Sunday, April 29, 2012

Eggslut LA: ACME Foodporn

When I first heard about Eggslut truck, I was a bit turned off by its name. Such a gratuitous marketing gimmick, I thought.

But the truck was co-founded by Chef Alvin Cailan, who had worked in the kitchen of critically acclaimed MB Post with Michelin-starred chef David Lefevre (previously of Water Grill), and sounded like one of those passion projects that is only temporarily on wheels - until the idea incubates, heats up and hatches a brick and mortar down the line.  After reading that even Ruth Reichl stopped by while in LA and raved about it, I decided it was time to give it a try. Even if it meant waking up at the crack of dawn to hit up the truck, parked pretty much every Monday to Friday 7-11:30am in front of Coffee Commissary on Fairfax, on my way to work if I take the longer route.

Once I had a taste last week, I realized the appropriateness of the name. It's eggs, 'done every which way' (their quote is "wet, hard, and on top of everything"), indiscriminately offering all who desire it, indescribeable pleasures that you'll want to experience again and again. (Ok somebody please stop me, now.)

The most unique, and pretty much its signature dish, is: Thee Slut ($8) a soft-boiled, coddled egg atop potato puree topped by grey salt and chives - served up in a glass jar.  Eggs and potato have gone together - forever - but the two breakfast staples I have never seen served up like this, and never at this unexpectedly high quality from a truck.  The egg was literally perfectly cooked (how can they achieve the precision needed in what tastes like a 63 degree egg on a truck?!!!) and absolutely transcendent, when the liquid gold yolk runneth over into the buttery potato puree below, with the chives and grey salt softly punctuating the lot with extra kicks of flavor and crunch. 

The beast with two backs indeed.  Lots of fellow foodies have reported the correct way to savor this proof-of-a-higher-being, is to break the yolk, then plunge the accompanying toasts down through it to the potato below, to end up with a bit of everything on the toast.  I had been so distracted by the flavors and textures of what was in the jar, that I completely forgot about the toasts - so will have to try the 'proper' way on my next visit (and there will be many - I've never been a morning person, but Eggslut may just change my life...ok maybe not.  But it will be commute-route-altering...)

Aside from Thee Slut, eggs are also served in various breakfast sandwich-burgers, creative egg-centric takes on familiar dishes like "Notcho Slut" (gourmet nachos with eggs) and in daily specials.  The day I went, one of the specials was Mushroom Tartine ($8) soft-scrambled eggs served open faced on French loaf with diced cremini mushrooms, roasted grape tomatoes, parmesan & chives.  It was over for me the minute I read that on the menu board: I had to get it (lust: check. pre-meditated gluttony: check).

The presentation was beautiful, and again, the quality of every element was shockingly high caliber for a food truck.  If you put this on an unmarked plate and brought it to me next to another unmarked plate of eggs from Farmshop - I would venture to say that I really don't know if I would be able to tell the difference based on quality.
The cool thing about Eggslut's 'regular' location that I want to note, is that it's right in front of Coffee Commissary: it's a perfect pairing not only in terms of each providing breakfast staples that the other lacks - but also that Coffee Commissary has some nice seating both inside the cafe and outside on the patio - which Eggslut clients...I mean customers...can also use. 

So unlike other food trucks where you have to eat standing up on the sidewalk, perch at makeshift bar height tables, or go ghetto fabulous with seats made of overturned buckets -  you can actually enjoy a leisurely breakfast in a nice setting with real tables and chairs.  IF you don't have to rush off to work, that is.  I didn't wake up early enough that morning, and had to run back to the office, so I took my food to go.  But not before picking up a coffee from Coffee Commissary.  Again, I am not at all a coffee connoiseur, so no idea how good this coffee ranks among others in the city, but to me The Cuban ($4) was super fragrant, smooth, with subtle spices that went really well with the luscious egg dishes.

The other thing I should mention is, if like me you want to just 'swing by' and pick up breakfast from Eggslut - note that they make every item to order (hence the insanely delicious bites), so don't expect to be able to complete anything at the speed of a drive by.  It took about 10 minutes for a 2-dish order.  SO worth the wait, and with Coffee Commissary right there you can just use that time to get your drink order in - but just something to plan for, if you've got places to go and appointments to keep.

All I know is - I'm hooked, and can't wait to make my way back to Eggslut for more. Don't let the name throw you off - the food is absolutely legit.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100%

Eggslut LA
In front of Coffee Commissary Mondays to Fridays 7-11:30am
Location varies on Saturdays - see Twitter for updates
Twitter: @eggslutla

Coffee Commissary
801 N. Fairfax Ave., #106, Los Angeles, 90046

Egg Slut Truck on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 26, 2012

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings and Sweepstakes 4/26/12

Deals and sweepstakes uncovered this week! Click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :) Happy grazing!

