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Sunday, April 29, 2012

King Hua in Alhambra: My New Go-To Dimsum Joint

I finally found a decent dimsum place, King Hua in Alhambra, although that doesn't mean I don't crave the razor thin-skinned dimsum had back in Hong Kong. I liked that the skin in these dimsum was thin enough and also liked the shrimp variations it offered. I like the standard har gow (shrimp only dumpling) as much as the next person, but I love when combined with all sorts of greens, at times nuts and cilantro. The additions give the dumpling a whole new dimension.
My favorite was the shrimp with greens beautifully topped with a goji berry, corn and pea. It was one that I hadn't seen in other dimsum joints, and the combination of sweet and tart was wonderful. I liked that this place isn't a cart-type of place. I always like to hail down the ladies with the carts trying to use all sorts of hand gestures to figure out what's in a particular dumpling, but made to order dimsum is the way to go, I say. No hassle, made fresh rather than sitting on a cart for a while and no futile attempts at pantomine involved.

I liked the har gow well enough but it didn't blow me away. I preferred the shrimp dumpling that came with nuts -- which gave it a crunch and a nice nuttiness.

Then I had my usual suspects, including sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf, which was nothing special but ok, barbecued pork buns, which were soft and fluffy but whose pork was a tad smelly and some steamed greens, which were a bit over-steamed but fine.

We also got a few unusual suspects like croquette-like taro dumplings stuffed with pork, mushroom and veggies, which were crunchy and tasted very comforting. Guess croquettes will do that to you.

Then we also had those flat rice noodles filled with, you guessed it, shrimp again. Hey, just trying to be sensitive to the pescatarians on our table. They were good and the rice noodles had just the right amount of chewiness.

Still, the pork-lovers at the table couldn't resist getting Shanghai soup dumplings, which of course, were no Din Tai Fung xiao long baos but they were decent. Then again, we hadn't come here for the xlbs...

The all vegetarian dumplings with mushrooms, bamboo shoots and other veggies were bleh. For some reason, the skin on vegetarian dumplings always seem to be on the thicker side. Not sure why that is but it makes me like them even less. Ok, I already had some contempt for them for being vegetarian dumplings.

The best way to end a dimsum meal is with those ethereal lovelies -- warm and crispy custard cakes. Oh yes. I had one and then another. They went fairly quickly.

I like to have Chrysanthemum tea instead of Jasmine because it's not caffeinated and I think is a better complement to the greasy dumplings I keep popping in my mouth. Well, the dumplings themselves aren't as bad but it's the chili oil and all the stuff I dip it in that may contribute to the heaviness.

Or it was just a simple case of overeating. We also had seafood congee, aka juk, or porridge. It was fine but I'm not a big fan of juk in general so it didn't leave an impression.

The only thing I noticed was that the congee was very much smooth rather than grainy. It was like mieum in Korean food that you're supposed to have when you're sick and can't digest solids.

Also, the place fills up quickly so arriving before 11:30 is probably best if you want to avoid a wait.

Overall, thumbs up!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tsujita Ramen: Not Worth the Wait

I finally tried Tsujita Ramen on Sawtelle and I must say I was disappointed. Maybe I'm just not a tsukemen kind of person. Or maybe I didn't eat it the right way. I've had my noodles separately from the broth before but I couldn't get into it here. 

For one thing, the broth was like ramen broth concentrated to the nth degree, as in super thick and far too salty. I'm all for hearty, strong broths but this was too much. I should have taken them up on their offer to pour free boiled water into the "sauce," as they called it.

Second, it was a royal pain having to take the super slippery noodles that were on the thick side from one bowl and dip them into the broth before eating. The broth wasn't hot enough to warm up the noodles, so you had to leave them in there for a while and even then, they were merely lukewarm to room temperature. Not a good ramen temperature. In typical Japanese restaurant fashion, the menu describes how the noodles should be consumed -- dip the noodles, squeee the lime, etc. 

