Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Homemade: Chocolate Stout Cake (aka Beer cake)

In honor of Christina's birthday, I felt compelled to make a cake that would bring together things we both loved: stout beer (think Guinness) and chocolate. (Note: I heart chocolate but I have yet to form strong opinions about beer.) I found a recipe at www.epicurious.com with fork ratings that were through the roof. In summary, the recipe called for stout, flour (duh), eggs, butter, cocoa powder, baking power, sour cream and sugar. The creation process was pretty simple: 1) mix 2) bake. The cake itself didn't contain a super strong beer flavor but the presence of the added alcohol was noticeable in the aftertaste. The chocolate factor in the cake alone was also moderate (read: not enough for my tastes). Perhaps cocoa powder on its own just isn't potent enough!

Fortunately, the recipe also called for chocolate ganache icing, for which I was more than willing to accomodate. In case you did not know already, chocolate ganache is just melted chocolate thinned out with heavy cream. The cake with ganache was quite good in the end. Maybe it wasn't even the cake. Maybe ganache is just the secret weapon to making anything delicious. All I know is that anything I bake in the future will probably be dipped or thickly encrusted in this glossy goodness. Viva ganache!

Cake rating: 8.5/10 (Not bad, not bad at all)

Ganache rating: 10/10! (My life is now complete)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Restaurant Review: Beacon

A combination of my food blog browsing and a mention by Ravi led me to become interested in Beacon, a "pan-Asian" restaurant in downtown Culver City. (Might I add how many good food places there are in Culver City!)

Even before stepping into the restaurant, I was won over by the free parking spot I found right in front of the store. I know parking has nothing to do with eating but free AND available parking spots are just so rare in these areas that I had give someone credit for it. Anyway, we were seated outside in the back patio (which we can do in LA during this dead of winter season). The menu featured an array of Asian cuisine. Since it was during the lunch hour, there was a good selection of wraps and noodles. Small dishes like edamame and rolls were available for both lunch and dinner.

Here is what we ordered:

From left to right: Beacon roll (cucumber slices wrapped around smoked salmon, crab and avocado), miso cod, bento box (which containted the cod as well as chicken and tuna), seafood curry and avocado salad.

The avocado salad consisted of an entired avocado sliced and placed in a bed of Japanese herbs. The dressing was made with a soy sauce base, which gave a clear reminder of the restaurant's Asian influences. All in all, it was a pretty refreshing salad. I had to order the Beacon roll for at least asthetic purposes but it proved itself in taste as well. The bento box was a pretty good deal. For $15, it featured 3 kinds of meat (cod, chicken and tuna) prepared in 3 different ways! Albeit, the portions were pretty tiny but the variety made up for the lack of bulk. The curry was tasty too thanks to the fresh seafood ingredients (crab, shrimp, mussel (?) and swordfish).

Beacon is a lovely cafe, in short. Sure the food is "fusion" (fusion (n.): ethnic food made for people of other ethnicities) but the fare is well prepared and worth a try!

Price: $ 11 (average lunch entree)

Rating: 9/10 (delicious)

3280 Helms Ave
Los Angeles, California

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Restaurant Review: Le Village Buffet at Paris Hotel

How could I go to Vegas and not go to a buffet? Why, that would be ridonkulous! With only one meal allotted to gratuitous feasting, we decided to go to the Le Village buffet at Paris. We narrowed down the difficult selection with all the rave reviews we had heard from our friends about that particular restaurant. Let me just say now that the praise was indeed warranted.

The decor was that of a fair weathered day in a French village. It was completely adorable except that the entire waitstaff was forced to dress in village-people costumes, which was milding amusing for everyone but the people donning the suits. The food was mostly French-themed (surprise!) and much of it contained meat, and tasty meat at that. Seafood dishes were aplenty too-crab, shrimp, salmon...etc. The salad bar was complete with many grilled vegetables in stock. There is not much to say but endless deliciousness. For me, the highlight was definitely the dessert selection. Firstly, the crepe station was too awesome for words. Kristen and I ordered up the classic Nutella/banana combination and even for two people the crepe seemed too large. The dessert station was also amazing and I will just let the following photos speak for themsevles:

mmmmm. I can't say any of the sweets stood out in particular but they were certainly all fabulous and if I hadn't been so greedy in eating everything else, I probably could have actually finished even one of them.

