Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Enoteca Drago Ristorante Pizzeria

We were supposed to go to a murder mystery dinner at H.O.M.E. in Beverly Hills last Sunday only to discover we had the wrong date.  There were no shortages of restaurants along Canon Drive so we just walked and ended up at Enoteca Drago.  My last Drago experience was in January of 2012 when Drago on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica closed its doors as they decided not to renew the lease. My friend Cindy and I enjoyed our experience then. So, when Sandi and I came across Enoteca, it was an easy decision to have our dinner there.

As I glanced at the menu, one dish caught my eye; Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe which had lots of  black pepper and Romano cheese. For our second pasta, we thought we would try the Cavatelli with wild boar ragu, porcini mushrooms and fennel.  For our appetizer, we split a Beet Salad with baby beets, pistachio cream, arugula and fried shallots.
This was delicious, so delicious that a bigger portion would have made a good entree for dinner. The Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe was aldente and had the perfect balance of pepper and Romano cheese. The Cavatelli was a bit of a disappointment. It had a flavor we couldn't put our finger on that we thought took away from the ragu flavor. Upon checking with our attentive and lively waiter named Oz, he identified the mystery ingredient....fennel. Somehow we dismissed the ingredient even if it was listed on the menu. The Cavatelli had the gnocchi consistency; somehow we both could not get excited over this dish.  I couldn't help compare it to the boar ragu at Osteria Mozza which is divine!

We were so stuffed as we ate  a few slices of bread and half a dozen grissini (Italian bread sticks).  We were determined not to order dessert till Oz brought us the menu. We thought it would not hurt to just look.  We surrendered and ordered the Sfogliatina Croccante di Nocciole con Marmellata e Sorbetto di Arance e Pepe Nero. What a long name for a dessert..... the bottom was made of chocolate crunch bar; almost tasted like it had rice krispies, then a thick chocolate-type mousse with orange marmalade and orange slices. This was topped with a black pepper sorbetto (ice cream with a high fruit juice or liquid ratio).  We cleaned that plate and left no traces of anything.

Right next to Enoteca Drago is Il Pastaio on N. Canon Dr. in Beverly Hills which is part of the Drago Group with one more in downtown Los Angeles; Drago Centro. They brought it to our attention that they also have a Drago Bakery on Willat Ave. in Culver City. This will be an excuse to drive to Culver City and see what the bakery is all about.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Tropical Scones

I previously blogged about these Mango-Pineapple scones and have tagged them the most expensive scones in the world because I ended up getting a speeding ticket on my way home which cost me $300!

Today, Memorial Day, as I went in L'Amande Bakery in Torrance to buy some tarts for dessert tonight, Fernan, the baker told me they had Tropical Scones. It was only 12:30 and the scones don't  usually come out till 3:00.  He announced that they were closing at 3:00 today because of the holiday and that the scones just got out of the oven. I had to buy at least 6 of them. When I got home, I discovered that they were still warm and it would  have been a crime not to eat some before I had planned to freeze them. My husband just finished his lunch and decided to join me for my dessert (lunch was popcorn at the theater).

I haven't had these scones since I got my ticket. I enjoyed them even more as it was downright cheap compared to the previous price I had to pay. The mangoes were sweet and so were the chewy pineapple.  As usual, the scones were crusty outside and with some butter it was super!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Invitation at Via Firenze

Our dance instructor Tom, wanted to take me and Sandi out for our birthdays. He had us pick the place as long as it was in our vicinity. Since Sandi and I have been craving Italian food, it was obvious we had to pick Aliotta's Via Firenze in Torrance. My previous blog on this restaurant still holds as it has not disappointed us.

We have been there a couple of more times since our last visit last year. Tom, however has never been there. He was in for a surprise. We started out with the warm mini rolls which we enjoyed with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Sandi and I ordered the Vitello Toscana; veal sauteed with garlic, capers, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms in a lemon wine sauce and one of Mike's recommendations which was the Pappardelle Via Firenze which was sauteed with fresh mushrooms, mascapone in a beef ragu sauce.  A perfect combination of the lemony flavor of the veal and saltiness of the ragu sauce especially after I added a ton of Parmesan. Not to worry, Verapamil (blood pressure medication) was on hand. Tom however ordered the special Lobster Ravioli which looked delicious.

