Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Asia De Cuba: Not Asian, Very Californian

I really admire people who can blog once a week. Kudos. My love to eat should match my love to write. Two months to produce a post isn't too bad? Or is it?

Here it is, two months later, my Asia De Cuba review. It will be my first BOB review. BOB stands for Bloggers on a Budget. Asia De Cuba is far from a bargain, but I went during DineLA Week (yes, two months ago, shhhh) and it was a bargain. I tried two appetizers, three entrees and three desserts for $57. Wow! Talk about celeb dining on a pleb budget.

Asia De Cuba is located inside the posh Mondrian Hotel, which is located on the ulta-hip section of Sunset Blvd. It's rumored to be Britney's favorite hotel. Celebrity sightings are common here. The food is okay, it's suppose to be "fusion". It's more about the ambiance than the food. Also, I went during DineLA week, so I'm not going to be too harsh. 3 for the food, 5 for the ambiance, Asia De Cuba gets a solid 4.

Onto the food! Appetizers were the Tunapica, a tuna tartare prepare picadillo style and Lemongrass Skewered Chicken in a coconut chili marinade, served with grilled pineapples and lychees. A+ for presentation (pictured below), the chicken was my favorite dish of the night, very flavorful. Tunapica was nothing special, I've had better tuna tartare elsewhere.

The food got worse from there. I was disappointed with the main courses. First was the best, Miso Cured Alasken Butterfish atop black beans and edamame salad with Tempura shisito pepper (pictured below). The miso cured white fish (in this case, Butterfish) is so overly done, it's not special anymore. I felt I could've found this dish at a dozen other places, just down the street. Edamame does not taste good to me out of the pod. I don't know why, I love picking them from the pod, but they taste like lima beans when served this way.

The next two entrees were utterly forgettable and better versions could be found at Black Angus. They were the Grilled Strip Steak with calabaza melon slaw in citrus ginger soy and Cuban BBQ Chicken, served with coconut sticky rice, tamarind sauce and fruit salsa. Both were bland, both were boring. Chicken was well-cooked but the marinade could've come from a jar, as far as I could tell. Pics are below.

The dinner took an upturn for dessert. Wow. Desserts were fabulous to behold and not bad to taste. My favorite were the Mexican donuts (only because the presentation was beautiful and they came to the table warm) but the Cuban Opera cake and fruit sorbet were good too. Next time, I'll order the appetizers and dessert and just enjoy the ambiance.

Here's the happy group of foodies outside the hotel. :)

Asia de Cuba on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ga Kho - Vietnamese Braised Chicken

Ga Kho picture from Sundaynitedinner

Ga Kho will kick off my month-long crockpot recipes. Why the crockpot? Well, I'm a cook, aspiring to be a chef, and to a cook, the crockpot is their best friend. Food tastes better when it's cooked slower and the crockpot allows for slow cooking with minimal effort. Everything comes out so moist and flavorful. I love it.
My inspiration for this recipe comes from Ravenous Couple, a blog filled with great Vietnamese recipes and pictures. Ga Kho means braised chicken in Vietnamese and this is a very easy, simple dish made with common ingredients. Traditionally it's suppose to be made in a clay pot but my version is in a crock pot. There's less caramelization, but the result is so tender and flavorful. It's well-worth the time.
Ga Kho

