sexy eats & drinks at Circa MB

The old Mucho Ultimo space in Manhattan Beach has been transformed into what is now, Circa MB. We recently stopped by to see what the fuss is all about, and also, to say hello to our friend executive chef Chef Bryon Freeze, formerly of Five Crowns/SideDoor in Corona del Mar.

We remembered Mucho Ultimo from last year when we came to visit Chef Bryon after he won the spot on Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell. The food was good then, but we agreed, the new Circa MB menu definitely takes things to a whole new level.

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I am always impressed by an innovative and unique cocktail menu. Besides those listed, the mixologist can and will create drinks to your taste after asking you a few questions about your preferences.

We started with Pharmacia ($10) my first libation of tequila, mezcal, fresh ginger syrup, lemon and honey syrup. The other was a Manhattan ($10). I loved my cocktail and even liked the Manhattan. The bourbon was bearable.

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We order some food to start and while waiting, we ordered the Da Peche Mode ($10) one of the few cocktails Circa creates and bottles. This particular one consists of whiskey, vodka and peach, but unfortunately, I didn’t care for it much, however, I loved the rectangular ice which they serve with this.

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Crispy Pee Wee Potatoes ($6) arrived just in time to go with our drinks. Baby potatoes are baked crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I normally don’t like ranch dressing, but this house-made one had a nice consistency and was very light.

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Mexican Firing Squad ($10) was next. Absolutely delicious! Tequila, lime sour, angostura and club soda made for a tart, fizzy, adult drink. Loved it!

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Squash Blossoms Fritters ($13) uses the freshest blossoms filled with a zucchini mousse consisting of also ricotta and basil. Generally, I find the ricotta inside squash blossoms to be on the heavy side. This was so light and airy it practically melted in my mouth.

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Alaskan Halibut Ceviche ($12) is a take on Peruvian tiradito and pays homage well in flavor. Jicama, cucumber, avocado and the ubiquitous aji amarillo chili sauce is a salivating, refreshing, mouth puckering delight!

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I am very picky when it comes to crab cakes and Chef Bryon’s Maryland Style Crab Cakes ($18) was well textured without many fillers. Fried green tomatoes were crunchy with a cornmeal crust, adding a nice contrast.

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I’m not a huge fan of pork belly but we ordered Steamed Buns ($12) anyway. The pork belly was well rendered and had great flavors all the way through the meat, while the quail egg added another layer of richness. The spicy scallion relish provided the spice and acid, bringing it together for a perfect flavor balance. The only thing I didn’t care for was how thick and dough the buns were.

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The Argentinian Beef Skewers ($13) were perfect. The meat was juicy and seasoned really well. They were great on their own, but the chimichurri just took it to a whole ‘nother level. The pickled red onions added another acid component to the dish which makes me very happy! Love acid!

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My favorite of the night was Black Olive Gnocchi ($20). The gnocchi were pillowy with a nice toothiness to each bite. The luscious Dungeness crab was sweet and plentiful. This is a dish I will come back for, bar none!

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One more drink — Penicillin ($10) a concoction of scotch, tequila, ginger syrup and honey lemon. For the life of me I couldn’t find a photo to accompany…. so instead, I’ll tell you about the Strawberry Tart ($7) we ended our meal with. The tart is topped with marinated strawberries macerated in lime zest, lime juice, granulated sugar, Licor 43 and a dollop of Chantilly cream.

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Circa MB is a hip spot with excellent cocktails and great food. The restaurant was packed so reservations are highly recommended. Chef Bryon Freeze is doing something awesome here!

Circa MB
903 Manhattan Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Tel: 310-374-4422

Circa on Urbanspoon

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Spanish revival at Cafe Sevilla Riverside

Years ago, when I first moved to southern California, I came here for dinner while visiting Riverside and didn’t remember much about the experience except that the service was outstanding. On a recent trip out to Riverside six years later, a bunch of my friends and I came here for dinner and while the decor hasn’t changed much, the food certainly was a lot more memorable.

As with all foodie get togethers, we started with some cocktails, and believe it when I tell you this — there are a lot to choose from at Sevilla! There’s an array of sangrias on offer and we tried all four — Sangarita ($8) the combination of sangria and El Jimador margarita, Sangria Blanca ($8) white wine with apples and cinnamon.

