Jola's Coffee House, Panama City, Panama
We walked by Jola's Coffee House a few times before we decided to stop in and check it out. While walking around our hotel, we were approached by many restaurant staff members handing out menus and shouting out specials. At first, we were a bit put off by the practice, but soon realized to not judge an establishment by the over enthusiastic staff. It was our last night in Panama City and we were looking for a relaxing place to hang out.
Since Jola's was close to our hotel, we checked out their website and noticed the back patio that looked like the peaceful and relaxing spot we were looking for. There were several individually sectioned off areas in the back patio with lounge type chairs. Each section had its own fan and television. If you want some privacy, just untie the curtains. Being a hot and humid day in Panama City, we turned the fan on full blast and left the curtains up.
Pina colada and Sangria6 eachOur evening would not be complete with out a few drinks. The pina colada tasted like the tropics, but didn't have much alcohol. The sangria was good, but not nearly as good as the one we had a Fina Estampa. It was great to just enjoy the drinks in the relaxing setting.
Ceviche8The fish ceviche was good, but the portion was small for the price. The corn was a nice addition, adding a little sweetness to each bite. It didn't have the strong citrus flavor in the ceviche at Casa Blanaca.
Combination platter25When we saw the platter on the menu, it was hard to pass up. The platter consisted of mixed seafood, chicken and steak and a side of fries. The meat was our least favorite part of the platter. It lacked flavor and was unfortunately over cooked. The seafood was tender and cooked well with a nice mild seasoning. Of course, the fries were great. I don't think bad fries exist in Panama.
Seafood fried rice14The seafood fried rice was our favorite dish of the night. There was a generous amount of well cooked seafood mixed with really well seasoned fried rice. We both wished we had skipped the platter and each ordered our own bowl of the fried rice. The prices were high, but that seemed to be the theme with touristy restaurants in the city. Since the restaurant was walking distance from our hotel, we did saved some money on cab fare, which was not cheap since we didn't speak Spanish.
Jola's Coffee HouseCalle Eusebio A.Morales El CangrejoPanama City, Panama
Touring Casco Viejo and lunch at Casa Blanca, Panama
A trip to Panama isn't complete without a visit to Casco Viejo, the historic area of Panama City, Panama. During our trip, the area was under going major construction. Every corner we turned, there were buildings being torn down, rebuilt or refaced. Disregarding our cab driver's recommendation to go later, we headed to the area right around noon, the hottest and most humid time of the day.
The surprising thing about the area was the number of armed guards protecting certain side streets and directing tourist traffic. There was a mix of government buildings, apartments, "hole in the wall" eateries and high end bars and restaurants. After a few hours of walking around and hitting the popular historic sights, we ended up in Plaza Bolivar. The outdoor seating in front of Casa Blanca caught our attention and we decided to escape the heat by having a late lunch inside the air conditioned restaurant.
Shrimp Ceviche8.50We started our meal with shrimp ceviche served with mangos and cucumbers. It was the tangiest ceviche I've ever tasted. The lime juice was so sour, my face puckered up with every bite, but the flavor was so clean and vibrant, I kept going back for more.
Chicken in chimichurri sauce10.50The chicken fillet was covered in a tasty kalamata olive sauce. The chicken was surprisingly moist and the chimichurri added a nice balance of saltiness, tanginess and brightness. The dish came with a side of fries that were perfectly cooked.
Catch of the day - whole red snapper13When the whole red snapper arrived, I was in heaven. The fish was perfectly seasoned and fried to perfection. The meat was fresh and moist. I devoured the entire fish from head to tail it was that good. This was one of the best dishes I had in Panama. If you like to get down with your fish like I do, this is a must order and worth every penny!
Casa Blanca was a great escape from the heat and the hustle and bustle outside. It is on the pricier side compared to some other options in Casco Viejo, but worth the money. If you're touring the area and need a good place to eat, I'd highly recommend Casa Blanca.
Casa BlancaPlaza Bolivar Calle 4Hotel Colombia building
Fina Estampa Peruvian Restaurant, Panama City, Panama
Panama City has a large population of Peruvians, which also means many Peruvian restaurants. Our hotel staff at Toscanna Inn recommended several restaurants within walking distance and we ended up at Fina Estampa because it was the closest. The restaurant was dimly lit with a large dining room. Most of the staff spoke English quite well. We had the option of an English or Spanish menu, and since I wanted to practice what little Spanish I knew, we opted for the Spanish version. The menu consisted of a wide variety ranging from seafood to steaks and chicken. Since we were in Panama City and so close to the ocean, we decided to go with all seafood dishes.
White sangria 1/2 pitcher 12.95This white sangria was the best I have ever tasted. I couldn't get the waiter to share the recipe and I don't blame him. To me, it was the perfect white sangria: slightly sweet, fruity and no taste of alcohol, which made it very dangerous. Good thing we only ordered half a pitcher.
Ceviche de corvina8.75This classic ceviche was made with fresh seafood of the day marinated in lime juice, red onions, and cilantro. The dish was served with chilled corn on the cob and yam. The seafood was firm, fresh and tender and the flavor of the ceviche were spot on in terms of balance of spice and acidity.
Papas bravas12.75Our waiter gave us the option of choosing shrimp or chicken skewers and we decided to go for shrimp to stick with our seafood themed meal. The shrimp was over cooked and I didn't like the preparation and heavy crust that was used. However, the potatoes made up for the poorly executed shrimp. These perfectly fried pieces of potato were coated in a cayenne pepper mixture and topped with the most addicting sauce. I have been on the hunt for something similar in Los Angeles with no luck.
Corvina a lo macho19.75This dish consisted of a mix of fresh seafood topped with a jumbo shrimp cooked in a tomato sauce. The seafood included tiny shrimp, squid and mussels. The tomato sauce was very mild to our surprise and could have used a little bit of heat. We quickly realized that Panamanians in Panama City are not as into spicy food.
Penne frutti mar16.75The seafood pasta was the most disappointing dish of the night. The penne was grossly overcooked, but the saving grace was the well cooked seafood and complimentary tomato sauce. This dish taught me to stay away from pasta dishes while in Panama.
