Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sotto - Rising Star, 'Below Ground'

When fellow bloggers suggested Sotto for dinner last week, I was moderately enthused - though I looked forward to meeting fellow foodies, I'm usually not a huge fan of Italian when it comes to fine dining(with the Mozzas being notable exceptions) and weary of the 'scene' of all the hype. 

Located in a relatively deserted (food-wise) stretch of Pico Blvd., in the space formerly made famous by Test Kitchen, Sotto has an unassuming basement entrance that is easy to miss while driving, and not entirely impressive from the street.  I didn't 'get' the website with the neon-ish yellow grid overlay - is it intended to look futuristic?  Isn't this positioned to be about 'rustic' Italian fare? But I soon learned there is much more than meets the eye. 

Chefs Steve Samson and Zach Pollack set out to create a market-driven menu of Southern Italian dishes, including the best and freshest Neopolitan pizza - they were so dedicated to this mission they had a special wood-burning oven custom built by a third generation oven-building artisan, with authentic materials imported from Italy, down to Vesuvian sand (you can read all about the construction of the $15,000 custom oven, the first of its kind in LA, at LAWeekly).  The basement space (which I'm just guessing inspired the name of the restaurant? "Sotto" means "below" in Italian) is sophisticated but cozy at the same time, designed to showcase the oven from the open kitchen.  The long, wooden slab of a communal table, intended for walk-ins, is set right against the kitchen and offers the best view.

Their menu also offers great variety and creativity - and with a party of four we were able to taste a lot more dishes by going 'family style'. 

Our first course to start was an Italian classic - Fried calamaretti (lemon, red onion, colatura) ($7) - this was a great start to the meal, well executed with light, crisp batter, thin rings of fresh tasting squid, and clean, simple flavors. 

Housemade bread - lardo pestato ($7) I'd read Jonathan Gold's review mentioning bread that came with pureed lard instead of olive oil, and couldn't wait to try it.  Totally insane and ingenioius at the same time - I can't think of another place that serves straight up lard this way (let me know if you find one!).  The rich meaty flavors and creamy fatty consistency was heaven spread over a hefty piece of perfectly toasted, crusty bread.  Definitely a new favorite and one that will be drawing me back to the trough.
Next up was Pittule pugliese (vincotto, ricotta) ($5) - part of the fun of ordering this dish was not knowing what was going to arrive on the plate.  Turns out these were little knobs of fried dough with ricotta and oil for dipping on the side.  Personally I thought the dough was oily, crusty and bland, reminding me of what you'd get if you ordered a plate of fish & chips - and took out all the fish and all the chips.  Two of us wanted the cheese to be more creamy and rich - this was probably my least favorite dish of the night - but others at the table enjoyed it for the most part.

With three small plates neatly put away, we moved on to our first course from the 'medium' section - Tomato-braised octopus ai ferri (chickpeas, preserved lemon, chard, bottarga) ($14)  I saw 'octopus' and 'bottarga' and considered the rest background noise.  Though evenly infused with rich flavor, I felt the octopus could have used a bit of a longer braise as the meat was still a bit  tough and chewy, requiring some effort with knife-work.  The bottarga was nice shaved over the tentacle, though a bit overwhelmed by the other pungent flavors in the dish (I may be a bit biased though as my favorite preparation of bottarga is simply sliced and lightly pan fried, then served with radish to let its amazing flavors take the spotlight - call me a purist).  Chickpeas and chard added nice textural contrast.
Next up was Grilled pork meatballs (lemon leaves, snap peas, pecorino, bitter greens) ($10) - loved this dish with its super succulent, gamey tasting meatballs and beautiful plating.

Moving on to pastas - we were also drawn to the originality of the Squid ink fusilli lunghi (pistachios, bottarga, mint) ($16) - as listed on the menu, anyway, with the unusual combination of ingredients.  I really wanted to love this dish and rave about it as my favorite - but unfortunately I felt that the pasta not only resembled black Twizzlers in appearance, but in its chewy consistency as well.  I also expected the bottarga to be more pronounced, but could barely taste it in the dish, though I can clearly see lots of it.

Our other pasta dish: Toasted grain capunti (ragu bianco, hedgehog mushrooms, rapini greens) ($15) - this one was solid, but unremarkable.

Our one dish from the 'large' section of the menu was Devil's Gulch fennel-encrusted pork chop (roasted baby carrots, fava beans) ($31) - this was simply amazing and turned out to be my favorite main of the night - it had 'sizzle', was incredibly juicy and tender - with the right balance of fat to flesh, and the thin 'shell' of fennel seed giving off intoxicating aromas so that you're seduced by the scent alone before you even take your first bite.  I would normally balk at a $31 pork chop, but forgot all about that the minute I saw/smelled/tasted the dish.  And the cost wasn't so bad when split amongst 4 people. Though at this price it would probably not make it into my 'regular rotation' (it's almost the price of a 3-courser plus glass of wine at Osteria Mozza: or what I like to call "1 unit of Mozza"!).

Of course, no meal at Sotto would be complete without a taste of pizzas from the custom oven.  We went with the two that had more unique sounding toppings:

Guanciale pizza (house-cured pork cheek, ricotta, scallions, fennel pollen) ($16) - the pork cheek tasted almost like the fat portion of bacon and the pizza overall had an interesting flavor / texture profile with the unexpected combination of ingredients.  Again hype works against the restaurant here as we all had very high expectations of the pizza given the spotlight on the woodburning-oven-to-end-all-woodburning-ovens.  While the pizza dough was delicious with a nice chew and a pleasing spread of air pockets - it wasn't life-changing.  I'm not a pizza connoisseur at all, and can only say that I personally prefer the fluffier and more flavorful dough of pies at Pizzeria Mozza which also seem to be served at hotter (better) temperature.
Our second pie was the Boscaiola pizza (hen of the woods, wild ramps, capretto Sardo) ($17) - this was a great mushroom pizza, though it would have been nice to allow the unique blooming structure of the hen of the woods to shine through more, as well as its meaty flavor by perhaps placing them in clusters vs. shreds.  Same comments as the Guanciale on the pizza crust.

