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The Dining Room (Pasadena, CA) – Let the Pictures Speak for Themselves

August 8, 2010

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m always behind on my fine dining reviews. ALWAYS. My stomach is more ambitious than my mind – More often than not, I end up ordering the most extravagant tasting menu at a restaurant, go home, look at my pictures, realize I have to write a review individually addressing 10+ dishes, and then get completely overwhelmed. I tell myself I’ll do it tomorrow…Or the day after…Or the day after…

…2+ months later, I finally get to writing it. I mean, I always get to it sooner or later. Most of the time, it’s just later. Much later.

This meal, however, I can’t even PRETEND I’m going to write a review.
I just can’t.
I think it’s physically impossible.
(Well, impossible for me. Not impossible for kevinEats, but that’s another story.)

There’s just too much to squeeze into one post. If I tried, I would consider the resulting review to be an insult to the food and the experience, both of which were incomparable. So I’m just going to write a quick intro and let the pictures speak for themselves.

———-

(Picture taken by Kevin of kevinEats.)

When Kevin of kevinEats invited me to join him, Ryan of Epicuryan and some of their friends to dine at at The Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena on Michael Voltaggio’s last night, I didn’t have to think twice – I immediately said yes. I had tasted Voltaggio’s food before – his sampling at Breadbar’s Hatchi was one of my top 3 meals in 2009 – and I was not going to miss this opportunity.

With the night of the dinner being Voltaggio’s last night there and with The Dining Room itself under renovation until October 2010, my first meal at The Dining Room was to be my last there. Thus, it only made sense to go big: In honor of Voltaggio’s last night, we ate the entire menu.

All 22 courses of it.

Amuse Bouche: Gougère with Caviar Cream, Tomato Pâte De Fruit With Basil and Sea Salt

Course 1: Octopus, Buttered Popcorn, Piquillo Confetti, Cilantro

Course 2: Soft Shell Crab, Scrambled Corn, Old Bay, Vanilla-Crab Jus

Course 3: Japanese Kampachi, Jamon Iberico, Sea Sponge, Grapefruit, Crispy Rice

Course 4: Vegetables of the Season, Burrata, Nori Butter, Coffee-Cardamom “Soil”

Course 5: Foie Gras Frito, Black Sesame, Pickled Blueberries, Basil

Course 6: Foie Gras Terrine, Strawberry-Yuzu, Arugula Cake, Minus 8 Vinegar

Course 7: Halibut Cheeks, Red Curry, Coconut Rice, Baby Leeks

Course 8: Pacific Cod, Asparagus, Bonito, Marcona Almond Milk

Course 9: Arctic Char, Green Pea Tapioca, Black Olive, Porcini Chicharrón

Course 10: Salt Baked Turbot, a Jus of Itself, Summer Vegetables Roasted in Hay

Course 11: Veal Sweetbreads Tempura, Kale, Buttermilk, Mustard, Potato Puree

Course 12: Pastrami Pigeon, Swiss Cheese, Sauerkraut, Rye

Course 13: Kurobuta Pork Belly, Bok Choy “Kim Chi”, Sweet Potato Preserves, Peanut Butter Powder

Course 14: Jameson Farm Lamb, Fresh Chickpeas, Flavors of Hummus, Yogurt

Course 15: Four Story Hills Farm Suckling Pig, Banana Polenta, Chanterelles, Cipollini, Red Onion

Course 16: Beef Cheeks, Porcini Mushroom, Cannelé, Garlic Froth

Course 17: Wagyu Short Rib, Potato Confit, Nantes Carrot, Bone Marrow, Coconut Soubise

Course 18: Japanese Kuroge Rib Cap, Fried Béarnaise, Young Turnips, Bordelaise

Pre-Dessert: Peach and Yogurt “Dippin’ Dots”

Course 19: Baba Au Rhum, Textures of Coconut and Pineapple, Compressed Mango

Course 20: Chocolate Caramel Ganache, Chocolate Sorbet, Salty Hazelnut Praline, Cocoa Tuile