  • Scarpetta - $59 for $88 brunch buffet for one with bottomless mimosas or bloody marys.  Deal from Bloomspot (buy by 4/27 use by 7/27) Other packages available but I think this is the best deal!
  • Tavern - $110 for 4-course dinner for two + 2 cocktails + 1 bottle of water at Suzanne Goin's famed restaurant in Brentwood. Obama dined here when he was in LA!  Deal from Gilt Group (buy by 5/7, use by 8/31)
  • Chaya Venice 30% off lunch Mondays-Fridays through June 26 (get free passcode by 4/27 11am PT).  Deal from Blackboardeats.
  • Bella Vista Brazilian Pizza $10 for $20 towards AYCE Brazilian Pizza + refillable soft drink for $10! ($20 value) Deal from Thrillist Rewards. AYCE meal deals normally go for $14.99 dinner weekdays and $16.99 weekends
  • Dos Equis Feast of the Brave - FREE tacos with exotic meats like Wild Boar Belly & Tongue, Ostrich, Hog Ear, Chicken Gizzard and a "Mystery" one for kicks - from Don Chow Taco Truck, courtesy of the most interesting man in the world.  In celebration of Cinco de Mayo.  Check their Facebook page (click on Feast of the Brave tab) for full schedule - the genius promotion runs til May 5th.


This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor. 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!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

LudoBites: Best of Foie Gras (and its last hurrahs in CA)

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" - Edmund Burke

As anyone who loves food (or animals) in California already knows, legislation banning foie gras is set to be enforced starting this July. It's a controversial subject in the food world, that has had both sides of the protest up in figurative arms.

With all that is going on in the world, it may seem silly to be so caught up in the politics of food, especially a luxury item like foie gras - which most Californians either do not enjoy, find morally reprehensible, have no interest in trying, or simply find cost prohibitive.  It is a relatively small contingent of food lovers who truly appreciate the luscious lobes in all its glory.

With world hunger, poverty, political instability, global climate change - is it entirely self-indulgent to rise up about a luxury good?

Yes and no. You can make the argument on both sides - is it equally 'frivolous' for PETA activists to sensationalize and witchhunt this cause (comprised of a relatively small group of artisan farms), when chickens are raised on a massive scale in conditions a million times more horrendous and impacts a much wider population of both birds and humans (as uncovered by the salmonella outbreak of 2010 that sickened 1,500 people and triggered a recall of 500 million eggs)?  Why is foie the priority when the poultry industry has animals living in such squalor that they are passing on disease and risking human lives at such huge numbers?  Could it be that they know victory against the giant poultry industry would be all but impossible - whereas small farms that produce foie would be easy prey?

And to me, on the other side, it is much more than just a small group of 'the privileged' 'whining' that they won't get their treats anymore.  Nevermind that the whole system by nature is designed to ensure the animals are well taken care of (among other things, this produces quality food - quality foie fetches a premium price - so farmers have a vested interest in the fowl living well).  Nevermind explanations that ducks/geese are migratory birds that do not have a gag reflex and naturally gorge seasonally to prepare for extended flight.  Whether or not birds are harmed can and will be disputed ad infinitum and ad nauseum in the absence of empirical scientific studies - and as in any other industry in the history of civilization, there will be bad producers that should be punished individually for their practices versus triggering an unjust blanket policy that indiscriminately disables business for the good ones as well. But at its core the fundamental issue with the foie ban is that government is now legislating our diets - it's a slippery slope.  If we let this slide now, it is a matter of time before there are no more lines.  What's to stop them from determining that ALL meat represents cruelty to animals - afterall, we are ultimately taking their lives?  In fact, what's to stop legislators from determining whatever they want about what we should and should not eat?  What's next to go after meat? You can make an argument for anything if you really put your mind to it.
We absolutely need government to enforce standards of cleanliness and safety in the kitchen, for public health reasons.  If an animal is on the endangered species list - absolutely the government should step in to prevent their extinction. But outside of that, we don't need a nanny/big brother state to control what we can and cannot eat.

This is not a case of California boldly going where no other government has gone before - Chicago also sucuumbed to PETA pressure in 2006 and outlawed foie, but quickly realized it was "the silliest thing they've ever done" and repealed the law.  Here's to hoping California comes to its senses soon as well.

With foie a key ingredient in French cooking (and essentially civilized cooking dating back to ancient Egyptians), the upcoming ban effectively cauterizes the heart of French cuisine in the state.  Chef Ludo Lefebvre has been a vocal crusader against this ban - and has hosted foie-centric dinners in simultaneous heated protest of the ban and joyous celebration of the ingredient.  There was an 8-course all foie meal in collaboration with Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal that I could not afford - and then a 1-night-only pop-up titled 'Best of LudoBites Foie Gras' (which ended up stretching to two nights) that I couldn't get a reservation for.  But as luck would have it, kind friends @EatsMeetsWest and @dorkyfoodie connected me with a benefactor - @Limer35 who had an extra seat at his table - and off I went for a culinary adventure unlike any other!

