Thursday, July 25, 2013

Los Angeles, CA - Craft; There is a reason Tom Colicchio is the head judge on Top Chef, his food at Craft, I would fly back to LA to have it again. I would even walk there from Detroit to have another meal. For the unforeseeable future, I will compare my meal here with all others and they probably won't match up. I now know the standard for a 5-star review.

The place is elegant and comforting inside. It's fancy, but not pretentious. The staff are very nice and welcoming. My server was extremely helpful in explaining the menu and how the salads and the side dishes can be half orders to try multiple dishes.

I started with the Arugula Salad that had a refreshing light lemon dressing, nicely and roasted pine nuts. The parmesan balances the bitterness of the arugula even though it was very mild. Its hard to tell from the picture the size of this half-order, but its basically a full side salad. There is nothing half about it. Its a delicious, light, and flavorful dish to start.

On the other side of the spectrum, a completely different flavor profile, I tried the Beet Salad that it includes both red and white beets, whole and puree. It was beautifully smooth and balanced. The puree was fantastic on the bottom. The perfect textural differences between the whole and puree beets. The cheese was mildly salty and creamy, in which the salt was necessary to neutralize the beets contrast. Its a well thought out complex dish that works.

The true highlight of the evening, the entree that will make me dream about food was their Black Cod wrapped in Speck with Pepperoncini. When I go back, whichever dish I select, I do not care how full I am, I am also ordering this along with my other entree. I cannot go here and not get this dish. Let me get right to it. The cod is truly amazing. If I say it melts, its an understatement. The texture was so delicate. The speck adds that harder shell to that soft cod and that needed saltiness to the buttery fish. I expected the speck to be hard to cut through, but without any difficult, I sliced through without smashing the fish. Each bite of this combination made me pause, making me reach the conclusion that I could not believe food could taste this good. To summarize this entree, it's salty, buttery, soft, hard, and juicy.

Trying two sides with the first being Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, well I unfortunately have to say that I have tried better. They are cooked well, crispy while still soft inside, but it was the bacon that was disappointing. There is supposed to be bacon in this dish right? They were present, but it was these tiny diced pieces that you really could not find nor enjoy.

On the recommendation of the server, the next side was the Hen Of The Woods Mushrooms. You have brought be back to bliss. Being a first timer to Hen Of The Woods, I did not know what to expect visually, texturally, and in flavor. These were hardy and thick shrooms that I now look for at other places and grocery shopping, but come out empty handed each time. I only hope I can find them again soon. Most were think, but you could find a few that were thin and crunchy from the cooking process give both the meaty and crunchy texture.

Before dessert arrived, I was treated to a pre-dessert, a Lemon Posset. Having a nice lemon base, smooth texture, and small crunch from the crumbles, my palate was cleansed and ready for dessert.

My stomach wasn't though. I was stuffed at this point, but I had to keep going.

I asked for something light since I have already eaten probably 3,000 calories by now. The server recommended the panna cotta with it being so light and airy. The Butterscotch Panna Cotta with Apple Fritters & Pecan Crumble arrived which turns out to be such a wonderful dessert. The panna cotta is light, airy, and smooth. The server was absolutely correct in his recommendation. I thought the panna cotta was good, then I tried the freshly made fritters. Oh my, my oh my. Soft, warm, carby, cinnamon, a touch of heaven.

I'm done, I can't eat anymore. Wait, what is the server bringing me now? I know it's going to be delicious, but I seriously don't know if I can shove it down my throat.

The after-dessert dessert arrived. It was a Blood Orange Marshmallow, Brownie, and Oatmeal Cookie. The cookie and the brownie were both spot on flavor with the brownie being deliciously rich. Even with it being small portions, I still couldn't finish them. The marshmallow though I could finish. It was sweet with that orange hint, nice and refreshing.

Okay, so they made a spectacular dinner. You get five-stars for the evening, but I didn't realize they would treat me to a small breakfast as well. The evening ended with them bringing a complimentary Raspberry Muffin for tomorrow. It's nice and light, moist and a nice little muffin to wake up to.

A perfect place with perfect food.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Los Angeles, CA - Scoops; Worthy of a spot in Bizarre Foods, I had expectations of some weird pairing of flavors or flavors from around the world. I was slightly let down from that perspective, but not from the two flavors I tried.

They had some nontraditional flavors and the server said we could make any flavor we wish but would need a few days. He told me their most popular and regularly available flavor is the Brown Bread.

