Monday, July 30, 2012

dineLA: Summer Lovin' at Sunny Spot

One of the stops I knew I needed to make in this inaugural Summer edition of dineLA (where hundreds of restaurants citywide offer 3-course prix fixe deals - July 16-27 this time) was chef Roy Choi's Sunny Spot.

The rebel, rule-breaking chef who melded street flavors into genius korean-mexican cuisine, and trailblazed the whole gourmet food truck craze, had in his latest creation sort of come out of left field.  The concept of Sunny Spot as most people initially understood it, is Caribbean flavors in a "roadside cookshop" style venue.  As a huge marketing geek, I was at first a little put off by the garish pink and red branding of the place - thinking it would be a gimmicky monstrosity with over-the-top flavors and presentation. 

But I did like the food from his other restaurants/trucks: A-Frame, Chego and Kogi - and I figured dineLA was the time to check Sunny Spot out (the $35 3-course prix fixe deal meant lower investment and unlike many other restaurants in the program, their menu actually looked exciting!).

I hadn't decided what day I would go, and figured I could sidle up to the bar if I went on my own after work one day.  Apparently the main dining room is a first come first served open seating area - so I got a table pretty easily early evening one weeknight.  The decor was actually more elegant than I expected - bright colors, yes, but pretty tastefully done, clean lines, in a cheery, airy space bathed in natural light pouring through the floor to ceiling windows via the open back patio.
I started with a Ting grapefruit soda, a refreshing accompaniment to What a Jerk Wings ($12 on regular menu) - double coated, double fried.  Three giant wings that could have been a meal in themselves. Crispy with bold, in your face flavor like Roy Choi does it best.  Underneath in case you didn't get enough flavor? Sinus-clearing aioli made with three kinds of chilis tempered by orange juice.  This was definitely not date food - I dug in both hands and elbows and killed several trees' worth of napkins before leaving nothing but bones and sauce on the plate (I can't really handle that much spice...).
To cool the heat of jerk wings, came a side that was also pretty huge - could have been a starter on its own: Sesame Coleslaw.  This was a nice accompaniment to the jerk wings, and I appreciated the generous portion size, but as I'm not a big salad/veggie eater (sorry chef!) I couldn't finish this.   Oh and apparently they make their own ginger beer in house too, so I got that, downed it.  Lovely and refreshing.
Then came my favorite dish of this entire dineLA summer session: Pan Roasted Skate (not on regular menu, next closest item is Whole Roasted Fish Red Snapper $35) coconut carrot puree, watercress, gremolata.  I LOVE skate and had been excited to see it on the dineLA menu, a beacon of light in the drudgery of "beef or chicken" menus.  AND I had to have it after my fabulous server Shannon confirmed that this is not offered on the regular menu.   This was a plate so beautiful it could reduce *ahem* "a" grown woman to tears (ok, "this" grown woman to tears).  Perfectly roasted so that it's intoxicatingly flavorful outside, and super tender and juicy inside, and its gorgeous 'panelled' texture featured to full dramatic effect.  Coconut gave it island flavors, tempered by carrot puree to balance it with savory deliciousness. Love the accompaniments too of watercress cooked to a spinach-like consistency and gremolata (condiment made from lemon zest, garlic, parsley) for layers of flavor.
The skate was also generously portioned and came with a cup of Black Bean Soup - made with coconut cream, black bean and apparently Red Stripe?! I liked the flavors, but it was a little too thick for me after the preceding hefty courses. The thing that I did love and wanted to note was the presentation - in this gold-gilded, elegant tea cup and saucer set.  Love it.  Touch of luxe in dishware made it felt like I was at some country club in the Caribbeans - without the stuffiness, as the dining room is fun with pops of color that feels very unpretentious.  And I love any place or anything that makes me feel like I'm on vacation, while right in town.
And for the sweet finish: Coconut Sundae (next closest dessert on regular menu is Hot Fudge Sundae $7) - toastd coconut ice cream, raspberry jam, and shortbread crumble

Sounded simple, but turned out to be one of the best desserts I've had this dineLA - textures and flavors just worked perfectly together so that you get the creaminess, rich chocolateyness, fruity goodness from the jam acounterbalanced by the crunch of shortbread crumble.  Plus I think it was a liquer-soaked cherry? on top.  Amazing.

Last but not least, I wanted to acknowledge excellent service by Shannon.  UNLIKE the front hostess, who was sort of cold and I suspect most recently worked at some Hollywood hotspot and thought to apply the same level of 'hospitality' - Shannon was warm, friendly - seemed like a genuinely nice person who was, yes, a ray of sunshine on any given day - and definitely throughout my meal.  I didn't feel at all like a second class citizen just because I was there for dineLA, and she struck just the right level of attentiveness, making sure I had extra napkins for the wing-destruction, and checked in to make sure I was enjoying each course - and because I was by myself she came by to chat as much as I wanted but didn't overstay.
All in all, a shining example of dineLA dine right, and could be my second favorite after Craft.