For our first meal in Panama, this was a nice introduction, albeit on the pricer side. Fina EstampaCalle Eusebio A. MoralesEl Cangrejo, Panama City, Panama
Le Bernardin, New York
If you've come to find out whether Le Bernardin is worth the trip and money, the answer is absolutely YES! This was hands down the best meal I've had all year and quite possibly my entire existence.
Le Bernardin offers three tasting menus during lunch. A $75 three-course option, $150 seven-course option, and $195 eight-course option. There is also a wine tasting that can be added to the meal or you can order wines by the glass. It's worth noting that the restaurant does have a strict dress code for gentleman guests. A jacket is required and I got the sense suits were preferred. So feel free to dress to the nines when you dine here. If you happen to stumble upon this gem without a jacket, there is a lounge area for more "casual" dinning.
My first impression of the restaurant was that of snootiness and stuffiness, but that quickly changed once we placed our order and started a conversation with the staff about the food. I imagine a lot of people roll through here on an expense account and the exceptional food is just a bonus to them. The maitre d put it well when he said "it's easy to share when people enjoy the food as much as we do." The service here was on par with what one would expect at a restaurant of this calibre. The changing of the silverware was seamless, water glasses were always full, each staff member was well versed in the menu and everyone went out of their way to make our meal perfect.
Bread basketThe wait staff stopped by shortly after we ordered with an impressive bread basket filled with eight types of bread. All the bread was made at the restaurant. The types and flavors change depending on the season. I can't even begin to remember all the options offered during our visit, but the most memorable was the raisin and walnut bread. At one point, I had to kindly ask that they stop coming by with the bread basket because I could have easily eaten a loaf the bread.
Salmon rilletteAmuse boucheSome restaurants offer an amuse bouche simply as a way to offer a "free" item to make the diners feel like they are getting a little more "bang" for their buck. Not at Le Bernardin. The restaurant defines what an amuse bouche should be, a compliment from the kitchen that offers the diner a glimpse of the chef's approach to cooking and the meal to come. The salmon rillette comprises of three salmon preparations: smoked, fresh and poached. This combination added layers of flavors and textures unlike any salmon rillette I've had before. Luckily, Chef Ripert has shared the recipe at Avec Eric and I can't wait to test it out.
Le Bernardin Tasting$150
SaladWith two sweets on the tasting menu, we asked to swap out one of the desserts with a salad, which they were happy to oblige. The salad of the day was made with fresh herbs and vegetables from the market that day and dressed with a balsamic-shallot vinaigrette. A very basic salad with good ingredients.
TunaNow, this is what put Le Bernardin on the map and is the restaurant's most well known dish. It's a thinly pounded layer of yellowfin tuna on top of even thinner toasted baguette and foie gras drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with chives. It was hard to imagine how these ingredients could work together and who would even think to combine them, but it worked brilliantly. This dish was the ultimate foodgasm: a mind blowing culinary experience that redefines what food is. You might be asking yourself "how can this football shaped tuna be so special?" It is truly hard to describe without tasting it for yourself. This dish alone was worth the price of admission.
ScallopJust when we thought it couldn't get any better, the barely cooked scallop arrived in the most fragrant brown butter dashi broth. The combination of brown butter and dashi released such a tantalizing smell that I nearly buried my nose in the dish. The scallop was indeed barely cooked: translucent on the inside and slightly cooked on top. Sweet, tender and meaty, just the way I like my scallop. Surprisingly, the intense broth didn't over power the scallop and instead was the perfect compliment.
LobsterAs each dish arrived, it solidified why Le Bernardin was ranked a three star Michelin restaurant. This lobster "lasagna" with celeriac and truffle butter was no exception. It took the concept of lobster and butter to another level. The rich and velvety truffle butter worked harmoniously with the thin layer of pasta draped over the delicately cooked lobster.
Spanish MerluzaMerluza, also known as Hake, is a member of the cod and haddock family. The fish was flaky yet firm with a beautiful golden crush sitting on top of a vibrant sauce made with Experanza peppers for a little heat. It was also served with a tender piece of calamari cooked on the grill adding a wonderful charred flavor.
Stripped bassStripped bass is known to be a meatier dish and a great way to end the savory courses. The juicy fish was served on top of red rice and toped with a refreshing green papaya salad and a rich ginger red wine sauce. The crisp and clean flavors of the salad balanced the fattiness of the fish and cut through the rich wine sauce.
Mango-black sesameThe sesame meringue was covered with macerated mango and topped with black sesame ice cream and sesame brittle. It was a well balanced dessert with the tanginess of fresh mangos and the sweetness from the ice cream. We enjoyed this dessert so much, the kitchen sent out two complimentary desserts on top of the complimentary birthday dessert.
Admittedly, my husband is not a big dessert person, so we usually opt out of desserts when possible, but this dish and the three that followed made him fall in love with dessert.
ChocolateWe also received a complimentary birthday dessert consisting of a dark chocolate parfait, milk ice cream on cocoa nibs and caramel. The chocolate parfait was rich in chocolate flavor but light in texture. The ice cream was sweet but well balanced by the slightly bitter cocoa nibs.
ChestnutThe second complimentary dessert featured chestnuts, which were in season during our visit. The light cinnamon flavored wafer was filled with a light chocolate mousse topped with chestnuts and served with a chestnut cream on the side. Being lovers of chestnut, we over indulged on this dessert.
PistachioJust when we thought we were done, our waiter brought over a pistachio dessert made with pistachio cake topped with fluffy pistachio mousse, Meyer lemon, toasted pistachios and served with a side of pistachio ice cream on top of more pistachios and drizzles of passion fruit gelee. We were in pistachio heaven! This dessert was able to highlight the versatility of pistachio and its flavor.
By the end of this incredible seven-course meal and added dessert tasting, I could say without a doubt, this was the best meal I have ever experienced. Even better than the incredible meal that we just had at Del Posto. Our meal really showcased Chef Ripert's worldly culinary influence. If you're in New York, go experience Le Bernardin, it's worth every penny.
Thank you to the staff at Le Bernardin for making my birthday one to remember and to my wonderful husband for over looking the price tag and sharing this unforgettable culinary experience with me.