Bittersweet chocolate crostata (sorry, missed the price as I was ready to collapse into a food coma by this point) - we may not be the best judge of this one as we were all beyond full by the time dessert came round.  Though it was the one that appealed to us most out of the three choices available, we all felt this was a bit too rich and dense. Though, really interesting with its blend of sweet and savory flavors with chocolate and rosemary.

All in all, Sotto is a great place for a gathering with friends old and new - with classic as well as more inventive Southern Italian dishes.  Though quality / taste was inconsistent in our particular meal, I am excited by Sotto's more unusual offerings, really enjoyed the space and ambience and look forward to more great meals there as they get into their groove.

And as for what I learned with this meal? Don't judge a restaurant by its neighborhood / entrance / website design (and/or hype) - look beneath the surface and you just might discover a glowing star.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks regular menu)
Probability of return visit - 100% 

9575 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035
Ph: 310.277.0210

Website: sottorestaurant.com
Look for reservations: Opentable.com/Sotto

Sotto on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 30, 2011

Daily Specials: Dining Deals For Every Day of the Week

As Memorial Day weekend is rapidly coming to a close, I'm trying to keep my mind on good eats to get me through the week.  And working out a way to do it without emptying my bank account, which seems to be shrinking in inverse proportion to my waistline... 

Anyways, check out these recurring dining deals for every day of the week, which I think are some of the best available for upper-mid-tier/fine dining. 

Will do my best to keep this updated, but since I do have a day job (and a pretty intense one!), note that the info can change without notice - please do check with the restaurant before visiting! 

I'm sure there are a lot I'm missing here - if you have any deals I should add, or notice deals that may have changed / expired - do leave a comment or let me know at onemorebiteblog(at)gmail(dot)com.  Thanks!


Little Dom's Monday Supper $15 pp prix fixe, 3-courses
    2128 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027 Ph: 323.661.0055

Fraiche Culver City:  "Rustic Mondays"  $35 pp prix fixe, 3-courses, two different cuisines to choose from each week.
     9411 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA Ph: 310.839.6800

Hatfields $59 pp prix fixe, 4-courses
     6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038  Ph: 323.935.2977

Providence $70 pp prix fixe, 5-courses (*Month of June only, Dinner only*)
     5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038  Ph: 323.460.4170


FIG Santa Monica "FIG @ Five" 50% off ENTIRE MENU from 5-6pm (Tues-Sat only)
     101 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401 Ph: 310.319.3111

Hatfields $59 pp prix fixe, 4-courses
     6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038  Ph: 323.935.2977

Providence $70 pp prix fixe, 5-courses (*Month of June only, Dinner only*)
     5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038  Ph: 323.460.4170

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Paris Baguette: Leading Cause of Whiplash in Koreatown

In a small storefront, perched in an unassuming strip mall on a less trafficked stretch of Western Avenue in Koreatown, I would have never guessed that Paris Baguette is the #1 franchise bakery in Korea which has expanded its empire to 1700 locations in its home country, China and the US.  But thankfully its bakeries, at least the location in LA's own Koreatown, feels anything but corporate-cookie-cutter. 

Stepping into Paris Baguette gave me the same feeling I would as a kid in a candy store - if the candy was gourmet and made fresh from the best ingredients.  There were colorful, delectable creations both sweet and savory on self-serve shelves lining almost every wall and the center island in the shop - which must be the leading cause of whiplash in Ktown in people trying to take it all in at once.

Fruit-topped pastries jumped out at me first, but those are not unfamiliar to other bakeries in town - what makes Paris Baguette stand out are the more unique creations like the strawberry mocha cream bread.  Mocha cream bread is the most pillowy-soft chocolate-coffee flavored bread with raisins, slits filled with light buttercream and fresh strawberries then chocolate and powdered sugar drizzled/sprinkled over the whole thing - with the softness of what I would imagine a down pillow with spineless feathers would feel like. You would definitely have sweet dreams after trying this bread. 

They also have the classic puff pastry twist ("Feuillettee"), but instead of raisins, they have chocolate, green tea and black sesame flavors. I picked up 2 chocolate twists and immediately wished I had bought more, as soon as I tried them at home. 
Cool sounding items I did not get to on this visit, but I plan to on the next - are croquettes (2 for $3) which include a kimchi flavored one! Also need to try the Dorayaki - Japanese pancake sandwiches with a sweet bean paste center (favorite snack of my fav anime character as a kid - Doraemon!).  And bite-sized pancake pieces packaged with syrup dip!  Other offerings include milk custard buns, red bean buns and savory breads like their interpretation of a hot dog.

I did pick up one savory bread with asparagus and bacon - but I found it kind of dry and 'burnt' tasting, so not my fav. But I am biased towards sweet.

The best part (aside from taste and design?) - all the single serving breads in the store average only $1.20 to $1.60 each (the strawberry mocha bread is the exception and most expensive of course at $2.75 each)!
There are also beautiful whole and single-serving cakes ($25-$34 for whole cakes) in the refrigerated case, as well as original blended drinks at the coffee bar like ice blended green tea (which was a little too sweet for me, but I can't wait to try their other beverages).

