Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blogger Prom 2010

Immediately upon receiving my Blogger Prom 2010 invitation, I began to plan my ensemble. After all, an event themed "Hollywood Glamour" calls for serious thought regarding one's dress, hair, make-up and accessories...the girly girl to-do list was seemingly endless.

Last week, after glamming myself up with a black lace dress, elbow-length satin gloves, pin curls and bright red lipstick, a coiffed, skinny tie and pocket square-bedecked J and I headed to Yamashiro Restaurant for Blogger Prom 2010.

Blogger Prom 2010

This visit to Yamashiro was my first, and I was immediately taken with the beautiful outdoor space that played host to the event. The beautifully landscaped courtyard lit by hanging paper lanterns felt classy and timeless and perfectly reflected the old Hollywood-inspired ensembles of the guests. I was uncertain if my fellow bloggers would be as zealous about the theme as I, but nearly everyone sashayed their way through the prom in looks that would make Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart proud.

Blogger Prom 2010

As we "Panda Clan" members (@djjewelz, @olivejina, @LIMER35, @kungfoodpanda, @twohungrypandas and @klubchen) and FoodMarathon and My_Shimoda sipped on drinks from Eagle Rock Brewery and Pinky Vodka, we wandered around the courtyard, taking advantage of the photo booth and checking out the Blogger Prom live Twitter board.

Blogger Prom 2010

After scoping out the venue, it was time to eat! Blinding Veronica Lake curls, impractical gloves and high maintenance red lipstick be damned! For the event, Chef Brock Kleweno prepared CalAsian dishes including Asian baby back ribs, "Hukilau" poke, salad "wedgelettes" and mini tacos. Thanks to Nastassia of The Manila Machine for *erm* holding my place at the front of the line.

Mini Tacos @ Blogger Prom 2010

After my duck confit and beef tacos, I tended to my sweet tooth with an ice cream sandwich with snickerdoodles and pear sorbet from Cool Haus and snatched a few sweets from the impressive spread of Crumbs Bakery cupcakes and ChocolateBox Cafe chocolates.

Cool Haus @ Blogger Prom 2010

ChocolateBox Cafe @ Blogger Prom 2010

Cupcakes @ Blogger Prom 2010

Whereas most normal weeknights consist of throwing on pajamas, making whatever is quickest for dinner and plopping in front of the TV, Blogger Prom infused my week with a major dose of liveliness, laughs and, most importantly, glamour. To spend the evening with my favorite Angelenos all dressed to the nines was well worth feeling a bit sleepy the next day at work!

Blogger Prom 2010

Thank you to the vendors who supported this event benefitting Operation Frontline and another thank you to the Blogger Prom committee for their hard work to make this fabulous evening possible!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Santa Barbara Shellfish Company

Lobster. The mere mention instantly connotes images of kicking back on an East Coast shore with a claw in hand while clad in a Polo shirt, plaid shorts and loafers. But why should those who "summer" as a verb have all of the fun? We Californians also have 1) ocean, 2) piers and 3) shabby chic-esque restaurants that sit on those piers and should, therefore, also relish in shellfish goodness.

Recently, J and I visited Santa Barbara on a day trip with my visiting best friend, giving us all some much-needed change of scenery. As this was our first trip to the coastal town since I discovered my affinity for lobster and crab (and as J and my friend are both seafood fanatics), a seafood dinner was decidedly in order.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Company sits at the end of Stearns Wharf, a one hundred thirty year-old Santa Barbara landmark. We noticed that, despite the close proximity of several other seafood restaurants, only Santa Barbara Shellfish Company had a crowd of (presumably) hungry people gathered outside. Good sign. We wrote our names on the clipboard posted outside the entrance and within 30 minutes scored an outdoor table with a view of the ocean and the setting sun.

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The view of the crabs while we wait for a table


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The interior of Santa Barbara Shellfish Company


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Although the evening quickly became unexpectedly chilly, the setting was too perfect to pass on ordering ice cold beer, and we began with a pitcher of Kona Lager ($16.50).