Le Bernardin155 W 51st SteetNew York, NY 10019
Del Posto, New York
When I asked my husband were he wanted to eat in New York, he immediately responded "Del Posto!" He's not one to get overly excited about restaurants, but this was one restaurant he couldn't wait to experience after reading about it in Restaurant Man by Joe Bastianich. Since Joe describes lunch at Del Posto as "the best deal in town" there was no way we were going to pass on that. We made reservations for lunch and planned on taking advantage of the $39 fixed-price three-course lunch. Of course, the minute we glance over the menu and looked up at each other, we both knew we had to go for the five-course tasting menu. Hey Joe, "not everyone is a cheap fuck". Our meal paid for the piano man that day and then some.
Peach bellini12Being in this stunning Italian restaurant I couldn't resist ordering a traditional bellini, made with fresh white peach puree and Flor prosecco. The bellini was mixed in a pitcher before it was poured into the champagne glass. It was a perfect ratio of peach and prosecco, not too sweet and very smooth. A wonderful drink to sip on as we enjoyed the beautiful melodies from the piano.
Old fashioned - cubed20Del Posto serves two kinds of old fashioned: traditional and cubed. The cubed old fashioned changed my life and changed the way I think about cocktails. This drink is made with a hand picked whiskey from Colorado poured over ice cubes made out of simple syrup, Luxardo cherry and Angostura bitters. What makes this drink worth the price tag is the progression of flavor from the initial sip to the last drop. The journey starts with the straight flavors of the small batch whiskey and moves onto the more traditional flavors of an old fashioned and ends on a sweet note. I couldn't believe how much the flavor of this drink developed as those cubes melted. This is one cocktail I'd gladly fly across to country to have again.
Compliments from the kitchenThis pretty plate of amuse-bouche were a wonderful start to the meal. The fried corn pasta was light yet crunchy filled with lobster and coated in an addicting mix of sweet paprika, chili and lime. The cucumber sandwich was fresh and bright. The tomato gazpacho shot made with sweet tomatoes from Naples packed an intense punch balanced by the basil rim.
Bread basketThe bread basket arrived with French baguette, focaccia and kalamata olive bread. Not pictured is the lard and butter that arrived with the bread. The bread was the perfect vessel to enjoy the intense thick pork lard that apparently takes two years to make and is flavored with garlic and rosemary. The staff brought new butter and lardo halfway through our meal to make sure it was fresh. Not to discredit the bread but I could have eaten the lard on its own...it was that good.
5 course tasting menu$125
Beef carpaccioThis 28 day old dry aged ribeye was topped with a slice of parmigiano reggiano, micro greens, fried shallots and a light drizzle of truffle dressing. The beef was melt your mouth tender, the intense red cow milk cheese was rich and creamy, the fried shallots added a wonderful smokiness to every bite and the truffle dressing tied all the components together. I would have been happy with eating this dish over and over again.
CappellacciNamed after a bishop's hat because of the shape, this sweet potato, ginger and marscapone filled pasta in brown butter sauce was divine. The pasta was cooked al dente, thin enough to hold the filling without falling apart and sprinkled with cinnamon for a little heat. The ginger really made this dish stand out and the hazelnut crumble added a nice texture. Taking a bite of this pasta, the butter seemed to bring all of the flavors to a head and it was just a wonderful symphony. This dish truly showcased how a simple dish with very basic ingredients when executed well deserves to be put on the menu at a one star Michelin restaurant.
OrecchietteThis dish made me fall in love with toasted rye. The lamb neck ragu was so rich and didn't have a hint of "gaminess" that turn a lot of people off from the protein. The carrot puree drizzled over the pasta added sweetness and brightness to each bite. As good as everything else tasted on the plate, the best part was the toasted rye. Until I asked our waiter, I was convinced it was crispy lamb bacon. Not that I've had lamb bacon before, but I imagined that's what lamb bacon would taste like. The toasted rye soaked up the beautiful rich flavors of the lamb ragu that it transformed it into something so crunchy and delicious. Pork loin
When this dish first arrived, I was a little perplexed. It was a giant white plate with a piece of pork loin topped with a braised pork rib wrapped in pancetta. It all made sense once our waiter showed up with a small copper pot of ribollita, a baked pork bean and vegetable stew, and spooned it onto our plates. The pork was extremely tender and cooked perfectly. The elements of the stew looked basic at a glance but were packed with flavor that made you want to savor each bean.
CheeseAged Ricotta served with Passita eucalyptus honey, both from the Abruzzo region of Italy. It wasn't until they served it here that I knew aged ricotta existed. The honey was drizzled carefully table side and we were given wet napkins with lemons and thyme, encouraging us to use our hands. The honey was thick and very sweet, which helped cut the sharp flavor of the ricotta. Again, the chef found a way to make a very simple dish, complex.
Chocolate ricotta tortI happen to love olive oil so I was very excited when this dessert arrived. The ricotta tort was lighter in texture than I expected, yet still rich and intense in flavor. The roasted pistachios add crunch and nuttiness to each bite. Of course, the best thing on this plate was the extra virgin olive oil gelato. It tasted just like it sounds: creamy gelato flavored with high quality extra virgin olive oil. A small piece of tort with the gelato was simply divine.
Dessert boxThis was presented at the table after our last course and contained an assortment of various candies. Each one had it's own unique flavor unlike anything I'd had before. We decided the best course of action was to start at the top and work our way down. Considering the courses we had just completed, we were happy these treats were so small because they were so good we could have eaten more, but we just didn't have the room!
From start to finish, dining at Del Posto was an exceptional experience. The staff was impeccable. Not only did they do an amazing job at serving, but they were very personable and went out of their way to make sure we had everything. We did order some wines (by the glass) during our meal and the Sommelier did a wonderful job at matching wines to the courses we were having. The experience was so wonderful that we made a dinner reservation before we left so we could try the Captain's Tasting menu with wine pairing.
Del Posto is fine dining with Italian hospitality. A place were you can go to eat refined Italian cuisine in a beautiful setting and feel like you're at grandma's house. If you go, ask to sit in Thomas Russo or Dennis Rossi's section. I'm sure everyone is terrific, but they are truly exceptional at what they do.
