Monday, February 26, 2007

Potluck Time!

Got together with friends for a pre-Oscar viewing party of sorts. A good time was had by all, and the food was incredible!!! There was no rhyme or reason to the food theme- everyone just brought lots of good eats and it was a great way to consume all different kinds of food. Thanks to everyone- it was fun!

Now- I'll just let the (embarrassingly blurry) photos speak for themselves......

Yummy fried squid....

Noodles w/ shrimp and char sui pork

Grilled peel 'em shrimp

Grilled shrimp skewers with thai curry sauce.....

Beef w/ chimichurri sauce

Boca negra with coconut flakes

Wild mushroom & guyrere tart

Asparagus dynamite

Crisp wontons with pulled pork, blue cheese & pickled red onion

Luscious lamb........

Somen salad

Crostini w/ roasted eggplant spread and parmesan

Rainbow of Pocky

My piggy plate!

Although I failed to take photos , there were even more offerings- KFC hot wings (who DOESN'T love the Colonel!!??), a sweet and toothsome mochi custard and, the show stopper- peanut butter and jellyfish sandwiches which were actually really good. Whoda thunk it? Maybe it'll start showing up in restaurants eh?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Love Me Tender, Love Me Greens...............

Tender Greens. Don't you just love that name? It conjures up all kinds of images in my head. Cuddly romaine, compassionate asparagus, soft-spoken just sounds nice and fuzzy. Wait, fuzzy greens would be gross actually, but you get what I mean. Tender Greens just makes me think of good stuff....natural, salt-of-the-earth, ecologically sound,, greens. The moment I heard the name, I knew I wanted to check it out.

Tender asparagus...........

Unfortunately for me, Tender Greens is on the Westside, and I'm an Eastsider. Not only do I live on the Eastside, but I love the Eastside and rarely go West for meals. Sure, J and I will head out to the beach on a nice day, or drive out to Surfas if we're in need of any kitchen stuff (and to grab a Canelé, the Best Food on Earth), but we don't make the drive for meals....especially meals that involve wine because we don't want any po po's on our tails for having a glass and driving that far. If we do eat out West, it's usually because we're there for another reason and we get hungry.

Tender cauliflower........

A couple of weeks ago we were out by Venice for...uh, I can't remember. But when hunger struck, I squawked "Tender Greens Tender Greens!!! Must try!!! Culver City!!!" at J. Although he brought up other suggestions, I knew I had to take advantage of being on the Westside and try this much-lauded place. I tried not to yack as I googled it on my cell phone (I cannot read and be in a car or I get utterly nauseated) and pointed J in the right direction. I stuck my head out of the car window and chirped, "Tender Greens, Here We Come!" Well, not really but I did stick my head out of the window to get some air after all that cell phone googling.

Tender tomatoes........

Tender strip steak.......

We parked in the adjacent lot and got in line. Tender Greens was a nice, well-lit space with an open kitchen where all of the fresh ingredients were displayed. There is a large menu on the wall at the entrance, and upon studying it carefully, I decided on the Chipotle Barbeque Chicken Salad (romaine hearts, avocado, jack cheese, crispy tortilla strips, creamy lime dressing) while J opted for the Happy Vegan (tabbouleh, hummus, pasta pearls, farro wheat, young kale, tender greens). I had slight remorse since J's sounded SO yummy, but I was quickly distracted by all of the cooks piling fresh ingredients onto the plates in the open kitchen. Or I guess I should say I was distracted by the fresh ingredients that the cooks were piling onto the plates- after all, it wasn't like Adrien Brody was one of the cooks, ya know? Anyway, the line to the register is right along this open kitchen so you can see EVERYTHING.....and man, it all looked so good. Plates piled high with freshly grilled eggplant, thick slabs of ahi tuna being seared with perfect grill marks......I spent the entire 5 minutes in line going back and forth in my head about what to order, even though I had thought I knew what I wanted. Eventually I did stick to my initial choice and picked up our food. J also decided on a small cup of tomato basil soup.

Chipotle barbeque chicken salad...half eaten!

Happy half-eaten vegan!

We sat down and dug in. My salad was good- the romaine hearts were so sweet and, yes, tender. The chicken was moist and there was a nice, light distribution of dressing. J's Happy Vegan, however, was the real winner. A scoop of green hummus sat next to scoops of farro, barley and was an explosion of tastes and textures. The soup was a bit too acidic and needed something to mellow it out, but the salads were killer. Next time I go, I already know I'm getting the Happy Vegan (although that ahi tuna did look insanely good). Maybe I'll get the Happy Vegan with some ahi on the side....although I guess that would make that the Unhappy Vegan. Hmmm...........

Tender ahi.........

I'd highly recommend Tender Greens for their fresh produce, good flavor combinations and, of course, tenderness.