1 lb skinless boneless chicken thigh or leg
4 tsp fish sauce
3 tblsp brown sugar
2 tblsp garlic
salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 can, 8 ou. young coconut juice
3 tblsp caramel sauce
1/2 jalepeno, seeded
1. Marinade chicken with fish sauce, brown sugar, garlic, salt and pepper. Marinade for at least an hour, the longer, the better.
2. Heat oven to high broil, place tray on top slot, so it's 5 inches from the oven coil. Place marinated chicken on sheets and broil in oven. Time varies on the cut of the chicken, usually 3-4 mins on each side. Broil until there's a nice crisp caramelization ontop the chicken, sprinkle brown sugar on chicken to give a better caramelization, but be careful, it may burn.
3. Place semi-broiled chicken in crockpot, try to get all the scraping too. Add coconut juice, jalepeno and caramel. Heat on low for 3-4 hours, chicken is finished when it's cooked through. Check to make sure by piercing the thickest part, the juice should run clear. You may want to flip the chicken over once while it's cooking.
4. Turn crockpot off and keep chicken inside to keep warm. Remove the drippings into a small sauce pan. Place on stove and heat on high until liquid is boiling, then reduce to low heat. Reduce the liquid down to your preferred consistency, usually 15 mins. I like to add another tblsp of caramel and cornstarch to quicken the thickening process.
5. Pour thicken sauce ontop the chicken. Serve with rice and garnish with basil leaves.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Renu Nakorn, Northern Thai in Downey

I have mixed feeling about Renu Nakorn. I hosted a meetup here in July and the food was good. However I revisted the place a few weeks ago and it was one of the worst meals I had all year.

The Good
Renu Nakorn got rave reviews, most notably from Jonathan Gold, who consistently puts Renu Nakorn on his 99 Essential list every year. The owners are the same owners that started Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, a well-known hangout for chefs, after hours. I hosted a meetup and they did not disappoint, everyone said they had a great meal.

We started with coconut soup (pictured below), it was thick and delicious. I appreciate a good coconut soup. Next was the BBQ beef with sticky rice, which was not as good as Thai Palms. I like how the sticky rice were served in bamboo bowls, very Thai.

The main courses, the Omelet with Mussels was similar to the one served at Simbala in that it had rice flour. It was atop a bed of bean sprouts. It tasted good although the slimy rice flour is off putting. Their scallop panang had perfectly cooked scallops and was sweeter than most curry. It was delicious, my favorite dish here.

For dessert, we had fried bananas with coconut ice cream. It was the perfect ending to a great meal. There were few misses with this visit.

Omelet with Mussels

The Bad
I enjoyed the meal so much that I made an impromptu visit months later. I forgotten what their specialties were and I ordered what looked good, it was a bad mistake.

It started with the most watered-down Thai iced coffee I ever tasted. How can anyone mess up Thai iced coffee? It was the worst I ever had.
The meal started with Drunken Noodle with Seafood. It tasted okay but the seafood consisted of two mussels, two shrimps and a slice of fishcake. The noodles were mushy and clumpled together. I don't like that. Although it tasted okay, it was not appealing at all. I could've made this at home.

Next was the Kang Hung Lay, pork stew Northern style. It had chunks of pork with slabs of fat and skin attached to it. The sauce was similar to Japanese/Korean brown curry and tasted heavily of cumin and coriander. The dish was not for me. I don't know why it gets the acclaim it does, it tastes like sub par curry to me.

The Ugly
I'm not surprised that the Northern Thai menu at Renu Nakorn gets so much acclaim from other critics, most Thai restaurants cater to Americans and serve Palace-style Thai food. However I disagree, I did not like anything from the Northern Thai menu. The two dishes I didn't care for on my first visit were the two red curries from the Northern menu. They were watery, more like a soup, and not flavorful as traditional Thai curries. I reviewed the Kang Hung Lay above and it unappealing to say the least. 

I'll have to try Renu Nakorn a few more times before I decide to write it off forever. One thing I have noticed is they cook their seafood perfectly and that is an art. But after my last visit, I promptly took it off my favorites list. The clumped noodles and watered-down coffee was inexcusable.

Renu Nakorn's Northern Thai menu

Renu Nakorn on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 18, 2009

Jitlada Part Two: The Advanced Guide

Earlier, I wrote a post for the beginner's guide to Jitlada. Almost half a year later, I've finally completed the advanced diner's guide to Jitlada. What makes me an expert? Well, I eat with two, native, Thai foodies who order the  most authentic dishes. They also host a monthly Jitlada dinner. I've been there five times and it only gets better ever time.