Del Posto85 10th AveChelsea, NY 10011
Dark Chocolate S'more
This dark chocolate s'more recipe is easy and tasty. Inspired by a key lime pie in a cup I saw at the doctor's office. It's a nice new and fun twist on the traditional sandwich s'more. Add this to your holiday baking this season.
8 graham cracker cookies, rolled into fine crumbs
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cadbury dark chocolate bar, melted except for 6 squares
6 large marshmallows
Step one: Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a regular muffin pan. Combine graham cracker and butter in a small mixing bowl. Use a spoon to mix until paste like. Divide the crust into six muffin molds. Press down and up the side to make the crust into a cup. Bake in oven for 10 minutes.
Step two: While the crust is baking, melt the chocolate except for the 6 squares in a sauce pan over low heat. Mix with a heat proof spatula occasionally until all the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat.
Step three: Remove the crust from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Then carefully remove the crust from the pan and set it on a baking sheet lined with foil. Pour chocolate into eat crust cup until it's all used up. Then top each chocolate filled cup with a large marshmallow.
Step four: Bake for 10 more minutes or until marshmallow is golden brown on top. Remove the s'mores and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Then stick one chocolate square into each s'more. Eat while the s'mores are warm.
Republic of Pie, North Hollywood
Republic of Pie is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the NoHo Arts District. From the outside, this cafe and bakery may seem like an ordinary shop nestled along Magnolia Boulevard, but walk through those doors and you will be transported into an inviting and relaxing art space filled with the aroma of coffee and freshly baked goods. The concept is simple, serve quality coffees, teas and bake really good pies: savory and sweet.
The space is very unique. The high ceiling and sky lights open up the space, there is a stage for open mic, a television mounted on the wall to play old movies, local art works on the wall and a mix n' match of furniture throughout. There are couches for those who want to hang out and read a book and long communal tables to meet new friends or for large parties. I imagine this would be a great place to catch up with old friends or even community gatherings. If I had a book or knitting club, I would definitely meet here and take over those comfortable couches in the back.
If you're into coffee, you will truly appreciate Republic of Pie. They only serve Stumptown
coffee and you can choose between regular brew, clover, chemex, french press, v60 or siphon. The espresso is made with Stumptown's Hair Bender blend, it's rich in flavor with notes of chocolate and will certainly give you a nice jolt. Of course, if you're into lattes and latte art, you won't be disappointed. The latte was rich and smooth. The milk was steamed just long enough to incorporate enough air to lighten the latte and bring out the sweetness. Now, the matcha latte was the best that I have ever tasted. It was light with a subtle sweetness so as not to over power the clean flavor of the tea. As I sipped on my lattes, I enjoyed a flaky buttery spinach and cheese croissant made with whole spinach leave and wished I could just hang out for the next few hours.
Republic of Pie had more to offer than just coffees and pies, it offers a warm and relaxing hideaway. Thanks to Republic of Pie for hosting me. I'll be back to try some of those pies.Republic of Pie
11118 Magnolia Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Takatis Peruvian Chicken, Van Nuys
Is there good Peruvian food in the San Fernando Valley? I was hoping to answer this question last week with a few friends when we met for lunch at Takatis. There are a handful of Peruvian restaurants in Van Nuys right around the intersection of Victory and Van Nuys Blvd. Among them are Puro Sabor, Nazca, Machu-Picchu and Takatis. Takatis is known for their Sanguchon, a sandwich made with chicken, yam, egg, and cheese. We were looking forward to this unique sandwich, but to our disappointment the restaurant ran out during our visit.
Takatis is small, but the large windows and vibrant colors give it a bright ambiance. After we ordered, our waitress brought over ketchup and three types of Peruvian sauces made with different chili peppers. The green sauce was made with jalapeños, the yellow and orange were made with Peruvian chilies of the same color. The sauces all tasted very fresh and on the milder side in terms of heat.
Ceviche mixto14.99We ordered the ceviche to share and it arrived on a large plate with a generous mix of fish, squid and shrimp marinaded in lime and red onions served with boiled potatoes, fried yam and Peruvian corn. The seafood was very tender, but not mushy with the perfect amount of acidity from the lime. It tasted so fresh and vibrant, we all wished we had ordered our own. This was one of the best ceviches I have had in a while.
Pollo Saltado12.99My friends opted for the chicken burrito and I went for the saltado. Having heard great things about their chicken, I choose the pollo saltado thinking the rotisserie chicken would be used in the dish. This was not the case. The chicken in the saltado is marinaded in vinegar and stir fried with large chunks of tender red onion, tomatoes and french fries. The dish on its own lacked acidity to cut the heaviness from the sauce and french fries. The pepper sauces helped cut the grease and brightened the dish. It was good, but not something I would order again. The ceviche on the other hand, will be a welcomed staple in my lunch rotation.
We'll be back to try other items on the menu, but in the mean time, the hunt continues for an all around good Peruvian restaurant in the San Fernando Valley.
Takatis6470 Van Nuys Blvd Van Nuys, CA 91405
Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle, Chinatown New York
The two most talked about Chinatowns in the United States are in San Francisco and New York. So when we planned our trip to New York, it was inevitable that we ended up in Chinatown. New York's Chinatown really embraces the energy of the city and at the heart is deep rooted Chinese culture pumping through its veins. We ended up at Lam Zhou as a result of a serious craving for noodles and dumplings. As we walked into the little hole in the wall, all we could see were people packed into a very tight space slurping on noodles and devouring dumplings. It's worth noting that most of the customers appeared to be locals on their lunch break and Mandarin was spoken throughout.
There's no doubt that the place is legit. Above the slurping and chewing was the sound of noodles being slammed against a giant stone table. The chef was pulling and making noodles to order by the kitchen and we were seated right beside him. If chef's tables existed in places like these, that's where we were, right in the action.
Beef noodle soup5For five dollars, I was expecting a pretty small portion with barely any meat, but it was quite a generous bowl of beef and broth with just the right amount of noodles. All the noodles were pulled to order and dropped quickly in boiling water. The long, smooth, uniform and soft noodles had a little bite to them. The noodles got softer as it sat in the broth, which tasted like it had been cooked for days. Although I prefer hand pulled noodles to be slightly firmer, these are the best I've tasted outside of China. The counters were lined with chili sauce, black vinegar and soy sauce so you could tweak the soup to suit you (and make your own dumpling sauce).