Tender Greens
9523 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
310 842 8300

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Simple dinner: Soba

After what seems like weeks of non-stop eating out, I feel I need to put the brakes on restaurants for a minute (we'll see how long that lasts!) and eat from the earth. Ok, who am I kidding- I don't have a hippie bone in my body but I do know that I should probably try eating lighter in the next couple of weeks. Saturday's bout of warm weather had me freaking out about not being ready for the long summer days that are probably just around the corner. Although my arms love hiding in the warm billowy comfort of my Max Studio poncho, they know they'll have to face the world soon enough and eating six course meals isn't the best way to contribute to the cause.

Luckily for my taste buds, I keep having a strong urge to eat hot soba noodle soup. I've had it twice in the last week, and I could seriously go for some for lunch today. I'm not sure what's brought on this craving for buckwheat noodles swimming around with cabbage, green onions, bean sprouts and egg in hot bonito stock, but it probably does have something to do with all of the rich food I've been eating lately. The Japanese taste buds on my tongue have declared war on butter! Hai-ya!

In additon to being healthy and delicious, soba noodle soup comes together in about 6 minutes. I love TONS of cabbage, onions and green onions in mine but you can add whatever veggie you choose. Just heat up some tsuyu mixed with water, add your veggies in order of cooking time, toss in some soba noodles and then mix in an egg at the very end. Personally, I attack the entire bowl with a good dose of shichimi which adds a nice kick and extra flavor.

It's the best kind of "fast food" there is, and also a great way to use up any leftover veggies in your fridge.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Valentines Day: Opus Restaurant

After hearing lots of fantastic comments about the tasting menus at Opus, J and I decided that we would spend our Valentines evening there. Now before you go on about how V-day is just a commercial holiday made up by chocolatiers and fragrance companies to make you spend your money- please keep in mind that J is almost ALWAYS on tour in February and Valentines Day is usually spent apart. More importantly, any excuse to eat a good meal out works for us, ha. I suppose that's the real reason!

I want to keep this short and sweet since I'll let the photos speak for themselves. In a nutshell- we both thought Opus was good- there were a couple of things that we fell in love with, and a couple of things we weren't crazy about. There are probably many reasons that have nothing to do with the food for why we felt this way, the main one being that we rarely do tasting menus so we don't really have much to compare it to. Other than omakase at sushi, I can't remember the last time we had a tasting menu, actually. So that's my official disclaimer- I'm not an expert on tasting menus! We both were disappointed with the wine pairings- it was Euro-heavy which is not a problem, but most of the wines lacked body and didn't do a lot for the food. Ironically, a chardonnay (we're not big fans of chardonnay) paired with the John Dory ended up being one of our favorites. The service was warm and attentive, and our waitress was genuinely enthusiastic about the food, which is always nice. There was no menu of the tasting so unfortunately, you'll have to rely on the power (or lack thereof) of my descriptions as I do not recall the exact names of all of the dishes.

The bread basket had thin slices of a cheese bread which was very good, a walnut/hazelnut bread that was ok and a pile of extremely greasy, deep-fried pita chips, which seemed out of place in the basket and the restaurant!

Here is what we had:

Amuse of fennel seed "pudding" with, I believe, some sort of sweet potato custard and topped with seeds. This savory pudding was actually quite sweet- in the way that a vidalia is sweet- and I enjoyed this immensely. J, on the other hand, found the sweetness a bit much. Although I'm not a fennel fan, the flavor wasn't overpowering and the combination with the crunchy seeds made for a very pleasant texture.

First course of hamachi sashimi topped with blood orange "caviar," cucumber "caviar" and served alongside a fried fish of some sort (sorry!) served with a red pepper sauce. We both loved this dish- the hamachi was fresh and fatty, but our favorite was the small nugget of fried fish with the roasted red pepper sauce. We wanted more!

"Mini-course" of egg cream with yolk in the shell. My first bite of this consisted entirely of thick, sweet/sour white cream....slightly sweet...almost like the filling of a cheesecake. J and I both thought "???" but once I dug in deeper and combined the cream with some of the softly cooked yolk, it changed the entire experience- it was delicious. Since the yolk is buried deep beneath the white cream, it might help to have the waitress suggest mixing the two or at least digging in to get the combination for maximum effect.

Second course of avocado mousse with creme fraiche, caviar and crumbled pistachio brittle. This dish was ok, but the avocado tasted too "green"- we felt that that the avocados used may not have been at their prime yet. I think after the creaminess of the egg mini course which preceded this, the texture was too similar and we wanted something a bit more...toothsome. I thought the sweet, crumbled brittle (it wasn't called brittle but I can't recall the exact name!) was a nice compliment to the briny caviar.

