Category Archives: Review

The Weekend Escape

Across the street from Cafe 50’s and California Roll Factory, in the plaza next to Benito’s Taco Shop, you’ll find Nook Bistro hidden in a corner. Perfectly matching it’s name, the restaurant provides a cozy, yet contemporary atmosphere.

I’ve been to this place twice for dinner and both times were amazing! The food, the service, the ambiance…it’s a rare find for a mid-priced restaurant. The highlights were the Bendaberg ginger beer, the pork belly appetizer, and the desserts. The menu features comfort foods with an Asian twist. I’d love to go back and taste the rest of the menu.

I heard about their homemade mac and cheese, and personally, I’m not a fan. It’s thick, creamy, but it lacks that cheddar-flavor that I love. Then again, I have yet to try the lunch version of the mac & cheese, which I believe to be the one people are taking about. Personally, if you love mac & cheese…try the version at Luna Park because it’s flavorful, hearty, and cheesy.

By the way, if you’re a ginger ale/ginger beer fan, get Bendaberg’s Ginger Beer. It’s refreshingly crisp with a nice ginger kick. I’ve been searching for great ginger beer and this brand is one of my top picks!

Anyways, here are some photos from Nook.

Bendaberg Ginger Beer

Mussel Pan Roast

Pot Roast

Herb Roasted Pork Chop

Nook Bistro
11628 Santa Monica Blvd #9
Los Angeles, CA 90025
at Barry, between Barrington and Federal

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It’s just tea right?

Longjing Tea

Longjing or Dragon Well tea.

The most famous Chinese green tea. The tea has a transparent yellow-green color with a light flavor, yet fragrant aftertaste. It contains vitamin C, amino acids, and the second highest concentrations of catechins (the first being white teas).

History

(The story according to my mother.)

In the past, Chinese emperors would drink black tea from Northern China which have a dark color and intense flavor. During the Ching Dynasty, an emperor traveled south to Hangzhou and stopped by a village (Longjing or Dragon Well). The village offered him the local tea, and when he tried it, he said that was light, bland, and had no taste (when compared to black teas). Yet, as he was walking out of the teahouse, he replied that in his mouth, there was a lingering fragrant aftertaste that caught his attention and appreciation. That tea was Longjing or Dragon Well and it became known as an imperial tea.

Taste Test

The first time I tried this tea, it was in San Francisco. South Sea Seafood Village Restaurant serves specialty teas with their dim sum service. With two small ceramic cups, smaller than a shot glass, they pour out Longjing tea for $2/person with at least 2 people per pot. Despite the small tea cups, the taste is very concentrated in each sip. Though they are quick to steep and dispense this tea, the flavor and aroma emanating from the green tea is unique to the everyday teas we drink.

Longjing is considered to be the most bland and least intense of the specialty teas, primarily because it is a green tea. The light flavor cuts through the oil in the dim sum dishes and refreshes the palate. The fragrant aroma lingers long after the liquid is consumed.

Other Notes

If you go to the restaurant mentioned and order dim sum, there are a couple of highlight dishes

  1. The steamed tripe is one of the best around. Fresh, crisp, and pure…it’s very hard to find tripe this delicious. It may seem bland, but there is no need to mask the original texture or flavor (with marinated sauce or ginger)…just a quick dip into soy sauce will suffice.
  2. The lotus-filled sesame ball is well made. A thin crunchy skin, a sweet lotus center, and a smooth mochi middle creates a worthy dessert.
  3. The mango pudding has a strong mango flavor with a smooth and creamy texture. Though the color may seem to dark, the taste is worth it.

Just a warning, this place can be busy, noisy, packed, and chaotic. For dim sum, don’t expect a quiet leisurely experience. This is a fast-paced, messy jumble with decent food and spotty service. I don’t mind because I know what I’m ordering and I’ll flag down the staff if I have a request without a second thought. In some ways, it reminds me of a busy local diner with staff scurrying about and boisterous customers devouring the food.

Business Info

South Sea Seafood Village
1420 Irving Street
San Francisco, CA 94122

Food Drama

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I love watching food programs and learning new things about food. My faves are Ace of Cakes, Dinner:Impossible, anything with Giada, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, and Unwrapped. However, few programs have prompted me to actually try the recipes or go to the restaurants that are recommended. I’m not sure why exactly, but it doesn’t motivate me to cook.

Recently, I got into Korean dramas from DramaFever and I was hooked. Gourmet is one amazing series that just makes me want to learn to cook Korean food…and be a better cook in general. Not only do they make life behind the restaurant super dramatic, the food itself becomes a character. Taste becomes the overall theme…when the taste changes, something just isn’t right.

When a restaurant becomes franchised, what happens to the taste? Is it still the same as when it was only one restaurant? I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit and I wish that I could say that the taste never changes.

For example, when Chili’s was a smaller chain, I loved its Broccoli Cheese Soup because it was hot, flavorful, and cheesy. That was one of the reasons I went to Chili’s. However, the Broccoli Cheese Soup now tastes pretty bland, watered down, and sometimes, comes out slightly cold. Now, I rarely go to Chili’s unless it’s someone’s party. What happened? Seriously, when the taste changes…it’s not quite what I remembered and it no longer appeals to me.