Price: $25 (Saturday night dinner)

Rating: 9.4/10 (delicious)

Le Village
Paris Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada
(I am getting a little lazy with the addresses)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Restaurant Review: Fabiolus Cafe

So far I have pretty much rated every restaurant I've written about with exuberants statements of love (which were all genuine) but to the credit of my critical side, here is a restaurant that I didn't wholeheartedly adore. It's called The Fabiolus Cafe and first of all, with a name like that, you best be fabulous or just sort of vain. You can already guess that I'm leaning towards the latter. Originally, we were hoping to go to Osteria La Buca, a cute little Italian restaurant across the street but sadly, it was filled up and we had no reservations. Hence, Fabiolus was the next best thing in the area. In contrast to the previous restaurant, seating was no problem here. Apparently, Fabiolus Cafe is a bit of a small chain, with one location on Melrose (that we visited) and another on Sunset. Interestingly enough, even though the restaurant did not yet have a liquor license, their placemats were printed with all the regions of Italy and the respectives wines they produce.


Left to right: spicy tomato sauce/eggplant/smoked mozarella, sundried tomato gnocchi, and vegetable risotto.
Aruna and I shared the pasta and risotto, while Cindy had the gnocchi. The eggplant pasta was quite good actually. The gnocchi was a success too- soft on the inside and smothered in sundried flavor on the exterior. However, the lowpoint came from the risotti. I have no qualms about the vegetables and of which there were plenty. But the rice, which were soggy on the outside and dried and rigid on the inside, supplied the bulk of the disappointment. I did attempt the rice numerous times but each time I was defeated but the roughness of the texture. Ultimately, I ate all the vegetables and left most of the dish with the grains of undecisive mushiness.

So I guess the food wasn't terrible but any means, but from my single experience I wouldn't recommend the vegetable risotto is all.

PS. The bread was crunchy and fun to eat.

Price: $12 (plate of pasta)

Rating: 6.8/10 (I could eat this again)

The Fabiolus Cafe
5255 Melrose Ave
Hollywood, CA

Restaurant Review: Fritto Misto

Anuj had mentioned Fritto Misto some time ago in all sorts of praises and such. Being someone who loves hype almost as much as food, I felt obliged to go. The restaurant's building was fairly low-key. The inside, however, was bustling. Several guests were in line to be seated and the wait staff was in constant motion through the maze of little tables. The restaurant wasn't big but every space was used to its maximum potential.

From just the smell alone, I knew the food was going to be some kind of good:

From top to bottom rows, left to right: lobster ravioli, pesto chicken ravioli, black linguine and salmon, fritto misto, and spicy chicken ravioli.
We started with the fritto misto, was was essentially a melange of vegetables and seafood dipped in batter and fried to a state of indescribable deliciousness (okay I may be exaggerating but fried goods overtake my senses like no other!). Yet, the items were not overcooked and the dipping sauces were excellent accompaniments. I tried a small piece of the lobster ravioli and it tasted like the lobster was fresh out of the ocean (I'm sorry if you love animals and this imagery just makes you sad and hateful towards us who eat all of God's creatures). The other two chicken raviolis were hearty and satisfying as well. Now I will discuss the black linguine. Anuj and I decided to share this dish, which was a special that night, because neither of us could resist the prospect of salmon and fresh tomato dressing. Did I mention that the noodles were black? Yes, I was most intrigued! (Wow, I really need to curb the enthusiasm). Honestly, the noodles tasted no different than any other pasta but their color certainly lended a kind of unexpected contrast to the presentation. To unravel the mystery (if this is one for you), the noodles were colored with squid ink. Ingenious, I say. Overall, the black linguine was wonderful and the fresh basil/tomato combination continues to blow my mind.

Fritto Misto, we shall meet again.