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There is also the traditional Sangria ($8 pint/$28 pitcher/$59 barrel) and the Sangria Royal ($9) with Licor 43 and Gran Torres Orange. I also loved the Barbacoa ($10) a cocktail of house infused pineapple serrano Milagro tequila with fresh squeezed lime juice garnished with Soria chorizo.

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We had too much food, hits and misses so here I’m going to highlight the definitely hits. Sevilla’s Daily Baked Bread ($5) is a great way to start while enjoying your cocktails. Artisan Kalamata olive loaf was too hot to handle when it arrived, but we couldn’t wait. Served with Andalusian tomato sauce and aioli dips, it was delicious!

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One of my favorites of the evening was Scallop and Yellowtail Ceviche ($10) with a beautiful mojo — tart and mouth puckering — and bits of cucumbers and avocado. The marriage of flavors was insanely good.

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It wasn’t that long ago when pata negra, or Iberico ham was illegal here in the US. Boy was I happy when that ban was lifted! Imported Jamon Iberico ($27) was intensely flavorful and nicely cured. I wish they had sliced it a lot thinner though and served it with pan de tomate instead of regular grilled bread.

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I wanted to try Shrimp al Ajillo ($9) as this is always my to-go-to dish when visiting a Spanish restaurant. I enjoyed this one but would’ve liked more garlic. The roasted artichokes were a nice touch!

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If you’re a fan of cheese, then Cheese Fundido ($12) is not to be missed. Rich, decadent, the baked manchego and goat cheese come together to form a gooey, oozy, deliciousness with bits of salty chorizo throughout.

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Grilled Spanish Sausages ($9) includes three different styles: chorizo riojano, longaniza and lamb merguez. The caramelized onions are a bit sweet but otherwise, a great meaty item.

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We were stuffed but still managed to finish off with some churros. If you have the energy after dinner, pop upstairs for some traditional music or next door for a nightclub experience.

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Cafe Seville — Inland Empire
3252 Mission Inn Avenue
Riverside, CA 92507
Tel: 951-778-0611

Café Sevilla & Nightclub on Urbanspoon

my week in NYC: sangria tapas and paella

If you’ve never had paella the right way — the Spanish way — with socarrat (burnt bottom) and all, then you’re missing out on one of the greatest pleasures in life. I love burnt rice across the continents. The Chinese claypot rice — when done right — has that perfectly crispy bottom. Korean bibimbap when done right also has that crispy layer on the bottom. Paella is no different.

We began with a pitcher of Sangria ($35/pitcher), some of the best I’ve ever had. The menu had things I wanted to try, things I love from my favorite Spanish restaurant in San Francisco.

Boquerones ($10) was one of them. White anchovies, olive oil and garlic with cherry tomatoes and olives. The anchovies weren’t as acidic as the ones I’m accustomed to, and also, a little fishier. Not the best I’ve ever had.

The same goes for Gambas Al Ajillo ($10), one of my favorite shrimp dishes with garlic, olive oil and guindilla pepper. I even make this at home. The shrimp did not have the best texture, some a little mushy. Flavor-wise, it was good.

Coca del Dia ($12) flat bread topped with chef’s choice — tonight, caramelized onions, mushrooms and bacon. Absolutely delicious!

But what we came here for was the paella. My friend wanted to try the Carne ($24/person) paella with pork, duck, chicken, chorizo, mushrooms and topped with snow peas. I have never had anything but the Valencia-style paella so this was new and quite interesting.

The paella was of perfect consistency, moist on the top with that beautiful crust — the socarrat — on the bottom. The result was a darker, more robust flavor from the meats rather than the saffron hued seafood version. I could’ve eaten more but instead we moved on to Bunuelos ($8) chocolate filled beignets which had nice consistency but I’m not a fan of the chocolate filling.

After three pitchers of sangria, laughing with friends new and old, my belly was full and we were ready to make our way back to the hotel to sleep off this great fun-filled meal.

Socarrat Paella Bar
259 W 19th Street
New York, NY 10011
Tel: 212-462-1000

Socarrat Paella Bar on Urbanspoon

my week in NYC: Baohaus and Momofuku

After mentioning that one of the places I needed to hit before I leave was Momofuku for the pork belly baos, my friend Julie suggested I first try Baohaus. She tells me that they were the originator of the pork belly bao, and that I would have something to compare them to when I eat David Chang’s version.

