Half Moon Bay, CA: Navio at The Ritz-Carlton

Fennel Pollen Crusted Mero Sea Bass

When you visit an outpost of such a well-renowned hotel entity as the Ritz-Carlton, its flagship restaurant has plenty to live up to. And with a location and view right on the shore at Half Moon Bay, the food better be a match to its scenery and splendor. Navio lives up to the task thanks to Chef Sean Eastwood’s imaginative dishes with ingredients sourced from nearby markets, but this is the Ritz-Carlton, and they have come to expect a certain clientele that can afford the high-end ticket – the kind of clientele that also subscribe to the mantra of “location, location, location.” With that: Scenery.

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Acclaimed Hong Kong Chefs Take Over The Grove

Chef Kwai- Pui Mak

Over the weekend, I had the chance to meet not one, but three, Michelin-starred chefs from Hong Kong. They included Chef Kwai-Pui Mak of Tim Ho Wan, Chef Mango Tsang of Ming Court in Langham Place and Chef Kam-Fu Cheng of Celebrity Cuisine. During an exclusive event with industry and media, I learned a little bit about their mission to spread the word about all things Hong Kong – but especially cuisine – to Los Angeles.

Hong Kong Sampler

While Chef Mango Tsang, the fine dining guru and Marathon-runner of the trio, lamented some of the dishes didn’t come out quite right because of the unpredictability of American ingredients, I thought everything – including his fried shrimp cake and a chicken paste – tasted delicious. Unfortunately, you can only expect to get the real thing while visiting each of the chefs’ restaurants in their native Hong Kong.

Chef Kam-fu Cheng, who first became popular through his private dining business, fixed a delicious crab claw. My favorite bite of the sampler, by Chef Kwai-pui Mak, had to be the char siu bao, or pork bun. The bun had this flaky yet chewy consistency to it that I hadn’t had anywhere else and made for probably the best pork bun I had had anywhere. His tenure at Lung King Hin inside the Four Seasons Hong Kong saw three Michelin stars, and his Tim Ho Wan Dim Sum restaurant received one star within a year of opening, so I can see why his dim sum is top notch.

Overall, it was a not-to-be-missed opportunity to see the top Hong Kong chefs right here in Los Angeles. It’s opened my eyes to the possibilities of a trip to Hong Kong, undoubtedly a culinary wonderland. Now if I can see, taste and experience it for myself…!

If you’re at all curious about how the Hong Kong chefs regard Chinese food in L.A., you’d best be on the lookout for the update from Jonathan Gold, who took them out to dim sum during one of their rare chances at off-time.

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Chef Kwai- Pui Mak at
Tim Ho Wan
Shop 72, G/F.
Olympian City
Tai Kok Tsui, Kowloon (Olympian MTR Station)

Chef Mango Tsang at
Ming Court
555 Shanghai Street
Mongkok
Kowloon, Hong Kong

Chef Kam-Fu Cheng at
Celebrity Cuisine
1/F, Lan Kwai Fong Hotel
3 Kau U Fong, Central

This Weekend: Harvest Celebration Barrel Tasting with Temecula Valley Wines

Bacon-wrapped Scallop, Pea Reduction – Leoness Cellars

There’s a little-known wine country close to Los Angeles that I recently had the pleasure of visiting for the first time. It’s a winegrowers community that you’ll find endearing as you get up close to the very families who run the wineries.

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Palm Springs, CA: The Del Marcos Hotel and Other Mid-Century Modern Architecture

Del Marcos Hotel Courtyard and Salt Water Pool

Until a month ago, I had never been to Palm Springs. The truth is that it was easy to dismiss the destination since, having grown up in the Midwest, my aversion to desert climate had clouded my view. But on a recent media trip, I got to see what I had been missing all these years. There is a ton of Los Angeles-related history in Palm Springs, and until you see it, you’re missing out on a lot of Angeleno vacationing culture.

Wexler/Harrison Steel House No. 2 (of 7)

I’m a bit of a Mid-Century Modern bandwagoner in that I chose furniture and decor of that era to decorate my own space on my most recent move. I love the clean lines, simplicity and functionality – and the desire to create expansiveness of ordinarily small spaces. And while the most obvious pop culture example on TV now is Mad Men, we all remember the recently departed LACMA exhibit, California Design 1930-1965: “Living in a Modern Way” (which I was eager enough to see on a member preview). You can imagine how excited I was to be staying at The Del Marcos Hotel, designed by William F. Cody. It’s the hotel that actually launched his career.

