Brian’s Shave Ice + Dole Whip! [DEAL]

If you’re a regular to this blog, you know I love Hawaiian shave ice from reading my previous posts. Today in my inbox I found a deal on Living Social for Brian’s Shave Ice. This place is located around the corner from  Blockheads Shavery. I actually went to this place a few months before Blockheads had opened and I was very pleased with the shave ice – it was fine ice, not granulated, and had a good assortment of syrup flavors.

It’s a traditional Hawaiian shave ice place but the bonus is that they also serve Dole Whip. Yes, THE Dole Whip – the one that was only found at Disneyland and Hawaii.

Now you can get it on a cone or at the center of Hawaiian shave ice at Brian’s. Note: If you only want Dole Whip, there’s also a place that opened up in West Hollywood that only serves different fruity combination of the soft serve. Here’s the menu and various combinations you can get at Brian’s.

That’s Brian shaving some ice in the photo above. He’s a cool guy and brought his love of Hawaiian shave ice to West LA.

My friend and I each got a shave ice with Dole Whip. For my syrup flavors, I got pineapple, melona, and POG (passion, orange, guava). Also, I topped it off with some li-hing mui powder.

Check out that dollop of Dole Whip! It’s a nice smooth surprise at the end of the shave ice. You know when the syrup runs to the bottom, it can get a bit soup? Well, the soft serve mixes in and makes it easy for you to finish it off. This is a light dessert that won’t weight you done after a big meal – it’s just fine shavings of ice. I have to say, I’m so happy that Hawaiian style shave ice is here on the mainland – it seems so right!

If you miss the Living Social deal, no worries because they post specials on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Brian’s Shave Ice
11301 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Vegan eats at Larchmont’s Cafe Gratitude

I know it’s Valentine’s Day and restaurants will be crawling with couples. Blech!!! This post isn’t about where couples should go for a V-day dinner – this post is about going out to a place that appreciates you today… and gives YOU gratitude.

Cafe Gratitude is a popular vegan spot in my neighborhood that I’ve been wanting to try but also at the same time trying to avoid because of the crowds. However, one night I met up with my friend and his vegetarian girlfriend from Minnesota. I suggested this place because he vegan dishes are something the Twin Cities wouldn’t have. Cafe Gratitude has had their bit of news lately but this post is about the food so let’s get to it.

One of the really unique things about this place is the positive affirmation labeled dishes they serve up. They all start with the first person, “I”, and a positive descriptor. For my main dish, I ordered “I am transformed.” And yes, when they serve the dish to you, they say “You” and the descriptor.

My “I am transformed” was basically corn tacos with caramelized butternut squash, black beans, avocado, salsa fresca, and cashew nacho cheese with a side salad. The tacos were surprisingly filling and also rich with flavor. I liked the little kick in the sauce. When I finished the tacos, I saw this little surprise on my plate…

They had the same message on my “I’m so adoring” (aka tiramisu) plate.

The tiramisu is vegan so that means there’s no dairy. I was a bit hesitant at first but the waitress insisted it was one of her favorites. My fork smoothly cut through my slice of tiramisu that had layers of chocolate mousse, whipped cream, and almond-espresso batter. Because of the almond, it had a nice rounded nutty after-taste that I liked. This is a pretty dense dessert so I recommend splitting it with someone – I wasn’t able to finish it on my own.

So on this Valentine’s Day, I hope you give gratitude to yourself and enjoy some good food.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Cafe Gratitude
639 N Larchmont Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90004

Grand opening: The Blue Cow kitchen & bar

When I’m craving a quality sandwich in downtown Los Angeles, I head over to Mendocino Farms. Their seasonal menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches are made with fresh ingredients and prepared to order.  And I admit, you can’t beat their rainy day special for their Ham And Gruyere grilled cheese for just $6.50. But why am I talking about them when this post is about The Blue Cow?

My food blogger pal, Lynn Chen, told me the Mendocino Farms folks were opening a sit-down restaurant and bar in downtown Los Angeles. Immediately, my tastebuds perked up when I heard this! Lynn then invited me as her plus one for one of the preview days where we had our meals comped. How could I resist!? The new restaurant is called The Blue Cow kitchen & bar. It’s located in California Plaza where Casa used to be and grand opening to the public is… today, Monday, February 13, 2012.