Boiled pork and chive dumplings - 123These dumplings were huge considering it was only three dollars for twelve uniform dumplings filled to the max with ground pork and chive. Soy sauce was used in the mix which gave it a dark color. The filling was not too firm and not too loose, it was just right. The wrapper to filling ratio was perfect, just like how my grandmother used to make it. Remember that scene in Ratatouille when Anton Ego takes a bite of the ratatouille and flashes back to his childhood? I had a similar experience after eating the first dumpling. On top of the terrific dumplings, they also had all the condiments that I enjoy with boiled dumplings: chili sauce, black vinegar and soy sauce. It felt great to finally have found a place that makes boiled dumplings that reminds of my grandmother's. Just wish it wasn't on the other side of the country.
Lam Zhou Homemade Noodle144 East BroadwayNew York, NY 10002
Another great spot we stumbled upon was Joe's Shanghai. They had the most amazing xialongbao I have tasted outside of Shanghai, China. They were large, filled with an intense pork broth and the wrappers were the perfect consistency to ensure they didn't break. The wait was 45 minutes to an hour and small parties had to share tables. We opted to get an order of xialongbao to go just so we could taste them. Considering how incredible they were to go, I can only imagine how amazing they are fresh. These soup dumplings were one of the culinary highlights of our trip to New York trip. I can still taste that thick gelatinous pork broth.
I can't get over how cheap and delicious the food was. If I lived in New York, I would take the subway to Chinatown at least once a week for lunch. I definitely have to say that the Chinatown in New York has the upper hand over San Gabriel Valley or San Francisco.
Grimaldi's Pizzeria, New York
With hundreds of pizza joints to choose from in New York City, we ended up at the picturesque Grimaldi's, just a few steps from the Brooklyn Bridge. Grimaldi's is known for cooking their pizzas in a coal fire oven as opposed to wood fire or gas ovens, which gives their pies a unique flavor. It's a cash only joint that doesn't sell pizzas by the slice and doesn't accept reservations. There are two stories, the second floor is almost like a balcony over looking the kitchen where every pizza is made. The dough is made fresh daily and of course they use San Marzano tomatoes. We were told by friends to expect a wait, but there were no problems getting a table at 8pm on a weeknight.
The menus is very simple, choose from one of two pizzas and add as many toppings as you'd like. The regular pizza has fresh mozzarella, crushed tomatoes and basil. A small (6 slices) is $12 and a large (8 slices) is $14. The white pizza has extra cheese, fresh garlic and no tomatoes. Small is $14 and large is $16. Most toppings are $2 extra with the exception of oven roasted sweet peppers and sun dried tomatoes, which will set you back $4. If you want more cheese, that's an extra dollar. Topping charges are the same for small and large pizzas.
Regular large pizza with pepperoni and sausage18Unfortunately, their alcohol license had expired and we weren't able to order beer or wine as we waited for our pizza, which was about 15 minutes. The pizza was glistening as it arrived loaded with stringy mozzarella cheese, spicy pepperoni and sausage infused with great fennel flavor. The gooey cheese was everything I expected, but the dough was slightly undercooked and lacked flavor. The toppings were the definite highlight, but the most important aspect of the pizza was under whelming and quite disappointing. Ess-A-Bagel changed the way we think of bagels and I don't think I can ever again eat a West Coast bagel...Grimaldi's however didn't deliver and we are still on the hunt for that amazing NY pie everyone in California talks about and says they can't find here.
Luckily for us, the walk back to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge made up for the lackluster pizza. Perhaps pizza just isn't as good without an ice cold beer. If you do end up at Grimaldi's in Brooklyn, definitely take advantage of the walk across the bridge.
Grimaldi's Pizzeria1 Front StreetBrookly, NY 11201
Ess-A-Bagel, New York City
What's a trip to New York without getting a bagel? The moment we started planning our trip, the infamous NY bagel was a must try item on our list. We received recommendations for several bagel spots including H&L Bagels which is no longer around (the original at least). The one bagel shop that kept coming up was Ess-A-Bagel and since we only had time to stop in at one bagel shop this trip we went with the most recommended by our friends from New York.
We landed at 8 in the morning, dropped off our luggage and enjoyed a nice walk down 3rd to Ess-A-Bagel. The weather was a perfect 65 with nice cloud covering and the mile walk helped us work up a nice appetite. When we arrived at E. 53rd & 3rd, I had to look around a few times before I spotted the inconspicuous sign.
The minute we walked in, we were greeted by a cheerful man behind the counter named Sean. He was definitely "alive, alert, awake and enthusiastic!" He walked us over to the bagel case and pointed out all the bagels that just came out of the oven. Each one of these beautiful bagels will set you back $1.15.
After we picked our bagels, we were given the difficult choice of picking a filling. As tempting as it was to get the plain cream cheese or cream cheese and lox, I decided to try one of their most popular cream cheeses. Sean even offered samples on a small pieces of bagel to make sure we made the right decision. They sliced our bagels, loaded it up with cream cheese and wrapped it in wax paper. The price was written on the paper and we took our tray to the cashier to pay our bill. When I tried to add a tip to the slip, the woman behind the counter told me "no tips" which was a first. Eager to sink our teeth into these warm bagels, we grabbed a table and tore open the wax paper.
Note: DON'T ask for your bagel to be toasted! They won't do it and I've heard from a number of people that they may even yell at you if you try and ask.
Everything bagel with sun dried tomato cream cheese3.50The first thing I noticed before taking a bite was the amount of cream cheese between the bagel. The sun dried tomato cream cheese was thick, creamy and had nice chunks of sun dried tomato. The most noticeable difference with this bagel from others I've tasted was the crunch of the crust and the denser and chewier texture. Since the bagel was still warm, the inside of it almost stuck to my teeth when I ate it...the texture was completely different than anything on the West Coast. At first I was afraid that the amount of cream cheese would be overwhelming but I found that it was a very nice balance given how dense the bagel was. I also find that sometimes the "everything" bagel can be a bit too much, but their toppings were just right. I'm no bagel expert, but I can say this is the best bagel I've ever tasted.
