Sunday, July 29, 2007

Gardena Bowl Coffee Shop

I was so looking forward to eating here. People I know eat here and swear the food is good. Even the Culinary Detective went here on an episode, and being the local he is, should be in the know.

I should have known how things were going to be right from the get go. That's called "FORESHADOWING" people. A nice elderly woman was the host, and directed us to a table near the corner. Only problem was that she didn't give us any menus. After waiting for about 10 minutes, with still no server in sight, I had to get up and get some menus. Perusing the menu for a couple minutes, our server finally came over and asked us if we were ready to order. We weren't and another long period, about 25 minutes, of waiting was in order. We tried flagging down a busser, waved at the waitress and almost set off some signal flares to grab somebody's attention. After all that, we were finally able to get our order in.

Yes, more waiting was in order. Funny, but I didn't see this item anywhere on the menu. Glad it was gratis, otherwise the amount of waiting we endured would have cost us a small fortune. Our food finally arrived, well, at least one dish did. The other, saimin, didn't arrive for another 10 minutes. You would think something simple like saimin would be ready in a flash.

The tonkatsu was actually pretty good. Nice and crunchy on the outside, and moist and tender on the inside, this dish was very good. The tempura on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Yes, it was a nice golden brown and crunchy, but it tasted like it was cooked in oil that had been used a few too many times. The accompanying salad was one of the most pathetic I've ever seen. Filled with almost all iceberg lettuce, each and every single piece of lettuce was red around the border from being old and withered.

Getting back to the saimin, it did look promising. At first glance it looked like the noodles were made by Maebo, but sadly they weren't. They were still good noodles, nice and chewy with some elasticity still in them. The broth was rather bland and had a slightly salty taste, like shio ramen. The wonton were horribly overcooked, just very soggy and doughy.

I'm not sure I would try this place again given the amount of places that have Hawaiian food in the surrounding area.

Gardena Bowl Coffee Shop
15707 S. Vermont Ave.
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 532-0820

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Patisserie Chantilly

With the influx of Beard Papa popping up almost as fast as Pinkberry franchises all over the Southland, one can easily overlook what many consider to be the best cream puff around. Where is that you might ask? At Patisserie Chantilly in Lomita. Set in a small strip mall, what you see on the outside is a mirage. The center has seen better days, but step inside Patisserie Chantilly and you enter another world. Very sleek and modern, you can tell that you are in a bakery different than any other you have set foot in before.

The cream puffs are made to order and come in two varieties, vanilla and sesame. Unlike many cream puffs, these are split in half and are generously filled with a custard and whipped cream mixture.

The Choux a la Crème shell is baked to a deep golden brown to give it an extra added crunch. It is fairly eggy and tender on the inside. The luscious and delicate filling is very subtle in flavor, but the vanilla still shines through. It is then dusted with powdered sugar to give it a slight sweetness. Like most Asian pastries, these are not overly sweet.

The Choux aux Sesame is a black sesame cream filling drizzled with mesquite honey and dusted with kinako (roasted, ground soy flour). The black sesame seeds give the cream puff a definite nutty flavor and added texture component. The sesame flavor tended to overwhelm the delicate nature of the cream, and this didn’t really appeal to me.

The Goma Blanc Manger, a white sesame flavored cream with a kinako sauce. This is a very attractive dish. The cream comes in a kidney shaped dish and is topped with white and black sesame seeds. Not really a custard, the texture was a little off putting to me. It reminded me off mixing scrambled eggs and yogurt together. The kinako sauce is fairly sweet, which helps accentuate the sesame cream. The contrast of the white sesame cream and the roasted kinako sauce helped to mask some of the blandness of the cream.

The Lavender Macaroon is a very attractive looking cookie. It has a very delicate texture, although there is somewhat of a crunch to it which quickly melts in your mouth. A definite floral quality is present. There is a thing layer separating the halves of the macaroon, but I was unable to distinguish what it was.