Third course of creamy asparagus soup with a lobster ravioli. We both loved this and it was a nice change of pace to get something warm and comforting. The soup smelled and tasted of fresh asparagus- very pure to the main ingredient- and the single, large ravioli in the middle contained just lobster- no "filler"- and it went so well with the soup. Lick-the-bowl good!

Fourth course of pan-seared John Dory on a bed of sauteed celery with tarragon. This was just ok. I actually liked the sauteed celery with tarragon very much. Who thought that celery could make such a subtle and lovely side dish? The fish was fine but nothing to write home about.

MY Fifth course of braised shortrib with cubes of potatoes, golden beets, green beans and crispy fried sweetbreads. This was rich.....uber rich. There was a strong hint of cinnamon and/or clove spice in this, which I wasn't a huge fan of. The meat was tender, but combined with the nuggets of deep fried sweetbreads, ended up being too heavy for me, personally. The spice in the braising liquid didn't suit my taste.

J's Fifth course of sesame-crusted aji (spanish mackeral) was the stand-out winner of the entire evening. We both LOVED it. First of all, it's nice to see mackeral on a menu....unless you're at a sushi joint, it doesn't appear often. I know how tricky it is to cook such an oily fish but there was no overwhelming fishiness and every bite was tender, juicy and extremely flavorful. The sauce drizzled around the fish was sweet but it complimented the nutty sesame and the fish so well. Truly unique and delicious.

Sixth course of chocolate for two- chocolate brownie topped with chocolate ice cream, chocolate stuffed strawberry, spice truffle, chocolate truffle all served with a vanilla crème anglaise. This was very good- the brownie and ice cream was not too sweet and the truffles were appropriately rich. By this point, we were both full but we finished every last morsel anyway.

Overall, it was a good experience. I think, next time we go, we will try the a la carte items- everything coming out of the kitchen looked great. The tasting menu (even at the elevated Valentine's Day price of $80 + $45 w/ wine pairing) is still one of the best bargains in town so if you're itching to try one, Opus is a great place to start.

To check out a decidedly different yet completely original and fun Valentine's Day outing, go here to read about D & J's very special evening!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I realize that for most people, Februrary 14th is Valentine's Day. To me, its Mom's birthday (and Valentine's Day too!) HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Thanks for sparerib Hawaiian, chicken noodle soup, babaloa, shimesaba, chicken kiev, chicken liver salad and that awesome mocha cake with buttercream frosting...and of course all of the non-food-related things you've done for me!

Omedetou! Thanks for everything;)


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Trattoria Tre Venezie, Pasadena

I suppose it's partly my fault for over anticipating my long-awaited maiden voyage to the much lauded over Tre Venezie. Shoot- just as recently as last week, a very well respected LA food journo touted the tiny Pasadena trattoria as one of Los Angeles' finest Italian eateries. Accolades of that sort are nothing new to Tre Venezie, and I've read on numerous sites and heard from many people that THIS was THE place to get some of the finest Italian cooking this side of, well, Italy.

Another mistake on my part may have been that I saved a trip to Tre Venezie for a special occasion- a birthday dinner for me, my sister (we're twins) and my mom, whose birthday is Valentine's Day. Maybe I should have taken it as a sign that poor J got sick the day before and had to bow out of the celebration. He insisted that we still make a go at it, so my family and I kept our 6:30 reservations last Saturday night and eagerly walked into savor what we expected to be one of the most memorable Italian meals we'd have this year.

We walked in and I immediately noticed that the sweet, attentive hostess was the same woman who so attentively waits on us when we dine at Bistro K. That was certainly a good sign! We were seated at our lovely table in the very cozy space and started going over the menu. We were already aware that Tre Venezie specializes in the cooking of the Northeastern regions of Italy so we weren't going in expecting lasagna. We ordered a bottle of wine and decided to share three appetizers to start- the grilled Santa Barbara spot prawns (a special), the polenta cakes topped with baccalao (salt cod) and a carrot and orange salad.

Upon further review of the menu, my mom decided on another special as her main course- an orange ravioli filled with sea bass topped with a nettle sauce. My father and sister both wanted the papperdelle made with farro grains topped with braised rabbit. Although that sounded like something that I'd LOVE, I didn't want to get the same thing and opted for a wheat pasta served with braised onions and anchovies. After all, I love onions more than anything and I've always been a huge fan of the little fishies. We noshed on our cardamom-laced bread and waited on the appetizers.