PB also carries staple items like sliced bread, as well as cookies.

All this, AND they have a loyalty program!  Get your free Happy Points Card at any location with purchase, and 3% of your bill will be added to the card.  Accrue a total of $5 and you can redeem the card for the $5 discount off your purchase!

LOVE this place and think it's now tied for my new fav 'everyday' bakery in town (with Porto's!)

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6.5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100%


Paris Baguette
125 N Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90004
Ph: 323.467.0404

(Other locations in Downtown and Glendale, and on both coasts - see website for details)

Website: parisbaguetteusa.com

Paris Baguette USA Inc. on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Deal alert: Providence 6th Anniversary Prix Fixe Meal (All Through June!)

I haven't done a standalone deal post in a long time, but this one I think is worth a reminder (deal starts next Wednesday!), and its own post!

Two Michelin-starred Providence, headed by Chef Michael Cimarusti, is offering 5-course prix fixe meals for $70 all through the month of June in celebration of the restaurant's sixth anniversary ($115 with wine pairings).

Menus change daily - but everything I've ever had from Chef Cimarusti has been mindblowing, from ingeniously inventive creations like the soymilk panna cotta with sea urchin and geoduck clams served with flowers and crispy rice crackers in a glass bowl (at Breadbar's Ibaraki benefit), to the pineapple pate fruit (at LAWeekly's GoldStandard) to something as deceptively simple as truffle shavings over scrambled egg (at Providence - truffle brought to table in bell jar and hand shaved over eggs with white glove service!). 

$70 is a truly great deal for Providence - so if you haven't already, I'd recommend making your reservations (if there are any still left!)

Look for reservations at OpenTable  (note:  looks like no OpenTable Dining Points are awarded for bookings during June due to the special deal).

Bon appetit!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes 5/26/11

Savings and sweepstakes uncovered this week - click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :)

Happy grazing!



This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor nor affiliated in any way with any of the companies listed above. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

Monday, May 23, 2011

1MB On Film: Movie Review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Official movie synopsis:
"In the basement of a Tokyo office building, 85 year old sushi master Jiro Ono works tirelessly in his world renowned restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. As his son Yoshikazu faces the pressures of stepping into his father's shoes and taking over the legendary restaurant, Jiro - san relentlessly pursues his lifelong quest to create the perfect piece of sushi."

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a beautiful documentary and portrait of Jiro Ono, the oldest chef ever to win the highly coveted honor of 3 Michelin stars, and who is recognized by the Japanese government as a national treasure.  This past Thursday, I was lucky enough to attend the screening held at the Japanese American National Museum courtesy of CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment).

With some of the world's best sushi as its focus, the film is unquestionably first and foremost a feast for the senses, with stunning almost voyeuristic shots of glistening fish gracefully pressed over rice, nori swept over open grill, all to a soaring score by Phillip Glass.

But on closer inspection, at its core, the film is a story of everyday transcendence - of the triumph of will against circumstance and time, of passion and tireless pursuit of perfection; a balanced look at the man behind the legend - Jiro not only as sushi master, but as father, son, and mortal.  The film also takes you on a thought provoking journey - with one amazingly accomplished man and how he and his sons conduct their lives with an eye towards his inevitable passing.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Breadbar LA - Dream Team Lineup at Ibaraki Benefit

Breadbar had been testing ground for arguably the pioneer of pop-up restaurants in LA, Ludo Lefebvre with his original Ludo Bites leading the way just a few short years ago.  This past Monday, Breadbar took the concept to a whole new level with a one-night-only, blinding line-up of culinary luminaries from Michael Cimarusti (Providence, Water Grill) to Hiroyuki Urasawa (Urasawa) to Walter Manzke (Church & State, Bastide), serving up a five-course meal to benefit Ibaraki prefecture, hometown of Breadbar head chef Noriyuki Sugie, which was devastated along with so many others in the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

This night represented the ultimate pairing: gods and mortals coming together to create/experience amazing food while giving back to those in need, nourishing their bodies and souls at once.

I felt incredibly lucky to be there at all - reservations had filled up quickly mere minutes after word spread about the event.  By the time I called them at pretty close to the crack of dawn that day, there was already a waitlist of 72 people ahead of me.

Perhaps by divine intervention, I received a call just days before the event with the best news, that by some miracle I had made it into the earlier seating - I quickly pulled "Foodie Mentor", who I knew would appreciate this level of culinary genius, to go with me.  I couldn't believe that I would get to experience Urasawa, Cimarusti and Manzke in the same meal (along with David Myers of Comme Ca and Sona, and Ramon Perez from Sona, and Noriyuki Sugie from Breadbar) - all for a price I can actually afford - $110 (+$30 for wine pairings)!

The food was absolutely breathtaking - and I feel like nothing I say can do the actual dishes justice, but they are so beautiful I feel more compelled than any other meal I've had in the past few years to share:

First up was a trio of amuse from the host chef:

Noriyuki Sugie (Breadbar LA) Canapé
Pumpernickel, Aged Lard, Artichoke Barigoule, Caramelized Eel, Sansho Pepper
Wine pairing: NV Jean Philippe, "Brut, Blanquette de Limoux," Languedoc, France

The translucent pieces of aged lard were deliciously salty, and counterbalanced by the firm but yielding pieces of pumpernickel bread.  The tender artichoke hearts with foam were a nice light 'chaser', followed by the spoonfuls of caramelized eel, which was a refreshing take on unagi with a natural, crisp sweetness (versus the typical sauce, which I personally find sickeningly sweet).