We stopped into Baohaus and ordered three different baos to share. Julie chose the Uncle Jesse ($2.99) an organic fried tofu bao with crushed peanuts, cilantro, Haus relish and Taiwanese red sugar. I didn’t like the texture of the baos, too thick and too toothy.  The tofu was well fried, soft on the inside and lightly coated on the outside. It was too mild for me, a little too subtle in flavor and depth — great for vegetarians though.

I chose Chairman Bao ($3.50) — a braised all natural Berkshire pork belly served with the same condiments as the Uncle Jesse. The pork belly was not tender enough and lacked the intensity of color and flavor which I was expecting. It needed to be braised a little longer in a stronger marinade so the fat is rendered through a bit more and the lean meat is softer.

Haus Bao ($3.90) was a braised all natural Creekstone beef cheek with the same condiments — boring! This was more what I had expected, a richly dark piece of meat with full flavors which could stand up to the bao but after three different baos with the same condiments, it got old rather quickly. I’m glad I tried it but it didn’t blow me away by any means.

A few days later, I got together with my friend Nathan, who writes The Pastry Whore blog, to lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar.

We started with those ubiquitous pork belly buns ($10/2pcs) with hoisin sauce, scallion and cucumber. There is no comparison! The pork belly was rendered so well that its unctuousness just melted in your mouth. The flavors were nicely infused into the meat and the buns weren’t too thick and of a good consistency. Fantastic!

Brisket Rice Cakes ($14) is a take on the Korean dish ddukboggi but instead of a spicy sauce, Swiss chard, pickle salad and a runny fried egg is incorporated with chunks of fried rice cakes. I had two complaints regarding this dish — one, it needed heat which the hot sauce they provide you with did the trick. Two, not every piece of rice cake was fried throughout to give it that crunchy texture, but when I did get one with the right crispiness, it was divine!

Sadly, the Momofuku Ramen ($16) was very disappointing. I was expecting it to blow me away because I was at “the noodle bar”, but the broth was average. Toppings included tender pork belly, shredded pork shoulder, a soft poached egg, slices of kamaboku (fish cake), and a generous handful of scallions. Though ample, the condiments couldn’t make up for the fact that the noodles were just the generic kind — didn’t taste handmade or anything.

From one Momofuku to another, the Milk Bar was something quite unique and interesting. I was blown away by the rice milk soft serve and the green apple and cheddar soft serve.

I like eating foods like this — something that blows your mind and throws it for a loop. This was essentially ice cream I was eating, but the taste of malted cereal and the tart crisp apple with a salty cheddar finish just made me grin from ear to ear!

Then there was the Crack Pie which didn’t look like anything much but tasted like pecan pie. When eaten together with the apple cheddar soft serve, it enhanced the apple flavors and completely masked the cheddar all together.

It was so weird but not to be missed if you want a palate blowing out of body experience. The Milk Bar is definitely a seriously fun tasting adventure.

Baohaus
238 E 14th Street
New York, NY 10003
Tel: 646-669-8889

Baohaus  on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10003
Tel: 212-777-7773

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Milk Bar
251 E 13th Street
New York, NY 10003
Tel: 347-660-6658

Momofuku Milk Bar on Urbanspoon

>The Bazaar Part One — a disappointing birthday celebration

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Back in November last year, Holly Wong of Seeking Delicious and I celebrated our birthdays with 9 of our friends at The Bazaar by Jose Andres. One of my friends came as far as Toronto — Canada that is — and one from Thousand Oaks.I’ll have to say my review of The Bazaar will come in Part I and Part II and you will understand why once you’ve read this review in its entirety.

For some reason, traffic was horrific that evening and it took us about 2 hours to get from OC to Beverly Hills so our guests arrived sporadically. While waiting, several of us ordered some drinks, including Passion Fruit Up! ($16) which comprised of orange rum, passion fruit and ginger-laurel syrup, topped with passion fruit foam. It was like drinking a dessert, aromatic with a perfect combination of sweet and tart flavors.

Passion Fruit Up!

