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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

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

Yummy Cupcakes

As I was wandering Santa Monica, I happened to notice Yummy Cupcakes bakery. It seemed pretty cute from the outside and even though it was late, it was still open. There was a fairly large display case of all their various cupcakes. Luckily, we went in there right before it closed and picked up a few goodies. The customer next to us was raving about the cupcakes and we thought we made a good deal getting these cupcakes. She was eating one at the counter too…so it seemed like a good bet since the lady said she comes here almost every day.

Taste Test

For the taste test, we tried the Red Velvet cupcake, the Carrot Cake, the Old School (Hostess looking one), and a chocolate fudge cupcake.

The Red Velvet looked darker in color than I expected, it was dark reddish almost brown. The frosting was applied sideways, so it was flat, which was ok, but make the cupcake look a bit deflated. At first bite, all I could taste was how dry the cake was and it crumbled apart afterwards. The cake lacked the usual red velvet texture and flavor. It was more of a regular chocolate cake. The cream cheese frosting was flavorful, not so sweet, but somehow, it didn’t match the cake.

Then, I had the Carrot cupcake. Once again, the cake was lacked moisture and even had a strange flavor. It was not the usual carrot cake and it was bland. There was no cinnamon accent and few walnuts, if any. However, there were raisins in there that didn’t quite help the situation. As for the frosting, it was ok, but not memorable.

Onto the chocolate cupcakes. The Old School had white frosting in the middle and it tasted like a regular chocolate cupcake, just dry. The same goes for the chocolate fudge cupcake. It had fudge in the middle of the cupcake, but other than that, the cake itself was dry. There was nothing special about these two. The chocolate frosting was ok and not too sweet.

This was quite a disappointing adventure, especially because the customer next us highly recommended this place. I’m not sure I agree and perhaps it’s because I came at the end of the day that the cupcakes were sub-par, but even so, I expect more from a place called Yummy Cupcakes. They were not yummy.

Pictures

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Store Info

Yummy Cupcakes

313 Wilshire Blvd.

Santa Monica, CA90401

Auntie Em’s Kitchen

This post is long overdue, but I must say that Auntie Em’s makes delicious cupcakes that taste like heaven!

I finally had the nerve to drive over to Eagle Rock and experience Auntie Em’s in all it’s glory. Luckily for me, I got in during the slower days…even though it was pretty packed, I got in ok. The set up is very kitschy with a vintage feel. The walls are in various colors with floral oilcloths and such. It had a laidback vibe where everyone knows everyone…or it kind of felt like it. The restaurant portion is really good with great food and decent service. As for the bakery, if you’re planning to get a lot of stuff, order ahead just to make sure they don’t run out. But if you just want to sample, they do have many things to choose from. The counter is really small off to the side of the store, but it’s simple and easy. The treats aren’t displayed all that prominently, but if you know what’s good for you, go for the cupcakes!

Taste Test

Luckily, I got to try all 4 flavors of Auntie Em’s cupcakes and each one is quite delicious. To begin, I had the coconut cupcake with cream cheese frosting. It was a standard coconut cupcake, with a slight coconut flavor. The cupcake was really moist and soft and flavorful, but it didn’t really stand out as an amazing cupcake. The frosting ratio to cupcake leaned largely on the frosting side, which is good if you love frosting. Personally, I could do without 1/3 of the frosting, but it’s still delicious. The frosting was sweet without being overpowering, moist without sugar crystals in it, and balanced out the crumbly texture of the cake. A solid choice but there’s more to go.

Second, I had the chocolate cupcake. The frosting to cupcake ratio is the same as the coconut, but with a different feel. Once again, the cupcake was really moist and flavorful. Now this is a chocolate cupcake. It wasn’t sugary sweet and the cocoa in the cupcake was so delicious! The frosting wasn’t sweet either and it had a mousse-like consistency. If you love chocolate….real chocolate, not milk chocolate…this is for you!

Afterwards, I tried the carrot cake cupcake. Same basic structure as the previous cupcakes, but the carrot cake was amazing! This was moist, slightly tangy, sweet, nutty…everything a carrot cake should be and more! The frosting matched perfectly and balanced out the cake. I don’t think I’ve had a better carrot cake!

Finally, the red velvet. I hoped that this cupcake would live up to its title as a great red velvet cupcake since it did beat Bobby Flay’s on the show the Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Then again, he’s no baker…so it can’t really compare right? Anyways, back to the food. This red velvet melts in your mouth. A great deep red color, a soft, moist, crumbly texture…and cream cheese frosting that tastes like cream cheese…what more can a girl as for? It’s a perfect red velvet cupcake and nothing can compare. (Well, I happen to like the tangy accent in SusieCakes frosting better, but this is a traditional red velvet!)