Price: $13 (average price for plate of pasta)

Rating: 9.5/10 (delicious+)

Fritto Misto
601 Colorado Ave
Santa Monica, CA

Monday, January 15, 2007

Restaurant Review: Pizzeria Mozza

If you are familiar with the food blog network in the greater LA region (which, since you have a life, I can assume you are not), you would know that Mozza is all the rage in the category of new restaurants. Naturally, we had to find out for ourselves what the hype was all about. Mozza is founded by Nancy Silverton (who co-founded La Brea bakery) and Mario Batali (who wears hideous orange clogs and oozes smug every he goes, and maybe talent too). The famous restauranteurs behind the establishment could be one reason as to why Mozza was filled to capacity (albeit small as it was) at 3pm on a Monday afternoon. Nancy Silverton, herself, was actually on site and moving about in the area behind the counter where the pizza ovens were located. I could not see what she was up to but even if all she did was eat the leftover pizza toppings, I think we were all impressed by just the presence of a celebrity store owner.

The interior of the restaurant, as I mentioned before, was small in floor space but comparatively large in the vertical sense. The high ceilings only further added to the high-end-take-on-low-end-food ambience. To offset the snottiness a bit, each placemat was different and each had a different print of something causal, like comics or diagrams of common Italian gestures.

And now, food:

From first row, left to right: salumi salumi and chilies pizza, squash blossoms and burrata pizza (looking a bit charred), egg, anchovies and radicchio pizza, fennel sausage pizza and prisciutto di parma pizza.

So I guess the main point of interest is: how good can pizza get? I mean most people at least like pizza so the question is not a matter of if Mozza pizza is good to eat but rather if there is enough value in eating a $15 pizza, however unusual the toppings are. And to that end, I say the Mozza pizza is an excellent experience though it does not shame me into never eating cheaper Italian food again. In fact, the Domino's three pizzas for $5 each deal is pretty hard to top. Though Mozza's pizza crust was deliciously chewy and the tomato sauces were full of flavor. I'd never had squash blossoms before but they added a welcomed texture. The burrata (cheese made from mozzarella and cream) was soft and melty in a pleasant sort of way.

All in all, I really did like Mozza. Comfortable atmosphere plus good Italian food is a winning combination. But if I just wanted pizza, I would probably choose a more affordable place with no need to call ahead for reservations.

Price: ~$20 (just pizza + tax and tip)

Rating: 9.2/10 (delicious)

Pizzeria Mozza
641 N. Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Homemade: Vegan Chocolate Cake

Have you ever wondered if rich and moist chocolate cake could be made without inherent evils like butter? Embracing the hippie-eat-organic culture of Berkeley, William and I braved the creation of a vegan chocolate cake. He found a recipe online that promised such a moist cake sans eggs and butter. In their place, the recipe called for egg substitute and apple sauce. The assembly of the cake was not particularly challenging, unless you consider throwing stuff in a bowl and mixing it a mental workout.

Three minutes of rigorous mixing and 50 minutes of baking at 325 degrees, our low-fat, cow-byproduct-free cake was ready. Before I go into the taste aspect, let me tell you that the cake was indeed moist. And from sheer appearance, you could not tell it contained no dairy. But oh the taste. I don't even know how to describe it! It was sweet for one but not derivative of the bittersweet flavor of chocolate that one would expect. The combination of the apple sauce in the addition to the egg substitute (that was mostly water, soy and plum concentrate?!?!) lended the cake to take on a most unnatural sweetness that was reminiscint of fruit (shockingly). After several bites of the cake, the taste began to grow on me but in no way did I ever believe that I was eating a chocolate cake. I guess the cake simply wasn't satisfying. Perhaps it's because I missed the fat too much. Regardless of how many calories a non-vegan chocolate cake may contain (and I don't want to know), at least you know the guilt is accompanied by a scrumptious and satiating bite of chocolatey goodness.

Lesson learned: Vegan food is not real food (to me).

Recipe rating: 4/10 (I've made a huge mistake) <--(non-vegan) brownie points if you get this reference

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Restaurant Review: Ramblas Tapas

In yet another effort to leave San Jose, we headed to the Mission District of
SF. In an area dense with Mexican food and other ethnic eats, we randomly chose to eat at Ramblas, a Spanish tapas restaurant.