It’s a perfectly sized boutique hotel – just 16 rooms – and every room or suite is unique with its own name and well-appointed with era-specific furnishings. It’s one convenient block away from Downtown Palm Springs, but a perfectly quaint getaway once you enter the glass walled, naturally lit foyer. The centerpiece of the calm courtyard, which enlists a well-curated, period-appropriate soundtrack, is a large, buoyant, salt water pool. There are also plenty of retro-styled bicycles available to ride around town. The place, with all its touches, is absolutely charming. On Sunday, October 7, 2012, Del Marcos is receiving its Class 1 Historic Site Designation – so drop by from 3-5 PM if you plan to visit Palm Springs that day, as light refreshments will be served at the ceremony.

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Las Vegas, NV: Sage Is a Cocktailian’s Respite From Bottle Service

Absinthe Demo with Michael Shetler at Sage

Ah, Las Vegas. The land capital of bottle service. It’s the only city where more appearance money goes to those bearing names beginning with the letter “K” than in all of Los Angeles. Okay, maybe not. But still, if not for the hosted media trip, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d just otherwise resign to bourbon, neat, for the duration of the weekend.

Concocting a Sidecar

Having acquired a favorite Vegas bar from my Cochon 555 All-Stars trip a mere month prior to this, I became disappointed in that very bar when my cocktail fell too sweet on my second visit. Though I know we were singled out as media guests, Sage came to our libational rescue.

We were treated to a great selection of cocktails hand-crafted with boutique spirits and housemade bitters. They were riffs on classics with a seasonal twist, and I got the sense that their exciting cocktail menu is a constantly evolving list.

First of all, the interior of Sage is beautiful. Though its hues are very Vegas, the aura of the space is contrarily subdued, if even calming. It’s refreshingly sophisticated in an understated – not overly manufactured – way. 

Art in the Age Margarita

If you can get in for a demo, the Russian-style absinthe tasting is a delight for the senses. From the brilliant, violet flame to the whiff of licorice and anise and ultimately the light, herbal taste – it’s a great way to dispel all those tales of lore you heard about this spirit, which remains in a class all by itself.

As for the cocktails, I surprisingly found myself loving the Tea Rose – made with tea-infused Death’s Door Vodka, St. Germain, lemon, rosewater and pinenuts. My favorite cocktail trended unsurprisingly towards the negroni-like Il Postino, with Plymouth Gin, Campari, Luxardo Maraschino and Averna. But I would be remiss to take for granted a well-made negroni. Another favorite was the Smoking Bulleit, made with beautifully smoked peach-infused Bulleit Bourbon and finished off with mint and lemon. But the most original cocktail of the evening was non-traditional, The Artful Margarita, made with Oro de Blanco Tequila, Cointreau, Art in the Age Root Liqueur and lemon. It left the impression of a Sarsaparilla with its root liqueur.

The cocktails displayed a sort of sophisticated simplicity in their recipes. We talked infusions with Michael Shetler, the Director of Beverages, and the differences between California and Nevada law (we’re a bit late to the legality of them, anyway).

As far as beer, Sage also has a small but wise selection of drafts.

Sage is a great place for not only pre-dinner drinks (complete only with the excellent food in the dining room) but as a serious Vegas cocktail destination. I know that when I land in Vegas again, I’ll definitely be back for a drink or two. Or more.

Two nights’ stay in suites, meals and cocktails at The Aria – including at Sage – were hosted.

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Monday – Saturday:

5 PM – 11 PM

Closed Sunday

Cocktail Menu

Sage at The Aria
3730 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
877.230.2742

Taipei, Taiwan: Savory Snacks at Su Hung Restaurant

Braised pork belly, onion and cilantro

It was one of my last nights in Taiwan when my mom and I met one of her old childhood friends at Su Hung, a restaurant surprisingly located in a shopping structure adjacent to a subway station. As we ascended the stairs, a hot pot restaurant caught my eye – but I was ever lucky that Su Hung was the one that came recommended.

