Wednesday, March 30, 2011

China Poblano, Las Vegas

Compared to my last Vegas trip a few months ago where I hit up a couple solid restaurants (China Poblano, Yellowtail at the Bellagio, Julian Serrano), this recent weekend getaway was sadly revolved more around casino hopping and quick bites instead of fine dining. Thankfully I was able to sneak in a dinner at Jose Andres's China Poblano. I don't usually like to do repeat restaurants while traveling but I enjoyed my meal when I had dined there a few months ago. The menu is split between Chinese and Mexican. My favorites last time were the tacos.

Tuna Ceviche with amaranth seeds, soy sauce and pecans. The amaranth seeds were pretty interesting in texture. They were fibrous and crunchy. The fresh tuna chunks were nicely dressed with citrus and soy. I thought this was a rather unique dish and a refreshing start to the meal. It was also a nice combination of Asian flavors in a Mexican dish.

The Scallop Ceviche perched in lime halves, although lovely in presentation, was a bit lacking in seasoning. It did have a sprinkling of ancho chile sugar which added a zing, but I thought it needed some salt.

Viva China was a repeat from my last trip. I really enjoyed the soft beef tendon which was buttery and gelatinous. Some might have an issue with the texture, but I loved it. The taco was topped with a Kumamoto oyster. I really liked the oyster addition the previous time that I had this dish, but this time, it didn't sit too well with me. Perhaps I was a bit hungover.. and we know seafood and hangovers don't mix.

Dan Dan Mian, with hand-cut wheat noodles and a spicy pork sauce, was my favorite among the noodle dishes. I haven't really had much of the real authentic version so I may not be the best judge, but I did like China Poblano's noodles which were soft. The pork was flavorful, and I liked the crunchy peanuts that topped the noodles.

The Open Sesame noodles weren't really anything special. I think it needed more seasoning or punch. And perhaps additional toppings of meat or mushrooms might have made this dish less ordinary.

The Unruly Monk was a soup noodle dish with hand-cut noodles, bok choy, wild wood ear mushrooms and a poached egg. It seemed ordinary in flavor initially, but it really got flavorful when we added in the spicy sauce that was served alongside. I think I had a better meal the first time I dined at China Poblano. This is probably because we ordered more of the Asian dishes this time rather than the Mexican dishes. Based on both my meals, I think their Mexican food outshines the Chinese, primarily because there aren't really much twists to the Chinese dishes so you would likely be able to get a better version back in LA. I thought the Mexican tacos and ceviche, on the other hand, were all pretty impressive.

Hits: prices, ceviche, dan dan mien Misses: scallops Rating: ***

China Poblano The Cosmopolitan 3708 Las Vegas Blvd S Las Vegas, NV 89109 (702) 651-2432

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A-Frame, Culver City

I’ve never enjoyed waiting in food truck lines. And I always prefer to have an alcoholic beverage with my meal instead of squatting by the sidewalk. As such, the Kogi Truck sensation never really appealed to me. When I did finally sample the tacos at the brick and mortar Alibi Room, I thought the flavors were great. In the last year, Kogi creator Roy Choi went on to open Chego, and most recently, A-Frame Restaurant. The latter is located in Culver City, in an A-frame structure that used to house an IHOP.

You’d almost immediately want to compare A-Frame to the other recent Asian restaurant newcomers (Lukshon, Red Medicine, WP24), but don’t. It serves up casual fare, sort of bar grub, you won’t find oysters or foie here, it’s not supposed to be fancy or refined, and it is definitely less pricey than its counterparts.

The restaurant is surprisingly smaller than I anticipated (aren’t IHOPs usually rather spacious?) and they don't take reservations. It was rather crowded even on a Monday at 7pm and we had to wait for about 20 minutes.

The menu is described as picnic style. A tin of utensils was left in the center of the communal table but most likely, you won’t need to use them.

The Furikake Kettle Corn was one of my favorites of the night. I really enjoyed the combination of sweet and spicy flavors. It was also buttery and coated with specks of seaweed.

