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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Not Adoring Abigaile - Hermosa Beach

Looking at my recent restaurant list, it seems I've shied away from the finer things. True, my resident budget only goes so far in Redondo Beach, but even med student me would face starvation for the occasional splurge.

I broke my frugal phase when a friend bought herself a ticket to SoCal and bought me a ticket to Abigaile.

Few things are better than catching up with a friend, and our rekindled friendship started strong with a silky Fresh Burrata. The burrata brought out a whole flavor bouquet of lemon, peaches, and wild arugula, atop tasty toasty points.

The burrata had me eager for more, but my pleasure didn't last long. The conversation never got dry, but the Plancha Baby Octopus did. The sharp mojo verde negated that error quite nicely, but it wasn't enough to put an unremarkable "Portuguese" sausage on the map.

The Roasted Brussels were just as bad. So shredded we thought we ate a cabbage slaw, with so much vinegar we thought we ate a lemon.

But our friendship was too strong to be soured, and stayed hearty like the Poutine. The lamb belly had the potential to build on the cheese, but it fell a little flat. I enjoyed the dish, but I'm not sure the Canadians would claim it.

To say that Abigaile is without merit would be a gross injustice. The free-standing brewery rocks a five-beer Flight, and if I had a nickel for every time I heard their cocktails praised, I could have paid for my entire meal. But the quality of that meal was definitely not a problem of price. Because few restaurants have blown my mind, but few have left me as deeply disappointed as Abigaile.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bargain Bluesalt Fish Grill - Redondo Beach

Sometimes I think I am a terrible person. Maybe not entirely terrible but definitely far from normal, and sometimes it comes out when I least expect it. Like after 40 scenic minutes submerged in a gorgeous Catalina dive park, a normal person would be reveling in the beauty of nature, but there I was, reveling in its deliciousness instead. Everyone else gasped at all the beautiful fish. I salivated. 

Obviously we ended up at a fish grill  after the dive because I was about to start stuffing abalone into my purse. 

Sadly Bluesalt didn't have any abalone, but they did have a pretty good Ahi Tuna steak served raving red and rare.

In case you couldn't tell from my desire to sample everything in the dive park, I'm an equal-opportunity eater. Except when I'm a White Fish supremecist. And it's hard not to be when facing a folder rubbed with a heavy coat of cajun butter, herbed and significantly spiced.

I'm almost as hooked on diving as I am on eating, but I definitely wasn't hooked on the Fried Calamari. The breading was so thick it was impossible to tell if they were rings of onions or squid.

I started wishing for a jet pack when the black sea bass swam by for a finale of food-that-moves, so I'm glad I had the soft, splurg-y Cajun-spice Chilean Sea Bass to hit the spot. The free-swimming sea bass was fresher, but actually not by much. Plus it came with a pretty great side of sweet corn and grilled zucchini. It was a splurge, but I was sold.

I wasn't expecting much from what looked like a fairly-priced, non-chain spin-off of Malibu Fish Grill, but Bluesalt is far better than it seems. It's no-frills at its finest, but quality fish at a price I can afford is a catch I'll never go.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Big Olaf's Ice Cream - Avalon, Catalina

I like Big Olaf's ice cream and warm hugs.

Dreyer's ice cream makes a good heaping scoop, and the wide selection has something for everyone. My favorite is always Birthday Cake, but cookies and cream and cookie dough were tempting too.

Like warm hugs, there's always time for a scoop of ice cream on a crunchy, homemade waffle cone. No matter how cold the water is in Catalina, it's never too cold for Big Olaf's.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

CC Gallagher - Avalon, Catalina Island

Avalon is the ultimate island getaway when you live in SoCal and can't get on a plane. From the moment you step off the ferry onto the dock, you instantly start to crave a boozy brunch followed by a leisurely golf cart crawl.

A panini at CC Gallagher will clearly curb that craving, and despite being branded a typical tourist trap just like everything else near the dock, the prices are surprisingly fair for the not-so-parsimonious portions. 

The CC BLT assumes that combining two great things makes both greater. In this case, that assumption was incorrect. The double layer of fresh smoked salmon on crispy bread was definitely double the fun, but layering it with a half an inch of prosciutto created a cancellation that confused the palate and tasted downright bizarre. Then again, if you simply split the sandwich in half like I did, you get two differently-delicious open-face sandwiches to share.