I got the one with extra charsiu (slices of roasted pork) and soft-boiled egg. The charsiu was tender and soft from the seemingly long cooking process I assumed the pork bellies went through. Not all slices were excellent but good enough.
I really liked the soft-boiled egg, which was a bit on the oozy side and indeed, soft. Probably my favorite part of the entire meal. And it helped to temper the sodium overload although it was slightly seasoned.

I wasn't a fan of the thicker, slippery noodles that weren't as chewy as I usually like them.

We also had the salmon sashimi bowl, which was also a pain to eat. Topped with wasabi, we weren't sure how to go about spreading it without generating tears from the spice. The flavor of the salmon wasn't great.

All in all, not worth the wait, in my opinion. I'd like to try the tonkotsu ramen but for now, I'm sticking to my perennial faves, Shinsengumi and Santouka.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Fat Dog: Good but Expensive Burger, Fancy and Delicious (but Tiny) Potato Skins

I always drove by the Fat Dog on Fairfax but apparently never noticed it. The verdict is it's overpriced but has decent food and I'll be returning. Oh, and its burger, while a tad overpriced, is good.

What I liked about this place is that it offers a different take on classics like potato skins by adding asparagus and hollandaise sauce. It also claimed to have crab in it but I could barely taste it. The chunky bacon bits added crunch. True, the portions were small as were the potatoes themselves but they were a nice reprieve from the usual blobs of cheddar cheese swimming in a massive potato skin.

Let's talk burger. I ordered the grass-fed version from Lindy & Grundy next door that was $17 -- medium rare. The first one that came out was overcooked on a dry, day-old bun. Of course, I sent it back. The second one was better. The bun was warm and soft. The patty a bit on the fatty side (not in a good, marbling way but in a bad, chewing into a fatty knot kind of way) and too coarsely ground for my taste. The flavor of the patty was good enough, though. Not as good as the Lazy Ox burger but better than many I've had recently.

 The redeeming factor about the overpriced burger was that it came with fries, which were just above average. They were hot when they arrived and nested in the cutest little brown paper bag. The sweet potato fries we got as part of the happy hour menu (which isn't all that much cheaper, actually) were solid, if not a bit fried too many times over and on the salty side.

The beet salad was tiny and a bit overdressed but had three different kinds of beets, chevre and a hazelnut dressing that went well together. What's up with the minuscule portions?

The desserts looked more promising than they actually tasted. We got the bourbon bread pudding with chocolate topped with vanilla ice cream and some ginger donuts.

The bread pudding was pretty good but didn't blow me away.

The donuts, on the other hand, weren't edible. They were dry and terrible. Good thing they didn't charge us for them.

The place has a great beer and wine selection. Parking in the lot is free. The crowd is a bit young (or maybe I'm old) -- twentysomething hipsters -- but I won't hold it against Fat Dog.

Service by our table server was great. However, one HUGE pet peeve was that every other person working there was overly zealous to clear the table, even if we clearly hadn't finished the plate. Hey, we're still working on those two shriveled sticks of French Fries, ok?

Will return since it's in the 'hood, serves decent food and not too crowded.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tanya's Lebanese Cuisine Kabab in Upland: Decent Kuftah but Not Great

I stumbled upon Tanya's Lebanese Cuisine Kabab in Upland while I happened to be there on business. It was just around rush hour, I wanted to beat the traffic going back west and was hungry.

I wasn't sure what to expect from a Lebanese joint in Upland but it looked promising so entered. The chef came out and took my order of Kuftah Kabob, grilled patty of ground beef mixed with a bunch of spices like parsley, etc.

The patty was good and well grilled just the way I like it. However, the sides that came as part of the "plate" were lackluster. The rice was below average. The green salad was just average. The hummus and complimentary flat bread weren't bad. The bright pink pickled radishes were fine.

It's true that I'm biased because I like Sunnin Cafe in Westwood a lot and the style of Lebanese food was a bit different.