From the moment you approach the restaurant to scanning the interiors, the aesthetics is very Mendocino Farms – rustic and comfortable.

And yes, this place has a bar with bars on tap and a menu of specialty cocktails. For this trip, we didn’t have any alcoholic beverage but I’m hoping to head back one of these days to check out their happy hour – yes, they have one!

Let’s talk about the food. They have a lunch and dinner menu. We chose from the lunch menu. We started with the “Baked and Fried Potatoes” that came with housemade horseradish ketchup and sour cream-onion whip dip.

The potatoes had a perfect crunch when you took a bite – and it was hot and soft in the middle – perfectly done. These are large potato wedges and perfect to share for 2-3 people as an appetizer. We also got an order of the “Root Chips ‘n Dips” which is basically crispy roots that are thinly sliced and crunchy like potato chips served with a side of sour cream-onion whip dip.

For the main course, I wanted to be different and get a plate but I couldn’t resist the hamburger. It’s an 8 oz. grass fed Marin county beef paddy with butter lettuce and some spicy remoulade on a buttermilk bun… also added a applewood bacon to indulge myself a little. I figure if you can serve up a simple burger well, other stuff on the menu is worth coming back for. I was not disappointed.

The burger paddy was juicy and flavorful. The buttermilk bun and stuffing was a perfect combination. It’s a tall burger so I had to smash it down but despite that, they kept the burger simple yet refined. I hate it when burgers are complicated – it should be simple where you can taste each of the layers between the bun. Well done, Blue Cow.

Across the table from me, Lynn ordered the “BarbaFaux’s Torta” which is a vegan dish.

The torta roll is stuffed with seitan and pinto beans that have been braised in chipotle agave BBQ sauce. There’s also some tofu, avacado, and lettuce. I’m usually on the fence about seitan and tofu because if it’s not marinated properly, it’s pretty tasteless. I have to say, Blue Cow did a great job of putting flavor into this torta. Granted, I only had a bite of it. If you want the close-up photos and more info, check out Lynn’s post here.

We had hoped to try their dessert but they only serve that for dinner. Guess I’ll have to go back for that… and happy hour!

The Blue Cow kitchen & bar
350 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90071

This week at Starry Kitchen: Taiwanese Fried Pork

When Starry Kitchen arrived to downtown Los Angeles over a year ago, it was a saving grace to downtown workers – like yours truly! Finally, there was some quality Asian food that kept you on your toes. Why do I write “on your toes”? Well, the menu changes weekly and you have the choice of having your protein served over rice, in a wrap, or sandwich (a banh mi) with a side order that also changes weekly.

Last week, they were serving up one of my favorite choices that I hadn’t had in a while: Taiwanese Fried Pork. Check out this photo of my Taiwanese Fried Pork served in a banh mi with a side of shallot fried rice. I often get the banh mi because I love the baguettes they use.

One of the reasons why this pork is perfect in every way is the green. See it? It’s flash fried basil! Last time they had this dish, I remember just picking one leaf off and the flavor of the light and delicate basil crunch when I ate it.

Next, the pork is battered with 5 different spices and sweet potato flower and fried according to their menu. This savory dish looks even better up close.

I can’t forget the side! Starry Kitchen has a few side dish choices, one of them is usually a fried rice. The week I was there, they had the shallot fried rice which has bits of shallots mixed in. I love this fried rice because it’s not super oily or greasy. I admit I often take a bite of the sandwich, then a bite of rice, and switch back and forth because I don’t know which part of the meal to give my attention to because I love it all.

Hopefully, if you’re in the downtown area this week, you’ll be able to catch this meal before it’s gone.

Also, a special note about the staff – they are always in a good mood and they remember their loyal customers, like me!

Starry Kitchen
350 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Bosco Bakery roti cafe buns!

I’m a big fan of Korean bakeries. The baked goods are not too sweet, the breads are airy and light, and the buttery bread just melts in your mouth. Recently, I went to Bosco Bakery in Koreatown with some friends after dinner to gorge on some almond roti cafe buns.

No, not all of those are for me. We each ordered one. This was actually the first time I actually tried the almond bun here – I was not disappointed. From the outside, it’s a perfect simple dome – no glaze, frosting, or sprinkles.

