Archive for ‘restaurant review’

August 16th, 2011

Chicken and rice (on 53rd and 6th, SW corner, of course)

There’s one dish that I truly miss and simply can’t get in Los Angeles.  No, it isn’t fancy, pricey or found in some exclusive hidden locale.  What is it?  It’s the chicken and rice plate from the 53rd and 6th Halal Cart in midtown Manhattan.  Yes, some of New York City’s thousands of fine restaurants are being outdone by a food cart that is so famous, its positive online reviews would take up the memory of a 2001 ‘smart’ phone.  How could one street vendor serve a block long line of people at midnight, while a trendy restaurant in the Village struggles to fill the house?  The secret is:  are you ready for this… the food.

The Halal Food Cart’s signature dish is delicious.  After your first bite, you’ll immediately understand why you’ll have to endure a fifteen minute long line just to order seconds.  Does grilled, finely shredded chicken lying majestically on a bed of perfectly cooked long grain rice sound good to you?  How about if I mention the chopped iceberg lettuce, pita bread and two kinds of sauce that each has its own charm? The white sauce is something between ranch dressing and tzatziki, while its counterpart, the red sauce, is VERY hot, so be careful, and sample a bit before pouring the entire portion over your food.  Like a crazy chemistry experiment, if you mix them all together, your result is a magical junk food that other vendors just don’t deliver.  Try it for yourself and bid your taste buds ‘sayonara’ as they instantly travel from midtown Manhattan to the gates of Heaven.  The price of admission: a large dose of patience and a small serving of dollars as chicken and rice will cost you $6.  Where else can you experience a true New York phenomena for only $6?

Yes, there are lots of Halal meat carts in New York City, so why is this particular vendor the one that has them lining up until four in the morning?  One reason is the chicken itself. Unlike its competitor’s version, It’s shredded very finely and sauteed at the cart.  It doesn’t hurt a bit that it’s seasoned well.  The true mystery is how the chicken retains its moisture when the same chicken from other vendors appears dried out.  While the chicken is spectacular, the rice should not be dismissed as a mere side.  Even though it’s a shade of bright orange, the ‘Yellow Rice’ is full of flavor without that cheap Chinese take-out place rice smell.  I know you’ve been there before, right?

When my husband and I took our first trip to NYC together, I convinced him that he had to try this fantastic street food.  To me, the food was so tasty, I knew it would be able to stand up and defend itself against my husband’s aversion to rice.  To help sell my case, I tried to convince him by describing the meal as the inside of a burrito, without the Mexican food flavor.  In my excitement, I forgot my own advice, and bought the dish from a shady vendor downtown.  I soon paid the price for my infidelity.  Instead of a taste of paradise, I received rubbery chicken atop sauce-less, mushy rice.  To make matters worse, we both got sick!  From that day forward, I never cheated on my Halal vendors again.

Still convinced he’d like it, I asked my husband to give it one more chance and try the ‘good’ chicken and rice from 53rd and 6th.  He agreed, but just couldn’t get over the still fresh memory of nausea. I have mixed feelings when my husband doesn’t like the foods I love (and as you may have read, it happens a lot).  Sure, there’s the positive side: there’s more for me, but that’s not the point.  It’s great sharing something you love with someone you love.

PS: I tried to duplicate chicken and rice using Zankou chicken leftovers (chopped&sauteed) + rice&lettuce + tzatziki + tabasco or tapatio = close, but not the same…

August 12th, 2011

When LudoBites 007 bites

One of the inspirations for this blog is the continuing food complaint adventure I share daily, with my husband.  When we got married, I knew going in, that my husband and I had VERY different tastes in food.  Now, as a married couple, we would be eating virtually every meal together till death do us part.  How is that even possible when I like every kind of Asian food that he consistently hates?  I love fresh seafood dishes that he wouldn’t come near unless they were fried to oblivion.  I love complex European dishes while he describes them as pretentious, small-portioned foods, encircled by sauce, served with too many forks. If menu planning were up to him, we’d be eating American comfort food and Mexican food, seven days a week, which would be perfect for me, except for the fact that I hate heavy foods prepared with too much cheese, butter, cream or oil.
With that in mind, how do you think our dinner at Ludo Bites 007 went?  First of all, what is Ludo Bites?  LudoBites 007 is the seventh installment of the ever-trendy pop-up restaurant by Chef Ludovic Lefebvre.  Instead of having a permanent, fixed address location, a pop-up restaurant like Ludo Bites runs for weeks at a time using various restaurants around  town, chosen by the chef.  These days, reservations for LudoBites have been some of the most difficult to get in all of Los Angeles, so when I actually secured a spot for dinner for the two of us, I should have been excited, right?   Well, I was and I wasn’t.  My mind instantly flashed back to that time when I brought home fried chicken from Ludo’s famous food truck, and anxiously awaited my husband’s opinion.  His response after one bite?   “Not worth it.”  I was speechless.  For him not to finish a piece of fried chicken is really something.  The problem is basically that my husband likes less complicated food, while Chef Ludo’s is known for its layering of exotic, international flavors.  I had to cross my fingers as I could only imagine what might appear on the menu.

We arrived to a trendy and energetic scene.  When handed the menu, I was excited to see such savory dishes as “Squid, Ash, Chorizo”, “Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar, Champagne Beurre Blanc”.   Many of the offerings had some kind of interesting Asian twist like “Foie Gras “French Dim Sum Crispy Kimchi, Sake-Black Truffle Cream”.  While I was excited and impressed, my husband wasn’t, which was obvious from his expression, that if could talk, would’ve undoubtedly asked, “How late is In ‘N’ Out Burger open on a weeknight?

