Thursday, September 27, 2007

Roy's - LA

Set in a cozy little space, Roy’s LA seems amiss among the sprawling skyscrapers and bustling busy streets. But step inside and you are suddenly whisked away to a different world, a modern tropical paradise that I immediately associate with Hawaii. Vibrant colors adorn the wall, with both modern and some traditional decorations sprinkled throughout the restaurant. Stalks of bamboo line the outer edge of the dining room, while three huge Plumeria art pieces line the wall above the open kitchen, like playful warriors standing guard over the cooks.

The open kitchen is a form of entertainment in itself. While each line cook and sous chef has their own responsibility they also work with precise choreography, producing each dish to come together with perfect timing. Curtis Mar, Executive Chef, is the conductor of the kitchen, making sure each dish goes out on time and more importantly, meeting his discerning standards.

After being seated and getting settled in, a bowl of edamame was placed upon the table. The edamame were seasoned with Alaea red salt and just a whispery hint of something sweet. While not overly sweet, it did give the soybeans an added dimension.

The Grilled Hawaiian Satay Skewers are a mix of chicken, beef, eggplant and shrimp each with a different seasoning. The Curried Chicken Satay is tender and moist with a nice curry spice; it reminded me of a cross between an Indonesian and Indian dish. The peanut sauce helps to cut through the pungency of the curry. The Mongolian Beef skewer is very tender and flavorful. The concentrated soy glaze enhances the beef flavor. The Miso Eggplant satay is a nicely grilled slice of eggplant with a miso glaze that is both sweet and salty. The eggplant is slightly wilted but still retains a nice meaty texture. The Shrimp skewer contains two meaty shrimp that is paired with a wasabi dipping sauce provides a spicy kick to the sweet shrimp.

The Roasted Baby Beet Salad is of the deconstructed type. Baby Bibb lettuce with a acidic balsamic vinegarette sits on one side of the plate, while roasted red and yellow baby beets provide contrast on the other side. Balsamic vinegar cuts through the richness of the blue cheese ranch dressing. An oozing block of blue cheese finishes the salad off.

A Lychee Sorbet is served as an intermezzo. The sorbet is light but is rather sweet. Although there is a hint of lemon in the sorbet it tastes like a light dessert instead of a palate cleanser.

The “Pulehu” Style Hawaiian Barbecued Sirloin is a very generous serving of sliced sirloin cooked to a perfect medium rare. The steak is glazed in a sake reduction and a green peppercorn sauce. The sweetness of the sake provides a nice contrast to the spiciness of the green peppercorns. The dish is served with a small stack of perfectly fried crunchy onion rings and potatoes au gratin. The onion rings are so crunchy that each bite reverberates inside of your skull like you were at a heavy metal concert. The potatoes au gratin are so rich, creamy and cheesy that a crash cart should be close at hand.

The signature Roy’s Hot Melting Chocolate Souffle is a rich dark chocolate flourless chocolate cake with a molten hot center. Breaking into the soufflé releases the sweet thick magma of dark chocolate within. The luscious soufflé is served a la mode with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that provides a nice temperature contrast as well as a raspberry coulis which helps to cut through the richness of the chocolate.

Although Roy describes his food as being Asian Fusion to make it more appealing to the masses, this is really Hawaii Regional Cuisine at its finest.

800 S. Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 488-4994

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Porto's Bakery

Porto’s Bakery has been a part of the Glendale community for as long as I can remember. Over the years they have expanded into what is now a huge space that encompasses two dining areas along with limited outdoor seating. When you step into Porto’s you are greeted by organized chaos. Empty tables are hard to find and are at a premium on the weekends. As you walk towards the bakery section, there is a long line that snakes through a roped off section. They have recently done away with their “take a number” system, which I think is a mistake as it is much easier for people to cut in line now, and that could really result in a mob scene.

The Cheese Roll is everyone’s favorite. In fact, they are so popular that they were sold out of the regular size Cheese Roll’s on my visit. I had to settle for the “party size”, which is quite a steal when $10 gets you 25 of these delectable pastries. These croissant-like pastries are topped with large nuggets of sugar to give it some sweetness. Inside of its honeycomb structure of butter and flour is a thick stream of cream cheese. The super flaky pastry is like biting into a nice buttery sponge. And the interplay of the sugary top mixed in with the tanginess of the cream cheese will surely make your eyes roll to the back of your head.

The Chocolate Croissant is a gigantic pastry of rich buttery goodness that is dipped in sweet chocolate on both ends. The croissant is finished with an egg wash before being baked to give it a nice golden brown hue. Beneath its crunchy exterior lies a light and airy interior that is as soft as a baby’s bottom. Like fingers in a gold mine, two veins of chocolate run the length of the croissant.

Porto’s has much more than pastries and desserts to offer. They also have a wide selection of sandwiches to choose from. The ever popular potato balls are also a winner. If you have never visited Porto’s you are missing out on a great culinary adventure.

