Heading downtown for Chimu Peruvian Soul Food!

At the foot of Angel’s Flight (next to the Grand Central Market) – where the modern downtown LA meets the historic part of LA – you’ll find Chef Mario Alberto Orellana’s newest Peruvian eatery: Chimu Peruvian Soul Food. I’ve been to his other restaurants that he’s worked at in the area, Mo Chica and Lazy Ox Canteen, but I think this fast take-out place may be my favorite of the three. Read on and you’ll see why.

Chimu Peruvian Soul Food opened over the summer to some great reviews. One of the members of my brunch club told us about it and we made a trek there on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

So what is Peruvian soul food? I asked the guy at the order window and he said it’s everyday Peruvian food that you’d eat with the family if you lived in Peru. After one bite, I admit I could eat Peruvian soul food everyday!

The menu is written on a chalkboard so I assume it can change but here’s what was being served on the day we went:

I ordered the lomo saltado – a typical Peruvian dish that is Asian inspired. It’s marinated beef, onions, and tomatoes with a hint of soy sauce served over frites and with a side of white rice and the traditional aji sauce.

The beef was juicy and had the right amount of marination. It was cooked perfectly! Here’s the vegetarian version that my friend, Jin, ordered…

My other brunch companion, Gregory, ordered the seco de cordero (lamb belly) and he was kind enough to share with us.

Lamb is pretty tricky to cook. Sometimes it can come out really gamey but not this dish. You could taste the flavor of the lamb meat but it was seasoned well and was not over-cooked – definitely rich in flavor.

I’ve only been here once and I’m already planning on what I want to eat next time I go back – I think that’s a good sign, right?

Note: It is a walk-up window but you do have a lovely outdoor space to eat at. Check out the view we had:

** UPDATE: Chimu is now CLOSED. I went there on Nov 1 and signs were gone and somebody who worked for the property said Chimu closed their doors but Silverlake’s Local will be opening there in a week. Restaurant business is rough! **


Compare and contrast at First and Hope Supper Club

Ever have those meals where you look across the table and wonder to yourself “Why didn’t I order that?” That was me when I went to dinner at First & Hope Supper Club in downtown Los Angeles during Dine LA a couple months ago. It’s as if every dish I ordered was slightly off or below average to my dinner companion’s choices.

He chose the modern waldorf salad with pear and walnut. It was simple, clean, and refreshing – a nice way to start the meal. The dressing was a light vinaigrette which is a bonus in my book.

I ordered the crab cakes with blood orange and fennel – big mistake. It’s one of the few times where I couldn’t even finish my appetizer and my dinner companion didn’t want to finish it for me. The crab cakes were undercooked and it didn’t taste fresh. It wasn’t seasoned well – I fell like it needed more acid to bring out the flavors because I could barely tell there was blood orange flavor on my plate – flavors were dull.

For the main dish, he ordered the braised beef and potatoes. The meat fell right off and the au jus was great for the potatoes to soak up.It was a simple dish done well.

I figured you couldn’t go wrong with fried chicken at a supper club – I was wrong. The mashed potatoes and gravy gets a thumbs up but the biscuit and fried chicken didn’t fare so well. The biscuit was too dry – I admit at some point, I blurted out that I wished I had a Kentucky Fried Chicken biscuit (and chicken) instead. The crispy fried chicken skin was under-seasoned – I added salt hoping it would add some flavor to no avail.

We ended our meal with dessert. He ordered the  apple crisp with almond streusel and maple gelato. This was the best course of the night by far. The sugary apple crisp and almond streusel was abated by the cool and creamy gelato. The comforting flavors of the apple crisp definitely came through on this dish.

And of course to keep the unfortunate theme going, I ordered the forgettable dessert: red velvet with cocoa bits and frosting. Did the chef just give up on this dish? I think I could make a better red velvet from a boxed cake mix. The cake was heavy and lacked the subtle cocoa flavors that red velvet is known for. The way the frosting was laid out on the plate didn’t look appetizing. It looked as if someone just squirted the frosting and threw on some cake bites they bought pre-made at the market. I took a couple bites and didn’t finish this dish – such a shame because I love red velvet cake.

I admit the decor in the restaurant and bar and presentation of the food were memorable but I was disappointed with the lack of consistency. I think my dinner partner ordered well and if I copied him, this review would have had a different tone. However, don’t you think every item on the menu should be something the restaurant believes in? My advice if you go to First & Hope, follow the masses and order the meat and potatoes and don’t expect many surprises.

Checking in at Border Grill – Downtown LA

I had some out-of-town guests who were on a tight schedule to see me. They said they would be in downtown LA in a couple hours and that they were hungry – they wanted something very Los Angeles. I was racking my brain! Then I asked “Have you had tacos?” They said no and that they would love tacos but there would have to be a vegetarian option. I knew exactly where I wanted to take them.

Since my day job is in downtown, I knew I didn’t have to go far for some authentic Southern Californian cuisine because Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s modern Mexican restaurant was just down the street. No, I’m not talking about Ciudad – that closed in the summer of 2010. I’m talking about Border Grill (which took Ciudad’s place).

