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Monday, September 18, 2017

Chubby Rice - Hawthorne

How could we possibly pass a restaurant with a name this cute and not go in? 

We went in. And we walked right into an impressive menu.

I have no self-control...Bring on the General Tso's! Wait, how could this be General Tso? General Tso is sticky, sour chunks of bland-in-the-middle chicken and steamed-to-a-pulp pieces of broccoli on the side. This is light, crispy, and flavorful. This is small, manageable slices of juicy chicken thigh, wok-kissed with an even coating of a sweet chili sauce; a touch of tang, a dash of spice. Interspersed are moist mushrooms and green onions to freshen the fried. As good as this is, the sides almost steal the show. The eggroll is as deep-fried and dark as I expect, but this is no ordinary eggroll. The shredded cabbage keeps a firm, non-soggy texture, and there's a curry after-burn to highlight the flavor. Even the Fried Rice is exceptional. Not a single drop of grease detected, and the rice is fluffy and light. The soy sauce shines through in a way that is enhancing rather than overpowering.

The Pork Chop Sandwich. Wow. This may be the best sandwich I've had in the past five years!  A crispy pork chop brick; the tenderest, juiciest, most delectable brick EVER, a slight slaw, enriched with chili aioli. All of it captured between slices of fluffy, toasted torta. To hell with the Godmother, THIS is the best sandwich in LA!

The sandwich comes with a side of fries, which they advise me to eat with green ahi sauce. Best advice I've gotten all week, calorie counts be damned. 

Wow, what is this place?!?! A lot of effort goes into each dish, far more than you'd expect for fast food, and the result is almost a cuisine of its own. This is Chinese take-out with polish and a sprinkle of sophistication, and it makes all the difference!
Chubby Rice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ortega 120 - Redondo Beach

Travel is awesome, but it's good to be home. Visiting new places and getting lost in the world rocks, but it can put a damper on your going-out budget as well. 

Taco Tuesday is the only reason I'm not broke at home, and it's the most inexpensive excuse to go out in Redondo Beach. 5-dollar House Margaritas chase the post-Monday blues away, and despite the too-good-to-be-true price, they're still the best margaritas in town. Enough Tequila to taste, just enough sour mix to offset the burn. 

2-dollar tacos. 'Nuff said. Low price, amazing quality. Tender Shrimp with a spicy sting, juicy Carnitas with a ton of savor, and a firm Al Pastor that packs all the flavor. The flour tortillas are soft, and the corn tortillas are of a coarser texture as expected. Season with fresh cotija and cilantro, munch, indulge, repeat.

Food that is both edible and affordable is hard to find in Redondo Beach, but Ortega 120 on a Tuesday night will set you back even less than El Burrito Jr. I've heard only good things about the regular menu, and the two-dollar tacos sure don't taste like a settle! 
Ortega 120 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, September 15, 2017

Pressed Juicery - Torrance

It's JUICE. Just juice. Yes, it's very very very VERY good juice, but at a whopping six dollars a bottle, I just don't get it. 

The Citrus 2: pineapple, apple, lemon, mint. It's tangy, it's tart, it's got some natural sweet, and the mint makes it refreshing and bright. Every fruit is present, and it tastes like a harmonious blend of pineapple, apple, lemon, and mint. It is sunshine in a bottle, a rather expensive bottle. 

Do we seriously live in a world where we pay six dollars for 16 ounces of pulverized veggies and fruit? I do. And I'd probably go back and pay the six dollars next time I get thirsty at the mall. 
Pressed Juicery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Border Grill - Las Vegas, NV

Time to hit the road, and my family's never had Mexican food. Border Grill has tables, and we love the gorgeous view of the beach club at Mandalay Bay. 

