Category Archives: restaurant reviews

A local’s guide to LA

I hosted my friend/travel buddy from San Diego during the weekend between Christmas and New Years. As a fellow foodie, she was game for exploring some of my fave eats and ways to appreciate this city. Here’s where we ate/did over a weekend.

We enjoyed a late lunch (30 min wait) at Shin-Sen-Gumi in Little Tokyo for their delicious Hakata ramen ($6.95) which always hits the spot without leaving a dent in my wallet.

ramenPhoto credit: Ed K. (via yelp)

We headed over to Urth Caffe in the arts district just a couple miles away to indulge our sweet tooth cravings. We ordered Spanish lattes ($4.00) and split an Earl Grey tiramisu ($6.95) which was creamy and a little sweet. I hear what makes their Spanish lattes so wonderfully addicting is they use condensed milk (what doesn’t taste better with condensed milk?).

urth

After our cafe experience, we took a little break and enjoyed a rooftop view of the city at Perch near Pershing Square in downtown. It was challenging to find parking on a Friday night but after circling the area for about 20 minutes, I scored the last spot in a parking lot for $5 a block over. A staff member at Perch was telling us that Sunday and Thursday nights are pretty slow. On busy nights like Fridays, there’s a wait to access the rooftop lounge (but well worth it). Cocktails will run about $12-$15 which seems standard in downtown.

perchOverlooking Pershing Square and the ice skating rink

Although my friend hadn’t been to the LACMA, I had a feeling it would be a bit crowded given that it was a Saturday and between holidays. My favorite LA museum is actually the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City. Their current exhibit are the best photographs from 125 years of National Geographic. Using various mediums of LCD screens, large screen video presentations, and printed shots, it’s an engaging experience across decades, genres, and styles. Photojournalists were sharing their motivation for at times risking their lives to capture images that reach a mass audience in order to bring awareness to issues whether it’s about war/conflict in Afghanistan or seeing the curious face of an endangered species. This is a must-see exhibit featured until April 27, 2014. Free admission and $1 validated parking (on weekends).

annen2

Although it was a bit out of the way, I wanted to take my friend to Venice since it’s a cool beach neighborhood and home to Gjelina and Gjelina Take Away GTA (to-go place next door). I had been to Gjelina last year and fell in love with their squash blossom pizza. Unfortunately, since squash blossoms aren’t in season, we shared the rustic and simple (yet satisfying) pomodoro burrata pizza ($15) and salami pizza ($15). They use the freshest ingredients and the woodfire oven results in a chewy crust. For $15, it’s a pricey pizza for a single serving but an occasional luxury. Given that it’s take-out, we sat in a makeshift alley adjacent to GTA to enjoy our oven-fresh pizzas. So good!

GTA2

What trip to LA would be complete without a taco run? We enjoyed some late night eats at El Flamin’ Taco in Ktown. This truck has a well-stocked salsa bar, juicy al pastor ($1.35) on handmade tortillas, what more could I ask for? It’s a cash only place (one minor inconvenience); closed on Mondays.

taco

Salty, sweet, tangy, and spicy.

Not pictured, a nutella cronut ($3.75) which is a croissant donut from SK Donuts. Deliciously rich and crispy. Recommend sharing with a friend or two.

All in all, we had a great time catching up over good eats and talking about our future travel destinations. I’m thankful for close friends to spend quality time and it gives me more reason to explore new places to take visitors to taste and experience the rich diversity that LA has to offer.

Until we meet again friend! Here’s a shot of my friend on one of our trips to Vegas.

IMG_5111

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maccheroni republic

macrepub #8

creamy heirloom tomato soup w/French lentils

macrepub #2

bigoli della nonna (Venetian style spaghetti with a meat sauce)
macrepub #1

linguine ai frutti di mari

macrepub #5

heavenly: gnocchi with meat and mushroom ragu
macrepub #6

Santa Barbara prawn with asparagus and white wine sauce

macrepub menu

Too many delicious options to choose from…

macrepub #7

Chatting it up w/co-owner Jean-Louis de Mori.

macrepub #9macrepub #3

patio seating

Expanded yet cozy patio (we sat waaaaaay in the back)

My coworkers and I enjoyed not one but two amazing meals at Maccheroni Republic in downtown LA across from Grand Central Market on Broadway. Both times (in June and this week), I was struck by the quality of the food and hospitality of the servers and co-owner (gentleman wearing a hat). I tried the gnocchi which my boss said that it’s better than his grandmother’s version and also ordered their bigoli della nonna (Venetian style spaghetti noodles w/a meat ragu sauce) which was heavenly. I also recommend trying their soups. My second visit, I had their creamy heirloom tomato soup with French lentils and was very impressed (soups are deceivingly simply but complex).