This isn’t the first Border Grill to open but it was my first time at a Border Grill restaurant. I haven’t even tried their food truck. When we got there, the place was pretty loud because it was during Happy Hour. I ordered up some roasted lamb tacos… check out how moist the lamb was and the fresh manchego.

One of my friends ordered the vegetarian tacos. I think her tacos were better than my order. The vegetarian options were filling and flavorful. Here’s the potato taco…

Also, here’s the other vegetarian taco that is a poblano corn taco with guacamole and corn.

We couldn’t finish our meal without a proper dessert. Here’s a complimentary dish that the manager gave to our table. It was a great surprise to end the meal. Below you’ll see the Rainforest Macadamia Brownie which had the perfect balance of textures and flavors.

I’m looking forward to going back and checking out their mojito and margaritas for happy hour. Perhaps I’ll follow this up with another entry on their libations. I’ll keep you posted!

Ladies and gentleman, we are floating in space… with fish tacos!

I feel like I’ve become the unofficial ambassador to Los Angeles since I moved back in November. I’ve had the chance to show my out of town friends the reasons why I love this city s much. On Wednesday, I had the chance to take a friend from New Zealand and Orange County (yes, it’s just 1 hour south of LA but sometimes it’s feels like a whole new world) to  downtown LA and show them a view from above.

To start off this tour, we stopped in Little Tokyo to get some fish tacos at Senor Fish. You’re thinking that we should have gotten Japanese food but the thing is Senor Fish is a Mexican fish taco staple in the area. They are known for their fish tacos and seafood burritos. I admit, they didn’t disappoint. Take a peak…

Above, you’ll see my shrimp taco and fish taco. The portions are big and the seafood is battered and fresh. I should have only ordered these two tacos but I couldn’t help myself when I saw the sopes on the menu… I had to order one. Below, you’ll see my carne asada sopes.

I admit the sope wasn’t as impressive as the tacos. I think it needed more flavor. In retrospect, I should have ordered another fish taco! Senor Fish is also known for their fish (or any seafood type) burritos. Here’s my friend’s regular fish taco.

Next time I go back, I’ll definitely have to order one of the burritos.

After the food binging, I took my friends on a walk through downtown Los Angeles. More specifically, I showed them some key sights on where 500 Days of Summer was filmed – I’m a big sucker for that movie. Then took them on a short drive to Griffith Observatory.

The sun had just gone down and that meant a lot of stargazers were on their way to the observatory too. Full disclosure: This was my first trip to the observatory. I’ve recommended out-of-towners to go to the observatory through the years but I had never gone. Why? When I tried to go, it was closed… but not this time!

Check out some of the amazing sights I saw after 8:00pm/PST.

Do you see those tall buildings towards the center? That’s the downtown Los Angeles skyline. I felt like there were stars in the sky as well as stars down below.

One of the things that struck me from high above Los Angeles was how quiet it was. Yes, you could hear some motorcycles but for the most part, it was peaceful.

I’m looking forward to going back to the observatory to see the planetarium show. This time around, I was able to get into the big telescope (with a 12 inch Zeiss lens!) to see the moon but that meant I didn’t have the time to see the films… it’s always good to leave something for the next trip. Tip: They open the big telescope at 7pm in the summer. Line up early because they close the doors to the telescope at 9:30 and if you’re not inside… better luck next time.

I love playing tourist in my own city! What’s the tourist spot in your city that you’ve never been to?

Cookie Showdown at downtown LA’s art walk

The second Thursday of every month is the Downtown LA Art Walk. The historic buildings up their doors so artists can display their works and food trucks from around the county converge so people have something to eat while getting some culture in their brains. TIP: If you’ve been dying to try the gourmet food trucks in LA, Downtown LA Art Walk is THE one-stop shop for your stomach. Lines are much shorter than those food truck festivals that have been happening around town.

This past Thursday I was pleasantly surprised when my friend and I stumbled upon the Cookie Showdown 2010. For $5, I was able to taste cookies from 7 different Los Angeles bakeries, get free milk, and an additional ticket to get a free cookie at the end of the night. Oh yes, there was art and vintage pop up shops in the space too but the cookies were the main attraction for me.

My favorite cookie of the night was from Platine Cookies in Culver City. They were sampling their house speciality cookie – vanilla platino. It’s like a fancy oreo!

There are several flavor combinations but the vanilla one was made of two soft buttery dome cookies that sandwiched a subtle sweet cream. The best part is after your first bite of the sweet cookie and the cream, there’s a slight salty aftertaste which makes your tastebuds yearn for more. Hands down, this was my favorite of the night… however, they didn’t win the cookie-off. But my second favorite of the night did win!

The winner of the night was B Sweet located on Robertson in LA. The cookies were small but had the right amount of sweetness that wasn’t too overpowering.They served up their red devil cookie sandwich and angel chocolate chip cookie. I’m wondering if they won over their patrons because they went over and beyond by giving away two cookies.

