Saturday, July 26, 2014

Garrett Popcorn Shops

A Chicago tradition: one has to make it a point to visit one of at least 10 locations while in Chicago. This popcorn is truly special. They have different flavors aside from the plain and buttery: Macadamia Caramel, cashew, pecan, almond (all caramel) and their famous Chicago Mix. Chicago Mix is a combination of sweet caramel crisp with savory cheese.



I was told that most of the time, you see a long line of people waiting to buy the popcorn. This of course made me decide that I was not leaving Chicago without lining up myself.  I bought a bunch of bags to give to my friends that were not lucky enough to travel to Chicago. The flavor I chose was the Chicago Mix.


That was one very good popcorn. The best I have had. The combination was unbelievable. I must warn you that what you buy should be consumed as soon as possible. The cheese tends to get chewy and stale very fast. I suggest transferring the bag in a ziplock to prolong a little heaven a bit longer.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Gordon Ramsay at the London

I have been at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant a few years ago and was not impressed.  When I got the opportunity to buy some vouchers which seemed to be a great deal, we decided to take our friend Cynthia out for her birthday. The deal included a 3 course meal with a signature cocktail of your choice or a glass of wine.  The birthday celebrant and Gary picked a cucumber cocktail which to me did not look appetizing. Sandi and Sujata had a beautiful ruby red drink; a raspberry with vodka concoction and I settled for a glass of champagne.

For appetizers we had a Risotto with wild mushrooms, quail egg and asparagus that sounded good. This was a disappointment as the risotto tasted like rice that was not done and the asparagus was not to be seen. The other appetizer was Salmon with fig. Gary said he could have had a bigger bowl of that one!


Cindy had the best entree. She ordered the steak and that was delicious. Two of us ordered the Cod on the coconut rice with mussels. The cod did not stand out and the coconut rice was not any better than what you get in a Thai restaurant. The other two had the Pork Belly with lentils and pork rind. According to them, the pork belly was too fat and tasted mushy with a very spongy feel. The lentils did not taste good.


In summary, 1 great appetizer and 1 very good entree out of 5 people is not a good average for any of us to consider going back. To be fare, I have to mention that the Sticky Pudding was very good. We were all to excited we felt we hit the jackpot as we all loved it. I therefore forgot to take a picture in all the excitement,
The question is would we go back to Gordon Ramsey's restaurant? The answer is I'm afraid.....no.  I must say we still had a good time and thank God the birthday celebrant was very happy with her entree .


Gordon Ramsay is not the chef of Gordon Ramsay at the London which I suspected but I think if he still lends is name to the restaurant, he should pay more attention to what the chefs are up to. I am almost certain that if he had to do a blind test on most of  the entrees he would end up having a temper tantrum.... at least while the camera is rolling.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

L'Amande French Bakery in Beverly Hills

People of Beverly Hills Rejoice! L' Amande French Bakery just opened Wednesday, July 16, 2014. The main bakery at the Rolling Hills Plaza in Torrance have been very successful and I feel very blessed to live nearby though sometimes I cannot honestly say it's a blessing as I end up there too often for breakfast, lunch, tea, or an early dinner. This location seems a lot bigger because of its high ceiling. It looks spacious, airy and very French; from the decor to the background music. It has several tables inside and a few outside.





This bakery is authentic French. The real thing and I have heard people say it was better than what they had in Paris! The raspberry croissants and the best. Then they have the pistachio, almond and chocolate. That's just the croissants. Then they have the sticky walnut buns that are no nonsense; not too gooey or sweet but just right with some walnuts.


The traditional French omelettes are perfect; cooked well outside but nice and soft inside served with a healthy salad with slivered almonds.  Wait till you try the the variations of the Croques: Madame and Monsieur on their pain de mie bread. Their baguettes are the best; crusty outside but soft and chewy inside. The Parisian salad is my favorite: mixed greens with dried cranberries, walnuts,caramelized apples and blue cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette.