Jitlada has really become an LA sensation. It used to be a hole-in-the-wall that was only busy Thurs night through Sunday night. Now, it can be packed on a Tues night. The reason being, it is the best Thai food in LA, if not the world. 

This review is for the spicier, more unusual dishes from their acclaimed Southern menu. It's not for everyone, and to be honest, none of these dishes are my fave. But I'm glad I tried them and I got to experience authentic Southern Thai cuisine.

Pumpkin Lamb Curry - I highly recommend this dish, it's a good "doorway" dish into spicier southern Thai food. The curry (highly flavored in tumeric) overwhelms the tender pieces of lamb (which is good because lamb meat is too gamey for me). The pumpkin adds an unusual texture and mutes some of the spiciness. (pictured below)

Knanom jun naam yaa - rice vermicelli in yellow fish curry, it is served with an assortment of vegetables. This was the spiciest dish I ate at Jitlada. I warned earlier not to order spicy level 5. It's because of this dish, it literally made me cry, twice (haha). It wasn't particularly tasty but if you want genuinely spicy Thai food, this dish is for you.

Puu pen phla - raw blue crab with lemongrass, mint and chile. This is an unusual dish, it mostly tastes of the chile and lemongrass, the raw crab flavors only peeps through. Since it's raw, the flesh is gummy, rather than firm. I don't care for raw crab so I didn't like this dish, but it's delicious to eat on top of rice.

Here's some pictures I didn't post last time:

Fried Soft Shell Crab

Steamed Mussels

Thai Custard

Here's a pic of our monthly Jitlada group. If you'd like to join us, click on the link for more info, it's free.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Saladang Song Leaves Me in Perfect Harmony

Song means "two" in Thai, so English equivalent to Saladang Song is Saladang 2. Saladang 1, or just Saladang is next door. Why would you have two restaurants next to each other? I don't know but their menu says, "Have you ever heard Siamese twins sing a duet?" I haven't but it must be an exquisite sound indeed.

Song's space is beautiful, if not the most beautiful space for a Thai restaurant. The outdoor patio's ironwork cast beautiful shadows in the sunset. Inside diners are offered a lovely view from their large glass windows. Proudly displayed near their entrance is their 1998 James Beard award for best restaurant design.


Not only is it the most beautiful, but it is arguably the most unique and tasty Thai restaurant I've been to. The menu offers ecletic, exotic dishes that I've never seen before (and trust me, being part of a Thai Foodies meetup, I've been to A LOT of Thai restaurants). I recommend going with a large group so you can taste various dishes, as one dish didn't impress me, but rather the consistant flow of good dishes. Here's a rundown of what we ordered:

Yum-ta-lay - seafood combination on a bed of mixed greens (pictured below) This dish wasn't as exotic as the others but it was delicious. The seafood was fresh and the sauces was tasty.  It was my favorite.

Tod-mon-kao-pohd - sweet corn fritters served with cucumber salad (pictured below). This was an interesting, fun dish. The fritters had whole kernals of corn and served as a crunchy pancake. It was surprisingly good, as the corn kernals exploded with flavor.

Ka-nom-jeen-gang-kiew-wann - Rice vermicelli with fish balls in green curry. The presentation of the dish was beautiful and the curry was very flavorful, no fishiness from the fish balls. I didn't care for the taste of the vermicelli much, I'd prefer rice, but it made for a beautiful presentation.

Gang-kiew-wann - green curry with eggplant, basil and chicken. This was a more recognizable green curry but with the addition of the delicious eggplant. It complemented the curry very nicely, as it added a softer texture, while the green curry had a good, spicy kick to it. Delicious.