What's a meal at Breadbar without of course, bread - and we got a heaping basket of amazing bread between the canape and 1st course.  I pretty much took hold of the edges of the basket, and inhaled its contents whole.
Next up was the highly anticipated Urasawa course:

Hiroyuki Urasawa (Urasawa) Tartar Duo
Hokkaido Scallop & Salmon Roe, Shitake Mushroom
Toro & Osetra Caviar
Takuan, Scallion
Wine pairing: Hananomai Sake "Katana" Junmai Ginjo, Japan

This course came playfully plated with two spoons, the better for us to experience all the flavors of its contents come together in one bite. 

The tuna spoon consisted of toro (fatty tuna belly), osetra caviar and what I think is diced radish on top for the slightest crunch.

The scallop spoon had ikura (salmon roe) which presented an unfamiliar texture and taste than others I've had - it was super sticky and pungent - with an aftertaste that reminded me of bottarga (which I love).  Perfect when combined with the smooth, velvety and mild hokkaido scallops - which tasted like clean, deep ocean, and grounded with a sliver of earthy, meaty shitake mushroom. 

Pickled veggie slices (takuan) were provided on the side atop a shiso leaf - a nice bit of acidity to cut through the preceeding rich ocean flavors, elevated to a new level when wrapped with the unique flavor of the shiso leaf.

The next course elicited audible gasps around the room:

Michael Cimarusti (Providence)
Soymilk Panna Cotta, Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Geoduck Clam & Fresh Wasabi
Wine pairing: Epiphany 2009 Riesling Santa Barbara County, CA

Chef Cimarusti created a gorgeous work of art that was as beautiful to behold as it was to taste.  Impossibly smooth but light, pristine as untouched snow on Christmas morning soymilk panna cotta - whose consistency reminded me of the classic Chinese dessert 豆腐花 ("dau fu fa" or tofu custard) without the syrup, lined the bowl.  This was topped by uni (sea urchin) that was perfectly structured, with a distinct brininess to counterbalance the melt-in-your-mouth, mild-flavored panna cotta. Pansies and other beautiful flower petals were strewn over the mound, adding vibrant color while lending levity to the piece; squid-like slivers of geoduck clam, crispy rice balls, circles of radish and cucumber contributed crunch for textural variety.  Lastly, there was a sprig of what we thought was dill adding visual interest to the whole thing. In the wake of so much destruction caused by natural disaster, this dish celebrated the beauty of nature: it was in one word - divine; making me happy to be alive and fortunate enough to experience such an creation of absolute beauty, even if just once in my life (no, I am not sparing with hyperbole at all).

The next dish was another one we couldn't wait to try, despite its deceptively simple description:

Walter Manzke (Le Saint Amour, Church & State, Bastide) Santa Barbara Prawns Thai Curry, Spring Pea
Wine pairing:  Jean-Marc Brocard, 2009 Petit Chablis, Burgundy, France

A nice progression from the clean flavors of the preceding dish, Chef Manzke's masterpiece brought heat in the form of a light textured thai curry broth poured over a plump, juicy Santa Barbara prawn, which sat atop a layer of spring pea custard and was accompanied by a side of caviar.  Chef Manzke's skillful control of the elements of this dish ensured that the incredibly fresh texture and ocean flavors in the prawn were augmented, not overwhelmed, by the rich flavors in the curry and custard.

Gems from the sea gave way to a solid course of beef:

David Myers (Sona) - Charcoal Akage Beef, Mautuke Tempura, Tsukemono
Wine pairing: Fat Monk 2009 Pinot Noir, Central Coast, CA

The seared meat medallion was accompanied by fried mushroom and some sort of radish - while the crispy rice balls make a cameo as well.  I've never tasted mushroom charred to this degree yet completely juicy in the center and not powdery even in the blackened bits.  A lovely course.
For the finish:
Ramon Perez (Sona) Sakura Cream, Black Okinawa Sugar, Alpine Strawberry, Cherry-Blossom Yogurt-Sorbet

Wine pairing: Mizbasho Sparkling Sake "Pure,", Gunma, Japan

Flowers were threaded through several courses in this meal - and makes a big appearance in the grand finale in the subtly sweet and floral cream pudding made from sakura petals, topped by adorable, exquisite little alpine strawberries and a cherry-blossom yogurt-sorbet.  The preserved cherry blossom that served as edible garnish was an interesting touch for this course, both visually and in adding a strong kick of flavor as  our last bite.

To close out the evening (and make way for the next seating) - each chef made a brief speech and plea to help Japan, encouraging diners to bid in the silent auction and to purchase specially designed fundraiser tees.  Before departing, mignardises were served at the counter opposite the bar - consisting of green tea macarons, bite-sized marshmallows, and chocolates.

All-in-all, it may have cost more than I would normally want to splurge on a meal ($110 each person plus $30 wine pairings). But a steal for the caliber of chefs and dishes that was part of the experience - I would never have any glimmer of hope of tasting the genius of a Urasawa creation otherwise! Definitely one of the best meals I've had in LA - and to make it even better, it's all for a good cause!

So in the spirit of continuing support for Japan - please don't stop with your donations, Japan still needs your help.  Give to Red Cross here (choose option for funds to go to "Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami").

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites
Presentation - 6.5 bites
Originality - 6.5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6.5 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% 

Breadbar LA
10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067
Ph. 310.277.3770

Website: breadbar.net
Twitter: twitter.com/breadbar_la

Thursday, May 19, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes 5/19/11

Savings and sweepstakes uncovered this week - click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :)

Happy grazing!