Course 21: Lavender Flower Macaroon, Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Vanilla-Passion Sorbet, Floral Cotton Candy

Course 22: Carrot Cake, Carrot Sorbet, Yuzu Curd, Cream Cheese Snow

The Dining Room (at the Langham) – CLOSED
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave
Pasadena, CA 91106
(626) 568-3900
Website: http://pasadena.langhamhotels.com
Twitter: @TheDiningRoom

The Dining Room (at the Langham) on Urbanspoon

Ichiza (Las Vegas, NV) – An Oasis in the Desert

August 1, 2010

I used to think I knew Vegas. I know my way up and down the Strip. I can lead you through most major casinos, both sober and drunk. I know where to find a 2-minute taxi line at the MGM on fight night. Yet somehow, I didn’t know of Ichiza until a month ago.

Located on the second floor of a random shopping center off the Strip, Ichiza is small Japanese izakaya that’s open til 4AM on the weekends. Prices are reasonable – about $5-7/plate – and the food is absolutely fantastic.

Their printed menu isn’t very comprehensive; the majority of their dishes are hand written and plastered against the walls. Therefore, do what my friends did and just ask your waitress what is good or what she recommends. (Otherwise, you’re never going to be able to figure out what they have that day.)

———-

Below is just a smattering of what Ichiza has to offer. As mentioned, the menu was hard to piece together so I’m not sure what the official name of any of these dishes below are. I’m naming them based on what I’ve been able to dig up on the internet so, if you go, please forgive me if the waitress doesn’t understand what you’re talking about.

Yellowtail Tartare

Fresh yellowtail and avocado tartare on a fried tortilla chip with rice, lettuce and pico de gallo. It’s not very Japanese and the combination sounds a little offbeat, but it works really well. I’d recommend ordering more than one order – this was my favorite of the night.

Fried Spanish Mackerel

Pop a bite-sized mackerel into your mouth, bones and all – *crunch!* The fried fish had the right amount of salt as is, so I didn’t bother using the accompanying spicy mayo. Who knew fish would be such a good late night snack?

Fried Shrimp

I typically don’t eat shrimp whole but these shrimp are so small, you’re not ordering them for their meat. You are, however, ordering them for that salty, fried crunch you taste when chomping down on their thin shells. (They’re very similar to the fried Spanish mackerel, but I think I texturally like the mackerel slightly more.)

Chicken Gizzards with Green Beans

The gizzards were garlicky and well seasoned, although the texture was a little bit too chewy for my taste. (This was, however, my first time trying gizzards so I wouldn’t know what a well-cooked gizzard’s texture would taste like.)

Chicken Don

The one truly traditional Japanese dish we ordered, their chicken don was everything it was supposed to be: Warm eggs, tender chicken, flavorful rice, hearty, comforting…

Bacon Wrapped Mochi

Its name says it all: Bacon wrapped mochi. Chewy white mochi, wrapped in salty, porky bacon. It tastes exactly what you’re imagining it tastes like. (Delicious!)

Deep Fried Bacon and Mozzarella Wrapped Zucchini

Mozzarella. Zucchini. Bacon. Fried crust. Mushroom sauce. I’m not sure how this concoction was created but it’s surprisingly good. I wouldn’t have guessed it was mozzarella if it wasn’t for someone telling me. The zucchini is subtle and is almost overpowered by the bacon (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing).

Kimchi Pork

The kimchi pork was not bad, but not as strong as some of the other dishes we ordered. It’s like they stir-fried some kimchi and bulgogi and then poured it over a plate of cabbage. Although it was unimpressive while I was sober, I could see this being really tasty with a bowl of rice after a drunken night.

Tom Yum Roll

Just thinking of how to describe it throws me for a loop – both Vietnamese and Japanese, it doesn’t favor one influence over the other. I can only say it’s like the love child of a spring roll and a sushi roll.

Honey Toast with Vanilla Ice Cream

If I were to order this again, I’d order just one for myself, cut off all the crusts and just dig into the soft, chewy bread on the inside. The inner portion is like a sponge, absorbing all the honey and melted ice cream. Each bite is sugary, starchy goodness.