Loofah greens and shrimp soup dumplings

I had decided to resist the hype of Din Tai Fung, further dissuaded by word of endless waits and an eagerness to avoid being lumped into the “eating tourist” demographic. After all, why settle for the merely better-than-Arcadian version of the restaurant chain, with possibly an even worse wait? I had a bloodline to honor.

Su Hung offers not pork soup dumplings, but rather loofah-greens-and-shrimp soup dumplings. You can eat more of these than the very popular pork version and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more specialized soup dumpling anywhere else in Taipei – much less in America. There is less soup in these, but they’re a nice departure for diners looking for something lighter, a little different and less obvious.

Braised crab egg tofu

There are plenty of other dishes at Su Hung that will quench your appetite for the savory, including the very delicious tofu dish which comes in a stone pot immersed in a broth made with braised crab eggs. Though I enjoyed pretty much everything that came out from the kitchen, this was my favorite preparation of tofu during my entire Taiwan trip (and you can guess that with all the meals shared with relatives, vegetarian and non-, there were a lot). Never the brave one to crack the middle innards of a crab shell open (I’m a leg woman), I really appreciated this delicious sauce and barely fried tofu with a texture that was silken yet could hold its own to the temperature. Boiling stone pots never fail to excite me as they approach the table – and this one far exceeded even my expectations.

Simmered noodles

If you’re looking for a unique yet delicious noodle dish, order the Simmered Noodles – a simple bowl of wheat noodles-in-chicken-broth that attains its complex taste and texture by, you guessed it, simmering for a long time. It’s dressed with tiny dried shrimp and green onion, and was perfectly comforting for that rainy day we happened to eat at Su Hung. Divy up that medium-sized bowl with your dining partners, and your seconds and thirds will show you that you wished the portion was even bigger. Guess you’ll have to order another, or another of their specialties.

And of course, the title picture may evoke memories…of the East Village. Rather than being portioned out individually at Momofuku for $9 a pop, you’ll get enough green onion, wilted cilantro (just like New York) and braised pork belly to fill 6 “bao” tacos for NT $360 (USD $12). You actually are given only 4 shells to begin with, but the waitstaff will graciously bring you more should you have more honey-braised pork belly to stuff them with. Of course, this is an unfair price point and cost-of-living comparison, but it’s just one more reason this dish is a definite must-order when you dine at Su Hung. It’s your favorite Hunan-style hamburger, ever that much closer to the source.

Sesame rice crepe with red bean filling

No meal is complete without dessert, and Su Hung has the perfect version of your typical red bean-filled sesame rice balls you would otherwise see being wheeled around, cold, on carts at San Gabriel Valley dim sum. This version comes hot and flat, like a freshly-made, sweet rice crepe, with the red bean oozing out from all sides at which it is cut.

Su Hung offers unique and well-executed dishes that will surely enrich your Taipei dining experience. It was ironic that the Taipei Times’ review of the place published online on the very day I dined there. It had mostly favorable views, consistent with my pleasant experience.  It seems as though the businessmen that line their tables are really on to something – and those looking for a solid meal, period, would serve themselves well to take their cue.

11:30 AM – 2 PM
5:30 PM – 9 PM

Su Hung Restaurant
2-1, Jinan Rd Sec 1
Taipei City, Taiwan
02.2396.3186

Taipei, Taiwan: 72 Hours of Beef Noodle Soup at 72 NRM

Clear broth beef noodle soup (Ching Zuan)

I have always loved beef noodle soup. It’s easily one of my five reasons to drive to San Gabriel Valley. Before my trip to Taiwan, however, I had associated a proper bowl of noodles as having a deep, dark broth and good amounts of chili paste and oil floated in it (latter of which is added by myself). In the beginning of my trip, spent in the southern cities of Taiwan, I even had homemade Nu Riu Mian. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. It was homemade in the sense that the broth and beef had come from a frozen packet bought at the Kaohsiung Costco, whereby you add your own, fresh noodles – and greens, if you wish. If those were available at the Culver Costco, I would become probably the only CostCo member to occupy a 1-bedroom apartment shoebox in a heartbeat.

