Sunday, May 27, 2012

800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza: Hot Spot for Good Reason

Adam Fleischman, mastermind behind the fast-growing Umami empire, has a perfect recipe for success in portfolio diversifying 800 Degrees: a restaurant that combines a quick service concept (assembly line style), with fresh and tasty ingredients, mass customization in a rugged individualist increasingly personalization-crazed culture, and given its offerings - the perfect location right by UCLA (what budget conscious college student doesn't love pizza + alcohol in an affordably hip space?)

The assembly-line customization concept has been compared by many to Chipotle - but while that comparison is apt with respect to unexpectedly high quality and some amount of customization - Subway would be a better comparison in terms of format (quality is obviously much higher at 800 Degrees).  You go through a line, starting with a bread/pizza dough, then pick your fill/toppings from an 'open bar' of sorts. At 800 Degrees you can start with a basic plain pizza starting from $5.15 (marinara), then build on that by taking your pick of more than two dozen toppings at $1 each.

800 Degrees uses fresh produce, mozzarella and even slices their own meats - a machine is on display at the far end of the queue.
While you are in line to pay, the pizza has gone into the namesake wood-fired oven (high heat at 800 Degrees so your pizza cooks in about a minute!).  By the time you've selected your drink (beer, wine, and soft drinks at the sleek soda fountain or originally sounding bottled drinks from pineapple soda to Ramune, that Japanese soda with a marble in it), and finished paying for your meal, your pizza is ready to go and you can take it to the nearest open table in the self-service seating area!
Aside from the create-your-own pizzas, 800 Degrees also has a few classic pre-packaged combos on the menu - as I was starving, and I guess quite predictably, I went for the Tartufo ($11.65) with truffle cheese, roasted mushrooms, caramelized garlic, arugula. The interesting thing about this pizza is that there is no tomato, and they use huge chunks of caramelized garlic that are incredibly soft - melt in your mouth like the ones they make for the "Bagna Calda" at The Stinking Rose, but much sweeter.  And you'd expect that pungent garlic to overwhelm everything else - but the truffle cheese shines through, very fragrant and the arugula is added after the pie is pulled out of the oven, so that it's still nice and fresh, great texture to counterbalance the melted toppings underneath.  And the crust?  Beautifully crisped outside, soft, warm and yieldy on the inside - with a lovely smoky char.  Is it the best pizza I've ever had? No but it's possibly the best for that price and speed of service. And it fed two averaged sized asian girls - dorkyfoodie and I that night.

Aside from pizza, 800 Degrees also offers some very affordable (burrata) salads and tasty side dishes. Dorkyfoodie got a side of Broccolini ($5) roasted with garlic, Calabrian chiles and olive oil. Roasted in that beautiful wood-fired oven for a deliciously intoxicating smokiness. It was actually a huge serving for the price - and again very fresh tasting and flavorful.

All in all, 800 Degrees is turning the heat up on good eats in Westwood - the lucky students at UCLA (and those who work/ live / attend events in the area) are no longer relegated to the 'utilitarian', quantity over quality, eat-to-live restaurant chains - in that mid-tier price point anyway - of yesteryear. 

Next time I have occasion to be back in Westwood, and am armed with patience to find parking, will be back to 800 Degrees for the affordable, quality quick pizza!!

800 Degrees Pizza
10889 Lindbrook Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90024
Ph: 424.239.5010
Parking: Limited street meters on Lindbrook


800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 26, 2012

1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings and Sweepstakes

Deals and sweepstakes uncovered this week! Click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :) Happy grazing!

  • Providence - June may just be the best time of the year for foodies!!!  Why?  Because it's Providence's anniversary - this year, their 7th - which means their amazing deal of an anniversary menu is back: 5-courses for $75!!!  All through the month of June!!! Book now through OpenTable or by calling restaurant - credit card required to hold reservation.

  • Momed - $60 for up to $120 dinner for two with bottle of wine. Deal from Google Offers (~3 days left to buy)
  • West restaurant - $75 for $104 7-course Farewell to Foie Bourbon Dinner.  Deal at Thrillist Rewards (deal ends 6/7/12 dine by 6/30/12) 
  • Gusto - $65 for $120 3-course dinner for two with wine (~2 days left to buy) Deal at Travelzoo LA
    • Skyy Vodka - win 4-day trip for two to Turks and Caicos (ends 6/30/12 11:59pm ET). 