I would definitely come back to Sunny Spot again even at regular price/- I didn't choose the Jamaican Oxtail Stew this time, though it sounded delicious, because it's offered on the regular brunch menu - so I'll definitely have to go back to try that.  And see how the Hot Fudge Sundae stacks up to the Coconut one.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% 


Sunny Spot  

822 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292
Ph: 310.448.8884

Parking: Valet $5 is probably easiest in this area

Sunny Spot on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 23, 2012

Chaya Downtown: Summer Beer Garden

I've always been more of a cocktail girl, than a wine or beer girl.  The only notion I ever had of "beer gardens" were formed by experiences at street festivals - they meant a sort of holding pen where twenty-somethings essentially stood around getting sloshed and conversation revolved around the last time they were standing around getting sloshed.  I never associated beer gardens with any sort of good food or great ambience - i.e. they were not for me.

But then I was invited to Chaya Downtown to check out their Summer Beer Garden - running weeknights 4pm til close - and their version, pretty much because it involves delicious bites to go with alcohol, I liked.  That, and the charming setting - in a covered patio space, between skyrises, paper lanterns casting soft glows over wood-panelled booths and tables.  With a street-food-inspired yakitori/kushiyaki station in the corner, where the fragrant sizzle of grilled-to-order meat skewers drifted to every corner of the space.  That night there was also a drizzle of rain, which outside of that protective cover, added to the charm and movie-set-like atmosphere of the place.

The concept is sort of outdoor izakaya - small bites meant for people to fill up on, so that they can drink some more.  Which is fine with me because they actually put a lot of care and thought into the food - they're not just token sponges for alcohol.  My beverage of choice was a Ginger Joy cocktail with ginger vodka, muddled cucumber, lemon juice, simple syrup, fever tree ginger beer, cucumber and ginger ($12 on regular bar menu). 
Then the small plates started rolling through. Nothing goes better with alcohol than fried food - and Chaya served up a great gourmet fried dish in their Garlic Fried Soft Shell Shrimp, Chipotle Miso ($7) - from the Beer Garden menu: whole shrimp, heads, tails and all, were perfectly seasoned and fried to a deliciously fragrant crisp - it kind of reminded me of Chinese salt & pepper fried shrimp, but more garlicky.  And loved the creative fusion dipping sauce made with chipotle and miso.
One of my favorites though was Grilled Octopus ($8) baby potatoes, wasabi pickles - this was actually from the Happy Hour menu, which is available during Beer Garden hours as well. I loved how well the unusual combination of ingredients worked together: octopus with its crisper crunch balanced by the softer bites of baby potatoes, punctuated by the heat of wasabi mayo. Parsley added an herbaceous layer of flavor.

Then of course, we couldn't go without having the Yakitori & Kushiyaki that has been whipping up our appetites all night with the smokey char that had been wafting over to our table. We got a sampler plate with pretty much every kind of skewer on the menu: Bacon Wrapped Date Skewer ($2), Shrimp Skewer ($2), Shitake Mushroom Skewer ($2), Chicken Skewer ($2), Beef Tongue Skewer ($3), Beef Skewer ($3) - my favorites were the beef tongue (so thick, juicy and rich in flavor I thought it was the kobe beef skewer at first), kobe beef and shitake mushroom (super juicy and earthy/meaty tasting).  LOVE the super affordable prices on these!

 For some token veggies, we had the staple barbecue item served with a twist: Grilled White Corn, Feta Cheese ($5) - I loved the sweet, perfectly grilled corn, but the feta cheese was a bit too rich and had some kind of spice in it that was a little overpowering for me.  But those who like heat in their food may enjoy this.

Another great fried dish was the Soy Fried Chicken "Karaage" ($6) - which we could consider a Japanese happy hour classic?

Lastly, I never expect to love veggie dishes, but the Fried Brussel Sprouts ($8) with curried salt from the regular menu was instantly addictive, with an intoxicating smokey char and mouthwatering spicy flavors.

I could eat plates of these all night.
For the sweet finish, we got to taste something from the regular dessert menu: Warm Milk Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding ($10) dulce de leche ice cream - I LOVED this, possibly the best bread pudding I've ever had.  The croissant was beautifully buttery - I could smell it before I saw it come to the table - but also incredibly light, airy and flaky, served at just the right temperature, and well balanced with the rich melted belgian milk chocolate, and the not too sweet dulce de leche ice cream.  SO good.  This dessert is a staple at all Chaya locations, but beyond all the offerings at Chaya Downtown beer garden I would also go back just for this bread pudding, in that lovely garden setting.