Porto’s Bakery
315 N. Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91203

(818) 956-5996

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ

Okay, don’t shoot me. But I happen to like this place. Yes, I know it’s a chain, and along with that go the ever popular huge chain portions and prices. An offshoot of the Hof’s brand, Lucille’s does BBQ, which I think they do rather well. I have noticed a slight drop in quality over the years, but they are still among the top of my list of BBQ joints. Decorated in a somewhat Southern motif, Lucille’s offers live Blues music on the weekends.

Upon being seated, you are brought a basket of warm biscuits and apple butter. The biscuit is the size of a large rock, and has the heft of one as well. The biscuit is buttery and is more crumbly then it is flaky. Add the whipped apple butter, which has just a hint of sweetness, and this is a great way to begin any meal.

The Rib Tips are a generous portion of St. Louis Ribs. The ribs are marinated in their original BBQ sauce, which is a thick ketchup based sauce that is relatively sweet, then hickory smoked until tender. The ribs are then finished off on the grill to add a little char for another dimension of flavor. A nice pink smoke ring can be discerned on the ribs, which are very moist and tender. On their own, they are very good, but add some of the Hot & Spicy BBQ sauce for some added kick and this will certainly wake up your taste buds.

The Tri Tip Platter comes sliced and fanned out on the plate. As with the Rib Tips, the Tri Tip is slowly smoked over hickory. The Tri Tip is very lean, but has a little bit of a fat cap to give it some added moisture and flavor. The beef flavor sings in your mouth and is so tender hardly any chewing is needed. The corn on the cob is grilled and that added smoky flavor gets imparted into the corn. The corn is not overcooked and each niblet bursts with juice with each passing bite. The Macaroni and Cheese is drenched in a rich and thick cheese sauce. The elbow macaroni is tender but not overcooked. There is enough of a chew for any al dente pasta lover.

Although Lucille’s gets a lot of bad remarks, their food is consistent. The prices are steep for a BBQ place, but the end product will certainly satiate the inner caveman in anyone.

Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ
1639 E, Imperial Highway
Brea, CA 92821
(714) 990-4944

Monday, September 17, 2007

Nick's Taste of Texas

Set in a spacious warehouse with exposed brick walls and all things Texas, Nick’s Taste of Texas is a favorite among locals. Looking at the menu, it’s hard to decipher which direction this restaurant is going. The overwhelming majority of the items are Mexican in nature, with Caldo (soup), Menudo, Fajitas, Tamales and Enchiladas adorning the menu, but peculiar items such as Chicken Fried Steak, Poorboys, Chili and BBQ can also be found. Nick’s prides themselves in being a “Tex/Mex” restaurant, and in that they succeed with the diversity of selections.

Nick’s is like an indoor picnic. After placing your order, you take a seat at one of the many picnic tables lined with butcher paper that are set up family style. When your order is ready, your number is called and your food is delivered to you.

The Brisket plate is a generous portion of sliced brisket that is topped with a slightly sweet and tangy BBQ sauce. The brisket is very tender and flavorful, but a smoke ring is absent and there isn’t that smoky taste one would expect. The brisket plate is served with a small salad of iceberg lettuce and red cabbage. A small bowl of pinto beans also comes as a side. The beans have a slight hint of cumin, which gives them an added spice dimension.

The Beef Ribs come three to an order, and are fairly big in size. The ribs are grilled, not barbecued. The grilling makes the meat a little tough and oily. With the amount of grease that the grilling renders, it’s hard to really discern how much flavor the ribs actually have. As with the brisket, the same BBQ sauce is served with the beef ribs. A small side salad and a bowl of beans are also served with the dish.

The meals are served with flour tortillas, which are the thickest I have ever seen in my life. They almost seem like flour pita bread. The tortillas are freshly made, pillowy soft and a little chewy. The tortillas are perfect for making your own tacos, depending on what you order, or for sopping up any leftover BBQ sauce.

Prices are very reasonable and portions are fairly large. Although the beef ribs were not successful, I would like to explore more of the menu.

The hours at Nick’s Taste of Texas are also somewhat of a deterrent. They close at 8 PM during the week, and 9 PM on Friday’s and Saturday’s. Perhaps there is an underground Hoe Down after hours???

Nick’s Taste of Texas
545 N. Citrus Avenue
Covina, CA 91723
(626) 331-2824

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana

This is the Build-A-Bear of pizzas.

First, you choose your size, either small or large.

Next you choose your sauce, of which there are six. Next you choose your type of cheese(s), of which there are seven. Finally, you choose your toppings, of which there are many meat and veggie options. Since this is Neapolitan pizza, which is very thin, almost cracker thin, it is recommended that you not have more than three toppings on your pizza because the crust may become soggy.

The pizzas are cooked in a wood fired oven, which is a sight to see as soon as you step inside. A fiery red glow shines brightly and temperatures reach in excess of 800 degrees. The pizza has a nice char to it and a smoky flavor is also imparted into the pizza. Toppings are rather scant, as the star of the show is the crust itself. The toppings are meant to heighten the flavor of the crust, not to be the main attraction.

The thing that surprised me the most, despite the fact that the pizza is so thin it is not very crunchy, but has a nice chew to it. You can't hold a piece up without it flopping over, so folding is almost a must. The very center of the pizza seemed to be a bit soggy, but the very outer crust was crispy and crunchy.

