Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cut Night at Casa Diaz

I've been dying to visit Wolfgang Puck's Cut, ever since my friend Elisa told me about her incredible dinner there. But I'm deterred every time I think about how expensive it is. My friends and I recently started a new food club, and one of our new members is an actual chef trained in France. We hit the jackpot! For our first food club theme, we unanimously picked the menu at Cut.

Jonathan picked up four large slabs of 28-day, dry-aged rib eye steaks from Harvey's Guss Meat in L.A., the same meat purveyor for Cut. Total: $170.

Jonathan's wife, Nina, is from Switzerland, and she made us some delicious mulled wine with red wine, sugar, and vodka.

Eggs poached using the Curtis Stone method.

This was my dish: roasted asparagus, poached eggs, bacon, with a bacon vinaigrette.

Fire up the grill!
Look at the beautiful gill marks. The steaks were finished in the oven at 400 degrees for about 10-12 minutes.

Beautifully cooked.

The majority of us wanted rare, while a couple others preferred medium rare.

Nina's amazing potato gratin with rosemary. There were no leftovers.

Peggy's green beans with almonds, tarragon, and loads of buttery goodness

Look at the spread.

Everything was amazing, including Kimie's creamed spinach.

Esther's Nutella Semifreddo, inspired by Giada De Laurentiis' recipe.

I can't believe we found room for dessert, but I'm so glad we did. Worth every single calorie.

We each pitched in $25 for the steaks, which probably won't even cover the valet parking at Cut. Good deal, great food, even better company.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fatted Calf at The Oxbow Public Market in Napa

Last May, Kevin and I took part in our very first 30-mile bike ride in Napa Valley. It was also the first time we travelled with my favorite foodie buddy Esther. I may be married to Kevin, but Esther is my culinary soulmate. We appreciate the nuances of stinky cheeses; we wax poetic over hand-made pasta; and we debate over whether Din Tai Fung's xiao long bao had the right dough-to-filling ratio. Needles to say, Esther and I were excited to explore all the great eats in Napa. First stop: The Fatted Calf at the Oxbow Public Market.

Look at all the beautiful meats on display.

Mortadella, fine-textured cooked salami garnished with pistachios.

Bologna, I think.

Roasted pork shoulder with rosemary, garlic, and thyme. YUM!

Look at this beautiful sliver of lardon. Fat = good.

We also ordered fresh burrata from Oxbow Cheese Merchant.

Amazing dining experience without too much damage to the wallet.

Fatted Calf
The Oxbow Public Market
644 C First Street
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 256-3684

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Royal/T in Culver City

I'm working on a story about Culver City and decided to check out Royal/T, an art gallery-teahouse-restaurant-retail store hybrid. Kevin and I have been to Royal/T many times for its art shows but have never eaten there. Most of the times, we would walk through the restaurant, awkwardly lean over diners, while trying to look at the artwork behind plexiglas walls.

Cosplay restaurants are hugely popular in Asia, but I'm not really sure how I feel about being served by girls dressed as French maids.

We order the high tea set and started with the Royal/T milk tea. The black tea had a nice floral note.

Food paparazzi.

The bottom tier: tuna tartar, grilled veggie panini, chicken sandwich, and smoked salmon sandwich.

Second tier: brownie, cookie, flan (at least it tasted like it), strawberry cream, and chocolate-covered red velvet cake.

Top tier: strawberry scone.

Chicken yakisoba.

Overall, the food was good, and I really enjoyed the milk tea. But the main draw for me is still the gallery. Right now, there's a pretty incredible Kenny Scharf exhibit, which includes pieces from Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 559-6300

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Green Zone in San Gabriel

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love chicken rice. When I was a kid, my mom predicted that I would marry a chicken rice hawker. The last time I was in Singapore, I had chicken rice 7 times in 6 days. I've scoured the Southland--from L.A. to Riverside--for a good chicken rice place. Unfortunately, I've been disappointed every single time. Naturally, I was skeptical when my friend Michelle told me about an organic chicken rice restaurant in San Gabriel. However, after testing Chubby Hubby's recipe a dozen times, I've realized that fresh, free-range chicken makes the best Hainanese chicken. The Green Zone sounded like it's on the right track, and Yelp gave it a pretty high rating.