The concept of the dinner was a collection of Ludo's best foie dishes from past iterations of his pop-up restaurant.  I'd only been to two of them (007 at Gram & Papas and 8.0 at Lemon Moon), so I was really looking forward to 'caching up' on the unknown foie dishes.  To amuse our bouches: the meal kicked off with Foie Gras Cromesqui "MM".  These were basically croquettes filled with liquified foie and black truffles.  We were specifically instructed to just pop them in our mouths in one bite so that the liquid center isn't wasted leaking out onto the plate - but I couldn't resist the interior shot...look at that beautiful color! 
Next up was what was chosen by most in our party as favorite dish of the night: Foie Gras Dynamite, tuna, lichi this one showed off Chef Ludo's boundless creativity: a lobe of foie gras was seared, then placed in the center of a ring of tuna tartare, which is then blanketed by white balsamic and salmon roe infused mayonnaise and clementine sauce.  You would expect the heavy creaminess of the mayo to overpower the tuna and be driven to excess with the already rich, buttery foie - but Ludo skillfully balances all elements so that they work perfectly together - the clean, refreshing and untouched centers of the tuna tartare pieces and surprising juicy bursts of sweet lychee cutting neatly through the flavorful, rich sauce; the tiny, delicate orbs of salmon roe counterbalancing the butteriness of the whole of the dish texturally.  A unique and beautiful piece.
Next up was a new interpretation of my favorite dish from LudoBites 8.0: Foie Gras Miso Soup, radish, turnips. At 8.0, beautiful rounds of foie had been placed into a creamy mushroom soup with squid-ink dyed breadcrumbs and a bit of port, and blew my mind as I've never seen nor would ever think to put foie in soup, but it worked.  In this version, foie was placed into miso soup with some radish and turnips for crunch.  I didn't actually enjoy this soup as much, as I found it overly salty and pungent, and the overabundance of veggies (and their constant crunch) distracted from the gorgeously smooth texture of the foie.
Then another amazingly creative piece: Foie Gras Black Croque-Monsieur, Grapes this was basically a PB&J, all grown up, moved to a metropolitan city and running with an uppercrust of friends of culture and sophistication. And mastered the art of the dramatic entrance. Instead of peanut butter, there was buttery foie.  Instead of jelly between the bread, there was cheese.  Instead of plain white bread, there was squid-ink dyed black toasts, the better to contrast with and highlight the foie oozing out from it.  The jelly (grape) was pushed off to the side.  I loved the novel feeling of the incredible, lush flanks of foie running over the edges of toast and cheese - and those flavors (this I say as my eyes close and roll back at the mere memory).  The only thing I would have changed was maybe to pat the bottom of the sandwich with a paper towel first, as it was dripping in grease from the foie and cheese.  The jelly was not too memorable and didn't love the presence of pieces of seeds. 
Next was probably tied for my favorite of the night along with the Dynamite dish: Foie Gras "Crepinette," morels, pears, green asparagus I absolutely adored this in its unique texture and flavor. I enjoyed it so much I forgot to stop and take a "cross section" shot :( But essentially this was a lobe of foie wrapped in sweetbread casing then in caul fat, then smothered in an amazing mushroom sauce with bits of pear and asparagus.  When I cut into this 'steak' of foie it was like cutting into some juicy rotisserie chicken - the caul fat had that resilient texture of nicely roasted chicken skin, but underneath that instead of tasteless meat the inside was a smooth, creamy, and yes I'm gonna overuse the word luscious piece of foie.  I've never had anything like it and wish Ludo had a permanent space so I could go back and have more of this.  The asparagus added nice contrasting crunch, as did the small pieces of pear which also punctuated all the heaviness with a little bit of sweet.  There were also grilled ramps which had just a hint of char and nice salinity.
For the finish: Foie Gras Sundae, brioche, black berries - this I wanted to love but couldn't, maybe as I just recently tried Chef Gisele Wellman's foie gras ice cream sandwich at Petrossian - and Ludo's could not match it in creaminess. The foie ice cream at LudoBites in fact felt a bit dry and powdery...and the berries didn't taste super fresh as I expected them to.  But the pieces of brioche, toasted in duck fat - were divine.

All in all, another inspired meal from creative force of nature Chef Ludo - the best of the last hurrahs for a beloved ingredient (at least until the law gets repealed).  The experience was bittersweet given the context for the event - but I am grateful for people like Ludo who have the will and fortitude to speak up and stand up for what they believe, and for the right to be free from arbitrary culinary censorship.  I am grateful for friends, old and new, to share a common passion - and who never ceases to amaze me with their generous spirits.  It reminds me that food should be something that connects people, not divides. It would be too easy to demonize those who you disagree with, but at the end of the day I hope that until scientific studies prove definitively one way or the other, that the two sides of the foie debate can agree to disagree, and respect each other's right to choose.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks mains)
Probability of return visit - 100% (hopefully there will be more of these foie dinners before July!)

Best of LudoBites Foie Gras Night at G
ram & Papa's
227 East 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Ph: 213.624.7272


Best of LudoBites (Foie Gras Night 4/17/12) on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Susan Feniger's STREET: Kaya Toast and Bottomless Bubbly

Seems like I've had street food on my mind a lot this past month.  And while Susan Feniger's STREET isn't the first place I would actually think of (as I grew up in HK and love authentic street foods - one would expect at STREET, foods adjusted for the American palate) - over the years the majority opinion with fellow foodies seems to have been that food is overpriced and underdelivers on taste.  With the exception of Kaya Toast, which I was told is delicious (though still pricey).  So when my friend 'Curses' pinged me about a Bloomspot deal - $40 for brunch and  bottomless champange cocktails for two - I thought that was a sign that it's time to experience it first hand. We figured we'd get our money's worth in drinks alone!

The dining room was narrow and cozy, with a modern vibe brightened up with a skylight overhead. We got seated right away, and noticed a nice energy in the space with a full house of people who seemed to be enjoying their meals.  Good sign, right?
As an amuse bouche, we received a tray of puffed rice clusters with black currants and interesting spices that we thought might have included cardamom - like an Asian interpretation of rice krispies squares. 

