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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bacon & Brine - Solvang

They don't have indoor seating, and their entire three-item menu is written on a chalkboard. Yup, sounds like my kind of place.

They seem so out of place in Solvang - there's not an ounce of Europe in the SoCal Swine. That pork is braised juicy, and in a single bite you can just see the pig-pickin'-sized grill in some southern backyard. Well some SoCal mama got her fingers into it and added some tomato sauce to keep that pig sweet and light. Then she rocked it out with pickled jalapeño and cherry tomato salsa. Add some avocado, and the combination is unusual and unbeatable.

The Kraut Pig seems more German-inspired - a Kaiser must have whispered softly to a Dane to make this just-as-soft mustard-braised shoulder, dressed with aioli and Kraut. The Kraut is sweeter than it is sour, and even the expectedly-harsh mustard finished smooth and sweet.

This one is heavy and it hangs out long after the Jasmine Iced Tea washes it down.

What you see is what you get at Bacon & Brine, and their honesty adds up to a pretty powerful combination of pickles and pig, and fortunately, no pickled pig. Next time I'm in Solvang, I'll be begging for bacon and burning for brine.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mortenson's Bakery - Solvang

You can't go to Solvang and not try something baked. But choose wisely because not all bakeries are created equal.

The Chocolate Rum Ball, for example, is definitely a bit of a miss. Chocolate is great, but the rum doesn't make it better, and the texture is definitely a bit like Playdoh.

The Danish Waffle is better, much better. Crunchy puff pastry sandwiching light, sweet cream is hard to diss, but it doesn't really make waves so it's easy to dismiss.

Mortenson's Bakery wasn't all I'd hoped for, but I suppose it was enough. I just wish that the vibrant storefront wasn't just a cover for a space that was so sterile and sad.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Café Firenze - Moorpark

You never forget your first chef-love. It's a love that knows no boundaries, a love that conquers all.

I first fell for Fabio Viviani on my couch during the fifth season of Top Chef. His accent tickled my ears, his Italian-grandma recipes piqued my imagination, and his drive, his ambition, his constant pursuit of perfection warmed me through the coldest of New York winters.

Just watching Fabio work was even better than turning up the heat, but I do wish I had the Short Rib Ravioli to kick it up a notch back then. The dumpling-like ravioli wrappers bulge with impossibly soft short rib, and a drape-y creamy Taleggio cheese sauce folds over the meaty pockets to keep it simple with style.

A single bite of the Roasted Chicken brought the legendary Tom Colicchio to his knees. Described on Top Chef as "the kind of dish that makes you," a mere glimpse of the tender, juice-dripping quarters was unforgettable, and the perfectly-herbed, crispy skin is a flavor I'll never forget.

When Top Chef ended, I silently said my goodbyes. I had loved and I had lost becaus Fabio's Cafe Firenze was far beyond my reach. I accepted that I would never meet my love, and I would only see his food in my dreams.

Instead, I got a happy ending as sweet as the Tiramisu. I didn't expect to see such rich layers unfold up close, alternating sharp with silky, espresso with the thickest, smoothest mascarpone cream, as I never thought I'd move across the country to occupy a table at Fabio's flagship four years later.

My happy ending is bittersweet as I have yet to meet my first chef-love, but the ending is mostly sweet, now that I've tasted his tiramisu.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Flying Fin Sushi and Seafood - Redondo Beach

Move over, Kantaro, Flying Fin is topping my list of favorites. I never thought I'd fall for fusion, but fresh fish with a new-school style got hook, line, and sinker.

The degree to which I enjoyed the Meat Up! made me feel dirty. It hardly qualifies as sushi, but the smooth steak with crab, spicy tuna, and shrimp tempura is a cogent combination of surf n' turf stuffed into a single sheet of soy paper. It tastes even better in an oriental sauce of politically incorrect sesame and garlic.

The weirdness doesn't end at steak. The combinations are often traditional with an unexpected spin, but the flavors always effectively mesh. The King Cobra, for example, is an upgrade of the caterpillar. Same sweet eel and avocado, but somehow the tempura and crab bring out the eel to make the roll more robust.

The Mega Omega 3 sounds like a mouthful of hot mess, but the flavor-fusion rounds out. The salmon tempura adds crunch to the spicy tuna and smooth avocado. The sweet n' tangy sauces on top really bring out the fresh salmon flavor.

The Top Secret got out a long time ago. Soy paper-wrapped tuna and salmon topped with fresh mango is colorful and fruity-fresh, but it's definitely been done before. I've seen this movie, but I didn't mind seeing it again.

There's a reason the classic rolls do well when revamped, and the Absolute Amazing roll was no exception. Real crab topped with avocado is basically California, and the salmon, shrimp, and tuna toppers were a rainbow roll but better.

The Oh Crab! is a spider roll on crack. The soft shell crab weaves a seductive web, and when it catches some extra crab meat, this combo can't miss.

The Flying Fin roll just nails it. A flawless combo of crab and tuna, tempered with a crunchy jalapeño burn makes for a bite that bites back.

The rolls are new and exciting, but they do the classics just as well. The Yellowtail Collar, for example, is well-grilled with crispy, salted skin and soft meat in the middle.

The Salmon Toro Carpaccio steals the show. Rich, oily, fatty bellies of pink, melt-in-your-mouth, linger-on-your-tongue salmon holds its own against the fattiest of tuna, and the sauce leaves an impression that lasts.

I felt like I was cheating on real sushi with all these rolls, but their quality is simply a sneak peak at the sushi and sashimi to come. And unlike other sushi places that simply use the fish to pile it on, the flavor combinations are carefully calibrated here. I don't usually love fusion, but Flying Fin is pulling it off in flying color.

Flyin Fin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Yotteko-Ya - Honolulu

We spent half the day in the car and the other half at random resort because we couldn't find the beach on the map. It wasn't exactly what we wanted, but we definitely made the most of it. We swam in an ocean with no California chill, we soaked in the sunshine without a hospital-window barricade, and we walked on the beach side by side instead of racing to a code.

We were starving for white sand and waves, and Turtle Bay hit the spot.

All that fun in the sun found us starving, and we spent half an hour in the car and the other half at a random ramen place because we couldn't find anything else on the map.

It wasn't exactly what we wanted, but the Paitan Chashu Ramen definitely made the most of it. We let the chashu swim in a smooth broth of chicken and pork, we let the chewy noodles steep soft as they soaked in every soupy drop, and we shared kimchee and conversation without checking our pagers for the next admission.

The sights and sounds of Hawaii were amazing but what really made waves was getting to spend quality time with the people who stood by my side during the best and worst of every day and night. I was starving for that kind of soul-food, and like my trip to Hawaii, Yotteko-Ya really hit the spot.
Yotteko-Ya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Leonard's Bakery - Honolulu

Take a Homer Simpson-style doughnut with all the fixin's, hook it up with one of those lighter fried biscuit balls from Chinese buffets, give it a few minutes, and voila, your love child, the Malasada

A morning malasada will have you craving a cup of coffee, and Leonard's makes a mean latte. Combine coffee with a Banana puff filled with creamy custard for a combination that's meant to be. The local favorite Li-Hing is just as strong, like Sour Patch Kids in doughnut form, with dueling sugar in sweet and sour.

Leonard's has been dubbed the best on the island, and simple Plain Sugar shows you just how Leonard's earned its fame. The little do-biscuit is just perfect, impossibly fluffy and soft. If you ever get the chance to go, treat Leonard's Malasadas like Pokemon - try to catch 'em all.