The Chocolate Macaroon also has that delicate quality to it. Crunchy on the outside, it quickly becomes soft as a pillow once bitten in to. A whisper of chocolate touches your tongue as you first taste but becomes a little bolder on the palate as you continue to eat it. There is a slight bitterness from the dark chocolate that sneaks up and hits the back of your throat. A thin layer of chocolate glues both halves of the cookie together.

Patisserie Chantilly
2383 Lomita Blvd., #104
Lomita, CA 90717
(310) 257-9454

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cream Pan

Going in search of something that every one raves about far and wide, usually leads to disappointment. Everyone on both Chowhound and Yelp praise the Strawberry Croissant at Cream Pan to be the best pastry item ever invented. Ironically located in the same parking lot as Bally’s gym, I wonder how many people exit the gym and head straight to Cream Pan as a “reward” for a good workout.

Several display cases greet you warmly as you enter, certainly whetting your appetite from the get go. Racks of bread and other pastry items adorn one side, while a refrigerated case line the back wall. The space is very tiny, maybe 10 people can fit in there but it would certainly be crowded.

The Katsu sandwich is a nice thick breaded cutlet that is covered in a sweet and slightly sour katsu sauce. Lettuce and a couple slices of cucumber finish the sandwich. It is set in a roll with a slightly sweet taste, like Kings Hawaiian bread “light”. The sandwich is good, although I think it would be better if it were served hot. A microwave is accessible inside the store, but I think nuking it would harden the bread.

The Croquette Sandwich is a thick mashed potato patty that is about the size of a hockey puck. The croquette is mixed in with various spices, breaded and topped with the same sweet and sour katsu sauce. It is finished with a lettuce leaf and shredded cabbage to add some textural crunch.

The Caramel Custard comes in a nice little cup and comes with a caramel sauce that is the end result of being cooked in a caramel base, much like flan. The custard is rich and thick and is very “eggy”. The caramel is a deep mahogany color with a very distinct “burnt” flavor. If you like your custard in this fashion, this will certainly be to your liking.

The Chocolate Horn is sort of a disappointment. The bread is rather thick and dense, but still has that faint sweetness to it. The inside is filled with a rich filling of dark chocolate and whipped cream. The filling is rather sweet, but the bitter undertones of the dark chocolate help to quell the sweetness. The horn is then dipped in chocolate. Like the filling, the chocolate topping is on the sweet side.

The Azuki Cream Pan marries a croissant and an An Pan together. The rich, buttery and flaky pastry envelopes a large dollop of whipped cream under which a thick mound of azuki beans lie. Some of the azuki beans still have a little bit of bite to them. The crunch of the croissant crust is a perfect textural contrast to the whipped cream.

The star attraction and favorite of many is the Strawberry Croissant. Take a rich, buttery and flaky croissant, cut open a little pocket add a thick, creamy custard and top it with a few slices of strawberries and some confectioners sugar. What could be better? Not much, to tell you the truth. This sublime pastry is not overly sweet at all. The custard is mildly sweet and the confectioners sugar is offset by the tartness of the strawberries. This presentation opens up a Pandora’s box of other types of croissants, blueberry, peach, etc.

There are still a few types of pastries I would like to try, but after this sampling the best of the bunch are the Azuki Cream Pan and the Strawberry Croissant. This little hidden gem has gained fans from all over.

Cream Pan
602 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92870
(714) 665-8239

Sunday, July 22, 2007

99 Ranch Market

After causing some controversy, the 99 Ranch Market opened up in Chino Hills a couple of weeks ago with little fanfare. This is no ordinary Asian market. This has to be the cleanest store that I've ever set foot in. Not to mention the fact that the aisles are huge, like an American grocery store. Taking the space over from a now defunct Ralph's, this explains the stores spacious layout.

The decor is sort of Asian grocery store meets Gelsons. Lots of wood and even stone tile is on display surrounding the fresh seafood. There is also a food court with a Chinese BBQ, Sushi and Juice place (very odd combination), a Teppanyaki stall, a Chinese food place akin to Panda Express but a little more upscale and a bakery.