I'm already planning my next trip to New York and Ess-A-Bagel will definitely be on my list. There are so many fillings from cream cheese and lox to curry chicken salad and I can't wait to try more. A big thank you to all our friends for the suggestions.
What's your favorite bagel spot in New York?
Ess-a-Bagel831 3rd AveNew York, NY 10022
Connie and Ted's West Hollywood
Two words: Michael Cimarusti. Need I go on or are you already hooked? The chef of Providence, one of LA's top restaurants and likely on every foodie's bucket list, created his version of a Rhode Island seafood house. The space used to be an old diner, but you'd never be able to tell by looking at it. As you walk up, there is a large patio. Step inside and you find a large informal dining room and open kitchen. Guests are greeted by a giant glass case of lobsters waiting to be assembled onto one of their famous rolls. Because of the large open space, you feel like part of the magic as you watch the masters at work behind the raw bar shucking oysters and turning out mouth water seafood platters. If you love seafood, this is a great place to be.
Cocktails: Porch Swing, Bloody Mary, Narragansett Cooler12 eachWe stopped in for Sunday "brunch", so of course we had to order some cocktails. The Porch Swing was my favorite. Made with sauvignon blanc, cognac and grand manrier. The bloody mary had a nice kick with more clam flavor than others I've tasted. We asked that it be sent "spicy" and it had a nice hit of heat. The Narragansett cooler was hard to pronounce, but easy to drink. Who doesn't love bourbon, ginger ale and orange juice? There are plenty of other options including a good beer list if you're not in the mood for a cocktail.
Oysters: Kiwi Cup (left) and Kusshi (right)3 eachThe oyster menu had a nice variety with at least 12 different oysters listed. I decided to go with the smaller varieties. The Kusshi is a west coast oyster that looks similar to a Kumamoto. The oyster might be small but it packs an intensely clean flavor. The Kiwi Cup is from New Zealand and had a richer and creamier taste that's very different from the Kusshi. If you're not into oysters, this would be a good place to try them. The staff is quite knowledgeable and will be able to guide you in the right direction.
Santa Barbara Uni18Being big uni lovers, we couldn't resist the fresh Santa Barbara uni and lucky for us, we got the last one of the day. It was perfect: creamy, sweet, and fresh. I did have some flashbacks to our meal at Maruhide Uni Club and wished there was a giant bowl of uni as opposed to the few spoonfuls we each tasted. The Uni came with what looked like buttered toast but we ate the Uni straight. This is a must if they still have any when you go.
Rhode Island Clear Chowder9 bowlWhat is Rhode Island chowder? It's a brothier version of the New England clam chowder without the roux. In my opinion, it's better than the New England clam chowder because you can really taste all the flavors in the broth. The chowder was loaded with large pieces of clams and chunks of potatoes. This was so good I think I caught someone trying to lick the bottom when we were through. Go with the bowl, you'll be glad you did.
Shellfish Marinara with clams and mussels16This giant tub of mussels and clams were cooked to perfection. I thought I knew what clams and mussels should taste like, but I was wrong. Thank you Connie & Ted's for showing me the light. Every piece was plump, juicy and fresh like they were just pulled out of the ocean. The rich tomato sauce added a nice acidity to the dish and had some heat in it as well. Don't be afraid to ask for a spoon so you can get more sauce with each bite.
Housemade ice cream: mint chocolate chip, butter pecan, pistachio6 eachAll the ice cream is made in house and mint chocolate chip was by far the best I have ever tasted. It's made with fresh mint which adds a bright punch to each bite. The mint chocolate chip literally changed our lives...it was so good that we have been ruined for other mint ice creams. The butter pecan was also unbelievably good with huge pieces of pecan and you could literally taste the butter in the ice cream. The pistachio ice cream highlighted the velvety smooth consistency of the ice cream and what real pistachio ice cream should taste like. It was amazing how they could get the pistachio flavor through each bite like that. The ice cream alone is worth going back for.
We had a great meal at Connie and Ted's and can't wait to go back for more. The experience from the wait staff to the dishes all show how much the restaurant respects the seafood. Each dish was prepared and seasoned to highlight the freshness. Have you eaten at Connie and Ted's? What did you think?
Connie and Ted's8171 Santa Monica BlvdWest Hollywood, CA 90046
Oktoberfest at Swiss Chef, Van Nuys
Oktoberfest is in full swing in Germany and that means there are plenty of places in Los Angeles to take part in the celebration. One of my favorite places to go for both atmosphere and food is Swiss Chef in Van Nuys. The restaurant is owned and operated by Chef Ueli, a native of Switzerland who is half German and half Swiss. He has had quite the culinary career in Los Angeles and was the proud owner of Matterhorn before it changed hands. His customers missed his food so much, Chef Ueli decided to opened Swiss Chef in 2010 to satiate the hungry bellies of his loyal customers.
My husband is part German and every once in a while his German side takes hold and demands nothing but pork, spatzle and beer. Lucky for us, we found Swiss Chef two years ago and it has become our go to spot whenever those cravings kick in.
The restaurant is located at the corner of Victory and Woodman in Van Nuys with hard to miss red awning on the outside. The minute you walk in, you feel like you've stepped into another world. There are colorful streamers hanging from the ceiling, cheerful people singing "ticki tocki, ticki tocki, oy, oy, oy!" and Chef Ueli walking around with a giant mug of beer, most likely Spaten.
The restaurant offers entertainment Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. If you're the type who likes to join in on the fun, this is the perfect time to go. We celebrated a birthday at Swiss Chef and Chef Ueli himself stopped by to sing the birthday song while playing the accordion. It's definitely the kind of place that makes everyone feel welcomed.
You're probably wondering about the food so here it is:
Giant Bavarian pretzel8It's only customary to start with a giant Bavarian pretzel when drinking a mug of Spaten beer. The pretzel was warm, soft and sprinkled generously with salt. It was doughy on the inside with a thin crust on the outside. The pretzel was so good on it's own it doesn't even need the mustard sauce, which had a touch of sweetness. I'm not a pretzel expert, but I can tell you this is a damn good pretzel!