    This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


    To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

    1MB On Film: Movie Review: Joyful Reunion

    Official movie synopsis:

    People once said, love is like flavour; once you have a taste of it, you will never forget.
    Wa'er's Father runs a well-known vegetarian restaurant in Hangzhou. Wa'er herself is a successful manager of a luxurious health resort. Her boyfriend, Zhang Quan, is a computer game designer from Taipei, who loves Wa'er but spends too much time in the virtual world. Zhang Quan's auntie, Apple, raised him like her own son. She's squandering her life in alcohol and nightclubs due to loneliness. In order to help his auntie get her life back on track, Zhang Quan takes her back to Hangzhou, which is also her hometown. Apple's arrival causes quite a stir in Zhang Quan and Wa'er's lives. After one incident, the tension between Wa'er and Zhang Quan explodes. The father is secretly planning on closing the restaurant due to his illness. Wa'er and her sister Xiao Lan decide to help their father fight the disease and keep the restaurant. Apple finds out the answer to the secret that she has kept for over fifty years. Because of the restaurant, the relationships of the two generations intertwines and bonds again.

    [Synopsis courtesy of the Berlin International Film Festival]

    Last week, I was excited to attend the US debut of Joyful Reunion, held on closing night of the LA Asian Film Fest at the CRV Cinemas in Koreatown. 

    Marketing it as the sequel to Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman was both necessary as an audience draw, and unfortunate in bringing its downfall for many, in my opinion. Joyful Reunion really only has the loosest ties to the first film in that they both use food as a centrifugal force and canvas for main characters to express suppressed emotion. Without the deft hand, quick wit and insightful commentary of the first, Joyful Reunion is not artful masterpiece, but not every movie has to be.  I found this one moving and entertaining nonetheless.  The cinematic equivalent of a surprisingly satisfying vegetarian meal, depending on your expectations going into it.

    It definitely ruined my makeup, for good reason.  I loved the movie on many levels, despite some major narrative and character development flaws. 

    It's only human to perceive the world through the lens of personal experience.  For me the film was all about the one woman.  I don't know if it was because I could see her as a Ghost of Christmas Future of sorts, or her character appealed as the most complex and best developed - more revelatory like a dragonfruit or rambutan than her namesake common household fare - but Apple was my favorite character in the movie. So I write this review with her as my focus.

    You see what she is about in sections - in Taipei, Hangzhou: pre-dinner, Hangzhou: flashback and Hangzhou: post dinner - with vast differences in how she sees herself versus how each of the other characters see her, and each section leaves you with a different aftertaste.

    When Apple first appears, you want to scorn everything about her - she's a 60-something dancing by herself in a tragi-comically vibrant outfit complete with ridiculous headphones at a club packed with 20-somethings, a club where she also drinks too much and flirts with a bartender who she's made her pseudo-family, who keeps and heats up leftovers in a lunchbox for her to eat at the counter. Her apartment is in as much disrepair as her life - clothes, even bras strewn everywhere in plain view for her nephew Zhang to see.  She goes against everything Asian kids know and expect of maternal figures: she doesn't care where Zhang sleeps, spends all night drinking and is still slurring words by morning.  She's a mess, and in a reversal of roles, it's her 30-something nephew Zhang Quan who must extract her from the toxic environment and persuade her to get her life back on track.

    Zhang brings his train wreck aunt back to Hangzhou - where she also grew up - to meet his girlfriend Wa'er, and Apple is no more likeable there either. The overly vocal out of towner with crazy clown hair, when at a meal at Wa'er's father's beautiful, zen-like fine dining all vegetarian restaurant loudly critiques everything from the ridiculousness of a meatless restaurant, to portion size, to the 'fuss' taken with presentation and service. Vegetables, she says, are for poor people who couldn't afford anything else during the war.  She crashes Wa'er's workplace, a high-end, members-only resort spa, and insists on staying without paying.  She stirs up trouble for Wa'er when, upon hearing rumors of her being target of a workplace crush, she rushes to brashly confront the Chairman to shame him for hitting on her nephew's girlfriend.

    But then we get a glimpse of a past, possibly beautiful life, when she crashes ballroom dance class and hits the floor like a pro - glowing with confidence, poise, joy and elegant sensuality (so frowned upon for older asian women!), gaining sudden admiration from employees and guests alike with her moves on the dock with the gwei lo at the lake, and anywhere else she could fit a dance or two (in between free massages, that is).  She starts to change, expressed outwardly with a new chic hairdo and more refined wardrobe. We learn that the moocher, the obnoxious negative nelly, might have a heart of gold - she raised Zhang as her own when her sister abandoned him - and the bond is clear in their familiarity - as in the playful scene where they try to call dibs on the only bed in his studio.

    And then we see an unexpected flashback scene on the streets, when she is overwhelmed by a flood of memories of a lost love - and we get the clue of a possible tragic past, and pain not frivolity as cause for the state we found her at the beginning of the movie.  Yet she looked so young in the flashbacks, what could have sustained the pain over 40+ years?

