Ramekin: L.A.’s new sweet spot

It’s not often you see a good dessert place open late in Los Angeles. True, on that strip of Beverly Blvd., you’ll come across Susina and Milk but not all of us can get ourselves to Mid-Wilshire. Luckily, if you live on the east side, Ramekin in Los Feliz is serving up some amazing ice cream and seasonal desserts. Best part is that they are open late (closes at 11:00pm on weekdays and at 1:00am on Friday and Saturday nights)!

I first learned about Ramekin from my friend Gregory. He knows chef Jason Park who makes the delicious baked goods and homemade ice cream. Earlier this year, we were invited to the soft opening – it was truly a treat! We didn’t want to leave after the first round of tasting the desserts. From seasonal ice creams (made in-house!) to panna cotta to seasonal tarts – all are served in ramekins.

Homemade ice cream and sorbets at Ramekin.

Homemade ice cream and sorbet at Ramekin.

The menu changes seasonally and they get a lot of their ingredients from the local farmer’s markets like Hollywood and Santa Monica. There’s an emphasis in non-GMO ingredients and it feels good to talk to a chef who knows exactly where his ingredients are from and how it was grown.

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Banana cream pie at Ramekin.

Since the opening of Ramekin, I’ve gone back countless times. The menu changes slightly because they use seasonal fruits. But one of my favorite desserts that I often crave is a standard on the menu: Chocolate bread pudding. It’s not your typical bread pudding so don’t try to compare. The toasted bread is hot and caramelized from being baked in the often. The smell is sweet and buttery. And to top it off, a scoop of Tahitian vanilla ice cream slowly melts into the crevices of the cubed bread. The first bite is the best – I get my spoon and dig straight into the ice cream — it’s important to get a little bit of ice cream, bread, and chocolate all on one spoon to get have the perfect first bite experience. What’s there not to love?

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Chocolate bread pudding at Ramekin.

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Pistachio ice cream at Ramekin.

It’s great to see how this spot has become part of the Los Feliz neighorhood since it has been open. You’re saying “Duh, it’s in Los Feliz – of course it’s PART of the neighborhood.” But I’m talking about walking in to see people playing boardgames at the communal table with friends while drinking their Handsome coffee and having a cookie. You see the Ramekin staff say hi to regulars as they come in to try their latest ice cream flavors. Indeed, these are all the things I saw when I was recently there. Looking forward to many more visits to Ramekin and seeing more people discover this sweet gem on the east side.

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My friends at the soft opening of Ramekin in February.

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Ramekin
1726 N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
323.667.9627

Summertime cold treats to beat the heat

We’re finally seeing a break in the heat wave in Los Angeles. Woohoo! One reason why L.A.’s a good place to be when it’s hot are the cold treats. Here are a few of my favorite cold desserts that helped me stay cool this summer.

Milk
7290 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

First up, Milk. Located on the corner of Beverly and Poinsettia, this corner shop often has a line of people going out the front door. Who would blame them when you see the array of frozen treats in their fridge waiting for you.

One of their popular ice cream desserts is the bright green Grasshopper. It’s mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwiched between two pistachio macaroon cookies and dipped in chocolate.  How’s your sweet doing now?

However, on my recent visit, I opted to get ice cream. You see, I have a weakness for blueberry pie and cobbler and when I saw they had an ice cream this particular day with blueberry cobbler ice cream, I had to get it.


The ice cream was creamy and the bits of the cobbler crust added good texture. The best part was the abundance of blueberries swimming in the rich cream. When I’ve had blueberry ice cream before, there are usually few pieces of blueberry that look like raisins or the cream itself is infused with blueberry but there aren’t actually berries I can sink my teeth into. Well done, Milk!

Pazzo Gelato
3827 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Another frozen dessert I love is gelato! My friends and I often stop by Pazzo Gelato in Silverlake. They use local ingredients and also offer vegan flavors. On the weekends and on hot summer days, it’s not surprise they have lines that go out the door — but the lines usually go pretty fast.

