Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Restaurant Review: Hop Li

It was Chinese New Year Day and to celebrate in the only way I know how to, I ate. Originally, we had plans to drive over to San Gabriel/Monterey Park but laziness got the better of us and our only criterion for a restaurant was proximity. Jessi used her sharp Citysearch skills and found Hop Li in the area.

When we first stepped into the establishment, we all habored doubts about the authenticity of a Chinese restauranted located in a very non-Asianified (commercially speaking but population is another story) area that is West LA. However, as soon as I heard the harsh sounding exchanges in Cantonese, I knew my fears were unfounded. For Chinese New Year's, the restaurant didn't seem very full at all and we were seated right away.

The menu was pretty decent. We weren't looking for any particular dishes so we were content with the generic selection. We ordered the following:

From left to right: (the ubiquitous) hot and sour soup, pan fried beef noodles, Buddha's delight (aka veggie stirfry), prawns and green beans, and variety pot ..thing (ok I've clearly forgotten the name).

Everything was pretty tasty, in short. I don't know if there was any outstanding aspects but the prawns were certainly very tender (which is good). I liked all the medley of vegetables and the fried green beans too.

All in all, I would definitely go back to Hop Li's, not just because it's close but because it's Chinese food done right (enough)!

Price: $10 average for a dish

Rating: 9/10 (The Chineseness in me revels)

Hop Li
10974 W Pico Blvd (Cross Street: Greenfield Avenue)

Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Restaurant Review: Cafe Orleans at Disneyland

Remember when you thought that Disneyland was the greatest place on earth and that everything in that park was wonderous beyond words? I do. Yes, I remember last Saturday well.

Before I go into the actual details of the restaurant, let me talk, nay, complain a little about the economy of visiting the Happiest Place on Earth. First of all, tickets are now a steep $60 if you're over 10 years old and only $10 cheaper for children between 3 to 9. Secondly, it is almost humanly impossible to spend a whole day at the park without giving in to buying at least of their
food items from a cart. $3 a churro, $4 a cup of frozen lemonade--resistance is futile. Personally, I was suckered into buying a $3.75 Mickey shaped ice cream sandwich. (The weather was especially warm when we went). Must we become fat and poor at once?! With all that said, the ice cream was actually fan-fricking-tastic. Had I been younger and more naive, I would have hesitated at the idea of biting into Mickey Mouse's head. But now that I am older and less compassionate to adorable icons, I had no problem consuming Mickey's sweet, chocolatey face. Mmm icon.

For dinner, we ate in the New Orleans region at Cafe Orleans. Congruent with the rest of the theme of the park, the restaurant was very family friendly. Many a times I have wished that I could still order the kid's meals for their creative names, various side dishes and naturally, the toys. Sadly, this was not a day that I indulged in childish whims. Here is the adult foods we ordered:

From left to right: chicken caesar salad, crab salad roll and grilled prawn salad. I ordered the crab salad roll, which was actually quite good. Maybe it wasn't original but there was plenty of avocado to keep me happy. (Plus I was also famished from all the rigorous dodging of baby strollers throughout the day.) Jason had the chicken salad and I think he liked it all right. I've never been a huge fan of salads that you have to cut up yourself but I suppose the preserved whole leaves of romaine give a touch of class...somehow. The prawn salad, however, left something to be desired. There were only 4 shrimpy looking prawns, artfully (to someone's discretion) stabbed onto two small heads of iceberg lettuce. Oh and there was also a ribbon of prosciutto on the plate, laid out with a few halves of cherry tomatoes. Although I didn't taste the dish, I would have to give the creator points for effort but it's hard to avoid the fact that there just wasn't much to eat! Kinda interesting looking but tragically meager is my judgment on the shrimp salad.

As to the question of whether I would go back to Cafe Orleans, I would answer that there are many more mediocre and overpriced restaurants to try before I would return. Although, if find yourself hungry in New Orleans, Disneyland, there is no better place to be than Cafe Orleans.

Rating: 7/10 (Theme parks are surprisingly not epicurean hotspots)

Cafe Orleans (Disneyland)
Anaheim, CA

Restaurant Review: Lemon Moon

In a plaza seemingly containing only office buildings resides Lemon Moon, a quaint breakfast/lunch restaurant. If you're down with name dropping, the eatery was founded by Josiah Citrin and Raphael Lunetta, respectives owners of Melisse and Jiraffe, two much fancier restaurants located around LA.

In its location, Lemon Moon almost looks (and perhaps acts) like a high-class cafeteria to the surrounding office workers, as there were plenty of customers in ties and other business attire. The inside of the restaurant was spacious and there was even a back patio to sit in.