Nam-prik Saladang Song - kiwi fruit paste served with vegetable for dipping and grilled salmon. This was a beautiful dish, as there was a large assortment of vegetables available for dipping. However, I didn't care for the salmon (I don't like cooked salmon) and I thought their salmon was overcooked and dry. However, I've never seen this dish before, so I give credit for creativity.

Pad See lew - of course, what's a Thai restaurant without Pad See Lew and Pad Thai? It did seem out of place here, as everything else was so exotic, but I'm sure they try to appease their customers by offering two old stand-bys. Chris loves Pad See Lew, so I've had it at every restaurant we've been to (I should do a Pad See Lew Throwdown) and Saladang Song's is the second best Pad See Lew I've had. I liked how the rice noodles were perfectly cooked, not mushy, and every noodle was separate and retained its shaped.

There was one more dish whose name I forgot but it was exceptional. It was a mild curry, resembling panang, but it had whole grapes and seafood in it. The grapes and seafood paired beautifully, the grapes added sweetness to the rich curry and delicate seafood. I wish I could remember the name, hopefully the wait staff will know what I'm talking about next time I want to order it. 

Overall, it was a great night; the weather was perfect, the group was jovial, and the food was great. I can't wait to come back and try their breakfast menu. My only caution is it's pricey but you're paying for the ambiance. The service was a bit surly, there seemed to be a language barrier, yet the manager seemed concerned about our party's happiness. I recommend making reservations, as the restaurant was packed on a Saturday night.

Saladang Song on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cha-Chaa Thai in North Hollywood

Thai Town may officially be in Hollywood, where Thai restaurants abound However many of the restaurant workers, chefs and owners do not live in Hollywood, instead they migrated to North Hollywood, creating a 2nd Thai Town along a section on Sherman Way. Cha-Chaa is one of these restaurants. It's located in a non-descript strip mall, along with a handful of Armenian stores. It's recognizable by the large bowl jutting out of it's sign.

I really like the food here. It's not pure Thai food, it's more a fusion of Thai and Chinese. However the dishes are excellent.

Above: Beef with Brocolli. Below: Pork Belly with Chinese Brocolli.

My favorite dish is the spicy fried catfish. Their pork belly with Chinese Brocolli is excellent too.

Above: Seafood Soup

Prices are very reasonable, especially with their coupons, this week their smoothies are $1.50 with their coupon. I like the atmosphere and staff. It's a very cozy place. Overall, it's my second favorite Thai place in North Hollywood, second only to Krua Thai.

Cha Chaa on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 26, 2009

Wurstkuche Restaurant

Wurstkuche, which means sausage kitchen in German, is a non-descript place near the regentrified portion of 3rd Street in Downtown LA. It's across the street from Zip Sushi and e3rd Steakhouse. It is surrounded by warehouses (or what used to be warehouses, now are converted lofts). There's a very industrial feel to the place.

My recommendation is to come for the beer. They've got German and Belgian beers on tap, very uncommon in LA. Pictured below is the Bitburger on tap, cost is around $5.

Beer is a bit pricey, as expected for German and Belgian beer. Chris got the Aventinus for $11 and it was nothing special. They do have German wines and other unusual drinks, such as Elderflower soda.

Of course, being a "sausage kitchen" I had to taste a bratwurst or two. They do have an unusual selection of sausages on their menu, such as buffalo, alligator and rattlesnake. We weren't so adventurous, we opted for the Bratwurst and the Hot Italian with sweet peppers (pictured below). They were good, Bratwurst was standard fare, good Bratwurst is hard to find in LA. Hot Italian was tasty. My companion mentioned the vegetarian sausage was the best she's ever tasted. I recommend getting a side of Belgian fries with blue cheese walnut bacon dipping sauce.

Pic by Chris Walters.

My only complaint about this place is that it's pricey. There's no happy hour. But it is free parking and I'm already thinking about those Belgian fries. They were delicious.