Broth and bones

Alas, I was left to satiate my beef noodle soup cravings – along with other requisite dishes – to the best of my ability during this trip. I saved the restaurant version for Taipei, which is the city to consume a bowl as the dish is a Chinese import. It’s a specialty particularly in the capital city, as evidenced by their yearly Beef Noodle Festival. Thanks to the recommendation of Danny (KungFoodPanda), the small shop specializing in the bowl of noodles was one of my favorite stops, period. The Taiwanese in the States – and Taiwan, apparently – love acronyms, and the name of the shop was no coincidence since for their most popular bowl of soup, the broth takes 72 hours to complete. It’s also named in allegiance to its Anglo phonetics, though it was my mother whom I have to thank for translating so that I could understand the process. It is unlike any other bowl I’ve had – in both taste and color – and the broth’s complexity pretty much blew me away. The housemade noodles were also excellent and springy, tossed with slivers of fresh ginger. The beef tendon atop the clear broth was super tender. The traditional dark broth (with braised chunks of beef as opposed to the tendon) may be the more favored flavor in general, but there was good reason to wait that extra half-hour before the “clear broth” was declared ready by the shop owner, proving that they really take their broth seriously.

Traditional, dark broth beef noodle soup (Hong Zao)

It is the dark broth at 72 NRM that is ready at all times. Nevertheless, I showed restraint and kept my hands off the jar of chile paste on the table so that I might really taste the essence of the broth. It was the most flavorful yet seemingly effortless bowl of beef noodles I’ve ever had. Sometimes, in a less refined broth, I’ll find that there’s a bit of precipitate to the texture – but this broth was basically seamless with its rich flavor completely integrated. The clear broth still had more, but with that being my first bowl ever, I wouldn’t feign any sort of expertise. It stands that it had eye-openingly complex broth and amazingly fresh noodles.

The process of this broth – and the fact that it takes 72 hours to make – was intriguing enough to ask my mom for a translation. Apparently, the ingredients are simmered in cold water the entire first day. Then the temperature is brought to a medium heat during the second day in order to break down the grease. Mild heat is used on the third day in order to bring out the flavor. One and a half pounds of bones are used to make each bowl of broth. The flavors are so rich that you will “still be savoring [them] for 2 hours” after you finish your bowl.

They were right.

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72 NRM
Taipei, Taiwan

Dose of Vitamin P: Buñuelos de “Belly” In Tijuana

Buñuelos de "Belly"

Only pork could be worthy motivation to spend a mere 8 hours south of the border. Last night’s trip was my first time crossing that border – and it was well worth it. Bill of Street Gourmet LA guided Jo of My Last Bite, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs (ha ha) and me around that Northern Mexican city and I can vouch that he is an invaluable guide to have.

The flyer said “Pork 5 Ways” and indeed, there were 5 chefs, but there were more than 5 ways in which pig was prepared. My favorite dish was the dessert – and I loved that it being dessert was nary a reason to cop out of the theme. It blew my mind in execution.

The Buñuelos itself was a crunchy, crispy wafer with hints of cinnamon and sat on top of braised, soft pork belly. The pork belly itself wasn’t marinated in anything especially remarkable and was allowed to stand on its own, with the assembly on the plate carrying it through. The sweet agave syrup drizzled over the dish was just the right amount of sweetness to not make it saccharine. It was also infused with bacon, which matched the depth and heft of the dish. But the perfect touch? The ginger and lemon grass ice cream. The refreshing, cold notes of the ice cream brought perfect highlights, really finishing the dessert off nicely with some kick.

This dish was brought to us by Chef Paul Zamudio of Cabo San Lucas, who also prepared delicious pork cheeks sous vide – another one of my favorites for the night. I hope that the border doesn’t continue to separate his cooking from my palate – but I’m sure that Bill will see to it that it doesn’t.

By the way, this post is dedicated to Josh of Food GPS, whose love of pig consumption (and his detailing the best dishes in his Dose of Vitamin P series) has always inspired this particular Tijuana crew. We were sad to hear of his recent week of disappointing pork dishes, and thought he had somehow “taken one for the team” since our pork dishes in Tijuana were so successful. So thanks, Josh.

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Held December 8, 2010

Villa Saverios
Blvd. Sanchez Taboada Esq. Escuadron 201 Zona Rio
Tijuana, México

Kaohsiung, Taiwan: Traditional Taiwanese Eats

Bah-Tzang or Zong-zi

Hello from Taiwan! These past few days while on vacation, I’ve been discovering a little (or a lot) about my roots. A large part of my cultural lesson during the beginning of this trip has been through the consumption of each meal in the major city near where my mother grew up – Kaohsiung, in the south part of the island. There is no better way to learn about a people than walking in their shoes – by eating what they do.