The fried tofu skin-wrapped prawn was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. It had great texture but overall a pretty ordinary dish.

I was concerned when I first read the menu, which described it as lemongrass rice with chicken. Last time I checked, there's no lemongrass in authentic chicken rice. But I was pleased when I request dark meat, and the waiter replied that they only serve dark meat. The verdict? It was actually pretty decent. The chicken was tender, and the rice was not gummy. Plus they served it with the sweet dark soy sauce, a rarity in the U.S. The bad: The chili sauce was a total miss, and there's no gelatinous chicken skin in sight. I'm not sure if it's worth the long trek out here, but I might be back someday.

Green Zone
534 E Valley Blvd
Ste 4 & 5
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 288-9300

Ord Hoyka Noodle in Hollywood

It's another cold, rainy Friday, so we headed to our favorite Thai restaurant in Hollywood, Ord Hoyka. It's a cash-only place and the menu is delicious and cheap--a winning combination.

A small serving of meatball noodle soup for less than $4. After a long work week, this bowl of light, savory broth was the perfect comfort food. Kinda wished we ordered the large bowl.

Fried meatball platter with beef, pork, and fish.

I usually order the duck rice here but decided to go with the pad ses ew instead. It's a decent rendition with enough wok hei (smoky flavor delivered by a superhot wok). Think I'll stick with the duck rice the next time.

Ord Hoyka Noodle
5401 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 463-1339

Monday, November 7, 2011

Overseas Singaporean Survival Guide

I've been living in California for more than 16 years, almost as long as I've lived in Singapore. Aside from my family, the thing I miss the most is obviously the food. According to New Yorker's Calvin Trillin: Culinarily, Singaporeans are among the most homesick people he has ever met.

Inspired by a recent conversation with a fellow Singaporean expat--who has never heard of Prima Taste or Do Do fishballs--here's my Overseas Singaporean Survival Guide:

1. Do Do Fish Balls

Fish balls in America are firm and dense, resembling the texture of sotong balls. Singaporean fish balls, on the other hand, are delicate and bouncy. I've tried many fish ball brands and Do Do is by far the best. They used to sell it at Ranch 99 but not any more. The only other place I can find it is at Hong Kong Supermarket in Monterey Park (127 N. Garfield Avenue).

2. Prima Taste

Hands down, Prima Taste offers the most authentic versions of pre-made mixes. I've spent hours recreating recipes from scratch and none of them came close to Prima. My favorites are the
laksa mix, the chicken rice mix, and the chicken curry mix. You can find them at some Asian supermarkets or When you're in Singapore, pick up extra packets of their sambal. It's sooo good.

It's almost impossible to find the right thick bee hoon for laksa, even in Singapore. Prima just launched a new line of laska mix that comes with the noodles. It's not bad at all.

3. The only decent char kway teow I could find was Belacan Grill in Redondo Beach, which relocated to Tustin a year ago. I've not been to the Tustin branch, so I'm not sure if it's still good there.

4. I was really excited when my friend in New York told me about a Teochew porridge place in San Gabriel called Lu's Garden, and the place didn't disappoint. You get unlimited sweet potato porridge with your choice of sides, including minced pork with mustard greens, braised pork, and fried fish.

5. There are actually quite a few places you can get belachan kangkong. Some restaurants call it water spinach. Personally, I like the ones at Phoenix Inn in Alhambra (water spinach in Malay sauce).