The interior was pleasant and the walls were adorned with art by Spanish artists. Or at least just Picasso--that much I did recognize. Before ordering any food, we celebrated the Spanish culture by ordering a large pitcher of sangria. I have never been to Spain before, but I imagine the sangria just flows like water over there.

And now, the food:

From left to right: wild mushroom paella with sage and butternut squash, fried potatoes w/spicy sauce and Spanish tortilla.

The potatoes were fried to a good crispness and the accompanying sauce was contained a good amount of savoriness/hotness. The Spanish tortilla was stuffed with potatoes and tasted very good as well, though I don't remember the flavor. Finally, the piece de resistance of the meal was no doubt the mushroom paella. Firstly, the rice was just right. Next, the sage and squash served as wonderful additions--sage infused a delicious aroma and the squash added a nice hearty texture. Mmm. I could eat me some of that paella right now.

As tapas often are, those at Ramblas were tasty but petite. Nevertheless, I wouldn't hesitate to go back again.

Price: ~$17 (+tip and tax and Sangria!)

Rating: 9.5/10 (delicious+)

Ramblas Tapas
557 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA

Monday, January 01, 2007

Restaurant Review: Chez Panisse

Chez Panisse. If you are a foodie then this name might probably register with you pretty quickly. Whatever the case is, Chez Panisse is a prominent restaurant in Berkeley that was started by Alice Waters, the so-called mother of Californian cuisine. Several well established chefs have once served in the illustrious kitchen of Chez Panisse, which just goes to show you that the landmark restaurant is an ideal starting point for a fruitful career in the food industry (read: cha-ching!).

Liz K. called to make reservations exactly one month before the date of our much anticipated dinner. Seating is very limited in the almost cottage-like structure of the restaurant and spots are known to fill up fast. To guesstimate, I would say that the maximum capacity of the dining is no more than 40 seats! We sat close to the open kitchen that displayed the dedicated staff in their snug workplace. The combination of the restaurant's construction, atmosphere and lighting created a warm, homey environment--as if you were in fact not dining out but eating a home-cooked meal at your aunt Mabel's country cottage. That is if aunt Mabel also charged you $$$$ for her nightly prix-fixe menu. Yes the meal was not cheap to say the least, so you could imagine my pre-dinner fasting and grand expectations for the food.

To enhance the eating experience (like the bill needs further inflation!), we ordered some wine. I only mention this because we were all amused by the description of the pinot noir given by the server, which included words like "flovuhry" and "urrthy" and "long feeneesh". I should note that he was French and I just wanted to type those words as I phonetically heard them.

On with the food:

From left to right, top row first: savoy cabbage wrapped around some rice concoction (Anuj's vegetarian entree in place of the chicken), poached chicken, smoked trout salad, dungeness crab pasta, and chocolate dessert. My favorite dish was definitely the pasta. Few simple foods are better than fresh pasta and the addition of the crab meat was a fine supplement in both texture and taste. The lemon sauce was refreshing to boot. Our only complaint was the slight bitter taste that came from the presence of lemon pith. To be perfectly frank, as much as I enjoyed the chicken entree, I felt that it could have been more flavorful. Returning to the principle of cooking only with the freshest ingredients in season, the restaurant was in no violation of the rule for preparing the chicken for the way it did. I guess I would have just preferred the dish to be bolder in various ways. The dessert was a classic chocolate souffle served with a scoop of ice cream. The cake was cooked to the perfect degree of doneness (set on the outside and soft within) but the outstanding factor came from the cherry ice cream. After eating the largest pieces of the dessert, I was tempted to hold the plate to my face and lick it to a complete finish. But I resisted. Because I am a lady, godammit.

All in all, I can see all the reasons for why Chez Panisse is as highly acllaimed as it is. As Liz mentioned, you can tell that the food was prepared by people who really love to cook because you can taste it in the dishes. I could not ask for a lovelier meal in a cozier location, really I can't. But sadly, I do not think I can afford the price of eating in such luxury often. So for that reason, I may not return to the restaurant anytime soon.

Rating: 9.2/10 (delicious +)

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California 94709