Split pea soup6And what's a German meal without split pea soup? I've had the soup at Anderson's and this was so much better. The texture is just right, not too thick and not too watery. You get just enough texture to be able to tell it's pea soup without tasting like it's mashed peas. There is a great pork flavor from the left over pork that's used to flavor the broth, which adds a wonderful richness to the soup.
Oktoberfest special Venison Medallions with Forest Mushrooms & Wild Boar Stew in Red Wine & Spaetzels38The star was definitely the entrees. We always get these two dishes split in half so we each get our fair share. The venison and wild boar is only available during Oktoberfest and we try to go at least twice to get our fix. The tender venison was cooked in a beautiful mushroom sauce served with carrots and pear. The melt in your mouth wild board was served with spatzel glazed in a wonderful red wine sauce served with a side of spinach and red cabbage. The acidity from the cabbage and pear helped to cut the heaviness of everything else on the plate. And while we enjoyed our meal, the live music was playing in the background. We took breaks from stuffing our faces to join in on those ever so popular German drinking songs. It's easy to see why Chef Ueli's customers begged him to open another restaurant for the food and the great atmosphere.
***Dinner for Two Giveaway (ended)***
Swiss Chef is offering one lucky reader a Wednesday/Thursday dinner special for two in the month of October 2013. To enter, leave a comment below with your Twitter handle or email address and a note about what you enjoy most about Oktoberfest. Please submit entries by 10pm 10/2/13. Winner will be selected at random and announced on October 3rd. Good luck! The contest has ended, congrats to @LAOCFoodie!
Swiss Chef13727 Victory Blvd Valley GlenVan Nuys, CA 91406
Mumbo Gumbo Fest 2013 at T Boyles Tavern, Pasadena
The 7th annual Mumbo Gumbo festival was held at a sports bar in Pasadena called T. Boyles Tavern. This was a welcomed change from last year's open air festival under the hot summer sun. We were given red wrist bands after checking in and told to sit any where we wanted. Another change from last year's event was the table service. Our waitress asked if we wanted to start with salads or go straight for the gumbo and shrimp. Of course, we went right for the good stuff!
GumboLarge bowls of gumbo arrived at our table topped with white rice and green onions. The gumbo was some of the best I've tasted. It had a great smokey flavor from the andouille sausage and there was a generous serving of chicken. The heat from the cayenne and tabasco gave it a nice kick and the crunch from the celery added a brightness to the gumbo. Chef Beltran was kind enough to share his recipe and I can't wait to make it at home.
|Chef Claud Beltran cooking up a storm in the kitchen|
ShrimpEach order of shrimp arrived on a bamboo plate with a horseradish dipping sauce. The shrimps were large, sweet and deveined for easy peeling. I did drop a few shrimp in my gumbo to mix things up. Why not?
Bananas fosterThe meal ended with bananas fosters topped with pecans. You can't go wrong with vanilla ice cream, bananas and pecans! It was a great festival with tasty food and a fun atmosphere. Two thumbs up for moving the event indoors and adding table service.
What did you think of this year's event?
Mumbo Gumbo Fest at T Boyles Tavern
Maruhide Uni Club, Torrance
Thanks to Betty Hallock's write up of Maruhide Uni Club, uni lovers from all over the south land have been flocking to this gem in Torrance. The sea urchin comes from Santa Barbara and arrives daily at their processing plant in Long Beach. They even had some live sea urchin on display in the glass refrigerator. I think it's fair to say this place takes uni pretty seriously.
There was something comforting about walking into the restaurant knowing everyone in there was an uni fan. In my experience, people either love or hate uni and unfortunately for me, most of my friends hate uni. Although, I would venture to say this place could change some of their minds. Trying to convince them to go is another story.
The menu is fairly extensive and I went straight to the specialty uni bowl page. There were about 10 options to choose from with two size options: regular ($20 range) or mini ($12 range). The mini bowl looked to be about 1/3 of the size of the regular bowl and wanting to get my uni fix I went with the regular bowl with salmon and yellowtail. The regular bowl comes with salad and soup and the mini bowl comes with soup.
SaladThe salad was very basic. Mixed greens, mostly iceberg and half a cherry tomato drizzeled with a mayo based dressing. No uni in this dish.
Uni soupI wasn't expecting uni in the soup and was pleasantly surprised at how well the sweetness of the onion worked with the uni. Although the creaminess of the uni texture was lost in this preparation the flavor was still very prominent. I could have easily had another bowl it was so good.
Uni bowl with salmon and yellowtail20.80Then the star of the evening arrived. The uni was fresh, creamy with a subtle sweet finish. There were about 10 pieces of uni in the bowl and I savored every piece. The uni omelet was light but rich in flavor from the uni. The salmon and yellowtail were fresh and generous in size. It's hard to eat uni any where else after going to Maruhide Uni Club and I'm already planning our next trip. Maybe we'll try the tasting menu next time. Just need to find two more people that love uni as much as we do.
Maruhide Uni Club2130 West Redondo Beach Boulevard Torrance, CA 90504
2013 Mumbo Gumbo Fest Ticket Giveaway
Who doesn't love All You Can Eat Gumbo, Shrimp and Crawfish? The 7th Annual Mumbo Gumbo Fest
is just around the corner on Saturday, September 14th in Pasadena. This year's event will be held at TBoyles Tavern from 6 to 10 pm with live music by Wreck N Sow
. Last year's event
was filled with tasty gumbo, shrimp and crawfish and I'm sure this year's event will be just as tasty and fun.
Tickets to the event are $40 prepaid and $60 at the door. I am giving away a pair of tickets to this year's event. To enter, leave a comment below with your email address or Twitter handle and what you're looking forward to the most at the festival. Please submit entries by 9 pm 9/10/13. Winner will be announced on Wednesday. Good luck!
The Giveaway has ended. Congrats to @Fridayiminlovex!
Pono Burger, Santa Monica
Chef Makani is the woman behind this Pono Burger in Santa Monica. Her philosophy is all about using "organic and farm fresh ingredients for a handcrafted burger made with integrity that above all, tastes great." In case you're wondering, Pono is Hawaiian for doing things the right way.
