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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Samosa House: Vegetarian Indian at Great Value

I've had some pretty great eats lately, but nothing excites me more than a cheap find that's delicious and easy on the wallet. What's not to like? Welcome to Samosa House in Culver City.

My dining partner and I went here as a backup plan but thank god the other restaurant was overbooked! It's a vegetarian/vegan joint but as long as you avoid the fake meat and fish items, it's pretty good, especially for that money. We got the $7.99 combo special, which includes a choice of any three mains, rice (brown or white), raita, the yummy yogurt with veggies, and naan (plain or garlic).

If that isn't the greatest deal on earth, not sure what is. Ok, I considered my other Indian fare fave, Hurry Curry on Venice, that has a great $12.99 special for two that includes two meat entrees, plus four veggie entrees, rice for two and naan for two.

My favorites were cauliflower that had a sauce like that of tikka masala, potato curry and the jackfruit that was recommended on message boards. The jackfruit had a very interesting texture like that of shredded chicken (it really did almost taste like chicken). The eggplant and spinach dishes were all on mild side.

Both the white and brown basmati rice were freshly made and fluffy and the garlic naan was well-made and tasted as if fresh from the oven.

One thing we noticed was that the restaurant seems to use less ghee or oil when cooking, which made the usually fairly heavy Indian fare lighter and a tad more guilt-free. But we liked that it did it in a way that didn't seem to compromise on flavor.

The place's namesake, the samosas, were very good -- piping hot, super crispy with a delicious potato filling. Dab some of that cilantro chutney over it for some kick and you have one of my favorite snacks/appetizers in the world.

The sitting area was a lot cleaner and nicer than Hurry Curry minus the massive flat screens blazing Bollywood movies.

The place also doubles as a market for Indian spices and chutneys in a jar. It's a great place to browse if you're early for a lunch meeting. Depending on how ambitious a cook you are, you can pick up ready-made curries and sauces or get all the raw spices if you want to make it from scratch. If nothing else you can pick up some affordable cardamom seeds to grind into your chai.

I will definitely return to Samosa House as a go-to place for well-made and affordable Indian food. It's quick, it's cheap and it's good.

Friday, March 19, 2010

LA Market at JW Marriott: Mediocre

I had read about celebrity chef Kerry Simon's famous burger so ventured to his latest restaurant, LA Market, in the lavish, towering JW Marriott in LA Live. The space was spanking new, very airy with tall ceilings and showered with super bright SoCal sunlight. The food was disappointing.

First of all, the menu wasn't even online. Second, I had to send back my burger because it was overcooked. This from a so-called Iron Chef? Pu-lease. Granted, they apologized and cooked it decently (but not perfectly) the second time. I appreciated that they were willing to cook my half of the burger medium rare and my dinner mate's half of the burger medium.

However, the patty was a bit anemic and therefore had a hard time being cooked properly. The works it came with were not impressive either. The butter lettuce, caramelized onions, tomato and two thick-cut bacon were unremarkable. The bun, oh the bun. The bread basket before our meal was so much better than this bun. This bun was dense and dry, not soft enough.

This place did get extra points for having sweet potato fries, which came out hot and good. But I wouldn't return for the burger.

The tuna, rice and crab napoleon-like appetizer wasn't too successful. This dish represented how Asian fusion could go wrong by adding an all-too sweet sauce over it unnecessarily. The flavors and textures just didn't gel. The only thing I liked about it was the crunchy crust on the bottom of the rice patty. Don't mess with the sushi formula if it ain't broke, I say. Is it a seaweed-less roll-cum-rice sandwich? Is it a sashimi rice layer cake? Two rice patties were stuffed with raw tuna sat on a thousand island-like dressing with micro greens and fish eggs and topped with a heap of crab meat. I loved the meaty crab meat but what's with that nasty teriyaki-wannabe sauce drizzled over the iffy concoction? That killed it.

I needed to add some serious hot sauce to taste some kind of flavor.

Then there was the mac-n-cheese, which was probably one of the better dishes.

I liked its garlicky taste and crunchiness from the bread crumbs, but the top could have used more cheese. After all, isn't mac-n-cheese all about spooning a mouthful of piping hot, gooey, stretchy cheese as you dive in?

Lately I've been into reinventing leftovers in my kitchen and I was inspired by Corkbar's mac-n-cheese with chile to add canned roasted green chiles when reheating it. When the flavor still wasn't intense enough, I added some Cholula sauce, which made it better, in my humble opinion.

At the end of the meal, we were treated to a massive basket of sweet goodies, presumably to make up for the burger snafu.

That was nice of them, except neither of us has a sweet tooth at all so most of the uber-colorful sweets went untouched.

It was cute to bring all the brownies, cotton candy and caramel corn with two comforting glasses of good ol' fashioned milk shakes.

Other items included rice crispy and marshmallow cakes, cheerios and marshmallow cakes (they're probably called something more appealing but I'm no fan so don't know what else to call them), some super-sweet looking pink balls and a ton of chocolate-y type of things.

Unfortunately, everything was far too sweet for my taste. My dessert indulgences are bread pudding, tiramisu, creme brulee or some killer chocolate souffle or semisweet cake with a dollop of hazelnut gelato and caramelized banana...

But I digress. LA Market may need to develop an exciting happy hour menu for the downtown office crowd or not sure how well it's going to do.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Starry Kitchen Downtown: A Second Chance

I usually have a strong disdain for anything fusion-like, especially fusing Vietnamese or Korean food with others, mostly because I've rarely had a successful combination. So it was with some trepidation that I walked into Starry Kitchen in Downtown LA whose menu smelled like fusion (Located in California Plaza to be exact, where they have Grand Performances concerts in the summer).

I wanted to like it, as I know people who know the owners and they're artists! But the first trial was not great. I had the Taiwanese fried pork chop banh mi sandwich with a side of curry shallot fried rice. Sounds great on paper, right?

Delivery was iffy, however. The pork chop wasn't warm or crispy. It was like a thin piece of tonkatsu that'd been fried hours ago and not bothered to be refried or reheated for the sandwich assembly. I'm sorry but if I'm going to have a fried something sandwich, I want mine piping hot!

The banh mi fillings were ok but a tad bland, which leads me to the one good thing it has going for itself -- the delicious pickled jalapeno, carrot and onion relish a-la-taqueria. If it weren't for this, the sandwich would have been too bland for my taste.

Speaking of bland, the Thai cobb salad that came recommended with lemongrass chicken was oh-so disappointing. There was nothing Thai about that salad except its name. It was a basic cobb salad with romaine, cucumber, avocado (which I used as filling for my sandwich), bacon, boiled egg, blue cheese and the odd addition of lemongrass chicken. Not only did the flavors not blend with the addition of the chicken, the chicken itself tasted like bad airplane rubber chicken! Couldn't taste a hint of lemongrass anywhere. Oh, it needs work.

Even the Thai beef salad in Houston's is far better with its peanuts, mango and other ingredients that make it far more Thai than this odd version.

I will be returning just to try other dishes before writing it off completely but for now, I'm not too impressed.

By the way, on our way out we were so dissatisfied with our food that we decided to hit up some lunch trucks parked outside of the Plaza and ran into Mattie's Southern Kitchen, which purports to serve Southern food.

Well, I recommend avoiding it. The bbq pulled pork sandwich was god-awful. No hint of any bbq sauce. It was just plain old, unseasoned, tasteless, pasty pork stuffed in a sandwich with some cole slaw. Yuck! What a waste of my $5...