Love the view, hate the food. Mexican food is awesome, but it's not meant to be upscale. Turning comfort food fancy is the fastest way to ruin it altogether. Take the Torta Ahogada, for instance. Sometimes you have to let a sandwich be a sandwich. The pork cheek is soft and tender, but it's a bit bland to begin with. Put it into a giant sub roll, and it all becomes undetectable. As if that roll weren't heavy enough, they turn it into a wet torta, soggy as heck in a thick layer of red sauce "consome", which makes it impossible to taste anything else. It also turns the bread into the texture of something a duck would eat, culminating in a bizarre creation that is more of a hot mess than a stripper at Sunday brunch. 

Avoid the "special". There's nothing special about it. Delicious ingredients for sure, but they're not much fun when they're just thrown together with abandon. Juicy shrimp and tender, medium-rare carne asada. Love the surf n' turf, and it's a theoretically winning combo with avocado and a gooey fried egg. The crunchy tortilla adds texture, but the bed of beans adds nothing. It adds up to separate entities with nothing to tie them together. Plus it's impossible to eat it all together the way it's intended, and for this price, you might as well go to a buffet and throw random things on a plate yourself.

Mandalay Bay is a must, and their gorgeous beach club makes waves. Border Grill is a mere ripple in Vegas's ocean of opportunity, and it's not a ripple worth recalling. If you're craving Mexican in Vegas, you're better off looking for something less hoity-toity - it'll probably taste better that way. 
Border Grill - Mandalay Bay Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Wicked Spoon - Las Vegas, NV

$50 per person for a more upscale Vegas buffet. I haven't tried anything fancier than the seafood at Rio so I'm pretty stoked. We sit down to polite, speedy service, and the unlimited soft drinks are a plus. Our server keeps those drinks full, and she's easy to find when we need her. 

Already, things are looking up, and it's time to grab a plate. My plates are the gold standard of tangential, and I choose carefully, visiting every single station because FOMO is the only thing stronger than starvation. 

First plate starts Italian, but the seafood takes over soon. There's a truffle fettuccini with cream sauce, a dense alfredo and can't-say-no truffles. The pasta is impressively not overcooked. I love me a good polenta, and this one is smooth enough with juicy mushrooms on top, but both the polenta and the gravy have started to congeal. I had no less than 5 pieces of bone marrow with kimchee glaze. Marrow itself isn't great quality, but quantity can equal quality when you're talking about butter with a hint of meat. The glaze doesn't add anything, but I do recommend using salt. The sushi station is never skipped. Salmon and hamachi nigiri and some select rolls. All are fresh, and the rice is almost acceptable. There's mediocre but refreshing shrimp ceviche in the seafood section, but the Mexican corn is just meh. Props for the cotija cheese, though.

There wasn't enough space for snow crab legs on the first plate, but I'm making up for lost time on the second. There's also a very fresh tuna poke with fleshy red slice in a light shoyu, and it's one of the better things I've had. There's also a beet ravioli in butter that I can't resist, and this al dente decision is a good one. Pesto cream coats crispy gnocchi, satisfying, but I let it get cold.

The oxtail pho sounds irresistible, but it disappoints. The broth is too salty, and the meat on the bone is tough.

The dessert bar may be the best part of this buffet. Rows and stack of shiny, tiny things, a free-for-all sugarfest of a feast. Macarons are just okay - they're too hard to make well in this kind of bulk. The raspberry does taste like a sweetened raspberry, though. Props for being kinda close enough. I'm a sucker for a childhood snack, and the rice crispy treat has the right ratio of marshmallow to snap-crackle-pop. My favorite is the vanilla mousse cone; creamy mousse and a crispy cone. The chocolate tart is the best-made thing they have, a smooth mousse and a rich, crumbly center. I will also have the cake. ALL the cake. Tres leches is moist and milky-sweet, passionfruit fun-fetti will do, there are lemon cakes Sansa-style, and the mango cake is lighter than it looks. Oh, and the bread pudding is the best. The bread pudding is always the best.