My favorite flavor is blood orange sorbet. I love it because you can actually taste the blood orange – it’s not hidden by extra sugary sweetness or icy texture. Their sorbet is flavorful and easily scoops onto the gelato spoons and melts away on your tongue with a tangy aftertaste. When I was there last, I didn’t see the blood orange sorbet and I didn’t know what to order. I stood there… confused and lost. The guy behind the counter said I looked like I was looking for something and told him I usually get the blood orange sorbet. He said he had some in the back and brought it out. That’s service!

Half and Half Teahouse
141 N Atlantic Blvd, Ste 112
Monterey Park, CA 91754

For real Chinese food in Los Angeles, you head east to San Gabriel Valley. The suburbs in SGV are known for quality savory eats but also dessert. This summer, my friend introduced me to a boba drink with a twist. Boba milk tea, also known as pearl tea or tapioca milk tea, is a popular drink in the summer. But at Half and Half, they’ve stepped it up a notch and have made the beverage into a dessert meal.

I ordered the iced milk drink with chocolate, pudding, and honey boba. It was intense sweetness. First off, the cup is larger than your regular boba drink. And when you’re slurping the drink and tapioca balls, you’ll also get chunks of rich pudding. If you look closely to the picture, you’ll see yellow chunks – that’s the pudding.

I thought my tastebuds would be confused by all the rich sweet flavors but it actually worked out. The chewy honey tapioca balls balanced the rich pudding that balanced the  heavy chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t like sweet rich beverages, this may not be for you – but if you want to indulge or have a sweet tooth, you must order one of these. This is something I wouldn’t order everyday but it’s definitely something I would have again on a hot day… or just for dessert.

If you have a favorite summer treat you’ve had this summer, please share your tip! In L.A., summer doesn’t truly end until October so I’ll definitely need to try other cool eats!

Off-the-menu eats at Short Order LA

My friend had a Blackboard Eats deal she wanted to use at Short Order LA – a gourmet hamburger place that’s a  collaboration of Amy Pressman and Nancy Silverton. Don’t be afraid because I wrote “gourmet” – the scene is very casual and I’ve walked by this place many times but haven’t tried it because I often choose the farmer’s market food court on the other side because of the selection and affordability. But like everyone else who is part of the deal craze, we decided to check out the pricy side of life thanks to my friend’s deal.

My friend’s deal got us orders of off-the-menu-burgers, fries, and cocktails. It was a beautiful spread as you can see.

The burger off-the-menu was the Rocky Mountain Burger that was topped with fried shallots and homemade BBQ sauce. The shallots weren’t overwhelming like onion rings – it’s crispy well-seasoned flavor was thanks to the cornmeal batter . The burger part was a mix of three cuts of beef (brisket, short rib, and flat iron). It was topped with iceberg lettuce, and aged chedder cheese. The BBQ sauce was sweet and tangy and paired well with the fried shallots. This is definitely a beautiful burger and beyond filling.

We shared a side of fries and let me tell you, the fries were just right! Served fresh and crisp with the right amount of salt. I admit we did overdo it with the fried food during this meal but don’t fret because we washed it down with cocktails. Here’s my “Blow the Whistle”, which reminded me of a “greyhound,” in the foreground and my friend’s “Frisco Sour” in the background.

I admit I didn’t finish my meal because it was all quite filling. I definitely recommend if you head out to Short Order LA, enjoy the patio with some cocktails and appetizers and perhaps split a burger if you don’t have a large appetite. I’m looking forward to going back and trying something on-the-menu next time!

Mango mochi ball from Irvine’s J Sweet Bakery

I love mochi. I love the soft bite-sized rice cakes sprinkled on my frozen yogurt. The taste of the traditional Japanese mochi filled with red bean reminds me of my childhood – my parents would buy it all the time. And of course mochi ice cream… whether it’s green tea, mango, or strawberry, I will devour it in one bite despite the fact that I’ll get brain freeze. Yum!