  • 30% Cube Marketplace - this passcode's FREE!  Register for free to get 30% off on food, wine and housewares at www.cubemarketplace.com
  • FREE wine & cupcakes at Simon LA at Sofitel today 5/19 6-9pm in support of Taste of the Nation (No Kid Hungry cause) Buy Taste of the Nation event tix (event June 12th in Culver City) for $15 off - discount just available at Simon LA tonight. is.gd/p9Mn5i

This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor nor affiliated in any way with any of the companies listed above. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gonpachi Beverly Hills - Sublime but for the Sushi

Stillness, tranquility.  Simplicity.  Authenticity.  Endless pursuit of perfection.  All that you could easily identify with Japanese tradition, can be found surprisingly on a high traffic stretch of restaurant row La Cienega.  At least with the beautifully and meticulously crafted space at Gonpachi, if not necessarily everything that ends up on your plate.

From the minute you set foot inside the entrance, you will feel transported to some reclusive hybrid spa / zen temple in Japan.

'Designer' and I were amazed as we pretty much 'stumbled' on this find - 'Designer' had seen a Travelzoo deal for the place a while ago, and had decided it was worth a shot.  The gift cert stayed in her stash until this Saturday - we happened to be in the area for LACMA's Muse ArtWalk, and she had pulled two deals from local restaurants for our post event meal.  It was only when we realized last minute her other deal was not available for use Saturdays, that we ended up with Gonpachi.

It turned out to be the highlight of our week, at least in terms of the space.

Despite (or because of?) its location on famed Restaurant Row in Beverly Hills, alongside luminiaries as The Bazaar by Jose Andres and Matsuhisa, we weren't expecting any sort of authentic
Japanese experience, but perhaps a scenester-ish LA interpretation of Japanese cuisine.  So we were excited to discover that the place is owned by a famous restauranteur in Japan, who was very concerned with creating an authentic Japanese experience - even importing a lot of the building materials from Japan. The setting is gorgeous - with natural, flowing spaces constructed of wood and stone, three wings surrounding a lush, serene central garden.  We passed through a bar that opens out to the koi pond before entering the main dining room, and toured private rooms on the second floor that includes a traditional tatami room with shoji doors.  Third wing is a more sleek, modern looking sushi bar that is enclosed but also ultimately leads out to the garden.

On arriving to the airy dining room with vaulted ceilings, we settled into a high-backed wooden booth, which affords privacy while providing a fantastic view of the garden via huge sunlit windows.  We were there early, around 6:30pm, so perhaps the place gets into a different vibe later into the night, but while we were there it was zen-like.

Starved, but wanting to sample a hopefully representative variety of menu items, we decided quickly on the 5-course tasting menu called "Gonpachi Experience" ($45 per person).  The names of the courses were somewhat cryptic, but as we both like surprises - and thus the idea of omakase - that was part of the charm of the menu.

The first course was the artfully plated Chef's omakase of five daily zensai.  We loved everything in this course - which tasted as great as it looked - fresh and flavorful.  From right to left was: seaweed salad, tuna sashimi wrapped around avocado, mushroom cap stuffed with crab, a fried shrimp dumpling that looked sea urchin inspired - topped with a light sauce that reminded me of nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) and sprinkled with nori, and finally pickled radish with sesame.

Up next was the Chef's omakase of sashimi and nigiri sushi.  Given the craftsmanship of the space, the careful attention to detail from the overall design to sculpted iron door handles, to the stoneware-style bottle and glasses used to serve sake, and the mention of fish sourced locally and from Tokyo's famed Tsukiji market - we had high expectations for this dish. 

What we ended up getting was a mix of standard types of fish / seafood.  A shrimp roll that tasted dry and tough (it took a combination of gnashing and yanking to bite through the piece - and it was unfortunate that we could tell by the looks of it before we even bit in, that it would not taste fresh at all), and bluefin tuna that was completely tasteless. The albacore tuna sashimi was flaccid.  Even the salmon sashimi, which is one of my favorite fish and hard to go wrong with - was not very compelling:  the knifework simply wasn't there, the pieces were cut too thick, and the texture what I would describe as 'al dente' - not ideal for sashimi - and oily.  The yellowtail was probably the only decent tasting piece of fish on the plate - and I couldn't call it good.  It's possible this was an anomaly specific to the prix fixe courses, and the a la carte rolls / sashimi are perfect - but as the spirit and intention of omakase is for the chef to introduce the diner to the freshest fare available for the day - this was disappointing for us.  We really wanted to love the fish so that we could recommend the place as one of the best mid-tier Japanese dining experiences in LA to friends - but based on what we were served this Saturday night, we could not.  Hopefully it was a fluke and the next time we venture out to Gonpachi, the quality will be there.  Kind of important for a Japanese restaurant with half its menu based on sashimi & nigiri, for them to get the fish right!

Next up was the Seasonal sumiyaki selection and salad - consisting of three skewers, first of perfectly grilled, lightly salted chicken and spring onion sections, a chicken and duck sausage-like skewer that was perfectly grilled and seasoned, tender, juicy inside with an intoxicatingly fragrant char on the outside (though Designer had to send hers back at first since the meat looked a bit undercooked, second time around it was perfect), and a stack of shishito peppers.  Chicken has disappointed me too many times as a bland, tasteless meat, that I would only spend minimal amounts of money on in fried, fast food form (or from LudoTruck) - and I've long decided that it's my least favorite meat.  However, these skewers surprised me with flushes of flavor, tender and juicy without being fatty.  Looking down into the open kitchen, you can tell the care the chefs put into the quality of each skewer - they are cooked one by one, with sous chefs fanning them by hand over the robata grill with paper / bamboo fans.  Would order these again on my next visit.  The shishito peppers were a bit too spicy for my taste - I prefer the ones at Sushi Katsu-ya, but others might enjoy them here as well.