Holly and Mahesh decided to go all out and partake in the table side service drink Caipirinha ($20). A guy comes around with a cart and starts concocting this drink consisting of Brazilian cachaça, fresh lime and sugar and freezes it as you watch, using liquid nitrogen.The Caipirinha was good but was it really worth the $20 price tag? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Our party is finally seated at a round table and as we squeezed into the small space, our server comes over to tell us about the $75/8 course tasting menu we were ‘encouraged’ to order due to the size of our party — (there is a $55 one for 5 courses as well). We queried about the offerings and decided to order a few extra items not on the tasting menu as well. **I’ve added the a la carte pricing for convenience**

We start with a yogurt tamarind star anise dip ($10) served with sweet potato chips in a paper bag. A few serves were placed on the table and everyone was to share. However, we quickly ran out of the sweet potato chips and I asked for more.

yogurt dip with sweet potato chips

We joked about the size of the portions and how we may have to just keep asking for chip refills if we were to fill up and I sarcastically said “yeah watch, they’ll be charging us for the chips and we’ll have end up eating $200 in chips”. Yes it was funny, but at the end of the meal, they charged us $5 for every bag they gave us — *guess it wasn’t a joke after all*

Our next course arrived in the form of American caviar cone ($9/per person) — we were each presented with a baby cone filled with caviar and a lovely foam.

caviar cone

This was one of our favorites of the evening. The crispy cone was a wonderful contrast to the gooey, salty, poppy texture of the caviar.

Jamón Ibérico Fermin (2 oz) $28 was definitely a hit with everyone. Perfectly salty dry cured, free-range Ibérico ham served with Catalan roasted bread and a tomato spread. This is very traditional and one of my favorite Spanish tapa. For the longest time, flesh of the black pig was not allowed to be imported into the USA and I knew people who would try to “smuggle” it in their luggage from Spain. Boy was I glad when they lifted that ban!

Jamon Iberico

Our next item was mussels in vinegar, olive oil and pimenton ($8) served in a tin. I know this is traditional and served at tapas bars across Spain, but I didn’t enjoy this at all. Neither did I like the King crab, raspberries in a raspberry vinegar ($18), also served in a tin. The raspberries completely masked the sweetness of the crab which was a real shame!

We were all perplexed as to why we were eating tuna ceviche and tuna roll ($15) because it reminded us of something we’d eat in a Japanese restaurant.

tuna ceviche

Even so, this was very refreshing, tuna was very fresh, and the avocado made it very creamy, adding to the flavor.This dish was tasty so we were thinking things were looking up, but then an array of what were the worst items of the night followed.

We just couldn’t understand Catalan spinach, apple, pine nuts, raisins ($8). It reminded us of frozen spinach — tasteless and bland. The apple, pine nuts and raisins just made a strange pairing for the vegetable. Nobody at the table liked this. But the worse was yet to come.

Boneless chicken wings with green olive purée ($9) was just mind-boggling. We couldn’t even figure out what it was until one of my friends (who absolutely abhors chicken) proclaimed that it was chicken. We were thinking it was something a little more exotic, like pigeon perhaps, or even quail. But alas, the server informed us it was boneless chicken wings. There was laughter of disbelief from some of the people, but the consensus was mutual — everyone disliked this dish tremendously!
braised Wagyu cheeks

Next was the braised Wagyu beef cheeks with California Citrus ($18) but they sous vide the Wagyu a little too much. The meat was mushy and reminded me of meat from one of those vacuumed packets you’d find at the supermarket. We were all flabbergasted at this point, most of us shocked that a perfectly good Wagyu was treated in this manner. Two pieces were left and no one wanted it.

Ironically, we had chicken again and we were told that it was seared chicken sous vide with dates, mustard caviar and spicy mustard greens ($10). After the beef, I was very skeptical about another sous vide item. Although it was better than the Wagyu, the chicken was so-so despite the pleasant acroutrements.

Chipirones en su tinta

After four disappointing dishes, we were not looking forward to a fifth, but luckily, Chipirones en su tinta ($10) arrived. Baby squid with own ink was nicely flavored, but Holly, who has lived in Spain for 6 months commented on how these were the biggest baby squid she’d ever seen. We laughed it off to how everything is bigger in America and let it go at that. I enjoyed them even though they weren’t as delicate as they should’ve been.