———-

(How did I go so long without knowing about Ichiza? Why didn’t I go earlier?)

Ichiza
4355 Spring Mountain Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89102
(702) 367-3151

Ichiza Sake House on Urbanspoon

Cooking with Fel – Blueberry Pancakes w/ Caramelized Bananas

August 1, 2010

I was supposed to sleep in on Saturday.

I was supposed to go out Friday night, celebrate my fellow coworker’s escape from public accounting by rocking out to some 80’s cover band til 1AM in the morning, drive home and then sleep until I couldn’t sleep anymore.

…Of course, these plans were never meant to be. The parents had decided that Saturday morning, bright and early, was the best time to replace all the windows in the house – my bedroom included. Thus, only 5 hours after belting out Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”, I found myself pushing furniture in order to make way for the random window guys.

(Insert window here.)

As the house filled with the sounds of loud drilling and hammering, completely obliterating any chance of sleep, I realized I had to exact revenge on the random window guys who had awoken me from my slumber. My ingenious plan? If you’re going to wake me up at a ridiculous time then guess what – I’m going to make myself breakfast! An awesome breakfast! AND YOU’RE NOT GOING TO GET ANY!

(Neiner neiner neiner…What NOW, random window guys?!)

You really can’t go wrong with fresh blueberry pancakes. Top them off with caramelized bananas, and you automatically win. Win what? Win whatever you want. (You hear that, random window guys? I WIN!)

(Okay, enough with my random delirium-driven story. Time for a recipe!)

———-

Blueberry Pancakes with Caramelized Bananas
Modified From: Todd’s Famous Blueberry Pancakes at Allrecipes.com & Caramelized Bananas from EatingWell, Winter 2004

Ingredients:

Blueberry Pancakes:
* 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* 1 1/4 teaspoons white sugar
* 1 egg
* 1 cup milk
* 1/2 tablespoon butter, melted
* 3/4 cup fresh blueberries

Caramelized Bananas:
* 1 medium-small firm banana, sliced
* 1/4 tablespoon butter
* 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
* 3 tablespoons orange juice

Directions:

Blueberry Pancakes:
In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. In a small bowl, beat together egg and milk. Stir milk and egg into flour mixture. Mix in the butter and fold in the blueberries. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

Caramelized Bananas:
Melt butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar and lay the banana slices on top. Cook undisturbed for 20 seconds, then add orange juice. Cook for 10 seconds, then turn bananas carefully and cook for 45 to 60 seconds more, basting with the pan sauce.

LA Street Food Fest 2010 – The OTHER Side (Starry Kitchen’s Side!)

July 25, 2010

If you think this post is going to be your typical “I went to this event and this is what I ate” type post, you are mistaken. Oh no, this is going to be my take on the LA Street Food Fest’s Summer Tasting Event from the other side – the VENDOR side.

I can’t remember exactly when I found out that my DTLA lunch haunt, Starry Kitchen, was going to be participating in the LA Street Food Fest’s Summer Tasting Event…All I know is that I somehow found out they were and that they were looking for help for the event. I like being helpful and I obviously like Starry Kitchen, so it only made sense for me to offer my services. Who knew that this would be how I would find myself serving thousands upon thousands of crispy tofu balls on a sunny July Saturday afternoon to thousands of hungry attendees?

———-

(Picture taken by Remil M.)