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Because we came for one thing, all three of us ordered one thing: lobster. Although the whole lobster special sounded appealing, we all opted for the half lobster with a salad and side ($23.95).

When our plates arrived, we immediately dug in, cracking and snapping away at our half lobster, which was neatly cut right down the middle. I first tackled my lobster's tail of which each bite was meaty, sweet and succulent and downright heavenly when dipped in butter. We all noted with some surprise that the claw, which usually plays second fiddle to the tail, was just as delicious as its aft counterpart. After these larger pieces were devoured, a silence fell over the table as we intently focused on digging every last bit of meat out of the spindly legs.

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We finished our meal (i.e. looked up from our plates) just in time to watch the sunset with contented bellies full of beer and lobster and bask in the sheer perfection of the moment.

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The impending arrival of fall means that, soon, lobster season will be no more. Do yourself a favor prolong your summer-- cram in one more lobster.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
230 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 966-6676

Santa Barbara Shellfish Company on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

LudoBites 5.0's Final Night

On September 3rd, LudoBites 5.0's summer run drew to a close. This most recent iteration of Chef Ludo Lefebvre's pop-up restaurant was, in many ways, his most successful yet. LudoBites 5.0 was met with adulation from diners and critics (including the New York Times and CNN) alike who hailed Chef Ludo's creativity and truly inspired cooking--a tone set by the crash of the reservation system immediately upon going live due to overwhelming traffic. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed LudoBites 4.0, something about this felt larger, grander and more exciting, and I was sad that it was coming to an end.

On 5.0's final night, the LudoBites Truck parked outside Gram and Papa's. For those without an actual reservation--or what the NYT called "the summer's must-have accessory"-- the truck offered a taste of the chef's cooking...

Line for the LudoTruck

...but the line snaked around the block. My hungry stomach was relieved to be heading inside rather than waiting in line.

Line for the LudoTruck

Our LudoBites finale began with hot miso soup with cherry tomatoes and an "uni black panini." As someone who is both Japanese and from Hawai'i, I have slurped my fair share of miso, but I was wholly unprepared for the uniquely rich flavor of the broth and the textural intrigue of the plump cherry tomatoes.

Upon reading "uni black panini," I thought that the panini was, perhaps, black because of the outer casing of the uni (or sea urchin). However, it was, in fact, a "black uni panini," and I was startled and somewhat traumatized when a briny gelatinous ball shot into my mouth with my first (and only) bite. For the record, everyone at my table and everyone around us loved this; I'm just seafood incompatible (as Chef Ludo and Krissy know).

Hot Miso Soup, Cherry Tomato, Uni Black Panini @ LudoBites 5.0

Whether in salad or sandwich form, caprese is my meal of choice whenever it appears on a menu. As such, I obsessively checked the online LudoBites menu for weeks to ensure that the heirloom tomato salad with mozzarella ice cream and basil crumbles did not disappear before my reservation. I am eternally grateful that it did not. Each bite of the ethereal mozzarella "ice cream" (whose texture was like that of a Yoplait Whip) combined with the distinct flavor of the heirloom tomatoes and the crunch of the basil crumbles was pure delight. I enjoyed this dish so immensely that I can still taste it.

Heirloom Tomato Salad, Mozzarella Ice Cream, Basil Crumble @ LudoBites 5.0

Although J & I already ordered the poached egg potato mousseline with chorizo during our first visit to 5.0, we ordered it again for the tasting pleasure of our friend and LudoBites neophyte Diego. Not really. We just wanted it again. Thanks to a particularly generous serving of smoky, crunchy chorizo, this dish was even better than our first order.

Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Chorizo Condiment @ LudoBites 5.0

The roasted Sonoma saddle of lamb with goat cheese, candied black olives, artichoke salad and mint pesto sounded like a dish that we quite enjoyed from LudoBites 4.0, so we decided to try this new version. Although this version sadly came without its own side of potato mousseline like its predecessor, the combination of all of the flavors on the plate was intriguing. I particularly enjoyed the lamb with its salty topping and the artichoke salad (which tasted a bit like fresh parmesan cheese!).