The final verdict is to go for the red velvet, the carrot cake, and the chocolate cupcake. The coconut is good, but it doesn’t blow me away.

Pictures

I didn’t have my camera with me for the other treats, but they are just as delicious!

auntieems

Store Info

Auntie Em’s Kitchen

4616 Eagle Rock Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90041

Buttercake Bakery

The second cupcakery.

When I walked into the bakery, it wasn’t what I expected at all. There was a small counter of their baked goods and the entire kitchen was in full view of the customer…and the workers didn’t look happy. There was one person working the counter and he was so casual about the items that it seemed like this was just another job for him. Three tables to my left indicated that people could sit down and eat, but it looked like few ever chose that option. As for the baked items, there wasn’t much selection and it wasn’t displayed all that prettily…but I wanted to give this place a try.

I ordered a Red Velvet cupcake, the Vanilla Buttercream cupcake, and a Lemon Bar. The total came out to about $7, which was actually quite cheap and if they were good, I’d luck out!

Onto the Taste Test

First, the Red Velvet cupcake. The color of the cupcake looked darker than I’ve seen, it had a reddish brown look to it as if they added too much cocoa to the batter. The frosting and the sprinkles were appealing and I hoped they were delicious. At first bite, I was saddened. The cake tasted more like a day old, crumbly chocolate cake than a Red Velvet. Then, the frosting was so sweet I couldn’t even make out the cream cheese and the sprinkles just didn’t work…it was just more sugar overkill.

Then, I went for the lemon bar as a break. It had a good appearance, the texture was smooth and custard-like. It tasted like eggs…and only eggs. After a second, I was hit with a sweet kick and a slight lemon flavor. The eggy  taste and the abundance of sugar did not help. I was saddened.

Afterwards, I figured I should try the Vanilla Buttercream because it seemed to be Buttercake’s signature cupcake. It looked pretty enough, but I was a bit skeptical. The cupcake was dry…and the vanilla flavor was minimal at best. However, the frosting was buttery, which was a plus. Still, the large amount of sugar in the frosting made it difficult to take. It was another sugar overload.

I heard pretty decent reviews about this place, but it might have just been hype. The cupcakes were dry and uninspired while the frosting had way too much sugar. I’d have to say that this isn’t one of the better places and I would bake on my own than venture to this establishment.

Pictures

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Store Info

Buttercake Bakery

10595 W. Pico Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90064

SusieCakes

I finally decided to try out the whole cupcakery trend…starting with SusieCakes! I’ve had Sprinkles before, but I wasn’t too impressed. Recently I heard that this place is pretty darn good, so I wanted to try it. There was parking in the back of the plaza where the shop sits, which definitely eased the process. As LA is known for lack of parking, this was not the case. The shop itself is absolutely adorable with a cafe-style setup of tables, chairs, and the bakery counter. There were so many delectable delights, I wasn’t sure what to try out first.

The staff seemed friendly enough, though a bit bored. One young woman was quite entertaining as she jovially described the various treats to another customer. The other two staff members just stood around looking snooty, bored, and busy. However, once I caught a staff members attention, they were helpful in getting my desserts. I ordered the Red Velvet, the Mint Chocolate, and the Coconut cupcakes as well as a small Key Lime Pie. The total came out to $20 for 4 cupcakes and a small pie. A bit pricey, but this is supposed to be gourmet dessert…so I let it slide.

Onto the Taste Test

The Coconut cupcake was pretty standard. The cake itself was really moist and soft with a hint of coconut flavor. The frosting was just right, not too much and not too little. Plus, the coconut flakes on top rounded out the entire experience. The Mint Chocolate cupcake was also pretty average. There was a slight minty flavor in the chocolate cake itself and same with the frosting. It looked pretty enough, but it tasted like a homemade cupcake should. The only difference…the moistness and the texture…that’s something that can’t be homemade. As for the Key Lime Pie, it was divine! The custard was set just right and the cream had the perfect amount of sweetness without overpowering the pie. It was a hit with the roommates.

The Red Velvet is its signature dessert and it was amazing. The cake was moist, soft, and smooth…it was unbelievable! The frosting was smooth, creamy and tangy…it was a great complement to the cake. Normally, cream cheese frosting doesn’t have that tangy bite, but this was a great addition. The sprinkles were small, light, and added just a touch of extra sweetness to the whole cupcake. It was by far my most delicious red velvet cupcake….and this is only the beginning!

Update: Then again, I should have known why the Red Velvet is so delicious….they won first place at a cupcake challenge.

Pictures

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Store Info

SusieCakes

11708 San Vicente Blvd. (at Barrington Ave.)

Los Angeles, CA 90049

(other locations: Newport Beach and Calabasas)