So I couldn’t help myself when my friends showed me the Mango Mochi Ball at the Irvine Taiwanese bakery, J Sweet Bakery. They had tried it before at a different bakery but not at this one. We couldn’t help ourselves and each ordered one.

The size is 2-3 times larger than the traditional Japanese mochi. Also, it’s shape is closer to the dome of an airy steamed bun.

The mochi is pillowy and airy and surrounds the outer layer of the Mango Mochi Ball –  which is as soft as  marshmallow. When I take my first bite, it feels like I’m biting into a mango cloud! Inside the layer of the gooey rice cake is a layer of sponge cake and at the center is a mango mousse with fresh bits of mango. The overall flavor is subtle and fragrant.

Bit of advice, if you eat this, don’t pick it up with your hands – pick it up with the cellophane or the wrap it comes it because the warmth of your hands will make the mochi stick to you and it will get very messy.

Baking seasonally: Martha Stewart’s Strawberry-Shortcake Cookies [RECIPE]

Cooking seasonally comes easy because there are so many great fresh vegetable recipes out there. But baking (more specifically cookies) can be a bit hard. Often times, recipes ask for dried fruit. Right now, strawberries are in season and I’ve been scouring my cook books and the web for a recipe that called for fresh strawberries – not as a cream or preserve for a cookie sandwich or dehydrated bits but actually integrating strawberries into the cookie.

I ended up finding this simple recipe by Martha Stewart for Strawberry-Shortcake Cookies that used fresh strawberries. I thought it would be perfect for a potluck I was going to. I bought some fresh local strawberries – pick a package with smaller strawberries because they tend to be sweeter than large strawberries.

I like this recipe because it doesn’t use unfamiliar ingredients. It’s everything you can find at your local grocery store and you don’t have to spend a whole lot of money. The ingredients:

  • Fresh strawberries
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice (squeeze from a real lemon – tastes better)
  • Course salt
  • Baking powder
  • Unsalted butter (COLD BUTTER!)
  • Heavy cream
  • Sanding sugar for sprinkling (optional)

I actually didn’t use the sanding sugar because I’m trying to cut down excess sugar in my food and it still tasted good – actually, I think the extra sugar would have made it too sweet. Make sure your dough IS NOT  smooth – you want to make sure it’s crumbly and lumpy. They key to this recipe is to use cold butter, don’t leave it out. The reason is if the dough is too pasty it will be hard to mix in the strawberries. The crumbly mix will make it easier to fold in the strawberries – you don’t want to beat it in or it will get masked up. Spoon about a tablespoon on your parchment paper on the cookie sheet and form into a circle. When it’s all done it will look like this:

You know when it’s ready because the edges are slightly brown and the strawberries keep their shape. These cookies should be eaten in 24 hours because you don’t want the strawberries to dry out. I brought them to a potluck dinner and they were all eaten.

Can’t wait to make these again!

RECIPE: Strawberry-Shortcake Cookies

Coffee and pretzels at Coffee Tomo

I’m a fan of the good eats on Sawtelle. I’ve previously blogged about shave ice at Blockheads and Brian’s Shave Ice. Those are some cool refreshing desserts but what if you just want some warm comfort snacks? Luckily, Coffee Tomo serves up made-to-order freshly baked pretzels and slow drip coffee. They’ve been open for less than a year. Looking at the full tables, it looks like they’ve got a good following.

The space inside is pretty tight but the service is great and the unique pretzels are a perfect companion to their coffee.

I wanted to indulge and ended up ordering a mocha. I couldn’t help but watch the barista’s technique as he swiftly poured by drink. Look at it – it’s beautiful! Almost too beautiful to drink!

I asked the barista which pretzel I should order since it was my first time at Coffee Tomo. Without hesitation, he suggested the sweet potato cheese. I wasn’t sure if I heard him right and I asked, “Did you said sweet potato and cheese?” and he nodded yes and said it was the popular one and that I would love it. With an endorsement like that, I couldn’t resist.