I should also mention, that the night we were there, a Thursday night, there was also live music that was quirky and fun - going from a modernized rock rendition of the song from that classic SNL skit where Christopher Walken has "a fever" whose "only prescription is more cowbell", to "Ring of Fire", to "Pumped Up Kicks".   There isn't a set schedule for live music but it will be offered throughout the Summer Beer Garden run.

Oh yeah, and for those who are into beer, there is a selection on the beer garden menu from Kirin to Sapporo for $4-$5 a glass, $14 a pitcher. Sake cocktails are available for $7.  Premium Japanese whiskeys like Yamazaki are also on offer. You can also of course order from their regular and Happy Hour cocktail menus.

All in all, a fantastic time with great food at happy hour pricing, in a charming space.  Especially great for those who work downtown and just want a chill place to unwind with delicious bites to go with a few rounds of drinks. Or those who just want to grab tasty, affordable small plates in a great setting with friends or on a fun casual-ish date.

(And, one of the biggest deterrents to me trekking downtown usually, is taken care of at Chaya - you can park right beneath the building, and they valet for free for 3 hours with validation from the restaurant!)

Chaya's Beer Garden runs through August 31st, Mondays to Fridays 4pm to close, in the garden patio and bar/lounge.

*Disclosure: This meal was hosted.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100% 


Chaya Downtown  

525 S Flower St, Los Angeles, CA 90071
Ph: 213.236.9577

Parking: In underground structure in building - Valet parking free with validation for first 3 hours (flat fee of $7 thereafter)


Chaya Downtown on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 21, 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!

  • Lazy Ox Canteen - Happy Hour $5 bar bites $3 drafts, select wines, michelada, sangria Sun-Fri 5-7pm Sun-Thurs 10pm-close
  • dineLA Summer 2012 - still going, through Friday July 27!  3-course prix fixe lunches and dinners - lunches start from $15 and dinners start from $25! See my picks here!
  • Hakata Ramen $3 ramen in honor of Hakta Shin Sen Gumi's 7 year anniversary! via @626Foodettes

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, July 14, 2012

dineLA Summer 2012: 1MB Picks!

dineLA is launching its first Summer promotion starting next week, July 16th, through July 27! With the SoCal focus on seasonal farm to table fare, and a giant list of participating restaurants, I'm excited to see how this may differ from dineLAs past.

For those unfamiliar, dineLA is a citywide event that has great restaurants - at top tier, the caliber of Tavern, AOC, Craft and more - offering 3-course prix fixe meals (some offer supplement food & drink for a nominal price) starting at just $15 for lunch and $25 for dinner.

The promotion is fantastic for foodies or travellers on a budget - great food at some of the cities' most delectable dining spots at affordable prices.

What each person considers 'a good deal' is often deeply personal, especially with food - but as a rule review dineLA menus carefully: unfortunately some 'bad apples' have already turned off many local food lovers in years past by simply 'packaging' regular menu items at the same price; some that normally offer fascinating fine dining may dole out uninspired 'chicken or beef' entrees to meet lower price points.

Luckily a lot offer fantastic dishes at a great price. And being the budget foodie, I always look for ways to double or triple dip to get even mileage for my money - check out my list of ways to stack the deals and bonuses at the bottom of this post.

Menus are still being posted; as they become available I will add to my picks and breakdowns here! (Note: I'm only looking at menus that excite me and/or offer great deals)

Oh and btw, I definitely eat faster than I can write - I Instagram my meals same day, so if you want to see photos of dineLA dishes (and other random food porn) check out my IG here - thanks!


BLT Steak
Dinner $45
8720 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069 Ph: 310.360.1950
Why?: Exciting sounding menu item from Pork Belly Dumplings with endives, fava leaves and soy beurre blanc, to scallops with uni butter, to pork chops with kumquat mostarda.  And I know I'll get the staple fresh out of the oven, beautiful popovers and chicken liver mousse free for the table before the meal.  And I love that they made my job easy by displaying what the items would have cost a la carte, right on the dineLA menu so it's clear how much I'd be saving.  One thing though, I don't actually get steak when I'm here... 
Estimated Savings: $14pp Based on value as displayed on dineLA menu: pork dumplings $15+pork chop$34+Desserts $10=$59 - $45 = $14

Lunch $25 (2-courses) $29 (3-courses)
235 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210 Ph: 310.271.9910
Why?: When else am I going to be able to afford to eat at Bouchon? My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets at first when I saw the word "foie" on the menu - turns out it's not duck or goose, but chicken liver mousse with red wine poached prunes and toast. I do love liver mousse of pretty much any variety - which as a starter is normally $16 on its own on Bouchon's regular menu. And duck leg confit and mussels are entree options!!
Estimated Savings: $21pp Based on items on regular menu: Chicken liver mousse $16+Moules au Safran $28.50+Creme Glacee $5.50=$50 - $29 = $21

