The BEST of the rest: 2014

I didn’t have a category in which to place these last few restaurants I love, so here they are in no particular order. These restaurants have been solid contenders in my dining repertoire this year and hopefully, will continue to impress in 2015.

Starting with Los Angeles County, Dominique’s Kitchen in Redondo Beach has been winning us over again and again. This year, we visited a total of four times — a mean feat when you think about how many restaurants I actually get to return to every year. It has become my son’s favorite restaurant and he will find any excuse for us to dine here. Chef Dominique Theval and his wife Liza run this little French bistro which offers some of the best home-style fare southern California has to offer. Chef Dominique creates his own rillettes, pates, lamb sausages, and a myriad of other things to tickle your fancy. If you’re planning to visit, make sure you call for a reservation because they get packed. There are two posts from 2014, but here is my most current one.

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Chef Frank DeLoach is a young chef who has almost the exact same palate as I do. Therefore, it is always such a pleasure to eat something he’s created. His combination of tart, heat and savory is spot-on and has cooked some of the best Asian-inspired dishes I’ve ever eaten. His ability to present Asian flavors on a plate is incredible — he’s not Asian — and blows me away every time. The menu at Tavern on 2 in Long Beach is focused on gastropub fare, but that’s not what I go there for. Choose any of the non-Western dishes on the menu for one of the most tantalizing journeys your tastebuds will go on. You can read my review here.

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There’s something about family-owned and run restaurants which appeal to me. Ceppo (pronounced che-po) in Huntington Beach is one of them. Its location is its biggest enemy which does absolutely no justice to what the restaurant has to offer. Pair with that a drab ambiance and most people would not even bother stepping inside. However, once you do, you will be so pleasantly surprised by the skill of Chef Tomi who previously owned what’s it called in Newport Beach. Not only are the main dishes incredible, but you will be blown away by the beautiful desserts as well. Read about my visit here.

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I was at first skeptical about Selanne Steak Tavern because of its celebrity attachment, however, all was quashed when I experienced one of the best meals this year, along with top notch service to boot. The restaurant is beautiful regardless whether you sit on the outside patio or in the many rooms inside. Old school charm in a modern setting is what I call it, where the impeccable attention to detail makes you wonder why no one else is doing the same. I won’t spoil it for you, but I was just blown away by all the little things Selanne Steak Tavern adds to a visit — some might not even recognize them, but I sure did! Here’s my post from this year.

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Istanbul Grill is one of those restaurant you will easily miss if you’re not looking for it. Located in a plaza across from the Costco in Fountain Valley, it is not exactly in a great spot, but once you’ve eaten here, it will fast become your favorite Middle Eastern place. The food is flavorful and can absolutely compare with some of the best out of lil Arabia. During lunch time, the crowd can be overwhelming so I suggest going early. Here’s my post from this year.

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My last pick is Counterpoint in San Diego, a little neighborhood eatery which has been on my mind ever since we visited several months ago. My son still comments on the Brussels sprouts whenever I make mine at home because they are not nearly as good as the kimchi infused ones here. Counterpoint offers a menu of familiar comfort foods, but all with a bit of a twist, like the pastrami sandwich made with tongue. The menu is almost completely made in-house including sausages and pickles, which is highly impressive when you see how small the restaurant is. You can read about it here.

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There you have it. This is my last post of the year and I want to thank all of you for your continued support and readership. Join me again in 2015 for more food finds all across southern California and beyond. If you have any suggestions of your favorite restaurants, please let me know! Happy New Year to you all.

 

5 favorite Asian restaurants of 2014

I often crave comfort foods I grew up eating. After a string of non-Asian meals, I will find myself gravitating towards something familiar, usually consisting of rice, but also, noodles of some sort swimming in broth. I also love spicy foods, so southeast Asian cuisines are especially popular in my culinary repertoire.

One of my favorite restaurants is Rakiraki Ramen and Tsukemen, located in what may be considered as San Diego’s Chinatown. On every visit — which is practically every time I go to San Diego — I will order the ikagetso (fried squid) as well as chicken karaage (Japanese style fried chicken) and a ramen of some sort depending on my mood. On my last visit, I returned once again to the original, one of the first ramen offerings I fell in love with from the start. You can read my visit from this summer, here.

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Vientiane is a hole-in-the-wall which I frequent at least once a month and now, have gotten some of my friends completely hooked on it as well. The northern Thai and Lao dishes are a huge hit especially the crispy rice, ong choy, Lao sausage, and if you’re into it, mok pa (steamed catfish in banana leaf). The kids who work here know my order and laugh when I veer off the usual because they know at some point during my meal, I will order the dishes I didn’t at the start. Here is my last post from 2013.

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I found Rice Paper Bistro last year and it was one of my top 10 picks of 2013. This little spot sticks out like a sore thumb in the run-down strip mall it is situated in, but has remained a favorite in 2014. Step inside and you will be surprised at its modern feel and creative menu. My favorites are the ong choy salad, fried frogs legs and my latest indulgence, beef with ginger and scallion. The specials board is often dotted with new and innovative dishes you’ll absolutely adore. Here’s my post from 2013.