Papas Canarias, salty wrinkled potatoes served with a mojo verdé ($8) was tasty but wasn’t unique in any way.

Neither were the Buñuelos — codfish fritters — served with a honey aioli ($9). I love codfish and these looked good, but the exterior wasn’t fried to perfection making them soft and texturally dismal. I was very sad.

By now we were all dying to finish up our meal and move on to dessert, but we had a few more courses yet to come.

Next on the list was the Tortilla de patatas “new way” * ($5/per person). This was one of the items we ordered in addition to the tasting menu. This is served similarly to the caviar egg at Melisse except it was potato foam, egg cooked to a perfect 63 degrees and caramelized onions.

Thank god this was pretty good. Those of us who ordered this supplement were pleased with the result. Not caviar egg, but still, decent enough after the string of shockingly disastrous courses we had to endure.

not your every day Caprese

One of my favorites of the night was Not-your-everyday Caprese, cherry tomatoes, liquid mozarella ($12). Little balls of cherry tomatoes and mozarella were filled with an air pocket, if you will, which created a perfect sensation in your mouth when you bit into them. I loved it so much I took the one remaining portion left on the plate. This is one of my top 5 items of our 18 course meal.

asparagus tempur

Green asparagus tempura ($9) with a romesco dipping sauce was again very average, something any ordinary Japanese restaurant is able to create with no problem whatsoever. I guess the only thing which sets it apart from a Japanese dish is the ubiquitous Spanish dipping romesco sauce.

Sautéed wild mushrooms ($12) with hazelnut praline topped with micro chives was a strange dish. I’m not sure I liked the hazelnut praline although I liked the wild mushroom medley. However, again, someone pointed out that sauteed mushrooms was something all of us have had elsewhere, so it wasn’t anything unique.

Philly cheesesteak

I’m glad they saved the best for last so to speak. “Philly cheesesteak” was definitely one of the top fives of the night. Thin bread with air pockets filled with melted cheddar was topped with slices of rare Wagyu beef ($8/per person) and was absolutely DELECTABLE!! I think we were all in agreement that we would’ve been happy eating five of these and calling it a night.

cotton candy foie gras

Last but not least, our second supplement item was Cotton candy foie gras ($5) — I’m glad they kept this as the last item. I’d been waiting to try this forever. A small piece of foie gras is placed on a stick with cotton candy spun around it. The sweetness of the cotton candy paired perfectly with the soft rich flavor of the foie gras.

We moved to the “dessert” room for our desserts — which I’m not going to go into. We had ordered some champagne which didn’t arrive until towards the end of the meal. I think our server was perhaps not the most well-trained, nor was she knowledgeable about our questions. Each time we asked her something, she had to go “find out” the answer, sometimes, not returning with a reply.

Our evening was not what we had hoped for and I tweeted our experience the entire evening. Still, I was very shocked and humbled when Chef Jose Andres himself tweeted me back apologizing for our evening and personally inviting me back as their guest. Therefore, Holly and my second visit to The Bazaar will be featured in Part II of my Bazaar experience to be posted at a later date.

SLS Hotel
465 South La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
 

(310) 246-5567 Photography by Mahesh

The Bazaar By Jose Andres on Urbanspoon

>Lola Gaspar — satisfies my every desire

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Lola Gaspar, the name itself brings a smile to my face! This little bar in the heart of the artist village in downtown Santa Ana has been around for over a year now and still remains one of my favorite places to go for a drink and grab a quick tasty bite with friends. The atmosphere is goth-chic if there is such a thing. Personally, I love it! The people are beautiful, the drinks are sexy, the food is tasty and most of all, it is just a cool place to hang out at. I’ve never brought a friend here who hasn’t absolutely loved it! My favorite drinks here are the mojitos, margaritas (pictured) or my current crush, the Brooklyn Love! The food here is served tapas-style, order an appetizer or two — my addiction is the grilled calamari — such as bleu cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, or get a few of the tacos for good measure. Whatever you decide, I can assure you it’ll be a great time all around. Make sure you don’t stop by on the first Saturday of each month when Artist Walk happens in downtown Santa Ana or else you will be very frustrated and angry when the wait can be up to 2 hours. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 Lola Gaspar, 211 W 2nd Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701. Tel: 714-972-1172

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