Cafe Pinot
Lunch $20 (2-courses)
700 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles, CA 90071 Ph: 213.239.6500
Why?: Those lucky enough to work close to Cafe Pinot - $20 is a great deal for fine dining in the lovely space (their garden tables overlook LA's skyline).  Items sound mouth-watering to me: Smoked Salmon Veloute, Fried Polenta with dry mole, Fluke with lobster glace, candied kumquats and parsley powder. And the starter and entree choices are same as dinner menu for $15 less (though I'm sure it's portioned accordingly and you don't get dessert).
Estimated Savings: $21pp Based on averages and next closest item on regular menu: starters average ~$13+fish entree $28 =$41 - $20 = $21

Dinner $45
10100 Constellation Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067 Ph: 310.279.4180
Why?: Best dineLA deal in years past.  Always classically great dishes and incredible service. Three starters for the table to share and they include diver sea scallop ceviche with watermelon and basil!!! Entree aren't super exciting sounding this time, but based on past experiences classic dishes are really well executed and will be worth it in quality and taste. Two desserts for the table to share.  (And maybe a take home treat like they did in past years - of housemade granola!) Plus free parking in structure with validation! 
Estimated Savings: ~$22.50pp Based on next closest items or course averages from regular menu Starters (average ~$15)x3/2ppl +Alaskan Salmon $34+Dessert standard price $12 = $68.50 - $45 = $23.50

Dinner $45
300 S. Doheny Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90048 Ph: 310.860.4000
Why?: FOUR courses at the Four Seasons! For $45. Lobster farro risotto. Mussels with shishito peppers and pancetta. Halibut infused with basil and scallops. Bellini granita.  Need I say more? Note: dineLA menu not available on Sunday 7/22
Estimated Savings: ~$25pp Based on next closest items from regular menu salad $13+mussels $14 +halibut $34+dessert standard price $9 = $70 - $45 = $25

Lunch $20 Dinner $35
609 South Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90017 Ph: 213.488.8020
Why?: Haven't tried this place yet, but...intrigued by 'urban farm cuisine' concept and creative menu items like "escargot panini" and pig ear salad with frisee, pickled strawberries and rhubarb vinaigrette, and mussels in absinthe-spiked bouillabaise??? I'm dying to know what that "faux gras terrine" consists of since it does say fattened duck liver mousse?!!! Might as well try it while there's a deal in place?
Estimated Savings: $10pp Lunch Based on items from regular menu starters $11+ salmon entree $19 = $30-$20 = $10
$6pp Dinner Based on items from regular menu pig ear $14+ entrees $19+ dessert $8= $41-$35 = $6

Lunch $25 Dinner $45
11301 Olympic Blvd #102, Los Angeles, CA 90064 Ph: 310.478.7769
Why?: Love Kiriko for quality sushi in the Olympic Collection.  Their omakase sashimi & sushi lunch with "assorted sashimi" and 5pcs sushi normally goes for $46!! With dineLA you get for lunch a trio of carpaccio and 6pcs of sushi. There isn't an exact comparison in terms of count so hard to say savings, but sounds like it would be a filling lunch of creative yet beautiful, clean, high quality rolls - no sauced up abominations with gimmicky names here - and where else are you going to get that for just $25?  As for dinner, that is what I'm super excited about - as one of the starter choices you get Uni ice cream with spicy momotaro tomato gazpacho!!! And I don't think that's normally on the menu!  Book now while there are still reservations to be had.
Estimated Savings: TBD

La Vecchia
Dinner $35
2654 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90405 Ph: 310.399.7979
Why?: Menu looks like good food at a great savings - 3 hefty courses where others are doing 2 savory plus dessert: including baby lamb chops, lobster ravioli, seafood salad
Estimated Savings: $25pp Dinner Based on regular menu items chilled seafood salad $15+ linguini vongole $17+ baby lamb chops $28 = $60-$35 = $25

Lunch $15
3239 Helms Ave., Culver City, CA 90232 Ph: 310.202.6808
Why?: If you work in Culver City, this is a good option for lunch at the normally pricey asian fusion eatery - it's almost half off (that is, if you would order alcohol with your lunch...if not you'd be saving ~$6). And the options are ones that I would be interested in, Dan Dan Noodles, Green Papaya Salad and interesting dessert option of beijing yogurt with asian pear in yuzu with blueberry sorbet, basil seeds, citrus puffs (though desserts are normally free anyway)
Estimated Savings: $14pp Lunch Based on regular menu items dan dan noodles $13+green papaya salad $8+ beer $8 (desserts normally free anyway)= $29-$15 = $14