    [Spoiler alert]
    When we finally see Wa'er's father and Apple together at that final dinner, after Zhang and Wa'er had already broken up and Apple makes a last ditch effort to repair the relationship - Chef Tang recognizes Apple immediately (she was the one he had been dreaming of her all these years, savoring every moment he had with her).  Apple has no idea who he is...until she tastes the dish he created for her.  A rustic dish - I can't remember what was in it now, but apparently it was so unique and amazing that one taste and she knew it was the love of her life, from so long ago - they met while he apprenticed for the same chef, and were separated when he was pulled into the war (cue flashback of her blunt and now ironic statement from her first visit to the restaurant! cue realization that he only cooks vegetarian to hang onto memories of his love back in that village so long ago - where they were poor and life was simple but they were happy!). 

    Unable to process this after all these decades apart - they each run off with their kids in tow.  Chef Tang had been diagnosed with Alzheimers earlier in the film, and was planning on closing the restaurant - this was literally his last service, and she waltzes back into his life just as he is on the cusp of losing it (in memories).

    I love that in the end, Apple realizes she's spent a wasted life repressing thoughts of young Tang, and now so many years later they finally find each other and come to admit that they've spent their whole lives missing the other, and reunite just before he loses grip on his memories. Very unrealistically, she's the only one he continues to remember past that point - he can't remember his daughters, but he remembers his beloved Apple, and I love that with another glimpse into that heart of gold we see that she stays to care for him and enjoy what remains of their time together.  We're supposed to get that they are the best, though damaged, versions of themselves with each other.
    [End spoiler]

    There are many criticisms of the film from its lotus root like plot and soap opera style character constructs. The flashbacks are somewhat drawn out and cliched.  Some of the comedy feels forced. There isn't any reference to Chef Tang - with his seeming wealth - doing more to track down the love of his life all these decades.  You do get some nice vegetarian food porn shots in the movie though.

    The other men who serve as love interests are all pretty much two dimensional. You get some sense Zhang the videogame designer is a good person, afterall, he is a critical part of the plot device to care for his aunt by bringing her to Hangzhou. In a puppy love move, he does model his lead game character after his girlfriend, the radiant, captivatingly capable Wa'er.

    The little sister. a caricature of the immature, good-time girl - and her boyfriend who's a fun partner on that ride until a silly misunderstanding - don't add anything to the film either.

    Aside from Apple, Wa'er was the only other character to offer anything of emotional interest on screen - she starts off just the girlfriend, to a broken-hearted daughter and career woman who realizes her personal vulnerabilities, and comes into her own in terms of knowing what she wants and needs out of her partner, and learning that she deserves to receive it.  And that she is strong enough to stand on her own, if she doesn't get that.  But that the man who is always there for her - it doesn't matter if she can't give her heart to him - you can't help who you love.

    In all its elements the movie seems to say that all the flavors: bitter, sweet, sour, spicy - these all flavor life. It's all in what you decide to do with it.

    All in all, if I had to sum this film up in a cliched soundbite: it's sort of like the Asian version of Like Water for Chocolate meets The Notebook. All three, at their core, were about a love so strong that it can withstand life.  And all that you go through in it - is what gives it flavor, color and texture.  And it's like Babette's Feast somewhat in its message about embracing those around us because you will never get to truly know who they are if you only focus on the surface or things that ire you.  In the end, you leave with hope that with some measure of luck and destiny, all will end up as it was meant to be.  This isn't a very cerebral film, but a moving one. Is it cheesy or trite or wrong?  So be it - I'm in that frame of mind right now.


    1MB Rating: 3.5 bites (out of 5)
    Screening date: May 17th, 2012
    Los Angeles Asia Pacific Film Fest site:
    Likelihood of 2nd Helping?: 90% (whenever there's another screening or it gets distribution!)

    Sunday, May 20, 2012

    L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon: Culinary Jackpot with Chef of the Century

    Vegas, pure and simple, revolves around money. Ways to make it (for the lucky few), and ways to be relieved of the 'burden' of a populated bank account (for the remaining majority).   The greatest part of that equation is the explosion of world class dining venues, as another (arguably better, from a food lover's perspective) way for visitors to draw enjoyment from carefree / conspicuous spending.

    I am not one afflicted with an obese wallet - but having saved on meals and other areas throughout the year, I do allow myself to indulge in a spectacular meal or two on occasion...(cue Destiny's Child song) So, just before a business trip to Vegas, I threw out a call for recs to the Twitter hive mind, and was excited when fellow blogger sinosoul recommended L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon as good value for the fine dining meal.