We both had trouble selecting dishes, but for the complete opposite reason.  I had a hard time choosing from the amazing selection of seafood plates, while he had a difficult time finding something on the menu that was not a delicious sounding, exotic seafood plate.  He had to resort to doing something he calls ‘ordering by default’ which he describes as ordering something that you have to, rather than something you want to.  After a few minutes of debate, I picked the seafood dishes: Machkerel Escabeche and Egg, Sea Urchin; while my husband chose Roasted Beef, Horseradish Cream and Epoisse Cheese Risotto from the few non-seafood selections.

I loved the sea urchin and roast beef most.  The sea urchin was very rich and creamy, but not heavy, with a  texture resembling polenta.  This was definitely one of the most creative and delicious sea urchin dishes I’ve encountered.  I found the beef to be perfectly roasted, with a delicious horseradish cream balancing its flavor.  The cream itself was light on the horseradish, and had a potato-like flavor.  If these were the only two selections on the menu, I would have still been satisfied. But was that feeling shared by my spouse, across the table?

Well, I feared the worst, and I wasn’t disappointed.  My husband didn’t like one thing. Not a huge surprise.  What was a big shock, was that out of all the dishes, he took TWO bites of the sea urchin, instead of the one bite he gave everything else. While I hoped it was because he was beginning to develop a taste for sea urchin, his two bites were more likely due to the fact that the server had brought all the seafood dishes first, leaving him, sitting across from me with no choice but to hungrily watch me savor my food.

I enjoyed virtually everything, with the exception of the risotto.  I just don’t have the taste for the pungent epoisse

For dessert, we ordered the Smoked Vanilla Bacon Creme Brulee, which came with Melon Gazpacho.  As we all know, everything is better with bacon, right?  Well, most of the time.  While it wasn’t the greatest bacon dish, it was very interesting, to say the least.  It was very, very bacon-y, with a nice balance of savory and sweet.  If you can imagine eating a smooth bacon cream for dessert, you’re almost there.  (FYI, there was no bacon bits in it)  While my husband finished his half (for the first time that evening), I know deep down, he would have preferred a tall piece of chocolate cake.  Alongside the Bacon Creme Brulee, was Melon Gaspacho.  I found the pairing to be confusing as, in my opinion, it didn’t go well with creme brulee, and was, in general, a little too acidic for my taste in dessert.

So while I enjoyed the adventure that was dining at Ludo Bites, I felt bad that my husband didn’t.  I find myself in this predicament fairly often, because he’s VERY picky.  I always tell him that he eats with his brain instead of with his taste buds, convincing himself he’s not going to like something like tongue, no matter how tasty it might be, purely on the basis of it being called tongue.  While he likes his comfort foods, and could eat the same egg breakfast 365 a year, I’m more adventurous and am always open to new flavors and combinations.  Do you have any suggestions for a restaurant we BOTH might like?  I’m serious, as they’re few and far between.  When we try something new or exotic, he usually sits in misery while I try to savor the experience, but it’s hard to, knowing your companion would rather be somewhere else. Why can’t he just enjoy the fact that he’s taken me somewhere where I’ve really enjoyed my meal?  Maybe it has to do with the fact that he’s about to leave the restaurant penniless and hungry with the arrival of the over-sized check for the undersized portions he took two bites of.

There’s a long, winding culinary road ahead of us.  Thanks for keeping us company.


July 9th, 2011

The good, the bad and the ugly of Huntington Beach

The bike lanes along the pacific ocean are gorgeous.  Today, my husband and I visited his sister in Huntington Beach, and went for a nice bike ride.The only thing I ate today before leaving the house, was a couple of celery sticks with peanut butter, so, as you can imagine, I was starving after a 20 mile bike ride, and barely hung on as we waited for a table at a restaurant for over 30 minutes.  We went to Sandy’s Beach Grill, a new addition to the Duke’s restaurant group.  The atmosphere was nice with the 10 of us getting a table with an ocean view. The niceness stopped there though, and the storm clouds arrived.  First, no bread for the table.  I’m not usually a bread person, but like I said, after the bike ride, I was starved!  I was excited when the food came, as I was looking forward to the Crispy Skin Barramundi I ordered, which came with shrimp tempura and risotto, but sadly, the only thing to be found that was crispy, was in the title.  To make matters worse, the fish wasn’t seasoned.  That should have made me angry, but I was way too hungry to argue with anybody.  Besides, after a nice day at the beach with family why would I want to ruin an evening complaining about food?

If only that were the only problem…  My husband never got his steak!!  His sister ordered the same dish, and she got her food along with the other nine people in our party.  When I got my plate, I heard the waiter mention that his steak was overcooked, so he’d bring a new one in a few minutes.  25 minutes later, his food arrived.  Unfortunately, by that time, everybody was done eating.

I’m not a restaurant manager or waiter, but if I were entertaining friends’ at my house and there was a problem, I’d try to keep my guests from starving by feeding them chips or something light, and definitely update them on the ETA of their meal.  There was none of that courtesy from this restaurant.  Our waiter left us with the impression that his dish would come out soon, and he never came back until he finally brought my husband’s dish.

I felt helpless.  I wanted to share my meal, but we have a rule: “If the fish isn’t great, don’t share,”  Bottom-line, if I want my meat and potatoes husband to start liking fish, I better not give him anything that might turn him off.  I’m an optimist and a hopeless romantic and I truly believe that if I keep giving him a bite of fish here and there, he may start to enjoy it.  Actually, there have been a few successful experiments in the past.  He liked the fresh fish tacos we accidentally found in Maui– so much so, we went back to eat there 3 nights in a row!  So, the dilemma was clear: do I offer him a piece of bad fish and ruin my dream, or do I watch him starve in agony?  Although I hated to see the empty table space in front of him, I didn’t insist on him sharing my plate.  He starved in agony.