Then it was down to business: with the Bloomspot deal, we get access to bottomless sparkling cocktails ($15 per person on regular brunch menu), AND you get to pick whatever you want from the sparkling cocktail menu (you don't have to stick to just one 'flavor' for the meal)!.  I was excited that STREET makes their cocktails with purees, and fresh fruit - and the flavors were a bit more unusual (not just what everyone else was serving with brunch: mimosas (OJ) or bellinis (peach)).  We started off with Scarlet sparkling wine with fresh cranberry compote, and Noire Bubbles with blackberry and lemon twist.  Based on the colors of the drinks, we actually thought the darker one (to the right in the photo) would be Noire and the pink colored one would be Scarlet.  Our server let us know it was the reverse.  We both ended up liking the taste of the lighter one (Scarlet) better - it was more refreshing where the Noire had an aftertaste.
Then on to the food! With the Bloomspot deal, we get a starter to share and then our choice of entrees.  The starter that day was Croatian Apple Fritters ($11 on regular menu) which apparently comes with whiskey cider sauce and apple butter served with homemade pork sausage - for our deal the dish came sans sausage.  We were expecting the fritters to taste fresh fried, with a crunchy cinnamon-y shell and soft, steaming hot doughy interior - instead it was a bit chewy with a too thick shell.  We did enjoy the instantly addictive flavors in the whisky cider sauce, though the apple flavors didn't really come through for us in the butter - and it was so light that we thought it was sugarfree whipped cream at first.
Time for another round of cocktails (with us both being lightweights, we were sort of testing our limits that morning!) The Beijing Bellini is made with lychee and subtly sweet and refreshing. Curses wanted her own full serving of Scarlet, but for some reason the second time around it was a lot lighter, and clear - maybe they forgot to add the cranberry puree?  Around this time it was nice to see the chef herself making her rounds at the tables - love that, unlike some celebrity chefs around the city, she is actually at her restaurants making sure guests are enjoying themselves.
Then the moment of truth - for my entree, I wanted to finally try the infamous Kaya Toast ($11 on regular menu).  I had just been in Singapore this past holiday, and was fortunate enough to get to try the kaya toast at its original creator's cafe chain, Ya Kun - I loved their coconut spread and was interested to see how STREET's interpretation would compare, and hopefully to find a place to satisfy my cravings once I run out of the little jars of spread I brought back from my trip.  I was especially curious since STREET's kaya toast is described as "a uniquely STREET experience toasted bread spread thick with coconut jam; served with a soft fried egg drizzled in dark soy and white pepper". 

The verdict: Yes, STREET's kaya (coconut jam) is very different from Ya Kun's. Where Ya Kun's is subtle, light, and translucent, STREET's kaya is whitish in color, much more robust, creamier and a lot sweeter with much more pronounced coconut flavor.  STREET also serves theirs with much thicker slices of toast - the whole thing actually worked really well together.  Especially when dipped into the runny yolk of the sunny-side up egg, along with the soy sauce and pepper.  I liked the use of dark soy, which has the consistency of balsamic vinegar and is sweeter than regular soy. Altogether, very big on flavor and absolutely delicious. 

That said, at the end of the day it's still toast with jam, and one egg - so would I go back for it at $11?  I would say: I was very happy with the Bloomspot deal ($20 per person - $15 for bottomless sparkling cocktails = $5 for food including fritters and toast), and think I'd be very inclined to return the next time a deal rolls around. Or if I ever have a bit of extra wriggle room in my budget, I'd splurge at brunch again with the toast and cocktails.

We couldn't leave without another round of cocktails (hey, the fruit quotient means antioxidants which means it's good for you, right? And alcohol kills germs Our last pair of cocktails were Mucho Mango fresh mango juice and Sparkling Psidium pink guava and fresh lime.  Both were fresh tasting (I'd say they almost taste like Izze drinks - carbonated juice, but that give you a buzz) and a nice last taste in terms of beverages.

For the other entree, Curses chose Chicken + Waffle Croquettes ($12) with homemade waffles, braised greens, poached eggs, and spicy maple sauce.  Not really sure where the 'street' food came into play in this dish (was it the asian flavor with addition of strands of scallions?), but overall the taste and textures did not live up to the promise in the presentation.  The waffle was definitely not fresh made, very chewy on the verge of rubbery and cold.  And flavorless. Poached eggs were passable but the whites were a bit leathery. Braised greens were forgettable.  The spicy maple sauce was the only surprise of the dish and the best element in it - it was delicious.  This one is not one we would repeat, and we were very glad Curses got her money's worth in drinks.

All in all, we were glad we got to try STREET and its infamous kaya toast, which was very good - along with the delicious sparkling cocktails.  But we were definitely glad we went with the Bloomspot deal in hand - otherwise we may have perceived the experience very differently.

[For more deals like this one, check out my Get More Bites Outta Your Budget page, and follow me on Twitter for to the minute finds!]

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 60% (when there is a deal)


Susan Feniger's STREET
9016 Mission Drive Rosemead, CA 91770
Ph: 626.286.3370

Parking: Meter parking on Highland

OpenTable: Look for reservations (and points!)


Susan Feniger's Street on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Songkran Thai New Year Festival Part 2: Wat Thai in NoHo!

Last weekend was landmark for most people as the last few days before tax returns were due. But for my friend 'Designer' and I, it was a chance to experience another Songkran (Thai New Year) Festival in a lesser known venue outside of Thai Town.