Lately, I’ve stayed away from chain restaurants and franchises in the hopes of finding some great local restaurants that pride itself on having great food and great service at affordable prices. My most recent finds are Bean Sprouts and Bar Food. When I think about both establishments, I think about the time they took to craft their signature dishes and the sincerity of the people in the kitchen. If all restaurants were up to that standard, I’d eat out all the time!

Vanilla Bake Shop

After a brief pause from purchasing cupcakes due to sugar overload, I’m back with more goodies. The Vanilla Bake Shop is located in Santa Monica near the 3rd Street Promenade. I wanted to venture here because I’m always at the Promenade, but I didn’t visit that bakery. There wasn’t parking near the bakery as far as I could tell, but a quick stop at the public parking structures wasn’t too far away to deter my curiosity.

The staff was friendly if a bit rushed to finish my order. There were several people coming in and out, but not so much as to create a panic. As for the tables, there was a small group holding a meeting there, but with the size of the shop, it doesn’t really make you want to sit around for long.

A large display case covered about half the space with a couple of chairs and tables nearby. There was a large menu of flavors that rotate everyday and seasonal sweets, I had to try a little bit of everything. First off, I had to get cupcakes…I tried 6 flavors out of the many they have and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Then, I saw that they just put the French macaroons out and I snagged a dozen, two in each flavor.

Taste Test

It was the first time I ever had French Macaroons and I was pleasantly surprised. A nice crisp shell with a soft cream in the center, it’s a good combination. The only thing that didn’t appeal to me was that it seemed to have too much sugar in the macaroon. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to taste as such, but that’s what it seemed like with this batch of macaroons. This experience opened my eyes to French macaroons and I think this will be a new love.

As for the cupcakes, I ordered the following flavors: red velvet, vanilla bean, old school, choolate raspberry, spicy carrot, and chocolate banana. Each cupcake had a unique flavor and interesting combinations. I have to say that the red velvet, the vanilla bean, and the old school weren’t that memorable. The chocolate raspberry, the spicy carrot, and the chocolate banana definitely stood out as well-thought out items with great ingredients. The cupcake to frosting ratio was about even and it was tasty. The look of the cupcake reminded me a bit of Sprinkles and plastic cupcakes but the taste more than made up for it. Overall, pretty good cupcakes, but it would be even better in a mini-cupcake size.

Go for the mini-cupcakes and get a good mix of flavors in your mouth.

Pictures

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macaroons

vbs cupcakes

Store Info

Vanilla Bake Shop

512 Wilshire Blvd.

Santa Monica, CA 90401

Bar Food

Bar Food on Wilshire Blvd. is amazing and I have yet to frequent a bar that is up to this level. I gave it 4 stars on Yelp, but that’s because I’m stingy with my stars and they have potential to grow and be even better…hence the 4 star rating. Honestly, it blew me away…this is one of those few life-changing food moments.

The Atmosphere

A relatively new establishment, Bar Food is located where the old Z Robata used to reside. In keeping the previous decor, it adds a classy touch to a traditional pub. While there is only street parking in the neighborhood, it’s not tough to find a spot. Once inside, the staff are friendly, sincere, and genuinely helpful. Also, the owner, Jason, makes his rounds and makes time to talk to his customers. He’s a charming, charismatic Irishman with great stories to tell and doesn’t mind serving his customers. That’s a great touch!

They have happy hour from 5:00-6:30PM every weekday except Monday, because that’s the only day they’re closed. During happy hour, they give out free hot dogs. On a Friday night, it’s not packed and the music adds a casual, laidback ambiance. This is not a trendy hotspot, it’s a local hangout where people kickback and relax with some good food and great beer. With flexible seating arrangements, Bar Food provides a great location for larger parties and groups. If you come here regularly or even a couple of times, I bet you’d feel like you’re in Cheers…”Where everybody knows your name…”

The Drinks

Bar Food serves wine and beer, but with more emphasis on the beer. The wine selection does not list the details of the wines, only the type of wine you’d prefer. So all you wine lovers, if you want a particular bottle, tough luck. But if you’re new to wine or want to try a blind taste test, tell them what kind of white or red wine you’d like and they’ll bring you a glass.

Currently, with 12 beers on tap, it’s a great starter set. You got the standards that most people want and a couple surprises to round out the selection. I hear it’s expanding its beer selection, so don’t worry if they don’t have what you want right now, they’ll probably bring it around soon.

We tried 4 beers and they were all solid. I can’t tell you the exact spices and ingredients¬† in the beer, but I can say that it’s good. The Fat Tire is a standard starter with a light, crisp flavor and good carbonation. The seasonal beer right now is the Mighty with a refreshing citrus aroma. The regular Guinness is rich, dark, and creamy. The Guinness 250, the original formula, has a lighter body with a smoother taste. I’d have to say that the Guinness 250 puts the regular Guinness to shame…it’s that amazing!