When Sandi and I arrived at the bakery around 11:00 a.m., there were already a few people inside and some seated outside. These were people that just happened to walk by and were probably just curious and I am sure they will be returning after they sampled whatever it was they bought.

Sandi and I settled for the soup of the day: Butternut Squash which is served with some whipping cream and their very own croutons. I was really hungry; (the driving to Beverly Hills gave me an appetite) so I thought it would be good to have a baguettine in addition. The soup was absolutely delicious.



The numerous tarts are delightful. Wait till you taste the Salted Caramel Tart. I almost forgot to mention their typical European coffee. If it's caffeine you want, you get the best at L'Amande. It is totally beyond my comprehension how people can have coffee elsewhere aside from their home. Let me warn you that this is not an IHOP where you get refills. You get 1 cup; small or large and that is what you get. It's all about quality and not quantity.

I was told that after noon, people were lined up; just like the Torrance bakery. Congratulations and all the best to Ana and Gonz.  L' Amande French Bakery's second location is at 9530 S. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills, California.




Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunda

This Asian restaurant in the River North neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois is a hot spot that was labelled best new restaurant as well as sexiest restaurant. The sexy comes from the people or should I say the ladies with the mini skirts and 10" heels! It's a place to see and be seen. We definitely  were not seen since we were a large group of 10 therefore had an almost private room in the back. The food is mostly Asian"fusion"; dishes were interpretations of the traditional foods from the Philippines, Japan, Thailand, China, etc.


The family we visited were very familiar with the restaurant and knew what to re-order and then some. Half the people on our table made it clear that whatever they ordered were not to be shared. Alma and I decided to be greedy as well. We ordered the the Pork Belly Skewers which used to be called Pigs on a Stick, Flaked Pork Adobo Fried Rice (braised pork belly), scallions, garlic, vinegar, soy sauce with a fried egg, and the Ultimate Noodles (Pancit Palabok) with lobster, shrimp, soft-shell crab, pork, round rice noddles, onions, garlic, ginger, in a lobster-uni sauce. Everything was deeelicious, we couldn't get enough of the Pigs ( we all preferred the old name), it was loaded with flavor and went well with the adobo fried rice. The Ultimate Noodles was a bit overwhelming. All the ingredients were great but it didn't do anything for the noodles. To compare it to the real pancit palabok was not ideal as pancit palabok has it's own strong flavor from the chicharon. The chicharon on this dish was just on the side. The funny part was as soon as we had our first bite of the Pigs on the skewer and decided we absolutely loved it, we waited for the rice so we could eat it all together which is the Filipino way of eating. You eat everything with rice using your fork to push a good size bite into your spoon. They served everything Chinese style which was one at a time. Someone forgot to tell our server our preference of having everything served at the same time.


The vegetarian member of the family ordered the Veggi Q, a specialty cut role made with cucumber sheet, shitake, oshinko, avocado, asparagus spring mix with ponzu sauce. She also ordered the Sweet Potato Caterpillar which was made with roasted sweet potato, Asian pear, avocado, black garlic teriyaki with roasted red pepper puree. I had one to taste and I liked it! This got an A+ on the presentation alone. The Miso Cauliflower with garlic and chilies were not bad either.


The rest of the our party ordered a bunch of interesting dishes, like Crispy Pata (a Filipino favorite) which is pork shank, garlic liver gravy, garlic vinaigrette, watercress frisee and radish. A kind member of the family had us have a bite. Nice and crispy and plain yummy. One ordered the Chili Albacore Sashimi which was very good. I had a bite of someone's Lemongrass Beef Lollipop which was N.Y. strip beef wrapped lemongrass with ginger citrus sweet soy glaze. We should have ordered that on our end of the table!  My son had the Miso-Bronzed Black Cod with eggplant and sweet miso.  Someone had some mini tacos that looked good but our side of the table didn't get to try any.  The Oxtail Pot Stickers; braised oxtail with caramelized onion jus and white wasabi cream looked good as well; unfortunately they were on the East side.....communists!