It may be a mass-produced buffet, but Wicked Spoon can be wicked cool. The buffet stays well-supplied, and the service is a pleasant surprise, but we probably would have liked it more if we had gone at a better time. The never-ending buffet dilemma: 5PM beats the crowd, but all the stuff tends to sit. Brave a longer line and be prepared to fight for the better foods. Either option works; guess I'll have come back at a better time.
Wicked Spoon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Yardbird - Las Vegas

We just got married! what?

We cut so much drama from our lives in a single night, and we're just not exhausted enough. My family flew in from China for the wedding, and they only have a couple days in town. The one thing they want is to see Vegas in all its shining glory, and a day in a rental van with a night at the Luxor doesn't sound so bad to me...

Four hours through the dessert is unpleasant at best, all sizzling, sulking sand with the occasional stubborn shrub. But with Yardbird on the other end, it's WORTH IT.

Intro to southern cooking starts with some Shrimp n' Grits. They do well with the tender jumbo shrimp, and gravelly grits get savored-up with Virginia ham. The PBR chicken jus juts in without intrusion, a pleasurable finish that's not too memorable. I've had grits with true grit, and these are just good enough. 

My cousins live in London, and you'd think people living that close to France wouldn't want for Fries, but they do. They don't want just one order, they want two. Good call, cousins; Yardbird has a way with the taters, and the ranch dressing makes them that much better.

The fries are good, but the Coleslaw is a shame. Dry shreds of cabbage sit in an inadequate puddle with not enough sauce to go around. But the crispy chicken skin on top is even better than cracklin's. They melt with a velvet crunch.

Everything is a mere prequel compared to the main event: the Chicken n' Watermelon n' Waffles that are so much better than any chicken n' watermelon n' waffles you've ever had or will ever have. The chicken is so tender. The whitest, cleanest meat you've ever seen, and even the dark meat shimmers in a beautiful beige. The sauce is awesome, but you don't need the sauce. The batter alone will blow your mind so many times over. The waffle is a crisp cloud with a wispy sweetness and a mild twist of cheesed. And the watermelon. Oh my God, southern by the grace of God. It's cold and ripe, all sugar and water until the chile cuts through. It doesn't burn; it just dances and skims across a sugary tongue. My head is so far into the this plate, I don't even pause for pictures.

I initially scoffed at the idea of all-organic fried chicken. An oxymoron at best, otherwise a contradiction of all that soul food stands for. Except it's not. Soul food is supposed to feed the soul. It reaches a hungry depth, it scratches a deep-down itch, and nothing hits the spot so completely. Yardbird does that and more, but you have to eat it to believe it. Put your money where your mouth is, but be sure to skip straight to the chicken.
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pho Ha Plus - Diamond Bar

Every town, city, village, strip mall, hole in the ground in SoCal has pho. There may be more pho than people.

With great amounts of pho comes great responsibility. Pho needs to be philtered, and it's hard to know which side of the sieve Pho Ha Plus would stay.

No complaints about any of the food. The starters are plenty fresh, and the Fresh Rolls have enough good shrimp stuffed inside to go around.

The Egg Rolls are fried in an oil that doesn't taste old, and the shredded carrots and cabbage cast are cooked but not too mushy.

The deep fried Bean Curd is fun, like a sandwich in a bean curd bag, stuffed full of shrimp-fish-cake.

The Pho is pretty textbook. Beefy broth that could be a little more beefy, brisket and steak that could be a little more tender, and soft circles of tendon that could be a little more tendon. A balanced, satisfying, middle-of-the-road kind of pho, hardly memorable but good enough for a craving.

Bun with Chargrilled Pork
is probably the better dish. The pork is tender and thin, vermicelli in a softer, almost-gelatinous texture, drizzled with fish sauce.

Not winning any awards, and Pho Ha Plus does seem to lack the plus. But no minuses either, and then there's the food dessert of Diamond Bar... The pho ha can be an ah-ha if you're trying to curb a craving...and you're stuck in Diamond Bar.
pho ha plus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato