normal, simple, chocolate cookie. But when I tore a little piece off, I was introduced to a beautiful molten chocolate center. There are really no words good enough to describe the first bite…all I can say is that, at that point, I wished I were a cookie too…so I could marry that chocolate wonder. What I felt at that moment must be what people call “love”. Without exaggeration, the City Bakery’s molten chocolate cookie is pure genius. It’s basically a rich and gooey chocolate brownie housed inside a chocolate cookie exterior. Two desserts in one portable package? You bet!

Needless to say, the City Bakery ROCKS!! Yes, I live near a place where I can get half-a-dozen of pretty damn good cookies for 2 bucks, but after trying the molten chocolate cookie, I just know that, from now on, I’ll be bussing out to the City Bakery to get my cookie fix. In fact, Bern and I have already made plans to go back again some time this week! Thank God for this little slice of New York in LA!!

FOOD: 4/5

The City Bakery LA ($)
Brentwood Country Mart
(Intersection at San Vicente and 26th)

**Word of warning: Unless you are an experienced and certified chocoholic, do NOT attempt to order the molten chocolate cookie with the hot chocolate. Your arteries will not be able to handle it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Being Happy

Last week I stocked up (BIG TIME) on cooking tools and ingredients. After a bit of internet research, I took an half-hour bus ride and ended up at the doorstep of possibly the best discovery I've made since moving to LA.

Surfas is AMAZING! Not only is the store impeccably clean and well organized (both of which bode extremely well for me), it stocks up on the type of products you see in Bouchon cookbooks and such (I didn't even know "powdered food coloring" existed! I bought 3 small pots). I fell in love with the store as soon as I saw the shelves of cookie cutters and piping tips and the rows and rows of pastel-colored sanding sugars. Beautiful.

And if that wasn't enough, the staff were also incredibly friendly and helpful. They knew the store inside-out, which was impressive, considering that it wasn't exactly small and probably stocked a gazillion-million different products. After about an hour or so of browsing, I ended up with 2 large brown paper bags filled with $60 worth of stuff...and a warm fuzzy feeling in the bottom of my stomach.

I absolutely LOVED Surfas. The crowd there was the perfect mix of moms-who-cook-at-home and young, hipster chefs. In fact, I love it so much that I'm thinking of skipping out on my next pair of shoes so I can spend money at Surfas instead (I can't believe I just wrote that!)

I think I might start to like Los Angeles...