There was another dish that was outstanding. It was the Tom Kha Gai Soup which had chicken, Asian mushroom medley, chilies, lemongrass, herbs and coconut milk broth served with roti prata. This coconut milk soup was wonderful and the roti prata (flat bread) tasted like it was had a torrid affair with butter!  I would definitely have this again.


For dessert, people shared orders of Sans Rival and Halo-Halo; both Philippine delicacies. The Sans Rival was made with pistachios instead of the traditional cashews. The Halo-Halo was different; less filling but we all loved the cheese ice cream that was in it so we ordered an additional dessert that was just cheese ice cream....yummmmm.


We wanted to extend our complements to the executive chef, Jess de Guzman but he was not around so the executive sous chef, Michael Morales came out to chat with us. Sunda is a must when one visit's Chicago. The next time we go, we will try and remember to tell our server we want everything brought out at the same time; Filipino style.


Sunda's address is 110 W. Illinois St. in Chicago, Illinois.







Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bottle Inn Riviera

A lot of people were excited to hear that the Old Bottle Inn in Hermosa Beach opened a branch in Redondo Beach. I have always loved the Bottle Inn but I haven't been there in probably 15 years. I used to order the Scalone Adriana which was a blend of scallops and abalone cooked in a lemon butter and white wine sauce. A friend of mine who has recently been there told me I had to order the carrot fries for appetizer, the ossobuco with the fettuccine and the bolognese.

We made a reservation for 4:30 p.m. (they open at 4:00 p.m. for dinner). We got there around 4:20 p.m. We had a table by the window. This place in unlike the Hermosa Beach restaurant; you would not call it romantic nor cozy. That's perfectly fine; after all this is in the heart of Redondo Beach on S. Catalina Avenue. The ambiance is "beachy". They believe in recycling from the candle holders, to the glasses to the light fixtures; I know because I have that gadget that cuts used wine bottles.

Three or four people arrived after us that settled in the bar. We were the only ones crazy enough to eat dinner that early; usually that equals better service. We ordered our appetizer. Carrot fries which looked absolutely delicious with an olive oil dip that had garlic and herbs. Looks were not deceiving in this case; they were wonderful although we both thought the dip did not do it justice. It needed something to make it pop. I asked our server if they had an aioli sauce, ranch or anything creamy. She went to ask her manager if they had something of that nature. She came back and informed us that the manager could give us a combination of ketchup and mayonnaise. I got excited....perfect.  Well, it was just what it needed. I suggest you ask for this sauce as it brings the carrot fries to another level......heaven!



For our entree, we ordered the Fettuccine Bolognese which was just o.k. If I had this dish years ago, I am sure I would have thought it was very good but times have changed and I have had much better Bolognese at Osteria Mozza, Il Pastaio, Vincenti, or Valentino's. The Ossobuco Di Vitello was tender and had a lot of flavor. Cooked in a Barolo wine and tomato mushroom sauce, this went well with the fettuccine.



Before our meal, we were entertained by one fly which I captured with my napkin against the window. I handed the napkin to our server and asked for another one. A few minutes later, the relatives of the dead fly came to pay their respects. I surrendered and just concentrated on my food.

I wanted to thank the manager for his suggestion on the sauce for the fries but he never came by nor did he make any eye contact or show concern for us. I thought it was odd since we were the only ones there for sometime before another party came in. He just spoke with his staff and occasionally to the 3 people at the bar. I don't know about the rest of the people but I always like to feel welcome at the restaurant like I welcome my guests when I invite them over for dinner at my home ...... and they don't even have to pay me!

I might still go and try my one time favorite Scalone but I will do so at the old establishment in Hermosa Beach.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Trois Mec

If you haven't heard of Trois Mec; Ludo Lefebvre's restaurant on Highland and Melrose, listen up...... we celebrated my brother Gary's birthday there last night. It took about 2 weeks to get a reservation and before that you have to register online.  You have to be patient and keep calling and when you get the reservation, you feel like you hit the jackpot except you end up paying for a non-refundable ticket of $75 which isn't that bad.