If you are expecting a Chicago deep dish type of pizza, this place is not for you. If you are expecting the run of the mill pizza from the likes of Pizza Hut, Round Table or the like, this pizza may also not be for you. But if you are looking for a hand crafted pizza, this place IS for you.

Sorry for not including any pics in this post, but I forgot my camera.

Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana
2315 S. Garfield Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(323) 722-7600

Sunday, September 9, 2007


All of the signs were there. New restaurant. Empty parking lot. Nearly empty restaurant. Yes, it was early, but none of that should have mattered. For a restaurant that claims to be “Accented with BBQ”, the smell of smoke was noticeably absent at Hermans.

The space is very clean and modern looking. Stainless steel shimmers throughout the kitchen, while granite countertops can be found at the bar and along the kitchen where barstools can be had for diners who want a close up view of the action. Red Naugahyde line the booths while stone tile line the walls. This mismatch in décor was only a preview of what was to come.

The Rib Tips came in an earthenware pot smothered in BBQ sauce, which was a little too sweet for my taste, but also had a little bit of spice which I liked. The pieces of pork were not very tender and somewhat chewy. There was a lot of fat to the rib tips as well.

The Beef Ribs were of Flinstonian proportion, but they were sorely lacking flavor. The ribs were very tough and fatty and there was no hint of any smoky flavor. The ribs tasted like they had been baked and then covered with sauce as an afterthought. One bite and you could tell that they had no idea of what “low and slow” means.

The Baby Back Ribs didn’t fare much better. Again, a fairly large portion was served, but the meat was very tough and in some places undercooked. Trying to find a smoke ring on these ribs was like searching for a Rolex in a box of Cracker Jack. Fat and gristle made up a large portion of the ribs.

The Garlic Mashed Potatoes were also uninspiring. At least these tasted like they were homemade with large chunks of garlic spread throughout the mix. Some large chunks of potatoes could be discerned but overall they were a little pasty.

The Green Beans were loaded with crushed garlic and butter, but it surprisingly didn’t have that distinct garlic kick to it. The beans were a mix of green beans and yellow and white wax beans. The beans were rather limp and tasted as if they were a mix of canned and frozen beans that had been boiled to death.

The Sweet Potato Fries were a very pleasant surprise. The fries were seasoned and had a pleasant crunch to them. They were served with two dipping sauces, one of them a very interesting selection. A honey mustard sauce tasted like your standard fare, however, the other sauce was a marshmallow sauce. Combined with the fries, this was a new take on the classic Thanksgiving dish of yams with marshmallows.

The French Fries were also seasoned with the same coating as the Sweet Potato Fries. These were nice and crunchy on the outside, and light and creamy on the inside.

Hermans does not BBQ in the traditional way. They use a piece of equipment that is called the BBQ MF2. This BBQ/oven unit is claimed to be able to BBQ with hickory wood smoke, cold smoke, bake, roast and broil. The unit also claims to be able to cook food faster and more consistently and that no BBQ or cooking experience is needed to use the oven. Based on this visit, I prefer BBQ the old fashioned way, LOW AND S-L-O-W!

50 Rio Rancho Road
, CA 91766

(909) 622-4999

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Frio Divino

This Mexican ice cream store has been around for a little over a year. I have always been curious about the place but never ventured in until this past heat wave struck. The sweltering heat and overbearing humidity veered me in the direction of Frio Divino to try some of their delectable treats.

The assortment of ice cream is rather limited, as the ice cream is made on the premises and they want to use the best available ingredients so production is made in small batches. I was expecting a wider assortment of "Mexican" flavors, but there was enough diversity to peak my interest and taste buds.

The Guanabana, or Soursop, (top scoop) has a very fresh and fruity flavor. The Guanabana tastes very much like guava with just a hint of melon, perhaps honeydew. The ice cream is very light and does not have a heavy mouth feel.

The Mamey (pink scoop) is an oblong melon with a reddish hue. The flavor has been said to be similar to pumpkin; a combination of pumpkin, chocolate and almond; or sweet potato, avocado and honey. The ice cream flavor profile of the Mamey tastes like a combination of strawberries and bananas, but has a slightly starchy mouth feel.

The Horchata ice cream has a strong cinnamon flavor. After a couple of bites, the subtlety of the rice begins to come through. A slightly starchy mouth feel can also be discerned with this ice cream, but does not get in the way of the enjoyment of the ice cream.

The Pistachio ice cream is topped with fresh crushed pistachio's. The ice cream is not sweet, like many store bought brands are. The distinct flavor of pistachio bursts through, with the sugary sweetness playing a supporting role. The only negative I had with this ice cream was that it was a little bit icy, which detracted from the expected creamy texture that the other scoops of ice cream had.

I would consider Frio Divino to be a boutique type of ice cream place. Small batches are made on the premises using only the freshest ingredients. For flavors that are normally hard to come by, Frio Divino is a nice choice.

Frio Divino
6200 Van Buren Blvd.
Riverside, CA 92503
(951) 689-1596