Deep in the San Fernando Valley, springs the Wat Thai (which literally translates to "Thai temple") - like an unexpected dollop of Sriracha in the oatmeal of suburbia. 

Designer had heard about it from an actual Thai friend (versus me who read about the Thai Town Songkran fest in the Hollywood Patch :P) and I'm glad it was in time for us to make it - the festival was amazing (and yes, made us feel like we were on vacation).

From the moment we set foot in the temple space, we found ourselves wandering wide-eyed, excited to take it all in.  There were the gorgeous temple exteriors, with its ornate guardian statues...
...Awesome food vendors selling all kinds of authentic street foods from meats on a stick, rolls, noodles and pancakes (which unfortunately we skipped as that was the fateful night of the epic fail (in terms of access to food) known as 626 Night Market in Pasadena - where we expected to be able to gorge on all kinds of fantastic pan-asian street foods...great expectations retrospect we wish we gorged at Wat Thai!)  

There was a marketplace of vendors selling everything from Thai paper umbrellas (I knew I didn't need one, but really wanted one!!), to canvas shoulder bags (I picked up a cute one for $7!!!), to all sorts of jewelry - and even hi-fis (not sure who their intended customers were - hipsters??!). 

And then we wandered to the back area where there seemed to be some sort of live entertainment...and found that they had the dance performances I had so missed at the Thai Town fest!!  LOVED the beautiful, graceful traditional dancing backed by classic Thai instruments. (And loved that most people in the audience were from the Thai community, out to support!)
Aside from traditional dance they also had a more playful choreographed dance/skit with dancers dressed in school uniform. I think this was a nod to the portion of the temple dedicated to Thai school, where kids can come to learn their language and culture. There was also of course, like the Thai Town fest, a beauty pageant.  The ladies were in gorgeous traditional garb, a sight to behold. Pretty much all of the MC and live entertainment (except where pageant contestants answered in English) was done in Thai, so we weren't entirely sure what everything was about, but loved every minute of it.  

Designer was so into it, she was a bit sad when I dragged her away to explore the rest of the grounds - she needed to know who won the pageant!  
There was a lot more to look at, at Wat Thai versus the Thai Town Songkran fest, understandably as Wat Thai already had all its structures and lovely statues and displays in place.  Wat Thai also had an area set up for people to take potted 'money trees' and sand by small buckets and place them around a buddha statue for good luck.

You don't have to be buddhist, or Thai, to enjoy an immersive afternoon in the culture at Wat Thai.  We felt transported from LA for the hour or two that we were there.  I was excited to learn that their food marketplace at the temple actually takes place every weekend.  Will have to confirm that asap and will let you guys know!

Til then: I have my calendar marked for next year's Songkran (April 13 & 14, 2013) and I'm definitely celebrating it at Wat Thai!!!

[For more photos from Wat Thai Songkran Festival 2012 and other cultural festivals around LA, check out my photo album on Facebook]


Songkran Thai New Year Festival
April 14th & 15th, 2012 9am-6pm
8225 Coldwater Canyon Ave., North Hollywood, CA 91605
Ph: 818.780.4200 x45
Free Admission


Thursday, April 19, 2012

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes 4/19/12

Deals and sweepstakes uncovered this week! Click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :) Happy grazing!

  • Lexington Social House $25 for 3-course dinner (per person) including their fried chicken!!!  Sundays only starting 4/22, opens at 4pm.  Check out my Daily Specials page for prix fixe deals every day of the week!
  • Blvd 16 (at Hotel Palomar in Westwood) $68 for $112 3-course dinner for two +prosecco Deal from GiltCityLA (ends 4/23)
  • R23 $69 for 7-course dinner for two with drinks Deal from Livingsocial (~3 days left to buy)
  • The Hungry Cat (Santa Monica location) 4/25 half priced oysters and happy hour all day to celebrate 1st anniversary
  • Ono Hawaiian Grill - $7 for $14 of food and drink. Deal from LivingSocial / Amazon local deals (!2 days left to purchase)

Momed: Mediterranean Brunch on Beverly Drive

'Everyone knows the duck schwarma at Momed is fantastic' - but did you know that they have an awesome weekend brunch as well? Every Saturday and Sunday, from 10am-3pm.

Momed is actually short for "modern mediterranean" - and is a sleek but cozy space that offers a restaurant, deli, espresso bar and marketplace in one.  On a lazy Saturday morning (morning means sometime after noonish on weekends for me), after enjoying a SpaWeek deal ($50 for treatments that normally run around $100 and up!) closeby, I decided to stop at Momed for an off the beaten track brunch.

Momed is an affordable dining option in Beverly Hills, and has both a casual indoor restaurant space, as well as outdoor front patio seating. I like both, but since it was a sunny day I chose to sit outside. 

And then I saw it: the mouthwatering options on their brunch menu. Basically it's a prix fixe brunch: you get your choice of entree + Intelligentsia coffee + orange juice = $14.50. All of the choices looked fantastic, but the ones that struck me as more unusual were the Khachapouri "traditional breakfast flatbreads". There were two options: the "Kaseri cheese, organic scrambled eggs, onions and seasoned with dried mint and sumac" seemed more to be different in flavor profile, whereas the "Spicy soujok sausage, organic scrambled eggs, Halloumi cheese and kalamata olives" seemed to have more unique ingredients. My super friendly and helpful server Malena (more on her later!) validated this line of thinking when she recommended the sausage flatbread - so I went for it.
I really had no idea what to expect - maybe breakfast pizza with mediterranean toppings. 