Wurstküche on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jitlada: Crowning Gem in Thai Town

Who doesn't love Jitlada? Jitlada is packed. It's a small, family-run, hole-in-the-wall place, but with all the fabulous press its been getting, from Jonathan Gold to Gourmet magazine, everyone and their uncle wants to come here. Be prepared for subpar service, and long waits. It'll be worth it.

Here's my first warning: Southern Thai food is not for everyone! It is super spicy, I recommend a 3 on a 10 spicy scale. Trust me. Try 3 first, then move up, not vice versa. It is very flavorful, a lot of curries and dry spice dishes. There's a lot of seafood. Don't expect dishes like Pad See Ewe.

Here's my beginner menu for the first-time Jitlada visitor. I pick these items because they're universally liked.

Steam Mussels - Trust me. I hate mussels, but these are delish. Bad stuff can be delish if cooked properly. The broth is so good. After finishing the mussels, ladle the broth into a bowl and drink like a soup. It's perfect as an appetizer.

Crispy Morning Glory Salad - The morning glories taste a lot like watercress, it's fried in a delish batter, then topped with a spicy/sour/sweet sauce. It is great, my favorite dish. The morning glories are served with shrimp and other vegetables.

kaeng khew-wan khài "Mang-kon" : green curry with egg-yolk-stuffed fish balls - This curry isn't as spicy as the dry curries. The stuffed fish balls are interesting. I've never seen this dish before, it's unique.

Mango Sticky Rice - I've never had better mango sticky rice anywhere. It's the sauce, it's special. Simply not to be missed.

Pictured below are the Morning Glory Salad and Mango with Sticky Rice. Pics are from Chris Pinoy at Local Thai Food

I recommend getting a Singha, Thai iced coffee or Thai iced tea to wash down the spiciness. It feels so good.

You can read my advanced Jitlada guide here. 

Jitlada Thai on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


How can I do this place justice? As some of you may know, I'm an aspiring foodie. However I have ruined my short lived foodie career by going to Providence. There's no point in trying other places anymore, I'll come here instead!

On to the review... for starters, it's a foodie's paradise. The ambiance is okay, best part is I found free street parking when I looked hard enough. The location is okay, and the decor is decent.

I got their Lyone cocktail, excellent and very strong. Later I got their Pear Martini, which was tasty but not as strong. The Lyone had done the deed, I was flying the entire night.

Amuse Bouche - nut coated wasabi marshmellow and carrot soup with creme. Bread was a bacon brioche, very tasty.

Appetizer - Chowda. My least favorite course. There was a bacon theme that night and while I love bacon as much as the next person, I don't equate it with fine dining. It had whole clams and the broth wasn't too rich. Overall, it would've been a 5+ chowda at any seafood joint, but for Providence, it was a lacking. The best part was the presentation, they pour the cream over the clams, similar to milk to cereal.

Main Course - Halibut and seafood with Thai curry. Along with the bacon theme was a Thai theme in my dinner. This entree was delicious. The halibut and calamari were cooked to perfection. The sauce was perfect, not a typical Thai curry but a more refined version, it didn't overpower the halibut.
Highlight of the evening was I got to try one of my companion's wagyu rib eye, the highest grade of beef available (with the price tag to prove it). To be honest, it tasted like a fillet of cow fat (I have probably jeopardized my fledgling foodie career by saying this). It didn't resemble beef to me at all, the texture was very tender, not like a protein, more like a fat, and it melted in my mouth.

Dessert - Chocolate ganache with peanut butter and beer ice cream. It would've been heavenly for a chocoholic but for me it was a bit overpowering. I preferred my companion's caramalized banana bread with ginger. The bananas were cooked sous vide style, it kept form better than regular frying, which makes the bananas mushy. The best dessert were the Thai caramels served at the end. They were little rolls, like saltwater taffy, but they were infused with Thai curry. A brilliant combination, it was a taste explosion in my mouth.

Overall, the entire experience was amazing. Price was high, but can you put a price tag on a taste of heaven?

Providence on Urbanspoon


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