99 Ranch Market
2959 Chino Ave.
Chino Hills, CA 91709

Glacier Ice Cream & Gelato

Only open a short time in Manhattan Beach, Glacier Ice Cream & Gelato has picked up a big following in Colorado and to a somewhat lesser degree in Las Vegas. The space is fun and funky, which fits in with the beachy atmosphere just a few steps away.

The staff is very friendly and generous with samples. They have many flavors available at any one time most of which seem to have either chocolate, caramel or Oreo’s in the mix. Donald, the co-owner, is super friendly and wanted to know how we heard about them. I told them that they have gotten very good reviews on Chowhound. He came over and talked to us for a while, and even offered us a free cup of coffee and gave us some coupons for free scoops of ice cream in the future. He reminds me a lot of Dan at Fredo’s Phillys, a real nice guy who is very appreciative of the recognition that their product is receiving. Asked why they have a lot of ice creams contained Oreos, he said he though that it went well with a lot of their flavors. In addition to being co-owner, Donald, is also the “chef” of all their ice creams and gelatos. You can tell he takes pride in the ice cream and gelatos he makes daily.

The Banana ice cream tastes like a frozen banana that I used to enjoy as a kid. Lots of real bananas are infused into the ice cream, which is very refreshing on a cool summer day. The ice cream is not too sweet, as the bananas used are at their peak of flavor.

The Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream is a mix of dark chocolate ice cream with peanut butter swirled into the mix. This is a very rich ice cream, but is a little bit on the sweeter side. The peanut butter helps to cut the sweetness as does the bitter after taste of the chocolate. This is a great combination, and when eaten in conjunction with the Banana ice cream is a heavenly mixture.

The Banana Caramel Crunch combines caramel and banana ice cream with the crunchy texture of Oreos. The caramel comes to the forefront while the banana plays a supporting role. The texture contrast of the Oreos is a nice surprise.

The Funky Monkey is a base of banana ice cream with peanut butter and chocolate bits. It’s reminiscent of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey with the addition of peanut butter. The light and refreshing banana ice cream is offset with the peanut butter and chocolate, but this is also a winning combination.

Overall, the ice cream at Glacier is top notch. The ice cream is creamier and denser than that of Fosselman’s but is also a little sweeter. While Fosselman’s has a lot of fruit flavors and those that are more subtle, Glacier has much bolder flavors on their menu. If you’re in the area, definitely try Glacier out.

Glacier Ice Cream & Gelato
1605 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310) 545-9730

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Happy Harbor Restaurant

Happy Harbor Restaurant sits in the same shopping center as 99 Ranch Market in Rowland Heights. Although it’s only a few doors down from 99 Ranch Market it sort of sits in obscurity as it is near the end of the shopping center.

The menu is strikingly similar to that of Seafood Harbour so naturally one cannot help but compare the two. This is a menu driven dim sum restaurant. Happy Harbor compares very favorably to Seafood Harbor in my opinion. Seafood Harbour is just a notch above, but if you are in the neighborhood it’s a very solid choice.

The BBQ Pork Bun in Oyster Sauce is a little different than most Char Sui Bao that I’ve had. The bao contains a relatively dry shredded pork filling that is not as sweet as one is accustomed to. The bun is pillowy soft, and the inside while different is still very flavorful. One thing that I noticed right away is that the filling was void of hunks of fat that one normally finds in bao. Maybe the fact that the pork is shredded account for this.

The Eggplant with Shrimp Paste are huge cuts of eggplant with a generous portion of shrimp paste attached to it. The eggplant is very creamy and has just a little bit of spicy bite to it that eggplant sometimes has. The shrimp paste actually tastes more like a fish cake, but is still tasty nonetheless. The shrimp paste is deep fried that results in a perfect crunchy exterior while allowing the flavor of the interior to shine through.