What arrived was a fantastic creation that was like a thin-crust pizza but roughly oval shaped, topped with breakfast staples with a mediterranean twist and wrapped around the edges like a calzone. With eggs baked in with the flatbread.

Despite the menu listing 'scrambled eggs', they actually came sunny-side up, which I actually prefer both cuz it looks way more fun that way, and I get to have my unadulterated, beautifully runny yolk - the way I usually like to have my eggs anyway.  The flatbread was fresh baked and incredibly fragrant, while the sausage (which actually resembled and tasted like tiny pieces of spicy pepperoni - with mediterranean flavoring) lent a bit of heat. The Halloumi cheese was perfectly melted in (NOT a thick, congealed mess which is one main reason I don't like most pizzas)  and everything just worked together in harmony.
I'm not normally a big coffee drinker, but do like Intelligentsia coffee and couldn't resist the fragrant (and refillable) cup along with good ole OJ (also refillable) with my flatbread.

All in all, a lovely, easy way to kick off the day on a sunny SoCal morning.  And for dog lovers - your best friend is welcome on the patio as well.

Aside from the awesome food / brunch set - I wanted to take a moment to rave about service as well - I don't know if Malena is representative of all of the servers at Momed, but she was a big part of making my brunch experience great.  It was fairly busy out on the patio that morning and she seemed to be the only one helping with all the tables, but never wavered from her sunny disposition - even with the annoying non-customer who perched on the patio to loudly complain about the overabundance of actors in this town - all while flirting with the also cliched director guy and trying to get him to take her number (an oh-so-LA moment?).  Malena's one of those people who you can see are just genuinely happy, enjoy their jobs no matter what they're doing, and want to make sure you're having as good a time as she is.  And she had pretty good intuition about when to stick around and chat, and when to just hover a ways away - offering help if needed but giving you enough space to enjoy your meal.  I don't normally review service in this much detail, but really wanted to say that I wish more people were like Malena - because everyone she served that morning left in a good mood and ready to take on whatever the day may bring.  And people like her are a reminder that every person can make an impact on someone else in their lives - it doesn't have to be ground-breaking work like philanthropy trips overseas for victims of great tragedy - it can be as simple as spreading a little bit of sunshine to everyone you interact with in your daily life, in a moment as undramatic as neighborhood brunch.

In any case, a week later, I'm still dreaming about the insanely delicious flatbread.  Hope to be back to Momed soon!

In addition to the brunch deal, there are also others you can take advantage of.  See below:

Deal alerts (subject to change, please check with restaurant before ordering):
  • Happy Espresso Hour: 50% off Intelligentsia coffee from 2:30-5:30pm daily
  • Foursquare: Check-in, order the daily lunch special and get a Mint Lemonade, Hammam or Berry Iced Tea for $1

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100%


233 S Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Ph: 310.270.4444

Parking: 2 hours free in public structure across the street on Beverly Blvd

Twitter: @momedfoodwine

Momed on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 16, 2012

Shunji: Matsuhisa for Mortals?

It was a semi-dark and stormy evening.  I was dreading the long haul home from West LA back to the Valley.  Then a memory beckoned to me like a beacon in the night - of a chain of posts on Chowhound talking about the reincarnation of a utopic place that I had been sad I didn't get around to visiting before it shuttered - Shunji's.
Exec chef/owner Shunji Nakao was one of the original three chefs at Matsuhisa in the late 80's (along with his brother and Nobu Matsuhisa).  Shunji and his brother went on to run the highly successful (and one of the few Michelin-starred restaurants in LA) Asanebo in Studio City - before Shunji had moved on to his own spot on Melrose.  And after splitting from the owner of Shunji's, chef Shuji took his namesake with luck would have it for me, to West LA very close to my new office. 

The new Shunji is in a most unexpected venue - the spot previously occupied by Mr. Cecil's Ribs, on Pico.  It's a distinctively shaped (round) standalone building - and because they have only just soft opened March 1st, the sign currently just says "Japanese Cuisine".  The 'disguised' location works out perfectly for me - all the better to be able to experience Chef Shunji's creations in peace, before word spreads and the place starts getting packed.

So, I pulled over that night on my way home, right when the restaurant opened at 6:15.  I was the only person for a good hour or so - and considered myself lucky to get to see Chef Shunji at work at the sushi bar, and had a blast chatting with super friendly server Yuko. 
Right now they are only serving dinner - the staff is lean and Chef Shunji is pretty much handling all the food on his own.  The dinner menu looked exciting (you can get oysters on the half shell with uni!! oyster/uni tempura!), with fairly reasonable prices ($10 and under for a lot of items), but I knew that with access to such a talented chef, omakase was really the way to go.  Chowhound told me it would be $80 for omakase, which is actually not too bad at all for quality sushi.  Little did I know I was to have a mind-blowing meal full of new discoveries, of the caliber of LudoBites or Le Comptoir

Course 1: Jellyfish, cucumber, radish, red onion in sake sauce - though jellyfish is common in Chinese cuisine, I don't recall ever encountering it in Japanese cooking.  Chef Shunji serves it cold, with slices of cucumber, daikon and red onion in a sake sauce.  The texture of the jellyfish was incredible - soft and flowing yet with a crisp crunch.  This paired well with the 'like' crunch of the veggie accompaniments, and all in a shallow bath of sake sauce, served in a glass.  A very lovely start.