I tried two flavors, Salted Maple Oreo (top) and Brown Bread (below). It was tough to decide which to end with and after lots of spoonfuls of each, I decided the better of the two was the Salted Maple Oreo. It had the sweetness contrasted with the saltiness. Then you have the crunch from the Oreo pieces, it wins the match. The Brown Bread was good to. They use Grape Nutes in it to simulate the "crunchy" pieces of bread. It definitely has texture. Those Grape Nuts never get soggy even being in the ice cream for a while.

I would have liked to see some exotic flavors, but who am I kidding, I enjoyed both flavors. I would rather have two that I enjoyed than have some crazy ones and only have the thrill, but terrible taste.

Los Angeles, CA - Western Soondae; This place is the real deal. You'll know because when you walk in, the smell hits you. You get this mixed aroma of meats and soups all combining into one smell that makes you think twice in walking in.

On Bizarre Foods, Andrew Zimmern tries their Soondae Plate or their Blood Sausage. In walking in his footsteps, lets order away and try it out. I just ordered a sample plate of it and it is really surprising it. It's cooked really well with the casing being super delicate and the flavors are very mild. You do not have any metallic or mineral heavy dense flavor. It's rather light and the blood only gives is a small subtle enhanced flavor. The rice inside is well textured and wonderfully soft. This was a good choice.

My adventure continues with their Home Made Style Duen Jang with Assorted Vegetable. This is a special soup. It is an assortment of everything; vegetables and flavors. It's served in a hot pot bowl, so the temperature is unbelievably hot. It's still boiling and it probably continue to boil for the next 30 minutes. I am not sure what those bowls are made of, but they certainly keep soup above the temperature at which you can eat it. Finally after it falls from the temperature of the sun, it is very rich of flavor and spices. It's very unique in that the flavors really meld together into one that really is indescribable. The tofu in the dish is constantly be cooked by the broth and takes on that flavor as well. Tofu either can keep its original bland flavor and help bring on its accented flavor of its dish. It certainly adopts its soup flavor.

It's an adventure to eat here and take in the ambiance. You will for sure have a harder time parking than choosing what to eat. The parking situation is pretty terrible. The parking lot is primarily valet so you are stuck finding a place in the neighborhood in the street. Expect to park several blocks away and walk in.

Santa Monica, CA - Typhoon; Some of the dishes here are right out of Bizarre Foods. Literally, they are bizarre and there was an episode recorded her, which is how I found this place.

I am in the right place with the menu has an actual section for insects! They are not hiding it or putting an slick names to hid what they are. It's straight up scorpions, crickets, and pupae. That's what I'm talking about.

The server was extremely helpful in assisting me to decide which to get and how they are presented. Ask them anything about the dishes if you are unsure which to order or what to expect. I started with the Singapore-Style Scorpions served on shrimp toast. The overall dish is very light. The real question on your mind is how were the scorpions. They are crunchy, that's about it. It is difficult to see from the picture, but they are really small. In addition, all the flavor is from the shrimp toast, not the scorpions. I recommend trying the scorpions separately to see if you can get any of their flavor and then try the toast. A bit of caution, stinger and pinchers are still there. At first I was worried with them on it, but these guys are so small, it does not matter at all. If you are curious, I asked about their origins and they are Baby Black Scorpions farm raised in AZ. An unexpected surprise was the sauce had some real heat to it. I thought it was only going to be a typical sweet plum sauce, but I was wrong. Prepare yourself, it won't burn your mouth, but be ready for the heat.

The scorpions were okay, but I was hoping for a full plate of them and the Taiwanese Crickets are getting closer to the picture in my head. These are much more plentiful on the plate, but they are hidden inside fried shoe string potatoes. They are stir-fried with raw garlic, chili pepper, and Asian sweet basil. The potatoes almost make you hunt for them, which on one hand is annoying and the other hand, its as almost they are in the environment and you have hunt for them and they wouldn't be easy to catch. Look closely and you will still see that most of them have their antennas. I, once again, recommend trying them alone because the potatoes will mask their flavor. I thought they had this nutty undertone, with a crunchy outside from sauteing with a slight soft inside, since there is not much there to begin.