    As the chef with the most Michelin stars in the world (where others strive whole lifetimes for just one, Chef Robuchon holds 26), named "Chef of the Century" by a prestigious French dining guide, and awarded the infamously difficult to attain Meuilleurs Ouvrier de France (MOF) which translates to "Best Craftsman in France" Joel Robuchon it should go without saying is a legend in the culinary world.
    For a chef so well decorated, I always assumed prices at his restaurants would be astronomical (a la Thomas Keller's French Laundry) and completely not affordable to the average food fan. But on closer inspection, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon offered a prix fixe "Seasonal Discovery Menu" for 'just' $159! Still a splurge for me, but not where I'd have to win the lottery first!
    L'Atelier is located at the MGM Grand, a sleek, modern looking but vibrant and fun space.  The concept revolves around a very open and inviting kitchen, that allows diners to see for themselves exactly how their food is prepared.  Dark fixtures were offset by colorful fruits and veggies and jewel-colored decorative pieces. Having decided rather last minute on the venue, I was lucky to even get a seat - but a little sad not to have been able to pull up to the counter with a view into the open kitchen.  I ended up parking myself at the back bar facing a wall of liquor and books, but was very happy to be at LDJR at all.
    I knew dinner would be fabulous the minute L'Amuse-Bouche arrived - my bouche was definitely amused by the Foie gras parfait with port wine and parmesan foam. It was all kinds of earthy, creamy richness balanced by aerated parmesan.
    Then came La Daurade - Snapper marinated with lime, tomato and virgin olive oil. The tomato based sauce was amazingly light and refreshing, while the lime lent a nice citrus layer that cut through the fish.  It was like a unique version of ceviche, topped by lovely crispy toasts for textural contrast.   
    Next up: Les Huitres - regular readers know I am usually a purist with oysters - I love the unimitable taste of clean, deep ocean, but the Poached baby Kussi oysters with French <Echire > butter was a formidable rival - the clarified butter was luscious, but not heavy or overwhelming. Apparently Echire butter is 'the best in the world' and is so prized by the French that they have given it protected status, "AOC Beurre des Deux-Sevres" like they did with champagne - only the butter produced with milk from cows in that specific region of France can be labeled as Echire.  Upon subsequent research I learned that this butter is about 85% butterfat - no wonder it tastes so amazing!!! Small sprigs of thyme and chili salt lent a bit of savory and bit of heat - and everything worked in perfect balance to make for a sublime symphony of flavor in your mouth when you tipped back the half shells.  I wanted dozens more of these precious little bivalves and to hoard them like Gollum does The Ring.
    After the levity of two starting dishes, we headed into more heavy hitting proteins with Le Homard Maine lobster in a spicy broth and shaved lime. This broth was incredible, with Asian flavors that my super friendly server explained came from ginger and lemongrass, and its pairing with lobster was another unexpected coupling that you wouldn't think would work - but the wonderfully fresh, sweet and tender bite of lobster shone through the deliciously flavorful broth, with delicate veggies - each piece perfectly cooked - offsetting the intensity. 
    Then came what to me may have been a best of meal: La Cebette White onion tart with smoked bacon, quail egg "mirror" and green asparagus. This was a small disc of fragrant flatbread, served warm, topped by sweet / bitter white onion, addictively smokey bacon, lightly applied cheese to tie it all together, a perfect little golden quail egg at the heart of it all, flanked by lovely pops of green asparagus tops for crunch. I splurged on this one too and added black truffle.  All I can say about this one is: if I ever found The One, this is what I'd want to have for breakfast the morning after we got engaged (how's that for fantasy dining? :P Yeah I'm glad I got to experience the better and more realistic of the two).
    For the fish course, there was La Lotte Monkfish cheek and baby leeks, buttery shellfish sauce with lime and ginger. A lovely, tender, sweet piece again influenced by Asian flavors -  could it be to appeal to the Asian contingent in Vegas? (Vegas is heaven for gambling and conspicuous consumption loving Asians)

    Then came the piece de resistance - the one everyone who has dined here, raves about: La Caille Foie gras stuffed free-range quail with truffled-mashed potatoes. This plate essentially presents some of my favorite ingredients in the world all at once.  I know I'm way overusing the word perfect in this post, but this quail truly was perfectly cooked - and the sort of tongue-in-cheek - or, rather, liver-in-leg - playfulness of stuffing that rich, luscious bird organ inside the plump, juicy limb - was a stroke of genius.  I didn't care who might be looking - I picked up that bone and sucked off every last morsel, almost down to the marrow.  And the truffle-mashed potatoes were so impossibly creamy yet light at the same time...I was food-drunk on its intoxicating fragrance and texture.  Could have eaten 10 more of these.
    For the sweet finish: the first of two desserts was Le Champagne Champagne gelee topped with a frozen raspberry mousse and rose scented meringue.  This was basically art in a glass - presented in beautiful layers, with a delicate sugar snowflake on top. The citrus and champagne light and refreshing after all those courses.