Roasted Sonoma Saddle of Lamb, Goat Cheese, Candied Black Olive, Artichoke Salad, Mint Pesto @ LudoBites 5.0

We may have the Korean BBQ Cook-Off (for which Chef Ludo was a judge) to thank for the "Korean Style" marinated steak with pickled vegetables, grilled baby corn and crispy bacon. Here, the chef nailed the sweet kalbi flavor, and the steak provided a much more satisfying bite than thin strips of shortrib. Although the crispy bacon was not an inextricable part of the plate, I certainly enjoyed it and wanted more of the crunchy goodness.

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We finished our dinner with a pistachio ice cream "sundae" with bing cherries, hot chocolate sauce and salted pistachio. Here, salty and sweet melded beautifully, anchored by the wonderfully rich flavors of the chocolate and bing cherries.

Pistachio Ice Cream Sundae with Bing Cherries, Hot Chocolate Sauce and Salted Pistachio @ LudoBites 5.0

Just when I thought that nothing could top my final meal at 4.0, Ludo breaks out more surprises. Congratulations to Chef Ludo and Krissy on LudoBites 5.0!

LudoBites 4.0 @ Gram & Papa's
227 E. 9th St.

Ludo Bites 5.0 at Gram & Papas in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lotus of Siam (Las Vegas)

After spending my first day in Las Vegas braving triple digit temperatures while trying to shop and lounge poolside and jockeying for breathing space in a crowded nightclub, I reached a conclusion: Sin City and I were at odds. Don't get me wrong, I fancy shopping, sunning and dolling myself up just as much as the next girly girl, but I enjoy none of the above when I feel as though my internal organs are slowly roasting. Fortunately, I found a friend in another Vegas pasttime. Eating. And it allowed me to be indoors.

One of J's requests for our weekend getaway was a trip to Lotus of Siam, a Thai restaurant he remembered fondly from a family vacation. His (repeated) laudatory review aroused both my curiosity and my skepticism. Is this place really that good? With this in mind, we headed off the strip to the restaurant.
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Lotus of Siam sits in an unassuming plaza populated largely by various ethnic restaurants. None of the taco shops, Korean BBQ/ karaoke joints, or Japanese restaurants, however, had a 45-minute wait like our intended dinner spot. Although I was disappointed by the large gap in time that stood between me and my favorite Vegas activity, I was intrigued that a restaurant so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the strip boasted such a waiting list.

As we waited, I read several of the many articles about the restaurant posted on the walls, scouring for info and tips on what to order. I soon learned that 1) the restaurant prided itself on its authentic Northern Thai cuisine prepared by chef and owner Saipin Chutima, 2) the must-order appetizer was nam kao tod, 3) Lotus of Siam was nominated for a James Beard award and 4) that the esteemed Jonathon Gold called it "the single best Thai restaurant in Northern America" in a piece for Gourmet Magazine. Hot damn! I was officially excited.
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After making friends with the hosts, we snagged a table when a party failed to respond to their name being called and quickly got down to business ordering. I started with a Thai iced tea, which was refreshing but decidedly heavier on tea than milk, and I prefer the creamy, milky inverse.
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Per my waiting room research, we began with the omni-reviewed nam kao tod ($7.95) as an appetizer. Featuring minced sour sausage, crispy rice, ginger, green onions, fresh chili and lime juice, each bite of the dish delivered a zing straight to the tastebuds followed by a pleasant but heated kick. The powerful flavors were tempered by cool sprigs of Thai basil and rounded out texturally by the crunch of the peanuts. I almost switched from a fork to a spoon to be able to eat more with each bite (pesky fork tines).
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After receiving a sterling recommendation for the garlic prawns ($19.95) from another waitlister, J selected the "chef's choice" dish as his entree. The puffy, deep-fried prawns delivered a strong garlicky flavor reminiscent of the famed fare of Giovanni's Shrimp Truck in Hawai'i, but the ground pepper which topped them prevented the garlic from becoming cloying.