Before we ate, I took pictures of our plates and while Sandi was holding my mini flashlight on Tom's Lobster Ravioli, she decided to entertain us by dropping the flashlight on Tom's water. We were all speechless as Tom reached for his fork, I handed him the spoon. The red flashlight looked pretty among the ice as did the luminous water. I am happy to report that the flashlight not only has been cleansed but still works.

Tom seemed to be enjoying his ravioli and since he never offered, I humbly asked if I could try a piece for the blog's sake, after all, I have to know what I'm talking about.
I immediately understood why he didn't want to share. It was delicious!

For dessert, we decided to have the Sacchetto. Cliff, our old time server prepared the crepe by our table along with his torch. The crepe had a creme brulee filling and was served with ice cream, caramel and chocolate sauce.  The picture of the preparation is in my previous blog.

We all enjoyed our meal plus the entertainment. Chef Mike came by to say hello and told us stories of his motorcycle adventures, his dancing and his plans in the future to have a Chef's Table for groups at his restaurant wherein we would have several courses with wine parings. I am excited and can't wait.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Obika Mozzarella Bar Ristorante

Last week I finally thought I would cash in on a couple of vouchers I purchased for Obika Mozzarella Bar.  While my mom was still here we ventured to one of its locations in Century City.  Since my son works around the corner from there, I asked him if he would like to meet us there; and since I invited him, I decided to invite my brother as well; the more the merrier.

The making of mozzarella di Bufala (creamy milk from a water buffalo) is interesting to watch. See link attached:

My favorite mozzarella is the Stracciatelle di Burrata. Our voucher included a mini-tasting of 2 kinds of mozzarella: Classica which had a delicate taste and the Affumicata which is naturally smoked. These are to be eaten with olive oil and some balsamic vinegar otherwise it is pretty bland.  They both had the delicate flavor but it was nothing like the Burrata which is extra creamy.

A pizza was to be shared by 2 people but since there were 4 of us, we just ordered another pizza and decided to share everything.  My mom ad I ordered the one with the prosciutto which was very good.  My brother left it to my son to order what he liked.  He of course had to order something healthy. He ordered the salmon which was very fresh but it lacked flavor. Not to worry as a little bit of balsamic vinegar gave it that oomph it needed.

Obika has 2 locations in Los Angeles; Westfield Century City Shopping Center and at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles. They also have locations all over Italy, Japan, Canada, Turkey and lets not forget good old New York.

Check out their menu and their specials. They often have tasting menus from different regions in Italy. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cafe Vettro at the Aria

Our last meal in Las Vegas was breakfast at the Cafe Vettro at the Aria Hotel.  Vdara Hotel where we stayed was quiet as they don't have gambling. Nice but, they carried the "quiet" too far.  There are also no restaurants:  there is Bar Vdara where you can order food and a little market where you can order sandwiches, soups, but it really looks unappetizing, at least in my eyes. It reminds me of an upgraded cafeteria with vending machine type food.

Cafe Vettro was a spacious restaurant that had a nice ambiance. You wouldn't think it as you pass the entrance through Aria's casino.  Our waiter was not particularly enthusiastic. It was probably the end of his shift. My brother and mom had the Belgian waffles, Sandi had the Fried Chicken and Waffles and I had the Crab Benedict. The waffles were much better than Serendipity though Serendipity's chicken was juicier. My crab benedict was good as well and so were the hash browns.

Cafe Vettro,  at the Aria is not a bad place to have breakfast.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Serendipity 3 at the Caesars Palace

I have always wanted to go have some ice cream at Serendipity in New York. It has been there since 1954 and have been visited by numerous VIP's like Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, Cher, Tom Cruise and yes even Oprah.

Since I haven't been to New York lately, the next best thing was to visit Serendipity 3 in Las Vegas.  Three of us got there at around 10:00 a.m. for breakfast.  We ordered 3 entrees to share: Fried Chicken with Waffles which came with 1/2 a chicken that was plump and juicy. Unfortunately, the waffle part was not as good but when drowned by the maple syrup, it became edible. The honey mustard was a good dip for the chicken.
The Chorizo Quiche with roasted red peppers, potatoes, caramelized onions and queso fresco was a big disappointment. The 3 of us had one bite each and didn't touch the remainder. When our server came to ask if everything was o.k. , we told her about our displeasure and all she did was apologize. She didn't offer to get something in exchange. Oh, well....there goes a big chunk of her tip. The Frozen Hot Chocolate French Toast was triple stacked w/ strawberries, topped with pistachio nuts and chocolate sauce. It was good but I couldn't really get excited over it.