There were 6 of us and 3 people in our party have been there previously. If you just go by their address, you will probably blame your GPS for sending you to the wrong place. You end up on a strip mall which includes Yum-Yum donuts, a cleaners and a French place called Petit Trois and Raffallo's Pizza. Raffallo's Pizza is Trois Mec.  We were all there before our reservation time of 6:00 p.m.  We were warned that they do not wait for anyone, they start serving with or without the rest of your party. As we waited for the doors to open, Gary tried to peek at Petit Trois which had shades on the window so he couldn't really see inside. While he was investigating, the Great Chef Ludo came out to check on something outside. Gary asked him if this was going to be a wine bar and he curtly answered: "Different Concept" and went back in. I don't care care who you are but in my book, there is absolutely no excuse for rudeness. Oh well, I was there to eat and not to kiss Chef Ludo!



We were seated as soon as we got in. It is a small, clean and a very casual place. They started bombarding us with the snacks which were amazing. I asked if they could slow down as there was not enough time to savor each one. We were told that this was the way the snacks were to be served. (wham, bam, thank you ma'am..). There was the Buckwheat Popcorn which tasted like chopped chicharon with vinegar, then came the Garlic Bread which was the most incredible garlic bread we ever had! It tasted like it was soaked in butter for 24 hrs. then topped with melted cheese and topped with green onions and maybe basil; not sure what else was in or on it but it truly was the best. The other snack we all loved was the Crispy Tapioca with passion fruit and parmesan. It was an OMG moment! Then there was a miniature salad that was just as edible.


As we literally inhaled the devoured the snacks, our first "plate" arrived.   Crab Ceviche with thin slices of creamy avocado, citrus and buckwheat popcorn. This was very good. I think this would have been a great entree. This plate was followed by a Jamon Iberico with tomato pulp, charred eggplant and smoked tomato; also very good; of course how could it not be when you have the finest of hams.
The next dish was Radish with burnt bread, fromage blanc and furikake. This impressed me as it is hard to make radish exciting and  this would have been a vegetarian's delight.


We did order the supplement for the evening. The supplement for an extra $15 could only be had if the whole table orders it.....and so we did.  This was Confit Squid with white asparagus, caper puree and mascarpone.  Milena is allergic to squid so I had to sacrifice and consume hers. The mascarpone was a nice touch as it went very well with the squid.


The last plate was Veal Belly with crispy artichokes and parmesan. This was a bit of a disappointment as this veal could have used some liposuction. We all understood that it had to have some fat but this was too fatty and was even hard to cut. I might have enjoyed it better if it was crispy, but to eat soft fat was not appetizing. The artichokes were crispy alright but it didn't do anything for me. In fact, I would not have know they were artichokes. Fried kale would have been better.


Dessert was quite delicious. Strawberry cake with meringue and chantilly. The cake was very moist and light. It was a good finale. After dessert, they brought out a serving of caramel and cannelle for each of us.


In summary, I was happy to experience the food at Trois Mec. The staff was attentive to our needs though we thought that they lacked the passion on the explanation of the courses. They often rattled the ingredients of a dish like reading from a script. We had to ask them to repeat what they recited. Adam, the manager was friendly and professional. My experience might have been a lot better if I didn't see Chef Ludo hanging around with absolutely no concern for any of his customers. I expect a chef/owner to be a little more gracious and welcoming to his customers. Everyone said he is really that way on T.V. etc. etc. This is not T.V. nor is this a show. This is the real world and I think he should lose the attitude.

In the parking lot, there was this sign which I thought was funny when I saw it first...............but at the end of our meal, it took in a new meaning: no longer a joke as this was truly a sign of the chef's attitude and arrogance.


Note:  I have met some of the best chefs like Guy Savoy, Yves Camdeborde of Le Comptoir, David Myers, Nancy Silverton, David Feau and one thing they have in common aside from talent is humility. This is probably why they are still around.