Dinner $25
13003 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604 Ph: 818.788.6354
Why?: Let me qualify this pick by saying, it's a pick for SFV dwellers only.  Not sure it's worth the drive otherwise. And don't expect any customer service whatsoever - they refused to even give us a printed menu last time we went and recited everything including prices by heart (I'd suggest printing out your own menu before you go).  But it's a fun spot with Moroccan food that I find really tasty FOR THE VALLEY and you're getting FIVE courses for $25 for dinner! I especially LOVE the Bastilla (shredded chicken, eggs, almonds and spices baked in filo dough) and you also get lamb as an entree option - they make it juicy and tender.  Love their fresh moroccan mint tea as well.
Estimated Savings: $5pp Based on items from "Traditional Feast" meal listed on website for $29.95pp

Dinner $45
9575 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035 Ph: 310.277.0133
Why?: Chef Ricardo Zarate serves up some amazing Peruvian dishes at Picca and dineLA's the time to try them - with 10 options for first course (you get to choose two!) and 10 choices for entree (again you choose two per person!) plus dessert, AND these are not the 'slow mover' dishes - you get to be as full on adventurous as you dare with anticucho corazon (signature beef heart) on the dineLA menu as an option as well as exciting preparations of lamb, fish, steak to cuts of offal like tripe.
Estimated Savings: $10pp at least Based on same items from regular menu: ceviche criollo $14+tres leches de tigres shooters $9+bisteck $16+arroz chaufas de mariscos $16+dessert??? (not sure pricing, not posted on site)=$55-$45=$10

Piccolo Venice
Dinner $45
5 Dudley Ave., Venice, CA 90291 Ph: 310.560.3594
Why?: May be the best deal of this dineLA if dishes are served regular menu-sized. FIVE courses and four of them feature options with the magic word 'truffle' in them!! And the menu looks really exciting, even the non-truffle options!! From lamb carpaccio, to scallops with parmesan-truffle fondue, to squid ink spaghettini with lobster emulsion, to berkshire pork chop with porcini-tahitian vanilla bean sauce, to a dessert made with mascarpone cream and ganache - I hope it's all as good as it sounds, as the words on the webpage alone are making me hungry.  (Though, I've never been and a friend said that portions are small here and the location is 'very Venice' in a not so good way.  Will let you know when I go!)
Estimated Savings: $65pp Based on same and similar items from regular menu: lamb carpaccio/scallops $17+beets filled ravioli $23+closest ravioli dish $23 (without truffle shavings)+pork chop $38+desserts standard price $9=$110-$45=$65 Again without having eaten there before, the estimate does not account for differences in portion size etc.

Lunch $20 Dinner $45
11616 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604 Ph: 818.505.3337
Why?: Two starters!! And menu more massive than most other dineLA ones with 11 choices of starters and 12 (twelve!!!) choices of entrees, and 5 choices of dessert. Entrees include bay scallops with uni english pea and black garlic! And 48 hour rib steak! And an asian inspired preparation of snapper! In a gorgeously designed space that's one of the rare fine dining rooms on that stretch of Ventura in Studio City. And big savings for lunch - almost half off!
Estimated Savings: $18pp Lunch Based on same items from regular menu: kale/apple salad $12+almost all burgers/linguini $13+sides standard price $4+desserts standard price $9=$38-$20=$18
$10pp Dinner Based on same items from regular menu: beef tartare $13+northern thai noodles $14+48 hour rib steak $19+desserts standard price $9=$55-$45=$10

Ray's & Stark Bar
Dinner $35
5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036 Ph: 323.857.6180
Why?: Octopus as starter option and squid ink pasta with bottarga as entree option (though both are 'firsts' courses on regular menu). A dessert by chef Josh Graves is always a pleasure. And it's in a lovely chic space on the plaza at LACMA!
Estimated Savings: $14pp Based on items from regular menu octopus $14+ squid ink pasta w/ bottarga $25+$10 dessert = $49-$35 = $14

Dinner $45
1050 S. FLOWER ST #102 LOS ANGELES CA, 90015 Ph: 213.749.1460
Why?: Menu items like Snails with Iberico Ham, Herbs and Agave-roasted Duck with Tequila, Chicos sound exciting!!! Savings aren't huge and you can find some items on regular menu, but you do save a few bucks so might be the time to try for those like me who haven't been!
Estimated Savings: $8pp Based on same or similar items also on regular menu: sevilla-style salad $13+ribeye steak $32+desserts standard price $8=$53 - $45 = $8

Dinner $45
225 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210 Ph: 310.860.7970
Why?: When else are you going to walk out of Scarpetta after a full meal at less than $50 a head? The location is fantastic - an open park that is even more beautiful at night, sandwiched between two wings of the Montage Beverly Hills. LOVE the creamy polenta with truffled mushrooms and budino from last dineLA and nice to see the trusty choices on the menu again. Also like the sound of Halibut Crudo as starter option, Branzino and Spiced Duck Breast as entree options as well as the tropical sounding coconut panna cotta with guava soup and caramelized pineapple for dessert.
Estimated Savings: $20pp Based on items also on regular menu: polenta $20+branzino $34+ desserts standarad price $11= $65-$45 = $20 