    The second dessert hit it home - those who watched the Kings of Pastry documentary know that MOFs are awarded to pastry chefs at the top of their game - so small wonder that Chef Robuchon's desserts would be breath-taking.  Le Chocolat Baked chocolate ganache finished with an aerated devil's food cake and fresh mint ice cream. I loved every bite of this - it's nothing incredibly groundbreaking - but just very, very well executed and skillfully controlled portions so that all the elements work together.
    I had been so excited by the amazing eats that I broke a rule and Instagrammed each course pretty much as they came (versus waiting until the meal is complete and I've left the premises).  Don't know if it was because LDJR's social media manager noticed the live tweets (they did start retweeting them!) or if my server was 500% incredible, but I wanted to note that the service was exemplary. Knowing I was dining by myself, my server went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable and enjoying myself, and came by to chat as much as I wanted, and discretely excused himself at just the right times to let me enjoy the art on a plate.  After dinner, he gave me one more treat - and let me duck into the kitchen real quick to get a behind the scenes look!!! 
    All in all, an incredible meal - one of the best I've ever had in the U.S.  I don't often get to splurge that much on a meal, but every dish was amazing - and so worth the prix fixe to get the Robuchon experience.  And yes, I left stuffed and with a silly, starstruck grin on my face - without ever even meeting the chef!

    On a 7 point scale:
    Flavor - 6.5 bites
    Presentation - 6 bites
    Originality - 6 bites
    Ambience - 6 stars
    Service - 6.5 stars
    Overall experience - 6 bites
    Price - $$$$$ (5 bite marks)
    Probability of return visit - 100%

    L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
    MGM Grand Las Vegas
    3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV 89109
    Ph: 702.891.7358
    Twitter: @robuchonlv


    L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon  

    Saturday, May 19, 2012

    1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes

    Deals and sweepstakes uncovered this week (sorry late as I was travelling all week)! Click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :) Happy grazing!

    • Comme Ca - $52 for $104 meal at Comme Ca (1 appetizer + 2 entrees + bottle of wine or 2 18A cocktails.  Deal from LAWeekly VOICE (~2 days left to buy)
    • The Six - Deal at Travelzoo (~5 days left to buy)
      • $45 for $92 2-course dinner for two with wine or beer
      • $19 for $36 Saturday brunch for two with bottomless mimosas
    • Cube Marketplace - sign up for their free e-newsletter and register for a free account to receive a code for 15% off your first order.  They have amazing spices and gorgeous serving ware!

    This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


    To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

    Friday, May 18, 2012

    Natas Pastries: Po Tat Til 11pm in San FERNANDO Valley!?!

    Dim sum lovers know that little palm-sized bright cheery circle of sunshine - dan tat 蛋撻 or egg custard tart - makes for a happy finish to the meal.  Its cousin, po tat 葡撻, which originated in Macau and is typically recognized by its lightly bruleed top - had also become very popular at dim sum houses everywhere.

    Before last week, this Valley girl (as in SFV) had to trek to the SGV to get my fix of either tart.  But on a whim, or just from sheer exhaustion from my daily hour plus commute, I had stopped by a Portugese bakery that I must have driven past a thousand times.  The minute I set foot in the place I wish I had stopped by MUCH sooner...because they have PO TAT!!!!!!  Ok, not really - they are "natas" not po tat, but very close!!

    So for those who aren't familiar, what exactly is a po tat? It's a tart filled with a custard that is slightly caramelized on top, and tastes like a lighter, much less sweet, more airy version of creme crulee! The main difference between this and a dan tat is that the 'crust' is more flaky vs. a denser, more buttery, more cookie-like crust - and the caramelization of that top layer of custard.  

    Po tat originated from pasteis de nata in Lisbon, where legend has it 18th century Catholic nuns created this confection from leftover egg yolk, and a closely guarded recipe that is believed to include milk, sugar, butter, water, salt. 

    When Europeans arrived in Macau, as the story goes, an Englishman brought natas with him - the tart was made popular in the Portugese colony and made its way from there to Hong Kong and Mainland China, where it evolved into dan tat, first served in tea houses, then as a staple of dim sum meals!

    Anyways, back to Sherman Oaks and Natas, a cozy cafe in a small strip mall on Ventura - apparently, "nata" means cream, and that is what chef Fatima Marques chose to name her lovely little nook of a cafe!  A charming space with blue and white tiles, chandeliers and rustic wooden furniture, parking may be hard to come by since Natas is well known in the area now for its authentic Portugese pastries - but it's worth the trouble!

    So, what is served at Natas Pastries is the original - the pastry that preceded po tat and dan tat. 