Don’t let the plan look fool you. The dome-shaped treat is filled with sweet almond slices that add great texture to the soft buttery bread.

The photo above makes me salivate every time I look at. I remember my first bite – I sank my teeth into the toasted sweet exterior into the soft bread. But I have to say my favorite bite was the second one when I actually got my first taste of the sweet slivered almonds.

Celebrating National Pie Day – Jan 23 [recipes]

I know most folks observe March 14 as Pi/Pie Day but the official National Pie Day is January 23. Last year, I baked a baked a lemon tart – this year, I went more of a traditional route and made mini bite-sized pies and a whole pie.

I was looking for a simple crust and simple filling recipe that used fruits in season. Since winter is the time for citrus, I chose Mini Keylime Pies to make for a dinner I was going to in the evening the night before National Pie Day.

The original recipe was actually for one whole keylime pie but I decided to use a mini muffin mold and made mini pies.

The recipe called for a graham cracker crust but I decided to add 1/4 cup of toasted sliced almonds into the food processor to add a nutty and hearty flavor to the graham crackers.

Also, the recipe asks for 5 tablespoons of butter, I suggest using 5 1/2 or 6 so the crust will really stick together and not crumble.

By the way, keylimes are really small – smaller than limes. And when you juice it and even after you bake it – it’s not green. The keylime pies you see at the bakery that are green usually have a couple drops of food coloring. I stood and juiced about a dozen keylimes to get enough juice for the pies.

For the second pie, I decided to use the same exact recipe but substituted the fresh keylime juice with fresh lemons. Here’s the lemon layer filling on the graham cracker and almond crust…

Because I like my pies a little tart, I added an extra tablespoon or so on top of what the recipe asked for and added a little lemon pulp. Be sure to refrigerate your pie to let the filling set.

For the cream part, I just added my own cream. I pixed a cup of white cream, teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a 1 1/2 tablespoon of powdered sugar and whipped it up with a hand mixer. One day I hope I can afford a Kitchenaid mixer. For now, I’ll have to deal with my hand mixer that says it has 5 speeds but really seems to have 1 speed that goes too fast – more food ends up on the counter and on my apron than I anticipate. To spread the cream on the pie, I get a big spoon and put a dollop on the pie and spread it around event.

If you’re thinking about making a citrus pie, better get started because the guy at the farmer’s market fruit stand told me meyer lemons have a couple more good weeks to go. Of course, you’re welcome to use regular lemons too that are off season but there’s something really flavorful and fresh when you use items in season.

RECIPE: Mini Keylime Pies **
** For lemon cream pie recipe, just substitute lemon for keylime. And just whip up some heavy whipping cream (see recipe above). Also, don’t forget to add a little zest from your citrus for some color!

November birthday memories… of food!

November was a good month. Why? Because I got to celebrate my birthday. And what better way to commemorate my new year but with good food.

The morning started off with gourmet donuts. I had just picked up a donut after a meeting that I was eyeing from across the room and my colleague said, “Don’t eat that! Follow me.” We got into the car and ended up in downtown’s Nickel Diner.

Yes, it’s an actual diner where you can get bacon and eggs but they are famous for their fancy pants donuts. We walked away with half a dozen donuts in four flavors: red velvet, strawberry crumble, Nutella, and the bacon maple donut.

We decided to cut up each of the flavors so we could have a gourmet donut tasting.

The strawberry crumble donut reminded me of the Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake Bar. I did expect a stronger strawberry flavor but the sweet crumbles made up for it in its own way.

Above is the Nutella donut with hazelnut. This donut had a nice crunch when I bit into it and it was probably my second favorite donut of the bunch – who doesn’t love Nutella!?

Just by looking at the red velvet donut, I figured I’d would know how it would taste – red velvet powdered donut with some cream cheese frosting in the center. However, it was nice to bite into the donut to find small pieces of chocolate. The chocolate added an unexpected texture at first bite which I think was a smart decision of Nickel Diner.

Last of the donut flavors is the bacon maple donut – my favorite from the bunch. The donut dough was soft and airy which balanced well with the rich maple and bacon on top. Yes, this donut has real pieces of bacon on it! What’s not to love?