Now, ze food:

3 types of salads: a) corn, mango and shrimp ceviche b) 5 spice chicken c) cubed polenta and mushroom (left) and pulled pork sandwich (right)

I got the salad combo to get a taste of the various flavors Lemon Moon had to offer. You could choose 1, 2 or 3 salads at once among a selection of 15 or so types. The three salads were more than enough for a person's meal, I thought. Now about each of the salads: a) corn/mango/shrimp: delicious! The corn was uncooked and sweet and crunchy. The mangoes were more rare but a fine addition. Shrimp seemed like nothing more than chewy protein but it certainly did make the dish more substantial. All three ingredients were blended with a strong lime flavor, which was very bold, indeed. b) 5 spice chicken: Very good. This salad was obviously concocted with Asian influences, though I don't know which specifically. I also forget the name of the brown vegetable but it has the consistency of bamboo, which I likey. The salad was sort of sweet with a hint of spiciness. c) polenta cubes: Hm. I see lots of recipes with polenta but I've never really tried it before (unless you count the time where I ate a congealed yellow mass from the dorm dining hall). The polenta here was smothered in a goat cheese (I think), which provided most of the flavor. Unfortunately, I was not a huge fan of these dense blocks. I am not sure how one can crave a chunk of cornmeal so tightly compacted. But that is just me. Maybe if the polenta were paired with something very savory. Maybe. Anyway, the pulled pork sandwich was very good. The meat was juicy and tasty. The bun was airy and lightly toasted in a most awesome of ways.

Lemon Moon: a semi-yuppie lunch joint started by chefs of really expensive restaurants- the result? Creative dishes and overall, a very pleasant dining experience. I'll be back, fo' serious.

Rating: 9/10 (Watch out Whole Foods)

Lemon Moon
12200 W. Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Homemade: Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

It's no surprise that every dessert I've made recently contains chocolate. Perhaps it's because of those chocolate cookbooks I received as gifts that have inspired me so. Or the fact that I still have 2 pounds of chocolate left from my overzealous chocolate-shopping over winter break.

Anyhoo, I found the recipe for Chocolate Crinkle Cookies at the Joy of Baking website. I was pretty much sold on just the name alone.

Making the cookies was a pretty straightforward procedure: melt chocolate, beat eggs, combine everything together. The only trick was to refrigerate the dough for at least one hour so that it would be firm enough to scoop up and roll into ball shapes. Once the chocolate dough balls are formed, simply roll them in powdered sugar and bake for 12 minutes or so, at 325 degrees.

The results? Well you can see for yourself in the photo. Erm, not exactly the little snowballs with crackles of chocolate as I had envisioned. They actually resembled more like dried earth covered with a slight dusting of talcum powder. I attribute this to the fact that I did not roll the cookies in enough sugar powder before baking them. The taste? They were okay. I cut back on the sugar a bit in the batter and that could have altered the desired texture and flavor. For some reason, the cookies were actually quite fluffy and almost cake-like. I was expecting more chew in my mind.

Overall, the cookies were decent. They did not satiate a strong craving for a chocolatey dessert and the texture was softer than expected. Nevertheless, I ate them all so I guess that still counts for something.

Recipe Rating: 6.5/10 (Cutting back on sugar? I must be crazy)

[EDIT: I've lowered the rating on the recipe after reading Surafel's comment...and plus I feel like I need to readjust my rating system to make full use of the 1 to 10 scale]

Friday, February 02, 2007

Reading: "Unhappy Meals" article

Recently, the NY Times featured the article "Unhappy Meals", written by Michael Pollan, a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley and author of the book The Omnivore's Dilemma (has anyone read this yet?). It's a pretty interesting piece on the idea of "nutritionism" and how it's taken over our country and molded the way we perceive food--as reduced components of fiber/vitamins/etc that we ingest to cater to specific health advantages. In this notion of eating processed foods with engineered "benefits", we fail to eat just natural foods with no flashy labels touting their health boons. The article points out that studies of diet and health are often flawed in their nature since scientists are forced to study individual components of a food and track their effects when in reality, one component simply cannot paint a full picture of the complex processes inside our bodies. Hence, purported positive consequences of a certain chemical may not perform in reality as claimed by studies. Another interesting point is that large studies of diet habits are sometimes performed via questionnaires, which inevitably risk the chance of people lying their asses off. The thought that a large-scale, biological research effort can derive its results solely from surveys is pretty disconcerting.

So what is the solution to our reliancy on processed foods? The articles suggests eating lots of vegetables and foods in their natural form. The more a food product claims to be healthy, the more doubtful one should be of its validity.

I highly recommend at least reading part of the article for yourself (since it is a bit long). Meanwhile, all this mention of whole foods and returning to nature leads me to think that if I want to extend my life, I should probably just live in a bed of vegetation and also eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Post-graduation trip to the Amazon rainforest, anyone?