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On cold days like these, my favorite thing to do is visit Tang 190 for one of its hearty Korean soups. Here, you can indulge in bone soup (sullungtang) which has that milky look from simmering for hours on end. Enjoy a spicy beef soup (yukgejang) or my son’s favorite, bibimbap (beef stone pot rice). The Napa cabbage miso beef bone soup is currently my favorite. Read about Tang 190 here.

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Whenever I’m up in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles, Pine and Crane is a must-stop even if I am actually up there for a meal — I will order take-out to enjoy the next day. This little fast casual spot has been my favorite Chinese eatery this year with its tasty ma po tofu, 3-cups chicken, beef roll, dumplings and more. What I love most about the restaurant is its ability to create these traditional Chinese dishes but without the greasiness. We need Pine and Crane in OC! Read about them here.

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Stay tuned next week for more “best of” lists of 2014!

 

 

a birthday celebration at Hinoki & The Bird

We’d been hearing the buzz about Hinoki & The Bird in magazines, on TV, and just in general lately. We found an excuse to make the drive up to celebrate a friend’s birthday and to check out what the hype was all about.

The brainchild of David Myers, the man behind Comme Ca, in LA and Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, the restaurant is nestled in an office building, hidden from view. Once you drop your car off at valet, the indescript door opens to reveal a landing where you are introduced to the bustling dining room below as well as a pseudo open kitchen where you can view the chefs in action.

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I was very pleased that we were seated on the patio. It reminded me of Gjelina’s patio which is always more pleasant than sitting in the dining room itself. After we settled at our table, it was time to order some cocktails.

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The cocktail menu offers selections for all, and if you don’t see anything you like, their mixologist will be happy to create one for you according to your preferences. We ordered a total of 12 cocktails between us: Jungle Bird Quaffers ($14), Tommy’s #2 Quaffers ($14), Griffith Park Swizzles ($14), Seasonal Fix Swizzles ($14), Elijah Craig Manhattan ($15).

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The menu is eclectic and there were many items we had our eyes on. Chili Crab Toast ($16) was very familiar to me reminiscent of the Singapore chili crab I grew up with, but this had only a hint of heat to it. Spicy cucumber and coriander provided an element of freshness to each bite.

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Pumpkin Toast ($12) was on the other spectrum from the crab toast. The slightly sweet pumpkin combined with the salty sweet miso jam and creamy goat cheese appealed even to my non-sweet palate, although I didn’t care much for the goat cheese. I was glad there were only two little dots on top and not more.

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I’m a big fan of Beef Tartare ($15) and this was incredible. The pickled jalapeno lent a spicy tartness to the perfectly seasoned beef. The quail egg yolk intensified the creamy aspect of the already rich flavors. A sprinkling of parmagiano cheese completed the dish with more saltiness. This was one of our favorites of the night.

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The Lobster Roll (MP/on our night $19) was better on paper than in actuality. I didn’t like the denseness of the squid ink roll which took away from the subtle nuances of the crustacean. On its own, the lobster was perfectly luscious, delicately sweet even after being seasoned with green curry and Thai basil. I chose to omit the bread which overpowered the lobster and masked its flavors. 

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One of the specials of the night was a chilled egg custard topped with uni and baby corn ($14) and was my ultimate favorite. I could have eaten two bowls of this and called it a night. One of my friends and I were scraping the bottom of the bowl, making sure not to leave even a speck of this umami-filled treasure behind. This was a definite winner in my book!

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Hinoki, a Japanese cypress tree shows itself in the signature dish, Hinoki Scented Black Cod ($26). A piece of the tree’s bark is lit and laid over a piece of seared black cod, allowing it to gently “smoke” and coat the fish as it arrives at the table. Beautifully flavored but overcooked, our server sent a new dish out to us and the second time, it was perfect! It is tender, melt-in-the-mouth and is exactly why black cod is also known as ‘butterfish’.

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Sambal Skate Wing ($23) reminded me of a dish I grew up eating in southeast Asia. Instead of skate, stingray was used, a fish similar in look and texture to the skate. Served on a piece of banana leaf (they wrap the stingray in banana leaf in Asia) the fish is smothered in a spicy sambal paste and possessed hints of the fragrance of the banana leaf. The nuoc mam (fish sauce) dipping sauce was so enticing we couldn’t stop eating it, even using it with other items still left on the table.

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The birthday boy ordered Drunken Duck Breast ($26) which was good but not fantastic. I would’ve liked more seasoning — the exterior of the meat was nicely flavored but didn’t extend all the way to the inside.

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We also ordered some sides which were absolutely delicious! Shiitake ($11) mushrooms were allowed to shine on their own without much fussy fiddling. They were plump, meaty and so good even on their own.

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Roasted Yam ($9) were little yams slit down the middle and filled with crispy lardon and creme fraiche. The lardon added saltiness to the natural sweetness of the yams and I’m glad my BFF ordered this because they were so good and so simple!! 