I’ve gushed about this restaurant and mentioned it to many friends to go try it. They don’t take reservations but during our first visit, we arrived when they opened for lunch and we were able to sit inside together (a party of nine). The second time, we sat in the patio area with heat lamps. Also, they recommend ordering family-style (a la Buca di Beppo) for large groups but guests can also order individually (which we did). They don’t have an alcohol license (so no wine menu) but they don’t have a corkage fee so feel free to bring a bottle of wine (like chianti or cabernet) to enjoy with your pasta. Yelpers were mentioning that there’s a good wine store, BUZZ wine beer shop in short walking distance from the restaurant. Another reason to love this place is all their dishes are under $20 which is very affordable for the quality and quantity of their pastas. Hope you check out this eatery and enjoy it as much as I do. Btw, check out my friend, Julie’s blog post on this downtown gem. LA Times acclaimed food writer raves about this place too in a recent glowing review. Mangia!

the playground in santa ana

What I love about food is the sense of community, creativity, passion, and beauty. My dear and close friend (and OC resident) treated me to a memorable meal at the playground in downtown Santa Ana for my birthday. The playground embodies the qualities of a memorable dining experience and then some, leaving me longing for another visit as their menu changes daily. Led by Chef Jason Quinn (he was on Food Network’s Chopped), they take their food seriously in the sense of the highest quality, seasonal ingredients but in an unpretentious way, served tapas-style so you can try a variety of flavors, techniques, and ingredients (and b.y.o.wine).

Their food philosophy which is presented with their menu is unabashedly asking diners to trust them; submit to our whim. Isn’t this why we go to the movies? Read books? …to immerse ourselves into a whole new experience. And an experience it was. I thoroughly enjoyed everything we ordered.

pg menu

poke

a light and refreshing bluefin poke w/avocado, mango, macadamia, toasted coconut

mushrooms

grilled matsutake mushrooms w/garlic

ramen

Mazeman ramen w/wagyu beef fat, poached egg, and bone marrow

uncle lou's chicken

Uncle Lou’s fried chicken (vinegary finger linkin’ goodness)

I wholeheartedly recommend you take a chance on the playground for a cozy and memorable meal (do make reservations). I would recommend at least coming with a party of 4 so you can order a variety of dishes. By the fried chicken dish, I was  as good as a stuffed turkey and packed most of it to-go. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a bottle of your favorite wine (no corkage fee; YEah!).

Also, I’ll put in a plug for Crave (a few blocks away) for their fresh salads and sandwiches in an airy restaurant (don’t leave w/o a cookie as they are to.die.for).

The Playground | 220 E 4th St, Santa Ana, CA 92701

Kal’s Bistro in Pasadena

About a week ago, I enjoyed an ice cream tasting with two fellow bloggers at Kal’s Bistro in Old Towne Pasadena. The owner, Kal whose background is working in entertainment opened this restaurant about four months ago. He invited us to try his delectable homemade ice cream (by pastry chef Barbara) and even let us sample a few cocktails.

interiors

ice creamStarting clockwise, the flavors pictured are: mint orange blossom, strawberry habanero, white chocolate chocolate chips, cinnamon bun, and lavender cream cheese. My hands down faves were the lavender cream cheese and mint orange blossom. Maybe it was the warm summer weather but I was drawn to the light almost sorbet like qualities. The strawberry habanero was an experience. Initially, I tasted the fruit and then the spicy habanero coated the back of my throat. Funny thing about spicy food is it lures me back for more! Haha…  what can I say, I’ve been addicted to spicy food all my life, growing up with Korean food.

at the bar

rocketteI also sampled the Rockette, a cocktail made of agave, arugula (also called rocket in the UK), vermouth, and lime juice. This was so refreshing and a little zesty flavor of the arugula mixed with the tartness of the lime. Great balance of flavors. I would come back to order this one with a juicy burger 🙂 Many thanks to Kal and his staff; they were so hospitable and friendly.

My new blogger friend, Mary also blogged about her experience so check it out.

Just on an aside, hasn’t Old Towne Pasadena gone under a major renovation/redevelopment? There are so many new cafes, restaurants, shops that have opened up in the last few years. Crazy! About a month ago, I stumbled into a new cafe to get some change for the meter and later realized it was a brand new cafe, Copa Vida. Such beautiful interiors (and delicious kumquat pistachio croissant btw). The ceiling reminded me of waffles (haha, food is constantly on my mind…).

copa vida

labor day weekend

malibu

hike

group picture

hbow

The great thing about having a birthday so close to labor day weekend is having the long weekend to spend time with friends and family. My friend SH and I went hiking in Malibu (Escondido falls) early enough to beat the heat and then dipped our feet into the ocean (felt so good!). Of course the best part was indulging ourselves with brunch at 26 Beach in Venice (anytime there’s ice cream for breakfast, I’m game).

I had friends over for lunch on Monday and grilled teriyaki chicken and they graciously provided appetizers and desserts (snuck in a delicious cake). Ended a fun-filled day with naeng myun (cold Korean buckwheat noodles) at Cho Sun Ok in Buena Park.