The red devil cookie sandwich was basically a red velvet cookie sandwich that was partially dipped in chocolate with a whipped cream in between. And the angel chocolate chip cookie were chocolate chip and white chocolate chip cookie with chocolate syrup drizzled on top. I think if the cookies were bigger than this, it would have been far too sweet but because they were mini – it was just right.

Cookies and art… a great Thursday evening in Los Angeles. I wonder if next time someone will host a macaron tasting!?!

From Angels Flight to blueberry heaven

Brunch is one of my favorite meals. Alas, it’s a meal I haven’t partaken in for a while because of my schedule. But in June, I had a friend visit me from Minnesota – I had to be sure to take him to the best sites of Los Angeles to show him it’s not a soulless concrete jungle but in actuality a vibrant sprawling city with friendly people and lots of culture… that serves up a quality brunch. I had to show him all this in less than 24 hours!

Friday night was all about downtown LA – drinks at the Edison, sushi in Little Tokyo’s Hama, Giant Robot’s screening of Yo Gabba Gabba in the plaza. But what downtown LA experience would it be without a ride on Angels Flight? Angels Flight is the bright orange funicular that takes you up (or down) Bunker Hill built in 1901. It will only cost you 25 cents to go back in time for 30 seconds.

Here’s the view looking down.

And here’s the photo looking up…

The next day we started off with brunch at Food on Pico Blvd. It’s a place I’ve driven by a dozen times but it’s always closed when I want to go in – not this time!

It’s a casual place where I can definitely see myself reading a book or my paper as I nurse my cup of tea. It’s only a few years old and has a really friendly vibe inside. For my first trip, I trusted the server and ordered the ricotta pancakes with blueberries and sauteed peaches – she guaranteed me that I’d be back to eat again and she’s right. It was tasty and not too sweet. There was a light peachy fragrance mixed in with the subtle scent of blueberry and maple syrup. The pancakes were fluffy and had that nice griddle-like crunch on the edge that I love. Yes, I will be back for more! Take a look at my meal…

My friend had the huevos rancheros which were served with edible flowers and equally delicious as my pancakes.

The trip ended with a stop at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, shopping at Giant Robot, and snacks at Royal/T. The perfect ending to the tour were the cupcakes at Royal/T that were baked at Hotcakes (they were featured on the Food Network). I got the chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting and my friend got the cookies n cream one. All in all, not a bad ending for a 24-hour tour of Los Angeles. What can I say? I love showing my friends the best of my city.

Splendid Table’s LA correspondent is back for seconds! (ahem, that’s me!)

The lovely folks at public radio’s Splendid Table had me back to talk about some LA eats. This week, I talk about Ilan Hall‘s, Top Chef season 2 winner, restaurant The Gorbals in downtown Los Angeles. Check out the interview here.

Here’s a couple teaser photos for those who aren’t sure if they should listen. Below, you’ll see the signature bacon-wrapped matzoh balls.

Here’s my plate of sticky toffee pudding – you must make room for dessert when you go to The Gorbals. I’d like to note that the rest of this dessert was inhaled by yours truly.

I know you’re looking at the pictures and you want some more details on what this place is about and what they are serving up… you can find it all when you listen to the interview here. I hope they have me be back soon – so many good eats in LA and so little time.

Finally, we meet… its about damn time!

Sorry for the long pause between posts but June has been one busy month for me. Between prepping for multi-media training from Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley to the Marketplace “Moving by Degrees” event I worked on, I’m now rejoining the living. But don’t fret, I’ve been able to fit in some quality eats. Actually, I’ve been munching on dishes that I’ve been meaning to check out since I’ve moved back to SoCal.

Last month I finally caught up to the Buttermilk Truck in downtown LA.

As you can see from above, they are known for their red velvet buttermilk pancakes. Yours truly actually got the last ones! I took it as a sign… a sign that I should be devouring those mini fluffy cakes on the streets as other watched on. I’ve actually seen this truck often but the lines have been too long so I was pretty excited when I only saw a few people in front of it on a late evening in front of the Downtown Independent Theatre.

Right before that, I also encountered another gourmet food truck in LA that my taste-buds have been craving: Dosa Truck.

My friend and I actually decided to split the dosa because we wanted to save room for other food we might find on the streets of LA (good thing since we stumbled upon Buttermilk!). But I admit the dosa was OK – the filling was a bit dry but the outside had a nice light crunch so it made up for it.

Last month, I finally had an Umami burger! My friends at Poketo were having a Ping-Pong game on the closing day of their exhibit “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” at Space 15Twenty which happens to be next to Umami Burger! Finally, the stars were aligned for me to try my first burger at this place. So how does an Umami burger look like? Like this…

This petite burger is the signature burger – it’s narrow and small but it’s tall and just pretty. I thought my burger reminded me of Pacman. My friends say other burgers on the menu are better than this one but I was pleased with the one I got – but perhaps a taste comparison is necessary for a post for the future. The only thing I wished is that this came with fries – you see, everything at Umami is a la carte so the bill can get a bit spendy.

I can’t wait to check off some other items I’ve been wanting to try. Now I just need some foodie companions and an empty stomach… any takers?