The Peel and eat Shrimps were coated with kaffir lime leaf and dried shrimp salt. The shrimps were cooked well, and had a spicy kick. I ate the shrimp on their own as I thought the cocktail sauce muddied the strong Asian flavors.

We asked for a side of cornbread. I liked the grill marks but it was lacking in cornbread flavor - it lacked sweetness that you would expect. Also, they charged us $3 for one cornbread.

I enjoyed the Bittersweet Tempura which included nicely battered kabocha pumpkin and broccoli rabe. I actually didn't realize that this was pumpkin as it tasted like squash. The tempura was served with shoyu dipping sauce.

Crackin Beer Can Chicken Peruvian-style is a popular dish. The skin was perfectly crispy and not dripping with fat. The dark meat was succulent and juicy, however the white meat was bordering dry. As such, I thought the chicken was delicious, but my friend was unimpressed. The chicken dish was served with kimchee, century egg, salsa roja and verde. I was expecting (and hoping for) the pungent sulphuric century egg yolk, however this was more like soy sauce egg than preserved egg.

The Barbecued Lamb Chops Korean-style was our favorite entrĂ©e. The presentation was plain and uninspiring, and the lamb chops looked a bit charred, but in fact, the lamb was perfectly cooked. It had a lovely Asian marinade flavoring, and wasn’t gamy. The sharp and citrus parsley salad was simple but a nice complement to the lamb. We thought that the lamb itself was so flavorful that it did not need the salsa verde.

We ended our meal with the Chu-Don't-Know-Mang dessert. It consisted of pound cake churros, cinnamon, with malted chocolate milk and vanilla ice cream. I loved the porous and airy churros, but my friends commented that it needed some salt in the batter because the flavors were rather flat. There was ample amount of milk and ice cream, I almost wished we had more churros to dip into it.

Our drinks were very slow to serve (even though we ordered beer and wine, not cocktails) but our waitress was apologetic and she also let me taste the wine before making a selection. The check was presented to us in a used Christmas card. I’m not sure what the significance of this was. Overall, the food was decent. I enjoyed the chicken and lamb, but I don’t think anything really stood out that would tempt me to come back a couple more times. Except perhaps if they decide to package the kettle corn.

Hits: chicken (dark meat), kettle corn, lamb
Misses: bar was backed up, $3 cornbread
Rating: ***

A Frame
12565 Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 398-7700

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Burger Kitchen: Not really standing out in the burger dining scene

Los Angeles is obsessed with burgers. There have been a slew of burger joints (Umami, Go Burger, Stout, Kalbi Burger) opening up all across town in the past couple years. LA Weekly recently did a segment on 30 Burgers in 30 days. I was really looking forward to checking out Burger Kitchen when it first opened last year. It's an Australian father-and-son restaurant that serves up Pat La Frieda Dry Aged patties and Aussie meat pies on the menu, along with some good craft beers.

The restaurant is located on West 3rd Street. It's not a large space but it's cozy and casual.

They offer a nice selection of craft beers.

Unfortunately they ran out of La Chouffe so we settled for a St. Bernardus and a glass of Coppola Pinot Grigio. Would have been nice if the beer was served in the appropriate beer glass.

Our sides came out before the burgers which was actually fine by me. I liked having something to munch on before our main course. The sweet potato fries were actually pretty bad. They were soft and soggy. No crisp to it. The only consolation was the garlic aioli that was served with the fries.

Thankfully they redeemed themselves with the beer battered onion rings. The onions were large but still cut thin, and the batter was light and crispy. It only made me wonder if the bad fries had been a fluke.

The Natural Burger included the Pat La Frieda patty which is a 40 day, dry-aged prime mix. It was served on a toasted brioche bun with romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onion and aged white cheddar cheese. The patty itself was juicy and dripping with fat. Not my cup of tea but my friend enjoyed it. However, the accompaniments weren't anything special. The onions weren't grilled enough or caramelized. They tasted half raw. The other toppings were also just ordinary. Additionally, the bread was a bit too thick and dry. I wouldn't consider this to be better than most other gourmet burgers since apart from the patty, it was quite generic. And it definitely wasn't worth $26. The fries were crispy though.