What made the trip to Serendipity worth it was the Double Frrrozen Hot Chocolate (double , Sandi and I shared it). This had 20 different kinds of chocolate in an icy rich cocoa flavor topped with whipped cream. They did get carried away with the whipped cream. The chocolate drink was a bit bitter and gritty and we just loved, loved, loved it.

Serendipity 3 is a fun place to visit. Kids would love it as the decor is funky and has a very relaxed atmosphere. Don't leave without trying the Frozen Hot Chocolate Drink. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Andrea's at the Encore

This fairly new restaurant in Las Vegas opened in January 2013. The executive chef, Joseph Elevado is no stranger to me. He was the Chef of the famous Livello restaurant at the L'Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills.  When I spoke to him last in December of 2012, he told me he was opening Andrea's in January. I made him a promise that I would go visit him the next time I was in Las Vegas.

Since my mom was going to be here for her birthday, (she is visiting from the Philippines)  I decided it would be a good way to celebrate her 84th birthday along with my friend Sandi who was also celebrating her birthday on the same day though she is not quite in her 80's  yet (ha ha). My brother Gary came along to participate in our eating adventures. Among the 5 meals we had while in Las Vegas ( 3 days & 2 nights), Andrea's was by far the best! Unfortunately, my mom got the 24 hour bug and was unable to join us for the birthday dinner.

We got there at 6:30 p.m when it was still fairly peaceful.  We even enjoyed the music. The ambiance was not formal but rather hip and a bit whimsical.  Our server, named Moon was a pretty, enthusiastic young lady that helped explain the menu to us. We were intrigued by the ipad menu of drinks that was handed to us. When you tapped on the drink, it listed the ingredients of that particular drink. I ordered "The Dream" which had an edible hibiscus flower and syrup with Perrier Jouet champagne and Sandi had "Bringing Sexy Back" which had vodka, blood orange liqueur, lime juice and cucumber soda. Both drinks were delicious. Gary ordered the White Sangria which had chunks of fruit in it; also very good.  Some of the drinks were available in a big bowl and was served with several straws.  No need to worry about germs....the alcohol would put them in a coma!

To start, we ordered the Steamed Edamame with Truffled Sea Salt. It was served warm and it tasted like we expected it to taste; salty with truffle flavor which we all loved.
I must mention that the menu is meant for people to share as they mostly were little plates, though not so little. The nice thing about small plates is one gets to try more dishes as oppose to getting stuck with one entree that may be great or not so good or even bad!
We ordered the Chili Shrimp Tempura with aioli, lime, green onion which was super deeelicious. The Pork Potstickers were just as delicious and so were the Shrimp and Pork Shumai dumplings. The Miso Black Cod was cooked to perfection along with the crispy eggplant. With all the pork, shrimp and fish, we had to order beef , so the Lemongrass Beef Tenderloin came along with green onions and shitake mushrooms. That was very good and it went well with the Crab Fried Rice which had a lot of crab meat; this too was cooked to perfection meaning it was not greasy.

Chef Elevado came out to say hello and was gracious as ever.  My brother took a picture of us but unfortunately I looked like an "alien" in the shot; don't know why my face got elongated...nice not to have a fat face but I didn't have the nerve to ask him to pose one more time.

Dessert was a hard decision so we ordered a bunch. The Choco Coffee that Sandi did not touch since she doesn't like anything coffee.  I know it is very strange but it was her birthday so we decided not to crucify her! We also ordered the Panna Cotta and a Dessert Trio which Sandi had for her birthday dessert. Come to think of it, I don't think she shared hers. Gary and I were so busy with our dessert plus Chef Elevado sent 3 ice cream cones with white chocolate teaspoons. I believe the flavors were chocolate chili, banana crunch and pistachio all of which we consumed happily.