Tuesday night, I took advantage of a groupon deal and enjoyed classical music under the stars and made a new friend/food blogger (check out her delectable blog).

Yesterday, on my actual birthday, my friend Christine of feedmysole treated me to a memorable meal at Marugame Monzo in Little Tokyo where they make dishes with freshly made udon noodles. We sat at the bar and watched the noodle master at his craft (love the rolling pin hanging racks) while savoring our braised pork belly and uni cream udon. OMG, what a difference it makes!

marugame #2

pork belly

uni cream udon

I can honestly say, I’m still stuffed and more importantly, I am richly blessed. Special thanks to my sister who helped me behind-the-scenes with her servant heart and showered me with extra love.

chaya in downtown LA

Students are heading back to school and work is picking up meaning it’s the end of summer. I’m fortunate enough to leave the office while it’s still light outside. I had a chance to catch up with Christine (of blog, feedmysole) and try a popular happy hour spot, Chaya, in dtla. Their sake sangria ($8) hit the spot and their grilled Mexican corn ($8) was very flavorful. I also recommend their beef tongue skewer ($3), very tender.

Best surprise of the night was running into my friend Su who works at a law firm in the same building 🙂

1st collage

food collageoutdoor seating

boston: part 1 (good eats)

I was in Boston for about a week earlier this month for a work conference and came the weekend prior to explore/play. My friends (and talented colleagues) and I hung out and had some amazing food. I have so many pictures to share that I’ll devote another post to the sights of Boston. It was actually my second time here but first time really experiencing it on foot. Here are some food highlights:

Our first night in Boston, we took a short bus ride to this Asian fusion restaurant, Myers+Chang. I’m a bit weary when I hear fusion but it was a much needed pick-me-up after a 5+ hour plane ride. Our favorites were the papaya salad, Indonesian fried rice (below, top right, bottom left), and their dan dan cold noodles in a peanut sauce. Despite being a busy Friday night for the restaurant, we had ice waters (noticeably sweating from the humidity we’re not accustomed to) and seated at the window within 10 minutes.

The highlight was meeting Chef Joanne Chang as she came by and asked us how the food was!!! She even liked MY Instagram pic! I’ve been a big fan ever since she beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s  Throwdown with her signature sticky buns (keep reading).

We went to Cafe Luna for Saturday brunch in Cambridge (top left, bottom right). I ordered their lemon ricotta stuffed mascarpone pancakes with lemon curd. Probably one of the best brunch dishes I’ve ever had. These were so light and fluffy, perfect for the hot day with my iced chai latte. Julie had the lobster eggs benedict (bottom right). Doesn’t it look savory and decadent? She was saying how fresh the lobster was in her dish. We were very impressed by this small sidewalk cafe (which was packed on a Saturday morning, as good ones should be). The owner was so friendly and kind to us as we learned he’s originally from OC.

brunch and meyers

Day 2 continued: Flour Bakery in Cambridge. A few blocks from Cafe Luna is one of 3 Flour Bakery locations. The first one opened in 2000 and has become an integral part of the city. Chef Joanne Chang has not only the bakeries, her restaurant, and also 2 cookbooks to her empire :). Despite our stuffed bellies, we HAD to sample their desserts. They’re famous for their sticky sticky buns (below). OMG! Very gooey and a generous amount of pecans. I also had a chunky lola cookie (choco chip oatmeal cookie w/coconut and pecans), which was even better! I found the cookie recipe online and baked them last weekend (foolproof!).

I bought home some goodies from this bakery including coffee beans and their signature granola, both taste so good I wish I bought more. My parents really liked their coffee beans for a smooth taste (says a hint of chocolate, but I can’t tell). What’s interesting about Chef Joanne’s background is she graduated from Harvard w/a dual Bachelors in economics and mathematics to work as a management consultant only to realize her true passion was becoming pastry chef. If you’ve ever baked, you understand the art and science of baking. How cool is that?

flour bakery

We also explored the South Boston as our conference was a short walking distance to this up-and-coming area (NPR just did a story on this area). We found this gem of a restaurant, Sportello, one of Chef Barbara Lynch’s restaurants (she has 8 or 9 eateries and mentored the last Top Chef winner). The concept of the eatery is casual Italian diner with countertops covering most the restaurant and an open kitchen + bakery. It’s so cute and inviting. Most notable was their handmade gnocchi and tagliatelle with bolognese sauce. The simplest dishes are the hardest to pull off and they make it look effortless. Shout out to our server Ethan who was amazing.

sportello

I love exploring new cities because you stumble upon places that locals frequent like Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, a few doors down from Sportello. A simple cafe with high quality coffee. Their iced coffee hit the spot on those hot summer days. We also made room for cannolis at Mike’s Pastry in the North End after a full meal. $3.50 for a pistachio cannoli in a small, always crowded Italian pastry shop (cash only).

mike's pastry

Hope this gives you a little taste (no pun intended) of good eats in Boston. Stay tuned for Boston part 2 later this week. Too much good content to cram into one post.