Sunny Spot
Dinner $35
822 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292 Ph: 310.448.8884
Why?: Because I still somehow haven't made it to this place and the dineLA menu looks pretty mouth-watering: double-coated, double-fried jerk wings? pan roasted SKATE (love!!!) with coconut? jamaican oxtail stew? COUNT ME IN, MAN.  Plus, they were the only ones I've seen so far who took the time to have a polished, totally designed dineLA menu for their post - like the attention to detail there, thinking they're not going to do things half-assed here.
Estimated Savings: $19pp Based on same or similar items on regular menu: jerk wings $12+whole roasted fish $35+tart/sundae ~$7 = $54 - $35 = $19

The Capital Grille
Dinner $35
8614 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048 Ph: 310.358.0650
Why?: Don't normally like / crave steak, but their steak is pretty fantastic. A good friend 'Lindyhopper' - a steak lover - loves this place and sees it as the best deal - the Bone-in Kona Crusted Dry Aged Sirloin with Shallot Butter alone is $45 on the regular menu.  Don't know about any difference in portion size from regular menu, but the last dineLA steak was so huge I had half and had to call time out and bag the rest. And you can add a lobster tail for just $10 (though we heard it was small - we didn't have enough room after steak to try ourselves last time!)
Estimated Savings: $39!!!! Based on similar items from full menu back in Feb 2012, which may have variance in portion size - clam chowder $10+Kona crusted sirloin $45+creamed spinach $10+dessert assuming at least $8=$73-$34=$39 FYI Filet Mignon is $41 on regular menu but 10 oz serving - dineLA dinner entree is 8 oz


Note: I have not dined at all of the places above - picks are based on menu descriptions and pricing info listed. Estimated savings are best guess only based on available info. Does not account for variance in portion sizes etc.

*****I will continue to update this as more menus post. Let me know if there are any good ones I've totally missed!

Below are some easy ways to stack your deals, most free to sign up (see websites for details):
  • OpenTable - register and make reservations through their site. When you check in at the restaurant, earn points towards a gift certificate redeemable at any OpenTable restaurant!
  • Use a credit card with a rewards program:
    • American Express
      • Register your Amex card here, BEFORE you visit a dineLA restaurant, then spend $21 or more and pay with that Amex to get $5 statement credit ($21 per person minimum, one credit per restaurant per person).
      • Register with Amex iDine, then use that card to get up to 15% off your bill at participating restaurants year-round (STACKS on top of the $5 credit!).
    • Use any credit card attached to an airline or hotel to earn miles/points for every $ spent during dineLA and year round.
  • College students / folks with college loans: register credit card with their dining program. Cross check their database with your chosen dineLA restaurants, then dine and pay with that card to automatically get up to 8% of your bill back towards student loans!
  • United Mileage Plus: register credit card with their dining program, get up to 5 miles per $ spent on meals year round!
  • Mall Rewards - leverage year-round programs during dineLA to stack rewards:
  • Dine on Sunday 7/22 when street parking is free in most neighborhoods to save on valet.
Got any other tips? Do share!

Bon appetit!

P.S. - So many dineLA restaurants, so little time? Check to see if your favs are offering dineLA outside official dates!

Where will you go for dineLA?


dineLA (Summer 2012)
July 16-27, 2012
Lunch: $15,$20 or $25
Dinner: $25, $35 or $45

Saturday, July 7, 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!

  • Gyu-kaku - great deal for people who work on the Westside! AYCE charcoal grill Japanese BBQ lunch $15.95, choose from 13 bbq items including garlic shrimp, toro beef, spicy pork and calamari, plus 6 appetizers/sides - served daily 12-5pm. At West LA location: 10925 W. Pico Blvd. 
  • Extravaganza for the Sense (Food Event) - 20% off tickets (save $25 off admission)! Text the word  clinic  to 28748 to receive the discount code only valid for online purchases through July 20th at 3:00pm PST.  Fun and delicious night out for a good cause - portion of proceed benefit The Saban Free Clinic providing healthcare, dental and social services to those who can't afford it.  See my recap of last year's event here.
  • dineLA Summer 2012 - July 16-27!  3-course prix fixe lunches and dinners - lunches start from $15 and dinners start from $25! I'll be doing my write-up of my picks as a separate post here soon!
  • La Cuevita - $24 for $48 worth of cocktails (4 drinks) @ La Cuevita Deal via Daily Candy http:/ Da/ (ends 7/10)
  • GO Burger - Free small friesat GO Burger for National French Fry Day 7/13 w/ free coupon on their Facebook page
  • A-Frame - AYCE fried chicken for $18 per person including potato salad and coleslaw, on Saturdays and Sundays starting 7/14!  via Eater LA (and for beer drinkers, $10 mugs of bottomless Hite as well) 
  • Cosmopolitan Sally Hansen Miami Beach Getaway Sweepstakes - enter for chance to win beach getaway for two to Miami Beach + $1000 spending money from Cosmopolitan and Sally Hansen (No purchase necessary to enter sweepstakes, but MAKE SURE you click the link at bottom of page that takes you to the page where you are not signing up for a magazine subscription). Ends 7/9/12 11:59pm ET.  Offical 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!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