The carrot salad turned out to be a nice mix of crunchy, shredded carrots and orange wedges tossed in a light white dressing. Although it was certainly refreshing in it's simplicity, it wasn't otherworldly. The baccalao on top of the polenta was way too pulverized for my tasted.....I usually like a bit of the texture of the actual cod to be present. The biggest disappointment, however, were the prawns- not in the flavor- if anything, it was one of the better things we ate that night. It would have been nice to get more than an eight of an ounce per person. Sure, it was our choice to share the appetizer but for $18, I was amazed that anyone would have the gall to serve up two prawns that were nowhere near jumbo. That's $9 a prawn, my friends. And it wasn't dressed with anything but a tiny side salad of shredded vegetables.

The papperdelle with braised rabbit ended up being the only real winner of our meal. The sheets of pasta were paper thin but cooked perfectly al dente and the rabbit was tender and flavorful- albeit chopped into very small cubes that made your teeth ache to bite into something more substantial. My mom's ravioli suffered from the same problem as the baccalao- the sea bass filling was pureed into such a smooth paste that it could have been made from any seafood and wouldn't have made a difference. My anchovy/onion pasta was so salty and fishy that it was inedible- when I mentioned to the waiter that I assumed the dish would be made with fresh anchovies, he said that it was...even though the entire dish tasted exactly like jarred or canned anchovies. I wondered why on earth anyone, if they really did have access to fresh anchovies, would take the fresh fishies and make them into a paste anyway...? I think readers of Tuna Toast know of my well-documented love of salt, but this pasta was so ridiculously fishy and salty that I actually sent it back.

We had some wine left after finishing our meal, so my father asked for the cheese plate. By the time it arrived at our table some 20 minutes later, the wine was gone and we were left to stare at a small plate holding four, thin slices of cheese and a slab of fig compote. Each slice of cheese must have been less that 1/4 of an ounce- and one of the cheese was....smoked. Now, I don't have anything personally against smoked cheese but to serve one on a cheese plate is ridiculous and it completely clashed with the sweet fig compote. None of the other cheese could muster much flavor either, and at $16, we all agreed that the whole thing was a joke.

As you can see, my experience at Tre Venezie was not in line with the endless raves that I've read elsewhere. I suppose I should give it another go, but at those prices, it's difficult to give them another chance. I think readers of this blog know that I have no problem spending money on a good meal- in fact, we probably spend TOO much money on food so money isn't the main issue. It's forking over a kidney for food that is truly mediocre. I'm sure I'll get a lot of detractors here.....and I will admit that maybe I misordered. I'd love to hear feedback from people who truly love this restaurant since I'm blown away by how much I didn't like it. Normally I'd understand why someone may not like a place that was over hyped (like a Koi or Cut or other high profile restaurant). However, Tre Venezie is a neighborhood place that is as far from a flashy, celebrity-hangout as any restaurant could ever be and any hype surrounding the place has been created by the quality of the food. So enlighten me, dear reader(s). Please tell me what I am missing.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Chicken and Beef............

No no, I didn't make a meal out of both chicken and beef. I just thought I'd post about a couple of things I made last week. Since most of the photos didn't turn out well, I'll combine my roasted chicken and beef carpaccio posts into one.

I made a roast chicken for the first time this year, following the fool-proof Zuni Cafe Roasted Chicken recipe. It is so simple, but comes out perfect every time. I love making roast chicken because it is much cheaper to buy an entire chicken than to buy it all cut up, de-boned and skinned and it makes lots of great leftovers. If you haven't ventured into the wonderful world of roasting a whole bird, by all means try this recipe. Not only will you have a fabulous dinner, but your entire house will be permeated with the smell of sage, rosemary, thyme and lovely roasted poultry.

Cracklin' brown skin with herbs peeking through........

Speaking of leftovers, the chicken was used to make this hunking plate of yummy enchiladas the next day.

Can't say much for the blurry photography but it tasted good!

We had good friends of ours for dinner last Saturday and I wanted to try my hand at one of my favorite restaurant dishes- beef carpaccio. We had gotten six gorgeous filet mignons delivered to us as a gift, so I had plenty of beef. I used Giada De Laurentiis' method- rubbing a frozen filet all over with a generous amount of salt and pepper, searing the frozen chunk on all sides, putting it back in the freezer and then slicing it as thinly as possible while still frozen. The minute each slice hits the plate, it starts to thaw, and in a few minutes, you have beef carpaccio! Although the slices could have been cleaner, I was generally pleased with the outcome and the flavor was perfect. I plated it with a mound of arugula that I had tossed with some lemon juice and fruity olive oil, then drizzled the meat with a bit of homemade basil oil and topped it with capers and shaved parmesan. It ended up being the most popular dish at the dinner! Since I have five, fat filets still in the freezer, I think I will be making it again soon.

I know some people are squeamish about raw meat, but if you're a fan of carpaccio, the technique of freezing, seasoning/searing, freezing and cutting works great.

On a slightly related note (it involves a roast chicken): If you need a good laugh, check out another one of Adam's hilarious posts.