Garlic Prawns @ Lotus of Siam (Las Vegas)

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Feeling adventurous, I decided to order something other than my favorite--pad thai--opting instead for crispy duck on drunken noodles ($20.95). Rosy slivers of crunchy duck topped with Thai basil arrived perched atop deeply flavored, spicy pan-fried flat rice noodles. A striking combination of flavors and textures, this dish was a lovely reward for my deviation from the status quo.
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So, to answer my own question I posed in the beginning: Yes, this place really is that good.

Lotus of Siam
www.saipinchutima.com
953 E. Sahara Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89104
(702) 735-3033

Lotus of Siam on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Itzik Hagadol

Since enjoying one of my favorite meals to date at Israeli restaurant TLV in New York, I have made it my quest to find great Israeli food in Los Angeles. With simple and fresh but diversely flavorful salads and juicy meat kebabs, Israeli cuisine spans many flavor profiles, textures and temperatures and offers a dish to please every palate.

Although my search had thus far yielded only average results, I had high hopes for Itzik Hagadol, a restaurant with two locations--Encino and Tel Aviv. Legit, I say. In fact, the location in Yaffo, Israel preceded the one in the US.

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After being seated, we began to munch on the several kinds of warm bread presented to us--first, two flatbreads brushed with olive oil and then an enormous, puffy, chewy laffa. We were careful, however, to save room for the smorgasboard of salads which brought us to Itzik Hagadol in the first place.

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In Israeli dining, "salads" are not bowls of mixed greens that arrive before one's entree. In fact, these plentiful salads can be meals unto themselves. One order at Itzik Hagadol gives you 20 house salads, Israeli salad and falafel, all of which are refillable ($8.99 with a main course, $17.99 without a main course). For those who want to keep light(er), however, the restaurant also offers an option with 10 house salads rather than 20.

Because we came prepared to eat, J and I both ordered the 20 salads with a kebab. In a matter of moments, every inch of our table was covered with little white dishes, and we regretted even the few bites of bread that were now occupying precious space in our stomachs.

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After our initial bites of each salad, we began the "shuffle," the slightly selfish, completely obvious but time-honored tradition in which we slid those dishes we most enjoyed over to our respective side of the table. For myself, I hoarded a sweet mint and garlic tomato salad, cucumbers with dill, cauliflower with basil and spices, a red cabbage slaw and a tangy, deep mauve-colored eggplant dish.

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Some of the more staple Israeli dishes, however, required sharing. Among these dishes were a crisp tabbouleh and a tasty baba ganoush.

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Another favorite of the night was the traditional Israeli salad with diced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions and dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Each bite provided a satisfying crunch, and the cool flavors were refreshing on their own or atop a piece of bread.

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The falafel at Itzik Hagadol was top notch. Although many restaurants profess their version of these chickpea balls to be the best in Los Angeles, Itzik Hagadol's is a strong contender. Chickpeas are not a particularly flavorful ingredient, but these falafel were surprisingly hearty.

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Just when we thought that our bellies might burst, our entrees arrived.

The distinct flavors of lamb and veal melded quite harmoniously in the rich, tender house kebab. Despite how dangerously full I was growing, I still found myself disappointed when I had eaten of all this delicious kebab.

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J ordered the five-meat kebab and, although he enjoyed it, I could not help but feeling as though he missed out in not ordering the house kebab.

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What began as an attempt to recreate a delicious meal ended up as a dinner that was delicious in its own right. And let's be honest: secretly, everyone enjoys an endless parade of food that quite literally fills every inch of their table.

Itzik Hagadol
17201 Encino Blvd.
Encino, CA 91316
(818) 784-4080

Itzik Hagadol on Urbanspoon
Itzik Hagadol in Los Angeles on Fooddigger