As Shunji carefully crafted the next course I could see that it would become one of my favorites. The care with which he arranged the pieces, reminded me of an artist or sculptor at work.

Course 2: Veggie platter with happy ends (not official name, I made this up) - the artistry of this course reminded me of a recent plate by Chef Gary Menes, but with a much more playful aesthetic (pop-art to Chef Menes' fine art), and seafood as bookends to the freshest cuts of fun looking veggies.  From left to right: ankimo (monkfish liver) and caviar, squash, lotus root, daikon, peas, purple daikon, okra, turnip, string bean, kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), celery, burdock root, sweet potato ball with truffle and feta cheese, purple potato ball with blue cheese and dried persimmon, Costa Rican 'sparkle squid'.  Every piece of veggie was beautifully fresh and all set off fireworks on my taste buds!  But I was glad that the chef advised to eat all the veggies first, then end with the pieces of seafood - I wanted to keep the taste of both in my mouth forever.  The ankimo was gorgeously light and airy, with the brine from caviar cutting nicely through the rich buttery flavor. 

The delicate little  'sparkle squid' (not entirely sure if that's the proper name), a rare find from Costa Rica, was something I'd never had before - and absolutely ethereal - like it just got plucked from the ocean minutes before, still glistening with sea water. Chef Shunji put a little dab of something that tasted very slightly spicy on its head, and the light bit of heat went perfectly with the flavors of the squid! 

The only things on the plate that I wasn't a big fan of were the potato-cheese-balls.  They were a little too dry, dense and pungent, and to me didn't seem to go with the other objects of almost other-worldly-levity on the plate.

In any case - I loved this course.
Course 3: Steamed Bamboo, Uni, Bamboo, Seaweed in Chorizo & Ramps Dashi.  I don't know how Chef Shunji even thought to put these things together.  But the steamed bamboo was one of the best preparations I've ever had - I never thought that bamboo could be its own main attraction like that - usually it's embellishment in some other dish like ramen (or in Chinese cuisine, part of different soups or stir fry).  The steamed bamboo was served carved up into triangular sections - and were tender, but with a clean crunch that reminded me of beets or hearts of palm, lovely sprinkled with fleur de sel.  To counterbalance the mild flavors of the bamboo, there was a roasted tomato that had been marinated with vinegar.  Then there was a bowl filled with sea urchin, more bamboo pieces, fresh seaweed - all in a clear and slightly starchy broth made with chorizo and ramps.  A truly lovely and unique dish - creatures and plants of land and sea came together in one bowl.  Mind-blown.
Course 4: Squid in Squid Ink and Uni with Quail Egg + Seared Kanpachi with Miso Sauce + Allegra Flowers - just when I was still mulling over the new and unusual flavors of the previous dishes, the Best Dish of the Night arrived, catching me completely off guard.  It seems like Italians have mixed squid ink with sea urchin already (love the squid ink pasta with uni and jalapeno at Osteria Mozza!), but I've never had squid sashimi in squid ink mixed with uni and topped by a quail egg.  This one at first triggered memories of the squid ink rice pudding I had at LudoBites 8.0 - which I didn't like - but Chef Shunji's invention was very different in that the freshest squid was used (where Ludo's was rice pudding shaped and textured to resemble squid), and the squid ink was tempered and made smooth and not so clotted by mixed in sea urchin - which also gave it an unbelievable umami that was transcendent.  I was advised to eat first a bit of the squid on its own, then to mix in the quail egg for even greater lusciousness.  I loved every bit of this and would come back in just for a taste - possibly every night before I go home.  And this all balanced perfectly with the gorgeously seared, smokey-tasting kanpachi, dabbed with sesame sauce for more umami, and finished off with a lovely sprig of edible Allegra flower (plucked from a potted plant at the end of the bar, so super fresh). 

Then, as we were talking about meals and dishes elsewhere I've been recently impressed with, I mentioned Ludo's foie gras soup - and Yuko said: "Oh, Chef Shunji used to do a Japanese foie gras soup he invented a long time ago.  Maybe he will make it again for you - not sure if he has the ingredients but let's ask".  And with a delighted grin, as if someone had just awarded him the $656 million lottery jackpot, Chef Shunji pulled out his 'secret stash' of foie and went to work on Course 5: to recreate his soup - which turned out to be a taro potato gazpacho with winter melon, yams, yuzu zest and shaved foie gras torchon on top.  The foie was almost brittle looking, or looked from a distance like it could be chicken or pulled pork.  I didn't love the large chunks of softened orange yam in the soup - but adored the creative fusion of Japanese/French flavors in the foie, yuzu and sweet potato.  I almost licked the bowl clean.
Course 6: Roasted Eggplant, Miso, Fried Shrimp, Shitake Mushroom, Fresh Seaweed - resuming the 'regular' omakase, next up was another innovative roll that I've never seen anywhere else before: roasted eggplant was topped by a miso paste, then pieces of pan-fried shrimp and shitake mushroom.  This was a delicious combination of the 'fruits' of ocean and earth again that really brought the umami.
Course 7: Black Cod with Enoki and Shitake Mushrooms in Mushroom Dashi - the last hot course of the meal, this was simple and clean, with a lovely piece of black cod (skin on!) in a clear mushroom broth, beautifully arranged with enoki and shitake mushrooms. 
At this point other patrons started to arrive, and I was getting full - Yuko asked if I had room for anything else.  At the beginning of the meal it had been mentioned that they have very nice cuts of bluefin tuna and toro in today - so I coudn't leave without trying those.  The bluefin tuna was a breathtaking rich almost burgundy color, and was lush and delicious.  I also loved that Chef Shunji grates a wasabi root right in front of you to make the freshest wasabi possible for the sushi.   
The Toro was so tender and fatty and fresh, I had to close my eyes for a moment to truly savor the bites.  Chef Shunji puts salt crystals on one of the pieces too for texturing and flavor, but both pieces were amazing.