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Hinoki & The Bird is a fun place with a very cool menu. Everything was really good with a few stand-outs and the staff were awesome. Our server Raewyn was knowledgeable, friendly, and made sure we walked away absolutely happy with our experience. I highly recommend a vist!

Hinoki & The Bird
10 Century Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Tel: 310-552-1200

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A taste of Street food Feniger style

I was a little wary about eating here because street food is what I grew up on. I was afraid they would butcher the dishes that were close to my heart and then I’d leave feeling underwhelmed and more homesick for those dishes more than ever before.

My friend Austin and I arrived when it opened and were greeted by the lovely host who told us we could have the pick of the restaurant. We chose to sit inside because we could feel the sweltering heat about to envelope us from the car to the door and sitting outside would no doubt make our meal a lot less enjoyable.

No sooner had we sat down and gotten our drinks, a small dish of these turmeric-hued Indian flavored rice crispies were placed before us. Their slight saltiness surprised me as I was expecting sweet rather than savory and the heady aroma of cumin hit me head on. It was certainly a seductive introduction to what was to come!

We started with Sashimi ($12), seasonal fish — in this case, albacore, spicy sesame mayonnaise, ponzu sauce, smoked salt, pink peppercorns and daikon radish sprouts.

I was at first put off by the mayo — I hate mayo — but once I mixed it with the ponzu, it diluted the mayo taste and added a different element to it which was rather pleasant. The pink peppercorns were possibly my favorite flavor component to this dish — and if you didn’t know, pink peppercorns are not pepper but berries from the Baies Rose plant.

This is probably why although there is a slight kick to it, they are very subtle and unique, not anything like the black or white peppercorns. This dish worked for me on every level!

A few of the dumpling selections caught our eye and so we decided to go with the Dumpling Sampler ($14) to experience three of the items instead of ordering a la carte.

I didn’t like Spinach Varenyky. These Ukranian dumplings were filled with spinach and a layer of salted cheese, boiled and then fried, served with sour cream, fried onions and lemon marmalade.

They were dense, dry and lacked flavor. It reminded me of a ricotta cheese and spinach mix I put into my lasagnas before I’ve seasoned it, and the acoutrements didn’t help to enhance them any.

The filling was under-seasoned and although the lemon marmalade sounded good on paper, there wasn’t enough of it to help cut the heaviness.

Mandoo Vegetable Dumplings were a different story all together. I loved the Asian vegetables stuffed inside the wrapper, making them moist and flavorful. I however did not taste the sweet potato nor kimchi, but the roasted ginger yam puree was a nice touch if you needed added moisture — which those Ukranian dumplings should have had.

Shrimp stuffed shiitake mushrooms were my favorite of the three. Tempura fried shiitake mushrooms are filled with a delicate shrimp mousse, battered and fried.

I loved the ponzu dipping sauce which helped cut the grease some. Three fried dumplings are too greasy on one platee. What I would’ve liked is to balance the fried with some steamed options to lessen the overkill.

Initially, I had checked out the online menu and had the clams stuck on my mind, only to be told that the website’s menu needed updating and instead, Curried Mussels ($12) were offered. These Goa-style mussels in coconut milk with shallots, curry leaf and Spanish chorizo were perfectly prepared, tender without the least bit of rubbery or chewy texture.

I saw the curry leaf swimming around but didn’t detect its aroma. Nor did the coconut milk stand out in any way. The chorizo was so hard we weren’t able to chew on it, leaving it in the bowl with the remainder of the broth for our server George to take away.

Korean Rice Salad ($15) was essentially bibimbap, but as far as bibimbaps go, this was an epic fail. Apart from the superbly glazed seasonal fish (salmon) which was flaky, moist and absolutely perfect, the rest was a different story.

The brown rice, chopped lettuce, soybean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, nori, daikon radish, tofu, sunflower seeds all had the makings of a good bibimbap. However, where it failed was in the seasonings. Even though it is tossed in a spicy sweet sesame dressing, it was bland and dry that even the runny fried egg mixed in was not able to save it. It was desperately needing a huge dollop of gojuchang, something to give it some oompf. We ate the fish but left the rest untouched.

In order to make up for the last dish, we ordered Black and gold ceviche ($11) marinated seasonal fish with golden chiles, cucumber, red onion, and cilantro topped with extra virgin olive oil and salsa negra, served with an arugula side salad and house made potato chips. This was a pleasant dish, but didn’t wow me.

I wish I had left room at this point to enjoy more than two bites of the Lebanese Za’atar Chicken Wrap ($15) because it was DELICIOUS.

Oven roasted chicken, chopped and dusted with za’atar spice mix, wrapped in toasted lavash, with baba ghanoush, marinated tomatoes, olives, cucumber lebni yogurt, and chopped harissa eggs sounds like a lot, but came together so beautifully.

The fact that I was already stuffed and found this sandwich as stellar as I did goes to show how truly amazing its flavors were.

Unfortunately we were too full to have any dessert, but we are determined to return for a sampling of their dinner menu which has different items from the lunch menu. All in all, a really relaxed meal with awesome service from George. We shall return again — soon!

Susan Feniger’s Street
742 N Highland Street
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tel: 323-203-0500

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