    The difference between pasteis de natas ($2 each or dozen minis for $15) and po tat seems to be that the crust is way more flaky, like layers of phyllo, and served very crisp, with a sprinkling of cinnamon and powdered sugar on top.  How'd it taste? Gorgeous. Especially when fresh out of the oven, with the centers still warm and soft and silky smooth - nicely offset by the crisp flaky crust - the caramelization perfectly in balance with the more subtly sweet custard below. I still prefer po tat with its denser crust, but Natas' natas are amazing too, especially to have in the SFV!!!
    Natas also serves a full menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner featuring Portugese tapas.

    All this, and unlike other bakeries - or even just businesses in general - in the SFV - they are open til 11pm daily!!!  So gainfully employed folks who don't work in the area actually have a shot at the little rounds of wonderfulness - a bit of sweetness to look forward to at the end of a long day!

    Gonna be back way too often (gotta make up for lost time)!!

    Natas Pastries
    13317 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks,CA91423
    Ph: 818.530.5888 

    Parking: Limited spaces in open lot attached to strip mall, or meters on Ventura Blvd.


    Natas Pastries on Urbanspoon

    Saturday, May 12, 2012

    BLVD 16: Commuters' Refuge at the Hotel Palomar

    Raise your hand if you knew of the existence of a hotel on that stretch of Wilshire between Westwood and Beverly Glen?  Yeah, me neither.  Even after over a decade and a half of living in LA.

    So it was that when I received an invite to a media tasting - to check out the new drink and food menu at Blvd 16, located inside the Hotel Palomar - I was intrigued. Hidden in plain sight on busy Wilshire Boulevard, the hotel sort of gets lost among the towering glossy condos on the row.  But once I stepped inside I wondered why it took me so long to make it there.  With its modern, chic yet relaxed interiors, it's kind of a perfect pitstop for those with long commutes, like me, looking for refuge from LA's notorious road congestion during rush hour.

    We started off with a round of cocktails mixed in the lounge for us: The Lyder Side ($14), made with Bols Genever, hibiscus liquer, fresh lemon juice, splash of orange juice and agave nectar was balanced and refreshing.  An expensive drink for sure on the regular list. But love cocktails that use fresh ingredients and treated with culinary care - paying attention to how flavors work together. And love restaurants that see cocktails as an integral part of their dining experience.  Hoping some of the Happy Hour 'well cocktails' that are actually affordable will be pretty good quality as well.

    Then came the food: starting with a giant bowl of hummus and pita chips
    Then a vibrant, beautifully plated Crudo ($10) tuna, compressed watermelon, pickled chilies, ginger aioli. In the flurry of activity, none of us really caught what the callout of ingredients when the plate was set down, and when swooping to grab bites from the communal plate, were surprised when our forks met with resistance where we expected them to make easy passage through soft fish.  Turns out the whitish bits under the avocado were albacore tuna, and the pink pieces underneath, which we all assumed to be the tuna, was really compressed watermelon! I LOVED this dish and its pairing of creamy, buttery avocado with savory, tender fish, with crunchy, juicy, sweet watermelon. And those lovely colors! Not sure if this is the size offered during regular service but if so, I would definitely come back for this on my way home one night.  

    They were generous with the pours that night and all cocktails were full sized! I could barely make my way through them - such a lightweight. But I really liked the Pisco Sour ($14) Kappa pisco, fresh lemon juice, egg white and Angostura bitters. Something in the way the 'bouquet' of this drink hits the nose reminded me of those Coca-Cola candies from Haribo that I used to have as a kid - yes, a sophisticated analogy, I know - but I loved this drink for that reason.  
    Then came the Flat Bread ($7) - toppings change daily according to the "chef's daily creation".  The first we tasted was with asparagus, salmon and feta cheese - this was fairly good, though I wanted more fragrant bread that had more resilience to it.

    The second flat bread had more unusual toppings: squash blossom, stinging nettle pesto and burrata cheese. I liked the creativity and risk-taking...but something in this flatbread was a little too pungent for me. Same comments on bread flavor and texture as above. The flat breads are both offered as "Bar Bites", but at the same price as full menu.

    Next up: Short Rib Slider ($3 each regular or 2 for $5 / 3 for $8 / 4 for $10 at Happy Hour) robbiola cheese, crispy onions.  Everyone loved these little sliders, with the cute cornichons speared with a bamboo pick at the top.  These sliders were juicy, flavorful with buns that held up nicely, and crispy onions for textural contrast.  Not bad, and you can fill up on a bunch of them with drinks at Happy Hour.

    The last savory dish was the Fish Taco ($4 each regular menu or 2 for $5 / 3 for $8 /4 for $10 at Happy Hour) - corn tortilla, pickled habanero, shredded cabbage, creme fraiche. Most of the other tasters seemed to like this, but it was way too spicy for me - I had to gulp down all liquids within reach to stop my tongue from burning.  So not a fun one for me - but those who enjoy heat in their food may like these.