All in all, I was glad the storm and need to delay my journey home - brought me to this new home away from home.  The hospitality was world class, and I loved my mind-blowing dinner at not too much wallet-damage ($80 omakase plus a glass of wine ($9) plus extra course of foie gazpacho ($12) and extra pieces of sushi ($10 for toro).  Affordable for mere mortals.  I can't wait to go back.  And the only reason I'm telling you about this instead of keeping it to myself, is that everyone should get to experience Chef Shunji's amazing creations at least once - and I'm really rooting for this venture to succeed, as they deserve to be around for a long, long time. 

On a 7 point scale:Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100%


12244 W Pico Blvd., Los Angeles,CA 90064
Ph: 310.826.4737

Parking: Free lot attached to restaurant


Shunji Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa: Pigging out on Pork Meatballs / Banh Beo

Pho is amazing. But there is so much more to Vietnamese cuisine than that, that I'm still discovering. Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa is probably my new favorite place for going 'beyond pho'.

Growing up in Hong Kong, my exposure to Vietnamese food is largely HK style: lemongrass pork chops (yum!), the ubiquitous rice paper spring roll, and yes pho as well.
But foodie friends in LA have introduced me to a whole new collection of amazing dishes - and the best of my recent favs are from Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa in Rosemead. 
From the moment we set foot in the place I felt I would love it.  I always appreciate it when a restaurant takes care to create a nice environment, in addition to turning out good food.  The dining room was airy, sunlit and soothing with a sage color scheme, and rustic dark wood tables and chairs.  And we were seated in minutes - good start to service.
They had a bilingual menu, but since my friend 'Designer' had been there before, she served as food guide.   We kicked off the meal with Dac Biet Banh Beo Chen ($5.99) a giant plate with a dozen tiny single serve dishes of steamed rice cake. Topped with ground up dried shrimp, chives and some sort of crouton.  With a bowl of fish sauce for flavor.  I've had this at one other place, Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa, before and didn't see what all the hype was about.  But at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa, it was love at first bite.  The rice cake tasted fresh made - amazingly smooth, light and so soft it came away with the smallest flick with your plastic spoon.  And I loved that it was perfectly counterbalanced with all the toppings for textural contrast.  The fish sauce was a skillfully controlled blend of savory, sweet and tart.  Everything worked perfectly together.  Once we had our first bite basically all you then heard and saw from us were rounds of quickly emptied, spotless dishes flying from mouth to table. 
Then there was the awesome lunch special for two, which was not only a great deal but lots of DIY fun: Dac Biet Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa ($15.99)  which included Nem Nuong (charbroiled pork meatball skewers), Nem Cap (charbroiled pork patties wrapped in banana leaf), Nem Char Nuong (charbroiled sour pork patties), and Cha Ram Tom (shrimp egg rolls). 

Basically you get all the ingredients you need to make your own pork rolls! Starting with a plate of the charbroiled meats and shrimp rolls...
...a plate of Banh Trang va Rau Song rice paper, a bowl of hot water, and a bowl of bright orange nuoc cham sauce for dipping (I think it's made with shrimp, fish sauce, lime juice, chili peppers, crab paste)...
...fresh veggies and herbs including cucumber, carrots, basil, lettuce, and mint.

Then comes the fun part for two ladies who like to think of themselves as crafty. You dip the rice paper disks (which are hard like chips to start with) in the hot water to soften it, then lay it out on your plate like a tortilla, ready to stuff with other ingredients on the table. 

Take a piece of pork meatball of your choice from the plate, then a fried shrimp roll, then whatever veggies and herbs you like.  (Remember though if you pick the ones wrapped in banana leaves, to remove those first, they're not edible!) Then just pull up the sides of the rice paper and roll - and you're ready to dip in the nuoc cham sauce and eat!

As you can see - I need a lot more practice with the rolling.  But it was fun to get the hands-on  DIY experience / play with our food.  And the rolls were tasty and amazing.  Light, but very filling as well - and the pork meatballs had an amazing, rich, juicy, sweet and porcine flavor that made us food-drunk when paired with that beautiful smokey char.  I was addicted and couldn't get enough - the take home rolls also still held up very nicely the next day. 

All in all, we had a blast, enjoying a fun, budget friendly and delicious lunch.  The nem nuong lunch special was an awesome deal at $15.99 for two people (I think we made about a dozen rolls and took some home), and the banh beo was fantastic as well.  I still dream of both and can't wait to go back for a second pig fest.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100%


Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa
9016 Mission Drive Rosemead, CA 91770
Ph: 626.286.3370

Parking: Free lot attached to restaurant

***Cash only****


Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa on Urbanspoon


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