I got my coffee first and they brought the freshly baked pretzel to me a few minutes later. I could see the steam rising from it — and the cheese oozing out of each end.

The bread was soft and chewy – the mozzarella cheese and sweet potato puree in the center had this great savory and sweet mix. My tongue first tasted the salty cheese – but the flavors rounded out to the smooth sweet potato that was sandwiched in between the pretzel dough and cheese.

Tomo Coffee
11309 Mississippi Ave.
Los Angeles

 

Taco Tuesday: Sergio’s Tacos

I love tacos. It’s one of the best things you can eat in Los Angeles. The best tacos are simple – a quality tortilla, meat, and cilantro/onions with some hot sauce. My friends know I’m always on the look out for a good taco and recently my friend Ruth gave me an awesome recommendation. She said it was a little taco stand outside of LA in the city of Commerce called Sergio’s Tacos.

It’s close to the Citadel Outlets but you take a turn on Atlantic Blvd. and you see the small stand on a corner. The parking lot only fits a handful of cars and when you walk in there are just a few tables. But let me tell you, this place is definitely on my list for best tacos! Check out my order for a carne asada and a carnitas taco.

The tacos are made to order. The tortillas are perfect. Really. At first bite, it’s warm with a slight toasty edge then the savory marinated carne asada meat and carntitas were tender – not chewy and dry which can happen at some taco stands that reheat the meat. What tops it off is the hot sauce. I prefer the green (tomatillo) sauce but if you like hot, ask for the red sauce which is their house sauce. Here’s a closer look at my carne asada taco in the foreground and my carnitas taco in the background.

So if you’re headed to the outlets or traveling down the 5 freeway, take a detour off Atlantic Blvd. to Sergio’s and let me know what you think of their tacos. Also, I’m always open to your taco recommendations!

Sergio’s Tacos
2216 S Atlantic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90040

Fat Tuesday eats in New Orleans [VIDEO]

Today is Fat Tuesday and for those in New Orleans… I’m jealous of you. For most of us who aren’t there, here’s a post highlighting some amazing food I had when I visited NOLA last year. I was there for two days and I can’t wait to go back for a proper visit. I didn’t get my po’ boy or go to any of the fancy schmancy restaurants – I”ll save that for my next trip out there. However, I did get a taste of the food, culture, and hospitality during my short stay.

I was there during crawfish season and went to Charlie’s Seafood just outside of New Orleans in Harahan. My friend did some research and found it and I was up for the adventure.

I definitely felt like an outsider when I walked it because it felt like a local place, not for tourists – I liked that! It was loud, and everyone was peeling crawfish and drinking beer. I had a feeling I would love everything I ate. First thing we ordered were a couple pounds of crawfish to share. It was crawfish season so we were there at the right time. Normally, I don’t really eat crawfish because it’s a whole lot of work for just a little bit of food. I have to admit it was the best crawfish I ever had – the meet was sweet and good.

I also ordered the Cane River Meat Pie because our waitress said it was popular with the folks there. It was amazing! It was basically like a fried hot pocket with seasoned meat served with creole mustard and pepper jelly.

For main course, my friend and I split the UN-Fried Seafood Platter that was grilled fish, shrimp, crab, baked oysters, and cornbread. The seafood was so fresh! I loved that the flavors weren’t drowned by butter which is what a lot of seafood places do which is unfortunate. Because the seafood was fresh, the butter and seasoning only enhanced the natural flavors. I’m salivating just remembering this dish right now.

For dessert we really wanted pecan pie but they had already sold out. So instead we got the white chocolate bread pudding and creme brulée. Personally, I liked the creme brulée more because I found the bread pudding to rich and sweet for me but I could see why people would order it.

When in New Orleans, it’s a must to go to Café du Monde. I had heard so many things about Café du Monde so I was more than elated when I was walking closer and closer to it. It’s a coffee shop in the French Quarter that has a lengthy history – it’s been around since 1862! When you get there, don’t wait to be seated – grab your seat and a waiter/waitress will come by to take your order. They also have a walk-up if you are going to take it to go or get some souvenirs. Also there are some other locations if you don’t get to this location. For me, I loved the architecture and the area where it’s situation.