The Fried Crispy Shrimp contained somewhat of a surprised. Mixed in with the big fat whole shrimp and taro was curry paste. The shrimp was covered in taro and placed over a layer of curry paste. The entire thing was breaded then deep fried. The combination of flavors wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t exactly to my liking. The biggest disappointment of this dish though, was the fact that it was served cold and not hot and fresh out of the fryer.

The Har Gow contained two to three whole plump shrimps with a little shrimp paste to hold it together. The skin was soft and pliable but still had a little bit of a chew to it. The shrimp were cooked to perfection and not at all overcooked. The har gow is so big that it will take two to three bites to finish each piece off.

The Steamed Rice Noodle with Shrimp were three long broad rice noodles filled with fat whole shrimp covered in a slightly sweet soy sauce. The dish was served with two pieces of Chinese broccoli. The noodles were soft and doughy and eaten together with the shrimp and sauce made a perfect combination.

The Shark Fin’s Scallop Dumpling is almost a meal in itself. Two or three whole shrimp compose the base on which a whole scallop is place. The entire package is wrapped in a soft, chewy skin and topped with fish roe and strands of shark fin. The size of the dumpling alone will make it fall apart upon the first bite unless you can somehow manage to eat this thing in one bite. The scallop had a little bit of a “fishy” taste, otherwise these were perfect.

The Fresh Shrimp Dumpling with Chives is similar to har gow but has the nice addition of chives to it. The dumpling also contains a little bit of ginger to help add some zing to the dish. Like the har gow, these dumplings are filled with two to three whole shrimp.

The Shu Mai contain whole shrimp with large pieces of ground pork mixed in. The shu mai wrapper is a little bit tougher and chewier than a har gow skin but holds up well to the denseness of the filling. The entire dumpling is topped with fish roe which gives it some color and crunch for a texture contrast.

The Steamed Mushroom in Oyster Sauce are huge button mushrooms filled with a generous amount of fish paste. The whole thing is then steamed and topped with a thinned out oyster sauce. The mushrooms aren’t overcooked and still retain its texture and “meaty” quality.

The Shanghai Dumplings, or Xiao Long Bao, are each served in each own little dish to retain the soup should the skin break. The dish can also acts as a spoon. The dumplings contain a generous amount of soup, but the skins seemed a little overcooked and “tired”. Although not up to the standard of Mei Long Village these were still good.

The Sticky Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf come three to an order. Each “package” contains a generous amount of sticky rice along with ground pork, mushrooms and salted eggs. I didn't try this dish but my companion said that it was very good.

The Shrimp and Pork Dumpling is similar to the shu mai but is contained in an enclosed skin. The dumpling also contains wood ear mushrooms. The shrimp are diced instead of left whole and like most of the dishes here, a generous amount of ground pork also makes its way into the dumpling. About the only difference between this and shu mai is the enclosed wrapper and the deletion of fish roe.

The Egg Tarts are a little different at Happy Harbor. They are a little bigger in size and are not that deep yellow color that one associates with egg tarts. The tarts aren’t as “eggy” as one expects but still has a nice custard flavor. The tarts are topped with translucent strands which are a little firm. I’m not really sure what it is, but could it possibly be shark fin???

All in all, Happy Harbor is a very solid choice for dim sum outside of the San Gabriel area. Service was friendly and attentive. Most of the staff spoke English well enough to get what you wanted without any confusion. And the best thing about it, less than a 5 minute wait on a Saturday at noon.

Happy Harbor Restaurant
1015 S. Nogales Street, #126
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 965-2020

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

El Rey de Los Huaraches

El Rey de Los Huaraches looks like one of those old time drive thru dairies that Alta Dena used to have years ago. A portico covers part of the drive thru that fits in nicely with the Spanish architecture. There is only a walk up window with an outdoor patio in addition to the drive thru.