Our last savory course was a Soba tasting - Gonpachi prides itself on their hand-pounded buckwheat soba noodles, threshed and milled on the premises fresh.  So we were looking forward to the course, albeit it being served hot vs. the cold noodles we were more accustomed to.

Perhaps it was the buckwheat, or the preparation (hot), but this one was not a favorite of our meal.  We wanted more layers of complex flavor in the broth, and the noodles to be more smooth and pliable.
For the finish, we had a Traditional dessert of ice cream with pumpkin (?) sauce topped by berries and red bean paste.  Interesting, but I wanted a bit more personality from the sauce - for me it just sort of didn't reallly add anything to the dish more than the vibrant burst of color.  The consistency of the sauce could also have been thicker - as it was, it just didn't come together with the ice cream and toppings cohesively.

Feeling stuffed, we took a quick stroll around the other wings of the restaurant, checking out the museum-style displays of artwork, vintage samurai armor, sake barrels and teaware upstairs,  and took in the beautiful central garden one last time before heading out.

All-in-all, it was a very filling meal with two out of five courses being great, in an amazing setting - for $45 (plus a bottle of sake for $10, which for us made the total bill under $20 extra per person after we applied the Travelzoo gift cert - $35 for $70 off our bill). 

And, I'm happy to report that Gonpachi according to their site also offers daily, Happy hour specials: 5pm-7pm & 10-close: half-price sakana (appetizers and house specialties) and 2-f o r-1 select draft beers, house sake & wines, well cocktails and sakegria - at the bar.  Will definitely be back to check out their Happy Hour.

Valet parking: $3 only!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks regular menu)
Probability of return visit - 100% 

Gonpachi Beverly Hills
134 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Ph: 310.659.8887

Website: gonpachi.globaldiningca.com
Look for reservations: Opentable.com/Gonpachi

Gonpachi on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 13, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings and Sweepstakes 5/12/11 (posted 5/13 due to technical difficulties!)

Sorry this week's edition is late!  Blogger was down for the count since Wednesday and I was only able to access my account now!

So without further ado...savings and sweepstakes uncovered this week - click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :)
Happy grazing!

  • Providence is celebrating their 6th anniversary with a 5-course prix fixe dinner for $70 during the month of June!  Menu changes daily.  Call for details and reservations: (323) 460-4170 or reserve through OpenTable (though this one doesn't offer points)


This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor nor affiliated in any way with any of the companies listed above. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Not Your Mother's Ice Cream Truck: COOLHAUS vs. Lake Street Creamery

A music-box-like jingle used to signal the magical arrival of all that is good in the world, neatly compressed into a single silver scoop / heaping swirl on a blissful sugar cone - that could roll into the neighborhood on any given day.  That jingle said to kids everywhere - run out to the street to grab your favorite treat.  And that was back in the days of chemical cones, and mass-produced ice cream and rusty roach coaches. 

Fast forward to present day - handcrafted, all-natural ice cream and their eco-conscious purveyors are helping to drive the food truck movement that started here in LA, and kids of all ages can now 'experience' frozen treats of a quality like we've never had before from a roving artisan, that lets you eat well, while being a responsible citizen. (And with the recent heat wave in LA, ice cream becomes not just a tasty treat, but a life-saving device!)

COOLHAUS and Lake Street Creamery are two that I have developed addictions to.  Last week, I had my 'food truck zombie*' moment - though I am far from a hipster, I promise! - (*yes, I'm working in a Happy Endings reference, it's my new fav show!), tailing Lake Street Creamery as they struggled with a local business complex, who had overbooked their space, on where to park. 

So how do the two measure up? 


COOLHAUS:  All-natural, handmade, customizable ice cream sandwiches inspired by architects and architecture!  Modernist vibe. The name comes from: Bauhaus (modernist design movement of 1920′s & 30′s) + Rem Koolhaas (Dutch Architect and Theorist who challenged mantra “Form follows function”) +  “Cool house”: ice cream sandwich deconstructs into cookie roof and floor slab with ice cream walls!

Lake Street Creamery: Handmade ice creams, gelatos, sorbets served in waffle bowls, and floats in unique flavors. Nostalgic, old-timey soda fountain aesthetic.  Though their website manifesto is rather random, with a tagline that doesn't have obvious relevance to the name: "We guarantee IT WILL TURN YOU INTO A GOD.*"

Winner: COOLHAUS for most cerebral, cohesive, clear and customizable concept


COOLHAUS: Rotating menu, usually 8-10 flavors of ice cream and 6-8 varieties of cookies. 'Construct' your own ice cream sandwich via mix and match!

Flavors are original and eyes-rolled-back-delicious: from Nutella Toasted Almond to Lycee Martini to 'luxe' flavors like Pistachio Black Truffle.  My all-time favorites are Balsamic Fig Mascarpone, and those mentioned above - but I've pretty much loved every flavor I've tried - and they are always coming up with new creative ones (like Foie Gras, Strawberry Jalapeno and Spiced Persimmon).