SUGARFISH by Nozawa Studio City: 'Trust Me', Not Really Omakase But Fine By Me

The 'Sushi Nazi' - Chef Kazunori Nozawa - a purist sushi artisan, who as legend had it, would toss guests out if they dare to order a California Roll at his counter - ceded in February this year, his culinary landmark restaurant in an indescript strip mall in Studio City, to his son who has been successful with a more modern 'new school' sushi chain: SUGARFISH.
With popular locations already in Santa Monica, Marina del Rey, Brentwood and Downtown LA, this location brings SUGARFISH back to where it all started.  As regular readers know, I am a sucker for that perfect storm of good food + great ambience + great service, and so to me SUGARFISH is in many ways a very welcome shift from old school to new school.  Replacing that austere, no frills, venetian-blinded, spottily lit library-quiet hole in the wall, is an airy, well-designed yet unpretentious, relaxed space. 

Paying homage to the previous 'Trust-Me' decor behind the old counter, is a new wall of chic colorful artwork emblazoned with that same slogan. Replacing the ubiquitous sushi counter where the in concept intimidating Nozawa-san is an open and inviting dining room, with the kitchen moved to the back, out of sight, for "maximum efficiency" that allows for delivery of "good sushi at a fair price". 

The new concept is also said to take inspiration from Nozawa-san's Trust Me style of service - where there is no set menu, but diners rather give themselves over to the chef to deliver the freshest cuts of fish for the day, adjusted for the diner's tastes.  However, in reality what SUGARFISH offers isn't 'omakase' at all - the concept has more similarities to In N Out Burger than traditional omakase.  There are basically 3 preset 'Trust Me' menus, with only 1 of the 3 offering a 'Daily Special'. 
Pricing looked great for sushi lovers on a budget, at $19.75, $29.50 and $39 each, with 6, 7 and 9 different types of rolls respectively.  You can also order various other types of rolls and sashimi from the a la carte menu, also not exorbitantly priced at quick glance.  But the proof is in the quality of the fish, right?  I 'splurged' and went for The Nozawa menu ($39) to see how it works and to sample the widest variety of fish, within the three preset menus.  First came the Organic Edamame, a staple served with any of the three menus. 
Next up: Tuna Sashimi: Right off the bat, this was non-traditional - instead of clean slices of fish, the meat was sort of diced up and served in a shallow bath of ponzu.  Freshness was there, but on the whole this dish not mindblowing and I didn't really love the amount of sauce which slightly overpowered the fish.
The trio of nigiri won me over with lush textures and incredibly fresh, clean with minimal yet beautiful garnish.  There were two pieces each of Albacore, Salmon and Snapper Sushi.  Gently brushed with fresh made ponzu and/or with hints of yuzu.  I was so excited that you can get this quality of fish for the price ($39 for essentially 9 servings of fish!).  My only note is that the rice (on pretty much all the sushi actually) could be a little more cohesive and soft - right now it's a little hard where some of the grains stand out.  But, they did just open when I went so hopefully that is something that will be worked out in time.  I do like that the rice is not served as warm as Nozawa's, but not entirely cold either - somewhere in between.
The Yellowtail Sushi were not photogenic at all, but possibly the best bites I've ever had of this fish in LA.  Yep, I just said it. It was the incredibly fresh, lovely texture that glides into your mouth and *doesn't* melt but gives you the tenderest, smoothest chew.
The Halibut Sushi smooth, perfectly sliced flecked with yuzu kosho and cut through nicely with the acidity of house made ponzu.
Toro Hand Roll loved that they serve this with a perfectly crisp sheet of nori.  Have I used the word 'fresh' for their fish yet? 
Blue Crab Hand Roll same as the Toro Hand Roll: crisp nori, fresh (shell)fish.  Enough said.
Lastly from The Nozawa menu: the eagerly anticipated Daily Special: on this day, it was Halibut Sashimi.  Like the tuna at the start of the meal, it's not the typically sliced presentation, but chopped up and served in ponzu.  Presentation in food is pretty important to me - there is a threshold that good food should meet in terms of looking minimally appetizing.  If it's the most luxurious ingredients in the world - let's say all my favorites, foie, black truffle and uni - mashed up in a blender to look like puke and slopped onto a plate, I'm not really going to want to eat it - and the visuals may involuntarily alter my experience of taste.  And that's sort of what happened with this one. I didn't finish the bowl.
Though I was fairly full after the prix fixe, there were items on the a la carte menu that were either more exciting or so baffling to me that meant I had to try them.  Like Oyster Sashimi ($5.75).  With oysters usually served raw, doesn't that already make it 'sashimi'?  Do they simply mean oysters taken out of their shell and sliced? 