6. I've been to so many Malaysian/Singaporean restaurants in the Southland and have yet to be impressed. I always get my hopes up, like the time I virtually stalked The Spice Table for months, checking constantly to see if it finally opened. I loved the ikan bilis and peanuts, the kon loh mee (it reminded me of dry wanton mee), and the rendang was fantastic. I would actively avoid the Street Hawker Truck, Singapore's Banana Leaf at the L.A. Farmers Market, and Singapore Express in Venice. And while Mutiara Food & Market in Inglewood has pretty high Yelp ratings, I was not happy with my dining experience. The mee goreng was disappointing. Oh, and don't order hokkien mee at Malaysian restaurants, unless you like the dark, peppery kind.

7. You can get frozen prata, frozen pandan leaves, frozen cockles, and frozen durian at most Ranch 99 markets.

8. Freshly killed (never frozen) chicken make the best Hainanese chicken rice. After various trials, I've concluded that the medium-size chickens from Happy Family Farms (Hollywood's Sunday farmers market) are the best. The kosher chicken at the LA Farmers Market and Mary's Free Range Chickens at Whole Foods are also good.

9. I highly recommend food blogs like, Little Corner of Mine, and A Tiger in the Kitchen.

10. I usually stock up my pantry during my annual trip back to Singapore. I buy everything from salt and white pepper to dark sweet soy sauce and fresh spices. Here's a list of food items you're allowed to bring back.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mario's Peruvian & Seafood

It was a cold and rainy Friday evening, and I was craving something warm and soupy specifically Chupe De Camarones, a Peruvian shrimp chowder from Mario's in Hollywood. At any given time, it's at least a 30-minute wait to get into the restaurant, but the rain kept the crowd away. We were seated immediately.

I don't know what's in the spicy green sauce, but it's so freaking amazing.

Chupe De Camarones with rice, shrimp, cilantro, and evaporated milk.

Camaron Al Ajo: sauteed shrimp in a butter and garlic sauce. You can't really go wrong with the fried shrimp, but I'm happy with just the garlic and butter sauce. Drizzle it all over rice and I could eat a whole bowl.
Kevin's Lomo Saltado: beef sauteed with onions, tomatoes and French fries over seasoned rice

Mario's Peruvian & Seafood
5786 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Neighborhood: Mid Wilshire
(323) 466-4181

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saddle Peak Lodge

My co-worker and I were invited to Saddle Peak Lodge to try their new chef's tasting menu. I wasn't sure what to expect as we drove through the winding roads of Malibu. My co-worker is a huge taxidermy fan, so imagine her delight when we entered the main dining room.

The building has been around for a hundred years. While my design taste leans towards midcentury modern, I'm kinda digging the rustic hunter's lodge look.

My co-worker had the Manhattan and I had a mojito. (Okay, I had a couple sips. It was STRONG!)

Tomato soup amuse bouche. It reminded me of the borsch I had as a child at the Hainanese-owned Russian restaurant in Singapore called Shashlik.

Smoked salmon blini with caviar. The blini was a little doughy but I liked it.

Albacore sashimi with Hawaiian papaya, red onion, cilantro, avocado, and orange-ginger puree. I don't really understand the puree. What do I do with it? Is it a sauce?

Mushroom agnolotti with truffled wild mushrooms, and Parmesan. This was soooo good. Simple, rich, and oh so tasty.

Rabbit roulade with bacon, mushrooms, apples, sage, and huckleberries. The bacon was great but the rabbit was a little dry.

Crispy Berkshire pork belly with carrot, daikon, cilantro, and mint. This was my favorite dish. The slaw was a nice balance to the wonderfully fatty pork belly.

New Zealand elk tenderloin with vanilla butternut squash, brandied cherries, cipollini onions, and mushrooms. I liked the elk, which was perfectly cooked. But the puree was confusing.

Cafe latte

Banana huckleberry croissant bread pudding with Tahitian vanilla ice cream. It's the first time I've had a croissant bread pudding, and I loved it! It's rich but not too sweet, and the huckleberries were a nice touch.

Peach beignets with crème anglaise.

419 Cold Canyon Road
Calabasas, CA 91302
(818) 222-3888