Cookie flavors range from classics like Chocolate Chip to Lemon Rosemary to Brioche.
Lake St C: There are 6 ice cream flavors on the regular menu, with rotating specials.  The flavors are original and fun.  For example, chocolate based flavor Aztec Sacrifice, is described as "...hot, spicy chocolate in the tradition of the Precolumbian Americas...chiles, cayenne, and the blood of a thousand virgins." (Tastes like Mayan Hot Chocolate in ice cream form) There is a Donut flavor, and Pancake Breakfast which is is described as "Cakey, satisfying flapjacks, pure maple syrup, and bits of real bacon, sprinkled with fresh-ground peaberry coffee." - I think the Pancake Breakfast is my hands-down favorite!!!

They also offer rotating specials like Strawberry Basil and my favorite, the hilarious and tasty at the same time "Don Draper" - made with vanilla, caramel, bourbon, and smoke!  On on particularly stressful Friday, I decided to make my own 2-scoop combo - the "Don Draper Breakfast" (1 scoop Don Draper + 1 scoop Pancake Breakfast) for lunch, died and went to heaven - and it is as great as advertised)!

Floats combine ice cream with gourmet sodas - fun pairings include Jelly Donut with black cherry soda + Donut ice cream or Orange Blossom with orange soda + California Zephyr ice cream.

Winner:  Tough call, I LOVE flavors from both but COOLHAUS wins narrowly for greater variety, being ever full of surprises, and a concept that never gets tired (there are SO many DIY combinations!)


COOLHAUS: Their ice cream sandwiches are all-natural, handmade and organic whenever possible, using local and seasonal market fresh ingredients. Dairy is produced sustainably and is free of artificial growth hormone.  I am blown away every time by the sophistication and creativity of their flavors.  They don't skimp on ingredients either - the Pistachio Black Truffle ice cream has actual, very visible bits of truffle throughout!  Cookies also taste fresh, homemade.
Lake St C: Makes their ice creams by hand, right on the truck, using the freshest ingredients available.  In the California Zephyr, made of "Tahitian vanilla, fresh Meyer lemon, and bits of fresh mint leaves," you can see and taste the actual flecks of fresh lemon and chopped up leaves of mint - the flavor is undescribly refreshing.  Donut is made with actual cake donuts.  Waffle bowls also taste fresh made and crisp.

Winner: Lake Street Creamery's ice cream wins for best mouthfeel with incredibly smooth, creamy texture that says homemade, and tastes like it's good for you.


COOLHAUS:  Customize sammiches by picking your own flavors of ice cream and cookies.  Fun suggestions inspired by architects are offered.

Lake St C: Customize floats by choosing your own soda flavors and ice cream to dunk into it. Fun suggestions inspired by other sweet treats like Jelly Donut and Black Forest, or random ideas like Weird Creep (Black Jack ice cream and cream soda)

Winner:  Tie. COOLHAUS makes their entire menu customizable.  Lake Street Creamery's DIY floats are simply a brilliant idea for an ice cream truck - best use of ice cream to create a product extension, offering another refreshing treat that lets you cool down with 'dessert', while quenching thirst on a hot day!!


COOLHAUS:  Ice cream sandwiches are made using all-natural, handmade and organic, local ingredients whenever possible. Dairy is sustainably produced and artificial growth hormone free. Even the wrappers are edible and all-natural - made of potato paper and soy ink.

Lake St C: Ice creams served in waffle bowls to eliminate waste.  Utensils are biodegradable: wooden spoons and cardboard straws. The only drawback for me was that the straw gets a bit soggy after a while, so not the best way to experience your float (kinda like pixie stix, if you suck on them to get the candy powder out, the paper becomes soggy and gross - and with the floats you can't really just dump the contents into your mouth).

Winner:  COOLHAUS for zero waste, and making their edible wrapper is a zero-calorie novelty that enhances your enjoyment of the treat.  (Well, for their ice cream sandwiches.  If you order your scoop in a cup they'll still give you a paper cup and plastic spoon.  But for the most part, zero waste with ice cream sandwich orders! Can't wait to see how they continue their green efforts when they open their brick-and-mortar store this summer!)

FINAL VERDICT?  It's like asking a mother which child she loves more (so I'm not a mom, but can imagine).  COOLHAUS is like the valedictorian who impresses with smarts and constant achievement, and Lake Street Creamery is like the sensitive, artistic hardworker, whose talent shines through with their passion projects.  But ultimately I can't choose - love them both in different ways!  Somebody get me a Coolhaus by the Lake, stat.


All over Los Angeles - see Twitter for updates
Price: $5 ice cream sandwich, $8 for double; $20 for skyscraper of 5 sandwiches (skyscraper is free if you can eat all by yourself!)
Twitter: twitter.com/coolhaus
Website: eatcoolhaus.com

Lake Street Creamery
All over Los Angeles - see Twitter for updates
Price: 1 scoop $4, 2 scoops $6, 3 scoops $8; floats $6
Twitter: twitter.com/lakestcreamery
Website: lakestreetcreamery.com


COOLHAUS:                Lake Street Creamery:
Coolhaus (food truck) on Urbanspoon   Lake Street Creamery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 5, 2011

1MB Savvy Saveurs - Savings & Sweepstakes 5/5/11

Savings and sweepstakes uncovered this week - click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :)

You will only find foodie friendly deals / sweepstakes I think are interesting here. I hate time-wasters like 'sign up for sample of gum'.

I may stray to feature a sweepstakes if it's not food focused but amazing - like trips to exotic destinations. ;)

Happy grazing!