Before I dive into the Summer Tasting Event, let me just say that Team SK is a force to be reckoned with. Why? Because Team SK rolls deep in food bloggers. The Manila Machine may have been founded by Nastassia of Let Me Eat Cake and Marvin of Burnt Lumpia and Scoops Westside may have Matt of Mattatouille leading the charge, but I think we top them both in numbers. Team SK had not one, not two, but FIVE food bloggers in its ranks. We’re talking:

  1. Danny of Kung Food Panda – Plater of the tofu balls
  2. Julian of Jewelz, What Are We Doing Today? – Fry crew
  3. Christine of folie à choisauce – Fry crew
  4. Misty of Noms Not Bombs – The voice of the tofu ball (I think she gave the crispy tofu ball spiel at least a thousand times)
  5. Yours truly – Plater of the tofu balls, pandan flan passer-outer

Not only did we have the five of us, we also had half a dozen more people to help:

  1. Matt K. – Napkin/postcard passer-outer
  2. Justin M. – Sauce squeeze-bottle extraordinare
  3. Remil M. – Bringer/announcer of the tofu balls
  4. Caleb C. – Fry team

(And if you’re questioning my counting abilities, rounding out the “half a dozen” is Nguyen and Thi, the husband/wife team behind Starry Kitchen. I didn’t include them in the above because they ARE Starry Kitchen.)

———-

So…the LA Street Food Fest. I went to its first incarnation in February – it was sort of an organizational mess. This summer tasting event was supposed to be the new and improved version – it was exponentially better.

There were a lot of changes made to this event – the venue, the time, the setup, the ticket sales – EVERYTHING was revamped to make this event move as smoothly as possible. My favorite change was the switch from food trucks to food booths – rather than having each vendor cooking in a cramped food truck, they each had a assigned food booth and cooking area that allowed much more space to maneuver and serve. (Not only did it make more sense, logistically, but it also gave us an excuse to decorate.)

(Our beautiful booth.)

To go along with our festive booth, we presented equally festive food. Starry Kitchen pulled out all the stops for their first go at the LA Street Food Fest. Their menu for this fateful day consisted of one dish: their “Game Changer #2”, the crispy tofu ball.

(What’s all the hoopla about? These babies – Crispy tofu balls!)

A crispy tofu ball is made from tofu that has been marinated, pressed and ground, then mixed with corn and dipped in buttermilk and a natural green colored rice flake from northern Vietnam. I don’t know if you can tell by the description, but this baby is a labor-intensive monster. We’re talking about a week of long nights of prep work in order to roll almost 3500 tofu balls for this event. (I, sadly, didn’t get to roll a single ball during prep, but I really wanted to!)

So I covered the booth, I covered the food, now what about our mascot…

(Oh Captain, my Captain!)

If you didn’t see Nguyen, then I don’t know what you were doing during this event. He’s wearing a banana suit. His sign is telling you to taste his balls. I mean, seriously. What. Were. You. Doing. ?!

———-

Anyway, wonder what the life of a vendor is like on the day of a food festival? Here’s a sneak peak:

(Picture taken by Remil M.)

10:30AM – Team SK meets at SK in DTLA to pack. 21 sheets of tofu balls make their way into four SUVs. (Note, crispy tofu balls cannot be stacked, which makes it hard to transport.) My car is filled to the brim with boxes. A tower of pots is seat-belted into my front passenger side seat.

11:30AM – Leave DTLA for the Rose Bowl. I almost get crushed by said tower of pots in the front passenger side seat. (One hand on the wheel, one hand keeping the pots in place.)

1PM – After waiting in a line of cars and trucks outside, we finally enter into the Rose Bowl. Lots of unpacking and set up. Main agenda: Get oil heated now in order to have it hot enough to fry when the VIP doors open.

2PM – The first test batch of balls is fried. (Note: From this moment onward, the fry crew never once stopped frying. They fried tofu balls from 2PM until 8:30PM – 6.5 HOURS OF FRYING.)

4:15PM – VIP admission opens. Lines aren’t too long, we’re figuring out how to plate, we’re getting in the groove of things. We get a slight pause every 10 minutes or so. (I sneak a bite from our neighbors from Mo-Chica. If you didn’t get to try their scallops dish, then you missed out.)

(Picture taken by Sarah Reingewirtz of the Pasadena Star News.)