The Huarache with carne asada and beans looks like an elongated tostada, but is more akin to a sope with the exception of the shape and the fact that the masa is thinner. The huarache is covered with beans, carne asada, lettuce and queso fresco. The masa is light and crisp and provides a nice texture contrast to the beans and carne asada. The carne asada is tender and the flavor is easily distinguishable. The lettuce adds some crispness and temperature differences to the dish. The queso fresco adds some saltiness that ties everything together.

The Chorizo taco is sort of bland and doesn’t have that much flavor despite the fact that chorizo is usually heavily spiced. The chorizo also got lost under the vast amount of minced onions and cilantro.

Likewise, the Al Pastor taco didn’t have much flavor. Usually a flavor bomb, the al pastor is marinated for several hours and basted in onions and pineapple juice as it cooks on the rotisserie. This al pastor was very tender and had a little bit of heat, but otherwise was unflavorful.

The star of the show is the Carne Asada taco. Thin cuts of skirt steak are lightly seasoned and grilled to perfection. The meat is very tender and despite the lack of heavy seasoning is very flavorful. The taco just needs a squeeze of lime and a little bit of salsa and you are sent into taco heaven.

El Rey de Los Huarache is a nice find, but just stick with the carne asada and you can’t go wrong. They also have pupusas, but were sold out when I went.

El Rey de los Huaraches
12905 9th St
Chino, CA 91710
(909) 591-3625

Friday, July 6, 2007


Tropika is a fairly new restaurant in Tustin that is hailed as a Malaysian restaurant, but is more of an eclectic mix of Malaysian, Indonesian, Thai and Indian. Inside, you feel like you have been whisked away to a tropical island getaway as teak lined walls surround a comfortable space. Open and airy with a minimalist Asian décor, Tropika makes you feel like a welcomed guest.

We started out the evening with the Roti Prata, a dish commonly found in Indian restaurants. A large piece of flat bread, a mix somewhere between a naan bread and flour tortilla comes folded like a linen napkin in a fine dining restaurant. The bread is crispy on the outside and tender and a bit flaky on the inside. It is accompanied by a bowl of a chicken curry sauce that is infused with coconut milk. After tearing small pieces of the bread, we take pleasure in sopping up as much curry sauce as we can. The curry sauce is full of flavor with just a hint of chicken and coconut milk playing back up rolls. The nicely spiced curry comes to the forefront but is not at all overpowering. The chicken curry sauce is a little thinner than other places but this is definitely a winner.

The chicken satay are nicely grilled and charred chunks of white meat served with a thick, rich peanut sauce. The outside has a slightly crunchy texture, while the inside is still juicy. The peanut sauc is nice and thick, which makes it easy to adhere to the chicken.

The Pad Thai is unlike many Pad Thai's that I have had. It has an odd orange color like and Oompa Loompa has been added to the cooking water of the noodles. Big, fat juicy shrimp are cooked to perfection and are a nice added bonus. The Pad Thai has a slightly sweet taste, unlike the semi-spicy to spicy versions that are normally served. The pungency of the fish sauce could be easily discerned and the hint of tamarind gave some brightness to the dish.

The Beef Rendang is the Malaysian version opposed to the Indonesian version, which is the only kind that I have ever had up to this point. The Malaysian version of rending is a little spicier, and the curry sauce almost tastes like a combination of chili and beef stew. There is less coconut milk in the rending, and it has a sort of spicy, gritty after taste like chili powder. The beef is slowed cooked and falls apart very easily. Almost no chewing is necessary.

The Clay Pot Curry Lamb comes in a large bowl overflowing with both lamb and a nice curry broth. Big leaves of cabbage are also in the mix. With the first spoonful, a big blast of curry hits you right in the mouth. It is full of spice but hardly has any heat at all. The lamb is super tender and almost melts in your mouth. The lamb has a little bit of bite to it, but is not gamey at all. Served over rice this dish is perfect for the lamb lover.

If you’re looking for Malaysian food in Orange County, which is hard to find Tropika is a winner.

17460 E. 17th St
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 505-9908