The Tuna Melt is a well-made tuna salad with just enough cheese and a side accent of banana peppers to add a little kick. Not the most memorable but still a good choice.

The Roast Beef Panini was a rich helping of warm, juicy beef, but it would have been better if they hadn't forgotten the gruyere, and this is where the service went south. The staff were clearly not trained to handle any screw-ups, and the drama over this sandwich was the only downside of our day.

Catalina was breathtaking, but the tourist-town theme initially turned me off. CC Gallagher's didn't have tourist-town prices, and while I would go back to Catalina in a heartbeat, the service put a pretty big damper on my appetite.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

La Espanola Meats - Torrance

The first thing I did when I left the brrrs of Boston for SoCal sunshine was toss my ugg boots and donate all my long underwear. I didn't have much trouble saying hello to sunscreen and beach, but I was sad to leave the food behind. South Bay had no shortage of ramen, sushi, and surprisingly delicious things on sticks, but I definitely shed some tears at the loss of Las Ventas' bocadillas.

It turns out there is a place that makes a satisfactory Spanish sandwich after all. A tiny specialty store buried between the warehouses of industrial Torrance, there's Jamon Serrano Importado to be had. The jamon serrano from overseas sits between a crusty baguette, drizzled with olive oil and left plain to show off the high-end ham.

The bread is a bit overbearing for that amount of ham, and the House Bocata strikes a better balance. They make a heavenly jamon serrano, accented by a sweeter sausage-of-the-day and a thin slice of manchego cheese.

The bocadillas added a little comfort but they weren't enough to replace what I had lost. I did enjoy stocking up on charcuterie and cheese, but I wasn't too inclined to go back for the food...

Until I had the Paella. I didn't even like paella until I tried the no-day-but-Saturday, no-time-but-noon, reservation-only, styrofoam-container, mariscos-and-sausage paella at La Espanola Meats. Plump, broth-soaked, seafood-infused grains of Spanish rice mixed with a healthy helping of shellfish, chicken, and sausage, it's hard not to lick the container when you're done.

I still miss Boston from time to time. Four good years are behind me, and though I rarely look back, I do remember the things I've lost. The bocadillas are one thing I may have to bury, but at least I'll have some paella to dull the pain.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

El Rocoto: Almost Peru - Gardena

It's hard to readjust to life as usual after a big trip, and after Peru, I started dreaming about ceviche within a week. And when I started to wake up drooling and chewing on my pillow like it was really old calamari, I had no choice but to try to go back.

Gardena was a little father from Peru than I'd hoped, but as it turns out, El Rocoto was pretty close. On the outside, this unassuming storefront sits stoically beside a bustling 99 Ranch Market, often sideswiped by a sea of Asian moms. On the inside, a frothy pisco sour brings me back to Cusco.

The first thing I learned in Peru is that there is always a reason to have more ceviche. And why settle for a single ceviche when you can try them all? The Piqueo Rocoto Del Mar comes with a classic Mixto, a melange  of every ingredient in a crisp, classic leche de tigre. The Tuna Nikkei is a Peruvian poke of sorts, tuna cubes with avocado and a sauce that smells like sesame oil. The Pulpo Olivo is spattered with a lighter sauce, peppered by sweet Peruvian corn. The halibut in Aji Amarillo blows my mind with a creamy, spicy sauce. I make sure each slice of fish is well-coated, but I may have also sipped the sauce.

Sometimes they even have a special of half-halibut, half-fried-calamari doused in more amarillo. Something about how the soft fish flesh offsets the calamari crunch... I don't know why it works, but this combination was definitely winning.

I love the raw, but at some point I need a couple things cooked. The Antichuchos are thicker cut, but they still smell like the nighttime streets. There is something primal about ripping through the thick, beefy cuts while all the juices flow, and there is no shame in ripping through it kaleesi-style.

For an entree, the Seco De Cordero isn't quite as exciting as the ceviche, but the seco is far from dry. The mix of pureed cilantro and soft, gamey meat falls off the bone, into a rich pool of gravy-like jus.

They say that a lot of memories are made up by the mind and even more are falsely planted. But the mouth makes memories too, and those lie a whole lot less. But all memories get fuzzy with time so I'll be back to El Rocoto every time I need reminding.