5:45PM – The general admission crowd really gets going now. People are constantly getting in line. From this moment on, we never stop moving. The only time we rest is in between batches since we have nothing to serve. Otherwise, we’re constantly serving, serving, serving. Our fry team can’t keep up with the demand; however, we’re still able to get a new batch of balls out within 5-10 minutes of running out. We try to eat in between batches – Matt has been trading tofu balls for food with the other stands. (We tried a bunch of random stuff, but I’m honestly not sure what most of it was and I definitely DON’T have pictures of any of it.) We chat with the crowd. People seem happy.

8PM – We bring out dessert – the mini pandan flans. (We only made 200-ish of them, as a reward for those who stay late.) I pass them out to the people in line while they wait for the next batch of balls to come out.

8:30PM – We receive notice from the fry crew that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. (Literally, not figuratively – our fry crew is frying in one of the Rose Bowl tunnels.) No light = no more frying. We have two batches left – that’s it.

8:50PM – We give out our last tofu ball. We’re done with service!

(Yeah crispy tofu balls!)

9:30PM – We start cleaning up. We wait for the oil guy (his name is Sam) to come take away our fry oil. We start throwing everything into plastic garbage bags. We load up all the cars with the leftover balls. We look for our leader in the banana costume. (Bill of Street Gourmet LA stole him away and made him take shots of tequila. Shots shots shots shots shots shots!)

10:15PM – We’re done with clean up at the Rose Bowl. Everyone else drives to DTLA to bring everything back to the restaurant and get some late night grub. I drive home, planning on resting after a long day, but…well…apparently choosing to blog instead.

1:45AM (the following day) – I finish blogging and realize how stupid it was to blog instead of sleep (especially since I have to do real work tomorrow). My feet are still a little sore from standing all day. My eyes are getting droopy. I’m definitely tired. I click the “Publish” button – I’m finally, completely DONE!

Momofuku Ssam Bar (Manhattan, NY) / Momofuku Milk Bar (Manhattan, NY) – Tasting a Lucky Peach

July 14, 2010

Momofuku Ssam Bar

When I first planned NYC Trip #2, I originally penciled in “Momofuku Ko” on my schedule. Arguably the hardest reservation to get in all of New York (I heard David Chang won’t even let his parents bypass his infamous Momofuku reservation system), the only way to get a reservation is to stalk the website and count down the seconds until reservations for the following week’s seating opened. I felt confident I would be able to score one of the twelve available seats for that night…that is, until I totally forgot about making reservations. I remembered 12 hours too late. (Oops!)

…Okay then, onto Plan B.

———-

Getting into Momofuku Ssam Bar is much easier than Momofuku Ko. Unless you reserve an order of their famous bo ssam pork shoulder ahead of time, Ssam Bar is a first-come, first-serve eatery. My suggestion is to get there early, before the lunch/dinner crowds hit – otherwise, you’ll be escorted to the Momofuku Milk Bar next door, where you’ll wait for your table in a somewhat uncomfortable position. (Milk Bar has no chairs and waits are typically about half an hour or longer.)

Plates at Ssam are decently sized but…well…my dining companions and I are eaters. Therefore, for the three of us, we ordered all of the following:

Santa Barbara Uni, Whipped Tofu, Tapioca, Shrimp Crackers

Call me dense but I didn’t get this dish. Maybe the contrast in texture was meant to be the focus, but I didn’t really understand how the flavors of the whipped tofu, the chewy tapioca/boba balls and the shrimp crackers were supposed to work with the rich, buttery uni. (The uni was fresh and delicious by itself though.)

Fuji Apple Kimchi, Jowl Bacon, Maple Labne, Arugula

The kimchi apples, on the other hand, I understood – it was easily one of the top 5 dishes I tasted during my second NYC trip. Crisp Fuji apples are coated in the peppery kimchi seasoning (minus the vinegar) and topped with meaty bacon and spicy arugula. The labne (a strained yogurt) mellows everything out. A complete bite of all four components? Amazing.

Country Ham

We ordered two types of country ham: the smokier Edward’s Wigwam ham and the non-smoked Finchville’s ham. All I have to say is, if you’re going to go for ham, get it smoked.