What arrived was a plump oyster, split down the middle almost all the way, and spread open so that it sort of looks like...a pair of lungs.  Which for some reason DID appeal to me - I don't think I've ever seen oyster served like this before, kind of like a really clean, beautiful 'anatomy of an oyster' presentation: breath-taking! And the ponzu cut smartly through the creamy, mild and naturally slightly sweet oyster flavors perfectly, with a bit of chopped scallions adding crunch.  LOVED this dish - it may be one of my favorites at SUGARFISH.  You may say, this is a bit pricey for a single oyster, but it's a substantial size, probably equal to three or four kumamotos. And trust me, the taste and texture?  Worth it.

Sweet Shrimp Sushi ($6.75) so the a la carte items were quite a bit more expensive.  Amaebi or raw shrimp is one of my favorites, when fresh out of the ocean and prepared just right.  Plus you feel like you got a 'bonus' when they either fry up the shrimp heads or serve them up in miso soup for you.  At SUGARFISH, the shrimp was fresh, but not translucent, tailess, and headless.  They didn't serve the heads on the side.  While it was tasty, I didn't think this one was worth the price.

Uni ($9.75) the uni is amazing here, plump, fresh, tasting of the sea, with rice wrapped neatly in crisp nori.  But is worth almost $10 for 2 pieces?  It's a splurge.  I think you can get this quality at other places, some even in the Valley.   
Halibut Fin Sashimi ($6.50) engawa has become one of my favorites since I first tried it at Sushi Gen - this cut of fish takes its name from the exterior hallways of a traditional Japanese house, and references the halibut's side dorsal fin. 

It's a thin slice of muscle that is fatty and concentrated in flavor, with a texture unlike any other sushi fish I've had - sort of 'panelled' or 'striped'.  You don't see it offered at every sushi spot in town, so I was excited to see it on the SUGARFISH menu.  But, again for some bizarre reason SUGARFISH likes to mangle their sashimi (I should have saved my puke reference up above, in halibut sashimi section, for this plate).  Not only is it not appetizing in appearance - this preparation completely kills the main thing that makes the cut of fish unique - its texture.  And again drowned in the ponzu.  I would not order this plate again.
 I have to say that the service was friendly and attentive.  My server came by to ask how everything was, and when I mentioned the fish that I liked, he mentioned that they have an off-menu item that is his favorite, and asked if I wanted to try it.  I was stuffed at that point, but he said the magic words, "off menu" - so of course I had to go for it!  

The off menu item was Albacore Belly - a nice, smooth, fatty cut:  if ankimo (monkfish liver) is the foie gras of the sea, then I would say this fish is the pork belly of the sea.  Loved it.

All in all, though there were massive hits and epic misses, overall SUGARFISH is a fantastic and welcome shift and addition to the neighborhood. 

It's great to be able to make a quick meal of high quality sushi at affordable prices - even if you have to stick to more common types of fish in the prix fixe menus.  Plus that oyster sashimi which will be a 'must eat' for me - I've already been back again and can forsee many more visits.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100% 

SUGARFISH by sushi nozawa

11288 Ventura Blvd # C, Studio City, CA 91604
Ph: 818.762.2322


Sugarfish By Sushi Nozawa on Urbanspoon     

Sunday, July 1, 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!

  • Loteria Grill - 10 tacos for $10 at all locations in LA July 1st only!!!
  • Beso - $30 for $60 of food and drink at Eva Longoria & Todd English's restaurant.  It's Hollywood, but they do have good flatbreads.  Deal at Google Offers (~5 days left to buy)
  • Comme Ca - $45 for $85 2-course bottomless mimosa brunch for two. Deal at GiltCity LA (~1 day left to buy)
  • Visa Olympic Games for Life Sweepstakes - enter for chance to win trip to ALL summer Olympic games, wherever they may be, for the rest of your life starting 2016, by using your Visa card (ends 8/31/12 11:59:59pm PT).  Official rules here
  • Travel Channel July Sweepstakes - enter for chance to win 6-day trip for two to Miami (I'd love to go to check out the latest location of The Bazaar, Jose Andres' restaurant at the new SLS Miami!!!). (Ends 7/30/12) Official rules here (sorry Californians, for some reason we're not eligible to enter this one).

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!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...