    For the sweet finish: Meyer Lemon Creme Brulee ($8) I think these were created for the media tasting, so while I loved the presentation on spoons, I would think the $8 charge on the regular menu gets you a bigger serving - the menu does mention that it comes with lavendar cookies.  I really loved the creamy, fresh flavor and carefully controlled amount of torched sugar on top (sometimes people overdo it and it's a too hard/crunchy sugary slab instead of a delicate crust!).

    A note for those into live music: when we had just started the tasting, two random looking guys came in playing acoustic guitar and wandering through the clusters of guests.  The music actually was pretty good, but they were 'plain-clothed' (if memory serves correctly, in sporty looking shirts and shorts or cargo pants) and with the wandering we thought at first that they may have been UCLA students looking to pick up a few bucks - and just haven't been kicked out by hotel staff yet, due perhaps to initial surprise at their boldness.  Turns out, they are officially sanctioned performers who will play there Thursdays 5-6:30pm.

    All in all, drinks are on the pricey side, but a nice spot to provide reprieve from the madness of LA roads if this is on your commute route - there are a few nice bites that I would come back for, perhaps during "Rush Hour" to catch drink and bar deals.
    [Deal alert:
    "Rush Hour" (Happy Hour)
    Daily, 4pm - 7pm
    Bar Bites menu daily, 4-10:30 PM
    Fab $5 Well Cocktails, $4 Selected Beers, and $3 House Red/White Wine Bar Bites served daily 4pm - 10:30pm
    Saturday and Sunday bottomless mimosas]                

    *Disclosure: This meal was hosted.


    BLVD 16
    10740 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood,CA 90024
    Ph: 310.474.7765

    Parking: Valet $7

    Twitter: @blvd16

    BLVD 16 on Urbanspoon

    1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings and Sweepstakes

    Deals and sweepstakes uncovered this week (sorry late as I was travelling all week)! Click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :) Happy grazing!

    • Bon Appetit magazine - $10 for 1 year subscription worth $19.99.  Deal at Bloomspot (ends ~5/14)
    • PAINT:LAB - $29 for $67 2-hour art workshop in Santa Monica with wine and appetizers.  Deal at Travelzoo (ends ~5/15)
    • Cafe Livre $20 for $40 of food and drink for one Deal at Bloomspot (ends ~5/16)
    • Molecular-R modernist cuisine kit $39 for $78 kit - have fun with your food from a scientific angle! Deal from Thrillist Rewards LA (ends 5/23)

    This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


    To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!

    Saturday, May 5, 2012

    1MB Travels: Singapore: Da Dong (by Fatty Weng) in historic Chinatown

    Singapore is made up primarily of immigrants of Malaysians, Chinese, and Indian descent - each with an iconic neighborhood that not only celebrates each culture's past in the city, but is rooted in the present with an eye to the future.
    On our holiday trip, we were excited to get to check out two of these gathering places, stopping by Chinatown and Little India. The name of Chinatown - 牛車水 - references its origins: literally translated, the name means "Bull Car Water" - it's the place where water was mainly transported by ox driven carts in the 19th century. 
    It was close enough to our hotel in the Clarke Quay area, that we were able to walk over.  It was in the balmy 80s in December so it was a nice stroll - and we got to enjoy many modern-traditional hybrid storefronts along the way, like medicinal tea houses serving delicacies like turtle jelly (made of turtle shell) and herbal teas, and fruit stands with vendors selling everything from apples to more exotic fare like dragonfruit and mangosteen.
    ...and stalls selling beautiful preserved sausages (typically used with sweet rice).

    There were also daytime street markets flanked by closet-sized permanent storefronts selling everything from Chinese medicine to dry delicacies including swallow's nest (dried bird spit - nutrient rich and apparently good for the skin!), all kinds of mushrooms, sea cucumbers (good for the eyes) and scallops. 
    We loved the colonial style architecture juxtaposed by Chinese commerce and all the trimmings that come with it.  Of course we had to stop to try the food, and with my parents, we looked for a sit down place - signage for Da Dong "by Fatty Weng" got our attention with its traditional looking tea-house style decor yet irreverent name.

    The bottom floor of the 2-story restaurant had two walls that were wide open to create a bright, airy space; the decor was old school - the only items adorning the walls were framed shark's fin and pictures of local celebrities who have dined there.
    Da Dong serves dim sum as well as select dishes for lunch.  We started with some classics: Har Gow (shrimp dumplings) and Siu Mai (shrimp and pork dumplings) - these were passable in quality, not something I'd recommend a special trip to experience. 