The Texas Chili Burger was also disappointing. I thought there was very little chili on the burger. It was just a thin layer. I had expected a generous scoop, with chili dripping off the burger. It wasn't bad per se, but it wasn't something that I'd order again.

I really wanted to support this family run establishment. The guy working at the restaurant was friendly and helpful, but sadly, I wasn't impressed with the burgers. I didn't think it was anything special and that the Natural Burger was worth it. In a city saturated with gourmet burger joints, Burger Kitchen really didn't shine. Sigh. Perhaps I should have gotten the meat pie. It looked good.

Hits: beer selection, patty options, onion rings
Misses: fries, burger accompaniments
Rating: *

Burger Kitchen
8048 West 3rd St.,
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 944-0503

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Daily Grill, the best HH in Brentwood

There aren't that many bars in Brentwood, let alone ones that offer good happy hour specials. Amidst all the fancy boutique shops and pricey restaurants, Brentwood is just not the type of neighborhood that you'd expect to find a good deal. So I was excited when I stumbled upon happy hour at chain restaurant Daily Grill. Happy Hour runs daily from 4-7pm. That means you get to partake of this on weekends too.

Daily Grill is primarily a restaurant, but they have a bar which can seat about eight people. I've never had a problem finding seats during happy hour because most people come to the restaurant for dinner.

Beers are $3.50 to $4, Well drinks are $5.50, select cocktails cost $9 and wines are $2 off.

Their happy hour food menu is what's amazing, with items priced at $3.95 or $4.95. These aren't measly portions of french fries. They include seared ahi tuna, sliders and pot pie.

Seared Ahi tuna was served with pickled ginger and wasabi. The actual plate actually had more pieces of tuna. This was a good healthy dish, something that is hard to find on a happy hour menu. It's not the best ahi but it's still decent.

The mini cheeseburgers were pretty standard with lettuce and tomatoes.

Grilled chicken quesadilla was filled with cheddar cheese, cilantro and salsa fresca. You can add another quesadilla for an extra $1. Lots of chicken in the quesadilla.

The winner was the Chicken pot pie. This was a nice large portion for $4.95.

The pot pie was pipping hot and filled with chicken, carrots, onions, peas and mushrooms. The crust was buttery, flaky and had a gorgeous golden brown. I was surprised to find that they didn't skimp on the chicken. There were huge chunks of chicken and they were tender white meat. The roux was also of a lighter consistency and not starchy or thick.

It's not a happening scene, but you can easily get full and drunk for cheap at Daily Grill's happy hour.

Hits: daily happy hour, great prices, pot pie, good selection of food
Misses: not much of a scene
Rating: ***1/2 (for happy hour)

Daily Grill
11677 San Vicente Blvd # 200
Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 442-0044

Monday, March 21, 2011

Red Medicine: You may love to hate, I just love

You'll most likely either vehemently love or loathe Red Medicine, even before you've had a chance to taste Chef Jordan Kahn's food. You'll either be disgusted with their outing of LA Times food critic S. Irene Virbila or commend them on their brazen attack. You'll either love Kahn's interpretation of Vietnamese food, or hate that it's pricey and not "authentic". Personally, I was just there for the dining experience, and I left a happy diner.

#18 (Krome Vodka, Chili-Anise Shrub, Lime, Grapefruit, Peychaud’s Bitters, Basil, Ginger Beer) was refreshing and so tasty that I finished it in a matter of minutes.

#42 (Plymouth, Apple, Lemon, Honey, Basil, served with a Thai Basil leaf) was aromatic with a nice burst of citrus.

They offer a small selection of wine by the glass and beers.

Red Medicine has a truncated menu for their lounge area. Some of the items are not listed on the dinner menu but (apart from the banh mi, which you can find another version on the dinner menu) you can still order any of the lounge items in the dining room. Thank goodness, because the sweetbreads were not listed on the dinner menu.

The menu at Red Medicine can be described as upscale Vietnamese inspired. Kahn, who has worked at The French Laundry, Per Se, Alinea and XIV, isn't trying to compete with the authentic Vietnamese dishes that you can find for half the price. He's trying to elevate the dishes while still utilizing key ingredients and incorporating the Vietnamese flavor profile. The dinner menu includes a variety of small plates, cold dishes, vegetables, proteins and large entrees, which are served family style. Our waiter recommended 2-3 dishes per person.