Our second and last night in Las Vegas was almost perfect; the only thing missing was my mom's presence as I know she was looking forward to this dinner and was also looking forward to meeting Chef Elevado. She ended up having Wolfgang Pucks canned soup with crackers at her room at the Vdara.  As  I showed her the pictures later, she had one comment about the chef..."He is guapo". (Tagalog for handsome).
Word of advise to the chef:  Don't let it get to your head; stay humble and focused. If you cook....they will come and so will we.... come back for sure.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

China Poblano

While in Las Vegas, we had to have a meal at China Poblano at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Since we were only there for 3 days and 2 nights, we thought we had to try the very interesting cuisine of the innovative Spanish chef non other than Jose Andres. We have all been to his famous Bazaar at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.  What made this different was the mixture of Chinese and Mexican cuisine.

We ordered 6 plates to share among the 4 of us.  The first plate was called Golden Pigs which had 4 pieces of  steamed buns which were crispy outside and soft inside with Chinese barbeque pork and condensed milk for dipping. I know it sounds weird but it intrigued us all.  The condensed milk was not as thick as what you get in an ordinary can and not quite as sweet. It was very good.
The second plate was the Sui Mai; traditional shrimp and pork with water chestnuts, mushrooms and peanuts. That had a lot of flavor even before it was dipped in the soy sauce.


We ordered the Twenty-Vegetable Fried Rice.  Indeed it had a lot of vegetables though we didn't bother to count if it really had 20.  This was essential to go with the rest of our courses.  We had to order something Mexican; no discrimination we had 2 plates of the Cochinita; Yucatan-style barbeque pork tacos with marinated onions.  I haven't had tacos that good.  What is Chinese food without noodles...Swallow a Cloud...Hong Kong-style wonton with shrimps, pork and bok choy. That was nothing special. The last course was the Mongolian Beef Lettuce.  This was a 6 oz. grilled NY strip steak with romaine lettuce, ginger, soy and Chinkiang vinegar (dark and slightly sweet). Not bad but not great either.

The very best thing we had was the dessert called Mango Sticky Rice. This was not the traditional sticky rice with mango you get in Thai restaurants. This is where Jose Andres excels in turning something mundane to a creative masterpiece.  This was a light dessert with coconut milk and toasted rice with mangoes. They cooked the rice with the coconut milk down and took the rice off, toasted some of it to put on top of the mango granita.  Somewhere along the making of this dessert, something was extruded through a Nitrogen canister which gave it the very light and fluffy consistency.

If I were to compare our lunch at Julian Serrano and dinner at China Poblano, I will have to say that I enjoyed Julian Serrano's tapas more than Jose Andres.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Julian Serrano

Julian Serrano's Restaurant was our first stop in Las Vegas located at the Aria Hotel in the City Center.  We thought that tapas would be the way to go for lunch.

I left the task of ordering to my brother Gary as he has more experience in Spanish food than me, Sandi or my mom.

Our first course were the Cheese Lollipops.  These were herbed bread crumbs with Manchego cheese and red wine poached pears. I could eat these lollipops anytime. They were crunchy outside and creamy inside; the cheese and the pear were a perfect match.  The second plate were the Pintxo de Chorizos.  Cute mini Spanish pork chorizos served on top of garlic mashed potatoes with garlic sauce. Again, a perfect combination...salty chorizos engulfed with the fluffy potatoes.

The third plate, Fried Calamari with Aioli sauce were very good but I must say, were no better than the ones served at Hinoki and the Bird. The next plate was my least favorite, Spanish Tortilla made with potatoes, eggs and onions. Don't get me wrong, it was good but nothing special. Alas, the next course were the Gambas; sauteed shrimps cooked in garlic and Arbol chilis which were absolutely delicious. The last plate was the Black Rice with fresh calamari, lobster meat, sofrito and squid ink. That too was delicious along with its very nice presentation.

All these little plates were enough to satisfy our hunger so everyone decided not to have dessert but instead just get some gelato from the nearby Jean Philippe.

Julian Serrano, a native of Madrid was the former executive chef at Picasso at Bellagio. He has gone back to his roots of Spanish cuisine and has done a fine job. Definitely a restaurant to revisit as there are many other interesting tapas to be tried.