Milkfish Paste Soup

Fortunately, I’ve been exposed to a little bit of traditional Taiwanese cuisine since a lone Taiwanese American kid growing up in Wisconsin thanks to my mom’s cooking. Yes, she once made Bah-Tzang, the pyramid-shaped “Taiwanese tamale,” on a regular basis. I remember watching her fill the bamboo leaf-wrapped cones first with sticky rice and soft, boiled peanuts, then a mixture of slow-cooked beef cubes, black mushrooms and dried shrimp before folding over the leaves, tying the pyramid up with a string and boiling these neat-wrapped packages in the rice cooker. All this, while the only other things I wanted to eat were McDonald’s, bratwurst, ambrosia salads and macaroni casseroles like the rest of my friends.

But Bah-Tzang always was a near and dear dish to my heart and heritage while all other Taiwanese dishes were merely oddities with strange flavors and textures. That is, until my palate graduated to a level that could appreciate them. Sweet chili sauce and soy are the best condiments with which to appreciate bah-tzang – and as you collapse the steaming tamale with your chopsticks, notice the texture of the sticky rice and the delicious smell. This is folk food at its finest and most portable, enabling us modern eaters to freeze and nuke at will. Check out this post on Tiny Urban Kitchen: Taiwanese Rice Dumplings (includes history, recipe) for a break-down.

Wahgui | Bowled Rice Cake

Milkfish paste gravy soup is a delicious soup with the consistency of a liquified gravy and taste of a light broth – with the clear color to match.  Do not mistaken the milkfish for fish balls; the paste gives a more tender bite. If you see milkfish/swordfish ball soup, expect the soup to be a clear liquid. By tradition, milkfish paste soups are thicker in consistency with the help of cornstarch. Season it with white pepper and together with its minced green onions and cilantro, the simple soup will have you slurping til the last spoonful.

Wahgui, or translated directly, rice bowled cake with sauce, may be mostly glutinous rice cake, but make no mistake – the bowl gives it its name and shape. Mixed into the sticky, soft texture are radishes and dried shrimp, and a sweet, rich sauce (in translated name only, but I prefer “gravy”) – is heaped on top of it to give it that umami. Add a chili sauce to it to make it hot, if you wish, but this bowl of goodness is as decadent as Taiwanese food gets.

All three of the above dishes, which I had on the day I landed on Formosa, cost between 30 and 35 NT (New Taiwan Dollars) each – the equivalent of $1 USD. You may only know Taiwanese food as Xiao Long Bao, or juicy pork dumplings – especially in Los Angeles (see: Din Tai Fung) – but let’s set the record straight. This is traditional Taiwanese food; XLBs came to the U.S. by way of Shanghai through Taipei (in Din Tai Fung’s case – only after the Chinese Civil War) since Communists hardly let their people emigrate.

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Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Stella McCartney Joins Share Our Strength At Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Stella McCartney, RTW Fall '09 | Photo Credit to Business of Fashion

Get ready for a short but beautiful road trip. Just head up the 101 to Ojai, where yes – another shopping benefit – will focus its efforts on raising funds for Share Our Strength (umbrella org over Taste of the Nation) and Help of Ojai. You’ll get to shop – poolside - Stella McCartney‘s 2010 Spring & Summer lines while nestled in that Valley Inn 30 minutes south of Santa Barbara. A vegetarian lunch is included and you’re encouraged to bring the family. Your kids will get to indulge in planned fun activities and a face painter will be on-site.

The best part of your admission to the shopping event is that it comes with a complimentary day pass to Spa Ojai. So after you shop, you can lay back and relax in some posh amenities – especially if they’re anything like the rest of the resort-hotel (impeccable). Just be sure to mention code “SDSP” to the representative when you call to make your reservation.

What a fun getaway with the girls! Helping end child hunger never needed a better occasion; retail therapy, beautiful scenery, delicious food and a day at the spa come packaged as one. 

Saturday, April 25, 2010

11 AM – 2 PM

$60 adults, $30 ages 5 – 12, free under age 5
Includes shopping, vegetarian lunch, Ojai Spa day pass (code: SDSP)

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Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
905 Country Club Road
Ojai, CA 93023
Reservations: 888.697.8780

View from Ojai Valley Inn & Spa