I finally receive a plate of what I was hoping, Silk Worm Pupae stir-fried and served straight up, nothing masking it. It comes with assorted dipping sauces to experiment with and see which is better with these little critters. When you eat them alone without any of the "dressings", they are crunchy on the outside and soft and meaty on the inside. There is not a whole lot of flavor, but a bit of nuttiness to them. The sauces you get to play with are chocolate, chili paste, mayo chili powdered, lemon pepper, chili oil, soy garlic, siracha, mustard, and peanut. I thought the ones I ended up liking with the pupae were chili paste, chili oil and peanut. These sauces helped to either enhance or compliment the crunchiness or nuttiness. The sauces that did not bode well were the chocolate, mayo, lemon pepper, soy garlic, siracha, and spicy mustard. Not that the sauces were not good, its that they were overpowering the pupae and you really only tasted the sauce.

Since I didn't like the chocolate sauce on the pupae, I just saved it for dessert by just dip your chop sticks in it and scoop out. It was the sweetness I wanted at the end of the meal.

I was surprised how much these dishes filled me up. I did have three, but it is a lot of protein when you're not sharing these dishes. All of them are fun to try whether if you're an adventurous eater or having fun with the dishes among friends.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Royal Oak, MI - Little Brothers Burgers; Vegetarians watch out. You've been warned. Knowing so many vegetarians, many times I will try the vegetarian option to see if its a good place when you have omnivores and vegetarians in your party. Well, this is not one of those places.

I would never expect a sliders joint to have an option for vegetarians, but when I saw they did, it's worth trying. I asked if they just nuke the veggie patty and the answer was no, we grilled them. Okay, I'm expecting the same quality or better vegetarian burger than the ones at Red Robin, which for a franchise, they are pretty good when they are not over cooked. Little brothers needs to stick with meat and either leave these patties alone or learn how to cook them.

The patty was fairly thin and not much to it. I wouldn't expect much if it was the size of a real slider and you would normally order a few. I would not want to have more than one of these guys. They make the cardinal mistake of over cooking the patty. They come out dried up and the edges get hard. They should also consider having the option for a veggie or meatless patty. The veggie patty is a garden burger, so you can see the carrots and bits of other pieces. With the meatless option, you don't see those ingredients and with it mostly soy based, it's texture and taste is different.

Vegetarians, if it was your only option when going there with friends, fine you have something to order. However with being in Downtown Royal Oak, there are so many other options for you that will taste good and be worth the money you spend.
Royal Oak, MI - Ahan Thai; I did a quick pop in here for a snack and tried their Fresh Spring Rolls. The rolls can be a good representation of what their other food may be like depending on freshness of the vegetables, aromatic-ness of the herbs, and the texture of the rice noodle wraps.

The wraps were fresh and not dried out. They were stuffed with vegetables and noodles with them almost ready to pour out. The herbs were fresh with nice aromas when biting into it. The sauce was slightly different than other places. This one had a bit of a smokey hint to it. It was refreshing to have a slightly different flavor and to see they put their own touch into their sauce.

The fresh wraps gives you a welcoming feeling to come back and try an entree now. I hope it has the same freshness and fresh herbaceous flavors the wraps had. I'm not sure if it was my timing or not, but I was the only customer in the restaurant. I hope that is not a bad sign.

Ferndale, MI - Local Kitchen and Bar; The trend among new and local restaurants is fresh, local food, sustainable, environmental conscience, and more artistic and creative dishes. Local is attempting to accomplish just this and executes it well on most of those objectives. Most.

The Fried Green Tomatoes are served with pepper jam, goat cheese, and a tomato purée having an impact on your taste buds in a sweet and savior fashion. The breading on the tomatoes is nice and even with a sweet thick slice of a green tomato underneath. It was nicely golden brown with three sauces to match is flavor profile. My favorite was the pepper jam, but it was milder than other places that make it. Some places give it a kick of heat in the beginning or the end. This jam didn't have that delivery, but it has that sweet undertone that works well with the tomato. Both the tomato purée and the goat cheese are both well suited to work with these delicious fried wonders. They are both mild and help to balance the fried flavor. My only criticism is that with these two sauces, it neutralizes it too much, making it more bland than complex.

The Pork Belly appetizer, arrived along with the tomatoes, which are pan seared, served along with house made conserves, herb salad, and rye toast. The pork was nicely seared on the edges and still fatty on the inside. It had that nice rich balance of fatty, salty, and crunchy. The conserves, well, they are not spectacular. One is cinnamon apples and the other is sauteed onions. Both are served cold, real cold, refrigerator cold. It would have been better if both were warm or even room temperature. The herb salad includes a nice small set of greens and lightly dressed. I'm not sure why the toast is there. Didn't use it, didn't need it.

Here was the bad part of either the service or execution of the food delivery. The appetizer arrived and not 45 seconds later, the entrees arrived. So our entrees were getting cold while we were eating the appetizers. Not to mention, the table really isn't big enough to have all this food on it. We make it work, but it was difficult to maneuver.

