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

Susina: Peanut Butter Recall

(Berry Blossom Cake)

For some reason, I’ve been having Peanut Butter cravings like no tomorrow. I swore off “crinkly-wrapper” foods about half a year ago so I haven’t been able to satisfy my PB cravings with a Reese’s cup or something.

So I was devastated when Susina ran out of their chocolate peanut butter mousse cake. DEVASTATED. I had to settle for their berry blossom cake ($6.50) which, although is great, I’ve had before. The cake was still stellar – unlike a lot of American bakeries, Susina keeps their cakes on the light side and the whipped cream is not overly heavy like the caked on frosting at places like Sweet Lady Jane. So yes, maybe I didn’t manage to satisfy the PB cravings that day but at least I still had a pretty kickass slice o’ cake. Ah, Susina, you’ve never failed me ever.

(Strawberry Shortcake)

FOOD: 5/5

7122 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 934-7900

Amandine: Standards have Changed

(Too soupy: Omelette Ratatouille)

Now that I’m a graduate (I will never tire of saying that), I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands. I mean, just in this past week alone, I’ve been to the cinema three times! And what better way to spend all the free time than to grab brunch and the New York magazine crossword puzzle?

So, on Tuesday, I headed out to Amandine with NY mag tucked under my arm. I ordered the Omelette Ratatouille ($8.95) which came with a side of fresh fruits, two slices of toast and potato gratin. The fruit side was a little random – five chunks of banana, honeydew melon and cantaloupe? Very Asian indeed. The potato gratin was pretty good but I would have preferred it warm/hot instead of cold. And the omelette? It was only ok. The eggs weren’t light and fluffy enough and the ratoutille made the omelette a little too “soupy.” Flavor was good though but I probably wouldn’t dole out close to $9.00 again for that.

On top of the omelette, I ordered two cinnamon croissants ($2.25/each) to go. Right now, I’m on a “trying to find a croissant in LA that can match Bouchon’s” and I heard that Amandine is supposed to have a pretty good almond croissant. They were all out by the time I got there though which is absolutely ridiculous since I got there at 10am. What the hell? Anyways, the cinnamon croissant was only ok. Flaky? Yes. Melt-in-mouth like Bouchon’s? No. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to keep searching.

So yes, now that I’ve tried Amandine’s savory stuff, I guess it’s safe to say that I’m keeping this little favorite café of mine as a sweet-stuff-only location.

FOOD: 4.5/5
SERVICE: 4.5/5


Amandine Patisserie ($)

12225 Wilshire Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90025

(310) 979-3211

Friday, April 3, 2009

Homemade Marshmallows: How to Say "I Love You"

Spring puts me in the candy-making mood and since I have a bunch of ingredients I need to use up before I leave, I decided to make a (large) batch of marshmallows. These fluffy concoctions are insanely easy to make, albeit a little messy. Whip up a batch for yourself, dunk them in melted chocolate and box them up for the ones you love. Because sometimes, nothing says “I love you” more than a carton of fluffy sweetness

(makes approx. 4 dozen bite-size squares)

Non-stick spray
¼ cup icing sugar
¼ cup cornstarch

3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Combine icing sugar and cornstarch. Spray a 9 x 9 baking pan with non-stick spray. Sift about a quarter of the sugar and cornstarch mixture over the pan. Shake the tray so that the mixture coats the pan evenly. Shake off any excess and set aside.

Combine the gelatin and ½ cup of the cold water in a large bowl. Set aside. Combine the remaining water with the sugar, salt and corn syrup in a saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 4 minutes. Remove lid and continue to cook until the mixture reaches approximately 240°F then remove from heat immediately.

Pour heated mixture slowly into the gelatin mixture. Whisk the mixture with an electrical mixer on low speed. Slowly increase the mixer speed to high and whisk for roughly 12 to 15 minutes until the mixture triples in volume and becomes really thick. Add the vanilla near the end of whisking.

Pour the thickened mixture into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Dust the top of the mixture with some of the leftover sugar-cornstarch mixture. Leave the mixture to set in the pan for at least 4 hours or overnight.

When the mixture has set completely, cut into small squares with a well-oiled knife or cut into desired shapes with an oiled cutter.