The Food

I had a monster feast and with maybe two more trips, I’ll have tried most of their food menu. At first glance, it seems eclectic with regular Irish pub food and some Asian inspired snacks. But once the owner explained a bit about his Irish background and his girlfriend’s Thai ethnicity, it made more sense. Now onto the food…

The Traditional

hotdog

For $2 you can get the hot dog and it comes with ketchup, mustard, and diced onions. A pretty standard item that’s good when it’s free during happy hour, but not really something I’d especially order again.

barburger

The Bar Burger is a great burger that’s perfectly cooked at medium. With carmelized onions, bits of bacon, cheese, and some greenery, this is what a burger should taste like. With a side of ketchup for you sauce lovers, it’s a great pairing, but the burger can do find without it. This burger rivals the Father’s Office Burger and I think this one stands on top especially because it is a traditional burger.

sweetfrites

My new favorite…the sweet frites, or sweet potato fries. The fries are about the size of regular fast food fries but that’s where the similarities end. It’s cooked perfectly with a light crispiness and a soft center. The spicy aoili that comes with it adds hot kick to contast the sweetness of the sweet potato. I’d have to say that Father’s Office sweet potato fries are good, but there’s just no comparison to these ones. There is one other place that had great mind-blowing fries like these and it was a Citrus at Social Hollywood.

The Seafood

mussels

The mussels are steamed just right. At the top of the plate, they are a bit dry, but are quite fresh. The broth at the bottom is delicious! It mades a perfect dip for the buttered toast on the side. My only note is that if they added just a wee more broth, it’d be absolutely perfect.

calamari

The fried calami was also a great dish. Lightly battered and perfectly fried, it wasn’t even greasy! The sauce that was paired with it matched just right. I prefer my calamari a bit softer, but I know that if it was softer, it’d be chemically altered. So, this au naturale calamari is fine just the way it is and it doesn’t need any tweaking!

The Fusion

bangersandmash

If you know your Irish staples, you’d reconize the bangers and mash, only this is Thai Bangers and Mash. What’s the difference? Well, they have Thai sausage, a horseradish/mustard-type sauce, cilantro mashed potatoes, and some scallions on top. It’s a great spin on a old favorite and it works well. We got a bit carried away so we cut into it before we took a picture.

The Dessert

appletart

The apple tart, classic dish with a facelift that just screams gourmet! With layers of pastry and thinly sliced apples, this apple tart has a subtle apple flavor with a nice crunch. The ice cream complements the tart without overpowering it. Plus, the sauces add a nice richness to the dessert.

The Breakdown

After 4 beers and 7 dishes, the total came out to be about $80. That’s a sweet value and once you check the prices, you’ll see that everything is under $10. The menu is spectacular, but if you want the highlights, go for the Bar Burger, the Sweet Frites, the Thai Bangers and Mash, and the Guinness 250. You can’t go wrong with that selection!

I know I’ll be back.

Restaurant Info

Bar Food

12217 Wilshire Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90025

Hot Hot Hot! Jamaica’s Finest Ginger Beer

hothothotjamacian

At Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, they have a lot of rare drinks and stuff…and that’s where I found this one. Hot Hot Hot! Jamacia’s Finest Ginger Beer is one crazy concoction. Made with Jamacian ginger, this one packs a punch! It had a good ginger kick, but it was too spicy hot and sharp for my palate. At times, it tasted a bit powdery and it felt more like a hot sauce than a ginger ale.

Rating: 3 out 5 stars

Grilled Cheese Invitational

I went to the grilled cheese invitational last week. I wanted to be a judge, but I’m glad I didn’t because it would have been a lot to try to eat lots of grilled cheese…even if it’s not that great. So, I ended up going there around 2pm and while standing in line, the price of admission went from $5 to 2 people for $5, to free when I got to the front of the line. So, I got in free!

Once inside, since there were no more judging tickets, I went off to get the freebies, which consisted of Kraft grilled cheese sandwiches and Izze drinks. The Izze tent was pretty bare when I got there and it seemed like they would run out quickly after I go there…there was only one flavor left and it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it reminded me of Manzana Lift when I went to Ensenada.¬† As for the grilled cheese sandwiches, it wasn’t too bad fighting through the crowds. But it seemed like the Kraft representatives were being a bit strict about the lines, even though it was just a mass of people crowding around the table. Still, I got my grilled cheese and it was ok. Nothing special, but what do you expect?

After getting freebies and scoping out the competitors and the main stage, it didn’t seem like there was much else to do. The entertainment stage was right in front of the Kraft tent, so it was a bit challenging to maneuver between the two. The entertainment was cheesy….but that’s expected, right? From cheese haikus to lounge songs and etc, it was a wide and vast array of grilled cheese-related media. Anyways, I didn’t stay for much longer, but it was a worthwhile experience for free. However, it wasn’t that great that I was in line longer than how long I stayed at the grilled cheese invitational. But for a first annual experience, there’s at least room for improvement.

Onto some pictures!

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The Grilled Cheese Invitational was held at the LA State Park

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The line at 2PM, it did not look promising.

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Once inside, the main stage with all its trophies looked pretty cool.

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Some of the competitors making their grilled cheese

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The entertainment stage with cheesy songs!

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My freebies…grilled cheese and an Izze drink