    It was really the Black Pepper Crab, a Singaporean specialty served all over the island, that I still dream of.  This was my first and last one during our trip, so I can't really say how Da Dong's preparation compares to other restaurants - but I LOVED it.  Just like the Chili Crab at Long Beach Seafood - live Sri Lankan crab was used (you can see a tank of the feisty creatures outside the restaurant!).  The flavors in the sauce are bold, but somehow do not at all overwhelm the crab meat, which remains juicy, tender, and naturally sweet, shining through and in perfect counterbalance with the fiery black pepper sauce. 

    Yes, it took a lot of work (as with any crab) to get through all that shell to extract the meat, but it was all worth it.  My parents again refrained as neither of them are into crab - so I got the whole thing to myself! 
    Another dish that I was tipped off not to leave Singapore without trying, was Char Kway Teow.  I was so stressed out at work prior to the vacation though, that I didn't have time to do much research on anything, and so it was that when the server asked if we wanted sauce in the noodles, I just went ahead with it.  Apparently the usual way to have Char Kway Teow is to have it dry and wok-fried. The preparation of the dish we got basically involved wide rice noodles in a brown, starchy broth with shrimp, rings of squid and kai lan.  I liked the flavors of the broth with the noodles, which kind of reminds me of Chow Fun but milder tasting with a lot more sauce; however the seafood did not taste fresh and were a bit overcooked (the shrimp tasted a few days old and not very flavorful).

    All in all, the meal came out to a total of $80 SG (~$64 USD) so it wasn't that good of a deal.  Though Black Pepper Crab was the only noteworthy item at Da Dong out of the dishes we had - that alone did make the meal unforgettable.  After lunch, we popped upstairs just to check it out: the space looks more formal, like it's for banquet dinners, or spillover as needed, with large windows overlooking the sea of humanity in the street market below - the better for people watching in a more serene setting, above the fray. 

    There were many other dining options, with popular ones set right into the street market. Will have to try these next time we're in town (there are so many things still to taste in Singapore!)
    Just before leaving the area, we spotted along its fringes an elaborate skyscraping tower of Indian deities, which turned out to be a part of the Sri Mariamman Hindu temple.  We didn't have enough time (or any idea how to get in) to check it out, but it did spark us on our last day to spend the last hour strolling through Little India.
    We've never been to India, so Singapore's Little India was in a way just a little taste for us of the local Indian street culture - and we had just an hour so unfortunately it was a quick stroll through.  But it was easily accessible by MRT (Singapore's subway system) - just get off at the appropriately named Little India station - and we loved the street vendors with the flower garlands...  
    ...and gorgeous giant lotus flowers.
    Then of course we had to stop by the closest hawker food center (Singapore is famous for its collections of street food stalls in giant cavernous warehouse like spaces all over the city - which serve amazing food at incredibly low prices).  Wonderful smells greeted us from every direction - I'd read about the famous fish head curry and was on a mission to find one.   
    Unfortunately it was nowhere to be found - and with the clock ticking it was all I could do to drag myself away from the giant vats of saffron rice, all kinds of curries and naan...but I guess all the more reason to return to Singapore, and soon, right?

    [For other photos and stories from our Singapore trip, check out the album on my Facebook page!]



    Da Dong (by Fatty Weng)
    39 Smith St., Chinatown, Singapore 058952
    Ph: +65 6221.3822



    1MB Savvy Saveurs: Savings & Sweepstakes

    Deals and sweepstakes uncovered this week (sorry late as I was travelling all week)! Click here to follow me on Twitter for instant updates on the latest discoveries :) Happy grazing!

    • Allston Yacht Club - $20 for $40 of food and drink at Allston Yacht Club.  Deal from Rush49 (ends 3am PT 5/5)
    • Lexington Social House - $50 for $100 of food and drink. Deal from Bloomspot (ends midnight PT 5/5)
    • Fiji Sweepstakes - enter for a chance to win 7-night trip for two to Fiji - including stay at two island resorts - Malolo and Likuliku Lagoon (ends 8/15/12 11:59:59pm ET)
    • Travel Channel May Sweepstakes - enter for a chance to win 7-day trip for 4 to Malaga, Spain (ends 5/31/12 11:59pm ET).  Official rules here
    • Panasonic Olympic Trip Giveaway - enter for a chance to win trip for 2 to London to see the Olympic Games (ends 5/31/12 9pm ET).  Requires liking Panasonic Facebook page. Official rules here

    This is meant to be an easily digestible (yes, I did) report of third party offers - I am not the sponsor. I do not receive any payment for these listings. Please read offer details / official rules carefully before deciding whether to submit your information.


    To get more mileage for your money everyday - see Get More Bites Outta Your Budget. Check out my Sweepstakes Page "Win Your Next Bite" - for more foodie promotions!


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