The Banh Mi includes foie gras and pate de campagne. It's delicate and beautifully presented. The rich pate was balanced with a bouquet of Banh Mi pickled vegetables and spicy jalapeno. I liked the small finger-food portion which was packed with the foie taste and sandwiched in thin crackers instead of bread.

Chinese lion pepper, almond skins, honey, soy, violet basil, dates
This was a very unique preparation of shishito peppers. The peppers were packed with heat, and coated with grainy almond meal and mixed with salty soy sauce. I really enjoyed the rough texture of the breading, and the sweetness from the dates.

Chicken Dumplings, caramelized sugar, pork fat, lemongrass, confitures
The texture of the dumplings were more like meatballs than dumplings. The dense but juicy dumplings were perfectly flavored with fish sauce and coated with caramelized sugar. You had to assemble the wraps yourself by adding some fried shallots, cucumber, mint, cilantro, sriracha and hoisin sauce to the dumplings and wrapping it all up in fresh lettuce cups. All the flavors worked in harmony.

Pork Chaud-Froid, crispy chicken skin, lychee, clove, pistachio, mustard leaf

Pork Chaud-Froid is a form of Vietnamese pate which was served cold and with baguette. You would never think to pair pate with lychee but it worked. The crispy chicken skin had an intense rich flavor. I've noticed that the kitchen really loves to play with textures. The chopped pistachio and the chicken skin added crunch to the dish.

Sweet Breads, vietnamese curry, yam, turmeric root jam, sawtooth, baguette

I've never had sweetbreads with curry and I approve of the combination. The sweetbreads were tender and nicely breaded. They had a subtle lemon flavor to it. The curry sauce had a sour tang. You would think that the curry would overpower the sweetbreads but you could still taste the distinct sweetbread flavor. Sweet yams were mixed into the curry which balanced out the tang of the curry.

Pintade Fermier, slow-cooked in caramel, cinnamon, mustard greens, coriander, crispy onion roots

The chicken was slow cooked and tender. I found the caramel sauce to be a bit too sweet for my taste but my dining companions really enjoyed it. I was grateful for the fragrant broken jasmine rice which helped to dissipate the sweetness of the sauce.

Beef, fermented soy bean, bacon XO, chinese eggplant, purple cabbage, celery stem, nuoc cham

There were some intense salty flavors here which I believe were due to the fermented soy beans and nuoc cham (fish sauce with lime/lemon juice). The fatty pieces of beef reminded me of a cross between filet mignon and pork belly. The eggplant had a smokey flavor which might have been partly due to the bacon XO sauce. I found the dish to be a tad too salty. Perhaps white rice served alongside might have helped balance out the dish.

Coconut Bavarois, coffee, condensed milk, thai basil, peanut croquant and chicory
Like all the other dishes we sampled, dessert was an interesting combination of flavors which worked well together. The bavarois had a creamy texture similar to panna cotta. The crunchy peanut butter crumbles tasted like butter fingers.

Every dish we ordered was aromatic and flavorful. There was a lot of fish sauce in the dishes but it was balanced with lots of fresh produce. I found the dishes to be intricate and the flavors robust. I thought the small plates excelled over the protein plates, perhaps because the latter were either too sweet or too salty. The menu was interesting and included unique combinations such as lychee and pate, or sweetbreads and curry. Many may complain that Red Medicine can be pricey, but I found it quite reasonable (less than $70 per person including tax, tip and two drinks each). Our waiter was also knowledgeable. Each dish was comprised of many obscure ingredients but he knew exactly what they were and what they lent to the plate. There are many opponents of the restaurant but I am now most definitely a fan.

Hits: banh mi, sweetbreads, lion peppers, Pork Chaud-Froid, unique dishes, service
Misses: sweet pintade fermier sauce
Rating: ****

Red Medicine
8400 Wilshire Blvd.,
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(323) 651-5500