Steamed Buns, Pork Belly, Hoisin, Cucumbers, Scallions

When I used to hear about Momofuku pork buns I used to think, “What’s so good about Momofuku pork buns…? Pffft. Big deal.” Now I think, “OMG, I WANT A PORK BUN.” Just imagine a peking duck bun – the familiar hoisin and scallion flavors and the texture of the fluffy bun – but now swap the duck for soft and tender pork belly that just melts in your mouth. Doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is – these pork buns are DELICIOUS.

Corned Beef Terrine, Fried Egg Sauce, Tea Brined Egg Salad

I was uninspired by this dish, possibly because I ate it immediately after those mind-blowing Momofuku pork buns. Although it was tasty, at the end of the day, it just felt like chunks of corned beef compressed in a terrine mold.

Fried Baby Artichokes, Pistachio, Sunchokes, Bottarga

I’m not a fried artichokes kind of girl as I find they lose their tender artichoke qualities when they’re immersed in a vat of oil and end up with a texture reminiscent of dry leaves. Therefore, instead of commenting on the fried artichokes, I just want to bring your attention to the delicious sunchoke puree smeared on the side of the bowl in the picture above. (I would have much rather had a bowl of just that!)

Chili Soft Shell Crab, Green Plum, Asparagus, Lemon Confit

The tart lemon was a nice accompaniment against the asparagus and a nice contrast against the crispy soft shell crab. However, I don’t recall tasting any of the chili that is referred to in the dish description.

Spicy Pork Sausage, Rice Cakes, Chinese Broccoli, Crispy Shallots

The meaty, spicy dduk bok-ki was a great way to end the meal. The rice cakes were crispy on the outside but soft and chewy in the middle (just the way I like them!). The pork sausage had a real kick to it too. (I wouldn’t recommend ordering anything after this one.)

———-

And now, for a side tangent:

For those who may not have seen The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Ssam sits right around the middle of that list at #26. It’s the 5th US restaurant on the list, only topped by Alinea (in Chicago) and Daniel, Per Se and Le Bernardin (all in NYC). It’s six spots above The French Laundry (in Yountville, CA).

When first scanning the 2010 list, I was surprised to see Ssam ranked so highly. At the time, I hadn’t read much about the place so I attributed my reaction to ignorance and gave it the benefit of the doubt. However, after dining at both Ssam and at the last restaurant to make the cut (Eleven Madison Park at #50) in the same week, I left NYC still very confused. Momofuku Ssam Bar…#26…?

According to the Momofuku website, the name “Momofuku” means “lucky peach”. I believe it’s a fitting name – Without a doubt, like a ripe peach, Momofuku Ssam Bar is delicious and worth trying. However, I find the inclusion of the word “lucky” even more fitting – As tasty as it may be, with a #26 position on the World’s Best list, Momofuku Ssam Bar must be much, much luckier.

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500
Website: http://www.momofuku.com/

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Milk Bar

We started off the night in Milk Bar (while waiting for our table); we ended our night there as well. I wanted something sweet but since I was slightly stuffed at this point, I only split a slice of David Chang’s infamous “Crack Pie”.

Crack Pie – Toasted Oat Crust, Gooey Butter Filling

I think it’s logical to assume that Crack Pie was probably named for its supposedly addictive qualities. I have no doubt that there are people out there who are addicted after bite one; I, however, am not one of them. Honestly, it just tasted like butter and sugar to me (which is basically all that’s in it anyway). I’m not sure what I expected from it but…well…if this is crack, I think I’ll pass next time.

What I won’t pass on, however, is Milk Bar’s cereal milk soft serve. As a girl who likes her cereal SUPER soggy before chowing down, I really enjoyed this – its taste was spot on, exactly like the sweet, sugary milk you typically find at the bottom of your bowl. I’m not sure I would purchase an actual bottle of their cereal milk (especially since I feel like I could easily re-create it by pouring myself a bowl of cereal at home) but the cereal milk soft serve is definitely worth the trip.

Momofuku Milk Bar– MOVED
(new location information)
251 E 13th St
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500
Website: http://www.momofuku.com/

Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar on Urbanspoon