  • Padi Drop Zone Fiji Contest - Win 7-night trip for two to Fiji with surf and dive package (ends 6/30/11 8:00am PT).  Official rules here
  • Pottery Barn Kids $30k Trip to Galapagos Sweepstakes - Win 10-day family-friendly trip for four to the Galápagos Islands with National Geographic, where you’ll kayak, snorkel, and hike with naturalists and more (ends 7/5/11 11:59pm ET).  Official rules here
  • TravelSmith Taste for Travel Giveaway - Win 8-day boutique culinary river cruise for two in Europe (ends 5/25/ 11 9:00 am ET).  Official rules here
  • Biolage Rainforest Travel Sweepstakes - Win 5-day trip for two for you and your hairstylist (each will get trip for two) to Costa Rica's Paradisus Playa Conchal Resort! Requires unique code found on travel size cosmetic bags of Biolage products (ends 5/31/11 11:59 pm ET). Official rules here
This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor nor affiliated in any way with any of the companies listed above. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Lucques - Sunday Supper for the Soul

Sundays are sacred for many reasons - whether you are religious or not, it is for most people the last day of rest before we jump right back into the fray, the wear and tear of the daily grind.  Every Sunday I find myself resisting the siren call of tasks that must be done, either that night in preparation for work the next day, or mental run-through of my 'To Do' list for the next day so that I could go from 0-60 in no seconds flat the minute I get in, as our work requires of us. 

I consider it a victory then, whenever we are able to squeeze some last drops of personal time and joie de vivre from our last day off for the week.  So it is that we are drawn to Sunday Suppers - with its promise of market fresh fine dining at a relatively moderate price - a restorative, rustic meal to nourish body and soul, and bolster us through the next five days. 

"Miss Sassy" and I have been wanting to check out Suzanne Goin's infamous seasonal, Cal-Mediterreanena Sunday Suppers at Lucques, where it all began, and with my family all overseas, Miss Sassy kindly agreed to venture out with me on Easter Sunday. 

The warm, softly lit dining room put us at ease from the moment we stepped in, with a great living room style set up around a central fireplace as waiting area by the entrance, and the cozy outdoor patio space where we were ultimately seated, that feels like the backyard of my dreams.

The three-course, $45 meal started with a lovely little amuse tray of briny olives and toasted almonds, fluffy bread with butter and coarse sea salt providing the perfect prologue to the meal.
Our first course was a Warm frisee salad with wild mushrooms, dandelion, walnuts, garlic croutons and soft egg.  One of my favorite things in the world is breakfast for dinner: runny eggs always make me think of breakfast, and is one of my favorite comfort foods.  The one in this salad was perfectly poached, its golden, liquid center spilling beautifully through the frisee salad to lend warmth and lush flavor.  I loved the creativity of adding dandelions to the mix, but didn't actually see any in their expected form on the plate. 

For the second course, we had a choice of lamb or fish.  As it was Easter, Miss Sassy and I both originally went straight for the lamb (occupational hazard - our first instinct is always to go for what's on theme) - but luckily our server gave us a gentle nudge to try the fish, which she said was really amazing. 

So, though I normally prefer my fish either raw or steamed Cantonese style, I went for the Pan-roasted market fish with quinoa, carrot broth, sugar snaps and gingered pea shoots.  It took just one bite to make me a believer. That night's market fish was snapper - the crisp, flavorful roasted skin yielded to tender, juicy, incredibly fresh flaky meat, contrasting nicely with the subtly sweet crunch of the sugar snap peas and gentle spiciness of the pea shoots (the ginger adding an interesting  tinge of Asian flavor).  All come together beautifully and harmoniously on a bed of purple colored quinoa, steeped in the lightest carrot broth.  Simple yet sophisiticated.  Clean.  Divine.  Possibly the best fish I've had this year.
Miss Sassy was also happy with her Slow-roasted lamb with potato puree, fava beans, meyer lemon and green olives.  The lamb was butter-soft, juicy and not at all gamey.  Again everything on the plate looked fresh, clean and rustic, yet the combination of ingredients exhibited the utmost skill and care in balancing tastes and textures.
Already grinning from ear to ear from the incredible savory dishes, we barely had room for, but were really looking forward to - dessert.  The Vanilla custard tart with gaviota strawberries, creme fraiche and almond ice cream was light in texture but packed with flavor - the strawberries were incredible, punctuating the creamy custard with sweet and tart that tasted fresh from the fields.  This creation paired nicely with the subtly nutty ice cream and luscious dollop of cream that tasted like it was handwhipped. 

All in all, an amazing Easter Sunday Supper that made not only our night, but made up for the past week, and got us recharged and ready for the coming one.  Definitely $45 well spent!  I love that when you come to Lucques, you can feel like the team put the same care that they did into the $35k a seat dinner that Suzanne hosted at one of her three other restaurants, Tavern in Brentwood, for President Obama (ok, probably not even close, but what's important is that you are made to feel at home, and that they make you feel that every plate they put out is the most important plate).

In any case, Easter Sunday was probably my best Sunday ever in LA - having just come from an interview with Matt Biancaniello where he premiered 3 of the most amazing market fresh cocktails I've ever had - I didn't have the bandwidth left to try any of Lucques' drinks that night, which are also farmers' market inspired.  Will definitely be visiting Lucques again soon for more of their incredible Sunday Suppers and cocktails!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$$ (4 bite marks regular menu)
Probability of return visit - 100% 

[To find more prix fixe deals like this, check out my Daily Specials (dining deals for every night of week) page, and follow me on Twitter for up to the minute finds!]


8474 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA
Ph: 323.655.6277

Website: lucques.com
Twitter: twitter.com/lucquesla
Look for reservations: Opentable.com/Lucques

Lucques on Urbanspoon  Lucques in Los Angeles on Fooddigger


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