The carnita nachos has home made chips, shredded pork or vegetarian black beans, salsa, pickled jalapenos, crema, queso, and avocado. I like that it can be made vegetarian as well. The chips are wonderfully crispy and not sure if its in the chips or somewhere else, I swear I taste some kind of cinnamon hidden in their somewhere. This gave it a nice element of surprise and allure. What's also nice with this dish and particularly the jalapeños is that they remove the seeds. For me, spicy is my thing, for for many others, it's not. So in this case, you can still enjoy the flavor of the pepper, but without the heat. It's a nice little touch.

The Seared Scallops with Wild Rice Jambalaya was one of their specials. The scallops were seared nicely, but I don't thing they were cleaned properly. The scallop had this wonderful smooth texture and while enjoying the sear, you get a harsh crunch hear and there. The crunch of grittiness, improperly cleaned scallops, a turn off. The jambalaya was certainly an interpretation of one. It was not one I've had in New Orleans for sure. I think anyone from there would send it back if they had it. That's not to say it wasn't good, it just wasn't a traditional jambalaya. There wasn't any sauce on, in, or around the rice. The rice did have some chicken and shrimp pieces that were cooked and seasoned well for a non-jambalaya dish.

Finished off with a nice dessert of Rick's Brownie having vanilla ice cream, salted caramel drizzle on top. I was so happy to see the brownie warmed up. It was very nice and warm that just barely started to melt the ice cream, not too quickly. It had hidden chocolate chips in the brownie that was a nice surprise. The ice cream was ice cream. Nothing special. The salted caramel sauce was on the skimpy side and a little more would have made it just a little better. It needed that little extra salt to contrast the sweetness to give it a pow.

San Diego, CA - Sally's Seafood on the Water; Wow, hotel food restaurant, which I expected to be around two or three stars. Walking along the water, Sally's is extremely convenient. I was worried sitting down and not seeing anyone else there eating. We were the only people there to start the evening for them. This is the exception to the rule of go to the place with the longest line.

The service was fantastic, maybe because we were the only people there, either way, they took well care of us. This "blow your mind" tasty dinner starts with their House Bread with Peppercorn Salt served hot. The bread is still steaming, perfectly fluffy like your pillow. When you open it up, you can see how airy the bread is with wonderful air pockets inside. Spread a little of their butter and sprinkle some of their peppercorn you think there was any bread left? Not a single piece.

It now set the stage for my entree, the Swordfish with Risotto. This cut was thick and yet perfectly cooked from the outside to the center. The risotto had this fantastic lemon undertone that helped give that needed acid to the fish. Why give me a slice of lemon when you can give me the lemon risotto and its a combo that sends you home still licking your chops.

The REAL STAR, DO NOT LEAVE WITHOUT TRYING, is their Fish and Chips. It is
sea bass, malt vinegar, house made tartar and spicy tamarind sauces, served with steak fries that had a perfect crunch and soft middle. I would fly to San Diego just to have this dish again. The bass is 100% better than cod, and yet even though the fish is light and delicate in flavor, it's not over powering in fishy flavor. The real spectacular spectacular of the dish is the breading. So many times with fried fish, the badder separates from the fish. Not in this case. You'll find that it has this wonderful flaky crust, which crumbles and melts in your mouth. Use all their sauces and lick the bowl and plate if no one is looking, it's that good. I will either fly out or have this dish shipped to me, yes I said it before and I'll say it again, it's that good.

I later went back for a quick carry out and tried their Kazoo Roll With Salmon and Mango; Nigiri Unagi (BBQ Freshwater Eel). The salmon was very nice and fresh clean flavor. The mango heightened the flavor just enough where you can taste it just so slightly. A winning carry out dish.
San Diego, CA - Salad Style; This is a cute little place with a nice selection of different salads that are usually difficult to find, especially if you're in a hurry. Typical places that have the salads to go usually have those typical romaine or spinach salads. Here, they have a nice variety of different types of salad and non typical toppings such as seared tuna.

I tried their Small Seared Tuna Salad. It had a nice collection of veggies and well looking seared tuna on top. The tuna was seared nicely with it still noticeably pink inside. My only criticism is the quantity of tuna. There should be more for it to be a heartier meal. It doesn't need much more, I don't need a buffet of it, just enough portion size to make you feel comfortable. Its slightly on the blander side, it could probably use a little more seasoning. Its not enough of a critique to take away a star though.