While I liked that I could find a Lebanese restaurant in Upland and it was pretty authentic, I still like my Sunnin Cafe or Open Sesame in Long Beach better. But it definitely beats the ubiquitous chain and fast food restaurants in the area.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Baco Mercat: Great Foie Gras + Kumquat but Namesake Sandwich Disappoints

I was stoked to try Baco Mercat since I'd heard a lot of good things and I liked Lazy Ox Canteen by the same chef. I loved some things and hated others but I'm willing to give it another chance for a next visit, although I'll probably find myself going to the Ox first before I venture to Baco.

Here is the meaning of the restaurant's name.

We had a lot of things but the best thing hands down was the foie gras mousse with kumquat marmalade that came with a brioche-like bread that was toasted just so. The bread was soft and warm and all that good stuff and I venture to say far better than the namesake flatbreads a host of sandwiches were rolled in. Man, get thee another baker already! More on that later.

The spread went so well with the tartness and sweetness of the kumquat marmalade. It was a match made in heaven and I couldn't stop eating it (our server gave us more bread).

The other item that surprised us was the caesar brussel sprouts that everyone was raving about on message boards. It came shredded dressed in a caesar dressing with anchovies since let's face it, not all caesar dressings are created equal. It was a genius combination once again. It hit at some nostalgic areas of my palate -- it sometimes reminded me of little side salads you get at to-go places but in a good way if that's possible. It was refreshing and while good in the spring, it would probably be better in the summer.

I did have high expectations for the namesake sandwich, called "the original," no less. It had pork belly, beef carnitas, a nutty red sauce called salbitxada. The meats were ok and the spread was not bad although too chunky for my taste. This was no romesco sauce, that's for sure. I think I'm more of a romesco person than a salbitxada one.

But my biggest beef with this sandwich was that the bread it supposedly bakes in-house was not impressive at all. In fact, it was tough to slice, like day-old pita bread, not freshly baked bread. The bread itself was so unremarkable that this fact alone made us not want to order the coca, the other flatbread.

I wouldn't get this original baco or any other baco again.

We tried el pesco, which was a baco sandwich with deep fried shrimp in a thousand island-like dressing spiked with some sriracha. Our spice-loving party loved it and got another one, but I was still on the fence because of the lame bread.

We also got the hamachi crudo that came with hash browns and avocado. By "hash browns," they meant a teeny weeny ball of fried shredded potato cake. Our party loved these hash browns so much we wanted to get a side order of it but we were told we couldn't. The hamachi was fresh enough but nothing to write home about. The ones at Santa Monica Seafood Company were better. I liked them sliced thin anyway.

We also had the beef shank "birria" with pasta that pretty much bombed. The beef shank was tender enough but was smelly and I usually love shank. The fried egg on top was good since I like anything with a fried egg on top but not sure how well it went here.

We wanted the place to redeem itself and tried the squid ink risotto but that was drowning in salt. What's with restaurants and salt? I know you're trying to get us to get more alcohol but that was ridiculous. The sheer amount of sodium took away from the fact that the squid was very fresh and well-cooked so it wasn't too rubbery. The peas were super fresh and beautifully green. The rice perfectly al dente. What a shame. Oh, as much as I love fried food, the fried calamari as topping seemed like an unnecessary distraction.

But the biggest culprit of them all was the "Bazole" noodle soup that sounded so promising, until we tasted it and the entire thing was overpowered by star anise. We couldn't taste the beef and pork carnitas. The noodles were overcooked. It was a hot mess. Pretty awful. And the fried egg in this case wasn't able to salvage this one.

I would like to try some of the other meat dishes next time, if I return.

I secretly wished the chef would offer a version of his hamburger since it is, after all, the all-American sandwich. I liked his burger at the Ox.

I also didn't like that there were hardly any wines available by the glass. What's up with that? The choices were limiting. The cocktail list wasn't very enticing either.

I also didn't appreciate our server and host pressuring us to leave even though clearly we were giving the place a lot of business by ordering half the menu and drinks galore.

Oh well, maybe I'll just go to the Ox next time.