For lunch, I went out to get ramen at Shin Sen-Gumi, which I’ve blogged about before. A comforting bowl of ramen with a side of nori (seaweed) and iced green tea was a good way to celebrate my birthday during my work lunch. And yes, it tested wonderful!

And now on to dinner. You’re probably wondering which restaurant I went to but to be honest, I requested a simple home-cooked meal. To have someone you know cook a meal for you on your special day is thoughtful and adds a personal touch.

This dinner consisted of a mixed green salad with cilantro dressing, roasted chicken breast, and fingerling potatoes with sour cream and chives. The chicken skin had the perfect crunch when my knife slid into the flesh. And for dessert…

Molten chocolate lava cake with a side of vanilla bean ice cream. This one was bought from Paris Baguette in Koreatown. You just have to put it in the microwave for about 30 seconds and it heats up the cake and the chocolate in the center just enough without burning your tongue when you take the first bite. I’ve always enjoyed Paris Baguette’s molten chocolate lava cake with a side of ice cream because it’s not overly sweet like most chocolate cakes.

All in all, my birthday was filled with lots of great surprises and treats and I look forward to an awesome year ahead!

Veggie eats: Veggie Grill

Meat eating friends who shy away from vegetarian dining establishments, please don’t disregard this entry. Recently, my friend, Isabella, took me to a veggie place she had been wanting me to try for months: Veggie Grill. It’s an affordable super tasty veggie fast food place that has several locations in Los Angeles and Orange County.

When I asked my friend Isabella (aka Veggie Grill expert) what to try, she basically named everything off the menu because she loves it all. I settled on the Santa Fe Crispy “Chicken” wrap with a side of the veggie chili.

When you bite into the wrap, the battered and fried fake chicken (Veggie Grill’s fake chicken is a veggie protein blend)  has a great crunch to it that isn’t too greasy. I was a fan of the spicy vegan mayo because it had a nice kick to it. The fake chicken texture isn’t dense as real chicken but it comes close — plus the overall flavors and freshness of the vegetables compensates for it. The cup of chili was good but I kind of wish they had chili fries because it would have gone well on top of a bed of french fries.

I know what I ate was fried and it was fast food but after my meal I didn’t feel guilty… or overly full and bloated. If you’re trying to be healthy and eat less meat, I definitely recommend going to Veggie Grill.

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! **


My cold remedy: Sul Lung Tang

I had a cold for the past two weeks. You know, the one where you think you’re getting better but it doesn’t quite go away. Don’t worry, I’m cold-free now. While I was sick though, I had the biggest hankering for some sul lung tang (or seolleongtang… pronouncer: SUH-loong-TAHNG). It’s a Korean soup which is equivalent to a chicken soup for me. Why? Because I crave it whenever I get a cold or flu.

It’s a simple soup but takes almost the whole day to make. Basically, you boil ox bones for hours that make a milky broth without seasoning. You can add Korean glass noodles and also some brisket, tripe, or both for some protein. Then when you are ready to eat it, you can add garlic, green onions, and salt to flavor the soup — you season it yourself right when you’re going to eat it and no before. Here’s my soup that I got as take out from Han Bat Sul Lung Tang in Koreatown.

Han Bat Sul Lung Tang is a no-nonsense restaurant – this soup is pretty much all they serve but I’m sure you got that from their name. You can eat at the restaurant but since I was pretty sick, I got my meal for take-out.

My mom always told me if I craved sul lung tang, go to the place that only makes this — mama Kim was right because this place didn’t disappoint. For $9 I got the soup with brisket (you can choose from brisket, tripe, tongue, or flank), two types of kimchi (cabbage and radish), rice, chili paste, green onions, and sea salt. Here’s the spread I made when I got home…

Before I spooned the rice into the soup, I added green onions and then the sea salt. I matched the flavor first then I added my rice. NOTE: I try not to add too much salt to be healthy.

If you’re looking for some Korean comfort food soup, I highly recommend Han Bat Sul Lung Tang. By the time I was done with it, there wasn’t an extra drop left in the bowl.

TIP: If you get the soup for take out, put it in the fridge for a little bit and the fat will collect to the top of the broth and you can easily spoon it out – this is what I do so it’s less fatty.