Dust marshmallows with more of the sugar-cornstarch mixture. OR, if you want to do what I did, melt and temper some chocolate (I used milk chocolate) and when the chocolate is relatively cool, dip the marshmallows into it and coat evenly. Leave to set. Dunked in milk chocolate, the marshmallows taste like little bites of hot cocoa :)

(A rushed wrapping job :p )

Finally, box them up real nice and give to the ones you love! Happy spring to everyone!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Animal: Dude Food

Animal has been on my “to-go” list since it opened in June last year. I finally ventured out to the Fairfax resto tonight with poor, jetlagged Theresa in tow (sorry hun!) Being a Wednesday night, I didn’t think we’d need to make reservations. Wrong assumption – Animal was packed and the only available seats were at the bar.

Neither of us were starving so we skipped the appetizers and hopped right to the entrée selection. The restaurant name is right – this menu is definitely NOT for vegetarians or salad people. Thank God I re-entered the meat-eater’s world. Theresa decided to take a stab at the quail fry, grits, slab bacon, chard and maple jus ($26) while I decided to spoil myself with the foie gras loco moco with quail egg, spam, hamburger and gold rice ($35). Yes, I felt robbed of my foie gras after that disappointing beef Wellington episode at the Stanton Social and I felt the need to be compensated.

Our (substantially-portioned) food arrived after a little bit of catching up. The presentation of the food seemed to spell out exactly what the restaurant was about – Animal doesn’t care about the Jean Georges-esque delicate precision. What it DOES care about is infusing top quality ingredients into stripped-down, casual dishes that don’t look too aesthetically intimidating to eat. This is the epitome of “Dude Food” – nothing looks overly pretty and the food doesn’t make you feel like you should turn off the football game and catch an opera show instead. In fact, Theresa’s quail fry looked nothing fancier than a plate of KFC chicken.

(Disappointing Quail :[ )

Sad to say though, Theresa’s quail fry also tasted nothing fancier than a plate of KFC chicken. The quail meat was practically tasteless (a little marinade would be useful) and the only ounce of flavor was in the fried, flour coating. It was a disappointing dish and a waste of a good quail. On the flip side, however, my foie gras loco moco was absolutely awesome. A perfectly cooked medium-rare hamburger patty was topped with a slice of spam and a pretty generous slab of foie. This pillar of deliciousness was capped off with a fried quail egg with a semi-running yolk. It was indulgent alright. I wonder how many arteries I clogged tonight. The surrounding gold rice was doused in a lovely sweet and sour type sauce – I almost wanted to lick the plate clean. The burger was somewhat bland by itself but had a fantastic charred, smoky flavor. And its mild flavor complimented the jolting savory taste of the spam – combining both meats in one bite created the perfect flavor balance. The rich taste of the runny yolk and the smooth, creamy foie gras elevated the simple loco moco dish to a whole new unbelievable level. But the most ingenius part of it all was the sprinkling of chopped green onions. It’s such a humble ingredient but its raw, slightly electrifying taste balanced the heaviness of all the cooked, meaty components and brought out the full flavor potential of all the other components. What I loved most about the food was its simplicity. Sure, maybe foie gras doesn’t really fit into the idea of “simplicity” but what Animal does is it brings luxury ingredients down to earth. At Animal, foie gras is on the same level as spam and burger patties and it’s wonderfully refreshing to find a place that reminds you to eat food for its actual flavor and texture rather than for its luxury connotations.

(Keeping the Foie Real: Foie Gras Loco Moco)

Service is awesome and has the same no-frills attitude as the food. Tattoos are almost di rigueur among the staff and with John Shook and Vinny Dotolo as the owners/head chefs, I’m not at all surprised – all I could see through the little window into the main kitchen were Vinny Dotolo’s full-sleeve tattooed arm working over the stove. Also, unlike other Hollywood places, the 20-somethings at Animal aren’t aspiring actors/actresses and they actually like working around food and know something about it. They’re friendly and approachable and, most of all, you get the feeling that they really want you to have a kickass time with the food.

Well, mission accomplished. I totally had a kickass time!

FOOD: 4/5 (based on my loco moco and not the quail fry)

ANIMAL ($$/$$$)
435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 782-9225