I really didn’t need to look at the menu. I knew what I wanted: cafe au lait and beignets. They serve French-style beignets which are fried dough that is dowsed with powdered sugar. I wonder how much powdered sugar this place goes through in a week!

Be warned that when you order a beignet, you will most likely get powdered sugar everywhere. I hear some of the servers who work there carry their cell phones in plastic bags so not to end up with a powdered sugar phone at the end of their shift – smart!

So was the experience what I hoped it would be? It was better! The cafe au lait and beignets were great but what I loved is the atmosphere. I had no idea how bustling it would be in the late evening.

Here’s also a video that I shot at the Café du Monde at the Riverwalk mall in New Orleans. There’s a window where people can look into the kitchen while they make beignets! Check it out here:

Another sweet treat I had in the French Quarter were pralines! I’ve had pralines before but not like the one I had here. When I saw a sign that said “pralines” at Southern Candymakers and saw some fresh ones being made, I had to stop in.

Pralines are a southern treat – very sweet and buttery. It’s actually not hard – it’s soft and creamy like fudge. You don’t need a lot to get a good fix because they are pretty rich. When you do get a praline, make sure to smell it – the brown sugar, pecan, and butter… it’s a scent you want to bottle up and take with you.

For my final meal highlight, I took advice from someone I trust who was born and raised in New Orleans. I asked him, to recommend a place off the beaten path that’s a good neighborhood spot he went to growing up in NOLA that he thinks I would love. He directed me to Dick & Jenny’s. This place isn’t in the French Quarter, we had to take the car to uptown.

It’s a warm and cozy place – you feel like you’re going to someone’s home for dinner when you walk in. When I opened the menu, my eyes immediately went to the shrimp and grits. I was sold.

The shrimp was sweet – not overcooked – and the savory sauce was well seasoned. This was the first time I had grits and I thought it worked really well with the goat cheese that was mixed in. At the end of the meal my eyes wanted more but my stomach was full (unfortunately!).

If this post doesn’t inspire you to visit New Orleans, I hope it’s motivated you to cook up some southern food at home!

My first malasada at Leonard’s Bakery [Hawaii]

In December, I was in Hawaii for a friend’s wedding. I decided to use the opportunity to extend my stay a few days and make it a vacation. I’ll be posting some of my Oahu highlights in the coming weeks. But right now, while I’m at home recovering from my sprained ankle I can’t help but have cravings for food I can’t have because I’m not mobile.

I blogged about Hawaiian shave ice last week and right now as I’m laid up on my sofa, I’m craving malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery. Leonard’s is a neighborhood treasure to Honolulu locals and also a place tourists flock to. They have everything from cookies to Hawaiian sweetbread. But it’s the malasada I crave.

Malasadas are actually Portuguese and are deep-friend dough and covered in granulated sugar. Sounds simple, right? Like a donut? But what’s special about this is the dough – the soft and fully dough that melts in your mouth. It actually has relation to beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.

My friend and I got to Leonard’s right after the morning rush and before the noontime crowd. When I was in line, I met someone who lives close by and she said I made a good decision to stop by for malasadas. I ordered the regular malasada and the woman taking my order recommended I also get the custard filled on – how could I not! First, I tried the regular malasada.

You can get the malasadas rolled in sugar, cinnamon, or li hing mui sugar – I went the original route and got the sugar. My malasada was fresh out of the frier. I had to weight a few minutes to cool down so I can eat it – it was the hardest few minutes! When I took my first bite, my teeth smoothly sank into the sugar fried exerior into the doughy bread. It was heaven.

Here’s a short video where I take a bite of a custard filled malasada. Sorry for the bad quality of video but it was on my old camera that was not HD. Still trying to see if video works with my blog so please be kind. 🙂

Leonard’s Bakery
933 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816