Organic lemonade4The lemonade was squeezed to order and the freshness came through with every sip. It had just enough sugar not to make you cringe, but still tart enough to taste the lemons.
Burger of the day12The patty was made from 100% certified organic grass-fed beef and cooked medium rare, the recommended temperature by the Chef. It was topped with cheddar cheese and a caramelized onion and strawberry compote. I could immediately taste the difference in the beef after the first bite. There was a distinct beef flavor from organic grass-fed beef that's hard to describe. The sweetness from the strawberry compote mixed with the salty richness from the cheddar complimented the burger. The other notable thing about the burger was the texture of the brioche buns. The buns held up really well to the juicy burger, but it was light enough that it didn't over power everything else.
Organic sweet potato fries4Two thumbs up for the sweet potato fries and housemade ranch bacon chipotle aioli. The fries were skinny but not greasy and the sweetness from the fries worked really well with the savory aioli.
The visit to Pono Burger was not cheap, but we got what we paid for, and that's good quality and tasty food. $12 is not bad for a carefully and thoughtfully crafted burger made with great ingredients. Can't wait to go back and try some of their signature burgers.
Pono Burger829 Broadway StreetSanta Monica, CA 90401
Little Izaka-ya by Katsu-ya, Sherman Oaks
One of my favorite new places for a work day lunch is Little Izaka-ya by Katsu-ya in Sherman Oaks. They have a great selection of lunch specials from bento boxes to chirashi bowl and for a reasonable price. The service is fast so they get customers in and out and back to work. Included with all their lunch specials is a bowl of miso soup and mixed salad with a house ginger dressing.
Chirashi bowl16The thing I love about this chirashi bowl is the choice of salmon eggs or uni at no extra charge. Any chirashi bowl with uni gets a two thumbs up from me. The bowl has a generous assortment of items from gyoza to crab meat to tuna and salmon. All the seafood tasted fresh with uni, crab and salmon being my favorite items in the bowl.
Little Izaka-ya plate20If you feel like splurging a little, the most expensive lunch special is this plate. Starting with the small plate at the top of the picture, you get yellowtail with jalapeño, halibut w/granny apple carpaccio, albacore with crispy onion, and the large plate has tuna over crispy rice and baked crab roll.
Both are a good choice for lunch but I prefer the chirashi over the plate because of the uni factor. I'm glad to have this little spot to add to my lunch options in Sherman Oaks.
Where do you go for lunch in the area?
Little Izaka-ya4517 Sepulveda BlvdSherman Oaks, CA 91403
Natas Portuguese Bakery and Cafe, Sherman Oaks
Natas is a true gem and I am always excited to introduce this cozy Portuguese cafe to new comers. When I asked my parents where they wanted to go for their anniversary celebration, they said "some where new and different." I went through my mental rolodex and thought of Natas. The ambiance and food would certainly be a "new and different" experience for them.
14.95We started with two platters. The Mediterranean platter came with a basket of warm bread and a plate of Prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, olives and a generous sprinkle of sweet basil. There was olive oil and balsamic vinegar at every table which we used to drizzle over the cheese and tomatoes.
Meat and cheese platter19.95The meat and cheese platter came with brie, gouda, mozzarella and Portuguese sausages along with walnuts, grapes and strawberries. The pork sausage was the highlight of this platter. It was slightly smoky with a nice garlic and paprika flavor and not too fatty. The cheeses were standard fare and we all would have liked an artisanal variety on the platter. A hard aged gouda or a triple cream brie would have elevated the platter.
Feijoada16.95This traditional stew was loaded with sausage, rib meat and kidney beans was served over a bed of rice. The pork ribs were fork tender and very moist. The sausage added a nice smoky flavor to the tomato sauce, which was well balanced and light. The cabbage added a sweet note to the dish and the beans and carrots gave the dish that hearty stew finish. We all wanted more after every bite.
Caldeirada21.95This is my favorite dish on the menu and a must order every time I visit. The seafood stew came with salmon, sea bass, cod, shrimp, clams and mussels over a bed of potatoes. There is an option for rice, but I think it's best over potatoes. All the fish was cooked perfectly and the broth was infused with the wonderful flavors of the seafood and rounded out nicely with the flavor of tomato and white wine. The thing I love most about this dish is wide variety of seafood and each item is distinguishable with its own unique flavor. This dish is worth every penny.
My parents really enjoyed their meal and of course we had to finish with the tasty treat this charming cafe is named after: natas. Not only did we have a scrumptious meal, but the food is so well balanced and flavored that it doesn't make you feel heavy afterwards. The key is to stick with the Portuguese dishes and you won't be disappointed. I know I can't wait to go back. Who wants to join me?
Natas Pastries13317 Ventura Blvd. #DSherman Oaks, CA 91423
Spinasse, Seattle WA
What? You haven't heard of Spinasse? Admittedly, I hadn't either until I showed up in Seattle and everyone kept raving about their butter and sage pasta. There was no way I was going to miss this restaurant before leaving Seattle. Luckily, my friend was able to squeeze me into her reservation 4 hours before my flight and I got to taste a sample of their offerings before rudely leaving in the middle of dinner to catch my flight.
You know the restaurant is legit when all you see the minute you walk through the door is a giant work station dedicated to making fresh pasta.
A sample of their antipastiAsparagus, Prosciutto di Parma, rabbit pate and house bread. The asparagus tasted like it was just harvested. It had a wonderful crunchiness to it and was paired with a poached egg and generous shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Cavatelli di funghi spugnole25The pasta was served with an earthy morel mushroom sauce and If you love morels like I do, you will definitely get your fix with this dish.
Tajarin al ragù o burro e salvia22This is the dish that everyone raves about. It actually comes with a choice of ragu or butter and sage sauce. Of course we ordered it with the butter and sage sauce. The pasta is so thin, it's difficult to separate especially with the butter sauce. It ended up a bit clumpy, but the taste was spot on. The pasta almost melted into the butter and sage sauce and every bite was just divine. The richness of the butter is followed by the savory flavor of sage that keeps you wanting more. I understood why everyone loved the dish so much.
Everything we ordered left me wanting more and I look forward to going back on my next visit to Seattle.
Spinasse1531 14th AvenueSeattle, WA 98122